What does the Bible actually say about homosexuality?
Wow – what a great and controversial subject. I always like topics that matter day-to-day in people’s lives. Before mentioning anything else, let me comment that any biblical discussion of sex seems a little to me like talking Henry Ford about combustion engines or Col Colt about revolvers. God, as creator, “invented” sex. When Ford tells you not to check the gas tank with a lit match or Col. Colt recommends not pointing a pistol at your head and pulling the trigger, it is wise to listen; they probably know what they are talking about! In the same way, we often see God as the Cosmic Killjoy when it comes to sex. Why would He have any opinion on human sexuality at all? But He does, and thus, it is very wise for us to listen. Homosexuality is just one of the many areas in which God gives instruction about human sexuality. There are so many aspects to this discussion, but first we will take a quick look at what there is in the canon about this topic. It seems that there are about half-a-dozen clear references in scripture to homosexuality in some form. Here are the main ones:
The Story of Sodom and Gomorrah
“… Before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, surrounded the house, both young and old, all the people from every quarter; 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 have relations with them.” (Gen 19:4-5, NASU)
“You shall not have intercourse with your neighbor’s wife, to be defiled with her. You shall not give any of your offspring to offer them to Molech, nor shall you profane the name of your God; I am the LORD. You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination. Also you shall not have intercourse with any animal to be defiled with it, nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it; it is a perversion.” (Lev 18:20-23, NASU)
“If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them. If there is a man who marries a woman and her mother, it is immorality; both he and they shall be burned with fire, so that there will be no immorality in your midst. If there is a man who lies with an animal, he shall surely be put to death; you shall also kill the animal.” (Lev 20:13-15, NASU)
In the opening passages of Paul’s letter to the Romans
“For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.” (Rom 1:26-27, NASU)
In a list of former lifestyles in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians
“Or 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 effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor 6:9-11, NASU)
In a list of people in Paul’s letter to Timothy
“But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.” (1 Tim 1:8-11, NASU)
There are a few others, but generally they are similar to these or are less obviously about strictly homosexuality. I also want to reference this passage in the letter from James. I think it is significant in this discussion:
“Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.” (James 1:21-24, NASU)
For some of you, there is no reason to read on. The question asked was “what does the Bible say…” and there you have it at face value. Below I am adding some of my personal thoughts on what some of these passages mean and don’t mean. Some are my unprovoked thoughts and some are in response to various views of others. There is a lot of thought about this, that’s for sure!
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In regards to scripture, it is very difficult for us to have personal honesty about what the Bible says about a subject we have an emotional attachment to, especially if it has a connection to our identity and doubly especially if it is connected to sex. How many people have had a “crisis of their faith” because they are having sex with a boyfriend/girlfriend? They know the behavior is morally out of line, but they sure don’t want to break off the relationship… so something has to give. In these times, we are also in danger of re-examining scripture with the new lenses of our own desires and behaviors and if we aren’t very careful, we will make scripture say what we want it to say.
I agree the many of these passages are not clear and leave a lot of room for discussion. However, the fact that we cannot know every meaning in the Bible with certainly does not also mean that we can know no meanings in it. I think these passages make it pretty clear that homosexual behavior is outside of God’s desire for right living. Let’s look at them with a little more detail
Sodom. This first example in the Bible references homosexual behavior, but also is referencing rape. Which is being condemned? Is Sodom being doomed because it is full of homosexual people, or because it is full of deeply twisted, abusive, perverted and wicked people? In this case, I think the latter. Is the homosexuality part of the symptoms of the sickness of Sodom? I believe so, and I think the Romans passages backs this up. At the same time, I personally think this is not a great passage for proving that God disapproves of homosexuality of any form. For this reason, let’s move on. Plus, other passages point out that the problem of ignoring hospitality traditions was part of the sin.
Levitical Laws. This passage is pretty clear, at least about male homosexuality (as well as other sexual perversions, like bestiality, incest, and adultery). One of the main arguments against this passage is not actually against the passage itself, but rather then application of it. “Nobody follows all of the Levitical laws, so why would we pick and choose which ones to follow?” These passages, for example also mention tattoos (19:28), sex during a woman’s period (18:19), mixing of materials in clothing (19:19), and even side burns (19:27)! I can sympathize with this argument, though I think it is too simplistic. I believe it is possible to look for and discover real guidelines for right and moral behavior in these laws. As believers, we are not “under” these laws, but they are still very helpful for seeing some of God’s perspectives for setting a group of people apart to be a blessing to the rest of the world, a people of worship for Him, and a good life for these people. Notice, for example, that in these passages, God also includes treatment of the handicapped (19:14), protection of personal property (19:11-13) sexuality (most of chapter 18), protection against being cheated (19:35,36) right treatment of foreigners (19:33,34) elderly (19:32) and even needy and homeless (19:10)! It would be wrong to throw out any of these just because we don’t want to abide by them. They must be honestly examined for their value to our society and to our lives as individuals. There is a great wealth of wisdom and guideline in these passages, and the passages about sex perhaps most of all, since there is so little in the way of a “guidebook” anywhere else! All in all, though I would concede that these passages are not absolute evidence that it is morally wrong in our day and age to engage in homosexuality… so let’s move on.
