I’ve been speaking with an especially thoughtful young person recently who asked me whether it was appropriate to speak of “Gay Christians.” My first response was to ask whether it is appropriate to speak of “Murderer Christians” or “Thief Christians” or “Idolater Christians”? When the adjective “gay” refers to homosexuals, the expression “Gay Christian” is an oxymoron. Remarkably, Millennials (18–34) may be almost entirely unaware of the older, original sense of “gay,” i.e., happy. Equally remarkable is the fact that it now seems widely accepted that the practice of homosexuality is quite compatible with a Christian profession. There is even a “Gay Christian Network” internet program. They must be right, after all famous evangelical celebrities have endorsed them. Isn’t that how truth and reality works? If you get enough influential people to endorse your views and practices, then that makes it true, right?
Uh, no. This is the fallacy Argumentum ad baculum or the appeal to force. A million Frenchman can be wrong. Most of the Germans supported the Third Reich. Most of the Japanese supported the Emperor in World War II, including the attack on Pearl Harbor. All those folks were wrong. Mass movements are often wrong. Ideas and practices become accepted for a variety of reasons but their acceptance, even widespread acceptance doesn’t make them true or right.
Of course whether my comparison between homosexuality and theft or muder holds depends on whether homosexuality (i.e., homosexual activity) is, in fact, sin. There are essentially three approaches to this question:
- The Bible Doesn’t Speak About Homosexuality
- The Bible Approves of Homosexuality
- The Bible Regards Homosexuality As Sin
Whole volumes, of course, have been written on this question over the last 30 years or so and a single blog post cannot sort them all out but there is strong prima facie evidence that views #1 and #2 are wrong.
Leviticus 20:13 (ESV) says,
If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination
The Hebrew Bible can be blunt but it can also be restrained, polite and in this case, some have used its politeness, its restrained language against it. In this case, however, the Hebrew Bible is a little more explicit than the even more polite ESV translation. “A man that lies [with] a male [in] bed [as] a woman….” The intent seems pretty clear. The concern is not with two guys taking a nap. The verb “to lie down” is used euphemistically in Hebrew to refer to sexual relations and the inclusion of the adjective “male” and the noun “bed” make the intent clear. There was also a civil punishment attached to this prohibition: death. No one was going to be killed for sleeping but they could be put to death for same sex (homosexual) relations. An “enlightened” and “liberated” (late) modern person might not like what the text says but it was clear enough in its original context to serve as the basis for criminal prosecution (on the basis of 2 or 3 witnesses) and capital punishment.
One might object, “But that’s the Old Testament. We’re not under the Old Testament any longer.” Well, that’s true but it’s irrelevant to the question: does the Bible speak to homosexuality (i.e., homosexual activity)? Leviticus 20:13 is in the Bible and it speaks to homosexuality. Ergo #1 is false. Does the Bible approve of homosexuality? Leviticus 20:13 describes homosexuality as an “abomination” ergo, no, the Bible does not approve of it. No, Jonathan and David were not homosexual lovers. Not every natural, expression of masculine affection is a signal of homosexual attraction or relations. One could only read that narrative this way in our perverse, over-sexualized culture.
It is true that the Old Testament, strictly defined as the Mosaic Covenant, the 613 commandments of the national, temporary, typological revelation of God to national Israel, has been fulfilled by Christ. Nevertheless, the Christian church has always rejected the notion that there are two Gods in Scripture, a mean Old Testament God and a nice, loving New Testament God. That was the view held by the Gnostics in the 2nd century AD and later by the Manichaeans. It was rejected as heresy in both cases because the New Testament explicitly teaches the contrary. The Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4 says,
Hear O Israel, Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one
The NT quotes or alludes the Shema. Our Lord Jesus quoted it in Mark 12:29. Paul alludes to it in Romans 3:30, in Galatians 3;20, and so does James in James 2:19. The New Testament uses the same language for God that the OT uses. The NT regularly quotes the OT regarding God’s disapproval of sin and even, e.g., Hebrews 12, intensifies its language about God’s hatred for sin and the coming judgment. No one preached about the coming judgment more than Jesus himself.
