Archive for category Homosexuality

Homosexuality and the Bible: Bibliography

Ok, this is the list of references for the blog posts immediately preceding.  Enjoy!

Anderson, Ray S. “Homosexuality and the Ministry of the Church: Theological and Pastoral Considerations.” In More than a Single Issue: Theological Considerations Concerning the Ordination of Practising Homosexuals., by Murray A Rae, & Graham Redding, 49 – 76. Hindmarsh: Australian Theological Forum, 2000.

Arndt, William. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature:[computer file] : —electronic ed. of the 2nd ed., rev. and augmented. CD-ROM. Published in electronic form by Logos Research Systems, 1996. Chicago: University of Chicago Press,, 1979.

Babuscio, Jack. We Speak for Ourselves: The Experiences of Gay Men and Lesbians (Revised Edition). London: SPCK, 1988.

Bailey, J. Michael, and Richard C. Pillard. “A Genetic Study of Male Sexual Orientation.” December 1991. (accessed June 12, 2012).

Bailey, J. Michael, Michael P. Dunne, and Nicholas G Martin. “Genetic and Environmental Influences on Sexual Orientation and Its Correlates in an Australian Twin Sample.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 78, no. 3 (March 2000): 524–536.

Bailey, Lloyd R. Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: Leviticus – Numbers. Macon: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2005.

Baklinski, Thaddeus M. “Little Recognition Given to Study of Sexual Reorientation Therapy at APA Convention: Findings Contradict the APA Position that Homosexuality is not Changeable. .” August 11, 2009. (accessed June 27, 2012).

Balentine, Samuel E. Leviticus: Interpretation; A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisevill: John Knox Press, 2002.

Baptist Union of New Zealand Assembly Council. “Homosexuality and the Christian.” March 1998.

Baptist Union of Western Australia Task Force on Human Sexuality. “Report of the Baptist Union of Western Australia Task Force on Human Sexuality with speical reference to homosexuality and the church.” n.d.

Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics III.1: The Doctrine of Creation. Edited by Bromily and Torrance. London: T & T Clark, 2004.

Bocklandt, S., S. Horvath, E. Vilain, and D.H. Hamer. “Extreme Skewing of X Chromosome Inactivation in Mothers of Homosexual Men.” Feb 2006. (accessed June 12, 2012).

Bogaert, Anthony F. “Biological versus nonbiological older brothers and men’s sexual orientation.” July 11, 2006. (accessed June 12, 2012).

Bonnington, Mark, and Bob Fyall. Homosexuality and the Bible. Cambridge: Grove Books Limited, 1996.

Booker, Jarrod. “Childhood Abuse and Homosexuality Linked in Study.” July 23rd, 2010. (accessed August 14th, 2010).

Brash, Alan A. Facing our Differences; The Churches and their Gay and Lesbian Members. Geneva: WCC Publications, 1995.

Brickell, Chris. “The Emergence of a Gay Identity.” In Sexuality Down Under; Social and Historical Perspectives, by Allison Kirkman, & Pat Moloney, 63 – 78. Dunedin: University of Otago Press, 2005.

Brighton, Les. “Some Suggestions about the Proper and Improper use of the Material on Homosexuality in Romans 1.” Stimulus: the New Zealand Journal of Christian Thought and Practice 11, no. 4 (November 2003): 18 – 19.

Burr, Chandler. “Homosexuality and Biology.” In Homosexuality in the Church: Both Sides of the Debate, by Jeffrey S. Siker, 116 – 134. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994.

Byne, William. “The Biological Evidence Challenged.” May 1994. (accessed June 11, 2012).

Cahill, Lisa Sowle. “Homosexuality: A Case study in Moral Arguement.” In Homosexuality in the Church: Both sides of the Debate, by Jeffrey S. Siker, 61 – 75. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994.

Campbell, Douglas A. “Some Thoughts on the Apostle Paul and Ethics.” In More than a Single Issue: Theological Considerations Concerning the Ordination of Practising Homosexuals., by Murray A Rae, & Graham Redding, 77-95. Hindmarsh: Australian Theological Forum, 2000.

Campbell, William P. Turning Controversy into Church Ministry: A Christlike Response to Homosexuality. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.

Carryer, Susana. “Grappling with Homosexuality: A Credible Christian Ethic or Unethical Acceptance of Social Change.” In More than a Single Issue: Theological Considerations Concerning the Ordination of Practicing Homosexuals, by Murray A. Rae, & Graham Redding, 141 – 160. Hindmarsh: Australian Theological Forum, 2000.

Coleman, Peter. Gay Christians: A Moral Dilemma. London: SCM Press, 1989.

Comfort, Ray. “The Sensitive Issue of Homosexuality.” June 6th, 2011. issue-of-homosexuality&itemid=353&lang=en (accessed July 13th, 2012).

Comiskey, Andrew. Pursuing Sexual Wholeness. Eastbourne: Monarch Publications Ltd, 1989, 1990.

Comiskey, Andy. “The Church: Revealing Grace and Truth.” In A Reason for Hope: Christian Perspectives on Homosexuality and Healing, by Julie Belding, & Bruce Nicholls, 91 – 96. Auckland: Human Relations Foundation, 1996.

Consiglio, William. Homosexual No More: Practical Strategies for Christians Overcoming Homosexuality. Scripture Press Publications: Wheaton, 1991.

Dallas, Joe. “Another Option: Christianity and Ego-Dystonic Homosexuality.” In Homosexuality in the Chruch: Both Sides of the Debate, by Jeffrey S. Siker, 137 – 134. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994.

Davison, Gerald C. “Not Can but Ought: The Treatment of Homosexuality.” 1978. (accessed June 11th, 2012).

Davison, Isaac. “Support Grows for Gay Adoption.” June 30, 2012. (accessed July 19, 2012).

Dunn, James D. G. The Theology of Paul the Apostle. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998.

—. Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 38a, Romans 1 – 8 . Dallas, Texas: Word Books, 1988.

Ellis, Lee, and M. Ashley Ames. “Neurohormonal Functioning and Sexual Orientation: A Theory of Homosexuality-Heterosexuality.” 1987. (accessed June 11, 2012).

Fergusson, David M, L John Horwood, and Annette L Beautrais. “Is Sexual Orientatin Related to Mental Health Problems and Suicidality in Young People.” Archives of General Psychiatry, 1999: 876 – 880.

Fisher, David. “Anglican Debate on Gays Risks Splitting Church.” June 30, 2012. (accessed July 3, 2012).

Fitzmyer, Joseph A. The Anchor Bible; Romans: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. New York: Doubleday, 1993.

Foust, Michael. “Study:Ex-gay ministry has 53 percent success rate.” August 11th, 2009. (accessed June 27th, 2012).

Furnish, Victor Paul. “The Bible and Homosexuality: Reading the Texts in Context.” In Homosexuality in the Church: Both Sides of the Debate, by Jeffrey S. Siker, 18-35. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994.

Gavrilets, Sergey, and William R. Rice. “Genetic Models of Homosexuality: Generating Testable Predictions.” September 26th, 2006. (accessed June 12th, 2012).

Glaser, Chris. “The Love that Dare not Pray its Name: The Gay and Lesbian Movement in America’s Churches.” In Homosexuals in the Church: Both Sides of the Debate, by Jeffrey S. Siker, 150-157. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994.

Goddard, Andrew. God, Gentiles and Gay Christians; Acts 15 and Change in the Church. . Cambridge: Grove Books Limited, 2001.

—. Homosexuality and the Church of England; the Position Following ‘Some Issues in Human Sexuality’. Cambridge: Grove Books Limited, 2004.

Golombok, Susan, and Fiona Tasker. “Do Parents Influence the Sexual Orientation of their children? Findings from a Longitudinal Study of Lesbian Families. .” 1996. (accessed June 11, 2012).

Grenz, Stanley J. Welcoming, But Not Affirming; an Evangelical Response to Homosexuality. Louisville: Westmeinster John Knox Press, 1998.

Guder, Darrell L. “The Context of the Church’s Discussion of Human Sexuality.” In More than a Single Issue: Theological Considerations Concerning the Ordination of Practising Homosexuals., by Murray A Rae, & Graham Redding, 105 – 121. Hindmarsh: Australian Theological Forum, 2000.

Guy, Laurie. Worlds in Collision: The Gay Debate in New Zealand, 1960 – 1986. Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2002.

Haldeman, Douglas C. “Gay Rights, Patient Rights: The Implications of Sexual Orientation Conversion Therapy.” Professional Psychology: Research and Practice 33, no. 3 (2002): 260–264.

—. “Sexual Orientation Conversion Therapy for Gay Men and Lesbians: A Scientific Examination.” 1991. (accessed July 10, 2012).

Hamill, Bruce. “Hermeneutics and Morality.” In More than a Single Issue: Theological Considerations Concerning the Ordination of Practising Homosexuals., by Murray A Rae, & Graham Redding, 26 – 48. Hindmarsh: Australian Theological Forum, 2000.

Harrison, Dan. “40% of Gay Couples Christian.” June 29, 2012. (accessed July 7, 2012).

Hartley, John E. Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 4; Leviticus. Dallas: Word Books, 1992.

Hays, Richard B. The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1996.

Hollis, Tony. “Personal Correspondence with the Author. .” 2012.

Holpuch, Amanda. “Boy Scouts of America affirm Ban on Gay Members and Volunteers.” July 17, 2012. (accessed July 19, 2012).

Jewett, Robert. Romans: A Commentary. Minneaplolis: Fortress Press, 2007.

Jones, Stanton L, and Don E Workman. “Homosexuality: The Behavioural Sciences and the Church.” In Homosexuality in the Church: Borth Sides of the Debate, by Jeffrey S. Siker, 93 – 115. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994.

Jones, Stanton L, and Mark A. Yarhouse. Ex-gays?: A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2007.

Jones, Stanton L., and Mark A. Yarhouse. Homosexuality: The Use of Scientific Research in the Church’s Moral Debate. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000.

Kirk, Marshall, and Hunter (aka Erastes Pill) Madsen. “The Overhauling of Straight America.” 1987. _Straight.htm (accessed July 26th, 2012).

Lange, Stuart. Homosexuality and the Church. Auckland: Affirm Publications, 1998.

Lee, Justin. “No, I’m Not in the Gay Lifestyle and Neither is Anyone Else.” July 24, 2012. (accessed July 26, 2012).

—. “What I Believe.” n.d. (accessed June 19th, 2012).

LeVay, Simon. “A Difference in the Hypothalmic Structure between Heterosexual and Homoseuxal Men.” Dec 28th, 2004. (accessed June 19th, 2012).

LeVay, Simon, and Dean H. Hamer. “Evidence for a Biological Influence in Male Homosexuality.” May 1994. (accessed June 11, 2012).

Lowe, Bruce W. “A Letter to Louise: A Biblical Affirmation of Homosexuality.” 2001. (accessed May 2012).

Marshall, Chris. “Paul’s condemnation of Homosexual conduct: Romans 1 in Recent Exegesis.” Stimulus: the New Zealand Journal of Christian Thought and Practice. 11, no. 4 (November 2003): 7 – 16.

May, Stephen. “Homosexuality, Gender, and Otherness.” In More than a Single Issue: Theological Considerations Concerning the Ordination of Practicing Homosexuals, by Murray A. Rae, & Graham Redding, 184 – 212. Hindmarsh: Australian Theological Forum, 2000.

