Homosexuality in the
Christain Church today.
On what grounds are
homosexual acts condemned in scripture? Does this mean there is no good news
for homosexual people in the church today?
As I revisited this article, which I
first wrote 16 years ago, I have pondered the change in society's attitudes towards
homosexuality and gay issues at large. While not wanting to seem condemning in
the manner in which I have approached this essay so long ago, I have to say that
despite the pressure of the current debate over homosexual and gay issues I have
resisted giving way to what I feel is an un-Biblical position. I must therefore
reinforce my original stance on this issue and that is, from a biblical
prospective homosexuality is against the will of God. It is not
what God intended from the beginning.
That being said
I do not see that it is the place for the church to condemn this practice in
the world. We are taught throughout scripture that we must live in the world
however that does not give us the right to openly condemn the practices of the
The teaching is
that we should live in but apart from the world. John 17:15-18, Romans 12:1-2.
We are the body of Christ.
The biblical mandate and the mandate
handed down by Jesus in scripture is that the lifestyle of the homosexual can
only be condemned within the Church itself. This lifestyle is no different from
any other sort of sexual immorality that may be practised by any member of the
church. It is therefore my opinion that all sexual sin should be treated
equally under God and that any person involved in sexual sin should be taught
to recognise the inappropriateness of that sin while trying to achieve a more
Like all sin, it becomes part of our
Christian journey to struggle with and overcome that sin. Not necessarily
meaning that we can all at once depart from our sinful nature but rather, it is
a continuing process that may take a lifetime to achieve.
The purpose of this essay is to provide any biblical
evidence for the condemning of homosexual acts. The evidence if found will be
presented along side some counter arguments to try to give a reasonably fair
treatment of a topic. It is a topic, which in the worst case can produce such
hatred and disgust among some Christians, that it makes one ponder if they truly
have with in them some of the love of Jesus. Especially, that love which he
felt to be part of any Christian experience.
A biblical ethic of the true nature of sexual relations needs
to be given to support the institution of marriage between people of different
sex orientation as the only valid sexual relationship.
Finally, any hope that homosexuals should find within the
church will be discussed and it is hoped that this will overall present a
balanced view of what needs to be found in the church if these people are to
find happiness both physically and spiritually.
To be able to understand the grounds on which homosexuality
is condemned in Scripture it is important firstly to look at the relevant
passages and place them in there proper context. Over time, there have been
those from both inside and outside the church who by reapplying these passages
have tried to make a case for continuing homosexual practices within the
In a world, which is, increasingly seeing clergy charged
with sexual crimes it is becoming paramount that a proper exegesis of these
passages be undertaken to provide a clear sexual and ethical framework with
which to work.
This discussion is focused over several key passages. These
are Genesis 19:1-13, Judges 19, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, Romans 1:18-32, 1
Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:8-11.
These passages show the attitude of the biblical writers to God’s commands for
a pure sexual relationship between man and women. Note: This point will be dealt
As each passage is dealt with, both the argument for and
against homosexuality and its condemnation will be discussed.
Taking them in order, it has been posited that the Genesis
account of Sodom and the later account found in Judges of Gibeah are in fact
not connected with homosexual acts at all.
Clearly, the act of the men of Sodom was so wicked and presented such an
affront to God that he was moved to destroy the city. By a single act of judgement,
he presented to all future generations his attitude to the sin of Sodom.
Traditionally Christians have held that the sin of Sodom was
in fact homosexual practice, which they unsuccessfully tried to impose on the
two angels that Lot was entertaining in him home.
John Stott raises a counter argument on this issue, highlighting that some have
claimed this was not the case at all.
Alan Brash writes, “There is no foundation at all for using
the condemnation of the proposed action in the account of Genesis 19 as a
prohibition of any form of sexual intimacy between consenting adults of the
Brash goes onto claim that no sexual sin was ever connected with the Sodom
The question may be asked how did such differing views of
this passage that on the surface is clearly a condemnation of sexual sin come
about. It would appear that a reapplying of the words used in this passage and
the Gibeah passage of Judges for “know” have been the means to this end. Brash
and other claim that this word is primarily used in the context of “to become acquainted
Thus, the whole of the Sodom and the Gibeah passages are
about improper hospitality.
Brash gives the account of the sparing of the prostitute who had shown proper
hospitality to Joshua’s spies as evidence of hospitality coming before sexual
Likewise, it is said that Isaiah implies that it was
hypocrisy and social injustice, which were the sins of Sodom.
