Understanding and Responding to a Pro-Homosexual Interpretation of Scripture
Pro-homosexual interpreters frequently make four claims with respect to Scripture. Their misinterpretations require a scholarly response.
By Robert A.J. Gagnon
Writing a short article on how pro-homosexual readings of Scripture misinterpret the biblical text is no longer easy. The reason is not so much that pro-homosexual interpretations have varied over the past decade as the fact evidence against such interpretations has become extensive. In this article I present four claims pro-homosexual interpreters frequently make with respect to Scripture. I then briefly sketch the main contours of a response to such claims. Space limitations do not permit in-depth treatment of these four claims, analysis of pro-homosexual readings of Old Testament texts, or much interaction with specific pro-homosexual writings. For such, I refer readers to my book, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, and to my website, www.robgagnon.net, where I keep an updated bibliography.1
Pro-homosexual Claim: Jesus had no interest in maintaining a male-female requirement for sexual relations.
What the evidence shows: Jesus believed a male-female requirement for sexual relations was foundational, a core value of Scripture’s sexual ethics on which to base other sexual standards, including the “twoness” of a sexual union.
Jesus predicated marital “twoness” — restricting the number of persons in a sexual union to two, whether concurrently (no polygamy) or serially (no cycle of divorce and remarriage) — on the fact “at the beginning of creation God made them male and female [see Genesis 1:27]. For this reason a man … will be joined to his wife and the two will become one flesh [see Genesis 2:24]”2 (Matthew 19:4,5; see the context in verses 3–9; Mark 10:6–8). The fact God had designed two (and only two) primary sexes for complementary sexual pairing was Jesus’ basis for rigorous monogamy. The union of the two sexual halves created an integrated, self-contained sexual whole, making a third partner neither necessary nor desirable.
We know this was Jesus’ reasoning because the only other first-century Jews who shared Jesus’ opposition to more than two persons in a sexual bond were the Qumran Essenes, who likewise rejected “taking two wives in their lives” because “the foundation of creation is ‘male and female he created them’ [Genesis 1:27]” and because “those who entered [Noah’s] ark went in two-by-two into the ark [Genesis 7:9]” (Damascus Covenant 4.20–5.1).
The appeal to the “two-by-two” statement in the story of Noah’s ark is significant because, apart from the repetition of Genesis 1:27 in Genesis 5:2, the ark narrative is the only other place in the Old Testament where the precise Hebrew phrase zākār Ã»nĕqēvÃ¢ (“male and female”) appears. There it is strongly linked with the emphasis on a natural pair. For Jesus, as for the Qumran Essenes, the “twoness” of the sexes was the foundation for the “twoness” of the sexual bond.
We can cite many other arguments as evidence of Jesus’ rejection of homosexual practice, including the fact the Old Testament Jesus accepted as Scripture strongly opposed homosexual practice; that Herod Antipas beheaded John the Baptist for criticizing him for violating Levitical sex laws (the incest prohibitions, even in adult-consensual relationships, Leviticus 18:16; 20:21); that the entirety of early Judaism out of which Jesus emerged believed homosexual practice to be a gross violation of foundational sexual ethics;3 and that the Early Church that knew Jesus best was united in its belief that a male-female prerequisite for sexual unions was essential (Romans 1:21–32; Ephesians 5:22–33).
The supposition of Jesus’ support of, or even being neutral toward, committed homosexual unions is without historical analogue in Jesus’ immediate cultural environment. This is revisionist history at its worst.
Moreover, whereas we have no extant saying of Jesus that loosened the Law’s demand for sexual purity, we do have sayings where Jesus closed remaining loopholes in the Law’s sexual commands by further intensifying God’s demand (adultery of the heart; divorce and remarriage) and warning people that sexual impurity could get one thrown into hell (Matthew 5:27–32). Jesus argued that it is not so much eating food proscribed in Old Testament law that defiles the body but the gratification of impulses to do what God forbids (Mark 7:14–23). For Jesus, these include porneiai (sexually immoral acts), moicheiai (adulterous acts), and aselgeia (licentiousness, lack of self-restraint especially as regards sexual matters; verses 21,22).
