Many people today are questioning whether Bible really teaches that homosexuality is wrong morally. The following is my response to some of those arguments. I am not at this time writing about what positions one may or may not take on these issues politically. Applying biblical morality to social policy is a more complex question. I am simply talking about what the Bible teaches on sexual morality—what is permitted and what is forbidden by God as sinful behavior.
The Bible Only Mentions Homosexuality 5-7 Times
It is true that the Bible only directly mentions homosexuality on a few occasions: Leviticus 18:22, 20:13, Romans 1:26-27, I Corinthians 6:9-11, Timothy 1:8-11 and perhaps Genesis 19:1-29, Jude 1:7. It mentions sins like pride and the failure to love our neighbor far, far more. Churches that that have made homosexuality their hobby horse of condemnation week after week after week are not reflecting biblical priorities. They are promoting salvation by sexual orientation and self-righteous judgmentalism. We all are sinners. This sin is not worse than others. I have more than once had a church member asked me if I would change my sermon to attack homosexuality if a gay couple walked into my church. I asked him if he wanted me to change my sermon to focus on his sins every time he walked into the church. No answer. We want to believe we are better than others, that we deserve heaven while others do not. This is one of the pathways to hell. Repentant homosexuals will all be in heaven. Unrepentant heterosexuals will all be in hell. Focusing on homosexuality (as opposed to other sins) is unhealthy for the life of the church.
(See my “How Should Christians Treat Homosexuals: The Gospel vs Traditionalism” for more on this issue)
Nevertheless, the Bible does clearly state that homosexuality is sinful at least 5 times. If it only mentioned it once as being sinful, it would still be sinful. I don’t see how the number of times it is mentioned changes whether the Bible teaches it is wrong or not. It may change the priority we give it in the teachings of the church as I just mentioned, but it would not change whether it was right or wrong. There are passages where it is clearly prohibited by God and therefore it is sinful.
But You Eat Shellfish, Therefore Homosexuality Is OK
The argument is something like this. The Book of Leviticus says homosexuality is wrong, but it also says eating shellfish is wrong. You eat shell fish. Therefore why should you obey the command about homosexuality?
Even if we eliminated what Leviticus and the entire Old Testament says about homosexuality, it would not change the Christian belief that homosexuality is wrong. There are actually more statements about homosexuality being sinful in the New Testament than in the Old Testament. Believing homosexuality to be sinful is a New Testament Christian thing, not just something from the Old Testament.
But just because something is in Leviticus doesn’t mean it doesn’t apply to us. For instance, “love your neighbor as yourself” is not something first said by Jesus. It is from the Book of Leviticus 19:18. Jesus was just quoting the Old Testament Scripture and said it applies to us today. Jesus affirms the authority of Leviticus as God’s Word that applies to us today.
It is of course true that certain ceremonies in the Old Testament are not required of Christians (food laws Acts 11:1-9, circumcision Galatians 5:1-6, 6:12-15, animals sacrifices Hebrews 10:1-18, etc) hence we can eat shell fish. So how do we know which ceremonies don’t apply to us and which laws still do? One very clear answer is this: whatever the New Testament says doesn’t apply, doesn’t apply. Whatever the New Testament says applies, applies. The New Testament says homosexuality is wrong. Therefore the passages in Leviticus about homosexuality still apply.
Paul Was Not Condemning Mutual Loving Homosexual Relationships, Only Homosexual Rape or Man/Boy Relationships
Let me first affirm that homosexual rape and man/boy sexual relationships are certainly wrong and sinful, but that is not what Paul was referring to when he speaks of homosexual relationships. In 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1, Paul uses a word found no where else in the Greek language before him. He seems to have invented the word. The majority of New Testament scholars, both liberal and conservative, say it is the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew word for “laying with a man” that is used in Lev 18 and 20 in the Hebrew Bible. Of course, these are the two passages that prohibit homosexual behavior, laying with a man being a metaphor for a man having sex with a man. Paul is affirming that those two passages still apply today, that homosexual behavior is still sinful. In neither of the Leviticus passages is there any hint of rape or man/boy sexual relationships. They simply prohibit homosexual sex acts. This is what Paul says is sinful in I Timothy and I Corinthians. Let me also say that in Romans chapter 1, there is no hint of homosexual rape or man/boy sexual relations. There is not a hint of an physical abuse or the abuse of power, simply homosexual desire and practice.
