This is a brief look at some of the arguments that are being used to encourage Biblical Christians to accept some forms of homosexual behavior as normal and acceptable to God.
For some time now I have felt a burden to try to communicate with people who identify themselves as Christian believers and who are finding themselves persuaded that perhaps what the church has believed about homosexual behavior through the centuries has been mistaken.
One of the greatest concerns I have in writing a paper like this is that I might sound unloving. Of course, to disagree with someone is, in and of itself, not an unloving act. But sometimes we can feel so strongly about issues, like this one, that our communication may sound harsh and unloving, and perhaps, to some, even bigoted. So, on the one hand, I certainly don’t want to be, or even sound, ugly.
On the other hand, it is true that Jesus warned His followers that, since some people hated Him, his followers should not be surprised when people who are not believers hate them too. I think the point is that sometimes, no matter how Christ-like we are, some will hate us for the very message that we share. But I do believe that when we try to obey the command to speak the truth in love, we must make every effort to not sound hateful and antagonistic. So my goal is to speak the truth clearly and without apology, but with great grace, love, kindness, and gentleness. One of my goals here is not to hurt anyone or be condescending or ugly toward anyone. My goal is to speak the the truth in love.
This is the third time I have addressed the homosexual issue on our web site. You can find the two earlier papers (written several years ago) here and here. And this brief paper is not meant to be a comprehensive look at the issue. I am mainly addressing people who would identify themselves as Christians who sincerely believe that the Bible is the very Word of God, but who are beginning to doubt their previous understanding of these Scriptures and their understanding of homosexual behavior. Those who do not hold the Scriptures to be authoritative will likely not find this paper to be relevant. If you are in this latter category, you may prefer to stop here.
As the LGBT and so-called same-sex marriage (SSM) movements increase their pressure against Christians and the church, we are beginning to see more people who self-identify as Christians attempt to argue that the church has had it wrong for all these centuries and that loving same-sex sexual relationships are actually not condemned in Scripture after all. It can be very tempting for young people, who desperately want to fit in with the culture around us and who are surrounded by a tidal wave of acceptance of homosexual behavior and SSM, to just simply “go with the flow” and find reasons to accept those arguments. My goal here is to provide a very brief response to some of these arguments. I am attempting to provide a brief, readable overview, not an in-depth study. I may add more later. If you are interested in a more complete study, I would recommend Kevin DeYoung’s book, What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality?
With that introduction, I will say that I seem to be hearing seven arguments designed to encourage Christians to accept some forms of homosexuality as approved by God. Of course, there may be more than seven, but in this post I will only address these seven.
First Argument–It’s time to move on
The argument goes like this. There are many historical examples of the church “moving on” past previous errors. For example, in the early 1800s, many Christians accepted slaveholding as not a sinful thing. It was considered to be perfectly acceptable Christian behavior. Later, in the same way of thinking, many Christians believed that interracial marriage was sinful. Eventually most Christians left those beliefs behind. So, the argument goes, now it is time for the church to move on from its erroneous beliefs about homosexuality, just as it moved on from its erroneous beliefs about slavery.
Response to First Argument (“It’s time to move on”)
Frankly, this kind of thinking seems to me to be more of a difficulty for advocates of homosexuality than it is for those who reject all forms of homosexual behavior. A careful reading of Scripture easily demonstrates that the advocates of slaveholding (as practiced in the early U.S.) and advocates of banning interracial marriage were Biblically uninformed. They simply tried to use certain proof-texts to rationalize sin that they did not wish to give up. I am concerned that SSM advocates today are doing the same thing. Many of them identify as Christians, just as many slaveholders and opponents of interracial marriage did. And they’re trying to put together a Biblical argument to support what I honestly believe the Bible simply calls sin, just as the slaveholders and opponents of interracial marriage did. But in all these cases, in my opinion, it doesn’t take a great deal of objective Bible study to realize that they were using bad arguments to support a behavior that they did not wish to give up.
