Category Archives: Discipleship

Series Conclusion – the Bible and Same Gender Sexual Activity


Christian congregations (particularly in Europe and North America) exist within cultures that are rapidly changing in their moral norms. In the years and decades to come, Christians will need to combine a wise and compassionate pastoral approach with biblically informed doctrine when we encounter people inside and outside the church who experience same-sex attraction.

Thankfully, God has given sufficient revelation to guide us in our theological convictions. The topic of same-gender sexual activity is addressed indirectly and directly in Scripture, as we have seen in this blog series.

Very early in the biblical story, marriage is defined explicitly as being between a man and a woman. This definition is maintained (though not always practiced) throughout the rest of the Bible. Genesis 2 establishes God’s clear intention for marriage – between one man and one woman. Jesus affirms this definition in Matthew 19 and Mark 10. Paul reiterates this definition in Ephesians 5. Marriage between man and woman is invested with deeper meaning in these passages, as signposts to God’s eternal plans in creation and redemption.

Same-sex practices are portrayed in a negative light and/or spoken against in both the Old and New Testaments. Often, “righteous” and “unrighteous” behavior is divided clearly in these passages, with same-sex practices being listed under “unrighteous” behavior.

Same-sex practices surface in the “wicked” cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The Law God gave to Moses (the Law that reflected God’s holy character and specified how the Israelites were to be his holy people) prohibited same-sex practices, along with other sexual activity that fell outside the bounds of a faithful marriage between a man and woman. While the new covenant in Jesus nullifies ceremonial aspects of the Law as well as specific penalties, there is no indication that God’s demands for moral purity in heart and actions have been discarded.

Jesus did not speak specifically about same-sex practices (probably since his Jewish audience already rejected such behavior because of Leviticus 18 and 20), but he did affirm male-female marriage as God’s design (Matthew 19 and Mark 10). Jesus is also clear that immoral behavior (as opposed to customary rituals) makes a person truly defiled before God (Mark 7:14-18, Matthew 15).

Paul associates same-sex practices (between men and between women) with immorality that characterizes people groups that have denied the knowledge of God in Romans 1.

Paul insists that same-sex practices are among the behaviors that are incompatible with Christian belief and participation in the kingdom of God in 1 Corinthians 6, and he groups same-sex practice with other forms of lawless and ungodly behavior in 1 Timothy 1. But as is the case for all of us, these passages remind us that because of the good news of Jesus Christ sin need not have the final word in our lives. Jesus Christ came to save sinners and re-shape our lives into his image, by the Spirit.

Thus concludes this series. Here are the links to the rest of the posts in the series:


Section 1 – Overview


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


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Trees and Fruit in Matthew 7:15-20

Fruitful tree

In this post (see intro to the series here) we take a step back to ask a broader question: what makes a teaching harmful or helpful for a Christian? If a teaching is determined to be biblically faithful, is that enough? Or does the legitimacy of a teaching come under suspicion when it creates hardship for those seeking to live according to it?

Matthew Vines uses Matthew 7:15-20 to suggest that any doctrine or teaching should be evaluated according to whether it harms or helps the person who tries to obey the doctrine. He claims that teachings that wound people by imposing relationally unhealthy restrictions on a person (and thus preventing human flourishing) are bad teachings, since they produce bad fruit. Apart from this being a very subjective measure for identifying truth (who defines “unhealthy” vs. “flourishing”?), it does not seem to do justice to the tree/fruit analogy in Matthew 7:15-20 either.

The context of the passage is the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). A parallel passage is found in Luke 6:43-44. Jesus is speaking to his disciples and the crowds (5:1; 7:28). The gist of the passage is that the people need to be on guard against false prophets, and there are ways of recognizing these false prophets.


Tree and fruit imagery

Jesus explains that disciples will recognize prophets by their fruits. The imagery of fruit is common throughout the Old and New Testaments. Most frequently good fruit describes good works, actions, and deeds that arise out of being faithful to God. Bad fruit is linked to disobedience and moral impurity.

In Matthew fruitfulness is “predominantly an ethical metaphor, based on the assumption that true loyalty to God will issue in appropriate behavior by his people” (R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, 291). Matthew 3:8 and its parallel in Luke 3:8-14 establish the basic meaning of “fruit,” from John the Baptist’s preaching: “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” In Luke 3 John the Baptist provides specific examples of what this looks like: being generous to the needy, not cheating others financially, and not abusing power. This shows that “fruits” are actions that are congruent with a repentant heart.

The passage that follows the tree and fruit teaching (Matthew 7:21-23) confirms the idea that people’s actions must match the will of the God they claim to serve. People who claimed the name of the Lord and did works in his name would be rejected by God as workers of “lawlessness.” Why? Because the kingdom of heaven belongs to “the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

In Matthew 7:15-20 Jesus says this of the false prophets: “You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16, repeated in 7:20). Then, in three different ways in Matthew 7:16-18, Jesus explains that trees never produce fruit that is contrary to the tree that produces it. So, in the analogy of the tree and the fruit, what is the tree? The tree is not the teaching being taught by the prophet, but the true nature of the prophet.  Jesus is encouraging his hearers to discern the true nature of the prophet by examining the fruit the prophet produces.  What fruit does Jesus have in mind? Let’s take a look at how false prophets are described elsewhere.


False prophets

Matthew 7 uses the tree/fruit analogy as a test to measure the true nature of false prophets. What did Jesus mean to describe when he used the label “false prophet”?

