Is it Permissible?
Many out there want to affirm homosexuality and homosexuals while ALSO claiming the Bible as God’s word (at least in theory). They often do this by offering alternative explanations for 6-7 Bible passages that have traditionally been used to condemn homosexuality/homosexuals (one such author calls these the “clobber passages”).
And before going further, I think we should step back and consider the question people are asking. Namely:
- Does God condemn homosexuality?
Or asked in the affirmative:
- Does God allow homosexuality?
But to the careful observer, some warning bells should already be going off when you hear people phrasing questions like this. Why? Because this is exactly what the Pharisees did to justify themselves (see Jesus’ rebuke of this in Matt. 5).
They looked for what was “permissible”, instead of asking: “What does God really want?” or “What honors and pleases God the most?” Those are the kinds of questions that sons and daughters of the Living God should be asking. As the Bible exhorts elsewhere:
“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.1 Cor. 10:23
Arguing Over Words
After this shaky starting point of asking merely what God condemns, I’ve seen Christians take another faulty step. Namely, they look at isolated words in the Bible, without considering the broader context and heart of God, revealed throughout Scripture.
For instance, there is much discussion on what the Greek words, “arsenokoites,” and, “malakos” (1 Tim. 1:10 and 1 Cor. 6:9) really mean, when Bibles translate them as “homosexuals” (and set them in a list of condemned sins). See an example of this in the, “Gay Marriage and the Bible,” website.
Whenever you see this kind of argumentation regarding what this or that Greek (or Hebrew) word really means, more warning bells should be going off in your head.
- Often, the “better translation” people suggest is at odds with teams of the best scholars of the day, who translate our Bibles. See translations of 1 Tim. 1:10 and 1 Cor. 6:9, for instance, where it’s pretty overwhelming how many scholars believe the word is “homosexual”. It seems quite arrogant, then, for someone over here to have the “true revelation” of that word in light of a mountain of scholarship opposing it.
- Even more, often people very qualified have already shown great defenses of the traditional words used in the Bible. For instance, see CRI’s “Is Arsenokoitai Really that Mysterious?” or Bloodguiltiness and Arsenokoites – Dr. James White Sermon / Holiness Code for Today.
- But MOST OF ALL…the Bible warns against arguing over words (2 Tim. 2:14, for instance). This doesn’t mean words are unimportant. But basing arguments on words confuses “trees” from the “forest”. In other words, it can distract you from looking at the bigger picture the Bible etches out (see below on this).
God’s Created Order
Thus, if we are going to take a more God-honoring approach, we should ask 2 questions at the start:
- What honors, pleases, and touches God’s heart the most?
- What does the whole of Scripture point to?
A good place to start on this (or any topic) is the created order, before sin entered. Jesus Himself takes this approach when answering Jews of His day on topics related to marriage and sexuality (see Matt. 19:1-11).
So what do we see in God’s created order?
- He made a man and woman to be united in marriage (Gen. 1:27)
- The expression of male and female together fully expressed the image of God (Gen. 1:27)
- His first command was to, “be fruitful and multiply,” (Gen. 1:28)–something that continues to be ONLY possible when male and female join sperm and egg together.
Thus, from the beginning He set 1 man with 1 woman who are to reproduce and raise children together, who can in turn repeat this order. Anything different than this design mars God’s created order.
In fact, the last book of our Old Testament (Malachi) goes on to affirm this same thing:
the Lord is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant….Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring.Mal. 2:14-15
Here he chastises the unfaithfulness of husbands with their wives, and reminds them of the mission of their marriage: produce godly offspring. Something impossible outside of husband-wife relationship.
Husbands and Wives; Fathers and Mothers
Next, pass this initial creation, we see a plethora of commands, principles, ordinances, etc. throughout Scripture on topics of sexuality, marriage, raising families, and so forth. And the thing that should shake us all is that EVERY instance of this order involves husbands and wives, who later become fathers and mothers.
So, for instance, Ephesians 5 gives clear commands for how husbands and wives ought to treat each other, and the different roles they have. Then Ephesians 6 expands this to discuss the roles of children with their father and mother, and how all of those should relate with each other.
Or, Paul can talk about how his team helped raise the Thessalonian believers in the faith, as spiritual children, by fulfilling both the motherly role of nurturing and caring as well as the fatherly role of exhorting and challenging (1 Thes. 1-2).
