Posted to the NJ Herald website: Oct 25, 2014 10:01 PM
Updated to the NJ Herald website: Oct 25, 2014 10:01 PM
By GREG WATRY
SPARTA — Coincidentally wearing purple — the color expressing support for the LGBT community — Dr. K. Renato Lings recalled the first time he heard the word “homosexuality” used in a public forum.
It was the 1960s, and the 21-year-old Lings was listening to a talk from a theologian in his home country of Denmark.
“When he was discussing the book of Genesis, and when he summed up the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, he threw out one word,” Lings said to the roughly 30 people gathered at the Sparta United Methodist Church. “Homosexuality! And the whole audience froze.”
“Homosexuality” was a hushed term back then. If it was spoken about, it was done so quietly, Lings said.
A lot has changed since the 1960s.
On Wednesday night, Lings gave a talk presenting some of the content from his book “Love Lost in Translation: Homosexuality and the Bible.” Based in Copenhagen, Lings works as a translator, interpreter, teacher, lecturer and writer.
He is a member of the United Kingdom’s Society for Old Testament Study (founded in 1917), the United Kingdom’s Society for the Study of Theology (first academic conference held in 1952) and the Society of Biblical Literature (founded in 1880).
Between the two words, Lings said, is a span of 2,000 years.
Bible has its roots in the Ancient Greek word “biblia,” which means “books.”
“There’s nothing magical about it, nothing sacred even. It’s just a plain word,” Lings said.
The word “homosexuality,” understood today as a relationship between partners of the same sex, did not appear on the world stage until the 19th century.
In 1869, Karl Maria Benkert, a Hungarian journalist, was the first person known to use the word in writing.
“Why is this important? Well, it is actually. If we go back all those centuries to biblical times and beyond, the word homosexuality — you can look long and hard in Greek and Latin and other languages — you won’t find any word that matches completely what we say homosexuality (is today),” Lings said. “There’s no equivalent in Hebrew, Greek or Latin.”
“That is also why it does not exist in the Bible … in its original languages,” he said.
From there, the talk focused on the difficulty and problems encountered when translating texts from one language to another.
According to Lings, in the past century more than 40 English versions of the Bible have been published.
“Bible translators, they are … people like you and me. We all bring our own attitudes to our work. We can’t help it. It’s human, isn’t it? We bring our passions; we bring our commitment; we bring our biases; we bring all of it,” Lings said.
“(The translators) sometimes (brought) same-sex relations to the text where it may not have existed in the first place.”
In an example, Lings looked to Genesis 19:5, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. In the text, Lot is sheltering two angels.
Men from the city come banging on his door and order Lot to “Bring them (the angels) out to us so that we can have sex with them,” according to the New International Version of the Bible.
But in the Hebrew original the word “sex” is never mentioned.
Instead the word “yada,” which means “know,” is used. The men order Lot to bring the angels out so the crowd can “know them,” according to Lings.
Whether sex is implied is not important.
What is important is that the translators took it upon themselves to translate it as sex.
“Why not translate accordingly and leave the ambiguity with you?” Lings said.
In another example, Lings looked at a passage from 1 Corinthians 6:9.
The passage focuses on who will be allowed into the kingdom of God.
The English versions list “adulterers, homosexuals of any kind, thieves” and others as those who will not inherit the kingdom.
But the list in the Greek original, according to Lings, reads, “adulterers, softies, male-liers, thieves” and others.
“I find it really difficult to translate softies and male-liers — those are two different words in Greek — into homosexuals of any kind,” Lings said. “It makes me feel very uncomfortable.”
Lings, who himself is homosexual, said he was prompted to write his book after not being satisfied with the current translations available.
Instead of finding answers, he found only questions.
So he sought to find his own answers.
“All of these texts are under debate,” he said.
“I’m bringing my word into the debate.”
After Lings’ presentation, the floor was opened to guests.
“To me it’s a no-brainer,” said parishioner Sarah Digioia, of Sparta.
Digioia said that decades ago, the debate would not have allowed the voices of women or “colored people” to be heard.
“I feel like we’re in the same spot again,” she said.
Citing the hundreds of years of scholarship that came before Lings, a man named Brian asked, “Why should we believe you instead of all the others?”
Lings responded that it wasn’t until recently that homosexuality became acceptable.
Strictly speaking for Denmark, he said that it wasn’t until around 1970 that LGBT free speech on subjects such the Bible became acceptable.
“Saying what I’m saying now would’ve been illegal, and probably a criminal offense,” he said.
“The work I am doing … could not have been done 50 years ago.
“You’re asking people to look up certain scriptures, but I say read the whole Bible. The sum of His work is truth,” said a woman named Dolores, who expressed opposition to Lings’ commentary.
“I think that conflict is necessary and healthy,” said Johnny Walsh, 25, of Mount Olive.
Walsh is a graduate of a seminary in New York state.
One day after leading worship in front of 1,100 students, he approached the senior pastor and said he needed to step down because he was gay.
He came to terms with his sexuality, accepted himself and realized he couldn’t keep his concept of God in a box, he said.
“We don’t have all the answers,” Walsh said. “And I like when I don’t understand, because I feel like when I have all the answers then I’m complacent.”
Walsh currently serves as a music director at a church.
For more information on Lings, visit www.renatolings.com.