About the Author
Kevin DeYoung (MDiv, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) is senior pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan. He blogs at the Gospel Coalition and has authored or coauthored numerous books such as The Hole in Our Holiness, Why We’re Not Emergent, Why We Love the Church (with Ted Kluck), and Crazy Busy.
DeYoung summarizes the Bible’s teaching on homosexual practice. He takes a traditional view of homosexual acts as sinful and very much forgivable when met with repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. DeYoung responds to common objections to a traditional understanding of the topic.
Table of Contents
Introduction: What Does the Bible Teach about Everything?
Part 1: Understanding God’s Word
1. One Man, One Woman, One Flesh (Genesis 1â€“2)
2. Those Infamous Cities (Genesis 19)
3. Taking a Strange Book Seriously (Leviticus 18, 20)
4. The Romans Road in the Wrong Direction (Romans 1)
5. A New Word from an Old Place (1 Corinthians 6; 1 Timothy 1)
Part 2: Answering Objections
6. “The Bible Hardly Ever Mentions Homosexuality”
7. “Not That Kind of Homosexuality”
8. “What about Gluttony and Divorce?”
9. “The Church Is Supposed to Be a Place for Broken People”
10. “You’re on the Wrong Side of History”
11. “It’s Not Fair”
12. “The God I Worship Is a God of Love”
Conclusion: Walking with God and Walking with Each Other in Truth and Grace
Appendix 1: What about Same-Sex Marriage?
Appendix 2: Same-Sex Attraction: Three Building Blocks
Appendix 3: The Church and Homosexuality: Ten Commitments
What Does the Bible Teach about Everything?
DeYoung begins exploring the question regarding homosexuality by pointing readers to the big picture of the Bible. It is a story of creation and redemption, one where God sets up a temple among people so that they can commune together with him. It is about a fallen creation which God redeems and consummates. The future of God’s creation cannot be understood as a place without good and evil: God’s intention is for a holy place where suffering and wickedness no longer harm or demote the Creator. It is important to see, then, that homosexuality is not the heart of the Bible. And yet, the issues which are at the heart of the Bible â€“ God, sin, redemption, a glorious new creation, etc. â€“ all touch on homosexuality in profound ways.
DeYoung sets out the question which the book endeavors to answer and explain: “Is homosexual activity a sin that must be repented of, forsaken, and forgiven, or, given the right context and commitment, can we consider same-sex sexual intimacy a blessing worth celebrating and solemnizing?” He clears the air from the outset and says that same-sex sexual intimacy is sinful in any context, and he intends to defend a traditional view of marriage from a Christian position. The book’s focus is narrow as DeYoung addresses readers already convinced of his view, those on the other side of the issue, as well as the confused. He directs all of his readers to lay aside their important personal experiences and prejudices and to follow the Bereans in their noble searching of the Scriptures (Acts 17:11).
Understanding God’s Word
One Man, One Woman, One Flesh (Genesis 1â€“2)
DeYoung lays the foundation for the rest of his study by exploring the nature of the creation narrative in Genesis 1-2. Against the more recent revisionist argument which sees Eve as a basic companion for Adam â€“ no differentiation in terms of gender is really needed in that case â€“ we see that complementarity is fundamental to the picture of the creation of humanity and thus of God’s design for human life. This assumption arises out of a few considerations.
For one, the woman is created specifically as “the man’s divinely designed complement.” Man is ish in Hebrew and woman is ishah: she is fashioned out of ish. Their one-flesh union in procreation assumes persons of the opposite sex. The human life God created is generative life which is meant â€“ assuming proper function â€“ to further itself through offspring. Jesus reaffirms this purpose of the marriage relationship in Matthew 19:4-6 (Mark 10:6-9). The confessional documents of the Presbyterian/Reformed, Anglican, and Roman Catholic churches see humanity in this way as well.
But there’s a broader rationale for why this is not a picture simply of two companions enjoying monogamy in loving communion. In fact, what comes before and after in the “metanarrative” of the story â€“ think “big picture” of the Bible â€“ is of two disparate parts coming together to make a more perfect whole: sun and the moon, morning and evening, day and night, the sea and the dry land, plants and animals, and then, capping it all off in the creation narrative, male and female. Indeed, Revelation 21-22 puts heaven and earth together as the goal of creation as Christ weds the church to himself. As a theological and historical foundation for the texts to come, it is important to see that homosexuality does not fit into God’s story of bringing together two different things to make something glorious.
