The Authority of Scripture
By Joseph P. Godel
It is extremely revealing to note that almost every pro-gay group within the church shares one thing in common: they reject the Bible as being fully the Word of God. Of the above mentioned denominations which have accepted homosexuality or are sympathetic to it, none of them believe that we have God’s inerrant Word in the Old and New Testaments. Likewise, the many pro-homosexual books that have come out almost all reject — or even ridicule — the church’s historic stance on the inspiration and authority of Scripture.
Three different lines of attack on Scripture are found in the various pro-homosexual literature. The first is simply to ignore the biblical writers on the grounds that they were men who oftentimes made mistakes, and thus to reject what Scripture says as being morally authoritative. Thus John Barton states that “the Bible is not a code at all; it is a big baggy compendium of a book, full of variety and inconsistency, sometimes mistaken on matters of fact and theology alike.”17 And elsewhere, in John Boswell’s widely cited work, we find: “In considering the supposed influence of certain biblical passages…one must first relinquish the concept of a single book containing a uniform corpus of writings accepted as morally authoritative.”18
A second attack relates to the first — that is, the biblical writers were ignorant about homosexuality. They did not know all that we do today, it is argued, and so we must judge and interpret the Bible with our modern understanding of biology, psychology, sociology, and so forth. “With the quantum leaps that have been achieved in biology, psychology, and sociology, minds in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries must subject traditional religious arguments about nature to more thorough and critical analyses.”19 It is not within the purview of this article to give a detailed defense of the inspiration and reliability of the Bible.20 However, the simple response to these attacks is that both Judaism and Christianity have always held to the full authority of Scripture, as did Jesus Himself. In speaking of the Old Testament, for example, our Lord succinctly declared: “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). Parts of Scripture cannot be accepted while other parts are rejected. And in speaking of the guidance His apostles would receive, including guidance on their future writings (i.e., the New Testament), Jesus told them: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:26; cf. 2 Tim. 3:16). It is ludicrous to believe that the Creator of the universe, in guiding the biblical authors, was ignorant concerning the things we now know about homosexuality through modern biology, psychology, sociology, and so forth. To deny scriptural statements about homosexuality on these grounds is to completely deny God’s superintendence in the authorship of Scripture.
A third type of attack is to state that it really does not matter what heterosexuals think the Bible says about homosexuality, because homosexuals must interpret Scripture in view of their own experiences. Hence, in the book Building Bridges we find the statement that “the scriptures contain some insights that can be made known to the Christian community only through the testimony of lesbian and gay people.” Thus homosexuals must “interpret the scriptures in the light of their own experiences.”21 The problem with this is that a person could justify any type of behavior by saying that Scriptures pertaining to a particular behavior can only be understood by those who engage in such behavior (e.g., incest, adultery, fornication, and even bestiality). Those who believe this should remember the words of our Lord: “Therefore take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness” (Luke 11:35).
Human Sexuality Genesis 1-2
For those who believe that statements of the Bible are normative for our daily lives, the most important question to consider regarding homosexuality is: What was God’s purpose in creating human sexuality? The answer to this question is more important than any other area of discussion. From the very beginning of His revelation to humankind, God has revealed His order of creation, especially as it relates to sexuality. In Genesis 1 we are told that one purpose in creating the two sexes was procreative — through the sexual union of male and female we could reproduce the race: “Male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:27b-28). More detail is provided in Genesis 2, however, where we are told that in addition to procreation, there is a unitive function of sexuality that has to do with fulfilling our need for companionship: “And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him’” (Gen. 2:18). Then, after God created Eve and presented her to Adam, Adam rejoiced in his God-given companion. The chapter concludes: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24-25).
