Are you open to an LGBT-affirming Biblical perspective?

Are you open to an LGBT-affirming Biblical perspective? June 26, 2015
"Bible with Cross Shadow," David Campbell, Flickr C.C.
“Bible with Cross Shadow,” David Campbell, Flickr C.C.

Today the Supreme Court declared that same-sex marriage is the law of the land. I know that many conservative Christians feel very troubled by this ruling. Since the issue for most conservatives is a genuine concern that our Bible’s authority is being trampled by social pressures, I wanted to offer my own understanding of what the Bible teaches about human sexuality. I do not think that the Bible’s authority has to be compromised in order to affirm that God has a vision for LGBT people to live chaste and holy lives no differently than the straight, cis-gendered people who are the vast majority of the world’s population. So I’d like to share how I interpret not only the anti-gay clobber texts themselves but also the greater context of God’s people journey through and out of the patriarchy of the ancient world into a body of Christ where there is “no longer male and female… for all are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

I. Romans 1:18-32

Usually when Christians change their mind about homosexuality, it’s after spending time with gay Christians who are so obviously holy and spiritually mature that it becomes hard to maintain the belief that a chaste homosexual relationship has corrupted them, which all sin is supposed to do to people. I have shared the disorienting experience I had in 2002 when I worshiped in a LGBT Methodist church with people who, other than being gay, behaved exactly like conservative evangelical Christians in terms of their lifestyle, their zeal for holiness, and their love of the Bible.

One of the main arguments that the apostle Paul makes in the course of the most popular anti-gay Biblical proof-text, Romans 1:18-32, is that sin always corrupts human nature and produces other sins. So when you encounter gay Christians who are plainly not “filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice… envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness… [and who aren’t] gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents,foolish, faithless, heartless, [and] ruthless” (v. 29-31), it seems very legitimate to ask whether the “shameless acts” Paul is talking about in verses 27-28 were sinful for a reason other than the genders involved (like promiscuity, adultery, recklessness, etc), even if Paul mentions their same-genderedness incidentally.

If we dig into Romans 1 not for an issue-based proof-text, but for an underlying cause to the sin that is being described, then this sentence is a good summary: “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (v. 25). Every time that we give our worship to something in God’s creation rather than God Himself, whether it be food, drugs, money, or sex, we will be corrupted as a result. That is the basic truth of idolatry. There are many other examples of how idolatry corrupts people that could be substituted for the examples Paul shares in this passage. And it seems like a fair question to ask whether same-genderedness as such makes sexual intimacy idolatrous, independent of whether or not Paul thinks it’s “unnatural,” which is different. The fact that Paul has a 1st century Jewish view of what “natural” gender relations look like is not the same as a direct prohibition of homosexuality. Paul never directly prohibits homosexuality. He mentions same-gender sexual intimacy as part of a visceral image intended to elicit disgust that is however connected to an argument with an entirely different point.

Furthermore, the rhetorical purpose of Romans 1:18-32 is to set up his listeners for the point where he turns the tables on them in Romans 2:1, “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.” According to Doug Campbell and other scholars he cites in The Deliverance of God, Romans 1:18-32 is a pretty standard list of Gentile vices that Jewish evangelists would use in their pitch for Torah as the answer to everything. When we pay attention to Paul’s rhetorical strategy, it seems that he is recycling this list as part of disparaging the salvific sufficiency of Torah, so it has at most secondary importance and may only be relevant as a means of taking the listeners for a ride whose real purpose is to establish a repudiation of the law as a means for justification before God.

II. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-11

Now regarding the other two possible New Testament mentions of homosexuality, there are two obscure Greek words that show up in Paul’s lists of naughty people in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-11: malakoi (1 Corinthians only) and arsenokoitai (both places). The NIV has decided (in what I consider an exegetical crime against humanity) to confidently translate these two words as the active and passive partners in a homosexual act. In most translation of words of comparable obscurity, there are footnotes at the bottom of the page that say something like “Hebrew/Greek meaning disputed.” The fact that this is the exception to that rule suggests an agenda that goes beyond an impartial dedication to the text.

Malakos means “soft” or “effeminate.” It can be used to refer to men who are androgynous; it can also be used figuratively to refer to people who are “cowardly” or “morally lax,” meanings which would just as plausibly find their  way onto Paul’s naughty list. So what is the burden of proof here? Is it enough that malakos could have something to do with homosexuality or does it have to established beyond a shadow of doubt that it can only refer to homosexuality in order to translate it as meaning homosexuality? If I were the judge, I would toss malakos from the court record as inadmissible evidence, because of the multiple possibilities for its connotation.

So how about arsenokoitai? Anti-gay Bible scholar Robert Gagnon argues that Paul made up a new Greek word by putting together arsenos (man) and koite (bed) since these two words appear in the same sentence in the Greek Septuagint version of Leviticus 18:22 (Kai meta arsenos ou koimethese koiten gunaikos) and its reiteration in Leviticus 20:13 (Kai os an koimethe meta arsenos koiten gunaikos), both of which concern the prohibition of “men lying with men as they lie with women,” which I’ll address directly a little later below.

But how does the presence of the words “man” and “bed” in a compound word in the New Testament and in two sentences about sex in the Old Testament prove anything? The fact that arsenos and koiten are back to back in 20:13 isn’t a slam-dunk clincher. Do any two words back to back logically and naturally form a “phrase” with one another? What about the words “back logically” in the sentence I just wrote? Let’s say I write somewhere else, “Let’s get back to logic.” Does that mean that I’ve just made an explicit connection between those two sentences?

The word arsenokoitai is literally “man-bedder.” Koite can definitely have a sexual figurative meaning in Greek, but why is a man-bedder a man-bedder-with-other-men? Why not a man who visits many prostitutes in bed or a male prostitute who spends all day in bed waiting to be visited or a man who visits many beds adulterously (with women or men)? Even if you want to try to argue that malakoi and arsenokoitai go together (which is only the case in 1 Corinthians 6:9), you would be on much more solid ground etymologically to argue that they are the provider and client in a prostitution relationship than the passive and active partners in the homosexual act. There simply is no way to establish conclusively that the word refers to same-genderedness as such rather than also carrying the connotation of prostitution, promiscuity, or pederasty.

So does the New Testament condemn homosexuality? That depends. Is the burden of proof to establish that these three New Testament references could not possibly be talking about homosexuality or is it merely to establish that the sins they identify could possibly be something else? All that can be established is that Paul considered same-gendered sex to be “against nature” (para phusein). But that is different than a direct prohibition.

Furthermore, this is the same Paul who says, “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean” (Romans 14:14) and “Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny” (1 Corinthians 2:15) and “It is well for [people] to remain unmarried as I am, but… it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:8-9).

III. 1 Corinthians 7 (where Paul actually lays out a Christian sexual ethic)

Paul is a pragmatic, ascetic mystic. He wants others to experience the same degree of union with Christ that he has experienced, but he’s a pragmatist about it. He doesn’t want to put impossible burdens on his followers that would more greatly inhibit them in their quest for holiness than living without those burdens. The highest form of sexuality to Paul is celibacy, presumably (per Romans 1:25) because it allows him to avoid any possible worship of creation that would corrupt His body’s capacity to be a temple of worship (1 Corinthians 6:19) for the Creator alone.

