Back to the Bible with Justin Lee

Back to the Bible with Justin Lee February 20, 2013

In his now influential book, Torn, Justin Lee goes “back to the Bible” in his own experience and in this book to determine what the Bible says, and his claim is that whatever it teaches he’s willing to follow. I don’t think it would be unfair to Justin Lee to add “what it teaches clearly …”. He offers a clear and succinct approach to the texts in the Bible about homosexuality with the conclusion that what they say is irrelevant to same-sex, faithful, monogamous and Christian commitment. I want to add that he doesn’t use the word “irrelevant,” but as I read him I think that word is fair. These are his conclusions, and they are not propped with a patient examination of the evidence but with summary statements on the basis of his own work.

Do you think the Bible knows the same-sex, faithful relationship or is it speaking only of more narrow topics — like idolatry-fueled same-sex relations or violent same-sex abuse? Is there any text that deals with homosexuality in general?

First, the classic Sodom and Gomorrah text in Gen 19, along with the Gibeah story in Judges 19, are about violent rape and not about same-sex relationships that are faithful. The use of the Sodom text in Ezek 16:49-50 does not overrun Gen 19 but confirms what he thinks that text already teaches: it is not just about hospitality but the extreme opposite, violent sexual behaviors instead of hospitality.

Second, he contends Leviticus 18:22 connects same-sex relations with idolatrous worship, and on this one he quotes Robert Gagnon’s well-known book that contends the Bible cannot be squared with same-sex relations. If Lev 18 is about idolatry-shaped same-sex relations then it is not about faithful same-sex relations.

Third, perhaps the most significant text is Romans 1:18-32, and here again he connects same-sex relations to idolatry. He thinks the text is about a specific group of people who changed sexual relations from straight to gay, but on this he is missing an important alternative: this sketches a kind of human, one designed for male-female sexual relations but who instead pursues same-sex relations. At any rate, Justin Lee thinks the text is about idolatry and same-sex relations so it is not about faithful same-sex relations.

It would be fair to say he dismisses “natural” as nullified by hair length being “natural” in 1 Cor 11. The term deserved more consideration in a book like this.

Finally, he looks at the famous passage in 1 Cor 6:9-11 where he concludes the evidence is not entirely clear; that a reasonable view is that it is about men-boy pederastic relations. And the men are married men mostly. Therefore, once again, the text is not about faithful same-sex relations.

The conclusion he draws, and he doesn’t draw this conclusion with certainty because he’s not entirely convinced one has solid readings of 1 Cor 6, is that the texts of the Bible are not discussing faithful same-sex relations.

He proposes more, he proposes understanding all moral issues through the command to love (the word always begs careful definition), and here are his words:

Suppose two people loved each other with all their hearts, and they wanted to commit themselves to each other in the sight of God — to love, honor, and cherish; to selflessly serve and encourage one another; to serve God together; to be faithful for the rest of their lives. If they were of the opposite sexes, we would call that holy and beautiful and something to celebrate. But we changed only one thing — the gender of one of those individuals — while still keeping the same love and … suddenly many Christians would call it abominable and condemned to hell (205).

It’s more complex than this, and the complexity is more than “condemned to hell” which ramps this up a notch. The issue for the traditionalist is that these two scenarios are different because one is perceived as “natural” and the other as “unnatural.” The word “holy” would be problematic for the traditional because the same-sex relation would be seen as contrary to God’s will.

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  • That’s a very good summary of what Justin says in the book. Those who want to hear more might be interested in the anti-debate between Justin Lee & Ron Belgau that was held at Pepperdine University. I’ve embedded the video of that here:

  • Joe Canner

    Is it possible that there is more than one standard of “natural” when it comes to sexual orientation/practice? For a heterosexual person opposite-gender relations are natural and same-gender relations are unnatural, and vice versa. Thus, when Romans 1:27 says “In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women”, could it not be referring to heterosexual men who gave up opposite-gender relations for same-gender relations?

  • It seems to me that anyone who arrives at a conclusion that advocates monogamous same-sex relationships, i.e. gay marriage, is actually launching an exception argument — appearances to the contrary. Jesus’ teaching on marriage and divorce has long been seen as pointing Christians toward a heterosexual, monogamous standard for sexual behavior. If this is not the standard, then Christian sexual morality needs some sort of fundamental revision. Isn’t Justin really saying: yes, that is the standard, but in certain cases the gender of the partners shouldn’t matter.

  • scotmcknight

    Hard to say. We are dealing with one apostle’s use of the term “natural” in Romans 1 (and 1 Cor 11). To say others might use the “natural” argument in different ways doesn’t seem to affect what Paul means. Yes, one can read Rom 1:27 as a heterosexual man becoming same-sex in relations, but it is just as reasonable (if not more) to read it as not about one man changing his sexual partners but about a group. The fact is that most “homosexual” males in the Roman empire were married to a woman and their same-sex relations were in addition to their marital relations. But Paul’s argument seems more general: men becoming same-sex and women becoming same-sex in relations.

    Craig, I don’t now if Justin Lee is arguing for an exception. He’s saying the Bible’s evidence is not about same-sex faithful relations but about idolatry driven or pederasty-driven same-sex relations. Since it doesn’t discuss the faithful same-sex relation, he argues, there is no condemnation.

  • EricW

    Third, perhaps the most significant text is Romans 1:18-32, and here again he connects same-sex relations to idolatry. He thinks the text is about a specific group of people who changed sexual relations from straight to gay, but on this he is missing an important alternative: this sketches a kind of human, one designed for male-female sexual relations but who instead pursues same-sex relations.

    It seems to me that Romans 1:18-32 sketches the kinds of humans who:

    a) Because they suppress the knowledge and belief of the true Creator God and
    b) do not give thanks to God, but
    c) instead speculate futile thoughts (about God?) and
    d) create visible idols of creatures, rather than worship the Invisible Creator, are
    e) given up by God in their lustful hearts to commit impurity by indulging their worship of the creature (and the flesh?) through physically degrading their bodies by unnatural sexual acts and incurring a due penalty.

    And who
    a’) Because they no longer acknowledge God, are
    e’) given up by God to depraved minds to commit wickedness, which they agreeably do and encourage, even though they know such things incur the penalty of death.

    I don’t have my copy of TORN with me, but I think Justin says that because a) – d) and a’) are given as the reasons/cause for e) and e’), which are portrayed as deliberate acts of God against those who reject the reasonable and expected knowledge and worship of God, the absence of a) – d) and a’) in the lives of many gay persons, and especially persons who were sincere Christians before they realized they were gay and continue to be sincere Christians, means that it is hard to argue that Romans 1:18-32 applies to such persons. And if that’s the case – i.e., if Romans 1:18-32 is NOT against homosexuality and homosexual acts per se – then it must be about something else.

  • scotmcknight

    EricW, that’s more specific and logically-explained than Lee’s discussion, but Yes that’s his basic argument. Your last sentence is more explicit than his. He focuses on idolatry and “that’s not me….”.

  • Rebekah

    Tying this post back to the most recent one on Rachel Held Evans’ blog, it seems that one of the broader struggles Justin faces (as do many others these days) is that if the Bible is explicitly saying that any homosexual relationships are wrong, then there are a lot more people in the current generations that may be called to celibacy than in the past. When I consider the volume of singles past 25 or 30 years old (heterosexual and homosexual), it creates a real tension. Physically, we weren’t exactly wired for celibacy and yet for numerous reasons people are in that place whether temporarily or permanently. I wonder where God is in all of this. I believe He’s right here in the midst of it, but wow! He can be tough to find.

  • T

    I thnk his combined inferences are weak. His argument reminds me of the occassional legal case in which an unfortunate lawyer has no law or legal precedent on his side, along with a fair amount of the same against him which he must distinguish, one by one, as inapplicable to his own. I applaud the effort, but Justin has a losing case trying to carve out and except monogomous homosexual practice from the bible’s warnings against homosexuality in its variety of ways.

    I frequently hear people connect this issue to the issue of women in leadership, usually via some kind of slippery slope logic. But Justin’s arguments here shows their vast differences. Specifically, the best Justin can do is argue that the Bible is silent on the subject of monogomous same sex marriage; he can point to no positive examples or teachings in the scriptures encouraging the practice. All he can try to do is say that the bible’s warnings don’t apply to the specific kind of homosexual practice he wants to defend. He has no equivalent to Deborah or the female prophets of the NT or Paul’s teaching telling women how to prophesy in church, etc. By comparison, Justin is left with a weak defense and no offense.

