In this Insight
Messenger Insight 176 – Homosexuality & the Bible (Audio podcast with James R. White)
Speaking the Truth in love
Argument #1: ‘Jesus never said anything about homosexuality.”
Argument #2: ‘God’s OT law is not for today’
Argument #3: Romans is not talking about homosexuals’
Argument #4: ‘Does sexual sin even matter?’
Homosexuality and Christian Witness
Suggested Further Reading
Messenger Insight 176 – Homosexuality & the Bible
Apologist Dr. James R. White deals with key questions about homosexulity and the Bible.
Listen to the audio podcast here.
Speaking the Truth in love
>> by Anthony L. Jordan
Executive Director-Treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.
Few issues in our culture and within the universal church stir greater debate, division and anger than the topic of homosexuality. Fifty years ago, the issue was never discussed, and if it was discussed, homosexual behavior was seen as deviant and sinful behavior. Today, political correctness has replaced moral correctness. Biblical moral standards have been replaced with a new golden standard of tolerance for anything and everything. This has occurred as the Bible and its moral absolutes have been downgraded to a “good book of stories” and its moral compass replaced with a “whatever is right in our own eyes” approach.
The central issue for the church and followers of Christ can never be what feels right or what the culture thinks, but what does the inerrant and infallible Word of God teach about an issue. I personally believe this is the most fundamental decision to be made. If I do not believe the Bible is God’s Word and the final authority, then it matters little what the Bible says. I am left to a religion of my own making and a morality that sits on quicksand. It is for this reason we have a whole host of liberal denominations ordaining homosexual ministers and now blessing and preforming weddings for homosexual couples.
To live by the clear teaching of Holy Scripture puts you directly in the crosshairs of modern culture. But should this surprise us? Jesus and His disciples constantly and consistently confronted both dead religion and corrupt standards and mores of their day. The same has been true in every generation. American followers of Christ have, until recent times, lived in a culture overshadowed by a Christian biblical worldview. As Christianity and the church have become liberalized and have rejected the Bible as the standard of morality, so has the culture. Thus, when an individual, church or denomination stakes its moral views on the clear teaching of the Word of God, they fly in the face of dead religion and cultural standards.
Biblical teaching in regard to homosexual behavior is clear. No amount of interpretive gymnastics can change this fact. In this Insight, James White systematically and clearly defends the historic Christian truth and interpretation of Scripture on this subject. The first question to answer is, “Will we believe the truth of Scripture and apply it to our practices?” The world and dead religion can do as it chooses. What will people of faith who believe the Bible as the standard for faith and practice do?
Once we have determined to abide by the teaching of Scripture in regard to homosexual behavior, we must determine how we should then live. Should we reject and hate those who practice homosexual behavior? Do we hate the sin and not the sinner? What if it is our child who tells us they have decided they are “gay”?
In no way can I, in an article or a book, address every situation faced when a believer or church decides to live and practice their faith based on biblical truth rather than cultural shifting sand mores. I can, however, apply two truths of Scripture.
First, we must stand on the truth of the Word of God no matter what the cost. To do so demands we study to show ourselves approved as workmen who rightly divide the Word of God. Lazy Bible study and casual reading will not suffice in our ever changing moral culture. We must know what the Bible teaches and why we believe it. When the stones of an angry culture land their blows, we must be ready to stand.
Second, we must learn to love as Jesus loved. Jesus never compromised the truth of Holy Scripture or the character of the Holy One. He was never blind to sin or the sinner. Yet, sinners came to Him. He did not condemn sinners but loved them. He took time to listen to them and touch them when others shied away. Learn this. It is easier to condemn and hate than to love and forgive. Jesus called sinners to repentance and offered unmeasured forgiveness. We must cry to God for strength to stand against sin but never against the sinner. We must cry to our Lord to make us like Jesus.
We have much to learn in how to stand without compromise while refusing to hate or reject those who practice homosexuality. Love always finds a way to love those who have fallen. While the issue of homosexual behavior may be more difficult to navigate, God’s love in us will and must find a way.
James R. White tackles 4 ARGUMENTS
>> by James R. White
Director of Alpha and Omega Ministries, a Christian apologetic organization based in Phoenix, AZ.
