by Derrick K. Olliff and
Dewey H. Hodges
In this age of cultural pluralism and ethical minimalism, Christians who, consistent with biblical revelation, publicly declare certain activities to be sinful have met with severe opposition. The opposition intensifies when those activities involve “consenting” individuals and do not involve outright violence. To denounce those activities is, it is thought, to violate the culture’s “absolute” and “invariant” laws of tolerance and inclusion . Homosexual behavior has fast become one of those activities. Surely, it is maintained, those who oppose such a personal, voluntary practice are either “homophobics” in need of a culture lesson or religious bigots deserving scorn. This type of uncritical, emotional response has grown strong in today’s secular culture. An even more alarming issue, however, is the gain of support for this response within the Christian community. Christians themselves are, in growing numbers, sacrificing biblical truth on the altar of humanistic relativism. Therefore, it is not surprising to find that attempts have been made to justify such relativism on intellectual grounds and even on biblical grounds.
With respect to the issue of homosexuality, such an attempt has been made recently by Dr. Daniel A. Helminiak, a professor of psychology at West Georgia College and a Roman Catholic priest. In his book, What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality , and more recently during a lecture at the Georgia Institute of Technology , he has argued that the Christian position should be that homosexual behavior is ethically neutral, not sinful at all. Helminiak claims that the Old Testament laws prohibiting homosexual acts fall within the set of Levitical purity laws and are, therefore, not relevant for today. The Old Testament prohibitions against homosexual acts are said not to be binding today; because, like the dietary prohibitions, they were in the class of religious purity laws distinct to the Hebrew culture. It is now, according to him, perfectly reasonable for a Christian to be a homosexual.
The chief motivation for the present paper is to help concerned Christians defend the faith with increased rigor and boldness. The Bible teaches that homosexual behavior is sinful, that practicing homosexuals are outside the kingdom of Christ, that professing Christians who engage in homosexual behavior should be subject to Church discipline, and that laws which serve to punish homosexual acts and help keep homosexuality “underground” are biblical laws. We will show that “gay theologians” such as Helminiak have given Christians no reasons to abandon any aspect of such doctrines. Therefore, the authors hope that this paper will help Christians to overcome any fear of the arguments presented by individuals such as Helminiak. It is our desire to see Christians suitably equipped so that they can help convince homosexuals who claim to be Christian that they are really defying Christ. A secondary motivation of this paper is to help Christians reform the Church and society according to the Word of God. For example, we are calling Churches to return to the biblical practice of Church discipline so that, until homosexuals cease to commit homosexual acts, they are treated as being “yet in their sins” and denied church membership and admittance to the Lord’s Table. Since “gay theologians” seek to undermine all these pursuits, it is important to forcefully answer all their arguments; and this is what we have attempted to do.
In what follows, we will give a brief sketch of Helminiak’s arguments along with a critique of them. The reader is referred to his book for the full presentation of his position. It will be shown that Helminiak approaches the subject with strong presuppositions about the ultimate source of authority and that these presuppositions are clearly opposed by the Bible. That is, as he tells us “what the Bible really says,” he is standing on a worldview that does not in fact comport with the Christian worldview. In our critique of his arguments we will show examples of (1) factually inaccurate premises, (2) logically fallacious arguments, and (3) decidedly tainted objectivity in both the argumentation and in the examples he uses, evidently caused by his beliefs concerning homosexuality.
Some terms should be defined here at the outset. Helminiak believes that the term ‘homosexual’ and its derivatives denote sexual orientation; and, thus, he coins a separate term, ‘homogenital,’ to refer to same-sex acts. We will not make such an orientation-act distinction. There should be no confusion; because, except for one instance where Helminiak makes an argument based on genetic orientation, we will not be addressing the issue of orientation. We will therefore use ‘homosexual’ and its derivatives to refer to same-sex acts, but not to the concept of sexual orientation.
By What Standard?
For topics such as this one, it is generally necessary to determine whether or not competing authority claims exist. Often, disputes can be shown to exist because the various camps involved simply do not agree on which claims are authoritative and on the nature of evidence required in order for a proposition to be regarded as proven. We want to understand, therefore, what does Helminiak consider to be his ultimate authority? What source determines his beliefs? That we would pose these questions may seem strange in light of the title of his book and of his years of service in the Roman Catholic Church (RCC). That is to say, one might expect Helminiak’s ultimate authority to be God’s written word, the Bible, or at least the official doctrine of the RCC. However, based on the contents of his book and his lecture, such an expectation is ill-advised. Over and over again, Helminiak makes statements that neither comport with the Christian worldview as delineated in Scripture nor with the official teaching of the RCC. Although a worldview that is essentially the same as Helminiak’s has infiltrated (and adulterated) many one-time Christian churches in this century, such a worldview is not Christian in any sense.
To see the conflict between his claims about authority and those of the Bible, we can start by examining his professed belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. During the lecture, he said that he affirms this concept, and such a claim appears in his book (p. 27). The problem comes when we notice that this conflicts with a number of other claims that he has made. For example, he also said in both his lecture and in his book that he does not believe in one of the main doctrines taught in Scripture, i.e., sola Scriptura. When Scripture speaks it is the same as God speaking, and Scripture provides a complete revelation of all God wants us to know about Him. Scripture is both authoritative and sufficient. Helminiak writes, “As a Roman Catholic – and more importantly, a thinking person – I do not presume the Bible provides the last word on sexual ethics. In my mind, the matter is more complicated than that. Historical, cultural, philosophical, psychological, sociological, medical, spiritual and personal factors all come to bear on the matter” (pp. 13 – 14). Notice that in his mind (an authority claim?) the issue is too complicated for Scripture alone to bear. In spite of the Bible’s explicit claim as God’s word and as the ultimate authority, Helminiak does not accept it. This constitutes a presumptuous authority claim on his part – to have greater authority to tell us the scope of biblical revelation than the Bible itself does! Those things and people that are subordinate to the Bible include tradition (Mark 7:3 – 13; Galatians 1:13 – 14; Colossians 2:8, 20 – 23; I Pet. 1:18), miracles (Deuteronomy 13:1 – 3; Matthew 7:21 – 23, 24:24; Luke 16:27 – 31; II Thessalonians 2:9 – 10), prophets (Deuteronomy 13:1 – 3; 18:20 – 22; Matthew 7:21 – 23; Galatians 1:8 – 9; 2:11 – 21), angels (Galatians 1:8), and men (Isaiah 8:19 – 20; 29:13 – 14; Jeremiah 8:5 – 9; 17:5; Matthew 22:23 – 33; Mark 7:3 – 13; Acts 17:10 – 12; II Timothy 4:3 – 4; Titus 1:13 – 14). This last category, of course, includes Helminiak. Indeed, to claim that men, along with their various academic disciplines, constitute an equal source of authority is to claim that the opinions of men are equal to the words of God – an incoherent statement. (For a cogent defense of sola Scriptura, see .) Another example of Helminiak’s implicit denial of the inerrancy of the Bible is his statement that I Timothy was “probably not written by Paul himself” (p. 92). I Timothy 1:1, however, states that Paul is the author of the epistle. How could Helminiak believe both that the above quote is true and that the Bible is inerrant?
In a number of places, he seems to assume that the books of the Bible are nothing more than human documents. “Some suggest that the Jewish purity rules were principles of sanitation … . But this suggestion presumes more medical knowledge than the ancients had … ” (p. 49). “The book of Leviticus calls male homogenital acts an abomination. That means it was considered unclean. The early Israelites thought it was dirty. It was prohibited not because it was wrong in itself but because it offended sensitivities” (p. 51). “Thus, the early Christian church [at the Jerusalem Council] rejected a central requirement of the Jewish law [dietary laws]. Peter … had come to that same conclusion regarding clean and unclean animals” (p. 58). “Thus, [with regard to the list of sins at I Corinthians 6:9 – 10] it appears that Paul just borrowed stock lists from the culture at large … . The point is that this list of sins is not Paul’s own. It comes from some other source and reflects society at large” (pp. 92 – 93). “This approach [the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation] takes the Bible to mean, as best as can be determined, what its human authors intended to say in their own time and in their own way” (p. 107) .
Did Helminiak forget that the Bible is God’s word? The first two quotes assume that the laws in Leviticus originated with medically ignorant and socially prudish individuals instead of with God, as the Bible states (Leviticus 11:1; 12:1; 13:1; 14:1; 15:1; 18:1, 30; 19:1 – 4, etc.). Has God ever been medically ignorant?
In addition it should be emphasized, in no uncertain terms, that neither Peter nor the early Christian Church rejected one word of God’s law. God told them via revelation to Christ’s Apostles that certain parts of the law prefigured Christ’s sacrifice and had therefore been abrogated by the cross (Acts 10:9 – 16, 28; Hebrews 7:11 – 10:14, etc.). This illustrates a fundamental biblical principle: what God has commanded we must assume to have continuing force until such time as God Himself says, in effect, “you no longer have to obey this commandment.” Some hermeneutical schemes insist that God must repeat in the New Testament all the commands to which He still holds us. Those who so insist are trying to impose a man-made rule on a Sovereign God! Let us understand that Paul did not affirm a democratically chosen ethical code of a now extinct culture. He affirmed the continuing force of God’s law (Acts 24:14; Galatians 1:11 – 12; Ephesians 3:2 – 5; I Corinthians 14:36 – 37; I Thessalonians 2:13; I Timothy 1:8, 11).
In light of all this, what could Helminiak possibly mean when he says that the Bible is inerrant? Fortunately, he gives us a definition-by-example:
… the historical-critical approach first asks, What is the point of the Genesis story of creation? What was the author intending to say? Well, the Bible intended to give a religion lesson, not a science lesson. The seven-day story of creation is just a way of making the point: God created the universe with wisdom, care and order. If science determines that the universe actually evolved over millions and millions of years, there is no conflict with the Bible … . But the fact that God created the universe remains as true as ever. There is no error in that teaching of Genesis (p. 28).
Apparently, according to Helminiak, all of the details can be absolutely wrong, but as long as God still made the universe, the Genesis account is inerrant. This is one of the most puzzling and elastic definitions of ‘inerrant’ imaginable. If the point of the account was only to say that “God created the universe with wisdom, care and order,” why was so much detail given? Indeed, nothing in the text hints that the account is an allegory or parable. It reads like a detailed recipe. In addition, if Helminiak is correct, what are we to make of Paul’s argument in Romans 5:12 – 21? First, Paul talks about a literal Adam, not some ape-man whose cranial capacity had yet to reach 1300 cc. Paul takes the Genesis account at face value. Moreover, he uses this “literal” reading to argue for the necessity of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. If the first part of Paul’s analogy is in fact a fictional metaphor, what are we to make of the second part of his analogy which he also assumes to be historic? Is that a metaphor as well? What sense can we make of ourselves as “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3) if we are, in fact, children of primates? This is not the last time that questions concerning Helminiak’s unorthodox hermeneutical principles will arise. At any rate, Helminiak’s redefinition of ‘inerrant’ leaves it hollow and impotent. This, along with the other examples so far mentioned, gives us a good picture of the level of authority that he believes the Bible commands. That level is not very high.