McNeill, John J. “Homosexuality: Challenging the Church to Grow.” In Homosexuality in the Church: Both Sides of the Debate, by Jeffrey S. Siker, 49 – 58. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994.

Meredith, Roderick C. “The Plain Truth About Homosexuality.” Jan-Feb 2008. (accessed June 2012).

Milgrom, Jacob. The Anchor Bible; Leviticus 17 – 22: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. New York: Doubleday, 2000.

Mollenkott, Virginia Ramey. “Overcoming Heterosexism – To Benefit Everyone.” In Homosexuals in the Church: Both Sides of the Debate, by Jeffrey S. Siker, 145-149. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994.

Murray, John. The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1968.

Nelson, James B. “Sources for Body Theology: Homosexuality as a Test Case.” In Homosexuality in the Church: Both Sides of the Debate, by Jeffrey S. Siker, 76-90. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994.

Nicolosi, Joseph. “Three Models of Christian Ministry to Homosexuals.” In A Reason for Hope: Christian Perspectives on Homosexuality and Healing, by Julie Belding, & Bruce Nicholls, 112 – 114. Auckland: Human Relations Foundation, 1996.

Patterson, Sue. “Nature, Sex, and the Cross: Homosexuality and Christian Discipleship.” In More than a Single Issue: Theological Considerations Concerning the Ordination of Practising Homosexuals., by Murray A. Rae, & Graham Redding, 122-140. Hindmarsh: Australian Theological Forum, 2000.

Payne, Leanne. Healing Homosexuality. Grand Rapids: Hamewith Books, 1985, 1996.

Perkins, Anne, and Charles E. Roselli. “The Ram as a Model for Behavioural Neuroendocrinology.” Hormonal Behaviour, June 2007: 70-77.

Pritchard, Cameron. “The Discourses of Homosexual Law Reform.” In Sexuality Down Under; Social and Historical Perspectives., by Allison Kirkman, & Pat Moloney, 79 – 96. Dunedin: University of Otago Press, 2005.

Rae, Alister. “Knowing the Value and the Use.” In More than a Single Issue: Theological Considerations Concerning the Ordination of Practising Homosexuals., by Murray A. Rae, & Graham Redding, 3-25. Hindamarsh: Australian Theological Forum, 2000.

Rae, Murray A. “In Earthen Vessels: Considerations Concerning Homosexuality and Ministry.” In More than a Single Issue: Theolgocial Considerations concerning the Ordination of Practicing Homosexuals, by Murray A. Rae, & Graham Redding, 252 – 267. Hindmarsh: Australian Theological Forum, 2000.

Ratzinger, Cardinal Joseph. “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons (1986).” In Homosexuality in the Church; both Sides of the Debate, by Jeffrey S. Siker, 39- 47. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994.

Redding, Graham. “Being in Christ and Living by the Spirit: A Basis for Understanding Human Identity and Freedom.” In More than a Single Issue: Theological Considerations Concerning the Ordination of Practicing Homosexuals, by Murray A. Rae, & Graham Redding, 213 – 231. Hindmarsh: Australian Theological Forum, 2000.

Riddell, David. Living Wisdom Life and Counselling Skills. Nelson, n.d.

Rogers, Jack. Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church. Louiseville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006.

Ron. “Love that Does Not Count the Cost.” 2003. (accessed June 19, 2012).

Roughan, John. “Gay Adoption a Step too Far.” June 2, 2012. (accessed July 19, 2012).

Sarfati, Jonathan D. “Gay ‘Marriage’ and the Consistent Outcome of Genesis Compromise.” June 30, 2012. (accessed July 1, 2012).

Savic, Ivanka, Hans Berglund, Balazs Gulyas, and Per Roland. “Smelling of Odorous Sex Hormone-like Compounds Causes Sex-Differentiated Hypothalmic Activations in Humans.” August 30, 2001. (accessed June 12, 2012).

Schreiner, Thomas R. Romans. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998.

Scroggs, Robin. The New Testament and Homosexuality; Contextual Background for Contemporary Debate. Philidelphia: Fortress Press, 1983.

Siker, Jeffrey S. “Homosexual Christians, the Bible, and Gentile Inclusion: Confessions of a Repenting Heterosexist.” In Homosexuals in the Church: Both Sides of the Debate, by Jeffrey S. Siker, 178 – 194. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994.

Stott, John R. W. The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.

Swaab DF, Hofman MA. “Sexual differentiation of the human hypothalamus in relation to gender and sexual orientation.” Trends Neurosci 18, no. 6 (June 1995): 264-70.

The Bible: The New Revised Standard Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989.

The House of Representatives. “Human Rights Act.” 1993. (accessed July 16th, 2012).

Todd, Rebecca. “Abused ‘more likely to be gay’.” July 23, 2010. (accessed July 12, 2012).

Torrance, Alan J. “On Determining whether Homosexuality is to be Endorsed Theologically.” In More than a Single Issue: Theological Considerations Concerning the Ordination of Practicing Homosexuals, by Murray A. Rae, & Graham Redding, 163 – 183. Hindmarsh: Australian Theological Forum, 2000.

Watson, Gordon. “The ‘Compassion’ of God as a Basis for Christian Ethical Claims.” In More than a Single Issue: Theological Considerations Concerning the Ordination of Practicing Homosexuals, by Murray A. Rae, & Graham Redding, 232 – 251. Hindmarsh: Australian Theological Forum, 2000.

Wenham, Gordon J. The Book of Leviticus. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Printing Co., 1979.

Whitehead, N.E. “Science and Sexuality.” In A Reason for Hope: Christian Perspectives on Homosexuality and Healing. , by Julie Belding, & Bruce Nicholls, 19 – 39. Auckland: Human Relationships Foundation, 1996.

Wright, Nigel Goring. New Baptists, New Agenda. Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2002.


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The Bible and Homosexuality; Analogous issues and conclusions

So where does this leave us?

One commentator says

Whereas re-exegeting the biblical texts that bear upon this issue certainly has shed light on what those texts mean and in some cases leads to a re-reading of them, this seems to me to leave the basic issue unchanged.  What revisionists must contend with is not four relatively isolated texts that prohibit, but a whole biblical witness to human sexuality that permits and affirms. …the vision of male and female in the complementary and productive union for which their bodies equip and prepare them.  No other vision is offered.[1]

Alternatively, though the bible affirms only one model of sexual relationship, does that mean that it necessarily denies the validity of all others? Another writer states

…there is in principle nothing to prevent our affirming the central importance of Christian marriage without necessarily in the same breath condemning other responsible sexual relationships.  Marriage between Christians may be both sacrament and vocation and as such embrace and transform a natural coupling.  It may in a unique way show us something of the Trinitarian mystery while informing us of the true nature of the relationship of Christ to his Church, It is not these things simply because it is ‘natural’, however, nor does its being these things and therefore God’s ideal for us necessarily have to deny the legitimacy of other ways of relating where this ideal is precluded for whatever reason. [2]

In other words, simply because we uphold marriage (or celibacy) as Christian callings and sacraments, does that mean that we therefore reject other forms of sexual relationship?  This is a central question for us.  What does the bible say?  Where do we fall between the two views expressed above?

In reviewing the specific scriptures referring to homosexuality, we see that the bible never, apart from in Leviticus, addresses homosexual behaviour as a topic in itself.  Paul, on three occasions, uses it as an obvious example of vice in pagan society.  Many have noted that the homosexuality referred to in the vice lists, and possibly also in the Romans passage, very likely referred primarily to the forms of homosexual relationship that were known to Paul at the time; pederasty.  It can be shown that other Jews who wrote about homosexuality at that time described such behaviour in such a way that they were clearly influenced by their social surroundings[3].  Thus we can say that Paul was condemning what we would describe today as pederasty – but we should also say that, for him, that was equivalent to condemning homosexuality per se.  What was wrong with these relationships, for Paul, was not just that they were exploitative or non-reciprocal or age-inappropriate, but that they were homosexual – they exchanged ‘the natural use’ of male and female roles in a very specific way.

Finally, then there is the law of Leviticus.  As noted, this is the one occasion where the bible actually focuses (albeit, very briefly) upon homosexual behaviour per se.  Again, like Paul’s statements in Romans, it can easily be read as having very broad applicability[4] – to men, at least.  When we seek to understand the principles and concerns underlying the law as it is given, we can see that it is probably aimed at limiting specific activities (cultic prostitution and abuse).  However it can’t be proven that the original intent was simply to restrict abusive, idolatrous, and dangerous practices, and promote fertility.  The context of Leviticus chapters 18 & 20 within the holiness laws requires us to read them also in terms of the confusion of categories that is inherent in homosexual relations.

So then we come to the specific question facing us; can these scriptures be taken to refer to loving, exclusive, and respectful same-sex relationships today?  This is, after all, what it comes down to.  All the biblical statements against homosexuality could be explained (away) as opposing lustful, exploitative, or idolatrous practices and therefore as irrelevant to the relationships that many gay Christians[5] seek, enjoy, and hope that the church will bless and support.   Is that the best way of dealing with these scriptures?  Do such explanations deal with the scriptures completely, or do the scriptures still speak to those relationships which aren’t prostitution or pederasty?

Analogous issues:  Before we leave the scriptures, we should consider the many analogous issues which are regularly raised in this debate.   An analogous issue is one that is similar in some way to the subject at hand.  By thinking about how we have dealt with this other matter, we throw light upon how we can deal with our current concern.

The most frequent is that of other ‘irrelevant’ laws, as suggested above.  We often hear the argument that the church is reading the OT very selectively in upholding one verse in Leviticus 18, and ignoring a great many of the verses around it.  The proposed analogy here is with laws such as that prohibiting mixing fabric in clothing.  In reading Old Testament law, there are several criteria by which we consider it; firstly, as I have done throughout my discussion of the Leviticus passages, we should consider what good the law promotes, and what evils it seeks to prevent.  While some do so from a materialistic perspective (i.e. how do these laws promote the health and socio-economic well-being of God’s people) this cannot be detached from a spiritual perspective; how do these laws promote God’s glory among his people, and limit idolatry and other sins which separate people from God?  Many OT laws certainly had powerful material benefits, but none of them should be separated out from their religious context.  In this respect we have noted the social and familial benefits of the restriction of homosexual relations in ancient near eastern households, and we have also noted how the Leviticus law might function as upholding God’s good creation of male and female, of God’s gift of life through procreation, and of the separation of God’s people from the surrounding peoples, emphasising holiness.

Secondly, we should consider how the laws impacted upon the people of God in their specific culture; this tells us something about the intended impact of the law.  A notorious example of this is the separation of kinds of fabric in clothing, or seeds in horticulture in Leviticus 19.  Many people point to these laws today, and say that as they serve no purpose, we have (rightly) discarded them, and should do the same with other OT laws.  I hope I have shown, however, that the impact of such laws was not meaningless in their original context, but served to remind God’s people in everyday life of the holiness (i.e. separateness) of their God and therefore of his People.   We have to ask ourselves if the intention of this OT law is still relevant in our society, and if so, how we would express that relevance today.  What do we believe to be the intention of the Leviticus law?  How relevant is that in our society?  How should that be expressed today?  It is abundantly clear that God’s call to holiness is by no means redundant.  How do we show our distinctness from society around us in relation to issues of homosexuality?

