Does the Bible really forbid homosexual relationships?

by

Published: 9 September 2014 (GMT+10)
Jeff Belmonte, wikipedia.org wdding-ring
Jesus said, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?” (Matthew 19:4,5).

(Based on material from Robert A.J. Gagnon, Associate Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.)1

For around two millennia, the church has held that the Bible prohibits all sexual activity outside of that between a man and his wife. In recent years, however, this view has been challenged, with some claiming that same-sex relationships, so long as they are consensual and loving, are not forbidden by any of the biblical passages dealing with homosexuality. Old Testament prohibitions in Leviticus, it is argued, relate only to the now obsolete Jewish ceremonial law rather than the moral law, and the incidents at Sodom (Genesis 19) and Gibeah (Judges 19) deal only with gang rape. Similarly, it is said that, in the New Testament, the apostle Paul condemns only exploitative same-sex relationships, such as pederasty, or homosexual activity associated with explicitly idolatrous worship. But do these claims really stand up to scrutiny?

The union of one man with one woman—a creation ordinance

Firstly, it should be noted how unambiguously Genesis sets forth God’s pattern for sexual union:

“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” (Genesis 2:20–25, my italics).

The message is unequivocal. Man is to be united to woman because she came from man. Man did not come from man and is not to be united to man; woman did not come from woman and is not to be united to woman. Therefore (NIV: “That is why”) male is to be united to female. Heterosexual marriage, then, is a creation ordinance.

In Romans Chapter 1, the apostle Paul teaches that homosexuality is God’s judgement upon those who have suppressed the truth about God and how His nature and will are revealed through His creation:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1:18–27).

It is difficult to miss the allusion to the first chapter of Genesis, especially when compared with the Greek of the Septuagint:

“And they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of the image of a mortal human and of birds and four-footed animals and of reptiles” (Romans 1:23, Gagnon’s translation, italics added.)2

“Let us make a human according to our image and likeness; and let them rule over the birds … and the cattle … and the reptiles … ” (Genesis 1:26, Gagnon’s translation of the Septuagint, italics added).2

Moreover, Paul’s use of the Greek words for ‘male’ and ‘female’ rather than ‘man’ and ‘woman’ again make clear that he is drawing from the Genesis text:

“Even their females [Greek thēleiai] exchanged the natural use for that which is contrary to nature; and likewise also the males [Greek arsenes], having left behind the natural use of the female [Greek thēleias], were inflamed with their yearning for one another, males with males [Greek arsenes en arsenin]” (Romans 1:26–27, Gagnon’s translation, italics added).3

“And God made the human; according to the image of God he made him; male [Greek arsēn] and female [Greek thēlu] he made them.” (Genesis 1:27, Gagnon’s translation of the Septuagint, italics added).3

These inter-textual echoes (Genesis ↔ Romans) make transparent that Paul’s indictment of homosexual acts is not concerned only with exploitative same sex relationships, or explicitly idolatrous sex, as some claim, but homosexual acts in general. This is because his objection to same-sex relationships is based on their being contrary to nature and a rejection of the creation ordinance, i.e. that sexual union was intended only for heterosexual couples. Moreover, the fact that the men “were inflamed with their yearning for one another” indicates that the sexual acts being condemned here were consensual.

The law as given by Moses

Secondly, there are two unambiguous prohibitions of homosexual acts in the book of Leviticus:

“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22).

“If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them” (Leviticus 20:13).

Again, it cannot be argued that these refer only to exploitative or ‘idolatrous sex’ because the word translated “male” is the Hebrew zakar (male, i.e. adult man) rather than na’ar (boy or youth) or qadesh (homosexual cult prostitute). Moreover, Leviticus 20:13 clearly refers to consensual relationships as both parties are to be punished.

Some claim that these restrictions relate only to antiquated purity rules associated with the Jewish ceremonial law and therefore do not apply to Christians. This again, however, is unsustainable as the New Testament undoubtedly refers to these Levitical passages in its denouncing homosexual practices. This is particularly apparent in the apostle Paul’s choice of the Greek word arsenokoitai (men lying with males):

“Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality [arsenokoitai], nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9,10).

“ … the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality [arsenokoitai], enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:9–10).

The word arsenokoitai is undoubtedly derived from the Greek words used in the Septuagint translation of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13: arsēn (male) and koitē (lying). It is a term never found in pagan literature and, in choosing it, Paul can only have had Leviticus in mind. This makes clear that the Old Testament prohibition related to the moral law, not the ceremonial law. It is also significant that the word, aschēmosunē, used in Romans 1:27 (nakedness, indecent exposure, indecency), is used twenty-four times in the Septuagint translation of Leviticus 18:6-19; 20:11, 17-21 and the word, akatharsia, used in Romans 1:24 (uncleanness, impurity), appears in the Septuagint rendering of Leviticus 18:19; 20:21, 25.

