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Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Bible on Homosexuality

There are some basic arguments that like to be floated against the view that homosexual behavior is a sin. They deserve a response.

1. "Jesus never said it."

The argument from absence is a stunning argument. What Jesus said, according to Scripture, was more than could be recorded (John 21:25). But "Jesus never said" is a horrible argument. Patently clear, for instance, Jesus never said that it was wrong to rape and murder little children for sport. No one would dream of arguing, "Well, Jesus never said it, so it must be okay." But the fact that no one makes such an argument is simply an indication that this whole objection is a "pick and choose" approach. They will hold to what "Jesus never said" if they agree and discard what "Jesus never said" if they disagree ... which makes their own agreement or disagreement the final arbiter of what is and isn't right.

2. "It's not clear."

This takes various forms. Similar to #1, it suggests that Jesus never said it and it's just not very clear in the Bible. "You know," they will say, "the Bible only talks about it in a very few places." The "very few" varies, depending on what they will accept. There is no doubt that Lev. 18:22 and Lev. 20:13 discuss the behavior. And Romans 1:26-27 seem abundantly clear. All of these have the good grace to avoid the term, "homosexual". Why "good grace"? Well, because the term has come to mean something different in the last 50 years or so. Since the 1970's the push has been on to make "homosexual" a definition of a person -- "sexual orientation" -- rather than a particular interest, something that doesn't define a person. "Homosexual" has become something you are rather than something you do. Despite the glaring lack of scientific evidence, "homosexual" has moved from an act (which the Bible and I are referencing) to a way of life, a birth condition, indeed, an entire culture of its own. So the three passages avoid that pitfall by not even using the word. They reference the act -- two people of the same gender lying together as two people of opposite gender normally would. And they are not unclear.

As for the other references, most modern Bibles use the translation, "homosexual" (in its various forms). So right off the bat, 1 Cor 6:9-10 is in trouble because of the use of the term, as is 1 Tim 1:10. These reference the arsenokoites. The word comes from two Greek words. The first is arsen, meaning "male", and the second is koites. On the face of it, the term means "a bed", but it is seldom used in that sense alone. Instead, it references the marriage bed, a place of cohabitation (either sinful or not). Examples would include Rom 9:10, Rom 13:13, and Heb 13:4. As such, the Greek dictionaries define arsenokoites as "one who lies with a male as with a female." So, however you want to slice it, there is more than one reference to the practice, and no matter how you want to define it, they aren't unclear.

"Oh," some will then say, "it's clear, but it isn't referencing all homosexual behavior. It's referencing ritual cult behaviors -- the pagan practices of cult prostitutes." While this seems to be an affirmation that it's clear, it is accomplished by claiming that all of Christendom from the beginning until now failed to comprehend the clear meaning of the passage. That's a problem. Still, is that what it means? That's really hard to hold if you read the texts in context. Look, for instance, at the context of Lev 20. What we have is a whole series of relational rules, not religious rules. These cover adultery, all manner of incest, "if a man lies with a male as with a woman", and bestiality. If we are going to take verse 13 where it lies and say, "Well, that is talking about ritual pagan practices", then we're going to have to do the same with the rest of the text. Nothing in the context of the passage references anything pagan at all. Indeed, it seems a huge leap from "adultery" and "incest" and "bestiality" to "ritual pagan practices". It just doesn't fit. Now, Lev 18 might allow this little dance since verse 21 references sacrificing children to Molech (obviously a ritual pagan practice), but it is still not in comfortable context there and it has no such context in chapter 20. Of course, the passage on the topic in Romans 1 completely ignores anything pagan or ritual. The context is the decline of mankind into deeper depravity, not simply ritual pagan practices. The context ends with a rather lengthy description of the depths of the evil:
They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless (Rom 1:29-31).
Feel free to tack on "in terms of ritual pagan practices", but do so with the admission that neither the text nor the context supports it. No, it references all types of sin and is not in any way limited or connected to pagan practices. Instead, Paul is talking about mainstream sin.

I skipped right over the other problem here. The claim that it's not as clear as it appears to be has a basic requirement built into it: "All of Christendom from the beginning until now failed to comprehend the clear meaning of the passage." The accusation is not small, nor is it minor. It isn't even merely an accusation against Christendom. Jesus said His Spirit would lead His disciples into all truth. While Church history has had some twists and turns in various interpretations and translations of various texts and doctrines, this one has never been in question. The accusation, then, is that the Church has failed until the glorious end of the 20th century to figure this stuff out, and the Holy Spirit is the main culprit because He just never could get through to His people what was meant despite all their efforts to properly understand the intent of Scripture. So either we're talking about a colossal failure on the part of God and His people, or we're talking about a massive arrogance on the part of those who claim, "You've never got it right for 2000 years, but we have finally figured it out!"

