Homosexuality and The Bible: Exploring Important and Controversial Passages

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Homosexuality and The Bible

Anyone else surprised by all the rainbows on their Facebook feed? Anyone surprised where they came from? It’s no surprise when Hollywood actors, companies, and Silicon Valley icons jump on the rainbow train, but I’m guessing that it was a bit surprising to see your friends and family members covered in a rainbow hue. Perhaps that led to some conversations about your beliefs. Despite all the other things happening in the world, because of the American Supreme Court’s decision to allow Same-Sex Marriage, homosexuality is almost all anyone is talking about these days.

Homosexuality was once a taboo subject, but it is now everywhere in our culture. 10-15 years ago we started seeing the first gay characters on TV, but now we have shows that have homosexual families as the main characters. Television, YouTube and Netflix have show after show dedicated to the homosexual movie watcher. Many celebrities are “coming out of the closet” and proudly call themselves homosexuals. Schools have signs that say “homophobia free zone” and many businesses in Carleton Place and Ottawa have a rainbow sticker on the front door. On July 20, 2005, Canada became the fourth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide with the approval of the Civil Marriage Act. This is a current, cultural issue.

Not too surprisingly, more and more people who claim to be Christians are coming out as pro-homosexual too. Some because they feel pressure to, others because they know some nice LGBT people and feel they can’t condemn them, some because they have no idea what the Bible says about the subject – and have heard someone saying that the Bible is ok with it, they assume it’s ok with God. Between political pressure, cultural pressure, and biblical ignorance, there are a lot of people who claim to be followers of Jesus who believe the Bible, and are more than willing to support same-sex marriage.

The fact that our surrounding culture has decided that there are only two positions: pro-gay or homophobic, doesn’t help. They’ve decided that to disagree with someone means to hate them – and therefore words like extremist and bigot get thrown at anyone who disagrees with popular opinion. So the pressure to conform is HUGE – and more and more Christians, pastors, churches, and even formerly conservative denominations are changing their historic stance on marriage to conform. Anglicans, Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians… they all have churches and sects that have decided to conform to the new ethic.

I still remember in 2008, reading about when Anglican Bishop Gene Robinson married his partner, telling his churches that he is “doing what God is telling him to do,” even saying at the announcement that he has “always wanted to be a June bride.” He divorced in 2014.

People of the Word

But Christians are people of The Word. We believe that God has revealed Himself, His Law, and His Will, in His Word, the Bible. We are people who believe that God gets to tell us what to do and how to do it, regardless of how we feel or what culture and politics say. We don’t believe we have the right to reinterpret the God’s Word to fit the cultural shifts happening around us. God’s word is declarative, not suggestive. Something to be followed, not something that changes according to the opinion of the day. Christians believe God has given us an immutable, unchangeable, moral law. And so we work hard to read His Word to understand it well, so we can follow it wholeheartedly.

Why? Because we love God and want to obey Him. Because we fear God and don’t want to face His wrath. Because we believe God knows better than we do about how the world works. Because we know that God’s ways are higher than ours and His thoughts are higher than ours. Because we trust God and know He wants the best for us.

Responding to Homosexuality

But following Jesus and God’s Word will, as Christ said it would, rile up our spiritual and worldly enemies, bring us into conflict with others, and lead to attacks and misrepresentation (John 15:18; Matthew 5:11). Which is part of the reason that there is a perception by many people outside the church that we are homophobic, afraid of homosexuals, that we hate them, or believe ourselves to be better than them; that we do not demonstrate the love of Jesus toward the homosexual community. And part of that is, sadly, true. Many believers, talk a lot about love, but have not done well at loving our gay neighbour as ourselves (Mark 12:29-31).

So today I want to talk about two things: First, if we are going to be a people that holds the position that the practice of homosexuality is a sin, then we must be people who know from the scriptures what we believe, and why we believe it. Second we need to determine in our own hearts and minds whether we are perpetuating the problem of hating homosexual people.

My Bias & Agenda

I’ll be perfectly honest, I don’t have a lot of experience with LGBT people. I don’t think I know any. I want you to know that when I speak of homosexuality, I’m not speaking as someone who is in relationship with anyone who is gay… that I know of. Not on purpose, but simply because it hasn’t happened. Everything that I know about the homosexual culture is based on second hand information from newspapers, articles, books and stories from friends of friends. That’s why I’m going to stick to what the Bible says. I’m not going to give personal commentary, because I don’t have any.