In Matthew 12:33-35 the same tree/fruit imagery used against the Pharisees, who had just attributed the works of the Spirit (through Jesus) to Satan. In this case, the bad fruit consists of the words of the Pharisees (their resistance to Jesus and the Spirit’s work through him). They were condemned with warnings that such sin would not be forgiven. After the tree/fruit imagery, he again warns of judgment against arrogant words spoken against Christ and the Spirit. The key issue at this point in the Gospel is the rejection of Jesus by the Pharisees. The Pharisees, in spite of their apparent good fruit (in the people’s eyes and in their own eyes – Matt 23:3, 23:28), were bad trees because of their words against God’s work through Jesus, and Jesus was exposing them as such. They were wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Elsewhere in Matthew (24:11, 24) false prophets in the last days lead people astray and deceive others through false signs (by turning them away from Christ). See also Mark 13:22. The same picture emerges in 2 Peter 2:1 and 1 John 4:1.

Note that in all of these passages the false prophets are not simply teaching wrong philosophies or doctrines, but are giving false information about how God is at work (specifically about whether he is or is not at work through Jesus). These false prophets, whether they are Jesus’ contemporaries (Pharisees) or prophets in the last days, are those who reject Jesus as the Christ and lead others astray.

Likewise, false prophets in the Old Testament deceived people about how God was working in their midst. The false prophets would often prophesy positive things when God wanted to proclaim judgment instead:

  • Isaiah 30:9-10: “For these are rebellious people, deceitful children, children unwilling to listen to the LORD’s instruction. They say to the seers, ‘See no more visions!’ and to the prophets, ‘Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions. Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!’”
  • Lamentations 2:14: “The visions of your prophets were false and worthless; they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity.”
  • Ezekiel 13:9-10: “My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations. . . . Because they lead my people astray, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace . . .”
  • Luke 6:26: “Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.”
  • See also 1 Kings 22:13, Jeremiah 14:13-15, Jeremiah 23:9-16, Ezekiel 22:28, and Micah 3:5-7.

These passages provide evidence that false prophets are guilty primarily of promoting a casual attitude towards obedience to God’s commands (in the Old Testament) or leading people away from Jesus as the Messiah (in the New Testament). They produce bad fruit by pointing people away from God’s perfect plans.


Ravenous wolves

In Matthew 7:15 the false prophets are said to be ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing. The metaphor describes the true nature of the false prophet, despite outward appearance. It also indicates the ill intent of the prophet and the harm he causes. Could this language envision the destructive teachings Vines describes?

Wolf imagery surfaces in a similar context in Acts 20:29-30, where Paul says “fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock, and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.”

What is clear in Acts 20 is implied in Matthew 7, in conjunction with the description of false prophets elsewhere in the Gospels: wolves are dangerous because they deceive people into following them instead of Christ. The wolves subvert the heart of faith – devotion to Jesus as the Christ. There is no indication of their being ravenous through imposing restrictions that are seen to prevent human flourishing in general.



Matthew 7:15-20 uses tree/fruit imagery to warn against false prophets and their agendas.

The logic of the passage is that the tree (the true character of a prophet) is revealed by the fruit (the actions and teachings of the prophet – either acknowledging the identity and works of Jesus or opposing him). The tree is not the teaching of the prophet, and the fruit is not the perceived effects of that teaching.

False prophets can be recognized when their disobedient actions and opposition to Jesus do not match what would be expected from a “good tree.” Good trees live in harmony with revealed character, will, and work of Father, Son, and Spirit.

Though the prophets are characterized as “ravenous wolves,” it is not because they are placing unreasonable restrictions on the people (such as denying them the option of finding fulfillment in a relationship) but because they are leading people away from Jesus, the Christ.

A careful look at this passage supports the fundamental idea that God’s wisdom determines the beauty and goodness of a teaching, whether it is a teaching that immediately blesses us or whether it is an extremely challenging teaching that requires our wholehearted trust to carry it out (such as the call for someone with same-sex desires to either pursue chastity or cultivate a sexual relationship within a marriage with an opposite-gender spouse). God’s revealed truth in the Bible is the only sure way forward for how to live our lives. True prophets instruct others in God’s character, his teachings, and his Son. False prophets diminish people’s confidence in God’s character, his teachings, and his Son.


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Sin and Gospel in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and 1 Timothy 1:8-17

Christ carries cross

(An overview of this series on the biblical teachings that address same-gender sexual activity is found here.)

Christians acknowledge the reality and presence of sin in our lives and world. But we also point to the power of God to save us, forgive us, and conform us to the image of Christ.

These two passages in Paul’s letters (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and 1 Timothy 1:8-17) use terms that are typically translated to describe same-gender sexual activity. In both cases, the words show up on lists of those who practice behavior that is sinful and in conflict with godliness.

Neither passage ends with a negative tone though. Both point ahead to the transforming effects of the gospel message – the good news that Christ died for sinners and by his Spirit cleanses us and helps us experience his work in our lives.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (ESV): Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor the idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality (malakoi and arsenokoitai), nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. 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.

1 Timothy 1:8-10 (ESV): Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality (arsenokoitai), enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine.


Lexical information (what the words mean)

The words malakoi and arsenokoitai  (in 1 Corinthians 6:9) are often paired together to designate both the so-called passive and active participants in same-sex activities (BDAG, 613).

Μαλακός – though this word has a broader meaning of “soft,” BDAG rightly defines the word in this context as “pertaining to being passive in a same-sex relationship, effeminate,” BDAG, 613.

ἀρσενοκοίτης = “a male who engages in a sexual activity with a person of his own sex, pederast,” BDAG, 135. This word also makes an appearance in 1 Timothy 1:10.

Note that the first half of this word (ἄρσην) refers to a male, while the second half is for sexual relations (see Romans 13:13 for Paul’s use of κοίτη to refer to illicit sexual activity). Though a compound word cannot always be understood as the sum of its parts, in this case, with a previously unseen combination (before Paul), the word would be understood from the obvious pairing of meanings from its component parts.

To add to this likelihood, some have posited that the proximity of ἄρσην and κοίτη in Leviticus 20:13 (and Leviticus 18:22), the two passages in the Mosaic Law that speak against same-sex activity, led to the origin of the compound word. The one word became a convenient way to explain this particular vice.