In all of this, there is always a lurking assumption 100% of the time: God sees fathers-mothers and husbands-wives as THE combinations to make all of this happen. He never hints at husband-husband or wife-wife. This isn’t even in his vocabulary. And, in fact, every potential passage that deals with that sort of combination condemns it (the so-called “clobber passages” mentioned above and below).
So the person who is only looking at 7 passages that may treat husband-husband or wife-wife as bad, completely misses the fact that all of the mentions of what is good never envisions husband-husband or wife-wife.
This should lead the thoughtful, Bible-believing person to a crossroads they have to decide for themselves. Either:
- God doesn’t even think to mention homosexuality, yet endorses it nonetheless.
- God doesn’t endorse homosexuality.
If you are still hanging onto #1, I think you have some new problems to work through. Namely, did God not know that there would be a “homosexual movement” in the 21st century in the West? Or maybe He knew about it but didn’t care to say anything about it? Thus, you are in the precarious position of making God unknowing or uncaring. In which case, is He still a God worth serving?
Marriage, The Prophetic Sign
Next, as mentioned above, consider another purpose of marriage (in addition to producing godly offspring, Mal. 2:14-15):
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.Eph. 5:31-32
In Ephesians 5, we see God extends the original created order of male and female into a beautiful mystery that depicts Christ and the Church. The roles of husband and wife cleanly fit into this prophetic sign:
- Christ is the head who sacrificially loves and cares for his wife.
- The church is his wife who submits to Christ in everything.
- The union of Christ’s life inside his church is what causes the multiplication of spiritual children
We could go further and consider that Adam was put to sleep, his side was pierced, then the bride was produced, just as Christ was put to temporary death, his side was pierced, and the church was birthed. Or even further still. But suffice to say this is an amazing image and mystery that consistently points a broken world to Christ.
Now consider how this image is completely ruined if you try to make it a husband-husband or wife-wife combination. You’ve lost the picture of Christ and the church altogether. You’ve lost the picture of spiritual life being multiplied by our union with Christ. You’ve lost all of that if you try to endorse husband-husband or wife-wife.
The “Clobber Passages”
Before we talk about the 6-7 passages in the Bible referred to as the “clobber passages,” I sincerely hope we can see how the entire warp and woof of Scripture points toward a framework of husband-wife becoming father-mother in Scripture. Thus, it is diabolically sinister to claim only 6-7 Bible passages have anything to say on the subject and if you can explain away those passages, then “poof” the issue goes away.
But saying that, I believe all of Scripture is written for a reason and we should consider those 6-7 passages along with the rest of the passages of the Bible as binding on our lives today.
Thus, these passages are:
- Genesis 19 – Sodom and Gomorrah judged for homosexual gang rape
- Leviticus 18:22 – forbidding men to lie with men as they do with women
- Leviticus 20:13 – same as Lev. 18:22
- Romans 1:21-31 – male and female homosexual practices worthy of God’s wrath
- 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 – homosexuals listed among those who won’t inherit God’s kingdom
- 1 Timothy 1:9-10 – homosexuality listed in a list of sins
Some would add Genesis 9:20-27 (Noah’s sons treating their father’s nakedness) in this list, thus the range could be 7 passages if you add this (see Seven Gay Texts).
ASIDE: I can’t understand for the life of me why Jude 1:7 isn’t added to this list (at least not in any of the materials I’ve seen). That passage (in the context of the whole book, especially) seems one of the strongest of all in saying that unrepentant homosexual sex will be eternally condemned. See “Jude & Compromise” for more.
I won’t spend a lot of time on these passages, but here’s a couple brief thoughts:
- People claim the Gen. 19 passage is not relevant because the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was self-centeredness or rape, but has nothing to do with consensual homosexual relationship. So, I definitely agree that the Gen. 19 passage has a lot of things going on. And, yes, Ezekiel 16:49 reveals they became self-centered and neglected the poor and were judged for that. But Jude tells us the judgment was also due to “sexual immorality and perversion” (Jude 1:7). So it’s faulty to say it was ONLY neglect of the poor. And the language of Jude 1:7 seems very open to indicate that the perversion judged included homosexuality.
