Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Mending the Divide: Homosexuality in the Bible, Two Views

This blog post proposes to solve all the problems of homosexuality in the church.  After this, there will be no questions, no problems, and peace and harmony will rule and Jesus will return.  Well, maybe not.

The first issue is one I have long wanted to resolve: Which acronym should we use?  LBGTQ is usually accepted for those of an alternative sexuality, mostly because there are a variety of terms and issues involved in the community, and it seems best to include everyone, rather than exclude some.  Of course, some are excluded, even in this unwieldy and hard to remember acronym.  An alternative has been raised, which solves all of my problems: QUILTBAG (Queer, Undecided, Intersex, Lesbian, Transexual, Bisexual, Asexual, Gay).  This term not only includes almost everyone, but it is also much easier to remember.  And it has a sense of humor, which is helpful.

Below, I wish to suggest two valid interpretations of the Bible text, and three biblical conclusions we might draw from these interpretations. 

View #1: Traditional view—The act of homosexuality is a sin
We are only speaking about the act of homosexuality here, not any given orientation.  A person might be sexually attracted to puppies, and to act on that attraction would be a sin, but the attraction itself is not a sin, should a person resist that attraction.   (BTW, ew.)

The evidence of this is found in particular passages:

Leviticus 18: This passage gives a number of sexual taboos, including two men having sex, incest, bestiality, and having sex with a woman during her period.   The importance of this passage is not simply that it is a sexual law, but that it is the foundation of the idea of “fornication”. From this point on, especially in the New Testament, the word “fornication” or “sexual immorality” is used to summarize sexual sin.  This chapter summarized what “fornication” is defined as.  Thus, when Jesus condemns “fornication” (in Greek, porneia, for instance in Mark 7:21), he condemns all these sins, including the act of homosexuality.

Romans 2—Homosexuality as a judgment on society, a release of God to allow men give into sinful lusts.  Thus, the homosexual act is not only a judgment, but also a sin.

I Cor 6:9—Homosexuality in a list of sins which prevents one from entering into God’s kingdom.

I Timothy 1:10—Again, the homosexual act is in a list of sins, and is “contrary to sound teaching.”

Jude—Sodomy as a sin due to their fornication (sexual sin) and going after “strange flesh”, meaning not the opposite sex.

View #2—New View: New Testament Morality is Love, not bans against certain kinds of sex

In Bible times, homosexuality is used in the contexts of rape, pedophilia and violence.   Homosexual acts as a part of a loving relationship is new, and so not discussed in the Bible passages at all. 
Sexual immorality isn’t defined clearly and to apply Leviticus 18 to that word isn’t biblically necessary.  We can see that sexual mores have changed, even in Bible times.  From the beginning to the end of the Bible, monogamy, incest, and other sexual mores have changed.  In today’s mores, having sex with a woman on her period is common, and having sex doesn’t make one unclean (at least no more unclean that a quick wash can’t fix).   Thus, the term “fornication” changed from the OT to the NT, and it has changed with the times.  “Fornication” is never applied to a heterosexual couple before marriage, nor specifically applied to sex with children.  How we use fornication is different today than how they did in the Bible.  Clearly adultery is always wrong because it is an act of unfaithfulness.  But if two men or two women are faithful to each other, then they do not commit adultery, and they do not commit fornication, according to the definition we now use.

Paul specifically was speaking to a Roman context in which homosexuality was common between older , men and children whom they were tutoring.  Is it the kind of sex that is offensive, or the abuse and lack of love?  It is just as likely that the lack of love is the worse offense, as the objective act itself. 

The sexual mores of the NT all have to do with love.  The act of sex between two men or two women aren’t a sin in a faithful relationship, even as they are not in a heterosexual faithful relationship.  The importance of the NT moral code is that  of love and faithfulness, which both heterosexual and QUILTBAG relationships can have.

Abbreviated Discussion between the two views:

1. OT Law
New View: Leviticus is the Mosaic Law, which is set aside by Jesus
Traditional View: However, Jesus also rejects fornication (porneia) and this is based on Leviticus 18.
NV: Does Jesus also then reject having sex with one’s wife during menstruation?  Shouldn’t you also be decrying that sin, according to the definition of Leviticus 18?
TV: If we were consistent in our interpretation, I guess we would.

