QUESTION: I have heard in today’s talk (6/29/08) that homosexual attraction and acts can be treated by Christians as among the long list of going outside God’s plan for human sexuality in creation. Yet, I see in scripture as having a particular focus on homosexual acts and desires as especially offensive to God. Please explain the meaning of being image-bearers as male and female, scripture’s naming of homosexuality as the sin of pride, and explain if there really is a particular condemnation of homosexuality in the Bible as more than just sinful sexual behavior like heterosexual pre-marital sex and heterosexual adultery.
ANSWER: Thanks for the question, and I’m glad you followed up because it gives me a chance to elaborate on an important point. I can’t agree with your last statement as I must maintain as I did in my sermon that Scripture does not put homosexual behavior at the front of a graded list of sins. Homosexual behavior is sinful. But I disagree with you that it is “especially offensive” to God.
Let me make my case in hopes that I can change your mind about what Scripture teaches on this subject. First, when the Bible gives us lists of behaviors that are offensive to God, (as it does on numerous occasions), it usually doesn’t even include homosexual acts. Jesus listed off sins when he said:
“What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.'” NIVMark 7:20-23
We would think that if your assumption is true about homosexual acts being especially abhorrent to God, that Jesus would have used this moment to clarify that point. But he doesn’t single out homosexual acts at all. In fact, we should assume that he would have at least mentioned it in the list of unclean behaviors which he cites here, but he doesn’t even do that. That doesn’t mean that homosexual behavior isn’t sinful (Jesus will be very clear that God’s sexual design is complementary and heterosexual – Matt 19:1-9), the list here, is not exhaustive by any means. But if we’re to accept your idea that God encourages special repugnance for homosexual acts, then we should expect Jesus to make that clear when he talks about sin here or elsewhere. But he never does.
Neither does Paul. Here again another listing of sins:
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. NIVGal 5:19-21
This list mentions several sexual sins but doesn’t mention homosexual sins once. If they’re worse why aren’t they listed here? Again this doesn’t mean that it’s not sinful (see below) but it clearly devastates any case that could be mounted to make homosexuality a cause for special revulsion.
So let’s look at another list of sins where homosexual behavior IS mentioned:
Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. NIV1 Cor 6:9-10
Here, homosexual behavior IS mentioned in a list of sins which the Corinthians used to engage in. The two words Paul uses in reference to homosexuality are Greek words that literally mean, “the soft” and “lying with a male”. This is clearly a reference to male homosexual behavior, the former gives himself to be used by the latter. This is sinful behavior, clearly. It’s a misuse of sex, along with sexual immorality and adultery, also listed here.
But you will notice that if Paul wanted to elevate our repugnance of homosexuality he would have put it at the front or the back of the list, or made a case about it’s special dangers. No such case is made. How are we to understand any “particular condemnation” from this passage?
Paul refers to homosexual acting out in another list of sins:
They are for people who are disobedient and rebellious, who are ungodly and sinful, who consider nothing sacred and defile what is holy, who murder their father or mother or other people. These laws are for people who are sexually immoral, for homosexuals and slave traders, for liars and oath breakers, and for those who do anything else that contradicts the right teaching… NLT1 Tim 1:9-11
Again we have the word “to bed a male” listed here, (Greek: “arsenokoitai”) and again it is found in the middle of the list. No special place is given, no special qualifiers are made, no elaboration on this sin – none whatsoever.
You and I can agree that the creation sexual design is a narrow design: One man, one woman, for life. Where we can also agree, is that God’s Word makes the case against homosexual behavior less by calling it out as sin, and more often by describing and celebrating heterosexual marriage. I agree, this heterosexual, monogamous model defines the boundaries of moral sexual behavior specifically because we are made to reflect God himself, a unity in diversity, Father Son and Holy Spirit. So two genders are required to have this diversity that comes together into a shared oneness of marriage.
This narrow model then, has all sorts of perversions. I can get parts of that design right and completely miss other parts. While I may suffer less if I get only parts of it wrong, I don’t avoid guilt. For example, a homosexual couple may get the monogamous part of that design right, and miss out on the heterosexual part. A polygamous family may get the heterosexual part right and miss the monogamous part. The sin and heartache in just David’s household alone because he multiplied his wives in contradiction to the creation design (and God’s laws for kings, Deut. 17:17) shows the deep scars that come from ANY expression of sexuality (homo or hetero) not in keeping with the creation design.
Romans 1 shows us a downward moral spiral that begins with an idolatrous suppression of truth of God and seems at first glance to lead directly to homosexuality as the bottom of the spiral (Rom 1:26, 27). But only if we stop there to make the “special condemnation” argument and ignore the context.
Furthermore,” Paul says in Rom 1:28-31, “he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.”;
So if we want to make the case that homosexuality is not like other sexual sins but is in fact worse, this passage is no help to us. By what logic is this passage elevating homosexual behavior over other sin? By the fact that it comes directly after the rejection of truth about God? (Rom 1:24) But shouldn’t that logically be the least offensive sin since, if we’re describing a scale, it’s the first foray into rebellion? Shouldn’t the chronological order of depravity be that every step after the initial rejection of truth about God is a step down the ladder of evil?
But if that’s the case, then the LEAST offensive sin to God is idolatry, because it comes first (Rom 1:23), homosexuality is second LEAST offensive because it comes second (Rom 1:26, 27) and (by this logic) the WORST sin in God’s moral order – worse than either of those – is ruthlessness because it comes last. Reverse the order and it’s just as ridiculous. If we reject this ranking of sins as arbitrary, then this passage cannot be said to elevate homosexual sin as the worst of sins.
When we turn to the Old Testament, the story is the same. It’s probably true that Lot considered the heterosexual rape of his daughters to be less offensive than the homosexual rape of his angelic guests (Gen 19:8) but there is no commentary on the righteousness of this action. It’s simply stated that he did it. If we go to the sexual laws of Moses we read that homosexual acts are an abomination (Lev 18:22). So yes, that’s very bad. But here is a short list of other sins that are said to be abominable:
- offering a rotting carcass to God, Lev 7:18;
- eating unclean animals, like pork Lev 11:10ff;
- incest, Lev 20:12-13;
- offering an idol to God, Deut 7:25;
- offering your son or daughter in sacrifice to God, Deut 12:31.
There is simply no special place given to homosexual behavior in the Bible. It is clearly called sin, but it is never singled out as a special sin. I’m not sure what Bible verse you may be referring to which calls it “the sin of pride”. If you’d like to point that verse out, I’d be open to feedback.
So I think your case for “particular condemnation” is not supported by the Bible’s teaching. My concern with our disagreement is that if you carry this idea into friendships with practicing homosexuals, you might project that ‘special condemnation’ onto them. And that will only encourage a negative stereotype that Christians consider homosexuals as ‘less than’. Frankly, when the question was asked Sunday, I sensed it came from someone who has been told exactly that. Which is why they sounded skeptical that such sinners could ever experience forgiveness and power of God.
I wanted to assure them they can. This is the message Paul sent to homosexuals in 1 Cor 6:11: “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” [Emphasis added]
(We have a white paper dealing with this and other passages on the subject if you’d like me to send it to you.)