While Paul says, “I wish that all were [celibate] as I myself am” (1 Corinthians 7:7), he concedes that “because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” (v. 2). Notice that marriage is not quite a vocation to him; it’s a pragmatic solution for sexual immorality. To him, sexual intimacy even within marriage is “a concession not a command” (v. 6), which would hardly be a popular view in today’s neo-patriarchal “celebrate sex within marriage” culture. Here is Paul’s explanation for his teachings about celibacy and marriage:

I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin are anxious about the affairs of the Lord, so that they may be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to put any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and unhindered devotion to the Lord. [vv. 32-35]

Free from anxieties. Does that sound anything at all like contemporary evangelical teachings about sex? Does that sound like teenage girls being told to wear knee length XXL t-shirts over their already modest one-piece swimsuits at youth pool parties? Does that sound like counseling boys and girls not to kiss until their wedding day if they’re even allowed to date at all? Does that sound like the obsession with masturbation among Christian men that actually causes it to be an irresistible temptation?

At the end of the paragraph, Paul talks about promoting good order and unhindered devotion to the Lord, which gives more flesh to what freedom from anxiety looks like in terms of the horizontal and vertical axes of the Great Commandment: loving neighbor and loving God. I would say that these three principles are the perfect Biblical ethical criteria for healthy sexuality within a community.

Even what I do in the supposed privacy of my own home impacts the “good order” of my community, because whatever happens in our sex lives impacts how we treat people outside of our sex lives. If my wife and I like to play violent sexual games that cultivate demonic personality traits which inherently bleed over into our relations with other people, then it disrupts the good order of my community. If either of us violates our marital covenant by sleeping with someone else, then it’s not only a sin against our partner and any partner the other person has, but against our community’s cohesion as a whole because a whole network of friendships will be torn apart if we split up. Even if all the members of a community consent to being sexually polyamorous with each other, it’s still going to sabotage the good order of the community by stoking jealousy, pride, greed, lust, anger, and all the other degenerative dispositions Paul describes in Romans 1:29-31.

The latter principle of “unhindered devotion to the Lord” concerns the question of idolatry vs. worship. Are we having sex in such a way that causes us to worship creation rather than the Creator, or flesh rather than spirit? Paul’s wrestling in 1 Corinthians 7 expresses a clear ambivalence about the possibility of sex ever being an act of worship rather than idolatry. The Roman church shared this ambivalence until the last century when sex officially stopped being a necessary evil done for strictly procreative purposes. But I believe that I am truly worshiping God with my sex when I delight in my wife as a person instead of consuming her body to fulfill a biological need, because to see the full personhood of my wife in the midst of our closest intimacy is to see the image of God and to gain a foretaste of the ecstatic intimacy with God that heaven will one day be. This is how I understand what Paul means when he says in Ephesians 5:32 that marriage is a “great mystery” that helps illumine the intimacy between “Christ and the church.”

So to me, the burden of proof for a Christian who wants to maintain an opposition to homosexuality is to demonstrate why and how monogamous same-gendered sexual intimacy clutters people with anxiety, contradicts good community order, or hinders devotion to God. These are not just proof-texts; they are more than speculative translations of obscure Greek words or mentions in passing of what Paul thinks is “unnatural.” They are reliable ethical principles for a community’s sexuality that Paul presents as such.

IV. Gender complementarity in Mark 10:1-11 and Ephesians 5:25?

The only anti-gay Christian argument I’ve heard that goes beyond surface-level proof-texting is to say that families need a male and a female parent. First of all, many gay partners that I’ve known are partly feminine and partly masculine in a complementary way, though I recognize that orientation and gender are not the same thing. If it were the case that gender complementarity were necessary to parenting, then an unusually effeminate man and a woman would not be a good pair for that reason. My wife has many masculine characteristics and I have many feminine characteristics. The idea promoted in the neo-patriarchal subculture of the Duggars and Duck Dynasty that I should be acting more manly and she should be acting more womanly in order to honor God through our gender performances seems like an onerous idolatry to me. I don’t see any Biblical justification for it.

Sure, the Bible says that man and woman become flesh as the normal way that things work but that doesn’t make the normal normative. Jesus uses Genesis 2:24 prescriptively in a teaching against divorce (Mark 10:1-11), not against same-gendered union, so that passage needs to be scratched from the list of anti-gay proof-texts. Likewise, when Paul says that men should love their wives like Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:25), his prescriptive purpose is to get men to treat their wives like human beings and not property.

V. Leviticus 18:22 and the sexual order of patriarchy

Now there was a context in which patriarchal heterosexual households were necessary to the “good order” of the community, and that context explains the one place in the Bible where male homosexual intimacy is prohibited: Leviticus 18:22. This prohibition stands or falls today on the question of whether the sexual boundaries of Israelite patriarchy are the permanent Biblical prescription for maintaining the good order of a community, an order which in ancient Israel involved a very different assumption about sexual agency between genders than our world has today.

Patriarchy was the Torah’s means of ordering the Israelite community sexually and providing for the safety of its weakest members through a set of taboos around “uncovering the nakedness” of another man and his household. That phrase is repeated throughout Leviticus 18, the place where the Torah establishes the community’s sexual boundaries. Why are you forbidden to have sex with your neighbor’s wife? Because it uncovers your neighbor’s nakedness and is thus an act of violence against the social order, whether or not the act was consensual.

The entire taboo system that protects women and children from rape depends upon the preservation of a set of male heads of household who are not uncovering each others’ nakedness. If one of these men uncovers another man’s nakedness by “lying with him as he would lie with a woman,” the whole patriarchal order collapses and the households of both of those men have had their nakedness uncovered as well, since they’ve lost their patriarchal protector. The accounts of Sodom in Genesis 19 and Gibeah in Judges 19 show the Somalia-like “failed state” that an ancient society becomes when the patriarchal taboo boundaries have been breached completely and horny gangs of men rove the streets to rape whatever they find.

Every command given in Leviticus 18 presumes a male readership because men were assumed to be the only ones who had the authority to make decisions about sex. To make Leviticus 18 normative today means adopting this patriarchal view of sexuality in which men decide while women don’t, and fathers protect their daughters and husbands protect their wives from other men. The prohibition of male homosexuality in Leviticus 18 is inextricably linked with the presumed lack of female sexual agency under its patriarchal ethos.

This patriarchal order in which men lose their ability to protect their families when they sleep with other men is the best system for preventing sexual violence when there is no concept that a woman can say “no” to sex. In a social order where there is a concept of female sexual agency, Leviticus 18 becomes an obsolete framework even if most of its taboos happen to carry over to a non-patriarchal sexual ethics for an entirely different set of reasons, such as Paul’s ethical principles in 1 Corinthians 7.

The way that rape is handled in the Old Testament shows the utter lack of female agency in patriarchal sexuality. The solution to the problem of rape (given the approval of the girl’s father) was for the rape victim to marry her rapist, which is precisely what Absalom’s sister Tamar begs her half-brother Amnon to do when he rapes her in 2 Samuel 13. When he grabs her, she says, “Speak to the king; for he will not withhold me from you” (v. 13). The violence against Tamar and her lack of the right to say no is irrelevant even to her. Tamar’s concern is her permanent dishonor and ostracism in the community if her father King David is not asked permission for her body first.

Likewise when Jacob’s daughter Dinah gets raped by the prince Shechem in Genesis 34, the way to amend the situation is for her to marry Shechem, which is what Shechem proposes when he decides that he likes her as a person after raping her. There is no way of knowing what Dinah thinks about the whole affair because she is never given a voice throughout the entire story. When Jacob’s sons kill all of Shechem’s people, it is not because their sister got hurt; it’s because she “has been defiled” (v. 28). In other words, it is a question of family honor. When Jacob scolds his sons afterwards (v. 30), he shows that it would have been perfectly acceptable to him for Dinah to marry her rapist. Dinah’s sexuality is entirely a dispute between the men in her life; never once is she asked what she wants to do.

All of this is just to say that the ancient Israelite world was a world in which men were responsible for the sexuality of their daughters and wives; in such a world, a man cannot become “the woman” in a sexual relationship without the collapse of the entire social order. That’s the issue; it is not a question of “how God made us to be.” Homosexuality in a patriarchal context would have resulted in violence against women, because when women don’t have a say in their sexuality, their husbands and fathers and brothers need to be their uncompromised heterosexual protectors.