Thirdly, we should consider the way in which those specific laws were dealt with in the New Testament, and thus seek the guidance of Jesus and his Apostles in our interpretations.  In our specific case, it is clear that the Leviticus law against homosexuality was seen by Paul as still relevant, and his writing makes direct reference to it through the use of the word arsenokoites.

Jesus didn’t ever mention homosexuality, but nor did he mention idolatry so we should not take his silence on the matter to imply his indifference to it.  Also, as we have seen, in sexual matters generally Jesus didn’t just affirm the OT teaching, but moved it from the realm of action to that of attitude.  He also shifted marriage from being simply a legal contract, subject to law, and referred to it as part of God’s creative intent of the creation of maleness and femaleness, strongly affirming the creation mandate to marry, and to be one flesh.  At the same time he made marriage a subservient institution to the over-riding importance of the Kingdom of God.  NT teaching generally is strongly pro-marriage and also strongly pro-celibacy.   Thus, we have to say that comparing the Leviticus laws on homosexuality (or incest, or bestiality) to ‘other irrelevant laws’ doesn’t really work.

Gentile inclusion  Another key analogy that is found in the debates[6], is the inclusion of the gentiles in the (previously) completely Jewish early church; how the witness of the Apostles to the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of gentiles led them to re-examine the scriptures, and come to a new decision about the requirements of the law for all Christians, thus welcoming into the church those who were previously banned, without requiring the gentiles to conform to the standards of behaviour that had previously been thought to be normal (Acts 15).  While the key point is that the Gentiles did not have to become Jews in order to be Christian (or, in our analogy, homosexual people wouldn’t have to become heterosexual), a substantial secondary point is that the Jerusalem council took some pains to provide clear instructions on what ethical expectations they did have[7], if the whole of the Torah was not relevant in its literal form; they didn’t have to stop being gentile and start being Jewish, but they certainly had to change their lifestyles in ways which were costly, and which led, eventually, to martyrdom for some[8].  If we were to push the analogy, then, we would have to say that homosexual people are certainly welcome in the church – as is anybody who is filled with the Holy Spirit of Christ.  But the church should have no problem in saying that the characteristics of the individual’s life which were seen to be sinful prior to their conversion are still seen as sinful after and need to be repented from. 

A much closer analogy may be the case of Eunuchs;[9] banned from the temple (Leviticus 21.20) and from citizenship of Israel (Deut 23.1) by OT law, these men were still an everyday part of civic life, serving in various capacities (2 Kings 23:11; Jer 38:7) as they did throughout the middle-east.  There was a word to them from the prophet Isaiah:

3 Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,

“The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;

and do not let the eunuch say,

“I am just a dry tree.”

4 For thus says the Lord:

To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,

who choose the things that please me

and hold fast my covenant,

5 I will give, in my house and within my walls,

a monument and a name

better than sons and daughters;

I will give them an everlasting name

that shall not be cut off. [10]

And this word was fulfilled in Acts ch. 8, when the Ethiopian eunuch was baptised, and set off to found the first church in Africa.  The parallel here is, like that in Acts 15, that a group of people thought to be unacceptable to God, (in this case because of sexual ‘difference’) are now accepted as God’s people without any alteration to the essential point of difference that previously excluded them.  There is nothing here, however, to suggest that there was anything about Eunuchs apart from their inability to procreate that excluded them from God’s people previously; that is, they were identified by a ‘negative’ quality – something they lacked rather than a positive quality (something they did or were).  In other words, Eunuchs didn’t have to cease any specific behaviours in order to enter the church.  Would the same be said for homosexually oriented people?

Women’s Roles, Race, and Slavery are issues which are occasionally brought up in this debate.  The question is usually framed that, if the church was wrong about slavery and racism, and if the church was wrong about the role of women, and if the church now interprets some scriptures differently than it did fifty years ago, could the church be wrong again, now?[11]

In response to this argument, others have pointed out that to say “wrong on slavery and women, and therefore wrong on homosexuality” is to draw an unwarranted conclusion reached on other grounds.  Simply because a teaching is traditional doesn’t make it wrong, or that which it denies right.[12]  And of course the converse is also true – just because a teaching is traditional doesn’t make it right.

The value of the analogy is that it teaches us to be careful that our reading of scripture is not simply an acceptance of social norms (often, given the inherently conservative nature of the church, the norms of the previous century), but is a genuine attempt to discover the fullest meaning of scripture taken on the whole.

As regards women and slavery, a reading of the scriptures within the context of their times reveals that the provisions of the bible in their regards were essentially humanising, and, by comparison with their context, profoundly liberating.  Thus we came to see that scripture contained within it a tension between the social norms of the day as reflected in scripture and the liberating power of God as regards slaves and women.  Is there any similar tension as regards homosexuality?  As far as our reading has gone, the only visible tension in the scriptures regarding homosexuality is that between the social norms of their day that accepted various homosexual behaviours, and the consistent biblical emphasis upon faithful heterosexual relationships as the only acceptable form of sexual relationship.

Contraception, Usury and Divorce; Finally, it is sometimes pointed out that the church has accepted, fairly uncritically, social norms without much reflection on the biblical material.  Why, it is asked, don’t we do the same as regards homosexuality?  Is it not simply ‘homophobia’?  While it is true that modern innovations, such as consumer capitalism, contraception, and convenience divorce, have been accepted and even blessed by churches, that is not a good argument for saying that we should do the same with every trend; rather, we should revisit our stance, perhaps, in regards to some of these other matters, and strive for a higher standard of holiness than we presently do.  It is valid, however, to note that there is a greater reluctance to accept change on sexual standards that don’t affect the majority.  In fairness, we need to consider whether we would be so quick and simplistic in our thinking about homosexuality if it affected as many of our members as does divorce and contraception.

This concludes our survey of the key scriptural texts, themes, and additional, analogous issues.


In presenting this material, my aim has been to fairly, clearly, and comprehensively communicate the arguments that are frequently heard and used in debate within the church about homosexuality.  I have not covered every aspect of the debate, but I hope I have covered the core issues in such a way that decision-making will be well-informed and careful.  While I have critiqued arguments on both sides of the debate, I’m sure that my own opinions are reasonably clear. Nevertheless, I hope that the arguments speak for themselves, and that others will be able to sort through them and come to their own conclusions.

[1] (Wright 2002, 142)

[2] (Patterson 2000, 136-7n)

[3] (Scroggs 1983, 78 – 79, 88 – 96)

[4] One commentator notes that Jewish exegesis carefully delineates exceptions to the laws so that they can be applied easily – but that there are no exceptions recorded for this law, concluding that “A text without exceptions in Jewish literature probably really is a text without exceptions!” (Ron 2003)

[5] I am aware that some see the phrase “gay Christian” as an oxymoron; I use the term as it is used by those who own it.

[6] See, e.g. (Rogers 2006, 89-90) (Goddard, 2001) (Siker 1994, 154-156)

[7]  Of note here, is that while the word translated ‘sexual immorality’ (porneia) listed among the prohibitions for the gentile believers in the Acts 15 narrative is not explained by the text, but it may arise from the Leviticus purity regulations (17.1 – 18.30) which applied not just to Israelites, but also to the aliens living among them (ch 17.8-16, 18.26).  If that was the case, then it points to all the sexual boundaries listed in Leviticus 18.

[8] Rev 2.13.

[9] (McNeill 1994, 57) offers this analogy.

[10]Isaiah, 56:3, NRSV

[11] (Rogers 2006) is an excellent example of this type of argument.

[12] (Goddard, God, Gentiles and Gay Christians; Acts 15 and Change in the Church. 2001, 13)

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The Bible and Homosexuality; Romans

Romans 1

…26 For this reason, God gave them up to degrading passions.  Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women were consumed with passion for one another.  Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

Finally we come to the most significant of biblical texts for the issue of homosexuality.  The few verses quoted above are part of a carefully-crafted argument that Paul is putting forward to the church in Rome.  It really begins at vss 16 & 17, where Paul proclaims that he is not ashamed of the gospel which is for everyone – Jew and then Greek – and that in it the righteousness of God is revealed.  He then goes on to prove that God is righteous by showing that his wrath and judgement “is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth.” What comes next is an exposition of how God has revealed his wrath, as well as a demonstration of how the truth has been suppressed.  Vss 19- 20 argues that God’s power and nature are understood through creation, and so ignorance is no excuse.  The ‘ungodliness’ and ‘wickedness’ of vs 18 is described in vs. 21; that though God was known, people refused to honour him or give him thanks; rather their minds were ‘darkened’ because they “they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles” (vs 23).  This is significant because it introduces the idea of ‘exchange’ that becomes a central motif through the rest of the argument, and because it identifies the key sin (ignoring God) with idolatry[1].  In other words, it is when we are at our most religious, that humans tend to be farthest from God.  Many commentators also see in the enumeration of the forms of the idols a reference to the created order; a verbal echo of Gen 1.24-26.  The significance (or otherwise) of the creation account for Paul in presenting his argument is an often disputed aspect of this passage[2].  The importance of this will be seen as we proceed.

Verse 24 is the first of three statements expounding the result of God’s wrath. It begins, “Therefore, God gave them up…”  A much better translation for the Greek word paredoken is “handed over” or “deliver up”[3], with the image of a person being handed over by the judge to those with responsibility to carry out the sentence; the same use of paredoken as in 1 Cor 5:5, and {of Jesus) in Luke 20:20 and 22:6.  This ties in much better with the idea that what Paul is talking about is a revelation of God’s wrath than the usual translation of “gave them up” with the strong connotation of abandonment.  Nowhere here does Paul intend us to understand that God has abandoned his wayward creation.  Instead, what Paul is saying is that God delivered us over for punishment – delivered us into the power of our own sinful desires[4], specifically, to impurity and to the degrading of our bodies amongst ourselves.   It should be noted that throughout the scriptures, the primary purpose of punishment is to bring about repentance, reconciliation, and restoration – it is never simply vindictiveness.  So Paul’s argument is that in response to the human refusal to acknowledge him as creator, God sentenced us to live according to our own foolishness.

Vs 25 reiterates the reason for this handing over, again in terms of an exchange of truth for lies, because we worshipped and served the creature instead of the creator, and then breaks briefly into doxology; partially in reaction to the horror of idolatry, partly out of simple reverence for God as Creator.

What does Paul mean by ‘Natural’ and ‘Unnatural’?

The references to ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ here does not imply that Paul is building his argument upon a ‘natural theology‘ –knowledge available by observing the world around us, implying that ‘what is, is what ought to be’.  If this were the case, then empirical observations of homosexual behaviour in various mammals, including humans, would show Paul to be simply wrong in describing it as ‘unnatural’.  I have already talked about the dangers of using empirical observations as a guide to moral decision-making.  Rather, he, like other Hellenistic Jews of his time, is evoking an image of what ought to be as ‘natural’; an implied ideal that, for Paul, is heavily coloured by his previous evocation of God as creator. (See on this Scroggs 1983, 97-98, 116 -117 and Hays 1996, 387)  Many exegetes at this point suggest that Paul has the biblical account of the creation of human beings specifically in mind here, noting not only the references to God as creator, and the echo of Genesis language in vs 23, but also the fact that in vss 26 &27 he doesn’t talk about ‘men’ and ‘women’ (as most of our translations, quite naturally, say) but ‘males’ and ‘females’.  The phrasing is unusual, and indicates that Paul was thinking not so much of identifiable individuals (who happen to be men and women) but of the human race as a whole, who are male and female; he is thinking of us specifically in terms of gender differentiation – and this language arises directly from the Genesis account of the creation of humanity in Gen 1:27.  In effect, by referencing the creation story, Paul is retelling the story of the fall.

