Is Homosexuality Part of God’s Good Design?
“Why does a person’s sexual preference matter? If a guy loves another guy why can’t they hook up? Why would God have a problem with that? God created everything, right? So, did He create homosexuality?”
I appreciate those questions. They are important because sex and sexual identity are deeply personal as well as powerful. So, the main question seems to be: Did God create homosexuality, is it part of God’s good design? In order to answer this question, I need to ask you a question. Do you consider yourself a tolerant person? Will you hear me out and listen to my perspective?
If you answered that you are a tolerant person, that’s great. That will be helpful as we look at this controversial subject. So, I ask you to kindly consider my perspective on this question.
I want to be faithful to what I believe the Bible teaches because through it God shows His love and grace. So, as we consider this question, I deeply want the love and compassion of Christ to come through. He loves us all and wants us to have abundant life here and now and forever. Yet, life holds many struggles and temptations.
As we consider this question, we are all caught up in God’s story, a story that can be summed up as creation, fall, redemption and new creation. What does the Bible have to say about this issue? The Bible provides directions to protect us and help us thrive. This is part of God’s good design. The directions include prohibitions against certain types of sexual activity. Those that violate the directions God has given often suffer for it. Individuals that struggle with homosexuality need to realize that natural disposition does not justify it any more than any other sin. And the fact that society elevates sexual fulfillment to the point of communicating that it is the purpose of life does not exempt it from God’s prohibition any more than any other sin. If you are struggling with this issue, then join the rest of us sinners and turn to Christ, who is good. God has given us the means to live within His good design.
As I share with candor please know that I share out of a heart of compassion. My thesis is that Scripture clearly prohibits homosexual practice, regardless of one’s “natural” sexual disposition because homosexuality is contrary to God’s good design.
As we look in more detail at the above thesis there are several things to consider. First, let me say again, I want you know Christ’s compassion. And I want you to know that I love and care for you. So, even if we do not agree, know that I am sharing from a humble heart of love. I know I have not arrived. And I know homosexuality is no different than any other sin; we are all in the same boat because we are all sinners. We all deeply need to turn to Christ.
Second, I want you to know that I certainly do not claim to have all the answers. Actually, I do not think it is even about the answer that I give. An answer from me is not what we need. We need to receive an answer from somewhere else, from someone else. And I believe we have. So, third, I believe we receive our answer to this question through God’s word, the Bible. I believe the Bible is the trustworthy word of God.
Fourth, I believe it is absolutely vital that we have revelation from God. I may not always want to agree with it, for instance when it conflicts with certain things I want to do. I, however, believe that God’s word is vital for human flourishing.
We need the Bible to have a coherent morality. It is important in part because we cannot derive ought from is. That is, what we see through science about the way the world is cannot tell us what we ought to do morally.
If we chose the standard for ourselves—one we find unhesitating pleasure in—we are a law unto ourselves. That would make me the standard of morality. That would make you the standard of morality. That would make every autonomous self the standard of morality.
You know what that would end up making? No standard of morality. No right, no wrong. Everything would be permissible. Everything.
That is not a world I want to live in.
Fifth, it makes sense that we do not always find ourselves readily agreeing with every moral norm. For example, I’m thankful for the laws that govern our highways in the United States but I do not always readily agree with them. I want to speed. I do not always want to obey the laws.
I believe God revealing His truth to us is good and necessary. It is good even if we do not always understand why or how. We need it.
Locating Ourselves within the Story of Scripture
The Bible says a lot of things. It is quite a big book and can be complex. Yet it is also amazingly clear. It is important to understand a little bit about the Bible before we go on with the question. It is important to understand that the Bible does not just give us commands but places us within a story.
The Bible was written over the period of fifteen-hundred-years, by more than forty authors with varied backgrounds (e.g. king, fisher, tax collector, physician) and literary styles (e.g. narrative, poetry, law, biography), on three different continents (Asia, Africa, and Europe), in three different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) and yet it tells one unified story of the LORD’s faithful love demonstrated most vividly through Christ (e.g. 1 Jn. 4:9). The storyline of the Bible can be understood as creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. Through the creation part we see that God made everything (Gen. 1:1) and it was very good (Gen. 1:31). There was no sin, no death, and no problems before man sinned.
However, the plot thickens. A cosmic problem is introduced. Man disobeyed and rebelled and this brought spiritual and physical death, pain, curse, and separation from God (Gen. 3). So, through the fall, we see the collapse of creation, which explains why everything is no longer perfectly good. This is the bad news. Scripture tells us that we are broken, desperately broken, and it even very unpopularly calls us sinful (Rom. 3:10-11).
Yet, thankfully, this is not the end of the story. There is good news. The Bible tells us that God loves us even though we have rebelled against Him and so He sent Jesus, the Promised One (Rom. 1:2-4), to bring redemption (Jn. 3:16; Gal. 3:13). Jesus is the sole solution to our problem of sin (Jn. 14:6; Act. 4:12). Jesus willingly left heaven and became poor so that we through Him and all He accomplished could be welcomed into heaven and experience the riches of the LORD’s glory (2 Cor. 8:9).
It is through Christ that we can have the unwavering hope of a new creation (2 Peter 3:13) when we will be like Jesus (1 Jn. 3:2; 2 Pet. 1:4). “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Cor. 15:49 cf. Rom. 8:20-21). There will be no more pain or problems and God will wipe away all our tears (Rev. 7:17; 21:4). We will once again be in Paradise and we will have fellowship with God (Rev. 21:3) and thus our deepest desires will be fulfilled (Ps. 16:11; 1 Cor. 2:9).
We learn much through a cursory overview of Scripture. God is not some cosmic bully giving arbitrary rules because He does not like us. No. God is the cosmic King that enters into the story in the form of Christ to care for us to the point of death (see Philippians 2). We learn God is good. He is also wise. We can trust Him.