3. "That's Old Testament. Are you going to favor other Old Testament laws?"

Since two of the primary references against "men who lies with a male as with a female" come from the Old Testament, this particular argument is choice. "Well, it says, that eating shellfish is an abomination. So are you going to hold to that?" "You know," they will argue, "it says you're not supposed to look at your wife naked when she's on her period (Lev 18:19). So are you going to hold to that?" It even seems to baffle those who hold that homosexual behavior in all its forms is sin. The reason this seems to cause problems is that many Christians have decided to scuttle the Old Testament. It's only here, in these last few moments as the Old Testament Law ship sinks beneath the waves, that they realize they left something they wanted on the deck. The problem is made worse because of the Old Testament penal system. "Hey, the verse you're looking at is Lev 20:13. Well, look at Lev 20:9. It says 'Anyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.' How many of us would survive under that rule?" Or, "Yeah, and it says that adultery carries the death penalty. Are you going with that, too?" So, with the willing discard of the Law and the apparent harshness of the Old Testament, many Christians end up with nowhere to stand. "Well, I still think it's a sin; I suppose I'll just have to be inconsistent here." Oh, no, they never say it ... that's just where they end up.

So let's take a look. First, this "It says this over here ... what are you going to do about it?" is an argument with a name. It's called "red herring". It does not address the basic discussion; it seeks to mislead. It doesn't offer a principle or a counter to the argument. It just seeks to take you down a rabbit trail. Don't go there.

Now, I need to point out that they're right in one aspect. Christians who want to claim that homosexual behavior (or incest or adultery or sexual immorality or bestiality or the rest) are sin while discarding the Old Testament are treading on stormy waters. It is inconsistent to say, "Well, I think that this stuff that I think is sin is still sin, but that stuff that I no longer think is sin is not." Indeed, it should sound familiar. It's the same argument as the "Jesus never said" folk, but from your own side. You have become the final arbiter of morality. So be careful in what you pick and choose.

I hold that the moral law of the Old Testament is still in effect. Clearly, we are not under a theocracy, so the civil requirements (the punishments) are not in our hands. I am not going to suggest the death penalty for either homosexual behavior or adultery ... or cursing one's mother and father. On the other hand, I would hold that the moral values the Old Testament encompassed are still God's view on morality. Thus, He is still opposed to adultery, bestiality, rape, murder ... and "men who lie with a man as with a woman." So I would hold that nothing has changed in the area of morality, and that, to God, men who lie with men are an abomination. (I mean, seriously, do you figure God changed on that? "Yeah, I used to hate it, but it's kind of growing on Me now. Hmm! I guess I was homophobic." Let's get real.)

There are other opposing arguments, but most either don't address the question (as in emotional responses) or they do not address Scripture. The most popular I've seen is the one that allows the world to define right and wrong and then forces that on the pages of the Bible. "Well," they seem to say, "since it's okay with a majority of folk today, the Bible can't be opposed to it." And, to be consistent, they do this with other matters. Did you know that there are websites devoted to arguing that fornication, adultery, wife-swapping, and such are all acceptable Christian behaviors? Well, of course they are ... if your measure is "What we deem acceptable today." I mean, I've actually heard it argued that "Bestiality is still a sin because it violates the animal's free will." What??!! So ... if an animal is willing, it's okay? No, these are not biblical arguments. As such, they deserve to be addressed, but not here. The Bible isn't unclear. Anyone with any clarity knows this. It takes real work to move off that mark. And then, having shifted off the clear and unequivocal, they will say, "Well, it's your responsibility to prove your point!" No, we didn't move. Unfortunately for people engaged in homosexual activities, there seems to be no shortage of hard working people who are willing to take on God and His clear Word in order to convince them and the world that this sin that God called an abomination is really okay. Really, that's not doing anyone any favors.


David said...

