A Straight Perspective on Gay Rights

What The Bible Doesn't Say About Homosexuality

I can't cover the gamut of Biblical teaching about love, marriage, and sex. There are a lot more passages about tolerance, love, and the availability of God's grace to ALL than there are passages about homosexuality. But somehow, the few passages that seem to be condemnatory are generally the only passages cited any discussions of homosexuality and the Bible. Here, I'll just try to give very brief responses to the classic passages that are generally interpreted to speak against homosexuality, and then refer the reader some of the many books and essays that have been published on the subject. My key themes is: "the Bible isn't as clear as a lot of people think, so we need to take our experienced understanding of homosexual people and relationships into account before use the Bible to pass judgment."

Table of contents:

Genesis 19:1-25 - The Story of Sodom

I won't quote the whole thing. The key lessons are:

  1. Most of us believe that the sin of Sodom is homosexuality; thus the use of the term "sodomy" for certain sex acts. But a careful reading of the story reveals that what we think we know about Sodom isn't part of the story told in the Bible!
  2. There's some question as to whether the mob that wanted to "know" the visitors was demanding to have sex with them (as some biblical interpretations state) or just demanding to "see their credentials" as it were. If the latter is true, then the whole theme of homosexuality in Sodom goes by the wayside. But even if you believe that the crowd is demanding homosexual sex with the visitors, then
    1. The sexual sin described in this passage is "gang rape", "sexual orgies", or at least "lustful sex without regard to relationships or love". There's nothing close to romantic love or committed partnership in that passage, nor are any sex acts described. Clearly, something was wrong in Sodom, and there are reasonable analogies to some heterosexual and homosexual sub-cultures that exist today, but it isn't really reasonable to associate "homosexuality" in general with the story of Sodom.
    2. What should we make of Lot's offer of his virgin daughters? Is the appropriate response to homosexuality to offer virgin girls!?!
Leviticus 18:22
You shall not lie with a man as with a woman; it is an abomination
Leviticus 20:13
If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.
The response: These sound pretty clear and harsh, but they are actually among the easiest passages to deal with. Just read the surrounding chapters and it's pretty clear that there is an awfully long list of acts, such as eating shellfish, wearing clothes made of two fibers, planting two crops in the same field, or being a disobedient child that are "abominations" or deserve death. Mosaic law also calls for a widowed wife to sleep with her husband's brother in an attempt to get pregnant. So, first, it's clear that "abomination" can't be taken quite as literally as one might think, second, we can't meaningfully use the Bible to condemn some of these things but not all, or follow some of these laws but not all.
Romans 1:26-27
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error.
The response:
  • "God gave them up..." Who are "them?" Back up to verse 18, and it's clear that Paul is dealing with people who "do not honor God or give thanks to Him", whose "senseless minds are darkened", who "claiming to be wise.. became fools", who exchanged the glory of God for idols, and so on. So this passage is not describing sincere, conscientious, God-fearing people who are living their lives the best way they can, whether heterosexual or homosexual, and is NOT a blanket condemnation of homosexuality.
  • Think about "exchanging natural use for what is against nature" in the context of people who develop homosexual feelings naturally, or in the context of people who use devices and medications to thwart their natural fertility (or infertility). Which is more against "nature" - romantic love, or artificial birth control, or test-tube conception, or, for that matter, air conditioned houses and cars that destroy the ozone? It seems that the "it's not natural" argument doesn't really wash.?
  • Here's a radical interpretation: men who "gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another" - sounds like guys out playing golf, drinking, or working all hours instead of taking care of their families!
  • Think about the temple prostitutes - both homosexual and heterosexual - of the time. Despite the radical interpretation suggested above, I believe that this passage probably refers to the kind of pervasive sexuality or ritual sexual behavior that was fairly common in Rome at the time. I don't believe that it addresses sex between loving, committed parters, nor that it is a blanket condemnation of homosexuality!
  • Finally, read just couple of more verses, to Romans 2:1: "Therefore you have no excuse, O Man, when you judge one another, for in passing judgment upon him, you condemn yourself." Sounds like a pretty strong mandate for tolerance rather than condemnation!
1 Corinthians 6:9-10
Do not be deceived: Neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers, will inherit the kingdom of God.
1 Timothy 1:9-10
The law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers, fornicators, sodomites, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching
The response:
  • Ambiguity: The two words sometimes translated as "homosexuals" are "malakoi" and "arsenokoitai". Both are rarely used in Greek literature, and almost never in the Bible. In some cases "malakoi" clearly means "soft", with no sexual connotation. In other contexts it might mean "sissies." Arsenokoitai does clearly refer to men in a sexual connotation. It has been translated as "masterbators", "pederasts", "perverts", and "child molesters", and could even mean something like "a man who sleeps around". But whatever it means, it's clear that it refers to men, not to women, and thus can't be a blanket condemnation of "homosexuality" as we understand it.
  • A civil view: Let's say that we gave homosexuals the same marriage rights as people in those two lists. "Robbers and murderers" do frequently get put in jail for a while, but even they, like everyone else on the list EXCEPT HOMOSEXUALS have the right to marry the person of their choosing, and receive the resulting civil benefits. If don't put requirements of fidelity, honesty, or morality on heterosexual marriage, it sure doesn't seem reasonable to pick just that one trait - homosexuality - to exclude people from marriage.
Genesis 2:24.
For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
1 Corinthians 7:1-9
Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.

Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

The response:
  • These two passages don't speak directly about homosexuality, of course, but rather about marriage. They are sometimes used in an argument that the only sexual relationship ordained by God is between a man and a wife. (Interestingly, some commentaries assert that a married couple may not legitimately live with the husband's parents, because, after all, he is to "leave his father ane mother".)
  • The "Adam and Steve" line has always seemed a little irreverent to me. Of course, God DID create "Adam and Steve"; not in the explicit sense of the creation story, but in the sense that homosexuality is natural. (I'll digress into the notion that being "natural" doesn't make it OK. After all, God created cancer and tornadoes and Osama Bin Laden, too; at least in the same sense that he created you and me. I don't believe that homosexuality is OK simply because it's natural; I believe it's OK because, well, I've seen enough positive manifestations of it in good people to overcome concern about the stereotypical things that many people say are wrong with it.)
  • Paul's explanation of marriage is hardly what I'd call an endorsement. To Paul, marriage is evidently just something that people should do in order to have sex. Not to nurture each other and raise children, but just to avoid immorality. He even says that he wishes everyone are as he is. (I'm not sure exactly what he means, but clearly "unmarried" is part of it.) I'm afraid that that doesn't say much for "holy matrimony" and "traditional family values."
  • Another interesting aspect of the supposedly distinct Biblical view of marriage is the exceptions. Several of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob come immediately to mind) were polygamous. If the "commandment" in Genesis to marry one and only one woman didn't apply to them, it certainly can't be considered to apply - as a Biblical commandment - to us. It's certainly a good idea, but evidently not a commandment of God.

A Straight Perspective on Gay Rights
Robin Richmond - www.robinrichmond.com
PFLAG Cleveland - www.pflagcleveland.org
January, 2002