Eros Defended or Eros Defiled– What Do Wesley and the Bible say?

It’s  St. Valentine’s day,  a day which once was a holy day, and now has become a holiday.  While I could spend some time as I have before on this blog on the subject of who St. Valentine really was,  in the wake of the recent provocations by Jennifer Wright Knust and Michael Coogan trying to reinvent the wheel in regard the Bible’s supposedly mixed message on sexual ethics, in particular on the ethics of same sex  sexual intercourse,  it’s time to say— enough, is enough.

Neither the Bible, nor for that matter, my own Wesleyan heritage can be used to further the sort of agendas  Knust and Coogan want to promote.   The Bible is not an ink blot which one can read whatever way one pleases on controversial issues such as sexual ethics, and when the pontification involves absurd remarks like, Paul has no sexual ethic (has the author actually read 1 Corinthians 7?),  or there can be little doubt that the love that David and Jonathan shared involved  eros not just philos, then it is indeed time to say, enough is enough.   These are not only not plausible interpretations of key Biblical texts,  in light of the highly conservative sexual ethic of honor and shame cultures in the ANE and in particular Jewish culture when it came to such matters, they are not even very possible interpretations of such material.     What follows here is an expanded version of a piece I have offered before, with some tune ups in light of the recent salvos by Kunst and Coogan, and in preparation for the next batch of salvos on this subject that the 2012 General Conference of the United Methodist Church.


Before speaking about the issue of the day, I need to just say a few things about myself.  I have been a lifelong member of the United Methodist Church, indeed I am so old that it was the Methodist Episcopal Church when I was born.  Rumor has it that my first two words were John Wesley.  I personally doubt this, but my point is that this has been my faith tradition my entire life.  I have taught at Methodist institutions like High Point University and Duke Divinity School (where I taught the theology and history of Wesley himself), I have done some teaching of the New Testament at a former Methodist institution known as Vanderbilt Divinity, and I know our Methodist ethos well.

I am also an ordained clergy person in the N.C. conference and I have served six churches along the way, full time.  I am not an ivory tower theologian unaware of the pastoral issues and problems that are created by one or another sort of sexual ethic.  And I have been a part of this debate about human sexuality, including the debate about homosexuality for the some thirty years and more that it has been going on.  I have been mentored along the way by luminaries like Albert Outler, who coined the term quadrilateral if I am not mistaken,  and I understand the issues of authority involved in assessing the relative weight of  the Bible, tradition, experience, and reason in our tradition.

One thing that Outler made ever so clear to me is that he did not want to do or say anything that would compromise the Reformation principle that for any good Protestant worth their salt, the final authority on all matters of faith and practice is the Holy Scriptures—  in other words the quadrilateral was not and is not an equilateral, nor a configuration of authorities by which ‘experience’ however defined should ever be allowed to trump Scripture in a matter as important as upholding the  principles of holiness and entire sanctification that our Wesleyan heritage calls us to.

From a pastoral point of view, I quite agree with Richard Hays and many other Methodist exegetes and theologians that the church cannot afford the luxury of offering an ambiguous sexual ethic in an age in which sexual promiscuity and aberration is so rampant and prevalent.  We cannot afford to encode multiple points of view on issues like adultery, pornography, same sex sexual sharing, pederasty and the like.   The Gospel trumpet needs to make a clear sound, even if all around us there is a cacophony of conflicting sounds.   More importantly we need to take a stand that comports both with Scripture and with our Methodist tradition of holiness of heart and life and in no way wavers from it, neither to the right or to the left.

Let me be clear that the position proffered to us by David Lull, Tex Sample and others in the United Methodist church is a position that John Wesley himself, Francis Asbury himself, and before them all the great theologians and exegetes of the Church rejected.  Anselm said no to same sex sexual sharing of any kind, as did Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Luther, Bucer, Knox, Cranmer, all the Wesleys and so on.

In terms of church tradition, the position which advocates the morality of same sex sexual sharing under certain limited circumstances is a position almost universally and certainly overwhelmingly rejected before the 20th century in western culture.  There is no argument to be made otherwise on this front.  So far as church tradition including especially our Methodist tradition goes, it says no. Emphatically so.  If you doubt this I would urge you to spend some time reading John Wesley’s little tracts ‘Thoughts on Celibacy’ and ‘Thoughts on Marriage’.  Wesley, being the good son of his Puritan mother Susanna that he was, believed that sexual intercourse had one primary purpose—procreation to be engaged in monogamous heterosexual marriage only.  He would have affirmed wholeheartedly our current cliché about celibacy in singleness and fidelity in marriage.  There can be no reasonable doubt about this. So would his mother.   For them the holiness code of the Bible was to be strictly adhered to.

But what about the Bible itself?  Well the Bible is quite frankly equally clear.  I do not say this lightly or flippantly.  I have spent 30 years exegeting the New Testament and the Old Testament and I have now written exegetical commentaries on every book of the New Testament.  I speak as an exegete, a historian, and a theologian, as well as a NT ethicist.  There is little room for debate I am afraid that same sex sexual sharing of any sort is seen as sinful in the Bible, both in the OT and in the NT.  I will attend briefly to a few key points.

Firstly, it is simply false to say that Jesus has nothing to say against same sex sexual sharing.  This is absolutely false.  Consider for a moment what Jesus says in Mt. 19.1-12. Here he makes clear that he views marriage just as the author of Genesis did—a man shall leave his parents and cleave to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.   This one flesh union is seen as only appropriate in a context of heterosexual marriage.  This rules out not only homosexual unions, it rules out extra-marital sexual acts of all sorts as well. This is not about androgyny, the notion that the original human being was both male and female.  It involves a poetic story about how woman was created out of a portion of the man.  Nothing in the Genesis text even remotely suggests Adam was originally androgynous.

And here it will be worthwhile to remind ourselves that our sexual ethic needs to be broad, and applicable to all. It is morally wrong to single out homosexual persons as if they were somehow worse sinners than heterosexual sinners.  The Bible takes all sexual sin equally seriously.  So should we.  We cannot afford in this sexually confused age to turn a blind eye to one sort of sexual sin, and excoriate another sort. That is the worst sort of hypocrisy and anyone has a right to call us on it.  Homophobia is as much of a sin as any other sort of sin.

The proper broad approach to this issue is to say the following—  all persons are welcome to come into the church as they are.  But no persons are welcome to stay as they are.  We should be equal opportunity exhorters in regard to all sorts of sexual sin, and not be baptizing anyone’s sin and calling it good.  This means we must be welcoming of all, but affirming no one’s sin—whoever they may be.