I was watching the History Channel the other day and they we talking about the 7 deadly sins. They pointed out that all sins boiled down to pride (which I agree with) and that since pride is thought of as sinful, all those others are sin. But now adays we applaud pride, just look at Hollywood (their example) and you'll see that pride is no longer a bad thing, so all the rest are no longer bad.
I changed channels after that, but its stuck with me. Their premise was that morality is dictated by Man, that there are no moral absolutes. How can you argue against someone that believes that morality is what we make it?

Stan said...

"How can you argue against someone that believes that morality is what we make it?"

Well ... you can't. On the other hand, if that is the position he (or she) will take, then neither can it be argued that morality applies to anyone further than than the one who makes it. That is, moral for you does not mean moral for me. And while you may say that murdering you would be immoral, I may not, nor would you have any ground on which to disagree. (Interestingly, I just had this conversation with someone advocating self-made morality this last weekend.)

What baffles me is this notion that I would be immoral for believing that the Bible claims that homosexual behavior is immoral. So while my agreeing with God's view is "fomenting hate" (the claim of most who protest the view that homosexual behavior is sin), others calling my view "evil" are not "fomenting hate"? How does that work?

Marshall Art said...

As you likely know, I am often engaged in just such a discussion over at you-know-where. I get a combination of the first two arguments you listed, with a heavy emphasis on lack of clarity. "We know some form of homosexual behavior is prohibited." which I liken to the child saying, "I know some foods before dinner are prohibited, but maybe crackers is OK."

Then, I'm treated to examples of outside sources describing Canaanite rituals utilizing sex. The unspoken message is that Canaanites were anti-homosexual behavior but were just so devoted to their pagan god that they were cool with engaging in otherwise repulsive activities. In a manner of speaking, they then argue from the silence of their sources regarding the existence of homosexual activity outside the temple. Apparently no one in that society had those desires at all, but just wanted to be good Molech worshipers.

Here's the ironic part: According to people like Robert Gagnon, many pro-homosexual "theologians" admit there is no possibility of Godly approval for the practice.

So now, there's a greater focus (over at you-know-where) on THIS particular defense of the behavior:

“Finally, friends, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”


“But the fruit of the Spirit [of God] is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

Verses like these are proofs now used in support of the notion that God would bless homosexual unions. If they're nice, how could it be wrong?

The latter comes from Gal 5 and that chapter has also been used in defense of the notion that we are no longer obligated to abide the Law. I guess that's important if one intends to ignore one or two of them.

Stan said...

Not in their defense (because I believe they're wrong), but you may have misunderstood the "pagan ritual sex" objection. It is known (this much is true) that there were practices at the time of pagan ritual sex. The Bible itself references these. (An example would be Deut 23:17, in which it references "whore" for females and "sodomite" for males in the KJV. These are, as other translations put it, cult prostitutes. They served in the pagan temple as sex practitioners for the pagan worship and would include both heterosexual and homosexual behaviors.) These are certainly prohibited in Scripture (as the Deuteronomy references declares). So the "pagan ritual sex" objection tries to suggest that all of the Old Testament references to such practices are these cult prostitutes, and that it's certainly wrong today to engage in that kind of ritual, pagan, sex-worship practices. Of course, to make such an argument requires that you ignore the text, the context, and the obvious intent of the passages in question (as I said in the post). But the Canaanites were not, in this venue, anti-homosexual. They practiced all manner of sexual deviation in their pagan ritual sex processes.

Of course, I've seen that whole "whatever is pure" argument and cannot figure it out. Either the idea is that we determine "whatever is pure" by whatever standards we choose (as opposed to allowing God to declare what is pure) or the idea is "We're thinking nice thoughts and you 'anti-homosexuals' are thinking mean thoughts, so you should stop." I'm not sure which, but neither makes any sense. As for the "fruit of the Spirit" argument, doesn't "self-control" factor in there someplace? No, I guess not. As long as we enjoy "love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness", no manner of sexual sin should be a problem ... right? I mean, how does sex outside of marriage violate any of that? (By the way, if you dig and can get straight answers, I don't think sexual relations outside of marriage are considered sin either. Oh, adultery and bestiality and sex with minors, perhaps, but not consenting adult partners of any gender. Just because God bans it doesn't mean that we have to. Fruit of the Spirit, you know.)

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Excellent post! It's always great to see a good, biblical defense of the true Christian stance on homosexuality. You might find my post on the subject similar in respects:

Stan said...

Looks pretty much the same. I guess we came to the same (obvious) conclusions. But, of course, that's just "our opinion", right?

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Yep. We are so intolerant!