God’s Protective Provision
It is important that we consider why these “stifling rules” are good. They may seem oppressive, unkind, old-fashioned, and restrictive but they are anything but that. Imagine with me that “Thomas the Train” wants to be free to run in the grass with the horses. So he jumps the tracks to pursue freedom.
What does Thomas’ “freedom” look like? It looks like a derailed train lying in the grass. The train tracks are the very thing that provided freedom to Thomas but he railed against them and it led to futility, not freedom.
Purpose is important. When we do not understand and function according to the design (teleology) that we were created for we languish, become embittered, and enslaved.
So, the Bible makes a claim that we as humans are supposed to function in certain ways. And God in His goodness wants us to flourish and function in those ways. God is not the ultimate party crasher. No. He just knows what is best for us. He wants us to enjoy stuff. After all, He’s the One that made everything “very good” (Gen. 1:31).
God puts provisions in place to protect us. What happens if we disobey? We suffer for it, like Thomas. Let’s look as some suffering that occurs when people engage in homosexual behavior.
Why would God be against homosexuality? We can certainly ask that question but we cannot expect that we will necessarily receive an answer to it that we approve of. It will be insightful, however, to consider the medical facts. This is important to consider because if homosexuality is against God’s good design then we would expect homosexuality to often lead to results that are not good. Here are some of the downsides of homosexual practice when it comes to health concerns:
- A significantly decreased likelihood of establishing or preserving a successful marriage
- A twenty-five to thirty-year decrease in life expectancy
- Chronic, potentially fatal, liver disease—infectious hepatitis, which increases the risk of liver cancer
- Inevitably fatal immune disease, including associated cancers
- Frequently fatal rectal cancer
- Multiple bowel and other infectious diseases
- A much higher than usual incidence of suicide
One study concludes, “Homosexual orientation, defined as having same-sex sexual partners, is associated with a general elevation of risk for anxiety, mood, and substance use disorders and for suicidal thoughts and plans.” Explanations for the higher average (20 to 30 percent) of depression and substance abuse are varied.
This is difficult to say. I hope you know my compassion even as I speak with candor. I believe homosexual practice and all it entails cuts against a fundamental, gender-based given of the human condition, thus to me it makes sense that going against the biological (and teleological) norm creates distress. This answer, however, is not really considered as a viable answer to homosexuals’ documented psychological health risks.
There are good reasons to believe that homosexual practice does not lead to human flourishing. So, in my opinion, it should not be so surprising that the Bible does not support homosexual practice. “The Scriptures clearly condemn any violation of the divine order.” Scripture supports the flourishing of humanity.
Interpreting the Texts
As was said, the Bible prohibits homosexual practice. It should be understood, however, that not everyone agrees with this interpretation. Some interpreters seek to argue away that conclusion. They do so in various ways. Below I give a brief overview of some of those arguments as well as a few comments on why I believe those interpretations are faulty.
Some have argued that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was not homosexuality but gang rape. Others argue that it was inhospitality that brought God’s judgment. It is clearly true that Scripture is against gang rape and calls us to be hospitable but homosexuality does seem to be included in what God condemns in this passage.
First, Kostenberger makes a good argument that the problem is not inhospitality because the term for “know” must have sexual connotations in Genesis 19:5. Second, Ezekiel’s reference to Sodom (16:47-50) includes the word “abomination”תוֹעֵבָ֖ה) ) which in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 is used to condemn homosexuality. Third, “the two most prominent Jewish writers of the first century C.E. Philo and Josephus, interpreted Genesis 19:4-11 to refer explicitly to homosexual acts.” Fourth, Jude 7 clearly connects Sodom to sexual immorality and unnatural desire.
Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13
Some argue these two verses both prohibit homosexual acts performed by Canaanite temple prostitutes. The problem is not homosexuality per se but idolatrous forms of worship. A second argument is that Christ fulfilled the law and Christians live under the new covenant rather than the old one. So, this verse does not apply to Christians. After all, there are a lot of Old Testament laws that we do not adhere to (e.g. wearing mixed fabrics; Lev. 19:19).
First, it is important to note that Leviticus gives an unqualified condemnation of homosexuality. If the purpose was to condemn cult prostitution it could have used a specific term to do so, as Deuteronomy 23:17-18 does. Second, Leviticus also points to the unnaturalness of homosexuality by saying “a male as with a woman.” A man with a woman is to be expected and is according to God’s design but a male with a male as though one were a woman is not according to God’s intended good design thus it is a scandal, it is abhorrent. Further, and third, this offense is taken very seriously; its punishment is death. Fourth, the other argument—that prohibitions against homosexuality have been done away with because of the new covenant—does not work, in part, because the New Testament shows (as we see below) that these verses still apply. They have not been abrogated.
Some respond to this text and Jesus’ words about God’s intention for man and woman by saying that the reason Jesus responded the way He did was because same-sex marriage was not even an option at the time. Jesus would have responded differently had the situation been different. This is seen later in Ephesians, some would argue, where we see that marriage is not about heterosexuality or homosexuality but about reflecting Christ’s love for the church. The argument goes something like this: Homosexual couples can faithfully love each other and so homosexual practice within a loving monogamous relationship is perfectly acceptable and should be celebrated.
This view is problematic for a number of reasons. First, it is vital to note that Jesus never downplayed or overturned the prohibitions against immoral sexual behavior in Leviticus. Instead, Jesus upheld as normative God’s created intention regarding male and female sexual relations.
Second, the picture of Christ and the church works because they are different and complementary, not the same. Further, the picture of Christ and His bride continues into the new creation. Man and woman are shown to belong together in the beginning and in the end of Revelation the picture is of Christ and His bride.
Third, if the above argument is followed—if love and commitment is all that is needed for various forms of sexual practice to be acceptable—it seems this would allow room for such things as incest to be acceptable. Importantly, it is not just homosexuality that is off-track according to Scripture. All sexual activity outside of the covenant of marriage according to God’s good design is sinful and prohibited by Scripture.