  • Jeff

    I don’t know what Justin would say about Romans 1:27 – “they were consumed with passion for one another” (men with men). This does not strike me as talking about idol prostitution.

    Also in reference to I Cor 6 – “malakoi” seems to mean “dolled-up man who intends to seduce a man or woman” based on comparing both Gagnon”s discussion and Dale Martin’s discussion on “malakoi”. And “arsenokoitoi” seems to be the clearest one can get to the meaning of “sexually active homosexuals”, but also just possibly “those who masturbate with other men or boys” for some translations have it as “those who abuse themselves with other men”.

    Overall it seems Romans is very clear. One can easily argue that Paul’s use of “natural” and “unnatural” is connected intimately with “the degrading of their bodies” and “lusts of their hearts to impurity” in the context of Romans 1, whereas in I Cor 11 it has no other qualifiers.

  • Christian

    I’ve read Torn twice…and I love it; however, I don’t see support in the Bible for homosexual relationships. Marriage is defined from the beginning as one man, one woman. The Bible calls homosexuality an abomination to God – I think the idea is perverting what God has established.

    These arguments of Justin’s, especially the Sodom & Gomorrah one, are kind of flawed. Yes, the great sin was the inhospitality/rape/domination, but that doesn’t mean homosexuality is only wrong in that circumstance, and that in turn it’s okay in a monogamous, loving relationship.

    You could say the same about any sin. Yes, murder is terrible, especially if it was in an act of passionate hate. But what about murder that brings joy to the murderer? That’s certainly possible, granted we term those people as “mentally ill”. Even if it’s a joyful act for the murderer, we still call it an injustice because it is a sin, regardless of the heart’s position.

    So, in my opinion, homosexuality is a sin, regardless of where the heart is. After all, man’s heart is evil from his youth. When we start talking about the heart behind actions as an argument for the validity of an action, we tend to become more man-centric, often losing sight of God’s clear command. We tend to employ logic based on man’s experience rather than God’s word. The heart should always be looked at, but Jesus repeatedly asked questions that essentially asked “If you love me, why don’t you obey me?”

    Just some thoughts.

  • David

    always appreciate your evenhanded approach to reviewing books, and letting the author’s argument speak.

  • I think it’s important to note that Justin does not claim that everyone should believe the way he does on this issue. He leaves plenty of room for those who believe that homosexual behavior is a sin. In the book he simply outlines his personal beliefs and how he came to them.

  • Holly

    If you read “abomination” as meaning that only the two genders together accurately reflecting the image of God – then anything else would be an improper reflection and thus considered an abomination. Kind of presents a different way of seeing the word. The relationships are out of bounds not specifically because they are worse than other sins, but but because they present a “picture” of God that is incorrect. I think it has much less to do with culture and much, much more to do with what God is trying to communicate to the world through marriage.

    Second – I still don’t see how Justin’s interpretations allow for the concept of wide acceptance of homosexuality. If you say that monogamous homosexual relationships are good for those who are born with the natural desires, and you drop all scriptural injunctions against the relationships – you have to say that homosexual (monogamous, committed) relationships are good and okay and simply a choice to be confirmed for all Christians. People are free, the argument says, to choose whom they will love. If you set a standard for one set of people, you must confirm the standard for all groups of people. In other words, I should expect, then, that if the church affirms committed homosexual relationships, my children can grow up and choose whether they want to marry a man or a woman, there is no condemnation no matter their inclination. That’s where the trajectory takes us if we say “yes” to same-sex marriage within the church. If we say “yes” here, what keeps us from saying that two women and one man can’t live together in committed relationships? Or that a brother can’t marry a sister? On what would we frame an argument against either one of these?

  • Tim


    I’d be interested to see you expand on this:

    “It would be fair to say he dismisses “natural” as nullified by hair length being “natural” in 1 Cor 11. The term deserved more consideration in a book like this.”

  • Anthony

    Regarding Justin’s last quote, Robert Gagnon, who has a fantastic book about all of this, would say that the biblical position is there are certain “prerequisites” to enter into a godly relationship that must be met before anything to do with selfless love and loyalty matter. The prerequisites are essentially that the two parties must not be too different (such as, a human being and an animal) or too alike (such as, same gender or from the same family, like incest) but instead must be the perfect complement to one another, one male and one female. His take is that attitudes towards relationship, its consensual nature, mutual self-sacrificial love, etc. can NOT make up for or replace those prerequisites. He makes a great case for this in “The Bible and Homosexuality: Texts and Hermeneutics.”

  • scotmcknight

    Tim, nothing to expand on. He didn’t give “natural” much attention. I think it deserves more.

  • It strikes me as anachronistic to even put forward the category of “committed, faithful homosexual relationships” when discussing the Bible’s teachings on sexuality and marriage. As much as I love Cam and Mitchell of Modern Family, I think you’d be hard pressed to find any relationships even approaching that category in the historical context of 1st century (and before) Israel. Maybe the better question is: “Do committed, faithful homosexual relationships reflect the Scriptures’ teaching on the theology of marriage?” I wrote about this on my blog here:

    The short version is this: Biblical marriage is more accurately defined (after reading Eph. 5 and Rev. 21-22), not as 1 man + 1 woman, but as Jesus + Church. The final, eschatological marriage between Christ and the Church, bound up in agape love, is the ultimate reality to which our earthly marriages point. Our flesh and blood marriages are but shadows, in a sense, of the eternal marriage that awaits us. This has wide-ranging implications, I think, for what (at least) Christian marriage looks like now, including our idolatry of marriage, divorce, and homosexual marriage – all of which I see as out of bounds.

  • T

    Christian (10),

    Thanks for that comment. I wanted to add a couple of things in light of your double read and love of the book. I plan on getting this book and reading it at least once carefully. I don’t expect my thoughts on the biblical case to change, though I’m open to change, but that’s not the point for me. The point for me is that I think most people who deal with homosexual desire, both personally and via friendship and family, deserve much more than they’ve gotten from the Church. I think they deserve more than just the categorical label of “sin” placed on their homosexual relationships and desires, as if everything about them was wrong and bad, through and through. The believable lies aren’t untrue from top to bottom. Nor are the relationships that God places off limits devoid of any relational value whatsoever. If they were, no one would enter or stay in them. It’s like saying that the other religions of the world contain no truth at all. Not only is it nonsense; it is missional suicide. I feel like, in many ways, that’s what the Church has done via the homosexual community and their friends and family: committed missional suicide, and that’s unacceptable.

  • EricW

    Since Gagnon’s name has been mentioned, classical philologist Jean-Fabrice Nardelli critiques Gagnon here:

    and replies to Gagnon’s response, for which I’ll post a link in a second post.

    I am not qualified to evaluate Nardelli’s arguments – his Greek and Hebrew surpass my abilities.

  • EricW

    Gagnon’s response is at robgagnon DOT net/articles/homosexNardelliResponse.pdf

    Here is Nardelli’s reply to Gagnon’s response:

  • Christian

    T (18), I agree. They deserve more. It is sin, according to my view of the Bible, even if it is desire. See Jesus’ teachings on murder vs hate, adultery vs lust. We’re accountable for our heart. But the church has told this to homosexuals and then left it there. Jesus, on the other hand, had meals with sinners (research what sitting down to a meal meant in Jewish culture, hint: more than a meal, a reconcillation often). He also told them to “go and sin no more”. Both need to occur. Close relationship, trust, love (as an action), grace, rebuke, prayer.

  • TriciaM

    @Holly #13 I really do understand your concerns as they used to be mine. However, through listening carefully to the stories of Christians and how they came to acknowledge that they are gay, I have come to the conclusion that the most widely believed fallacy in the church is that homosexuality is a choice in a way that heterosexuality is not.

    In other words, your children are almost certainly not going to want to engage in a same-sex marriage unless they are gay. And if they’re gay (which is not beyond at least thinking about), it’s not something they’ve just chosen because they like the “lifestyle”.

    This false idea of “lifestyle choice” underpins a lot of conversations around this issue and we need much more education on the matter.

    The other issue is that slippery slopes go both ways. Some people worry that accepting committed gay relationships means that we may end up accepting committed sibling marriages. (Unlikely given what we know about genetics.)

    On the other hand, Uganda is in the process of approving this shocking law that does not rule out the death penalty for homosexual acts.

    I know which slippery slope I’m more afraid of.