Those Infamous Cities (Genesis 19)
Sodom and Gomorrah are bywords for a wicked and evil society. Surely, as the narrative in Genesis 19 as well as other biblical texts that allude to it tell us, this was for its many varied sins. And yet some sins are particularly highlighted. Sexual immorality and especially homosexuality form the core of Sodom and Gomorrah’s advanced depravity.
But this view has its challengers. Some see the real meaning of Genesis 19 in Ezekiel 16:49: the cities were condemned for a lack of social justice in the face of their own wealth. While plausible, the fuller context of Ezekiel 16 puts this failing in charity in the context of Sodom and Gomorrah’s abominations. That word refers clearly to the practice of “a man lying with a man” from Leviticus 18:22, etc., especially as one turns to look at the shape of Genesis 19 itself. We see this association of the cities with homosexual perversion in Second Temple Judaism, and it even comes up in a famous piece of graffiti in Pompeii from AD 79. Jude 7 reinforces the connection as well.
In sum, though violence, greed, and injustice typified Sodom and Gomorrah, it cannot be glossed over so quickly that the Bible puts impassioned homosexual practice at the top of the list in characterizing the sins of those cities.
Taking a Strange Book Seriously (Leviticus 18, 20)
Famously, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 condemn homosexual practice. There is no debate there. And yet there is great debate over what Christians should do with the Holiness Code of the Torah. Should we eat shellfish? Should we require church members to confess and practice the Torah in every particular? If we answer No at that point, what is to be done with the prohibitions against homosexuality?
All serious students of the Bible know that relating the Old to the New Testaments is vital and difficult. Leviticus is part of the Bible which Jesus read and does not want to abolish. What is more, there are numerous laws from the Holiness Code, even those which deal with sex, that the New Testament reaffirms: adultery, incest, polygamy, etc..
The overarching theme in these passages of Scripture is holiness: that the nation of Israel would not be made unclean. Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 in their very language hearken back to the language of Genesis 2: lying with a “male” as with a “woman” calls to mind that complementary, and assumed, relationship. Just as with adultery, the status of marriage as it was in creation comes to bear here and rules out homosexuality. Close study also reveals that there is a progression to the uncleanness described in Leviticus: from having sexual relations with a woman in her menstrual period â€“ ceremonial uncleanness, set aside as the ceremonial law fell away with old Israel â€“ to adultery, to homosexual sex, to bestiality.
We should never just assume that Mosaic commands have been set aside. Some abide and some are fulfilled/consummated in redemptive-history, but they do not just stop. Christians need not become Jews to see that the moral law established at creation and enshrined in Israel’s sometimes strange books continues as God’s design and standard.
The Romans Road in the Wrong Direction (Romans 1)
We see something remarkable when we turn to the New Testament: the most important letter in the history of the world strongly condemns homosexuality in its first chapter. Here we will see how the New Testament perpetuates the idea that same-sex sexual intimacy violates something fundamental about God’s order.
“Romans 1 is held together by the interplay of two revelations”: the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel (verses 16-17) and the wrath of God is revealed in punishment (verse 18ff). In 1:18-32 Paul describes wrath revealed from God against human beings who all know the truth about God such that they are guilty: they see it, and yet they suppress it in sin. There are three general categories of this type of suppression of the truth about God: 1) idolatry, 2) sexual immorality, and 3) homosexual lust and practice. God progressively gives people over to their desires in an ironic turn of judgment.
In the third category (verses 26-27), Paul uses the language of sexual sin “contrary to nature” showing that it is not just the “bad” kind of homosexuality on his mind but homosexuality as such. This meaning of the phrase is reinforced by many ancient writers. The judgment against homosexual practice here is not about exploitation or domination, it is not the master-slave relationship or pederasty; rather, gender is clearly the matter at hand (verse 27) as each participant burns in lust for the other.