VI. If Galatians 3:28 undoes patriarchy, shouldn’t it also undo heteronormativity?

The world of first century Judaism that the apostle Paul inhabited continued to be a patriarchal world, though not to the same extreme as the Old Testament. To Paul, patriarchy was the “natural” order of things in gendered relations, which he makes pretty clear in 1 Corinthians 11:8-9, “Indeed, man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man.” While he doesn’t state explicitly whether or not women should have a say in their sexuality, he does say in 1 Timothy 2:12-14, “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.”

Of course, it’s also true that Paul says that there is no longer “male and female… for all are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). So the question is whether Galatians 3:28 trumps Paul’s pastoral instructions regarding female subordination to men in 1 Corinthians 11, 1 Timothy 2, Ephesians 5, and other places. What level of hermeneutical gymnastics and speculation are you willing to entertain to get Paul off the hook for misogyny in these passages and others (e.g. speculating about some religious cult that Paul was trying to suppress in Corinth) that you’re not willing to entertain for the three much less clear passages that might deal with the question of homosexuality? If Galatians 3:28 is a trump card that overrules Paul’s explicit prohibition of female pastoral leadership in church, then what do its obliteration of “male and female” distinctions in Christ Jesus do to what Paul says in Romans 1:26-27 about men and women “giving up natural intercourse for unnatural”?

If the burden of proof is the same for female leadership in the church and the Bible’s position on homosexuality (and you’re not allowing yourself to say that Paul’s words have to be taken in their cultural context for either case), then the stack of proof-texts is much taller for the inadmissibility of female leadership in the church than for the prohibition of homosexuality. This is why the United Methodist Church’s fake “moderate” position in which it ordains women but not gays is utterly incoherent and clearly the product of social pressures and anxieties rather than consistent and faithful Biblical interpretation.

Any Christian denomination that has female clergy has already made the decision to disagree with Paul’s view of the “naturalness” of patriarchal gender. It doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit didn’t speak through Paul authoritatively to recognize that he had views that should be expected of an incarnate 1st century Jew which aren’t normatively binding on us today (unless you’re willing to cover your heads in church, ladies, as a public profession of the inferiority of your gender, 1 Cor 11:8-10). I honestly think Paul is smacking his head every day in heaven that he sees us turn his letters to specific churches in Corinth and Ephesus into a new legalistic set of “circumcision” guidelines, analogous to the ones he goads the Galatians and Romans for enslaving themselves to, instead of eavesdropping on his conversations with 1st century Christians in order to gain the wisdom he shares about how to journey into union with Christ.

I agree with Paul that the essential underlying concerns for a community’s sexuality are to minimize anxiety, promote good order, and keep devotion to the Lord unhindered. And it is for that reason that I would not counsel gay Christians to spend their lives utterly alone if it’s going to result in a hindrance to their devotion to the Lord. Paul’s hopes in 1 Corinthians 7 about the potential for Christian singlehood notwithstanding, I know that my marriage actually tremendously decreased the anxiety that owned me when I was single and also became an important means by which God dramatically improved my devotion to Him. If gay people choose celibacy not out of guilt but out of desire for a deeper intimacy with God, then I pray that God would honor their choice by showering them richly with His presence.

VII. Why can’t Biblical interpretation of homosexuality be a “disputable matter”?

Ultimately, I believe that an orthodox Biblical view on homosexuality has the same range of interpretive possibility as other disputable matters that have at least as many and sometimes way more Biblical proof-texts we can throw around like whether or not men and women are equal, what to do with your wealth, whether we can participate in war, when to baptize people, whether or not to lend others money with interest, whether or not to drink alcohol, etc.

You don’t have to agree with everything I’ve said here to concede that it is a plausible (i.e. not exegetically dishonest) reading of scripture. If it is within the range of plausibility, then shouldn’t gay Christian believers discern for themselves whether the degenerative dispositions in Romans 1:29-31 reflect what their lives are like in a monogamous same-gendered partnership? We should absolutely study scripture together in community, but there are so many other issues in which we don’t expect to come to an absolute conformity of interpretation.

As a United Methodist, I furthermore believe in the priority of scripture itself above tradition, which means that it always has the capacity to offer new revelations, regardless of how unanimously Christians in the past have supported things like slavery, imperial conquest, and the subjugation of women to about the same degree that they have opposed homosexuality. We are not burdened with the awkwardness of having to conform our interpretations to the magisterial infallibility of every pope that has ever lived. So if gay Christians discover a plausible interpretation of scripture that doesn’t attack the Bible’s authority but nonetheless allows for them in good conscience to live in committed, monogamous lifelong partnerships, then why should we stop them from pursuing ordained ministry if that’s God’s call on their lives?

Before you respond to this, can you look into your heart and tell me there is no need to prove yourself to any other person by what you say in response? Is there really no trace of worry about who would disown you as a Christian brother or sister if you admitted that a gay-accepting Biblical interpretation was plausible? Can you say that you’ve never questioned someone else’s professed Christianity based on their accepting views on homosexuality? Can you say that you’ve never made decisions about churches to join based on litmus-testing their homosexuality stance?

If you can’t answer yes to all of those questions, that’s not any judgment on you; it just means that you’re a more honest human being than most people. And it also means that you have an agenda other than mere fidelity to scripture that you bring to the table in thinking about this issue.

This is not a question of whether our churches will gain the millennials and lose the baby boomers or vice-versa. The question is whether our “Biblical faithfulness” is a superficial posturing with no actual cost to us because it takes the form of scapegoating a category of people who have been made the way they are by a God who loves them and wants them to live fully. Or do we want to prayerfully consider what the Bible really has to say to us today about human sexuality, not just in the form of surface-level Jesus-jukes and proof-texts but in the deeper wisdom that results in healthy, well-ordered communities that are free of anxiety and unhindered in their devotion to God?

"I'm a evangelical pastor in an evangelical congregation in the Presbyterian Church USA (the apparently ..."

The Bursting Of The Methodist Wineskin
"I think we are talking entirely at cross purposes."

The Bursting Of The Methodist Wineskin
"I'm not UMC (though i went to a Methodist-related school) and probably have no place ..."

The Bursting Of The Methodist Wineskin
"I think I would be even more exhausted than I already am if I had ..."

The Bursting Of The Methodist Wineskin

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • I know, Morgan, that you probably heard some of the language used in certain petitions last weekend – “something something has affirmed this language for forty years something something.” Which is why I really appreciate you pointing out that, while we Methodists must be mindful of the tradition, it is not at the same level of authority as Scripture.

    • Yup Biblical primacy allows for progressive interpretive revelation.

  • stjones911

    Is it superficial proof-texting to note that every mention of homosexual behavior in the Bible is negative? To note that the only sexual behavior either condoned or prescribed is heterosexual? Do you believe that the writers of the Bible were inspired by a God too stupid to understand such modern concepts as sexual attraction or gender identity? Or is the Bible the mere work of men who can be safely ignored or misinterpreted?

    Do you advocate for child pornography because it’s a “disputable matter”, because some people – including some Christians – like it, and because it’s not explicitly prohibited in the Bible? Or do you find an indisputable prohibition against child pornography based on the overall message of Scripture regarding the treatment of children and orphans, child sacrifice, familial obligations, covetousness, lust in the heart, leading little ones astray, and so on?

    When the Bible does not give a specific command or prohibition, all we can do is seek God’s heart as revealed in the whole of Scripture. Do you find no evidence of God’s heart for sexual relations in the creation of male and female, in Jesus’ reference to one flesh made up of one male and one female, in the universal condemnation of homosexual behavior throughout the Bible?

