Is Conservative Theology on Homosexuality Clear or Queer?
This is part 2 of a series on what the Bible has to say about marriage and homosexuality (Part 1 is available here).
Christians that hold to a conservative interpretation of what the Bible says about marriage and homosexuality are often labeled as backwards, archaic, and on the wrong side of history. Is this the case? Or are conservative Christians correct when they say that their reading of the Biblical texts about marriage and homosexuality are timeless and not subject to social evolution?
What Does The Bible Say About Homosexuality?
First and foremost, nowhere does the Bible single out homosexual activity as a sin that is worse than any other sexual sin. Homosexual activity is included in the prohibitions against all sexual activity outside of marriage. Incest in any form, adultery, homosexuality, beastiality, polygamy and fornication are all prohibited in the Bible.
Some would argue that such teachings are archaic and should be ignored, just like we ignore other laws of the Bible. The argument looks something like this:
- Premise 1: Eating of shellfish is an abomination according to the Bible.
- Premise 2: Homosexuality is an abomination according to the Bible.
- Premise 3: Christians ignore the laws about eating shellfish.
- Conclusion: Therefore, Christians ought to be able to ignore the laws about homosexuality.
The website godhatesshrimp.com exists to expose this perceived hypocrisy in a satiric way. For a more in-your-face example of this argument, watch this video of gay-activist Dan Savage as he bullies high school students at an anti-bully conference (Warning: Contains offensive language).
The problem here is a misunderstanding of the context of the Law, specifically the Levitical Law. Not all of Leviticus is written to everyone. There were laws and abominations that were specific for the Jews. The law against the eating of shellfish (Lev 11:9-12) is one of those laws. This is made clear by the context. God says, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying…” (Lev. 19:1, NKJV). Additionally, in Lev. 11:9-12, the dietary abominations are declared to be “abominations to you.” Three times God says, “They are/shall be an abomination to you.”
Contrast that with what God says about the sexual abominations in Lev. 18:
You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination. Nor shall you mate with any animal, to defile yourself with it. Nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it. It is perversion.
Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you. For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants. You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations, either any of your own nation or any stranger who dwells among you (for all these abominations the men of the land have done, who were before you, and thus the land is defiled), lest the land vomit you out also when you defile it, as it vomited out the nations that were before you. For whoever commits any of these abominations, the persons who commit them shall be cut off from among their people.
Therefore you shall keep My ordinance, so that you do not commit any of these abominable customs which were committed before you, and that you do not defile yourselves by them: I am the Lord your God’” (Lev. 18:22-30, NKJV).
It is important to notice the repeated use of the plural “abominations.” Homosexuality is not the only abomination God is warning against.
So, what abominations is God warning against? Contextually, chapter 17 is about blood atonement procedures, so that is for Israel, not for everyone. In Chapter 18 God says to Israel, “According to the doings of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do; and according to the doings of the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you, you shall not do;” (vs 3, NKJV). So, now instead of it applying only to Israel, God mentions things that are done by Egypt and the land of Canaan. In other words, these sexual acts were already abominations before God gave the Levitical law. What were the things those other nations did? The chapter contains the following:
- Vs 6-18, don’t uncover the nakedness of various relatives.
- Vs 19, don’t have sexual relations with woman on her period
- Vs 20. don’t have intercourse with your neighbor’s wife
- Vs 21, don’t offer children to Molech
- Vs 22, don’t lie with a male as with a female
- Vs 23, don’t have intercourse with animals
In essence, not all abominations are equal. There are abominations in Leviticus only for the Israelites, and there are abominations that were for non-Israelites that pre-existed the Levitical Law. It is in the latter group that homosexuality is listed. To mix topics intended only for Israel with topics that included the non-Israelites is mistaken hermeneutics at best and blatant dishonesty at worst.
To further illustrate the point that these abominations pre-existed the Levitical Law we can look at Paul’s words in the first chapter of Romans:
The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in the thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, . . . For this reason God gave them up to file passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due (Rom 1:18-22; 24-27, NKJV).
There is no mention of the Law of Moses here. In fact, the context of the first three chapters of Romans clearly shows that Paul is specifically referring to those who did not have the special revelation of the Law of Moses. In the next chapter, Paul states:
[F]or when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written on their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them (Rom 2:14-15, NKJV).
So, we can clearly see that sexual immorality was already part of the broader Natural Law that has existed from the foundation of the world. When God created the heavens and the earth, He also created the Laws of Nature. The Egyptians and Canaanites ought to have been able to understand that their sexual actions were immoral even without the special revelation of the Law of Moses.
Also, because the prohibition against sexual immorality (including homosexuality) is found in the New Testament as well as the Old Testament, we can conclude that God’s position never changes. God’s disdain against homosexual activity appears as early as the first book in the Bible:
Now before they law down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both old and young, all the people from every quarter, surrounded the house. And they called to Lot and said to him, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may know them carnally.”
So Lot went out to them through the doorway, shut the door behind him, and said, “Please, my brethren, do not do so wickedly! See now, I have two daughters who have not known a man; please, let me bring them out to you, and you may do to them as you wish; only do nothing to these men, since this is the reason they have come under the shadow of my roof” (Gen 19:4-8, NKJV).
Again, we see that Lot, who lived hundreds of years prior to the giving of the Law of Moses, understood that homosexual activity was wicked. The Law of Moses was not needed for this truth to be understood because it was evidenced through the Natural Law. God codified this Natural Law in the Law of Moses and this teaching was perpetuated with the New Testament church.
In addition to Paul’s teaching to the believers in Rome that we have already mentioned, Paul states to the church in Corinth:
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God (I Cor 6:9-10, NKJV).
From the earliest record in the Bible to the some of the last, Scripture categorically condemns homosexual behavior. This is understood even by those in the gay community. Pim Pronk, a gay biologist, theologian, and philosopher states:
To sum up: wherever homosexual intercourse is mentioned in Scripture, it is condemned. With reference to it the New Testament adds no arguments to those of the Old. Rejection is a foregone conclusion; the assessment of it nowhere constitutes a problem. It obviously has to be repeated from time to time, but the phenomenon as such nowhere becomes the focus of moral attention. It is never condemned in isolation but always in association with other major sins; unchastity, violence, moral corruption, and idolatry.
Even glbtq.com, which claims to be “the worlds largest encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer culture,” acknowledges this fact:
The bad news from the Christian bible is that it condemns same-sex desire and same-sex acts without qualification of age, gender, role, status, consent, or membership in an ethnic community.
If the Bible is so clear, why are there so many so-called Christian leaders (like Rob Bell) and Christian churches (like the Episcopalian Church) that condone the same practice that the Bible condemns?
If our culture would take an honest look at what the Bible says about marriage and homosexuality, not only would we come to the conclusion that homosexual marriage should not be promoted, but also that homosexual practice should not be permitted.