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Homosexuality and the Bible #2: What does the Bible say?

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Last time we considered some ground rules for our topic. I want to reiterate: there is no room for hate, violence, slander or anything like that in this Christian discussion. It is also worth remembering that not everything that hurts was necessarily said with hateful intent; and the fact that someone disagrees with you does not mean they hate you. In addition, a person can love you without endorsing every activity you engage in. I have many friends and family who feel differently than me about homosexual behavior, and I truly do love them, and wish for the best for them. I have no desire to see them come to harm in any way, and though I wish they might choose differently, I have no desire to take away their right to choose the life they want.

If you are reading this, and you have not yet read the first message in this series, I plead with you to go back and read it. I do not think you can fully understand all that I am saying on this subject until you have read this entire series. We are not operating in “sound-bytes” or catchy phrases here.

I apologize to parents, but there will be some “plain talk” in this message. If you aren’t ready to talk with your children about sexuality, you might not want them to listen to this sermon. On the other hand, I think kids need to learn about this subject sometime. They will hear it from their friends, probably sooner than you might think. In many places, they’ll even hear about it in school. I think the ideal way for children to learn about sexuality, and God’s plan for it, is by talking with their parents and considering what the bible says. Obviously, however, you as the parent need to make the call as to where and when that might happen.

This week I want to look at what the Bible actually says about homosexual behavior. My goal is to treat the relevant verses same way I treat the rest of the bible, and to use the common sense approach to biblical interpretation that I have been using for years in my teaching. In other words, this subject is no different than other subject I have taught about – it just happens to be politically charged at the moment, but I will not let politics change the way I teach on the bible.

I want to make one more note before I start. I am the messenger, not the message. The verses I am going to quote are really in the bible. We will find that the bible has no ambiguity about the subject of homosexual sex. The message is easy to see, and it is clear. In addition, where I share interpretations or add comments, those interpretations and comments are consistent with what Christians have taught for two-thousand years. They are not unusual or different. They are not popular at the moment, but this isn’t my message – it is the testimony of the bible and the church has affirmed it for millennia. It was not even controversial until the past few years.

Again, I share all this because it is my responsibility before God to teach sound biblical doctrine, and because for me, the true teaching of the bible is an act of love. It brings people closer to the truth, love and forgiveness that are found in Jesus Christ.

The bible always distinguishes between sins, and the people who commit them. God hates sin. But he loves sinners. Also, having homosexual feelings is different than having homosexual sex. No one is condemned for how they feel, or the temptations they struggle with. What the bible condemns is not homosexual people, but homosexual behavior. We can, and we should, accept and love people who identify themselves as homosexuals. In the church, this should be exactly like loving and accepting alcoholics, or convicts or single mothers, or me, a “normal sinner,” for that matter.

But acceptance and love are not the same as endorsement. Jesus and accepted and loved at least one prostitute. He accepted and loved a woman caught in adultery. Does that mean he endorsed prostitution and adultery? Of course not. He accepted and loved the people. But he told the woman who was caught in adultery, “Go, and sin no more.” He gave the prostitute a new life that did not involve prostitution any more. He said very clearly, in several places that “sexual immorality” is sinful – and that includes adultery and prostitution.

There is a distinction between the behavior, and the person. This is true, even though homosexuals themselves often refuse to make this distinction. “Being gay,” is not a behavior. Most gay people feel it is integral to who they are as people. We need to be clear that this – being gay, identifying yourself as homosexual – is not a sin. We do not reject people for who they are.

Now, let’s get to what the bible says.

Genesis chapter 19 tells about a city named Sodom. The male residents of Sodom wanted to have sex with some male travelers who had come into town. Shortly after this, the city was destroyed in judgment. Other bible passages tell us that the people of the town were guilty of many sins, but among them was sexual perversion – meaning, in this case, homosexual behavior. (Jude 7).

In the same way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them committed sexual immorality and practiced perversions, just as angels did, and serve as an example by undergoing the punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 1:7, HCSB)

The only type of sexual immorality that we know for sure was in Sodom, was homosexual sex.

Leviticus chapter 18:22 says:

You are not to sleep with a man as with a woman; it is detestable.”

Leviticus 20:13 says,

“If a man sleeps with a man as with a woman, they have both committed a detestable thing. They must be put to death; their blood is on their own hands.”