Back to Jesus.  Jesus presents us with three key points. He offers his disciples  two choices: 1) fidelity in heterosexual marriage, or 2) celibacy in singleness.  He speaks of this in terms of being a eunuch for the sake of the kingdom and the language could hardly be more stark and clear—a eunuch is one who does not engage in intercourse with anyone, same sex or otherwise.    But there is a third point Jesus makes—each of these conditions—fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness should be pursued  “as it has been given to them”.  What Jesus means is that it requires a grace gift to either remain celibate in singleness or faithful in marriage. The phrase “to whom it has been given”  means to whom God has given them the grace to live this way.   Paul says much the same in 1 Cor. 7—he speaks of a charisma, a grace gift to either remain single as he is, or to be married in the Lord.   And while we are at it, Paul stresses in 1 Cor. 7 to those widows who want to remarry that this is fine “only in the Lord”.   And here is where I stress that no form of behavior should be engaged in, perhaps especially sexual behavior, that cannot be done “in the Lord”  in a way that would be pleasing to the Lord Jesus Christ.  You will notice that nothing in these discussions is said about sexual orientation.  That is an entirely modern category.  And even if one were to allow that some persons might be born with an inclination towards or attraction to members of their own sex,  what an early Jewish theologian such as Jesus or Paul would say to that is that we are all born with an inclination to sin,  all are born with fallen inclinations.   This is not an invention of later Christian tradition, say St. Augustine.   Ps. 51.5,  a part of the great mea culpa of King David does indeed say he was conceived in sin.  This is not because his mother was immoral. We have no evidence for that.  Nor has this got anything to do with David’s adultery with Bathsheba— that was much later.  It has to do with David’s confession that he had sinful inclinations from day one,  as do we all.    It’s one of the reasons Paul says we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.   Just because a person is born with this or that sexual inclination does not make it good.  It has to be morally evaluated.   At the same time, it should be stressed that David is certainly not saying the sexual expression itself is inherently sinful.   Indeed Genesis says it was a good gift from God.

Since we have broached the subject of Paul, it will be well to walk down the Pauline road a bit further, but I want to stress that Paul is certainly not enunciating a sexual ethic any different from Jesus’.  His is more specifically Christian because he is writing to Christians, while Jesus was speaking to Jews, including his Jewish followers, but what the two men say comports not only with each other but with the rather clearly articulated sexual ethic of early Judaism— which is not a surprise.

The new element is that both Jesus and Paul affirm the equal goodness of remaining single for the sake of the kingdom as being married in the Lord, whereas in early Judaism the latter is overwhelmingly emphasized.   And herein lies a problem with my own church and indeed many Protestant denominations.  We have done a very poor job in affirming the goodness of chaste singleness in our church. Indeed we have suggested or implied that if a person is not partnered off, they are an incomplete or unwhole person.  In my own home church in Lexington Kentucky we used to have a Sunday school class called “Pairs and Spares”—horrible!  As if a single person is but a spare tire until they get yoked to another person.   This needs to change drastically.  We need to have an adequate theology and ethic of the goodness of chaste singleness. After all, both Jesus, Paul and others modeled such a lifestyle for us.  Who are we to cast aspersions on it?   From a pastoral point of view, one of the very reasons we have so many marriages that are train wrecks in the church is because there is too much social pressure to get married in the church, and some people simple aren’t grace gifted with the ability to be in a marriage relationship.  This is a truth we need to grasp hold of now, for certain.

I will begin with 1 Corinthians because it is an earlier document than Romans.  A little background is in order.  In the Greco-Roman world, all sorts of homosexual and lesbian behavior was deemed, if not fully acceptable, at least tolerable.  Pederasty, or sex between a man and a young boy was only one form of homosexual behavior that was condoned.  There was also sex with a prostitute (male or female) which was allowable, and also sex between consenting male adults, though sex between consenting female adults was usually seen as a degenerate form of behavior, at least by the Roman patrician class.  But we must bear in mind that the opinion shapers in that era were almost exclusively men, it was a patriarchal culture, and there was without question a sexual double standard in that world.   This double standard Jesus would have nothing to do with—remember the story of the woman caught in adultery?  One should have immediately asked, since it takes two to tango, where is the man caught in adultery?  Jesus’ famous Solomonic pronouncement “neither do I condemn you, but go and sin no more”  is the sort of balanced ethical rejoinder we would want to strive for in this whole discussion.

Early Jews, like Jesus and Paul, would have stood out from the Greco-Roman culture due to their much stricter sexual ethic.  Few would dispute this fact.  The question then becomes, what sort of same sex  sexual activities are being condemned in 1 Corinthians, Romans and elsewhere in the NT?   So far as I can see,  the answer is the same one given in general in early Judaism—all forms of same sex sexual sharing, whether it involves consenting adults or not.   Why do I say this?

Well consider for a moment 1 Cor. 6.9-10 which provides us with a rather all encompassing vice list.  A list of those persons who, if they persist in their current chosen behavior, shall not enter the Kingdom of God, coming in the future on earth as in heaven. This list includes first all sexually immoral persons and idolaters (the two broadest terms used—pornoi is the former term covering all sexual sins), and then Paul lists more specifically some of those he has in mind—adulterers, then he mentions malakoi and arsenokoitai, then he adds thieves, the greedy, drunkards, slanderers, and swindlers.  It’s a pretty broad list including a variety of types of sin, sexual and otherwise.

It needs to be understood about these vice lists that 1) Paul is addressing those who are Christians already and he is saying that this sort of behavior must stop if they hope to reach the Kingdom goal, and 2) the terms used suggest not a one time activity, but a persistent course of activity such that one could be rightly characterized as in general sexually immoral or in general a thief and so on.   This brings us to the terms malakoi which has as its root sense—soft, or effeminate, and is used in a sexual context to refer to the person in a homosexual relationship that plays the more female role, the one that mostly allows themselves to be penetrated by the more aggressive partner.   The word arsenokoitai literally refers to a male who beds with a man. Since there are clear echoes of the Holiness Code throughout 1 Cor. 4-7 it is exceedingly likely that this term, perhaps even coined originally by Paul, is an echo of the LXX of the Holiness Code which condemns a man who lies with a male as if the latter were a woman.  ‘Male-bedder’ or better ‘male-copulator’ is the sense of the term just as this language suggests in Leviticus and elsewhere.  In other words, a different ethic is not enunciated in the NT on this issue than is found in Leviticus. There is a consistent reject of same sex sexual activity.

Here is where I reiterate that the NT has nothing to say on the issue of the modern notion of ‘sexual orientation’.  It is behavior, not inclination that is at issue, and the assumption throughout the NT is that by God’s grace one can at a minimum control one’s sinful inclinations if not be transformed into one who ceases to have such inclinations. As Paul goes on to say in 1 Cor. 10—no temptation has overcome us that is not common to humankind such that with the temptation God can provide an adequate means of escape or overcoming it.   If I did not believe that grace could overcome fallen human inclinations and nature, if I did not believe in the possibility of changing from a fallen person to a new creature, I should cease to be in ministry altogether.  The possibility and need for change is incumbent on all of us, as we seek to be conformed to the image of Jesus the holy one.  He is both our paradigm and our paragon, our example and our goal.

What about Romans 1?   Here we have the only direct condemnation of lesbian behavior as well as homosexual behavior in the NT. Rom. 1.26-27 speaks of exchanging natural sexual relationships with unnatural ones, and by unnatural Paul means against the original creation order design of God.  He is perfectly well aware that fallen human beings have all sorts of ungodly or unnatural inclinations.  So the issue is not merely is it ‘natural’, but rather is it the way God designed nature in the creation before the fall, or not.  And this brings up a very good point. It is not cogent to say “I am naturally inclined to  behave in X manner and therefore this is the way God made me”.   That is entirely forgetting the effects of human fallenness on our affections and emotions and predilections.  A theology of creation without an adequate theology of human falleness becomes an unbiblical theology of creation.