The problem is further heightened when we remember that Helminiak is a professing Roman Catholic. As such, he should acknowledge that the official positions of the RCC, based on the final decisions of the pope, are infallible and should be accepted as doctrine. The RCC, however, does not mince words in proclaiming that homosexual acts are sinful:
Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved .
To be consistent with his source of authority, Helminiak should likewise condemn all homosexual acts, but this is the exact opposite of his actual stance on the matter. Thus, he has rejected the RCC as final authority in this matter, holding a position that is contrary to the RCC’s official position, which RCC communicants have vowed to accept as inerrant!
By His Standard
From the previous discussion, we have seen that neither the Bible nor the RCC constitute Helminiak’s final authority. It is also clear that he puts strong emphasis on man’s scholarly endeavors concerning questions of ethics in such fields as philosophy, psychology, and sociology. Therefore, it seems quite apparent that neither the Bible nor the RCC constitute his final authority, because he is his own final authority. Helminiak has assumed the worldview that provides the basis for atheism, the “autonomous man worldview”! We are not saying that he is an atheist, but he is doing exactly what the atheist does when he rejects God, i.e., the atheist rejects God in order to be his own final authority, his own god. He has assumed that man as an autonomous agent can “objectively” approach “neutral” (and extra-biblical) evidence and find the truth by himself. Man’s mind is the highest authority. This is the oldest trick in the Book. “Ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). This, however, is the very antithesis of the Christian worldview, which requires us to recognize God’s word as the highest authority and surrender unconditionally to it.
Although the previous evidence strongly supports such a conclusion, there is much more to add. On page 32, for instance, he claims, “Moreover, according to the historical-critical method, the times really do change. We cannot expect to find simple answers to contemporary questions just by reading the Bible … . Sensitive to God’s Spirit, we have to rely on our own minds and hearts to decide what the Bible requires in the situations we now face.” One wonders, what is meant by the phrase “what the Bible requires in the situations we now face” in light of the authority he gives to “our own minds and hearts”? Although Helminiak at first seems to say that the Bible plays some kind of role in determining God’s will for us, his faulty hermeneutics in fact undermine the Bible. Thus, Helminiak’s bottom line is that it is we who, in fact, determine what is right and wrong for us today. After all, the times they are a changing, and we are much more sophisticated than those poor souls of the days during which the Bible was written.
Indeed, when [social] conventions are misguided, unreasonable or oppressive, they ought to be changed … . Despite it all the important point is to recognize the difference between real wrong and mere taboo. Though it is not always easy to know the difference, we must not be hardheaded and treat as an ethical issue what is simply a matter of convention. Rather, with openness, intelligence, reasoned judgment, and good will we must continually work together to form a just, high minded and noble society (p. 54).
Here, Helminiak tells us plainly that, for our sophisticated society, ethical issues are determined by the intelligence, judgment, and good will of men. This is nothing less than the exemplar of the autonomous man worldview with respect to ethics. This is the standard of ethical authority that atheists claim after they have taken God out of the picture. It is the foundation of secular humanism, which has become so rampant in our society. The Christian worldview, on the other hand, clearly supposes that “no one is good but One, that is, God” (Luke 18:18); and, therefore, ethical norms are determined by God’s will (as delineated in His word), not by the minds and traditions of men (see the Scripture references given above). For one to support the above quote from Helminiak’s book, it is not necessary for him to be a Christian. Logically speaking in fact, one could only hold such a position if he were an atheist. A Christian cannot coherently affirm the autonomous man worldview.
In the introduction to his book he provides a definition of love couched within a discussion of sexuality. This definition will help us to further illustrate the unbiblical autonomous man assumptions at the root of Helminiak’s approach to hermeneutics.
Attached to a person’s sexuality is the capacity to feel affection, to delight in someone else, to get emotionally close to another person, to be passionately committed to him or her. Sexuality is at the core of that marvelous human experience, being in love – to be struck by the beauty of another and be drawn out of yourself, to become attached to another human being so powerfully that you easily begin measuring your life in terms of what’s good for someone else as well as for yourself (p. 18).
The first sentence of this quotation reveals a clearly unbiblical mindset: that “to feel affection, to delight in someone else, to get emotionally close to another person, to be passionately committed … ” all have to do with sexuality! We have feelings such as these day by day – indeed they are common to mankind – toward our children, our families, our brothers and sisters in Christ, etc., without so much as a hint of “sexuality.” Helminiak’s concept of love has sexuality fastened to it, and he has completely stripped from it any mention of God. The irony is, according to Scripture, God is love. We can only love because God first loved us. God’s love (and Christian love, agape) is sacrificial (John 3:16; I Corinthians 13:1 – 6), God-centered, and action oriented. Helminiak’s whole concept is human centered and self-serving (what I feel, what I delight in, what emotions I feel, what “passion” I feel in commitment, etc.). Finally, God’s love means to fulfill the law of God in relationship to another person (Romans 13:8 – 10). It means to do the will of God – i.e., to obey the commandments of God (John 15:9, 10). These issues are at the core of love, not “sexuality.” Whether a Christian “feels” like loving or not does not matter. Only in the second sentence does Helminiak even hint at “what’s good for someone else” but then hastens to add, “as well as for yourself.” Another problem piled on top of this one is that even his concept of “good” is measured by feelings. The above quotation shows that Helminiak’s definition of love, far from being in conformity with the Christian worldview, reflects humanism with its autonomous-man foundation. We will see below how Helminiak’s concept of love causes him to superimpose sexuality in biblical passages where it is not at all in view.
He further echoed this anti-Christian worldview during his lecture. Toward the end of his presentation, he openly said that the professing Christians who engage in homosexual activity should use his arguments in order to, in his words, “neutralize” their opponent’s biblical interpretation. With the Bible “neutralized,” they could then get down to business. After all, he said, there are many people out there who need our help and sympathy. Some are dying (he may have been thinking about homosexual AIDS patients). He then proclaimed, “I don’t give a damn what you believe as long as you’re a good person.” The Bible, however, opposes this statement so powerfully and so thoroughly and from so many different angles that one is at a loss to explain how a professing Christian could make such a remark. Therefore, before we even get to the content of his arguments, we conclude that Helminiak’s position is self-refuting; because, when it comes to the authority by which he determines truth (especially ethical truth), he has stepped out of the Christian worldview and into the autonomous man worldview.
Make no mistake. The question is not really over what the Bible says or means with respect to the issue of same-sex acts. What it says and what it means are clear. The question is over what the Bible is and how much authority it has. Once the Bible is viewed as the error-filled writings of ignorant (relative to us), socially conditioned individuals, it is not at all difficult for positions, such as the one Helminiak holds, to arise. Once the Bible is no longer viewed as having normative authority, its contents are seen through the autonomous presuppositions of the modern culture. With such a worldview used to filter its contents, it is no surprise that the Bible is viewed as teaching us principles that are in accord with modern-day humanism. If, however, the Bible is allowed to speak on its own terms, something very different arises. If the Bible is what it claims to be (i.e., God’s infallible revelation to His creation), Helminiak’s position refutes itself, and same-sex acts are indeed sinful. If the Bible is not what it claims to be and is, instead, what Helminiak assumes that it is, then Christianity is false; and, as Paul might say, we are of all men the most pitiable.
Before addressing biblical texts which discuss homosexual acts, Helminiak presented a few arguments that are worth reviewing. The first one, which shall here be labeled the “natural born killers” argument, can be summarized as follows:
(S1) Scientific evidence shows that some people are born homosexual; and, indeed, sexual orientation seems to be a trait akin to height, skin color, and gender.
(S2) “According to faith, it is God who creates us … . So somehow God must be behind the fact that some people are homosexual.”
(S3) Either they (homosexuals) were made correctly or they were made “flawed.”
(S4) If God made them flawed, he would be “evil” or “playing some cruel trick.”
(S5) God cannot be evil.
(S6) God made them correctly.
(S7) God would not condemn those traits which he made correctly.
(S8) God does not condemn the trait of homosexuality, and those who claim that the Bible condemns homosexuality have misinterpreted the Bible (pp. 18 – 20).
There are several problems with this argument, so the factual problems are addressed first, followed by the logical fallacies. We begin by questioning the factuality of the premise: (S1) is stated without proof. No references are given for its support. Remember, this premise makes the claim that there is a behavioral trait that is set by genetics in the same way that physical traits, such as eye color, are set. The boldness of this claim cannot be overstated. Surely we will need much more than Helminiak’s word in order to accept this statement as true. Indeed, there are three possible options with regard to the relationship between genes and homosexual behavior: (a) genes play no role in such behavior; (b) some people, based on genetics, have a higher propensity toward such behavior; or (c) genes determine such behavior in exactly the same way that they determine eye color. Ignoring option (a), we can note that if the scientific evidence shows any consistent pattern at all (an important “if”), it shows us that option (b) is a possibility. This, however, is a far cry from (c). Moreover, if (b) were indeed the case, this would, by itself, destroy Helminiak’s argument. To use genetics at all, he needs to show that genes determine sexual behavior in the same way that they determine physical traits, not just that they influence such behavior in some way. He has not done this, nor has anyone else.
Helminiak also made the claim that “there is no credible evidence that sexual orientation can be changed.” How does he know this? The only way to prove a universal negative by empirical means is to know everything. For him to prove that there is “no credible evidence,” he would have to have examined all the evidence. Has Helminiak really investigated each and every claim of renounced homosexuality? In addition what are we to make of the qualifier “credible?” By what theory of epistemology are we to distinguish the credible from the incredible? Without more information, this argument has no force.
Even apart from these problems, the argument itself is fallacious. To begin with, the conditional of (S4) begs the question. It was claimed that if God did ‘x,’ He would be evil; but this presupposes a standard of good and evil independent of God, which Helminiak would have to prove in order to make this conditional valid. On what basis does he know that such an act would be evil? He simply assumes what he needs to prove. Moreover, such a presupposition is incoherent, because there is no ethical standard outside of God’s will that can provide the qualities that an ethical standard needs, i.e., normativity, invariance, and personality. Without the infinite, immutable, personal will of God as the standard for good and evil, we would be reduced to the incoherence of the atheist who tries to construct a normative, invariant, personal standard of ethics based on the numerous and incompatible opinions of variant and subjective men.
