(This was my article submission to the latest issue of Theology For Life. To read the full issue, click here.)
The issue of whether Scripture denounces the practice of homosexuality, or whether such prohibitions are merely the concoction of fundamentalist sympathizers, is increasingly a central point of discussion in today’s society. The question of biblical doctrine and ethical behavior in relation to the permissiveness of homosexuality within the Church is at a crossroads. Many denominations are increasingly allowing openly homosexual church members to attain positions of leadership with little or no condemnation. It is evident that there is a dilemma on how to approach this divisive and controversial issue from both a theological and ethical perspective. This article will clearly show that Scripture teaches that homosexual behavior violates God’s design for love and sexuality, while bringing to the forefront the biblical doctrine that sexual conduct should be confined strictly within the boundaries of a covenant marriage relationship between a man and woman.
Old Testament Position on Proper Sexual Relations
The Scriptural definition of marriage is presented in the opening saga of history, namely by God’s creation of Adam and Eve. Claus Westermann notes, “Genesis 2 is unique among the creation myths of the whole of the Ancient Near East in its appreciation of the meaning of women, i.e., that human existence is a partnership of man and woman.” Genesis 2 prepares the moral and social foundation in Scripture for proper sexual relationships as strictly between a man and a woman within a covenantal marriage relationship. A suitable helper was not found in all of creation for Adam, thus the reason God created Eve — to be the companion to Adam. The creation of Eve was necessary for both moral and social reasons. James DeYoung notes, “The only model of sexual expression contemplated in Scripture is that which is patterned after the creation model of Genesis 1-2.” Such a completion was essential for man and woman to fulfill the command given by God in Genesis 1:28, that is to “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it”. Marriage and sexual relationships being strictly between a man and a woman were meant by God to provide the very foundation for social and moral order.
The sexual act of homosexuality cannot fulfill that important mandate by God. DeYoung further notes, “Homosexual practice is an attack against what it means to be human. Reproduction is crucial, for thereby humans enter into the creative divine work of generating further human life, which in turn has the capacity to express love for God and for people. It fulfills God’s plan for the human race.” Additionally, the very concept of the imago dei is altered by homosexual behavior. Man and woman were made in the image of God and the relationship of man and woman was ordained by God. Samuel Shin aptly comments, “The Trinity is the perfect relationship, and when God made man in his own image, he created the interconnectedness that would reflect the image of the communion of the Trinity. To break that connection is to shatter that visage, and that is what sin is, the active aggression and opposition to the will of God.”
The Old Testament provides a clear and consistent denunciation of homosexual behavior as an abomination and antithetical to God’s moral and social plan for humanity. The argument that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was not homosexuality is a clear example of faulty biblical exegesis. The context of Genesis 19 clearly declares the abomination of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah was their affinity for homosexual behavior, an activity declared
in Jude 1:7 as “going after strange flesh” and in 2 Peter 2:7 as the “sensual conduct of unprincipled men”.
Despite the attempt by the homosexual community to reframe the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah as an issue of hospitality, the people of those cities are described in Genesis 13:13 as “wicked exceedingly and sinners before the Lord”. This is a rather harsh statement if their sin was merely their concern for upholding ancient hospitality codes. Genesis 19 clearly demonstrates homosexuality as perverse behavior and antithetical to proper social
and moral order. It was for this reason God placed such a complete and utter judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah while referring to their sin throughout Scripture as a reminder for subsequent generations to uphold God’s principles for sex as strictly between a man and a woman.
The Mosaic Law placed clear restrictions and outlines for proper sexual behavior. Timothy Dailey rightly comments, “Leviticus does not limit its condemnation to that of homosexuality in a ritual context; no mitigating circumstances are mentioned that would permit such behavior, such as within the context of a loving, committed relationship.” Furthermore, Michael Ukleja suggests, “To hold such a distinction, one would have to conclude that adultery was not morally wrong, child sacrifice had no moral implications, and that nothing is inherently wrong with bestiality.” To make a claim that homosexual behavior is acceptable behavior, consistent with God’s ordained plan for moral and social order within society, is to at the same time lay claim that other behaviors accepted by society as abhorrent are also no longer to be considered as detestable. A major foundation for the Mosaic Law is found in Leviticus 19:2, where God commanded Israel and all subsequent generations, “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.”
Holy living, as outlined in the Old Testament law, and later reiterated in the New Testament, meant abstaining from sexual immorality as outlined in Leviticus 18 and 20. To “be holy” meant to obey God’s command found in Genesis 2 — that marriage and sexual relations are to be strictly between a man and a woman.
An element of cultic temple worship in ancient pagan cultures was not only the practice of temple prostitution, but also homosexuality. Deuteronomy 23:17-18 declares, “No Israelite man or woman is to become a shrine prostitute. You must not bring the earnings of a female prostitute or of a male prostitute into the house of the LORD your God to pay any vow, because the LORD your God detests them both.” The Hebrew word for prostitute is qadesh, which the homosexual advocates present as strictly referring to heterosexual prostitution. The Septuagint (LXX) translates that word as teliskomenos, an initiated or dedicated person. James DeYoung notes, “Ancient sources attest to the debauchery carried on at the initiations into the mystery religions, including hallucinogenic drugs, drinking blood, immorality, and homosexuality. Apparently, the LXX translators felt that these terms were the appropriate counterparts for the Hebrew words forbidding heterosexual and homosexual prostitution and behavior.”
