Homosexuality: What the Bible Says

Screen Shot 2016-12-03 at 12.28.22 PMIn the new book Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church (ed. Preston Sprinkle), the opening essay is written by William Loader, a professor from Perth Western Australia. His view can be characterized as a bold, if not harsh, Bible approach, as a Bible dipped into its historical contexts, and at the same one in which he believes we have moved beyond the Bible — so, on the basis of the Bible’s teaching of love, Loader affirms same-sex relations and marriage. He presents, in other words, both a strong case of a traditional reading of the Bible along with a compassionate case affirming same-sex marriage.

Traditionalists consistently stand alongside Loader in his description of what the Bible says and depart from him on what it means for today.

I sample today both his own statements as well as the various responses, but before I do any of that, I want to make my own response to Loader clear: I believe Loader forms the strongest — even harsh at times — case for the traditionalist view because he knows, in the end, he will reject it. In other words, one can make the Bible’s view of homosexuality uglier and ugliest if one is prepared to reject it. The nuances I see in both DeFranza and Hill and Holmes are formed because they do not want (in the end) to reject what the Bible is saying in its context.  In other words, their view of Scripture empowers them to a different hermeneutic.

Do you think it is accurate to say Loader’s view maximizes the problems because he minimizes the impact? What do you think of Loader’s overall theory of what the Bible says about homosexuality? What are his major weaknesses?

Now to Loader. By the way, William Loader knows more about homosexuality in the Bible and the ancient world than probably any Bible scholar in the world. He’s written six academic books in this field.

OK, now to Loader.

He believes the Bible says one thing and experience another; hence: “It seems that increasingly people are recognising that there are some—a minority, but a significant one—for whom the natural sexual orientation is toward people of their same sex” (17-18).  And: “In some contexts, especially Bible-believing contexts, the scriptural prohibition collides with what people are experiencing, creating a crisis of faith. For some, then, there are two alternatives: abandon my faith or abandon my child” (18). Thus, “In all of these we have needed to update biblical writers’ understanding and assumptions and respectfully acknowledge that their witness, which we treasure and in which we hear the word of God, was expressed in the language and thought-world of its time. Is homosexuality another one of those areas where we need to update our understanding from their beliefs?” (20).

The Bible’s view is uniformly and unequivocally the same: same-sex acts of sexuality and same-sex desires are contrary to Scripture. In the Jewish writings that are concerned with non-Jewish contexts same-sex relations are both described and denounced: from pederasty to recreational sex to out of control desire. God’s intended order is heterosexuality; there was no other sexuality. Among the Greeks and Romans male sexuality was about penetrator vs. penetrated, about active vs. passive and it was dishonorable to be passively penetrated.

The apostle Paul stands with the Jewish tradition along with an affirmation of the Roman sense of male honor. Romans 1 is about perverted worship leading to perverted sexuality, a view he over-repeats, for Paul knew only heterosexuality as God’s order. Any desire of a male for another male was not right. (The same applies to females.)

Leviticus prohibits the acts, which Jews read as equally applicable to female homosexual acts. Paul sees both the action and the attitude, homosexual passion, as sin. It is not the case that he sees only the act as sin, nor that he sees it as sin only when accompanied by excessive passion, as though moderate passion and its expression would be tolerable. Nor is it the case that he considers being gay and being sexually attracted to people of the same gender as in itself ethically neutral. Rather, Paul appears to assume, like other Jews whose discussions have survived, that all people are heterosexual (42).

There are three options:

1. Repent and repair (reparative therapy)
2. Accept and refrain (celibacy)
3. Accept and affirm (Bible gets it wrong): for those who are genuinely gay, something Paul does not believe in, Paul’s teachings do not apply. He calls this the principle of “informed love” (45).

Hence, “It is not disrespectful of writers of Scripture and, in particular, of Paul, to suggest that their understanding of human reality needs to be supplemented” (47).

Megan DeFranza’s response: She thinks Paul deals with exploitative relationships, not all same-sex relations. She thinks Loader’s harsh conclusions about the Bible can be toned back pastorally. “If Paul were confronted with same-sex-attracted Christians unable to change their orientation, I do not believe that he would respond with the same words we find in Romans, 1 Corinthians, and 1 Timothy” (53).

Wesley Hill’s response: Hill challenges Loader on “orientation” and on “desire,” thinking he sexualizes too much, and he also critiques Loader’s understanding of freedom. We’ll see his stuff in his own exposition.

Stephen Holmes draws more attention to Loader’s view of Scripture, and these are words to quote:

I just cannot accept that we should ever set Scripture aside, on the basis of experience or anything else. We will sometimes be forced by experience to reexamine our understanding of Scripture and discover that we read i|t wrong; we always have to read Scripture well, in context, in the light of the whole story of the Bible, through the lens of Christ; we always have to be careful not to invest our own interpretations of Scripture with the authority that only the text itself carries; but we must never set it aside (64).

Thank you Stephen Holmes.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.