Further confirmation that the Levitical passages refer to the moral law is found in the way the 1 Timothy passage echoes moral principles given to the Israelites in the Ten Commandments. Even the order in which they are listed is the same (Exodus 20 ↔ 1 Timothy):

Commandment 1 Timothy 1:9–10

Fifth Honour one’s parents “those who strike their fathers and mothers”
Sixth Do not murder “murderers”
Seventh Do not commit adultery “the sexually immoral”
Eighth Do not steal “enslavers” (literally “men-stealers”)
Ninth Do not bear false witness “liars”, “perjurers”

Conclusion

Those seeking to overturn the time-honoured interpretation of Bible verses prohibiting homosexual acts must surely meet an extraordinary burden of proof. The key texts from both the Old and New Testaments, however, appear to offer no support for their view at all.

References

  1. Via, D.O. and Gagnon, R.A.J., Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views, Fortress Press, USA, 2003, pp. 40–92. See also Gagnon’s notes, robgagnon.net/TwoViews. Return to text.
  2. Ref. 1, p. 77. Return to text.
  3. Ref. 1, p. 78. Return to text.

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Readers’ comments

Pastor Ron B.
Overall an excellent article concerning the never-ending & testy attitudes of the "Uninformed" surrounding us daily. Many thanks for setting this straight-up.
Robert L.
I just thank God I was not born a homosexual. It's bad enough to be on the outside but to have your religion condemn you or infer it is your fault you were born that way does make life difficult. I know several gay men growing up and the difficulties they had as children and young adults proved to me this is not a choice by any stretch of the imagination.
Dominic Statham
How do you know that people are born homosexual? 'Sexual orientation' certainly doesn't appear to be genetic because identical twins, who share identical genes, would then always have the same 'orientation'. In fact, where one twin is same-sex attracted, in the clear majority of cases, the other is opposite-sex attracted.

You are knocking a straw man. The Bible does not condemn people who find themselves to be same-sex attracted; nor does it suggest that all such people chose to be so. (See my response to Peter N. below.)

The politically correct lobby seeks to silence all who would suggest that change is possible. In so doing, they simply deny people the opportunity of discovering their innate, God-given heterosexuality.
S. H.
Seems to be another case of people getting things topsy turvy. Some 'theology' seems to be "God this is what I believe. Now let's fit the Bible to support what I think." But the Bible is supposed to lead us and we are under the authority of what the Bible says, not the other way round. Makes me mad when I hear this kind of misapplication of the Bible. Here's another thing. Not once do we find a gay relationship in the Bible and not once does the Bible 'support' gay relationships. I love the fact that Jesus accepting the woman in John 8 as she was and then said to her go and sin no more. Often the church wants to put things the other way round.. But the liberal 'theologians' do something much worse - they remove the part about going and sinning no more. (In fact, they often ignore sin altogether in the Bible, preferring to create a fake Jesus and deny a Holy God). If there is no sin that needs dealing with then Jesus died for nothing. Which clearly he didn't - he paid the price so that in accepting Him our sins can be forgiven. There is no other way!
Matt I.
If I was to put people to death for being homosexual, would I be right? (re: Leviticus 20:13)
Dominic Statham
In the Old Testament, people were not put to death because they were same-sex attracted, but for homosexual acts. Similarly, people were executed for committing adultery (Leviticus 20:10); so homosexual relationships were not a special case.

In John 8:3-11, Jesus cancelled the requirement to stone those who commit sexual immoral acts. So the answer to your question is 'No'. However, Jesus also said to the woman caught in adultery, "Go, and from now on sin no more" (John 8:11).
Roy R.
I absolutely love CMI.... Not only does everyone take time to answer every seemingly viable complaint but to put these facts together with extraordinary detail. I had wondered whether, like many "preaching" today, CMI would be more afraid to take on highly controversial issues. I can see from this article about homosexuality that they are not and I am very impressed. God bless all of you for being something very special in a world that, "frankly put", could use more education. Thank you for this light and clarity on so many issues.
Robert S.
In trying to make homosexual behavior seem ‘not wrong’ some use the argument that “there is no sin because there is no God”.

But that is, at the same time, saying that “murder and robbery are not sins because there is no God”.