And what the theology of creation enunciated in Genesis and repristinized in the NT says is that God made us male and female for each other.  Only a male and a female can be a couple, because only they are capable of coupling to the divine end of procreation. Only they are able to share a one flesh union that could potentially create another human life.   There are of course many kinds of relationships that could be called partnerships, but only one kind of relationship the Bible suggests can create a couple— namely a male-female relationship.  I have no doubt that both Jesus and Paul would be completely opposed to the attempt to reinvent the wheel and redefine marriage to include anything else other than the covenantal relationship between one man and one woman which God has joined together.

There are a few red herrings I would like to deal with at this juncture.  Ours is an emotive and experiential age.  We often here the phrase “my experience tells me” and we have endless counselors asking “how does that make you feel” as if feelings were the ultimate guide to truth or what is right.  The truth however about feelings is that they are notably unreliable guides to what is right and wrong.  Feelings can be deep and genuine and immoral, and they can be the other way around as well.  Sometimes we will also here the cliché “I cannot deny my feelings”

My response to that is—Of course you can. That’s what ethical restraint of sinful inclinations is all about!  All of us, if we are honest, have many feelings that we need to deny rather than indulge. Alas, our culture is so sick that it produces bumper stickers that say things like “if it feels good, do it”.  Whenever ‘experience’ or ‘feelings’  becomes the ultimate litmus test or measuring rod in a fallen person’s life, they are well on the road to narcissism and all the sins that come with it—self-centered, self-seeking, self-indulgent behavior.

What I know about fallen persons is that they have an infinite capacity for self-justification, indeed all of us do even Christians, which is precisely why it is so important for the church to uphold the clarion call to celibacy in singleness in a sex saturated lust- filled culture. Without some objective moral standard like the Bible we have no basis to tell the difference between heartburn and John Wesley’s heartwarming experience.

I am well aware that a person’s spirituality is closely entwined with their sexuality. Put another way, good theology and good ethics go together, and where one finds the endorsement of something unethical, it usually brings in its train bad theology as well.  It is then necessary for the good of our souls that we uphold a high standard of sexual ethics, and we should always bear in mind the Biblical principle that whatever you cannot do in good faith and with a clear conscience is sin for you.  In other words, when in doubt, don’t, especially when it comes to sexual behavior.

Another red herring is of course asking “What is the loving or compassionate thing to do?”  If one takes that question outside the context of the Biblical call to holiness almost any answer is possible.  Our God is a God of holy love. Not holiness without love, and not love without holiness.  Holiness without love is mere censoriousness, and it isn’t loving or helpful.  But love without holiness is mere indulgence without sanctified discipline, and it is equally wrong. The balance between love and holiness must be upheld—we must always love the sinner, but never love their sin, for the very good reason that the sin is destroying their souls, their very spiritual life and relationship with God.  However well meaning, it is not a loving thing to allow either homosexual or heterosexual persons to follow behavior the Bible and the long history of Christian tradition clearly says is immoral.  Same sex sexual sharing even between consenting adults, even in a long term relationship, falls under this prohibition.

It is a great pity that our English lexicon of love is so truncated. In Greek we have eros, philia, agape, storge and a variety of other terms as well.  Brotherly or sisterly  love is a good thing. It is a wonderful thing to have loving friends. But when it trespasses into the area of eros, sexual sharing, it has violated the Biblical spirit of brotherly or sisterly love, never mind having violated the agape love, the higher spiritual love the NT calls us to over and over again.  So many times in our culture people think they are in love, but in fact they are just lonely and in heat.  There is a difference between lust and love, and that difference all Christians are called upon to make clear.  When you muddy those waters you lose your moral authority to say anything with integrity when it comes to a sexual ethic.

What about the so-called evidence that there is a gay gene, or that people are born gay?  In the first place, there is no such evidence as of yet of a gay gene, and even if there was, we would still need to ask whether this might not be an abnormality that we should work to remedy like other birth defects. I am doubtful we shall ever find evidence of a gay gene.

I put more stock in those who say that a gay lifestyle has far more to do with nurture than nature.  I say this not only because over 90% of all gay persons live in cities of 300,000 or more where their lifestyle can be practiced and reinforced, but because there are good scientific studies of zygote twins, identical twins that share the very same genetic make up, and grew up in the very same home with the very same parents and the same schooling, and yet one adopted a heterosexual and one a homosexual lifestyle when they came of age. Why is this?  If it were genetically predetermined then we would expect either both of these children to be gay or neither of them.  But it is not so.  So, I do not put much stock in arguments that say “I was born this way”.  Even if it is so, we must still ask the ethical question—is it a good thing that you were born this way?

Another red herring that one often finds in the relevant literature is the attempt to lump together the issues of women, slavery, and homosexuality. The logic usually goes like this—‘the Bible says a lot of things we can no longer condone or agree with, such as what it says about slavery or women, and so there is no reason not to think we have outgrown the need to agree with the Bible about homosexuality. We are wiser than they were on these subjects.’   There are several problems with this, not the least of which is thinking we are smarter than the inspired writers of Scripture on key ethical issues. In view of the atrocities perpetrated in modernity against all kinds of persons, including against  Jews in the Holocaust, and against the refugees in Darfur and against the unborn,  I don’t think we are in any position to be smug or just assume we have our ethical sensibilities more fine tuned than the writers of the Bible.  Indeed, I would say just the opposite. They were far more rigorous in keeping their ethical codes than we are and being sensitive to the ethical nuances of positions taken.  Never mind, that the church since time immemorial has said that these writers of the Bible were inspired by God to say what they say, unlike our present discussions!  That gives them an authority we simply cannot pretend to have.

But the other major thing wrong with this whole approach to the homosexual issue is that there is a clear trajectory of change enunciated in the NT when it comes to the roles of women and when it comes to the abolition of slavery in a Christian context (see Philemon— “no longer as a slave, but as a brother”).  There is no such trajectory of change found in the NT when it comes to the prohibition of same sex sexual activity. The NT position is little different from what we find in the OT.  And finally, slavery, women, and homosexuality are three very different ethical issues, and they should each be addressed on their own terms as they present us with different ethical problems and issues.  They should not be lumped together.

So on St. Valentine’s day, it might be a good thing to recognize that eros is not agape and neither is eros the same as philos. The love God calls us all to is a holy love, whether within the bonds of marriage, as Jesus and Paul define it (which does indeed involve the good gift of sexual sharing), or in the context of singleness.   Anything other than fidelity in Biblical marriage or celibacy in singleness falls short of being either holy or love as God designed it for humans to share.

For those wanting more on this heated debate,  I would suggest they read Dr. Rob Gagnon’s detailed studies either  in his full length book study The Bible and Homosexual Practice  (Abingdon 2002), or at his website


Our United Methodist church has agonized over the homosexual question for decades.  We have spent millions of dollars on it, and it is entirely unlikely we will all come to a meeting of the minds on this issue.  The positions are too entrenched, the battle lines too clearly drawn, the issues too consequential.  If we ask the question—How can we go forward, even while we agree to disagree on this issue, I have a few suggestions.  Firstly, it is time for the gay and lesbian lobby in our church to stop lobbying for change in our Discipline and praxis.  This is unlikely to accomplish anything but more alienation, frustration, and division.  Most Methodists do not see same sex sexual sharing, or gay marriage, or gay ordination as a justice issue or an issue of rights.  They see these issues as issues of sexual morality. Besides, no one has an inalienable right to be a church member, or be ordained or be married or for that matter be sexually immoral.  Ordination and marriage and church membership are privileges not rights,  they are blessings not entitlements.

