One thing I am not known for is brevity; however, it’s sometimes important to be able to provide a bottom line basis for one’s perspective. Consequently, I think it a worthy task to try to sum up affirming theology in a single article. As a teacher, however, it’s always my concern that I don’t simply state things, but explain them. Therefore, although I will condense a much broader examination of Scripture into a single article, I will still take time to provide a basis for each claim. Still, I strongly advise you to read the more detailed articles in the Homosexuality Study Hall for a more thorough presentation of affirming theology.
So, what is the bottom line? When we’ve combed through the finer points of theology, how exactly can we know that homosexuality is neither wrong nor sinful in the eyes of God?
First, it’s important to have a firm grasp of an important principle. Within our new covenant, which is called the law of liberty, everything is, by default, permissible. Paul, the apostle, put it like this: “All things are lawful for me” (1Co. 10:23). So then, determining what is and isn’t sin should not begin with an assumption that nothing is lawful unless Scripture explicitly allows it. To the contrary, the opposite is true. All things are lawful unless the Scriptures of our new covenant, which we are under, condemn them.
Consequently, it is not the task of an affirming Christian to find Scripture to justify homosexuality, or to provide a biblical example of a gay couple. Likewise, it’s not the task of a person to have to find new covenant Scripture to justify countless things that we take for granted, like worshiping in church buildings (the first Christians worshiped out of homes, not churches), using instruments in our worship services, traveling by car or airplane… The list could go on forever. None of these things require explicit sanction by Scripture because all things are, by default, lawful.
It is the responsibility of those who believe homosexuality is a sin to prove it. As a result, the purpose of this article is to demonstrate that the biblical passages most commonly used to condemn homosexuality actually do not apply.
Genesis 19; Jude 7
Genesis 19 recounts the destruction of the infamous sister cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. It is traditionally, and incorrectly, understood that God destroyed these cities because of homosexuality—a misinterpretation based upon the fact that the townspeople in the destruction narrative were intent upon having sex with Lot’s apparently male visitors (in fact, they were angels, not men). However, there are a few major problems with this interpretation.
First of all, nowhere in the Bible does it say that the Sodomites (those who inhabited Sodom) were homosexuals. What the Bible does tell us is that they were prideful, greedy, lazy, stingy, indifferent to the poor and needy, arrogant, and abominable (a word meaning “hated/detested because of an idolatrous association”) (Ez. 16:49-50). Unfortunately, rather than allow Scripture to, itself, identify the sin of Sodom, a great number of people take it upon themselves to force homosexuality to be the sin, contrary to every biblical witness.
In fact, when Jesus Himself referenced Sodom, the great sin that stuck out in His mind—far from being homosexuality—was cruelty to strangers (inhospitality) (Lk. 10:4-12). This is attested to by the prophet Ezekiel, who characterized the Sodomites as greedy, stingy, and indifferent to the needy, all of which would certainly lead to them being inhospitable.
Furthermore, we must keep in mind that judgment had already been pronounced upon the Sodomites before the angels had even stepped foot in the city (Gen. 19:13). So, we can’t conclude that the events recorded in chapter 19 led to the judgment, for judgment had already been passed before these events took place.
And let’s think about this for a minute. Were these townsmen homosexuals at all? Actually, they weren’t. Verse 4 records that “both young and old, all the people to the last man” surrounded Lot’s house, demanding to have sex with the visitors. Are we to believe that the entire town was full of gay men? Even in San Francisco, a city often hailed as the gay Mecca, homosexuals comprise a minority of the population. We must suspend all logic to conclude that these townsmen were all gay. But, if they weren’t just a bunch of horny gay men (who could have simply had sex with each other if that was the issue), we must ask ourselves what their motivation was. Why were they trying to have sex with (and ultimately rape) these visitors?
The answer is found in another passage that is commonly, albeit incorrectly, believed to condemn the Sodomites because of homosexuality—Jude 7. In this verse, the apostle states that the Sodomites pursued “strange flesh” (sarkos heteras, literally meaning “different flesh”). Now, traditionalists interpret this as a reference to homosexuality; however, Jude didn’t say that they pursued the same flesh, but “different” flesh.
But, what made this flesh different? If we keep this verse in its context, the answer becomes obvious. Verses 6-9 each deal with various interactions between humans and angels. Verse 6 talks about the angels who intermarried with humans in the days of Noah (Genesis 6:1-4), verse 8 talks about people speaking evil of angels, and verse 9 talks about two angel beings (Michael, the archangel, and Satan, the chief fallen angel) disputing over the body of Moses. Furthermore, when verse 7 deals with the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, it expressly states that they sinned “in like manner” to what took place in the days of Noah (the previous verse). What took place was bestiality—humans and angels engaging in sexual intercourse.
