28th February 2017

Homosexuality and the Bible


What does the Bible say about Homosexuality?

By Caleb Kaltenbach

The book, Messy Grace, frequently emphasises the importance for Christians to extend grace to people in the LGBT community. That’s the whole point of Messy Grace. Yes, we have to be willing to get messy. Yes, we need to pursue others in love, not hate. And yes, we are to demonstrate the compassion and love of Christ. But we must complete the context of Messy Grace by looking at the other side. The truth side.

We should speak with confidence and forthrightness whenever we are faced with an opportunity to talk about what the Bible says on the topic of homosexuality. Sharing the truth in love is important but we should never change it to make it more fascinating for the current culture. We don’t have to water it down, modify or apologise for it. It’s our responsibility to understand and share the truth with graciousness and a refusal to compromise.

“The challenge is living in the tension that exists in the middle of both grace and truth. Yet that is exactly where we are called to live if we are going to speak truth to our loved ones.”

— Caleb Kaltenbach

When we wrestle with the tension of grace and truth, we typically either go all the way to the grace side, where everything is deemed acceptable, or we go all the way to the truth side, where we speak truth and have no love. The challenge for us is living in the tension that exists in the middle of both grace and truth. Yet that is exactly where we are called to live if we are going to speak truth to our loved ones.

The male-female relationship

At the beginning of the Bible, we read that God created Adam first and then Eve. Then we see how God orchestrated the first marriage between these two:

For Adam, no suitable helper was found. Genesis 2:20-2420 He gave names to all the livestock, all the birds of the sky, and all the wild animals. But still, there was no helper just right for him.21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep. While the man slept, the Lord God took out one of the man’s ribs(Or took a part of the man’s side.) and closed up the opening. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib, and he brought her to the man.23 “At last!” the man exclaimed.“This one is bone from my bone, and flesh from my flesh!She will be called ‘woman,’ because she was taken from ‘man.’”24 This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.This sets the precedent for what God has established as an acceptable sexual relationship. Now, there are those who see this story as theological fiction, not real history, and so they may resist drawing too strong a conclusion from it. Yet, isn’t it interesting that Jesus himself quoted this passage and seemed to take it seriously as history Matthew 19: 4– 5“Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” Jesus replied. “They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.’(Gen 1:27; 5:2)” And he said, “‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’(Gen 2:24)Mark 10: 6– 8But ‘God made them male and female’  (Gen 1:27; 5:2)from the beginning of creation. ‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, (Some manuscripts do not include and is joined to his wife) and the two are united into one.’ (Gen 2:24) Since they are no longer two but one,The apostle Paul seemed to take this as a real event as well, referring to Adam as a historical person Romans 5:12-21Adam and Christ Contrasted12 When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. 13 Yes, people sinned even before the law was given. But it was not counted as sin because there was not yet any law to break. 14 Still, everyone died—from the time of Adam to the time of Moses—even those who did not disobey an explicit commandment of God, as Adam did. Now Adam is a symbol, a representation of Christ, who was yet to come.15 But there is a great difference between Adam’s sin and God’s gracious gift. For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ. 16 And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins. 17 For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ.18 Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. 19 Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous.20 God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant. 21 So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.Even if the Adam and Eve story wasn’t a historical fact and we were justified in dismissing it, we would have to realise that a precedent was set through this “metaphorical story”: biblical sexuality is expressed between male and female. The same normative pattern of intimacy between a man and a woman is taught elsewhere in Scripture. For example, Paul said in Ephesians 5: 22– 33:22 For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord.23 For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. 24 As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.25 For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. (Greek – washed by water with the word) 27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. 28 In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. 29 No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. 30 And we are members of his body.31 As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” (Gen 2:24) 32 This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. 33 So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Do you see how Paul assumed (No he did not assume Paul took Genesis 2-God’s Creation as the truth) that an intimate relationship is between a man and a woman? Furthermore, Paul clearly communicated a doctrine that intimacy between men and women is a picture of the intimacy Jesus has with his church.