But even without a belief in God, most would still agree that it is wrong to steal and murder, especially if they were on the receiving end of it. So by agreeing that some things are wrong they agree that sin exists (‘sin’ means ‘crime’). So the argument/excuse that “there is no sin because there is no God” is really a self-delusion.
Ophir B.
A proof the prohibition is not limited to the old covenant [and the ceremonial law] is that God said, in relation to the sexual prohibitions mentioned in Leviticus 18 from verse 24:

24 "Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you. 25 For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants. 26 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 27 (for all these abominations the men of the land have done, who were before you, and thus the land is defiled), 28 lest the land vomit you out also when you defile it, as it vomited out the nations that were before you."

So God says these things were done by the Canaanites, which were not under the covenant, and the land vomited them for their doings. Thus these prohibitions are not Mosaic law - based, but general.
Gregg G.
I just want to thank you for taking the time to clearly outline not only the sin of homosexuality, but the reasons for it. It's disheartening to see so many Christians falling into the trap that this sin is OK. I'm filing away your article to share with others.
Cowboy Bob S.
This article gave some straightforward Scriptural principles and insights that should put to rest some of the pro-homosexual theological claims. Unfortunately, people do not know their Bibles as well as they ought, and will listen to activists that twist Scripture (as Dominic pointed out). Some may try to claim that since lesbian activities were not specifically mentioned in Leviticus and 1 Corinthians (conveniently ignoring Romans 1 as well as the biblical, historical, and cultural contexts), then the homosexual prohibition only applies to males. Yes, I can imagine people doing that.

While I was aware that Paul referred to Genesis, I had not noticed his word choice parallels. Thanks for that bit of additional information as well.
Peter N.
Does the translation of 1 Cor.6:9,10 saying "men who practice homosexuality" twist scripture to make it more politically correct and less frank than the more simple and correct translations as “sodomites” or “homosexuals”?

NIV says "homosexual offenders" but I've heard that there's no Greek basis for "offenders" or for the expansion to "those who practice …". For example, why should "homosexual" be expanded with "offenders" or "those who practice" when there is no such expansion for “the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers"?

It would appear that there is a prima facie case that some translations tend towards political correctness with a bias to being soft on homosexuality.

The implication seems to be that identifying one's orientation as “sexually immoral, idolater, adulterer, thief, greedy, drunkard, reviler, swindler" is biblically unacceptable, but that its OK to insist that identifying one’s key identity as homosexual is OK if one does not practice it. It's like insisting on identifying as being a thief!

I've even heard it preached that "gay and straight" should be added to the Galations 3:28 list (neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female): but that adds a sinful choice to a list of innate characteristics over which we have no control and which are biblically irrelevant to our salvation.

The bottom line is that we must repent and turn away from any identity as sexually immoral, idolator, adulterer, homosexual, thief, greedy, drunkard, reviler, swindler: in that sense homosexuality is not a special case and remains firmly prohibited.
Dominic Statham
I believe the translation used in the article (ESV) is correct. The Greek word is arsenokoitai which means 'men lying with males'. The apostle Paul, then, is referring to homosexual practices rather than 'homosexual orientation'. However, I do agree with you that it is unbiblical for someone to self-identify as homosexual. This is because Genesis makes clear that God created people to be heterosexual.

My understanding of the biblical view is as follows. People, whether they realise it or not, are fundamentally heterosexual because that is the way God made us to be. So, when someone grows up with with same-sex attraction it is because something has obstructed the normal processes of heterosexual development. When the obstruction is removed, people discover their innate, God-given tendencies towards opposite-sex attraction.

The people who have helped me understand this issue the most are those who have left the homosexual lifestyle as a result of their conversion to Christ and, through applying biblical principles to their lives, over time have seen their same-sex attraction diminish or disappear altogether. Most will tell you that they did not choose to be same-sex attracted. However, they will also tell you that they shed their tendency towards same-sex attraction through repentance, i.e. by turning away from bitterness, pride etc., forgiving those who have wronged them and developing godly same-sex relationships. Primarily, they did not 'decide to stop having homosexual feelings'. Instead, they addressed root causes by putting into practice the teachings of Christ, particularly as recorded in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew ch. 5 - 7).
Eileen T.
Thank you for this clear presentation. It is fashionable to call those of us who take a stand on what the Bible teaches, 'homophobics'. I suspect this is because they believe the best form of defense is attack. However, it is not those who are genuine Bible believing Christians who show mockery/ hostility/ prejudice towards homosexuals. We are to love our neighbour as ourselves and to live peaceably with all men if we truly love God. But we have to speak out the truth no matter what the sins are and no matter what the labels they stick on us. For we are all sinners saved by His amazing grace.
Bryan R.
This is an excellent article. It is a pity that so many self-professing 'theologians' aren't as honest or thorough in their research as the author of this article has been. Top shelf. Well done.

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