The Bible and Homosexuality

By | November 7, 2013

Recently, Rachel Held Evans shared a video on her blog in which a young man, Matthew Vines, addresses all of the passages in the Bible regarding homosexuality. He attempts to argue that the Bible isn’t against committed homosexual relationships. I wanted to take a moment and respond with my thoughts. (I assume that you either watched the video or are familiar with the arguments; I don’t take time to fully explain each point below.)

  1. Sodom – Vines quotes Ezekiel 16:49, where God states: “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. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.” (NIV). Matthew does this to argue that the condemnation of Sodom wasn’t about homosexuality. However, Jude says “In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.” (v. 7, NIV). Sodom is referenced many times throughout the Bible. It is generally used as an example of unrighteousness and subsequent punishment. But homosexuality is never mentioned specifically. I think it’s true that the story likely has little to do with homosexual orientation. At the very least, it’s a weak passage for making a definitive statement about homosexuality.
  2. Leviticus – Chapter 18 of Leviticus condemns many types of incest and bestiality along with (male) homosexuality. It’s not in good company.
  3. Romans 1 – At the end of Romans 1, Paul is setting his audience up for the point he makes in chapter 2 and subsequent chapters. He’s not trying to make a specific point about homosexuality here. That doesn’t mean that we can’t take something away from it. But it does mean that I think it is another weak passage try and make a definitive statement about homosexuality. As I understand, male homosexuality wasn’t uncommon in Greek culture. However, as Mr. Vines notes, much of this wasn’t necessarily due to homosexual orientation. Rather, it seems that they ignored their natural orientation and engaged in a perversion by engaging in homosexual acts.
  4. 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1 – It’s true that there is some uncertainty and debate over how to translate the word Paul uses here. Nevertheless, most translations do translate it as “(male) homosexuality”.
  5. Genesis 2 – I am unconvinced that this passage really makes a case for committed homosexual relationships. However I can’t say it opposes it either.

Overall, the Bible doesn’t seem favorably disposed toward homosexuality. (It’s interesting to note that with the exception of Romans 1, all of the passages in the Bible address only male homosexuality, at least taken in the most literal sense.) While the passages against it aren’t definitive, there isn’t anything in the Bible specifically in support of it.

We should understand though that, to my knowledge, they didn’t have any concept of committed, monogamous homosexual relationships in the time that the Bible was written. As I understand it, throughout most cultures and history, marriage has been more of a practical necessity and children even more important than ones’ spouse. While people have experienced “being in love” for as long as there have been people, this generally hasn’t been the basis for marriage until modern Western culture. (Dating is likewise a recent development, foreign to most of history.) With this in mind, it’s easy to see how homosexuality didn’t fit their culture and that the kind of homosexuality the Bible condemns would always be of the promiscuous sort. (A discussion about family is a related matter I want to explore in another post.)

In light of all this, there could be room to argue that committed homosexual relationships aren’t a sin. However I don’t know that this can be decided conclusively either way, no matter how much some people would like to. This brings an important Bible passage to mind: Romans 14. Understanding this passage could be a discussion all on it’s own, but I think it’s clear that Paul doesn’t want us to divide or fight over questionable matters. The challenge here is that many people would argue that it’s not a questionable matter and that the Bible is quite clear. However, I’d argue that the fact that there are many Christians who hold different beliefs makes it a debatable issue, no matter how clear some people believe it to be. Paul states that we should leave this up to God, and neither condemn nor push our beliefs onto our fellow believers. Can we—do we trust God to make our view on homosexuality clear to others (if it really is true), or do we feel we must correct everyone ourselves?  Note, I’m not saying we can’t or shouldn’t talk about it at all. What I am saying is that when we do so, we must do so respectfully and not allow it to cause division (another sin).

photo credit: -Marlith- via photopin cc

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