by Terry L. Wilder
The subject of whether or not the Bible supports same-sex relationships is hotly disputed by many today. Since we are discussing in this Baptist context what the New Testament says about homosexuality, please allow me to make a few remarks before proceeding with this presentation. First, I assume that I am primarily addressing believers in Christ. I do not expect that unregenerate reasoning will necessarily accept argumentation from scripture.
Second, when discussing whether or not the Bible teaches the legitimacy of homosexual partnerships, we should note that the issue is not one concerning the priesthood of the believer. The correct doctrine is the priesthood of all believers and does not mean that people have the right to interpret scripture in any way they see fit according to their own consciences. George W. Truett, one of our Baptist heroes, had the following to say about the priesthood of believers:
What is at stake is the right of a community of believer-priests, whether local congregation, association, state or national convention, to define for itself, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, the acceptable doctrinal parameters of its own fellowship.
If anything, this Baptist distinctive emphasizes the responsibility of all believers. Properly understood, the doctrine of the priesthood of believers should not be trivialized “by equating it with modern individualism…theological minimalism,” or relativism. The question that a community of believers needs to ask concerning homosexual partnerships is, “What does God’s authoritative, inspired word have to say about this issue?” The final authority of scripture is at the very heart of Baptist heritage.
Third, if science was to discover (and this conclusion is still highly disputed and not secure by any means) that the gay and lesbian lifestyle had a genetic predisposition, and yet scripture said that homosexual partnerships are wrong, such behavior must still be considered un-Christian. We could easily imagine that any number of universally-acknowledged, sociopathic behaviors might have a genetic predisposition, and yet if scripture says they are wrong, then they must be considered immoral by believers.
Fourth, homosexuality should not be categorized with things like, say, one’s skin color. Skin color is a benign, non-behavioral characteristic. Sexual orientation, on the other hand, is perhaps the most profound of human behavioral characteristics. [Therefore], comparison of the two is a convenient but invalid argument.
That is to say, it is to compare apples with oranges. It is one thing to be racist towards someone with a trait that is neither changeable, behavioral nor immoral, while it is an entirely different thing to say that the Bible does not condone certain changeable behavior, and therefore, it is wrong. Accordingly, persons are not necessarily being prejudiced when they say that scripture does not condone the homosexual lifestyle.
Fifth, we should note that any sexual sin outside of a heterosexual, monogamous, marriage relationship is just that: sin. Believers in Christ should have just as much a problem with, say, heterosexual fornication outside of marriage as they do with homosexuality.
Sixth, discussion of this subject should not be conducted in an unloving manner. Compassion should be exercised towards all people, the homosexual community included.
I have already tipped my hand as to what I think is the scriptural teaching concerning this issue—namely, monogamous, permanent, heterosexual marriage is the norm both established by creation and taught by Jesus. This principle should be introduced before looking at any New Testament passages that may prohibit homosexuality. Stott has correctly remarked, “Without the wholesome positive teaching of the Bible on sex and marriage, our perspective on the homosexual question is bound to be skewed.” Thus, after taking a closer look at what Jesus thought about marriage, we will look at some New Testament passages concerning the subject of homosexuality.
This teaching of Jesus occurs within a context in which some Pharisees have come to test him about his beliefs on divorce (v. 3). In response, Christ clearly advocates heterosexual, monogamous, permanent marriage as the standard for those who will marry. The relationship described and endorsed by Jesus was established at the creation (v. 4; cf. Gen. 1:27; 2:24). He taught that marriage was a loving, cleaving commitment/covenant between male and female that is consummated in the “one flesh” union (v. 5, 6). Allowing for one exception, i.e. sexual immorality, the relationship was to be a permanent one (vv. 6b-9). In the light of Jesus’ teaching, the disciples concluded that it was better to abstain from marriage (v. 10).
Some try to justify the homosexual lifestyle with Christ’s statement on “eunuchs” in verses 11-12. They take Jesus’ use of the term to refer to homosexuals. This interpretation, however, is incorrect. First, none of the major Greek lexicons, to my knowledge, ever define the word “eunuch” (eunouchos) as “homosexual.” Second, Jesus’ remarks in verse 12 about “eunuchs” clearly refer to (i) impotent males, i.e. men who are naturally incapable of fathering children (19:12a); (ii) castrated males (19:12b); and (iii) celibate males, i.e. men who abstain from marriage, here on account of the kingdom of heaven (19:12c). Though some eunuchs possibly were homosexuals, nothing within this passage indicates that Jesus used this term to refer to them or to place a stamp of approval on the homosexual lifestyle. Rather, Christ was responding to the disciples’ conclusion concerning his teaching on marriage and divorce (v. 10). Jesus said that not all can abstain from marriage, but some can—namely, eunuchs.
