Is Homosexuality Compatible with a Biblical World View?
There is no question that homosexuality is a hot topic in today’s culture. Society is increasing its pressure on professing Christians to accept and embrace those who practice homosexual acts. It has become chic for people to “come out of the closet.” The news media and the education system are both becoming progressively more loaded with propaganda on this issue. By way of a pendulum reaction, there are also more extreme (and occasionally violent) stances taken by fundamentalist groups that use homosexuals as a target for their pent-up hatred of the human race. The recent Supreme Court decisions are simply the latest in a series of manifestations of this issue, and will likely not be the last we will hear of it. The issue at hand is not the “sanctity of marriage,” because the sanctity of marriage was abandoned long prior to this. (The fact that a husband and wife are legally permitted to get a divorce for any reason they want shows that the government does not truly respect, nor understand, what marriage constitutes!)
I am personally more troubled by those who profess to be Christians that are actually embracing this world view. If someone chooses to reject the Bible, that rejection will logically permit him or her (in their own view), to commit whatever atrocities they see fit. (I believe a solid case can be made for the authoritative acceptance of the Bible, but that is an issue for another article.) This article is not an attempt to argue against the Supreme Court decision (which will be overturned in the highest of courts on Judgment Day). Rather, this post attempts to examine the question of whether homosexuality (specifically homosexual acts) is compatible with a Christian world view. My thesis is as follows: It is logically impossible to simultaneously believe the Bible is true and believe that homosexual acts are okay. One must choose between these two options.
The relevant passages:
There are seven passages in Scripture that explicitly condemn homosexual acts:
“You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22)
“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 bloodguiltiness is upon them” (Leviticus 20:13)
“You shall not bring the hire of a harlot or the wages of a dog into the house of the LORD your God for any votive offering, for both of these are an abomination to the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 23:18).
[In this instance, the expression "dog," (keleb / ?????) is a euphemism for a homosexual prostitute.]
“For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error” (Romans 1:26-27).
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will 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, will inherit the kingdom of God” (I Corinthians 6:9-10)
[This passages actually uses two different words for the passive and active roles in the homosexual relationship.]
“…realizing the fact that 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 sexually immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching…” (I Timothy 1:9-10).
“…just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 7).
These passages are distributed throughout both the Old and New Testaments. There is no evidence in Scripture anywhere that God’s opinion on this matter was based on cultural issues of the time, or that He might somehow change His mind if enough people in an “enlightened” society suddenly decided it was okay. In order for homosexual acts to be “okay” from a Biblical perspective, all seven of these passages have to be reinterpreted or explained away. The attempts to do this often manage to be inconsistent and selective in their handling of the evidence.
Furthermore, even if someone could somehow explain all of these passages away, they would still have to reckon with the fact that homosexual acts are part of the semantic range of porneia / p???e?a, which is also condemned repeatedly throughout the New Testament (Matthew 15:19; Mark 7:21; Acts 15:20, 29; 21:25; I Corinthians 5:1-13; 6:13, 18; II Corinthians 12:21; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5; I Thessalonians 4:3; Revelation 9:21). Even if all of these passages could be explained away, homosexual practices would still be excluded on the basis that they contradict God’s original pattern for marriage. Since our bodies are not our own (I Corinthians 6:12-20), we cannot simply do whatever we want with our bodies in a sexual sense. In the beginning, God made them “male and female” (Genesis 1:27), and the husband and wife were made to become “one flesh” (Genesis 2:23-24). There is no basis for altering or departing from this pattern.
Objection: What is an “abomination”?
While watching a documentary (I forget which one), someone made the offhand comment that the Old Testament word for “abomination” (to’ebah / ?????????) was only used with reference to cultic practices. A simple word search exposes the problem with making such sweeping generalizations. In order for this idea to be disproved, literally the only thing someone has to do is discover one item called a to’ebah / ????????? that isn’t a cultic practice.