Jesus reinforces God’s good intention for man and woman. He does not hint that God’s intention has changed. Jesus says that from the beginning God made them male and female and said they are to leave and cleave to each other and become one flesh. Thus, Jesus, as Thomas Schreiner has said, “taught that the creation account clarified the divine intention.” God’s intended design for sexual union is for man and woman within the covenant of marriage.
Some argue that this passage is a reference to heterosexuals who exchanged their natural sexual orientation for that which was not natural to them. So that the “unnatural” that Paul speaks of refers to people who are naturally heterosexual acting in a homosexual way. This then would be contrary to their nature. Another way that people interpret this passage is that it condemns the current Greek pederasty and not all forms of homosexuality.
First, it is important to remember our starting place: “A New Testament perspective on homosexuality is anchored in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition.” And “second temple Jewish literature consistently and unanimously speaks against homosexual practice.”
Second, homosexuality is prohibited because it is contrary to nature. When Paul uses “nature” (para physin) he is referring back to the creation account and the good intention that God had for flourishing male and female relationships. We see this, in part, because Paul uses the relatively unusual words thelys for females and arsen for males that are used in Genesis 1:27 (LXX). Paul is not referring to those who go against their natural sexual orientation.
Third, Paul is not addressing pederasty in this passage. Paul refers to homosexual acts in general. Further, Paul refers to homosexual females acting contrary to nature and there is no evidence that women and young girls engaged in homosexual sex in the Hellenistic world. So, clearly the problem Paul is condemning is not pederasty because it seems there was no lesbian form of pederasty at that time. We could also look at the parallels between idolatry and homosexuality that Paul makes in Romans and see that Scripture prohibits homosexual practice.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and 1 Timothy 1:9-10
Some believe that what Paul condemns in these verses is exploitative sex. This view is problematic for a number of reasons. First, “Paul could have used the more technical term paiderastes (a pederast) if he had intended to restrict his comments to exploitative sex.” Also the term Paul uses in these verses is a new word, perhaps one Paul coined himself. It clearly connects to Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 where, as we have seen, homosexual practice is condemned.
Second, Paul is clearly not just condemning the active predatory person, he is also condemning the passive person. The problem that Paul is addressing is not just pederasty, it is homosexuality in general. This should not be surprising because as we have seen homosexuality was seen as unnatural and against God’s design from the beginning.
The Takeaway from the Texts
After very briefly looking at the most important texts regarding homosexuality it seems clear that the Bible condemns homosexual practice as abhorrent. As P. Michael Ukleja has said: “Only towering cynicism can pretend that there is any doubt about what the Scriptures say about homosexuality. The Bible has not even the slightest hint of ambiguity about what is permitted or forbidden in this aspect of sexual conduct.”
What if I am a Homosexual?
You likely still have questions. Perhaps you are wondering: “If God made me this way or made my friend that way—with sexual desire for people of the same sex—then why does He say it is wrong to act on those desires?”
That’s an important question. I believe Scripture very adequately addresses this and similar questions. As we have seen, the Bible explains the curse brought upon the world because of sin. The world is not now in alignment with God’s intended design. We feel the effects of sin in our body as well as our being. We are sinners that sin and we are sinned against. We have proclivities that are not in line with the flourishing of society.
I, for one, am attracted to women (pl.) and yet I am married to a singular woman. I also have the tendency, bent, disposition, because of innumerable factors (nature, nurture, etc.) to be angry and act out in anger. If I left myself unchecked and just did whatever I felt like, I, sad to say, would be an abusive adulterer. Something that would not be good for me, my wife, my children, or society. So, even if I am by nature a genetic abusive adulterer, I do not think that is morally acceptable.
We all have many dispositions—selfishness, pride, boastfulness, and so forth—but that does not make those things right, even if natural. If we want to just say that everyone should just do whatever their genetic disposition has given them, then we should just do away with the penal system and society in general. For what, in that line of thought, would allow us justification to suppress any inner “natural” desire? Some worldviews say we are mere animals and we should simply live according to our desires. This view, however, is very problematic; for one reason, our desires can be very wrong.
The logic that says homosexuality is fine because people have a disposition towards it is faulty. It is a non sequitur, it does not follow. People have all sorts of dispositions. But that does not make it morally acceptable.
So, there may be “genetic homosexuals” that are not practicing homosexuals. I myself
am a “genetic adulterer,” yet, by God’s empowering grace, I am not a practicing adulterer. Sexual fulfillment is not everything. Humans can live fulfilled lives even if they do not indulge every temptation.
Sex is not Everything
Sex is sacred. At least that is what the Bible says. Much of society does not communicate that truth. It is a good and precious thing that God says sex is sacred. The Bible is not prudish. The Bible is not bashful about sex. It has a whole book (Song of Solomon) that spends a lot of time celebrating sex. The Bible, far from being against sex, gives us designer sex; sex as God—the Designer—intended it. So, it is not a bad thing that God gives us (normative and objective) instruction about sex.
Scripture and society at large have two different perspectives on sex and sexual ethics. The Bible says sex matters deeply. Whereas from a secular perspective, sex does not matter that much and is certainly not sacred. It is just a way to propagate genes or kill some time.
These differing views lead to vastly different places. If people think life and identity are about sex then they will miss out on the bodies’ teleological (or ultimate) function and people will be left vying for fulfillment. This is the case because “The body is not meant for sexual immorality [misunderstanding of the bodies telos], but for the Lord [correct telos], and the Lord for the body” (1 Cor. 6:13).
God is not being selfish or unloving when He gives us a sexual ethic. God knows our telos! He knows the end or goal for which all things were created, He knows the goal of why we have been created. And we were not just created for sex (as good as sex is). We were created for the Lord and so we will not find ultimate satisfaction in sex but ultimately only in loving a relationship with God.