God denounced such behavior as adversative to the social and moral order revealed in the Mosaic Law, a command fully intended, not just for Israel, but for all subsequent generations of God’s people. Prostitution, whether it be of the heterosexual or homosexual variety is contrary to the pattern of proper sexual relations between a man and a woman established in Genesis 2 and reiterated throughout the Old Testament. The sexual ethic of the surrounding pagan cultures was not to be included in a society commanded to seek after holiness and to be separate from the surrounding pagan culture.
Derrick Bailey points to the LXX translation of qadesh in I Kings 22:46, where it is translated as endiellagmenos meaning one who has “either altered his nature by becoming a homosexual pervert, or one who has been transformed by apostasy from a worshipper of Yahweh into a servant of idols.” Such a translation notes the wide variety of perversion taking place in the cultic rituals — practices abhorrent to God and in opposition to His plan for humanity. Dailey notes, “The condemnation of such behavior in various contexts…demonstrates that the Israelites intended to condemn homosexuality in every context there it was encountered” in keeping with the biblical ethic for proper sexual behavior outlined by God throughout the Old Testament.
New Testament Position on Proper Sexual Relations
Despite attempts by the homosexual community to demonstrate otherwise, the New Testament also offers a clear condemnation of homosexuality and all its affiliate behaviors as wholly against God’s ethical guidance for sexual conduct to be confined strictly within the boundaries of a covenantal marriage relationship between a man and a woman. Such an ethical delineation of sexual conduct is supported throughout the Pauline epistles as a demonstration to his readers of the same foundation provided in the Old Testament for proper ethical behavior, namely the need to be holy as God is
Romans 1:24-27 is noted by scholars as the “central text for the issue of homosexual conduct on which Christians must base their moral doctrine”. The Apostle Paul clearly discusses the tendency for certain individuals to pursue “shameful lusts”, and women and men exchanging “natural relations for unnatural ones” with men “committing indecent acts with other men”. Such language hearkens back to Leviticus 18:22 which states, “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.”
Robert Gagnon notes, “The dishonoring in Romans 1:26, as in 1:24, is a dishonoring not merely of society nor even primarily of God but rather of one’s own self as a human being “gendered” by God in creation and discernible in the material constitution of the body.” Homosexual behavior is a rejection and dishonoring of God’s original intent for sexual activity to be strictly between a man and a woman in order for procreation, the propagation of the species, and the rearing of children within the confines of a loving, nurturing marriage between a male and female. Everett Harrison rightly comments, “The folly of homosexuality is proclaimed in its inability to reproduce the human species in keeping with the divine commandment”, as found in Genesis 1:28. Homosexual supporters often claim Paul was only providing in Romans 1 a description of the moral depravity of the Greeks. In reality, Harrison explains, what Paul was doing was lifting up “both male and female homosexual acts for special attention…Then Paul detailed a lengthy list of other pagan/Gentile vices—not a random lists, but vices of hostility, the opposite of the virtue of peacemaking. These deviations from divine moral law and the created order had offended God and had both manifested and merited divine wrath.” In doing so, Paul connects his statements with the Old Testament declaration of homosexuality as against God’s ethical standards. As such, “One either accepts Paul’s condemnation or rejects Paul’s ongoing authority. This must be the conclusion, for nowhere does he or the rest of Scripture allow for sexual expression outside a heterosexual, monogamous, permanent marriage.”
The pattern of condemning homosexuality as contrary to God’s original intent for male and female sexual relationships is further reiterated in 1st Corinthians 6:9-11. This passage is a warning by Paul to the Corinthians of the necessity to abstain from the behaviors engaged in by the wicked. Gordon Fee aptly comments, the reason Paul outlines such behavior as wicked was to encourage the Corinthians to, “change their behavior by reminding them that they do indeed belong to God through the gracious work of Christ and the Spirit.” Fee also provides excellent analysis of the Greek word malakoi, translated as effeminate, or having “the basic meaning of soft; but it also became a pejorative epithet for men who were soft or effeminate, most likely referring to the younger, passive partner in a pederastic relationship — the most common form of homosexuality in the Greco-Roman world.”
The presupposition by many in the homosexual community, in particular those in the church, that God is not opposed to their continuing in such an immoral and unethical sexual union is contrary to Paul’s message in 1st Corinthians 6:11. Just as God commanded the Israelites to be holy as He is holy, Paul reminds the Corinthians that “they are to be and behave differently from the wicked, because God in his mercy has already removed the stains of their past sins, has already begun the work of ethical transformation, and has already given them forgiveness and right standing with himself.” This necessitates abstaining from passions of the flesh, such as homosexuality, for it is a rejection of God’s ethical commands throughout Scripture for holiness.