While emphasizing justification by faith, Paul teaches in Romans that God is impartial in his judicial administration concerning his covenant promises. In 1:18-3:20 the apostle establishes the universal need of all people for righteousness, i.e. for the gospel. In 1:18-32 he says that the nations lack righteousness, whereas in 2:17-3:8 he points out that even the Jews lack the same. In 2:1-16 Paul emphasizes that a future judgment is coming for all sinners, Jew and Gentile—no one is exempt. When discussing the people’s need for righteousness, Paul says in 1:18-20 that natural revelation is available to them. However, in 1:21-23 he mentions that it has been rejected, which leads to the abandonment in 1:24-32 to terrible sins: impurity (1:24-25), dishonorable passions (1:26-27), and a reprobate mind (1:28-32). Why does God give them over to impurity and vile passions, and to a mindset with which they cannot make the proper moral decisions? Paul explains that this judicial rejection occurs because of idolatry, i.e. they reject God’s truth and deny him their worship (1:25). Further, they do not wish to acknowledge him (1:28).
In this paper we are particularly concerned with the sins described in 1:26-27. There, Paul describes sexual perversion, i.e. same-sex physical relations amongst females and males that are “contrary to the natural order of things” (para physin). Whereas the sins of impurity described in 1:24-25 arose from natural passions, those committed in 1:26-27 did not—they are unnatural.
Defenders of the gay and lesbian lifestyle most often attack this interpretation by questioning the meaning of the phrase “unnatural” (para physin). For example, some argue that what Paul is instead describing in this text is the perverted behavior of heterosexuals born as such who commit homosexual acts contrary to their created nature. In other words, they do not see Paul condemning the sexual conduct of homosexual persons whom, they argue, were born that way and acting in accordance with their nature. However, interpretations like the latter one are incorrect. A study of Paul’s use of the phrase “contrary to nature” (para physin) reveals that it is consistent with Greek and Jewish usage found elsewhere (cf. Plato, Laws 636c; Diodorus Siculus, History 32.10.8-11; Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities 16.4.2-3; Plutarch, Erotikos 751 c, e; Philo, De Abrahamo 135; De Specialibus Legibus 3.37-42; Josephus, Against Apion 2.273-75). Apparently, many Jews in Paul’s day connected this phrase to their understanding of creation and the Fall (cf. Wisdom of Solomon 13-14). Further, though the apostle does not specifically quote from Genesis, he alludes several times in the context of Romans 1 to the creation and fall of humanity (cf. 1:20, 22, 25). Clearly, in Romans 1:26-27 Paul rejects grievous sins of homosexuality which he describes as against “the natural order of things that God had established (cf. Romans 2:14, 27 and 11:24),” i.e. at creation.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 1 Timothy 1:10
1 Corinthians 6:9-11 occurs in a context in which Paul discourages lawsuits, whereas 1 Timothy 1:10 is in a passage in which the apostle instructed Timothy to stop the spread of false teaching by heretics in Ephesus.
In 1 Corinthians Paul states that the church should judge and discipline its immoral members, but that only God may judge those outside the church (5:12-13). He next discourages Christians from going to court against each other before unbelievers (6:1-6). Since believers are not to judge the unsaved, Paul reasons, they should not let unbelievers judge them. Christians should forgive one another rather than submit themselves to those whose sinful lifestyle will keep them from entering the kingdom of God (6:7-10).
In 1 Timothy Paul charged his young associate to stop the spread of false teaching by heretics in Ephesus (1:3). Their speculative ideas promoted controversy rather than the administration of God (1:4). These heretics, who desired to be teachers of the law, did not understand its purpose (1:5-7). The law is not for the righteous, but controls lawlessness and condemns those who violate it (1:8-10).
Both 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy contain vice lists that include the plural form of a Greek word meaning “homosexual” (arsenokoitēs). Apparently, this term does not appear “in any literature prior to the NT, and then it does not occur again for two hundred years.” Because the evidence surrounding this compound word appears relatively scarce, its translation as “homosexuals” is hotly disputed. Many argue that the term refers to acts like homosexual rape, pederasty, or male prostitution. Consequently, defenders of the gay and lesbian lifestyle are able to reject these specific practices while maintaining that Paul did not condemn loving, committed, homosexual relationships.
However, Paul took the compound term arsenokoitēs directly from Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 (LXX), both of which condemn one who “lies with a man as with a woman.” The passages in Leviticus make no distinction regarding same-sex behavior, thus it is unlikely that Paul did. Moreover, the apostle carries over these prohibitions of same-sex behavior from the Old Testament, not on the basis of ritual impurity, but on that of immorality.