Argument #1: ‘Jesus never said anything about homosexuality.’
We often hear it said, “Jesus never said anything about homosexuality.” Such a reading of the teachings of Jesus Christ misses the positive teaching He gave on God’s purpose in creation and in the establishment of marriage as a divine institution. In response to a question directed to him by the Pharisees, who desired to embroil Him in a debate amongst themselves about divorce, Jesus cut through the fog and got to the real issue:
“Haven’t you read,” He replied, “that He who created them in the beginning made them male and female,” and He also said: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?” So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not separate.” (Matt. 19:4–6)
Jesus went directly back to the original account of creation in the book of Genesis to answer their question. He asserted that God created mankind in two genders, male and female, and this was His purpose, His intention. It is not a mere accident. There is goodness in God’s design. The human family, as designed by God, gives us fathers and mothers, men and women joined in loving, committed, monogamous relationships that result in the creation of life in the form of children. Those children then grow and mature with models to guide them until that day when they leave and begin their own families. Sin often disrupts this ideal: death may take a parent, for example. But it is Jesus’ teaching that the male/female relationship is God’s intention. When a man and a woman are joined together, it is a divine action, a life-affirming and life-creating act.
The union of man and woman is not only productive of life, it creates a mystical union of man and woman, so that they are no longer two, but “one flesh.” God joins them together in this way, which is why man must take very seriously seeking to undo what God has done. But it is important to note: a man is not falling in love with a mirror image of himself in marriage. The woman is other, different, complimentary. He is changed by living with her, and vice versa, as all married couples know. But this complementary element, seen in the words of Scripture, “I will make a helper as his complement” (Gen. 2:18), is of necessity different than he is, different in a way that when he is joined to her, the sum is greater than the parts. The term “his complement” refers to one who is alike (human, created in God’s image), corresponding to him, and yet, different. This term could never be used of another male.
This is Jesus’ teaching on the relationship of male and female in marriage. How is this relevant to homosexuality? As we will see, God’s law was clear, and the entirety of the people of Israel had agreed for centuries, that homosexuality was a violation of God’s creative purpose. Jesus was speaking in perfect harmony with that law when He positively laid out God’s intention in monogamous, divinely sanctioned marriage as the realm in which human sexuality is to be expressed.
So, why didn’t Jesus speak directly to the topic of homosexuality? Why would He? The Scriptures were clear, the people with whom He was interacting were in agreement, and there was no one promoting the concept as good and wholesome and God-honoring in His context. Why would He then need to address all the topics covered by the Mosaic law, such as incest, or rape, or the like? Jesus started with the moral law as a foundation, and then pressed on to apply those moral truths to the hearts of men, disturbing the comfortable position many in Judaism had put themselves in by isolating their innermost lives from the requirements of God’s law.
What this means is that when Jesus positively presented God’s purpose in human sexuality in contexts such as Matthew 19, He did so in harmony with the agreed upon supremacy of God’s law and the positive institution of the goodness of marriage, which included, without question, the male/female dynamic which is fundamentally denied and distorted in all homosexual relationships and contexts.
So in reality, Jesus did address homosexuality, but He did so by laying down a positive and comprehensive teaching on God’s intention in creation and the propriety of the male/female genders as defined by God’s purpose. He left no room in this positive teaching for the concept of homosexual expression. Since He based this upon God’s creative act, it provides His people with a lasting, unchanging standard that transcends cultural barriers.
Argument #2: ‘God’s OT law is not for today.’
It is, without doubt, one of the most important sections of the Bible. Jesus quoted from it often, drawing one of His favorite citations from its words: “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:17). It is called “the Holiness Code,” (Lev. 18-20) for by observing it, the children of Israel were seen to be different from the nations that surrounded them. They were to be holy, even as their God was holy.
Today, it is common to hear the Holiness Code dismissed as an irrelevant, ancient code that has no meaning in our world today, even for Christians. In movies and television, those who oppose God’s law have mocked this portion of Scripture. Often the attack goes along the lines of indicting Christians for picking and choosing which parts of the law they will obey and which they will not. Specific laws against touching the flesh of a pig, or mixing fibers in the clothing, are brought forward as odd, strange and clearly irrelevant. The conclusion is then simply assumed, “If these laws are irrelevant, so too is anything this portion of the Bible says about homosexuality.” Well-known actors and leading political figures of our day have repeated this argument.