  • Adam

    Has this discussion already passed? Maybe I missed it.

    But another interpretation for the bible not addressing same-sex relations is that those people didn’t see sexual relations like we see them. This then would be an attempt to overlay our understanding of things on to an ancient understanding of things. Just looking at the 1 Cor passage we can see our categories of gay / straight don’t fit.

    If those men are mostly married (to a woman I assume), why are they? The need for sons? Social standing? Why do these men-boy pederastic relations exist? Do the wives resent these? A man-girl relationship is certainly not frowned upon here. I don’t think it’s talking about a man-child relationship, just man-boy.

    I very strongly believe that we have more options than just “I was born this way” and I think these older civilizations had the same view which is why there’s confusion on these texts. I doubt these civilizations used sexual activity as an identity marker and we are.

  • Christian

    Tricia (22),

    We’re all born with a bent towards iniquity, according to Scripture. Does that mean that we should pursue it? Because it’s not a choice for us. We are sinners. But shouldn’t we strive towards righteousness? Just because it’s not a choice doesn’t mean we give into it and declare it okay. Thoughts?

  • Adam

    Apart from a “the bible says so” argument, what are reasons to see homosexual relationships as bad?

    This is something I haven’t had time to work out yet and wondering what others think.

  • Zach Lind

    This depends on what your view of “natural” is. It’s quite clear that same-sex attraction in both the animal world and in humans is a regular occurrence. Some might say that something found consistently in nature is, by definition, “natural”. If the implication is that sodomy is unnatural, then conservatives must contend with the fact that they don’t seem that worked up about heterosexual sodomy….at least no one is proposing a federal amendment banning straight sodomy. The conservative argument falls apart here not because the argument is bad (and it is bad). It falls apart because conservatives don’t apply their reasoning in a consistent manner.

  • Jeremy

    Ever since reading Mark Noll’s essay “The Battle for the Bible”, I can’t help but see the current homosexuality debate in the same light. In a nutshell, abolitionists were at a distinct disadvantage because the national slavery debate was very much centered on a collection of verses (far more for pro-slavery than there are for anti-homosexuality) and they just couldn’t win at that level. A lot of the debate was focused on the perspicuity of scripture and, quickly following that, the slippery slope of not taking texts at face value. The more nuanced anti-slavery argument had a hard time gaining traction simply because it was nuanced and couldn’t be delivered in “sound bites” directly from scripture. Sound familiar?

    Anyway, it’s a fantastic read and I highly recommend reading it:

  • TriciaM

    @Christian 24. I had decided not to bite but then…..
    First you’d have to convince me that non-promiscuous, non-abusive, committed and loving same-sex relationships are iniquitous. Looking at the scripture noted above, I’m not sure you’ll be able to do that.

    If you did manage to convince me, then I would say I’d rather spend my time helping people deal with sins that are a far bigger threat to our families and general well-being than homosexuality.

  • T


    I will wholeheartedly agree that there are no shortage of inconsistencies in whatever set of people, positions and actions we might lump together with “the conservatives” on this issue. That said, looking at the post today and the aggregate of Lee’s arguments concerning homosexual unions, do you see any weakness there? It seems that his central argument is to say that the bible’s many warnings against homosexuality don’t speak to the particular kind of committed homosexual union which is often at issue today. Therefore, the bible is essentially silent on the issue. Do you see any weakness there?

  • Craig Wright

    Some thoughts on “nature”. In Romans 1:26 the phrase “contrary to nature” (Greek: para phusin) is used for women exchanging their passion. In the same book, Romans 11: 24, “para phusin” is used of God in his grafting the wild branch “against nature” onto the cultivated branch. In 1 Corinthians 11: 14 “nature” is appealed to as a support for men not wearing long hair. This is usually considered a cultural custom.

  • Andy (17),

    I love you pointed out the anachronistic way that most of the current “marriage debate” is framed. When many conservatives want to “support Biblical marriage”, they mean marriage as depicted by Norman Rockwell. The Bible talks of marriage by kidnapping, polygamy, political marriage, concubines, incest, marriage by theft/murder, etc. (and in most cases, doesn’t even condemn the marriages being depicted ) . Many of the OT laws cater to a very mysoginistic, ownership-model of marriage. So when trying to understand God’s will for marriage today, we’ll need to do more than point at individual phrases and yell “the Bible CLEARLY says…”

  • Wow. I have not read Torn yet, but I have downloaded it and have it on the “to-read” list. I am less excited to read it now than ever though. My problem is with Justin’s hermeneutic. It would appear that his standard for condemning practice is that we’ve got to be able to proof-text the specific application of that practice? I.E. it’s not enough to show from Scripture that Heterosexuality is woven into the fabric of God’s creation from the beginning to condemn homosexual practice of all kinds, but instead we need to be able to provide specific verses condemning that specific application of the sin? Really? There are any number of specific ethical situations that the Bible doesn’t cover but that we can make reasoned ethical judgments on from its broader ethics (i.e. end of life issues, genetic ethics, internet pornography, etc.)

    Perhaps from having not read the book I am mischaracterizing Justin’s argument but in reading the article and comments that’s what it appears is being advanced? I am open to correction though. I’m concerned about a generation of Evangelicals coming up learning how to so nuance discussion about the Bible in scholasticism and overly specific interpretation that clear truths of humanity and Scripture (like an aberrant sexuality which if embraced by all can lead only to EXTINCTION isn’t endorsed by God…come on make sense of God favoring that one guys) are rejected on the supposed basis of “taking the Bible seriously.” Just my two cents as a concerned, young Evangelical Pastor.

  • Christian

    Tricia (28), that’s fine. You can have your opinion. But your stance will determine the second half of your response. If homosexuality is an affront to God’s marital design and incorrectly displays God to others, that’s a big deal to be dealt with.

    Same thing with abortion. There are believers that believe in abortion if a woman is raped. So those people don’t see abortion as a threat. Others see abortion as murder in any circumstance. Thus, the issue is a much bigger one for them.

    You have to respect the others’ beliefs, and I suspect you do. But the claim can be made that the Bible is silent on abortion from rape, just like the claim can be made that it’s silent on homosexual relationships that are loving and monogamous. But others see abortion as murder and homosexuality as abominations, and both are explicit in Scripture to those people.

    In a culture where love is simply a feeling, and sex is simply a good time, I think it’s hard for us to see unbiasedly how God views homosexuality. We can argue all day about what the Bible says, but you have to be honest with yourself about what it says. And that’s often hard. It’s not fun to take a tough stance anymore.

  • LexCro

    A few things here about Lee’s stab at exegesis of these texts:

    With respect to Lev. 18:22, the prohibition’s proximity to the prohibition against Molech worship (v. 21) is inconsequential. The author clearly targets child-sacrifice to Molech (which is not to say that he would have favored any other form of Molech-worship). The author doesn’t connect verse 22’s prohibition against same-sex sex-acts with Molech worship at all. This is a bizarre kind of argument from the proximity of verses. And such an argument would have been completely lost on generations of Jews before and after Christ who unilaterally held to a categorical rejection of any kind of same-sex sexual union.

    With Rom. 1:26-27, Paul’s meaning about natural/unnatural is VERY clear. Rom. 1:18-32 is a unity. Rom. 1:18-20 is the beginning of an argument that stretches through to verse 32. Paul writes:
    [18] For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, [19] because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. [20] For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

    Paul’s argument about the justified wrath of God against human wickedness is based on God’s created order in Gen. 1-2. The phrase “For since the creation of the world” evinces this. Paul’s referential usage of prepositions (“For” in v. 21; “Therefore” in v. 24; “For this reason” in v. 26) to link the subsequent portions of his argument to the creation story bear this out as well. In Rom. 1:26-27 Paul is saying that same-sex sexual unions violate the natural order God established in Gen. 1-2, which is opposite-sex complementarity, not one kind of sex-act vs. another. Gen. 2 bears this out because even before God creates the Woman, God brings the animals to the Man not only to name them, but to show him what his complement is not (which explains the statement in Gen. 2:20, “…But no helpmate could be found”). Lesbian scholar Bernadette Brooten also affirms that Rom. 1:26-27 prohibits all kinds of same-sex sexual unions in her book “Love Between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism”.