Paul goes further by saying:1 Corinthians 7:15Instruction on MarriageNow regarding the questions, you asked in your letter. Yes, it is good to abstain from sexual relations.(Or to live a celibate life; Greek reads It is good for a man not to touch a woman.) But because there is so much sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband.The husband should fulfil his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfil her husband’s needs. The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife.Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer. Afterwards, you should come together again so that Satan won’t be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

Here, Paul described the male-female relationship and gave advice in marriage. He briefly discussed the role that spirituality plays in the marriage relationship and how God designed the husband and wife to be in an intimate relationship together.When we study the Bible in depth on this matter, we see that it is unified in its teaching that appropriate intimacy is between men and women.

Homosexuality and sin

If intimacy is supposed to be between men and women, then what does the Bible say about homosexuality? Several stories, teaching, moral laws and passages in the Scriptures categorically identify sexual relations between persons of the same gender as sin (which means “missing the mark”).

First, let’s deal with the ancient story that gives us our word ‘sodomy’.We need to be careful with this one. Many Christians have misinterpreted Genesis 19 to mean that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of the sin of homosexuality. Actually, however, God destroyed these cities for a range of sins, as he explained through the prophet EzekielEzekiel 16:49-5049 Sodom’s sins were pride, gluttony, and laziness, while the poor and needy suffered outside her door. 50 She was proud and committed detestable sins, so I wiped her out, as you have seen.(As in a few Hebrew manuscripts and Greek version; Masoretic Text reads as I have seen.)Homosexuality isn’t specifically mentioned here.Nevertheless, the account of this event back in Genesis does say that the men of Sodom were aggressively seeking to have sex with Lot’s visitors (angels who had taken the appearance of human males). Lot called the men’s request a “wicked thing” Genesis 19:7“Please, my brothers,” he begged, “don’t do such a wicked thing.another way of saying it was sinful. Unfortunately, Lot offered an equally wicked thing by suggesting that the men of Sodom take his two virgin daughters. Look, I have two virgin daughters. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do with them as you wish.Let that be a lesson to those of us who think culture can’t negatively influence the thinking of those trying to live for God.Later on in the Old Testament, God says specifically that homosexuality is forbidden. In the context of a whole range of sexual sins, sexual relations between men (and by implication, between women too) is prohibited:Leviticus 18: 2222 “Do not practice homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman. It is a detestable sin.)

Leviticus 20:1313 “If a man practices homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman, both men have committed a detestable act. They must both be put to death, for they are guilty of a capital offence.Other verses in the Old Testament criticise cross-dressingDeuteronomy 22:5“A woman must not put on men’s clothing, and a man must not wear women’s clothing. Anyone who does this is detestable in the sight of the Lord your God.and the homosexual prostitution that was sometimes a part of pagan religion1 Kings 15:1212 He banished the male and female shrine prostitutes from the land and got rid of all the idols his ancestors had made. 1 Kings 22:4646 He banished from the land the rest of the male and female shrine prostitutes, who still continued their practices from the days of his father, Asa.2 Kings 23:7He also tore down the living quarters of the male and female shrine prostitutes that were inside the Temple of the Lord, where the women wove coverings for the Asherah pole

Old Testament vs. New Testament

Now, some people will say the Old Testament prohibition against sex with someone of the same gender is not valid today because we are no longer under the Law. They sometimes use arguments like “So it’s okay for you to eat shellfish, but we can’t define our sexuality however we want? How can you pick and choose what to obey and what not to obey?”

