A Look at the Bible and Homosexuality
You can find this essay at the RLP website: HERE
After my passionate post on the subject of homosexuality, I’ve received numerous emails asking me to clearly state my interpretation of the parts of the Bible that are thought to speak to the issue of homosexuality. Initially I thought I would respond by email to those wanting to discuss the Bible, but the number of emails was overwhelming so I thought I would post my thoughts here.
I’d like to speak to this issue in 4 parts.
Part One – Hypocrisy:
If we Christians were honest, we would admit that we do not abide by all the commandments of scripture ourselves. I don’t mean that we try and fail. I mean we deliberately choose to ignore scriptures that are not convenient for our lifestyles. As I pointed out in my post yesterday, the amount of scripture that is ignored, scorned, and abused by modern Christians is incredible. This blatant disregard for scripture never seems to bother church people when the issues at hand have to do with their own sins. But suddenly, when the subject of homosexuality comes up, everyone becomes a biblical literalist. The hypocrisy of this is appalling.
I think we should afford our homosexual brothers and sisters the same luxury we claim for ourselves. If we plan to ignore whatever scriptures threaten our lifestyles, perhaps we should offer them space at our bonfire to burn their little handful of scriptures as we burn the Bible chapter and verse.
We should all agree that none of us are able or willing to follow all the teachings of scripture. Let the one who is obeying God’s word ask for detailed scriptural explanations from others.
In my book, that settles the argument, and there is no reason to go further. However, if you are determined to hold homosexuals to a higher standard, demanding detailed explanations for why they do not obey minor parts of the Bible while all of Christendom tramples on the very heart of scripture, move on to part two:
Part Two – The Bible and homosexuality:
The Bible never addresses the subject of homosexuality as an orientation. The idea of sexual identity was not a part of human thought until very recently. The Bible addresses some specific homosexual acts in very specific contexts. The idea of two people in a loving, committed homosexual relationship was not understood in the ancient Hebrew world and is not a subject in the Bible. Very credible biblical scholars treat the passages in question as specific commands against specific acts, and not as a wholesale prohibition on a homosexual orientation.
For many people, understanding this obvious limitation of the Bible is all that is needed. The Bible does not address the broad subject of sexual orientation because it was written before that was an issue. Any specific condemnation of homosexual acts must be seen as just that – a specific condemnation of an act in a specific context.
However, if that sounds too wishy-washy to you, if it sounds too slippery and subjective, let me now speak to all 6 of the passages in the Bible that are thought by some people to address the issue of homosexuality.
Part Three – Exegesis
There are exactly 6 scriptures that are thought to address homosexuality. I’ll either quote the passage or provide a link so that you can read it.
The story of the destruction of Sodom – Genesis 19:1-29. If you read this story, you’ll quickly see that the men of the city of Sodom wanted to commit a brutal, homosexual rape. We simply cannot condemn a sexual orientation because of a rape. There is a heterosexual rape described in the next passage we will examine together. Shall we condemn heterosexuality because of this rape?
Any reasonable person will understand that this passage has nothing to say about loving, consensual homosexual relationships.
Judges 19:1-30 is a sad story of human evil of the type that is often recounted in scripture. It is basically a retelling of the Sodom story in a different context. This time, however, the men actually did rape a woman. This passage speaks to the need for God’s love in a brutal world. It has no bearing on the question of homosexual orientation for the same reason that the Sodom story is not applicable. Both of these stories condemn ignorance and sexual brutality, but not homosexuality.
Texts 3 and 4 are both in Leviticus and make up a part of the Old Testament Levitical code.
Leviticus 18:22 – “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.”
Leviticus 20:13 – “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”
The code of rules and behaviors in Leviticus does not apply to Christians. The book of Acts, specifically chapter 15, makes it clear that Gentile Christians are not required to keep all of the Mosaic laws. No Christian group I know demands full compliance with this ancient code of behavior. If we did we would have to keep kosher laws. We don’t even demand compliance with the sexual laws in Leviticus. If we did, we would allow polygamy, which is lawful in Leviticus. Unless you are prepared to obey all the laws in Leviticus, you cannot blame the homosexual for not feeling bound to obey all of them. To point to these two verses and demand selective compliance is ludicrous.
The Old Testament really has nothing specific to say to Christians about homosexuality. We turn now to the New Testament.
Jesus had nothing to say on the subject of homosexuality. His absence of comment does not support or condemn homosexuality. Jesus was Jewish, kept the Law of Moses, and mainly dealt with Jewish people. The issue of homosexuality was not relevant or important to his ministry. It’s not surprising that Jesus never addressed what was not an issue for his culture.
