So here is the beginning of a huge topic. Lets start by allowing Ben Witherington do some talking. Ben is the Doctoral professor for New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary and he knows a thing or two about the Bible. He is one of the top scholars of the Bible today concerning the New Testament. He moves in the same streams as guys like James Dunn, a well known British Theologian.
Ben Witherington hit a few points that were important. Let’s flesh them out just a bit here.
1. Romans 1:26-27
For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27 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.
Paul was pretty clear here in Romans. This chapter was really about certain people who were involved in idolatrous practices. Keep in mind, this passage is about homosexuality, but the context is part of Paul’s discourse on people who the wrath of God is coming upon.
“the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth.” (Romans 1:18)
So Paul is talking about people who are clearly going to have issues with God. Within that group of people there are those who deny God as creator and practice idolatry. That same group practices homosexuality, which was not all that uncommon. In the first century the Greeks and the Romans both practiced male homosexuality with very little social complaints. In fact, for some it was a sign of power and authority. Event Plato makes mention of it is his famous dialogue, “The republic.”
It is important to understand that Paul’s mention of women having sex with other women (Romans 1:26) is a big deal. Male to male sex was the norm for homosexual behavior. The mention of female homosexual behavior blows the lid off this passage because it can no longer just be a prohibition of pedestry or male prostitution. That is one of the big arguments on the exegesis of this passage; that the passage only condemns same sex relations with young boys.
Most importantly, Paul describes these actions as “trading natural sexual functions.” In other words, the natural sexual function of a male or female is to be with the opposite sex…..kinda like putting the square peg in the square hole in preschool. It is the only thing that physically makes sense. It is also the only way two can reproduce naturally. Which we should recall was the biblical mandate in Genesis which shows God’s original intentions for human-kind.
2. 1 Corinthians 6:9 (Also see 1 Tim 1:9-10)
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate (μαλακοὶ, malakio), nor homosexuals (ἀρσενοκοῖται, arsevokoitai).
The translation of effeminate (μαλακοὶ, malakio) is hard to translate, but most scholars agree that it refers to passive homosexuality. In that Greco-Roman culture that would be someone younger or of lesser social status, who allows another male (usually higher status) penetrate him. It could also refer to someone who (as the translation suggests) acts feminine or even wears the clothes of a male prostitute (as mentioned by Jesus in Luke 7:25 and Matthew 11:8). However, with either translation it suggests male homosexuality in a passive sense.
The word for homosexuals (ἀρσενοκοῖται, arsevokoitai) literally means “male bed.” It is typically translated from the active sense, as opposed to passive (μαλακοὶ, malakio). Some have tried to make the case that this word only refers to pedestry, which is sexual union with young boys, but that argument has very little to work with. It’s purest translation suggests male to male sexual behavior, that is all.
3. The Bible does not mention homosexuality as a tendency, identity, or orientation.
Tendencies, identity, and orientation are things that require much deeper discussion. But the Bible DOES mention homosexual behavior, which what we are addressing.
4. Jesus affirms Genesis 1, when questioned about divorce and human relationships in Matthew 19:4.
He even adds that God puts man and woman together an no one should separate them. It may be true that Jesus did not mention homosexuality but that is only because it wasn’t as big a deal for him. He was more with the Jews than anyone else on his thinking and they for sure treated homosexual behavior as an abomination. Therefore, it was a bit of a non-issue for Jesus and other Jews.
Secondly, just because Jesus did not mention homosexuality specifically in the Bible, that does not make it OK. He does not mention cussing and fowl language…but Paul does in Ephesians 4:31 and Colossians 3:8-9, and we all agree that cussing is not a Christian value. So why is sexuality any different?
Use of Leviticus18:22 and Leviticus 12:13 to condemn homosexuality
Many people have already mentioned that using the OT to prove right from wrong on the issue of Christian morals is inconsistent with how Christians use the OT for rules concerning foods and other common things. In addition, many believe that since it is “the Law” it should be done away with. On this particular argument, I chose to not use the OT because Leviticus is not recognized by the modern church as containing Christian moral codes.
I think a careful analysis of the book would show that some things in Leviticus can be included in what we call the Law. But many other things can be lumped together as general rules for all humanity to live by. Doing this takes a lot of time and would detract the focus of this blog post. However, for the record, I personally see the sexual conduct laws in Leviticus to be important for Christians to observe.
What does this mean for the church?
I think it means a few things. First, if you want to be a Christian you have to turn from sin. I do not mean that we will never sin, but we have to admit our faults and pray for God’s help resisting temptations. Secondly, homosexuals can be Christians, but just like every other human being alive, they have to renounce their own sin and pray for God’s love and help. I realize many feel they were born gay, and that could or could not be true; but that does not make it right. Having a born tendency for any sin does not make it right. Not alcoholism, pedophilia, abusive behavior, or anything else. I understand this is a lot easier to say than to do, but we all have burdens to bear in this world.
I would like to point out, though, that homosexual sin is no worse than any other sin. Yes it is more obvious than other sins, and the consequences in this physical life are different than other sins, but a sin is still a sin. Those who are without sin can cast the first stone (John 8:7). We need to love and accept people who struggle with homosexual tendencies just like we do any other person. That does not mean we are affirming their sexual practices. But we DO affirm that they too are a child of the almighty God and they are MORE than the sum of their parts and they are not defined by their sexuality.
If you are gay/lesbian and you are reading this….Jesus loves you, I love you, and someday the church will love you too. If I were in your shoes I would struggle as well and probably be pretty ticked off about things. I don’t have all the answers. All I can do is tell you what the Bible has to say on the matter.