God is not a cosmic killjoy. Truly, we find that God has our best in mind. He wants us to appropriately enjoy the many good things He made (e.g. the earth, other human beings, grapes, and what can be created from grapes). As the Supreme and Glorious Creator of the universe, however, He also knows, in the words of Augustine that “our hearts are restless until they rest in Him.” Or as Blaise Pascal said, we have an infinite hole that can only be filled by the infinite; namely, only by God Himself.
God as the good and all-wise God knows how things are to function (He is able to tell us what ought to be). So, when He tells us, we should listen, whether we like it or not. God, as the Creator and Designer of all things, knows what He is talking about. Sometimes instructions don’t make sense to us (e.g. a GPS, Lego instructions, or cooking recipes) but we are still wise to listen to them. It makes sense for us to listen to God even when we are unsure of why we are supposed to do what we are supposed to do. We can trust that God knows the “recipe,” the telos of all things.
When we are tempted to think that God is a cosmic killjoy, we can look to the cross and remember the goodness of God and trust Him even when we may not want to. God has all knowledge. Even though we are smart and can write codes for computers and land on the moon etc., God made our minds, the moon, and a million other things we cannot fathom.
So, are our bodies for sex? Is that the purpose for which we have bodies? Nope. I do not think so. That is not our bodies’ complete or ultimate purpose. Actually, if you were to ask me, I think this is a biological and empirical reality. If our bodies were just made for sex (as is often communicated via media; e.g. a number of Snapchat stories), it seems our bodies would be a lot different. No matter what we think about the empirical “evidence,” God clearly says: “Nope. Sex is good and all, but your body is not just made for sex. It’s made for something much better, long-lasting, and fulfilling. It is made for Me” (see 1 Cor. 6:13).
Thus, sex is not everything. Our identities are not based on or grounded in sex. Virgins and those who are sexually inactive can (and do!) live fulfilled lives! Jesus was the most satisfied person that ever lived.
As I said at the beginning, I believe Scripture clearly prohibits homosexual practice regardless of ones disposition because homosexuality is contrary to God’s good design. This is an unpopular conclusion and difficult for many people to hear. Yet, as Kevin DeYoung has said, “We must not soft-pedal as no big deal what the Bible underlines as particularly egregious rebellion… It is no little mistake in God’s eye to encourage and support what harms our fellow creatures and dishonors our Creator.”
God is good. He designed an amazing world. Yet, the world is fallen and cursed and its residents are in rebellion. Yet, God is faithful and forgiving and He wants us and the world to flourish. So, He provides instruction. Yet, more than instruction He provided His Son so that all who turn to Him can live and have abundant life.
I know your situation is not easy. I am sorry it is so hard for you. But I encourage you, go to Christ, cling to Christ. And I encourage you to be in a community that loves Christ, points you to Christ, and welcomes you with the love of Christ.
. “Sex matters because it involves one’s whole self. It is a uniquely holistic act that provides the closest analogue we have for God’s own intimacy within the Trinity and our spiritual union with God…. Sex is unique because it reaches closer to our core than anything else” (Jonathan Grant, Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age [Brazos Press: Grand Rapids, 2015], 154).
. See Gregory Koukl, Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 78.
. We all stumble in many ways, as James 3:2 says. And as Romans 3:23 says, all have fall short of the glory of God.
. Following Jesus must lead to compassion and charity and where it does not, Jesus is not being followed. The violence and abuse that homosexuals have suffered is deeply disturbing and sad. The Christian worldview is wholly opposed to such heinous acts.
. As Robert Gagnon has said, “We all struggle to properly manage our erotic passions” (Robert A. J. Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001], 31).
. Many people struggle with the morality that the Bible presents. D.A. Carson has said, “Many Christians slide away from full confidence in the trustworthiness of Scripture for reasons that are not so much intellectual as broadly cultural” (Carson, “Subtle Ways to Abandon the Authority of Scripture in Our Lives” in Themelios 42.1 (2017), 1). Vern Poythress writes, “Modern worldviews are at odds with the worldview put forward in the Bible. This difference in worldviews creates obstacles when modern people read and study the Bible. People come to the Bible with expectations that do not fit the Bible, and this clash becomes one main reason, though not the only one, why people do not find the Bible’s claims acceptable” (Vern Sheridan Poythress, Inerrancy and Worldview: Answering Modern Challenges to the Bible [Wheaton: Crossway, 2012], 14).
. So, John Frame shows “non-Christian ethics is incapable of providing a basis for moral decisions” (John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life (Phillipsburg, New Jersey, 2008], 131). Jeff Myers and David A. Noebel point out that “Understanding our obligation to God is the only thing that gets us past relativism” (Understanding the Times: A Survey of Competing Worldviews [Summit Ministries: Colorado Springs, CO, 2016], 247). They go on: “‘We should never forget,’ Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his letter from Birmingham jail, ‘that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal’” (Ibid.). Kruger says, “Logic, science, and morality make no sense within the non-Christian worldview. For example, how can the atheist justify and explain the origin and universal applicability of moral absolutes? He simply cannot. Consider philosopher William Lane Craig as he explains the impossibility of moral absolutes in an atheist worldview: If there is no God, then any ground for regarding the herd morality evolved by homo sapiens as objectively true seems to have been removed. After all, what is so special about human beings? They are just accidental by-products of nature which have evolved relatively recently on an infinitesimal speck of dust lost somewhere in a hostile and mindless universe and which are doomed to perish individually and collectively in a relatively short time. Some action, say incest, may not be biologically or socially advantageous and so in the course of human evolution has become taboo; but there is on the atheistic view nothing really wrong about committing incest. If, as Kurt states, ‘The moral principles that govern our behavior are rooted in habit and custom, feeling and fashion,’ then the non–comformist who chooses to flout the herd morality is doing nothing more serious than acting unfashionably” (Michael J. Kruger, “The Sufficiency of Scripture in Apologetics,” 83n35 in The Master’s Seminary Journal, Vol. 12, No. 1, Spring 2001).