    With 1 Cor. 6:9 (and 1 Tim. 1:10) the word ἀρσενοκοῖται goes right back to the Septuagint version of Leviticus 18:22 (and Lev. 20:13). The word is simply a combination of arsēn (“male”) and koitē (to lie with sexually, or to bed [the latter being more archaic]). Paul merely put the two words together to form a compound word, but his reference and meaning is quite clear. Paul is definitely talking about homosexual sexual unions here. The word ἀρσενοκοῖται is equivalent to the Hebrew mishkav zakar (“lying with a male), a phrase that pre-dates ἀρσενοκοῖται (if I’m not mistaken). Paul would have been merely translating that extant Hebrew phrase for his Greek-speaking audience. In fact, pro-gay New Testament theologian Dan Via agrees when he writes:

    “The term is a compound of the words for “male” (arsēn) and “bed” (koitē) and thus could naturally be taken to mean a man who goes to bed with other men…In the Greek version of the two Leviticus passages that condemn male homosexuality (Lev 18:22; 20:13) a man is not to lie with a male as with a woman each text contains both the words arsēn and koitē. First Cor 6:9-10 simply classifies homosexuality as a moral sin that finally keeps one out of the kingdom of God.” (Taken from “Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views” by Dan Via and Robert Gagnon.)

  • Rick

    What does bug a little bit about Lee and others trying to make a shift here, is that they so adamantly and quickly dismiss Christians who however or whatever do change their orientation. Usually this is done casually, with a flip of a hand by anonymous anecdotal evidence. Well in a similar vein, I know many people who have struggled with same sex attraction, and even been in homosexual relationships who are now married heterosexuals with kids and feel they have changed. The best stats show a change rate of success at between 35-40% which is supposed to be good.

    I am not arguing that everyone can change, or needs to change, or that there is one type of homosexual. But, it seems incongruous to me, for the opposite side of the argument to argue the very same, but for their side, that it is impossible to change, when in fact there are considerable about of people who say they have.

    This needs to unpacked a bit.

  • Tim


    “Tim, nothing to expand on. He didn’t give “natural” much attention. I think it deserves more.”

    I gathered that 🙂

    I was curious though as to whether you have anything you could contribute to an examination between Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 11.

    Is there, for instance, anything particular about 1 Corinthians 11 in Paul’s discussion of natural vs. unnatural hair length that differs substantially from a cultural relativity standpoint from Paul’s discussion of natural vs. unnatural sexuality in Romans 1? I’m not a Greek scholar by any means, but I’ve looked at the terminology and it seems fairly apples-to-apples to me (natural being ‘physis’ / ‘physikos’ and unnatural ‘para physis’).

    I’d be interested to know if you have a more thorough understanding you can contribute to the issues of culturally relativity in 1 Corinthians 11 and Romans 1 in this regard.

  • Joe Canner

    Adam #25: “Apart from a ‘the bible says so’ argument, what are reasons to see homosexual relationships as bad?”

    I have wondered a lot about this as well, and haven’t heard many useful answers. For most of the commands in the Bible that we follow today we are able to come up with some logical reason why it would be in our (individual or collective) best interests to obey the command. When the discussion is limited to “same-sex, faithful, monogamous and Christian commitment”, as here, it’s hard to come up with many good reasons.

    The closest I’ve seen in this thread is the summary of Gagnon in #15: “The prerequisites are essentially that the two parties must not be … too alike (such as, same gender or from the same family, like incest) but instead must be the perfect complement to one another, one male and one female.” This is an interesting argument, one that I’ve heard before, but I think it misses the point that nature is not strictly binary when it comes to gender. There is a wide variability and overlap between male and female characteristics in the real world and it would not be at all difficult to find a man and woman who were “too alike” by Gagnon’s standard or, conversely, two men or two women who were quite different by that same standard.

  • Ellen

    @Rick (#35), I’d be interested to know where you read the 35-40% statistic. Everything I’ve read (coming from both sides of this debate) suggests that those statistics are not reliable.

    I don’t know if you’ve read Lee’s book in full, but it is no way flippant about the issue. I am glad that the scriptural basis is being considered seriously by people who disagree, but I hope we can all agree that the tone of Lee’s work is incredibly Christlike in its call for reconciliation. I can say the same for Wesley Hill, a gay Christian who has come to a different conclusion than Lee. His new book is “Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality.”

  • Melissa

    Hi Scot,

    I have not read Torn but from what I can tell, I have had similar questions as Justin. I wrote a paper on Romans 1:18-32, and also used the “natural” argument from 1 Corinthians 11, not to dismiss it but to help with an understanding of Paul’s use of nature as an argument against or for something. What do you think about the use of the phrase “contrary to nature” in Romans 11 in light of his use of it in Romans 1?

    After writing my paper, I obviously had a lot of questions. At the same time I was writing the paper I was reading A Community Called Atonement (which is fantastic, by the way) and started to ask the question of “What does redemption look like for those in the Christian community, or who want to be a part of it, whose homosexual orientation cannot be changed?” Our response most of the time is celibacy, but I began to wonder if there was another way they could be involved in the community and experience their relationships in a healthy way. Steve Chalke hit on this a lot in his video explaining his support of same sex relationships. I would love to hear your thoughts if you have the time!


  • TriciaM

    Christian 33 – Abortion was the furthest thing from my mind when I talk about greater threats to families than committed same-sex relationships. I was talking about greed in all its manifestations.

    But the main point is, even if you convince me that Justin’s hermeneutics are completely wrong, (and I’m not yet entirely convinced), I will welcome gay people in love into my life and without condemnation knowing that I am adding yet one more thing for which I will eventually need to throw myself on God’s mercy. I have carefully considered whether I think this issue puts my soul at risk of hell and I don’t think it does. But I am willing to take that risk if it means one Christian teenager doesn’t commit suicide rather than be rejected by theologically correct but callous brothers and sisters. And, sadly, that’s not overstating the case if you listen carefully to the awful stories of gay people who have struggled within the Christian community.

    In the end, I don’t think hermeneutics is going to decide this issue. See the link from Jeremy – 27.

    Oh – and I should probably mention that I’m a grey haired woman, married (to a man) almost 30 years with 2 grown children and fiercely serious about the bible. I know that love is more than a feeling. (Boston told me so in 1976.)

  • Christian

    Tricia (39),

    I agree with all of that. But I still think truth needs to be pursued, and can be without condemnation and hate. Just because I beliee the Bible says its clearly wrong doesn’t mean I hate or condemn anyone.

    Salvation is of the Lord. Your beliefs won’t damn your soul to hell.

  • MatthewS

    This take on Sodom has been out there for a while, though perhaps Justin is adding more of an emphasis on the violence in addition to lack of hospitality. I wonder what would be considered the best current sources/authors that present the more traditional viewpoint on Sodom, that homosexuality was being condemned?

    Having recently re-read the story for my Bible reading plan (listening to the audio, actually), the homosexual aspect of the story does stand out to my ears and does seem to be intended to receive a dim eye, even if there is more to the sin of Sodom than only that. There are many ways to be inhospitable besides violent rape – the story seems to go over the top if inhospitality and even violence per se were the issue. The word “Sodom” conjures strong images, so it’s not hard for me to read a passage that says “this is the sin of Sodom” and think that the author is fleshing the image out without redefining the obvious (this implies a presumption that the homosexual element is obvious but it does seem so to me, even after trying to hear the story again through fresh ears as much possible).

    I would not want to be uncompassionate to the plight Justin and many others find themselves in. These folks are in a tough spot and I don’t envy them.

  • Joe Canner

    TriciaM #39: “But I am willing to take that risk if it means one Christian teenager doesn’t commit suicide rather than be rejected by theologically correct but callous brothers and sisters.”

    Very well put. I have thought the same thing myself for a while now, but you put it better than I ever could have.

    Christian #40: “But I still think truth needs to be pursued, and can be without condemnation and hate.”

    “Can” is the operative word. Until Christians *do* pursue truth without condemnation and hate, we need to be very careful about what we say in public on this issue. Unfortunately, some bad apples have ruined it for everyone, but that just means we need to go about the business of loving our neighbors and earning their trust so that we, as led by the Spirit, can confront sin quietly and respectfully, as the Bible commands.

  • Craig Wright

    MatthewS #41 Besides the reference in Ezekiel 16:49, the other references in the Bible about Sodom and Gomorrah are found in Jude 6-7 and 2 Peter 2:4-10, where there is no mention of an indictment of homosexual behavior, but rather a reference to angels who sinned by not keeping their proper place (as in the flood story in Genesis 6).

