I have 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. Some 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. Is not that how truth and reality works? If a movement gets enough influential people to endorse its views and practices, then that makes it true, right? No, it does not.
This is the fallacy Argumentum ad populum or the appeal to popularity. A million Frenchmen 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.
What Does Scripture Say?
Of course whether my comparison between homosexuality and theft or murder 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 are not under the Old Testament any longer.” That reply is misleading and ultimately 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” therefore, 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 Marcionite doctrine 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 Marcionites 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.
Above I sketched the biblical evidence for the claim that homosexuality is a sin. Now I want to turn to the the argument that some make in defense of the notion that there are such things as “gay Christians” is the appeal to providence: “God made me this way, therefore it cannot be wrong.” First, the premise is false and second, the conclusion doesn’t follow from the (flawed) premise.
Since there are practicing homosexuals who profess Christian faith, let’s get back to basic Christian doctrine. According to Genesis 1, God created all that is by the power of his Word. Everything he created was “good.” Indeed, between v.1 and v. 31 the text says six times that creation was “good” or “very good.” In the beginning, in creation, before the fall, there was no human sin. There was spiritual corruption, among the angels, prior to Adam’s fall but Adam was not sinful nor did he have sinful proclivities. There was no disharmony between Adam and Eve or between them and nature. It is essential to understand this reality as best we can because our tendency is to imagine that the fallen world we know now is the way things have always been. We should not, however, read our experience as fallen, sinful, rebellious creatures back into creation.
So, no, it is not true that “God made me this way.” All sin, including homosexuality, is a consequence of the fall but God did not make anything fallen. Our sinful dispositions, attitudes, and acts are the consequences of our fall in Adam. We sin because we are sinners. On analogy with the other sins forbidden by God’s law, why cannot the idolater, the coveter, the thief, the heterosexual fornicator or adulterer or the murderer make the same argument? Of course he may not. God has not violated his own law. God did not sin. He did not corrupt the world. We did.
“That may be,” one might argue “but is not God in control of all that happens? If so, why did he ordain that I should be born with these inclinations?” Again, as a consequence of the fall, every human is born with sinful inclinations. There are as many ways to transgress God’s law as there are imaginations and people. We are deeply corrupted by sin. Every faculty of our soul is corrupted by sin. We do not think as we ought. We do not will as we ought and we do not love as we ought. By nature, Scripture teachers, we are inclined to hate God and our neighbor.
If one is asking if I can explain how God can be sovereign over all things and not morally liable for the evil that happens in the world, I reply by saying that’s a great mystery to which no one has ever offered a completely satisfactory answer. Scripture does address it plainly in Job 38 and Romans 9. The short answer is that God says that we sinful humans do not have standing to charge him with injustice. We are not competent. Further, whatever our difficulties with the mysteries of providence, it is not as if God has not fully involved himself in our predicament. God the Son graciously became incarnate, faced every temptation we have faced (Heb 4)—indeed he knows temptation in a way we can never know in this life because he did not succumb to it. Are you willing to shake your fist at Jesus, who obeyed, died, and was raised for the justification of sinners? Only a fool says yes.
There are other reasons to think that it’s not true to think that homosexuality is normal. Most of the studies (here is a recent study) I’ve seen suggest homosexuality is usually connected to serious dysfunction in one’s nuclear family. Alcoholism, sexual abuse, neglect (physical and emotional) are factors. Though the statistical likelihood of homosexuality doesn’t seem to be much greater than it has been for decades—by now surely everyone knows that the old Kinsey numbers were badly skewed by their sample population—homosexuality surely plays a vastly more prominent role in our culture than it did just a few years ago. There is obviously a correlation between the breakdown of the nuclear family, the rise of divorce, the rise of substance abuse (drugs and alcohol) and the general collapse of the culture and the increased visibility of homosexuality in popular culture and in the educational establishment. There may be a small percentage of a given population born with a biological proclivity to homosexuality but that is probably true for other disorders and sins. Remember, it was not very long ago that homosexuality was listed in standard psychiatric diagnostic manuals as a treatable disorder. The evidence hasn’t changed but the political-cultural-social-economic influence of homosexuals has. I’m a free-market guy but we should be honest about the increased economic clout of homosexuals. They compose an economically attractive market. They tend to be more highly educated, with a higher disposable income (no kids to feed) and they spend. Mass media = advertising. All of it is advertising. The entertainment and news programs all serve advertisers and most advertisers only care about the quarterly earning reports. They do not care about the social consequences of their programming and advertising. Sometimes Marx is right.
Further, even were it true that “God made me this way” it does not follow that, therefore the moral law no longer applies. No one is permitted to leverage the clear, unequivocal teaching of Scripture with his private interpretation of providence or natural revelation. Scripture clearly teaches that homosexuality (as defined above) is sin. It’s against nature. Your claim that “God made me this way” does not grant one permission to violate the clear teaching of Scripture.
Every Christian has sins with which he must struggle. Jesus did not call the Christian life a daily crucifixion for no reason. Those tempted by homosexuality are no more exempt than heterosexual sinners from this call to discipleship. Thieves must daily repent of their desire to steal (instead of working). Coveters must daily repent of their desire to have what God has not given them. Idolaters must repent of their desire to make a god in their own image. Liars must repent of their desire to control outcomes by twisting the truth.
Look, the culture always approves of one sin or another. Right now, homosexuality is fashionable. It’s the current way to rebel against God but fashion is not necessarily truth or righteousness. Of course I would rather see homosexuals embrace the Christian faith than repudiate it but it must be the whole Christian faith and not an edited version conveniently amputated of its moral teaching.
This essay was originally published on the HB in 2013. It has been slightly revised.