These verses are pretty clear, but pause here for a moment. Why do Christians think today that homosexual behavior is wrong, but we don’t think people should be put to death for it?

The punishments listed in the first part of the Old Testament were specifically given for life in ancient Israel. They were, in effect, the civil and criminal laws of the land. We don’t live in ancient Israel anymore. The moral law (the act that is called sinful) remains in effect, but we don’t live under the same civil or criminal laws.

The same section of scripture (the latter part of Leviticus) also says that adultery is wrong, and those who do it should be put to death. In Jesus’ day, under the Roman law, Jews were not allowed to execute someone for committing adultery, and in fact, the practice had fallen into disuse even before that. However, in spite of a change in the punishment, there continued to be a clear understanding that adultery was wrong. In fact, in John chapter eight, Jesus condemned adulterous behavior, but refused to let people kill the adulterer. Likewise today, any serious Biblical ethicist must condemn the act of adultery as morally wrong – even Jesus did! (Matthew 5:27-30). Most people, in fact, still believe adultery is wrong. But virtually no one thinks we should have a law by which adulterers are punished by death. In the same way, we may certainly maintain a Biblical morality, while adapting the legal consequences to the society we live in today.

The New Testament also talks about homosexual behavior. Romans 1:29:

24 Therefore God delivered them over in the cravings of their hearts to sexual impurity, so that their bodies were degraded among themselves. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served something created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen. 26 This is why God delivered them over to degrading passions. For even their females exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 The males in the same way also left natural relations with females and were inflamed in their lust for one another. Males committed shameless acts with males and received in their own persons the appropriate penalty of their error. (Rom 1:24-27, HCSB)

This is pretty clear. Homosexual behavior is called sexual impurity and a perversion. In other words, it is regarded as a sin.

I have already mentioned the Jude passage in the explanation of Genesis 19:

In the same way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them committed sexual immorality and practiced perversions, just as angels did, and serve as an example by undergoing the punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 1:7, HCSB)

I mention it again here because the verse is in the New Testament, and also because it tells us something very important about a particular Greek word. The root word is “porneia” and is used in various forms dozens of times throughout the New Testament. Most often it is translated as “sexual immorality.” Jude (who, incidentally, was the half-brother of Jesus) is using this word to refer specifically to homosexual sex (the only sexual sin recorded in Sodom was homosexual in nature). In Matthew 5:32 and 19:9, Jesus uses a form of the word when he is clearly talking about adultery. So, although there are specific terms for adultery, homosexual sex and other sexual sins, “sexual immorality” includes them all. In other words, “sexual immorality” means: “any sexual activity except that between a married man and woman.” Therefore, whenever the New Testament says “sexual immorality,” homosexual sex is included in that phrase, along with any other sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage. The New Testament is relentlessly consistent in calling sexual immorality of any sort a sin. Verses which do that include (but are not limited to): Ephesians 5:1-5; Galatians 5:19-21; Colossians 3:5-7; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8.

But just so we are absolutely sure, let’s consider a few more verses:

We know that the law is not meant for a righteous person, but for the lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinful, for the unholy and irreverent, for those who kill their fathers and mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral and homosexuals, for kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and for whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching (1Tim 1:9-10, HCSB)

I want us to note two things: first that homosexual behavior is specifically mentioned, and second, that it is not singled out as any worse or better than thirteen other sins. All these things are “contrary to sound teaching.”

In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul breaks mentions several types of sins, specifically naming homosexual sex among them.

Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or anyone practicing homosexuality, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom. And some of you used to be like this. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1Cor 6:9-11, HCSB)

Many English translations don’t show it, but Paul actually lists homosexual behavior twice in this list. He uses a Greek slang word which should be literally translated as “soft” (malakoi). This is probably equivalent to our English use of “gay.” Paul also uses a more specific technical word that means “homosexual.” I think most translators simply use one word to avoid redundancy, but a properly nuanced translation of this might read: “…neither gay, nor any kind practicing homosexual…”

We’ve already seen several clear passages. It’s hard to be more clear than right here in 1 Corinthians 6:9.