If a person simply cannot abide by either the Bible or the Methodist Discipline on these issues, both of which are rather clear on this matter, then it is time for those persons as persons of integrity  to go and join another church say the Episcopal Church, or found one’s own denomination (the new Methodists perhaps).  I wish them the best and God’s blessings, but really after 40 years it is time to stop debating this issue anymore. When the 2012 General Conference transpires it is entirely unlikely we will change our positions on these matters.  Thereafter it would be good if we had a moratorium on such debate. We need to get on with the primary Gospel mandate of making disciples, new creatures, of all persons, not fighting expensive unprofitable battles amongst ourselves.  Our church is dwindling in numbers for a reason—we continue to put the Emphasis on the wrong syllable, and the world is watching, and longing for an alternative to its own malaise, not an endorsement of it.  If we want to see what it would look like to change our position on this issue, we need look no further than to the mayhem wrought in the Episcopal Church in the last years as they broke faith and covenant with most Anglicans on the issue of homosexuality.  It would result in a disastrous loss of church membership and of good clergy as well.

In closing, I would add this.  If a gay or lesbian person is prepared, by the grace of God, to live a chaste life of celibacy in singleness, then of course there is no reason why they should not be members of our church and be ordained as clergy. We all have our besetting sins and flaws, and if we stop ordaining sinners, we will have no one left to ordain!  But the call to Christian life, like the call to ordination is a high calling which calls for the highest standards of ethical rectitude. I am reminded of the words of Chaucer who said “if gold rusts, what then will iron do” when he spoke of clergy.

It would be my hope and prayer that we would all re-embrace fidelity in heterosexual marriage and celibacy in singleness as at the heart of our social principles on these matters, since these principles are already in there, and that God will bless us all as we struggle to overcome our sins and shortcomings. We must not make the mistake of either stigmatizing one group of sinners more than others, nor the mistake of baptizing anyone’s sins and calling them good.  That sort of balance between justice and mercy, between holiness and love, is what we all are called to, and should strive for.


  • Andrew Wilson

    This is exceptionally helpful. You have a real gift to communicate with clarity, submission to Scripture and grace, all at once. Thanks so much for posting it!

  • David

    Thanks for the researched article. It helps clarify the issues.

  • Bob

    Very well written. This is among the best – if not the best – consise material I’ve ever read on this subject. Thank you!

  • Oscar

    I am going to save this article in PDF format so that I can share it with various people in my church, if it is permissible.

    I am SO tired of Christians railing about “the gays” as if they are the biggest challenge to the church when, in reality, it is more likely GLUTTONY which afflicts more Christians. Just watch what happens in pot lucks and at the Hometown Buffet lines as an illustration.

    I am no exegete, nor am I a Greek scholar, I’m just a Sunday school teacher who tries to convey what the Word says, to the best of my understanding by using commentaries and prayer, and I am continually surprised by the “push-back” I receive from people who are members of a “church with a Holiness standard on the subject of homosexuality.

    Homophobia seems to be accepted in many churches, and I find it amongst students in my class, often because they do not personally KNOW any homosexuals, and mostly because the proportion of church members who ARE gay is so small that it makes it a “safe” sin to rail against.

    In Ephesians chapter 5 Paul said “You were once darkness, but now you are light IN THE LORD”. Those outside of the definition of Christian need not be railed against, even if their sin is abhorrent to us, because they ARE DARKNESS, not just IN darkness.

    Paul’s wording seems to run deeper than simply being sinners. It seems as if he is saying that there was nothing in us BUT sin, we were wholly comprised of sin, before Christ’s saving grace changed us into “being light”. So what sense is it to rail only against the darkness of homosexuality when we are supposed to be “the light of the world”, a “city on a hill” that cannot be hid.

    It IS time we worried more about our own personal holiness in Christ, holiness as a body, and time to forget about trying to become acceptable to the opinion of those who “are darkness”. If we cannot trust the written Word, then what standard do we fly? What compass do we navigate by? And to quote another, “How shall we then live?”

  • John Umland

    This is a great, succint piece. Thank you.
    God is good
    John Umland

  • Naum

    I concede that you are correct in your take on the biblical text and its words on sexual ethics.

    But I have to ask, seriously, do you have any close gay friends and/or family? Or ever entered into dialogue with a gay person? Because your take on “90% of all gay persons live in cities of 300,000 ” is so ignorant and outlandish, it leads me to believe you live in a bubble. Did you ever wonder that the unfriendliness and prejudice against such a “lifestyle” would predisposition anyone from “coming out” when the consequences are usually family disowning, discrimination and in older days, physical harm. Speaking anecdotally, I can tell you that I got to know some in a “small town” that had that “lifestyle” who made an effort not to be “visible”.

    And you conflate Greco-Roman “acceptance” of homosexuality because you do not address the gorilla in the room — the non-person status of women, and that it any relationship between men, one would invariably be cast as the “woman”, when considering marriage.

  • ben witherington

    Hi Naum:

    I have had various gay friends in my life, one was even my college roommate. As for the statistics I didn’t invent them, they come from recent sociological studies. See the data in Gagnon. Of course there are gay people everywhere, but they make up less than 10% of the tiotal population from what we can tell, and the vast majority are indeed in larger urban areas.

    And yes to the request to reprint this for the person who requested it.


  • Joy

    This is very well written. Thank you.

  • Rod

    Excellent and thought provoking post.

  • Rick Danielson

    Hi Ben – I have not read Knust and Coogan’s book, so I can’t comment on that. The article here is clearly stated and I know makes complete sense for many who share an evangelical/Wesleyan perspective. I think we all understand that others Christians disagree and believe that in addition to Scripture, current social science and personal experience are relevant to understanding sexual orientation and what it means to live responsibly and faithfully. I hope we can all love and respect others despite differences.

    I, too, wondered and was concerned about the statistical info provided re: gay persons living disproportionately in large metropolitan areas in order to find support for a “lifestyle.” My experience has been that LGBT persons are pretty much everywhere. I think it goes without saying that most are not looking for someone to validate a lifestyle so much as support for living meaningful, ordinary lives. I’m pretty sure urban gays are seeking the same and perhaps some gravitate there with the hope of greater acceptance or anonymity if they have experience rejection in rural communities. Unfortunately, statements of statistics are often used to reinforce negative stereotypes (Dr. Paul Cameron has manufactured many statistics that are clearly untrue for that purpose and they are quoted often,) so I wondered about the source of this one (other than ‘Gagnon’ – I’m not sure where to locate it on his large site.) I also can never quite understand why some heterosexual persons seem to assume our relationship are all about sex (“lust”, “lonely and in heat.”) I think all of us – straight and gay – who are committed to our partner understand that we are united by something much deeper.

    Though I have no problem with anyone writing about what they believe passionately, I am sad to see this intentionally released on Valentine’s Day as a Valentine theme article. If I read it right, the article is debunking the reality of genuine (agape) love as expressed by a percentage of our population, including those within the Christian church. In that sense, given this special day, it seems almost mean-spirited. I do wonder what theologically conservative evangelicals would like those of us in long-term, loving, supportive, same-gender relationships to do? That’s the practical issue that the arguments against same-gender relationship would lead us to. I know it’s preferred that we be single, but I hope anyone could see the joy we experience with our beloved as preferable to dismantling what we know to be our family. Peace.