In early Judaism porneia and aselgeia always included, at or near the top of the list, an absolute prohibition of homosexual practice, even for Gentiles (the “Noahide laws”). The trend of Jesus’ teaching on sexual ethics is not toward greater license but toward fewer loopholes.
A related pro-homosexual claim about Jesus states that Jesus’ outreach to sexual sinners like the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53–8:11) and His positive statement about “born eunuchs” (Matthew 19:12) provide grounds for supporting homosexual unions. They do nothing of the sort. Jesus aimed at achieving people’s repentance so they might inherit the kingdom of God He proclaimed.
Jesus warned the woman caught in adultery: “Go and from now on no longer be sinning” (John 8:11). Jesus made a similar statement in John 5:14, where He followed it with “lest something worse happen to you.” That something worse is loss of eternal life through an unrepentant life (cf. John 5:24–29). Whereas the Pharisees did not care if sexual sinners and tax collectors (persons who exploited the poor for material gain) went to hell, Jesus cared enough to make them a focus of His ministry to call them back to God’s kingdom.
Mark gives as an apt summary of Jesus’ message: “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15, NIV). When the church calls to repentance those who engage in homosexual acts and does so lovingly, with a desire to reclaim lives for the kingdom of God, it carries out the work of its Lord.
Jesus’ saying about eunuchs presupposed that eunuchs were not having sexual intercourse at all, let alone having forbidden sexual intercourse. Jesus compared “eunuchs who make themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of God” (= Christians who opt out of marriage and thus sexual relations to have more time and freedom to proclaim the gospel) with “eunuchs who have been born so from the womb” (= those who are such from birth, due to corporal malformation)4 and “eunuchs who were made eunuchs by people” (= men forcibly castrated).5 The analogy only works on the assumption that eunuchs do not have sexual relations (presumed, for example, in Sirach 20:4; 30:20).
The whole context for the eunuch saying in Matthew 19:10–12 is Jesus’ argument that the “twoness” of the sexes in complementary pairing, “male and female,” is the basis for rejecting sexual relationships involving more than two persons. He can hardly be dismissing the importance of a male-female requirement for sexual relations immediately after establishing the foundational character of such a requirement.
2. Romans 1:24–27 and the Erroneous “Exploitation Argument”
Pro-homosexual Claim: The Bible’s prohibition of homosexual practice in Romans 1:24–27 only applies to exploitative and hedonistic forms of homosexual practice such as sex with slaves, prostitutes, and adolescents.
What the evidence shows: The evidence culled from the literary and historical context of Romans 1:24–27 confirms that the Bible’s prohibition of homosexual practice — like its prohibition of adult incestuous unions — is absolute. Paul is rejecting all forms of homosexual practice regardless of consent and commitment. Five lines of evidence make this point clear.
First, Paul in Romans 1:24–27 rejects homosexual practice because it is a violation of God’s creation of “male and female” as a sexual pair in Genesis. In Romans 1:23–27 Paul intentionally echoed Genesis 1:26,27, making eight points of correspondence — in the same tripartite structure — between the two sets of texts: humans/image/likeness, birds/cattle/reptiles, male/female. Paul was rejecting homosexual practice in the first instance because it violated the male-female prerequisite for sexual relations ordained by the Creator at creation, not because of how well or badly it was done in his cultural milieu.
Second, the nature argument Paul uses in Romans 1:18–27 is not conducive to a distinction between exploitative and nonexploitative forms of homosexual practice. Paul contends that female and male homosexual practice is “contrary to nature” because it violated obvious clues given in the material structures of creation that male and female, not two males or two females, are each other’s sexual “counterpart” or “complement” (to use the language of Genesis 2:18,20) in terms of anatomy, physiology, and psychology. What Paul says regarding the vertical vice of idolatry (Romans 1:19–23) is equally true of the horizontal vice of same-sex intercourse: Male-female complementarity is “clearly seen, being mentally apprehended by means of the things made” (1:19,20).
Some have argued that the ancients had no comprehension of a complementarity argument. Yet as classicist Thomas K. Hubbard notes in his magisterial sourcebook of texts pertaining to Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: “Basic to the heterosexual position [among Greek and Roman moralists in the first few centuries A.D.] is the characteristic Stoic appeal to the providence of Nature, which has matched and fitted the sexes to each other.”6
Third, Paul in Romans 1:27 specifically indicts male homosexual relations that involve mutual, reciprocal affections. Paul states, “males, having left behind the natural use of the female, were inflamed with their yearning for one another.” This precludes any supposition that Paul is thinking only of coercive relationships.