In addition, the entire argument is a non sequitur. The conclusion does not follow from the premises. How does Helminiak know that God would not “make” a group of individuals who were destined to be condemned. Certainly the doctrine of predestination is offensive to man’s constant desire to have “free will,” but the Bible is clear on the matter. Israel, after all, was chosen to be God’s people before they were even born (Deuteronomy 7:6 – 8; 9:4 – 6). We Christians did not choose Christ; He chose us (John 15:16). Indeed, we cannot even believe unless God first draws us (John 6:44); because, as unbelievers, we are dead in our sins and children of wrath by nature (Ephesians 2:1 – 9). Thus, we were elected before time by His will, not by our wills or anything that we do (Romans 8:28 – 30; 9:6 – 24; Ephesians 1:4 – 6, 11 – 12; II Thessalonians 2:13 – 14; II Timothy 1:8 – 9). According to Paul, in fact,
And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “Even for this same purpose I have raised you up, that I might show My power in you, and that My name might be declared in all the earth.” Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens. You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will? “But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? (Romans 9:10 – 24) 
Here, Paul is contradicting both (S4) and (S7). God hardens whom He wills, and there are certain workers of iniquity whom God hates (Psalms 5:5), who are chosen to be “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction.” God hardens an individual and then punishes the individual whom He hardened for His own purposes! The sovereign God will not be subject to some mere human standard of morality. To illustrate, let us suppose that we could determine that, for at least some individuals, certain criminal behaviors are a part of their “nature.” So what? It is clearly revealed that we are all sinners “by nature” (Psalms 51:5; 58:3; Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:9 – 12; Ephesians 2:1 – 3; I John 1:8). This is the very reason that the cross was necessary. Should we ignore what the Bible says and excuse “the natural born killer”? Such a concept is foreign to Scripture! No, the one who was born a sinner is still condemned by God for sinning. It is clear that Helminiak has failed to construct a sound argument due both to logical fallacies and unsupported claims. Furthermore, we have solid biblical support to reject his claims as inaccurate.
A second of his arguments (pp. 32 – 33) can be summarized as follows:
(D1) Today, we “know that homosexuality is a core aspect of the personality” and that homosexuals are “religious people” involved in deep-felt and “loving relationships.”
(D2) The Bible only discusses homosexual acts; it does not address the issue of homosexual orientation. A loving relationship, based on homosexual orientation, was “not a question in the minds of the biblical authors.”
(D3) “We cannot expect the Bible to give an answer” on such relationships.
To begin with, the “core aspect” part of (D1) is simply a repetition of (S1) above and, therefore, encounters the same problems. Without much more information, it is simply useless to Helminiak’s cause. In addition, the fact that homosexuals are religious, “loving” (his unbiblical definition), and sincere is irrelevant to his thesis. No doubt, there are many religious, “loving,” and sincere Hindus and Muslims who are nevertheless sincerely wrong. Surely there are idol worshipers and cat burglars who are both religious and “loving.” Psychological adjectives are simply irrelevant to the objective questions, “Are they correct in what they believe?” and “Are they right in what they are doing?”
In addition the argument is a non sequitur. It does not matter that the Bible fails to speak of “orientations,” because it says quite clearly that one must not engage in the act. Indeed, the argument makes much more sense if we turn it around and proclaim that, because the Bible gives a blanket condemnation of the act and does not distinguish between “casual” action and action based on “orientation,” such a distinction is irrelevant. Either way, it is condemned by the Bible’s blanket proscription. Perhaps Helminiak would reply that this is not fair, because the question of orientation was not “in the minds of the biblical authors.” Again, however, he has forgotten Who wrote the text. The biblical proscriptions did not originate with sheepherders ignorant of our brilliant, modern psychological discoveries. They were given by revelation from God (see scriptural texts already mentioned). If it were necessary that a distinction be drawn in order to focus the proscription on the guilty alone, God would have made that distinction. Indeed, that is exactly what He did throughout the Bible, where appropriate. See, for example, the distinctions made with regard to self-defense (Exodus 22:2), manslaughter (Exodus 21:12 – 13; Numbers 35:9 – 15, 22 – 28; Deuteronomy 19:3 – 7), and murder (Exodus 21:14; Leviticus 24:17; Numbers 35:16 – 21; Deuteronomy 19:11 – 13). Therefore, we conclude, using the same argument, that the Bible does give us an answer regarding modern homosexual behavior – it condemns all of it.
Genesis 19: The Sin of Sodom
The first passage that Helminiak takes up is Genesis 19:1 – 11. Like a number of individuals before him, he argues that the sin of Sodom was inhospitality:
In a desert country, where Sodom lay, to stay outside exposed to the cold of the night could be fatal. So a cardinal rule of Lot’s society was to offer hospitality to travelers. The same rule is a traditional part of Semitic and Arabic cultures. This rule was so strict that no one might harm even an enemy who had been offered shelter for the night. So doing what was right, following God’s law as he understood it, Lot refused to expose his guests to the abuse of the men of Sodom. To do so would have violated the law of sacred hospitality (p. 38).
Helminiak admits that there is more to the story than this when he proclaims, “When male-male rape becomes part of the story, the additional offense is sexual abuse … ” (p. 39). As he says earlier, “Allowing that the word ‘to know’ really does have sexual meaning here, what is at stake is male-male rape, not simply male-male sex” (p. 38). In addressing the hospitality argument first, we should note that what other cultures believe to be moral law is irrelevant. Lot, after all, was not some pagan who followed the law according to Baal. Further, God does not judge individuals based on their culture’s ethical code. Only biblical moral law is relevant and reflects God’s will. With this in mind, we can turn to God’s law and find that while male-male sex was an “abomination” that merited the death penalty (Leviticus 20:13), there is no “law of sacred hospitality” much less a capital punishment for inhospitality. Although this law had not yet been given in written form, the law that was “written” on Lot’s heart said essentially the same thing: homosexual behavior is an abomination. If other cultures had a different standard, they were wrong. Moreover, to think that God would annihilate an entire city because they were inhospitable, especially when such an offense is not even mentioned in the law, stretches credulity beyond all measure. Thus, we see that the hospitality argument does not hold water.
What about the examples that Helminiak gives in support of the hospitality argument? He first tells us that, “The prophet Ezekiel (16:48 – 49) states the case baldly: ‘This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, surfeit of food and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.‘ The sin of the Sodomites was that they refused to take in the needy travelers” (p. 39 – 40). This passage, however, does not help Helminiak’s case. The text says that they were lazy and, although they were wealthy, they did not aid the “poor and needy.” This refers to capable people who failed to show charity to the poor. God would later give the detailed charity laws which take the form of gleaning (Leviticus 19:9 – 10; Deuteronomy 23:24 – 25; 24:19 – 22), lending (Exodus 22:25 – 27; Leviticus 25:35 – 37; Deuteronomy 15:7 – 11; 23:19 – 20; 24:6, 10 – 13), tithing (Deuteronomy 14:28 – 29), and hired servitude (Leviticus 25:39 – 43). Failure to render charity to the poor is not at all the same as inhospitality to travelers. Perhaps more interesting though is the part of this passage that Helminiak did not quote. “And they [Sodom and her daughter] were haughty and committed abomination before Me; therefore I took them away as I saw fit.” (Ezekiel 16:50) Remember, homosexual acts are an “abomination” to the Lord (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13). Note also how ” … 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 vengeance of eternal fire” (Jude 7). This shows, along with the previous rebuttal to the hospitality argument, that the sins of Sodom were quite different from the picture that Helminiak paints.
He also quotes Matthew 10:5 – 15 to show that “there is a clear reference to rejection of God’s messengers. The parallel between the gospel and Sodom is the closed heart that rejects the stranger, the wickedness that will not welcome God’s heralds” (p. 40). This argument is severely mistaken. To begin with, rejecting God’s word is completely different from “inhospitality.” In Matthew 10, Jesus told the disciples to “go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel … . And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words … shake off the dust from your feet” (verses 6, 14). The Bible is speaking here about those who reject the gospel. “He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me” (Luke 10:16). This is speaking of rejection of God and his message of salvation. It has nothing whatsoever to do with hospitality. Moreover, the comparison between the rejection of God’s word and Sodom has nothing to do with a similarity between the two sins. The argument being made here is common in the Bible and is known as an a fortiori argument. This type of argument is used to draw conclusions from lesser situations to greater ones. The argument here is simple. If they reject the gospel, it will be worse for them than for Sodom, and everyone knows the calamity that befell Sodom. Therefore, the judgment for those who reject the gospel will be terrible indeed. The a fortiori argument does not at all show a similarity between the “sin of Sodom” and the sin of those who reject the disciples. Indeed, the angels (in the form of men) who visited Sodom were not evangelizing. There are a number of other such a fortiori arguments in Scripture which are likewise, used to start with the lesser and conclude with the greater (see, for example, Matthew 7:7 – 11; 12:9 – 12; Hebrews 10:26 – 29). Thus, not only is this passage talking about something that has no relevance to the question of hospitality, Helminiak’s argument does not show a connection between the actions of Sodom and the actions of those who reject the disciples. Indeed, that Helminiak thinks this passage supports his position in any way is certainly puzzling.
What about the rape argument, though? Rape is, after all, certainly a violation of God’s law (Deuteronomy 22:25 – 29). The passage, however, indicates that something far worse occurred there.
And they called to Lot and said to him, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may know them.” So Lot … said, “Please, my brethren, do not do so wickedly! See now, I have two daughters who have not known a man; please, let me bring them out to you, and you may do to them as you wish; only do nothing to these men, since this is the reason they have come under the shadow of my roof” (Genesis 19:5 – 8).
If we may develop our own a fortiori argument, we know that heterosexual rape is quite sinful. Yet it would clearly be a lesser evil when compared to the wickedness of homosexual rape. Lot was attempting to substitute the sinful for the abominable. The perverse wickedness of same-sex acts is thus made manifest. Was this the only sin of Sodom? Of course not. However, as Bahnsen has pointed out,
Although a general wickedness characterized Sodom [Genesis 18:20], the fact cannot be suppressed that the Sodomites’ desire to “know” Lot’s guests is the manifest sin set forth in Genesis 19 and the specific confirmation that the city was worthy of devastation [Genesis 19:13; cf. 18:21]. This was the mark of their extreme degradation and rebellion against God .
The inhabitants of Sodom committed a multitude of sins. The Sodomites’ “wicked” attempt to homosexually “know” the visitors in chapter 19, however, gives us a specific and powerful reason for the city’s destruction.