Considering that the visitors in Gen. 19 were, indeed, angels, it makes perfect sense that what made the flesh strange/different was that it was the flesh of angels. They were angels who had taken human form, and the Sodomites attempted to rape them. Jude identifies their sin as attempted bestiality, not homosexuality. This certainly qualifies as the “abominations” they were guilty of committing, according to Ezekiel—bestiality was identified as an abomination in Lev. 18:23-26.
When allowed to speak for itself, Scripture clearly identifies the sins of Sodom, and homosexuality was not one of them. Such an interpretation must be forced on the text, and no God-honoring student of God’s word would be content to do such a thing. Unfortunately, many traditionalists are not students of the word when it comes to homosexuality. They read it, take it at face value, and never actually study the texts. As a result, these passages, which have nothing whatsoever to do with homosexuality, are used in a manner wholly inconsistent with their intent.
Leviticus 19:22; 20:13
The problem with this passage is that it doesn’t apply to Christians. Romans 6:14 states that we are not under the law (the Mosaic Law) but under grace. Romans 3:19 states that whatever the Law says, it says to those who are under it. We can only conclude, therefore, that the Law was not written to us, neither does it apply as a standard for Christian conduct.
This doesn’t subtract from its value and relevance, however. The Old Testament, and the Mosaic Law contained therein, provide us with valuable insight into the character of God, as well as how God dealt with His people during times past. It’s a very important foundation for our own faith in God; however, we must be careful not to make the mistake of submitting to the Law. Romans 7:1-4 tells us why this is so dangerous, teaching that such an act is a form of spiritual adultery committed against Christ—the one with whom we are now in covenant.
In Paul’s epistle to the Galatian church, he makes as good a case as can be made regarding the nature of our being freed from the old Law. He calls the Galatians foolish for allowing people to bewitch them and bring them back under the snare of the Law (Gal. 3:1-2). Calling it (the Mosaic Law) a yoke of bondage, he compels us to stand fast in the freedom of our new covenant, and to not entangle ourselves again to the Law (Gal. 5:1). He goes on to say that even a little leaven (yeast) leavens the whole lump, i.e. we can’t even afford to keep some portions of the Mosaic Law, for in doing so, we become indebted to the entire Law (Gal. 5:2-3, 7-9). We must detach ourselves from it in its entirety! Finally, he warns that those who attempt to hold them to requirements of the Law will be punished (Gal. 5:10), for they are teaching against the very heart of the gospel message by instructing people to yield to any portion of the Law (he specifically deals with the issue of circumcision in this passage, but the principle applies to the entire Law, as the context clearly lays out).
So then, the proscriptions in Leviticus do not apply to Christians in any way whatsoever. But, the story doesn’t end there. Those who continue to try to hold others to these proscriptions are committing a very egregious sin against Christ, and, as Paul warned, God is going to hold them accountable.
When kept in its context (which, unfortunately, is rarely done with Scripture), this passage is clearly condemning same-sex sexual activity because of its socio-religious association with idolatry within the Greco-Roman culture that Paul lived in and addressed. He was viewing the acts through the eyes of His cultural perceptions, and, to him, same-sex sexual acts were a sign of idolatry. This would be the conclusion anyone of that time would draw, given how deeply intertwined same-sex sexual acts were within that society’s idolatrous beliefs and practices.
The Romans were known for being sexual people. In fact, their honor of the god Bacchus led them to engage in orgies (group sex parties). So connected to their worship of Bacchus were these orgies that they became known as Bacchanalia. All manner of sexual acts were known to take place in these sex-fests, including same-sex sexual activity.
This is clearly the lens through which Paul is considering and describing same-sex sexual acts. In verse 23, he explicitly describes their idolatry, saying that they changed the glory of God into images fashioned after men and animals (i.e. idols). In the very next verse, he says, “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves.” But, what is the “therefore” there for? We can only consider the previous verse, in which he explicitly identifies idolatry as their egregious error.
He does precisely the same thing in verses 25-26, saying, “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 dishonorable passions…” For what reason, exactly? —Because they rejected the true faith and began worshiping idols. Obviously, idolatry is at the heart of this discourse, and the sexual acts he goes on to describe in verses 26-27 (same-sex sexual acts) are clearly seen as an extension of their idolatrous beliefs. God gave them over (or released them) to the acts they were already engaging in in their idolatry.
So, when Paul calls same-sex sexual acts vile/dishonorable (v. 26), unnatural (v. 26), and unseemly/shameful (v. 27), he’s describing them through the prism of their socio-religous association with the evils of idolatry. In 2010, I might call the swastika vile, or the inverted pentagram shameful. It’s not that these things are evil in and of themselves. It’s what they represent within our modern culture that’s the problem—racist cruelty and witchcraft, respectively.
