In conjunction with Tenth Presbyterian Church's 2010 Urban Ministry Conference, Sex in the City (3/5-7), the members of Tenth's pastoral staff and HarvestUSA will discuss issues of sex and sexuality in our culture. A list of the topics we will be discussing is available here.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What does the Bible say about homosexuality? by David White

When it comes to emotionally charged issues in our culture, homosexuality may top the list. So the first thing we need to acknowledge is our temptation to approach this issue driven by our feelings, experiences and sociology rather than through careful biblical reflection. If we don’t personally experience same-sex attraction (though countless brothers and sisters in the Church do), nearly all of us have close friends, family members, neighbors, co-workers, etc. in the gay life. These relationships profoundly impact how we respond to this issue – we’ve heard their stories and empathize with their pain.

Further, for over a decade, we’ve been confronted with claims like the discovery of the “gay gene” and a host of other studies touting same-sex attraction as an unchangeable aspect of personhood. Younger generations have never known a world without “Will & Grace.” There has been a full-court press to normalize and mainstream gay relationships. So how should Christians respond to this issue? What does the Bible really say? Now, my favorite book on this topic (Robert Gagnon’s The Bible & Homosexual Practice) is in excess of 500 pages, so there’s no way to adequately address this issue in a post…but I hope this will at least stimulate some reflection and dialogue.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 provides a helpful framework for this brief discussion:

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. 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.” 

First, we must heed the warning not to be deceived. The loudest voices in culture urge us to jettison outdated, unenlightened beliefs. But despite pro-gay theology’s exegetical gymnastics attempting to harmonize 21st century gay life in America with biblical morality, the Bible is clear in its condemnation of homosexual behavior. Here’s the thing: they work hard to debunk the prohibitive passages, arguing these only address temple prostitution and pagan idolatry, but they fail to demonstrate how the Bible positively proscribes homosexual behavior. The strongest biblical argument against homosexuality is not Leviticus 18:22 & 20:13, it is Genesis 1 & 2. Sex is so much deeper than our desires. It transcends our personal proclivities. Sex was designed by God to point us to him and his love for us (for more on this see my earlier post “Sex Gone Wrong”).

Leviticus 18 & 20 prohibit homosexual practice, but they teach something even more important. All sexuality is broken! Read those passages – it is shocking. Do we actually need to be told not to have sex with our grandchildren?! Apparently so. Thus, the second point we need to see from 1 Corinthians 6 is that homosexual behavior is no more wrong than any other sin. Christians who read Leviticus 18 & 20 only to wag their finger at the gay community are failing to reckon with the deep reality of their own sexual brokenness. Everyone’s sexuality is impacted by the fall! All of us need redemption in this aspect of personhood. When Paul addresses homosexuality in Romans 1:26-27, it is not to describe the “bottom of the barrel sin” (as, sadly, many Christians have heard preached). He is using it as a poignant illustration of how the world is completely disordered by idolatry. All of creation has been turned on its head because we – image-bearers of God created to rule over the world – have made ourselves subject to that which is supposed to be under our feet. And the One to whom we are to be subject we have casually discarded. Idolatry reflects a world that is completely turned upside-down. Paul’s point is in this context, even something as basic as sexual functioning, the propagation of the species, is totally out of whack.

So, along with homosexuality, 1 Corinthians 6 covers all the other sexual sins and also includes “garden variety” sin – things like idolatry, greed, drunkenness and slander. The passage teaches that good, moral people who revile those foul homosexuals fall under the same condemnation. Similarly, the end of Romans 1 completely levels the playing field with a laundry list of sin that leaves none guiltless. The Bible describes homosexual behavior as sin, but makes clear that it is no different than any other sin. All of humanity stands in desperate need of God’s mercy. All of us need redemption from sexual brokenness. Who we are “naturally” is broken. Heterosexuals need as much supernatural sexual intervention as homosexuals.

And that is where the passage leaves us. It points to the glorious hope that through his death and resurrection, Jesus enacted a work of renewal that will one day encompass the entire cosmos. “Such were some of you!” All who are in Christ are part of his great work of re-creation – their guilt is canceled, their shame washed away, they are set apart for his glory and filled with his Spirit so they are able to resist their natural desires, living instead for his glory. The opposite of homosexuality isn’t heterosexuality, it is holiness. Men and women who for the glory of their King and because of the wonder of his love embrace this call: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 4:14-15). The call of Christ is to lose our life for his sake, believing his promise that there is resurrection life on the other side of that death. Will you trust him and risk denying yourself?


