This is the first in a four-part series about the issue of homosexuality. Be sure to read Part 2 (“Frequently Asked Questions”), Part 3 (“Politically, Should the Church Just Stay Out of This Issue?”), and Part 4 (“What Is the Summit’s Stance Toward Homosexulity?”). This series is modified from my notes from our latest Equip forum, whose videos—with a personal testimony from a friend of mine—you can view here, here, and here.

The issue of homosexuality is a very personal issue, and for many, a very painful issue. Most of us know someone who either identifies as homosexual or feels same-sex attraction. They may be our friends, coworkers, roommates, sons or daughters or spouses.

As Christians, it is crucial that we be aware of what the Bible says and how the gospel speaks to this issue, so that we can better minister to those around us.

I want to attempt to help you do so by looking at four major questions. I’ll tackle each of these questions in its own post:

I. What does the Bible actually say about homosexuality?

II. What are the major “objections” to the biblical view?

III. Politically, should the church just stay out of this issue? In other words, should homosexual marriage—even if we are personally against it—be a ‘freedom of conscience’ issue in our culture?

IV. What should the attitude of the Summit Church be toward homosexuality and homosexuals?

The following material is a copy of my notes from our latest Equip forum—you can view the videos of that forum here. My talk concluded with a testimony from a friend of mine, who has dealt for years with same-sex attraction. His testimony is better than my entire talk.

 I. WHAT DOES THE BIBLE ACTUALLY SAY?

GENESIS 2:18–25

 God establishes the standard for sexual and romantic relationships in the Garden of Eden: one man, one woman, united for life. This is the ideal. In many ways, this is the most important text, because everything else will be measured against it and every sexual relationship that “falls short of it” is “sin.”

THE LAW OF MOSES

The Law very clearly condemns same-sex practices and union. For instance, “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination…” (Leviticus 20:13 ESV, cf. Lev. 18:22) [1]

  • Note: I’ll go ahead and say this up front: the text does not say that “homosexuals” are an abomination to God. Ultimately, all sin is an abomination to God, including the sin of greed, which Jesus mentions ten times more than He does sexual sin. God loved the sinner so much that He came to earth to die in our place. In the cross you see both God’s hatred of sin (it was so wicked He put it to death) and His love for the sinner (He took that death into Himself).
  • I wish that churches that scream, “God hates gays” would go away forever, because you don’t die for someone that you hate.

Here’s what one researcher said: “These Hebrew Testament texts are so clear that even proponents of homosexuality don’t deny them. Instead, they attempt to discredit them by pointing out the irrelevance of Old Testament regulations for believers today.”

  • Some say that the Law has a lot of other stuff in it that we don’t keep anymore: Anybody ever wear polyester? Anybody ever trim the sides of your beard? Or enjoy a Big Mac with extra cheese on it? All of these are condemned in the Law. This objection says, “See, you don’t keep all the Law, and this indictment of homosexuality should go in that category.”
  • Others argue that Jesus Himself never mentioned it, which they take to mean that He believed it to be an archaic sexual ethic that God’s people should move beyond. Like I’ve told you before, it’s as if the OT shows God in His junior high years: He’s a little cranky, but He grew up in the New Testament.

Let me show how a proper understanding of Jesus means that these interpretations cannot stand.

SO WHAT ABOUT JESUS?

1) Jesus said He “fulfilled the Law,” not abolished it (Matt 5:17–20). 

That’s an important distinction. Fulfilled means that the Law was an incomplete picture of God that pointed forward to Jesus. When Jesus came, He freed us from the Law, but not by abolishing it, or reversing it, or saying that it was wrong. He freed us by fulfilling it. He gave us, in Himself, a more perfect picture of God.

He fulfilled its images.

  • The sacrifices, the ceremonies, everything in the Law pointed to Him (Luke 24:46–47). He didn’t reverse those images: He fulfilled them.
  • We also don’t sacrifice lambs annually to atone for our sins (Leviticus 1:4) or live for a week every year in a tent at the Festival of Booths (Leviticus 23:33–43), even though the Old Testament Law requires it. This is because the true and perfect Lamb of God—Jesus Christ—was sacrificed once for all sins (John 1:29). He was the fulfillment of the OT system of animal sacrifices (Heb 10:11–12). He was dispossessed from His home and temporarily clothed in human flesh, thus fulfilling the Festival of Booths.
  • He fulfilled that law; He didn’t just dismiss it. That is a crucial distinction.

He heightened its morality (Matt 5:21-48).