Fourth, Paul’s indictment of lesbianism in Romans 1:26 further confirms that his indictment of homosexual practice is absolute, since female homosexuality in antiquity was not primarily known or criticized for its exploitative practices of sex with slaves, prostitutes, or children. There can be little doubt Paul is indicting female homosexuality, as evidenced by: (1) the parallelism of the language of 1:26 (“females exchanged the natural use”) and 1:27 (“likewise also the males leaving behind the natural use of the female”); (2) the fact in antiquity lesbian intercourse was the form of female intercourse most commonly labeled “contrary to nature” and paired with male homosexual practice; (3) the fact of nearly universal male opposition to lesbianism in antiquity, even by men engaged in homosexual practice; and (4) the fact lesbian intercourse was the dominant interpretation of Romans 1:26 in the patristic period.
Fifth, contrary to false claims that people in the Greco-Roman world had no concept of committed homosexual unions, there is plenty of evidence for the conception and existence of loving homosexual relationships, including semiofficial “marriages” between men and between women. Moreover, we know of some Greco-Roman moralists who acknowledged the existence of loving homosexual relationships while rejecting even these as unnatural.
In Plato’s Symposium (ca. 380 B.C.) the comic Aristophanes is said to remark about male-male relationships: “they [i.e. the two men] continue with one another throughout life … desiring to join together and to be fused into a single entity … and to become one person from two” (192E). His remarks play off of the positive view of same-sex eroticism expressed by Phaedrus and Pausanias at the banquet.
Neither Phaedrus (the “beloved” of Eryximachus, also at the banquet ) nor Pausanias — who was a lover of the tragic poet and host Agathon (a relationship that began when Agathon, now 31, was 18 years old) — advocate for same-sex hedonism. On the contrary, they stress an attraction for the soul or mind more than the body and the relationship’s inducement to moral excellence. Pausanias, in particular, emphasizes that “love is neither right nor wrong in itself” but only right when it is “done rightly” and “for the right reasons”; that lovers who love rightly “are prepared to love in the expectation that they will be with them all their life and will share their lives in common … as if having been fused into a single entity with” the soul of the beloved (181D, 183E). It is thus evident that Aristophanes reflects Pausanias’ view of himself when the former states that men who love males “are not inclined by nature (phusei) toward marriage and the procreation of children, yet are compelled to do so by the law or custom (nomos)” with the result that two joined males “live their lives out with one another unmarried” (192A-B).
In Plutarch’s Dialogue on Love (late first-early second-century A.D.) Protogenes argues that man-male love is superior, not because it is more hedonistic but because, instead of having “as a net result the reaping of the fruits of pleasure (hēdonēn),” it “comes through friendship to the end and goal of virtue” (750D; 4). Daphnaeus, defending the superiority of male-female love, concedes that homosexual relationships are not necessarily exploitative, for “sexual intercourse that is contrary to nature with males does not do away with, nor damage, a lover’s kindness [or: amorous goodwill]” (751C; 5). Yet, he declares, even when “the (intercourse) that comes about from (the joining of) males” is done “willingly,” it remains “shameful” (aschēmōn) since males are, “with softness (malakia) and effeminacy (thēlutēs), surrendering themselves, according to Plato, ‘to be mounted in the custom of four-footed animals’ and to be sowed as if to produce children (paidosporeisthai), contrary to nature” (para phusin; 751D-E; 5).
In Rome by the epigrammatist Martial (ca. 40–104 A.D.; 1.24; 12.42) and the satirist Juvenal (early second-century A.D.; Satire 2) refer jeeringly to effeminate men who willingly commit themselves as “brides” to another man. For example, Gracchus, “a man renowned for his family background and his wealth,” became the “bride” to a common cornet-player and signed semi-official documents (Satire 2.119,125,129). Lucian of Samosata (mid-second-century A.D.) tells of two rich women who regard themselves as married, the masculine Megilla of Lesbos and her “wife” Demonassa the Corinthian (Dialogues of the Courtesans 5). The astrologer Ptolemy of Alexandria (second-century A.D.) writes of manly women born under a certain constellation who are “lustful for sexual relations contrary to nature” and take the active sexual role with women whom they sometimes call their “lawful wives” (Tetrabiblos 3.14; Â§171-72). Clement of Alexandria mentions in disgust “women … contrary to nature … marrying women” (Paidagōgos 220.127.116.11). Obviously marriage implies commitment; yet commitment does not change the unnatural and sinful character of the relationship.