- The passages in Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 are brushed aside for various reasons. But the main thread of opposition is that these passages are set in a very specific cultural setting that is not universal for all people of all times. For instance, they’d argue, in other Leviticus passages we are forbidden to eat shellfish, but now we can eat them, so it was clearly only cultural. But there are a couple problems here: (1) In between these 2 chapters, we are told the famous “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). Surely everyone agrees that is still binding for all people of all times! So that tells us that some of Leviticus is binding for all people of all times, (2) The sexuality norms of Leviticus 18 and 20 match the rest of the Old and New Testaments. In contrast, the food laws are clearly abrogated by Jesus and N.T. revelation. Whereas Jesus and N.T. writers affirm the same sexual code of ethics as the Old Testament. So that carries over pretty clearly, (3) God expressly says in Leviticus that the other nations were kicked out of the Promised Land because of breaking these sexual commands (e.g. Lev. 18:3ff.). Thus they practiced homosexuality and were kicked out of the land. In this sense, God clearly believed this applied to more than just His people, Israel, at that specific place-time.
- It’s argued that Romans 1:21-31 was talking about cult-prostitution. So it’s not sexual sin God is looking at, but it is sexual sin combined with idol-worship that is the real problem. But believing this makes it so that the Bible becomes virtually unreadable to all except the “scholarly initiated”. Meaning, there is nothing in the text to suggest God was against idolatry. If He was against idolatry, He had many ways of saying that more directly (and did so in the Old and New Testaments). But here he specifically condemns the sexual practice itself. More on this in the section below on the Bible’s sufficiency.
- Regarding 1 Cor. 6:9-10 and 1 Tim. 1:9-10, a lot of it is arguments over 1-2 words. See my section above on that.
The Bible’s Sufficiency
This brings us to another issue at stake. Is the Bible sufficient to reveal “all things pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3-4)? Is the Bible sufficient to “thoroughly equip the man of God for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17)?
Careful how you answer that. The Bible claims it is sufficient on all revelation that is important in following God (2 Pet. 1:3-4; 2 Tim. 3:17; Deut. 29:29; etc.). Jesus Himself frequently went back to Scripture to affirm God’s way and heart based on biblical principles, thus setting this as an example for us.
So even if you may try to say God is just silent on the matter of homosexuality altogether (by brushing aside all the evidence I list out above), what does that say about God and the Bible? It means either
- homosexuality is not important enough to get on God’s radar,
- or God cares deeply about it and just wasn’t foresighted enough to add it as part of Scripture,
- or maybe the Bible is not the only place where God reveals deep and important truths about how to follow Him?
Which 1 of those conclusions can you live with if you want to continue affirming homosexuality AND Christianity/the Bible? You’re opening up more problems than you are solving if you affirm any of those conclusions.
I’d like to leave with a grave warning that pains me to write…
Above, we walked through:
- the importance of asking what God desires and says throughout Scripture
- the fact that God’s created order and picture of Christ and the church point to heterosexual marriage unions
- the fact that God’s word only envisions husband-wife and father-mother
- the fact that there are some stern warnings laid out specifically in 6-7 passages in the Bible
- the fact that God says his Bible is sufficient means of revelation for everything important for life and godliness
At the end of the day, you can try to sort of get around this or that passage. You might be able to fake out yourself or others on the fact that the Bible is silent on this. But then you still have to face the fact that you believe the Bible is silent on a REALLY big issue. And even if you can do all that…even if you can still hold on to believing the Bible is totally true and homosexuality can be good… You still have only a few short years before you have to answer to God Himself.
And thus the warning:
So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him…His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.2 Pet. 3:14-16
If you affirm the Bible, you must affirm this passage. Namely, that some people twist Scriptures to make it say something it doesn’t really say. And they do this, “to their own destruction.” I pray for you like I pray for me — that God would not count your or I among those people who lose their soul because they were “clever” enough to change the Bible, instead of letting the Bible change them.
Finally, there is forgiveness and grace dear reader if you find yourself convicted of twisting Scripture on this issue. Whether you are doing it for your loved one or for yourself, if you see that it is wrong…if you see that you’ve turned to the broad road that leads to destruction where many are heading… He shows us in the Prodigal Son story how He will chase you down even if you’re a long ways off from Him (Luke 15:11-31). He has forgiven and shown grace to “idolaters…adulterers…thieves…greedy…drunkards…slanderers…swindlers,” and even, “homosexuals” – His blood is that powerful! (1 Cor. 6:9-11).
He just wants to see you’re willing to take the first steps back toward Him. That you’re willing to take that 1 difficult step apart from the trajectory of the world that honors what He has said in His word (over what you or others think).
I don’t know what that step looks like. But I can assure you He has a feast waiting for those who take it (Luke 15:23).