  • Jesus didn’t abolish morality; he heightened it. For example, He says, “You’ve heard the Old Testament rule, ‘Don’t commit adultery’… but I tell you to look upon a woman lustfully is adultery (Matt 5:27–30).
  • The same is true for murder. The law tells us not to kill; Jesus told us not to look upon someone with hate in our hearts (Matt 5:21–22).
  • He took a question about divorce (Matt 19:9) and said, “You think as long as you obey the technicalities of the Mosaic divorce law (Deut 24:1–4) you’re okay… but I’m telling you that God’s intention for marriage was a man and woman united for life, separable only by death!” Jesus didn’t abolish the laws against adultery and murder, he fulfilled them, showing us that the point is not just “not committing the acts;” the point is the purity of heart.

So someone might say, what about laws like Leviticus 19:19 that say, “You shall not . . . wear a garment of cloth made of two different kinds of materials.” (i.e., no polyester) How did He heighten that morality? No white after Labor Day?

  • This commandment was given to Israel as they prepared to go into the Promised Land, as a symbol of their separation from the Canaanites. Israel was to remain holy, as their God was holy (Lev. 19:2), but the “holiness” of things like different fabrics or dietary restrictions wasn’t lasting. These were temporary images, fulfilled by Christ. In us, He is the “new creation” that is un-mixed and untainted by the garment of sinful flesh. Even this restriction was fulfilled in Christ.

In the same manner, Jesus “fulfilled” the sexual laws.

  • Jesus showed us that sexual purity is more than just not having sex with our neighbor’s wife; it is an absolute oneness of spirit and body in an exclusive relationship according to the Genesis 2 pattern.

Jesus did not come, hat in hand, conceding that the Old Testament God was backwards and uninformed or had been wrong about His condemnation of same sex union. That would have been “abolishing” the law. What God finds “abominable” one day He does not suddenly find agreeable the next. Jesus fulfilled the law; He did not reverse God’s moral sentiments.

2) “But why,” you ask, “didn’t Jesus speak directly against homosexuality?”

  • The short answer is, He didn’t have to! Jesus assumed the moral tenets of the Mosaic Law, as did the people He spoke to. There was no question among his audience about the sinfulness of homosexual practice. That had been well attested to in the Law (There is no room for doubt that 1st century Rabbinic Judaism held it to be sinful).
  • You cannot separate Jesus’ teaching from its Old Testament backdrop. His every word, He said, has its anchor and meaning in the Old. So, when He says “The sum of all the commandments is to love God with all your heart, mind and soul,” and “love your neighbor,” what that looks like is fleshed out in the Old Testament law.
  • Besides, you can’t say him not bringing it up implies agreement, because, as we know, where he disagreed, Jesus “was not shy about expressing his disapproval of the conventions of his day.”[2] One thing you can be confident of with Jesus: If He had disagreed with the commonly accepted interpretation of the OT law, he would have said so (Matthew 22:29).
  • For instance, Jesus did not directly speak against bestiality, genocide, child molestation, or gang rape. The moral wrongness of these things was assumed based on the basis of Mosaic Law.[3]

3) Positively, Jesus affirmed the Mosaic Law on marriage as between a man and a woman (Matthew 5:32ff; Mark 10:7–11, et al).

  • You can establish what is right by delineating the wrong or affirming the right. In this case, Jesus chose the latter. He positively affirmed the Genesis 2 understanding of marriage. What falls short of the positive ideal is “sin.”
  • Jesus said that all “sexual immorality” (porneia) was sin (Mark 7:21–23), which would be anything that falls short of that Genesis 2 ideal—one man with one woman in a lifelong, exclusive commitment.

4) Jesus’ followers, to whom he committed the job of explicating his teaching (John 14:26), were abundantly clear on the issue when it became relevant to address it (Romans 1:26–27, 1 Cor 6:9–11, and 1 Tim 6:10).

As opposed to Jesus’ Palestinian context, in Paul’s Greco-Roman context, homosexuality was more commonplace. So here we see Paul addressing it:

“For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; [27] and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.”

~Romans 1:26–27, ESV

In these verses, Paul ties homosexuality to idolatry. Idolatry is rejecting the Creator’s designs and seeking to satisfy ourselves in other, alternate ways. Homosexuality, Paul says, is a graphic depiction of this. Men and women exchanged the natural order—that is, God’s design as revealed in the creation narrative—in favor of unnatural and sinful sex. As Richard Hays, New Testament professor at Duke Divinity, has said, “When human beings engage in homosexual activity, they enact an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual reality: the rejection of the Creator’s design.” [4]

Now, some have argued that what is sinful here is the “unnatural exchange.” In other words, committing homosexual acts when you are in reality heterosexual. Thus, it is not homosexuality that is wrong, but unnaturally choosing homosexuality. (In fact, by this interpretation, what would be wrong would be for them to unnaturally choose the heterosexual lifestyle!)