  • Bob Longman

    I think Witherington reads the passages on homosexuality wrongly. That’s an opinion; I respect the point of view which says otherwise. I will note that those supporting tolerance of gays have been far more Christian about it in the day-to-day world. That’s not a decisive measure (good Christians can easily be very wrong), but it should make us look much harder at established beliefs.

    Even so, the overall approach to sexual ethics of many learned lights (which gives conditional OKs to everything) is way off base. The items they’re getting into now – such things as porn, adultery, and (in the Big Love era) polygamy do not reflect love, but self-absorption and sex-as-entertainment disguised as true concern for, and relationship with, a specific other. These things demolish our ability to love, and diminish our ability to bind to any one particular person. To say otherwise is a flat-out lie. The Scriptural writers knew this; their writings about this were not based on prejudice or legalism, but on the way God made us to relate. Indeed, our relationship with God is exactly that, a relationship, and we must look to what the Bible says God wants in that for our cues re relationships with each other.

    It is especially sad when Methodism — which of all Christian churches, should know better — falls into that trap.

  • Mat

    I don’t really understand how anyone can miss the point of the scriptures regarding the sin of homosexuality (which like all sin can be deceitful, as well as the other sexual sins – I think that adultery is worse). It’s plain as day, and Dr Ben shines a bright light over the whole issue. If you want to commit a sexual sin like homosexuality, than you simply do not have messianic or apostolic support. As for Christian behaviour, Timothy was told by Paul to rebuke the sin before all not shy away and pretend that evil is good, and we can always look at their dealings with the false teachers. Sometimes tough love is required.

  • Greg Van Dussen

    Thanks Ben, for your clarity and wisdom on a subject that easily falls victim to everything from confusion to misinformation to culturally supported rationalization. Yours is an important voice within the United Methodist Church and American Christianity in general.

  • Mark Field

    Thank you Ben, for such a ‘calling a spade a spade’ article.

    While not the main subject of the article, I was curious about what you mean’t by ‘grace gifts’ in regards to marriage and singless. Do you define these in terms of folks having either the ‘gift’ of marriage or singleness (as some have done) or do you approach it differently?

  • rev.spike

    Ben, again, you almost persuade me to return to the UMC :)

    What an excellent, respectful, and thoughtful article.

  • Ken

    As a recovering alcoholic I understand what it is to have a genetic predisposition towards a certain type of behavior. It explains the behavior, it doesn’t excuse it. All the time I spent on my knees asking the Good Lord to lift that burden from me has allowed me to be clean and sober for 20 years and leave behind many sinful and destructive behaviors that grew out of that lifestyle. The sin of homosexuality is no better or worse that drunkenness, thievery or dishonesty. It is also not normal or acceptable as part of the Christian life. Christ died so that we could have His life, not the life we feel we want to live. Christlikeness is our goal, not worldliness; and that is what we can strive for with His help. God bless you Ben and thank you for such a wonderful article.

    Your brother in Christ,

  • Ben Witherington

    Thank you all for your thoughtful comments, and especially to my friend Rick Danielson for sharing. Rick I will tell you that there was nothing mean-spirited intended by posting this on Valentine’s Day. In fact, St. Valentine was not about romantic love or eros, he was about self-sacrificial brotherly love. Among other things my concern in this piece is the misuse of the Bible to justify certain kinds of behavior, whether heterosexual or homosexual, which are in fact strongly critiqued in the Bible. The thrust of this critique is against some of the ridiculous and deliberately provocative claims of Coogan and Kunst.

    Hopefully you and I can talk about this sometime on our own Rick.

    For now I will report that I just came back from Arkansas where a female college student at the school where I was lecturing, came up after my lecture (which was not on homosexuality) and unsolicited and very joyfully told me that she was so thankful that Jesus had intervened in her life and had quenched same-sex inclinations in her, after a long battle with such thoughts and attitudes, and even behavior. Her testimony— “I am so glad he set me free from all that, as it was neither loving nor healthy.”

    There are many such testimonies of being given the grace to overcome our inclinations that are not from God. I for one, will continue to support and accept such testimonies as the work of God.

    Ben W.

  • Galen

    Lots of great stuff here, Ben. I am keenly aware of how we “baptize” our own sins through mental and emotional manipulation – to make evil appear good and good evil. We all do it whether we want to believe it or admit it.

    We all are born with inclinations to sin. Way back in Genesis 8, God declared that every intention of the heart of mankind was continually evil. That means that for any growth in righteousness to be realized, those inclinations must be overcome.

    I feel compassion for those who struggle with homosexual inclinations, but equally compassionate for those who struggle with heterosexual inclinations to be anything other than 1) faithful to their marriages, or; 2) chaste. I suspect that for the majority of either category (hetero- or homosexual) that the struggle will continue throughout life. But it is through such struggles that we grow and get stronger and can become more conformed to the image of Christ.

    Great article. Thanks!

  • JoeyS

    Dr. Witherington I was wondering if you might expound a little on a few of your points


    I’m coming at this with significantly less experience in exegesis than you so my questions are meant in earnest. I’ve seen the debate of malakos and arsenokoites in a lot of different forms. What I’ve yet to see though is a strong justification for the assertion that these are specifically about homos*xual activities. The line of reasoning I usually see is this: malakos means effeminate and it is grouped with arsenokoites, therefor arsenokoites (word parts – arseno, plural of man and koites, s*x) must have to do with homosexuality. Is that the only justification? I’ve seen commentary after commentary explain that we’re unsure of the meaning of arsenokoites but that malakos gives us a direction in which to lean. Is there any actual evidence beyond that for translating arsenokoites as ‘homos*xaul?’ Some commentaries even suggest that this might be best translated as male prostitute? Is there truth in that?

    Also, it is difficult to read Romans 1 without seeing it in light of Romans 2. To quote:

    Romans 2:1-5 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. 2 Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. 3 So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? 4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? 5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.

    When discussing Romans 1 it has to be understood that Paul’s purpose here is to call us away from judgement and into self-reflection and repentance. I’m not accusing you of judgement, just reminding the conversation that Paul lists these sins for a specific purpose.

    I wouldn’t be too quick to dismiss the comparison to slavery or women either. Of course each of these are of a different nature but here is the deal: in all of these cases a people group were mistreated due to (and for the sake of the point you’ll have to give me this) pre-conditions – due to things they did not have control over. Just as a woman does not choose her gender I’ve yet to hear a homosexual say they chose to feel the way that they felt. You can argue, and I agree to a point, that our natures are not inherently good but you also don’t want to throw out all that is natural as evil. The fact that an overwhelming majority of homos*xuals live in urban areas is a testament to this horrible discrimination. They have, as Rick alluded to, moved to a place where they would be treated more like human beings. In that sense, they do have a lot in common with other mistreated groups.

    And a final question – What is the nature of the sin in homos*xual activity? Some say that it is a sin because Scripture, and by extension God, says so. But that doesn’t seem true to the nature of sin. Jesus says that the Great Commandments fulfill the Torah so it is safe to say that sin is anything that infringes upon the Great Commandments. In what way does homos*xual activity impede on love for God or love for our neighbor? Does it distort some part of our God-image? Does it hurt ourselves or others? Does it blaspheme God’s glory? In what way does it infringe upon holiness? I hope that question doesn’t seem snarky. I assure you that it is a question I really want to explore.

