October 18, 2017

What Does the Bible Actually Say about Homosexuality?

MOD NOTE: I have been deleting and editing a lot of comments because you are not sticking to the topic. This post is about one thing — EXAMINING WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT HOMOSEXUALITY. It is not about our personal reflections or ethical considerations of the subject. All I want to do is look at what the Bible says. If you disagree with my interpretation, that is perfectly acceptable, but the proper way to respond is to set forth your interpretation and show why it’s better. Stick to the topic at hand, please.

• • •

In last week’s discussions, a number of comments asserted that the Bible is crystal clear about the subject of homosexuality. Others questioned that claim. It might be worth our while to look at the texts and discuss what we see.

The first point to note is that the Bible only has six passages which speak directly to homosexual relations. Others, of course, have implications for the debate, such as texts from Genesis 1-2, which describe God making humankind in his image, male and female, blessing them that they might be fruitful and multiply, making Adam and Eve and bringing them together to be “one flesh.”

This text certainly sets forth God’s blessing upon the union of woman and man in marriage and the bearing of children through that union. An argument can be made that the union of Adam and Eve is indeed the “high point” of the Genesis 2 narrative, the culmination of God’s plan for humankind and the relationship that best portrays his own nature and character.

More about this Scripture in this afternoon’s post.

What about the passages in the Bible that directly address homosexuality? There are six:

  • Genesis 19 — the story of Sodom
  • Leviticus 18:22 — prohibition of “lying with a man as with a woman”
  • Leviticus 20:13 — law stating that lying with a man as with a woman is an abomination, punishable by death
  • Romans 1:18-32 — Paul’s description of Gentile ungodliness, including “exchanging the natural function for the unnatural”
  • 1Corinthians 6:9-10 — Paul’s statement that “sodomites” (NRSV) will not inherit God’s kingdom
  • 1Timothy 1:9-10 — Paul’s statement that “sodomites” (NRSV) are among the “lawless and disobedient”

What do these passages from the Bible tell us to guide us in our moral consideration of homosexuality?

Lot Flees Sodom, von Carolsfeld

Genesis 19, which tells of the angels’ visit to Sodom and the rescue of Lot from the wicked city, says “But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; and they called to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them'” (19:4-5, NRSV).

We get our word “sodomy” from this incident. The men were calling for Lot to send out his visitors and these men of Sodom intended to rape them. In panic, Lot offered his daughters to the men, but they became enraged and stormed the house. As I read this passage, it may or may not signify that homosexual relations were characteristic of those who lived in Sodom. What is clear is that they were violent, cruel, and willing to use such shameful and degrading tactics as homosexual rape in their opposition to Lot.

An illustration of what I think is happening here — Responding to reports from the former Yugoslavia, Sudan’s Darfur region, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Liberia, in June 2008, the UN Security Council voted unanimously in favor of a resolution classifying rape as a weapon of war. The resolution described sexual violence as “a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instil fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group.” I think that is more like what is going on in Genesis 19 than a mere description of people who had same-sex attraction or practiced regular homosexual sex. It may be the case that they were homosexuals, but I’m not sure the text warrants certainty about this.

Leviticus 18:22 reads, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.”

Leviticus 20:13 says, “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.”

These statement are clear prohibitions of male-male intercourse. But they raise some tough questions for those who would try to use them as ethical standards for people today. They are part of the Levitical law, which is notoriously difficult to apply under the New Covenant for many reasons. One of those reasons is that the contexts of these passages pose questions and dilemmas for our moral reasoning. For example, in Leviticus 18, this verse closely follows one that forbids husbands and wives from having sex during a woman’s menstrual period, and considers that every bit as much an abomination as homosexual sex, bestiality, and sacrificing one’s children by fire to the god Molech. In Leviticus 20, the list of death-deserving offenses parallel to male-male sex includes cursing one’s father and mother, and failing to make proper distinctions between clean and unclean animals. If we are going to say that the church is bound to Levitical law, I’m not sure it is appropriate to cherry-pick which clean/unclean distinctions we are going to keep.

In the New Testament, there are two passages in Paul’s epistles with sin lists that some translations and interpreters link to homosexuality.

  • The first is 1Corinthians 6:9-10“Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.”
  • The second is 1Timothy 1:9-10 “the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers, fornicators, sodomites, slave-traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching…”

The word Paul uses in both texts, rendered “sodomites” by the NRSV, is a rare one and therefore difficult to pin down as to its exact meaning in Paul’s cultural context. Luther translated it “defilers of boys,” seeing in it an abusive and exploitative kind of pederasty. A second word in the Corinthians text, translated as “male prostitutes” by the NRSV, and “effeminate” in some other translations, literally means “soft.” Luther rendered this obscure word, “weaklings,” and the New Jerusalem Bible brings out its general ethical significance by using “self-indulgent.” Dr. Brian Peterson comments: “Basically, one was considered ‘soft’ if one allowed desires to gain control. This language of ‘soft’ was used to describe men who ate too much, slept too much, and those who engaged in too much sex, whether with boys, or men, or multiple women, or even with one’s own wife.” Some translations have taken one use of this in ancient culture — those who submit as passive partners to pederasts — but the word is broader than that.

That brings us to Romans 1:18-32.

Genesis 19 is about forced homosexual rape as a weapon of conflict. The Leviticus texts are problematic because they are part of the old covenant law that includes many prohibitions we don’t consider binding. The words Paul uses in a couple of his sin-lists don’t really speak to homosexuality except for specific abusive and exploitative forms of immoral behavior. However, Romans 1 may be clear. The key words are found in 1:24-27 —

Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. (NASB)

In context, the sexual behavior described in these verses is part of a long diatribe detailing the idolatry, immorality, and depravity of the Gentile world. It began when the nations did not honor God or give him thanks as their Creator, but foolishly trusted in their own wisdom and became idolators. In the broader context of Romans, Paul is setting forth a description his fellow Jews would have wholeheartedly commended. Romans 1:18-31 is Paul’s “orthodox” portrayal of the Gentile world from a Jewish point of view.

The big problem is idolatry. Out of that idolatry, all kinds of immoral and destructive patterns of behaving and relating arose. In addition to the sexual behavior he notes “unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful…” So the first thing to note is that this diatribe is describing homosexual behavior that is rooted in idolatry and linked with a whole host of deadly sins that reflect “ungodliness and unrighteousness” (1:18).

The second point to note is that the homosexual behavior described in Romans 1 grows out of “degrading passions” and “burning desires.” It does not reflect any kind of faithful, committed relationships but portrays people out of control sexually, surrendering to intense lustful cravings.

The third point is the most difficult for anyone who might want to find sanction for homosexual relations in Scripture. Paul describes both men and women abandoning the “natural” function for the “unnatural,” suggesting that male-male or female-female sex is contrary to natural law and the design of the Creator. Male and female bodies were made sexually complementary and the union of male and female fulfills the Creator’s design for spouses to become “one flesh” and produce children. That is the “natural” pattern.

One final point must be made about this Romans passage.

Romans 1:18-32 shows a great deal of formal arrangement, and it shares many similarities with tracts against Gentile idolatry in Jewish literature of Paul’s day. Brendan Byrne has an impressive list of parallels in his Sacra Pagina commentary.

In the letter of Romans, 1:18-32 serves an important rhetorical function. One of Paul’s main purposes in writing the epistle was to justify his worldwide ministry to the Gentiles and to help bring peace to Jew-Gentile relations in the Roman congregations. The first part of the apostle’s argument is designed to help his self-righteous Jewish audience understand that they are equally bound by sin and in need of the Good News of Christ despite their possession of God’s law. With that in mind, Romans 1:18-32 functions as a rhetorical trap. Byrne describes how this works:

These parallels show that in 1:18-32 Paul argues out of a defined tradition in Hellenistic Judaism. Within the framework of the intra-Jewish dialogue that he is conducting at this point and for his own rhetorical purposes, he is beguiling the implied reader with a conventional polemic against the Gentile world and its idolatry. He is not directly targeting the Gentile world and certainly not the Gentile believers in Rome. He is not even “demonstrating” the sinfulness of the Gentile world; he takes that for granted. As in Gal. 2:15 (“We are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners”) and before springing his rhetorical trap (2:1), he induces his Jewish dialogue partner at this point to sit back and say, “Yes, that’s the Gentile world we all know.”

Romans (Sacra Pagina Series)

When Paul gets to 2:1, he “springs his trap” as he turns to his Jewish audience and addresses them with these words: “Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.” In other words, in Romans 1:18-32, Paul describes the sinfulness of the Gentile world using terms that get the most passionate agreement from his Jewish audience, so that he could then turn the tables on them and prove that they are just as guilty as the Gentiles they condemn.

Whatever we make of Paul’s words in Romans 1, we must keep these points in mind. Do they have any impact on the way we view homosexuality today, in our own cultural contexts? From my perspective, Romans 1 is the only text in the Bible that directly speaks to the subject, and it appears that even this passage must be read carefully and interpreted in its context.

 

Comments

  1. Kim Smith says:

    This post makes me very sad. I’m sorry that you feel forced to treat the Bible like this. This blog will no longer be in my Reader.

    • Kim, I’d wait before deciding to remove yourself from the imonk community. You are well within your rights to disagree with Chaplain Mike, but that’s not a reason never to read this site again. If you’re like me, then you’ve read a lot of challenging, encouraging, life-affirming, beautiful writing here on this blog. I wouldn’t want to throw all that away.

  2. Kim I guess I’d like to know what you mean by “treat the Bible like this,” especially when I did not state any conclusions.

    • Mike, the title suggests you are going to just look at the texts, but by the time you get to Leviticus you are already talking about the difficulties of present-day applications of an otherwise straightforward reading of the text. So yes, although you aren’t stating conclusions, you are nudging in that direction of beginning to draw conclusions that are not as perspicuous as some might anticipate in their reading of scripture.

      • So, Steve, a straightforward reading of the text of the Levitical Law also says it is an abomination to wear clothing made of two different materials, to eat shellfish, and to have sex with my wife when she has her menstrual period. How do you handle that?

        The point is not “a straightforward reading of the text.”

        • I will be watching this with interest.

          If marriage is ONE man and ONE woman, then what gives with all the polygamy? This is an area I have been wrestling with (granted this isn’t about homosexuality, but the whole idea of “biblical” marriage).

          • Radagast says:

            Accepted in that time because it sped up the grow your tribe and be fruitful and multiply thing. And although Hebrew women (and women of the Hellenistic and hellenic cultures) had it better than the surrounding nations, they still were not equated with the man and were sometimes considered rights and property.

          • Sorry, I didn’t realize polygamy was a grey area. I was somewhat certain it was considered a bad idea, with the OT patriarchs not necessarily being commended for it.

        • Mike, people like Steve handle your question by saying such things like the Leviticus/”the Law of Moses”s only apples to those who “not under Grace.” (The commandments of Jesus about loving our neighbor and taking care of the poor also don’t apply to those “under Grace” since obeying those literally is “works”.

          As for the Romans passage, if you are right about your interpretation, what do you say to a chaste, celibete, self-avowed Gay or Lesbian?

          • Ninure, honestly I don’t know. The answer is beyond the scope of this current post, which is simply to examine the texts that speak directly to homosexuality. That is not the only evidence we should take into account, but it is the focus of this post, and it’s where I think we should begin.

          • Is heterosexuality a virtue? If not, in and of itself, then homosexuality cannot be a sin. It is the actions (adultery, sodomy, fornication) that Scripture speaks about. Even within heterosexual relationships, such as marriage, chasteness is still called for as in St Paul’s teaching in 1Corinthians 7:1-10: “Now to deal with the questions you wrote about: ‘Is it good for a man to keep away from women?’ 2 Well, because of the danger of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should give his wife what she is entitled to in the marriage relationship, and the wife should do the same for her husband. 4 The wife is not in charge of her own body, but her husband is; likewise, the husband is not in charge of his own body, but his wife is. 5 Do not deprive each other, except for a limited time, by mutual agreement, and then only so as to have extra time for prayer; but afterwards, come together again. Otherwise, because of your lack of self-control, you may succumb to the Adversary’s temptation. 6 I am giving you this as a suggestion, not as a command. 7 Actually, I wish everyone were like me; but each has his own gift from God, one this, another that. 8 Now to the single people and the widows I say that it is fine if they remain unmarried like me; 9 but if they can’t exercise self-control, they should get married; because it is better to get married than to keep burning with sexual desire. 10 To those who are married I have a command, and it is not from me but from the Lord: a woman is not to separate herself from her husband…”

            It seems that the teaching in Scripture aids us in regulating our passions (lust, gluttony, greed, and so on). In the OT Law, the passions were regulated by the citations in Leviticus. Now, under grace, and the Law of Love, we are to do nothing that harms the ‘Other”, our Neighbour as well as ourselves: Galatians 5:13-14 “For, brothers, you were called to be free. Only do not let that freedom become an excuse for allowing your old nature to have its way. Instead, serve one another in love. 14 For the whole of the Torah is summed up in this one sentence: “‘Love your neighbor as yourself'” and Galatians 5:16-18 “What I am saying is this: run your lives by the Spirit. Then you will not do what your old nature wants. 17 For the old nature wants what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit wants what is contrary to the old nature. These oppose each other, so that you find yourselves unable to carry out your good intentions. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, then you are not in subjection to the system that results from perverting the Torah into legalism.”

          • I suppose I am asking “How can we answer the question of ‘What does the Bible say” about homosexuality’ if we can not define what homosexuality/homosexual is?