2 Peter 2:6; Jude 7
When 2 Peter and Jude warn against apostasy and false teachers, they mention the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah as paradigms of divine judgment. 2 Peter 2:6 states that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, from that day forward making them an example for those who lived in an unrighteous fashion. Green makes the point, “This total destruction was allowed by God in order to bring home to succeeding generations that unrighteousness would end in ruin.” Jude 7 also mentions that Sodom and Gomorrah suffered judgment, specifically adding that they “indulged in gross immorality” and went after “strange flesh.”
Advocates of the gay and lesbian lifestyle are quick to say that these cities were not obliterated because of homosexual sex. Rather, they revise the story of Sodom (Gen. 19:4-8) to say that the men in that city suffered judgment for their inhospitality because they insisted on “knowing” whether Lot’s visitors were spies. Moreover, they contend that if the account does speak of sexual sin, then it denounces rape and not mutually consenting, same-sex relationships. Further, defenders of the homosexual lifestyle say that the traditional understanding of the texts in 2 Peter and Jude are “homophobic misinterpretations of Genesis,” or they deny that 2 Peter refers to sex and that Jude is speaking of sex with men.
Some scholars do interpret the reference to “strange flesh” in Jude 7 as the men of Sodom’s desire for the angels. Defenders of the gay lifestyle are quick to capitalize on this interpretation and thus “limit the sin to desire for a nonhuman being.” But the latter seems like special pleading on their part because “such a distinction between the act and the intended victim is too fine-tuned.” Jude likely did not charge his contemporaries with consorting with angels. He specifically connects “indulging in sexual immorality” with going after “strange flesh.”
Similarly, defenders of the homosexual lifestyle reject the idea that 2 Peter 2:6 refers to sex. A look at the story of Sodom in the Old Testament record (Genesis 19:4-11) should put the latter theory to rest. In the latter account, sufficient evidence exists to show that Sodom was guilty of heinous sexual sin. For example, the Hebrew word “know” (yāda’), though often not carrying a sexual connotation, clearly has a sexual meaning in Genesis 19:8 (cf. Judges 19:22, 25). Moreover, the word “know” in Genesis 19 likely does not shift in meaning from verse 5 to 8. Further, one makes a false distinction when he separates inhospitality from sexual sin because the latter act may be aggressive manifestation of the former. When 2 Peter refers to Sodom’s sin, it is not inhospitality per se that the letter condemns, but rather “a generalization of Sodom’s wickedness, including but not limited to same-sex relations.”[33
The Bible clearly does not condone same-sex relationships. The homosexual lifestyle stems from unbelief and is a grave sin against God. Jesus himself taught that permanent, monogamous, heterosexual marriage is the norm for those who marry. God himself established the male-female relationship at creation. Alternate explanations of the texts highlighted above are clever. However, they deny the truth of scripture and what Baptists and the church at large have long believed is wrong. Those who say that the Bible teaches the legitimacy of homosexual partnerships really need to take another look at its teachings. Above all, what the world needs to hear and obey is the gospel of Jesus Christ. He died to save sinners. Jesus Christ changes lives. And only when the lives of individuals are transformed by the power of the gospel will society be transformed as well.
Some Post-Presentation Remarks and Discussion
In the section that follows we will highlight some questions asked and comments made by the audience immediately after this paper’s initial presentation.
Question 1 from Lady : Who are you to tell me whom I can love and cannot love?
My Answer: I am not telling you whom you can love or cannot love. This issue boils down to the authority of Scripture over our lives. God’s word teaches that homosexual relationships are wrong. And, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, then you must submit your life to his word and practice what it says; an unbeliever will not do so.
Comment 1 from Lady: I sense much more of the Spirit of God present with those who accept the gay and lesbian lifestyle. The Spirit promotes tolerance and acceptance of all people. You are not accepting.
My Response: One should equate the Spirit’s presence neither with emotional stories that pull on the heartstrings, as we have heard tonight, nor with how tolerant and accepting someone is of a lifestyle that is contrary to Scripture. God accepts those who repent and believe in Jesus. Believers in Jesus Christ are fellow penitents who forsake practicing sin—i.e., they do not keep on habitually sinning.
Comment 2 from Man: I used to be like you, but then I repented. You really have nothing on which to base your arguments against the gay lifestyle because Jesus never had anything to say about homosexuality. You are arguing from silence.
My Response: You are correct when you point out that Jesus never specifically addressed homosexuality. However, as we have seen, he did have much to say about marriage. And, his view of marriage is clearly one between male and female. Now, Jesus’ teaching on marriage does directly relate to the issue of homosexuality. Thus, I think that you are the one arguing from silence, not me. I have a text on this issue from which to work, and you do not.