I certainly can’t address everything there is to say about homosexuality in culture, the church, and the scriptures in one sermon, but there are some things that I think we need to know about this topic today.  Christians can’t be people who say “God says that homosexuality is wrong” and not be able to turn to the chapter or verse that says so – and then be able to make a coherent argument that intelligently and lovingly explain why it says that.

So what I want to do is take a tour through the bible and look at some of the key scriptures that are in debate among the various groups regarding Homosexuality in the Bible. I hope this will help you understand part of the confusion in the minds of many, and also give you the strength to defend what you believe.

Marriage in Genesis

First Genesis 2:18-25:

“Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’ Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,   ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’ Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”

We need to start here by talking about the original, normative order of creation. This is the beginning of humankind, the prototype and model for how it is supposed to be. The first couple was created by God, and the first marriage was presided over by God. He made them male and female, and only together could they represent His image the best. Adam searched all over creation for another mate, and none was found, and turned to God for a proper, equally glorious, yet complimentary being.

This is the normative model, and is the one that is intended by God. This is the most specific reference we have in the Bible for God’s perfect intent for human relationships and sexuality: a husband and wife that go forth, enjoy life together and have children. It is quoted at the beginning of the story of the world, and then again by Jesus in Matthew 19 when He talks about marriage. He adds: “Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

When Jesus is asked about divorce, instead of giving a simple yes or no answer, He goes back to the book of Genesis, the original created order, and sets out the standard by which God will judge all sexual matters, and then tells us not to mess with it. This is how the Chrisitian Church should speak about marriage too: One man and one woman becoming one flesh in a loving, committed relationship that produces a loving, committed family that grows in love and obedience to God. God didn’t call it “good” until that was done.

The church has done a very poor job of communicating this over the past century as we have changed marriage to simply being about “two people that love each other”, even giving advice such as: “Find your soul-mate before you get married.” and “Don’t have kids for the first few years so you can enjoy one another.” – assuming that the true joy of marriage only happens with the man and woman. In truth, that’s only part of the package.

Homosexuality breaks this normative model in multiple ways.

  • Two people of the same gender cannot fully represent the image of God.
  • Two people of the same gender cannot “go forth and multiply”, filling the earth, and making new believers and servants of God.
  • Two people of the same gender do not “compliment” one another, being equal but necessarily different in order to create something greater.

The Destruction of Sodom

Next we turn to Genesis 19, the story of the destruction of Sodom. If you don’t know the story, please take a minute to read it. For a long time heinous sexual sins (including homosexuality) were simply called “sodomy”. Because of that some Christians will use this story as God’s number one place of condemnation of homosexuals. “See how much God hates them? He destroyed the whole city because they were practicing homosexuality!”

That’s actually an incorrect interpretation of what happened. In fact Ezekiel 16:49 tells us that there was a list of offences against the city, “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” and Jude 7 says nothing of homosexuality in particular, but as only one of the many sexually immoral things they were doing to offend God.

The story of Sodom is similar to that of the world before the Flood. The depravity of the city was so deep that they it was actually normal and acceptable to homosexually gang-rape some new people that came into town. In verse 9 they say, “How dare you judge us! You’re a foreigner who doesn’t know how it goes around here.” Basically saying that they couldn’t care less what God’s people thought or how anyone else would feel, because the city had all decided to accept that behavior as ok. It wasn’t just the one group that was judged, but the whole city. It was only by supernatural intervention that Lot and his family were able to get away. And even after God struck the mob blind, they kept coming at the door trying to please their own selfish desires. They were like animals. This was a spiritually blind city full of deplorable sins of multiple kinds. God did not destroy it only because they practiced homosexuality, but that was certainly one of their sins.

God’s Law for Israel

Next we turn to Leviticus 18:22 (and 20:13). These chapters contain a large portion of the Law of God regarding how His people were supposed to have sex – and it’s very specific. One of the many laws was “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.” but if you look up and down either chapter there are a number of unlawful sexual practices, and many of them hold the punishment of death, and are also described as “detestable, perverse, profane, unclean and abominations” to God.