The following items are explicitly referred to as to’ebah / ????????? in the Old Testament:
- Idolatry (Deuteronomy 7:25-26; 13:14; 20:18; 27:15; 32:16; II Kings 21:2, 11; 23:13; II Chronicles 34:33; Ezra 9:1, 11, 14; Isaiah 41:24; 44:19; Jeremiah 16:18; 44:4, 22; Ezekiel 5:9, 11; 6:9; etc. [Ezekiel has a lot of references!]; Malachi 2:11)
- Child sacrifice (Deuteronomy 12:31; 18:9-12; II Kings 16:3; II Chronicles 28:3; Jeremiah 32:35)
- Sacrificing defective animals (Deuteronomy 17:1)
- Witchcraft and divination (Deuteronomy 18:9-12)
- Cross-dressing (Deuteronomy 22:5)
- Cult prostitution (Deuteronomy 23:18; I Kings 14:24)
- Remarrying a divorced woman (Deuteronomy 24:4)
- Cheating your neighbor with unjust weights / balances (Deuteronomy 25:13-16; Proverbs 11:1; 20:10, 23)
- Incense offered in hypocrisy (Isaiah 1:13)
- Stealing, murder, adultery, false swearing, and idolatry (Jeremiah 7:9-10)
- Devious people (Proverbs 3:32)
- Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart devising wicked plans, feet running to evil, false witnesses, and one spreading strife (Proverbs 6:16-19)
- The perverse in heart (Proverbs 11:20)
- Lying lips (Proverbs 12:22)
- The sacrifice and way of the wicked (Proverbs 15:8-9; 21:27)
- Evil plans (Proverbs 15:26)
- Those who are proud of heart (Proverbs 16:5)
- When kings commit wicked acts (Proverbs 16:12)
- An unjust judge (Proverbs 17:15)
- The “scoffer” (Proverbs 24:9)
- The prayer of a person who will not listen to God (Proverbs 28:9)
Two points can be made from this list. First, homosexual acts are not any “worse” than any of the other sins listed here. Christians need to be just as fervent in their fights against hypocrisy, dishonesty, and pride, as they are in their fight against homosexuality. Second, homosexual acts are still not “okay.” The one unifying trait that everything in this list shares is that God does not approve of them in the slightest. It is not a question of conformity to a specific cultic ritual. All of the things called “abominations” in this list are things that have always and will always be inherently wrong in and of themselves, regardless of what surrounding society says.
Objection: What about other Old Testament laws?
Critics of this position will sometimes point to other Old Testament rituals, such as the food laws (Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14), the assembly restrictions (Deuteronomy 23:1-8), or the law about mixing two kinds of fabrics, seeds, and animals (Leviticus 19:19; Deuteronomy 22:9-11). A full exposition on the meaning of these laws is worthy of its own entry. However, it must be first pointed out that this dismissive approach once again betrays a mindset that is not inclined to accept the Bible. Further, this argument betrays a gross ignorance of the whole field of biblical theology and a careful understanding of the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. Here are some principles to keep in mind:
First, a number of Old Testament laws are described by the New Testament writers as having a foreshadowing significance that is ultimately fulfilled in Christ. One simply has to read the book of Hebrews to note how the Hebrew author continually draws a contrast between the continual sacrificial system of the Mosaic age, and the “once-for-all” sacrifice of Jesus. In particular, Hebrews 8:1-10:18 describes a contrast between the tabernacles, the sacrifices, the priesthood, and the covenants, and carefully delineates the points of perfection and imperfection which make one superior to the Old Testament. There is no indication in the Levitical laws on homosexual acts that they inherently possessed “imperfections” or incomplete elements that needed to be culminated in Christ.
Second, a number of other Old Testament laws were designed to act as physical principles teaching a spiritual lesson. For instance, Jesus inverts the food laws on themselves by describing that the real lesson they were intending to teach concerns defilement. Specifically, Jesus said, “There is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of a man are what defile the man” (Mark 7:15). Again, explaining this principle to the disciples, He says, “Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.) And He was saying, “ That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man” (Mark 7:18-23). In making this statement, the text explicitly states that Jesus declared all foods clean, but also went on to say that true defilement comes from within, and lists “fornications” as one of the things that can genuinely defile a man.
Third, even if one wanted to dispose of all of the truths in the Old Law (and this is already a shaky proposition for someone with a biblical worldview), one would still have to reckon with the fact that the New Testament is just as clear in its condemnation of homosexual acts as the Old Testament was. Even if elements of God’s law have changed over time by virtue of the work of Christ, this is one issue that has clearly not changed.
Objection: What about Jesus?
Yet another argument put forth by those who try to justify homosexual behavior is the fact that “Jesus never said anything about it!” However, this argument makes the fatal mistake of assuming that Jesus’ silence on a particular sin automatically make it okay. One could easily point out that Jesus never explicitly condemned idolatry, human sacrifice, bestiality, pederasty, incest, drunkenness, drug abuse, or rape. In spite of this silence, no one argues that those sins are okay in the context of a biblical worldview. Further, there is no indication that Jesus would have approved of any of these things. The only conceivable reason why the interpreter would interpret Jesus’ silence on homosexual acts any differently is if they had decided a priori that homosexual acts were okay.
Additionally, Jesus’ silence on specifically singling out homosexual acts must be weighed against the fact that he sweepingly condemns porneia / p???e?a in all forms (Matthew 15:19; Mark 7:21), clearly defined marriage as one man and one woman (Matthew 19:3-6; Mark 10:2-9), and repeatedly affirms the truth and authority of the Old Testament Scriptures (Matthew 5:17-19; Luke 16:17; John 10:35). Jesus did not need to single out homosexual acts as sinful any more than He needed to single out rape. Both were condemned in the Law, and the Law is assumed to be true throughout Jesus’ teachings.