The old Latin and Syriac translations (from the Greek) are the oldest known translations (they are from the second century) of the New Testament. Coptic is not far behind (third century). They provide early evidence for how this term was understood in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. The early Latin, Syriac, and Coptic translations of the New Testament attest to the meaning of sex between males for ἀρσενοκοίτης (Gagnon, 322).


Modern translations – 1 Corinthians 6:9 (malakoi and arsenokoitai)

ESV, NIV, HCSB, CEB – They use one all-encompassing phrase for both participants (malakoi and arsenokoitai). For instance – “men who practice homosexuality” (ESV).

NASB – “effeminate” and “homosexuals,” with footnote “effeminate by perversion”

NET – “passive homosexual partners” and “practicing homosexuals”

NKJV – “homosexuals” and “sodomites”

NLT – “male prostitutes” and those who “practice homosexuality”

NRSV – “male prostitutes” and “sodomites”

The Message does not capture the precise meaning of the words with its overly-free translation (vague mentions of sex and its abuses).


Modern translations – 1 Timothy 1:10 (arsenokoitai )

ASV – “abusers of themselves with men”

CEB – “people who have intercourse with the same sex”

ESV – “men who practice homosexuality”

HCSB, NASB – “homosexuals”

NET – “practicing homosexuals”

NIV – “those practicing homosexuality”

NLT – “those who practice homosexuality”

NRSV – “sodomites”


Contextual information – 1 Corinthians 6

The terms describing sinful behavior are all grouped under the category of person known as “the unrighteous.” These unrighteous are said to have no inheritance in the kingdom of God.

There are a variety of serious sins mentioned in the list, including four that relate to sexual behavior. The list begins with a general term for sexually immoral people (πόρνοι), which is a cognate term for porneia: “This Greek word and its cognates as used by Paul denote any kind of illegitimate – extramarital and unnatural – sexual intercourse or relationship” (Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 871). The list that follows adds adulterers and the two terms for men involved in same-sex activity.

What is the nature of this stern warning? In light of 1 Corinthians 5:5, which prescribes church discipline for sexual sin as a way of helping the offender avoid eternal punishment, the warning in 1 Cor 6:10 is probably intended to point to the possibility of eternal judgment for those whose actions are completely in opposition to God’s kingdom values. This passage is meant to show the serious nature of the sins listed.

That leads us to 1 Corinthians 6:11 (“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.” NIV). The tone and logic of the passage suggests Paul’s dual purpose to reassure the Corinthian believers of their salvation and identity in Christ while still establishing the expectation that they will leave any of these old sinful practices behind in their growth in Christ. The implication is that those who persist in blatantly sinful behaviors have not experienced the cleansing work of Christ in their lives and are thus outside God’s kingdom. But the good news is that those who have been washed, sanctified, and justified in Christ will experience God’s work and exhibit fruit in keeping with their transformation.


Contextual information – 1 Timothy 1

1 Timothy 1:10 lists ἀρσενοκοίταις with other types of sinners that need God’s law in its proper use. The proper use of the law is to expose sin, not to reform sinners. The introductory condemnation is “for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane.”

Paul shows that God’s (Old Testament) Law is beneficial for sinners, to reveal their sin (in preparation for repentance and reception of the gospel – see 1 Timothy 1:11-16). The Law is not for “the just,” because the Spirit is the one who now brings believers from their past and their old selves, which were characterized by these (and other) vices. The Spirit empowers the believer to put on the new self and bear fruit for God, in ways that are in stark contrast to the old ways of life “for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane.”

The specific offenders mentioned are lawless in areas that correspond to laws found in the OT (including disobedience to parents, murder, sexual immorality and same-sex activity among males, bearing false witness, and possibly, stealing/kidnapping). See Gagnon, 334-335.

Thus, in Paul’s descriptions of two kinds of people (the lawless/ungodly and the righteous), people who practice same-sex sexual relations are counted among the lawless/ungodly, who nonetheless have opportunities for new life through the gospel of Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 1:14-16). In verse 15 Paul summarizes the gospel with the words, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Paul believes in a holy and gracious God who both opposes sin and saves sinners.


Filed under Bible Study, Discipleship, New Testament

Romans 1:26-27 – The Kingdom of God Revealed and Rejected

The Apostle Paul

Biblical restrictions against same-gender sexual activity may seem incredibly counter-cultural. Certainly, this charge is leveled against other biblical teachings as well. Many people find the prohibition against premarital sex to be unrealistic, and contributing money regularly to a church strikes people as foolish, and the idea that Christ is the only way to God can appear to some as intolerant. Biblical teachings reflect the values of God’s kingdom and show us what life should look like under God’s reign. But God’s kingdom has always been in tension with the kingdoms of this world. Romans 1:18-32 paints a picture of what it looks like to resist God’s reign.

(See previous posts on this topic here, here, here, and here).


Literary Context of Romans 1:18-32

After the apostle Paul greets his readers, introduces himself, and articulates his gospel message (Romans 1:1-17), he devotes several chapters (Rom 1:18-3:21) to demonstrating that all humanity, both Jews and Gentiles, are sinful and therefore deserving of God’s judgment (“that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God” – Romans 3:19). Paul introduces this section of his letter with the pronouncement of God’s wrath against “all ungodliness and unrighteousness” (πᾱσα ἀσέβεια καὶ ἀδικία). These are words that shape our understanding of what follows – sinful rejection of God and sinful behaviors. “Unrighteousness” (ἀδικία) stands in contrast to the “righteousness” (δικαιοσύνη) revealed in the gospel (1:16-17).

Romans 1:19-23 speaks of Gentiles’ rejection of God’s general revelation and their descent into idolatry. The focus is not on each individual Gentile’s experience with idolatry, but with idolatry as characteristic of a Gentile world that denies the knowledge of God.