            If two ADULT people of the same gender enter into a chaste celibate life-long loving relationship relationship with each other, are they homosexuals/ is that homosexuality?

        • Mike, my point ( and probably your point to me) was that we all employ hermeneutics when we approach scripture. You can’t help but begin to develop conclusions depend on how you read the text, so why deny it to Kim? Better to point her back to other posts about the authority of scripture, and she can decide for herself whether this online community is rightly dividing the word of Truth.

          • My point is that this post is not about conclusions. It is about looking at the texts that speak directly to homosexuality and trying to understand them.

          • There is a difficulty in looking *solely* at scriptures that address homosexuality. Other people will start with the scriptures that define what Is a holy sexual union in scripture – marriage between a man and a woman – and define anything outside those boundaries as sin.
            With that approach, when you hear someone parse Genesis 19 as to whether the actual sin was the sexual contact, or the violence underlying that sexual contact, it sounds like they’re just playing games with words.

          • Ok Mike. However, even if you are attempting to look solely at isolated scriptures in an effort to focus the discussion, don’t you think it would be helpful to include scriptures like Ezekiel 16:49-50, where God actually explains the sins in the Genesis 19 story that weighed in His decision to destroy the cities?

            • That came up in the comments, Steve. I think Ezekiel 16 may support my interpretation, though some of the sins listed are general enough that there is room for some doubt.

          • I agree that Ez.16 focuses on sins of inhospitality towards the poor and needy, etc. The homosexual behaviors described in Genesis 19 are not even directly mentioned, except perhaps implied in the word “abominations” (if you believe that’s what God was referring to).
            All the more reason not to look at the six scriptural references in isolation. I would say it’s a noble effort and an interesting thought experiment, but (so far) unhelpful.

            • I would just call it a topical Bible study and I think it’s very helpful as data gathering. Can’t see why anyone would object to it on that level.

        • Mike and Ninure, a friend of mine had a seminary class where a rabbi came in as a guest lecturer. He asked the future clergy a similar question: there are 613 laws in the Torah – which commands do you Christians follow?
          There was a long, long silence, then finally one of the students said, “if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”

  3. You are correct that Paul’s designation of homosexual sex as “unnatural” is the key.

    Rather than isolating each passage as you have done, why not look at the consistency between the passages? Does the consistency in condemning some sort of homosexual behavior tell us something?

    MOD NOTE: Comment edited. This post is about looking at what the Bible says, period.

    • In order to fully understand my views, I felt that those comments should have been included. By restricting our discussion to ONLY what the BIBLE SAYS, you are acting like a fundamentalist, and no, not in a good way.

      • Sorry Ben. You might want to read the FAQs/RULES again. There is no absolute right of free speech here. Michael’s rule — which we uphold.

  4. Travis Sibley says:

    Thank you so much for an honest examination of the Scriptures!

    So few who quote scriptures, in defense or in favor of any number of traditional behaviors, actually ever examine the context of the writings while considering the time & culture in which it is written.

    Fantastic job. Well done. Reposting!

  5. I appreciate the examination of scripture in this discussion. It’s very concise and pushes back at the right points (though I look forward to competing interpretations in this comment thread).

    Even though I’m Protestant, this issue seems an excellent one to rely upon tradition in conjunction with scriptural interpretation. Hasn’t the overwhelming (near unanimous) position of the Christian church during the last two millennia been that homosexuality is unethical?

    If so, it seems to take a lot of hubris to claim that suddenly, like some form of spontaneous theological combustion, our current moment in time has arrived at the “correct” interpretation of scripture and that homosexuality is not actually unethical. This position seems rather chronocentric — being focused too much on the present moment as the judge and jury for truth — and bears too many traces of enlightenment thinking about the progress of humanity.

    • Right, because Paul didn’t tell philemon that he should free his slave.

      • But as Dr. Robert Gagnon of Pittsburg Theological Seminary wrote:

        “Scripture shows no vested interest in preserving the institution of slavery but it does show a strong vested interest from Genesis to Revelation in preserving a male-female prerequisite. Unlike its treatment of the institution of slavery, Scripture treats a male-female prerequisite for sex as a pre-Fall structure…How can changing up on the Bible’s male-female prerequisite for sex be analogous to the church’s revision of the slavery issue if the Bible encourages critique of slavery but discourages critique of a male-female paradigm for sex?”

        • J.Random says:

          I’d say Dr. Gagnon is mistaken to claim that Scripture has a “strong vested interest” in “preserving a male-female prerequisite.” Even granting that Scripture has an interest, there are only about six passages in the entire Bible about it, and of those, only Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Romans focus their point against same-sex relations. That would be a “weak” interest in the topic at best.

          Scripture has a stronger “vested interest” in telling the people of God never to charge interest when lending money. There are over two dozen verses decrying that practice.

          The Bible treats male-female relations as the norm, yes… because it *is* the norm, as in, the common experience held by the vast majority of humanity. Of *course* Adam and Eve are male and female — not necessarily because that is the One True Way, but because the story is about the origins of a people; childbirth is necessary to the story.

          But don’t take the Bible talking a lot about common human experience as a condemnation of all uncommon human experience.

          • From Gagnon:

            “But limited explicit mention can be an indication of an irreducible minimum in sexual ethics that doesn’t need to be talked about extensively. Bestiality, an offense worse than homosexual practice, is mentioned even less in the Bible; and sex with one’s parent receives a comparable amount of attention to homosexual practice.
            The Bible’s attention to homosexual practice is also not as limited as Knust pretends it to be. Knust leaves out some texts that have to do with homosexual practice. A case in point are the repeated references in Deuteronomy through 2 Kings to the “abomination” of the qedeshim (so-called “sacred ones”), cult figures who engage in consensual sex with other males, also echoed in the Book of Revelation (22:15; 21:8).
            Even more importantly, every biblical narrative, law, proverb, exhortation, metaphor, and poetry in the Bible that has anything to do with sexual relationships presumes a male-female prerequisite – no exceptions. A more consistent ethical position in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation could hardly be found. This is not…a narrow interpretation of a few biblical passages.”

            • Just fyi: “Knust” refers to Jennifer Knust.

            • J.Random says:

              I find the foundations of Gagnon’s argument unsound. It’s unreasonable to conclude that praising something common implicitly condemns everything uncommon. I grant that the Bible has condemning things to say about same-sex relationships — I just don’t buy that they are illicit in absolute terms, any more than every heterosexual marriage is licit in absolute terms. I’m aware of too many gay relationships whose holiness puts other straight relationships to shame; and I’m not going to blind myself to my brothers and sisters just so a particular systematic theology can have its absolutes.

              The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. As with the Sabbath, so also with this.

              • Gagnon:

                “Paul’s indictment of homosexual practice in Romans 1:24-27 is clearly absolute. This is indicated by multiple layers of evidence, including: the strong echoes to Genesis 1:26-27 in Romans 1:23-27; the nature argument based on the material structures of creation (compare Romans 1:26-27 with 1:20); the indictment of lesbianism, not known for exploitative practices; the emphasis on mutuality (“inflamed with their desire on one another,” 1:27); Jewish and Christian texts from the second and third centuries rejecting same-sex marriage; and the broader Greco-Roman context where some moralists and physicians condemn as “against nature” even loving forms of homosexual practice by persons congenitally predisposed to same-sex attractions…There is no pretending. The Bible’s witness against homosexual practice is consistent, strong, absolute, and countercultural, as any informed stance will recognize.”

                • J.Random says:

                  “While the first four chapters of Gagnon’s book could be read as an important contribution to biblical scholarship on homosexuality and sexual ethics, I’m afraid that the last chapter reads more like partisan talking points that can be used to attack and dismiss interpretations which differ with Gagnon’s particular interpretation of the Bible. Instead of seriously engaging the theological and modern scientific challenges to the Bible’s apparent position on homosexual practice, Gagnon’s mind is clearly made up, and he will come up with any argument he can, good or bad, to defend what he already thinks.”

                  — Scot Miller, “Reading Gagnon: What Went Wrong,” http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tonyjones/2012/04/06/reading-gagnon-what-went-wrong-scot/

                  • The replies seem to be not working correctly today.

                    So for J. Random-

                    I think the most interesting part of that series is the comments Scot Miller and a Ben W. shared and concluded with Ben W stating:

                    “Scot, thank you for so clearly saying that “The Bible says all these things, and these things are wrong.” The real issue here is not us grappling with texts and struggling to comprehend the meaning. The issue we are grappling with is the nature of biblical authority and the application of hard-to-apply texts (not hard-to-comprehend texts). I just want the conversation to move beyond the idea that there’s lots of ambiguity about what the biblical authors teach about homosexual acts. I’m glad you’ve admitted that we essentially agree about what the biblical authors teach, but disagree with how individuals and the Church should apply these teachings”

                    Perhaps he is right. The texts appear to be pretty clear, but how does our understanding of biblical authority play into the discussion?

                    • I think the issue with the “replies” function is that when you reply to a comment, and then that comment gets moded or deleted, your reply get’s hung out in the middle of nowhere. Just a guess.

                  • Thankyou thankyou thankyou for that link! I continued to his final article in this series and it really helped me crystallize a few thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head.

                    I needed the reminder that before you can determine whether anything is sinful you need a pretty solid definition of sin. If it’s just a list of rules not to be broken than it can be easy to make homosexuality one of those rules, if it’s something much more significant like alienation from God than it becomes less clear what the problem with homosexuality is. This doesn’t solve all my issues, but it’s helped me define the turf of my internal arguments much better.

                    Thank you once again!

                    • Huh??? This was supposed to be in response to J. Random’s post above linking to Scott Miller’s analysis of Gagnon.

                    • Ken, per Ben Witherington:

                      “The Bible is clear enough that same sex sexual activity is considered a sin both in the OT and in the NT. The basis for this judgment, and for Jesus’s pronouncements on fidelity in heterosexual marriage and celibacy in any other kind of relationship (MT. 19) is not based on cultural practices of his day but rather is grounded in the creation theology which says that men and women were created in God’s image and for each other. There is also a theology of the Fall in play as well in Romans 1.18-32. Not everything that seems natural to some in a fallen world is good or godly. The issue has to do with behavior in the Bible not orientation.”

                • “[T]he indictment of lesbianism” has been called into question. See, e.g., James E. Miller “The Practices of Romans 1:26: Homosexual or Heterosexual?” Novum Testamentum 37 (1995): 1-11

                  Thomas Schreiner disagrees with Miller http://www.sbts.edu/documents/tschreiner/Homosexuality.pdf and writes:

                  24 James E. Miller argues that v. 26 refers to unnatural heterosexual practices rather than same sex practices (‘The Practices of Romans 1:26: Homosexual or Heterosexual?’ Novum Testamentum 37 [1996]: 1-11). Such an interpretation falters, however, because it separates vv. 26 and 27 too rigidly from one another. Upon reading v. 27 it is clear that Paul has same sex intercourse in view, and hence it is quite likely that he has the same sin among females in view in v. 26. To claim that a different kind of sexual sin is criticized in v. 26, as Miller alleges, should be rejected since no evidence exists in these two verses that Paul addresses sexual sins among women that can be differentiated from the same sex practices indicted in v. 27. Robert Jewett maintains that the parallels adduced from ancient literature also suggest that Miller’s interpretation is mistaken (‘The Social Context and Implications of Homoerotic References in Romans 1:24–27’, in Homosexuality, Science, and the “Plain Sense” of Scripture, ed. David L. Balch [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000], 233).

                  From what I recall from reading Miller’s paper, I don’t think Schreiner fully engages with what Miller is arguing and hence his criticism/dismissal of Miller may be improper.

                  • Sorry – this was supposed to appear as a response to

                    Rick says:
                    May 21, 2012 at 12:55 pm

                    Gagnon:…

                    And … it appears that using the HTML quote tags does NOT indent the text as I had thought. 🙂

    • My thoughts as well Fox, but you said it better than I ever could.

    • I’m sure you realize that the standard rebuttal to this is “the Church was wrong about slavery, it’s wrong about this too.” And here’s where that line of thinking leads. If the Church was wrong that homosexuality is a sin, and the homosexuality issue is morally equivalent to the slavery issue, then by extension to call homosexuals sinners is the same as being a proponent of slavery, i.e., a racist. This is the line of thinking that has led nations like Sweden to prosecute as hate speech those who preach such things from the pulpit. (Not that I’m in any way agreeing with what Ake Green said in his infamous sermon; it was despicable).

      In other words, what usually happens in these discussions, no matter how well-intentioned the OP, is some form of Godwin’s Law (“As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches.”) Except with the Church, it’s a comparison of gays and lesbians to chattels.

      What I hate about these discussions, is that they’re like a wrestling match. In one corner is Westboro Baptist Church. In the other is NAMBLA. And I feel like I’m being pushed to choose one or the other.

      Case in point: I recently read a story about a Roman Catholic priest who welcomes and compassionately ministers to homosexuals, transgenders, transvestites. As I have in my ministry. He doesn’t affirm their sin, but he does affirm them as human beings for whom Christ died. For this, I heard him called a “hypocrite” by some on the left and a “heretic” by some on the right. No middle ground. I find the whole thing very disheartening.

      • Donegal Misfortune says:

        I don’t think it was racist when my ancient Celtic brethren were bought and sold into slavery. It is my hope they they cheerfully obeyed their masters, and worked as unto God rather than man, so as to not be pleasers of men.

  6. The issue is what Christlike love looks like in sexual relationships.

    MOD NOTE: Comment edited. This issue with regard to this post is what the Bible says, not our opinions or ethical views of homosexuality.