Some Greek and Roman moralists condemned all homosexual acts on the grounds of a nature argument. “Literature of the first century C.E. bears witness to an increasing polarization of attitudes toward homosexual activity, ranging from frank acknowledgment and public display of sexual indulgence on the part of leading Roman citizens to severe moral condemnation of all homosexual acts.”7 If even some sectors of the “pagan” world were beginning to develop absolute opposition to all forms of homosexual practice, what is the likelihood that Paul would have made exceptions for committed homosexual unions?
Paul operated out of Jewish Scriptures and a Jewish milieu that were unequivocally opposed to homosexual practice, even of a committed sort. For example, first-century Jewish historian Josephus stated the obvious to his Roman readers: “The law [of Moses] recognizes only sexual intercourse that is according to nature, that which is with a woman. … But it abhors the intercourse of males with males” (Against Apion 2.199). Several rabbinic texts forbid marriage of a man to a man;8 one referring to Egyptian practices even forbids marriage of a woman to a woman (Sifra on Leviticus 18:3).
It is hardly surprising, then, that even Louis Crompton, a homosexual scholar, acknowledges this point in his massive work, Homosexuality and Civilization: “However well-intentioned,” the interpretation that “Paul’s words were not directed at ‘bona fide’ homosexuals in committed relationships … seems strained and unhistorical. Nowhere does Paul or any other Jewish writer of this period imply the least acceptance of same-sex relations under any circumstance. The idea that homosexuals might be redeemed by mutual devotion would have been wholly foreign to Paul or any other Jew or early Christian.”9
Also worth noting is the falsity of claims that the ancient world knew nothing akin to our understanding of a homosexual orientation or of congenital influences on at least some homosexual development. As classicist Thomas K. Hubbard notes: “Homosexuality in this era [i.e., of the early Imperial Age of Rome] may have ceased to be merely another practice of personal pleasure and began to be viewed as an essential and central category of personal identity, exclusive of and antithetical to heterosexual orientation.”10
Bernadette Brooten, a lesbian New Testament scholar who has written the most important book about lesbianism in antiquity, also acknowledges this point. She states that, “Paul could have believed” that some persons attracted to members of the same sex “were born that way and yet still condemn them as unnatural and shameful. … I see Paul as condemning all forms of homoeroticism as the unnatural acts of people who had turned away from God.”11
Pro-homosexual Claim: The closest analogies to the Bible’s opposition to homosexual practice is the Bible’s support for both slavery and the oppression of women and its opposition to divorce, all positions we now reject.
What the evidence shows: The alleged analogies cited above are far more remote than the analogies of the Bible’s opposition to incest and the New Testament’s opposition to polygamy — behaviors that would disqualify any candidate from ordained office, even when the relationships are adult, consensual, committed, and exhibit no scientifically measurable harm.
Scripture’s opposition to incest and (in the New Testament)polygamy or polyamory (sexual love for multiple persons concurrently) is related in key ways to its opposition to homosexual practice. Homosexual practice, incest, and polyamory are all sexual behaviors proscribed absolutely in one or both Testaments, despite the fact people can conduct all three as caring and committed adult sexual relationships.
Incest is ultimately prohibited on the grounds that it is sexual intercourse between persons who, in terms of embodied existence, are too alike on a kinship level (compare Leviticus 18:6: “No one shall approach any flesh of one’s flesh to uncover nakedness”). The higher risks of procreative difficulties that attend fertile incestuous unions are merely the symptom of the root problem: too much identity between close blood relations. Similarly, the inability of persons of the same sex to procreate is merely the symptom of the root problem: too much embodied identity, here as regards gender or sex, between persons of the same sex. If anything, the identity is more keenly felt in same-sex intercourse than incest since sex or gender is a more integral component of sexuality than blood relatedness.