Barlett, not wanting to play down the homosexual nature of
the proposed attack on Lot’s visitors admits this was part of the story but it
was by no means the whole picture. He claims that “to say that the sin of Sodom
was homosexuality alone is to over simplify the story.”
It seems incredulous that the same word would be used in
relation to “knowing” Lot’s visitors and then three verses later be used by Lot
to explain that his daughters had no previous sexual relationships.
The accounts found in Leviticus 18 and 20 have clear
overtones of a condemnation of homosexual practice. Stott refers to these
passages as being part of the “Holiness Code,” designed to challenge the people
of God to obey the covenantal law.
Here are two verses that are with out a doubt referring to homosexual practices
and its consequences. Leviticus 18:22 claims that it is detestable for a man to
lie with a man as one lies with a woman and verse 20:13 proclaims the
punishment for the offence.
Without denying this intricate connection with ritual
cleanliness of which the passages speak, it is important to note, that this
very direct negative attitude to homosexual acts is not discounted. The
homosexual lobby today would declare that because of its cultic nature these
verses are referring to the prohibition against sacred prostitution and as such
have no relevance today as these practises disappeared long ago.
It is clear that the word “abomination” or “detestable” as
it is otherwise translated does have a cultic history; however contained within
its meaning is the implicit idea of unnatural intercourse.
Hugh Montefiore writes that people would either hold that the
Sodom and Gibeah accounts are not about homosexual practise and they are about
hospitality. In addition, the passages in Leviticus are about prohibition of
cultic prostitution. Or, alternatively, that all these passages directly
concerned with homosexual practice while at the same time dealing in their
respective context with other issues such as hospitality and ritual cleanliness.
Barlett writes; there are two features of the Leviticus
passages that can provide a more sympathetic insight into the apparent attitude
of the people.
Firstly, the Holiness Code was compiled to protect the
fabric of Hebrew society, their familial structure as yet being unformed and in
need of a model. This however is not grounds enough to disregard teaching that
has a direct inference as to what is seen as for them the detestable nature of
Secondly, he writes that the Leviticus passages give the
people of Israel a norm on which to define themselves against the other
nations, pointing out that this reaches it zenith in Leviticus 20:26. Here we
see the call to be Holy and separate from the other nations.
Barlett goes onto propose that because Christians follow the
Old Testament model they are encouraged to stand for a strong morality that
stands against the trends of the day.
However, as he rightly goes on to display this is not an open license to allow
the acceptance of homosexuality at large just because it goes against the
morality of the day.
A conclusion can be drawn from the Old Testament evidence in
condemning homosexual acts that those trying to sieve through the gauntlet of
evidence will find that it is not hard to be caught up in an emotional
whirlpool. In addition then, while trying to justify a lifestyle that has
obvious prohibitions from the Old Testament record and at the same time wanting
to express compassion for those enthroned in such a life it can be seen that there
appears to be few if any exit opportunities.
Turning to the New Testament, grounds for the condemnation
of homosexual acts can be found in passages in Romans 1:18-32. Passages such as
this as already mentioned are to be considered. Stott brings home the fact that
all are agreed that it is describing idolatrous pagans of the Graeco-Roman
They were Paul bluntly echoes, suppressing the truth so they could practice their
own wickedness. As a means of judgement, God gives them over to their depraved
minds and practices which includes unnatural sex.
Barlett sees this as Paul trying to convince the Roman
Church of the need to recognise the equality of both Jew and Gentile. Moreover,
that in retaliation to the idolatrous practices of the gentiles, homosexual
practices were sent as a punishment.
Tim Stafford is right is writing that Paul’s topic in Romans 1 is not
just as his topic in Romans 7 is not marriage. However, he is using a biblical
doctrine to convey a greater truth in another context. This however does not
diminish the biblical truth itself; it does however point out a need for a
proper understanding of the intent of the passage.
Stafford believes Paul uses the passage to catch off guard
some pious Jews who are condemning others while forgetting to examine their own
Barlett goes on to propose that what Paul wanted to do in
this passage was to convict the Gentiles of their sin and not certain sexual
Likewise, Stott sums up the arguments for the view of
Barlett and others
1). Paul was unaware of the modern idea of “inverts” (those
having a homosexual disposition) and “perverts” (those who are heterosexually
inclined but indulge in homosexual practices).
2). Paul is portraying the reckless behaviour of people that
God has given up and this has no relevance to committed loving homosexual
The aspect of “invert” and “pervert” will discussed later as the matter of what
good news homosexuals can find in the church is discussed.