So, for example, we might imagine a scenario that would perhaps be more similar to our current situation if we imagine a slaveholder talking with an anti-slavery believer. (Remember, it was Christian activists who were most determined to give slaves their freedom. It wasn’t Christians fighting for slavery and non-Christians fighting against it.) So we might imagine a slaveholder saying, “I know that you guys think that the Scripture teaches against slavery. But you’re wrong. If you will just give me the opportunity, I can show you that, while some slaveholders are evil, many of us are very loving and kind. And I can show you that the Bible really doesn’t condemn slaveholders like us. You need to get with the program. The church is moving on. We are now learning that slaveholding isn’t condemned after all.”
So I think that it’s important to remember that just because we can find examples of people who identified as Christians trying to justify some kind of sinful behavior, doesn’t mean that now it’s ok to justify some other kind of sinful behavior.
Second Argument–Many commands are already ignored
This argument says that there are many commands in the Bible that ancient people once took seriously, but that are now no longer taken as binding. For example, we ignore the command not to touch a woman having her period (Lev 15:19) or the command not to wear a garment made of two different fabrics (Lev 19:19). We can place the commands against homosexual behavior in the same categories. The idea is that if we can ignore those other strange commands, we can ignore this one too.
Response to Second Argument (“Many commands are already ignored”)
I believe that this second argument shows a lack of understanding of the different kinds of laws that we find in the Old Testament. Christians have always recognized that there are Biblical commands that are no longer binding on believers.
Many commands (e.g. animal sacrifices and the levitical priesthood) were meant only for a time to point men to the coming Messiah. When He came, they ceased. We no longer sacrifice lambs.
Other commands (e.g., circumcision, dietary laws, sabbath laws) were given to keep Israel separate and distinct from other nations since God intended them to be the vehicle through which He would give the world His Word and His Son. God used these commands to keep Israel separated and intact as a people.
Still other commands (e.g., don’t enter the house to collect a debt–Deut 24:10) are part of a group of civil commands that God gave Moses in order to structure the early Jewish society so that it could function well. These laws are kind of like our laws against speeding or our zoning laws or our housing regulation laws.
Finally, there are commands that are part of God’s great ongoing moral law. (e.g., laws against stealing, murdering, coveting, committing adultery, bearing false witness, idolatry, etc.)
The question becomes, “Can we discern to which category the commands against homosexual behavior belong?”
Well, from 1 Corinthians 6, we know that it falls under the same category as fornication, idolatry, adultery, theft, coveting, drunkenness, and extortion. Homosexual behavior is listed in the same list as these other sins. Few would argue that laws prohibiting these things belong to any category other than moral law. So the conclusion seems clear that the prohibition against homosexual behavior is also part of God’s eternal moral law, not the sacrificial law, or the ceremonial law, or the civil law, or the laws designed to keep Israel separate and intact..
Third Argument–What the Bible actually prohibits is different
This argument claims that the verses that seem to prohibit homosexual behavior actually only prohibit pederastic, predatory or promiscuous homosexual behavior. This argument says that nowhere does the Bible condemn homosexual behavior that is limited to loving monogamous relationships.
Response to Third Argument (“What the Bible actually prohibits is different”)
Now I think that it is important to notice that nothing is said in any of these passages to imply that only certain kinds of homosexual activity are prohibited. Each passage simply refers to homosexual behavior in general. To limit the meaning to predatory sex, pederasty, or promiscuity is a form of eisogesis, reading into the text what we might want it to say, not just simply reading out of the text what it actually says. In fact, the Greek word that Paul uses in 1 Timothy 1:9-10 and again in 1 Corinthians 6:9 is arsenokoites.
“Understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality [arsenokoites], enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine,” (1 Timothy 1:9-10)
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality [arsenokoites].” (1 Corinthians 6:9)
Arsenokoites is a word that Greek scholars say that Paul “invented.” What Paul did was to combine the Greek words used in the Septuagint [an early Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament] to translate the words “a man lying with a man as a woman” in Leviticus 20:13.
“If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.” (Leviticus 20:13)
His use of the word “arsenokoites” shows that he has in mind the Greek Septuagint translation of Leviticus 20:13. The background for these commands is not Roman culture, but the Hebrew Old Testament. (As an aside, I believe that it is important to point out that the correct translation of arsenokoites is not “men who have homosexual inclinations.” Instead it is, “men who engage in homosexual behavior.” or, as the ESV has it, “men who practice homosexuality.”)