As regards polygamy or polyamory, we have already noted that Jesus predicated His rejection of such behavior on God’s creation of two sexes for complementary sexual pairing. So a two-sex prerequisite for sexual relations and a limitation of the number of persons in a sexual union to two are related as foundation and superstructure (the latter being built on the former).
These links indicate that the Bible’s prohibition of incest and the New Testament’s prohibition of multiple-partner sexual unions even for males (the Old Testament never allowed polyandry, i.e. multiple husbands for women) are very close analogies to the Bible’s strong prohibition of homosexual practice.
Slavery is a bad analogy to the Bible’s opposition to homosexual practice because, first, the Bible shows no vested interest in preserving slavery but rather at a number of points has a critical edge against slavery: having mandatory release dates (Exodus 21:26,27; Leviticus 25:35–43); maintaining the right of kin to buy loved ones out of slavery at any time (Leviticus 25:47–53); insisting that fellow Israelites not be treated as slaves (Leviticus 25:42–46). Relative to the slave cultures of the ancient Near East and Greco-Roman Mediterranean basin, the countercultural thrust of the Scriptures is against slavery. However, as regards a male-female requirement for sexual relations, the Bible’s critical edge and countercultural thrust is decidedly opposed to all homosexual practice.
Second, same-sex attractions are very different from race or ethnicity. (a) While race or ethnicity is 100 percent inheritable, a homosexual orientation is not. There are congenital risk factors for some homosexual development but that is different from congenital determinism.
The causes of homosexuality are probably multifactorial, taking in also macro and microcultural influences (society, family, peer socialization), incremental choices, and personal psychology. (b) While race or ethnicity is immutable, homosexual desire is open to some change over time, at least in terms of degree of intensity and exclusivity. (c) While race and ethnicity is primarily a nonbehavioral condition and so benign, homosexual attraction is behaviorally oriented and, since it is a desire for structurally incongruous sexual activity, is not benign.
Third, the parallel with slavery lies with support for homosexual unions, not opposition to such, since those insisting that homosexual desires be affirmed are promoting enslavement to impulses to do what God in Scripture expressly forbids.
The Bible’s stance toward women’s roles is a bad analogy for similar reasons. First, proposing an analogy between being a woman and having homoerotic impulses confuses categories. Being a woman, unlike a homosexual impulse, is a condition that is 100 percent congenital (i.e., determined by chromosomes), immutable, and not a direct desire for behavior that Scripture expressly forbids.
Second, there are plenty of positive views of women in Scripture (e.g., the roles played by Judge Deborah (Judges 4,5 and Ruth in the Old Testament; Jesus’ commendation of female discipleship (Luke 7:36–50), and Paul’s salute to women coworkers in the New Testament, Romans 16:1,3,6,12). But Scripture gives only strongly negative assessments of homosexual practice. As with the issue of slavery, the counter-cultural thrust of Scripture leans in the direction both of supporting egalitarian roles for women and of opposing homosexual practice. The view of women found in Scripture is more positive, but the view of homosexual practice more negative, than what prevails elsewhere in the ancient Near East and Greco-Roman Mediterranean basin.
Divorce and remarriage after divorce
Divorce and remarriage after divorce also have serious problems as analogues to the Bible’s prohibition of homosexual practice. First, Scripture does not view divorce and remarriage as bad as homosexual practice. Jesus predicated His opposition to divorce and remarriage on the foundation that God created us as “male and female,” a self-contained sexual pair.
Logically it is not possible to justify license in a greater matter by limited license in a lesser matter. For example, it would be illegitimate to argue that greater tolerance toward divorce and remarriage should lead to greater tolerance toward adult-committed incest or “plural” marriages, for the latter two offenses are regarded as more severe. Moreover, there is no virtue to being more consistently disobedient to the will of Christ.
Second, the Bible shows a limited canonical diversity toward divorce (permitted for men in the Old Testament; in the New Testament allowed in cases of sexual immorality or marriage to an unbeliever who insists on leaving), but no diversity on the matter of homosexual practice.
There are also ameliorating factors in the case of some divorce situations that do not apply in the case of a consensual homosexual union. For example, a spouse can be divorced against her or his will or be subject to regular and serious abuse, which creates perpetrator versus victim distinctions irrelevant to a voluntary entrance into a homosexual union.