  • Craig Wright

    Tim #36 Take a look at my post in #30 and see what you think, including the reference to God going against nature in Romans 11:24.

  • MatthewS

    It seems an important thread to Justin’s reasoning that the biblical passages that address homosexual relationships were simply not about dedicated faithful unions, therefore not applicable that situation today. I believe that this taps into the idea expressed by Andy in #17, that dedicated homosexual relationships would be anachronistic to biblical passages.

    I can’t find a quote I had read earlier somewhere that all forms of homosexual relationships as we know them today have at least some precursor in the ancients, contra the idea that they did not have a notion of faithful, same-sex relationships. Google offers up “Homosexuality in Greece and Rome” by Thomas Hubbard that seems to have examples of ancient viewpoints and discussions that transcend the issue of exploitation and deal with the issue more categorically (I’m not familiar with the book but it looks interesting).

    It seems to me a significant presupposition to Justin’s hermeneutic that the ancients did not have faithful committed relationships in view, but if that understanding turned out to be weakly supported (say, if Paul’s original audience did likely understand Paul to be referring to non-exploitative and faithful, romantic, erotic homosexual relationships) it would in turn unravel some support for the positions offered, if I am seeing the reasoning correctly.

  • Zach Lind


    I think there is a weakness in any hermeneutic that justifies same-sex relationships but I also think there are major weaknesses in Scot’s hermeneutic in Blue Parakeet that justifies full participation of women in ministry. While I agree with the conclusions on these different issues that Lee and Scot have come to, I guess I’m more willing to allow experience be the teacher on these matters. I think that’s how it works with most people….but I prefer to just be honest about it. It’s not like Scot or Lee arrived at their conclusions out of the blue. They both had experiences that led them to justify their conclusions. Trying to argue within the boundaries of the Bible can be fun and interesting but sometimes we just need to be honest with ourselves and admit that the Bible occasionally gets it wrong.

  • Zach Lind

    I think the real issue here isn’t whether or not same-sex relationships are prohibited by the Bible. The real question is, apart from the claim that “the bible told me so,” what is the evidence that same-sex relationships are inherently harmful? Up until fairly recently, the conservative side of this issue has enjoyed a home-field advantage on this issue. Now that has evaporated, the playing field is level and conservatives don’t seem to be doing a good job forming a convincing argument in the public square. I don’t think the contention that homosexuality is “unnatural” is gonna make much difference at all. I wonder why Scot needs more on that.

  • scotmcknight

    Tim and Melissa,

    If I lay down my view then it becomes a debate with me; if I lay down someone else’s argument we can discuss it. So I tend to sketch the author’s view, usually not completely but I try to be fair and accurate, and then we all go at it.

    But I would put it this way: the “natural” argument in Romans 1 does need to be laid down next to 1 Cor 11 and Rom 11. What this shows is that there are various dimensions to “natural” and not all of them some kind of hard-core ontological reality etc.. For instance, 1 Cor 11 is a kind of social convention natural argument: long hair seems wrong for a man because men don’t wear hair long; long hair is natural for a woman because women have long hair. I remember this worked a bit in the 60s for some because for the previous generation males wore their hair short.

    Rom 11 seems to be an ethnic/racial/covenant people natural argument for Paul. God chose Israel, that’s the original and natural tree; God did not choose Gentiles; so they are unnatural participants.

    Rom 1, however, has suggestions that he’s connecting “natural” to the created order of Genesis 1-2. He brings up creation and he also uses terms like glory and image over against animals… all sounding a bit like Genesis.

    So my point would be this: it’s not satisfying to me to say “Since 1 Cor 11 is social convention, so must Rom 1 be social convention.” I get the logical move but it seems wiser to me to explore the kind of natural argument at work. This is but a brief sketch; there are debates about this stuff that would take us far afield.

    Zach, OK, but Justin did want to see what the Bible said because Justin thinks the Bible is God’s Word and he says if it teaches celibacy is required he’d go with that. That’s the premise for the post. I’m not sure what kind of public square argument you want.

  • Holly

    TriciaM, thanks for your response. But you know, I have had several female friends this year who have fell in love with soul-mates of the same gender. At least four of them have left their husbands, to be with women. And? They unequivocally attest that they chose, because they are free as Christians to choose. They do not believe they were born this way.

    For the record, I have responded in love. I want to be the friend who rushes in when everyone else runs away – and I think that I have been. I haven’t even “preached,” or “admonished.” These are smart women who have thought thru every angle. There is nothing for me to say, really, I am just a friend who loves.

    And yet, I think it is important for the Church to consider that this is the next step. If you say that formerly out of bounds relationships are okay and consistent with a good interpretation of what God wants from marriage, you have to say that they are good and acceptable for everyone….not just those with a natural inclination. It’s already been presented to me, several times over.

    Thanks for your reassurances, but they don’t ring true in real life.

  • Holly

    …”have fallen.” Sorry! 🙂

  • MatthewS

    Just thinking some of this over –

    William Webb, in describing the “trajectory hermeneutic”, took the homosexual issue to be a trans-cultural issue. I believe that he felt there were not the subversive seeds planted in Scripture for homosexuality like there were for transforming women’s roles in society or for overthrowing slavery. For this to be different, I believe one might would be looking for a Philemon-like passage that allowed for the social climate of the day but suggested that something else would be a higher good, for the sake of argument in this case, one would be looking for a passage where a gay relationship was held up as noble.

  • MatthewS

    #44, Craig thanks for the interaction. I think the link in the NT passages of Sodom to sexual immorality is stronger than you are suggesting. In context,

    2 Peter 2:4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment; 5 if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; 6 if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; 7 and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless 8 (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)— 9 if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment. 10 This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the flesh and despise authority.

    (the examples are angels – flood – Sodom – Lot, and Lot was “a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless”)

    In Jude,
    5 Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord at one time delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe. 6 And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day. 7 In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.

    (examples of judgement include Egypt, angels, Sodom. Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion)

    These passages are very stout and not easy for me to read, and I would not want to stand on them and thump my chest while condemning one sin over all others. A big deal for Jude is those false teachers who twist grace into a license, and who militate against true faith. A lot of parallels between Peter and Jude. While there may be more to Sodom’s story than just one sin, I think these passages raise sexual sin as a necessary consideration. One might find more to the story, but I would find it quite a stretch if one were to try to remove the consideration of sexual sin.

  • TriciaM

    Holly – I’m so sorry about your friends. I can see how that would give you a different perspective from mine. My experiences have been with young adults who’ve grown up Christian and come out quite young.

    It does seem different and it is very disappointing – but then I have very high expectations of people who marry. I want same-sex couples to be in the church so that we CAN insist on Christian expectations of monogamy and support people in their relationships. Does that just sound bizarre?

  • Jeff

    Jeremy #27,

    I would say that anti-slavery folks had a harder time because they viewed ancient slavery and modern slavery in the same way. Ancient people never thought that there was a slave race. Most believed that one could become free. It was not based on genetics or skin color. Actually the two types of slavery existed at the same time. Africans had enslaved other Africans (the old way) who then sold them to Europeans and Americans who viewed the slaves as savages (the new way).

  • T


    Totally agree that today’s post isn’t much of a public square argument, but I don’t think that’s what the author (Lee) intended. I think this chapter is for those Christians for whom the Bible is a meaningful authority. Certainly there are many who will not care about what the Bible says about this or anything else.

  • Christian

    Matthew (53),

    Especially on the Jude passage. I actually think it’s quite explicit, but this doubt has crept in with this movement over the past decade to where people can’t view it unbiasedly anymore.

    It says “having given themselves over to sexual immorality and perversion.” Given themselves over as in devoted themselves to it. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that little sins roll into big ones and unless repentance occurs, we fall head over heels into places we never dreamed of being.

    Paul uses a similar phrase in Romans 1. The act of extreme, lustful homosexuality is a product of habitual sin, as I read it. While extreme, lustful homosexuality is differnet than committed, monogamous homosexual relationships, I think if you’re honest it’s a hard sell to say lust is the only sinful part of that, unless you make the argument that lust is always a part of homosexuality, which may be true.

  • Christian

    And let me clarify…I in no way hate homosexuality or view them as “yucky” or anything like that. One of my best friends is gay (doesn’t everybody have a gay friend now?). He knows my view, but he alo knows I’m completely committed to our friendship and it growing deeper in Christ. I just feel I had to clarify as things can so easily get misread on a message board.