Leviticus 18:22; 20:13
These passages clearly specify that homosexual acts merited the death penalty under the Mosaic law. In looking at Helminiak’s explanation of these passages, we shall respond to the two main conclusions that he attempts to draw. He first attempts to conclude that an act which merited the death penalty is not necessarily grievous or immoral. In trying to mitigate the seriousness of the death penalty, he first tells us that while the death penalty is severe, ” … Leviticus prescribes the same penalty for cursing one’s parents. Other sexual sins also merit the death penalty: adultery, incest and bestiality” (p. 44). Apparently, the fact that cursing one’s parents also merited the death penalty constitutes a reductio ad absurdum in Helminiak’s mind. Between the lines, he appears to be saying that we know that such a punishment today for this type of unimportant offense would be barbaric, so perhaps the fact that homosexual acts merited the death penalty does not really mean that they were serious offenses. This, however, would only have force if one considered actions which undermine the family structure to be a “light” matter. Since Christians should not hold such a position, his attempted reductio is not effective.
Along this same line, he next attempts to explain why adultery required the death penalty. He states that,
In ancient Israel, adultery was an offense only against the husband; it was an unlawful use of his property his woman, his wife. More than a personal offense, it involved a financial loss: the man had paid his wife’s father a bridal price for her, and she was important to the expansion of his family, the increase of his property … . Similarly, if a man’s new bride was not a virgin, how sure could he be that a child born through her was his own? A “used” woman was of no value to anyone. Having sex with someone else’s woman could cause serious financial and social problems. The “theft” involved was major. In ancient Israel, that offense was serious enough to be punished by death (pp. 44 – 45).
Again, we see an attempt to mitigate the death penalty as a punishment. This attempt, however, suffers from a number of problems. To begin with, Helminiak tells us that adultery is no different from theft. He tells us that adultery was a serious problem just because it was theft of major proportions. If this were true, it would reduce the Seventh Commandment to a subsection of the Eighth Commandment. The Bible, however, clearly presents them as distinct. Additionally, with respect to the topic at hand (punishment), there is no connection between adultery and theft. In direct contradiction to Helminiak’s equation of adultery and theft, adultery merited the death of both participants (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22 – 24) while theft required the restoration of property (Exodus 22:1, 4 – 14; Leviticus 6:1 – 5). Thus, in trying to explain punishment by combining the two offenses, Helminiak has given us an explanation that is incoherent in light of the Bible’s own prescription of punishment.
Moreover, his explanation is at odds with the RCC’s position on adultery and marriage. Although the Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes many Old and New Testament passages to support its views of marriage, sexual relations, and various infidelities, not once does it mention Helminiak’s view, much less claim that it was the normal operating procedure in biblical times. The Catechism assumes that in biblical times as well as in modern times, marriage is a covenant based on the Genesis account of creation. When discussing adultery, it says nothing remotely similar to Helminiak’s account, and it even mentions that several Old Testament prophets at least indirectly likened adultery to idolatry . If the RCC harbors beliefs even remotely similar to Helminiak’s position, one would not know it from their Catechism. It therefore looks like this is another instance where Helminiak has abandoned his church’s teaching in favor of his own theories. It is also apparent that his attempt to downplay the death penalty as a punishment for homosexual acts, as commanded by God, has not been successful.
Helminiak’s second and more important conclusion is that
(F1) The prohibition of homosexual acts in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 was a purity law enacted to separate Israel from her neighbors, whose homosexual acts were “associated with pagan activities, with idolatry, with Gentile identity.” (pp. 46 – 47).
(F2) Since it was not an ethical prohibition, it does not apply today.
He supports this conclusion with two arguments. He first argues in support of (F1) with the claim that the specific passages under consideration are embedded within a set of purity laws (“The Holiness Code”) teaching the Israelites to be separate from the surrounding Gentiles. Therefore, the actions spoken of (including homosexual acts) are not wrong in themselves; but they were to be avoided in that culture, because such acts were associated with unbelieving neighbors. These laws are simply purity laws, not ethical laws; thus, (F2). This argument, however, suffers from a number of fatal defects. First, it should be noted that this argument suffers from the logical fallacy known as cum hoc ergo propter hoc which, loosely translated, means that just because two things happen together, it does not necessarily mean that one caused the other. Just because God said “According to the doings of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do … ” (Leviticus 18:3), it does not therefore follow that the laws were only made to separate the Israelites from the Gentiles. We could equally conclude that God did not want the Israelites to imitate the surrounding Gentiles because the acts of the Gentiles were immoral. In fact, we are even given confirmation of this alternative interpretation when we read,
Do not defile yourselves with any of these things [including homosexual acts]; for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you. For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants … . Do not think in your heart, after the Lord your God has cast them out before you, saying, “Because of my righteousness the Lord has brought me in to possess this land;” but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out from before you (Leviticus 18:24 – 25; Deuteronomy 9:4).
Thus, God tells us that because the former tenants did certain things, they were wicked and were punished for their iniquity. God did not tell the Israelites to avoid these actions simply because the Gentiles did them. He told the Israelites to avoid the iniquitous actions for which the Gentiles were being punished. Hence, we see that Helminiak’s suggestion is not only fallacious, it goes against the context of the passage.
If we look further at the context of the proscriptions, we see additional evidence that Helminiak is mistaken. The actions forbidden in Leviticus 18 – 20 include incest, adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, idolatry, theft, withholding a worker’s wages, showing partiality, hating one’s brother, vigilantism, prostitution, using false scales and inflationary currency, and practicing divination. Are we supposed to believe that all of these actions were forbidden simply because the Gentiles did them? To be sure, there are laws in this section that are not applicable today such as those that speak of sacrificial offerings (see Hebrews 7 – 10), but they constitute a minority of the laws mentioned. It should be readily apparent, then, that Leviticus 18 – 20 contains a number of laws that are, in fact, moral laws which prohibit sinful actions, and that Helminiak’s attempt to dismiss the entire section meets with absurdity.
Yet another problem arises for Helminiak when we note that his attempt to inextricably link homosexual acts with pagan worship does not hold up. As Bahnsen has noted,
The historical fact is that in Canaanite culture homosexuality was practiced as both a religious rite and a personal sexual perversion in general; it was popular in the temple and the town, performed both religiously and hedonistically. Israel’s pagan neighbors knew both secular and sacred homosexuality, which would make two different biblical prohibitions all the more necessary for God’s will to be clearly revealed to His people. The Bible condemns the sex life of the heathen town as well as the sexual idolatry of the heathen temple .
Homosexuality was not simply relegated to religious worship. Israel’s neighbors engaged in such acts for worship as well as for personal pleasure. As shown above, the Bible draws detailed distinctions when they are necessary. Since the laws in Leviticus make no distinction concerning homosexual acts, we should conclude that there are no distinctions. The Biblical passages are unqualified. Homosexual acts are sinful, regardless of why they are performed.
Helminiak’s second argument in support of (F1) involves the word ‘abomination’ found in both 18:22 and 20:13. He claims that the word simply means “dirty” or “impure” and that this therefore supports his position.
“Abomination” is a translation of the word toevah. This term could also be translated “uncleanness” or “impurity” or “dirtiness.” “Taboo,” what is culturally or ritually forbidden, would be another accurate translation. The significance of the term toevah becomes clear when you realize that another Hebrew term,zimah, could have been used if that was what the authors intended. Zimah means, not what is objectionable for religious or cultural reasons, but what is wrong in itself. It means an injustice, a sin. Clearly, then, Leviticus does not say that for man to lie with man is wrong or a sin. Leviticus says it is a ritual violation, an uncleanness; it is something “dirty” (p. 52).
What are we to make of this? First, it is interesting to note that Helminiak only provides one passage to support the claim that ‘abomination’ means “unclean” or “taboo,” and as it turns out, the passage he quoted does not contain the word toevah. On page 48, he quoted Leviticus 20:25 – 26 to conclude that, “Evidently, ‘abominable’ is just another word for ‘unclean.'” The word translated ‘abomination’ in this passage, however, is not toevah but shaqats . A word study that only includes one example is problematic in and of itself, but if that example does not even address the word in question, we are left with a completely irrelevant word study.
We can now look at the word toevah to determine whether we have been given the whole story. What we find is that toevah can and very often does denote something that is immoral and detestable in God’s sight. It is used at various times to denote: idols and idol worship (Deuteronomy 7:25 – 26; Jeremiah 16:18), serving other gods and human sacrifice (Deuteronomy 12:31; 20:18; II Kings 16:3 – 4), human sacrifice, witchcraft, and sorcery (Deuteronomy 18:9 – 12), having false scales (Deuteronomy 25:16; Proverbs 11:1; 20:10), lying lips (Proverbs 12:22), the ways of the wicked (Proverbs 15:9), and the proud in heart (Proverbs 16:5). Everything on this list is intrinsically immoral, not just “taboo.” II Kings 21:1 – 12 gives a list of egregious sins including idol worship, the worship of other gods, building altars to other gods in the Lord’s house, human sacrifice, and witchcraft. In this passage we find that
… he [Manasseh] did evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the abominations [toevah] of the nations whom the Lord had cast out … . And the Lord spoke by His servants the prophets, saying, “Because Manasseh king of Judah has done these abominations [toevah] (he has acted more wickedly than all the Amorites who were before him, and has also made Judah sin with his idols), therefore thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘Behold, I am bringing such calamity upon Jerusalem and Judah, that whoever hears of it, both his ears will tingle'” (2 Kings 21:2, 10 – 12).
The toevah mentioned were “evil” and “wicked,” and the judgment due for those sins would make your ears tingle! This is about as far away from “taboo” as one could get.
Proverbs contains a list of such things: “These six things the LORD hates, yes, seven are an abomination [toevah] to Him: A proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren” (Proverbs 6:16 – 19). The poetic structure of the passage makes it clear that what God hates and that which is abominable to Him are synonymous. One should take note here that lying, wicked plans, murder, and sowing discord cannot be relegated to mere cultural taboos.
Additionally, one should note that toevah is used four times in Leviticus 18:26 – 30 to denote incest, adultery, human sacrifice, homosexuality, and bestiality. Verses 26 – 28 tell us that “You [Israel] … shall not commit any of these abominations … lest the land vomit you out also when you defile it, as it vomited out the nations that were before you.” Again, we see that “taboo” does not come close to fitting the context. Israel was to avoid the actions that brought serious punishment to the Gentiles, lest they be punished also. It should, therefore, be obvious that Helminiak’s explanation of toevah is seriously mistaken and that not only is toevah often used to describe evil actions, it is used to describe evil actions with respect to homosexual acts in the passage under consideration.
Thus, we see that toevah is used a number of times to denote immorality. For Helminiak to assume that, because it is sometimes used to denote nonethical situations (notwithstanding Helminiak’s irrelevant word study, toevah is sometimes used in nonethical terms), its use with respect to homosexual acts must be nonethical, is simply to beg the question.