    The Church can’t condone or participate in a civil covenant that validates behavior clearly proscribed by Scripture – no more than it can ordain officers who insist on defying the standards set forth by Paul and Peter regarding the selection of leaders and the avoidance of false teachers.

  • jontrott

    I learn left of center on most issues, and even here think SCOTUS made the right decision for a secular democracy. In short, I hold the view that (a) gay marriage should be legal, but that (b) gay marriage is not biblical. I appreciate your unpacking an “alternative” pro-gay interpretation of Scripture, and though I disagree with your interpretation I do think it is helpful for all of us to continue having such “bible studies.”

    A couple major weaknesses in your interpretation — to me, anway, and I am not a bible scholar but just a fellow sojourner — center around what Scripture doesn’t say vs what it does say. That is, every single relational instance in Scripture that is described as marriage involves a man and a woman (though some, I cheerfully admit, involve one man and many women!). None involve a woman and another woman, or a man and another man. (I know some folk will attempt to inject David and Jonathan — “David’s love for Jonathan surpassed his love of women” — but to do so is to sexualize deep friendships rather than clarify anything the text actually says.)

    Another problem is that of terms such as “husband” and “wife.” Both are gendered in Scripture, and never gendered apart from their “husband equals male” and “wife equals female” meanings.

    In short, I just don’t see any way around the clear male-female context of marriage in the Bible. For whut it be woith! Hehehe… and again, thanks for the post to ponder. I shall continue to do so, meanwhile attempting to love my God and my neighbor, straight or gay.

    • Even if you believe male/female marriage is normative, why would you believe it’s prescriptive? The normative use of a treadmill is for walking or running. Is using a treadmill in a dance routine proscribed?

      Here’s something to consider: we are all dealing with post-fall sexuality. Why does the church presume that all gay relationships are more sinful than many of the straight marriages they bless? Is the self-sacrificial, cruciform love in gay covenantal relationships somehow rendered moot because that relationship is sexual in nature?

      I personally hold a consecrationist view of gay covenantal relationships; my marriage has been a part of the sanctifying work of the Spirit. But there’s an accommodation perspective that I think is worthy of your consideration. It basically says that, although not God’s ideal, covenantal partnership may be the most moral life available to gay people who aren’t gifted with celibacy.

      My best to you.

      • Good point, the normative vs prescriptive difference is one worth exploring, and I like the treadmill analogy.

        Debra Hirsch makes a similar point in her book ‘Redeeming Sex’ about gender expressions – we may associate certain behaviours and tendencies with one or other gender, but there’s a big difference between describing behaviours and requiring them.

  • Elixe

    The main problem with your arguments is besides trying to find excuses to rule out Pauls words and those in the Old Testament, you also overlook Jesus’ own words on the topic;

    Matthew 19:4-6
    4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the
    Creator ‘made them male and female,’[a] 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’[b]? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

    You took the time to recognize that a lot of the Old Testament laws are either not followed or punishment not carried out the same way. You did this in order to rule out what Leviticus said on the matter. You failed to recognize why some of those laws are not longer followed however. This can be found throughout the Gospels as well as Hebrews. Some of the laws were necessary for the time, however things that were immoral did not somehow become moral after Jesus, Jesus affirms the laws and in the process the declaration that for one man to lie with another as with a woman is a sin.

    Matthew 5:17-20
    17 “Do not think that I have
    come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be
    called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

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

    What you are doing in trying to rule out parts of scripture you do not like is really rejecting Gods teachings and trying to remake God in your image.

    • Random Former Methodist Reader

      Matthew 19:4-6 was addressed in the post, but he used the parallel verses in Mark.

      He also addressed the Leviticus verse.

      • Elixe

        Addressed yes but not well, I explained the problem with his reasoning on the Leviticus verse. I suppose I could have done better with the Matthew one; yes it was to address divorce but the meaning of the words is not changed because of that; it is a very clear definition of what marriage is meant to be.

    • David Bruggink

      Could you put Matthew 19:4-6 into context for us, and explain Jesus’ feelings on divorce, as well as the role of eunuchs in his kingdom?

      • Elixe

        Could you put Matthew 19:4-6 into context for us
        You will need to be more specific, was there a problem with what I said you want addressed? I am afraid I otherwise don’t understand what point you find confusing.

        “Jesus’ feelings on divorce”
        Although God does allow divorce it is not something he wants to have happen and something that should we should try to avoid.

        “as well as the role of eunuchs in his kingdom”
        It looks like 153 addressed this below, I was not aware that people were trying to twist the meaning of eunuch to mean homosexual.

    • Kathy Ruth

      What was the “righteousness of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law’ that Jesus decried? It was their ‘holier than thou’ attitude!
      Jesus fulfilled the law–so it does not apply to us!–when he said, “It is finished,” before dying on the cross.
      Leviticus does not apply to Christians, in fact, according to some Jewish scholars I know, it didn’t even apply to most Israelites! It applied to the Levites, who were to serve in the Temple. It was the Purification Code for the Priests.
      Finally, the Bible is NOT the inerrant Word of God–JESUS is the Word and HIS teachings are what matter!

      • Elixe

        Have I demonstrated a ‘holier than thou’ attitude and if so how?

        “Leviticus does not apply to Christians, in fact, according to some
        Jewish scholars I know, it didn’t even apply to most Israelites! It
        applied to the Levites, who were to serve in the Temple. It was the
        Purification Code for the Priests.”
        I’ve discussed this in my post I am given the impression that you may not have read what I wrote. Although much of it is not longer relevant for reasons I touched on, much of it still is. Parts of it included a purification code for Priests most of it was not that but intended for everyone at the time. The parts that still remain relevant are parts were something is delcared immoral, that included for a man to lie with a man as he would with a woman. Things that God said are immoral in Leviticus did not suddenly become moral afterwards.

        “Finally, the Bible is NOT the inerrant Word of God”
        What do you mean when you say this and what is your basis for believing it?

        “JESUS is the Word and HIS teachings are what matter”
        I highlighted Jesus’ teachings on marriage he very clearly defined it as being between a man and woman.

  • Michael Larkin

    First Timothy 4:1-2, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons. through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared” Second Timothy 4:3-4, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths”. That time has arrived when men like this not do such acts but give their approval to those who practice them, (Romans 1:32, May God Almighty have mercy on such sinners and grant them the same saving grace that He granted to the Sodomites at Corinth.

  • David Bruggink

    Paul Davidson also maintains a useful list of deliberate mistranslations in the NIV at this page:

    • Elixe

      Although an interesting article he fails to provide citation backing up his claim that these were incorrect translations. It is notable that at least one of the claims made can be easily disproven;
      Concerning Exodus 21:22 he makes the claim

      “All English translations prior to the US abortion debate of the 1980s read similarly.”

      It is rather debatable as to what is meant in the King James Bible concerning the verse but there other translations that predate RoeVWade easily that read differently than the translation he picked out;

      The Darby Bible was published in 1890: “and if men strive together, and strike a woman with child, so that she bedelivered”

      The 1898 version of Young’s Literal Translation: “And when men strive, and have smitten a pregnant woman, and her children have come out”

      • David Bruggink

        You’re right – this article stands or falls as a whole. If there’s one small mistake, I’d have to discredit the entire thing. In this case, though, I believe that your interpretation must be incorrect, because I believe the article to be 100% divinely inspired.

        • Elixe

          It seemed like you were someone who was interested in having reasonable and courteous discussions on the topics at hand. It makes all the more disappointing that you now turn to a strawman to belittle those you disagree with. I will not spend further time in discussions with you.

          • David Bruggink

            I apologize for being immature and not very courteous. You are correct to call me out. That’s something I need to work on.