There are not two Gods in Scripture and though advent of Christ did fulfill all the types and shadows under Moses, all the sacrifices and civil laws and punishments, and though the national covenant with Israel has expired, nevertheless, Leviticus 20:13 does still communicate God’s moral disapproval of homosexuality.
Further, the New Testament continues to condemn homosexuality. In Romans 1:26–27 (ESV) Paul writes:
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
As in Leviticus, Paul is clear but relatively polite or restrained in his language. That restraint, however, cannot be used to argue that the passage does not speak to or against homosexual acts. The context is established in v. 18 where Paul writes, “For the wrath of God lis revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” So, he is elaborating on the theme of God’s moral disapproval of sin. He proceeds to give examples of egregiously sinful behavior. In v. 23 he gives idolatry as an example. In v. 24 he turns to sexual immorality, to “the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves” which he connects again (v. 25) directly to idolatry. Violation of the first three commandments is connected to the violation of the seventh commandment. Thus, the context is idolatry and sexual immorality. Women exchanging “the use according to nature” (την φυσικην) for that which is “outside of nature” (παρα φυσιν) is a reference to sexual behavior. Paul wasn’t complaining about economic (business) behavior or ordinary domestic questions. In v. 27, he includes men in his complaint. Thus, both Lesbian acts and male homosexual acts are included and condemned. The frame of reference is sex and the boundary is nature, that which is of use or profit (χρησιν). Homosexual acts are biologically fruitless, they cannot produce children. According to Paul, the only product of homosexual activity is the “due penalty” for the activity.
He is even more pointed in 1Corinthians 6:9 and 1Tim 1:10, where he condemns the “αρσενοκοιται” (arsenokoitai). The standard definition (Bouer, Arnt, Gingrich, Danker) is “a male who practices homosexuality, pederast, sodomite.” This is the way the word was understood in early Christian, post-canonical usage though it occurs in the same sense in the Sibylline Oracles (6th cent BC) ii.73. See Moulton and Milligan s.v.
Of course, we want to avoid the etymological fallacy (deducing the meaning of a word by adding up its letters or component parts) because it does not always work and can produce misleading results but in this case it works because usage confirms what adding up the letters suggests. αρσην (arsen) = male and κοιτης (koites) = bed or euphemistically for sexual relations.
However uncomfortable it makes us late moderns, the text of 1Corinthians 6:9 is quite clear:
“Or do you not know that the unjust (αδικοι) will not inherit the kingdom of God? Neither will you who deceive (πλανασθε) nor the sexually immoral (πορνοι) nor idolaters (ειδωλολατραι), nor adulterers (μοιχοι), nor the effeminate (μαλακοι), nor homosexuals (αρσενοκοιται).”
I translate μαλακοι as “effeminate” because of the way it’s used in the LXX (the Greek translation of the Hebrew/Aramaic Scriptures) for the “soft parts” and is used elsewhere in the sense of “effeminate, of a catamite, a male who submits his body to unnatural lewdness, 1 Cor. 6:9” (BAGD, s.v.).
Paul was quite familiar with Corinth as a fairly depraved, cosmopolitan port city and he was well aware of the sorts of sexual immorality that were openly practiced there as elsewhere (e.g., Ephesus had pornographic graffiti that would make us blush). It seems clear that one thing, effeminate men who submit themselves to sexual abuse, perhaps homosexual prostitutes, led him to the last category, homosexuals.
Paul is announcing God’s judgment on several classes of sinful behaviors and warning those who commit them impenitently (without sorrow or struggle) that they must acknowledge their sin for what it is and turn to and put their trust in Jesus the Savior who obeyed and died for heterosexual and homosexual sinners and who offers free acceptance with God on the basis of faith (trust) in Jesus, the gracious Savior of helpless sinners.
So, there is ample biblical evidence that, taken in its original context, understood according to the intention of the human authors and in its broader canonical context (the Old and New Testaments together regarded as one, unfolding story of redemption and revelation) for the conclusion that the Bible regards homosexuality (i.e., the sexual acts) and even male effeminacy, i.e., the now widespread so-called “gender bending” that blurs the lines between males and females) as sin.
Why, then, do so many seem miss or misunderstand this teaching? More on this in part 2.