Third, and most important, the Church’s stance toward divorce/remarriage on the one hand and homosexual practice on the other are alike in this respect: The Church works to end the cycle. The Church would not ordain any candidate for office who expressed the view: “I’ve been divorced and remarried a number of times and would like to continue the cycle with the fewest negative side-effects.” Such a person could not be ordained because that person has an unreformed mind. Why, then, should the Church ordain someone who not only engaged in homosexual practice in the past but also intends to continue in such behavior in a serial, unrepentant way?
Inclusion of Gentiles
Pro-homosexual interpreters often cite the story in Acts 10,11, and 15 about the Church’s inclusion of Spirit-filled Gentileswithout requiring circumcision and observance of dietary law. They see this as analogous to the Church today disregarding scriptural prohibitions of homosexual practice because persons who engage in such behavior can, in other respects, show evidence of the Spirit in their lives. This too is a bad analogy, for at least five reasons.
First, a male-female prerequisite for sexual relations is grounded in creation whereas a circumcision requirement and dietary commands are not so grounded.
Second, whereas circumcision was a Jewish ritual prescription enjoined only on those Gentiles who became proselytes to Judaism, affecting the body only superficially, the Bible’s prohibition of homosexual practice was regarded as a universal moral proscription enjoined on all Gentiles because sexual immorality affects the body holistically. Both Jesus (Mark 7:14–23) and Paul (1 Corinthians 6:12–20) forbade comparisons between food laws and prohibitions of sexual immorality, and yet proponents of homosexual unions continue to make such comparisons.
Third, while Gentile inclusion in the first century was about both welcoming Gentile believers and rejecting Gentile sexual immorality, today’s efforts at normalizing homosexual practice are about accepting not just persons but, their immoral behaviors.
Fourth, while Scripture only incidentally links Gentiles to sin (i.e., it recognizes the category of righteous or God-fearing Gentiles), Scripture intrinsically links homosexual practice to sin.
Fifth, whereas Gentile inclusion has significant Old Testament precedent (e.g., the stories of Rahab, Ruth, the widow at Zarephath, Naaman, and Jonah) and uniform New Testament support, Scripture totally rejects homosexual practice. It is absurd to argue for affirmation of homosexual unions as the Spirit’s new work inasmuch as it puts the Spirit at odds with Scripture’s core values in sexual ethics.
A principle of good analogical reasoning is: The closest, and thus best, analogies are those that share the most substantive points of correspondence with the thing being compared. Honest analogical reasoning does not prefer distant analogies to close analogies. Consequently, it is inappropriate to stress the alleged analogies of slavery, women’s roles, divorce, and first-century Gentile inclusion while ignoring both the enormous differences with the Bible’s stance on homosexual practice and the more substantive parallels to the Bible’s position on incest and polyamory.
Pro-homosexual Claim: The Bible is not particularly interested in homosexual practice as evidenced by the fact it is only mentioned on a few occasions.
What the evidence shows: The contextual evidence indicates that ancient Israel, early Judaism, and early Christianity viewed homosexual practice of every sort abhorrent to God, an extreme sexual offense comparable only to the worst forms of adult incest (say, a man and his mother) and superseded among “consensual” sexual offenses only by bestiality.
A male-female prerequisite is powerfully evident throughout the pages of Scripture. Every biblical narrative, law, proverb, exhortation, metaphor, and poetry that has anything to do with sexual relations presupposes such a prerequisite. Even the male-dominated society of ancient Israel imaged itself as Yahweh’s wife so as to avoid any connotation of a marriage between members of the same sex (an image replicated in the New Testament regarding Christ and His Bride, the Church).
There are plenty of laws in the Old Testament delimiting acceptable and unacceptable sexual relationships between a man and a woman but none regulating intercourse between two persons of the same sex. The obvious reason for this is that the Bible does not deem homosexual relationships acceptable.
Those who contend that the Bible condemns homosexual practice only in a handful of passages (Sodom, the prohibitions in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, Romans 1:26,27, 1 Corinthians 6:9, and 1 Timothy 1:10) usually neglect a number of other relevant texts: the Genesis creation narratives (Genesis 1,2); the Noah and Ham story (Genesis 6:20–27); the narrative of the Levite at Gibeah (Judges 19); the texts from Deuteronomy (23:18) and the Deuteronomistic History dealing with cultic figures known to play the female role in sex with men (the qedeshim); the interpretation of the Sodom story in Ezekiel 16:46–58, Jude, and 2 Peter; and Jesus’ discussion of marriage in Mark 10 and Matthew 19.