Vs 26 and 27 returns to the visible evidence of God’s wrath; that we were handed over to degrading passions; specifically, that women “exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural”.  The word translated ‘intercourse’ here is ‘use’, with strongly sexual connotations[5].  This verse is significant for several reasons.  Firstly, because it anchors the language of ‘exchange’ (truth for lies, Glory of the immortal Creator for mortal creatures) in concrete social/sexual relations.  Paul isn’t simply talking about attitudes, but actions.  Secondly, because this is (probably) the only reference in all scripture to female homosexuality.  There may be those who argue that it does not refer to lesbian actions, but to ‘unnatural’ activities by women in heterosexual relationships, but the words “natural” and “unnatural” were regularly used in Paul’s culture to denote homosexual versus heterosexual relationships[6].  It is thought that Paul’s vagueness here is simply being modest in mentioning female homosexual relations as they tended to evoke a much more negative reaction than the socially normative male homosexuality[7].  Also, his language in the next verse (“in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse”) strongly implies that what he says explicitly of men (“consumed with passion for one another.  Men committed shameless acts with men”), he intended of women, also[8].

The ‘due penalty’ referred to in vs 27 is often, today, equated with the negative health effects of some forms of homosexual activity, and even to the HIV crisis.  That was not Paul’s intention; he was simply reiterating his previous point (see vs 24) – that sin is its own punishment, and that men’s and women’s bodies were degraded by their actions.

Vs 28 – 31 are the climax of this section of Paul’s argument.  In pointing to human wrongdoing he is demonstrating that God has ‘handed us over’ to our own devices and desires as punishment for exchanging the truth for a lie, the immortal God for the mortal creature.  He makes this point three times, each time expanding on his argument and building towards a crescendo.  He first pointed, in a general way to those who ‘degraded their bodies among themselves’ (vs 24).  Then, repeating “God handed them over to…” he points specifically to homosexual activity.  Finally, with great emphasis, he repeats his charge (they did not see fit to acknowledge God), repeats the consequence, (God handed them over) and then launches into his most complete castigation of sin anywhere, producing a vice list of 21 individual items, summarily described as “a debased mind” and “things that should not be done”.

Romans 1.18-32: Setting up the sting.  At this point, Paul’s congregation is in full agreement with him, nodding their heads vigorously, and loudly proclaiming “Amen!”  just as he intends that they should be – because he’s about to pull the rug from beneath their feet.  Many have noted the remarkable rhetorical power of Paul’s writing here, and the similarities with other scriptures[9], where people are brought through hearty agreement with the condemnation of others to condemn themselves: Romans 2:1 “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.”  The whole argument concludes at 3:21-23; “But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.  Thus Paul concludes his case for the prosecution, declaring God righteous and all else sinful.  Only then does he go on to proclaim God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

Now that we have seen the specific verses mentioning homosexuality in their context, we must ask how they function.  Richard Hays says that this passage

…sets up a homiletical sting operation.  The passage builds a crescendo of condemnation, declaring God’s wrath upon human unrighteousness, using rhetoric characteristic of Jewish polemic against Gentile immorality.  It whips the [Jewish] reader into a frenzy of indignation against others …but then, in Romans 2:1, the sting strikes. …the reader who joyfully joins in the condemnation of the unrighteous is “without excuse”…Consequently, for Paul, self-righteous judgement of homosexuality is just as sinful as the homosexual behaviour itself.  …all of us stand in radical need of God’s mercy.[10]

Brighton agrees, adding

Any use of the Romans 1 material therefore as a club to belabour homosexual people in particular …runs in fact directly counter to the intention of the passage as a whole[11].  Such usage exhibits precisely what Paul saw as a characteristic and deadly blindness of religious people.  Paul, no more than Jesus, will allow Christianity to be a cover for people to say: “Them, those sinful people out there.”[12]

Whilst Paul’s intention in this passage is not to attack homosexuals, but those who see homosexuality as sinful[13], his point only makes sense if he agrees with what he writes here about homosexuality, and so we must take his words seriously.

Was Paul purely potting pederasty and prostitution?  The question is raised, however, that if Paul and the other Jews of his day were attacking the homosexuality they saw, as argued above, what would they have made of the homosexuality that we see today?  Are the evils of the exploitative homosexual relationships of that time generalisable to today?  Some think not, saying, “The homosexuality the New Testament opposes is the pederasty of the Greco-Roman culture”[14].  Others point out that there are many cultural assumptions that lie behind the condemnation of homosexuality that no longer hold good today; such as that homosexual behaviour rendered its participants sterile, or that everybody was heterosexually oriented and therefore going against their individual nature in enjoying homosexual sex, or that taking a ‘female’ role in sex is degrading for men because women are inferior, or that homosexuality would be attractive to everyone if unchecked, and lead to the extinction of the race[15].  For these reasons, and given that Paul was addressing sin in general rather than homosexuality in itself, they say we cannot take his apparent condemnation of homosexuality to be determinative for today.

The ‘tax-collector argument’  In supporting this kind of argument, some use the example of the tax-collector[16]; throughout the New Testament, tax collectors are seen as the epitome of social evil – which is why it is always shocking when Jesus favours them[17].  No-one argues that what they were doing was ok – they were clearly traitors, greedy, and considered altogether despicable.  Nor does anybody seriously claim that tax collectors today should be seen the same way – not because Jesus was nice to tax-collectors in biblical times, but because we don’t think that what tax collectors do today is the same as what they did then.  Their behaviour is different, even if they still have the same name, and, essentially, the same job.  And therefore we would no longer say someone is a sinner simply because they are a tax collector.  Just as you could say that the nature of tax collection now is completely different to the nature of tax collection then, it is argued that the nature of homosexual activity now (consenting and egalitarian) is completely different to the nature of homosexual acts then (demeaning and exploitative).

A Kiwi come-back:  One New Zealand writer who has addressed this issue, Chris Marshal[18], lists the objections to generalising the Romans material, and then responds to them.  His key points are as follows:

  • Specifically addressing the issue of whether it is possible to generalise Paul’s understanding of homosexuality to our situation, Marshall notes that if we are to disregard biblical teaching because it is shaped by the culture in which it arises, we would have no bible left – it is all shaped in important ways by the cultural context in which it was written.  If we were to disregard everything the bible says about sex, for instance, because it reflected the shape of the biblical cultures, we would have no standards for sex but those of our own society.  To rely upon our own understanding in such a significant matter is to choose wilful ignorance over the witness of scripture, and to place our own cultural prejudices and understandings (confused as they are) over our foundational document.[19]   Our task is to discern the ways in which the bible speaks to us through its cultural shape.
  • To those who argue that Romans only speaks against those who exchange natural for unnatural sex because they are heterosexuals who go against their heterosexual ‘nature’ by engaging in homosexual behaviour, he says they import into the scriptures a modern concept (that of homosexual orientation) that simply did not exist for the biblical writers; …as commentators almost universally agree, Paul uses the language of nature in v.27 to denote, not one’s in-born sexual disposition, but the intention of the Creator in making humankind as male and female[20].  In other words, it is wrong to think that ‘nature’ here refers to an individual predisposition; Paul is referring instead to a global human ideal.
  • to those who argue that Paul is condemning pederasty, not egalitarian sexual relationships, Marshal responds,

If Paul is thinking of pederasty, it is surprising that neither here nor elsewhere does Paul use one of the several words and phrases in common use at the time to refer to pederasty.  Instead of such specific identification in Romans 1, he speaks generally (in a phrase unique to Paul) of “males with males committing indecent acts”, not “men with boys” (as Plato is capable of saying).  The phrase “exchanged… the natural use” also suggests adult-adult sexual relations, not adult-child relations, while the phrases “toward one another”, “men with men” and “their error” all suggest reciprocal, consensual activity[21]

He goes on to suggest that the parallel condemnation of ‘unnatural’ female sexual relations suggests a generic condemnation of homosexual activity, especially since there was no recognised equivalent to male pederasty, thus female homosexual relations were mutual.

How might someone respond to Chris Marshall’s argument?  In considering these last points, some questions inevitably arise.  It is true that Paul’s language strongly suggests a universal condemnation of homosexual activity, but if pederasty was the universal model of homosexual relationship at the time, would Paul need to specify pederasty in order to be referring to it?  What else could he be talking about?  Even when pederastic relationships continued into adulthood, the evidence is that they stayed in the form of a pederastic relationship, with one partner taking a subservient role[22] – like a slave, a prostitute, or a woman would.  The phrase “males with males”, as has already been pointed out, is most likely intended to be an echo of the language of Genesis, rather than intended to provide a generic description of homosexual acts, though it may possibly be intended to include those few, and notorious[23], relationships where an adult male continued to take a subservient role.  The phrase “exchanged the natural use of” does suggest that adult sexual relationships were being substituted – but we should be wary of thinking about ancient marriage relationships as being like those we enjoy today.  For a Roman man of Paul’s day to exchange the ‘natural use’ of a woman for a boy is to exchange one social inferior for another, not an equal reciprocal relationship for an unequal one; so saying it is an ‘exchange’ does not necessarily imply that the relationship was consensual or reciprocal.  “Men with men” does sound like sex between equals, but the actual words are “Males with males” and so there is no way of assuming anything about the ages or relative maturity or social position of those referred to apart from what we know about the surrounding culture.  Plato talks of ‘men with boys’, but pederastic relationships normally extended into what, for Jews, constituted early adulthood.  Possibly, by using an age-neutral term, Paul was ensuring that he covered the range of behaviours ‘normal’ in his day.   “Toward one another” is the single phrase most suggestive of reciprocal lust – however, it was precisely the lust of the ‘beloved’ that rendered him notorious; where a young man sought out adult lovers or made themselves available, they were seen as promiscuous and immoral[24].  It was the role of the adult lover to seduce and persuade the boy into the relationship.  If Paul did, as seems most likely, have pederastic relationships in mind, then his depiction of both partners acting out of carnal desire presents them both in the worst possible light.  So although Marshall brings together some important observations about the way in which the passage seems to speak generally about homosexual behaviour, it can also be seen that it might still be speaking primarily or even exclusively of pederastic behaviour.

But then again… His comment about the parallel condemnation of ‘unnatural’ female sexual relations suggesting a generic condemnation of homosexual activity is, however, fairly indisputable.  Also, I would agree with Marshal and most others that Paul’s use of the word ‘nature’ should not be read as a reference to personal sexual orientation, but as a reference to God’s global creative intention.  However, that global intention is obviously expressed in the lives of individuals, so it is appropriate to say that Paul’s understanding is that all people are heterosexual, even though he would never have used that term.  Therefore the talk about ‘exchanging natural for unnatural’ sexual practices certainly implies this sort of understanding, even if Paul was not specifically interested in the psychological make-up of those he was talking about.  What is inappropriate is to assume that Paul was talking about heterosexuals in distinction to homosexuals.  It is probable that Paul had no concept of homosexuality as an abiding, fixed orientation[25] – though if you had suggested it to him, I doubt he would have been surprised; he was, after all, describing how humanity had fallen through refusing to honour our creator, and had been handed over to inordinate desires.  This is the Apostle who describes in such painful detail his experience of sin working in and through him against his will in Romans 7, and who saw the whole human race as enslaved to sin through our connection to the original sinner, Adam.  Certainly he was not blind to the place of sexual desire in the homoerotic relationships of his day.  Regardless of whether that desire arises from an innate orientation, or from wilfully perverted sexual thrill-seeking, he saw such desires, by contrast with God’s creation of male and female, as disordered and as evidence of the fallenness of creation.