Verses 1-5 are a reminder to Israel that it doesn’t matter what’s going on around them, but that they need follow God’s standard. This was as important then as it is now. I’m not going to read the whole chapter, but let me read this first part:

“And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the LORD your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 18:1-5)

This is just as true today. God reminds his people that He sets the standard and no matter where you live, what culture you are surrounded by, or what popular opinion says… His people need to hold to His standard. Then He makes it clear what His standards for sexuality are.

  • Verses 6-18 deal with all kinds of incest and unlawful inter-family sexual relationships which are called “depraved”.
  • Verse 19 deals with sex during the menstrual cycle… though there is no descriptor here of God’s feelings about it, and we know from Leviticus 15:24 that it was not “punishable”, but caused a person to be ceremonially unclean for 7 days.
  • Verse 20 God commands that there be no adultery and calls it “unclean” – and later tells them that adultery would be punished by death.
  • Verse 21 deals with killing babies and giving children away to be temple prostitutes, which is called “profane”.
  • And verse 23 says that there should be no sex with animals because it is a “perversion”.

One argument that pro-gay people will give is that verse 22 is not about all homosexual sex, and therefore a committed, same-sex relationship is absolutely fine with God. They argue that this passage is talking about having homosexual sex as worship to other gods. But the plain interpretation, and the rest of the context make it clear that it isn’t about religious worship, but within a list of all sorts of sexual sins. “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman.” Simply means that men cannot have sex with men.

It’s not talking about temple prostitutes or idol worship for most of the passage. The whole context is about right sexuality among the Israelite community and the law applies to multiple kinds of sexual sins, not just homosexuality. Interpreting this passage in that way, and accepting “committed homosexual relationships”, forces the interpreter to do the same for the rest of the passage and accept adultery, incest and bestiality under certain circumstances as ok with God too.

Ruth & Naomi, David & Jonathan

Another thing that pro-homosexual interpreters like to do is try to find LGBT precident in scripture. They figure that if they can find homosexual relationships in scripture, then that means that it must be ok with God. Of course that means they have to forget everything we’ve already covered, but it doesn’t stop them from trying.

One famous passage is the story in Ruth where Naomi leaves Moab after her husband and sons die and tells her daughters-in-law to go home because there is no life for them if they follower her. Ruth, out of love for her mother-in-law “clings” to Naomi, while her other daughter-in-law, Orpah leaves.

Pro-Homosexual interpreters will use the word “cling” as an argument to say that Naomi and Ruth were in a lesbian relationship because it is the same word that is used in Genesis 2 when God says that a man will “leave his father and mother and cling / cleave to his wife.” That is quite a stretch linguistically, and very incompatible with the story line. The whole story revolves around Naomi helping Ruth woo a husband named Boaz.

The word there is the Hebrew word DABAQ meaning “stick to, cling to, or keep close.” It’s the word for what glue does. God uses it to show how the relationship between man and wife should be, but it’s also used for being so thirsty a persons tongue “sticks” to the roof of their mouth (Ps 22:15), and as a condemnation of people that have “sticky fingers” and steal things (Deut 13:17). It’s also used all over scripture to describe someone who is “lovingly devoted to their king or God. (Deut 10:20, 11:22, 2 Sam 20:2, 1 Kings 11:2, Joshua 23:12)

They do the same for the relationship between David and Jonathan. In 1 Samuel 18:3-4 it says

“Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt.”

And in David’s song in 2 Samuel 1:26 he says

“I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.”

Pro-gay interpreters point to this passage and say that David and Jonathan were clearly in a homosexual relationship. Why? Because apparently two men can’t possibly be this close of friends and love one another that deeply without having sex? That kind of thinking only comes from our pornified culture.

This has always, historically, been interpreted as a non-sexual, close friendship. There is no sexuality mentioned in the passage, or the context, at all. Here we see Jonathan, the blood successor to the throne, the son of King Saul, pledging his loyalty, not only as a friend, but as a servant. He was taking off his royal clothes, and even his weapons, and handing them over to the new king of Israel. This man was not a sexual partner, but an amazingly loyal friend who not only disobeyed his father the king, but even gave up his birthright to David because he believed God had chosen David instead.

As I said, our hyper-sexualized, macho, pornified culture has no way to process a very close friendship between two men – they simply can’t – and I think that means we’ve lost something as a culture.