My answer is, it’s not the same thing. When you look in the New Testament, you find that Jesus declared that all foods are clean Mark 7:1919 Food doesn’t go into your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer.” (By saying this, he declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes.)Nowhere in the New Testament, however, does God define acceptable sexuality as being other than between one man and one woman. In fact, the New Testament specifically reaffirms the Old Testament’s position that same-gender sexual activity is not acceptable.The most prominent example is in Romans These verses come in a context where the apostle Paul was giving a historical and theological explanation for human sin and separation from God. Having sex with someone of the same gender is far from being the only sin he cited as an example, but it’s a prominent one:Romans 1:26– 27

26 That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. 27 And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved.Some people in recent years have tried to make the argument that traditional interpreters of this passage have misunderstood the word “natural” here. They claim that whatever intimate relationship you have is natural as long as it is natural to you. So, in this line of thinking, if a same-sex relationship seems natural to you, then what Paul said in Romans 1: 26–27 cannot be applied to your life. It applies only if you are in a relationship that seems unnatural to you.

This view, however, doesn’t hold up. The scholar John Stott explained the Romans 1 passage and said the word “physis” (‘natural’) means “God’s created order”. To act ‘against nature’ means to violate the order which God has established, whereas to act ‘according to nature’ means to behave ‘in accordance with the intention of the Creator.’ Moreover, the intention of the Creator means His original intention.” In other words, Paul was saying that God is the only one who gets to define what is natural and what isn’t. One can clearly see the natural order in Genesis 2: 24, where marriage is identified as being between a man and a woman.Alternatively, some try to reframe Paul’s words here by appealing to the historical context in which Paul was writing. They say that he was referring to homosexual temple prostitution or that he was speaking of abusive relationships rather than monogamous same-sex relationships. Yet Paul never specifically limited his focus. Rather, he seemed to be speaking about same-sex relationships as a whole. If Paul were talking only about a specific type of homosexual relationships, why did he paint a broad sweep of sin in Romans 1:28–32?28 Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. 29 Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarrelling, deception, malicious behaviour, and gossip. 30 They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. 31 They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. 32 They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, tooThose who interpret Romans 1:21-27 as referring only to temple prostitution or something of that nature (and say that it has nothing to do with monogamous LGBT relationships) have to do fancy footwork with the historical context. And if an argument rests mostly on historical context, with little literary context to back it up, we need to be careful about trusting that kind of evidence.Confirming Paul’s view on homosexuality, two other passages in his writings would place sexually active gay men and lesbians listed together with other types of sinners.1Corinthians 6: 911Don’t you realise that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, 10 or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. 11 Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.1 Timothy 1: 8–11We know that the law is good when used correctly. For the law was not intended for people who do what is right. It is for people who are lawless and rebellious, who are ungodly and sinful, who consider nothing sacred and defile what is holy, who kill their father or mother or commit other murders. 10 The law is for people who are sexually immoral, or who practice homosexuality or are slave traders,[a] liars, promise breakers, or who do anything else that contradicts the wholesome teaching 11 that comes from the glorious Good News entrusted to me by our blessed God.The conclusion from all this seems obvious to me. The apostle Paul consistently condemned having sex with someone of the same gender, reinforcing what the Hebrew Scriptures said all along.

A universal truth.Some people dismiss everything the Bible says about homosexuality, by writing it all off as a cultural interpretation that doesn’t apply today. But it’s far safer to let Scripture itself give us clues as to when some practice or prohibition was culturally limited. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul instructed women to keep their heads covered when practising their faith around others, especially men. The words are clear enough on their face, yet Paul didn’t repeat that instruction anywhere else in his writings. Peter, James, and John didn’t deal with it either. This suggests to us that what Paul said about coverings was cultural and limited to a particular time and place. On the other hand, Paul and other writers of the Bible on a number of occasions spoke of how sexual intimacy is between a man and a woman.The fact that all the Bible writers are in agreement on this issue doesn’t make it cultural. Rather, it makes it universal.God defines sexual intimacy between one man and one woman.

Now, I know that you may totally disagree with my conclusion on this matter. You may feel in your heart that if somebody wants to actively be identified as LGBT, then what business is it of ours? I get it. I was once there myself. And I would be the first to say that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. Also, a person’s personal and sexual life is (to some degree) between that person and God.

The thing is, “Ultimately it doesn’t matter what you and think. It matters what God thinks.”

