I love the Living Word of God, Jesus! He has rescued me from darkness and hopelessness, and poured out on me kindness and love, giving me a promise that I will be with him forever! And I love the written Word of God, the Bible, without which it would be very difficult to know the Living Word of God, and likewise difficult to understand how to live this life of faith.
I begin with that declaration because this article is meant for those who love both the Living and the written Word of God. If you do not fit into that category, we do not have a basis on which we can discuss the particular issue at hand, because the issue I am addressing here is how to understand the written Word of God so we may live lives pleasing to the Living Word of God.
The issue I want to discuss is what the Bible says about same-sex marriage, or closer to the point, same-sex sex. I want to declare up front that on a practical level of human relations including how to interact with gay people even in a church community, that I believe in loving all people, whether they are followers of Jesus or not, and whatever lifestyle they are living. I believe that love should be in both word and deed, not just called love, but love that is actually loving — wanting the best for other people, and treating each person with honor and respect. Yet I do believe that consensual gay sex is sin, though I don’t believe that it is the worst of sins, certainly no worse (nor better) than consensual heterosexual sex outside of marriage.
I also understand to some degree how difficult it is to be gay — the torment and anguish that often accompanies such feelings, especially before one comes out — and I hope I can always be compassionate toward people going through any of life’s struggles, including that. I have written a separate article about what I think Jesus would say to a person in such struggles, “Jesus is Very Sympathetice with Those Who Struggles with Same-Sex Attraction, which I hope people will find to be compassionate, as well as a helpful and practical strategy for those trying to figure out how to deal with such issues.
Now that I have declared my position on a number of practical issues, let us turn to the Biblical issues. I have tried to understand and grapple with the Biblical arguments that scholars have come up with that argue that the Bible permits gay marriage. I want to sum up what I see as the strongest arguments of the non-traditional position, without going too deeply into each. More or less, the theological argument acknowledges that there are roughly seven passages that seem to be prohibitions on gay sex or gay marriage, but then endeavors to dismantle each passage, saying that what traditionalists have interpreted each to mean is different than what can be said they definitively mean. At the same time, I do not believe those scholars have produced any convincing positive argument that God blessed or endorsed any instance of gay sex or gay marriage in the Bible.
Their first strong argument deals with the two passages in Leviticus which declare gay sex to be an abomination punishable by death. To those passages, the main refutation presented is that this punishment was not related to moral behavior but rather the holiness code (regarding being a holy people and being able to draw near to God). Many passages that are considered simply to be holiness violations are not only permissible but normal in the Christian culture. These include not planting two crops in the same field or not using two different types of material in the same clothing — both of which are forbidden in Leviticus.
The second strong argument deals with two New Testament passages written by the Apostle Paul that says that people who practice homosexuality would be condemned to hell. The main argument against the traditional understanding is that these passages use Greek words that do not appear elsewhere in the Bible, and even very rarely in Greek literature, and therefore we don’t really know what they mean. A related argument on these words is that perhaps we do know what they mean, but they were referring to a particular kind of gay sex practiced in the Roman world which was not based on a life-long, monogamous relationship where each partner valued the other in an equal, consensual relationship.
The two relevant verses in Leviticus are
- “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.” (Lev. 18:22, NASB)
- “If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltness is upon them.” (Lev. 20:13, NASB)
The argument that these verses refer to issues related to holiness and not morality is somewhat weak in light of the strong language used: “abomination”, “detestable act”, and “bloodguiltness”. It is also weak in light of the fact that violators would be put to death. However, occasionally strong language was used even for things that would clearly be seen as issues not related to morality, so this is not definitive proof.
If you read these two verses in the Greek Septuagint — the Old Testament version of the Bible in Greek in use during Jesus’ lifetime and the version generally quoted by New Testament authors when they quote the Old Testament — the Greek uses two words for “lie(s) with a male”. They are arsen, meaning “male”, and koite, meaning “marriage bed”, and in context referring to sexual relations.
The two relevant verses from the New Testament are
- “Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor. 6:9-10, NASB)
- “Law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching.” (1 Timothy 1:9-11, NASB)
As in the Leviticus verses, the language here is strong, saying that those who practice the things listed “shall not inherit the kingdom of God”. In both of these verses, the Greek word used is arsenokoitēs, which is a compound word, made up of the same Greek words used in the Leviticus verses. So the Apostle Paul, in writing these two passages, seems to be making an intentional connection to the Leviticus passages — that he is simply saying what God forbade in the Old Testament regarding sex between men is also forbidden for those following Jesus.
The meaning of the Old Testament passage as forbidding sex between men has been well known for millennia, because the Jewish culture is very much alive today, and the traditions and understanding have been handed down in both oral and written form. The fact that the Greek is identical in both passages seems, then, to refute the two strongest arguments in favor of a non-traditional understanding of the Bible on homosexual practices.
That is, it is not an issue of the nature of sex between men — that even caring monogamous sex is forbidden (because it was forbidden in Leviticus). Furthermore, the fact that the prohibition is reiterated in the New Testament says that the rules in the Old Testament were not just for the sake of ritual holiness, but rather for the sake of morality — for the sake of pleasing (or disobeying) God.
I hope this simple argument will persuade those who were weighing what to believe about what the Bible teaches about this subject will finally decide that the Bible teaches that homosexual practices are inconsistent behavior for one who is trying to follow God. And I hope that some of my brothers and sisters who had decided to support the non-traditional position because they had believed some of the alternative interpretations of the meanings of the passages would now understand that there is very little reason to believe those alternative interpretations.
This is not a matter of small importance. I dearly love the Church, which is the Bride of Christ, because Jesus dearly loves the Church. Yet this is an issue that is splitting the church — and rightly so — because this is a matter which deeply effects the purity of the Bride and impacts Jesus’ heart. I plead with my brothers and sisters not to abandon solid Biblical teaching on this or any other matter, particularly matters of sexual purity, since these seem to be of high priority to Jesus (see what Jesus says to the churches in Revelations 2 that have abandoned their standards of purity, particularly verses 16 and 22).