. “Individual scientists, stepping beyond their professional bounds, may declare homosexual orientation positive, normal, and legitimate, but such science cannot make this judgment. Such judgments are the domain of religion, theology, and philosophy” (Stanton L. Jones, “Same-sex Science: The Social Sciences Cannot Settle the Moral Status of Homosexuality” in First Things). Frame points out, referencing G. E. Moore and David Hume, that “one cannot deduce ought from is. That is to say, from premises about what is, about factual observations, you cannot deduce conclusions about what you ought to do… Facts from nature do not carry with them moral obligations… One may deduce moral conclusions from moral facts, but not from nonmoral facts” (Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, 60. 61). We need something outside sense experience and empirical reality to tell us what we should do. We need knowledge that can only be obtained through revelation. We cannot possibly know the consequences of all our actions. We need an omniscience person. Thankfully God does know all and He tells us all we need to know to live lives that are pleasing to Him (2 Pet. 1:3).
. Without an objective moral standard, we are left without any ultimate standard of what is morally right and just. Humanity is left to do whatever is right in their own eyes. To adapt Ivan Karamazov’s words from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s book The Brothers Karamazov: If there is no objective truth, everything is permitted. If there is no objective standard of truth then it follows that morality is subjective and thus there is no ultimate reason to say that anything is objectively morally wrong. This type of freedom is appealing in some ways but as G.K. Chesterton said, “By rebelling against everything [modern man] has lost his right to rebel against anything” (Gilbert K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy [New York: John Lane Company, 1908], 74). And so it is, if we say there is no truth and no morality we cannot then criticize the actions of others (no matter what they do), because truth and morality do not exist. So, we are left with an uncomfortable dilemma. If this is the case—if there is no objective standard for morality—then all sorts of vile atrocities follow. Who is to say that genocide is morally wrong, for example?
. “The sad truth is that when the world and its people simply become things apart from God, they inevitability lose their dignity and depth. They become mere objects or resources for us to use as we see fit” (Grant, Divine Sex, 119).
. When God gave the Decalogue, He gave it within the story of redemption. God said: “I am the LORD [note the covenant name] your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Ex. 20:2; Deut. 5:6). So, we see God’s commands are not abstract. They are connected to God’s character. We see at the beginning of the giving of the Ten Commandments that God is good. He is powerful. And He is a gracious deliverer. This is important. A command sheared of its context leads to callused hearts and moral catastrophe.
. “Human sinfulness is an abominable breach in the meaningful fabric of the universe, the active increasing of a kind of mysterious black hole in the evaluative center of human life, the heart…. Humans are born with a psychopathological condition that the Bible calls ‘sin’” (Eric L. Johnson, Foundations of Soul Care: A Christian Psychology Proposal [Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2007], 462).
. “God has the right to tell me what to do. And he has the knowledge necessary always to understand what I should do—what is best for me and the world” (Andrew T. Walker, God and the Transgender Debate: What does the Bible Actually Say About Gender Identity [The Good Book Company, 2017], 43).
. “God loves people and wants them to come to the wholeness and joy for which they were made. His prohibitions are not the house rules of a sadistic and capricious Deity who mocks mankind by tormenting him with desires and then forbidding him from doing anything about them” (P. Michael Ukleja, “Homosexuality and the Old Testament,” 259 in Bibliotheca Sacra 140:559 (Jul 83). “If there weren’t consequences to sexual sin, it seems unlikely that God would forbid it. He is a gracious God, not capricious, definitely not malicious, and amazingly kind and generous. Directly rebelling against His wisdom, doing nothing about it, and then expecting there to be no consequences is worse than calling God a liar; it is calling Him a pleasure-killing, malicious liar” (Gary Thomas, The Sacred Search: What If It’s Not about Who You Marry, But Why? [Colorado Springs: David C Cook, 2013], 190).
. Frame says, “If human reason is autonomous, the God of the Bible does not exist, for his very nature as the Creator excludes the autonomy of his creatures. And in fact nothing at all can be validated by autonomous reason, for as we have seen, such reasoning leads to a rationalist-irrationalist dialectic, which destroys all knowledge” (John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God (Grand Rapids: P&R Publishing, 2010), 20).
. “An essential aspect of Christian vision involves understanding that the nature of true reality, so that our sexual formation is embedded in and grows out of our metaphysics” (Grant, Divine Sex, 151).
. Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 471.
. Ibid., 472-73.
. Stephen E. Gilman, Susan D. Cochran, Vickie M. Mays, Michael Hughes, David Ostrow, and Ronald C. Kessler, “Risk of psychiatric disorders among individuals reporting same-sex sexual partners in the National Comorbidity Survey” in American Journal of Public Health (July 2001). “Homosexuals experience significantly higher rates of alcohol and drug abuse, major depression, and thoughts of suicide and suicide attempts” (Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 475).
. Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 181.
. Notice also that Paul says in 1 Cor. 6:18 that part of what is problematic about sexual sin is that it is sin against our own bodies. Paul says, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” So, we would expect that sin against our own bodies would bring negative ramification with it. This is in part because when we sin sexually we are literally launching a neurochemical war against our mental reasoning (Thomas, The Sacred Search, 187). Also see William M. Struthers, Hardwired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009).
. See Stanton L. Jones, “Same-sex Science: The Social Sciences Cannot Settle the Moral Status of Homosexuality” in First Things. Gagnon says, “Higher rates of substance abuse may be related to the same obsessive, compulsive, or addictive needs for self-soothing that made same-sex intercourse an appealing form of sexual expression in the first place. Higher rates of depression and suicide attempts are probably exacerbated by the inherent deficiencies of same-sex unions, and not just by societal opposition to such unions” (Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 475).
. Frame has said, “There are also pragmatic reasons to avoid homosexuality. As I have said, the godly life is the good life. People who follow God’s ways receive earthly blessings and those who disobey suffer curses” (Frame, DCL, 759).
