So, recently one of my best friends got engaged to his boyfriend.  Yeah, you read that correctly.  His.  Boyfriend.  And almost immediately after you read that, you had some sort of reaction.  Maybe you thought, “Aww, that’s so great!  I wish them the best.”  Or maybe you thought, “That’s so sad.  It’s too bad that this has become okay in society’s eyes.”  Either way, this sort of thing generates a lot of questions.  And as a youth leader who gets the joy of trying to answer such questions from teenagers (and, believe me, they do ask these sorts of questions), I think that it might be a good idea to lay out what I think is a truly biblical theology of homosexuality.

Now, I feel as though I should put out a disclaimer or three.  First, there is a lot more to this issue than I could possibly cover on this blog, so obviously this won’t be exhaustive.  Second, you might disagree with me, and that’s okay.  In fact, if you do disagree, let me know your reasons.  I’d love to dialogue with you about it.  I don’t know everything, and maybe you see something that I don’t.

My third disclaimer is this – you’re probably going to be uncomfortable with what I say.  Almost everyone thinks they know what “the Bible says” until it’s actually laid out in front of them.  What I’m going to present is almost guaranteed to make you uneasy, no matter which side of the issue you fall on.  I think that when we have an honest look at what the Bible actually teaches, everyone is going to get what they need and nobody is going to get what they want.  Which, now that I think about it, sounds exactly like the sort of thing Jesus always did.  So, let’s get started!

The Part That Makes Christians1 Uncomfortable

Despite what you may think from how much Christians are always talking about it, there are really only six passages in the Bible that speak to the issue of homosexuality.2  They are Genesis 19:1-13,3 Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and I Timothy 1:10.  Now as you may have noticed, the first three passages are in the Old Testament (OT) and the second three are in the New Testament (NT).  So, let’s start in the Old Testament… because that just makes sense.

At this point, many people from the gay-affirming side will begin arguing against each passage specifically.  However, I find these arguments largely unnecessary.  Why?  Because when we think of OT passages it quickly raises a much bigger question, “What if I’m not an orthodox Jew living in the Ancient Near East under the old covenant?”  Good question.  And for those few of us living in the 21st century West under the new covenant4, the usual response goes something like this, “Well, under the OT covenant, there are three types of laws – civil (dealing with the regulations of public life), ceremonial (dealing with sacrifices, feasts, festivals, and religious regulations), and moral (dealing with timeless truths regarding how God wants people to behave).”  Under this way of thinking, Christians are still obligated to uphold the moral laws, and prohibitions against homosexuality are seen as moral laws.

The problem is that this way of dividing OT laws into three types just doesn’t work.  Sorry, the cat’s out of the bag.  Though this hermeneutic has an impressive pedigree going all the way back to Thomas Aquinas (13th century) and even Origen in the 3rd century, it’s just not accurate.  How do I know?  Because there’s nothing in the Bible itself that separates the laws into these categories.

For example, Leviticus 19:19 says, “You shall not breed together two kinds of your cattle; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor wear a garment upon you of two kinds of material mixed together.”  So, are these civil, ceremonial, or moral laws?  If you say moral, then it must be immoral to breed a brahman with an angus, and multi-cropping and companion planting must be immoral, and it must be immoral to wear cotton-polyester blends.  If you say these are just ceremonial or civil laws, then what do with we do with verse 18, which says, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself”?  Clearly, this would have to be a moral law.  The problem is that it’s right next to verse 19.  Even worse, the only thing separating these two verses is the statement, “I am the LORD.  You are to keep my statutes.”  So how can we label one verse as timeless, but not the other?5  Ultimately, these categories are pretty arbitrary and subjective to whatever a person wants them to be.

So what should Christians do with the OT Law?  Duvall and Hays do a good job of pointing out how OT passages should always be understood within their narrative and covenant contexts.6  And since there are no stories in the OT about Christians struggling with their sexuality and faith, and since Christians are under an entirely different covenant than that of the OT, it really doesn’t do us any good to use OT passages as authoritative rules for modern day Christians.7

So, that takes care of the OT passages.  Sorry if you don’t like how brief and all-encompassing that was.  If you have a better hermeneutic for the Torah, let me know.  Now, onto the NT.

The first passage in the NT that deals with homosexuality is 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, 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.