            It seems you might be correct on that point about all prior translations using that wording (i.e. him being incorrect). I have read through many of the other points he makes though, and I think the thrust of the article is very worthwhile – namely, that the NIV editors do have a significant tendency to alter translations for theological reasons. It would be helpful if he provided citations – but it’s also true that many of the examples can be looked up and inspected, and you can clearly see that they have altered the meaning.

          • Elixe

            You know how to regain respect very fast, I forgive you and will have to redact my last sentence.

            I am finding other points to be very debatable as well in what he says. The difference in wording is often very minor and not really different in meaning from earlier translations or many later ones.

            The main problem with a lack of citation is that he needs information that goes back to the original sources for the translations. Otherwise he is only declaring the translation to be inaccurate based on another translation, it could easily be the other way around.

            From the sections I took the time to look up other translations agree with this one on many of the points, the difference in wording did not seem to result in a difference in meaning. Although the difference in wording between the NRSV and the NIV seemed to be for the most part also be more a difference in wording than meaning as well.

  • David Bruggink

    It’s kind of hard to hear in here… what with the sound of many Bibles being used to bash people over the head. I have to hope that, even if some Biblical authors would find themselves opposed to same sex marriage today, they wouldn’t have wanted their writings to be used as definitive, blanket statements on moral practice but rather would desire the people who claim to follow God to consider the experiences of other types of people and what kinds of implications the demand of lifelong celibacy can have. In other words, to at least attempt to construct a morality that is not dry and brittle, but which is living and breathing. In other words, not to decide the winners by who has the Best Bible Verse but by who listens with compassion.

  • Frank

    How can anyone be open to something that doesn’t exist?

  • David E. Eaton Sr.

    While I can’t speak for other Conservatives on this matter, I can try to relate my humble opinions…if you don’t mind. (First, as an aside, I hope you told…and got permission from…your wife that you were going to “expose to the world your sexcapades and her manly traits”…

    • Thanks for your points about the legal side of things. That doesn’t tend to be a focus for me. I guess I feel like it’s appropriate for the courts to intervene when there’s a marginalized minority group of people that is getting shafted by majoritarian democracy in their states. I’m sure the court overstepped technically speaking in its intervention during the Civil Rights movement as well. To me, the 14th amendment absolutely applies in this case.

  • Rachel Greenlee

    First of all, well argued. You really did your homework for this article and I’m glad that you are trying to actually look at the verses everyone keeps screaming at each other. I am a Christian, and I believe that homosexuality breaks God’s heart, so it has broken my heart that Christians have ignored these verses and not really even considered them and just pretty much said, “God loves everyone, so it’s okay if they want to break his heart as long as they’re happy.” And I’m not okay with that. However, the Christians that have been screaming these verses and using them as a tool to cut at people who are not believers, I’m not okay with that either.

    My problem with this article is this: You could take just about any sin in scripture, be it lying, murder, pride, gluttony, etc. and find words that could be translated differently, or say, “The writer didn’t really mean that there” or “That doesn’t apply to our culture.” Yes, in some cases things are written for particular cultures. But when you find yourself taking an issue and thinking, “I want this to be okay”, and then going to the text and changing it or making it whatever you want it to be so that your chosen sin isn’t a sin anymore…well I don’t think God intended us to use the Bible that way. In my opinion, if you’re going to do that you might as well write your own book and say, “These are the morals people should follow”, and put the Bible aside.

    All blessings to you. I hope you don’t consider me hateful for posting this comment, but if you do you are saying it to the Holy Spirit because I felt led to post it here. 🙂

    • Thanks for your respectful tone. Perhaps the Holy Spirit has led you here to listen in addition to speaking even as I’m led to consider your words thoughtfully instead of dismissively. I don’t think you’re a hateful person for trying to be faithful to God against the grain of culture. This is really a question of the interconnectedness of our doctrines. God does not make arbitrary rules. As I described in my article, the original context of the homosexuality prohibition was a patriarchal culture in which the social order would have been compromised if a man “became” a woman to another man. If you believe that patriarchy is God’s permanent will for human families and men are supposed to be the heads of their households and sexual guardians of their families today, I respect that even though I disagree. I consider it a positive development that today people are protected from sexual violence by an understanding of consent rather than cultural taboos. As I shared in the article, the Old Testament “solution” to rape in the cases of Tamar and Dinah was for the rapist to marry his victim. This is unimaginable to us today not because we have strayed from God’s will but because the Holy Spirit has been gently and patiently guiding God’s people out of the patriarchy that was one time necessary. So it’s not a matter of randomly picking sins that I want to be “okay” and playing exegetical games to make them okay but rather a matter of understanding the entire context in which sin needs to be evaluated. Jesus makes it clear that holiness is for the sake of hospitality to our neighbor. God calls us to be set apart in order to be his mercy to the world not because he needs the ego satisfaction of having people follow his rules. We have to understand how it all fits together in order to discern more clearly what is sin and what is not. See Romans 14:14 for example.

      • Elixe

        I think I addressed the problem with you Leviticus argument earlier rather effectively but am not sure if you got to read it. The main problem with your argument is that you understand that we don’t carry out punishments in the same way or follow some of the laws, however that does not make things declared to be sinful or bad to suddenly become good. A deeper understanding of why many of the laws are not followed anymore comes from the Gospels and the Book of Hebrews. Although we don’t treat rape the same way, rape still remains a sin just a lying with another man does.

        The problem with you Mark 10:1-11 argument, although you correctly point out that it was addressing divorce you failed to note that the wording Jesus uses goes well beyond that, even in its full context as applying to divorce the meaning and purpose Jesus describes for marriage remains the same.

  • Lauren Burnham

    I like the “Magic Mike” ad positioned right after the bit of scripture…

  • Tommy L Ramage

    Man lie with man as with woman

    Leviticus 18:22
    Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.

    Leviticus 18:23
    Neither shalt thou lie with any beast to defile thyself therewith: neither shall any woman stand before a beast to lie down thereto: it is confusion.

    Leviticus 20:13 If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

    these veres say that if a man lies with a man as with a woman it is an abomination to GOD.

    • Alicia Simpson

      As with a woman. Women were submissive and passive partners (well supposed to be) this is an admonition that men should never allow themselves to be in a passive or submissive role in a relationship.

      They are not necessarily about homosexuality.

      • Arbustin

        The problem with this is that the Lev. 18 verse refers to the insertive partner and Lev. 20 to the passive partner. At least that’s the traditional Jewish exegesis. In other words, it doesn’t just proscribe the passive partner.

        • Kathy Ruth

          There are MANY Jewish scholars that dispute this, I have even heard that these verses are actually referring to the use of the woman’s BED for the activity. Women had very little to call their own and this was to protect THEIR privacy, not to prohibit any particular behavior. This was how it was explained to me, anyway.

          • Arbustin

            With the caveat that I am only discussing here the _traditional_ interpretation of the _plain meaning_ of the text, I would dispute that it has anything to do with physical property. For one thing, the word used in the Pentateuch for bed as a physical structure is “mitah.” As opposed to just “bedding” one might lie on, which is the same word used in the Levitical verses: mishkav. A good example of the contrast is Exodus 7:28, which discusses the plague of frogs coming into the Egyptians “bedrooms and upon your beds” — “uva’chadar mishkavcha v’al mitatecha” — in your “room of lying down” and upon your beds. (this is Exodus 8:3 in Christian bibles for some reason). Cf. the Greek “koiten,” used in the Septuagint for Lev. 18 and 20, and for the key verses in the NT, sometimes meaning bed but also acknowledged as a metaphor for sex (ie “coitus.”). The LXX uses “klinen” for “mitah.”
            Also, it seems unlikely that the bed or bedding would belong to the woman under ANE law in any case.
            Finally, the interpretation of this as prohibiting only gay sex in a woman’s bed seems to be a liberal Christian viewpoint. I’ve looked at liberal Jewish halachic sources and none mention it, even those that permit LGBT sexual conduct within a committed relationship.