In this second chapter several items emerge. First, man has need for companionship: “It is not good that man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18); second, God makes provision to meet this need: the creation of woman (2:19-23). Concerning this, Samuel Dresner, Visiting Professor at Jewish Theological Seminary, states: “Woman is formed and becomes his partner. In her, man finds completion.”22 And third, God ordains the institution of marriage. We are told that the man would (1) “leave his father and mother,” (2) “cleave to his wife,” and (3) “they shall become one flesh.” Thus we find that heterosexuality is proclaimed to be God’s natural order of creation. In the New Testament, whenever the subject of sexuality comes up, the heterosexual norm of marriage is always upheld. For example, Jesus, in answer to a question, quoted Genesis 1 and 2: “Have you not read, that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt. 19:4-6). In addition, the apostle Paul reaffirms the norm of heterosexuality in several of his letters, also quoting the Genesis passages (e.g., Eph. 5:25-33; cf. 1 Cor. 7:2-3, 10-16; 1 Tim. 3:2, 12). And while some protest that we cannot take Genesis 1 and 2 as modern scientific treatises,23 these chapters nonetheless teach us spiritual truths concerning God’s intended order for His creation. It is only in the heterosexual union of marriage that we find the fulfillment of God’s intended order, both procreative and unitive. However, pro-homosexual writers argue that while homosexual activity in and of itself cannot be procreative it can still fulfill the unitive role of Genesis 2. In response to this Harvey writes:
Consider the three common forms of sexual activity between homosexual persons. Mutual masturbation in no way constitutes a physical union…. Among female homosexuals some form of genital massage is used to bring the partner to orgasm, but this is not a physical union. In anal or oral intercourse between males the intromission of the penis in an opening of the body not meant to be used for the genital expression of sexuality cannot be called a true physical union….By way of contrast, the heterosexual union aptly symbolizes the psychological and spiritual union that ought to exist between a man and a woman.24
One does not need a Ph.D. to realize that homosexuality is anatomically aberrant; that is, there is a created biological order intended in our sexuality. As an editorialist at Harvard’s Peninsula journal writes: “How can (homosexual) people be happy when they’re persistently deceiving themselves, believing that it is just as natural for sperm to swim into feces as it is to swim into eggs?”25 “The true religious goal of human sexuality can be seen, not as satisfaction, but as completeness.”26 This fulfillment is unattainable in homosexuality. Now that we have considered God’s positive purpose in creating human sexuality, we are ready to look at biblical texts which explicitly address homosexuality. Space precludes a detailed response to pro-homosexual interpretations of these passages. The interested reader can check the resources listed in the endnotes for further reading.
Leviticus 18 and 20
You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination. (Lev. 18:22) If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. (Lev. 20:13)
Although these prohibitions explicitly condemn homosexuality as an abomination before God, we are told that they are not relevant today. Why? First, the pro-homosexual interpretation is that since these condemnations are contained in the “Holiness Code” of Israel, they were only applicable to ancient Israelites, to keep them separate from the pagan practices of their neighboring tribes.27 Second, parts of this code are not kept today. Letha Scanzoni and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott assert that “consistency and fairness would seem to dictate that if the Israelite Holiness Code is to be invoked against twentieth-century homosexuals, it should likewise be invoked against such common practices as eating rare steak, wearing mixed fabrics, and having marital intercourse during the menstrual period.”28 Much effort need not be expended answering these objections. First, God did not condemn certain behavior for the Israelites only because Israel was to be kept separate from Canaanite practice. Otherwise, if the Canaanites did not practice child sacrifice and bestiality, would these then have been all right for the Israelites? Of course not! Having sexual relations with an animal and killing one’s child are inherently wrong and evil, even when they are not related to pagan worship; they are abominations before God. And yet, these specific prohibitions also are listed in this passage, both immediately before and after the condemnation of homosexuality (Lev. 18:21-23). Other prohibitions listed in Leviticus include incest and adultery (Lev. 18:6ff; 20:10). Were these too only condemned because of the Canaanites? To argue in this fashion is dishonest and denies that there are eternal moral absolutes. What of the fact that other parts of the Holiness Code in Leviticus are not kept today? Again, the answer is simple. The Holiness Code contained different types of commands. Some were related to dietary regulations or to ceremonial cleanliness, and these have been done away with in the New Testament (Col. 2:16-17; Rom. 14:1-3). Others, though, were moral codes, and as such are timeless. Thus incest, child sacrifice, homosexuality, bestiality, adultery, and the like, are still abominations before God.