. D. Montoya, “Homosexuality and the Church,” 165 (in TMSJ 11/2 [Fall 2000]) and see John Murray, Principles of Conduct (London: The Tyndale Press, 1957), 80. “Homosexuality in general is contrary to God’s created order” (Thomas R. Schreiner, “A New Testament Perspective on Homosexuality,” 64 in Themelios 31 , 62-75). Josephus and Philo both condemned homosexuality and argued that it was contrary to nature (Schreiner, “A New Testament Perspective on Homosexuality,” 65. Schreiner cites Josephus, Antiq. 1.200-201; Ag.Ap. 2.199; Philo, Spec. Laws 1.325; 2.50; 3.37-42; Abr. 135-37; Cont. Life 59-62).
. “Religious homosexual people… attempt to reinterpret the religious scripture on which the condemnation of homosexuality is based in order to be able to live a decent religious and homosexual life” (Udo Schuklenk and Tony Riley, “Homosexuality, Societal Attitudes Toward,” 602 in Encyclopedia of Applied Ethics Vol. 2 [San Diego: Academic Press, 2012]).
. For example, John J. McNeill says, “The sin remains primarily one of inhospitality” (The Church and the Homosexual [Boston: Beacon Press, 1993], 49). Yet see Andreas J. Kostenberger, God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 201-05, Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 71-91, and Kevin Deyoung, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015), 33-38.
. Notice that Romans 1 shows that homosexuality is a fruit of a deeper heart issue. It seems Sodom and Gomorrah as a society were reaping a whole host of bad fruit. So, homosexuality is not the only thing condemned. Surely God hates gang rape. In reference to Sodom and Gomorrah both Philo and Josephus cite “arrogance, inhospitality to strangers, gluttony, drunkenness, and adultery” (Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 91).
. Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 91.
. “Some claim that the text only speaks against cult prostitution here, but in these two verses in Leviticus there is no reference to cultic activity” (Schreiner, “A New Testament Perspective on Homosexuality,” 63 in Themelios 31/3 see D. Patrick Ramsey, “Is the Bible Ambiguous about Homosexuality?” 3 in Reformed Perspectives Magazine Vol. 7, Num. 32, Kostenberger, God, Marriage, and Family, 206, and Murray, Principles of Conduct, 81).
. However, even if the purpose was condemnation of cult prostitution: “When the biblical authors rejected homosexual cult prostitutes… they were in effect rejecting the whole phenomenon of homosexual practice. They were repudiating a form of homosexual intercourse that was the most palatable in their cultural context. If they rejected that particular form of homosexual practice, how much more other forms? Certainly the prohibition against cross-dressing in Deut 22:5 puts this beyond doubt (any obscuring of male-female sexual differences is ‘an abomination [tôcēbâ] to Yahweh)’” (Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 109).
. Gagnon points out that “all the laws in Lev 18:6-23; 20:2-21 legislate against forms of sexual behavior that disrupt the created order set into motion by and God of Israel. Each of the laws has as its intent the channeling of male sexual impulses into a particular pattern of behavior, a pattern conducive to the healthy function of a people set apart to serve God’s holy purposes” (Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 136).
. See Gagnon’s summary on page 157.
. Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 227.
. See Schreiner, “A New Testament Perspective on Homosexuality,” 65. “If God wanted to establish a world in which the normative marital and sexual relationship is that between persons of the opposite sex, Genesis 1-2 fits perfectly… First, the way in which the woman was created indicates that she is the man’s divinely designed complement… Second, the nature of the one-flesh union presupposes two persons of the opposite sex… Third, only two persons of the opposite sex can fulfill the procreative purposes of marriage… Fourth, Jesus himself reinforces the normativity of the Genesis account… Fifth, the redemptive-historical significance of marriage as a divine symbol in the Bible only works if the marital couple is a complementary pair” (DeYoung, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality, 26-32).
. Frame has said, “In Ephesians 5:22-33, the difference between man and woman is crucial to the meaning of marriage. The man (so very inadequately) represents Christ, and the woman represents the church. The church must never be confused with Christ. But in homosexuality, there is no such distinction. Between partners. Although one partner may be more passive than the other, there is no clear distinction between husband and wife, between bridegroom and bride. Ultimately, the roles are interchangeable. But symbolically, this suggests that God and man are interchangeable. And that notion is not only wrong, but the root of all sin—the primal heresy” (Frame, DCL, 759).
. Denny Burk, “Is Homosexual Orientation Sinful,” 95 in Jets 58/1 (2015). He goes on to say, “Homosexual conduct is by definition contrary to the norm of marriage and is therefore sinful. This truth is taught in many texts, including Lev. 18:22, 20:13; Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; Eph. 5:21-33; and 1 Tim. 1:10” (Ibid.).
. “Jesus and Paul look back without exception to the pre-fall monogamous union of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 as the norm of human sexuality and marriage” (Denny Burk, “Why Evangelicals Should Ignore Brian McLaren: How the New Testament Requires Evangelicals to Render a Judgment on the Moral Status of Homosexuality,” 224 in Themelios 35:2 (2010): 212-26). “Homosexuality is at odds with God’s design for marriage and the family at its most foundational level… A second component of the biblical model of marriage that homosexuality violates is its complementary nature… A third component of God’s design for marriage and the family that homosexuality does not fulfill is the duty to procreate” (Kostenberger, God, Marriage, and Family, 200).
. See Matt. 19:5; Mk. 10:7-8; 1 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 5:31.
. Schreiner, “A New Testament Perspective on Homosexuality,” 65.
. We also see that this type of union is not ultimate and does not last forever (Matt. 22:30). There is something much better that it points us to (cf. Eph. 5).
. Notice Paul was writing to a group of Christians. He was not speaking to those who did not believe. His approach likely would have been different if he was writing to a different group. Paul would appropriately adjust the way he spoke depending on who he was speaking to (there are many examples of this). We must do so as well. We must not model the tone of our conversations with homosexuals on Romans. Rather, we should go to John 4 and look at how Jesus talked to the Samaritan woman. God’s truth is normative but the way in which we speak is situational and needs to be guided by the Holy Spirit.
