What does the Bible teach about homosexuality? Five critical questions

W

In the past couple of months I have found myself involved in many discussions around a biblical approach to same-sex relationships. Not only is our Parliament to debate same-sex marriage, but some prominent Christian leaders, including Steve Chalke, Tony Campolo, and ethicist David Gushee have called for the church to change its mind on homosexuality. At the moment those calling for a change are a small group in the evangelical world, but I suspect it is only a matter of time until we will be debating the issues they raise.

So what are Christians saying? Volumes have been written, but I’ve rushed in where angels fear to tread by attempting to diagram the major perspectives. The diagram should be read from the top down, beginning with a summary statement of what Christians on all sides of the discussion agree upon, then moving into two branches. The branch on the left reflects interpretations that would be held by the large majority of evangelicals and itself breaks down into three quite different approaches to how the biblical teaching should be applied. The branch on the right represents interpretations that are offered by a growing minority. Of course, a diagram can’t catch every nuance, but hopefully is a helpful guide.

Slide1

Five questions are critical:
1. Will we find the humility and grace required for us to genuinely consider this issue?
Many of us will be sorely tempted to declare that the Bible is clear and shut down the debate before it even occurs. But what if the Bible is not so clear? We once thought it was clear that slave owners had a right to hold slaves; clear that women be silent in the church; clear in justifying the oppressive rule of Kings over against democratic movements to unseat them; clear in forbidding even husband-and-wife to have sexual relations that were not procreative; clear that remarriage after divorce was adultery.  In each of these instances a time arrived when we felt we had to take a fresh look and our long held consensus was overturned. The time is upon us when we need to re-examine our stance on homosexuality, bisexuality and transsexuality. Too many questions are being raised by our culture, by biblical scholars and by everyday Christians, and the legacy of centuries of often violent and emotionally abusive bigotry against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual people too evident for us to simply restate our tradition. We may very well examine this issue afresh and conclude that we should continue to affirm the exclusivity of male-female marriage as the appropriate context for sexually intimate relationships. But we must also be open to the genuine possibility that we have got it wrong.

2. Does the Bible see sexual differentiation as normative for sexually intimate relationships?
The Bible provides strong support for and protection of the marriages of men and women. Over against the easy divorce culture of the Pharisees, for example, Jesus endorsed the maintaining of one’s commitment to one’s partner on the grounds that God instituted marriage in Genesis 2. But does this strong endorsement of male-female marriage carry with it a theological disendorsement of other sexually intimate relationships? Genesis 2 describes God placing the first human being in the Garden of Eden to till and keep it. It soon becomes apparent that “it is not good for the man to be alone”. God brings the animals before the man but none is a suitable partner, so God creates a second human, sexually differentiated from the man, to be the partner he needed. Is the point of the story that we need another like us, i.e. human, in order to overcome our aloneness? Or is the point that we need another not only like us but sexually differentiated from us? Those on the left side of the diagram argue that sexual differentiation is critical, while those on the right side of the diagram argue that it is the common humanity that is critical.

3. On what grounds do the biblical texts that speak to same sex intercourse reject it?
The Bible speaks directly about same-sex intercourse on only a few occasions, but always to make clear that it is not acceptable. But why do these texts reject it? Those on the right side of the diagram argue that same-sex intercourse is rejected not because it is same-sex per se, but because its practice in the ancient Mediterranean was tied up with ungodliness. Some suggest that the problem was sex with male prostitutes that occurred during the worship of pagan gods. Others point out that in the ancient Mediterranean it was acceptable for a male to penetrate another male but shameful to be penetrated. As a result, same-sex behaviour typically involved an asymmetric power relationship in which a free adult male satisfied himself sexually by shaming someone over whom he had power, typically his slave, male prostitutes, or young men who had reached puberty but had yet to grow a beard. The bible writers reject this because it is such a gross violation of God’s call for us to engage in love.

Those on the left side of the diagram may well agree that these interpretations are in some instances partially correct, but argue that the primary reason for the rejection of same-sex intercourse is that it violates the creation purpose of God. God created humankind sexually differentiated but complementary to one another and authorized sexual intimacy in no other relationship than that of a marriage between a man and a woman.

4. How is the Bible’s teaching to be applied?
Those on the left side of the diagram agree that God’s creation purpose for humankind is for sexual relationships to be reserved for the relationship of a husband-and-wife. They disagree profoundly on how we apply that today, though it is fair to say that position in box 5 appears to be the one most commonly held by evangelical scholars. Those on the right side of the diagram argue that we should reject abusive, violent, sexual engagements and welcome sexual engagement marked by commitment, faithfulness, and love, whether they be same-sex or opposite sex.

5. How well will we love one another?
Like most debates over ethical issues this one will be contentious and surrounded by strong emotions. Remembering Jesus said the world will know us by our love, we must find a way to love one another even though we disagree strongly. Moreover how do we who are part of the heterosexual majority love those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual? For those on the left side of the diagram, the challenge will be to figure out how to be genuinely welcoming but not affirming of same-sex partnerships, and how to support LGBT believers who take on board the difficult journey of celibacy, while for those on the right the challenge will be how to gracefully disagree with their fellow believers at the same time that they are welcoming and affirming of those in same-sex partnerships.

