Homosexuality (usually grouped with gender identity issues) is a hotly debated topic both in political and religious circles, and the assertion of the Bible that homosexuality is a sin is one of the primary objections that non-Christians have against Christians and Christianity. In this article, we’ll take a look at what goes behind this position.
Laying the Groundwork
First, we’re going to define some basic concepts before going deeper into the topic, beginning with the difference between homosexual orientation and homosexual expression. Your sexual orientation refers to the feelings you have towards certain sexes. A male who is attracted to females or vice versa would have a heterosexual orientation. A male who is attracted to males, or a female who is attracted to females, has a homosexual orientation. And there are some who are sexually attracted to both males and females. Whichever sexual orientation you have, it is not inherently a sin to be attracted to anyone. A male feeling that he is attracted to males more than females does not, by itself, constitute sin. Recognizing beauty in God’s creation is not in itself a bad thing. Lustful thoughts or actions, however, regardless of whether they are aimed towards males or females, ARE sins.
It is very important to address that, as mentioned in the post on why we need Jesus, ANY sin will separate us from God. Homosexuality, a little white lie, and murder all may seem quite different to us in terms of severity (no matter which side of the fence you’re on), but to a perfect, sinless being like God, none of them are excusable. To our culture, it’s a different story. We tend to rank sins based on their seriousness – some are indisputably bad, universally so, while others we might simply shrug off, saying we’ll be better people next time – or worse, we just ignore it or sweep it under the rug completely. There has been perhaps a knee-jerk reaction to homosexuality on the part of many Christians, creating the false impression to those who simply don’t know better that it may be some uncommonly unforgivable or serious sin. This leads to needless animosity between Christians who see homosexuality as a sin and people who don’t. The point here is that, no, homosexuality is not in a special class of sin.
Homosexuality in the Culture
One possible reason for the misconception on both sides is the sudden shift in morality that the homosexuality movement brought to the table. Many liars, thieves, and murderers tend to be aware of their own wrongdoing. Homosexuality, along with a handful of other things, have been increasingly accepted in certain cultures to the point where it is now celebrated. This results in a situation the church has not really seen to this extent before, where something traditionally called sinful is now carried with pride by the general culture. This can, and sometimes does, result in a sharp disconnect where the church is taken aback and resorts to unnecessary and unbiblical verbal abuse, while the individual identifying as homosexual is bewildered, maybe angered, at how something perceived as so central to their identity can be in question like that. Recognizing this potential disconnect is the first step towards mutual dialogue between the two sides. The bible-believing church cannot compromise on its beliefs, but neither can it deny anyone the grace that the church members themselves have received.
It’s still up in the air according to science as to whether homosexuality is caused by nature or nurture – in other words, if you’re born with a certain orientation or you ‘learn’ it from your life experiences. It could very well be based on both to some degree. This is less important than many people seem to think, though. If homosexuality is proven to be something you are simply born with, then according to many people it would be a natural human tendency and therefore ‘right’. Unfortunately, that is a jump in logic, confusing the ‘is’ with the ‘ought’. If all laws were abolished in society, and everyone was free to do exactly what they wanted without regard for anyone else, the state of the world would likely be far worse than it was now. Countries make laws precisely BECAUSE not everything in human nature is right. Even with the law, we all still manage to mess up sometimes. We’ve noticed this many times with the Israelites in our Old Testament book-by-book articles. More specifically, all we need to do is to look at the consequences of the fall in Genesis 3.
Another point of contention is the impact of homosexuality. Supporters claim one’s decision is one’s own and it does not affect anyone else. It actually does, especially when we are talking about relationships, and not just relationships in this case, but the most important relationships in one’s life. The U.S. Supreme Court, in the MAJORITY opinion of the Obergerfell vs. Hodges decision in 2015 (this is the court case that ‘made’ homosexual marriage legal in the U.S.) expounds upon the core role that marriage has in human society. That is something that probably everyone can agree upon. Marriage has the power to change the lives of not only the people involved, but also of those who are connected to those participating in it, for better or worse. Society has always been built on marriage and the family.
Five Major Bible Passages
Now, let’s get to the biblical basis for homosexuality being a sin. There are 5 explicit call outs in the Bible, coming both before and after Jesus, and many more implicit declarations throughout (Genesis 3:18-24, for example). The explicit portions are: Genesis 2:18-24, Genesis 19:4-9, Leviticus 18:22, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 1 Timothy 1:9-10.
Genesis 2:18-24 trumpets the ideal of heterosexual marriage. First, God notes how Adam is without a helper ‘fit for him’. God doesn’t simply make a carbon copy of Adam, or any other man. Instead, He makes Eve, a woman. Disregarding the meaning of this verse by assuming that it is not meant that this is the ideal joining of two people also deals a blow to the value of women as well. Women and men were created with key differences that allow them to achieve together what they cannot separately, biologically or otherwise.
