A biblical view of homosexuality

Books | Answering the most frequent objections Christians face. An excerpt from a WORLD Book of the Year runner-up
by Kevin DeYoung
Posted 7/25/15, 07:55 am

When church members ask a pastor, “I want to read one book spelling out the biblical view of homosexuality. What do you recommend?” I hope the pastor says, “Kevin DeYoung’s What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?” (Crossway, 2015). DeYoung lays out the basics but then has succinct chapters answering the most frequent objections Christian face, including: There are only eight verses in the Bible criticizing homosexuality The Bible doesn’t take into account loving long-term relationships You’re on the wrong side of history It’s not fair Why can’t we just love each other?

Here’s a chapter, by permission of the publisher, from DeYoung’s book, a runner-up for WORLD’s Book of the Year in the Accessible Theology category. —Marvin Olasky

Chapter 6: “The Bible Hardly Ever Mentions Homosexuality”

The first step in delegitimizing what the Bible says about homosexuality is to suggest that the Bible hardly says anything about homosexuality. As I mentioned in the introduction, in one sense this is true. The Bible is a big book, and the rightness or wrongness of homosexual practice is not at the center of it. If you read through the 1,189 chapters in the Bible and the more than 30,000 verses, you’ll find only a dozen or so passages that deal explicitly with homosexuality. We looked at most of them in part 1 of this book.

So does this mean the traditional view of marriage is based on nothing more than a few fragments? Is it fair to say that just six or seven passages have for centuries prevented those engaged in homosexual activity from finding acceptance in the church? Are denominations and families and friendships and organizations and institutions being torn apart because of a small handful of disputed texts concerning a minor issue about which Jesus never even said anything? Or to ask the question another way: if the Bible says so little about homosexuality, why do Christians insist on talking about it so much?

A Fair Question with Plenty of Answers

Let me make six points by way of response.

We need to remember that this controversy was not dreamed up by evangelical Christians.

(1) If traditionalists are writing blogs and books by the dozens, it’s because revisionist leaders first wanted to have the conversation. The reason there is so much discussion about issues like abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex marriage is because many have sought to legalize and legitimize actions that were until fifty years ago considered immoral and illegal. When it comes to the cultural flash points of our day, it hardly seems wise to avoid talking about what everyone else is talking about.

(2) The reason the Bible says comparatively little about homosexuality is because it was a comparatively uncontroversial sin among ancient Jews and Christians. There is no evidence that ancient Judaism or early Christianity tolerated any expression of homosexual activity. The Bible says a lot about idolatry, religious hypocrisy, economic injustice, and pagan worship because these were common sins for God’s people in both testaments. The prophets didn’t rail against homosexual practice because as a particularly obvious and egregious sin it was less frequently committed in the covenant community. The Bible talks about bestiality even less than it talks about homosexuality, but that doesn’t make bestiality an insignificant issue—or incest or child abuse or fifty other sins the Bible barely addresses. Counting up the number of verses on any particular topic is not the best way to determine the seriousness of the sin involved.

(3) Having said all that, it’s not like the Bible is silent on the issue of homosexual behavior. It’s explicitly condemned in the Mosaic law (Leviticus) and used as a vivid example of human rebellion in Paul’s most important letter (Romans). It’s listed among a host of other serious vices in two different epistles (1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy). It’s one of the reasons God destroyed the most infamous cities in the Bible (Sodom and Gomorrah). And that’s not even mentioning all the texts about marriage in Genesis, in Proverbs, in Song of Solomon, in Malachi, in Matthew, and in Ephesians. When the Bible speaks in a single verse—as an aside, with no agreed upon historical interpretation—about people being baptized on behalf of the dead (1 Cor. 15:29), we are right to think this is not a matter that should detain us long and one we should not be too dogmatic about. The biblical witness concerning homosexual behavior is not at all this obscure or this isolated.[1]

(4) Furthermore, there is nothing ambiguous about the biblical witness concerning homosexual behavior. Even many revisionist scholars acknowledge that the Bible is uniformly negative toward same-sex activity. The gay Dutch scholar Pim Pronk, after admitting that many Christians are eager to see homosexuality supported by the Bible, states plainly, “In this case that support is lacking.”[2] Although he doesn’t think moral positions must be dependent on the Bible (which is why he can support homosexual behavior), as a scholar he recognizes that “wherever homosexual intercourse is mentioned in Scripture, it is condemned. … Rejection is a foregone conclusion; the assessment of it nowhere constitutes a problem.”[3] Pronk recognizes that wherever the Bible speaks on this issue, it speaks with one voice. Likewise, Dan O. Via, in arguing for the revisionist view opposite Robert Gagnon, acknowledges, “Professor Gagnon and I are in substantial agreement that the biblical texts that deal specifically with homosexual practice condemn it unconditionally.”[4] No positive argument for homosexuality can be made from the Bible, only arguments that texts don’t mean what they seem to mean, and that specific texts can be overridden by other considerations.

(5) It cannot be overstated how seriously the Bible treats the sin of sexual immorality. Sexual sin is never considered adiaphora, a matter of indifference, an agree-to-disagree issue like food laws or holy days (Rom. 14:1–15:7). To the contrary, sexual immorality is precisely the sort of sin that characterizes those who will not enter the kingdom of heaven. There are at least eight vice lists in the New Testament (Mark 7:21–22; Rom. 1:24–31; 13:13; 1 Cor. 6:9–10; Gal. 5:19–21; Col. 3:5–9; 1 Tim. 1:9–10; Rev. 21:8), and sexual immorality is included in every one of these. In fact, in seven of the eight lists there are multiple references to sexual immorality (e.g., impurity, sensuality, orgies, men who practice homosexuality), and in most of the passages some kind of sexual immorality heads the lists. You would be hard-pressed to find a sin more frequently, more uniformly, and more seriously condemned in the New Testament than sexual sin.