These verses are part of a bigger picture that the apostle Paul is painting (vv 20-32), which describes mankind’s descent into depravity and sin.  “Aha!  We have you now,” says the traditionalist Christian.  “How on earth will the gay affirming people get out this one?”  Well, the usual way is by claiming that these verses are not talking about the sort of homosexuality that gay Christians are fighting for.  Most gay Christians today are struggling for the right to have monogamous committed marriages under which they can raise a family.  What Romans 1:26-27 is dealing with is nothing of the sort.8  What Paul is talking about here are the pagan fertility rituals that were common in ancient Greek and Roman city-states – intoxicated orgies used as a way to garner favor with the gods.  How do we know this is what Paul has in mind?  Because he explicitly writes verses 26-27 within the context of how people rejected worship of God for that of idols “in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures” (v 23), and how they “worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (v 25).  Clearly, pagan worship is the major issue that Paul is addressing.  And every gay Christian I know would say, “Yeah, we’re against that too.”  So, is this a good passage to use when refuting modern-day homosexuality?  Nope.  Admittedly, Paul has nothing positive to say about homosexuality in these verses.  However, you really kind of have to stretch the implications of this passage in order for it to cover the sort of relationships that gay Christians today are seeking.

Well, there you have it.  Now that I’ve sufficiently made all of my Evangelical friends uncomfortable, tune in next time to watch me do the same for my gay-affirming friends.

1: What I mean by “Christian” here is really conservatives, fundamentalists, Evangelicals, traditionalists, and anyone else in that vein.

2: By contrast, there are over 3,000 verses that talk about issues related to poverty. And since the church has yet to end world hunger, we really don’t have much business trying to tackle such marginal issues as homosexuality.

3: Another interesting thing related to the above footnote is that the sin of Sodom according to the prophet Ezekiel was not homosexuality, but rather the people’s “arrogance,” their “abundant food and careless ease,” and the fact that they “did not help the poor and needy” (Ezek 16:49). So, American Christians, who are the real sodomites?

4: I’m going to be addressing this issue mostly as it relates to homosexuality among Christians, because as Paul says, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?” (1 Cor 5:12)

5: For a fun exercise, read Numbers 5:11-28 and try to decide which category it would fit in. It deals with adultery, which is obviously a moral issue, but nobody would ever say Christians should handle it this way.

6: J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word, 2nd ed., 331-336. For a helpful look at various Christian approaches to interpreting the Torah, see chapter one of Interpreting the Pentateuch: An Exegetical Handbook, by Dr. Peter T. Vogt, in which he similarly argues for a paradigmatic approach to interpreting the OT Law.

7: Now, like most orthodox Christians, I believe that “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” However, I think that there is a very real difference between saying that a passage is profitable or useful and saying that a passage is authoritative as law, and we need to honor that difference.

8: This does not mean, however, that the notion of relational homosexuality was altogether absent from the ancient Greco-Roman world. Recently, Preston Sprinkle has done an adequate job in his blog series, Homosexuality in the Bible, of showing that gay sex was not limited in the ancient world to pagan worship alone, and that some of the Roman emperors actually had gay lovers. See here, here, and here.

| Gender Issues | Scripture | 12 comments so far

Ready for another article?

Rocky Munoz
Jesus-follower, husband, daddy, amateur theologian, former youth pastor, nerd, and coffee snob. Feel free to email me at almostheresy@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter (@rockstarmunoz)

12 Comments

  1. Tyler K, February 5, 2014 at 8:34 pm:

    Looking forward to part 2! Had me thrown for a loop with the…” Well there you have it!” sentence. Ha! This Christian isn’t uncomfortable at all. But I did have a pause at this one line, “What Romans 1:26-27 is dealing with is nothing of the sort.” I think it is safe to say it is “something of the sort”. Right? If this passage were about how to pay taxes, or plow a field… I would say this is nothing of the sort. But it is directly referencing a homosexual act. Not just an improper sexual act or adulterous connotation of heterosexual relations, but specifically a homosexual one. What it appears you disagree with is the context that homosexual act is completed in. I.E. a loving Monogamous Homosexual relationship vs a Pagan Worship setting.

    But the reference of natural relations and burning desires (lust maybe?) doesn’t go away because these were being used in a pagan worship setting, does it? If we assume then, that the context Paul gives here makes those references naught for addressing Monogamous homosexual marriages and relationships. Then your line of, “So, is this a good passage to use when refuting modern-day homosexuality? Nope.” Would only be a statement that could address, “Modern Day Monogamous Christian homosexuality”.
    If all modern day homosexuality were that desire, then I could see a bit of traction here for sure, but I don’t see how this passage becomes a non informer for all homosexuality simply because of that context. I couldn’t generalize that all homosexuals want only relations in a Monogamous relationship, just as I couldn’t for heterosexuals.