We see in sum that God is actually the one who delivers the objects of wrath in chapter 1 over to their behavior and mentality. For their denial of his rights over them, God gives them over “to a debased mind.” Revisionist interpreters cannot “rescue” Paul from these opinions: homosexual practice sits clearly outside of the natural order and receives God’s condemnation.
A New Word from an Old Place (1 Corinthians 6; 1 Timothy 1)
This chapter poses a daunting challenge both for the author and for the reader. It is about two words in Koine Greek, the language of the New Testament, a language most readers will not know.
The words are malakoi and arsenokoitai. They appear in 1 Corinthians 6:9 [oute malakoi oute arsenokoitai] and 1 Timothy 1:10 [arsenokoitai] where they are translated in the ESV as “men who practice homosexuality” in both texts. Translations range from the King James Version’s “effeminate â€¦ abusers of themselves with mankind” to the NRSV’s rendering “male prostitutes and sodomites” in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and “sodomites” in 1 Timothy 1:10. Almost all of the translations assume that activity is in view.
We will assume a few things in defining these disputed words. For one, English translations are almost always right â€“ reading a few articles or using a few lexicons will not put one in a better position than teams of scholars. Also important to understand is that words have a range of meanings and concentric circles of context which help determine those meanings. In short, Plato (400 years before Paul) is not as relevant for understanding Paul as one of his contemporaries is.
The difficulty begins when we notice that it appears that Paul coined the term arsenokoitai as a compound word of man (arsen) and bed (koite), yielding something like “bedders of men.” But it was not that much of a stretch for Paul. The Greek translation of the Old Testament in Paul’s day included both words for man and bed in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 in its prohibition of homosexual practice. We see as well when comparing the text with early translations (Latin, Syriac, and Coptic) that “homosexual” and “sodomite” fail as translations: neither same-sex attraction nor the city of Sodom are in view. “Men lying together with males,” as the Latin has it, better captures the activity in view.
Malakos is more vague as it can range in meaning from effeminate in demeanor (“yielding to touch”) to being a passive participant in a same-sex relationship. In the context of the list of vices in 1 Corinthians 6, it seems that it must mean more than an effeminate pattern of speech or dress. “Immoral sexual intimacy” is the only option as the word is sandwiched between “adulterers” and “men who practice homosexuality.”
In conclusion to this first section on biblical teaching, we can offer an answer to the question we set out with: “homosexual activity is not a blessing to be celebrated and solemnized but a sin to be repented of, forsaken, and forgiven.” Next we turn to common objections to the biblical viewpoint we have been exploring.
“The Bible Hardly Ever Mentions Homosexuality”
The first objection we turn to deals with a question of proportion. There are more than 30,000 verses in the Bible; around a dozen deal with homosexuality explicitly. Aren’t we making a little bit say a whole lot when we take strong positions against homosexuality? Furthermore, why do Christians talk about it so much?
For one thing, traditionalists are largely responding to an on-going conversation. When there is wide-spread agreement, there is no need for debate. Debate began with those who challenged what was up until 50 years ago the status quo when it comes to current hot-button issues like same-sex relationships, euthanasia, and abortion. The conversation is happening whether traditionalists enter into it or not. Furthermore, the Bible talks a lot more about sexual immorality generally, idolatry, and religious hypocrisy because those things were controversial and openly practiced in the time period. Homosexuality was far more universally condemned on a societal level. Bestiality is talked about even less than homosexuality for similar reasons.
While Christians must avoid being obnoxious hate-mongers on the one side and affirming same-sex wedding officiants on the other, when the Bible uniformly and unequivocally calls something a sin, there is little room for a third way. The call is for clear and forthright teaching on what the Bible says matched with warm pastoral concern for those involved.
“Not That Kind of Homosexuality”
In short the scholarly consensus, even from revisionists on this issue, is that the Bible has nothing good to say about homosexual practice. And yet some do propose that there is so great a cultural distance between the Bible and us that the practices the Bible condemns are not the ones we have today. Now we have monogamous, loving, and committed unions; then they had gender-confusion, pederasty, gang rape, and power imbalances thrown into the mix to give homosexual practice a very negative cast. Is that all that is going on?