But nowhere in Scripture is there any suggestion that some homosexual behavior might be acceptable or that there might be an exception to the laws condemning homosexual behavior. Some SSM activists have tried to argue that in Paul’s day, for example, the only homosexual behavior was pederastic, predatory, or promiscuous. Some have tried to argue that when Paul condemned homosexual behavior he must have been talking about predatory behavior, about pederasty, or about promiscuity, because the loving kind of homosexual behavior is actually good, and Paul would not have condemned what is good. But that’s really a form of begging the question. When we do that we are assuming that some forms of homosexual behavior are good, in spite of the lack of any Biblical evidence that that might be the case. In addition to that, Kevin DeYoung, in his book, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? provides resources for establishing that it is simply not the case that all homosexual behavior in ancient Rome was predatory, pederastic, or promiscuous.
Not only that, but the fact that Paul also prohibits lesbianism in Romans 1 seems to make it more likely that he is talking about all homosexual behavior, not just some types of behavior.
If Paul had pederasty in mind, there was a Greek word he could have used–paiderastia. (Obviously paiderastia is the word from which we get our English word pederasty.)
Certainly Paul could have added words to the effect of: “When I use this word (arsenokoites), I am not talking about two adult men in a long term loving relationship.” There is nothing in the Bible that even hints that Paul’s readers would, or should, have taken it that way.
The only way that advocates of homosexual behavior can use the Bible to make their case is to assume that all homosexual behavior in Paul’s day was pederastic, predatory, or promiscuous, or that because these kinds of homosexual behavior existed, the loving kind did not exist.
But DeYoung points out that there is a book, Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: A Sourcebook of Basic Documents, written by Thomas K Hubbard (who is not a Christian) that undermines that thinking. His point is that there was not a simple pattern for homosexual behavior in ancient Greece and Rome. There were all kinds of behavior–from what we might call “bad” behavior to what we might call “loving” behavior. Lifelong same-sex relationships were part of that mix. The point is, the Bible does not condemn some kinds of homosexual behavior and approve other kinds. The Bible makes it clear that all homosexual behavior is sin.
Fourth Argument–It’s the only loving thing to do
This argument says that It would be unloving for God or for us to require those with homosexual drives to be committed to lifelong celibacy. If God provided heterosexual marriage as an outlet for heterosexual drives, He would have also provided homosexual marriage for those with homosexual drives.
Response to Fourth Argument (“It’s the only loving thing to do”)
Of course the fact is that we could always maintain that it is “unloving” for anyone not to get to have what he or she really desires to have or what he or she feels driven to do. God doesn’t seem to agree with that. And most people don’t agree with that either. For example, many men feel driven to lust after or to have sex with women who are not their wives. Many alcoholics have a strong inner desire to drink alcohol. There are some adults have strong desires to have sex with kids. So it seems obvious that the existence of strong desire is not proof that “love” demands that the desire be fulfilled. Not only that, but many men who once had strong homosexual desires no longer have those desires. And many of them are happily married to women who are the mothers of their children.
Now obviously, as I tried to make clear at the beginning of this paper, everything a Christian says must be motivated by love and compassion. But sadly, I am afraid that we live in a time when love and compassion are sometimes equated with acceptance of behavior. That is, if we do not accept a particular behavior as good, the person who engages in that behavior may call us “unloving” and “bigoted.” And equally sadly, I have to admit that that there are some who condemn a particular sinful behavior but who do not sound very compassionate. Some really are unloving. Some really are bigoted. But often, no matter how gentle and kind and gracious and loving and compassionate we try to be, people will say, “If you don’t accept me ‘as I am’ (translation: “accept me and my behavior”) then you obviously don’t love me.” I think that this attitude would be similar to someone who has cancer, whose doctor has told him that it can be cured with a regimen of chemo and radiation, saying he preferred to treat it with aspirin. You disagree with him. He calls you unloving. Maybe it’s a little like someone who decided to treat his alcoholism with a shot of whiskey every morning telling you that you are unloving if you disagreed.
Unfortunately, sometimes to simply speak the truth is considered unloving, no matter how gentle and gracious and kind and compassionate we might be trying to be.
Fifth Argument–It produces good fruit
This argument is that loving, long term homosexual relationships produce good fruit. And since we can know a tree by its fruit, it must be acceptable to God.