[1] Some have argued from this that that the homosexuality that is being condemned here is that which is associated with pagan worship, however, I am not familiar with any material demonstrating that such worship actually took place, nor have I seen it referred to, and nor does Paul limit what he says to cultic contexts.

[2] (Dunn, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 38a, Romans 1 – 8 1988) , (Marshall 2003, 8), (Hays 1996, 386) (Grenz 1998, 48 – 56) and (Stott 1994) argue for it’s importance, (Scroggs 1983, 116 – 117) and (Furnish 1994, 30 ) see it as significantly less important.

[3] (Arndt 1979) (Jewett 2007, 166 – 167)

[4] It was a commonplace of Hellenistic Jewish thought that vice is its own punishment; (Fitzmyer 1993, 288) notes (as does (Schreiner 1998, 97)) that Paul echoes Wis. 11.16 (and 12.27) which says, “One is punished by the very things with which he sins.”

[5] (Arndt 1979)

[6] (Hays 1996, 387)

[7] (Jewett 2007, 174), (Murray 1968, 47)

[8] Scroggs (1983, 115) notes that Paul’s inclusion of female homosexuality on the same terms as male is indicative of his basic perspective that Christ is more important than gender, and that in Jesus there is not “male and female” (Gal 3:28).  In this, he implicitly extends the Leviticus prohibitions to women.

[9] (Brighton 2003, 18) Notes the same sort of procedure in both Amos and in Nathan’s story of the lamb.

[10] (Hays 1996, 389)

[11] emphasis in the original

[12] (Brighton 2003, 19)

[13] He is not attacking them because they see homosexuality as sinful, but because they refuse to see their own sins.

[14] (Scroggs 1983, 84)

[15] (Furnish 1994, 26-28)

[16] This argument is proposed by (Lee, What I Believe n.d.)

[17] Matt 5:46; 9:9-11; 11:19; 17:24; 21:31-32; Luke 3:12; 15:1; 18:10-13; 19:1-9

[18] (Marshall 2003)

[19] Other writers also warn emphatically against allowing today’s cultural norms or ‘science’ to dictate to faith on this or other matters; (Torrance 2000) (Grenz 1998, 86-89).  A helpful text on this subject, related directly to the current debate, is Jones and Yarhouse’s book; Homosexuality: The Use of Scientific Research in the Church’s Moral Debate

[20] (Marshall 2003, 12)

[21] (Marshall 2003, 12)

[22] (Scroggs 1983, 17-62)

[23] This was notorious only where the male was a free-born citizen.  It was expected of slaves, regardless of their age.  Paul, who had pastoral care for slaves in the church, would see such use of them as equally evil, though his opinion would not be widely shared in society at the time.

[24] (Scroggs 1983, 42)

[25] Though Grenz points out that several ancient writers contemporary with and predating Paul proposed explanations of congenital homosexuality (Grenz 1998, 84-86)

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The Bible and Homosexuality; Leviticus

Lev. 18

19 You shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness while she is in her menstrual uncleanness. 20 You shall not have sexual relations with your kinsman’s wife, and defile yourself with her. 21 You shall not give any of your offspring to sacrifice them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD. 22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. 23 You shall not have sexual relations with any animal and defile yourself with it, nor should any woman give herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it: it is a perversion.  24 Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, for by all these practices the nations I am casting out before you defiled themselves.  25 Thus the land became defiled; and I punished it for its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants.

Lev. 20

13If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.

The Leviticus prohibition of homosexuality is the clearest single text in the bible on this subject, until we come to Romans.  Unlike the other OT texts we’ve looked at so far, there is nothing in it to indicate that it might refer only to a specific form of homosexuality, such as temple prostitution, or homosexual gang rape.  It speaks simply of “lying with a male as with a woman.”  As with all the verses around it, it is addressed to those who are the (male) heads of the household and their male relatives.  It is so clear that Gordon Wenham, in the 1970s, can make his commentary on Leviticus 18.22 in a single sentence; essentially, “homosexuality is wrong”, and leave it at that.  By contrast, Bailey, when he reaches that verse in 2005 needs to spend several pages addressing claims that homosexuality is not wrong.  Only one of Bailey’s points[1], however, is specifically addressing the text at hand – his arguments seem to arise from everywhere but his text – and at that one point he is addressing the one scholar that nearly everyone quotes; Jacob Milgrom.

How do we read the Old Testament from a New Testament perspective?

…the call to be holy like Yahweh is clearly restated in the NT.  Jesus taught, “Be you perfect as your heavenly father is perfect” (Matt 5.48).  Peter heard this well for he makes this call the keystone of his first epistle (1.15-16).  Holiness is the goal of all believers in Jesus, who are called hoi agioi, “the holy ones, saints” (Acts 9.13, 32; Rom 8.27; 12.13; Eph 2.19; etc).  Since all the laws in Leviticus offer insight into the nature of the holy, the study of these laws is profitable for Christians.  Although Jesus did away with the laws of ritual purity (e.g. Matt 15.10 – 20//Mark 7:14-13), he strengthened the call to holy living.  The laws of personal relationship continue to address Christians, though they have to be translated from one era to another, for they reveal the principles essential to holy living.  In addition, through the study of the ancient law we discover how the principles were applied to concrete situations.  Then we have paradigms for applying those principles to concrete situations in contemporary society.

(Hartley 1992, lxxiii)


Our task, then, is to understand the “principles essential to holy living”.  In seeking these principles we are not at liberty to ignore texts we dislike, but must seek for the fullest meaning of each text.  That won’t be possible if we ignore the details.

Leviticus Laws all about protecting life:  Milgrom writes as a Jew, and presents a specifically Jewish perspective on what is a very Jewish text.  His main understanding of this section of Leviticus is that it is all about the promotion of the family through the preservation of male seed.  To understand his argument we need to step back a little from the one verse in which we’re interested, and look at it in the wider context.  This is necessary also because while this one verse from Leviticus seems quite clear, so are many other verses from Leviticus which we comfortably ignore entirely!  If we decide that this particular verse is still relevant to us, we must explore the grounds on which we say that it is, and this requires us to see it in its wider context.

Immediate Context: The first thing to notice about Leviticus 18.22 is that it is surrounded by similar prohibitions; the others prohibiting sexual relations with animals or with close kin[2].  There is also a law prohibiting the offering of children to a god called Molech, another prohibiting intercourse with a woman during menstruation, and another prohibiting adultery (intercourse with the wife of a kinsman or neighbour).  The beginning and the end of the chapter tells us that these prohibitions are ways in which the people of God are to be different to those around them, implying that all these things were done by the nations surrounding Israel[3] or that from which they had come (Egypt).  In other words, they are deeply concerned with holiness.

Leviticus 18 and 20 as ‘Bookends’ The second thing to notice about the prohibition in ch 18 is that it is echoed by punitive sanctions in ch 20.  In other words, ch 18 says “Don’t do this”, and ch 20 says “If you do this, the consequence is…”  Like Ch 18, Ch 20 begins with the command of God to Moses, and concludes with the warning to be different to the people who came before, and the real danger of polluting the land and the land vomiting them out.  The question arises, why has the sanctions chapter been separated from the prohibitions chapter? Part of the answer may be that between them they form bookends for Ch 19, which is described by one commentator as the centre of the book of Leviticus[4] – and by Milgrom as the centre of the Torah – the five ‘Books of Moses’.   Focusing attention on one part of scripture by surrounding it with related blocks is called chiasm, and can occur at the level of a couple of verses, or, as in this case, whole chapters.

Leviticus 19 – the Centre:  If chapter 19 is the centre of Leviticus, – or even the whole Torah – then surely reading it will help us to understand ch 18 and 20 better?  At first glance, it seems like a real hodge-podge of quite arbitrary laws – except maybe they aren’t so arbitrary?  Half of the 10 commandments are included.  And so is the verse Jesus quoted as the second greatest commandment (19.17) – and that is echoed within the chapter as applying specifically to the alien (19:34).  There are also laws about horticulture, and about temple sacrifice, cultic practices (‘witchcraft’, tattoos, cutting and shaving), care for the disabled, deference to the elderly, the rights of slaves, protection for girls from forced prostitution, neighbourly attitudes and honest economic activity.  The impression given is that this is a display case of the best of the Law; a sort of sample bag, with the constantly repeated refrain that this is the way things should be because “I am the Lord – your God.”

The Law is Respect for Others out of Reverence for God:  Overwhelmingly, these verses give the impression of a society ordered along the lines of respect for the needs of others based on reverence for God.  If this is the direction of the law, how then should we read the laws of Leviticus 18 and 20?

These Chapters are about Holiness and Holiness means separation: Finally, we should notice that Leviticus 18 – 20 are part of what is called the ‘Holiness Code’ in Leviticus, starting from Ch 17 and going to ch 27, with a specific focus upon holiness.  Milgrom argues that the significance of separation and holiness is anchored in the “basic themes of creation and life” [5]  In other words, holiness, or separating things out, is what God does as part of bringing life to the earth and order from chaos[6].  This is what lies behind prohibitions on cross-breeding animals, mixing fabrics in clothing, or mixing seeds in sowing in Lev 19:19.  He sees the prohibitions of Leviticus 18 as means of promoting and protecting life, with an underlying theme of maintaining the distinctiveness of good things.  So, because animals are good, and humans are good, mixing them by mating them is bad.   Similarly, maleness is good, and femaleness is good, confusing them by having a man ‘lie with a man as with a woman’ is bad.  “The mixture of species and social roles is anathema to scripture”[7]Gordon Wenham places a great deal of emphasis upon this point also, saying

The word “perversion” is a significant mistranslation of the rare Hebrew word tebhel, which has as its meaning mixing or confusion…  We can conclude that holiness is exemplified by completeness.  Holiness requires that individuals shall conform to the class to which they belong.  And holiness requires that different classes of things shall not be confused.[8] 

Thus one of the principles by which we respect others out of reverence for God is by not blurring the boundaries of the good thing they are created to be; specifically, in this instance, male and female.

Protecting the Seed of Life: Milgrom also puts a lot of emphasis upon the promotion of life through condemning the waste of the seed of life – semen (the role of ova wasn’t known at this time).

…the bible’s impurity rules are part of a symbol system representing the forces of life and death.  Israel is required to avoid these impurities and adhere to the laws commanded by God, who promotes the forces of life.  …semen stands for life, and the loss of semen symbolizes the loss of life.[9] 

Thus he argues, especially on the basis of the inclusion of child sacrifice in the Lev 18 list, that the intent of the prohibitions is to eliminate all but legitimate procreative intercourse[10], and protect the fruit of that intercourse for the sake of the stable family.[11]  This is the single point that is disputed by Bailey[12] who argues that if this was the key concern then there would also have been a prohibition of masturbation.  Milgrom, however, believes that this is covered by Lev 15:16 and Deut 23:9[13].  A more convincing argument to temper Milgrom is to note that this chapter also prohibits heterosexual intercourse between close relatives, where it is quite likely that children might be the result, and so a concern for procreation per se cannot explain everything.  More likely, the key concern here is to maintain the gender distinctions of creation; and so men are prohibited from sexual intercourse with those who are too ‘like’ (family members and other men) and too ‘unlike’ (animals – who were unable to provide Adam with companionship).  This argument, however, doesn’t explain why the prohibition against child sacrifice was included here, and so there may be some place for Milgrom’s thinking after all.  This is especially so when we also consider Milgrom’s emphasis upon caring for children (the fruit of procreation) by maintaining the stability of the family unit through prohibiting intercourse with close kin, and thereby eliminating the sort of conflicts experienced by Jacob and his children.  One consequence of making procreation the central issue for Milgrom is that he sees our situation as quite different to that of ancient Israel; fertility is not our problem, but over-population.  His suggestion here is that gay men could fulfil the requirements of the law by adopting children[14].