  • Laura

    Thank you very much for posting this. It was extremely enlightening and an answer to prayer. I have been searching for answers on this topic for a long time and have been keeping an open mind to both sides of the argument. I also found it encouraged me in my pursuit of purity as a single person. I admire your courage to discuss a very sensitive subject.
    God Bless

  • Ben Witherington

    More good comments.

    Arsenokoitas is slang, and means a male who copulates with a male. It can refer to a pederastic relationship but it can also refer to any male of any age copulating with another male.

    Why is this so wrong, one of you asked?

    The answer is several fold if we are looking for a rationale. The first answer is that it is a violation of the creation order to be fruitful and multiple. Males do not have the proper orifices to create another human through same sex copulation (and nor do females).

    Furthermore if we think in terms of natural theology the anus was never made for such an activity. Indeed the anus is easily destroyed by such an activity. Spend some time with doctors having to treat people who have had repeated anal sex. It is inherently unclean because of what the actual purpose of the anus is and what comes out of it, and so is unhealthy. The spincter muscles were never constructed to take such an assault. You can push the logic back further— what happens at a male orgasm? Answer sperm comes out. What is the sole function of sperm— God gave us sperm to help propagate the species. We have been so beguiled with the siren song about recreational sex that we have forgotten that its function is creational, not recreational in the main.

    As various faith traditions will tell you, the primary purpose of intercourse is not having a good time, it is the reproduction of the species. ‘Be fruitful and multiple’. God made it pleasurable in order to make us want to be fruitful and multiple. This is precisely why that function is so closely hedged around with protective rules and moral sanctions. Sexual expression was meant from day one to be a form of reproduction and human bonding between men and women. Ask yourself a simple question—- why do you suppose there are so many sexually transmittable diseases— we could list 7-8. Could it be that these diseases are a natural warning against copulating in ways that are immoral, and often inherently unclean and unhealthy? Sure.

    But there is more than the creation order, and natural theology and indeed common sense about healthy sex that is in play here.

    There is the theological point that according to the Bible the only kind of intercourse capable of producing a godly one flesh union, is one between a man and a woman in the context of heterosexual marriage. That is, there is something inherently lacking in same sex intercourse. It may create some kind of attachment, but not a one flesh union. When Paul argues in 1 Corinthians that sex with a prostitute is inappropriate because you shouldn’t be trying to unite a member of the body of Christ in a one flesh union with a prostitute he is reminding us that our sexual behavior is not a private matter. It affects the body of Christ you are a part of. Of course it is true that intercourse is and should also be an expression of love for your marriage partner. But interestingly enough, the Bible does not suggest that is the main function of intercourse. This is precisely why the Catholic church is opposed to contraception. Now I think their logic on that point is a bit faulty, but I understand it. There are times when intercourse may and should mainly be for bonding purposes, and so contraception at times is not a violation of the creation mandate. But they are right about the main and intended function of that activity, and when one uses that activity in ways and with persons that could never ever fulfill its main intended function— its wrong according to the Bible.

    This is enough for now. Keep thinking!

  • Russ

    Dr. Witherington,

    A well-written, well researched, thoughful, courageous article on a difficult topic that impenges on the sensitivities of so many. I too, have gay and lesbian friends, and colleagues. I am a member of the United Methodist Church. Being single, and divorced for many years I especially appreciate the position that Scripture teaches that marriage is the vessel and only vessel of sexual expression acceptable to God. I also appreciate the remarks about how the Church catholic has fallen short in ministering to those of us living single, celebate, whether by calling, by choice, or against our will becuase of widowhood or divorce. I appreciate this article very much. Thank you.


  • Wilfrid

    This is a fine article. However, since it frames itself as a response to the work put out by Knust and Coogan, it would be nice to see an engagement with the specific arguments in those recent works. Instead, there are one or two snipits with no context (a clear hermeneutic sin) As the post above stands, it serves as a reminder of what most conservatives are happy to believe: the Bible has a unified voice, it reflects no conflicting viewpoints, and when it seems to we look to Jesus to set us straight. These seem to be just the assumptions that are undemined by the Knust and Coogan texts in question: that we must read the bible in THAT way if we are going to be faithful Christians.

  • Scott

    I am curious who is supposed to kill the LGBT people in the church? The pastor, the lay leader, the trustees? Should it be by old-fashioned stoning? hang them from a tree? a firing squad? or is lethal injection okay?

    I want to be sure I am following the Holiness Code in its entirety.

  • ben witherington

    Hi Wilfrid:

    The problem with those books is that they are not serious scholarly work at all. They are deliberately provocations, trotting out old and tired arguments many have answered over and over again before. And frankly most of the arguments are irrelevant for Christians who are under the new covenant, not the various forms of the old covenant. Jesus is perfectly clear that various things in the old covenant were given with an allowance for the hardness of human hearts and fallen human nature, including Moses rules about marriage. Jesus’ point is that such allowances no longer apply now that Jesus has come. In any case, the fact that Song of Songs is erotic poetry between an engaged couple, namely a king and his betrothed simply tell us that physical love in the right context is a good gift from God. It provides no basis for an argument for all sorts of aberrant sexual expressions, much less does it provide divine warrant for thinking their are multiple good options.


  • Wilfrid

    Hi Ben,
    Thanks for your reply. Because your blog thinks I am spamming you, I will post in parts.

    I think that the appeal to those texts as less than scholarly work, and in particular as “provocations” ha the effect of communicating to your audience that there is no argument therein, although this IS a more informal context (a blog). I can tell that your reading of Song of Solomon with regard to the issue of proper context for sexual activity is constructed more modestly than that of Knust’s. However, notwithstanding the informality of this venue, the provocative (not to be confused with something being a “provocation,” which is a less charitable characterization) nature of these recent texts and your original comments about church tradition, there remains the apparent fact that there is a far less unified voice about sexuality in the bible than you appear to give face. For example, your dismissal of androgyny in Genesis seems to dismiss also any apparent divergency between creation accounts, or that there is anything intriguing relating to sexual identity in the fact that there was no “ish” (man) before there was the “ish-a” (woman) as well; there was just the “adam” (earth creature). 

  • Wilfrid

    There are a couple of effects this treatment has, in my view. First, by your dismissal, your audience, many who will no doubt read your posts instead of (ie, not alongside) these other texts are given authoritative permission to refuse to engage these as seriously a they deserve. Secondly, and more importantly, there are communities, for example the intersexed, who lived beyond the usual binaries of male/female, or of hetero- and homo-sexuality, and so who are compelled to forge a sexual identity for themselves amidst arguments that God’s intention is for people to identify as either male or female in order to enjoy a God-approved sexuality. These communities, many of whom take Eucharist and are baptized, stand ready for Christians to say something to and about them other than “God created man and female, male and female God created them.”

  • Wilfrid

    This position, unaided with a compassionate theological ethic, as faithful as it is to the letter of the bible, will at best compel them to choose their identity according to what are already established alternatives, or at worst names them freakish. On behalf of that community, the discussion deserves better consideration in the public forum. Issues of a gay gene are not the only biological issues related to sexual identity. I hope I do not come across as argumentative, I appreciate your willingness to engage in dialogue in this way. However, I believe these to be important points to raise. 

    Thanks again for your willingness to reply.