Furthermore, Paul demonstrates a clear support of Old Testament prescriptions against homosexual behavior by referring to Leviticus 18 in 1st Timothy 1:10. Shin notes, “The reading of the LXX shows the use of arsen and koitai in the prohibitions of Leviticus 18.” These words form the basis for the word arsenokoites translated as homosexuality in most modern translations. Donald Wold, in his treatment of this topic, saliently notes, “When the question of homosexuality came up for him (Paul) in the church at Corinth, we can accurately suppose that Paul’s understanding would be influenced by the Old Testament homosexuality law. And it is on this basis that he uses the term arsenokoites, because it accurately reflects the Hebrew of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.” Paul is reminding his readers and subsequent generations that God’s commands regarding proper ethical sexual behavior as being between a man and a woman have not been altered or changed since their inception in Genesis 2. As he did in 1st Corinthians 6:9-11, Paul is reminding Timothy of the necessity for ethical and upright behavior. To participate in the behavior outlined in 1st Timothy 1:10, is to engage in law-breaking, namely the breaking of God’s ethical commands throughout Scripture. Ralph Earle notes, “[The] law is made for adulterers and perverts. The last term is arsenokoites, which means male homosexuals…is the peculiar sin for which God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.”
Often homosexual behavior is described as sodomy, with its adherents called Sodomites, in a clear reference to the rampant homosexual behavior that resulted in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by God. Additionally, such a reference was a stark reminder to Timothy and subsequent readers of this epistle of the seriousness by which God deals with behavior that is not only abhorrent, but in contradiction to His commands and ethical standards of behavior for male and female sexual relationships. Attributing any sense of acceptability to continuing in homosexual behavior for believer and non-believer alike is described by Paul as evidence of being deceived. Alex Montoya states, “Paul is condemning sins and vices practiced by the unbelieving world, which should not be practiced by God’s people. These are characteristics of the unrighteous and the lawless and rebellious.” Believers are called to be set apart from the lawless and rebellious deeds of the world, including homosexuality.
As noted by James DeYoung, the condemnation of homosexuality in Scripture is “universal and absolute. It is never contemplated that one specific form of homosexuality is condemned while others are tolerated or accepted.” God clearly defined proper sexual relationships to be strictly between a married man and woman. Any sexual activity outside such a monogamous relationship is denounced in Scripture as perversion. One of the clearest ethical demands presented in Scripture is the requirement to be holy as God is holy. Arthur Holmes rightly comments, “A sexual relationship is not confined to just two persons; it also involves God, the Creator and Lord of us all, who for his own purposes made us the sexual beings we are…Sexual union and reproduction are part of God’s creation, ordained from the beginning in the institution of marriage. Sex must not be taken out of this context.”
Sound ethical sexual behavior is repeatedly demonstrated in Scripture as restricted to a covenantal marriage relationship between a man and a woman. Frank Turek correctly comments, “Marriage is a social institution that provides society with the very foundation of civilization — the procreating family unit.” Within the confines of the marriage covenant, sexual activity is a glorious experience. Greg Bahnsen appropriately notes, “The Bible repeatedly condemns homosexuality, the New Testament itself stressing that it is contrary to God’s law (1st Timothy 9:10), bringing God’s judgment and exclusion from the kingdom (Romans 1:24; 1st Corinthians 6:9-10).” This condemnation is not an antiquated ceremonial restriction that no longer applies in today’s society, and it is not an observation by Paul of the Greeks or other pagan cultures, devoid of any relevance to the believer. Homosexuality is a clear violation of God’s original design for love and sexuality, as outlined in Scripture. God’s word is consistent on the issue of ethical sexual behavior—namely that sex outside the bounds of marriage is to engage in sexual perversion.
Bahnsen, Greg. Homosexuality: A Biblical View. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978.
Bailey, Derrick. Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition. London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1955.
Dailey, Timothy. The Bible, the Church & Homosexuality. Washington, DC: Family Research Council, 2004.
DeYoung, James. Homosexuality. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2000.
______________“The Meaning of Nature in Romans 1 and its Implications for Biblical Proscriptions of Homosexual Behavior.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 31, no. 4 (Dec 1988): 430-441.
Earle, Ralph. “I Timothy” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary ed. Frank Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981.
Fee, Gordon. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987.
Gagon, Robert. The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001.
Harrison, Everett. “Romans” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary ed. Frank Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976.
Holmes, Arthur. Ethics: Approaching Moral Decisions. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2007.
Montoya, Alex. “Homosexuality and the Church.” The Masters Seminary Journal 11, no. 2 (Fall 2000): 155-168.
Shin, Samuel. “Homosexual Hermeneutics and Its Deadly Implications: A Pastoral Reflection.” Trinity Journal 26, no. 1 (Spring 2005): 92-117.
Stassen, Glen and David Gushee. Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2003.
Turek, Frank. Correct Not Politically Correct. Charlotte: Crossexamined.org, 2011.
Ukleja, P. Michael. “Homosexuality and the Old Testament.” Bibliotheca Sacra 140 (1983): 259.
Westermann, Claus. Genesis 1-11. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2000.
Wold, Donald. Out of Order: Homosexuality in the Bible and the Ancient Near East. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998.
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