UNCHANGING WITNESS: THE CONSISTENT CHRISTIAN TEACHING ON HOMOSEXUALITY IN SCRIPTURE AND TRADITION, by S. Donald Fortson III and Rollin G. Grams

Published on February 17, 2016 by MMG

B&H, 2016 | 448 pages

Among the many new books on the Bible and homosexuality this new volume makes a distinct contribution: it demonstrates in detail that the from the Old Testament to the first-century Jews to the New Testament to the early centuries of the church, the middle ages, the Reformation, and beyond, the Jews and then the Christian church have unanimously understood Scripture as condemning homosexuality as sinful. On a moment’s reflection this may seem obvious. But given the current “Christian gay” agenda this kind of demonstration has become necessary, and Fortson and Grams have done us a great service in compiling the evidence.

The significance of this consistent “unchanging witness” is overwhelming. For “Christian gays” to claim that homosexual practice is not sinful they are claiming a singular, unique insight into Scripture that goes exactly against the understanding of Scripture shared by the entire church in all its branches for all its centuries. We might be excused for suspecting these contemporary claims as driven by something other than the facts.

Quote & Unquote

From Fortson & Gram, Unchanging Witness

  • Our work refocuses the debate over homosexuality on the real issue. The issue is not, after all, whether the Bible addresses homosexual practice: it does. It is not whether diverse interpretations on this issue have existed in the history of the church: they have not. The issue is, rather, what is authoritative for the church in the formation of its convictions and in its practices. On the issue of homosexual practice, no person or church or group should say that biblical texts mean something other than what the church has said all along because, as we shall demonstrate, both Scripture and the church have clearly and consistently said the same thing. The issue comes down to this: the authority of Scripture and the relevance of the church’s teaching. That is where we wish to leave the matter, for that is the point at which some in the church in the West are dividing from the rest of the church universal, from the teaching of the church in other centuries, and from what must indeed be considered the teaching of all Christians (p.5).
  • Christianity is a tradition. It is a faith with a particular ethos, a set of beliefs and practices handed on from generation to generation. The Christian tradition may be understood as the history of what God’s people have believed and how they have lived based on His Word. This tradition is not only a collection of accepted doctrines but also a set of lifestyle expectations for followers of Christ (p.27).
  • The Italian Renaissance, though noteworthy among gay historians for the proliferation of homosexual practice, was not an era of social toleration of homoerotic behavior. While there is evidence of increased homosexual activity in Florence, it was not condoned by Florentine citizens or the church (p.88).
  • Those who claim to be practicing homosexuals and “Christians” delude themselves. In reality they have left historic Christianity and created a new religion. One cannot legitimately claim Christian faith and simultaneously deny essential teachings of that faith. For a Christian, it is intellectually dishonest to teach “gay is OK” when Christianity has always taught that homosexual practice is sinful (p.163).
  • [“Love” is] far too broad a notion and can be summoned to support all manner of vapid self-indulgence. As already noted, what happens with the criterion of “love” in a culture that highly values “freedom” is that “love” is defined in terms of “freedom.” The “loving thing to do” becomes letting people do what they want to do, as long as the rights of others are not infringed. Like cake batter, love takes the shape of the mold into which it is poured (p.176).
  • Third [“No Gender Deviation from One’s Biological Makeup”], there are texts forbidding gender deviation, that is, a woman acting as a man or a man acting as a woman. From a biblical perspective, gender is not something one feels about oneself but is what one is: one is male because one is a man; one is female because one is a woman.
  • The Old Testament is not a collection of unrelated laws against sexual sin. It articulates an overall understanding of the place for sex: in marriage between one male and one female. Understanding this situates discussion about specific sexual sins within a general understanding of sexual unions (p.201).
  • For a period of about 2,000 years, all Jews everywhere taught that homosexual unions of any sort were sinful and against nature. On this point Christians fully agreed, even as they increasingly became a Gentile church in a culture that permitted homosexual acts of various sorts. Arguments were based on Scripture, for that was the authoritative basis for sexual ethics among both Jews and Christians (p.248).

Table of Contents

Part I: Christian Tradition and Homosexual Practice

Introduction to Part 1
Chapter 1: The Gay Christian Movement

Historic Christianity and Homosexual Practice
Chapter 2: Church Fathers and a Distinct Christian Life
Chapter 3: The Middle Ages and Confessing Sin
Chapter 4: Renaissance and Reformation Confront Immorality

The Modern Church and the Homosexual Crisis
Chapter 5: Roman Catholics and the Orthodox on Historic Faith
Chapter 6: Evangelicals on Scripture and Conversion
Chapter 7: Mainline Denominations and Revisionist Christianity

PART II: The Bible and Homosexuality

Introduction to Part II
Chapter 8: Sexual Ethics in Scripture and the Early Church

Creation and Law: Old Testament Texts and Homosexuality
Chapter 9: The Old Testament Texts Addressing Homosexuality
Chapter 10: Sodom’s Sins
Chapter 11: Homosexuality in the Ancient Near East
Chapter 12: Jewish Views on Homosexuality after Old Testament Times

Creation, the Law, and the Gospel: New Testament Texts and Homosexuality
Chapter 13: The New Testament Texts Addressing Homosexuality
Chapter 14: Law, Holiness, and Purity for God’s People: 1 Corinthians 5–7
Chapter 15: “Soft Men” and “Homosexuals” in 1 Corinthians 6:9
Chapter 16: Homosexual Orientation in Antiquity and in Paul’s Writings
Chapter 17: Paul’s Nature/Creation and Nurture/Law Argument in Romans
Chapter 18: Revisionist Readings of Romans 1:24–28

Conclusion: Orthodox Christian Practice

Excursus: Slavery and Women

An exhaustive and valuable resource. Highly recommended.

Fred G. Zaspel

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Unchanging Witness: The Consistent Christian Teaching on Homosexuality in Scripture and Tradition

B&H, 2016 | 448 pages