What does the Bible teach about homosexuality?
I am not gay, have no family members who are, and have no experience with this lifestyle. So who am I to judge? Why don’t we just let consenting adults do what they wish, so long as no one else is hurt? Many in our society take this approach to the subject, whatever their own sexual preferences might be. To do otherwise seems to be intolerant and judgmental, two words our relativistic society cannot tolerate.
On the other hand, believers and those interested in the Christian faith do well to ask what God’s word says to every subject present in our culture. An objective reading of Scripture will inform our faith and make it more relevant to our problems and issues. So let’s summarize briefly what the Bible says on this difficult and divisive subject. Then we’ll seek applications from Scripture to our lives and relationships.
What the Bible says
Seven passages are typically cited with regard to this issue. In Genesis 19 we find the attempt by men in Sodom to “have sex” with Lot’s angelic visitors (v. 5), and God’s consequent punishment against the city. While homosexual practice is clearly part of the text, the passage is less clear as to whether God’s judgment is against homosexuality itself, or the crowd’s abusive attempt to commit homosexual rape.
The second passage is Leviticus 18:22, which clearly prohibits homosexual activity: “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.” The third passage is Leviticus 20:13, which prescribes the death penalty in ancient Israel for such activity, indicating the severity of the issue.
The fourth passage is Deuteronomy 23:17-18, which outlaws all prostitution, whether male or female. The fifth text is Romans 1:26-27, which describes homosexual acts as “unnatural” and “indecent.” The sixth and seventh passages are 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:8-11, texts which are considered by some to refer to homosexual prostitution but which seem more objectively to forbid homosexual practice in any context.
Proponents of homosexuality as a biblical lifestyle have arguments by which they attempt to reinterpret these passages. It may be of interest, however, to note that no biblical passage can be cited with confidence as an endorsement of this activity. No biblical leader or ethical model taught by the Scriptures can be construed effectively as practicing this lifestyle.
The Old Testament prohibitions are too unambiguous to ignore, and are renewed in the New Testament. A basic principle of biblical interpretation is that an Old Testament teaching which is renewed or endorsed in the New Testament retains the force of precept and principle for Christians today. As a result, it seems clear to me that Scripture intends us to see homosexual practice as unbiblical.
Applying Scripture to life
Those who practice homosexuality seem to fall into two categories. Some can remember decisions, choices, and circumstances by which they moved into this lifestyle. Others believe this lifestyle to be a sexual orientation which, for them, existed from birth or prior to conscious choice and intention. It is obviously both impossible and wrong for me (or any other person) to say which category is appropriate to a specific individual.
At the same time, it seems clear to me that homosexuality is an unbiblical lifestyle. So, what practical conclusions can guide those who interpret Scripture as I do, as we seek to relate biblically and positively to those who are homosexual?
First, I need to state clearly that homosexuality is not the “unpardonable sin” (cf. Mark 3.29). The only sin God cannot forgive is that sin which rejects his forgiveness. As a result, whether homosexuality is a person’s choice or orientation, he or she does not stand outside of the grace and love of God. Such sexual activity is no more unbiblical than many other sins listed in Scripture, including hatred, slander, gossip, and gluttony. We are wrong to reject the person because he or she is practicing a lifestyle which we consider unbiblical. In other ways, we may be as well.
Second, and in contrast to my first statement, we do others no good if we endorse that which is unbiblical or hurtful to them. There are twin temptations here. One is to refuse any statement which might appear judgmental with regard to homosexuality, lest we appear to be rejecting the individual. The other is to condemn the person rather than the behavior. Our Father never falls into either mistake. He always exposes that which hurts his children, all the while loving them as his children.
After including homosexuality in his list of sins (1 Corinthians 6:9), Paul next told the Corinthians: “And that is what some of you were. 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” (v. 11). Homosexuality is neither unpardonable nor endorsed by God’s word. And so we are to maintain that difficult balance which loves the person while opposing that which is unbiblical in his or her life. We want others to do the same for us, don’t we?
I must offer one last suggestion, a statement which will engender resistance from many in the gay community: those who consider themselves to be homosexual by sexual orientation should practice sexual celibacy. Many will counter that I have no idea how difficult such a lifestyle decision would be. They’re right. But given that I understand the Bible clearly to teach that homosexuality is an unbiblical lifestyle, the only conclusion I can draw is that the practice of this lifestyle will lead the person out of the will of God and into harmful behavior. Abstinence is, by this logic, the option which is in that person’s best personal interest.
I pray that the Lord of Scripture may use his word to bring healing, hope, and help to those who are troubled by this emotional issue. To the degree that these thoughts have shed more light than heat, my prayer will be answered.