Romans 1:24-25 is a transitional verse that introduces God’s “handing over” of idolaters into immorality. The immorality is described as “the desires of their hearts resulting in impurity (ἀκαρθασία) and the dishonoring of their bodies among/in themselves.” “Dishonoring (ἀτιμάζω) of their bodies” is not defined here but anticipates the description of “dishonorable” (ἀτιμία) same-sex practices in the verses that follow. The prepositional phrase at the end of Romans 1:24 (ἐν αὐτοῖς) could be interpreted as “among themselves” (as a culture-wide phenomenon) or “in themselves” (with a possible parallel in 1 Corinthians 6:18).

Romans 1:26-32 describes the “dishonorable passions,” with 1:26-27 focusing on male-male and female-female sexual activities.

This passage should not be read as Paul’s musings on the psychology of same-sex attraction and behavior. Paul does not set out to prove that for a given individual the experience of same-sex attraction or the practice of same-sex activity is caused by rejecting God.  Paul’s purpose is more general: to argue that “idolatry leads to social disintegration, particularly in the form of sexual confusion, as God hands people over to the consequences of their sinful desires” (Frank Thielman, Theology of the New Testament, 351).


The Text of Romans 1:26-27

“For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural  relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.”

“For this reason” – see verse 25 – the reason is the rejection of God for idolatry.

“God gave them up – repeats the language of verse 24 and is repeated again in verse 28. God releases idolaters to their lusts (ἐπιθυμία), passions (πάθος), and debased minds (ἀδόκιμος νοῡς). The verse does not indicate the cause of immorality but describes the unchecked reign of these immoral desires and activities.

  • “Dishonorable” (ἀτιμία) – “a state of dishonor or disrespect,” (BDAG, 149).
  • “Passion” (πάθος) – “experience of strong desire, passion,” (BDAG, 748). This is used in a negative way in 1 Thessalonians 4:5 and Colossians 3:5 as well.

“For” (γάρ) – explains the way in which the passions are dishonorable.

“The women” – Paul describes the prevalence of sexual activity between females before turning his attention to the males.

  • The inclusion of women in descriptions of same-gender sexual activity invalidates the argument that Paul is denouncing only abusive sexual relationships in which one participant is an adult and the other is not (such as pederasty – sexual activity between an adult male and a younger boy). Schreiner notes that “there is no evidence that older women victimized younger girls, and so this theory does not account for the indictment of female sexual relations” (Thomas Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ, 661).

“Exchanged” is the same word as 1:25 (exchanging the truth of God for a lie) and is related to 1:23 (exchanging the glory of God for images). The pattern reflects exchanging what is true and good for what is false and wrong.

In this case (verse 26), the charge is that people exchange “natural relations” (φυσικὴν χρῆσιν) for “those that are contrary to nature” (τὴν παρὰ φύσιν).

  • φυσικός is “pertaining to being in accordance with the basic order of things in nature,” (BDAG, 1069).
  • χρῆσις is the “state of involvement with a person, relations, function, especially of sexual intercourse,” (BDAG, 1089).
  • φύσις is “the regular or established order of things, nature,” (BDAG, 1070).

In summary, “their women” are said to exchange sexual activities that align with the natural order of things for activities that are against the natural order of things.

For Paul “natural” and “contrary to nature” are categories that are both transparent from observation (male and female differentiation, which is evident to all) and in alignment with God’s creative design from Genesis 1-2. This connection between God’s creative design and observed order is affirmed in Romans 1:20 (God’s attributes are perceived “ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”) Additional corroborating evidence that male and female distinction is what is “natural” is found with the pairing of “women and men” or “females and males” (θῆλυς and ἄρσην) in this passage (see the LXX version of Genesis 1:27, Matthew 19:4, Mark 10:6, and Galatians 3:28). In summary, Paul uses “natural” and “contrary to nature” to describe actions “in accordance with the intention of the Creator” and actions “contrary to the intention of the Creator” (C. E. B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, 1:125).

  • Paul likewise appeals to “nature” or φύσις in 1 Corinthians 11:14-15, where observed design from creation (“nature”) is used to condemn the practice of men looking like women or vice versa. (Note that in that passage, the confusion of genders was culturally expressed and pertinent to that particular culture, but the basis for not having confusion in the first place was timeless and grounded in creation-determined differentiation between men and women).
  • Natural and unnatural is not determined inwardly, according to the person’s orientation, but according to God’s design in creation. In other words, a person may protest that certain actions are in fact natural to that person’s inclinations, but the Bible does not accept those as natural if they conflict with God’s revealed will.

Some of the same language from verse 26 is applied to men in verse 27. The men’s “natural use” (φυσικὴν χρῆσιν) is “departed from/abandoned” (ἀφίημι- see BDAG, 156). This time though, the parallel to “contrary to nature” (which is opposite of “natural”) is spelled out more specifically. The men were “consumed with passion for one another, men carrying out shameful acts with men and receiving in/among themselves the penalty which was necessary for their error.”

  • “Consumed” (ἐκκαίω) is defined as “have a strong desire for, be inflamed” in BDAG, 303.
  • “Passion” (ὄρεξις) describes “a condition of strong desire, longing,” (BDAG, 721).
  • Note that this is a description of misdirected passion rather than excess passion. The emphasis is on the passion that is not according to “nature.” The disordered passion results in committing same-sex acts. From the men’s perspective, the actions were aligned with their passions, but from God’s perspective, the actions were contrary to nature.
  • Contrary to Vines, 105 (Paul “was condemning excess as opposed to moderation”), Paul is criticizing disordered (contrary to nature and God’s will from creation) passions as opposed to ordered (in harmony with nature and God’s will from creation) passions.

The behavior between “one another” is immediately restated as “men in/with/among men” (ἄρσενες ἐν ἄρσεσιν).