Homosexuality Condemned in the New Testament

Ok, so let’s move on to the New Testament. Romans 1:26-27 is very clear… and again, we need the context so we’ll read from verse 21:

“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”

I could preach on this one all day, but I don’t have the time… this is the Bible’s clearest teaching about God’s denunciation of homosexuality between men or women. Homosexuality was just as practiced in Paul’s day as it is in ours. In fact, it was encouraged by many of the pagan religions.

It seems pretty clear from the translation that the interpretation of verses 26-27 should be obvious, but pro-homosexual interpreters say that it’s only a sin when heterosexual people perform homosexual acts… hence… that would be unnatural” (PARA PHYSIS) for them. The whole point hinging on the fact that God would never condemn anyone for something that comes naturally to them. Which is absurd, considering how naturally so many other sins come to us.

The vast majority of scholars agree that it’s a very weak argument. This is not referring to “unnatural” feelings, but “unnatural” actions… physiological / biological “unnaturalness”. The passage here is saying that sin is anything that is counter to the natural pattern set out by God in nature – including male-male and female-female sexual relationships. Right back to Genesis 2 again.

Sex, Sin, Idolatry and Amazing Grace

But there’s something more to look at here. This is a passage about idolatry. We create idols of self, popularity, success, anger, or even of sex. Sex can be our idol too… and Paul seems to be using homosexual relationships as a point of reference for how rampant the worship of sex had gotten in that culture. It was an extreme example of a pervasive problem – even in the church.

In Corinth, and in Rome, the church was having lots of sin problems, including sexual sin, and Paul was showing them how far mankind had gotten away from God’s original plan.

He’s setting up the argument so that we all know how terribly sinful we are – so that in a couple chapters He can teach us about how amazing God’s gracious loving salvation. It’s a contrast! Look how gross we are, and how loving God is! We are thieves, drunkards, greedy people, those who disobey their parents, and people who worship idols of all kinds – and yet Jesus still died for us and offers us forgiveness.

He does the same thing in 1 Corinthians 6 when he reminds the church about how messed up they were. They were not acting like Christians! Paul points out how bad had it gotten by saying they were suing each other instead of working things out the way Jesus taught them to. Then Paul gives them this reminder in verse 9,

“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Paul implores them to remember that Jesus Christ washed away the sin and the muck from their lives, and the no longer needed to live in it because they had the Spirit of God inside of them! God delights in saving and justifying sinners because He loves us so very much. But he doesn’t want us going back to eat the garbage of the world. And among this list of things that are He mentions that the world is trying to feed them is “sexually immorally” and “homosexuality”.

Now, you may tune out a bit at this next part, but it’s important because you might hear it somewhere. Some people look at the phrase “homosexual offenders” and will disagree with its meaning. And it all revolves around the Greek word ARSENOKOITES.

ARSENOKOITES

Advocates for homosexuality will say this word doesn’t apply to homosexuals, but to male prostitutes, boys forced into sexual acts with older men, homosexual rape, or men who share their beds with lots of people. They say it applies to everyone except a committed, homosexual relationship. They do not believe it is interpreted to mean “any man who has sex with any other man.” The real issue here is the word that Paul chose to use.

He basically coined the word himself… something Paul did a lot of in his writings. It is only used twice in the New Testament, and is rarely used outside of it (1 Timothy 1:10). The word itself can be broken into two root words. ARREN – Which is the word for “A Male” and KOITE which is a feminine noun meaning “A bed”, “the marriage bed”, and is also used for “having sexual intercourse”. The same way we would say “did you go to bed with them” and know what we mean, so did the Greeks.

Paul came up with this term to specifically reference to the passage we looked at before Leviticus 18:22, “’Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.” Paul’s word ARSENOKOITES literally means, “one who beds a male” to specifically reference the Levitical law prohibiting homosexuality. He uses it again in in another list of sins when he is again talking about the Law of the Old Testament.

Paul is clearly tying his made up word to the Levitical law. He is not making homosexuality a worse sin than others, in fact in 1 Timothy he lists it right beside adultery.

All Sexual Immorality is Sin

Our last stop is in Hebrews 13:4,

“Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”

This is where the application comes to all of us, not just homosexuals. God’s standard for human sexuality is this: One woman, one man, becoming one flesh, in the bonds of marriage – and has been this way since the beginning of creation. Anything outside of that is contrary to biblical teaching, and is sin.