More important, they overlook the problem with equating frequency of explicit mention with importance. Bestiality is mentioned even less in the Bible than homosexual practice and incest gets only comparable treatment, yet who would argue that Jews and Christians in antiquity would have regarded sex with an animal or sex with one’s mother as inconsequential offenses? Infrequency of mention is often an indicator that the matter in question is a violation of an irreducible minimum in sexual ethics rather than insignificant.
Scripture’s male-female prerequisite for sexual relations and its attendant rejection of homosexual behavior is pervasive throughout both Testaments (i.e., it is everywhere presumed in sexual discussions even when not explicitly mentioned); absolute (i.e., no exceptions are given); strongly proscribed (i.e., every scriptural mention indicates that it is a foundational violation of sexual ethics); and countercultural (i.e., we know of no other culture in the ancient Near East or Greco-Roman world more consistently and strongly opposed to homosexual practice).
Scripture’s male-female prerequisite is also grounded in the creation texts in Genesis 1:27 and 2:21–24. In the latter, the Bible portrays woman as man’s missing element or other half, hence the repeated mention of woman being “taken from” the human and being the human’s “complement” or “counterpart,” a being both “corresponding to” him as a human and “opposite to” him as a distinct sex. Man and woman may become one flesh because out of one flesh man and woman emerged — a beautiful illustration of the transcendent reality that man and woman are each other’s sexual counterpart. As noted above, Jesus treats the two-sexes requirement for sexual relations as foundational for His monogamy principle.
Paul cites homosexual practice as a particularly egregious instance of “sexual impurity,” “indecency,” and a “dishonoring” of the integrity of maleness and femaleness. Homosexual practice is an egregious suppression of the obvious facts of God’s design evident in the material structures of creation comparable on the horizontal plane to idolatry on the vertical plane.
If all this does not qualify the Bible’s male-female requirement for sexual relations as a core value in Scripture’s sexual ethics, there is no such thing as a core value in any religious or philosophical tradition.
Hopefully this article will encourage readers to examine in depth the wealth of information that demonstrates why Christians should resist efforts to normalize homosexual practice in both church and society. Of course, knowledge of Scripture’s strong opposition to homosexual practice should not lead to hatred of persons who live out of same-sex attractions. On the contrary, such persons are in greater need of loving outreach so they might be reclaimed for God’s kingdom. For self-professed Christians who “backslide” into homosexual practice but repent each time they do so, forgiveness is readily available (Luke 17:3,4). For those who persist in such behavior in a self-affirming manner, church discipline may be necessary (cf. Paul’s response to the incestuous man in 1 Corinthians 5). As with any experience of difficulty or deprivation, we can view persistent same-sex attractions as opportunities for God’s grace and power to operate in the midst of weakness and for Christ’s life to be manifested in the midst of dying to self (John 3:30; Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 1:9; 4:7–10; 12:8–10; Galatians 2:19,20; 4:19).
- For a list of my books and articles on homosexual practice, visit: http://www.robgagnon.net.
- All translations of ancient texts in this article, including biblical texts, are the author’s own.
- There are no extant texts within centuries of the life of Jesus indicating any openness to homosexual relationships of any sort, in contrast to the existence of such texts among “pagans.”
- Colin Brown, ed., The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. 1, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971), 561.
- The references to eunuchs in Isaiah 56:3–5 (cf. 39:7) and Acts 8:27–39 refer to persons who were physically castrated against their will, not to persons who willingly removed their marks of masculinity, much less actively engaged in sexual relations forbidden by Scripture.
- Thomas K. Hubbard, Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: A Sourcebook of Basic Documents (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 444.
- Hubbard, 383 (emphasis added).
- Cf. Sifra on Leviticus 18:3, Genesis Rabbah 26.6; Leviticus Rabbah 23.9; b. Hullin 92b.
- Louis Crompton, Homosexuality and Civilization (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2003), 114.
- Hubbard, 386.
- Love Between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 244.