Yet a brief review of this portion of Scripture reminds us of how vitally important it is to this day. Consider just some of its positive teachings: almost every sexual relationship that our culture to this day considers improper (for whatever reason the culture might come up with) is prohibited, including all forms of incest, all in the context of holiness and the honoring of God’s creation. This section teaches us to honor our neighbor’s wife, to honor our children and protect their lives. We are told to honor, respect and protect our parents. We are told to care for the poor amongst us, not by welfare, but by allowing them to work with dignity for themselves, and not hoarding the produce of the land to ourselves. We are told to honor the property of others, and to speak the truth with one another. Employers are commanded to honor their workers and give them a fair wage. We are commanded to care for the deaf and the blind, to do justice in matters of law, to avoid slander and to care for life. We are forbidden to nurture hatred in our hearts for our neighbors, or to take revenge, but instead to love. And we are instructed to honor the elderly. Though things are changing, most people today would still identify these as foundational, good and abiding principles.
The problem lies in the fact that right in the middle of this portion of Scripture we read these words:
“You are not to sleep with a man as with a woman; it is detestable.” (Lev. 18:22)
“If a man sleeps with a man as with a woman, they have both committed a detestable thing. They must be put to death; their blood is on their own hands.” (Lev. 20:13)
We must first set aside any confusion as to what these words mean. Honest interpreters who do not have an agenda driving their reading know that both texts are referring to the same thing: God’s law prohibits homosexual activity, in this case, specifically, male homosexuality (we will note that the Apostle Paul includes lesbianism in his teaching). No amount of revision can change that these texts are referring to homosexual activity, and prohibiting it amongst the people who would honor God as holy. The activity is called “detestable” in both contexts, a word which can, in some contexts, be used of merely ceremonially improper activities, but in this case, is clearly being used to describe the nature of the activity itself. So serious is the activity that a capital punishment is attached to it for the people of Israel.
It should also be noted that the very words used to describe this activity in this text in the Greek translation of Leviticus (the translation that would have been the standard Bible of most of those to whom the New Testament was written) reappear in Paul’s description of homosexuality, as we will see below. Clearly, the New Testament writers did not see this text as arcane or irrelevant. They recognized the difference between laws that were only relevant to Israel’s ancient context, and those that have abiding moral validity and force.
Finally, some have attempted to restrict these verses to some kind of religious activity, like temple prostitution, but the text does not give us any such indication. Such a restriction would make no more sense than limiting this same section’s prohibition of incest or bestiality to only cultic, or religious, contexts. No, the law was clear: homosexuality is a violation of God’s revealed moral law.
Argument #3: ‘Romans is not talking about homosexuals.’
Some have called Paul’s epistle to the Romans “the Gospel According to Paul,” and in some senses, that is exactly what it is. But long before the book turns to the “Good News,” it sets out in clear and explicit detail the “bad news” of man’s rebellion against a good and holy Creator. In so doing, the Apostle gives us an inspired insight into the nature of man that is simply unparalleled either in Scripture, or in the entirety of man’s own self-reflection and autobiography. The Apostle points to man’s rebellion against the God he knows is there, who has revealed Himself all around and within man. So clear is God’s revelation that the rebel is “without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). The result of the creature denying the rights of the Creator is that their relationship becomes twisted and distorted. The creature confuses the creation with the Creator, and ends up in the foolishness of idolatry, his mind and reason being darkened, deprived of the light of the Creator.
What is the result of such rebellion? The creature cannot escape the inevitable result of denying his Creator: he is impacted in his very being. There is no neutrality when it comes to one’s Creator. You either bow in humble obedience, or become twisted in your effort to suppress your innate knowledge of Him. As Romans 1:25 says, “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served something created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever.” We are made worshipping creatures, and when we do not worship God, we will worship something that isn’t. One of the illustrations of this result is laid out by the Apostle:
“This is why God delivered them over to degrading passions. For even their females exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. The males in the same way also left natural relations with females and were inflamed in their lust for one another. Males committed shameless acts with males and received in their own persons the appropriate penalty of their error.” (Rom. 1:26–27).