  • John I.

    re TriciaM @ #28

    Given that repetitive acts of sin without repentance is a spiritual death sentence, if homosexuality were a sin then it would most certainly not be a minor thing relative to other sins. Indeed, it would be a greater act of love to help a homosexual remain celebate, for that would save his/her soul.

  • Tim

    Scot @ 49,

    Thank you for your thoughtful response. I agree that allusions to Genesis in Romans 1 is important, and it certainly adds another dimension to an investigation of this issue. However, I would question why one would come to the conclusion that Paul is discussing social convention only in 1 Corinthians 11 as far a natural vs. unnatural. There doesn’t seem to be anything I can find in the passage to imply this, and so I wonder if we’re not just reading this notion of “unnatural”/”natural” per social convention only into the text instead. I don’t see anything there that would cause me to suspect that Paul’s notion of proper hair length for the genders wasn’t couched in as deeply ontological or universal terms as his notions of proper expression of sexuality.

    While I do understand and appreciate that you do not favor immersing yourself in back-and-forth debate on these threads, preferring we engage the author’s arguments instead, I would still value any further light you could shed on this issue if we are in fact missing some information or insight that could add perspective on this issue.

  • Melissa

    Thanks for the information, Scot! It was very helpful.

  • scotmcknight

    Tim, fair response. Yes, you are probably right… for Paul the “natural” was not for him a social convention. But we see that one more as social convention, or at least some social convention expressing a deeper ontological reality of the difference between male and female.

  • Craig Wright

    It is true that the passages in Jude and 2 Peter refer to sexual sin, but they don’t specify homosexuality. It is ironic in Jude 7 that they went after strange flesh (sarkos heteros). The emphasis seems to be on angels, and in Jude there is a reference to the book of Enoch, which seems to imply that Jude was influenced by it.

  • TriciaM

    @John I – 59 If that is true, then the sin of greed is putting many many more Christian souls in peril than the sin of gay sex. Why aren’t we in a moral panic about that? I’m really not being facetious about this.

  • Craig Wright

    In regards to hair length being “natural” or “cultural”, it may or may not be that Paul saw some sub-Saharan Africans, but not in a natural setting, where hair length does not seem to be an ontological difference between male and female.
    This causes me to wonder again about the Bible not addressing certain things that we deal with today, especially in regards to a homosexual orientation, and the issue of faithful, monogamous homosexual relationships.

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    It amazes me that we continually focus on issues like this and not discuss issues like how divorce is destroying both family and church. I’m sorry but I do understand why homosexuals and those who are for the gay lifestyle listen to Christian discussions and think we are either homophobic or think this is one of the central issues and concerns of the day (which is to continue to keep homosexuals out of the church).

  • Zach Lind


    Fair enough.

  • Tim


    Thanks for your insights on this. I would agree that many read Paul’s discussions of hair length 1 Corinthians 11 as more social convention than Paul’s discussion of sexuality in Romans 1.

    However, I would question what role our own cultural expectations play in this preference as opposed to a fair reading of the Biblical text.

    In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul teaches that a woman’s hair is given to her as a covering, that it is her glory. And of course the “giver” in this context can be none other than God. This echos themes of God’s creation of man and woman (Genesis 2-3), and that what God has created is “good”. In other words, it echos deeper ontological themes (as you noted), and these ontological themes speak to a proper natural order of things laid down by God since creation. Paul’s discussion of “natural” and “unnatural” are seated in this same ontological context in both Romans 1 & 1 Corinthians 11.

    Yet, as you noted, we read 1 Corinthians 11 as much more socially contextualized and relevant than Romans 1. Though this has not always been the case. There was an earlier time when 1 Corinthians 11 was taken quite seriously as universal and absolute ontological truth. It seems a fair question to ask as to whether there is any difference in legitimacy between the modern social developments that prompted us to read 1 Corinthians 11 as contextualized by the societal conventions in Paul’s times and relative to his cultural moment and the more recent developments of understanding in human sexuality that are causing many to now read Paul’s discussions in Romans 1 pertaining to sexuality in the same light. I don’t think it would be a stretch to suggest that Paul’s teachings, like much else in the Bible, are shaped through the lens of his culture and worldview. And I think issues of “cultural relevance” can be understood in this light. And in this respect, I would again question why Romans 1 & 1 Corinthians 11 are being treated so differently.

  • LexCro

    @ Tim,
    You asked: “And in this respect, I would again question why Romans 1 & 1 Corinthians 11 are being treated so differently.”

    The reason why is because Paul explicitly links his reference to what is natural/unnatural to Genesis 1-2. Paul’s material in Rom. 1:18-20 makes this powerfully clear, and it is Paul’s rationale for his diatribe in Rom. 1:18-32. For Paul, Genesis 1-2, being a pre-Fall milieu, is trans-cultural and universally valid. The same was true for Christ, who, when interrogated about where he stood on divorce and re-marriage, used Genesis 1-2 as the norm (Mark 10:5-9). Paul’s rubric for what’s normative/natural is Genesis 1-2, and all the things he mentions as sins in Rom. 1:18-32 are being compared to this pre-Fall norm.

  • Tim


    While you have noted (as did I, see #60) the allusions to Genesis 2-3 in Romans 1, you did not not address my argument below concerning similar ontological themes in 1 Corinthians 11:

    “In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul teaches that a woman’s hair is given to her as a covering, that it is her glory. And of course the “giver” in this context can be none other than God. This echos themes of God’s creation of man and woman (Genesis 2-3), and that what God has created is “good”. In other words, it echos deeper ontological themes (as you noted), and these ontological themes speak to a proper natural order of things laid down by God since creation. Paul’s discussion of “natural” and “unnatural” are seated in this same ontological context in both Romans 1 & 1 Corinthians 11.”

  • EricW

    There is of course the possibility that Romans 1:18-32 is boilerplate Jewish anti-Gentile rhetoric a la The Wisdom of Solomon 13-15, which Paul then throws back at the Jews beginning in Chapter 2.

  • Marshall Janzen

    Scot @ 49,

    I’m curious at the distinction between the 1 Corinthians 11 and Romans 1 use of unnatural. You said, “Rom 1; however, has suggestions that he’s connecting “natural” to the created order of Genesis 1-2. He brings up creation and he also uses terms like glory and image over against animals… all sounding a bit like Genesis.”

    That’s all true, yet 1 Corinthians 11 also uses glory and image and animals are implied in the “all things are from God” in verse 12, since the context is created things. It all sounds a bit like Genesis as well.

    I appreciate your statement that it’s not satisfying to just say that since one is a social convention, the other must be too. But it’s also not satisfying to say that one is but the other isn’t, and the reason for this is something the two share in common (the Genesis allusions).

    Re 62, that raises some interesting questions. If Paul could consider something a deep ontological reality but we are justified in seeing it differently… well, that raises some interesting questions!

  • Marshall Janzen

    I see I should have reloaded the page before posting… most of what I said is redundant after Tim’s comments in 68 and 70.

  • Rick


    The stat is very much under attack, for a number of reasons. You seriously cannot make any statement factual or made up that goes against the trend here without coming under massive fire and intimidation. I am not so concerned about the stat, but the fact that from this whole debate, people who identify as ex-gay are being excluded. Their life narrative doesn’t fit with the trajectory of the culture, so they often get shouted down or intimidated out of the conversation. There are of course many people who feel their sexuality has changed, or that they have found the ability to deal with their desires in a “Christian” way.

    I am sure Lee is very generous and gracious, I applaud him for that. I really don’t have a problem with his position. Everything that I do read from his side of the argument is that “change” (whatever that may really look like) is not possible… it is either monogamous homosexual relationship or celibacy. But, there are of course other narratives.

    One thing I worry about is that we lose the ability to listen to all sides here. The other is that we are making decisions about sexuality and essentially accepting a modernist progressive narrative of sexuality with almost zero examination of all the evidence, all the stories, and all perspectives. I find it incongruous that even homosexuals would want to make sexuality so immutable.

    Anyway, I have yet to hear much from Lee’s side really engage the ex-gay community. Maybe I am wrong.

  • scotmcknight

    Marshall, thanks for cutting me some slack… and I want even more. The social convention natural argument of 1 Cor 11 is how that text is read by many today, esp those who are examining how ontological Rom 1 is, and I agree with you that 1 Cor 11 raises creation issues all over the place. But since it is about long hair vs. short hair the social convention always rises to the surface.