His Rejoinder: Well, if you look at it that way, then you are correct.
Comment 3 from Man: You have often cited texts and referred to history in your presentation tonight. We do not need history; we do not need texts. God just simply “is” and that is all that matters. Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
My Response: And you have just cited a text which you said earlier we do not need. (Audience boos and hisses me). Are you saying that we do not need the Bible?
His Rejoinder: Uh, no.
Outburst from Man in Audience Directed Towards Me: That’s what you heard!
My Response to the Outburst: Sir, that is why I am asking. I genuinely want to know what this man thinks and I am asking him to clarify himself further. If he is saying that we do not need the Bible, then that is fine. His acknowledgement to that effect will show everyone where he is coming from, i.e. the starting point for his argument. He may be willing to say that we do not need the Bible, but I am not. Holy Scripture has authority over my life and as a believer I must submit to it.
No further remarks from either of the two gentlemen.
Terry L. Wilder is Assistant Professor of New Testament at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, Missouri.
i This article is a revised paper first presented by the author in a forum on homosexuality that took place at William Jewell College, a Baptist liberal arts college, on March 25, 1998.
ii I taught once in a friend’s absence for a Sunday School class in a Southern Baptist church. During the lesson one of the class members tried to defend from scripture homosexuality as a morally-acceptable lifestyle. When I disagreed and sought to correct him he replied, “Priesthood of the believer, priesthood of the believer.” Apparently he thought that principle meant he had the right to interpret scripture in any way he believed, whether orthodox or not. I responded that he had misunderstood that doctrine also. I found the incident quite disappointing. What was most discouraging, however, was that half the class sided with that particular member’s viewpoints on the homosexual lifestyle.
iii George W. Truett in a 1939 address to the Baptist World Alliance, striking quotation from article by Timothy George, “The Priesthood of All Believers,” The People of God (Broadman, 1991), 88.
iv George, “The Priesthood of All Believers,” 93.
v Every African-American I have consulted agrees that such a comparison should not be made. Of course, an advocate for the homosexual lifestyle would say that I spoke only to heterosexual African Americans.
vi Quote from Secretary of State (then General) Colin Powell cited from “Harvard professor gives his views on what Scripture really says about homosexuality,” Current Thoughts and Trends (Nov. 1992): 2-3; 3.
vii The author realizes that many Southern Baptists have in the past used the Bible to support their views of slavery and the inferiority of African-Americans, but, quite frankly, they were wrong to do so.
viii That is, the “norm” for marriage because God also calls some
people to a single lifestyle.
ix As John Stott (“John Stott Speaks Out,” in Christianity Today [Feb. 8, 1993]: 38) has appropriately stated.
x John Stott, “Homosexual Marriage,” Christianity Today (November 22, 1985): 21-28; 24.
xi For example, the Metropolitan Community Church advocates this viewpoint in its pamphlet: “Homosexuality: Lesbians and Gay Men in the Bible.”
xii F. W. Danker, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Hereafter BDAG), 409.
xiii See the discussion in Thomas E. Schmidt, Straight and Narrow? Compassion and Clarity in the Homosexuality Debate (IVP, 1995), 77-83.
xiv Ibid., 79-80.
xv Ibid., 80.
xvi Ibid., 81.
xvii Stott, “Homosexual Marriage,” 26.
xviii Schmidt, Straight and Narrow? 95.
xx See David F. Wright, “Homosexuals or Prostitutes?” VC (1984), 125-153. If one views separately the individual terms comprising the
compound word, he will find that arsenos means “man,” while koites means “bed” or “sexual intercourse.” Scholars should also be looking at a related Greek word, i.e. arrenokoites and its cognates, often translated as “sodomites” by lexicographers (see LSJ, 246-47).
xxi Schmidt, Straight and Narrow? 95-96.
xxii Michael Green, 2 Peter and Jude. TNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 112.
xxiii Schmidt, Straight and Narrow? 87.
xxv Ibid., 96.
xxvi As Schmidt (Straight and Narrow? 96f.) points out. Richard J. Bauckham (Jude, 2 Peter. WBC50 [Waco: Word, 1986], 54) holds to this viewpoint. He argues that “different” flesh cannot refer to homosexual practice because the flesh is not different; thus it has to refer to the desire for sex with angels. But the word “different” (heteros) does not have to be used in the fashion he advocates (see BDAG, 399).
xxvii Schmidt, 97.
xxx From ekporneuo, “indulge in illicit sexual relations/debauchery” (BDAG, 309). In the NT the latter word occurs only in Jude 7. With the ek preposition this compound verb may be suggesting fornication outside of or “against the course of nature,” as Michael Green (2 Peter and Jude, 180, ftn. 3) suggests.
xxxi Scmidt, 87.