It is important to notice, first of all, that the cultural distance argument is an argument from silence. There is no apparent qualifications on the Bible’s part in terms of which homosexual acts are in view. The prohibitions are of a fairly straight-forward nature: a man lying with a man as a woman. This kind of objection takes a leap into trying to peg what the biblical author was thinking. Furthermore, same-sex relationships like what proponents of the cultural distance argument want to further were present in the Greco-Roman world: in terms of examples, they had all the options we do. In short, “The only way to think the Bible is talking about every other kind of homosexuality except the kind we want to affirm is to be less than honest with the texts or less than honest with ourselves.”
“What about Gluttony and Divorce?”
This next objection points a finger at hypocrisy in the church. Many churches play fast and loose in their teaching on adultery and divorce, gluttony, and other sins: why does homosexual sin get so much attention if not for hypocritical motivations? Shouldn’t we take care of our own besetting sins in the church? What aboutâ€¦?
As the Sermon on the Mount would suggest, the most pressing response here is for the church to say, “You’re right, we need to get our house in order and take our â€˜respectable sins’ more seriously.” With that in place in our hearts, though, we do have to confront sin. “The remedy to this negligence is not more negligence.” We have to confront homosexual sin as we do with any other sin: slow exposition of the Bible, pastoral care, and consistent discipline.
It is important to see, too, that the New Testament is far more interested in confronting sexual sins than it is with gluttony. An all-consuming attention to food is a problem, but the church knows where it stands on that issue. Divorce is an area where many Christians have chosen to look the other way to some extent as legislatures enshrine so-called no-fault divorce and many of us have grown up in networks filled with divorce. But the plank-eyed among us who need to take divorce more seriously would not be improved by ignoring the sin of homosexuality in the same way. As a church we should be clear and self-critical on both counts.
“The Church Is Supposed to Be a Place for Broken People”
We should start by handling this objection with Yes and amen. We need to welcome struggling, hurting, and broken people. 1 Corinthians 6:11 is a beautiful testimony to the power the Lord exercises toward the worst of sinners. So welcome must be extended to the broken in all their forms, not least the sexually broken.
And yet we have a different word for the proud and puffed up, those who refuse to forsake the sin which the Master calls us to leave behind. The Greek word metanoia is what stands behind the biblical word “repentance.” It entails a change of mind, about oneself, about one’s sin, and about God. The gospel is good news to those who turn from their sins and their self-rule to the Lord who stakes claim over them. The healing gospel comes to those who forsake their sin in favor of God. Anything less is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” Only we bestow cheap grace on ourselves by justifying our sin; God bestows real grace by justifying the sinner who repents and believes. Such broken and contrite people ought to find the most welcoming home in the arms of the church.
“You’re on the Wrong Side of History”
This next objection balances weight and emptiness. Those who receive it feel burdened as though they might end up looking like segregationists hanging onto disgusting racist views or like flat-earthers warning Columbus not to sail too far. On the other hand, the objection does not actually include a rationale as to why the opponent is wrong. It is a disdainful objection which says, “You’re so backward, you’re not worthy of consideration.”
However there are some questionable assumptions lurking within the wrong side of history argument. It assumes a progressive view of history where the winners rise. This view has been empirically discredited. Philosopher Herbert Butterfield has called this “Whig history,” the false concept that the past is a march from darkness to light. Whatever historical or technological line there might be from torches to iPhones does not necessarily map onto humanity’s views of fairness, morality, or social issues over the course of millennia.
The objection also assumes that traditional views tend to be more disastrous than progressive ones, an idea challenged by the various efforts of Social Darwinists. In sum, the church does not need to fear being on the wrong side of assumptions about progress and enlightenment; it must always fear being on the wrong side of the apostolic church.
“It’s Not Fair”
This objection strikes at the heart of the most visceral reaction many have to the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality. It’s not about a niggling question over a Greek word or a verse in Leviticus: a person has a family member or friend in a long term, committed homosexual relationship: how could it be God’s will for that person to remain single? How is that fair?