  • Tim


    What is the basis for asserting that 1 Corinthians 11 ought be read as social convention simply because it is “about long hair vs. short hair” whereas for some reason issues pertaining to sexual orientation are somehow clearly not? How is this not simply reading our own cultural predispositions into the text? That we are assuming hair length for the genders is arbitrary and not prescribed by God, but sexual orientation is? Paul doesn’t seem to speak that way. But are we speaking that way for him? On what basis do we do so?

    The issue isn’t whether or not 1 Corinthians 11 is culturally relevant. The question I would pose is whether we are being consistent and fair in our interpretations.

  • Marcus C

    #31 micahjmurray wrote:
    “When many conservatives want to “support Biblical marriage”, they mean marriage as depicted by Norman Rockwell. The Bible talks of marriage by kidnapping, polygamy, political marriage, concubines, incest, marriage by theft/murder, etc. (and in most cases, doesn’t even condemn the marriages being depicted ) . Many of the OT laws cater to a very mysoginistic, ownership-model of marriage. So when trying to understand God’s will for marriage today, we’ll need to do more than point at individual phrases and yell “the Bible CLEARLY says…” ”

    Great point Micah, and one that almost always seems to get ignored in these debates regarding homosexuality and the Bible.

    One could certainly have an easier time making a Biblical case for polygamy than monogamous homosexual relationships…

  • Luke Allison

    I’m not so much worried about homosexuality as I am “biblical marriage.” As some have pointed out, the closest thing in the Scripture to the direct affirmation of “one man, one woman” marriage is Jesus’ teaching on divorce. Which is a teaching on divorce and not specifically addressing issues of sexual proclivity or orientation.

    Granted, it seems as if Jewish culture was vehemently opposed to homosexual practice. They were also opposed to a great deal of things that we completely brush off today, such as mixed fabrics and the boiling of a goat in its mother’s milk.

    How do certain areas of Scripture take on a timeless objective quality while others fall by the wayside? This is one of Dr. McKnight’s great questions from the Blue Parakeet, and I think it stands at the center of biblical interpretation for the late modern person.

    I’m extremely interested that more conservative commentators find the forbidding of homosexual relations abundantly and painfully clear, while liberal commentators find it muddy and complicated. I tend to think it is virtually impossible to find out what God thinks about modern monogamous homosexual unions.

    Here’s what I do know: My generation and the one below it (I turn 32 on Friday) see the issue of gay rights as a civil rights issue, not an issue of morality. Perception is reality for them. It doesn’t matter what we say. So….I’m not entirely thrilled to be on the side that appears to be against civil rights and equality, even if I don’t frame it the same way. There’s way too much baggage in our history (anti-abolition, Nazism, the suppression of women, etc.) to even take the risk.

    So what’s the solution? Beats the hell out of me.

  • scotmcknight

    Tim, Tim, let up… I’m saying that is how it is read by many today. It is read that way because many think any kind of argument about hair length is a social convention. Argue it with them, not me.

  • Tim


    I certainly didn’t want you to feel pushed in any way in my posts. If I came off badly I certainly appologize. However, if there is any confusion as views or positions you personally advocate verses those held by others, it may be due in part to attempts you’ve made to argue for certain positions without too openly doing so. I get the reasons for this, but it can be confusing. Also, out of habit in doing this, you may find that at times this distance you maintain is illusory. Do you really, for instance not take a position that 1 Corinthians 11 is culturally relative? Are the arguments of “others” not really at least partially reflective of your own at times? Not wanting to push, but perhaps you can see how it can be a little dizzying having a conversation in this manner 🙂

  • Marshall Janzen

    T @ 8,

    You made an interesting point early in this thread about this debate being different from women in leadership because while the explanations for problem texts are the same, there is no positive biblical case the way there is with Deborah, Phoebe, Priscilla, etc. This debate certainly is different, yet the biblical argument seems to be comparable for two-thirds rather than just half. The biblical argument for women in leadership is usually (1) explain why the restrictive texts aren’t universally applicable, (2) point to examples of women serving in a way that contradicts a universal application of the restrictive texts, and (3) emphasize the deeper principle of “one in Christ” from Gal. 3:28.

    Now, with the debate over what the Bible says about monogamous same sex marriage, (2) isn’t present while (1) proceeds much the same. What Lee brings to the table, at least going by the review on the same chapters on RHE’s blog, is (3). While Lee sees the debate on (1) as a toss-up, he focuses on a different passage with a deeper principle to help decide how we apply these commands today: Rom. 13:8-10 (and also Gal. 5:13-14). According to his argument, those passages make room for monogamous same sex relationships the way Gal. 3:28 makes room for women to fully participate in corporate worship (though I don’t think he frames it this way).

    Whether that approach seems to have promise or not, his biblical case is not simply based on explaining away the restrictive texts.

  • Dinah C.

    Have the book on order, but reading the blogs etc …. none of these arguments are new …
    that said, Christians must do a lot better in showing love to those who discover they are gay … but this does not mean we have to read into the Bible that it is a legitimate lifestyle for a Christian.

    But the subject of celibacy seems to be missing …. especially to note that celibacy is not just required of homosexual couples ….. all Christians who are not in a marriage relationship are required to be celibate …. I really can’t see the difference between this requirement and that obviously required of homosexuals.

  • Marcus C

    Luke Allison #78
    “How do certain areas of Scripture take on a timeless objective quality while others fall by the wayside?”

    That’s the million dollar question. It seems like just about everyone (from all sides of the debate) is cherry picking and gerrymandering interpretation of scripture.

  • I’m planning to begin reading Torn very soon. I’ve seen Gagnon’s name referenced a bit; all I can say is that the way forward for those who want to be clear on how and why the Bible forms (or ought to form) this discussion is through Gagnon’s work. His is the most exhaustive and complete of any single biblical scholar to date, and his website is full of up-to-date responses to various interactions with his work. I am looking forward to hearing Justin tell his story, but when he begins dealing with the biblical texts I will probably evaluate his work based on how well he recognizes and addresses Gagnon’s arguments.

  • And what I mean by “through” is not necessarily “through agreeing with” but “through” in the sense of – Gagnon’s work represents the high water mark for those who believe that Scripture assumes as foundational a male-female prerequisite for sexual relations. He is the voice that must be dialogued with regardless of one’s viewpoint.

  • Holly

    Thanks, TriciaM…

    It threw me for a bit of a loop, didn’t know what to think, I guess. I didn’t expect friends to say, “we ditched the husbands and found each other.” But it happens, and I think we’ll see it happen more and more. One couple, in particular, has found support for their relationship through Justin Lee’s book. I know their background wasn’t the foundation for his book but the “pro” arguments work just as well for their situation of choice. I don’t know what to do with that. Nothing, really, just noticing a transition. First one friend, then another….then another…wow. But then again (and I think it was you above who mentioned the terrible state of traditional marriages, forgive me if I’m wrong….it’s too late to go back and search…) I’ve also spent time this week with a good friend who was dumped by her husband in favor of a newer model and learned of another couple (friends) who are divorcing.

    Some boundaries are supposed to move…they should never have been there in the first place. Other boundaries, like a supporting wall in a home, absolutely can not be moved without taking down the whole house. I’m not prepared to say exactly which boundaries would cause the house to crash, but I do not think we should rush without careful thought as to consequences if we knock everything down.

    I wish that more commentors would address this issue which I’ve raised: If we abandon scriptural restraints for one group of lovers, aren’t we abandoning them for everyone, forever? How would you differentiate between those who are attracted to the same gender and those who choose to be with the same gender? Sexuality is fluid, we are told, and so if scripture does not set any prohibitions against it, why not choose? Why shouldn’t a woman choose a woman? Why shouldn’t a man have two wives? Why shouldn’t we lower the age of consent such as European countries?

    Regardless – best wishes and thanks so much for the conversation.

  • sg

    I haven’t had a chance to read Torn, but have read a fair amount of Justin Lee’s online writings and strongly suspect that the perceived lack of theological “depth” lamented here might come from his emphasis on reaching a broad audience rather than writing a rigorous theological treatise (just a guess, but wouldn’t be surprised).