    Your thoughts sir?

    • Rocky Munoz, February 5, 2014 at 8:42 pm:

      You make some really good points there, Tyler! This is why I am so glad for the comments forum. I would have to agree with you, the Romans passage is something of the sort. I overstated that to be sure. Also, it is true that some homosexual relationships are very much like the ancient pagan rituals (meaning not loving, committed monogamy). But since the vast majority of the gay Christian community does strive for loving, committed monogamous relationships, I figure that is the point at which we decide whether or not this passage directly applies to gay Christians. Certainly, it still informs our view of homosexuality (especially as it manifests itself in sexual desire), but perhaps not with nearly the force that Christians have often tried to make it. All in all, the scope of this series is primarily on gay Christians (instead of LGB’s in general).

      Thank you so much for your comment! I really appreciate having others as a sounding board on this sort of stuff.

  2. Eric, February 8, 2014 at 5:18 pm:

    I find it so interesting how people just write off the Old Testament thinking that it is fulfilled in its entirety and is of no value anymore. That is contrary to what the New Testament teaches. When every one of the New Testament writers are referring to scriptures they for the most part are referring to the old testament. Jesus Himself says “Do not think that I came to abolish the law or the prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the law until all is accomplished.” With that the Old Testament is not fulfilled yet. There are aspects of it that were fulfilled in Jesus’ first coming but there is so much more yet to happen. As this passage says the Old Testament will only be void when literally the heaven and earth have passed away which I would argue has not happened yet. The purpose of the Old Testament law to a New Testament believer is to show you your sin. That was the purpose back then also according to the book of Romans. You are not saved by your adherence to that law because you are saved by your relationship in the person of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament is still valuable though in that it is still a standard for conviction of sin. According to the book of Acts we are not commanded to observe all of the law for our justification or even for common practice but I would tell you that God gave those laws for a reason and some of them are amazing discoveries. For instance a baby is to be circumcised on the 8th day regardless of if it falls on a Sabbath. We with modern medicine have found out that the two agents in blood clotting with the infant peak at over 100% of its ability on that single day then decline afterwards. Every one of those laws are given for a reason and directly from the mouth of God.
    With the New Testament passages it really just seems like you are trying to justify the view that homosexuality is an ok according to the bible as long as it is a loving relationship. Again I would take you to the Old Testament in creation. God created man and woman and those together make a couple. That is the original design that God had in mind. It is used as a prophetic model of Christ and His bride the church. You will never see a marriage union sanctioned by God as anything other than a single (one) man and a single (one) woman. This is carried to the New Testament with Paul in Ephesians. Make sure that if you are speaking for God you are truly representing Him correctly because we will all get to see Him someday and will get to have a little chat about the things we have done here in this boot camp called life on earth. Also just for the record. I am not against everyone who is a homosexual. I work with some and they are no different and no lesser a person than me. In fact they are some of the nicest hardest working people I have every worked with. I don’t in any way hate them or anything. Everyone has their own free will and choice and that is the choice that they have made. I just won’t ever try to tell them that they are ok with God because He doesn’t mind us living in sin which is what many churches are beginning to do. I’d love to hear your views.

    • Rocky Munoz, February 9, 2014 at 1:19 am:

      Eric,

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. I really appreciate the heart from which you speak – one that is clearly not characterized by hate or judgmentalism. I agree with you that the Old Testament is still relevant for Christians today. As you pointed out, all of the New Testament authors (and most of the early church fathers) considered the Old Testament to be divinely inspired and authoritative for believers. I would, however, caution us not to make the mistake of assuming that just because the OT is authoritative for us as Christians that it must be authoritative for Christians in the same way that it was for Israel. We are under a new covenant, after all. As such, we ought not to put forth the Torah as law for Christians. It’s not that I am trying to justify homosexuality, but I do want to be sensitive to the fact that most of the blanket statements and clobber arguments levied against homosexuality do fall apart when placed under strong criticism.

      I do want to affirm your statement concerning marriage and the creation of Adam and Eve in Genesis. Admittedly, the discussion of homosexuality ought to be couched in a Christian theology of sexuality in general, and perhaps one day I’ll get around to writing a series on that. But, for now, I’m keeping this series pretty narrowly focused on where Scripture does (or doesn’t) speak directly to homosexuality. Clearly, the author of Genesis believes that the ideal marriage is between one man and one woman (though I would disagree with your claim that in Scripture God only ever sanctions such marriages – 2 Samuel 12:8 certainly seems to presuppose that David’s marriage to multiple wives was by God’s design). The difficulty with this reasoning is that it might draw too close of a correlation between what is ideal and what is not sin. For instance, it is not the ideal for a person to be confined to a wheelchair. However, we wouldn’t condemn somebody as a sinner for using a wheelchair when the option of walking is no longer available to them. Similarly, many would argue that it may not be God’s ideal for a man to wed another man; however, we should not consider it sinful for a man to marry another man when (due to their sexual orientation) the option of heterosexual marriage is no longer available to them.