Response to Fifth Argument (“It produces good fruit”)
The problem with this fifth argument is that we don’t get to define “good fruit.” Just because people are nice and happy and kind and productive citizens does not necessarily mean that they are producing good fruit from God’s perspective. Some adulterers are nice and happy and kind and productive citizens. That fact doesn’t condone adultery. Some child molesters are nice and happy and kind and productive citizens. Biblically speaking, good fruit is, by definition, doing the will of God (Matthew 7:16-27). He, not we, gets to decide what is good fruit.
Sixth Argument–The Church has ignored other sexual sins
This sixth argument says, essentially, “Look. The church has tolerated unbiblical divorce and remarriage, couples living together outside the covenant of marriage, people who are into pornography, young people having sex with their sweethearts, etc, for a long time. What’s the justification for drawing the line at homosexual behavior?”
Response to Sixth Argument (“The Church has ignored other sexual sins”)
Touché! The church has often blown it badly when it comes to many kinds of sexual sins. Many churches have abandoned New Testament teaching regarding discipline and restoration of members involved in flagrant sin. However, most churches probably still do not officially condone these sins. If an unmarried heterosexual couple were to ask their pastor to acknowledge that their behavior is ok, I would like to think that most evangelical pastors would not do that. But, unfortunately, many do not deal with the problem Biblically. But the logical conclusion of this argument is that if the church has not dealt with one area of sin Biblically, then it should not deal with other areas Biblically either. “What? You’re embezzling money from the company where you work? Well, we tolerate members who probably do worse. So you’re good to go.”
Seventh Argument–We must not judge others.
The seventh argument says that God deals differently with different people, and that we cannot know how He is dealing with people who disagree with us. We don’t really know what is in their hearts. To tell them that their behavior is sinful is to judge them. And the Bible clearly says, “Judge not that you be not judged.”
Seventh Argument–We must not judge others.
This argument is an argument that we have heard for many years any time that we try to speak out against what the Bible calls sin. Sometimes it seems that it’s the only verse that some folks know! Of course it is true, Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1). So it is certainly clear that in some sense, judging is forbidden. Of course the Bible also says: “Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!” (1 Corinthians 6:3) and Jesus also said, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”” (John 7:24)
So there are times when judging is commanded. The problem we may have here is in getting at the correct definition of the word “to judge.” We use the word in many different ways. To some people in some situations, to judge might mean “to condemn to hell.” It might also mean “to evaluate the unspoken internal motivations of others.” It might mean, “to pronounce guilty.” And, for some, It might mean, “to make a decision about whether an action or behavior is right or wrong.”
I think that when practicing homosexuals tell us to “not judge them” they may be interpreting the word “judge” in that last sense. They mean that we should quit saying that their behavior is sinful. They may think that when we say that homosexual behavior is sinful we are disobeying Jesus’ command to judge not. But this is obviously not what Jesus had in mind. We know this because there are too many other places in Scripture where we are commanded to “judge” in this sense.
Here are some examples.
“But test everything; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21)
“A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:18-20)
““And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?” (Luke 12:57)
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)
“And try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:10)
“So that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,” (Philippians 1:10)
When Biblical Christians graciously and lovingly affirm that according to the Bible homosexual behavior is sinful behavior and therefore should not be practiced or endorsed by the state, we are simply obeying commands like these.
Obviously, this brief paper is not an in depth study of the entire homosexual and SSM controversy. My primary concern has been to help believers who might be tempted to think that the church has had it wrong for 2000 years to think again and to think a little more carefully. If the Bible really does condemn all forms of homosexual behavior, and I think that it clearly does, then we must trust that God has a reason for that prohibition. Some may have intense feelings of love, attraction, and rightness on the one hand, or intense feelings of frustration, of unfairness, or of being misunderstood on the other hand. But these intense feelings are not enough to cancel the clear teaching of Scripture. Most of us, at one time or another, have seriously questioned why God would require us to obey a particular Biblical command, only to get a clearer understanding at a later time. We must never forget that God’s love for us is behind His commands for us. In the long run, His way, although sometimes difficult, proves to be the way of blessing. We don’t have to understand everything. But we do have to trust Him.
Stay in the battle!