I have been thinking about a question that I have been asked as a pastor and as a counselor. The question has come from those struggling with same-sex attraction as well as from others. The question: Does the Bible condemn homosexuality? Any time someone asks a question that begins with the phrase, "Does the Bible condemn" I ask a question in response like, "Why is it important for you to know whether or not the Bible condemns that?" I may also ask them, "What do you think is the answer to your question?" I ask those questions of the inquirer because I know myself. By nature, I look for shortcuts and loopholes. We are all excellent rationalizers. If the Bible doesn't condemn a particular behavior, then I conclude that I am free to do it. Of course, there are times when we are simply curious or genuinely interested in knowing what God's Word says about something. But often, we are seeking to validate our behavior or temptation and so we ask the question, "Does the Bible really say?" Sounds like a question that a certain snake asked Eve in the garden of Eden...
But what does the Bible say about homosexuality? It is a legitimate question in light of the fact that there are some Christians and churches that support same-sex marriage from a biblical perspective. It is also a legitimate question because we believe that God's Word is part of his special revelation to mankind in which he communicates his wisdom and will. So, what does the Bible say about homosexuality?
Scripture refers to homosexuality negatively in at least three sets of passages: 1). the story of the cities of Sodom and Gomorra (Genesis 19) and the similar story of the city of Gibeah (Judges 19); 2). God's law for Israel given through Moses (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13); and 3). the apostle Paul's description of ungodliness which includes homosexual practices (Romans 1:18-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:8-11). There are several interesting and instructive features of these passages.
Collectively, they span thousands of years of God's revelation. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah precedes the creation of the nation of Israel, the law of Moses precedes the time of the judges who led Israel (the story of Gibeah), and the nation of Israel precedes the establishment of the church. These passages provide a long and broad perspective on God's revelation regarding homosexual practices.
These passages are different in context and literary style. Homosexual acts are referred to in narrative texts (stories), in jurisprudence texts (laws) and in epistolary texts (letters). God's written revelation regarding homosexual practices is not limited to a few obscure verses; he speaks directly to the issue in a variety of contexts.
In each passage, homosexual practices are specifically defined as or implied to be ungodly using words like "wicked" and "vile" as well as "shameless" and "unrighteous." Paul refers to homosexual behavior (and other behaviors) as sinful and "contrary to sound doctrine" (1 Timothy 1:10).
But there is one important feature missing in these passages: none of them contain a clear and direct prohibition against same-sex relationships. Only homosexual acts are prohibited in the law of Moses, but same-sex marriage is not directly referred to in scripture. It is this fact on which many current arguments are made in support of same-sex marriage from a biblical perspective. Citing the command to love, recognizing the general biblical principle of not harming others and stating the fact that same-sex marriage is not explicitly prohibited, many Christians conclude that faithful, monogamous relationships between people of the same gender are permissible. In the next installment of this series, we will consider what the Bible says about marriage and examine whether or not we can correctly conclude that same-sex marriage is permissible. But one important point needs to be observed on the basis of the passages summarized above: If God has revealed in scripture that homosexual behavior is sinful, ungodly and worthy of divine punishment, then it is foolish to assume that same-sex marriage is permissible. Simply because two lesbian women choose to enter into a faithful relationship together, sacrificially loving each other for the rest of their lives does not mean that the sexual behavior in which they engage is acceptable before God. On the contrary, it is not acceptable and has profound ramifications - just as any other sexual sin has profound implications. Those seeking to find biblical support for homosexual behavior and same-sex marriage must ignore or explain away the plain sense of scripture. We are not honoring God when we conclude that the special revelation of the Bible allows for homosexual behavior and we are not helping anyone when we tell them that God accepts homosexual behavior.
But there is a significant problem for Christians who rightly conclude that the Bible does not permit homosexual behavior: scripture also does not permit other sexual sins, many of which Christians are guilty but do not address consistently. Homosexuality is no worse than any other sexual sin like premarital sex, incest or adultery. Those outside the church are confused and angered by Christians who loudly condemn homosexuality when the divorce rate amongst Christians is the same as that for non-Christians. Too often, Christians are the perpetrators of sexual abuse of their own children and relatives, engage in premarital sex and commit adultery - including the adultery of pornography addiction. How can we effectively challenge our culture's destructive acceptance and celebration of homosexual behavior when we are excessively guilty of many of the other sins condemned in the Bible? As we engage our culture in an attempt to speak the truth about sexual sin and its consequences, we must also repent of our own sins in this regard. The mantra, "I'm not perfect, just forgiven" may contain some truth, but it does little to help non-Christians take us seriously.
Our response to this reality should not be to "get our act together" in regards to sexual sin, lower the divorce rate amongst Christians and then believe that we are somehow now qualified to condemn homosexual sin. This is nothing more than spiritual pride and that sort of elitism is an affront to God and a wholly inadequate means of reaching those caught up in sexual sin. Instead, we should pursue holiness in every area of our lives with humility and grace, admitting to our own struggles, but depending on God's help to flee sexual immorality. This may result in others wondering about the source of our peace, honesty and purity. Of course, this may also result in being ridiculed. "For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you" (1 Peter 4:3-4). But better to be maligned for being holy than being hated for being hypocritical. May we remember the wise and true words of Jesus: "You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye" (Matthew 7:5). Does God's Word condemn homosexual behavior? Absolutely. Should homosexual behavior be targeted by Christians as the worst thing confronting our culture? Absolutely not. Substance abuse, abortion, the physical and sexual abuse and exploitation of children, idol worship (materialism and celebrity worship), injustice toward the poor, marital infidelity and a score of other destructive sins mar our culture. And we are guilty of many of these! We must repent and remember that our only hope is the Gospel which does not minimize or excuse sin, but acknowledges it and shows the way to forgiveness and freedom from sin and it's horrible consequences. Those of us that believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ must live out its realities in our lives if we are to reach the lost.