2. Romans 1
NV: Is Paul really making a claim against homosexuality himself, or is he making an argument from a judgmental point of view against Gentiles and then decrying it with his words in Romans 2: “Who are you to judge?”
TV: Even if Paul is quoting someone else (which there is no evidence of), then it doesn’t mean he disagrees with what is sin.  Yes, Paul speaks against judgment, but this means that anyone can be set free by the power of Jesus.  Paul speaks of judging under the law, which condemns one to death.  The lack of judging happens only under Jesus.
NV: But if we are freed of judgment, then how can we judge QUILTBAG Christians?
TV: We are freed of judgment, but, as Paul argues in Romans 6, we are also freed of participating in sin.
NV:Assuming that the homosexual act, in and of itself, is a sin.
TV: Yes, assuming that.

3. Jesus
NV: Jesus says nothing about the homosexual act, of either good nor ill, so it cannot be declared to be a sin.
TV:First, it is enough for us that Paul says it is a sin.  But we do not think that Paul said this of his authority.   Jesus spoke against fornication, which, we have shown, includes the homosexual act.
NV: But Jesus approves of marriage, and so if a sexual act is done in marriage, then it must be approved by him.
TV: But Jesus defined marriage as being between a “man and a woman” in Matthew 19: 4—“For this reason he made them male and female” in reference to marriage.

4. The term arsenokoitai
NV: I Timothy 1 and I Corinthians 5, in their vice lists, use the term “arsenokoitai” which is modernly translated “homosexual”.  However, it is better understood to be homosexual offenders, such as pedophiles and male prostitutes, not homosexuals in general.
TV: There is no evidence that Paul would have used a different term for homosexuals in general.
NV: Since the word and idea of “homosexual” is only used in the last two hundred years, I think we can.
TV: But the term certainly refers to men having sex with each other.
NV: But not two women, and the word “homosexual” implies both men and women.  Paul is clearly talking about a different idea than we have today.  And in his context of an almost universal practice of noble men having sex with their students, it makes sense that this would be what he is speaking of.  Not having a homosexual orientation and being faithfully married within that orientation.  That wasn’t even an idea.
TV: No, just the sexual activity was, no matter what the context.

Three conclusions:

a.       What we cannot agree on:  whether the act of homosexuality is a sin.
Since there are two interpretations, one based on strict textual analysis, and one primarily based on cultural context, both are viable interpretations.  Thus, we need to learn to live together with the two interpretations.  In the past, the church lived with different views of the divinity of Jesus, with different views of pictures of Jesus, different views of worship, different views of the last days.  We can live with two views of whether the act of homosexuality is sin or not.

Paul laid down the basic principles of how we live with different interpretations under Jesus.  First, that we do not judge each other.  We will have disagreements and different actions based on our different ideals, but we still must accept each other as believers.  Just because someone reads the Bible differently than we doesn't mean they are stupid, immoral or not listening to God.  They just disagree.

Second, we must not cause others to stumble.  This means that if we have the freedom to participate in an activity, that doesn’t mean that we should convince someone else to participate in that activity if they think it is a sin.  If a QUILTBAG person believes that participation in homosexual sex is sin, then they must not be convinced otherwise.

b.      What we must agree on:  That we must love QUILTBAGs
We have no right to judge or condemn those who commit the act of homosexuality.  We must love them and encourage them, just like every other person.  We should allow them to have rights and to have decent lives.  We have no right to persecute them or take away their rights, just like any other person.  We must welcome homosexuals into our churches, and treat them like God’s children, as they are.

If a church group or Christian chooses to condemn or judge homosexuals as somehow being apart from God’s love, or the love of God’s people, that is in opposition to the Bible, no matter what our view of homosexuality in the Bible is.

c.       What we need not agree on: How to love QUILTBAGS
If we think getting drunk is a sin, we will encourage an alcoholic to stop drinking.  That is loving and right.  We will not abuse the alcoholic, we will not gossip about them and we will not ask them to leave our church.  Rather, we will encourage them to love and good deeds.

If we think getting drunk isn’t a sin, but that people can sin while drunk like any other activity, we  will encourage moderation, but we won’t necessarily think that denial is the only option. 

If someone takes a different viewpoint on how to love a person based on their definition of whether something is a sin or not, that is to be expected.  The important thing is that both sides love, without abuse, in full gentleness and peace, in the best way they can. 


  1. Very, very, VERY well done, Steve.

  2. y I like the word Quiltbag: every woman in my family had one into which she put all the extras from her work that didn't presently fit, but were valued and that would be used soon to make something and be something beautiful.