Leave a Reply

41 Comments on "What does the Bible teach about homosexuality? Five critical questions"

Notify of
avatar
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Andrew Miller
Guest

Andrew Miller liked this on Facebook.

Gershon Nimbalker
Guest

Gershon Nimbalker liked this on Facebook.

Lewis Best
Guest

Lewis Best liked this on Facebook.

Dave Rowe
Guest

Dave Rowe liked this on Facebook.

Cath Taylor
Guest

Great summary Scott, precise and insightful as always! I’ve not seen this broken down visually this way before and it’s very helpful, as are the questions you raise. (Perhaps the right column could have been a colour other than black? Black is so negatively emotive. How about rainbow? Perhaps with a kitten for friendliness like the soothing green? 🙂 Hope you’re doing well!

Tony Dawson
Guest

Tony Dawson liked this on Facebook.

Cath Taylor
Guest

Cath Taylor liked this on Facebook.

Shane Fenwick
Guest

Shane Fenwick liked this on Facebook.

Ruth Hamilton
Guest

Ruth Hamilton liked this on Facebook.

Kim Burwood
Guest

Kim Burwood liked this on Facebook.

Ralph Reilly
Guest

brilliant. Great work! thanks!

Felicity Wever
Guest

Thanks for a clear and simple summary. This is clearly an issue those of us on either side of the debate need to be able to discuss respectfully and thoughtfully. Keep up the great work.

Felicity Wever
Guest

Scott – is there a longer paper on this or just the references at the end of your article?

Ralph Reilly
Guest

Ralph Reilly liked this on Facebook.

Rod Yule
Guest

Rod Yule liked this on Facebook.

Meralyn Zimmer
Guest

Meralyn Zimmer liked this on Facebook.

Dave McNair
Guest

Dave McNair liked this on Facebook.

Ian Packer
Guest

A great summary and stimulus to careful, civil discussion

Ian Packer
Guest

Ian Packer liked this on Facebook.

Natalie Anne
Guest

Natalie Anne liked this on Facebook.

Mike Parsons
Guest

Andrew Marin, Love is an Orientation, is a brilliant book by someone who’s had to think through the issues whilst ministering in a predominantly gay area in the US – recommended reading for anyone interested in reflecting the love of God in this context.

Steve Bradbury
Guest

Thanks Scott -this is an extremely astute and helpful overview.

Neale Valentine
Guest

Neale Valentine liked this on Facebook.

Josiah Mawson
Guest

Josiah Mawson liked this on Facebook.

Robert Cunningham
Guest

Robert Cunningham liked this on Facebook.

Philip Zylstra
Guest

Philip Zylstra liked this on Facebook.

Ian Miller
Guest

Ian Miller liked this on Facebook.

Brad Coath
Guest

Brad Coath liked this on Facebook.

Martin J Cowling
Guest

Martin J Cowling liked this on Facebook.

Sunita Norman
Guest

Sunita Norman liked this on Facebook.

Scott Higgins
Guest

hi felicity, sorry no longer paper, but you may find a paper i wrote in 1996 helpful though now a little dated. http://scottjhiggins.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Sexual-Ethics.pdf

Felicity Wever
Guest

Thanks Scott.

Jason Hoet
Guest
Thanks Scott.I rarely feel when we look at these matters we go deep enough, particularly when it comes to influence of our worldview on the way we read Scripture. For instance consider the way we view sex, intimacy and love. Your point 2 shows the arguments are too binary. It is as if communion can’t be found in both general human relationships as well as in a sexual differention reserved for sexual intimacy/reproduction. Hasn’t there been a general ‘flattening’ of words such as love and intimacy into sexual intimacy? Why? Why is sex the highest expression of intimacy between peoples?… Read more »
Jason Hoet
Guest

Jason Hoet liked this on Facebook.

Rebecca Roberts
Guest

Rebecca Roberts liked this on Facebook.

Sylvia Jones
Guest

Sylvia Jones liked this on Facebook.

Scott Higgins
Guest

hi jason, i agree we need a theology of relationship that is broader than sexually intimate ones. that’s why the top box in the diagram is quite intentionally about relationship in general, with sexually intimate relationships a subset of that.

Phil Ashley-Brown
Guest

Phil Ashley-Brown liked this on Facebook.

Pip Miner
Guest

Pip Miner liked this on Facebook.

Josh Marshall
Guest

Josh Marshall liked this on Facebook.

Jenni Downes
Guest

Jenni Downes liked this on Facebook.

wpDiscuz
By Scott

Subscribe

Recent Posts

Recent Comments

Meta

Never miss a post

Join our mailing list to receive a weekly email with my latest blog posts

You have Successfully Subscribed!