    • This is also a case where scripture interprets scripture. The verses regarding homosexual sex must be interpreted in connection to the rest of what the bible says about sex and marriage and gender and families and the created order and the nature of love generally. This kind of verse by verse parsing is how you end up with churches that speak in tongues but don’t baptize the young or disabled members of households and drink grapejuice a couple times a year and call it communion.

      • Boaz,

        I don’t think that arguing about other Christian’s practices regarding communion is applicable here. Romans 14 clearly says that people should make up their own mind “about disputable matters,” and that each of us are responsible to our creator. I do agree with your statement of using Scripture to interpret Scripture. We need more of that. I do not believe we should reinterpret Scripture in the light of 19th, 20th, or 21st century “understanding,” but we do need to give grace to others and allow them to “work out their salvation with fear and trembling.”

    • J. Random says:

      “[Marriage] has absolutely nothing to do with satisfying about my own sexual desires.”

      Paul says directly otherwise:

      “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”

      1 Corinthians 7:8-9.

      I.e., marry, if you must quench your lusts.

      • …or perhaps it could be better understood as; marriage offers a route through which you can run from temptation? Marital intimacy is not the expression of lust, in fact, it is the exact antithesis of this. It is the application of God given desires for their God given purposes. If you have these desires, consider that God may have an intended expression in mind (I know, not exactly the strongest line of reasoning in THIS post 😛 ). Marriage isn’t the abandonment of self-control, it is actually a good example of it: We know we are tempted in one area, so instead of sucking it up and trying to be superman, we consider that we are not called to singleness and rejoice in the right use of the gifts God wants us to enjoy. But even in marriage there is a need for patience, self-control, being considerate, and faithfulness. To say this passage prescribes marriage as the remedy for sexual desires not only makes sexual desire into something bad (which it is not), but it sets marriage up to be something it was never meant for: an institution designed to fulfill all MY needs.

  7. I think the point being missed is that all sexual relationships outside of the monogamous heterosexual marriage of one man and one woman are condemned in the New Testament. Of course you are correct in your comments that certain passages must be taken “in context”. In fact, all passages in the Bible must be taken in context to get the correct understanding from them. I also was taught that we interpret the Bible with the Bible, meaning we compare –all passages of– similar subject matter to discern the underlying truth. This would lead most thinking people to say –as orthodox Christianity does– that sexual immorality is forbidden. I believe this means what I said in my first sentence about proper sexual conduct.

    Of course, does this mean that we shun — or stone — the people who practice such things? I don’t think so. Paul says that we are to judge those inside the church, and not associate with the sexually immoral who claim to be members of the church, but not shun those outside the church (see 1 Cor 5 – 7). I believe we must make a distinction between those who live by Christ’s standards and those who do not.

    The principles are clear: those who do not recognize the sin in their lives — idolaters, murderers, sexually immoral, etc. — and do not repent of said sin, will not inherit the Kingdom of God. Jesus was merciful to those who repented. He was even merciful to those who merely recognized their sin. He was very harsh toward those who should have known better, — the Pharisees and teachers of the Law — yet did not make life easier for others, and even did evil themselves, yet did not repent of it.

  8. J. Random says:

    Regarding Paul’s use of “natural” and “unnatural” —

    He also describes it as “unnatural” for men to let their hair grow long, and he describes God’s work grafting the Gentiles onto the tree of the covenant as “against nature.” I think these words to him are descriptive, not prescriptive.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      He also describes it as “unnatural” for men to let their hair grow long…

      Anyone remember the knock-down-drag-out of the 1960s about how Long Hair on Men was a Sin? Quoting this verse as “God Saith”? I remember illos of Jesus with beard and Scriptural (TM) crewcut….

  9. All in all, this is a careful analysis of the individual texts. However, the word “careful” isn’t 100% complimentary. It can mean “meticulous and filled with attention”; it can also mean “hesitant and timid”. I know the challenge of communicating in well-nuanced terms, saying as much as you can without saying too much and entering into inaccuracy.

    However, I think the Scriptures listed go slightly farther than is represented here. This hesitancy is subtle in the earliest passages, but by Romans 1, a blatant and explicit reference to homosexuality’s sinfulness is being minimized by shifting the emphasis to idolatry. I understand that idolatry is part of the passage, but to shift the focus so entirely to idolatry that the obvious reference to man-man or woman-woman sexual relations is all but lost within a warning to pay attention to context… this seems to display an unwillingness to stare this text in the face.

    If those comments came off as disrespectful, then I missed my mark on “typed tone”. My meaning was simply that I thought your handling of 5/6 of these passages was wisely cautious. By #6, I was debating if perhaps both you AND I had overstepped into a caution that avoids saying what SHOULD be said.

    • Jason

      I preached on Romans 1 a few weeks ago. It seems to me the main focus of the argument of the passage is as follows:

      First, Paul is concerned with the theological point that we are all sinners (and therefore need Christ).

      Second, the root of this sin is our “God-avoidance”. We have a natural knowledge of God (limited though it be), but we “suppress” it (verses 18-20).

      Third, the specific way mankind has suppressed the knowledge of God is by refusing to glorify Him as God or by living lives of thankfulness before Him (verse 21). In other words, we, like the first couple, refuse to live as creatures in dependence upon the creator, and instead try to be our own God while hiding from the true God.

      Fourth, the “form” that this God-avoidance takes is idolatry. Mankind has “exchanged” a relationship with the living God for non-living idols which are made by man (verse 23). The natural order is thus perverted. Instead of living as creatures made in God’s image, we now make gods in our image. Instead of serving God, the gods serve us.

      Thus idolatry is indeed central to the flow of thought to the passage, and more fundamental than the discussion of homosexuality, which follows it.

      Fifth, as a judgment on mankind’s root sin, God “gave them over” to sexual sin (verse 24). This does not mean He invented it or made them do it, but that His judgment was to let their rejection of the natural order proceed, along with the consequences of that. God let mankind have it’s own way, and sexual sin proceeded from that.

      Sixth, Paul then says further that God gave them over to homosexual acts (verse 26-27). That is, defiance of God leads to sexual sin, which ultimately brings about homosexual actions.

      Seventh, Paul then says God gave them over to all kinds of sin: envy, murder, deceit, boastful, disobedient to parents, etc… (verses 28-32).

      Thus, the thrust of the passage is that all mankind is sinners, and this is seen in our God-rejection, with it’s paradigmatic sin of idolatry. From this flows all the other sins.

      Why is homosexuality mentioned so specifically? I don’t know. But I suspect Paul is saying that it is not the worst sin, but rather it most graphically illustrates (especially to his audience) the way sin distorts the natural order. In other words, it is not a sin of a different class than other sins, but one that shows how ALL sin is unnatural. We who are straight, then, have no grounds for looking down on those who are not. ALL sin is rooted in the same soil. It simple bears fruit of differing hues and size.

      In any case, it seems clear that this passage functions in a theological role (we are all sinners). To lose that in order to focus on “how bad homosexuality is” would be a great loss indeed.

      • humanslug says:

        Good thoughts, Daniel.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Why is homosexuality mentioned so specifically? I don’t know. But I suspect Paul is saying that it is not the worst sin, but rather it most graphically illustrates (especially to his audience) the way sin distorts the natural order.

        Also (citing Leviticus) it was also a strong taboo to the Jews, and thus would make a very graphic illustration. As well as tying in to the decline narrative of “These are the things which the Goyim do” — including breaking the strongest Jewish taboos.

      • But I suspect Paul is saying that it is not the worst sin, but rather it most graphically illustrates (especially to his audience) the way sin distorts the natural order. In other words, it is not a sin of a different class than other sins, but one that shows how ALL sin is unnatural.

        Like this

  10. Thank you Chaplain Mike.

  11. This is classic pro-gay theology. Twisting the text to conform to modern day social agendas.

    MOD NOTE: Comment edited. The issue is not “pro-gay theology” but examining what the Scriptures say. If you disagree, fine, but keep your focus on the texts and not on some agenda that you assume I have.

  12. Congratulations on your attentive use of rationalization to explain why the obvious is to be ignored since it really isn’t there. Ah yes, ever learning but never able to … this truly is a sad moment. No doubt you will be applauded by many homosexuals and their sympathizers for your progess. Enjoy.

    • Alex, and congratulations to you for avoiding entering into conversation on the actual topic and texts and merely casting condemnation my way.

      • Come ‘on Mike, the rhetorical device of sarcasm is to point out the absurd. You absolutely disregarded major portions of the textual arguments which would affirm homosexuality as both sinful and more strongly condemned that other sexual sins. It is difficult to take this post seriously with that in view and I am convinced you are better than this glossary treatment.

        • And you still haven’t said a word about the text. Alex, no more of this back and forth. Either deal with the subject or take the day off.

          • The Pyromaniac bullies have taught you well with the use of threats. But as the day permits I will give you a full response.

          • Alex I don’t mean to be rude, but I will insist that we stick to the subject. This one has too much potential for going off on tangents or getting everyone overheated. I’m trying to take a “1 step at a time” approach. Before dealing with anything else, let’s look at the texts that speak directly to the subject. I hope you’ll see that this is far from a Pyro approach.

          • Alex, you felt Mike was “threatening” you? Really?

        • Accepted, thank you. Hopefully this evening I will have time to oblige with a full response.

      • Adrienne says:

        I’d like to take a second to look at this from a big picture, elementary school viewpoint. We pour over the texts to find something that will give us a clue about how we, as Christians should handle this dicey area, once and for all. Why? If we find an absolute, that means either we condemn and rebuke (and probably keep them out of the Kingdom with our admonishing) or we accept and love. We are charged to love! There really are only two choices here and it should be one of the simplest to make for a Christian. And I don’t think Jesus means we are to exalt ourselves above the fornicator/tax collector/drunkard/homosexual with Bibles in one hand and a good natured pat on the head with the other and go about our “Christian” lives. We ARE them. The Judge knows your heart and He will do what he does best.

        • Adrienne, that response was pitch-perfect. I couldn’t agree more. In examining what Scripture says about same-sex relationships and what to “do” about them, we should not forget the other parts of Scripture that teach us to “judge not,” to “remove the plank from our own eye,” and exactly where ANYone can find eternal life (hint: not in the Scriptures!) 🙂

          • Adrienne says:

            Thank you and Amen, Jen! I know folks don’t like to think of God as “testing” us, but this issue sure feels a lot like a test in legalism or even faith. When we have become as learn-ed as we can on the subject of God, what happens when there’s still a problem? We should trust what we DO know about God and follow that path of logic. When you JUST look at the text, I fear one can come up with a formula that is too legalistic. Does slavery, dietary restrictions, rape, and murder=the story of God? No, but it’s part of OUR story. I think perhaps one of the reasons there is not much said about homosexuality in the first place is because, in the grand scheme, it is a blip on God’s radar. Sex is a biological response to the human condition and He knows that. He tells us to “govern ourselves according to the Word of God” and I personally don’t take that as a warning to get my checklist out, I take it as advice to use our God-given BRAINS and not to quibble over every little, potentially insignificant thing. Hope I don’t sound too liberal! Just my thoughts…

  13. Does anyone else think of how Peter vision about clean and unclean foods might parallel homosexuality?
    I think that if God can change the rules about something so much a part of Jewish culture, he can change the rules about anything.
    Couldn’t he declare some gay couples clean?

    Also, the whole exchange with Jesus about divorce: it’s allowed because our heart are hard. Don’t you think he could allow gay couples to be in relationship because our hearts are hard? I know divorced couples who feel God led them to choose divorce, and I know some who got remarried–and feel God blessed them with the new partner. It seems God breaks his own rules all the time.

    Therefore, I choose to be agnostic about the issue. I see that gay sex seems to be missing the mark because of how we are designed, (i.e., sin), but I think God can call a gay union clean, and can bless a gay couple if he so chooses.

    Acts 10
    9 About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. 13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”
    14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
    15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
    16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.

    Matthew 19
    3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
    4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’[a] 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’[b]? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
    7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
    8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
    10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”
    11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

    • “Couldn’t he declare some gay couples clean? ”

      Sure, He probably could. But we have no evidence that He has, and the evidence we do have points to just the opposite

    • Jack Heron says:

      ‘”Does anyone else think of how Peter vision about clean and unclean foods might parallel homosexuality?”

      This is a very good point. Remember what Peter does right after his vision – he tells the Roman soldier (about a kosher as a bacon cheeseburger) that it is against Jewish laws to visit or associate with him, but God has shown him that he should call no man unclean. Peter understood his vision to be about *more* than food. Granted, there is nothing in the vision about which old laws, precisely, are not to be continued (it’s clearly not all, else the not-murdering thing would be in trouble), nor to what extent ‘not calling any man unclean’ can be applied to a man’s actions, but the precedent is there. If Peter stopped and thought, we too should at least stop and think. And I think that’s all I can say without heading off the topic of what the Bible itself says, so I shall stop.

  14. Kevin Bullock says:

    So when are you going to get to “what the bible says?” It is clear what you would like it to say. This is truly a disappointment.

    MOD NOTE: Comment edited. Please respond to the post and its focus on the Scriptures. If you disagree, fine, state your interpretation. Stop impugning motives and deal with the actual words I’ve written.

    • Kevin Bullock says:

      I did deal with the actual words that you wrote. You didn’t like what I thought so you deleted it. One thing I appreciated about Spencer is that he could discuss difficult topics and still respect his readers/commenters.
      You are acting more like an ibully than an imonk with anyone that disagrees with your agenda. Have a great day, I will.