Continuing, the next passages in the Pauline corpus that
need to be dealt with are 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-10. Stott
calls these “two ugly lists of sins which Paul affirms to be incompatible in
the first place with the Kingdom of God. And, in the second with either the law
or the gospel.”
W. Harold Mare highlights that in the Corinthian passage
particularly in verse 11 that Paul is saying, this is how the people used to
be. He is pointing out specific kinds of sexually immoral people: the
adulterers (moichoi), the male prostitutes (malakoi) and homosexuals
It can be seen in comparing the differing groups that it is possible to see how
unchristian and sinful their actions were towards one another.
Ralph Earle in his exposition of the one Timothy passage
again highlights the use of the word “arsenokoitais” or male prostitutes by
Paul. He goes a step further is tying its use here with the same word in 1
Corinthians where he writes that it is clearly stated that homosexual offenders
will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
It is this particular sin he writes, for which God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah
and is widely recognised as the major downfall of the Roman empire. He goes on
to state that as much as some try to unfetter themselves from passages such as
these, the evidence speaks for itself. This may be an extreme position
seemingly without any grounds for dialogue and it is attitudes such as these
that reduce those trapped in a homosexual lifestyle from every finding love and
hope in the church.
Gordon Fee brings to the fore that there has been much
discussion over the use of the words “malakoi” and “arsenokoitai.”
The word "malakoi" has the basic meaning of being soft, but with time,
it has become a pejorative epithet for men who were soft and effeminate. For
example those of a younger age who were the passive partner in a pederastic
This was according to Fee the most common form of homosexual relationship in
the Greco-Roman world.
Brash would want to say that Paul should have been cautious
not to take this as a straight condemnation because he was unaware of the
concept of an “invert” or, some one who had a disposition towards this type of
The latter word according to Fee is difficult to translate.
It is a compound word of male and intercourse. The difficulty is over whether
male is the subject or object of verb to have intercourse. Thus is it simply males
who have intercourse, ie. Male prostitutes, or is it intercourse with males,
ie. Homosexual relationships.
Fee concludes that the right translation would appear to fall down on the side
of homosexual relationships in both cases.
This he tempers however, with his understanding of Paul’s words that only those
who persist in these relationships will fail to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.
Donald Guthrie passes over the 1 Timothy passage with hardly
a mention of the debate, merely stating that Paul was obviously referring to
homosexuals because a century later Ephesus was known for it large homosexual
It must however be kept in mind that the list of people who needed restraint is
much larger than just homosexuals alone.
Montefiore draws a positive conclusion for the issue of both Old Testament and
Pauline ethics on homosexuality. His conclusion is that “Paul’s condemnation of
homosexuality must be seen not only as an endorsement of Old Testament law but
also in light of his view of human sexuality. Which, is derived from the
teaching of Jesus?”
Stott concludes on these passages by moving the reader
towards a deeper understanding of the reason why the Christian must condemn
homosexual practices. He rightly concludes that there needs to be not only
detailed exegesis on those passages mention (and any other biblical material
that has relevance) but also an understanding of what was the intended sexual
relationship into which men and women should enter.
The question is then! What was the relationship intended by
God between man and women? The Genesis account of creation highlights the
equality of the sexes, showing the intimate way in which they are given
stewardship of the earth. Genesis chapter 2 affirms the complementary nature of
the relationship between the sexes and this Stott calls the “basis for
What are the reasons for sexual relationships that can put
Firstly, there is what Stott calls “the need for human
companionship,” or as G.C. Meilaender puts it, “the relational purpose of
Genesis 2:18 claims that it is not good for man to be alone
because God has created us as social beings. In the Genesis 2 account, the
reader finds that God provided woman as someone to complement man, and in
relation to whom he will come to know himself.
The two were to come together and become one flesh (Genesis 2:24). This is the
bond used throughout Scripture and it becomes the model for God’s relationship
to his people.
It was with this helper or companion that God pronounced as
suitable for him that man was to join and become one flesh, so that they could
consummate their love and procreate their children.
Secondly, it reveals the divine provision to meet this human
Having stated that a suitable companion for man was not to be found in the
existing creation God created women as a complement for him. Thus, a special
creation was necessary. God thus bought her to him, they were joined, and man
was lonely no more.
Thirdly, from within the account of Genesis 2 there is the
institution of marriage itself. Stott highlights the poem of Adam and points
out how the subsequent verse talks about flesh of my flesh and becoming one
flesh. This highlights the union of man and woman in sexual contact not only
being a union but a reunion of the one flesh. This union or reunion was part of
the procreative process and thus an intricate part of the marriage context.