The Apostle speaks of “degrading passions,” that is, passions, desires, feelings that, in this context, are the result of the rebellion of the creature against the Creator. Our passions are supposed to be directed to what is good and life giving, but once we reject the Creator (and His will, His revelation, His law), these natural passions are “degraded.” The first example he gives is unique in Scripture, at least in explicit citation, that being lesbianism. He says “even their females,” emphasizing how amazingly out of the natural, God-ordained order such a degraded passion is. When Paul says it is “unnatural,” he is not simply saying it is “unexpected” or “out of the cultural norm.” The over-arching description of “degrading passions” has to be kept in mind. Human beings, made in God’s likeness, should reflect their relationship to him, and exchanging “natural sexual relations for unnatural ones” degrades both women involved in such an activity.
Likewise, Paul turns to men, referring not, as we are often told, simply to some kind of old Roman cultural situation where rich older men abused young slave boys, or to some kind of cultic temple prostitution, but to a mutually derived homosexual relationship. These men “were inflamed in their lust for one another,” meaning he has a reciprocal, adult relationship in mind. It is very popular today to be told that no one in Paul’s day knew about “orientation,” or that Paul could never have known about “committed, monogamous homosexual relationships.” But this is simply untrue. Secular literature of the day gives witness to an understanding of the existence of homosexual “couples,” and of people who experienced, and acted upon, “same sex attraction.” Paul, coming from a major city like Tarsus, would be aware of these things. He was not writing out of sheltered ignorance of the ways of the world.
Paul speaks of these homosexual acts as “shameful,” acts which bring the due punishment of God upon those who engage in them. There is no way to read these words in any other context than that provided above by Leviticus and the law of God. Paul stands in perfect harmony and consistency with Jesus and the entire Jewish people of his day in identifying homosexuality as a violation of God’s intention for men and women, as a “degrading passion” and a “shameful act.”
The Apostle did not stop with his discussion of homosexuality—his list of sins that flow from refusing to bow to the Creator’s law is long, and convicting to us all. But our purpose here is to assert that he did, without question, refer to homosexuality as a “degrading passion,” that which brings God’s just punishment.
Argument #4: ‘Does sexual sin even matter?’
If, as we have seen, homosexuality is a sin in God’s sight, a fundamental twisting of the created order, something that does not bring life and fulfillment, but is instead a “degrading passion,” what kind of message of hope does the gospel of Jesus Christ offer to the one who will repent of such behavior? Fittingly, the answer to that question is found in yet another passage that clearly identifies homosexuality as a sin:
“Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or anyone practicing homosexuality, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom. And some of you used to be like this. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:9–11)
In this passage the Apostle is reminding the Corinthians of a basic fact: God’s kingdom is a righteous kingdom, and it is His purpose to conform the subjects of that kingdom to His holy and righteous standards. He knows some may seek to deceive them, to lead them astray. Concerning what? That God’s kingdom does, in fact, have descriptive standards of behavior. He then provides a list of behaviors that were widely descriptive of the city of Corinth. In the midst of this list we find two terms in the original language that are translated here simply as “anyone practicing homosexuality.” One of these terms is actually a compound word made up of two words drawn directly from Leviticus 20:13, showing that Paul is making direct reference to the abiding validity of the law’s moral and ethical standards, even in defining the kingdom of God for Christians. In fact, some believe Paul coined this term himself, drawing directly from the Greek translation of the Old Testament law. Though many modern scholars have attempted to get around the meaning of this term, they must reject its clear derivation from Leviticus to do so, and honest interpretation will not allow such a reading.
So once again we have the Scriptures identifying homosexuality as sinful, something that precludes one from the kingdom of God. But please note the text does not stop at verse 10. It goes on to say, “And some of you used to be like this.” Literally the text reads, “And such were some of you.” Were. Past tense. All those who are seeking to transform God’s laws and God’s standards ignore this little verb. Paul does not say, “such are some of you,” but such were. The work of the Spirit of God in changing the heart of the repentant sinner is so powerful that even those who have experienced these kinds of sinful behaviors can be changed, renewed, redeemed. Those who seek to change this verb to the present tense do so at the cost of the transforming power of the gospel itself!