Let us first paint the picture even more starkly. From findings by the American Psychiatric Association–and we see no reason to disagree in general terms â€“ it appears that same-sex attraction is not consciously chosen. A person is “born that way” in at least many cases. What if a person in that situation does not have “the gift of celibacy?” Would God want that person to be so miserable in a life of singleness?
To get at these vitally important questions, we have to dig a little deeper. As painful as it is, we are all products of nature and nurture. We are the way we are for many reasons: in part by choice, in part by the choices of others, in part by the choices of no one readily discernable. And yet none of those facts removes our responsibility. We all struggle with unfulfilled longings for illicit things. We would not excuse someone who had just any sexual orientation, say toward any available partner or toward children or animals, even if that orientation was beyond his/her control. Moreover, it is important to see that sexual orientation is not an immutable part of our biology like a Y chromosome. Sexuality is more fluid as numerous transformed people can attest.
Perhaps most of all we need to recognize the relativizing power of heaven. Sex and marriage do not feature there. How can we make them ultimate here? Christ would have his gifts of family and sex point to communion with him. In truth, much of the fairness objection comes from our own idolatry of the nuclear family. If a person does not have a spouse and kids (perhaps a minivan and tickets to Disney, too), he/she is less than fully realized in the minds of many church-goers. Destroying this myth along with its partner, the overemphasis on fulfilling sex, goes a long way here. Being single should not relegate a person to loneliness or never experiencing human contact. A single person, gay or straight, can have a fulfilling and God-honoring life in sweet community, especially with his/her brothers and sisters in the church.
“The God I Worship Is a God of Love”
The final objection we take up here concerns the very nature of God. 1 John 4:16 states that “God is love,” and so, the argument goes, God affirms and loves all types of people; no one is perfect, and yet God loves them all.
We must of course affirm the intention here. We learn from Scripture that God is, indeed, love. The problem though is two-fold. First, love is not a malleable term: if I think it means affirmation, that does not just mean that God is affirming. In fact, John defines love in the same chapter quoted from above: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he has loved us and sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). God’s love is sending Christ to die for our sins. He is a holy God who cannot simply overlook sin; his Son comes to die for it.
Second, and deeply related to the first point, it is vital to have a clear picture of God’s simplicity when we talk about his attributes. It is not the case that God is love, and has the attributes of holiness, omnipresence, etc.. God is not compound, he is simple. Whatever holds true as an attribute of God just is his essence. So God’s being is identical to his holiness, justice, love, etc.. In other words we cannot separate God’s love from his holiness.
In conclusion, what we see in the Bible is a picture of God’s absolute holiness confronting sin, and then laying his life down for the perpetrators of the sin which he hates. Our purpose here has been to set forth clearly the teaching on one sin, homosexual practice. Let it be no less clear that God calls homosexual sin, along with all sexual sin, changeable, redeemable, and wondrously forgivable.
Walking with God and Walking with Each Other in Truth and Grace
As a concluding note, we ought all to take stock of the way our own individual prejudices and personal histories come into play when we weigh the arguments on a controversial topic like this. To help us soberly consider the matter, we may need to face some of the implications. The interpretive â€“ again, think big picture â€“ issues at stake when we consider the topic of homosexuality and marriage are bigger than we might realize.
For one, if we locate the legitimacy of marital union solely in consensual loving relationship, the moral logic of monogamy is at stake. This is not to say that liberal Christians on the progressive side of the homosexual practice issue are in favor of polygamy; rather, it is to say that there is no clear consistent logic to forestall a move toward polygamy or even incest. Why shouldn’t four or thirty people who love each other and want to commit to each other be allowed to do so? Jesus does not even explicitly address polygamy. Maybe other New Testament authors only knew of exploitative polygamy. These are the kinds of objections that seem unavoidable once marriage is detached from biblical prescriptions and long-time consensus on such.
More troubling still is the fact that the authority of the Bible and the grand narrative of Scripture are at stake. When we consider theological liberalism as a historical entity, one which began in the late-eighteenth century as an accommodation of the Bible to modern knowledge and values, we see that adjusting the Bible’s clear language in this case bows to individual authority and cultural credibility in the same way. An inerrant Bible and its story of the Lord preparing a holy place for himself and his people fade away in the process of this interpretive shift on homosexual practice.