      • Kevin, first of all, Michael Spencer was a much stricter moderator than I am. Second, I am not being a bully and I don’t have an agenda in this post other than examining the texts that speak directly to the subject of homosexuality. And I am not permitting any comments that don’t speak to that purpose. The problem with this whole discussion is that we get ahead of ourselves and want to think others have motives and agendas. I’m asking that we slow down, take one step at a time, and examine the evidence. I truly want an honest discussion of these texts and how we should understand them. That’s all, no more and no less.

        • Kevin Bullock says:

          You say you want to let the text speak but begin it with a proof text, is that the best way to begin an examination of any text? And I really wish you had not cut my thoughts in half by editing, that seems a bit shady.
          1. I have no interest in discussing homosexuality from a political or cultural perspective the only discussion I am interested in at that level would to discuss how the church can avoid becoming self righteous or unloving given the “new normal”. That is a much timelier and productive discussion IMO not reinterpreting scripture to fit the times.
          2. Can we simply pick a topic such as what does the bible say bout eating chickens and ignore the other books that specifically mention chickens but still gives us the mind of god regarding chickens and everything else?

  15. I think Scot McKnight had a good summary of his stance on the matter in regards to these passages:

    “I believe Gen 19 and Judg is about sexual violence, though I think an “out of order” argument can be inferred; I think Leviticus is about an “out of order” argument, though there is clearly an idolatry and separate-from-the-pagans argument involved. Romans 1 is about the argument from “nature” or “order.” The other two Pauline texts are about same-sex acts, but it is not entirely clear what that context might be. Running through these, however, is the creational argument that God made humans into male and female, and that is God’s order.”

    • I think Scot and I are very compatible in our understanding of the texts.

      • Perhaps, but you seem to focus more on the “idol” aspect of Romans 1, where Scot seems to focus more on the “created order” aspect (not that there isn’t some overlap of idol/creation).

  16. John M. says:

    What about Ezekiel 16:49 and what that passage speaks of as being the sin of Sodom? Does that not put a deeper emphasis on the behavior and attitude there, than just a homosexual act, or is that passage not referring to the same incident?

    • Some have used that verse, John, and I think it has some applicability. But it is fairly general and could cover a number of sins, especially when you add verse 50: “They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it.” I think it’s clear from Genesis 19 that more was going on than simply homosexual practice.

  17. I think this is especailly true for homosexuality…but so many other issues in scripture.

    How do Christians know they are using the Bible correctly? Do they take into account the cultural and historical climate of which it was written? Do they also take into account the many languages it’s gone through? I can understand and see the need for some baseline..however Palestine in 40 AD is quite different from our post-modern civilization.

    • Big questions, Eagle. Beyond the scope of this post, but good to keep in mind as we proceed.

    • It was the title of this post that initially threw me: “What Does the Bible Actually Say about ___________?” In this case it was about Homosexuality, but really you could insert any subject, and the implied promise is that you’re going to be fed raw information, free from any preconceptions, some kind of hermeneutical “no spin zone”.
      I notice that Mike has now added an opening paragraph that acknowledges this is an effort of interpretation, and though the questions about using the Bible correctly are beyond theinitial scope of the post, they underlie most of the responses here, and it’s kind of hard to avoid expanding the discussion.

      • “I notice that Mike has now added an opening paragraph that acknowledges this is an effort of interpretation…”

        Where did you see this?

        The point of this post is this: I want to start the process of my own consideration of the issue of homosexuality by examining the texts that speak directly to the subject. No more, no less.

        • Adrienne says:

          Chaplain Mike, you are a rock star in my eyes, but with all due respect, I am reading John Calvin’s The Institutes of the Christian Religion right now and one thing I am certain of from just the sheer volume of his Bible-assisted pontifications is the Word of God seems to multiply an ocean of gleanings from the heart of a true believer. It’s as though you are holding a ruler over our knuckles with this one just for the sake of staying on-topic. It feels like a bit of a power struggle in a space where we should experience freedom to say what we cannot say in the workplace, to friends, etc. This blog is where we can be “rough drafts” in an attempt to look something like a finished work among our more formal associations.

          • Adrienne says:

            And by formal associations, I mean anyone we face outside our cozy laptops!

          • Look we have all kinds of opportunities for wide-ranging discussion on IM. Is it too much to ask that once in a great while I try to lead a study that has a specific and more narrow focus?

        • Mike, you asked where I read that you were making an interpretation. I inferred it from your moderator’s note at the very top of the post:
          “If you disagree with my interpretation, that is perfectly acceptable, but the proper way to respond is to set forth your interpretation and show why it’s better.”
          Chaplain Mike, I really do appreciate your efforts here, and I understand that moderating must be doubly-difficult today.
          I’m trying to picture this same exercise, but with a different topic. Suppose you had asked: “What does the bible say about people from Crete? I’m examining the texts that speak directly to the subject.”
          We’d find in Titus 1 that Paul agrees with Epimenides: “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons”. Don’t you think a few people would be instantly worried about heading in the direction of foreclosure against the Cretans, even though you are swear you *aren’t* drawing conclusions?

          • Steve, all Bible study involves interpretation. I’m talking about the interpretation of the texts themselves, not drawing applications and lessons from them at this point.

            Step 1: What does the Bible say?
            Step 2: What does it mean?
            Step 3: How does it apply to the situation we’re discussing?

            In this post, I’m trying to focus on steps 1-2.

      • Kevin Bullock says:

        Steve, well stated.

    • Radagast says:

      I am in agreement with with Eagle here though we might come to different conclusions based on available evidence…

      We need to look at scripture in light of what was occuring during the time it was written. Paul, schooled in Jewish thought and called to share the way (and jewish thought and history) with Pagans would naturally explain a bit more extensively about what his culture considered immoral. If it was a jewish audience he would take it for granted that they already knew (ok – my opinion here). The people outside of Palestine were heavily influenced by Hellenic and Helenistic culture. That included for both greek and roman that homosexuality was an accepted practice. Heck, even Palestine was dotted with cities and towns that were wholey hellenistic in nature. Corinth was a melting pot of different fertility cults and cultural ideas. For the Jew there were certain moral issues that were not accepted (by jewish tradition) that went beyond Paul’s issues with Mosaic law.

      Second – Jewish thought was also based on common sense at the time. Want to grow your tribe?… outlaw things that don’t encourage procreation (man-with-man, man dumping his seed on the ground, etc). Kind of the same thing with comandments against things like eating pig (since they carry deseases that could transfer to humans if not cooked properly – and they probably observed evidence of this) and having sex with siblings (greater risk of poor health and the like).

      So my point is that you cannot ignore what was going on at the time. We could also throw in Tradition but I believe that’s off topic and I will leave that for another discussion.

  18. Phil M. says:

    Chaplain Mike,
    Romans 1 does seem to be one of the biggest sticking points. In fact I would say that if you look at other Jewish sources how Paul describes homosexuality isn’t out of the ordinary. Homosexuality would have been seen as a filthy Greek practice.

    That being said, have you seen Douglas Campbell’s book The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul? Campbell argues that in Romans 1 (along with other portions of Romans) Paul is engaging in rhetorical impersonation. He is impersonating a Jewish interlocutor, and when the interlocutor insists that all are condemned by a wrathful God, Paul contrasts that by saying all are now justified through Jesus’ death and resurrection. He applies this type of reading throughout the book of Romans. I don’t know if I buy it all completely, but it does seem to make some sense in these passages. Paul is setting a rhetorical trap, but he’s doing it in way that would be quite captivating to an audience. Remember that most of the epistles were written with the intent of being read aloud to the congregations they were written to. It’s not unlikely that this could involve taking advantage of a whole range of vocal styles and flourishes.

    • I have not seen his book, though I’ve been intrigued by what I’ve read about it. I don’t know if what I said about Paul setting a “rhetorical trap” for his Jewish audience fits with what Campbell says, but it sounds similar.

    • Re: Romans 1

      From The Wisdom of Solomon (part of the “Bible” of the early church), Chapter 14:

      12 For the idea of making idols was the beginning of fornication, and the invention of them was the corruption of life;
      13 for they did not exist from the beginning, nor will they last forever.
      14 For through human vanity they entered the world, and therefore their speedy end has been planned.
      15 For a father, consumed with grief at an untimely bereavement, made an image of his child, who had been suddenly taken from him; he now honored as a god what was once a dead human being, and handed on to his dependents secret rites and initiations.
      16 Then the ungodly custom, grown strong with time, was kept as a law, and at the command of monarchs carved images were worshiped.
      17 When people could not honor monarchs in their presence, since they lived at a distance, they imagined their appearance far away, and made a visible image of the king whom they honored, so that by their zeal they might flatter the absent one as though present.
      18 Then the ambition of the artisan impelled even those who did not know the king to intensify their worship.
      19 For he, perhaps wishing to please his ruler, skillfully forced the likeness to take more beautiful form,
      20 and the multitude, attracted by the charm of his work, now regarded as an object of worship the one whom shortly before they had honored as a human being.
      21 And this became a hidden trap for humankind, because people, in bondage to misfortune or to royal authority, bestowed on objects of stone or wood the name that ought not to be shared.
      22 Then it was not enough for them to err about the knowledge of God, but though living in great strife due to ignorance, they call such great evils peace.
      23 For whether they kill children in their initiations, or celebrate secret mysteries, or hold frenzied revels with strange customs,
      24 they no longer keep either their lives or their marriages pure, but they either treacherously kill one another, or grieve one another by adultery,
      25 and all is a raging riot of blood and murder, theft and deceit, corruption, faithlessness, tumult, perjury,
      26 confusion over what is good, forgetfulness of favors, defiling of souls, sexual perversion, disorder in marriages, adultery, and debauchery.
      27 For the worship of idols not to be named is the beginning and cause and end of every evil.
      28 For their worshipers either rave in exultation, or prophesy lies, or live unrighteously, or readily commit perjury;
      29 for because they trust in lifeless idols they swear wicked oaths and expect to suffer no harm.
      30 But just penalties will overtake them on two counts: because they thought wrongly about God in devoting themselves to idols, and because in deceit they swore unrighteously through contempt for holiness.
      31 For it is not the power of the things by which people swear, but the just penalty for those who sin, that always pursues the transgression of the unrighteous.

      The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Wis 14:12–31). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

  19. ISTM that further Biblical evidence that Genesis 19 may not be about homosexuality per se may be found in The Book/Epistle of Jude/Judas where the mention of Sodom and Gomorrah seems to be with reference to things quite beyond or different from male humans lying with each other. Fallen angels, Cain, Balaam, Korah, Enoch….

    • Radagast says:

      But one needs to ask the question… did the early church fathers all of whom were closer in time frame and in culture to that of Paul mis-interpret what was written? Or – – if we are reding them wrong too then why did the Church move in the direction it did when it came to moral issues? Trying to be as objective as possible here?

  20. Dan Crawford says:

    You need to begin any consideration of this topic with the creation narrative and go from there. Some of the “interpretations” of the texts you don’t like are, to put it charitably, inconsistent with the entire Biblical narrative.

    • I gave what I thought was a good overview of the creation narrative in the introduction to the post. I promise to deal with that. For this post, I want to look at what the Bible says DIRECTLY about the subject. We won’t ignore the bigger context, but that’s not where I’m starting.

      • Dan Crawford says:

        The difficulty is your insistence on ealing with what the Bible says DIRECTLy about the subject. Why not do the same with marriage and see how the comparison comes out? The Bible doesn’t directly say much about spouse and child abuse, but any one reading the Bible might get some idea that those things aren’t exactly applauded. You can’t start without the “bigger contact” when you discuss human behavior. When you do, you will end up ignoring “the Bigger Context” to sustain an interpretation which violates what the Bible teaches consistently.

        • Dan this is not the end of the discussion. Patience, we’ll get there.

          • I am gaining so much from this discussion. Thank you for keeping it on a “narrow” line right now. I want to delve into the bigger picture as well as gain from everyone’s other reading and experience, but, for me, that would be overwhelming at this point. I am looking forward to the continuation of the discussion. This slow approach and the careful moderation makes me feel somehow protected. Thank you.

  21. Don Johnson says:

    Torah-observing Messianics would not agree with your assessment that the Lev texts are not for today, they would claim that they are for Jews today (including Messianic Jews), but not necessarily for gentiles, altho gentiles (including Messianic Gentiles) may choose to follow them as a matter of personal choice.

    On the Acts 10 text, no where are the food laws changed (this is a comment to a poster), Peter even gives the correct interpretation that gentiles can be included in Christ, not that food laws are changed. See for example, Derek Leman’s “Paul didn’t eat Pork”.

    On Matt 19, see David Instone-Brewer on Divorce and Remarriage if you want to begin to understand what is being said. Jesus is correcting seven misinterpretations of Torah by the Pharisees, but many (including many translations) do not even understand the question in Matt 19:3 and so get the answers very wrong.

  22. Leviticus is a mixture of moral law and ceremonial law. In the NT God clearly modifies/repeals the ceremonial laws. (The tearing of the veil in the temple, Peter’s vision, Paul’s advice on diet, etc.) while upholding and even amplifying the moral law. (The sermon on the mount, and Jesus’ teaching on divorce.) To dismiss the warning against same sex union in the OT is unwise and and hermeneutically unwarranted.

    Secondly, the NT condemns sexual activity out side marriage. Jesus clearly defines marriage in His discussion on divorce as being between a man and a woman. Homosexual sexual behavior fails to pass muster on two counts; people of the same sex are not married in the biblical sense regardless of what various governments say, and therefore commit sexual immorality, and homosexual sex goes against the created order.