But what about Helminiak’s argument with respect to the word zimah? Is he right to claim that the author would have used zimah to denote sinful activity? Just as with the English language, the Hebrew language has several words that can refer to sinful activity. Indeed, we could use ‘evil,’ ‘sin,’ ‘abomination,’ ‘wrong,’ ‘unlawful,’ ‘immoral,’ ‘lewd,’ ‘licentious,’ ‘profligate,’ or ‘bad’ to refer to basically the same thing. It is true that these words are more or less applicable to certain specific situations, but if one is not trying to draw narrow technical distinctions, any of these words could be used to convey the same meaning. In addition, several of the words listed can convey ethical connotations, but need not do so exclusively. With this in mind, then, we should see that when Helminiak argues that the author should have used zimah to convey ethical connotations, he is giving us an argument from silence. It is simply fallacious to claim that because a specific word was not used, the concept related to that word was not in view. We have already seen that in many different instances, toevah carries negative ethical connotations. Therefore, the argument from silence does not even make sense. Things get more interesting however, when we note that the word zimah occurs four times in Leviticus 18 – 20. It is applied to incest at 18:17, prostitution at 19:29, and marriage, simultaneously, to a woman and her daughter at 20:14. We previously saw how Helminiak first argued in support of (F1) by claiming that the section under consideration belongs to the “Holiness Code,” and that its point was to separate Israel from its neighbors, not to identify intrinsically immoral acts. Helminiak’s word study of zimah, however, contradicts this argument. The word is applied to several actions within the section that he says carry no ethical connotations. Helminiak’s word substitution argument thus proves nothing except, perhaps, that he should be more careful with his argumentation.
The last part of his argument which addresses the word ‘abomination’ can be seen in the following quote. “In the Septuagint, the Hebrew word toevah in Leviticus 18:22 is translated with the Greek word bdelygma. Fully consistent with the Hebrew, the Greek bdelygma means a ritual impurity, an uncleanness. Once again, there were other Greek words available, like anomia, meaning a violation of law or a wrong or a sin” (p. 52). Here again, Helminiak is mistaken. The word bdelygmais translated “abomination” in the New Testament to refer to the “abomination of desolation” spoken of in Daniel (see Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14), and probably fulfilled in 168 BC when Antiochus Epiphanes set up a pagan altar in the Most Holy Place, violating the first commandment in the temple. The word is also used to refer to evils that men esteem such as the love of money (Luke 16:15), lying unbelievers (Titus 1:16), the harlot of Babylon (Revelation 17:4 – 5), those who will burn in hell (Revelation 21:8), and those who will not enter the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:27). It is used once as a verb to refer to idols (Romans 2:22). All of these references clearly apply to immoral actions and individuals. Therefore, Helminiak’s attempt to classify this word in strictly nonethical terms meets with failure. Once again, Helminiak assumes that words only have one meaning and that the context is irrelevant when considering that meaning. That this is patently false we have already seen. In addition, his suggestion with respect to anomia is as invalid as his suggestion with respect to zimah. Numerous words could have been used, and a number of them can be used, for both ethical and nonethical connotations. Helminiak’s argument from silence is fallacious, and his attempt to stamp words with only one definition is linguistically incorrect. In the final analysis, then, Helminiak’s arguments with respect to Leviticus 18 – 20 are all completely unsound; and, contrary to his position, we have seen that homosexual acts were forbidden because they were intrinsically immoral. We will give a more detailed treatment of Helminiak’s hermeneutical errors in the next section.
Romans 1:18 – 32
The largest chapter in his book deals with this portion of Romans 1; and during his lecture, he gave the passage even more relative weight. Helminiak’s interpretation rests upon his claim that, although the words in verses 18 – 23 and 28 – 32 really do have ethically negative connotations, the various words and phrases used in verses 24 – 27 do not. Helminiak admits that the English words in verses 24 – 27 may have negative ethical connotations, but he insists that they all either are mistranslations or have been misunderstood by everyone except “gay theologians.” The allegedly misunderstood words and phrases are ‘degrading’ or ‘dishonorable’ or ‘vile,’ ‘uncleanness,’ ‘exchanged the natural use for’ or ‘unnatural,’ ‘lust,’ and ‘shameful.’ Helminiak asserts that none of these words has ethical connotations: “Once again, the same general conclusion arises. Paul used certain words to describe male-male sex. A study of these words shows that he makes no ethical condemnation of male-male sex. He merely points out social disapproval of it” (p. 72). Helminiak goes on to say
They [words of ethical intent] occur before the section on homogenital acts, and they occur after the section on homogenital acts. But they do not occur within the section on homogenital acts … . Just as Leviticus deliberately called homogenital acts “unclean” but not sinful nor wrong, so Paul called homogenital acts socially unacceptable but not sinful nor wrong (pp. 73 – 74).
Thus, according to Helminiak, Paul uses two different classes of terms to refer to the twofold effect of idolatry (verses 18 – 23). It allegedly resulted in both social uncleanness (verses 24 – 27) and real sin (verses 28 – 32):
The structure of Paul’s argument highlights that contrast in vocabulary. Three times Paul repeats the phrase, “God gave them up.” This repetition divides his statement into different sections. Paul is arguing that, because they did not worship God, two situations resulted. Paul begins verse 24 with “Therefore God gave them up … to impurity.” This statement introduces the first effect, impurity … . [But Paul digresses, then returns and repeats] the catch phrase that structures his argument: “For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions.” Then Paul talks of the first effect of Gentile idolatry: uncleanness in sexual matters. In verse 28 Paul moves on to the second effect. He recalls his main argument: neglect of God brought these things on the Gentiles. He begins verse 28 with “And.” Evidently, he is introducing something new. This time he goes on to talk of evil, malice and real sins … . Both the structure and the content of Paul’s argument show that he has two different things in mind: uncleanness and real wrong (pp. 75 – 76).
As one can see, this argument is fairly sophisticated. The important question, though, is whether or not it has any merit. In what follows, we will first show that his overall method begs the question and is hermeneutically unsound. We will then address the details of the argument including the vocabulary of verses 24 – 27 and the context of the entire passage (verses 18 – 32). We will then finish the review of this argument by noting a few additional problems.
The most obvious flaw of Helminiak’s hermeneutical argument is its circular logic. Basically, he defines the words in verses 24 – 27 so that they have no ethical implications; and then, in opposition to sound hermeneutics, he uses those word definitions to determine the context of the passage. The question begging takes place right at the beginning when he is defining words. As we will see shortly, while he claims that the words under consideration do not have ethical connotations, in reality they not only can have such connotations, but several of them usually do have negative ethical connotations when used in the New Testament. Thus, he not only begs the question by dogmatically assuming one set of definitions over another (as he did with toevah), in some cases the definitions he chose are only applicable in a very small portion of the usages of that word in the New Testament. Helminiak’s practice of assuming the definition up front and forcing that assumed definition to establish the meaning of the passage is not only a logical fallacy, but it is also a tortuous form of hermeneutics.
Here again, he assumes that a word can only have one meaning – his meaning. As we have already seen, this is not accurate. Words do not have inherent meaning. Instead, they have a kind of meaning-potential that is only unlocked by the context in which they are found. Therefore, the context should be used to discover the meaning of a specific word – not vice versa. For example, consider the sentence, “He said he would run for office.” The word ‘run’ has several possible definitions including “rapid physical motion,” “consorting with” as in, “He was running with the wrong crowd,” “needlessly scoring points in an athletic contest,” “becoming a contestant in a political election,” etc. We simply do not know which definition is being used until we look at the context and notice that an election is here in view. Of course, the sentence alone does not always clearly set the definition. Sometimes the paragraph or surrounding paragraphs need to be considered. At any rate, setting the precise definition of a word with the surrounding context is standard hermeneutical practice regardless of what one is reading. It is the only sound way to pinpoint a specific definition. To apply Helminiak’s method, let us say that we are physical fitness advocates. We note that the word ‘run’ many times means rapid physical motion, and office means where I work. Therefore, the sentence “He said he would run for office” means “he said he is going to move rapidly to the place where he works.” So, regardless of what the speaker really meant, we are imposing a meaning on the sentence based on a definition that we chose because we advocate physical fitness. With such a methodology, one can make Scripture say anything one pleases.
As we saw above, Helminiak’s word studies are not always adequate. It is often the case that he does not mention all the occurrences of the word in question. This by itself is problematic, but one should additionally note that many of the instances he does not quote tend to contradict his thesis. Helminiak chooses for each word a definition which serves to prove his point rather than allowing the context to determine the appropriate meaning. With this, we seem to find additional confirmation of the fact that Helminiak’s presuppositions regarding the ethical character of homosexual behavior lead him to downplay evidence that does not fit his paradigm. This type of partial analysis is not an example of proper hermeneutics. In addition, he tries to draw far too much information from his word studies. Such studies are helpful in that they can give us the range of meanings that a word can convey, but they rarely give us a definitive definition. Again, the immediate context should be allowed to set the definition. This, however, is the very thing Helminiak turns inside out by using definitions that beg the question, overruling the context with his presuppositions. Thus, his entire methodology is invalid.
In order to see in detail the problematic nature of his definitions, we shall review each of the words from verses 24 – 27 that appear to damage Helminiak’s position but which, he claims, have no ethical connotations. The first is ‘unnatural’ or ‘exchanged the natural use of’ (verses 26 – 27). Helminiak says that Paul used the term ‘natural’ (physin) to refer to that which is normal, ordinary, or expected. Were this true, the usages in verses 26 – 27 would refer to that which is out of the ordinary or unusual. Helminiak says that such a term has no ethical implications. When we look at the usage of the word, however, we see two slightly different meanings. It is used to refer to the very being or essence of something (Galatians 4:8; Ephesians 2:3; II Peter 1:4; 2:12). It is also used to describe a condition of being born into, from birth, or being “by nature;” it refers to who someone is (Romans 2:14, 27; 11:21, 24; Galatians 2:15; Jude 10). Admittedly, this distinction is strained. What is abundantly clear, however, is that the term does not simply mean “ordinary” or “expected.” It refers to the essence of something or what is inherent; it denotes “who he is.” Helminiak believes that his definition is supported by I Corinthians 11:14, but this is not at all apparent. In this verse, Paul argues that even “nature” shows us that men should not have long hair. His point is that long hair on men tends to blur the male-female distinction. This biological distinction is “who we are;” and, thus, it does not appear that Helminiak’s definition of ‘natural’ has any support whatsoever. To claim that it simply means “ordinary” is to give a completely inadequate and forcibly watered down definition. Interestingly, one could use Helminiak’s word substitution argument to claim that if Paul had meant “unusual,” he would have used paradoxos which, in secular Greek, refers to an unusual or unexpected event and is translated ‘strange’ at Luke 5:26.
