Does the Bible condemn same-sex marriage?

EYTAN IN MARYLAND ASKS:’

Are there any [Bible] passages that explicitly condemn same-sex marriage?

THE GUY ANSWERS:

This involves the hottest and most important biblical debate of our time, on which the following can provide mere glimpses.

The simple answer here is No, not in so many words. Marriages or other acknowledgments for same-sex couples are never addressed, presumably because the idea wouldn’t have occurred to the Bible’s Jewish writers. Eytan’s question further noted that “there are numerous points throughout the Bible that indicate marriage should be between a man and a woman.” And the Bible’s references to gay and lesbian behavior are all negative, notably Leviticus 18:22 in the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament) and Paul’s New Testament teaching in Romans 1:24-27.  Therefore Orthodox Jews and Christian traditionalists believe the Bible clearly rules out the entirety of same-sex behavior, which would include “marriage equality” (the label lately favored by proponents of change).

Liberal Christians, however, urge revised thinking on this. One pioneer was Robin Scroggs of Union Theological Seminary in New York, in the 1984 book The New Testament and Homosexuality. He contended that the biblical concept of gay and lesbian sex as “against nature” referred essentially to the widespread pederasty in ancient culture — men sexually exploiting or prostituting boys, often slaves. Thus Scroggs thought condemnations such as Paul’s do not “address the issues involved” and “are not relevant to today’s debate” regarding commitments between loving and consenting adults.

The major conservative discussion is The Bible and Homosexual Practice (Abingdon Press, 2001) by Robert A.J. Gagnon of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. On Scroggs’ point, Gagnon argued that biblical Jews would have known about — and rejected — adult same-sex companionship as depicted in Plato’s Symposium and elsewhere. Gagnon further said the Bible never limits its rejection just to exploitative or forcible sex; for instance, Paul would have used specific Greek terms for pederasty if that’s all he was opposing.

Some other arguments, in a nutshell:

Liberals say the Leviticus condemnation, which shaped the New Testament passages, was part of an Old Testament “holiness” code to resist paganism that was culture-bound and now outmoded. Conservatives say the Leviticus 18 moral code includes homosexuality alongside other sexual sins Christianity has always treated as permanent injunctions, against adultery, incest, and bestiality.

Liberals say Jesus never condemned same-sex relationships. Conservatives say Jesus assumed Jewish moral tenets that he did not reinterpret, and did not speak against openly gay couples simply because this issue never came up.

Liberals say Christianity dropped the Old Testament circumcision commandment early on and eventually shifted to abolition of slavery, so likewise we’re free to change on homosexuality. Conservatives say the circumcision shift was a direct revelation from God contained in the Bible, and no scriptural mandate ever prevented the end of slavery.

Liberals say the ancients didn’t know what we do, especially that gay orientation is inborn like left-handedness. Conservatives say behavioral science is not certain on the causes and in any event this doesn’t alter biblical teachings on sexual conduct.

And so forth. Note the March 29 Religion Q and A item on the competing beliefs among U.S. denominations. The Guy thinks Jews and Christians need to decide after careful consideration of both the conservative and liberal arguments in books or briefer writings such as:

Walter Wink’s early reinterpretation of Bible verses (1979):

www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1265

Episcopal Bishop Chane advocates gay and lesbian marriage (2009):

http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/panelists/john_bryson_chane/2009/11/a_christian_case_for_same-sex_marriage.html

Gagnon answers a typical case for same-sex marriage (2011):

www.robgagnon.net/homosexGayMarriageQuestionRespLeeJefferson.htm

Defense of non-religious arguments against same-sex marriage from Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy authors:

http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2010/12/2217/

Islam, meanwhile, remains strongly united behind the Quran’s prohibition without any such debate. The 2010 fatwa from the president of the Fiqh Council of North America calls homosexuality absolutely forbidden, sinful, shameful, atrocious, obscene, devilish, and subject to “grievous penalty” in the afterlife. It warns Muslims not to even mention such conduct except to condemn it, and not to associate with or befriend committed homosexuals.

 

About Richard Ostling

Richard N. Ostling, a religion writer for the Associated Press, was formerly senior correspondent for Time magazine, where he wrote twenty-three cover stories and was the religion writer for many years. He has also covered religion for the CBS Radio Network and the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS-TV.


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