    • Patrick, there is no distinction in the NT between “ceremonial” and “moral” law, and there are passages where Paul discusses the Christian’s freedom from the law while citing the ten commandments as his example. Those are theological distinctions we have made. We are either under the Law as a covenant guiding our lives or we’re not.

      • Doesn’t this line of thought lead to the conclusion that there is no objective right and wrong, and the Christian is under no obligation to seek the one over the other? Seems like classic antinomianism to me. “Free from the law” doesn’t mean free to do as one pleases, and the requirements are no longer binding. “Free from the law” means free from its condemnation and the eternal consequence of failing to keep it. It’s moral requirements are set in stone, woven into the fabric of creation itself, as Christ said that not one letter of it shall disappear. Unless you want to argue that Christians are free to lie, cheat, and steal as well, then you better have some way to reconcile the demands these imperatives make on our life. The ceremonial-civil-moral distinction, though not explicitly spelled out (there is a VERY strong implicit case, re: Melchizedek and the torn veil), is the best system of reconciliation. Before you throw it out because the NT doesn’t exactly specify it, consider proposing an alternative. Otherwise we’re left in this ambiguous land of skepticism where any scriptural “norm” we don’t like is subject to the spin of our personal whims. This is the elevation of reason over scripture, instead of the ministerial use of placing our reason under scripture’s authority to understand its message and submit to its instruction.

        • Phil M. says:

          If we are free to choose not to do something, than that implies that on the other hand we free to choose to do it as well. Saying that we are we free to lie, cheat, steal, etc. doesn’t mean that we can do them without bearing the consequences of those actions, though.

          I think of it like this. I’m married to my wife, and because I love her, I’m bound to her because of that love. That doesn’t mean I don’t have the freedom to leave her. Indeed, from a purely rational perspective, nothing is keeping me from doing so. However, because I love her, I will not leave her. The thing that’s keeping me from leaving her isn’t a law, but my love for her.

          • I think the type of freedom you are describing is determinism: I am free to choose to steal or not steal. I believe Christ does give this freedom, in a more heightened sense, in that outside of Christ we are not truly free to do righteousness. Nonetheless, you are not free to arbitrarily decide what actions do or do not constitute loving treatment of your wife. Unfaithfulness, or adultery, remains objectively wrong. Now this law, as the distinction between right and wrong, has no compulsory affect on your behavior, rather, your love is the impetus for your faithfulness. However, the law remains true, valid, and applicable nonetheless. And it is a good thing to know what does or does not constitute loving behavior in order that those longing to express love through action are not hindered by ignorance. This is why the law is good: it shows us what love for God and neighbor looks like, and as Daniel Jepsen said, is a light for our path rather than a burden for our backs.

        • Martin Romero says:

          Miguel, you said: “It’s moral requirements are set in stone, woven into the fabric of creation itself, as Christ said that not one letter of it shall disappear.”

          For the sake of faithfulness to the text, if you’re referring here to Matthew 5:18, Jesus actually said that not one letter will disappear from the Law and the Prophets -not just the Law- until “everything is accomplished”. Now, the question I guess is what is that “everything” He’s talking about… Is He referring to the time when all He was due to do as an atonement of our sins was completed (for example, remember the “it is finished” said on the cross) or to when He finally returns at the “end of times”?

          I think one thing is clear though: He didn’t say that the Law and the Prophets would never, ever, stop being or be changed at all. In any case, I would argue that, as Christians, the law that is primarily pertinent to us is not the one written on stone, but the one written by the Holy Spirit in our hearts.

          I’ve heard countless times the argument about the “ceremonial” and “moral” laws, and truth is that I’ve also seen the harm which can be caused with that school of thought. So, please, do not think that there are dangers only on one side of the coin… Because, when Jesus says that He is the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets, what is He exactly talking about? Is He fulfilling only the “ceremonial laws”?Or all the laws? Does He fulfil the “10 commandments” or not? Would then the “10 Commandments” still be literally binding on the Christian?

          Incidentally, I do not think that what Mike is trying to say should necessarily be defined as “classic antinomianism”. And I will stop here for the time being. No time nor energy enough to get into a discussion. Maybe later.

        • Martin Romero says:

          Hi Miguel,

          I’ve read what I wrote and, well, I feel that I came across as quite argumentative or that, maybe, I had something against you. My sincere apologies if I gave that impression.

          It’s just that this is a topic that is pretty important to me. I’ve come from a church background where that distinction between “moral” and “ceremonial” laws was always very clearly stated, especially to support some of their most “unorthodox” doctrines. It’s been a few years since I left that particular denomination and feel much more safe in the freedom Christ provides… However, I still struggle from time to time with some of these issues and those questions in the end of my comment are, actually, questions I do have about this issue. I’m really interested to learn about it.

          Also, apologies to Chaplain Mike in case my comment was too off-topic and didn’t adjust to the ongoing topic and conversation.

          • Martin, I did not take your reply to be argumentativeness at all. Your thoughts were expressed thoughtfully, I felt, and are a good contribution to the discussion.

            Your question about the phrase “until everything is accomplished” is quite a good one, and something I have wrestled with quite painfully in the past. Is it finished at the cross or at the apocalypse? Well, in a way, some consider it to be both, as in “already but not yet.” However, the danger of saying it is ALL finished on the cross, in reference to the law, is that it renders the entire OT and all of Jesus moral teaching irrelevant and unnecessary. There are a good many other things “it is finished” could be referring to that, imo, make a good deal more sense.

            Also, I don’t think that the law written on our hearts is an entirely different code than the one on stone. God didn’t say “I will write a NEW law on their hearts”, but that he will write HIS law. He only has one law, not two distinct sets. The difference is not in the letter but in the location. A law on stone outside of us is a burden, something that we are under, which stands in condemnation of our failures. The law on our hearts guides us, inspires us, and informs us in our pursuit of loving God and neighbor.

            Sorry to hear about your bad experience with the “ceremonial” and “moral” distinction crowd. Would you mind sharing how you have seen that crowd to be causing harm with that teaching? I know a lot of the pseudo (neo)-reformed are running around beating people up with the law, but that is not the right use. It is a guide, for “instruction in righteousness,” not a law to identify failure for condemnation and punishment. I’ve seen a ton of the latter myself, yet I still return to scripture for guidance in my own life, as I sense you do as well. You know you are using the law rightly as a believer when you have clear direction without condemnation. If you are in Christ, you cannot be condemned and any voice attempting to do so is the “mouthpiece of Satan.”

            I’m not saying the distinction is a flawless school of thought, but rather a helpful systematization of theological data. It gives a method of letting all the verses stand without using one scripture to trump or invalidate another. There are other ways of doing this, I imagine, but I’ve yet to learn a better one. Personally, I think Jesus fulfilled ALL the law to a T. He did not violate any of it (though he did trample the interpretation/tradition of his time quite openly). I would say that the 10 commandments are definitely binding on all Christians, all the protestant reformers held them to be quite useful. Now if only we could find some consensus on their meaning.

          • Well, that goes back to the trouble in agreeing on interpretation. I think you’d agree that there’s room to disagree on interpretation of the law, within orthodoxy. Nonetheless, this is not a very big difficulty, as there are four well established schools of thought on that particular commandment. The differing of views on this law does not invalidate the applicability of all of them. (We also lack consensus on the dividing up of the ten, and the understanding of “graven images”). I’m gonna go with Luther: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” I was under the impression you were of this persuasion yourself (as well as the ELCA generally).

            • Miguel, I recognize Luther’s application of the Sabbath commandment and accept it for what it is — an application of a commandment that was not intended for the church but for Israel under the Old Covenant. No matter how much good Bible study and theologizing Protestants have done since the Reformation, they have missed this one. “Sabbath” has a particular meaning with regard to seventh day observance as specified in the Sinai Covenant, and no Christian is required to keep that. The N.T. is abundantly clear that Jesus fulfilled the Sabbath and he himself is our Sabbath rest.

          • Well, I’d concur that the NT is clear on Jesus fulfilling the Sabbath (though our 7th day Baptist or Adventist brethren would beg to differ). Ultimately, he fulfilled all the law, but the Sabbath he completed in a particular way. But if Luther’s take is just an “application” of a law not meant for the church, on what basis do we determine which laws are or are not meant for the church, and on what basis do we determine which applications have merit or ought to be considered binding? It seems to me that Christians will ultimately never have full agreement on the interpretation and application of God’s law, and we are instructed to not argue over these things. But what we can’t do is ignore these verses: They have to mean something to us! While I believe the law clearly shows homosexual activity to be wrong, I recognize that some Christians, through their best effort and diligent study, legitimately see a different message in scripture. I suppose it is also a good thing that there are denominations where they can find a home, so that our disagreement on this peripheral issue (which it is), or how to interpret and apply God’s law, doesn’t bar them from Christ.

          • Martin Romero says:

            Hi Miguel,

            thank you very much. I really appreciate your comments. I’ve read your reply and the following conversation with Chaplain Mike and, interestingly, what I had in mind when I was commenting was the issue of the Sabbath.

            You see, my background was precisely in the 7th Day Adventist church. The distinction between “ceremonial” and “moral” laws was used to support the idea that Jesus had dealt with the “ceremonial” part and we did not have to keep it any longer. However, the “moral” part of the law, which is basically equated with the 10 commandments, stays and as Christians we’re bound to keep it. That means that we need to keep the Sabbath as specified in the Bible, on the 7th day of the week, avoiding work, study, buying, and any other type of “forbidden” activities.

            I left the SDA church because I couldn’t agree with many “fundamental” beliefs of the institution any more. However, the Sabbath in itself wasn’t one of the main issues for me, apart from all the implications it has within 7th Day Adventist theology. For example, it is used as a way of demonstrating that “we” were the true remnant church of God on Earth, because we “keep” all the Commandments; that in the “End of Times” the Sabbath will act as a sign showing who are the true Christians and who the false ones, and that “we” will be persecuted because of that… And it goes on.

            Even after all these years worshiping and belonging with “Sunday-keepers”, using a typical SDA expression, at times I still struggle a bit with some issues related with the Law and its applications. I don’t believe in all the extra stuff added by the SDA church, but the question of the Sabbath remains… The most satisfying way of dealing with it was realising and accepting that Jesus is the fulfillment of all those laws and it is in Him that I find my real rest, my “sabbatismos”, so it is not a question of days and times any more. However, it is frustrating when these things pop into my head and that when I start questioning and looking for help, I just end up even more confused because of all the somewhat opposing things you come across.

      • Within the Lutheran tradition, Mike, catechumens are taught the Ten Commandments and are encouraged to meditate and reflect on them. Lutherans do this in keeping with a long tradition inherited from the early church of using the Mosaic Law as an ethical guide while not accepting the ceremonial distinctions.

        You know better than to make such a sloppy argument, Mike.

        • It’s not a sloppy argument at all, Ben, but a very considered one pondered for many years. Yes we can still use the 10 Commandments, but the gymnastics we have to do with the Sabbath command should tell you something about their original intent.

  23. Isaac (or possibly Obed) says:

    I think the Leviticus 18 passage is probably the least looked at of these. In Leviticus 18 there is a long litany of things that are forbidden sexual relationships, as well as a seemingly unconnected prohibition on offering your children to Molech. In order of mention, here are the lists of prohibited sexual relationships in Leviticus 18:

    Mother
    Step-Mother
    Sister
    Step-Sister
    Half-Sister
    Aunt by blood
    Aunt by marriage
    Daughter-in-law
    Sister-in-law
    Woman and her daughter
    Woman and her granddaughter
    Woman and her sister
    Woman during her menses
    Neighbors wife
    [Sacrificing children to Molech]
    “With a man as with a woman”
    With a beast

    It seems to me that the only two things on the list that the current culture wouldn’t consider morally objectionable would be having sex with a woman during her menses and having sex “with a man as with a woman.” Based on the context of the entire passage, it may be a better question to ask if it is our culture that is wrong on the two allegedly acceptable areas. I should also point out that the word “abomination” in the text is only directly applied to the “with a man as with a woman.” Later, the entire list of forbidden things in this chapter is indeed called “any of these abominations,” but saying “they’re both called abominations” seems to be a bit of an overstatement. Furthermore, all of these practices were apparently common among the Canaanites according to the text. I.e. their prohibition in this passage seems to be part of setting Israel apart from the surrounding culture when it comes to sexual morality.

    My point in this is that basing the entire reasoning for rejecting this passage’s prohibition on homosexual behavior (or at least male homosexual behavior) on the fact that the list also prohibits sex during menstruation is problematic unless we’re willing to reject the rest of the prohibitions, which we’re clearly not.

    • Isaac, that’s not my “entire” reason for doubting the applicability of this passage. The whole question of the Christian’s relationship to the Levitical law is the bigger reason.

      • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says:

        Knowing full well that you’re not approaching the OT in a Marcionite fashion, how do you deal with the prohibition within the entire context of the chapter? Surely, you’re not advocating a sweeping dismissal of Leviticus, right? It seems to me that the most responsible exegetical approach to passages within Leviticus is to deal with the specific passages within their textual, historical, etc. contexts as well as seeing how it fits in with the rest of Scripture.

        • Can’t speak for Mike, but for me the answer is to view the the Mosaic law not as a yoke under which I bend, but a lantern that gives light. What I mean is that I’d do not feel I have to follow the rule of laws, such as, “put a parapet around your roof” for the very simple reason that no one sits on my roof. But a law such as this still gives guidance on the never-ending law of love. It reminds me that to love my Neighber means to protect them from physical harm, when I am able. In other words, I recognize that the law was given to Israel in the land God gave them. But it often still has principles and meanings that transcend it original purpose.