  • Beth Seibert

    He destroyed Sodom & Gomorah over homosexuality and He will destory America over it because it is the ONLY sin that is being celebrated and legislated. In Romans chapter one He had given Rome over to their depraved minds. Anyone can try and twist God’s Word any way they want, but it doesn’t change the meaning and it doesn’t change the design of male, female or Jesus’ Words that for this reason a man shall leave his family and cling to his wife. The fact is, Jesus told the rich young ruler to go and sell all his stuff and give it to the poor. Now that is not what is required of most to become a Christ follower and go to heaven according to God’s Word. The point Jesus made was He required the “sin” that had captured the rich ruler’s heart, in this case the “love” of money. For the gay community to say to God, I don’t care what Your Word says, this is “who I am” and this is “okay” says to God … You are wrong … that just doesn’t work. In the passage in 1 Cor 6:9-11, it cleary states that those who “PRACTICE” homosexuality along with a host of other things will not inherit the Kingdom. The key word there being “PRACTICE” … which would include celebrating and legislating our sins. It is such a difficult thing and for many because it involves people and relationships … and most of the time God is presented in such a way that He is little more than a set of religious rules. God is real and we have full redemption in Him through the blood of His precious Son, Jesus. It is a relationship. The question becomes if we are willing to give up anything that has captured our heart that is in direct conflict with God’s Word? We ALL struggle. Sometimes we stumble and sometimes we even fall. But we do “struggle” and don’t embrace the sin. We are all born into sin … some have a greater tendency toward lying, gluttony, stealing, homosexuality, promiscuity, killing, etc. Yes, God loves us ALL … but when there is repentance (the turning away from) that sin there is grace — wonderful, sufficient grace, mercy, and salvation. Without repentance there is no forgiveness of sin. This is my heart for people … I love everyone. I love all people including gay people. But I love them enough to tell them the hope lays at the foot of the cross when we let go of the sin and embrace the cross. What good will it do if I “love” them here and now but they die in their iniquity … Ezekiel 3:18 “If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.” … Some have heard my heart this week. Many have called me a hateful bigot the second I turned to scripture. But at the end of the day, His Word is all that will stand. Praying those who have a heart for God will continue truly seeking HIM out no matter the cost. Blessings.

    • Elixe

      Although I don’t think gay marriage is a good thing it is hardly the worst thing in our history slavery, Trail of Tears and similar other instances, Jim Crow, and 50 million abortions. Those were all legislated and celebrated yet he has not chosen to destroy America yet, I think that suggests that he has further plans for us, remember God promised he would not destroy Sodom if it had even ten good people within it, Genesis 18:32. How many more good people than Sodom do we have?

    • Alicia Simpson

      Sorry, Beth Seibert, Genesis 19 never mentions sex at all. There is nothing in the story that suggests that sex is an issue.

      The men of Sodom knocked on Lot’s door and asked for his guests to come out so they could make their acquaintance. Lot had insider knowledge and let the cat out of the bag when he said not to do this wicked thing, not that the men of Sodom had indicated what they really wanted to do.

      Lot’s offer of his daughters was a bribe for the men to leave his guests alone. Lot not only did not expect the men of Sodom to have sex with his daughters, he would have been shocked if they did. His reference to their virginity was a reference to their value and he saying they could do anything meant, they could sell them as wives to a passing caravan or two of them could take them as wives and not pay him the bride price.

      The idea that Genesis 19 is about homosexuality is the most absurd interpretation ever. It makes no sense whatsoever. You don’t go to someone’s house and tell them to bring their guests out so you can do something evil to them.

      • Furthermore, to interpret it as being about homosexuality means ignoring 16:49-50, which affirms the traditional Jewish interpretation of the text as being about hospitality and hostility toward foreigners.

        • Alicia Simpson

          True, God told Ezekiel exactly why he allowed Sodom and Gomorrah to be destroyed.

          (Ezekiel 16:48–50 NRSV)
          “As I live, says the Lord GOD, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it.”

          Note: The word translated as abominable things refers to worshiping idols and false gods. This is true throughout Ezekiel.

  • Alicia Simpson

    Paul, in Romans 1:18-32, is speaking about heterosexual males. He specifically points out in Romans 1:27 that it is men who gave up natural intercourse with women. Well, homosexual males do not naturally have intercourse with women, so they could not give it up.

    For Paul, as for any first century person, natural versus unnatural was related to the individuals tendencies and proclivities. For Paul it would be perfectly natural for a homosexual male to engage in intercourse with other men. It is only unnatural for a heterosexual male to engage in intercourse with other men.

    This passage is not about homosexuality at all.

    Note also, that Romans 1;26 is about women giving up intercourse, with men, that can produce a child (natural) for intercourse, with men, that cannot produce a child (unnatural). It has nothing to do with intimate play between two women (which in the first century would never be referred to as intercourse or sex. Men provided the ‘seed’, women provided ‘fertile ground’. Men could plant their ‘seed’ anywhere, but women were like a barren field until seed was planted.

  • Alicia Simpson

    In ancient Israel a woman who was not a virgin would be unlikely to get a husband. This leaves them with no means of support other than begging or prostitution.

    Requiring marriage basically is a requirement that the rapist support the women he wronged for her lifetime.

  • Zach

    Morgan, so let’s assume that everything you’ve said in the article is 100% accurate. That the NIV was pooly translated and the OT condemned homosexuality becuase of the need for a patriarchal society to uphold order.
    Taking that viewpoint, how do you explain Genesis 1:27-28 where one, we were created male and female and two, commanded to be fruitful and multiply? Any species animal or human would not be able to fulfil that through same gender relationships. Ignoring all other verses of conflict in the bible regarding homosexuality, a homosexual relationship would seem to me to violate the very first command that we are given as a species. Thoughts?

    • Jesus already answered this in Matthew 19:12. People are not measured by their ability to reproduce. Eunuchs in that context are men who cannot contribute to the population. Plus be fruitful and multiply is not a command. It’s an invitation to delight in the Earth. If I were calling for mandatory homosexuality for everybody, then there would be a problem.

      • Furthermore, there are studies which indicate that a person with a gay sibling is more likely to find a partner with whom to reproduce.

  • Jeannette Cochran

    I read this sincerely hoping to find sound exegesis of the passages regarding prohibition of homosexuality. Your points about the original greek text and the intended meaning and use of words in Corinthians and Timothy is intriguing and I will research further. But I was extremely disappointed in your assumptions about egalitarian exegesis. 2 Timothy 2 is not thrown out and merely “trumped” by Galatians 3:28. 2 Timothy understood in its historical & logical context does not prohibit women from leadership, even if Galatians 3:28 was never written. In writing Galatians 3:28, I don’t think Paul was calling for androgyny of the sexes but rather he was saying that the social and power structures which had perviously defined what people could do in worship and how they would be received were no longer relevant because in Christ the walls have been torn down. This is clear from vs 26, 27 where Paul begins by saying you are all SONS…he is not saying you are all now male, but rather he was saying the rights and priviledges that were only afforded to the sons in the culture are now open to all. Everyone has full rights and priviledges and value in Christ as sons in their patriarchal society. Gender stays in tack, slaves may in fact remains slaves (1 cor. 7:21) Jews are still Jews and greeks are still greeks but with our diversity we are now all ONE and must love and treat each other as such and include all in worship. (in fact, Paul’s use of categories here abolishes the limits of temple worship where previously only Jewish free men could enter into the inner most court)

    Can homosexuality be a “disputable matter” sure!….Everything can and should be explored in light of Scripture. Your argument is not aligned with a biblical exegesis for the fully equality of women. If it were, you would not have used 2 Timothy or Ephesians 5 or Galatians 3:28 in the way that you have. I understand your desire to be inclusive and loving towards our homosexual brothers and sisters. I also want that. And if there is a sound biblical exegesis for monogamous homosexual relationships then I want to know it. BUT PLEASE do not misunderstand and therefore confuse the already difficult road for women by simply believing you can throw homosexuality under the umbrella of biblical equality for women. They are different issues! Maybe we need to consider some of the hermenutics used but to say they are the same is false and it just perpetuates the fear in many evangelicals that the equality of women is a slippery slope that must lead to embracing homosexuality. They are two different issues. In the end, I hope we all can agree on LOVE as our primary action and continue to listen and be open and debate in a spirit of love.