Leviticus protecting and affirming marriage and family:  Bailey, like Milgrom, sees the goodness of God’s creation as vital background to these prohibitions, but rather than interpreting this in terms of the bringing forth of life, or order (Gen 1), he focuses upon God’s creation of marriage (Gen 2), which is a step further than Milgrom goes in affirming the goodness of male and female.  How, specifically, did these laws function to protect the family?  Some[15] note the importance of the protections offered to women in an ancient household by the incest prohibitions.  Most people lived as part of an extended household; these laws prevented the head of the household from using his power to coerce others into sexual relations, meaning that they could go about their daily lives without fear of molestation.  It is probable, given that sexual relations were almost always seen as intrinsically unequal in biblical cultures, that the whole chapter could be read as protections; covering animals, children, women, and younger men.  This interpretation may be supported by later rabbinic readings of the text; Scroggs tells us that Palestinian rabbinic discussion about the biblical injunctions and penalties for homosexual acts assume an age difference between the partners, even though none is specified in the text.  Scroggs sees this as indicating the degree to which they were influenced by their (Hellenistic) surroundings.  They take the active verb to indicate the ‘active’ partner, and read the prohibition of Lev 18 as being against the ‘active’ partner only, implying that the relationship was not equal and therefore not consensual.

Is Leviticus prohibiting homosexual prostitution?  The thinking of the Rabbis, however, led them to further interpretation: they noticed that although they interpreted the prohibition of Leviticus 18 to be against the ‘active’ partner, the penalties of Lev 20 apply to both parties.  As rabbinic thinking requires a prohibition for there to be a penalty they therefore interpret Deut 23’s prohibition against male prostitutes to be a prohibition generally against those who take the ‘passive’ role, and therefore both prohibited (in Deuteronomy 23) and penalised (in Leviticus 20)[16].  This, along with the other Biblical texts regarding prostitution referred to above, raises the possibility that while pederasty (and protections against it) may well be in view in these texts, one of the essential aspects of the context is the possibility of cult prostitution.  Regarding Lev 18:24-26, one commentator says

These laws are given in order to prevent Israel from adopting the various sexual practices of the peoples who inhabited Canaan.  These practices defile God’s people.  Israel’s polytheistic neighbours energetically pursued fertility rites to insure the fertility of their fields, flocks, and households.  But for Israel a close bond exists between human behaviour and the fertility of the land…  Ironically the very fertility rites the people engage in to increase the fertility of their land will pollute the land.[17]

What is the intent of the Law?  Three possibilities:  As with the texts from 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy, we have to ask ourselves what the biblical writers had in mind when they wrote this particular prohibition.  We have looked at three options: 1)It is probable that throughout the chapter they were intending to provide protections to the more vulnerable members of the household from sexual abuse.  What is notable is that the prohibition is so much broader than the similar, Hittite prohibition[18].  Not only is the son protected but all men of the household – including slaves.  Israeli society is intended to be different to those around it – to stand out as built on respect for others out of reverence for God.  2) Similarly, these prohibitions may well be aimed at preventing Israeli men from falling into the trap of seeking fertility for themselves and their land through cultic prostitution – and all the disasters that could follow on from that[19].  3) Finally, these prohibitions marked the importance for Israel of celebrating God’s goodness in creation through respecting the distinctness and uniqueness of things.  Holiness comes from the work of God in bringing forth life.  Out of marriage, the celebration of the unique male and female union, comes children and all of society.  Diverting sexual energy away from marriage, and confusing sexual roles, is to negate God’s gift.

Do these passages apply to women as well?

We should also note that there is, here, no condemnation of female homosexual actions. Although the Leviticus passage refers only to men, some argue that it should be taken to refer to women also, as other laws which don’t specifically refer to women are taken to include men and women even if masculine pronouns are used.  However, the word ‘male’ used in this passage is only used in the Septuagint (the Jews’ Greek translation of the OT) when males are referred to in distinction to females, so it does appear that this text was not intended to include women.  For further evidence that Jews saw female homosexuality as different to male, Scroggs states that there is only one Rabbinical text considering the (probably hypothetical) case of whether a woman who has had sexual relations with another woman could marry a priest – who is only supposed to marry a virgin.  Rabbi Shammai said ‘no, and Rabbi Hillel said ‘yes’!  (Scroggs 1983, 80) The point of the discussion was almost certainly not the morality or otherwise of her actions, but seeking a definition for virginity.  Nevertheless, this does seem to support Milgrom’s suggestion that a primary concern in this passage was either the loss of male seed – and Milgrom takes it as such, (Milgrom 2000, 1568 & 1787).  It is only Paul, in Romans 1, who has treated female homosexuality equally with male.



What about the death sentence? The final consideration in this section is the penal sanction found in ch 20.  If it is proposed that the Leviticus prohibition of homosexual acts still applies today, does this mean that the penal sanctions still apply as some have argued[20]?  In this respect Gordon Wenham is most helpful.  He discusses how the ordinary state of things, assumed throughout the book of Leviticus, is ‘clean’ – though some things are by nature ‘unclean’ or ‘polluted’ (certain acts and animals) or they are made ‘holy’ (certain people and places) by God’s action.  People and objects can become either ‘holy’ through contact with holy things, or they can become ‘unclean’ through contact with unclean things.  People and things can become ‘clean’ again – that is, normal, through rituals of purification (washing, waiting, sacrifice, burning) or, if they have been made holy through contact with a sacrifice, through washing or destruction.  Both Holy and Unclean states are dangerous and subject to a number of restrictions.

The requirement for purity through sacrifice is met in Jesus Christ:  When something becomes unclean through someone’s actions there are a raft of regulations for restoring normality, ranging from washing, for sickness or ordinary bodily emissions, through sacrifices of various sorts.  The more intense the degree of uncleanness, the greater the sacrifice.  Wenham notes, however, that in the most severe cases no sacrifice is required to restore cleanness to the community; those occasions that call for the death of the offender.  The sacrifice of that individual’s life fulfils the requirements of the law for the cleansing of the community, and this is seen throughout the narratives of the Torah, where specific offenders are executed in order to make the whole community ‘clean’ again[21].  In other words, the death has a religious significance as purifying the community; it is not simply a civic penalty.  Because of this, Wenham has no hesitation in pointing to the way in which Jesus Christ’s sacrifice fulfils the moral and religious requirements of the law[22].  So, ‘no’, if one asserts that the Leviticus prohibitions still apply, it does not follow that the sanctions do also, as the penalty for sin has already been paid by the Lord Jesus for all those who follow him[23].


Does the death penalty for both imply equal partners?

The other point arising from consideration of the penalty of Leviticus 20 is that it is applied to both parties.  This leads some to think that it implies consenting acts, as the innocent would not normally be punished with the guilty. Deut 22:22-30 is instructive in this respect; clearly there is an acceptance of the fact that women are vulnerable to sexual attack, and that they should not be punished for something they could not prevent.  It was this sort of consideration which led the Rabbis to interpret the text as applying to prostitution, as above.  Were the Rabbis simply blinded by their own contemporary culture, reading their own situation of cultic prostitution into the ancient law?. Another way of thinking about it is to read the Leviticus passage alongside the similar prohibition of, and penalty for, bestiality in which the animal is killed alongside the offending human.  This is because the unclean act has made the animal unclean also.  It is possible that homosexual acts are seen as such a severe infringement of God’s law that there can be no exceptions for those involved in them regardless of their age, status, or consent; the impurity must be completely expunged from Israel.

 In Conclusion, We can see there are a range of reasons for the Leviticus prohibition.  How many of those reasons still apply today?  We would agree that prostitution, whether it was cultic or not, homosexual or not, is an evil to be opposed.  We would agree that families and households need good sexual boundaries to prevent people using others for sex when there are unequal relationships.  We would agree that God’s creation is good, and should not be disregarded or diminished.  And we would agree that holiness, in a sinful world, requires us to be ‘separate’ in some ways from those around us.  How do we apply these principles in our context today?

[1] (L. R. Bailey 2005, 255)

[2] There is some suggestion that some of these prohibitions may have arisen from the vexed relationships of the patriarchs; e.g. Abraham, who married his half-sister, and Jacob, who married rival sisters.

[3] Milgrom notes that male homosexual intercourse was common to the ANE, and was subject to regulation in some of its forms e.g. a man was forbidden to sodomise his son in Hittite culture (implying that he could do so to other men or boys in his power); similarly Hittite law allowed bestiality with a horse or mule (animals used by the military), but prohibited other animals. (Milgrom 2000, 1570) Only the bible completely proscribed homosexuality (Milgrom 2000, 1566).

[4] (Balentine 2002, 149)

[5] (Milgrom 2000, 1371)

[6] Gen 1:4,6,7,14,18

[7] (Milgrom 2000, 1571)

[8] (Wenham 1979, 24)

[9] (Milgrom 2000, 1786)

[10] This also explains the banning of intercourse with a woman “while she is in her menstrual uncleanness” (Lev 18.19) – not just while she is menstruating, but for a 7 day period (Lev 15.19), meaning that when intercourse is possible again, she is likely to be approaching the most fertile part of her cycle.

[11] This is also, he argues, the reason that lesbianism is not mentioned in the list of forbidden sexual unions; not because it was unknown but because, as lesbian acts do not ‘spill seed’ there was no need to prohibit them. (Milgrom 2000, 1568 & 1787)

[12] (L. R. Bailey 2005, 255)

[13] (Milgrom 2000, 1567)

[14] (Milgrom 2000, 1566 – 1569, 1786)  He also argues that these prohibitions, related as they are to the wellbeing of the land, apply only within the borders of ancient Israel and only to Jewish men.  However, for Christians, we see the borders of God’s reign as encompassing the whole earth, and certainly the whole of our lives, wherever we live, and we also see the Old Testament as having relevance to those of us who have been ‘grafted in’ to Israel (Rom 9:13-20).

[15] (Balentine 2002, 158 ) (Hartley 1992, 298 )

[16] (Scroggs 1983, 78-9)

[17] (Hartley 1992, 298)

[18] See above, note 105

[19] They undoubtedly knew that sexual promiscuity all too frequently brought about infertility through sexually transmitted infections

[20] (Guy 2002, 133 – 134)

[21] (Wenham 1979, 27)

[22] (Wenham 1979, 28), See also (Bonnington and Fyall 1996, 13) 1 John 2:1 – 2, Heb 10:1-18

[23] This does not mean that there is no penalty for sin for those who are found outside of Christ on the Day of Judgement, simply that final judgement is reserved for that day, when we all face the one who is truly without sin.