Jesus Never Condemns Homosexual Relations
Jesus strongly affirms heterosexual marriage (Matt 19:4-7). He doesn’t affirm homosexual practice in any way. While he doesn’t directly condemn it, he may well do so indirectly. Jesus does say sexual immorality is wrong (Matt 19:9). What is sexual immorality? In the mind of a first century Jew, it included all the things listed in Leviticus 18. Leviticus 18 of course includes the prohibition of homosexual practice. If Jesus believed what every other first century Jew believed about sexual immorality, he would have believed homosexuality was wrong. If he did not want to leave this impression, he would not have condemned sexual immorality in general which included homosexuality in the mind of every other first century Jew.
The Bible Doesn’t Know Anything About Sexual Orientation So It Never Addresses that Issue
Certainly the Biblical writers didn’t have everything we have in mind in our culture when we talk about homosexual orientation. But I believe they knew about something close enough to apply. Paul says that sin precedes out of our flesh. That is, our sinful desires proceed out of who we are physically. This does not mean our material bodies are sinful because they are material. But it does mean our physical natures are broken and fallen like the the rest of who we are. Our sinful desires are part of who we are spiritually and biologically. As human beings we are oriented toward sin in our very nature. By nature we are objects of wrath. That is why part of being a Christian is dying to ourselves, denying ourselves, that is putting to death the flesh, the sinful nature. Yes, this is not exactly what our culture means by sexual orientation, but it is close enough to say the Bible still finds homosexual desire and practice to be sinful. The Bible says we are conceived in sin, it is part of our nature, it partially flows out of our biology and yet we are still responsible to say “no” to it. This will manifest itself in every person in different ways. For some it manifests itself in homosexual desire and practice.
(For more on this issue, see my post on “Homosexuality: Nature or Nurture, Biology or Choice”)
The Bible Teaches Wives Are the Property of Their Husbands. We Don’t Believe That and Therefore We Don’t Have to Believe Homosexuality Is Sinful
This is a straw man argument because the Bible never teaches that wives are the property of their husbands. Instead the Bible teaches that husbands and wives mutually belong to one another (1 Cor 7:1-4). Similar arguments are made about other issues. “The Bible teaches that democracy is wrong”, “the Bible teaches that slavery is good”, “the Bible teaches women have to wear hats”, etc. I will not take time here to refute each of these claims individually except to say the same thing: the Bible does not teach any of these things. (Please do contact me if you want to discuss the particulars.) I will make two observations about these types of arguments.
First, I am shocked at how many professing Christians bring up these claims. If the Bible is God’s Word to us, it is not up to us to question it, but to receive and obey it. We are not the judge of God. He is the judge of us. If he says it is wrong, it is wrong. If he says it is right, it is right. If we pick and choose what we want to believe out of the Bible we have cast God down from his throne and set ourselves up as the supreme deity. Better to believe slavery is good, democracy is bad, wives are the property of their husbands and that women must wear hats than to defy the holy, omnipotent God. As I said, I don’t believe the Bible teaches any of these things, but I wonder how in the world one can still call themselves a Christian and then say, “I can choose to ignore anything God says that I don’t like.”
(See my “The Importance of Scriptural Inerrancy for the Christian Life” for more on this issue.)
Secondly, I would point out that it was evangelical Christians who lead the movement to give the right for women to vote in America affirming both democracy and women’s equality and it was evangelical Christians who lead the charge to end slavery in Great Britain and America affirming the evil of slavery. They did this because they believed the Bible lead them to do so.
Warning and Conclusion
Let me end by reminding everyone that we have no right to be self – righteous towards homosexuals as sinners radically different from us. Instead we should come along side them as fellow sinners who need God’s love and forgiveness just as much as we do. We are one with them in our common sinfulness.
The purpose of this post was not to highlight homosexual sin as worse than other sins. It was written to respond to those to deny the Bible teaches it is sinful. My conclusion is that they are wrong.