  • Vivian

    Mr. Witherington,

    Like the woman you met in Arkansas, I would like to very joyfully tell you that I am so thankful that Jesus has intervened in my life to allow me to overcome the inclinations of sincerely misguided theologians who simply do not or will not acknowledge, let alone understand, the reality of loving and healthy gay relationships. All the scholarship in the world cannot change the fact that there is no condemnation in the bible for my relationship with my partner, which I know to be of God. After a long battle with such thoughts and attitudes as yours, my testimony— “I am so glad Jesus set me free from all that.”

  • Ron Spross

    I greatly appreciate your taking the time to share this article. I can accept that your interpretation of scripture is (or can be) correct (to me that would mean that it is consistent with the intent of the authors), but after over six decades of wrestling with the Bible and all that goes with that, I no longer accept that the intent of the authors, even when it can be determined, is necessarily authoritative.

    I do have a couple of questions — given what scripture says about the issue, what do you think the roles of divorced heterosexual people should be in the church, and what should be the role, if any, of divorced and remarried people in the church?

  • wilfrid
  • Michael

    I think I’ve reached overload on this particular subject and applaud the author’s contention that we simply need to stop talking about it. It is settled, and the UMC stance on this issue is just and right as well as biblically consistent. The only thing that is left unsaid in the Discipline is that such self-indulgent behavior, regardless of the form it takes, is SIN. Simply calling it “incompatible” suggests a gap that can be narrowed by human reason and intervention.

    It is sad that humanity has come to equate the generic “love” with sexual expression, and I personally think the Church universal has done a grave disservice to so many by talking perhaps a little too much about sexual expression and its nature as a divine gift to be enjoyed. Such talk only gives us all permission to push the envelope a little further than it needs to go. Once that door is open, it is impossible to draw a line and say, “This far and no further”.

    I would also suggest to those who disagree with BW have not considered carefully enough the biblically defined difference between our physical being and our spiritual self. Humans as animals are predisposed to self-indulgence, and it matters little how this self-interest may manifest itself. We are naturally inclined toward many things, but Jesus clearly calls us to go against our human, physical nature not merely because He says so but for far greater purposes than we can envision. Jesus calls us to nearly impossible standards by human measure, but is this not the whole point of Jesus walking and talking among us? That we are called to be “Christ-like” and not to expect or demand that Jesus become more like us?

    I appreciate this article and I grieve that such apologetics continue to be necessary, but I have hope that one day this will all be finally and completely put to rest.

  • Wilfrid


    I’m very sorry that you have become fatigued with these matters. I’m very sorry, also, that the numbers of people who suffer (yes, many of them actually do suffer) from Christian persecution based on trite and under-developed biblical arguments. If “the whole point of Jesus walking and talking among us” is that “Jesus clearly calls us to go against our human, physical nature” then that serves your particular position quite well, doesn’t it? In fact it serves only your particular position. Perhaps there’s something else going on in the incarnation, in the interactions of the Incarnate with the world and in the bible as a whole. This attitude, again, is one that simply dismisses, rather than engages, the issues at hand. Your post is a very good example of this as well. These issues touch the lives of real, hurting people who are hurting precisely because of a largely Christian voice that condemns them full-stop, assuming that any non-heterosexual and marriage-focused lifestyle is about pure self-indulgence, reckless sexual expression and the like. This assumption shows a remarkable distance from the lives of people involved. One might call them “the least of these.” While it is not necessary to approve or endorse of lifestyles unlike the more traditional Christian ones, it IS necessary to talk TO people about whom you judge so easily with the bible rather than AT them. Neither BW’s article above nor your response have done so.

    Also, in regard to your lament that “such apologetics continue to be necessary,” I’m quite certain that the list of theological issues that have been “put to rest” is rather small. . .if there are even enough to call it a list.

  • Robert Fisher

    Joey S #19:

    “Also, it is difficult to read Romans 1 without seeing it in light of Romans 2

    Romans 2:1-5″

    It’s difficut to see the light of Romans 2 if you’ve only read 5 verses of it. Are you sure you understand what it means?

    “When discussing Romans 1 it has to be understood that Paul’s purpose here is to call us away from judgement and into self-reflection and repentance.”

    His purpose is to call Gentiles (ch 1) away from sins such as homosexuality, envy, murder, etc., and to turn hypocritical Jews (ch 2) away from the sin of thinking that they are more righteous than a Gentile who obeys the moral law, simply because the Jew is in possession of special revelation.

    Paul is not using a condemnation of hypocrisy in order to justify the commission of sins, as you seem to imply.

    I’m also curious how you define “judgment” above. Is Paul violating your definition when he asks the church at Corinth in 1 Co 5 to discipline the man sleeping with his mother in law? Looking forward to your response.

  • Robert Fisher

    #28 Wilfrid

    “This position, unaided with a compassionate theological ethic, as faithful as it is to the letter of the bible, will at best compel them to choose their identity according to what are already established alternatives, or at worst names them freakish.”

    How is it compassionate to tell people that they are nothing more than whatever desires pop into their heads. That they can never transcend them and be free of sin.

    You seem to claim that people should have freedom to “choose their identity”, yet you want to condemn them to live like animals or spoiled children: never able to rise above the impulses in their heads.

    I’d be willing to bet this is not how you would advise people to behave in other contexts. I suspect you are seeking to do this because you want others to validate and affirm your lifestyle choices. But why should anyone listen to you and your made up, self serving morality? Why should we cease telling ALL sinners the good news that they can be free from slavery to sin, simply because it hurts your self esteem, or inconveniences you, given how you’ve chosen to live?

    Sorry, no can do.

  • Just observing

    I’m not pro homosexuality and the thought of it is nauseating. However, I do think they get bashed way too much. A sin it is yes – but so is adultry. And how many adulterers are in church – including pastors. Homosexuality, unlike adultery, didn’t even make it to the top 10 of Thy shalt not…

    Just an observation.

  • Robert Fisher

    Just Observing: how many adulterers pride parades do you think occur every year? Do adulterers try to indoctrinate children to be polyamorous or to think that polyamory is somehow a good thing?

    What exactly do you mean by bashed? If someone does something immoral and it is condemned, is that condemnation somehow “bashing”? Are you trying to smuggle into your assertion the fact that homosexuality is not immoral? If so, please just plainly argue for that point.

    I hope this has given you something to think about.

  • Wilfrid


    If you would re-read my post more closely you would find that I claim *Witherington’s* position, or one similar to it, as one which assumes people should choose a sexual identity according to the pre-established terms of the bible (i.e. not according to their own sexual identity). Your position would require them to choose, not mine. If you are assuming that any non-heterosexual/married couple are *really* just two individuals who are “condemn[ed] to live like animals or spoiled children: never able to rise above the impulses in their heads” then I find your assumption to be a disgusting product of a corrupt mind, perhaps more degrading than any token of vulgarity alone can accomplish.

  • Wilfrid

    My participation in this post was to encourage Dr Witherington to address what was in the book that played catalyst to this article. Whatever was in it which encouraged him to say “enough is enough,” we receive no word of that text in critical treatment. He, and moreso you, have simply dismissed homosexuality, intersexed persons, and others as irremediably deviant. My response is that it is better for them if they never hear a word of your version of the “good news” so that they may go on existing in churches of their own, helping the poor, praying with the sick, adopting abandoned children, fighting for social and economic justice, and so forth. They do many of these things. My church has a number of such members. (NB: Not that it matters, but I am a white, straight male who grew up in a church as conservative as than your own. I have simply made friends, seen the Spirit at work in them, become able to read the bible differently than I had prior, and found that the Kingdom of God has been, as it were, given to new inheritors.) The book that Witherington mentioned in the early portions of the article is one that seeks to address your particular reading of the bible.