On the other hand, we do see that the term does not automatically convey ethical condemnation. As always, the context should set the full definition. Even here, Helminiak tries to conclude far too much. Based on Romans 11:21 – 24, he says, “In Paul’s understanding of the words, God himself … did what was ‘unnatural.’ God behaved in an ‘unusual way.’ If to act para physin is immoral, then God must be immoral – and that is patently absurd. Therefore, there can be no moral meaning in those Greek words for Paul” (p. 66). This is simply a glaring non sequitur. Because the term is used once without ethical content, it does not follow that the term can never have ethical content. Again, the context defines the full intent of the term.
The next word, atimia, is translated ‘dishonor’ or ‘degrade’ (verse 24) and ‘vile’ or ‘shameful’ (verse 26). Helminiak claims this means “ill reputed” or “socially unacceptable,” and claims that II Corinthians 6:8 and 11:21 support this by telling us that Paul “notes that he is sometimes held in disrepute or shame because of his commitment to Christ. Evidently, then, to be in atimia is not necessarily a bad thing” (p. 71). However, if the first sentence of this quote is true, it means that Jews were applying this term to someone (Paul) whom they thought to be a religious traitor and an idolater (for worshiping Jesus). Thus, on Helminiak’s reading, we should expect such a usage to carry ethical condemnation and not simply imply “socially unacceptable.”
He cites I Corinthians 11:14 again; but, as mentioned earlier, this verse is not an example of an arbitrary cultural decree. He then cites Romans 9:21 and claims that “Paul speaks of clay pots fashioned ‘for dishonor.’ That is a polite way of talking about chamber pots, something people do not consider very nice” (p. 72). This is completely incorrect and not a little puzzling. Paul here is speaking of election. Some individuals are vessels for honor (the elect such as Jacob, verse 13), and some are vessels for dishonor (the unregenerate, like Esau, verse 13; “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,” verse 22). This whole passage (9:6 – 29) discusses the doctrine of predestination, and the ethical connotations of the words (including ‘dishonor’) are abundantly clear. Ironically, only on a strict “fundamentalist” reading (that which Helminiak supposedly rejects) could one deduce that the subject was unsightly clay pots. That anyone would propose such a reading is quite perplexing. Thus, this passage, added to the others mentioned, shows that the word atimia can certainly have negative ethical connotations.
In addition, we can list the following verses which Helminiak never mentioned: Jesus honors his Father, but the Jews “dishonor” Jesus (John 8:49); the wicked vinedressers “shamefully” treated a servant (Mark 12:4; Luke 20:11); breaking the law “dishonors” God (Romans 2:23). In our natural state our bodies have been sown in corruption and “dishonor,” but through the resurrection, our bodies will be raised incorruptible and glorious (I Corinthians 15:43). We must first cleanse ourselves of “dishonor” before we can be useful vessels of honor, sanctified for God’s use (II Timothy 2:20). Finally, those who show partiality against the poor have “dishonored” them (James 2:6). All of these examples have clear negative ethical connotations. Some usages of atimia (see Matthew 13:57; Mark 6:4; Acts 5:41; I Corinthians 4:10, II Corinthians 11:21) may have such connotations, and its usage at I Corinthians 12:23 does not. Thus, Helminiak’s argument falls short, not only because atimia often has negative ethical connotations, but it probably has such connotations in the majority of its New Testament usages.
The next word, aschemosyne, refers to “shameful” or “unseemly” acts (verse 27). Again, Helminiak tells us that this word carries no moral judgment. He supports this with I Corinthians 7:36 and 12:23. With the second he is correct; but with the first, it is not at all clear that this usage is void of ethical connotations. Helminiak claims that 7:36 refers to that which is socially unacceptable, but he provides no support for such a claim. More interesting perhaps is the example he left out: I Corinthians 13:5 “Love … does not behave ‘rudely’ [or ‘unseemly’].” Thus, aschemosyne can have ethical connotations and, in fact, can refer to that which is unloving. As we will see later, the context puts this word, along with the others, in perspective.
The next word, akatharsia, is translated ‘uncleanness’ (verse 24). With this word, Helminiak never argued in favor of his reading. He simply assumed that it refers to ceremonial or social impurity, again, without ethical connotations. Judging by the New Testament usage of the word, however, such an assumption is quite poor. It is used 23 times, mostly in the Gospels, to refer to “unclean” or “foul” spirits. The ethical connotations are clear. In addition, we have the following usages: the Pharisees were full of all “uncleanness” inside (Matthew 23:27); as unbelievers, we presented ourselves as slaves of “uncleanness;” but now, we should present ourselves as slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:19). Without a believing parent, a child would be “unclean” but with a believing parent, the child is holy, i.e., one in covenant with God (I Corinthians 7:14). Paul quotes Isaiah 52:11, to not touch what is “unclean,” in order to conclude, “let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (II Corinthians 6:18 – 7:1). Paul mourns for those who have sinned and not repented of their “uncleanness” (II Corinthians 12:21). Among the sinful works of the flesh is “uncleanness” and those who practice this will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19). Because of the blindness of their hearts and being alienated from God, unbelieving Gentiles work “uncleanness” (Ephesians 4:19). “Uncleanness” should not even be mentioned by saints, and no “unclean” person has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ (Ephesians 5:3 – 5). Because of “uncleanness,” the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience (Colossians 3:5). Paul’s exhortations did not come from error or “uncleanness” (I Thessalonians 2:3). God did not call us to “uncleanness” but in holiness (I Thessalonians 4:7). Babylon the harlot was full of the “filthiness” of her fornication (Revelation 17:4). Thus, akatharsia is used over and over again with negative ethical connotations. On the other hand, it is used only three times (Acts 10:14, 28; 11:8) without moral judgment, and with these three examples the same event is in view. The use in Revelation 18:2 could go either way. It is, therefore, evident that while akatharsia may or may not imply ethical condemnation in any given usage, most New Testament examples of akatharsia do imply such condemnation. This is not at all helpful to Helminiak’s position.
Although epithymia, translated ‘lust’ (verse 24), was not discussed in his book, Helminiak did mention it in his lecture. He basically said that a translation of ‘lust’ has negative connotations that are not in the word; the word really means “desire” and carries no ethical pronouncements. While the word does mean “desire,” it is not used often in the New Testament without implying ethical condemnation. Thus, it is often translated ‘lust.’ It is translated ‘desire’ (without negative ethical connotations) eleven times, ‘lust’ (with such connotations) thirty-six times, and ‘covet’ (with such connotations) three times. Further, it is translated ‘lust’ or ‘covet’ six times and is never translated ‘desire’ in the epistle to the Romans. Some examples involving a negative ethical pronouncement include Matthew 5:28; Romans 6:12; 7:7; 13:9, 14; I Timothy 6:9; II Peter 2:10; and I John 2:16, 17. The presence of this word is therefore another problem for Helminiak, since most of its usages by far imply ethical condemnation. At best, Helminiak should say that we cannot be sure until we look at the context. In Helminiak’s system of hermeneutics, this important relationship is inverted. His presuppositions color the choice of definitions that he superimposes onto the passage, and then he ascertains the context based on his predetermined word definitions.
A word that Helminiak failed to mention at all is pathos, translated ‘passions’ or ‘affections.’ It is used in verse 26 and modified by the adjective ‘vile’ or ‘dishonorable’ (atimia, mentioned above). Although the word certainly can be used without condemnation, its only New Testament usages outside of Romans 1:26, carry strong ethical condemnation. It is used for “passion” that brings the wrath of God (Colossians 3:5) and for sexually immoral “passion” that brings God’s vengeance (I Thessalonians 4:5). Moreover, the use of atimia as a modifier serves to “pile up” the terms, thus adding emphasis to the degrading nature of the actions under discussion. This does not at all support a reading of ethical neutrality.
The final word of this passage to be examined is orexis, translated ‘lust’ (verse 27). This word was, likewise, not discussed in Helminiak’s book but was in his lecture. The word is used elsewhere in the New Testament to refer to bishops who “desire” good works (I Timothy 3:1), those who have “coveted after” (or “with greediness”) money and strayed from the faith (I Timothy 6:10), and those who “desire” a heavenly country (Hebrews 11:16). Clearly then, the word can go either way. In the Romans passage, however, the word is modified to read “burned (ekkaio) in their lust.” Since “burned in their desire” is highly problematic if not incoherent, “lust” is a solid translation. Indeed, “burned in their lust” carries heavy negative ethical connotations. Yet again, we see a problem for Helminiak’s position even apart from the context of the passage.
We have thus far encountered a number of words that either, usually or almost always, carry ethical condemnation, including: akatharsia, epithymia, pathos, orexis with ekkaio, and possibly atimia. The fact that all of these condemning words are used and piled on top of one another in verses 24 – 27 gives us strong reasons to see homosexuality as morally condemned based on Helminiak’s own methodology, i.e., without regard for the context. Now we turn to the structure of the passage, which leaves no doubt as to God’s condemnation of homosexual behavior. The first thing to notice is that the subjects involved do not change. The entire passage talks about one group of unrighteous individuals (verse 18). These individuals knew God; but, instead of worshiping Him (verses 21, 28), they worshiped something else (verses 23, 25). As a result, their thoughts became futile and their hearts were darkened (verse 21) leading to all manner of sin (verses 26 – 31). In addition, there is a parallel in actions. These individuals “changed” the glory of God into an image made like man (verse 22) meaning that they “exchanged” (metellaxan) the truth of God for a lie (verse 25). As a result, God gave them up to their own darkened hearts, and the women “exchanged” (metellaxan) the heterosexual act for the homosexual act (verse 26). The men did likewise. As Hays has rightly noted; “the deliberate repetition of the verb metellaxan, forges a powerful rhetorical link between the rebellion against God and the ‘shameless acts’ which are themselves both evidence and consequence of that rebellion” .
