This is the beginning of an expansive and evolving topic. Lets start by allowing Ben Witherington do some talking. Ben is the 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.
Ben Witherington hit a few points that were important. Below we will expand on those points, one at a time.
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.
Romans, chapter 1 was directed towards certain people who were involved in various idolatrous practices. Chapter one does speak of homosexuality, but the context is part of Paul’s discourse on people who have the wrath of God coming upon them.
“the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth.” (Romans 1:18)
Paul is talking about people who he believes are in violations of God’s laws and natural order. Within that group of people are those who deny God as creator and also those that practice idolatry. The very same group of people are accused of practicing homosexuality, which was not all that uncommon for the culture. In the first century the Greeks and the Romans both practiced male homosexuality without much fear of condemnation from others. In fact, for some it was a sign of power and authority.
But homosexuality in Greek culture was far more invasive than what we can picture by today’s standards. In the writings of Plutarch, the famous military general Pelopidas was quoted as advocating for homosexuality in the military because a man would more willingly lay down his life for another if they had a lover’s bond. This was expressed in the typical verbiage of lover and beloved, usually referring to an older male and his younger beloved.
Homer’s Nestor was not well skilled in ordering an army when he advised the Greeks to rank tribe and tribe… he should have joined lovers and their beloved. For men of the same tribe little value one another when dangers press; but a band cemented by friendship grounded upon love is never to be broken. (Plutarch, Life of Pelopidas)
The military practice of homosexuality was pervasive enough that a famous military unit was created, known as the Band of Thebes. It is believe that the band was formed in 5th century BCE. According to ancient speech writer Dinarchus it was this band, lead by Pelopidas, who defeated the Spartans.
It is not immediately clear, in 1 Corinthians, if Paul is referring specifically to the older and younger male unions that were renown in classical Greece. However, in Romans 1, it seems quite clear that Paul is definitely referring to homosexual practice or behavior in general.
It is important to understand that Paul’s mention of women also 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 be said that Paul was just speaking of pederasty, or even male prostitution. That is one of the main arguments on the exegesis of this passage; that the passage only condemns same sex relations with young boys. This argument was made famous by professors like Dale Martin, at Yale.
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 meaning of effeminate (μαλακοὶ, malakio) is hard to translate, but most scholars agree that it refers to passive homosexuality. In that Greco-Roman culture (especially Greek) μαλακοὶ 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. Given the context of the passage and the history of man/boy lovers in the Greek culture, I am personally inclined to believe Paul was using the word μαλακοὶ to refer to the well attested practice of an older male “mentoring” a young boy as he makes the passage to becoming a man.
Especially in ancient Greece, it was a rite of passage for a young man (a boy) of age 12 or 13 to leave his home and be mentored by and older male who could teach him how to become an adult male of substance and social status. They would teach the boy how to grow into a man and how to live a good Greek life. This mentoring process was considered normal in ancient Greece and it was typical for the older male to penetrate the boy until he reached the age of manhood or until he grew a beard and pubic hair. But by Jesus’ time the practice was highly criticized. It was no longer viewed as a mentorship but as only a means for older males to prey on youths.
Nevertheless, Paul also includes homosexuals in the list. This should indicated to the reader that merely condemning pederasty was not Paul’s only goal. The word for homosexuals used by Paul (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 pederasty, but that argument has very little to work with. It’s purest translation suggests male-to-male sexual behavior; that is all. If the word was in the passive form there might be a discussion to be had but it’s not.
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. Ideas like gender dysmorphia had yet to be developed. Moreover, most homosexual practices were not connected to long term relationships. They were temporary pleasures. The Bible is much more concerned with sexual practice than relationship status.
4. Jesus affirms Genesis 1 (Matthew 19:4)
The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?”
4 And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ 5and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”
God puts man and woman together and no one should separate them. It may be true that Jesus did not mention homosexuality but that is only because it wasn’t a controversial topic at that time. He was aligned with the Jewish viewpoint and they treated homosexual behavior as an abomination without exception. 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 mean he thought it was acceptable. There are many things Jesus does not address. 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. Jesus does not mention vanity but we know Peter and Paul did (1 Peter 3:3–4, 1 Timothy 2:9), 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. These laws appear to have some of the most severe consequences in the OT and homosexual sex is often used to characterize someone as evil. Think Sodom and Gomorrah, the rape of the Levite’s concubine, etc.
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 and recognize that sexual practices can be a 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 people were born gay, 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. Does a person born with sociopathic tendencies get a pass also? I understand resisting born temptations are a lot easier to say than to do, but we all have burdens to bear in this world.
I would point out, however, that homosexual sin is no worse than any other sin. Yes it is more obvious/visible 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.
However, all of this is only true if one holds to a view the the Bible is inerrant and that church tradition isn’t authoritative. What I mean is, homosexuality as a sin is somewhat dependent on one’s view of Biblical authorship and authority. If one hold’s to a low view of scripture but a high view of Christian tradition then it can be argued that homosexuality is innocuous. In fact, a number of Popes were openly gay. Their is a wide range of views in Christian history. Moreover, one’s view of Paul and the Levitical writings will also dictate how homosexuality is viewed. Many early church fathers were more than willing to throw out Paul all-together, as well as all the laws that were not part of the original covenant in Exodus. Basically, I am saying is that the views detailed in this post assumes a high biblical authority. Any other form of Christian practice will invariably have a different view on the topic. For Biblical minimalists, this topic is a non-issue.
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. I don’t have all the answers. All I can do is tell you what the Bible has to say on the matter.