Pro-gay theology advocates have tried to undermine the historic Christian teaching on sexuality for decades. The problem with their approach has often been their inability to follow commonsense interpretive rules that help determine the meaning of any text, not just the Bible. When they violate these rules, they can make Scripture say anything.
“Did you know that Jesus helped his friend come out?” That’s how one pro-gay theology activist starts his video. Then he shares a New Testament passage in which Jesus supposedly tells LGBT people to come out of the closet and show their true selves, implying that Jesus affirms living a life satisfying LGBT desires. Before we get to the passage, we need to unpack how to interpret an important literary device: the idiom.
An idiom is a phrase whose meaning can’t be deduced from the individual words. For example, if I say, “It’s raining cats and dogs,” you know I mean it’s raining hard, not that felines and canines are falling from the sky. Notice the meaning of the phrase doesn’t emerge from the words “cats and dogs.” Rather, the combination of words has an established usage that’s understood by modern English speakers.
Idioms, however, lose their meaning when they are translated into another language, moved to a different culture, or transported to another time period. If I translate “It’s raining cats and dogs” into Russian, the phrase will lose its meaning. You would have to use a different group of words that carries the same meaning in Russian. It’s also possible that in 2,000 years (assuming the English language remains), the phrase “It’s raining cats and dogs” will no longer be understood to mean it’s raining hard.
That’s why it’s important to remember the Bible was not written in English, in our culture, or in a remotely similar time period. Biblical languages have their own figures of speech, and, most relevant to my point, idioms don’t time travel. Words used to create idioms back in the first century don’t mean the same thing today and vice versa. Sometimes, though, a reader today will see a group of words in Scripture and interpret them through the lens of modern English when the biblical author neither used English words nor meant to communicate the idiom they have in mind.