Paul, who lived in the gentile world and dealt with gentiles, discusses specific homosexual acts twice. These passages are the only two times homosexual behavior is mentioned in the New Testament. Let me repeat that because it is important. The two passages I am about to discuss comprise the total New Testament witness on the subject of homosexuality.
I Corinthians 6:9 – “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders” (NIV)
“Male prostitutes” and “homosexual offenders.” Can someone explain to me why we would condemn an entire orientation because of the prohibition of these very specific behaviors?
The Greek words Paul used in this passage include the word for a young, effeminate male prostitute and the word for the older man who paid to have sex with him. Admittedly, there is some disagreement over how these words should be translated, but let me point out that I’m quoting from the New International Version, arguably the most conservative modern translation available. You may disagree with this translation, but you cannot dismiss it as ridiculous. The scholars who worked on the NIV are not lightweights. And uncertainty and ambiguity in translation is only a further argument for tolerance.
We can acknowledge that the New Testament condemns prostitution and a system where a younger man makes his living committing sex acts for money with older men. But we cannot condemn homosexuality in general because homosexual prostitution was condemned. Paul condemns many heterosexual acts in his writings, even in this very verse, yet we do not condemn heterosexuality.
Romans 1:18-29 is the last passage we shall look at. It is the one most often quoted, and it is clearly the closest thing we find to condemnation in the New Testament. Verse 27 is the most specific verse.
I simply ask you to read this entire passage with an open mind. In it, Paul says that those who reject God will be given over to “shameful lusts”. They will engage in many acts that are not pleasing to God. Men will “burn with lust for one another.”
In Paul’s experience, the only homosexuality he knew was that practiced in the non-Jewish world and probably tied to pagan temple worship. He claims that homosexuality is one of the punishments for those who reject God. But what are we to do with gentle and committed Christians who love God and worship God, but who tell us that they have a homosexual orientation?
My homosexual friends who are Christians are not haters of God. They have not rejected the Creator. Nor do not burn in lust for each other and run around committing scandalous acts. They are quietly committed to their partners in love. The dilemma here is that the homosexual Christians I know just do not fit the picture Paul gives us in Romans.
I’ll be honest- I don’t know exactly what Paul meant by this passage. I know he was describing people who chose not to worship God and then “burned with lust for other men.” I don’t know exactly what he meant, but I know this DOES NOT describe the homosexual Christians I know, who love God with great passion.
Because of my inability to make clear sense of these passages, I am willing to allow a person’s sexual orientation to be between him or her and God. I am willing to take a chance and err on the side of compassion and inclusion.
And consider this: Jesus condemned divorce several times in the gospels. You can read one instance here. Jesus is clearly saying that just because a judge on earth grants a divorce does not mean that God sets aside the commitment. So, according to Jesus, when divorced people remarry they are living in a constant and willful state of adultery. And yet, why is it we have no problem with divorced and remarried people in the church? I believe this is because the divorced people are our friends and church members. So we are willing to look at their lives with grace and include them in our communities. We don’t understand what Jesus meant exactly, but we assume they are doing the best they can in a difficult situation. “And surely Jesus couldn’t have meant that they spend the rest of their lives alone,” we say to ourselves. We don’t offer the same grace to homosexuals because it is convenient to sacrifice them on our altar of Biblical fidelity. We can reject them and claim our actions as examples of how much we respect the scriptures.
This even though the New Testament witness on divorce is MUCH clearer and comes right from the mouth of Jesus.
It’s hypocrisy, plain and simple.
Part Four – Conclusion
Those are the 6 passages in the Bible that are thought to address the subject of homosexuality. The Old Testament passages amount to nothing and the two New Testament passages are ambiguous at best and highly open to interpretation.
I do not think the Bible teaches that every expression of homosexual love is sinful. The scriptural witness on this subject is shaky at best.
Even if you do not buy my claim that we have no right to demand specific explanation of scriptures from homosexuals since we don’t provide similar explanations for the hundreds of passages we blatantly ignore…
Even if you do not agree that the Bible never really addresses the subject of homosexuality as a sexual orientation…
Even if you reject my biblical analysis and decide that the Bible is condemning of homosexuals…
Would you at least agree that the passages are ambiguous and open to many interpretations? Would you at least agree that others may responsibly interpret them and not agree with you?
If you could at least acknowledge that those of us who disagree with your interpretation are nonetheless serious-minded people who read the scriptures carefully and want to follow them, then perhaps you would be willing to err on the side of compassion. Perhaps you would be willing to open your churches to our homosexual brothers and sisters, trusting them to read the Bible just as you do, with love and hoping for Grace from God.