These men were “carrying out” (κατεργάζομαι – BDAG, 531) “shameful acts” (ἀσχημοσύνη), which is defined as “behavior that elicits its disgrace” (BDAG, 147).

These men (same grammatical subject) also were “receiving” (ἀπολαμβάνω) “the penalty” (ἀντιμισθία – “requital based upon what one deserves, recompense, exchange,” BDAG, 90), which “was necessary” (ἔδει) for their error (πλάνη) – “wandering from the path of truth; error, delusion, deceit, deception” (BDAG, 822). These men received this penalty “in/among themselves,” which is similar language to Rom 1:24 and could mean either among them broadly or within each sinner (with a nod to the personal nature of sexual sin – 1 Corinthians 6:18). The same-sex acts themselves are the penalty for denying God’s natural revelation (not some penalty on top of the same-sex acts), recalling that the language is parallel to “acts contrary to nature” in Rom 1:26.

Why did Paul highlight these vices (women having sex with women and men having sex with men) in particular? For one, it was shocking to the Jewish mindset, which Paul sought to identify with at that point in the argument. But two, Paul likely sees a connection between rejecting the revealed knowledge of God in nature with the distortion of the natural manner of sexual intercourse. Both involve abandonment of the naturally revealed knowledge of creation and its creator. See Gagnon, 264-268 for further examination of connections between the idolatry and same-sex practices as they are described in this passage.


Other considerations

Romans 2:1, where Paul abruptly confronts the Jewish moralist for his/her sin, reveals more of Paul’s agenda for Romans 1-3. His purpose is to show that all people are sinners and accountable to God (see Romans 3:19-20). Even though Romans 2:1 serves as a “gotcha” moment for the Jewish readers, Paul still presents points he sees as valid in Romans 1:18-32 (as seen in the transition from the righteousness found in the gospel – Romans 1:16-17 – to the unrighteousness of humanity introduced in Romans 1:18). This resembles the familiar OT prophetic pattern of denouncing both the nations and the Jewish people for their sins (before promising a future hope through God’s saving work).

There is a close association between this passage and Wisdom of Solomon chapters 13 and 14. They have similar critiques of Gentile idolatry and immorality. Wisdom of Solomon may mention same sex relations in 14:26 (γενεσεως ἐναλλαγη), though this is debated.

Could same-gender sexual activity within a committed marriage fall outside of the negative characterization of same-gender sexual activity within this passage? Paul does not indicate the legitimacy of any exception to the rule. And any such practice, whether inside or outside a marriage, would still seem to involve activity that is in opposition to the “natural function” Paul describes in the passage. As John Stott notes, the Bible does not support the idea that “love is the only absolute, and that whatever seems to be compatible with love is ipso facto good, irrespective of all other considerations” (Issues Facing Christians Today, 350).

This brings us back, full circle, to the kingdom of God. God’s kingdom is abundant life, even “human flourishing,” with the key qualifier that this is life lived under God’s reign, according to his perfect wisdom. As difficult as a biblical teaching may sound, we can trust that God’s perfect wisdom will lead us into paths of life, both now and for eternity.


Filed under Bible Study, Discipleship, Greek, New Testament

Leviticus 18 and 20

Mikveh - Ancient Jewish bath used for ritual cleansing

Mikveh – Ancient Jewish bath used for ritual cleansing

This post continues a series (first three posts are here, here, and here) on biblical teachings that shed light on God’s perspective on same-gender sexual activity. The purpose of the series is provide clarity on the meaning of words and passages that often surface in discussions about this issue. It is always worth remembering that the Bible addresses the issue of same-sex practice, and not the attractions that are experienced. All Christians find their identity in Christ and his gracious work and accept one another on that basis – “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7). As Christians, we all struggle with sin, and as the late Rich Mullins sung, “We are not as strong as we think we are.” Yet, we never want to become content with any sin, and we want to remind each other of God’s perfect wisdom for living, which is taught to us in the Bible and is for our good. Jesus proclaimed “blessed are the poor in spirit” (those who recognize their brokenness) alongside “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:3-10).


Overview of Leviticus 18-20

In Leviticus 19:2, the LORD tells Moses to tell the people of Israel, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (see also Leviticus 11:44-45; 20:26; 21:8). This helps frame the broader aim of the commands in the book of Leviticus: “Israelites are expected to mirror the divine likeness to the world; more specifically, to be holy as he is holy and so to function as priestly mediators of God” (Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible, 108-109). The laws against same-sex relations are provided in this context.

The specific injunctions against same-gender sexual activity are found in the following two verses:

Leviticus 18:22 – “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.”

Leviticus 20:13 – “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”


Lexical information

Abomination (ESV)/ detestable (NIV) – toevah (LXX – βδἐλυγμα). HALOT, 1703 – toevah – “abomination, abhorrence.”

This word occurs throughout the Old Testament, but here is an examination of its use in legal contexts, in Leviticus and Deuteronomy.

It occurs six times in Leviticus:

  • 18:22 – same-sex relations among males
  • 18:26 – sexual practices of Canaanites (and Egyptians) in general
  • 18:27 – sexual practices of the Canaanites in general
  • 18:29 – sexual practices of the Canaanites in general
  • 18:30 – sexual practices of the Canaanites in general
  • 20:13 – same-sex relations among males

Note that contrary to what is suggested in Vines, 85, there is not a direct connection between “abomination” and sex with a menstruating woman (Lev 18:19). “Abomination” describes the practices in Leviticus 18 as a whole, and same-sex relations among males in particular, but not sex with a menstruating woman (that prohibition is simply stated, without a qualifying descriptor on the act itself).