“And some of you used to be like this.” Here is a clear proclamation of hope and salvation! There is a clear, strong break between the behaviors, the lifestyles, that preclude one from God’s kingdom, and the divine initiative that changes everything. “But you were washed.” God can provide cleansing, and does so when He transfers His people into the kingdom through Jesus Christ. “You were sanctified.” Those who once walked in rebellion against God’s holiness can themselves be made holy, but only in Christ. “You were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Here is hope for the repentant heart that longs for freedom from degrading passions and a lifestyle that fundamentally damages one’s humanity. But it is found only in Christ, found only in His Spirit who renews us and makes us whole.
The Biblical testimony is consistent throughout: God, as Creator, made male and female. Their relationship is one of correspondence, each meeting the needs of the other. The natural order of one man and one woman together brings life in the God-ordained relationship of marriage. It is a union designed by God, ordained by God, and blessed by God. But man has rebelled, and in his mad effort to hide himself from His own Creator becomes distorted and disordered. One of the many manifestations of this twistedness is homosexuality, a “degrading passion” that denies God’s right to define our roles as men and women. Homosexuality presents a disordered set of desires where one seeks relationship with a mirror image. But there is hope for those who seek deliverance and peace with God, and it is found in the name of Jesus Christ, by whose Spirit we can find peace and wholeness.
Homosexuality and Christian Witness
>> by Russell Moore
President, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission
The Supreme Court of the United States is set to hand down a set of decisions this summer that could advance a cultural and political shift in the way marriage is defined in this country. Regardless of how the court decides, though, there are all sorts of questions that faithful Christians need to be prepared to answer.
I was just asked one of these questions recently. A young man who works as a wedding photographer was asked to photograph a same-sex wedding (which are legal in his state). This young man said he could not photograph the wedding, but he wondered if he was doing the right thing. “After all,” he reasoned, “my company is a business, providing a service. Would it be right for me to refuse to serve a gay couple if I owned a restaurant? I don’t think so.” He’s right, but his conscience was still bothering him. “I’ve photographed weddings of other types that I didn’t agree with (believers to unbelievers, for example),” he said, “and I’ve never felt like photographing an event is an endorsement of the event.” So what is a Christian to think in situations such as these?
I told this young man that he was right that this situation is more complicated than whether to serve someone at a restaurant regardless of that person’s sexual or marital situation. It is also true that his role as a wedding photographer is different from an officiating minister, a member of the wedding party, or even an invited guest. All of those people are part of the wedding itself, the assembled witnesses who affirm the lawfulness of the union and pledge to hold the couple accountable for their vows.
And yet, a same-sex wedding is different, I think, from other kinds of problematic marriages, for a couple of reasons.
First of all, while a biblical view of marriage would see that such people (fornicators, believers to unbelievers, unlawfully divorced, etc.) should not get married, and that the church has no authority to marry them, we also would affirm that such people, when married, actually are married. A pastor who joins a believer to an unbeliever bears an awful responsibility for doing something wrong, but the end result is an actual marriage.
The same-sex marriage differs not in terms of morality, but in terms of reality. It is not that homosexuality is some sort of wholly different or unforgivable sexual sin. It’s that the historic Christian view of marriage means that without sexual complementarity there is no marriage at all.
More than that, situations like this are taking place at a moment of concerted cultural revisionism on the question of marriage as conjugal union. A same-sex wedding service right now is not merely personal, but, whether the couple intends this or not, political, with all sorts of corresponding questions.
This Christian photographer’s conscience is conflicted right now, but suppose in the near future there is an evangelical or Roman Catholic or Muslim photographer whose conscience would be morally opposed to participating at all in a same-sex marriage ceremony. There’s a real question as to whether the civil state will penalize this person’s conscientious objection, at least in some parts of the country. And a state that will do that has over-stepped its authority.