          • +1000. Best explanation I’ve read. The heart of Christ (and therefore the Christian) delights in God’s law because it gives light to the eyes. This sounds remarkably similar to Luther’s summary of the decalogue in the small catechism.

          • Interesting Dan…. interesting….

        • Isaac, the subject of the Christian’s relationship to the law is huge and really beyond the scope of this post. I will say that there is a difference between “Law” (as legal code) and “Torah” (as God’s instruction). The laws and statutes under the Old Covenant do teach us things about who God is and what it means to love him and love our neighbors, though I would insist that these laws were intended solely for Israel, to keep them separate from the ways of the nations. The laws that are listed do not represent a comprehensive set, but are selected examples to show us some of the ways by which God dealt wisely with Israel under the Mosaic covenant. Of all the laws, the clean/unclean distinctions, their relationship to the idolatry of the nations, health and purity issues, and so on, are most difficult to grasp in terms of what they teach us today. For example, Leviticus only condemns male-male sexual behavior. Is this because there was no female counterpart to these practices? Or is it because they were familiar with idolatrous male cult prostitution and were being taught not to partake in it? Or…? As for the other types of unlawful sexual relations in the list, even those are forbidden in light of “the practices of the nations,” and not simply as statements of natural theology.

          At any rate, reading and applying Levitical Law is never a simple matter of “the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.”

          • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says:

            I’d agree that applying Leviticus isn’t simple. That works for me. I’m certainly not advocating a wooden “the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” sort of reading of the text (or really any text Scripture.

            I think the big problem I have is that all too often it seems that with regards to this particular passage, folks set up a straw-man argument around the menstruation thing and don’t actually deal with the context of the passage. Instead we cherry pick two things out of the rest of the passage, which is the very thing earlier we’ve said is problematic from Leviticus 20. I’m probably beating a dead horse here, but my concern here is being honest with the text. The social and cultural implications for our own day are much further down my list of what’s important here. I mean, which of the other prohibitions on the list in Leviticus 18 would we argue are morally acceptable?

  24. Just a question. I know it’s pretty hard to have a genuine question on this issue and get a real answer. I find myself working through this issue.

    Regarding Romans 1. I have also heard the argument that by mentioning all of the different kinds of sin in Romans 1, Paul was creating a rhetorical trap.

    But, couldn’t you also argue that the trap itself only “works”, because Paul’s understanding, and everyone else’s understanding (in that day) on this issue was that homosexuality was against both biblical and natural law. By saying “if you think these things are wrong then fine, you are doing no better”, the baseline is understanding that these things are in fact wrong.

    What Romans 1 does seem to do though, is to remind us how “sin is sin” and that judging others and being unloving and judging others is as bad as committing homosexual acts, or disobeying one’s parents for that matter.

    But again, I am not someone who studies these things passionately. This is just my observation, and I would be interested in hearing

    • . . .hearing others give their thoughts.
      Thank You

    • Had this same thought myself – thanks for asking more clearly than I would have been able to. Weren’t the Jews the ones to whom God revealed His plan for the natural created order? And by extension, their judgement on such issues would be in line with that order?

    • I don’t disagree, Darren. I was just encouraging us to read the text carefully and in context.

    • Or, Paul could have been saying it doesn’t matter what the culture believes to be sinful, it’s not their place to decide this. Leave the judgments on all things to Almighty God. The part about when we judge others, that is the extent to which we judge ourselves…I try to apply that with The Golden Rule when I am out and about in my daily life.

  25. Adam Palmer says:

    I’ve been wrestling a lot lately with how to respond to this issue lately, especially since I grew up in a red-state environment where the topic of homosexuality was either hilarious or gross or both. Anyway, thanks CM for articulating the nuts and bolts of what is actually in the text; you’ve helped me a lot today.

  26. Thank you for opening up this topic with candor and grace. This will be a challenge, but given how large it looms in our community I think it’s important to talk about.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      And in the first ten comments, the fight was on and CM was editing like crazy trying to keep things on-topic.

      Nothing like Homosexuality for an Automatic Bright Red Murder Flag among today’s American Christians.

  27. The God I believe in who can create so much out of nothing and provide us salvation through a sacrifice of His own Son does not need me or anyone else to defend Him from anyone – gay or otherwise. By turning us away when we judged the adulterer and instructing only those without sin to cast stones, He told me that all this discussion is moot. The sin or not sin of the homosexual is strictly between God and themselves and while Mike’s post is well-written I feel it should be unnecessary to have to even discuss it. It is not our place to judge, only He may do that. Make a friend, BE a friend, bring a friend to Christ and leave the judging of what is sinful or not to Him. Thank you Mike for your thoughtful and well-written piece. I am sad that so many of your readers have placed themselves commensurate with God in judging and condemning others. You are clearly trying to put into context a path for acceptance and a conversation that brings much-needed questions to long-held beliefs.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      In many cases, the only Gospel left is Sin Management and Sin-Sniffing — especially the Sins of the Other. Wartburg Watch has written often about this attitude among Hyper-Calvinists, and how it is used as a weapon to club others into line.

      • How would you define sin sniffing HUG?

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Obsession on Sin, especially on the sins of others. Obsession on sin to the point all else is forgotten or clearly secondary. Usually with a de facto treatment of THEM as more Sinful than ME, and a de facto attitude of My Own Righetousness.

          Something like Kyle’s Mom crossed with a Witchfinder-General. Or the Bircher looking for Communists under every bed. Or a tabloid looking for Juicy Dirt on someone else.

    • Atomicwedgey says:

      I tend to agree with your assessment on the practical need for this discussion (in light of God’s grace and love), but I would disagree in one small area. We are responsible for our own sin, and responsible for responding lovingly to our sisters and brothers when they sin.

      To this end, I think we need to understand when we sin. If we claim to love Christ, we must seek the best relationship possible and one method is by seeking to overcome our own sin. Thus, I seek to overcome my tendency to make white lies.

      2. As our brothers and sisters seek to improve their relationships with Christ, we should be helping to help them in that goal. eg. Paul’s discussion of eating meat sacrificed to idols. I attempt to dig past the white lies expressed to me, in order to more lovingly care for others.

      Determining (by use of the Bible, reason and our own understanding of the Spirit’s leading) if Homosexuality is a sin is a reasonable, practical and spiritual exercise for our own betterment and for the furthering of Christs kingdom. But, we must hold all this within the larger context which is God’s infinite capacity for love and forgiveness. In light of that, if this is a sin then it is a small thing.

      • David Cornwell says:

        “we must hold all this within the larger context which is God’s infinite capacity for love and forgiveness. In light of that, if this is a sin then it is a small thing.”

        Amen.

  28. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    In context, the sexual behavior described in these verses is part of a long diatribe detailing the idolatry, immorality, and depravity of the Gentile world. It began when the nations did not honor God or give him thanks as their Creator, but foolishly trusted in their own wisdom and became idolators. In the broader context of Romans, Paul is setting forth a description his fellow Jews would have wholeheartedly commended. Romans 1:18-31 is Paul’s “orthodox” portrayal of the Gentile world from a Jewish point of view.

    AKA “For these are the things which the Goyim do.”

  29. Marcus Johnson says:

    Chaplain Mike, please allow me to encourage you to keep making posts like this. Even if we disagree about the interpretation of the Scriptural passages regarding homosexuality, the way you created this post makes me feel like I am more equipped to have a REAL conversation about how Scripture views homosexuality.

    I am going to make a direct response to your post in just a second, but I wanted to make that clear. Conversations like the one you started are the conversations which we should be having right now.

  30. Radagast says:

    I see no one has addressed the passages dubbed “Secret Mark” referenced by Clement of Alexandria about the end of the second century… maybe that’s a topic for another day…

  31. David Cornwell says:

    Chaplain Mike, congratulations for taking this on. You are a brave man!

    Your conclusions and interpretations, with some minor exceptions, are very near my own. In fact I had a seminary prof, who taught Hebrew and Greek who made understanding this one of his priorities (while teaching in a conservative seminary). He had seminars on homosexuality in the church, which were always crowded with pastors and others wanting a better biblical understanding. This was back in the 1980’s until he retired. His conclusions are almost identical to what you are saying. He did, however, make a strong point that the “sin of Sodom” was at least partly about the lack of hospitality that was clearly evident. The words of Jesus in Matthew 10, as he refers to Sodom would tend to back this interpretation.

    It’s revealing that we basically ignore most of Paul’s listings in the Romans passage, to zero in on what we believe he is saying about homosexuality.

    There is room for differences on this subject. This shouldn’t be a litmus test, however, for orthodoxy or salvation (on either side of the issue).

  32. Marcus Johnson says:

    Jack Miles, in God: A Biography, may be a great resource for the Old Testament passages (the book won a Pulitzer Prize, and it is actually a very entertaining read, for a book on literary interpretation).

    For the Genesis passage, I think we tend to focus on the homoerotic subtext in the confrontation between Lot and the men of Sodom, which may be a mistake. Especially at this point in the Biblical narrative, Yahweh had been established as a “God of fertility,” as evidenced through the command given to Adam to “be fruitful and multiply, the covenant between God and Noah, Abraham, etc. As a result, anyone who tried to demonstrate their sexual dominance over God or his emissaries (i.e., through a forced, homosexual activity) was supposed to be interpreted as a sort of blasphemy. It’s not so much the issue that there were men trying to have sex with male angels; it was that the men were attempting to exert dominance over God.

    I like Chaplain Mike’s idea regarding the Levitical section. Not only is it part of a list of unclean activities, some of which the current church has rendered obsolete, but the whole of Levitical law was part of a contract between the people of Israel and God. They would keep these commandments, and God would privilege them as a holy nation. Obviously, we all know how great they were at keeping that contract based on their own collective willpower (insert grimace here). That is what makes the sacrifice of Jesus so important to the Christian faith. Rather than us agreeing to keep God’s commandments, and he makes us holy, we accept the sacrifice of Jesus, and that makes us holy.

    This doesn’t mean that we do not have a moral code by which we are supposed to live. Instead, that moral code is supposed to reflect the change that has happened within us as a result of our spiritual awakening and conversion.

    By the way, is there anyone else in here who has read God: A Biography, by Jack Miles? Is there a similar text which examines the New Testament canon, preferably one which addresses the epistolary references to homosexuality in context with the rest of the canon?

  33. Marcus Johnson says:

    Just curious, does anyone know how to do boldface, italicization, or underlining in this blog? The writing instructor in me wanted to italicize the title of a book in my latest post, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it.

    • Use less-than symbol and either b or i and then use greater-than symbol. Use a / before the same thing to turn off the bold or italic code. I.e., using brackets instead of the sign you would do:

      [b]text you want in bold[/b]

      [i]text you want in italics[/i]

      [b][i]text you want in bold and italics[/i][/b]

      You can also indent or quote with [quote]quoted text[/quote]

      These are basic HTML tags.

  34. Mike, perhaps you are wondering about this so much because you are joining a church ( ELCA ) which promotes and celebrates homosexual unions. This only became an issue within the last 25 years. Where was the Holy Spirit leading us into truth for over 2,000 years. Sometimes a verse shuch as ” you shall not lie with a man as you would a woman ” is just a straight forward verse. Jude verse 7 should also be in the discussion. Everything should be done in love and compassion but that never trumps the truth.Whenever I see so much time being spent trying to justify something I always have to wonder. Last week I read an article that Jesus was gay and so was David. The individual claimed inspiration from the Holy Spirit. I think Jesus said it best ” God made them male and female and for that reason a man leaves his parents and becomes one with his wife “. This was the plan from the beginning.

    • Had to wonder myself how much of a “modern” problem this is; does church tradition , or traditions, help us at all with this alleged “problem” ?? Is this issue akin to slavery, or is it modern man saying “did GOD say….???”
      So far, Romans 1 just does NOT look that opaque to me. Maybe we struggle not because we don’t know what HE said, but we don’t like what HE said.

      Greg R

      • Phil M. says:

        Maybe we struggle not because we don’t know what HE said, but we don’t like what HE said.

        I don’t think it’s as simple as that for most people. Personally, as a heterosexual male who’s married, the issue of what the Bible says about homosexuality doesn’t affect me very much. Having feelings of attraction towards another man isn’t something I’ve ever thought about , really. It’s a non-issue for me.

        Why I think it concerns people is that many of us have seen those who take a strong stance on the issue treat homosexuals like something less than dirt. Not all Christians have, but a lot have, and they haven’t been resisted forcefully enough throughout the years. So now, it’s coming around to bite them in the butt. And, frankly, a lot of people would rather take a position that goes against a particular reading of Scripture than one that makes them allies of people who treat fellow human beings like crap.

        • I appreciate your angle, Phil M. but the cold hard truth is we are organically connected with those who have treated the LGBT community like crap. I don’t like that behavior anymore than sexual perversion, but they are my brothers and sisters in Christ, just as those caught in sexual sin are my brothers and sisters in Christ. WE will never get at a proper understanding of what it means to be Christ-like , in these cases, just by saying: ” I don’t want to be like THAT guy…..” We have to find out what the scriptures, and perhaps church history, have to say on the topic, and discern what the mind and heart of Jesus was, and is.

          Let me assure you that even if you don’t struggle with same sex urges, this topic impacts all ofus deeply.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            I appreciate your angle, Phil M. but the cold hard truth is we are organically connected with those who have treated the LGBT community like crap.