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The Bible and Homosexuality; some New Testament Passages

1 Tim 1

8 Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it legitimately. 9 This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers, 10 fornicators, sodomites, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching 11 that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.

and 1 Cor 6

9 Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, 10 thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers – none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And this is what some of you used to be.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

These passages are dealt with together because they use the same Greek word, arsenokoitai  (underlined in the text), and because, in both passages, that word appears in a list of vices.  Some[1] have made some mileage out of the fact that these ‘vice lists’ are purely rhetorical devices – lists of common social sins that every right-thinking person (i.e. a Hellenistic Jew or a gentile convert to Judaism – the vast majority of the Christians to whom Paul was writing) would condemn, and that he has likely cribbed them from other sources without paying too much attention to their specific content.  In other words, while homosexuality is mentioned in these lists, it isn’t the point of the argument, and we shouldn’t make these passages bear the weight of condemning homosexuality when that is not their purpose!  There is some reason to this argument; we ought not make homosexuality the primary point of these passages when they clearly have other purposes, but nor can we ignore the fact that they do mention homosexual acts, and it is extremely unlikely that Paul would have included material that he didn’t think truthful in what it condemned as well as what it affirmed.  So what is condemned here?

The 1 Timothy passage is an argument for the appropriate use of the Jewish law against those who “occupy themselves with myths, …genealogies, …speculations rather than the divine training” that aims at “love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith”.  False teachers, says Paul, “desire to be teachers of the law.”  He then goes on to say that the law is not for the righteous, but sinners, whom he then lists.  He then goes on to give thanks to God for forgiving him his own sin, and making him an example of God’s patience with egregious sinners.  Our main interest is in Paul’s list of sins; many have seen there an echo of the ten commandments as a representative selection of the Law.  The connection is possible, but unnecessary; certainly it is Jewish law that is referred to here, which part is not specifically important.  What is significant for our purposes is the reference to arsenokoitai.  Almost all exegetes agree that this refers to those who practice homosexual acts of one kind or another arising out of the Leviticus 18 commandment as it was translated in the Septuagint – the Greek Old Testament[2].

Pederasty as the ‘normal’ homosexual relationship: The big question here, as with the Old Testament texts, is whether the actions condemned here are those which we are thinking of when we think of homosexual relationships.  The debate in this area is strongly defined by Robin Scroggs[3], who carefully examines what we know about homosexual behaviour at the time the New Testament was written.  He argues that the biblical writers would have found it practically impossible to think about homosexual behaviour in any other terms than those of their surrounding culture.  The practices of the day were essentially those of pederasty – sexual relationships between men and boys or young men.  This relationship was intended to have an element of tutelage to it, and was frequently referred to in highly romanticised terms, much as heterosexual love is today.  Scroggs emphasises that the culture was extremely masculine[4], and that women were thought to be unfit companions for men[5], thus leading to the idealisation – and sexualisation – of same-sex relationships.  Within these relationships the junior partner always served the pleasure of the senior, receiving in return patronage, education and training, gifts, and an introduction to society[6].

Social Standing in Roman Times

The difference between a free-born man and a freeman or freedman is significant; a free-born is a citizen of the state with legal rights, property, and a voice.  The apostle Paul was a ‘citizen’ of Tarsus – see how he uses this status in Acts.  The freeman is a slave who has been given their freedom, but is still bound to the household of their former owner or some other patron as a ‘client’ They owe allegiance to their patron, and would not legitimately be able to refuse sexual demands.

Men ‘loving’ a boy was ok, but being the boy was not – especially for an older male.  Whilst ‘loving’ a boy was generally thought normal and even lauded, being the boy was more ambiguous.  Marc Antony was a cause of scandal as he had been the junior partner of a pederastic relationship in the household of a wealthy patron (who was the same age as himself, but still his social superior at the time).  Nero scandalised society by seducing the sons of citizens[7].  Julius Caesar was ridiculed by opponents as “every woman’s man – and every man’s woman”[8].  The Romans banned pederasty involving freeborn boys, and legislated against freeborn men taking the passive role.

Male citizens could use anyone of lower social standing for sex.  Jewett, commenting upon Greek/Roman homosexual practices, notes that there was a high demand for boy prostitutes, and goes on to say that “sexual freedom was granted to freeborn males, with regard to all slaves, clients, and persons of lower standing, so that sexual relations were clearly an expression of domination[9]”.  The Roman writer Seneca the Elder is quoted as saying “Sexual servicing is a crime for the freeborn, a necessity for a slave, and a duty for the freeman[10]

Does 1 Tim refer mainly to pederasty?  In the 1 Timothy passage Scroggs sees pederasty hinted at by the grouping of the sins in the vice list; each sin is listed with one or two others that go with it.  Thus, ‘lawless and disobedient’ go together, as do ‘godless and sinful’, ‘unholy and profane’.  ‘Patricides’ and ‘matricides’ go together, and so do ‘liars and perjurers’.  But what about “fornicators, sodomites, and slave traders” (or ‘kidnappers’)?  Scroggs suggests that these three terms should be seen together[11] as pornos (‘fornicators’) in Hellenistic culture often meant male prostitutes or possibly those despised free-born youths or men who prostituted themselves[12], He notes also that, as a primary function of kidnapping (andrapodistai) in Paul’s day was to supply brothels with children for use by adults, that the three terms together are likely to be a (stylised) condemnation of male prostitution.

An Alternative Point of View

Grenz  (1998, 56-59) rejects those like Scroggs who argue for a specific interpretation of the terms in 1 Cor and 1 Tim, but fails to provide any reasoning for a more general interpretation!  Marshall (2003, 12) does better in relation to Romans 1, where he says that “If Paul is thinking of pederasty, it is surprising that neither here nor elsewhere does Paul use one of the several words and phrases in common use at the time to refer to pederasty…” (more from Marshall below).   As Scroggs has shown, that’s not completely accurate in this case, but it is true that the words that are used are allusive to pederasty rather than definitive of it; Arsenokoitai and Malakoi probably refer to the senior and junior partner of a pederastic / prostitution relationship, but not necessarily, as the words erastes (lover) and eromenos (beloved) would have done.  It may be that the biblical writers are simply being modest in using language that is allusive rather than definitive, or it may be that Paul wants to include this primary form of homosexual behaviour and every other form as well, and so uses broadly general terms.

And again in 1 Corinthians?  Scroggs sees the same relationship reflected  in the 1 Corinthians passage, where the two words used are malakoi and arsenokoitai.  Translated variously as ‘male prostitute,’ ‘homosexual’, ‘effeminate’, or ‘pervert’ the word malakos simply means ‘soft one’.  Scroggs says that while malakos was definitely not a ‘technical’ term for the younger partner in a pederastic relationship,

…through the linkage of the metaphorical meaning of “effeminacy,” however, malakos is used to point in a negative way to people who engage in pederasty – not with great frequency, but often enough for it to be clear that this was a convention.  While the specific word is not frequent in texts which denounce the free prostitute, the general charge of effeminacy [theludria] is a common pejorative.  Thus the use of malakos would almost certainly conjure up images of the effeminate call-boy, if the context otherwise suggested some form of pederasty[13]

 His point is that alongside arsenokoitai in a culture that was rife with pederasty, it would be natural and logical for these two terms together to refer to the senior and junior partners in a pederastic relationship, either voluntary or commercial (prostitution).

Does this mean that these passages can’t be taken to refer to other forms of homosexuality?  In his conclusion Scroggs questions

…the legitimacy of using New Testament judgements about a particular form and model of homosexuality to inform decisions about the acceptability of a contemporary form of homosexuality, which projects an entirely different model.  Since the models are so different, some would say mutually exclusive, it cannot be a foregone conclusion that the New Testament can be helpfully used in today’s discussion without seriously violating the integrity of the New Testament itself.” … “Paul’s judgements may …be eternally valid but can, nevertheless, be valid only against what he opposed. [14]

Not everybody agrees with Scroggs that the passages should be interpreted narrowly like this, but the question of how we interpret these texts should await our examination of both Leviticus and Romans.  As the term arsenokoites almost certainly arises from the Leviticus prohibition of homosexual acts, we should now refer to that text, to discover what its meaning might be.

[1] (Furnish 1994, 24) (Scroggs 1983, 101 – 104)

[2] (Scroggs 1983, 83)

[3] (Scroggs 1983)

[4] (Scroggs 1983, 17-28)

[5] “There were important, if occasional, male voices of intercession on behalf of women, as when Plutarch argues for the superiority of marriage over pederastic relationships.  Nevertheless, these voices are mostly concessive.  One hears them saying, “women are not so bad,” or “they do have the potential of becoming respectable companions”.” (Scroggs 1983, 21)

[6] (Scroggs 1983, 32-35)

[7] (Jewett 2007, 173)

[8] This may or may not be evidence that Julius Caesar took the junior role in homosexual relationships – what it does tell us is that an adult citizen taking these roles was seen as despicable.

[9] (Jewett 2007, 181)

[10] (Jewett 2007, 180)

[11] (Scroggs 1983, 118 – 121)

[12] (Scroggs 1983, 42)

[13] (Scroggs 1983, 64 – 65)  In this Scroggs is supported by Hays, who writes “[Malakoi] …appears often in Hellenistic Greek slang as pejorative slang to describe the “passive” partners  – often young boys – in homosexual activity.” (Hays 1996, 382)

[14] (Scroggs 1983, 122 & 125), italicised in original.

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The Bible and Homosexuality: Some Old Testament Passages

The Biblical passages specifically referring to Homosexuality

These passages are examined below in their order of importance to us.   One commentator[1] has noted that if we focus exclusively upon the biblical texts that seem most relevant to the issue at hand, however, we allow the issue to define our approach; we need to come at the issue not just by asking what the bible tells us about homosexuality, but also what the bible tells us about who God is, what Jesus has done, what the role of the church is, and what we expect to happen next.  Please bear these considerations in mind as we examine the specific texts before us, and the debate around them.

Genesis 19 and Judges 19 are the best-known and most frequently referred-to texts relating to homosexuality.  As they are both lengthy narratives I haven’t included them here, but the various versions all convey essentially the same facts; in both instances overnight hospitality is offered to a traveller, then the men of the town besiege the home where the traveller is staying, and demand that the guest is handed over so that they might ‘know’ him.  In both cases women are offered instead.  In the Genesis account (Sodom) the virgin daughters of Lot are not accepted as a trade, and the guests (angels in disguise) render the townspeople harmless for the night by striking them blind.  The next day the town is destroyed by God[2].  In the Judges story (Gibeah) the host offers his virgin daughter, and the traveller (a Levite) offers his concubine to the importunate townspeople; the concubine is thrust outside and they rape her until dawn.  She is then dismembered and her body used to illustrate the iniquity of Gibeah.  This sparks a civil war, leading almost to the destruction of the tribe of Benjamin.

While some go so far as to say that homosexual actions are not mentioned in these stories at all, they are not convincing.  Usually the argument runs that the word ‘know’ does not imply sexual activity, but refers to the suspicion of the townspeople towards strangers, and their desire to interrogate the visitors.  Against this, most commentators[3] set the offer (refused in the one story and accepted in the other) of women as substitutes for the men – hardly satisfactory if the intent was to glean information from them.  The abuse of the Levite’s concubine confirms that their intent was sexual violation.  It also shows us that specifically homosexual sex was not their objective.  Most commentators go on to say that while the attempted rape was homosexual it is not, therefore, a blanket condemnation of homosexual behaviour – any more than the offer to substitute a young woman should be seen as condoning giving up our daughters to sexual violence!  Clearly gang rape is condemned, and it is very likely that the homosexual nature of the rape was seen to add to its abhorrence, as homosexual rape was sometimes used to humiliate conquered enemies in ancient near eastern cultures.  Very few serious biblical commentators among liberals or conservatives look to the Sodom story or to the Gibeah parallel for a biblical perspective on homosexuality.