For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. (Rom. 1:26-27)
If there were no other passage than this which condemns homosexuality, those engaged in this lifestyle would still be, in Paul’s own words, “without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). Paul’s intent in Romans 1 – 3 is to show that all have sinned, Jew and Gentile alike, and turned from God. It is not an accident that the apostle begins his argument with a reference to the Creator and His creation (1:16-20). His Jewish/Christian audience would immediately have connected this with Genesis 1 – 2, which, as we have seen, tells us not only about God’s created order, but also about the complementary design of male and female within that order. In his catalogue of sins (Rom. 1:18-32) Paul lists homosexuality and lesbianism first after idolatry, not because they are the most serious sins, but because they are warning signs that a violation of reason and nature has occurred. Men have inverted God’s order by worshipping the creature rather than the Creator, and as a signal of this error, like the blinking red light on the dashboard of a car which is functioning improperly, God has given them up to “dishonorable desires” in the inversion of their sexual roles.29
Two main arguments are raised against the historic understanding of this passage. The first is that Paul was not referring to true homosexuality here because he stated that they exchanged “the natural function for that which is unnatural.” It is argued that for those with a true homosexual orientation, that is their “natural” sexual expression. Hence he could only mean heterosexuals who were leaving their heterosexual relations for what was against their natures.30 This argument involves an amazing anachronism. That is, those saying this are attempting to place a very recent twentieth century understanding of homosexuality back into the first century mindset of Paul. People in the first century did not think in terms of “sexual orientation.” It is inconceivable for Paul to have even attempted to make a psychological differentiation such as this. Concerning this, Richard Hays writes: “The idea that some individuals have an inherent disposition towards same-sex erotic attraction and are therefore constitutionally ‘gay’ is a modern idea of which there is no trace either in the NT or in any other Jewish or Christian writings in the ancient world.”31 The second attempt to refute Paul’s clear condemnation of homosexuality argues that his words “unnatural” or “against nature” do not refer to a certain created order, but rather use “nature” in the sense of “current convention” or “current custom.”32 While “nature” is sometimes used in this fashion (e.g., 1 Cor. 11:14), the context of Paul’s argument in Romans 1 clearly is that of creation and the natural order established by the Creator Himself (Rom. 1:20, 25). Thus Paul is asserting that homosexuality is a gross violation of God’s natural design for His creation. In addition, it should be noted that the phrase “against nature” was used in connection with homosexual intercourse by both Philo and Josephus, contemporaries of Paul.33
1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders… (1 Cor. 6:9, NIV)
In both 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 the apostle Paul states that those guilty of sexual immorality will not inherit the kingdom of God. At the time Paul wrote his letters there was no word in classical, biblical, or patristic Greek which corresponded with our English term “homosexual.” Instead, homosexual behavior was described (e.g., Rom. 1:26-27). The words Paul uses here — malakoi (“male prostitute”) and arsenokoitai (“homosexual offenders”) — have been translated in different ways. Because of this those condoning homosexuality have tried to lessen the impact of these verses, saying that all Paul was condemning was either homosexual prostitution or pederasty (i.e., men having sexual relations with boys).34 Virtually every Greek lexicon, however, including all of the standard English ones, has understood these words (especially arsenokoitai) to be referring to homosexuality.35 Arndt and Gingrich’s lexicon says malakoi refers to persons who are “soft, effeminate, especially of catamites, men and boys who allow themselves to be misused homosexually.”36 Likewise, arsenokoites means “a male homosexual, pederast, sodomite.”37 We also find these terms in classical Greek literature (e.g., Lucian and Aristotle) “sometimes applied to obviously gay persons.”38 As well, if Paul were only condemning certain types of homosexuality he would certainly have specified this. Instead, he used a term directly based on the Greek Septuagint translation of the prohibitions against homosexuality in Leviticus:
meta arsenos ou koimethese koiten gynaikos (Lev. 18:22) koimethe meta arsenos koiten gynaikos (Lev. 20:13)39
Paul, a rabbi thoroughly trained in the Torah, was certainly mindful of these Levitical condemnations and the Septuagint translation of them when he chose his wording in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy.
Law and Gospel
Is homosexuality natural and healthy, as the gay rights movement wants us to believe? The answer from Scripture is no, and as Christians we must not be involved in homosexuality nor be among those who, as Paul warns, “approve of those” who are engaged in it (Rom. 1:32). The Roman Catholic church is correct in stating that homosexuality is “an intrinsic moral evil.”40 At the same time, though, we must reach out to all people with the love of Jesus Christ and His gospel, which alone has the power to change lives. And we must speak out against hatred and violence directed toward any group, remembering that we are all sinners, worthy only of God’s judgment. We all have sin in our lives, and we are all tempted in different ways (whether it be toward homosexuality, adultery, incest, greed, violence, pridefulness, or whatever else). Paul used the Law to show us, his readers, our sin and the fearful judgment awaiting us. But then, to those who truly desired to follow after God, he announced the good news of the Gospel: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). For all who accept this gift, including homosexuals, there is reconciliation to God, regeneration as His children, and “grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). *****
Joseph P. Gudel is a Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod pastor and a long-time JOURNAL contributor.