. John Boswell says, “The persons Paul condemns are manifestly not homosexual: what he derogates are homosexual acts committed by apparently heterosexual persons… It is not clear that Paul distinguished in his thoughts or writings between gay persons (in the sense of permanent sexual preference) and heterosexuals who simply engaged in periodic homosexual behavior… Paul did not discuss gay persons but only homosexual acts committed by heterosexual persons” (Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in western Europe from the beginning of the Christian era to the fourteenth century [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015], 109).
. Robin Scroggs argues this in The New Testament and Homosexuality: Contextual Background for Contemporary Debate (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983) but see James B. DeYoung, “The Meaning of ‘Nature” in Romans 1 and its Implications for Biblical Proscriptions of Homosexual Behavior” in JETS 31/4 (December 1988), 429. Still others argue using a “trajectory hermeneutic.” These interpretations do not work for various reasons.
. Schreiner, “A New Testament Perspective on Homosexuality,” 62. Burk has said that Paul “simply carries forward into the New Covenant the sexual norm of his Jewish tradition” (Burk, “Why Evangelicals Should Ignore Brian McLaren: How the New Testament Requires Evangelicals to Render a Judgment on the Moral Status of Homosexuality,” 224 in Themelios 35:2 (2010): 212-26). “It is vital in reading the NT to recall that Jesus and all the writers of the NT are heirs of the Jewish tradition, and the Jewish interpretive tradition regularly, and without exception, indicted homosexuality” (Schreiner, “A New Testament Perspective on Homosexuality,” 65).
. Schreiner, “A New Testament Perspective on Homosexuality,” 64. Schreiner references Wis. 14:23-27; T. Levi 17:11; Sib. Or. 3.596-600. See also John Chrysostom who wrote Homilies on Romans around AD 391.
. “para physin occurred commonly in Hellenistic Jewish usage to speak of that which was against the divine design” (Montoya, “Homosexuality and the Church,” 160).
. Schreiner, “A New Testament Perspective on Homosexuality,” 66.
. Ibid., 67-68.
. “It is important to emphasize here that homosexual sin is not singled out because homosexuals are particular egregious sinners… Paul probably focuses on homosexuality at this point because it mirrors idolatry. In other words, both idolatry and soft-pedal relations distort what human beings were made to do” (Schreiner, “A New Testament Perspective on Homosexuality,” 66). Gagnon says, “In the case of idolatry and same-sex intercourse Paul emphasized their self-degrading character” (The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 267). Later he says, “The key parallel is absurd denial of natural revelation in one’s worship of God and intercourse with other humans” (Ibid., 268).
. There are many other verses that highlight the holy life that God calls His people to. God’s will is that we be set apart, that we not take part in sexual immorality (this includes a lot of things); that we instead control our bodies in holiness and honor, and not act like we do not know God (1 Thess. 4:3-5 cf. Rom. 13:13; 1 Cor. 6:18, 7:2; Eph. 5:3; 1 Pet. 2:11; 4:2) and His amazing goodness, wisdom, and love.
. Schreiner, “A New Testament Perspective on Homosexuality,” 71.
. The Greek word arsenokoitai is a combination of male (arsen) and bed (koite) and thus seems to mean “bedding a male.” So, it clearly refers to general homosexuality. See James B. DeYoung, “The Source and NT Meaning of Arsenokoitai, with Implications for Christian Ethics and Ministry” in TMSJ 3/2 (Fall 1992) 191-215.
. Also important, it seems that the early church believed homosexual practice was sinful and not compatible with Christian morality (see e.g. Tertullian’s Apology, ch. 46; Apocalypse of Peter, v. 31; Eusebius, Proof of the Gospel 4:10) so as we look at the NT texts that is something important to consider.
. P. Michael Ukleja, “Homosexuality and the Old Testament,” 259 in Bibliotheca Sacra 140:559 (Jul 83). Regarding the biblical passages that address homosexuality, Frame says, “There is not a hint in Scripture itself that these verses teach anything other than their apparent meaning” (Frame, DCL, 758). “Same-sex intercourse is strongly and unequivocally rejected by the revelation of Scripture. Arguments put forward by advocates of homosexuality to undermine the contemporary relevance of Scripture are weak… Scripture rejects homosexual behavior because it is a violation of the gendered existence of male and female ordained by God at creation” (Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 487). Of course, there are those who disagree. Boswell, for instance, has said, “The New Testament takes no demonstrable position on homosexuality” (Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, 117). But, based on what we have seen, what he said is clearly unfounded.
. Many studies, for instance, show that many drug addicts, whether meth, heroin, or cocaine, have a genetic disposition to drug addiction. We do not however say, or most do not say, that drug addiction is okay. Why? Many would say because it harms the body and harms society. Just because someone has a disposition for something does not justify that disposition.
. “It is universally acknowledged that not every innate urge should receive societal (let alone divine) approbation” (Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 181). “Not every impulse we experience should be indulged in” (Walker, God and the Transgender Debate, 66).
. “Innateness has nothing to do with normality. Many diseases, for example, are genetically determined. But we don’t consider Tay-Sachs or sickle-cell anemia to be ‘normal’ conditions, let alone to possess some ethical virtue. Nor do we consider alcoholism or XYY anti-social behavior to be normal and acceptable” (Frame, The DCL, 262).
. “Inability to change behavior is never a reason to condone such behavior” (Montoya, “Homosexuality and the Church,” 167). “Even if some sins could be traced to our genetics, it would not exempt us from responsibility for such sins” (Schreiner, “A New Testament Perspective on Homosexuality,” 72).
. “A pervasive understanding is settling into Western culture that homosexual orientation, indeed any and all sexual orientations, has been proven by science to be a given of the human person and rooted in biology” (Jones, “Same-sex Science” in First Things).