    • Sounds like where you’re coming from is you really want the Bible to say that women can be leaders in the church but you don’t want that to be a slippery slope to letting gays be leaders in the church. If gender complementarity is essential to God’s design for humanity, then women need to submit to men and men need to not become the “woman” in a sexual relationship. I don’t believe that gender complementarity is a moral issue. Hence I am quite comfortable with gender egalitarianism and same-sex marriage.

      • Jeannette Cochran

        I’m sorry…seems like I must not have communicated very clearly. I’m not worried about ANY slippery slope what so ever. That is a phrase that traditionalist use to avoid ever asking the questions to even deal with the issue. It’s a statement that people use out of fear and it assumes that one is already standing on a moral high ground and that there is no where to go but down. I don’t think we should ever avoid being open and exploring because history shows church tradition has been dead wrong in the past and has not always been on a moral high ground. I am open to the idea that I could be anywhere on the moral spectrum with regard to homosexuality I could be up or I could be down and in need to change in order to be in line with God’s best for our world.

        But gender complementarity does not have to be thrown out in order to remove patriarchy. Male and female can live complementary to one another in totally equal partnerships. Just because my spouse and I are equal partners and live in oneness does not negate his maleness and my femaleness. Now, I will admit that how we define male and female is a little difficult because we are so influenced by social structures and stereotypes. I’m not interested in, nor is God, in keeping our stereotypical ideas about “complimentary” alive. But I am trying to be a responsible interpreter. If your argument is that Galatians 3:28 is justification for ignoring gender all together then I think it is a weak argument. That is not what Paul was trying to communicate when he penned those verses. And that isn’t by any means the sole Scripture that egalitarians use to teach a biblical theology of equality between the sexes.

    • summers-lad

      I find this very interesting. Could you say how you understand 2 Timothy 2, and expand on how it does not prohibit women from leadership? (I support women in leadership, which is why I am interested in your take on this chapter.)

      • Jeannette Cochran

        When 1 Timothy is understood in its historical and logical context, it becomes apparent that Paul was writing to Timothy about how to lead and sustain the church in Ephesus from being overtaken by pagan heretical teachings related to the greek goddes Artemis. Ephesus is home to the temple of Artemis. The goddess worship was woven into their cultural, social and economic system. Read Acts 19 to get a sense of what happened there before Paul left Timothy to handle the crisis. Women were infiltrating the church teaching heresy to try and merge their pagan teaching and practices with christianity in an attempt to preserve their pagan religion and their economic livelihood, dependent upon the pagan worship. (Acts 19). A lot more can be said but for the sake of brevity, Paul was not prohibiting women from teaching and leading for all time. He was instructing Timothy to restrict the women of Ephesus from teaching and leading (for a specific time) because they were misinformed and teaching false doctrine. Paul affirmed Phoebe as a deacon of the church and Junia (a woman) as an apostle. Why would he affirm these women leaders if he was opposed to women leading and teaching for all time? Check out for evangelical teaching on biblical equality. They have many articles and some that speak about 1 Timothy. That should get you started.

        • summers-lad

          Thank you, and I’ll follow the link you gave me. I’m aware of Paul’s endorsement of these female leaders (and other biblical examples) but I hadn’t fitted 1 Timothy into that understanding. This is helpful.

  • This is excellent and very helpful for my thinking on this subject; thank you so much for taking the time to write it out.

    • I’m no expert in Greek, but it was pointed out to me today that although arsenokoitai is a neologism, Leviticus 18:22 in the Septuagint does indeed use arsenos and koité in conjunction with one another, and Paul could possibly be referencing that. Is that a reasonable hypothesis, or is it overreaching, do you think?

      • It’s a theory but it’s not a decisive conclusion. A “man of beds” is not necessarily a “man who takes other men to bed.” There’s no reason to say conclusively that Paul is describing passive and active partners in gay sex like Gagnon does.

        • That makes sense. For example, in English the word ‘understand’ doesn’t mean ‘standing under’ something.

      • The Happy Atheist

        I’ve worked in Arabic and Koine Greek for many years, and one of the most fundamental mistakes you can make is translating a compound word based on what you know of its component parts. We never, *ever* do that, even if it seems like the meaning works in context because words – especially compound words – typically accrue tremendous lexical flexibility over time. That’s why we always test our educated guesses against other uses of the word, so we can get some idea of what the semantic range might be.

        • ok, thank you, that makes sense.

      • After doing a lot of research and study on this myself, I personally would say that even if “arsenokoites” is referring to verses Leviticus 18 and 20 it has nothing to do with loving same-sex relationships. I think if you look closely at the context and usage of the commands in Leviticus, there’s a solid case for saying:

        “Ancient Israel’s holiness code prevented male Israelites on pain of death from engaging in cultic worship practices which involved ‘like a woman’ sex acts with male prostitutes, which was something their Canaanite neighbors had a habit of doing.”

        That’s about as broad as I think we can reasonably go in applying the verses once we’re extra careful with context, and it fits well with the NT prohibitions on same-sex activity in the context of prostitution and idol worship.

        I attempt to explain my interpretation in the following two articles, if they’re allowed by the moderator:

  • Kathryn

    Hi Morgan,

    This was a very thoughtful & well-researched article and I’m glad I took the time to read it. I too am a Christian and have come to very different conclusions about homosexuality and am curious to hear your thoughts on the questions below, especially because at the beginning of your article you mentioned that you do “not think that the Bible’s authority has to be compromised in order to affirm that God has a vision for LGBT people to live chaste and holy lives no differently than the straight.”

    1.) From a Biblical perspective (assuming the Bible should be our highest authority) what IS sex and what is it for? And by extension, what is chastity?

    2.) From the same perspective, what is marriage and what is it for?

    3.) What is our ultimate goal as humans, especially Christians? Is our happiness the ultimate, or is it the conformity of our will to God’s will/purpose (aka holiness)?

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    • 1) Sex is the deepest sacramental means by which we encounter the image of God in our life-partner. When we have sex rightly, we are worshiping God. When we have sex perversely, we are worshiping physical sensations.

      2) Marriage is a means by which we covenant together with a life-partner for multiple purposes which may not all apply: to minister together, to raise a family, to have intimacy and security. There is no Biblical reason why the normal way in which marriage occurs for 95% of people cannot be applied to someone with a different sexual orientation.

      3) Question 3 offers a typical false dichotomy from evangelical youth group. Living into God’s purpose for our lives is our deepest joy, but this is not antithetical to our happiness. Every time Jesus says “blessed” in the Beatitudes, he’s using the word makarios which is also the word for “happy.” My blog’s title is mercy not sacrifice, because God says he desires mercy not sacrifice. Middle-class white Americans like imagining themselves to be living in some sort of “sacrifice” or onerous “obedience” because it makes them feel “holy.” We think that gay people should spend their lives alone because they need to “sacrifice” to be “holy.” Jesus goes off on the Pharisees for “tying up heavy burdens for others to carry” in Matthew 23. Read through that list of woes and see if any of them are convicting to you.