In Deuteronomy:

  • 7:25, 26 (2x) – worship of other gods
  • 12:31 – worship of other gods, with child sacrifice
  • 13:14 – worship of other gods
  • 14:3 – unclean animals
  • 17:1 – flawed sacrifices
  • 17:4 – worship of other gods
  • 18:9, 12 (3x) – worship of other gods and practices related to that
  • 20:18 – worship of other gods
  • 22:5 – cross-dressing
  • 23:18 – using prostitute money for gift offerings
  • 24:4 – taking back a former wife who married someone else
  • 25:16 – dishonest business practices
  • 27:15 – idolatry
  • 32:16 – worship of other gods

Additional note: as seen in the previous post, Ezekiel 16:50 uses “abomination” to refer to the practices of Sodom.

Here are some parallel terms to toevah in Leviticus 18 and 20:

  • Perversion – tebel – (18:23, 20:12) – HALOT, 1683 – “confusion, disgracefulness.”
  • Wickedness (NIV)/depravity (ESV) – zimmah (18:17, 20:14) – HALOT, 272 – “infamy, shameful behavior.” ESV often translates it as “lewdness” elsewhere, and it is often paired with “abomination” (toevah) in Ezekiel.

The highly negative descriptors (toevah, tebel, zimmah) are tied to some condemned sexual practices in Leviticus 18 but not others, suggesting some gradation in the degree of severity. Though Leviticus 18:3 and 18:30 relates the practices to the activities of the godless Egyptians and Canaanites, this does not suggest that the practices are wrong simply because of idolatrous Canaanite associations. The descriptors (toevah, tebel, zimmah) are used directly with the actions themselves to portray the inherent incompatibility between the aberrant sexual practices and life as God’s people.

Similarly, God’s prohibitions against same-gender sexual activity cannot be written off as solely arising from cultural norms in ancient near eastern societies (as Vines seems to argue). According to Leviticus 18:1 and 20:1, the laws were revealed by God to Moses (“the LORD spoke to Moses, saying . . .”) and were part of his plan for them to “be holy as I am holy” (Leviticus 19:2).


Death penalty for serious breaches of the Old Testament law:

Under the old covenant between God and the Israelites, the death penalty is prescribed for certain behaviors. Punishments such as the death penalty are not part of the new covenant in Christ (the new covenant people of God are not one centralized nation and thus do not enact civil penalties in the same way Israel was called to do so). Still, we know that the Mosaic Law reflected God’s holy character, so we can gain some insight from the laws that God put in place over the people of Israel.

Maintaining order within the community does not stand out as a primary reason for the death penalty, especially in Leviticus 20 (contra Vines, 86). In Leviticus 20:13, the reason for the death penalty is given: same-sex relations between males was an abomination (toevah) that brought blood-guilt on the offending parties (rather than something that was a breach of community order).

Elsewhere in Leviticus 20, God says he himself “sets his face against” those for whom the death penalty is prescribed (20:5, 6), and God connects offenses to the purity of his sanctuary and the holiness of his name (20:3). Elsewhere in the chapter there is mention of blood-guilt, perversion (tebel), and wickedness (zimmah) in connection with the reasons for the death penalty.

Not all sexual violations in Leviticus 20 bring the death penalty. Having sex with a menstruating woman and some varieties of incest carry lesser penalties. Once again, this may indicate that some sins were considered more serious than others within the context of God’s relationship with the Israelites.

  • Note: Vines is misleading when he says that “in Ezekiel 18:13, the death penalty was applied to anyone who charged interest on a loan” (86). Ezekiel 18:11-13 assigns a death penalty for a morally corrupt, idolatrous, and oppressive man, whose crimes include charging interest on a loan (punishment is not for this last vice, independent from the others).


Theological context – does the Old Testament Law still apply?

Some laws are clearly annulled in the New Testament (all foods became clean, Gentile converts do not have to be circumcised, and observance of special religious calendars is no longer required). Is it legitimate to differentiate between ceremonial laws, which were abolished, and moral laws, which are still binding? Even though the specific penalties for violating moral laws are no longer in force (church discipline, or the purposeful exclusion of unrepentant sinners from Christian fellowship, is the practice instead – see Matthew 18:15-18 and 1 Corinthians 5:1-13), there is evidence that the moral standards from the Old Testament are still consistent with God’s moral will today, especially in sexual matters.

Jesus himself distinguishes between ceremonial uncleanness and moral impurity, releasing people from ceremonial requirements while still condemning moral impurity. Mark 7:14-23 (see also Matthew 15:1-20) differentiates between two types of behaviors:

Things going into a person Things coming out of a person
Things from outside a person Things from within, from the heart
Foods Moral vices
These do not defile a person before God These defile a person before God


Jesus lists the things that defile a person: “evil thoughts, sexual immorality (porneia), theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.” The presence of these moral vices (both attitudes and behaviors) makes a person defiled before God.

  • To “defile” (κοινόω) means “to make common or impure, defile in the cultic sense” (BDAG, 552). Jesus is saying that true defilement (of the heart) is tied to immorality that touches the heart and is incompatible with being in God’s presence (see Revelation 21:27). Sin from the heart strikes against God’s holiness in ways that mere ritual non-observance does not. Jesus includes sexual departure from the norm (porneia) among the morally defiling practices and not among the ritually non-binding matters.

Note that at least two of these vices are related to sexual behavior (and “sensuality” likely has sexual connotations too):

  • “Sexual immorality” is from the Greek πορνεία, which is a general term describing all sorts of sexually immoral behavior. It includes any “unlawful sexual intercourse” (BDAG, 854). The term appears in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:32 – “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for porneia, makes her the victim of adultery . . .” and again in Matthew 19:9, where Jesus says likewise: “Anyone who divorces his wife, except for porneia, and marries another woman commits adultery” (see also Deuteronomy 24:1, which is referred to in Matthew 19:7). So porneia is used as a general term to describe sexual behavior that is “out of bounds” for someone already in a marriage. But notice the wider application of the term porneia to sexual sin before being married in 1 Corinthians 7:2. And in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 porneia is related to the general sexual practices of godless Gentiles. And adultery is a separate sin in Jesus’ list in this passage (Mark 7:22). Porneia functions as a handy catch-all term for sexual sin – any sexual activity outside of a marriage between a man and a woman (Jesus’ assumed standard according to Mark 10:5-12 and Matthew 19:4-9).
  • “Adultery” is from μοιχεία, which means having sex with someone who is not your spouse.