What this presses on us more than anything is not the importance of judgmental law, but the absolute necessity of Christ’s grace to us confused sinners. Only Jesus saves people from their sins and makes all things new.
What about Same-Sex Marriage?
This book has been almost entirely about the Bible and its teaching. We turn now in the appendices to look at some ancillary but important matters.
We might wonder whether the exegetical conclusions reached in this book aren’t a bit irrelevant to the issue of same-sex marriage. What if a person agrees completely that homosexual practice is wrong, but also believes that, like idolatry or gossip, we should not legislate against it? There are a few important points relevant to that good question.
For one, the state excludes all kinds of relationships from being called “marriage.” Eight-year-olds, threesomes, and a host of family combinations cannot get married. There are no laws about whom one can love or whom one can live with: the issue here is defining marriage. And that is no small point. The state traditionally has not sought to define marriage; rather, marriage was seen as “pre-political.” The state recognized what marriage had always been.
In fact, there are a number of important issues which state-recognized same-sex marriage reengineers. Same-sex marriage “assumes the indistinguishability of gender in parenting, the relative unimportance of procreation in marriage, and the near infinite flexibility as to what sorts of structures and habits lead to human flourishing.” If the state is supposed to, at the very least, support human flourishing, these changes would appear to be counterproductive at best.
In terms of fairness toward homosexual individuals, there is a hidden assumption here. If same-sex marriage is an equal rights issue, one must assume that same-sex marriage is marriage. This redefines marriage as “a demonstration of commitment sexually expressed.” Formerly marriage was oriented toward the well-being of the child, which is why the state had a stake in supporting it. The new more sexually-oriented definition devalues all marriages since “family” is replaced by “sexual and emotional connection.”
Same-Sex Attraction: Three Building Blocks
Next we turn to address the controversial issue of whether same-sex attraction is itself sinful. This involves a complex of issues like orientation, attraction, and desire. While not offering all the answers, we can say a few things for further reflection.
We must have biblical faithfulness first on our list. While same-sex lust–often the big issue–is clearly sinful, just as it is for opposite-sex lust, there may be room for a neutral ground of approval. Think of a daughter recognizing that her father is handsome without desire or lust surrounding it. Sexual sin bubbles up in all kinds of ways no matter one’s “orientation”: we must keep biblical norms in view in either case.
It is also very important to be pastorally sensitive and culturally conversant. If a young man struggling with same-sex attraction in tears confesses such desires to his pastor, we already know he feels sorrow and shame and seems to know that he should live in purity of thought and deed. We ought to lead with tender words of Christ’s mediation, the way that sorrow over sin, even potentially sinful feelings, is evidence of the Spirit’s work in us, and that unbidden desires plague all of us, but Christ gives freedom. In all this, too, we must be careful of the terms we bring into the discussion. “Orientation” often means far more than sex–it can be a community or a pattern of friendship. We must think carefully about the meaning of our words in the context of a cultural shift.
The Church and Homosexuality: Ten Commitments
As a means of applying the material in this book, we should consider how we communicate on the issue. Whom we are addressing should dictate how it is wise to speak: to those who despise us and our beliefs, we ought to be bold and courageous; to strugglers against same-sex attraction, we should be patient and sympathetic; to those who are plainly living in sin, we want to be straight-forward and earnest; to those beaten up by the church, we want to be winsome and humble.
Furthermore, we might consider committing as a church to handling this and related issues according to a few principles. We should strive to 1) encourage leaders to preach the Bible chapter by chapter and to avoid hobby horses, 2) tell the truth about sin, especially prevalent sins in our communities, 3) guard the truth of God’s word and protect people from error, 4) call people to faith in Christ, 5) tell people the good news about Jesus dying in our place to restore all things as a holy city, 6) treat all Christians as new creations in Christ, 7) extend God’s forgiveness to all who come in broken-hearted repentance, from the greedy to the homosexual, 8) ask for forgiveness when we are rude or thoughtless, 9) strive to be a welcoming community, and 10) seek to love one another in the ecclesiastical context of preaching, encouragement, church discipline, and striving toward holiness together.
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