  1. You can chuck any New Testament reference using the word "homosexual" since it wasn't coined until about 1860. Then go back and retranslate that Greek. Jesus defines ALL sin as lack of love (Mt. 22:36-40). What is unloving about a homosexual relationship? Who is unloved, hurt and wanting to sue?

  2. "See also 2 Cor. 13:5. (men who practice homosexuality). The Greek words malakos and arsenokoitÄ“s refer specifically to male homosexuals (ESV footnote: the two Greek terms translated by this phrase refer to the passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts), but in Rom. 1:26–27 Paul also refers to female homosexuals, and to homosexual desires or “passions.” Both passages (as well as Lev. 18:22; 20:13; and 1 Tim. 1:10) refer to homosexuality in general."

    - ESV study bible

  3. Response from David White:

    First, I’d encourage you to reconsider your approach to translation. Language is constantly in the process of change and evolution. The goal of good Biblical translation is to take – in the case of the NT – words from 1st century koine Greek and render them meaningfully into 21st century English parlance. That is to say, it is really immaterial when the English term came into contemporary usage; the question is, “Does the term accurately represent to 21st century English readers what Paul was saying to his 1st century Greek-speaking audience?” Paul’s particular Greek terminology is somewhat unique to him, i.e. scholars say he appears to have coined a new term himself, by combining two Greek words used in the Septuagint’s (a Greek translation of the OT) rendering of the relevant Hebrew passages in Leviticus 18 and 20. All to say, using “homosexual” in these passages does accurately and meaningfully communicate to a 21st century audience what Paul intended to communicate to his 1st century readers.

    Secondly, I appreciate you pointing us to Jesus’ teaching on the Two Great Commandments. Far beyond giving us a definition of sin, he is actually giving us a positive prescription of life rightly lived. Matthew 2:36-40 – 36"Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" 37And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38This is the great and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." We are first commanded to love God above all else. Here’s the rub: as I mentioned in my post, the clearest Biblical argument against homosexual behavior is how the Bible positively prescribes sexuality. It is designed by God with rich theological implications. 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 makes clear that how we comport ourselves sexually demonstrates the allegiance of our heart – do we live like pagans controlled by our desires or are they brought into submission to our King? The best pro-gay theology can muster is performing exegetical gymnastics to dismiss the prohibitive passages, but they are incapable of finding positive declarations to support homosexual behavior. (That is, apart from reading homoeroticism into David’s relationship with Jonathan and, grievously, even Jesus’ relationship to John.)

    God has spoken. He has designed sexuality. We are not autonomous beings who can live however we choose, according to our own passions and desires. I realize this is a HARD teaching, but his promise is we will find abundant life in him. Jesus was straight up with us: the Christian life is about denying ourselves, taking up a cross and following him to the death – by faith – believing his promise of resurrection life (Mark 8:34-38). So, homosexuality is a violation of the 1st Great Command to love God. He said we demonstrate our love through obedience. Listen to the call of 1 John 5:3 – “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (see also, John 14:21 and 15:9-11). I realize that the command feels “burdensome.” Probably impossibly so. But he promises to meet you there by his Spirit and through his people to give you grace to do the seemingly impossible!

    So, what is unloving about a homosexual relationship? Inasmuch as it is participating with another individual in behaviors forbidden by God, you are violating the 2nd Great Commandment. Biblically speaking, “love” is not first and foremost a feeling. It is an action and love for others means having their best in view and serving them to that end. It will not mean leading them into a relationship and behaviors that violate God’s commands. That is blatantly – dare I say wickedly? – unloving.

    I would love to interact with you further on these things! Contact me: or 215-482-0111, ext. 119.

  4. David,
    I thank you for your gentle treatment of this issue as it is a difficult struggle for many of God's beloved children. I pray for your organization and, having visited and spoken with one of your directors, I can say that I have great respect for your treatment of the many sexual issues which affect our culture, this issue in particular, although I wish I could say I found agreement with your take on what the Scriptures do indeed say about homosexuality. I'm writing this reply however not to get into a debate on Biblical interpretation or translation, as I'm sure we could spend no short amount of time arguing those things, aside from all "exegetical gymnastics" as you call them, but we would be no closer to reconciling our apparent differences in theology. Although I would say, were we to engage, I'm sure we would find a surprising amount of agreement on our respective Biblical interpretations. For example, I find any arguments concerning David and Jonathan's relationship to be highly speculative, and am in fact, appalled at the notion of some sort of debased sexual relationship between Jesus and John, I've heard a lot of "strange" arguments, that's not been one of them. My purpose however is to give a voice to that which is so often voiceless in the church and to stand up for the way the Spirit has led me. As we're told in Hebrews 13, let us not be carried away by strange teachings, but let our hearts be strengthened by grace. For indeed it is by grace that we find strength, and learn to trust in the Lord and offer ourselves up to Him, for He gives us more grace.