Again, in 1 Corinthians 6:9 homosexual behavior is called sinful along with eight other behaviors: sex between unmarried people, adultery, idolatry, theft, greed, drunkenness, slander and swindling. Let’s get this straight. Greed is as sinful as homosexual behavior. So is petty theft (the Greek word for “thieves” is the same root where we get “kleptomaniac”). Habitual drunkenness is as sinful as homosexual behavior, and so is adultery, and promiscuity and telling lies about others. So it would be wrong to suggest that homosexual behavior is particularly singled out as something more evil than other sins. But it would also be wrong to suggest that the Bible approves of “committed homosexual relationships.” It is a sin. There is no ambiguity. But it is not a special sin.

I have talked with gay people who told me that they’ve heard Christians say that homosexuals automatically go to hell. I’ve never actually heard a real Christian say that, though I’m sure that some people, somewhere, do. However, that would be a misunderstanding of this passage. If that were true, then it would also be true of alcoholics, petty thieves, any greedy person, and all those who have had a sexual relationship at any time in their lives with anyone other than their spouse. The real and main point of this passage is what Paul says in verse 11:

And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

In other words, whatever our particular sinful struggle, Jesus can put an end to it, and he has done so for billions of people around the world throughout history. So obviously, people who struggle with homosexual feelings can be saved and go to heaven – some of the Corinthians had those very struggles before they came to Jesus. People who struggle with drunkenness can be saved. So can thieves and those who are greedy. It all comes back to putting our faith in Jesus. Usually people who struggle with sins like homosexual behavior and addictions need help, support and understanding from fellow Christians as they open their lives to the Holy Spirit, but the Lord can change them. I have personally known several people who used to call themselves homosexuals, who even lived the gay lifestyle, who are now happily married (to the opposite gender) and call themselves heterosexual. Their testimony was that the Power of the Holy Spirit changed them. One them is the wife of a seminary classmate of mine. It can happen. It does happen.

In the interest of honesty, I will say that another one of my gay friends is completely committed to Jesus, and to healing and wholeness, but he has not lost his attraction to men, and at this point, he believes he never will. Even so, he is committed to a life of celibacy, and is trusting Jesus for all of emotional needs.

We need to remember: Jesus is a game-changer.

Speaking of that, what about Jesus? What did he say about gay sex? If you have spent any time on social media sites, you have probably seen claims that Jesus said nothing at all about it. In a narrow, technical sense, that is true. But we should also note that in a narrow technical sense, Jesus said nothing about incest, child-abuse, the oppression of women, slavery, or drugs. In a narrow, technical sense, Jesus never condemned war or racism or human trafficking.

Let us remember that all that we know about Jesus was handed down to us by the apostles, who are also the writers of the New Testament. In other words, we only know what Jesus taught because the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote it down. These apostles, and others, also expounded upon the teachings of Jesus in the other books of the New Testament. If you believe that the apostles correctly preserved the words of Jesus, you must also believe that their other teachings reflected the true teachings of Jesus. There is simply no reason to believe one and not the other.

In other words, if you think that apostles were correct to recall Jesus saying that we should love our neighbor, you should also think that they were correct to say that following Jesus means we should forsake our sins, including the sins of homosexual sex. If they were wrong about the latter they were also wrong about the former.

In addition, Jesus did frequently talk about marriage and sex in general. He clearly taught that sex is good when shared in heterosexual marriage, and sinful in any form outside of that. He very specifically said that sexual immorality (which we know includes homosexual sex, among other things) is evil (Mark 7:21 Matthew 15:19).

Homosexuals are not the worst sinners imaginable. In fact, I don’t see any evidence that simply being homosexual (that is, having homosexual feelings or attractions) is a sin at all. However, the bible does call it a sin to act on those feelings, in the same way that it is a sin to act on heterosexual feelings outside of marriage.

Sin does not disqualify you from the kingdom of heaven, because Jesus died to forgive us and free us from all sins. ALL sins. A gay person has never done any worse sin than I myself have done. In terms of biblical morality and righteousness, there is no room for any person to think of himself or herself as better than any other person. I think the failure of the church to make this crystal-clear is part of the reason that today there is so much confusion about homosexuality.

The message of Christianity has always been that the only answer to sin is Jesus. People who engage in sex outside of marriage are forgiven the same way as people who engage in homosexual sex: by admitting their sin, admitting their need for Jesus, and putting their trust in Him to forgive them and change them.

There is much more to discuss. Next time we will look at some common objections to the verses and interpretations I have shared here.

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