. There is so much I sadly cannot cover here but when talking to people who are struggling we must communicate that we all have sins that we struggle with (James 3:2; 1 Jn. 1:8). We must also communicate that there is help and hope. Hebrews tells us that Jesus can sympathize with our weaknesses. Jesus is understanding. Christians must be understanding as well. There are many forces at work that can make curbing sexual desires difficult. Murray says that “Paul takes full account of the potency of the sex urge” (Murray, Principals of Conduct, 64) and I think we should too as we minister to people.
. Actually, the Bible, and even Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, says that is part of what it means to live the good life.
. “Simply put, sex matters. The powerful mating instinct built into the human species, with its enormous potential for both pleasure and pain, consumes an extraordinary amount of our time and energy as we attempt to figure out how to satisfy it and domesticate it, with whom and when, so as to maximize pleasure and minimize pain to ourselves and others. The mating instinct cab be harnessed to build families, contribute to a stable and nurturing society generally, and promote happiness; but it can also destroy these social goods. Consequently, much is at stake on nearly any issue involving sexual ethics” (Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 25-26).
. Society has an illogical double standard when it comes to sex. On one hand, society says sex is a disposable commodity that has no intrinsic worth whatsoever. On the other hand, sexual fulfillment is one of the most important things for our society. It is ironic that many live as though sex is everything and sexual fulfillment is what life is about. It is an intrinsic right of humanity to be sexually fulfilled in whatever way they desire. Yet, they also treat sex like eating and give it no significance. I have found Jonathan Grant’s book Divine Sex helpful on this topic.
. In philosophical terms sex is not ultimate but a penultimate goal. Other secondary goals of our bodies include: producing children, work, emotions, love, etc. Sex is great and I thank God for it. But sex is not what life is about. God is what life is about. And soon we shall see Him face to face. Sex is an empty trace of the connection we long for, all the good that we enjoy is a mere pointer. Truly, what we as humans “crave more than anything else is to be intimately close to the God who made us” (Thomas, Sacred Marriage, 24).
. Notice the teleology in biology for example; e.g. the heart and kidney function. Also, notice that the function of the kidneys was not always apparent in the past but that does not mean that it did not have a function. In the same way, we may not understand the function of heterosexual monogamy (or like or agree with it) but that does not change the importance of its correct function. We do not decide biological teleology (see “Teleonomy“) or moral teleology either. But that does not change the way the world works, morally or biologically. There is a certain way we are supposed to function. The heart’s teleology is to pump blood, and when it doesn’t function according to that telos there are deathly results. In the same way, being faithful to my wife can be difficult but the telos of marriage is faithfulness and when marriage does not function according to its telos there are grave results. This is true on a societal level, on a familial level, and on an individual level (I have seen the devastating results of my own parents’ divorce because of unfaithfulness and I have seen its impact on many close to me as well).
. E.g. some of the Stories on Snapchat: “How To Have Sex With A Girl (By A Girl),” “A Guy’s Guide To Getting Laid This Christmas,” “Kylie Stuns In Naked Bodysuit,” “Gigi is sexy without a stich,” “Why 2016 Is The Year of The Booty,” “Kylie’s 2017 Calendar Is Racy AF,” “Kylie shows her killer curves,” “Bombshell Bodies—Cleavage Included—Are Back!,” “How to Sculpt a Bigger Butt,” “Sex Ed for Hardcore Christians,” “8 Celebs Reveal How They Lost Their Virginities,” “How To Look Good Naked,” “The Secret Love Lives Of Sex Workers,” “Sexy Tips Every Woman Wants You To Know,” “Tyga claws Kylie’s butt,” “The Sex Fact & Fiction Of One-Night Stands,” “What Your Porn Watching Habit Says About You,” and “Does This Potion Turn You Into a Sex God?”
. I think it is important to acknowledge, however, that “Few areas are so given so given to self-deception as the area of sexuality. Where the potential for pleasure is greatest, the potential for clever and self-serving sophistry is also the greatest” (Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 296).
. Those who struggle with homosexual temptation may never marry. That is difficult but it is not insurmountable. Jesus talks about those who chose to be single for the sake of the Kingdom (Matt. 19:11-12) and Paul talks about singles serving God faithfully not in spite of their singleness but in part because of their singleness (1 Cor. 7:17-24). As we consider the issue of singleness it is important that “remember that marital love is not the highest form of love” (Bekah Mason, “Finding My ‘True Self’ as a Same-Sex Attracted Woman” CT Women, June 2017).
. DeYoung, What Does and Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?, 56.
. The church is a gathering of the redeemed. We are made holy. We were not innately holy. The church is a place where those who know they are sick come to the Great Physician (cf. Lk. 5:31). The church is a monopoly of outcasts. It is filled with struggling ex-thieves, ex-drunkards, ex-adulterers, and ex-revilers (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-11).
The church is (or should be!) a welcoming place for all because we have all been welcomed at Jesus’ own expense. Colossians radically says that in the church “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11). The ground is level at the foot of the cross. We may not have the sin problem, but we all have the sin problem. No, all sin does not look the same and does not have the same consequences (cf. 1 Cor. 6:18; Prov. 5:7-14) but it is all sin against a holy God. May we realize that we ourselves are sinners, even “the chief of sinners,” and say with Paul, “by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10). May we not be like the prideful Pharisee that puts himself above others (Lk. 18:11 cf. 13-14).
The loving and reaching grace of our humble and exalted Lord should create communities that transform. When the humbling grace of God courses through the veins of the church, it has a healthy symbiotic effect. It creates welcoming and upbuilding communities.
Tags: 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 1 Timothy 1:9-10, Christian view of sex, creation, designer sex, ethics, gay, homosexuality, Hot Topic, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, Matthew 19:3-6, Modern Issues, Romans 1:24-27, sex, Sodom and Gomorrah, theology of sex
About Paul O'BrienI am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 9 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)
I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 9 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)