This is the second of a five-part blog series on same-sex attraction. Be sure to read part 1 (“Why we have such a problem talking about same-sex attraction in the church”), part 3 (“What do I do if I’m attracted to people of the same sex?”), part 4 (“How do I love my gay friend?”), and our conclusion in part 5 (“Concluding Thoughts”).
There are six passages in Scripture that address homosexual behavior directly. And every mention is negative, either prohibiting or condemning such behavior. First Corinthians 6:9–11, for instance, refers to “men who have sex with men” as a vice that would prevent a person from entering the kingdom of God. The two Greek terms he used, malakoi and arsenokoitai, were the common terms of the day to refer to a broad range of homosexual relationships.
Many today object to this reading, insisting that what Paul had in mind was not the same as homosexuality as we know it today. He was, they argue, thinking of male prostitution, rape, or pedophilia. Committed same-sex relationships didn’t exist in Paul’s day, so Paul’s words don’t apply.
This is, simply put, not true. Historian Thomas Hubbard (not a Christian), wrote an exhaustive (and exhaustively long, nearly 600 pages) work on homosexuality in the ancient world, entitled Homosexuality in Greece and Rome. He demonstrates that homosexuality existed in a wide variety of forms, much like today. And that included committed, lifelong, same-sex partners. Had Paul wanted to distinguish between valid and invalid forms of homosexuality, he could have done so.
Or consider Romans 1, in which Paul talks about humanity’s rejection of God’s authority. Because we rejected God’s authority, “God gave them [that is, us] up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another” (Romans 1:26–27). As Richard Hays says concerning this passage, Paul depicts gay and lesbian activity as an outward epitome of the inward posture of sin—rejection of the Creator’s design.
That little word “natural” trips a lot of people up. “‘Natural,’ Paul? Well, same-sex attraction sure feels ‘natural’ to me!” Some have even gone so far as to use this text to say that what Paul really meant to say was that we have to be true to our sexual passions.
Again, this misses the mark. Just because something feels natural doesn’t make it right. Sin has corrupted our nature, making things feel natural when they should feel wrong. And in every area of life outside of sexuality, we intuitively know this. If my oldest daughter wallops her sister, I won’t have much patience when she explains that it felt like the natural thing to do.
And if I were to examine my own sexual desires, I would have to conclude that what I find “natural” isn’t monogamy, but polygamy. But if a desire wells up within me to cheat on my wife, I don’t just roll with it. I recognize it as wrong and resist. This is Paul’s point in Romans 1: our sexual desires are simply not a safe guide to determining right and wrong. Whatever our sexual inclination—gay or straight—if we let sexual desire alone guide us, it will lead outside of God’s will every single time.
Those in favor of same-sex behavior will, at this point, often raise a few objections. I can’t tackle them all, but I’ll address two of the most common.
1. “Jesus never spoke about homosexuality.”
This is a claim that is true only in the most technical and unhelpful sense. No, Jesus never uttered the word “homosexual.” He also never mentioned (by name) rape, child abuse, fraud, or idolatry. But his stance on each of those issues is, nevertheless, quite clear.
There are two ways that Jesus could have established what was right and wrong in regards to sexuality. He could have talked about every possible variation of the wrong, condemning each aberration one by one. Or he could put forward a vision for what is right. Think of it like this: if five women were standing side by side, and one of them was my wife, I could identify her in two ways: I could say that each of the other four were not my wife; or I could say, “That wonderful woman there…she’s my wife.” Jesus repeatedly affirmed the Mosaic understanding of the sanctity of sex within heterosexual marriage, and by doing that he disallowed all deviations.
Furthermore, saying “Jesus never talked about it” pits the words of Jesus against the rest of the Scriptures. But Jesus himself said that all of the Scriptures were inspired, which means that the black letters in our Bible have as much divine authority as the red ones.
2. “Christian leaders disagree on this issue.”
In every generation and on every issue, there will always be voices that differ from an orthodox understanding of Christianity. But the vast consensus of evangelical theologians see this as clear in the Bible—and that’s not even taking into account the opinion of the church worldwide or the collective witness of Christian history.
For 2,000 years, Christians have understood this to be clear. Our confusion is specific to 21st century Western society, as we act as if the biblical evidence is muddled and unclear. It’s much more likely that God has spoken clearly, and many people don’t like what he has said. This is why, for instance, most advocates of the gay lifestyle acknowledge that Scripture opposes homosexual practice. They simply reject Scripture.
It doesn’t delight me to have to keep revisiting this question. Talking about homosexuality is not a way to grow a church, and I’d love nothing more than to abstain from the conversation. But as a church, we can’t simply remain silent. Jesus rebuked the church in Thyatira for tolerating someone whose teaching led people into sexual sin (Rev 2:20). Jesus is not only opposed to false teachers, but to those who allow their falsehood to go unchecked.
In the end, we’re going to have to offend someone on this issue—either the world or Jesus. And I choose to offend the world. Ours is not the first generation to be offended by the teachings of Jesus. It won’t be the last. And while the specifics of what offends the culture changes from age to age, every generation has to choose whether our allegiance is to culture or to our Savior. I pray that we may all stand firm.