    On that note, a few thoughts. First, I agree with you, of course, on the goal of Biblical interpretation being to examine what the Scriptures meant for the time they were written as well as what they mean for us today, those two not necessarily being the same thing. We need only examine 1 Corinthians 11: 11-16 for a peek at what was "unnatural" for the recipients of this epistle but which shockingly has little correlation to today's grooming practices. My question is this, if the way we interpret the Bible is to take the context in which it was written into account, then apply it to our own understanding of Biblical truths for today, then what about the Genesis account is prohibitive of modern day, committed, God-honoring, homosexual marriages? There are so many ways to come at this I'm not even really sure where to start, but the bottom line, as I see it, is that God made Eve to be a helper to Adam, and for the two of them to join as one flesh and begin the conception of the human race. If that is the standard for all, for all time, then every single person throughout history, every heterosexual couple unable to have children, every marriage after child-bearing years, every couple who every thought of adopting, etc, is guilty of the same sin as every homosexual couple in the world.

  5. ...cont. from previous.

    Second, what is this "homosexual lifestyle" or "gay life" that everyone in Christian circles is so fond of speaking about? I'd really like to know, because as far as I can tell, aside from the fact that I am putting my trust in the Lord for the provision of a future husband, I don't see much difference between my life and the life of the next Christian. Of course, I am by no means refuting the sinfulness that is to be found in the common view of this "gay lifestyle" complete with it's promiscuity, fornication, lewdness, profanity, etc. etc. (ad naseum). Again, what is it that differentiates that lifestyle from that of which many straight people partake, could we say that they're living the "straight lifestyle?"
    Sarcasm aside, my curiosity is genuine. What is it that makes us different from each other, one straight, one gay, both members of the body of Christ. From one Bible-believing, saved by grace, born-again, Christian to another, the purpose of my life is to please the Lord. The freedom I have found, as an openly gay man, now that I have truly given my life over to the Lord is nothing short of ... miraculous? Does that sound much like the commonly stereotyped "gay lifestyle?" It is my opinion, and perhaps it is merely that, that God has in store for me a whole range of ministries and opportunities to witness to a hurting and spiritually isolated people which would never be accessible to a straight man, not to mention a whole community of other gay Christians, some not as blessed with loving support structures as myself. But regardless, as we all do, I find myself putting my trust more and more the the loving hands of our heavenly Father, because he gives us more grace.

    Peace to you brother, and to all who read.
    In Him
    ~~Alan Pentecost

  6. I appreciate Alan's comments and questions. He narrows the issue down to the essential - namely, what is the difference between a heterosexual professing Christian who is seeking to please the Lord and a homosexual professing Christian who is seeking to please the Lord. Other than choice of gender, each holds to the same moral sexual code.

    The simple answer is that along with various predilections to temptations, the homosexual has the added predilection to the temptation of same-gender sexuality. We differ on whether the latter should be categorized as sinful. The difference in any argument that I've read or viewed, such as between Dave and Alan, is that the "Daves" will address experience through scripture and the "Alans" will use their experience to address scripture. "Look at my life. It does not match your interpretation of scripture. Therefore that interpretation is wrong."

    And typically, the appeal for justification is love. "I am just as loving through homosexuality, therefore it must be good." And so, when he looks at the Genesis account of Adam and Eve, it does not even enter the mind that there may be something to God creating a woman to correspond with the man being alone.

    I actually am attracted to the argument of love, and knowing "good" men and women who are homosexual does make me pause. But it is that "experience" that makes me pause, not scripture. It is experience that makes me pause about other sexual issues - monogamy, living together, sex before marriage, etc. I know "good" people who are loving in their relationships and morally conscientious. And some would regard themselves as Christians seeking to honor the Lord and definitely thankful for his grace.

    But it is Jesus who said that love for him is measured by obedience (John 14:21) and who knew that such obedience was cross-bearing (Mark 8:34). It is Jesus who, in a sense, gave up what was natural for him (to grasp equality with God; Philippians 2:6) to carry out a greater desire, namely, to do the will of his Father (John 5:30). On the cross, the Son laid down his relationship with his Father for the purpose of fulfilling his Father's will. He knows the pain involved. So we are all called to do if we bear the name Christian (Christ-follower). Whether it means for the homosexual to lay down his sexual desires for the same-sex or the heterosexual to lay down his sexual desires for another he may love; whether it be for either to give up emotional desires for someone outside the bounds, it is his calling to do so as his Lord modeled for us. Yes, love is the mark of the Christian, but obedience is the measure of that love.