The overall structure of the passage is just as continuous. There are individuals who have suppressed their knowledge of God and worshiped something else; thus, God has given them up to futile thoughts and darkened hearts. “Therefore God also gave them up” to their lusts, to dishonor their bodies (verse 24). “For this reason God gave them up to vile passions” such as homosexuality (verses 26 – 27). “And” since they rejected God, “God gave them over to a debased mind” (verse 28). As a result of rejecting God, He gave them over to the fruit of their darkened hearts. The continuity is plainly visible with the phrases “Therefore God also gave them up,” “For this reason God gave them up,” as well as “And … God gave them over.” There is not the slightest hint of discontinuity in the passage, much less some abrupt swing from immoral (verses 18 – 23) to ethically neutral (verses 24 – 27) and back to immoral (verses 28 – 32). Helminiak’s attempt at eliminating this continuity is completely without merit. Recall that he claimed:
Three times Paul repeats the phrase, “God gave them up.” This repetition divides his statement into different sections. Paul is arguing that, because they did not worship God, two situations resulted … . [In verses 24 – 27] Paul talks of the first effect of Gentile idolatry: uncleanness in sexual matters. In verse 28 Paul moves on to the second effect. He recalls his main argument: neglect of God brought these things on the Gentiles. He begins verse 28 with “And.” Evidently, he is introducing something new. This time he goes on to talk of evil, malice and real sins (pp. 75 – 76).
Nothing in this passage is coherent. First, he claims that “God gave them up” divides Paul’s statement into different sections. There are no “sections” in the text. Paul discusses what ungodly individuals do and then says, “Therefore God gave them up to … dishonor their bodies.” He then repeats the sin of idolatry and explains what it means to dishonor one’s body by saying “For this reason God gave them up to [homosexual lust, thus] receiving in themselves the penalty of their error.” He then gives us other consequences by saying “And … God gave them up to [numerous other sins].” There are no sections or discontinuities. We are told what these people did with the result that God gave them up to all manner of sin which emanated from their futile minds and darkened hearts. The claim that [the word] “And,” somehow shows that Paul was introducing something new is likewise incorrect. Paul used “And” not to introduce something conceptually new but to introduce additional consequences of having a darkened heart. “For this reason, God gave them up to [one manner of sin]; “And” [to other sins as well].” Were we to grant Helminiak’s twin walls of separation, we would simply make nonsense out of the text.
The content of his overall argument is also incoherent. It requires that, because these individuals rejected God, He gave them up to cultural taboos. In other words, these people knew God; and, with malice and forethought, they did willfully and odiously reject the sovereign Ruler of the universe. And what was their punishment? Ethically neutral cultural taboos! The suggestion that, because they rejected God and worshiped and served the creature, God gave them up to a cultural faux pas is completely beyond belief and constitutes a reductio ad absurdum of Helminiak’s position.
How could someone make such a claim? Apparently, Helminiak does not think such an argument is ridiculous, because he believes that it shows that Paul was using a clever ploy designed to “sucker” the Jewish Christians. According to the summary sheet that Helminiak gave during his lecture:
The first chapter of Romans is a rhetorical ploy. Paul portrays the two requirements of the Jewish Law, purity and justice. He baits the Jewish Christians in Rome by appealing to their sense of superiority in keeping the Law: they are not involved in the dirty things the Gentiles do! … . But Paul quickly turns the tables on them. Against the Jewish Christians (2:1), he argues that issues of ritual purity have no importance in Christ like circumcision, food laws, andsexual mores. Against the Gentile Christians (11:13), he argues that they owe respect to the Jews, the first to be chosen by God … . In 14:14, Paul finally comes clean on his genuine teaching about purity, ethics, and conscience. He writes, “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.” In sum, Paul quotes Jewish prejudice against Gentile sexual practices precisely to reject it.
This quotation is seriously problematic. To begin with, we note that the claim was made that “sexual mores” were issues of ritual purity; thus, Paul argued that they have no importance in Christ. This is completely wrong and preposterous. Paul knew very well the sinfulness of adultery (Romans 13:9; I Corinthians 6:9 – 10; Galatians 5:19 – 21), incest (I Corinthians 5:1), fornication (I Corinthians 6:9 – 10, 18; Galatians 5:19 – 21; Colossians 3:5; I Thessalonians 4:3 – 7), and lust (Romans 13:14; Galatians 5:16; Ephesians 2:1 – 3; II Timothy 2:22). The whole reason for the excommunication described in I Corinthians 5 is based on a violation of Leviticus 18:8. Thus, the claim dealing with sexual mores does not hold up to scrutiny. Moreover, Helminiak should have seen that this argument is problematic. Paul did go on to explain that the ceremonial laws addressing circumcision (Romans 3:25 – 29) and food (Romans 14:1 – 23) were no longer necessary. Indeed this was nothing new; circumcision had been discussed at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1 – 21) and, by analogy, the question of the dietary laws had also been addressed (Acts 10:9 – 16). However, neither Paul nor any other New Testament writer ever said that the Old Testament laws regulating sexual conduct had been abrogated. Indeed, as we just saw, Paul upheld such laws. Helminiak’s addition of “sexual mores” is wishful thinking on his part – totally without merit. Paul never argued for the neutrality of such acts; indeed, he argued against them, all the while assuming all the Old Testament proscriptions that Helminiak thinks are irrelevant cultural prejudices.
Another problem can be seen with this passage when we note that Helminiak has taken 14:14 out of context. What, after all, does he think this verse entails? If he truly thinks it entails that nothing is wrong in the areas of “purity, ethics, and conscience,” then he should have no problem with rape, murder, or adultery. Clearly this is absurd, but if this is not what Helminiak thinks that the verse entails, why did he imply that its purview is so broad?
When this verse is put in context, its meaning becomes clear. The verse appears in the context of Paul’s explanation of dietary habits (14:1 – 23). Paul is saying that there is no food “unclean” in itself (verse 14); but if someone thinks that a food is “unclean,” it is “unclean” for him (verse 14). Therefore, a Christian should not grieve his brother with food (verse 15). This has nothing to do with sexual behavior. Moreover, the word translated ‘unclean’ in 14:14 is not akatharsia, which almost always carries ethical condemnation, but koinos, which is also translated ‘common’ and often has nonethical and ceremonial usages. By Helminiak’s own method of word analysis, his attempt to liken the “unclean” of 14:14 to the “uncleanness” of 1:24 is unsuccessful. With respect to the passage under consideration then, we see that Helminiak took Paul’s arguments regarding circumcision and dietary laws, incorrectly connected them to Romans 1, and illegitimately attached the behavior he is defending onto the list of purity issues.
One final argument concerning Romans 1 is left to examine. Here, Helminiak gives his position on why Paul chose homosexuality as the “purity issue” for his example in his Romans 1 argument instead of some other purity issue such as circumcision:
Paul could not talk about clean and unclean foods because debate over foods was still splitting the Christian communities. Likewise, circumcision was still too sensitive an issue. But evidently homogenitality was not. It was an obvious point of difference, and apparently there was no argument over it.
The Jews were well aware that Leviticus forbade male-male sex only as an impurity; they would not say the Gentiles were sinning because of their homogenital practices. Paul’s mention of homogenitality could let the Jewish Christians feel superior without, in anyone’s eyes, accusing the Gentile Christians of real sin. At the same time, the whole Gentile world was well aware of the Jews’ peculiar attitude toward homogenital acts. The Gentiles just chuckled and shrugged the whole thing off. They would not be offended if Paul raised that issue in his letter (pp. 81 – 82).
First, we may inquire as to why Paul could not bring up the sensitive issues. Such issues were openly debated, before and after the epistle to the Romans was written. The apostles had no problem discussing circumcision at the Jerusalem Council. Paul had no problem confronting Peter as well as the Galatians when they erred concerning circumcision and separation (Galatians 1:6 – 7; 2:11 – 14; 3:1 – 4; 5:1 – 6). Paul had no problem addressing the question of food in a straightforward manner when writing to the Corinthians (I Corinthians 10:23 – 33). The fact that the other possible examples were controversial is, therefore, irrelevant. The apostles did not, and did not need to, dance around controversial issues.
Moreover, the second part of the passage proves absolutely nothing. To see that this is true, simply substitute “eating certain foods” for every reference to homosexual behavior:
The Jews were well aware that Leviticus forbade eating certain foods only as an impurity; they would not say the Gentiles were sinning because of their dietary practices. Paul’s mention of the dietary practices could let the Jewish Christians feel superior without, in anyone’s eyes, accusing the Gentile Christians of real sin. At the same time, the whole Gentile world was well aware of the Jews’ peculiar attitude toward the eating of certain foods. The Gentiles just chuckled and shrugged the whole thing off. They would not be offended if Paul raised that issue in his letter.
It fits Helminiak’s argument just as well as homosexual sex does. One can substitute circumcision into the text as well (remember to change ‘forbade’ to ‘require’) and achieve the same result. Thus, any purity issue could be substituted into the argument and the conclusion would not change. Therefore, his whole argument is useless, because it does not make the distinctions he said were important. That is, it does not rule out dietary laws and circumcision, which was supposed to be the point of his argument.
In conclusion, Helminiak’s explanation of Romans 1 is not a proper reading of the text. To begin with, a study of the words in verses 24 – 27 shows not only that they can carry ethical condemnation, it shows that a number of the words very often carry such condemnation. Further, the context of the verses (18 – 32) leaves no doubt that homosexual acts are sinful. The passage is clearly continuous, explaining that some reject God; and, as a result, He gives them up to the sinful desires of their hearts. The twin walls of separation that Helminiak tries to force on the text are completely alien. Not only does the context exclude such a construct, the construct, if applied, renders the text incoherent. In addition, Helminiak’s “rhetorical ploy” argument is without merit and, far from abrogating the laws that prohibit certain sexual actions, Paul relies on them. Finally, even Helminiak’s argument explaining why Paul would use homosexuality in Romans 1 is a failure. The fact that some issues were often debated is irrelevant, and his actual explanation does not rule out any of the other options.
I Corinthians 6:9 – 10; I Timothy 1:9 – 10
In these passages, two (mostly different) lists of sins are given; and in both lists a certain Greek word, arsenokoitai, is included. This word is variously translated with terms such as ‘sodomites,’ ‘homosexuals,’ and in the King James Version with the interesting phrase ‘abusers of themselves with mankind.’ The word has received a fair amount of attention, and not a little controversy surrounds it; it is not known to have been used before Paul’s examples, and its use after those examples is comparatively rare. The question, therefore, is to what activity does this word refer? Etymologically, the word is composed of two parts arsen (male, man) and koite (bed, lying, i.e., coitus). It is thus recognized that the word refers to some type of sexual activity involving at least one male. It is often said that the word refers to homosexuals; and, therefore, Helminiak spends some time on it.
To begin with, he offers us an argument that points to the alleged linguistic ambiguity of the word. “But when the two parts of the word are put together, it is not clear what the word means. Is ‘man’ to emphasize the gender of the sexual agent: male? Or is ‘man’ to indicated the object of the sexual act? That is, does arsenokoitai mean a man who has sex with others, or does it mean a man who has sex with men?” (p. 89). The first option, that the word refers to a man who has sex with others, is clearly ruled out by Scripture. Not only may a man have sex with his wife, he is commanded to do so in the proper confines of marriage (I Corinthians 7:1 – 5). Thus, the first option is not a possibility at all, and we are left with the view that arsenokoitai refers to homosexual sex.
