Monthly Archives: July 2014

Series overview – Understanding the Bible’s teachings on same-gender sexual activity

Signs at Indianapolis Art and Nature Park

 

In the midst of massive cultural shifts in recent decades Christians have begun to revisit the question of God’s perspective on same-gender sexual activity, especially sexual behavior within committed long-term same-gender relationships. Though this topic has been approached from a variety of directions, the purpose of these posts is to help Christians develop convictions that are deeply informed by relevant Bible passages.

Careful and honest interpretation of biblical texts should govern a Christian’s opinions and conclusions about how God views sexual activity among same-gender partners. Christians have valued the Bible as divinely inspired and authoritative revelation throughout church history, and Scripture itself carries the stamp of “Thus says the Lord.” Appeals to personal experiences, common sense, traditions, and even general theological principles, apart from engagement with the detailed discourse of actual passages of Scripture, can be too subjective and too easily influenced by personal preferences and biases or the winds of the broader culture.

What do the Scriptures in their parts and whole demonstrate about the legitimacy of same-sex practices (whether inside or outside a committed relationship)? To determine this we need to investigate relevant passages with the goal of discerning the original meaning intended by the divine and human authors (who were working in concert to disclose God’s truth). Fee and Stuart (How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 18) insist that “[t]he test of good interpretation is that it makes good sense of the text.” These posts are designed to help the reader make the best (and most honest) sense of the passages that address the topic of same-gender sexual activity.

 

This is an important issue

We will find that God’s prescription for marriage is not an arbitrary or peripheral matter, biblically or theologically.

Genesis 1-2 presents marriage between man and woman as central to God’s creation and his plans for humanity. Jesus appeals to this same definition and insists on its relevance to life for Christians (Matthew 19 and Mark 10). Marriage is thus tied to a central doctrine of the Christian faith: creation.

Ephesians 5 shows that marriage is related to both creation and redemption. Marriage between a husband and wife (specifically among Christians) is a sacred mystery that points to the union of Christ and his church, as a result of Christ’s sacrificial love for the church that was demonstrated on the cross.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 includes same-gender sexual activity among the vices that exclude people from inheriting the kingdom of God. 1 Timothy 1 places same-sex activity among the lawless practices that Christians must leave behind. Thus sexual practices are among the first-order issues for Christian ethics.

 

Contents of the posts that will follow

Section 1 – Overview (current post)

Section 2 – Marriage in Genesis, the Gospels, and Ephesians

Section 3 – Sodom and Gomorrah throughout the Bible

Section 4 – Leviticus 18 and 20

Section 5 – Romans 1:18-32

Section 6 – 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1

Section 7 – Matthew 7:15-20 – A Tree and its Fruit

Section 8 – Summary

 

Cautions

Bullying of any form should never be tolerated among Christians. Speaking hatefully or with contempt for people is condemned throughout Scripture. Our words reveal our hearts, so hostile speech reveals animosity in our hearts. That animosity needs to be rooted out by the Spirit.

Christians should be confident in what the Scriptures teach about same-gender sexual activity, but for the right purposes. We want to know God’s perspective on this issue to encourage growth in intimacy, love, and holiness with God and others. We don’t use biblical truth as a weapon to prove a point but as life-giving words that give Christians the courage to pursue abundant life under God’s reign.

Christians should be careful to differentiate between attractions and behaviors. The Bible speaks most directly about sexual sins as actions. That is the focus of these articles. The church should not despise or ostracize believers who experience same-gender attraction. A study of 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 shows that church discipline (confronting believers over sins) is reserved for sins involving clearly observed actions that are in blatant contradiction to the will of God. When there are no behavioral grounds for church discipline (nor any persistent dismissal or distortion of the basic theological heritage of the Christian faith), any believer in Christ ought to be welcomed wholeheartedly within the church family.

Certainly, all believers are called to tend to their attractions and desires so that these desires do not become the lustful thoughts that are condemned by Jesus (Matthew 5:27-28). Our common struggle as believers is to walk each moment in the Spirit, living out our identity in Christ by putting off the old self and putting on the new self. That includes being vigilant against sins in thoughts, attitudes, and actions (see James 1:14-15). But no one should be marginalized because of the specific nature of that process of sanctification.

Christians should adopt a different approach with those who engage in same-gender sexual activity and do not claim to follow Christ. Paul is clear in 1 Corinthians 5:12 that Christians should not “judge” (confront) unbelievers about their sexual sins. In other words, Paul does not expect someone outside the faith to live according to Christian standards. The issue for all unbelievers is instead, “how will you respond to Jesus Christ, who died for your sins and rose again?”

 

A Note about Sources

I put these posts together after reading Matthew Vines’ book God and the Gay Christian. The purpose of these handouts is not to give a line-by-line response to the arguments of that book, but to educate readers about the passages Vines discusses in his book.

I refer to the standard dictionaries for Hebrew (OT) and Greek (NT) in the handouts. HALOT is the abbreviation for The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner). BDAG stands for the 3rd edition of A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Walter Bauer, Frederick William Danker, William F. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich).

Most of the notes on the posts are from my own first-hand interaction with the biblical passages and biblical resources, but I did consult two works that delve deeply into this topic: one chapter (“The Witness of Paul and Deutero-Paul”) from Robert A. J. Gagnon’s The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics as well as John Stott’s essay on homosexual partnerships in his book Issues Facing Christians Today.  I also refer occasionally to other biblical and theological resources when they offer pertinent or quotable perspectives on a passage.

Sections 2-7 of this series will follow in upcoming weeks – stay tuned . . .

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