In exactly the same way, Paul’s description of same-sex sexual acts were not describing the acts in a universal, inherent way. He was clearly describing the acts in relation to their idolatrous source within that culture. But, to continue to hold people to this socially subjective perception of same-sex acts would be as inappropriate as continuing to hold women hostage to the socially subjective condemnations of women speaking in church (1Co. 14:34-35; 1Ti. 2:11), teaching or having authority over men (1Ti. 2:12), praying with their head uncovered (1Co. 11:5), or wearing specific types of clothing (1Ti. 2:9). That ancient patriarchal view is as inapplicable to our modern society as the idolatrous view of same-sex sexual acts are. Paul’s words were appropriate for their time and place. It is not, however, appropriate to apply them today.
1Corinthians 6:9-10; 1Timothy 1:9-10
In these two vice lists, Paul uses Greek words that were not properly translated in many English Bibles. But, you need not take my word for it. Put any 5 or 6 translations side-by-side and you’ll see how inconsistent their renderings of the words commonly thought to condemn homosexuality actually are.
The translation of malakoi, used in 1Co. 6:9, was translated in various versions as effeminate (having a feminine quality), homosexuals, those who participate in homosexuality (i.e. sexually active homosexuals only), and as male prostitutes (many of whom do not have sex with people of the same-sex). So, how are we to understand exactly who Paul was condemning, seeing how inconsistently his word was rendered in the most common English translations?
Furthermore, the various renderings of arsenokoitai(s), used in both passages, was translated as abusers of themselves with mankind, homosexuals, those who practice homosexuality, perverts, and sodomites. But, don’t female prostitutes also abuse themselves with men? For that matter, there are male prostitutes who have sex with men, but who aren’t homosexual. And perverts… There are plenty of dirty old men who molest young girls. They certainly qualify as perverts, so are they, too, condemned here?
It’s obvious that the proper translation of these somewhat obscure Greek terms raises many questions. At the very least, it demonstrates beyond any reasonable doubt that there is legitimate cause to rethink the translation of both of these terms.
To make a long story short, what Paul was actually condemning in these passages was not homosexuality in any general sense, but a practice that was very common within the Greco-Roman world that he lived in. He was condemning pederastic prostitution—older men purchasing young boy prostitutes as their sexual slaves. In both passages, he condemns both the boy prostitutes (calling them malakoi—literally “soft ones” in 1Co. 6 and pornoi—prostitutes—in 1Ti. 1), as well as their older male customers (calling them arsenokoitai(s)—literally “those who bed men”). He goes a step further in the 1Ti. 1 vice list by also condemning the ancient equivalent of the pimp (calling them andropodistais—literally slave traders; called menstealers or kidnappers in some translations).
So, rather than condemning homosexuals or homosexuality, Paul condemns a specific form of prostitution that was well-known to his readers. There’s a huge difference between condemning homosexuality and condemning sexual exploitation. One cannot reasonably use his words to judge homosexuality any more than one could use passages condemning heterosexual prostitution to judge heterosexuality.
The Bottom Line…
Here’s the bottom line. There isn’t a single passage in the entire Bible that condemns homosexuality in a manner that is applicable today. The most commonly referenced passages are either errors in translation (1Co. 6:9-10; 1Ti. 1:9-10), errors in interpretation (Gen. 19; Jude 7), or errors in application (Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Ro. 1:26-27). When we apply sound principles of biblical interpretation, we quickly run out of proof-texts to use in the condemnation of homosexuality. Quite frankly, there isn’t a single one!
But, what does this mean? Well, going back to the important principle I dealt with at the beginning of this piece, all things are lawful unless condemned. This applies to homosexuality. It cannot be considered sinful or wrong unless Scripture condemns it; and as we have discovered, it doesn’t—at least, not in a manner that is applicable today. The closest we come is Paul’s condemnation of same-sex activity in Romans 1. However, within a society in which homosexuality has absolutely nothing to do with idolatry, this passage’s condemnation is now obsolete.
Romans 4:15 tells us that where there is no law, there is no transgression, i.e. you can’t break a law that doesn’t exist. Consequently, no law of our new covenant is broken by people who engage in same-sex sexual activity, provided that their engagements are within the same framework that allows for opposite-sex sexual activity—marriage.
The problem is that in many parts of the world, marriage is not possible for same-sex couples for legal reasons. However, there is no reason whatsoever to hold gay Christians to man’s unjust laws. He would certainly honor a marital commitment that two believers make to one another, whether man’s government honors it or not. So, until legal marriages for same-sex couples are permitted, spiritual marriages will certainly suffice. And that’s the bottom line.