Jesus thus includes sexual behavior under the category of moral vice rather than ritual impurity. Jesus’ words imply that God’s moral will endures but that standards of ritual purity are no longer binding.

This also means that the Gentiles’ freedom from circumcision was a paradigm shift that cannot be extended to OT commands that are purely moral from God’s perspective. In Acts 15, the Spirit led the apostles to exempt Gentile believers in Christ from circumcision, but the apostles still required the Gentiles to abstain from sexual immorality.

There is broader evidence that New Testament authors still upheld a “third use of the Law” for Christians (the use of the Old Testament Law as an ongoing moral norm for Christian behavior). For instance, both Jesus and Paul uphold the abiding moral authority of the Old Testament law that children must obey their parents (Matthew 15:4-6; Ephesians 6:1-2).



In Leviticus 18 and 20 same -sex practices are treated as serious sins that God would not tolerate in his covenant relationship with Israel. Jesus upholds God’s moral standards (but not the penalties) governing sexual behavior by treating them as different from ritual observances. Jesus does not specify that homosexual sexual activity makes one defiled, but his general list of morally defiling behaviors reflect the moral laws given to the Israelites, which included restrictions against same-gender sexual behavior.



Filed under Bible Study, Biblical Theology, Discipleship, New Testament, Old Testament

Marriage according to Genesis 1-2, Jesus, and Paul

Marriage - part of God's good creation

Marriage – part of God’s good creation

This is section 2 of a series on the Bible and same-gender sexual activity. Here is the series overview.

Genesis 1-2 recounts God’s creation of humans as male and female, along with the union of man and woman in marriage. Both Jesus and Paul see these chapters as foundational for God’s plan for marriage, and they view the marital union described there as a prototype for godly marriages.

Genesis 1-2 is the best place to start in our examination of the Bible’s teaching on same-gender sexual activity: “For the negative prohibitions of homosexual practices in Scripture make sense only in the light of its positive teaching in Genesis 1 and 2 about human sexuality and heterosexual marriage” (John Stott, Issues Facing Christians Today, 344).

Genesis 1 – God’s Ordered and Purposeful Creation

The whole creation account of Genesis 1:1-2:3 is organized around the “forming” and “filling” of the world, in opposition to the earth being “formless” and “empty” – Genesis 1:2 (see Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, 185-186). The first three creation days portray God forming of the world, and the fourth, fifth, and sixth days consist of God filling the world. The creation account emphasizes several points:

  1. That God creates according to his plans. He speaks, and his intention is fulfilled.
  2. God’s creation is called “good” and “very good” throughout the account.
  3. God creates in an ordered way – separating light from darkness and waters from land, creating things “according to their own kinds,” arranging things in seasons and days and years, etc.

For the creation of man and woman, the progression in Genesis 1:26-28 is as follows:

  • Verse 26a – God creates man in his image and likeness.
  • Verse 26b – Humanity’s relationship to the rest of the created order.
  • Verse 27 – God creates man in his image when he creates male and female.
  • Verse 28a – The blessing of God – filling the earth through procreation.
  • Verse 28b – Humanity’s relationship to the rest of the created order.

Genesis 1:26a introduces the idea of humanity being created in the image of God, which will be explored further in the next section. Verses 26b and 28b are very similar in specifying that humans will govern the earth and its creatures (by ruling wisely on God’s behalf, and not for reckless gain).

The most pertinent sections for our purposes are found in verses 27-28a. Verse 27 states, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” This verse establishes God’s plan for two distinct genders in creation. Man and woman are distinct from one another, but both are made in the image of God. Verse 28 connects this design with the blessing/mandate to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth (which matches the description of the sea creatures and birds of verse 22). There is a close association between gender duality and procreation in the passage (verses 27 and 28a).

Summary: According to Genesis 1:1-2:3, God created humanity as male and female, as part of a good and ordered creation that was meant to fill the earth over time.

A Closer Look at the Image of God in Humanity

Being made in the image of God has several overlapping nuances. It indicates the divinely ordained value of being human (see Gen 6:6; James 3:9), the function of governing the world on God’s behalf (Gen 1:26; Psalm 8), and perhaps the inherent relational nature of humans with God and with one another (if the relational plurality of humans is meant to reflect the relational plurality within the Trinity).

While God made humans in his image, humans also need to be restored to the image of God in Christ (Rom 8:29; Col 3:10), since Christ is the true image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4 and Colossians 1:15). This is made possible when believers become a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) and grow into this new creation reality by putting off the old self and putting on the new self, which is “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4: 21-24; Colossians 3:9-10).

The image of God reflects the perfection of what humans were called to be. According to the Bible, the standard for perfection is determined not by any innate desire or orientation humans experience, but by the revealed created order God designed before humanity’s fall into sin and by the perfect image and righteousness of Christ.

Genesis 2 – Male and Female Union in Marriage

The passage revisits the creation of the world from a different approach, focusing more on the creation of Adam and Eve. God creates man from the dust, breathes life into him, and puts the man in a garden in Eden. The man’s task is to work the garden and keep it (Genesis 2:15, in contrast to 2:5).

In contrast to the repeated affirmations of the goodness of creation in chapter 1, Genesis 2:18 says it is “not good” for the man to be alone. God decides to “make a helper fit/suitable for him.”

The word for “helper” (ezer) has the notion of “indispensable companion” (see NET Bible study notes).

The word that follows (kenegdo, from a combination of the prepositions ke and neged) is translated in various ways in modern translations:

CEB – “a helper that is perfect for him.”