The problem with this re-interpretation is (1) that Paul is not speaking about individuals in Romans. He is speaking about humanity as a whole, about our inherent tendency to exalt the created over the Creator and to ignore his supremacy. Paul is talking about the pervasive effects of the Fall. (2) The second problem is that every major Greek writer and philosopher uses the exact phrase Paul uses here to refer to homosexual acts, not confused or stilted heterosexuality (including Plato, Philo, Josephus, and Plutarch).[5]

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, [10] nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. [11] And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

~1 Corinthians 6:9–11, ESV

The ESV translates two terms together as “men who practice homosexuality.” The first is malakoi, which literally means “soft men,” and refers to the passive homosexual act. Use outside of the NT unanimously reflects this meaning. Some translators render this “male prostitutes,” but there is a specific Greek word for “male prostitutes,” and Paul opts for this more generic term. [6]

The second term is arsenokoitai. This is actually a strong connection to Leviticus 20:13, which in the Septuagint reads, “meta arsenos koiten gynaikos” = “whoever lies [koiten] with a male [arsen] as with a woman.” Paul apparently borrowed the language of Leviticus to coin a term that literally means, “men who lie with men.” Some have tried to argue that these terms refer to prostitution, pederasty, or rape, but there is no textual basis for this sort of argument. Besides Paul’s use of the term here, later usage confirms the meaning plainly as intercourse between men. [7]

Note: While some advocates of homosexuality concede that the above passages are indeed a clear indictment of homosexual practice, they maintain that that the “trajectory” of Scripture points to a growing acceptance of it, and thus “matured” Christian society should therefore accept it. A “trajectory” hermeneutic works like this: there are certain things about which no “explicit” command is given, but we can nonetheless see a trajectory on this subject in Scripture.

For example, polygamy is never explicitly condemned in the Old Testament, but there is a clear trajectory toward the acceptance of the one man/one woman marriage. Or, while we find no command to abolish slavery in the Bible, we perceive in the Bible the principles that ultimately would lead to an undoing of slavery (Gal 3:28). So while the NT never says, “All governments should immediately abolish slavery,” it is very clear that the trajectory of biblical thought points in that direction. Some advocates of homosexuality argue that the same is true regarding homosexual practice.

The problem with that claim, however, is that to plot a trajectory you have to show a real progression of thought. But the Bible’s “trajectory” concerning sexual ethics doesn’t budge. In fact, when Paul commented on same-sex intercourse, he deliberately used language from Leviticus (arsenokoitai) to condemn it. And when Jesus was challenged about marriage, he went all the way back to Genesis to remind His hearers that the pattern was normative and had not changed. [8]

CONCLUSION 

It is scarcely possible to imagine the Bible being clearer on the sinfulness of homosexual practice. The only way to avoid this interpretation is to approach the Bible with a decided agenda—and, of course, when you have an agenda, you can make just about any interpretation work in your mind.

It is important to note that the Church has maintained this position unanimously for two millenniums. As Richard Hays has said, “Far more emphatically than scripture itself, the moral teaching tradition of the Christian church has for more than nineteen hundred years declared homosexual behavior to be contrary to the will of God. Only within the past twenty years has any serious question been raised.[9]

 


[1] This explains the events and later teaching on certain Old Testament events like that of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19; cf. Jude 7.

[2] Robert A. J. Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 2001), 188.

[3] Ibid., 228.

[4] Richard B. Hays, “Awaiting the Redemption of our Bodies,” Homosexuality in the Church: Both Sides of the Debate (Ed. Jeffrey S. Siker; Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994.), 8.

[5] Wayne A. Grudem, Politics—According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2010), 218–219.

[6] Richard B. Hays, 1 Corinthians, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 97.

[7] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2000), 450, 452; Robert A. J. Gagnon, “The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Key Issues,” Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 2003), 83; Hays, 1 Corinthians, 97.

[8] Gagnon, “The Bible and Homosexual Practice,” 45.

[9] Hays, “Awaiting the Redemption,” 11. Emphasis mine. In his commentary on Romans, Joseph A. Fitzmeyer notes the unanimous witness of the early church in condemning same-sex intercourse, representative in the commentaries of John Chrysostom, Clement of Alexandria, and Augustine (Fitzmeyer, Romans, 287). See also Stanley Grenz, Welcoming but not Affirming, 63-80; David Wright, “Early Christian Attitudes to Homosexuality,” in Studia Patristica, 329-24; Marion Soards, Scripture and Homosexuality, 33-46.