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The Bible Is Clear About Same-Sex Sexual Behaviour
There are many ways of interpreting Scripture, but getting it to condone same-sex sexual practice twists it beyond recognition.

Marcel was struggling with same-sex attraction when he finally decided to take the big step of calling the local gay hotline. He had grown up in a Christian home, gone to church all his life, and committed his life to Jesus at age 16. Now, two years later, he was asking himself some difficult questions and didn't know who else to call for help.

There are six main Bible passages that address homosexual behaviour. Gay theology … reinterprets each of these passages.

The person who answered the hotline offered to mail some brochures regarding what the Bible says about homosexuality.

Marcel thought he knew what the Bible said. His church taught that homosexual behaviour is wrong, and had no trouble pointing out the verses that said so. But the materials he received offered a whole new way of looking at what those verses said about homosexuality and he began to wonder if what he had always believed might be wrong.

Marcel's questions are not unusual for Christian young people who experience same-sex attraction. Many churches tell their members what is right and what is wrong, without giving a detailed explanation of the biblical passages themselves. In most cases churches do not explain why God made the rules He set out for us in the Bible, or how these rules fit into His plan for our lives.

Many Bible topics don't require a detailed explanation. For example, you don't need to examine Greek and Hebrew words or have a degree in theology to believe that the Bible really means that stealing is wrong.

And many Christians are prepared to take the verses about homosexuality at face value as well. The Bible is not silent. The Old Testament says a man should not sleep with a man in the same way that a man sleeps with a woman, and Paul in the New Testament includes homosexual behaviour in his lists of sins. What more is there to say about it?

More to consider

The material that Marcel received from the gay hotline had a lot more to say about it. It didn't ask him to blindly accept a different understanding of homosexuality. Instead, it offered religious explanations and arguments that sounded very convincing.

So convincing, in fact, that young people like Marcel begin to wonder if there is any reason to continue believing what they used to believe.

We want to set the record straight: There are solid reasons to continue believing what the church teaches us about sexuality. These reasons are based on the work of Bible scholars who study the languages that the passages were originally written in, and who understand biblical theology.

This article outlines some of the arguments you will encounter if you look at materials from other perspectives. The goal is to prepare and equip you, so that you will not be surprised or confused by what you read.

There are six main Bible passages that address homosexual behaviour. Gay theology (theology written by those who believe that sexual behaviour between consenting same-sex adults is biblically acceptable) reinterprets each of these passages. It provides different understandings of the verses from what has been traditionally accepted. The reinterpretation might have to do with what the original word means, who the verse applies to, differences in culture, and so on.

Sample passage

Let's focus our discussion briefly on one frequently-cited New Testament passage.

"Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God" (I Corinthians 6:9-10, NIV).

People who accept gay theology say that a different word should really be used where this Bible translation says "homosexual offenders." They say that the original Greek word that Paul uses, arsenokoite, refers to male prostitutes, not to two homosexual adults in a committed relationship.

Corinth was a city with people from many cultures and religions, and male temple prostitutes were involved in the "worship" scene at some of the shrines to other gods. Paul knew that this was an issue for the Christians in Corinth, and according to this interpretation, was writing to tell them clearly that temple prostitution was wrong.

To the average person, who has not been taught about this by their church and who doesn't know anything about biblical Greek, this argument sounds quite reasonable. But there are scholarly reasons for believing that the word Paul uses does refer to homosexual behaviour in general, not just male prostitution.

One reason is obvious: if you look at the above verses again, you'll see that "male prostitutes" (based on the Greek word pornos) are already listed. Paul would not have had any reason to write "male prostitutes" twice in the same list; he must have meant something else by it.

Another reason: neither of the root words in arsenokoite have anything to do with selling or buying. By contrast, the word pornos does come from another Greek word pernemi, which means "to sell." (This is like claiming that the words "salesman" and "firefighter" both have to do with selling … when it's quite obvious that one does not).

A third reason is more complex. According to biblical scholars, the two root words in arsenokoite are the same ones used in Old Testament passages that forbid sexual behaviour outside of marriage. Therefore, Paul's concern here is universal, and not limited to his own culture.

Broader arguments

People who promote gay theology use a number of broader arguments to argue against the traditional view that homosexual behaviour is immoral. Here I will briefly discuss a few.

Gay Theology Argument #1: Jesus never even mentioned homosexuality. If he didn't say anything about homosexuality, it must not be that important to him. If it wasn't important to him, we shouldn't worry about it either.