      • Kathryn

        Hmm. I think we fundamentally disagree because the ultimate authority in my scriptural interpretation doesn’t rest with me, but rather with the many holy men and women who came before me, starting with Christ Himself. I also have a hard time believing that God doesn’t desire us to sacrifice, given that our faith is rooted in His sacrifice for us on the cross. And while I’m tempted to spew out refutes to each of your arguments, I’ll instead say thank you for answering my questions and I wish you well.

  • Nunya Beeswax

    The whole argument here depends on treating the Bible as a disconnected artifact with no context and no reception history. The Patristic witness alone shows that the church has always been pretty confident about what was meant by “malakoi” and “arsenokoitai” : see the Didache, Justin Martyr, and Clement of Alexandria for examples which are fairly close to the time in which the Biblical texts were composed.

    Frankly, it all seems a bit pat. “Look, we’ve suddenly discovered that the Church has been seriously wrong about a moral issue for 2000 years. And isn’t it convenient that we found this out at exactly the time that secular society is moving toward approval of this behavior!”

    • Nancy Moore

      And Peter had a vision of a sheet being lowered with unclean animals, and a voice said to him, “Kill and eat, kill and eat…” If God can expand the written rules about what foods can be eaten after a couple of thousand years, why can’t God expand the rules about other issues as well? For me, it’s a question of whether you are placing the Scriptures above the Holy Spirit.

      • Nunya Beeswax

        How convenient that the “promptings of the Holy Spirit” coincide with changing social mores. If only third-century Christians had been open to the Holy Spirit as well, they wouldn’t have had to be martyred for refusing to offer incense to the genius of the Emperor.

        • It’s pretty pathetic when you guys try to compare your inability to discriminate against people to getting thrown to lions by Roman emperors.

    • Scorn is not a fruit of the spirit.

      • Josh Duncan

        Dismissing our arguments as being unvirtuous seems a bit scornful, Morgan.

  • Matt_Terry

    Thank you, Morgan, very well said. A couple things that have come up recently in terms of this discussion is 1. Christ talking about eunuchs being “born that way.” I’ve heard through various channels that he could very well be talking about people who are gay but I haven’t found what I would call an authoritative response with biblical back-up going back to the Greek or Hebrew. And 2. How do the fundies/evangelicals deal with Romans 13:1-2 where he talks specifically of accepting the opinion of the authority, that it is God established, and you shouldn’t rebel against it – thus bringing judgment upon yourself?

    Curious of your take on those two points of interest.

  • Kathy Ruth

    I was taught that Paul’s directive about going against nature referred to the custom at the time (and even today, in parts of the world) of forcing the defeated enemy army into the submissive role of woman through rape, or of the custom of sexual activity used in the worship of some of the gods in the area.
    A heterosexual person that engages in homosexual activity is going against THEIR nature, just as a homosexual person engaging in heterosexual activity is going against THEIR nature!
    Homosexual activity is observed throughout the animal world so the activity ITSELF is not unnatural, being forced to be other than you are is what is unnatural.

    • I don’t believe Paul was making a natural law argument. I think he was appealing to custom or traditional understanding. Paul also uses the same word for “nature” or “natural” 1 Cor 11:14 as he does in Romans 1

      Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him,

    • Psk6565

      Shall my wife bite my head off after sex?

  • jrb16915

    This topic suggests that the Holy Spirit misled the Church for about 2000 years. That essentially nullifies any reason to believe in divine revelation or Scripture. So the answer to the question posed by this article is: No

  • Al

    Question. Is there one example in Scripture of s Homosexual relationship that is held out as an example for believers? Homosexuality is not a new thing, it has been part of many cultures and not unfamiliar to Paul and Christ. It’s been around for a long time. I can’t think of one positive example of a same-sex relationship in scripture that is to be emulated or followed by believers. Just a question. Thanks for the article.

    • Jonathan

      That is a great question. The claim that the Bible knew nothing of monogamous homosexual relationships misses the point. I can’t think of one either. How about you Morgan?

  • Psk6565

    “The fact that Paul has a 1st century Jewish view of what “natural” gender relations look like is not the same as a direct prohibition of homosexuality.”

    The 1st century Jewish view was Leviticus 20:13 “If a man lies with a male as with a woman…” And it is a direct prohibition of homosexuality. The only stipulation for making the same sex relationship, in regards to sex, as sinful is, if they have sex. There is nothing regarding consent, attitude, love, etc. Sex between the same sex
    is what formed Paul’s 1st century view because it was the Jewish Scriptures that formed it.

  • Jonathan

    I’ve heard so much about Romans 1 it makes my head spin. The whole point of the first two and a half chapters is to lead to Romans 3:20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous by observing the law; rather through the law we become conscious of sin. We are all the same, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Rom 3:23) None of us are good enough to save ourselves, whether we are law breakers, or moral people or those who have the law, we all are saved through faith in one act, one person, in the person and work of Jesus Christ who died as a substitute for us with all the wrath of God on his shoulders. The point of the passage is not to glide by the chapter 1, because their actions condemn them. So rather than to say that is not an important chapter, it is very important. In fact, I believe Paul uses homosexuality, not because it is top on the top ten lists of sins, but because It’s act is the greatest affront to the original creation gift given to Adam, and to the original calling of Adam and Eve, which was to fill the earth and subdue it. And the word Paul uses in 1 Cor 6:9 and 1 Tim 1:10 has clear ties to the Greek version of Leviticus. If he were referring to other issues, there are other words he could have used, rather than making one up. To dismiss this is irresponsible in my mind.

  • Josh Duncan

    The B in LGBT stands for bisexual. If one believes that their sexual orientation inclines them to be attracted equally to both sexes, and that one can only be happy if they fully express their sexual orientation with one partner of each gender, on what basis will the “LGBT affirming position” tell them that they can only live a chaste relationship monogomously? Notice that the author seems to grant that Paul viewed homosexual acts as unnatural, while argueing that Paul’s argument does not actually proscribe the act themselves because the author has met homosexuals who live “clean lives” just like conservatives. As the “LGBT affirming” side is fond to point out, Christ harshly condemned the Pharisees of his day because their views reinterpreted his Father’s word: since the Pharisees were exemplars of moralistic clean living, the author’s perception of how nice people are is no argument for how a biblical text is to be read, since Jesus himself taught that some who had even done incredible works in his name will be cast out because he didn’t know them.

    Since we have already declared ourselves wiser than Paul, why even debate Paul’s argument at that point? Even if it could be demonstrated that Paul not only thought the relationships were unnatural, but that homosexual acts in and of themselves were a sin in God’s eyes, wouldn’t that just be chalked up to Paul being an ignorant 1st century Jewish writer? And if Paul could not only hold to a position that “LGBT affirming advocates” define as bigotry, but write it into scripture with clarity that can’t be missed by an honest reading, how reliable is the whole book anyway? By what standard can I know whether consensual incest and bigamy are contrary to God’s will or not? If the so-called “clobber passages” are reflective only of the author’s cultural biases and not God’s will, then perhaps the same applies to the Corinthian who married his father’s wife and to the notion that Christian leaders should be “the husband of but one wife.”

    We would be more “open” to the LGBT affirming position if the primary writers advocating that position were willing to so much as address the issue of how the principle of the new sexual ethic should apply in these like cases, rather than just accuse us improperly of a slippery slope fallacy. The college professors I listen to argue for a sexual norm which would define the mainstream LGBT Christian position as bigoted precisely for its requirement of “chaste monogamy.” Chastity is something the modern feminists argue is a tool of the patriarchy. The Bible says chastity is a virtue as defined by God’s will. Can the LGBT-affirming advocates tell us which it true, so long as they grant that the Biblical author’s cultural biases are unnacceptable and must be rejected?