Does Scripture change arbitrarily? Does Luke 17:34 model homosexuality?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

(Click here to read Monday Musings ... the place where I discuss the thinking that went into this article.)

Question: How do we continue to read the Bible with the sudden changes, are these changes of God? Isaiah 11:6 "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb (should read lion not wolf)." And Luke 17:34-35 "I tell you in that night there shall be two men in one bed..." What's with this?

Answer: As to your first question, there are no changes in the Bible as you suppose. You see, we have thousands of ancient documents in hand that prove just that — that the Scripture has not changed significantly over the many centuries… over the millennia, actually. So, I don’t know where you are getting this information about the Bible changing. The reliability of our ancient documents is not some sort of Christian myth; historians of every stripe (many of whom are atheists) who study these documents testify that have been passed to us without that kind of change.

Then what about the phrase, “… and the lion shall lay down with the lamb?” It does not now — nor has it ever — appeared in the Bible. It is a cobbling together of Isaiah 11:6 and some general ideas about what life will be like in the distant perfect future. So, the answer to your first question is that there are no changes to deal with… godly, sudden or otherwise. You simply have some bad information there.

 (… and in case it ever comes up, “Cleanliness is next to godliness” is not in the Bible either).

Visit the following article at Got Questions Ministries for a more expansive explanation of the lion and the lamb.

Concerning your second question about the two men in the bed, here we run into the sordid prejudices of contemporary minds — both Christian and worldly. On some level, we want to make Luke 17:34 about two men having homosexual sex under the eyes of an unflinching God. But that is not at all what is happening. To see why let’s look at the translation process.

Translators can bring the Greek into English in differing ways that are all legitimate. But a quick look at the following Greek/English interlinear translation reveals that no gender is specified in the Greek. In fact, the controversial word “men” doesn’t even exist! So, how did it get into some English translations?


Translators often have to make choices to align the translated English with the objectives of their Bible’s edition. Some try to be as literal as possible — straining to preserve even the order of the Greek words. Some are freely dynamic — looking for optimal readability. And some seek a blend. But the thing to remember is we believe God’s word to be inerrant in the autographa — the original texts — and we admit that translation adds a layer of complexity to God’s communication… how could it not? One must transcend culture, language and time to make the best “decisions” about how to bring ancient thoughts into contemporary minds. In my opinion, our translators do this extraordinarily well… just be aware that this is the process. As such, it is always wise to consult multiple sources before jumping down a rabbit hole.

You see, any reader — but especially a Christian — should be giving God the benefit of the doubt when approaching ostensive difficulties… but you did not. How else would you come up with the issues in your question? You had to be looking for trouble rather than for solutions. After all, even a quick look at the NIV (New International Version … a Bible that is everywhere) would have been enough to show God’s intent… and this isn’t about scholarship or about running around and buying books; it’s about attitude. Give God the same break you’d give any other author. Work with him to understand the story.

I frequently recommend that people visit — a free and wonderful resource worthy of a bookmark. You’ll see over 20 translations for the verse in question. So, the next time you have this type of issue, read all the English versions to get a sense of what is really being said. Then look for the one that clarifies the issue in God’s favor the most. Ruminate on that — and in light of that, read the others. I’m not talking about phony positivism here… I’m talking about normal reading and reasoning. The scholars have done the heavy lifting.  Just relax, read… and benefit from their research.

If after all that you still think that this verse is about two men having sex, think about this: If (as I aver) thousands of scholars have spent millions of hours (collectively) figuring out what the Scripture says, then every scholar worth his salt has “vetted” his contemporaries and the countless scholars that had come before him — and we are talking centuries-worth of scholarship. Now, not every scholar agrees with every other — that’s proof of a valid process — but great consensus exists that we do indeed have the Scripture right. So, although God does not need consensus… he gets it — and that tickles me. We have this amazing body of work that has been reviewed in broad daylight for millennia. Nobody is “pulling” anything here; Scripture says what it always said — and the data and the analyses are readily available.

So let me ask you, would those thousands of biblical scholars risk their reputations and their lives’ work by translating a verse wrongly — but on purpose — to promote homosexuality… and especially in light of the firm biblical admonitions against it? Does any reasonable analyst think that they were doing that… or that they could get away with it if they did? With this in mind, do you think that scholars would have rendered this translation as “men” if even a slight misunderstanding about homosexuality were in view? Of course not… and that’s the point. No matter how a contemporary reader might bend the verse, it was never about men lying together as lovers in the original or in the translations. “Men” just meant “persons.” It did not mean only male persons.

Now, the Bible does acknowledge the existence of homosexuality — but it is all negative (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:26-28) — and there is no textual (or contextual) warrant to impose a pro-homosexual interpretation on Luke 17:34. Therefore, any such interpretations are ad hoc, and as such, they are not worthy of serious consideration.

Not too long ago, standard diction allowed us to use the male gender to indicate people generally… with no gender in view. For example, the phrase, “He who hesitates is lost” (although a little dated) is not restricted to men. We still understand that the “he” includes women; its meaning is more along the lines of, “People who hesitate are lost.” That’s what we have with multiple “men” in a bed. Many translations render it “persons” instead of men… but all mean persons by this usage.

As you review those verses at, note especially the NLT (New Living Translation). The NLT is the only translation that said people were sleeping in a bed. But why didn’t the others say this? Because the Greek does not say it, and the NLT is far from literal by design. But this rendering again shows our prejudices. We, Western people, sleep and/or have sex in “a bed” … but we tend not to have the neighborhood over to lounge with us there. But that is much more a picture of life in the ANE (Ancient Near East).

For the biblical people, a bed would have been a multiuse seating area — more akin to a couch or a divan than to our Western-style box-spring and mattress combos… items, by the way, which we do not keep in public areas. But the “bed” in our Bible verse was different. People would come and sit on this common-area bed to talk and to eat. Remember, people of the ANE did not have large houses with separate bedrooms as we do in the Western developed nations. So, people would sleep on that bed, too… and not everyone had their own bed.

With all this in view, it is important to watch our words. “Men” does not necessarily mean exclusively males as we might understand the word, and “bed” is not a Western sleeping apparatus as we might understand the word. Furthermore, “night” does not mean that people were asleep. When reading these ancient narratives we must take care to weigh these cultural non-equalities. After all, we’re talking about people who lived 2000 years ago… and on the other side of the world… and we’re talking about it in a language that was not around back then. Now, we pull it off! But we must exercise caution. Not every concept comes across cultures cleanly.

In closing, let’s look at the point of the verse… which should be the first thing we do in any analysis. Does anyone really think that this verse exists to provide decontextualized provocative language to encourage a world bent on legitimizing a homosexual lifestyle… especially since such language would counter very clear Scriptural teachings against homosexuality? One would hope not.

This verse is about sudden separation — not about two men being in the same bed. So think about this as if you were a storyteller: how would you prepare the scene to dramatize an imminent separation? You’d emphasize the closeness that precedes it… and that’s all that was going on here. The ANE reader would understand that people sharing this bed would be close — and how shocking a sudden and unexplained separation would be. Contrast is the key to the drama in this scene.

So, sex is not in view, nor is sleeping… proximity is, though… and that’s the point. People being together on a bed is merely a set-up for the greatest separation ever: an eternity with or without God. That’s what this verse is about. It is not about men having sex in the bed.

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20160620 Is God's word arbitrary? What's with "two men in a bed?").

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