The argument based on Jesus’ alleged “silence” betrays an attempt to reconcile two contradictory worldviews. On the one hand, people want to believe the Bible is true and that Jesus was a teacher of righteousness. On the other hand, those same people are pressured by society to become accepting of the 21st century mores. Rather than choose one or the other, they resort to faulty reasoning to create a Jesus that would agree with our supposedly “enlightened” culture in the modern age. “If Jesus were here, He would think exactly like me!” The irony is that this image of Jesus requires a discarding of the Scriptures that Jesus affirmed. One cannot accept Jesus and reject the Bible he used.
The message of Jesus has not changed. It is distinctively against the grain of cultural worldly thinking. That message is summed up in denying self, taking up the cross, and following Him (Luke 9:23). That message forces us to make a choice between the world and our soul (Luke 9:25). That message is one that will seem like absolute foolishness to those who reject it (I Corinthians 1:18). When someone tries to force the words of Jesus to conform to the latest societal definition of morality, they are in essence gutting the message of the cross. The result is a Jesus recreated in society’s own image, preaching a gospel of self-serving convenience, instead of sacrificial submission.
The Crucial Distinction Between Desire and Action
This should be self-evident, but on both sides of the debate, I have personally witnessed a failure to distinguish between homosexual desire (i.e. a man who is simply attracted to other men), and homosexual acts (i.e. a man actually having sex with another man). This issue is smoke-screened by the endless debate about whether homosexuality is a “choice.” The Bible makes a clear distinction between the temptation or inclination to commit a sin, versus the actual sin itself:
“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death” (James 1:13-15).
James makes a careful distinction in this passage between having a temptation to do something sinful, and actually acting on that same desire. It is not a sin to have desires, attractions, or inclinations to do things that are evil. Rather, it is a sin to actually act on those desires, failing to exercise self-control and self-discipline. Further, James warns against the mentality of simply blaming temptations on God. James’ point is not to make some theological statement about God’s ability to “tempt” people, but rather to get people to stop blaming their sins on external causes. (The expression, “the devil made me do it,” is just as applicable in this scenario.)
Based on this, when someone asks if homosexuality is a “choice,” they really need to clarify what they are asking. If they are asking about homosexual actions, then the answer is definitely yes. Just as a man makes a choice to have sex with a woman, a man also makes a choice to have sex with a man. (In fact, sexual sins take far more planning than most other sins! No one has ever been sitting in a public church assembly and suddenly started having sex because they “couldn’t help themselves.”)
However, if we are talking about whether homosexual desire is a “choice,” the issue gets somewhat thornier. Experiential knowledge indicates that almost everybody who follows Christ still struggles with some kind of sinful temptation, often for his or her entire life. Those are always difficult burdens to bear, and not everyone is going to struggle with the same sin. It is conceivable that someone could have homosexual inclinations, and that these inclinations could make their Christian life more difficult. However, just as my own personal sinful desires are not an excuse for me to actually go commit said sin, a person with homosexual desires cannot use those as an excuse for sin either. In this respect, we really need to hold everyone to the same standard: being accountable for any sins we commit and any surrender of self-control.
From a biblical perspective then, the best thing for a person experiencing homosexual desires to do is the same thing that a person with any other sinful desire should do — talk to someone about it! If a man is lusting after a woman that is not his wife, he needs to seek out fellow Christians to strengthen him and encourage him so that he does not fall into temptation. He needs to exercise self-control so that he does not act on his selfish impulses. He needs to take precautions so that sin will not present an opportunity for itself. The same is true if a man is lusting after another man as well. He ought to admit his struggles, and his brethren ought to help him in his struggles, and equip him to fight the battle with Satan.
It is abundantly clear from the data of Scripture that an acceptance of homosexual acts demands a wholesale rejection of not only the Bible, but also the words of Jesus Himself who taught from the Bible. In short, the acceptance of homosexual acts as permissible is incompatible with a Christian worldview. Those who are on the fence must choose whether they love Christ more, or whether they wish to embrace the rapidly evolving societal definition of morality.
For Christians, homosexual actions ought to be treated the same as any other sin condemned in Scripture. It is neither inherently worse than all other sins, nor is it something we ought to embrace apart from other sins. Rather, it is a behavior to be rejected as impermissible and impure. Just as it would not be appropriate for me to insist that people accept gossiping behavior or a bad temper as part of my identity, it would not be appropriate for a homosexual to insist that people accept his behavior as part of his identity. In the same way, just as my struggles with sin demand mercy, compassion, and forgiveness, so also the sins of the homosexual deserve mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. Rather than ignorantly embracing bad behavior as acceptable behavior, we ought to all join hands in the struggle against sin, so that we might stand strong in the Lord. There is not a single sin that the blood of Jesus is not capable of cleansing, if we would simply repent and turn to Him in trust. In fact, after listing homosexuals among a number of other sinful groups that Christians must surely all find themselves in at some point, Paul also writes, “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:11).
May the Lord help us all in our struggle against sin!