            Listen to the guy with close to 30 years in Furry Fandom: There is only so much you can do to distance yourself from crazies who loudly proclaim to everyone within earshot that they are One of You and You Are Just Like Them.

    • David, I don’t find it helpful to speculate about Mikes motives. In the first place, we can’t know the motives of another with much certainty, even when they are close to us. In the second place, Mike’s motives have absolutely zero effect on whether his analysis is argument is correct or not. A person can have good motives but still be quite wrong, or bad motives and be quite correct. There is enough to talk about regarding the texts themselves.

      • Daniel, I meant no disrespect to Mike and I had other things to say in my post. Sometimes we need to look behind the questions to see why they are asked. If you were taken aback about my comment I am sorry as I did not mean to offend anyone.

    • It is part of my study prep for ordination, yes. But history is full of examples of the church considering issues long thought settled. We are going to lose many in the coming generations if we don’t show them we can talk about such matters with integrity.

      • “We are going to lose many in the coming generations if we don’t show them we can talk about such matters with integrity.”

        Could you elaborate, or is this thread the wrong place for that? I’m wondering who “we” is, why you think we’ll lose them, and what you mean by “talk about such matters with integrity.” Genuinely curious.

        • I will comment as to what Chaplain Mike may be thinking here. A recent poll showed that the number one reason that young people are not interested in church is the church’s attitude towards homosexuals.

          • Which church? Not the global church. At the recent General Conference of the United Methodist Church, the non-American delegates, most of whom are from Africa and the Philippines, voted almost unanimously to keep the current language in the church’s Book of Discipline, which states that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian practice, and same-sex marriage is not permitted.
            My perception — and it may not be accurate, since I am admittedly an American Christian — is that homosexuality and related issues are predominantly if not exclusively a western/American concern.

            My experience as a pastor is that the reasons young people are not interested in church are many and varied. I’m sure the perceived attitude of the western church towards homosexuals is one of those reasons for many young people in this country. Not questioning that.

          • …voted almost unanimously to keep the current language in the church’s Book of Discipline, which states that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian practice, and same-sex marriage is not permitted.

            I did mean the North American church, but this is not what I was referring to. I was talking more about the lack of love that we show.

  35. humanslug says:

    Thanks, Mike, for presenting this option of interpretation. And while I recently read a very similar take on these scriptures, you presented it in a more understandable and balanced way.
    As far as the Romans passage, I think at the very least Paul is implying that homosexual desires and behavior have their root in fallen human nature and represent one of countless examples of how we are all sinners from birth and in dire need of Christ’s redeeming work.
    But, then again, my own struggles with lust of the heterosexual variety are just as rooted in original sin, and all of my attempts at romantic relationships have been tainted by fallenness.
    By the way, have any leading biblical scholars (no offense to you, Mike) addressed this issue in greater detail. I’d really like to read some more extensive arguments from both sides of the issue.

  36. Joseph (the original) says:

    This post is about one thing — EXAMINING WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT HOMOSEXUALITY. It is not about our personal reflections or ethical considerations of the subject.

    If any person of faith is going to ‘examine’ the biblical texts without its impact upon their spiritual perspectives, then why include it in a theological framework on a theological blog???

    How can we objectively remove ourselves from what the implications of the texts cited mean for those on both sides of the issue???

    This topic is neither sterile nor a disputable matter. The texts themselves speak to the individual as the Spirit breathes it to them. The topic of homosexuality cannot be used as the dividing line/battle ground of claiming that some believers ‘hear’ God correctly while others claim they do not…

    {sigh}

    The texts referenced were never intended to be a detailed treatise regarding every nuances of the subjects addressed. If it they are wielded without love, then yes, they become a noisy gong. If they are used to justify one’s personal viewpoint while reviling those having diverse opinions, then such attitudes are not being Christlike.

    However, there will be no consensus that overwrites the meanings of the texts to the saints that have been sealed with the Holy Spirit and purchased by the precious blood of the Lamb. At the end of the day+discussion, the personal convictions of those participating will all claim the same Source as their clear understanding of the texts in question. And those asserting their views trump all others will not change the hearts of those with different convictions…

    How does this exercise really help us become more like Jesus who came to heal us of our brokenness & cleanse us from every sin that so easily entangles us???

    Lord, have mercy… 🙁

    • One post dealing with a specific focus does not a full discussion of an issue make.

      • Joseph (the original) says:

        not sure about this CM. although i can appreciate the effort, i do not think the outcome will in any way clarify or bring understanding to the issues raised…

        i think it is an effort in futility. however, there are others that may glean something useful from the interactions.

  37. Aidan Clevinger says:

    I think that one of the issues I have with the whole “the Levitical texts can’t be used in the New Covenant” thing is that the New Testament authors are usually very careful to spell out why certain well-known prohibitions are no longer applicable to Christians. The Apostles in Acts have to deal with the lifting of dietary restrictions, Paul in Galatians (and elsewhere) makes very clear that circumcision is no longer the means whereby we enter God’s people, and the author of Hebrews devotes a good majority of that entire book to spelling out exactly why the temple worship and all rites associated with it have been fulfilled and completed in the person and work of Jesus. But nowhere, in all the New Testament, is there such a discussion about homosexuality. Now I, for one, do believe that Romans 1 is very, very clear that homosexuality is still to be considered sinful. But even if it didn’t, do you really think the biblical authors would let such an ingrained portion of Jewish culture slip by without making clear that it was part of the Old Covenant and not the New? I think Leviticus is still fair game for the debate and goes beyond cultural considerations; I think that, given the silence of the New Testament authors, and given that Paul affirms its original meaning, we should consider those particular passages to be applicable for believers today.

  38. Danielle says:

    Thanks for this very sane post. It offers a useful entry point for further discussion. Whatever position one wishes to argue, it strikes me as vital to take the context of the passages that homosexuality into account when citing them and drawing conclusions from them. You simply can’t read Leviticus without thinking about the fact its an ancient law code; likewise, no verse in Romans should be read without reference to Paul’s extended, elegant line of argument in that epistle.

    Regarding some of the negative comments, especially early on, there’s nothing half-hearted or sneaky about examining at the context. This is hermeneutics 101, even in conservative seminaries. And looking at the context can help us to see how rich the text really is — Paul looks pretty amazing when you read him straight up. But he’s even more impressive once you realize that he’s in dialog with first century rabbinical teaching and pulling some really cool moves.

  39. Approaching these texts under the inquiry “Is homosexuality wrong?” is almost like searching for a “biblical” definition of “…and who is my neighbor?” The Bible is never going to come out and say “Thou shalt not be gay.” Instead, the Bible makes quite clear a description of human sexuality, what it was created for, and how it was intended to function. Deviation from this is objectively wrong, contrary to nature, and personally harmful. The question is not “what does the Bible say about homosexuality (a highly ambiguous question which leaves the door wide open for definition swapping), but “what does the Bible say about sexuality?” The answer: it is for lifelong, marital monogamy. Period. No sexual behavior outside marriage is justifiable in scripture, no matter how bad we want it. As Terry Mattingly so aptly put it, the three questions that always best describe the theological orientation of any group/person are: 1. Is there any way to God other than Christ, 2. Is the resurrection a literal, historical event, and… 3. Is sex outside marriage a sin?

    It’s all about the 3rd question. “Committed relationship” is nothing, whether your homo or hetero sexual. Marriage is what marriage is, and sexual activity outside that is explicitly condemned throughout scripture. Nobody wants to believe this because we like our sin, but when people use “committed relationship” to justify homosexuality, hear this: They are either saying that the church has been wrong about its definition of marriage, or sex outside of marriage isn’t really sinful. I’m sorry, these are not issues about which the church has been wrong for 2000 years. This is as solid as the Trinity and the forgiveness of sins. It’s not in the category of “things the church has been wrong about and had to change its mind” like slavery, the earth being flat, and other such non-sensical red herrings. If we want to take a scissors to the traditional approach to sexual morality in the name of social progress, at which point have we lost the ability to make a distinction between what we are trying to justify and what the Bible clearly condemns?

  40. I’d like to say this about the passage in Genesis 19: The Metropolitan Community Church denomination did, at least at one time, have this apologetic up on one of their websites: The Bible says that Sodom was destroyed for its wickedness, not its sexual orientation. I concur. However, they then go on to say that the wickedness for which they were destroyed was inhospitality! …So, go learn how to throw a dinner party, or else!, silly chauvinists… Seriously, the visitors came to visit Lot, and the entire town came out to rape them. Hmmm, they do have a point… that is fairly in-hospitable… UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE CENTURY! How can you deny something so obvious? The inhospitable thing was that they wanted to gang rape some strangers who were visiting! At this point, I might even be willing to concede that gender was incidental in this circumstance. If Lot’s visitors had been women, the wickedness would have been equally great. I don’t see using this particular passage to condemn homosexuality is particularly helpful (there are plenty of other, better ones), because it usually ends with the conclusion: “Stop being gay or God’s gonna rain down sulfer, hellfire and brimstone on you!” Not entirely productive rhetoric. However, the more this passage is used to condemn homosexuality, the more its supporters can use this rebuttal to show that the Bible never condemns it. You win on this passage. So let’s quit bringing this one up; it doesn’t belong in the debate. Conservatives use it as only a club to beat liberals, and liberals use it as a straw man to show that anyone who thinks the Bible prohibits homosexual sex is a club-wielding fundamentalist. If you want the conversation to remain rational, level headed, fair, and mud free, leave this passage out of it.

  41. A lot of good thoughts here. Chaplain mikes interpretation is very close to mine , with a few exceptions.
    I’m still not sure why this topic is so divisive , i still scratch my head as to why everyone cares so much about “gay sex”.

    • Let me clear up the riddle a bit for you. Nobody cares about gay sex, the issue at stake is Biblical authority. When somebody comes along and says “The Bible actually means that this traditional, long held doctrine is actually wrong!” Then the more conservative crowd begins to think it’s not that we’ve reached an epiphany, its just that we didn’t like what scripture had to say to begin with, and now we’ve found a loophole.

      • Okay , that makes much more sense. When biblical authority is what is being discussed as the main point of the discussion , then the dialogue is clearer & much more fruitful , unfortunately there have been instances where the discussion has been completely derailed and “gay sex” became the topic at hand , and it was weird to say the least. Much like the personal experiences headless often share with us.

        • To a certain extent, the right and the left to a lot of talking past each other on this issues. The Right makes this all about the inspiration, authority (and possibly even inerrancy) of scripture, while the left will sometimes make it about individual liberty and not having puritanical restrictions crammed down their throat (especially when they don’t see them in scripture).

  42. Chaplain Mike, I am a bit disappointed to see you taking such a fundamentalist approach to scripture. Seriously, the way you are searching scripture for answer on this topic reminds me of how MacArthur argues against infant baptism: “Here’s a verse, do you see it there? Ok, how about in this verse that mentions baptism; do you see infants being baptized here or do you see infant baptism being commanded? Ok, how about this verse which talks about infants, do you see any water? Nope! Sorry, infant baptism is not in the Bible.” It’s as if we expected the Bible to be explicit and come out and give us detailed prescriptions like a modern day instruction manual: Marriage is exactly this, do and do not do these sort of sexual acts, give exactly this much to your church, baptise these only these people in exactly this way and always after this and before that. Scripture doesn’t work like that, and I know you know better. Descending to this level looks like a deliberate attempt to shoehorn ambiguity into a consistent framework of ideas.

    Using this approach, the only way for the Bible to condemn homosexual behavior would be for the New Testament sounded like Leviticus. Come on, read between the lines a little. Gay sex is fornication. It’s not rocket science. They are not more guilty then heterosexuals who commit the same sin. “Committed relationship” is not a Biblically acceptable alternative to marriage, but a recent innovation seeking to justify behavior rather than conform it to God’s command. The Bible defines marriage specifically to preclude homosexual unions. This is not because God is being backwards or cruel, prejudiced or hateful, but because He knows how he designed the universe to work. We have two options: receive His words with joy, fear, and trembling, or try to negotiate with Him, and make ourselves the supreme sovereign ethical pontiff. Questioning this is the rhetorical equivalent of the serpent’s question to Eve: Cast some doubt on the details, insert a half truth, spin the interpretation to mean the exact opposite of what it was previously understood to say, and finish with rationalizing the behavior by calling God’s character into question. God wouldn’t condem homosexuality, because He made them this way. If He does, he’s a monster!

    • Miguel, I’ve said it a dozen times already, but let me repeat it again — this is only one small part of the discussion and was not intended to give us “answers” in this debate. It’s just one part of the process — listening to what the Bible says when it speaks directly about homosexuality.

      • Sorry for drifting a bit. I suppose it is commendable to attempt to gain clarity in regards to these limited, selected texts, because at large evangelicals are very guilty of abusing some of them As I pointed out above concerning Genesis 19, sometimes the stories are extorted and fashioned into a moral maul to slay the different. However, even reading these passages, it doesn’t appear that the Bible actually does directly address homosexuality. It always seems addressed in the context of narrative, passed through briefly while relying on long held assumptions, or lumped in with multiple other sins in an evaluation of decaying society.

        It’s amazing how much this topic in general will always serve as such a lightening rod, myself included with those who jump in a bit quick. I’ll read more carefully before I jump in with my exegetical pondering, I think I get where you going with this now. But it goes without saying that a more refined understanding of just these verses doesn’t settle the general issue. We still need to be more careful with the the isolated passages, while maintaing a contextual framework that keeps the whole of scripture in mind.