    In reading the post and comments here, a couple thoughts come to mind. How little we Christians have understood the human issues at play – and I’ll count myself here. I was taught that same-sex attraction was likely the result of psychological damage and could, and should, be overcome. I now believe I was wrong. Evangelical researcher Warren Throckmorton has dealt with some of the evidence in this regard on numerous occasions (as in this post from 2011, with some interesting embedded links: It is no slur to ex-gays to admit to ourselves and the world that they are the rare exceptions, not the rule. Likewise, there is a major difference between the kind of celibacy enjoined on straight single Christians as opposed to gay Christians. Straight singles are told to remain chaste until marriage (and have a blessed hard time doing it, too). Even if they remain single, “hope” for a partner can be a realistic possibility. For gays, the message is, “YOU CAN NEVER HAVE A LOVING INTIMATE PARTNERSHIP WITH ANOTHER HUMAN BEING … EVER.” Or: “Yes, we know you and another have found each other and fallen in love, and that you are good for each other, committed to each other, that you are harming no one else, and that it even looks like you are drawing each other closer to God in Christ. But that’s all a lie. You must separate or risk the fires of Hell.” Wesley Hill, mentioned above, who is committed to celibacy, writes about that struggle here: . If we’re going to make that claim on the lives of others, much less our brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to be very, very sure. The Scriptural burden might not just rest comfortably on Lee and others to defend their innovations; it might be on those of us who deny them what we take for granted for ourselves.

  • sg

    Holly … I’m sorry for what your friends and their families have gone through. I’d look at it as two different issues: the attraction to someone other than a spouse specifically and the attraction to someone of the same sex in general. My understanding (admittedly limited) is that women’s attractions can potentially be more fluid than men’s. This is not the same as “choice,” but can express as change. It can go both ways … from opposite-sex attraction to same-sex or the other way around, and can happen in the context of emotional bonds. Cause unknown. But I don’t think that being attracted to someone (or not attracted to your spouse) justifies abandonment no matter whether the temptation to adultery comes from someone of the opposite or same sex. While it would obviously seriously complicate a marriage, there are people who fight to maintain mixed-orientation marriages. In this case the mixed-orientation is an unfortunate later development. To go back to Justin Lee’s use of Romans 13:8-10 as an interpretive principle: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Real love precludes abandonment and adultery, as abusive, predatory, transitory, nonexclusive or inequitable intimate relationships (sexual relationships with minors and polygamous relationships fall in these categories) are inherent violations

  • TriciaM

    Holly – I love your analogy of walls -and I see, understand and share a lot of your worries. It probably seems odd that a woman who wants to move the same-sex wall is actually very conservative about marriage.

    I feel that, if we can move this wall, the whole building will not collapse. Rather, we can start to focus on what’s really causing ruin in families in the Body of Christ: greed, envy, selfishness, an addiction to individualism to name a few. People of all sexual orientations are prone to these things. These are the things that can lead to divorce – the idea that my pursuit of happiness is more important than the well-being of the community. (No, I’m not American. 🙂 )

    I want to be able to ask gay Christians to speak out about promiscuity in the gay community. I want to welcome children of gay couples into our Sunday Schools knowing that their parents are welcome in church. I want to essentially make this a non-issue – and get on with the things that are really important and unarguably biblical – like taking care of widows and orphans, relearning sacrificial love and letting the world see how we love one another. (And it’s so much easier for the whole world to see these days.)

    To echo what Luke said above at #78, my 23 year old daughter said to me this summer, “What if this is our slavery?” I’m worried that even the way we’re discussing this issue (this blog and Rachel Held Evans’ being the notable exceptions) has become a huge stumbling block to her generation – both inside and outside the church.

    And thank you for the conversation! You’ve raised things I hadn’t been paying much attention to. And I’ll pray for you as you keep walking with your friends in their new relationships.

  • Holly

    Thanks Tricia M – always forward in love and in grace. That is the challenge!

    Thanks to you, too, sg…I have a Muslim friend in Saudi Arabia who is in a plural marriage and she argues vehemently in favor of it. I don’t agree, of course, but she has some pretty good arguments which are equally as difficult to refute from a scriptural standpoint. 🙂 She would claim great offense at your last sentence! No matter the issue or the argument, there is always an exception. Life lived according to scripture is complex.

  • Holly

    sg, I would also say (kindly!) that your parameters for defining relationships would be as societally despised as the traditional view. Society says “no boundaries. It doesn’t matter who loves who. (whom?) Any attempt to draw boundaries in any fashion (such as monogamous, non-abusive, etc., ) is greeted with “none yo business.” The church must call people to integrity in whatever relationships they are involved in – but I don’t think it will ever be perceived well outside of the church.

    Just an added, broad-based observation for the entire conversation: I am in my forties. My late twenty-something Christian friends, who view this as a justice issue? They are raising their elementary-aged children with the awareness that they can grow up and marry anyone they want to, male or female, and that’s even from a conservative background. It doesn’t matter, they say, since the scriptures are explainable. (And I would say they can maybe do that with specific scriptures, but not with a historical/scriptural trajectory view nor with a concept of male/female accurately reflecting God) Frankly, while Christians were trying to decide whether homosexual relationships were okay within the church if someone was born so-inclined, the conversation shifted and has been decided for the next generation. It goes like this: It doesn’t matter how you were born, marry anyone you want.

  • Jeff

    I was thinking that a perfect English term for “malakoi” would be gigalo. I think it is as close to a one word definition as one can get.

  • sg

    Holly … thanks for your responses, and my apologies for taking so long to respond. Definitely, complex issues. My first response: Thank you for sharing your Saudi friend’s perspective, which does deserve to be heard. While I cannot speak to her personal experience, it seems to me (not an expert) that polygynous marriages in general tend to be found in cultures/subcultures with a strong patriarchal tradition. In those contexts, women do not seem to have equal rights within the society at large or the marriage.

    Regarding societal acceptance … I agree. For many, any restriction on sexual behavior is considered oppressive. But I don’t believe my position is a capitulation to culture. I don’t want to join or support culture in jumping off a cliff. My priorities are to honor God and to love my neighbor and work for the common good within God’s will. I’m moving toward an adjustment in my parameters of what this looks like. I resonate with TriciaM’s comments in that regard (thank you, TriciaM!).

    Finally, as a woman in her 40’s, mother to a young-adult son, having some experience in Christian education and more with various apologetics/worldview/theological ministries over the years I too am concerned about the lack of serious theological depth and reflection I see among younger folks. Of course, I am also dismayed by the lack of serious theological depth and reflection among their elders as well, often cloaked in very confident, even “biblical” language. We all have much to learn … Peace!

  • townsley

    Nardelli’s critique of Gagnon, and his reply to Gagnon’s rejoinder, are quite devastating to Gagnon’s book. I have random critiques written on most pages of the book, but never bothered to compile them into an essay. For example, one that Nardelli refers to, which could be clearer, is Gagnon’s claim that the ancient cultures called gay male temple prostitutes “dogs” as a sign of derision, implying that antagonism to sexual minorities is ancient. However, the reference is quite the opposite, since the original meaning was that these temple workers, who were considered priests of the respective gods/goddesses, were faithful servants, as dogs are. It was a term affirming virtue, not repugnance.

    In that same vein, I have recently had 2 articles published analyzing Rom 1:26-27, arguing that Paul’s reference is to non-Yahwistic worship, with very little intent to refer the reader back to Genesis 1, and showing the “lesbian” interpretation of Rom 1:26 was a late development. The first is in Journal of Biblical Literature (2011, 130:4, 707-728), focuses on Paul’s intent and early church writer’s interpretation of the verse, and the second came out this month in Journal of the American Academy of Religion (2013, 81:1, 56-79), focusing on the interpretation by the church in the first millennium.

  • sg

    I just read this post on Justin’s blog and it seems to be a fair explanation of why he doesn’t go into depth regarding the “side A” arguments — they’re not the point of his book: “Only two chapters touch on the A/B Bible debate—one about why I felt torn, and one about why I changed my position. The rest of the fifteen-chapter book is focused on the ways both Side A and Side B can agree—stories of grace shown and grace denied, advice on how we can move forward together and examples of people on both sides getting it right and getting it wrong . . . my point in the book isn’t about Side A or Side B, but rather about how people on both sides can show more grace in the debate.”

  • MCA

    Hi Scot, I was curious to know more about this- “The fact is that most “homosexual” males in the Roman empire were married to a woman and their same-sex relations were in addition to their marital relations.”

    I thought that I had read something by NT Wright saying that there were plenty of examples of these committed relationships in the first century, but then my Oxford Study Bible NRSV contradicts Wright in the footnotes on the New Testament passages relevant to the discussion. Just curious…not trying to pick-up my stones to throw at either side or something like that…