It would seem then that there are two aspects to human
sexual relationships, love and procreation.
Love is seen as primary, but that love is reflected in the procreative act,
which is expressed through sexual intercourse. This is distinctly human in all
aspects. Without love, the sexual union for procreation would be nothing other
than an animalistic union, which fails to express the place that man and woman
have with in the created order. They were, after all created a little lower
than the angels (Psalm 8). Jesus himself recognised the Old Testament tenant of
marriage in his rebuttal of the hardness of the Pharisees hearts (Mark 10:5).
It is hoped that through this discussion it has been
displayed that beyond other biblical passages that directly condemn homosexual
acts, there is also the evidence that from the beginning of creation that
sexual relations for humans were intended to be of a complementary kind. They
were not intended to be between same sex couples but between those of the
opposite sex and thus fulfilling the command of God himself that the two could
reunite and become once again one flesh.
Well then, what hope or good news is there for homosexuals in
the church today.
The hope for homosexuals today must lie in the love of
Christ expressed through the Church. It is here that clear understanding of
what homosexuality is not is important. There lies a vast gap between those who
would be called “inverts” and those called “perverts.” The invert would be
someone who has a disposition towards homosexuality and a pervert would be
someone who is heterosexual by disposition but submits to lustful acts and
takes part in homosexual acts.
Montefiore writes about homosexuality being a handicap just
like all handicaps and that those involved in the homosexual lifestyle need to
be loved and treated according to the handicap.
He insists that they be given no condemnation but admiration for the way they
accept their handicap.
This may be a simplistic way of describing the problem of dealing with
homosexuals but one has to start somewhere and move away from the condemning
attitudes of the past.
John White writes, that nowhere in Scripture is man or women
condemned for having homosexual feelings but it is the act not the urge that is
to be condemned.
In this way, a homosexual male or female is in the position of responsibility
when it comes to controlling their sexual urges.
The heterosexual who fails to control those urges is in need of forgiveness
just as a homosexual who fails to control their own urges. In other words it is
a two way street. One cannot condemn one act without condemning both. White
goes on to point out that there are homosexual men and women who live a life of
loneliness and chastity as they struggle to live with what life has thrown
Hence, “does the logic of this problem require that
Christians abandon their historic stand on homosexuality and declare to be good
what they have in the past condemned”?
This is the question that William Muehl asks and the answer must be no. What is
needed in especially the church today is toleration tempered with love. Alternatively,
in other words we need to love the sinner and hate the sin.
Many are working successfully in helping homosexual people
find the source of their handicap and reorientate them into a proper
understanding of sexuality, one that is honouring both, to themselves and God. Even
if tomorrow a supposed homosexual gene were to be found, it would have to be a
mutated gene that has changed from the original because of the fall.
In conclusion then, the hope of homosexuals lies within the
church itself. Here there needs to be a change of attitude that allows these
people to live as part of God’s family. At the same time, there needs to be a
firm teaching on the true biblical ethic of sexuality and it must be imparted
in a manner that provides all with(including heterosexuals) the opportunities
to live their lives to the fullest.
Barlett, David, L., “A Biblical Perspective on Homosexuality”,
Homosexuality and the Christian Faith: A Symposium. (Valley Forge;
Bash, Alan, A., Facing Our Differences. (Geneva; WCC
Earle, Ralph, “1 Timothy”, The Expositors Bible Commentary.
12 Volumes (ed. Frank E. Gæbelein: Grand Rapids; Zondervan, 1976).
Fee, Gordon, New International Commentary of the New
Testament. “1 Corinthians”, (Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1987).
Guthrie, Donald, The Pastoral Epistles. (Grand Rapids;
Mare, W. Harold, “1 Corinthians”, The Expositors Bible
Commentary. 12 Volumes (ed Frank E. Gæbelein: Grand Rapids: Zondervan,
Meilaender, G.C., “Sexuality”, New Dictionary of Christian
Ethics and Pastoral Theology. (ed. David J. Atkinson & David H. Field:
Leicester; Inter-Varsity Press, 1995).
Montefiore, Hugh, God Sex and Love. (London; SCM Press,
Muehl, William, “Some Words of Caution”, Homosexuality and
the Christian Faith: A Symposium. (Valley Forge; Judson Press).
Stafford, Tim, Sexual Chaos. (Illinios; Intervarsity
Stott, John, Issues Facing Christians Today. (London;
White, John, Eros Defiled. (Leicester; Inter-Varsity