(6) To insist that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality is not really accurate. Not only did he explicitly reaffirm the creation account of marriage as the one-flesh union of a man and a woman (Matt. 19:4–6; Mark 10:6–9); he condemned the sin of porneia (Mark 7:21), a broad word encompassing every kind of sexual sin. The leading New Testament lexicon defines porneia as “unlawful sexual intercourse, prostitution, unchastity, fornication.”[5] Likewise, New Testament scholar James Edwards states that porneia “can be found in Greek literature with reference to a variety of illicit sexual practices, including adultery, fornication, prostitution, and homosexuality. In the Old Testament it occurs for any sexual practice outside marriage between a man and a woman that is prohibited by the Torah.”[6] Jesus didn’t have to give a special sermon on homosexuality because all of his listeners understood that same-sex behavior was prohibited in the Pentateuch and reckoned as one of the many expressions of sexual sin (porneia) off limits for the Jews. Besides all this, there’s no reason to treat Jesus’s words (all of which were recorded by someone other than Jesus) as more authoritative than the rest of the Bible. He affirmed the abiding authority of the Old Testament (Matt. 5:17–18) and understood that his disciples would fill out the true meaning of his person and work (John 14:25–26; 16:12–15; cf. Luke 24:48–49; Acts 1:1–2).

A Third Way

When the Bible uniformly and unequivocally says the same thing about a serious sin, it seems unwise to find a third way which allows for some people to promote this sin. Of course, there could be a third way if the other two ways are “perform same-sex weddings” or “be an obnoxious jerk and shun those who disagree.” No doubt, many on the traditional side must grow in asking questions, listening patiently, and demonstrating

Christlike love. But those advocating for a third way usually mean more than this. They want churches and denominations and institutions to come to an “agree to disagree” compromise. They want a moratorium on making definitive pronouncements until we’ve all had the chance to mull things over a good deal longer. With so many emotions and so many things to learn, shouldn’t we keep talking to each other?

Talking is not the problem. The problem is when incessant talking becomes a cover for indecision or even cowardice. As one who has pastored for more than a dozen years in a mainline denomination, I have seen this far too often. It’s death by dialogue. The conversation never stops after reaffirming the historic position. There will always be another paper, another symposium, and another round of conversation. The moratorium on making pronouncements will only be lifted once the revisionist position has won out. Every doctrine central to the Christian faith and precious to you as a Christian has been hotly debated and disputed. If the “conversation” about the resurrection or the Trinity or the two natures of Christ continued as long as smart people on both sides disagreed, we would have lost orthodoxy long ago.

All of these third ways end up the same way: a behavior the Bible does not accept is treated as acceptable. “Agree to disagree” sounds like a humble “meet you in the middle” compromise, but it is a subtle way of telling conservative Christians that homosexuality is not a make-or-break issue and we are wrong to make it so. No one would think of proposing a third way if the sin were racism or human trafficking. To countenance such a move would be a sign of moral bankruptcy. Faithfulness to the Word of God compels us to view sexual immorality with the same seriousness. Living an ungodly life is contrary to the sound teaching that defines the Christian (1 Tim. 1:8–11; Titus 1:16). Darkness must not be confused with light. Grace must not be confused with license. Unchecked sin must not be confused with the good news of justification apart from works of the law. Far from treating sexual deviance as a lesser ethical issue, the New Testament sees it as a matter for excommunication (1 Corinthians 5), separation (2 Cor. 6:12–20), and a temptation for perverse compromise (Jude 3–16).

We cannot count same-sex behavior as an indifferent matter. Of course, homosexuality isn’t the only sin in the world, nor is it the most critical one to address in many church contexts. But if 1 Corinthians 6 is right, it’s not an overstatement to say that solemnizing same-sex sexual behavior—like supporting any form of sexual immorality—runs the risk of leading people to hell. Scripture often warns us—and in the severest terms—against finding our sexual identity apart from Christ and against pursuing sexual practice inconsistent with being in Christ (whether that’s homosexual sin, or, much more frequently, heterosexual sin). The same is not true when it comes to sorting out the millennium or deciding which instruments to use in worship. When we tolerate the doctrine which affirms homosexual behavior, we are tolerating a doctrine which leads people further from God. This is not the mission Jesus gave his disciples when he told them to teach the nations everything he commanded. The biblical teaching is consistent and unambiguous: homosexual activity is not God’s will for his people. Silence in the face of such clarity is not prudence, and hesitation in light of such frequency is not patience. The Bible says more than enough about homosexual practice for us to say something too.

Taken from What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung, © 2015, (pp. 71–77). Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.

ENDNOTES

[1] How many verses in the Bible speak directly to the issue of homosexuality? Robert Gagnon provides the following list: Gen. 9:20–27; 19:4–11; Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Judg. 19:22–25; Ezek. 16:50 (possibly 18:12 and 33:26); Rom. 1:26–27; 1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:10; and probably 2 Pet. 2:7 and Jude 7. Texts referring to homosexual cult prostitution could also be added: Deut. 23:17–18; 1 Kings 14:24; 15:12; 22:46; 2 Kings 23:7; Job 36:14; and possibly Rev. 21:8; 22:15. The Bible talks about homosexuality more than we might think (Robert A. J. Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics [Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 2001], 432).

[2] Pim Pronk, Against Nature? Types of Moral Argumentation Regarding Homosexuality (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993), 323.

[3] Ibid., 279.

[4] Dan O. Via and Robert Gagnon, Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 93.

[5] A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Third Edition, rev. and ed. Frederick William Danker, based on Walter Bauer’s lexicon (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 854.

[6] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001), 213.

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