    You might consider not participating in these kinds of discussions if a) you can only argue from a position that is itself in question, and b) you can’t keep from calling people “animals.” I will no longer respond to your posts if you continue doing so.

  • Graham Veale

    Dr Witherington

    An excellent article; and the link to Robert Gagnon’s site is important. As well as providing careful exegesis Gagnon cites numerous secular historians and classicists who reject the revisionist case quite abruptly.
    I was stunned by James Barr’s dismissal of the revisionist case in “Biblical Faith and Natural Theology Referring to Boswell, Barr states “Interesting as his work is in its gathering of material from the history, in its handling of biblical texts and above all in its arguments from specific biblical words I can only say that I find it to be staggering in the degree of its misjudgement.”. I then found a similar dismissal of Boswell in Richard Evans “In Defence of History”. (p222).
    It seems that scholars writing from a secular or liberal viewpoint have no qualms in dismissing revisionism. Yet we have IVP (?!) publishing “Love is an Orientation”. Gagnon points to the lack of argument in that book. Mr Marin would want Evangelicals to embrace scholarship that secular experts would dismiss. The therapeutic is in the saddle and it will ride the truth (and rationality) into the ground.
    So thank-you for making an important stand Dr Witherington. I do hope that Evangelical Publishers pay some attention to your arguments.

    Graham Veale

  • Graham Veale
  • Graham Veale


    You write:

    “I have simply made friends, seen the Spirit at work in them, become able to read the bible differently than I had prior, and found that the Kingdom of God has been, as it were, given to new inheritors.”

    You must know that this elevates your private experiences and subjective judgements to the status of Scripture. You reach a different set of conclusions than Paul. Perhaps we can argue that certain readings of Romans One are logically possible. But mere possibility is trivial. An historian deals with the most probable, or best, explanation for a set of texts. The consensus seems to be that Paul could not even have considered homosexual unions as legitimate.

    Now you may be entirely comfortable with giving personal experience and subjective interpretation an authority that can challenge Paul’s letters. But that option isn’t open to an evangelical. Once we travel down the road you’re recommending we cease to be evangelical. That is why enough is enough.


  • Pr Mark Henderson

    Dr Witherington,

    I thought ‘quadrilateral’, as referring to four authorities or marks, was an Anglican term, pre-dating Outler by several decades.

  • Robert Fisher

    Wilfrid #38, sorry if I misunderstood you. All I was saying is that if people have same sex attractions, it is wrong to encourage them to act on it. That would be like telling them that they must be a slave to it and cannot be free. I’m not saying that their desires will change. I’m saying that the Gospel will give them the strength to conquer sin, even if some must live their whole lives celibate. To give an analogy, let’s say that Ken Lay or Bernie Madoff were evangelized soon after they began their corrupt business practices and repented of what they had done.

    They may live their lives at the level of middle class, or even below that, instead of super wealthy. This may cause them constant misery as they yearn for things they cannot afford, or even for enough to retire on. But I’m saying a life that rejects sin is to be desired over a life enslaved to sin, even if the sinful life is more “fulfilling” in worldly terms.

    The Gospel should give people a new aesthetic when evaluating life choices. It should give people the freedom to look on all your impulses and say to the wicked ones, “I reject you. I will not be led around by you. I follow Christ, even though I have to pluck out my own I to do it!” This is true freedom! This is true ability to create your identity. Romans 6.

    You may be motivated by compassion to support your fellow congregants caught up in that life style, but please rethink this. As C.S. Lewis said in the Problem of Pain, “If a father said, ‘I love my son, but I don’t care how much of a blackguard he is, as long as he has a good time’, what could he possibly mean by ‘love’?”

  • Robert Fisher

    Also see point 2 here:

    “In any campaign to win over the public, gays must be cast as victims in need of
    protection so that straights will be inclined by reflex to assume the role of protector.”

    You are being manipulated by activists whose lifestyle is the highest governing principle in their life. You should not let this cause you to overthrow Biblical ethics in favor of the Potemkin Village version concocted by activists.

    Do not let them co-opt you and destroy your faith in biblical ethics. Those with same sex attractions need the Good News, and the activists must NOT be allowed to silence those voices who will tell them the truth, just for their own self serving purposes, whose sexual proclivities are the most important thing to them that trumps everything else.

  • Wilfrid

    You wrote: “You must know that this elevates your private experiences and subjective judgements to the status of Scripture.”

    No, it means I interpret the bible in part through experience, as many evangelicals do.


    You’re missing the point. The point is not that I am encouraging or discouraging anyone from acting on desires. (Also, I care less that you misunderstood me and more that you consider all homosexuals to be little more than “animals.” That was extremely inappropriate, and you should be ashamed of yourself.) The point IS whether changing contexts make a difference for how we read the bible in this regard. Originally, I would have hoped for more from BW about what was in the recent book in question because it deals with just this. He, however, has abstained from further discussion. I have since procured my own copy.

  • Robert Fisher

    I do not consider men such as Pastor Tom Brock, Martin Hallett (True Freedom Trust) or Alan Chambers (Exodus Intl) to be “animals”. On the contrary, these men are fine Christians, an excellent example to all Christians and a witness to the world.

    re your point on the intersexed. That would seem to be another topic, since that is a physical condition. It doesn’t involve ethics, so it is separate from the area of sexual ethics in light of unambiguously belonging to one gender or another.

    Ditto for the “androgyny” theory. The fact is that even if that theory were correct (and it sounds more like the Greek myth than Hebrew Scriptures), it is irrelevant to the later moral code revealed to Moses and reaffirmed by Saint Paul. If you agree with the accuracy of Dr. Witherington’s exegesis of the latter texts, they can’t be abrogated by the former, even if it were true.

  • Wilfrid

    My post does not mean I replace scripture with my experience. It means only that I interpret scripture, in part, by experience. Many evangelicals do, including Wesley.

    The fact that you consider anyone an animal for any reason is reason itself to be ashamed. How do you not see this?

    Also, the intersexed are most relevant precisely because they are both created by god AND neither strictly male nor female. This fact demands that we ask ourselves whether this context requires that we reinterpret the language of the bible regarding sexual identity. Furthermore, your assumption that homosexuality is a sin, and something to be freed from (b/c you believe the bible to tell you so, is what I meant by assuming what is in question in the recent book that sparked BW’s article above. You can’t assume it if you want to argue for it, at least not if you want to argue effectively.

  • Ben Witherington

    Actually no, that’s not correct. In Anglicanism there was never a quadrilateral because experience was never seen as any kind of authority— only Scripture, tradition, and to a lesser degree right reason. BW3

  • Wilfrid

    While not referring to the classic quadrilateral, I was referring to Wesley’s empiricism as implicit in his changing attitudes toward the possibilities of sanctificationwhuch are reflected in his journals. Not functioning as an authority, it gave him plenty of warrant to adjust his views when compelled to do so. Either way, evangelicals do this quite often. Even if they didn’t, the matter at hand is that we are compelled to do so with regard to the scriptural text today in regards to the matters under consideration in the recent posts.