When the author of Hebrews uses the words “sexually immoral”, he is using a very important word there. It is the word PORNOS. It is the biblical catch-all, junk-drawer word for all sexual activity outside of one woman, one man, in marriage. It means “fornicator” or “one is has sex outside of God’s law”. The root word is PORNEIA which is basically the word for a person who uses their body sexually for selfish purposes… whether that’s getting money, or simply fulfilling their own lust. Another form of the word is PORNEUO which means to give one’s body over to satisfy the lust of another person. It’s all sin.

  • When the counsel of Jerusalem met in Acts 15 to lay down some guidelines for the new churches they said, “You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from PORNEIA.”
  • When Jesus was contrasting what it means to be truly unclean he said in Matthew 15, “But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, PORNEIA…”
  • And Paul in Ephesians 5:3 told the churches, “But among you there must not be even a hint of PORNEIA…”

The Christian church need to understand this and get this right. Sexual sin is very serious in God’s eyes. Anything outside of a sexual relationship between a man and a women, in marriage, is wrong and condemned in God’s eyes, and will not be blessed. Viewing pornography, reading sexual stories, committing adultery, sexual play before marriage, and homosexuality are all equally wrong according to God and should not be done among Christians.

Everything outside of the blessing of marriage is a perversion of God’s natural order, and will result in judgment. Romans 1 reminds us that as we do this our bodies get degraded, our hearts become darkened, we become dominated by fleshly desires, and we get confused about truth… we then become in bondage to uncontrollable passions. In other words, your sexual sins will chew you up and spit you out. They will damage you body, mind and soul.

God loves us, which is why He tells us to put it in the confines of marriage! Sex is a beautiful, wonderful, pleasurable, gift from God. But it is also very powerful.

When we have sex it is far more than a physical union, it is a spiritual one. (1 Corinthians 6:12-19) We cannot divide the two, body and spirit. Every sexual partner, every sexual action is not merely a physical act, but a spiritual one. We unite ourselves spiritually with the people we use as sexual objects – whether they are real or imaginary. The world tells us that we are merely fulfilling a biological desire, doing something natural, but we are also doing something intensely emotional and spiritual too. And the way God has structured our existence is that when we become “one” with another person sexually, a spiritual bond is created, and that bond stays with us… and it carries into every other relationship – including with God.

That is why adultery severs the bond of marriage. The person is no longer of one flesh and spirit with their spouse, but they are physically and spiritually divided.

This issue is not about being homophobic, but being hypocritical. Somehow we believe that being in an active homosexual relationship is worse somehow than the heterosexual couple that is unmarried and sleeping together, or going home and viewing pornography on the internet, or watching sexuality on TV, or fanaticizing about the guy or girl at work. It’s not. We believe somehow that the practicing lesbians are sinning more than the married man who flirts with his secretary, or the wife who reads 50 Shades of Grey… they’re not. Sexual sin is sexual sin. Sexual sin in all its forms is idolatry and wrong.

Application

So how should Christians respond to the wave of LGBT support we are seeing in so many places?

First we need to evaluate our own lives for sexual sin. Jesus says that we need to examine the log in our own eye before we take the splinter from someone else’s – and wow, does the church ever have a log in its eye when it comes to sexual sin. Lust, adultery and pornography are HUGE problems in the Christian church – and are at the same “sin level” as homosexuality. I’m watching pastors and Christians explode their marriages all the time. This is a gospel issue. We need Jesus as much as anyone, and need to get right with Him. We have some major repenting to do about our own sexual sins before we go about condemning others.

Second, we need to evaluate our attitudes and actions for how we use our words and the jokes we make – and repent if we have been callous or unloving towards the LGBT community. Some Christians are quite cruel in their words about these people, and we need to repent and ask forgiveness of God and our homosexual neighbours.

Third, we need to evaluate whether our church is a place where a person can come, with any kind of sin problem, sexual or otherwise, and if it is a place where they can talk about it without being judged, condemned and hurt. Can we love the person, care for them, and adequately counsel them in regards to their sin? We all want to be part of a church that loves us despite our failures, and wants to help us grow closer to Jesus – so let us do the same for others.

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