Sodom in the Scriptures:  This is confirmed by the way in which other bible writers refer to Sodom; Isaiah links Sodom’s judgement to injustice and arrogance; Jeremiah to false prophecy and Idolatry, as does Ezekiel, who also specifies pride, wealth, lack of compassion, and ‘doing abominable things’.  Amos talks of her oppression of the poor and needy, Zephaniah of her taunting and boasting, and, in Matthew, Jesus compares her fate to those of the cities who have rejected the Gospel.  In Luke he talks of her as an example of the suddenness of God’s judgement. In 2 Peter, Sodom is an example of God’s judgement upon those who are “licentious”, “lawless”, “who indulge their flesh in depraved lust, and who despise authority.”  In Jude they are again an example of God’s judgement and are described as indulging in sexual immorality and “pursuing unnatural lust” or, more literally “going after other flesh”.  As conservative commentator Richard Hays points out[4], the Jude reference could hardly be a reference to homosexual desire; to go after “other (Greek = hetero) flesh” is precisely what homosexuality is not.  Given that immediately before the Sodom and Gommorah reference, Jude alludes to the Genesis 6 story of angels seeking intercourse with human women, it seems more likely that the next verse is a reference to the men of Sodom seeking intercourse with angels – distinctly ‘other’ flesh!   Jude also mentions ‘sexual immorality’ and Peter talks of ‘licentiousness’, and ‘depraved lust’, but these terms don’t point specifically towards homosexuality, though they may include it.  Similarly, Ezekiel may have had in mind the ‘abomination’ of homosexuality (see on Leviticus 18 and 20 below) but neither does he specify it, and probably wanted to imply a wide range of abominations rather than fix upon one.  So we can see that the biblical writers only sometimes saw sexual sin as one among the many sins of Sodom, and when they did it was not specifically homosexual sin that was in view[5].

It is not until Philo, a Hellenistic Jew around the time of Christ, that Sodom came to be associated specifically with homosexual sin, and it was from Philo that the early Church Fathers took most of their cues in discussing both Sodom and homosexuality.  This tradition may be venerable, but it is not biblical.  We may not take the sins of Sodom to include homosexuality per se.  Homosexual gang rape, is condemned, and is clearly a sin, but it cannot be made into the pretext for a blanket condemnation of all homosexual activity any more than the condemnation of heterosexual rape can be made the pretext for rejecting all heterosexual activity.

Deut 23.17-18, 1 Kings 14:24, 15:12, 22:46; 2 Kings 23:7 and maybe Job 36.14 all refer to what was probably temple prostitution.  There is considerable controversy among the scholars as to whether the prostitution was, in fact, associated with idolatry, and again, more argument as to whether or not it was homosexual prostitution[6], but all agree that it is prostitution that is referred to.  Again, these texts are not especially relevant to our discussion as we cannot generalise from homosexual prostitution (idolatrous or not) to all homosexual relationships any more than we can generalise from heterosexual prostitution to all heterosexual relationships.  What is condemned here is prostitution, not homosexuality.

[1] (Redding 2000)

[2] If you aren’t familiar with the story, you need to know that God’s destruction of Sodom (and the sister city of Gomorrah) was not specifically because of the actions narrated in the Genesis 19 story, but that he had already decreed it’s destruction because of their many sins.  The events of the final night were final evidence of those sins, but not the complete cause of God’s wrath.

[3] eg (Scroggs 1983) (Hays 1996)

[4] (Hays 1996, 381)

[5] “…for Rabbis of this [post-biblical] period, Sodom symbolised evil in general, pride and economic violence most particularly, and, only in one possible instance, homosexual lust.” (Scroggs 1983, 81)

[6] (Scroggs 1983, 71)

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The Bible and Homosexuality: Key Biblical Themes, 2


The key theme of Justice is consistent throughout the scriptures; from the occasion of God bringing down upon their heads the just consequences of Adam and Eve’s rejection of him (significantly moderated by his mercy!) through to the final judgements of the book of Revelation, God is portrayed as judge over his people, and indeed, all the earth[1].  This justice is not impartial (though humans are consistently called to be impartial in executing justice, because our tendency is to judge in favour of those who are like us or those who can most benefit us[2]) but is extended especially on behalf of the poor, the outcast and the alien[3].  This theme is brought to a high pitch in the ministry of Jesus[4], and is to be a characteristic of the life of the church[5], just as it was mandated for the people of God in the Old Testament.  At root, God’s justice is designed to ensure right relationships between all peoples, eliminating oppression and enabling all to live with dignity.  We are called to judge others according to their needs; their need for basic material help, for healing, for compassion, for truth, and for Christ himself, and we are sent as Christ was sent to be God’s response to the need of the world.


Holiness is another key theme of the scriptures; God is holy, and so God’s people in the Old and New Testament are called to be holy – different to those around them[6].  The difference is not intended to communicate that we are better than others (as in self-righteousness) but is intended to show God’s grace – that he has enabled us to live in a way that declares His character and goodness.  Some of these markers of difference or holiness may seem arbitrary (and indeed, they may well have been so – there’s no point in making something as sensible as not eating poisonous plants into a marker of holiness – everyone does it!) such as the prohibition against mixing fabrics, or the setting aside of a specific day each seven for worship, but each communicated something important about God and his covenants to the people who followed them; thus the keeping separate of different types of crop or different fabrics reflects the goodness of God who created distinct things by ‘separating’ light from dark, earth from sea, male and female, in the beginning[7].  Not drinking or eating blood, but reserving it for sacrifice at the temple, was a reminder that all life (blood=life) is God’s gift, and no-one has authority to take life apart from God – all life belongs to God.  I have already spoken about the call to holiness in the New Testament in terms of sexual relationships, but it was also extended to many other forms of ethical behaviour.  In the Law of Moses, holiness is mostly associated with the law and the keeping of the law, but also with the priesthood, the tabernacle, and its worship at the heart of the law.  Throughout the period of the kings of Israel, as the temple was built in Jerusalem, that focus expanded from the temple to the city around it, and Mount Zion, upon which the city was built – these became ‘holy’ places, places special to God.  In the New Testament, however, holiness is ascribed firstly to the Spirit of God, especially in Jesus Christ[8], to Jesus himself[9], and then, because of the indwelling Spirit and our relationship to Jesus, to the church[10].  The clear consequence of our holy status as a church is that we are to live lives that reflect the character of God, just as the people of Israel were called to do long ago.

Covenant Community

The role of the people of God is an important theme of the scriptures to consider.  When we are considering sexual issues, especially, we are prone to accept the standards of the world around us – that what goes on behind the bedroom door is no-one else’s business.  Unfortunately, privacy has been used to hide and justify terrible abuses, as child protection services and women’s refuges have been telling us for decades.  Sex by its nature is a communal act; our sexual nature impels us to seek out others and to be with them.  Sexual intercourse is an intense form of communion with another that is described as ‘becoming one flesh’ and is the means by which children, and therefore families and societies are brought forth.  Sex is intensely relational, and all societies have regulated sexual relationships in one way or another – the scriptural injunctions for the people of Israel and the people of the New Covenant are examples of this.

As the church, we are called to model the life of Christ’s Kingdom coming.  In this we know that we are unable to stand alone, but need one another for encouragement and accountability; hence the many occasions on which the apostles give counsel, guidance, and admonition to the churches in their charge on ‘private’ matters as well as matters of faith[11].  Our fellowships are often too immature, however, to allow for sharing the often difficult issues of sexuality, and this is a call to us to repent of our self-centredness, and work harder to become the community of the New Covenant that we are called to be.

The Role of the Law

Law in Christian ethics is essential to this debate.  While most agree that we cannot take the Law of the Old Testament, holus-bolus, and import it into Christian ethics, most also agree that it continues to be relevant to how we should live.  One argument[12] for changing the churches perspective regarding homosexuality specifically addresses how we should use the law, saying that we should seek to understand what the purpose of the law is, and then ask whether it has served its purpose – as with temple sacrifices, or the law regarding eunuchs – and is no longer relevant.  The argument notes that Jesus taught that Sabbath observance should be shaped by the purpose of the law (“for man”) and then considers law in Paul’s theology, noting that it is not just that legal observance is not sufficient for salvation[13], but that Paul also relativises the law as regards Christian behaviour in Romans 13:8-10, following directly the lead given by Jesus.[14]  It is immediately obvious, however, that Paul does not assume that ‘love’ implies immorality, and that immorality, for Paul, continues to be strongly defined by OT understandings.  As Grenz suggests, ethical norms such as ‘love’ and ‘justice’ must be informed by the law – he notes that the law does not define love, but provides boundaries within which love , justice, and the other goods of the Bible may be found and expressed[15].

[1] 1 Chron 16:33; Ps 98:9; Is 11:4; Ezek 17:22; Jas 4:12, 5:9

[2] Lev 19:15, 2 Chron 19:6-7; Jas 2:1-4

[3] Ex 22:21-27; Deut 24:12-15, 17-21; 1 Sam 2:7-8; Ps 41:1; 140:12; Pr 14:21 & 31; 19:17; 31:8-9; Is 3:13-15; 10:1-4; Jer 7:6; 22:15-17; Ezek 22.7; Amos 2:6-7; 5:10-13; Zech 7:8-11;

[4] Matt 11:5; 19:21; 25:31-46; Mk 5:25-33; 7:25-30; 10:13-16; Lk 4:18; 6:20; 7:22, 13:10-17; 36-50; 14:13, 21; 18:45-33; 19:1-10; John 4:7-42; 8:1-11;

[5] Acts 4:32-37; Rom 15:26; 1 Cor 11:21-22; 2 Cor 9; Gal 2:10; Eph 4:28; Jas 2:1-7, 14-17

[6] Lev 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:26; Deut 7:6; 14:2, 21; Jos 24:19-25; Ezra 9:1-4; Is 35:8; 52:1;  57:15; Ezek 22:26; 44:23; Zech 14:20-21;

[7] Scholars tell us that the same ‘priestly’ stream of thought that led to the writing of Genesis 1 is also found in the ‘holiness code’ of Leviticus 17 – 26 (L. R. Bailey 2005) See the section on Leviticus for more info about this .

[8] Matt 1:18, 20; 3:11; Mk 1:8; Lk 1:15, 35; 3:22; 4:1; John 1:3;

[9] Mk 1:24, Acts 3:14; 13:35; Rev 3.7

[10] Jn 20:21-23; Rom 12.1; 15:16; 1 Cor 3:17; Eph 1:3-4; Col 3:12; 1 Pet 1:15-16; 2:1-21; 1 Jn 2:20

[11] Acts 15; 1 Cor 5 & 7; Eph 5:21-31; 1 Pet 3:1-7;

[12] (Lee, What I Believe n.d.)

[13] The place of Jewish law in Paul’s writing is very complex, but see, e.g. Rom 3.21-28; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:15; Phil 3:9;

[14] Mark 12:28-34; // Matt 22:34-40; Lk 10:25-28, cf John 13:34; 15:12

[15] (Grenz 1998, 97 – 98)

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