  43. J.Random says:

    I’m feeling agitated and checking out of this discussion. All I can close with is this, from Matthew:

    “Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”

    Drawing a line on homosexuality as a sin is bad fruit. Maybe I’m blinding myself to the eternal absolute truths of Scripture, but I feel like the hardliners are blinding themselves to the damage this belief does to people.

    From a letter last week to Dan Savage:

    “So I am in a really bad place right now and maybe I just have to hear “buck up” and “it will get better.”

    “I’m a 32-year-old lesbian who’s been out for 10 years. I was raised in a very conservative Pentecostal family and I am the baby of my family of 15 kids. The day before my college graduation from Liberty University I came out to my family, as a way of explaining why I was not going to walk to get my diploma. The day before I just realized how crazy it was to be going to that school listening to those messages when I knew it was all wrong. I packed everything before telling my family that night—I wanted to make sure I had all my pictures and the bible my dad gave me for my 13th birthday—because I knew how it was going to end even though I, of course, tried to hold on to hope. My father slapped me that night and told me that I was no longer his child and I was no longer a child of God. I haven’t seen my family for 10 years. I’ve always held out hope that they would change their minds and realize that they do love me.

    “I got a call from my oldest sister last month. I wasn’t sure what she was going to tell me—had one of my parents died? was I going to be let back into the family?—and then she told me that she needed my help. Her son was gay and she needed me to come and get him. I didn’t understand what she meant at first. I thought she wanted me to come and talk to him. But, no, she meant come and get him. She didn’t want that “filth”—her own son—in her home. When I picked him up a large part of my family was there, and I swear to God I had never felt so much hate in my life. I don’t understand it and I know I never will, but I swear it broke me.

    “He is here with me now and the family that I have made for myself over the years. In my little group he will get to meet every color of the rainbow flag. I will help him learn to love himself for who he is if it is the last thing I do in this world.

    “But I feel like I’m broken. I feel like everything I have made for myself over the last 10 years is nothing. How can my whole family not only not love me anymore but hate me with so much passion? I don’t understand why this is affecting me so much. I already knew all of this. I’ve known it for a long time. But to see it on their faces was something new.

    “I need to know how to pick myself up. A 15-year-old boy is relying on me.”

    This is bad fruit from a bad tree, and no systematic theology can defend it.

    • Final Anonymous says:

      Amen.

    • See, this is what I wrote about above, where judging ourselves and not letting God judge brings us to. This depravity of the human condition. I think it would be helpful, CM to also note how much time the NT scriptures spends on the topic of “love each other” and “don’t judge” versus these meager references to sexuality if we are looking to examine just this one process in the greater process of discernment. I do believe that Jesus openly preaches against the behavior of this family on far more occasions than he not-openly preaches about sexuality.

  44. Alright, if we want to stick to Scripture only (as opposed to Scripture Alone) I’ll play. I apologize for missing the point earlier.

    I Timothy 1. I’d like to look at a few verses before the one condemning “sodomites,” or “soft” ones. Paul warns Timothy to avoid those who preach fables and genealogies. That’ a reference to Judaizing teachers like those who came into Galatia. Paul rebukes them in Titus 1:10-16, for example.

    In verse 7, Paul writes, “Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm.” Verse 8: “But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully.” This is where the Lutheran idea of “three uses of the law” is very helpful, because Paul is not making a clean-cut, sweeping distinction between the old Law and the New Covenant, saying, in effect, “Leviticus is rubbish. We don’t have to consider it as authoritative for ethical matters.” No, he’s saying, “the law is good,” if what? “a man use it lawfully.”

    He condemns the Judaizers, not for upholding the law’s moral standard, but for using it wrongfully.

    What is the right way to use the law?

    I think Chaplain Mike would agree with me in saying let’s use a Law/Gospel hermeneutic here: in order for the Gospel to have maximum power, the Law must be preached with great force. How do we know we are sinners? Because of the Ten Commandments, which we have not kept.

    This makes sense of the next two verses, where Paul lists various sins and saying that the law was “made for the lawless and disobedient.” But for those who acknowledge their sin and repent and believe the Gospel, their is forgiveness and the curse of the Law is removed.

    From this I draw the conclusion that the church should welcome homosexuals to renounce their sin. It is not necessary for them to perfectly renounce it, or totally renounce it. All they need to do is acknowledge that it is sin and believe that they are forgiven. Acting as if homosexuality is not sin is not going to help anyone.

    Also, it’s a strange position of Kama Sutra proportions to try to wiggle out of the obvious meaning of the term “soft.” In the ancient world, pederasty and homosexuality went hand in hand, sorry to say, but it is historical fact. It was considered normal, even essential for a boy’s development in Greece and Rome. Whether we translate it “defilers of boys”, “sodomites” or “effeminate” we know what it means. It’s very obvious given the cultural context.

    • Ok, from your perspective Paul is calling sinful two specific acts — pederasty and the boys who submit to it? Is that correct?

      I think that’s pretty much what I said, except I qualified it by showing that “soft” can have a broader range of meaning.

      • It isn’t too far of a stretch to make the case that the passage is condemning homosexual behavior among adults as well. Remember that in the ancient world, there was a different understanding of the “age of consent.” The lines between pederasty and homosexuality were very fluid, therefore I conclude that if pederasty is wrong, then homosexuality is wrong as well.

        And in context, “soft” has a specific meaning relating to homosexual activity. To try to make it mean something is to not to do justice to the text.

        • *meant to say “something else is not to do justice to the text.”

        • Ben, you may be right. However, one point that needs to be made is that it is perilous to base an argument on a single word that appears in a list, especially when that word is from an ancient language and draws at least some of its meaning from its ancient cultural setting. “Doing justice” to the text, in my mind, means that I may refer to this but not base my case very strongly on it.

  45. From Ben Witherington:

    “The Bible is clear enough that same sex sexual activity is considered a sin both in the OT and in the NT. The basis for this judgment, and for Jesus’s pronouncements on fidelity in heterosexual marriage and celibacy in any other kind of relationship (MT. 19) is not based on cultural practices of his day but rather is grounded in the creation theology which says that men and women were created in God’s image and for each other. There is also a theology of the Fall in play as well in Romans 1.18-32. Not everything that seems natural to some in a fallen world is good or godly. The issue has to do with behavior in the Bible not orientation.”

  46. This is helpful, Mike. There is so much so-called biblical language used in the public debate over same-sex marriage, but too often it is used for ad hominem pronouncements that do little more than polarize the debate. This has been a discussion in our home this week with our older children to be sure we’re all citing Scripture knowledgeably and not just repeating “cliches of the faith” that we have heard others say the Bible says.

    The Romans 1 text seems critical, I think, to forming a NT view of homosexuality. Romans 1:21-23 seems to speak of idol making (graven images), but I see a change of emphasis in 24-25 to sexual idolatry. I believe that God is neither masculine nor feminine, but that he created mankind as “male and female”. Gender is not only part of his created order, but it is the direct reflection of his divine image in creation (Genesis 1:27). Romans 1 connects the discussion back to the creation narrative, but It sounds to me that Paul is saying that to reject God’s divine image (28) by corrupting the male-female union is to practice idolatry, and that leads to a depraved mind. “Gave them over” is not proactive, but reactive–God allowed them to suffer the full consequences of their idolatry and depravity, which leads to all the other sins Paul mentions (29-31). I’m conflicted as to what it all means, and especially as to what it implies we should do. How do we live out Christ’s law of love?

    As an aside, some argue that we cannot really appeal to the pre-Fall Genesis narrative for specific instruction, but Jesus did. Jesus argued that Moses’ exception for divorce was because of the peoples’ “hardness of heart” and that “from the beginning it has not been this way” (Matt. 19:3-9). I wonder if Jesus’ affirmation of Genesis, especially in vss. 3-6, is in any way relevant to this discussion.

  47. humanslug says:

    No doubt, that’s some pretty rotten fruit, and my heart goes out to this woman.
    Family relationships can be pretty tricky, even without throwing religious tensions and divisions in the mix. Part of my family has been separated from the rest of us for years over primarily religious issues. Lately, however, there has been some contact and interaction, and we’ve all been slowly trying to get reacquainted, all the while being very cautious to completely avoid any discussion of anything of a religious nature. I think we’re all coming around to the realization that, deep down, we still love each other — and we might even love each other more than we love our religious opinions and doctrinal views. And I firmly believe that God is involved in the process — bringing us back together as a family by reducing the power of churchianity in our lives.
    And maybe that’s a possibility we all need to consider — the possibility that God might love and value people and families and friendships more than He values our theological positions or ecclesiological constructions. And maybe He might be calling us to do the same.
    That’s not to say we don’t need to have theological positions or recognized scriptural authority or value church traditions — but when we fail to love, the rest is rendered meaningless.

    • humanslug says:

      Sorry, I meant for this comment to tag onto J.Random’s comment well to the north of where this actually appeared.

  48. Well-thought out and written, CM. I’m sorry that there is such a sharp cultural dividing line on this topic.

    My question is this…Is there a more effective way for Christians and the church to deal with the matter of human sexuality, beyond righteous indignation, which is the mudhole both sides of the theological fence seem to be plodding along in?

    Jesus Himself demonstrated righteous indignation a few times that I can think of the top of my head…When he found the temple occupied by moneychangers; When he encountered the demons (Legion) that tormented a man; when disciples denied children access to him; and when Peter cut off the centurion’s ear. I’m sure there are other instances I’m leaving out, but again, this is just off the cuff.

    I think that Christ demonstrates a pattern of righteous indignation…toward blasphemers; toward spiritual forces of evil; toward people who prohibited the less spiritually mature from being in his presence; toward disciples who were considered spiritual leaders, but did not act accordingly. The thing that keeps popping into my head is this…Jesus got angry when something came between him and those he loved, and when spiritual leaders acted out of order.

    Perhaps these are the two frames in which we must consider questions about human sexuality…
    1) Does the practice of homosexuality inhibit access to Christ?
    2) Does the practice of homosexuality by spiritual leaders inhibit access to Christ? Does it represent “acting out of order”? (I suppose we could say, “Is it a stumbling block?”, and that would cover both questions…)

    Both sides consider themselves to be righteously indignant over human sexuality, and neither can convince the other that they are right, no more than Metropolitan Jonah will ever convince Jimmy Swaggart that he ought to get his infant grandchildren baptized. The division this matter is causing in the church breaks my heart.

    But the church will continue on. Through all the statistical ebbs and flows, the church and orthodox teaching has continued on. And it will keep doing so. Perhaps while the more popular western denominations are busy fighting this culture war, more and more will gravitate toward the clarity of eastern brands of faith? I don’t know…

    • Lee thanks. I’ll keep these thoughts in mind but we are not there yet in terms of this post, which was simply an attempt to discuss some Biblical data.

      • I guess part of what I’m saying is that the two “sides” in this discussion are never, ever going to agree on what scripture says…so we must, as orthodox (lower case ‘o’) Christians, determine the answers to those 2 pertinent questions in order to deal with the issue.

  49. Mike, I agree with you on Genesis 19, the men of Sodom. Perhaps they were true homosexuals, but it’s more clear that they wanted to destroy the newcomers by means of male rape.

    It’s also important to note that the newcomers were men (or angels) sent by Yahweh, and this adds a nastier twist to it. The men of Sodom wanted to humiliate, to destroy emotionally and spiritually, the ones God had sent; and therefore they intended to commit the one sin that Jesus called unforgiveable: that of blasphemy, or utter rebellion, against the Holy Spirit or anything to do with God.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Or, taking the image of gang rape as a Forced Dominance Display, they were trying to publicly and Forcibly Dominate the ones God had sent — “making women out of them”, in prison rape parlance.

    • Except that Camille Paglia would say that all sex is about power and dominance. So it doesn’t really matter the psychology behind it, the act is wrong.

  50. Having re-read the article more closely, I want to reiterate that this post deals with 6 isolate passages, from which no complete formulation on the general topic can be accurately finished. The Bible has much more to say about the topic generally than these verses. As I have conceded above, Genesis 19 is hardly about homosexual behavior in and of itself. My issues would be with the Leviticus and Romans passages. I am a strong proponent of the civil-moral-ceremonial distinctions in the Levitical law because I believe that some things pointed forward to and foreshadowed Christ, which, once he had ascended, had fulfilled their purpose and were no longer necessary. This is spelled out quite clearly in the NT. Culinary standards were clearly revoked in the vision that Peter had, whether or not the change in the dietary law was the primary purpose of the vision. That takes care of the “God hates shrimp” line. The OT sacrifices were clearly completed in Christ, I doubt there is an epistle that doesn’t mention this on some level or another. Sexual guidelines in the OT, however, are never repealed anywhere in the NT, and at every point when they are discussed, they are reinforced. I really love that most of the verses that mention homosexual activity as sin also include greed. This is so clarifying, because greed is a violation of “thou shalt not covet,” and by so doing the NT shows us that the terms of the decalogue have not been removed. If you want to argue that these NT passages don’t condemn certain homosexual activity because isn’t the focus of the passage, then greed, envy, murder, and lying are all free game as well. I remain convinced that the Levitical code, properly understood, reveals the mind of God, and it’s moral instruction should not be cast aside so lightly. Making distinctions here is not the same as cherry picking based on preference. Shrimp eating is not inherently immoral. That would be like teetotalitarianism; the objectification of evil as some sort of substance in the physical realm to be resisted. Our battle is not against flesh and blood. Also note, of the “abominations” in Leviticus, some of them are behaviors, others are things we consume. Jesus re-addressed the latter quite clearly.