ESV – “a helper fit for him.”

HCSB – “a helper as his complement.”

NASB, NIV – “a helper suitable for him.”

NET – “a companion . . . who corresponds to him.”

NKJV – “a helper comparable to him.”

NLT – “a helper who is just right for him.”

NRSV – “a helper as his partner.”

The animals are brought to the man for naming. This results in the man seeing his lack of a “helper fit for him.” God makes the woman from the man – “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” The woman comes from the man and thus is very similar to him, unlike the animals. But the woman is also different from the man – God did not simply create another man, but he created a woman, who represents a distinct category that is distinguished from “man” throughout the rest of the Bible.

The narrator then explains God’s intention for the partnership between man and woman: the man will 1) leave father and mother, 2) hold fast to his wife, and 3) the two will become one flesh. These are the stated purposes, not just for Adam and Eve, but for all marital unions (see Matt 19:5, Mark 10:7, Eph 5:31).

“Becoming one flesh” follows the man’s exclamation that the woman is “bone of my bone” and “flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23), which is consistent with the way that the woman was made from the man’s physical body in Genesis 2:22. “Becoming one flesh” involves being unified (as “a new family” – NET) and reflecting that union in sexual intimacy (see Paul’s enlistment of that meaning in 1 Corinthians 6:16).

Genesis 2 thus reveals God’s purposeful creation of a woman (and women) to exist alongside and be in relationship with a man (and men) in this world. A central feature of this existence and these relationships is the marital union between a man and a woman.

Genesis 1 and 2 in Jesus’ Teaching about Marriage

In Jesus’ appeal to this passage in Matthew 19:3-12 and Mark 10:2-12 notice that Jesus combines Genesis 1:27 (creation of male and female) with Genesis 2:24 (God’s design for marriage). This indicates that Jesus saw that these two passages belonged together to describe God’s purpose for marriage.

Genesis 1 highlights the creation of male and female – both in the image of God. Genesis 2 focuses on the relational union between male and female in God’s plans. As Gospels scholar R. T. France notes, “This combination results in a compelling sequence of thought: the God who first designed humanity in two sexes also laid it down that those two sexes should come together in an indissoluble union of ‘one flesh’” (France, The Gospel of Matthew, 717).

Jesus moves from creation of male and female to union of male and female in marriage and anchors this union in God’s design (“what therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”) There is also a repetition of “from the beginning” in Matthew 19:4 and 19:8. This shows Jesus’ conviction that any proper view of marriage should be founded upon what God revealed from the beginning, in Genesis 1 and 2.

Though Jesus quoted these passages to emphasize the permanence of marriage, his words also reveal his broader understanding of marriage – that God himself designed marriage to be a permanent union of a man and woman.

Ephesians 5:22-33 – Christian Marriage as a Symbol of Divine Truths

In Ephesians 5 the apostle Paul anchors his teaching on marriage in Genesis 2 when he quotes God’s original plan for marriage (Genesis 2:24). This passage also paints a beautiful picture of the correlation between marriage and Christ’s relationship with the church.

Ephesians 5:22-33 is a passage that follows upon the general command to be filled by the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), which manifests itself in a number of ways, including general practices of submitting to one another in our Christian relationships (Ephesians 5:21) and godly attitudes and actions in marriage (Ephesians 5:22-33).

Throughout the passage, the wife’s respect of and submission to her husband is said to correspond to the church’s submission to Christ, and the husband’s sacrificial love is said to mirror Christ’s love for the church. Ephesians 5:32 also directly ties the marriage relationship to Christ and the church: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (ESV).

Marriages are described as being between one man and woman in this passage. Though an emphasis on deep intimacy and others-centeredness characterizes the relationship between husbands and wives, the fact that these are relationships between one man and one woman is not incidental to the passage. Paul reaches all the way back to God’s creation of the world to support his ideas on marriage. In Ephesians 5:31, referring back to Genesis 2:24, a man leaves his father and mother to become joined to his wife, resulting in the two becoming “one flesh.” The original plan for marriage that Paul refers to was the uniting of one man and one woman in a permanent bond.

In this passage marriage is linked to both creation and redemption, two central doctrines of Christianity. The tie to creation is clear from the citation of Genesis 2:24. The connection to redemption is found in the marital love Jesus shows his church – “giving himself up” for the church, for her sanctification and cleansing in holiness. See also the same redemptive language in Ephesians 5:2, where Jesus “gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice for God.”

Like Jesus affirmed in Mark 10 and Matthew 19, Paul recognized that marriage was defined by God, according to his terms. In the definitions of Genesis 1-2, Matthew 19/Mark 10, and Ephesians 5 marriage is prescribed as being between a man and woman, who unite together as part of God’s basic order for the world (Genesis 1-2), and unite in Christ to point to Christ’s sacrificial work and the intimate union between Christ and his church.

A note on cultural backgrounds and biblical teachings

Ancient cultural perceptions of men, women, and same-sex practices, while informative when viewed in comparison to biblical teachings, are not directly relevant to the biblical view of same-sex sexual activity. The passages above present God’s intent for marriage apart from any cultural consideration and with universal relevance. The Bible begins with Genesis 1 and 2, which establishes a male-female marriage as the one authorized relationship for sexual union. This male-female union is affirmed in the rest of the Bible, and deviations from this norm are attributed to hard-heartedness (see Jesus’ explanation for the divorce instructions in the Mosaic Law – Matthew 19 and Mark 10), or shown to be harmful (in cases of polygamy) or are outright condemned (prostitution, adultery, same-sex sexual activity, incest). God reveals his plans for marriage clearly and consistently throughout the Scriptures.


Filed under Bible Study, Discipleship, New Testament, Old Testament

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



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 . . .


Filed under Biblical Theology, Discipleship, New Testament, Old Testament