2 Peter 2: 4-9
(4) For God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to [hell] (Tartarus) and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; (5) and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; (6) and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; (7) and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed with the filthy conduct of the wicked, (8) (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds)- (9) then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment. (2Peter 2: 4-9)
(5) But I want to remind you, though you once knew this, that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. (6) And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own habitation, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day; (7) as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 5-7)
1 Jeff Levi, in William Dannemeyer, Shadow in the Land (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989), 86. 2 “Gays on the March,” Time, 8 Sept. 1975, 43. 3 Ibid. 4 In a 1991 Gallup Poll 61% of Americans believed that “tolerance of the gay lifestyle has been bad for society.” Nightline, ABC News, 8 September 1992. 5 Gregory Bray, “Where Are Dems on Family Values?” The Augusta Chronicle (Georgia), printed in the Oshkosh Northwestern, 22 Aug. 1992, 6. 6 John F. Harvey, The Homosexual Person (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987), 114-15. 7 Nightline. 8 John Leo, “Heather Has a Message,” U.S. News & World Report, 17 Aug. 1992, 16. 9 Ibid. 10 Roger J. Magnuson, Are Gay Rights Right? updated edition (Portland: Multnomah Press, 1990), 78. 11 “UCC Admits Gay Church,” The Christian Century, 30 May-6 June 1990, 563. 12 “Bar Homosexual Clergy, Conservative Disciples Say,” Religious News Service, in The Christian News, 30 Sept. 1991, 11. 13 “UMC and Gay Unions,” The Christian Century, 27 June-4 July 1990, 626. 14 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Human Sexuality and the Christian Faith (Minneapolis: ELCA, 1991), 44. 15 Ibid., 41-46. 16 Christus Omnibus, premier issue, front cover and 18. 17 John Barton, “The Place of the Bible in Moral Debate,” Theology 88 (May 1985), 206. 18 John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1980), 92. 19 Jeannine Gramick, “What Is Natural?” in Building Bridges, ed. Robert Nugent and Jeannine Gramick (Mystic, CT: Twenty-Third Publications, 1992), 46. Cf. Letha Scanzoni and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1978), 71. 20 See Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, 1968). 21 Jeanine Gramick, “Lesbian/Gay Theology and Spirituality,” Building Bridges, 190-91. 22 Samuel H. Dresner, “Homosexuality and the Order of Creation,” Judaism 40: 3 (Summer 1991), 309; cf. Richard F. Lovelace, Homosexuality and the Church (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1978), 102 ff. 23 Ralph Blair, Homosexualities (New York: Ralph Blair, 1991), 13. 24 Harvey, 101. 25 R. Wasinger, “If You’re Gonna Call Me Names…, ” Peninsula 3:2 (October/November 1991), 25. 26 R. T. Barnhouse, Homosexuality: A Symbolic Confusion (New York: Seabury Press, 1977), in Natalie Shainess, “Homosexuality — Today,” Judaism 32: 4 (Fall 1983), 414. 27 Boswell. 100-106. 28 Scanzoni and Mollenkott, 60-61. 29 Lovelace, 92. 30 Boswell, 109ff. 31 Richard B. Hays, “Relations Natural and Unnatural: A Response to John Boswell’s Exegesis of Romans l,” The Journal of Religious Ethics 14:1 (Spring 1986), 200; cf. David F. Wright, “Homosexuality: The Relevance of the Bible,” Evangelical Quarterly 61:4 (1989), 291-300. 32 Boswell, 110ff. 33 Philo, Spec. Leg. 3.39; Josephus, Against Apion, 2.273. 34 Boswell, 106-7. 35 Ibid., 341-42. 36 Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, ed. William F. Arndt, trans. F. Wilbur Gingrich (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 489. 37 Ibid., 109. 38 P. Michael Ukleja, “Homosexuality in the New Testament,” Bibliotheca Sacra 140: 560 (Oct.-Dec. 1983), 351. 39 Wright, 297ff. 40 Joseph Ratzinger, On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons (Boston: Daughters of St. Paul, 1986), 2.
Article from the Christian Research Institute, www.equip.org.
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