      Anyhow, those are my thoughts. Feel free to respond again with your own. Thanks again for engaging me in dialogue :)

      • Danny Jordan, February 27, 2019 at 9:44 pm:

        I just wanted to reference one point in this dialogue. The theological lean on this is going to be directly effected by the belief that you have a choice in sexual orientation or you don’t. Haw a person believes on that point will drastically impact the way they interpret all of the other references in the discussion.

  3. Bill, February 11, 2014 at 4:52 am:

    Hi Rocky,
    I found this series of posts through Alex on Facebook and have enjoyed reading them. In part 1 here you summarize some commonly recited points that have been put to me or I’ve read argued, most recently from a young man named Matthew Vines who has a youtube video lecture on this subject. You might want to check him out as he thinks through many of the same scriptural evidences you mention in this series, but as a homosexual Christian.

    I really appreciate that you don’t try to force the concept of ‘modern’ homosexuality on us. And I would stress there is ample historical evidence that our understanding of loving, monogamous homosexual relationships is not a modern phenomenon. Homosexual marriages were not unknown, as is shown by the example of Nero (and I’m sure Preston Sprinkle has more examples). Plato wrote a lengthy disscussion on the issue of loving, committed homosexual couples in his Symposium (through the mouth of Aristophanes). It’s fasicinating to read and even dubs homosexual relationships ‘valiant’ and ‘manly’ while pointing out that heterosexual ones are often adulterous. Hmm, where have I heard that before? Oh yeah, from anyone I’ve ever talked to about marriage and homosexuality.

    If you accept that, then the question is: what was Paul referring to in Romans 1: 24-27? I think you’re right on when you say “these verses are part of a bigger picture…which describes mankind’s desent into depravity and sin”, and later “Clearly, pagan worship is the major issue Paul is addressing”. Exactly! But the point is this: Paul is not merely commenting that some homosexual relationships are hurtful and exploitative–as in the fertility rituals you mentioned. Paul is stressing that man and woman are not made for that kind of relationship (with Genesis 1-3 in mind). He is talking about the human race as a whole, as you say, and his point is not that ‘there are some really revolting people out there who do these disgusting things’ but rather ‘the fact that these relational distortions of the creator’s intention occur is evidence that humanity as a whole is guilty of idolatry’. Same-sex relations are a sign that the whole world has gone wrong.

    You’re right, Paul has nothing positive to say about homosexuality in Romans. I don’t see any indication in the text that Paul is only referring to a specific, often violent form of homosexuality–that seems like much more of a stretch to me than anything else (granted, I don’t read Paul in ancient greek). Perhaps you could elaborate on exactly how it’s a stretch to read the passage that way?

    Hopefully this long response isn’t too burdensome to read and if you get a chance to read it through, thank you.

    Keep the posts coming. I’m glad I found your site.

    • Rocky Munoz, February 11, 2014 at 6:19 am:

      Bill, thanks for commenting here! I’m familiar with Matthew Vines, and although I’ve never met him, from what a mutual friend has told me, he’s extremely intelligent. Either way, I respect his voice very much in the discussion on Christian faith and homosexuality.

      With regard to your comment about the Romans passage, personally I agree with you that Paul is talking about the human race as a whole and mankind’s descend into depravity, à la, Gen 1-3. However, I chose not to include this in my article for two reasons. First, space only provides me so much room to present so much. If I had included the parallel between the Romans passage and the general order (or disorder) of things in creation, I would have had to do some explaining, and the article was already getting longer than most people care to read on the internet. Second, I honestly don’t think it is a very compelling argument. While it is enough to convince me, I don’t know of many gay-affirming Christians who would find it very persuasive. Unless one has spent much time translating and/or exegeting Paul’s writings, things like allusions and literary parallels just don’t carry much weight. For this reason, I think the Romans passage is usually a weak leg to stand on when arguing from the traditional side.

      Anyhow, thanks again for your insightful and encouraging comments, Bill!