Romans. This passage teaches very clearly that people who have rejected God, chosen not to honor Him, to worship what He has created rather than worshiping Him, have been allowed to wander free out into the wilderness of their own lusts and impurities. God apparently does not stop them from following whatever direction their whims lead them. Paul, in this case, uses homosexuality as an extreme example before he offers up some other examples of the way people rebelling against God’s way live. In verses 1:28-32, we can see this more extensive list. They are in par with homosexuality, which should be a reminder to all of us that we need a savior. However it should not be denied that homosexuality is vividly described here as seriously symptomatic of a “depraved” mind that is wandering far from God. I think this passage shows that homosexuality, along with greed, envy, murder, gossip, arrogance, (and giving approval to these things) and the rest are things God considers wrong, not fit, depraved. This one makes a pretty strong case. And, by the way, it is NO defense to say “well, other people do these other things.” Right, and they (we) are wrong too. May God continue to set us apart from these things and for Himself. This passage, by the way, specifically mentions male and female homosexual behavior! But wait, there is more…
Pauls other letters. The passages in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy make it clear that, in plain English, homosexuality is listed along with adulterers, idolaters, fornicators, thieves, drunkards, con artists, people who kill their parents, kidnappers, people who lie under oath, rebels, etc are not what they need to be (in 1 Corinthians, they are not inheritors of God’s Kingdom, in 1 Timothy, they are in need of the law, apparently to control them and show them that what they do is wrong – I personally believe both passages are describing the same condition – still being a slave to the law and thus not a child of God’s). These, like the Romans passage make it pretty clear that these are things that should be avoided and rejected in our own lives. They are not fitting for a follower of Christ. There is certainly a difference between messing up in any one of these areas – what is key is the recognition that it is messing up! It is not appropriate, and potentially not possible for a follower of Christ to embrace any of these as acceptable, or to teach the same. If someone claims to be a believer and yet embraces one of these as a right lifestyle, I must assume they are either in denial of scripture and the Holy Spirit’s call for a period of time in their lives, or they are not believers at all. Again, let me say that if someone is a believer and struggles in one of these areas, that is a normal part of the battle against the flesh. The key is that a disciple will struggle with them, not embrace and accept them. The Greek word for “homosexual” in these passages is often translated “sodomite” (the word translated as “effeminate” seems to have a connection to someone being intentionally effeminate – like cross dressing, by the way) but “sodomite” can be confusing in this day and age. The Greek word is arsenokoites (ar-sen-ok-oy’-tace); it combines one of the Greek words for “man” with a Greek word for “sex” or “sperm” (from which we get the word “coitus” – you can see it in the Greek word above).
Biblesoft’s New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright (c) 1994, Biblesoft and International Bible Translators, Inc.)
The ‘Born gay” question
I would like to add a personal thought about the idea of people being “born gay”. I assume that this is question should actually be asked “are people born with a genetic predisposition to being attracted to the same sex?” I don’t know if this happens or not (the evidence is sketchy either way), but I also don’t see what difference it would make if it were. If someone is born with a genetic predisposition to being attracted to the same gender, I don’t see how that in any way impacts their ability to follow biblically prescribed behavior. I certainly am genetically predisposed to desire sex with females, but there are certainly biblical and moral restrictions about how/when/if I engage in that (with only the woman I am married to, by the way). It doesn’t make any difference how much I desire to have sex with someone else, it is morally wrong for me to do so! Imagine applying this to other areas… are we merely animals? Are we destined by our genetics to certain behaviors? What if there are people born with a genetic predisposition to being attracted sexually to children? What if there are people that only get aroused by rape? What if an antisocial person is born with a genetic predisposition to murdering people? Sexual decision making is moral decision making – and those decisions need to be made primarily based on a correct biblical picture of right and wrong, and not primarily based on desire or emotions.
How should Christians behave toward homosexuals?
Christians should love and care for people who have decided to live the homosexual lifestyle. We should NEVER hear slurs, name calling, or condemnation of them as people. We should be interested in them as people created in God’s image and loved by Him. My prayer is that as Ambassadors of Christ, “gay” people would know they are loved and welcomed by us… and though we see their lifestyle as less than God’s best for them and could therefore never accept it as ok… that it is based on our love for them and our faith that motivate us to want something different for them. Let’s make sure that we are praying for them and safe when they need us.
And, if there is a question about Christians claiming to be Christian and to be homosexual, check out Gal 6 and Matthew 18 for ideas on how to handle that confrontation.
If you struggle with homosexual feelings and beliefs about yourself, by the way, please feel free to contact me and let me know – I will be happy to call or email you and talk it through with you. There are some excellent books about this stuff as well.
I hope this has been helpful,