Genesis 19:4-9 is part of the story of Lot in the city of Sodom. Here, Lot’s house is surrounded by the men of the village, ‘all the people to the last man’, who demand to ‘bring (Lot’s guests) out so we may know them). In other places in the OT, like Genesis 4:1 and Genesis 38:21, ‘knowing’ someone is a phrase used in a much more intimate and sexual sense than we use it today (Of course, this is not always the case, but the context of the Sodom story supports this more than a simple ‘how are you doing?’ because of Lot’s reply). This sin was not the only sin counted against Sodom, of course, and it is clear that the Sodomites were completely overtaken with wickedness (again, not just homosexuality) revealed by God’s failure to find even just ten righteous people inhabiting the city in Genesis 18:22-33. Nevertheless, homosexuality is the focal point of those verses.
Leviticus 18:22 is part of the Mosaic law, and it simply says ‘You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination’. This is repeated in Leviticus 20:13. Objections to this verse tend to not focus on the verse itself, but with the question of whether the Mosaic law still applies to us today, which we have already covered in another article.
Moving to the New Testament, Paul mentions homosexuality in Romans 1:26-27, where he explains how everyone is initially in a sinful state. Women ‘exchanged natural relations for those contrary to nature’, and ‘men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another’. Lest we think that Paul is railing against homosexuality particularly, he then goes on to name several other sins (murder, deceit, heartlessness…) in the rest of the chapter. Additionally, the Greek words for ‘men’ and ‘women’ used in this passage emphasize biological sex (for example, the same words are used in Mark 10:6 and Matthew 19:4 when describing that God made people male and female). Finally, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:10 mentions homosexuality in the middle of their respective lists of sins.
Would Jesus Endorse Homosexuality?
Those who support homosexuality and try to reconcile it with Christianity often do so by not dealing with these verses, but by appealing to Jesus. They tend to say such things as “Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, so it was not important to him to speak out against it, and therefore it is not wrong” or “Jesus was all about love”. We’ll take a look at both of those statements.
The first statement above falls prey to a few errors. First off, it is assumed that everything Jesus had to say is right there in the Gospels. The Gospels primarily focus on the last three years of Jesus’s 30+ year life. From what we do know about Jesus’s earlier life, He was exceptionally wise even at age 12 (Luke 2:41-52). Furthermore, the Gospel of John ends with John telling the reader that his Gospel, and in fact all the Gospels together, did not contain a full record of Jesus’s life (John 21:25). A second problem lies in assuming that Jesus could, and did, overwrite the laws of God. The theology of the Gospels makes it unmistakably clear that Jesus was subservient to God the Father, not the other way around. While it is true that Jesus Himself was God, Jesus did not see it as His mission to overwrite any of God’s laws. In fact, Jesus said Himself that absolutely none of the Mosaic law will pass until it has been fulfilled (Matthew 5:17-19). Third, while it is true that Jesus did not mention homosexuality by name, as we have already shown, Jesus DID actually have something to say on the arrangement of men and women. Lastly, concluding that Jesus was okay with homosexuality is an argument from silence, and in light of the above, it’s a jump in logic.
The second statement, “Jesus is all about love, so homosexuality is all right” sounds well and good, but also suffers from significant problems. The kernel of truth in this one is that Jesus seemed far more concerned about people loving their neighbors, and at everyone being at peace with each other, especially when you view Jesus through the lens of pop culture. Reading the gospels, however, will reveal that that is by no means all Jesus said. We also see that Jesus doesn’t hesitate to call people out on their sin, as in, for example, Matthew 11:20-24, Matthew 23, and John 4:1-45 (specifically verses 17-18). What pop culture tends to miss nowadays is that that is love, too. Very few bystanders would think stepping in to prevent one of their friends from getting overly drunk means that they are being unloving. On the contrary, they don’t want to see their friend expose themselves to drunkenness and possibly embarrassment and serious injury.
The Christian Response
Keeping all of this in mind, how are Christians supposed to respond? With love, of course. As noted above, it may be unfortunately easy for anyone with any belief (up to and including Christians themselves) to assume that Christians think that people with same-sex attraction are in a class of sin all their own. It is up to Christians to shatter that notion. We are all sinners, all unworthy of God on our own. Sexual temptation is universal—it is not an accident the Christian church has warned against it so much! Someone who claims not to have ever been tempted by improper sexual impulses, whether Christian or not, is overwhelmingly likely to actually have had them while ignoring their seriousness to their peril. Even knowing what the Bible says, we’ll all struggle against our own pride, our own anger, our own lust, etc., for all our lives. With that in mind, we make a mockery of the very kind of unconditional love and grace that we have received by denying it to others.
We must also be truthful about the healing process (including the fact that there is one) and what it entails. Contrary to popular belief, it does not include the outright denial of homosexual impulses. As with all other sins, acceptance is the best route to dealing with them. We don’t deny our sins before the Lord, we admit them and repent. A person in denial about having committed adultery when they actually have is setting themselves up to commit more of it because they do not think it’s a problem.
Just the term ‘healing process’ implies that there is a solid end to homosexual desires, which is often not the case. Temptations to sin never disappear completely in this life, regardless of our salvation status. The Bible’s sexual ethics are hard for Christians too, as the media sometimes points out. It’s the sad nature of people living in a broken world, but we can never allow that to be an excuse. By giving our lives and our desires to God, we allow Him to mold us into who He intended us to be.
The Complete Christian Guide to Understanding Homosexuality by Joe Dallas and Nancy Heche