It’s tremendously hard for me to write that people I love have been living in a way that is wrong. After growing up in the LGBT community, believing there’s nothing wrong with homosexuality, and dearly loving people who are still in the gay community, I tremble as I write these words. First, because I don’t want to turn them off. Second, because I fear there are many who know what the Bible says and just don’t care. But I have committed myself to God through Christ, and I have to affirm what GOD affirms.

It doesn’t matter what you and think. It matters what God thinks.

When people study the Bible, they often bring their own presuppositions and biases with them and they see all verses through a certain lens. There are a lot of emotions, history, pain, and more that come attached with the discussion of homosexuality. What I want to ask you to do is to put aside your biases and feelings and just study what the Bible says in its literary and historical contexts. That, I believe, is the way to approach the issue.

If you’re sharp enough, you can interpret the Bible to allow most anything the way you want too. That’s NOT what I’m trying to do. I’m not giving my own personal opinion. If there was anyone who wanted the Bible to agree with my parents’ view of sexuality, it was me! If there was anyone who wanted to massage Greek words, manipulate exegesis, or read into historical context to force the Bible to say what I wanted it to, it was most definitely me!

All I am trying to do is, I’m trying my best to stand on the authority of God’s Word. If you don’t agree with what I’m saying, that’s fine, but please use the Bible and tell me where I am wrong. You should study passages and come up with a firm decision. Look at what the Bible has to say systematically about this issue. I appreciate that people have their opinions, but for those of us who live as disciples of Jesus, feelings alone won’t get you very far. We need to base our opinions on Scripture.

When beliefs change

Many of us believe in Jesus and in the reliability of the Bible. We were taught from a young age what the Bible says about how to live our lives. We know what’s right and wrong. We know what God values. But when it comes to upholding those values, we falter.

It’s not hard to hold to biblical beliefs when we are in the comfort of Sunday school rooms with flannel graphs.But then we get into the world where things are different. We go to schools and jobs where we’re confronted with people who have differing world views on many issues.

It’s so easy to lie about our beliefs, not be truthful, or maybe even change our beliefs. It’s incredibly easy to change when it seems that the entire world is saying that homosexuality is good, natural, loving, and okay. It’s easy to go with the changing tide, and it’s difficult to go against popular belief and be labelled as hateful or bigoted.

Most Christians I know who have changed their view on this tender issue have done so because someone they love came out to them.”(Caleb Kaltenbach)

Many people have friends and family members who have come out to them, and they don’t know what to do. They know what the Bible has to say about actively being in a same-sex relationship, but they don’t know how to reconcile that with their friendships. As a matter of fact, I can bet that most Christians I know who have changed their view on this tender issue have done so because someone they love came out to them.

When people we love come to us and tell us about a part of their life that is out of line with Scripture, we have some choices: We can kick them out of our life. We can ignore it. We can change our beliefs so there’s no tension between us. Or we can keep loving them and hold our beliefs firm.

The last option should always work the best.

We live in a time when we will be called bigots and narrow-minded for holding on to what we believe the Bible says. Just remember that when we live in the tension of grace and truth, there will be times when we side with grace and seem overly gracious. Then when we side with the truth of an issue, those same people who thought we were too gracious may now think we’re too strict. If that seems confusing and maybe even a bit uncomfortable, that means you’re starting to understand how the tension is necessary to walk in and walk harder than simply always siding with grace or truth.

I believe the tension proves that you can’t have real grace without truth, and you can’t have real truth without grace. In this instance, we’re leaning heavily on the truth side.

We can and must hold true to what we believe God’s Word says on any issue, including this one. It is possible to love others and not agree with areas in which they live their life. It is possible to be like Jesus, stay committed to God’s way, and still be a light in their life. There’s no reason believers should change orthodox beliefs on what Scripture says in order to keep a relationship with another person.

Watch true testimonies from people who have personally experienced Messy Grace in their own lives.

hold true to what we believe God’s Word says


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