I would say that the decisions this young man will make, generally, as a wedding photographer, will correspond often with the Corinthian dilemma of whether to eat meat that had been offered to idols (1 Cor. 8).
The Apostle Paul says, first of all, that the idols don’t represent real gods (1 Cor. 8:4), in the same way that you would argue that a wedding without a bride or a groom isn’t really a marriage. If something’s put before you, the apostle writes, eat it to the glory of God, no questions asked.
But, the apostle says, if the food is advertised as sacrificed to idols, abstain from it for the sake of the consciences of those around you (1 Cor. 8:7-9). This is the difference between investigating a doughnut shop owner’s buying habits before eating there and stopping in for doughnuts when the sign out front flashes: “Eat here and support our owner’s cocaine and prostitute habit.”
So, I told this young man that he need not investigate as a wedding photographer whether the wedding he is photographing is Christ-honoring. But when there is an obvious deviation from the biblical reality, sacrifice the business for conscience, your own and those of the ones in your orbit who would be confused.
That said, don’t be mean.
The couple asking you to do this wedding aren’t your enemies (Eph. 6:12). They are made in the image of God and are loved by him, and so should be loved by us. As orthodox Christians we don’t believe this leads to the happiness they’re looking for, but we must stand with kindness as well as with conviction. Tell the couple that you have beliefs about marriage that won’t allow your conscience to participate in this way. Thank them for asking you but recommend a photographer who can click away with a clear conscience.
Suggested Further Reading
Is homosexuality the worst sin?
>>by Rob Phillips
Director of Corporate Communications, LifeWay Christian Resources
A few years ago I joined leaders of LifeWay Christian Resources in a meeting with executives of a Nashville TV station. They were preparing to launch a new program catering to gays and lesbians. We asked them to reconsider.
Among the TV executives was a lesbian. She wanted to know why Christians couldn’t just accept her for who she is. It was the only time I recall speaking up, and I said something like this:
“I accept you for who you are, if you accept me. We are both sinners who struggle with many desires. Some of them are good, and some of them are not. The Bible teaches us how to tell the difference. At the end of the day, you and I must decide whether to act on these sinful desires. When we come to the point of losing our shame over sinful behavior – and actually celebrating it – we find ourselves in deep spiritual trouble.”
It wasn’t the answer she expected. It neither confirmed her suspicion of Christian malice nor compromised biblical truth.
Answering the Gay Christian Position
>>by Joe Dallas
Program Director of Genesis Counseling in Tustin, California
Twenty-two years ago I craved justification for my homosexuality. I had decided I was gay, and I felt utterly incapable of changing my sexual desires. Instead of conforming my actions to biblical standards, I chose to adjust biblical standards to accommodate my actions. My subsequent six-year involvement as a staff member of the pro-homosexual Metropolitan Community Church became the fruit of that compromise and remains a source of deep regret to this day.
During my tenure as a self-professed “gay Christian,” I was often confronted by believers who argued the standard passages on homosexuality. Like anyone steeped in propaganda, however, I knew which Scripture passages would be thrown at me (Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:9-10; all of which clearly condemn homosexuality) and could recite the pro-gay interpretation of each, leaving my Christian opponent and me at a stalemate. The problem, of course, was that we were debating my revised view of the Bible without addressing the state of heart and mind that had led me to that revision in the first place.
How do I respond when a loved one says ‘I’m gay’?
>>by Charlene E. Hios
Executive Director, Bridging The Gaps Ministries
In today’s age of gay rights, in a culture that is affirming of homosexuality, many of us may know someone who self-identifies as gay or lesbian. This person may be a neighbor, a co-worker or friend. The “new normal” has us living in a world in which homosexuality may hit close to home.
Many Christians now must ask, “How do I respond when a loved one says ‘I’m gay’?” How you respond when they disclose that they believe they are gay or lesbian makes a world of difference in your relationship with them going forward. This is especially true if they are your child.
First, remember this is not about you. It is about that person. The desire for your loved one is that they be reconciled to God from this sin. You can, and must, extend God’s love while holding to a position that homosexuality is sin. (It certainly is not the only sexual sin identified in the Bible, but it is indeed one of them.) They can be reconciled with God from this sin and others.