Response: Arguing from silence, as this is called, can be dangerous. Jesus didn't say anything about flying airplanes into the sides of office towers, either. Does this mean that he doesn't care? Or that it's okay to fly planes into buildings? If he had been walking on this earth during the month of September, 2001, he might have said quite a bit about it. During his life, it was not relevant.

Similarly, homosexual behaviour was not an issue for the Jews who lived at the time of Jesus. Their holy book, the Torah, was clear about it; it was punishable by death, as were adultery and other sexual sins. There was no particular reason for Jesus to talk about it.

Gay Theology Argument #2: The Apostle Paul didn't know much about human sexuality. He wouldn't have had any idea that some people might actually be born gay. As well, most of what Paul saw was either male temple prostitution, or the older man/younger man homosexual relationships that were common in Greek culture. It makes sense that he would say these things are wrong.

Response: What's the reality? Paul was not an uneducated peasant who lived his whole life in a little village. He was highly educated and lived in at least four cosmopolitan cities where he would have seen people from many cultures, religions and sexual backgrounds.

It is more likely that he would have understood that sexuality is complex. The people of his day were no strangers to sexual nuance. For example, in Matthew 19:12 Jesus refers to three different reasons why some men are eunuchs (a man or boy whose testicles are non-functioning or have been removed).

Paul would also have been familiar with the writings of philosophers like Plato, who distinguished between men attracted to boys and men attracted to other men. Regarding homosexuality, it's not reasonable to assume Paul didn't know what he was talking about.

… all people should be treated with dignity and respect …

Gay Theology Argument #3: The Bible was used in the past to justify slavery and oppression of women, and is still being used to justify mistreating homosexual people. Just as we have come to understand that the Bible does not endorse slavery or the oppression of women, we need to realize it does not approve of oppressing homosexual people either.

Response: Paul taught us that all people are made in the image of God, and all are equal before Him. Christians interpret this to mean that all people should be treated with dignity and respect, not as property. This principle applies to homosexual people.

Even though in the past people took quotes out of the Bible to justify slavery and the oppression of women, nowhere does the Bible say that being a slave or a woman is immoral. But the Bible does say clearly and repeatedly that homosexual behaviour is immoral.


These are just a few of the explanations and reinterpretations proponents of gay theology often use to challenge more traditional understandings of what the Bible says about homosexuality.

Do not be afraid to examine these claims closely for yourself. One thing will be clear: There are solid reasons to continue believing what the church has historically taught. Full sexual expression belongs in heterosexual marriage, and sexual expression in other contexts falls short of God's design for our highest good.

Please note

These theological issues are complex. Due to the length of this article, we chose examples that would succinctly demonstrate the points being made. We also recognize that in real life, there is more overlap between discussion of what a certain word means and the broader theology that surrounds a particular passage.

Reading list

The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics Robert A.J. Gagnon (Abingdon Press, 2001). A key book on this topic.

Homosexual Partnerships? why same-sex relationships are not a Christian option John Stott (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1985). A short but well-written booklet.

The Homosexual Way—a Christian option? David Field (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1979).

Slaves, Women and Homosexuals: exploring the hermeneutics of cultural analysis William J. Webb (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2001). Explores the issues involved in considering which of the biblical-ethical teachings are cultural, and thus time-limited, and which are timeless.

Straight & Narrow: compassion and clarity in the homosexuality debate Thomas E. Schmidt (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1995). Contains four excellent chapters dealing with specific passages and overall theology.

A Strong Delusion: confronting the "gay Christian" movement Joe Dallas (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1996). Detailed and thorough. Addresses general religious, scriptural and social justice arguments in a point-by-point manner, gives sample dialogues, and discusses Boswell.

"Revelation and Homosexual Experience" Two articles, one by Donald A.D. Thorsen, one by Wolfhart Pannenberg, in Christianity Today (Nov. 11, 1996; pp.34-38).

The website has two articles with opposing views: "The Bible and Homosexuality" by B.L. Mauser, and "Homosexuality and the Bible" by Wlater Wink.

For more information, see the New Direction for Life Ministries of Canada, Inc. website.

Originally published in the New Direction Toronto newsletter, and reprinted in the February 5/02 issue of ChristianWeek. Copyright © 2002-2004 New Direction for Life Ministries of Canada, Inc.




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