      • Bill, February 12, 2014 at 3:36 pm:

        Yeah, I see where you’re coming from. I just find the Romans facet of this debate the most interesting because I really think it demonstrates how so many of us–myself absolutely included–read the Bible: to justify some aspect of our lives, and not necessarily to read the Bible for all its worth; because it will definitely make us uncomfortable more often than not. We don’t all have to appreciate literary devices, but we all (we Christians anyway) should be compelled to know God more fully than we did the day before. And that means making the attempt to understand these beautiful yet difficult aspects of Paul’s perspective.

        Thanks for the response, Rocky.

  4. dgsinclair, July 31, 2014 at 12:48 pm:

    >> How do I know? Because there’s nothing in the Bible itself that separates the laws into these categories.

    I think that’s an invalid argument. There’s nothing that directly teaches the Trinity, but it can be deduced from the text.

    Regarding the civil, moral, and ceremonial laws, we clearly see an obviation of the ceremonial laws in Jesus himself, and in Peter’s revelation of what was clean/unclean (Acts 10).

    The argument against the civil laws is perhaps less obvious, but it’s present in the idea that nowhere in the NT do Jesus or Paul or anyone ask us to apply them to the Church or the world. In fact, Jesus initiated a separation of Church and State in his comments about rendering unto Ceasar his stuff, and denying zealotry.

    >> What Paul is talking about here are the pagan fertility rituals that were common in ancient Greek and Roman city-states – intoxicated orgies used as a way to garner favor with the gods.

    I’m glad at least you did not bring out the pederasty argument, since boys are nowhere mentioned. Also, the male rape argument is invalid because it speaks of same sex couples with lust for one another, not just unidirectional.

    But just because Paul mentions homosexuality in the context of rejecting God and worshipping nature does not mean that he was referring to religious rituals of pagan temples, since none are directly mentioned. I think the reason it is mentioned is because the existence of unnatural sexual perversion in homosexuality is (a) a violation of the image of God (he made them male and female in his image in Genesis), and it is essentially the litmust test, the epitomy of rejecting God and nature’s God – it’s as wicked as the other sins mentioned in that passage.

    Paul clearly makes the argument from nature, which I think is again about rejecting the creator and the created order. This is why homosexuality is worse, in a sense, than promiscuity.

    >> Admittedly, Paul has nothing positive to say about homosexuality in these verses.

    In fact, in all of scripture! There is NO mention of any gay monogamous couples either.

    • Rocky Munoz, July 31, 2014 at 1:26 pm:

      Thank you so much for your comments here! I think with regard to most of this the issue is not just “what is a possible/likely connection,” but rather “what is a convincing argument?” The practice of separating OT laws into civil, moral, and ceremonial has a long and well-respected pedigree going as far back as Origen of Alexandria (182-254 AD). However, from the text itself I think the best we can do is a roundabout implication, which isn’t going to be very convincing to most people who don’t already accept such a categorization. For this reason, most biblical scholars have abandoned this model of interpreting OT Law.

      Similarly, it is only if you assume a motive on Paul’s part that you can claim Romans 1:26-27 refers to all kinds of homosexuality (beyond religious practices). Now, that may be a perfectly valid assumption, but it’s not going to convince most LGB advocates. Another argument (not addressed in this article) is the strong literary parallels to the creation of man and woman that Paul makes here. As good as this argument is (and I find it convincing), unless someone has a solid appreciation for Paul’s literary prowess and hermeneutical principles, they simply aren’t going to see this as a compelling reason to make a huge lifestyle change (much less tell someone else to make a huge lifestyle change).

      Again, thanks for dialoguing with me on this topic. I really appreciate any feedback (or pushback) that I can get :)

  5. dgsinclair, July 31, 2014 at 1:20 pm:

    One more thing about the OT laws. If you want to adhere to or reject all of the OT laws, good luck with that!

    If you reject them, then are you saying now that, for instance, bestiality is ok because it’s part of the OT law and the NT doesn’t mention it? Or inducing the death of a fetus?

    I doubt it. What you may have to do is come up with a way to parse through the law. And until a better way to approach it comes up, the three laws rubric seems very reasoned.

    • Rocky Munoz, July 31, 2014 at 10:08 pm:

      You are entirely correct that it simply doesn’t do to just discard the OT (which unfortunately some scholars have). If Jesus treated the Hebrew Scriptures as inspired, then we ought to as well. The question is now, how do we understand and apply OT Law from this side of the cross? I think that a covenantal/paradigmatic approach to the Torah as described in Duvall and Hays, Grasping God’s Word, (2nd ed., pp331-336) is the best approach. If you’ve ever read Stuart and Fee’s book, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (pp164–168), this is the hermeneutic that they advocate as well.


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