This view can also be seen from the post-Pauline usage of the word. In refuting the arguments for a definition of arsenokoitai given by John Boswell , whom Helminiak uses for much of his material, David Wright shows from other usages of the word that the arseno prefix does, in fact, denote the object; and, thus, the word does refer to homosexual sex . In addition, Helminiak does tell us “it is likely that arsenokoitai does refer to some form of male homogenital behavior” (pp. 90 – 91), and he bases his main argument on this belief. Therefore, we can move on to his main argument.
As it turns out, the origins of arsenokoitai provide a real problem for Helminiak’s position. We can see this by referring to the Septuagint renderings of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. In English, these verses clearly tell men not to “lie with a man as with a woman.” Helminiak agrees that these verses condemn homosexual sex in an unqualified manner. The Septuagint renders the Hebrew of 18:22 in Greek as “meta arsenos ou koimethese koiten gunaikos.” The Septuagint’s rendering of 20:13 makes the connection even more apparent with “os an koimethe meta arsenos koiten gunaikos.” This strongly suggests that Hellenistic Jews some time before Paul basically fused the two root words arsen and koite together to form arsenokoites from which, the plural arsenokoitai is derived. Arsenokoitai, then, refers to men who have sex with men. Notice also that the word is unqualified. It does not refer to male-male sex under certain religious or cultural conditions. It refers to male-male sex without any distinctions. This point will be important later. In addition to the above examination, we can also note that Jews before Paul’s time had taken the phrase “lies with a male” and turned it into a noun of sorts with the Hebrew construction mishkav zakur. This is the phrase used to refer to a male homosexual. As it turns out, arsenokoites is a near exact and literal translation of the Hebrew phrase. The definition of arsenokoitai therefore seems sure.
None of this, however, will come as a shock to Helminiak. Not only does he know the previous information, he explains it on page 91 of his book. One may wonder then why Helminiak does not see in arsenokoitai, an allusion to and reaffirmation of the Old Testament prohibition of homosexual sex. Instead, he offers an argument that he thinks will show that arsenokoitai only referred to a specific type of homosexual sex. The argument, which appears on pages 92 – 94, can be seen below:
(P1) The lists of sins are not Paul’s own.
(P2) Paul borrowed these lists from other sources that reflect the attitude of the culture at large.
(P3) We need to know what was happening in the culture at large to determine the specific nature of arsenokoitai.
(P4) The culture at large decried male-male sex that was exploitative and abusive such as when a slave owner sexually abused his slaves.
(P5) The term, arsenokoitai condemns abusive male-male sex but not male-male sex per se.
This argument is flawed at a number of points and from a number of different angles. Starting from the final conclusion and working backwards, we first note that (P5) is a non sequitur. It does not follow that, because many social commentators complained about a certain form of homosexual sex, arsenokoitai must refer to that form (especially if they used different words to refer to that specific form). There could have been several different words that referred to variations of homosexual sex and arsenokoitai could have been used as a general term. Indeed, as we saw above, arsenokoitai is etymologically unqualified. In fact, there were numerous other words that referred to qualified types of love/sex such as paiderastia (love of boys), paidophthoria (often used for seduction of boys), doulokoites (sex with slaves), klepsikoites (seeking illicit sex), etc. Arsenokoitai, however, has no such qualifications. In addition, Wright also shows that the word was used after Paul without the qualification that Helminiak seeks to place on it . Thus, not only is (P5) a non sequitur, the evidence instead points toward an unqualified definition for arsenokoitai.
With regard to (P4), Helminiak provides no evidence at all to support such a claim. Indeed, the claim itself is certainly dubious. Many sexual variations existed in antiquity, and most of them were disapproved of by someone. In the Roman Empire, about which Helminiak makes this remark, there were a number of disreputable sexual manifestations including homosexuality (in general), public nudity, heterosexual and homosexual prostitution, heterosexual and homosexual religious ceremonies, and so forth [17, 18]. These consensual practices are on top of the abuse of slaves, youths, prostitutes, etc. The Stoic, Platonic, and Cynic influences on the Roman culture had helped to make it fairly conservative; and, thus, denunciation came for numerous practices that were not physically abusive, including consensual homosexual sex. For Helminiak to claim that abusive sex alone was seen as unsatisfactory is simply not accurate.
Further, (P3) has not been established, because (P1) and (P2) are nothing less than incoherent when propounded by a professing Christian. While an atheist might assert such a claim, a Christian could by no means assert that the Bible teaches a culturally and democratically conditioned theory of ethics. Divorced from the absolute and unchanging will of God, ethics becomes nothing more than the random electro-chemical reactions of carbon-based bags of mostly water. As Paul said in another context, it would simply be “beating the air.” Fortunately, this is not the case, because Paul did not steal his ethical pronouncements from the uninspired men around him. Paul’s lists are theopneustos, i.e., God-breathed (II Timothy 3:16). Helminiak would do well to remember that “if anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I [Paul] write to you are the commandments of the Lord”(I Corinthians 14:37), and again, the list of sins in I Timothy is “according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust” (I Timothy 1:11). To the extent that these sins were bemoaned by others of Paul’s day, those people were simply revealing a part of the law written on their hearts (Romans 2:14 – 15) that they had not suppressed (Romans 1:18). There is no culturally relative (and therefore arbitrary and irrelevant) ethic here.
So we are left with the clear judgment that this argument does not have one redeeming aspect. (P1) and (P2) are incoherent if asserted from the Christian worldview, (P4) is factually incorrect, and beyond all this, (P5) does not follow as a conclusion and in fact, the etymological and contextual evidence points against it. Arsenokoitai is both etymologically and contextually unqualified. It refers to any form of male-male sex and gets its roots from the Septuagint’s rendering of the Levitical proscription of homosexual sex.
It follows then that homosexuals are outside the kingdom of Christ. Without the life-changing power of the gospel, there is no real hope for anyone including the homosexual. Contextually, Paul handles this subject after his discussion of church discipline (I Corinthians 5). It follows that the Church must bar homosexuals from Church membership and regard them as unbelievers until such time as they can say, “I was a homosexual, but I no longer am. I am now a new creature in Christ, washed and sanctified by His blood.” Church discipline is an act of Christian love, having as its main goals the restoration of the erring individual and the protection of the Church from evil influences. Such a former homosexual should be received with open arms and treated like any other Christian.
Adam and Steve?
Very briefly, the Adam-and-Eve-not-Adam-and-Steve argument says that since the creation account shows that God made man and woman as a complementary pair, those who advocate the ethical neutrality of same-sex acts have a problem (the force given to the conclusion will vary). In response to this, Helminiak tells us that:
The point [of the Genesis account] was to present a picture of our world in its sad and sinful state and to insist that this situation was not God’s doing … . Genesis makes its point by presenting a story, and the story involves an example. The example is the case that is by far the most common in human experience: the man, the woman, their relationship with one another, and the children they may beget. The biblical author merely presents the standard case within ancient Hebrew life. What better example would one use to make a point? But the story is only the vehicle for conveying the religious point. The story of Adam and Eve as such is incidental to the point (p. 101).
This passage, like the ones mentioned at the beginning of this paper, assumes a rather low view of Scripture. This is simply another example of Helminiak’s belief that the Genesis account is an allegory written by culturally conditioned men who were trying to explain that which they saw around them. The problem, as we saw numerous times above, is that this basically presupposes the autonomous man worldview. It states that Scripture is the attempt by clueless ancients to explain what they saw, thus ignoring the normative Source (and force) of Scripture.
On the contrary, the Genesis account does not reflect the attempt by scientifically ignorant sheepherders to explain their surroundings. It is the God-breathed account of creation, given to us, of course, by God. In it, we first find that “God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male [zakar] and female [neqebah] He created them” (Genesis 1:27). It is interesting to note here that the Hebrew words refer to the biological distinctives of the two sexes. At the very beginning, we see that God created, in his image, a complementary pair of individuals. This is the standard. It is amplified later when we see that:
… the LORD God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” … And Adam said: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman [ishshah], because she was taken out of Man [ish].” Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh (Genesis 2:18 – 24).
The different sexes were made as such in order to be a complementary pair of individuals who should, upon maturity, enter into the biblical institution of marriage and “become one flesh.” In this union, we have both unity and diversity. This combination of unity and diversity reflects, on the creature’s level, the unity and diversity that is the Trinity. Though homosexual relationships attempt to mimic this union, there is no diversity in such relationships, and the “unity” is artificial (not to mention physically harmful). We therefore see that the creation of mankind in His image as well as the attainment of maturity leading to a union within the institution of marriage is based on and carried out by the male-female complementary pair. This is God’s design. This is Paul’s view of “nature.”
In addition, we find that the relationship between a man and his wife is explained by Christ’s relationship to the church:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word … . So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh … (Ephesians 5:22 – 29).
Just as Christ and the church marry to become one (Revelation 21:2, 9 – 21), so also the man and woman marry to become one. Just as Christ and the church, through this union, are one body (Ephesians 1:22 – 23), so also the man and woman become one flesh. Just as Christ is the head of the church (Colossians 1:18), so also the man is head of the woman. Just as Christ loved the church even unto death, so also the man should love the woman with a Christ-like love. The union of male and female is thus modeled after Christ’s relationship to the church.
So it is that in three very important ways (our creation in His image, maturity leading to the institution of marriage, and the analogous relationship between Christ and the church), the male-female pair is seen as the model or design. Quite frankly, anyone who supports Helminiak’s position on this matter should be furious. At the very least, a supporter of Helminiak’s position should consider the Author of the Bible to be strongly prejudiced against homosexuality. Actually this would be far too weak a conclusion. Without regard for political correctness, God has told us that this is how I made you: a complementary pair – male and female. He has told us that when these two mature, they shall bring their created distinctions together and become one in marriage. He has told us that this biblically ordained institution should emulate Christ and his bride, the church.
If God’s choice of Adam and Eve (i.e., a male and a female) were merely incidental to what He was telling us in Genesis, it would make nonsense out of the dominion mandate (Genesis 1:28). Furthermore, it would make nonsense out of several other biblical events and relationships, all of which are fundamental to the Christian faith. To have Adam and Steve would fly in the face of the Creator’s design. This is a primary motivation behind the New Testament language that homosexuality is “against nature,” an “abomination,” and as such, those who practice it will not “inherit the kingdom of God.” Moreover, any attempt by man to remove the male-female distinction is met with God’s proscriptions. Men are not to dress in women’s clothing and women are not to dress in man’s (Deuteronomy 22:5). Indeed, men are not to try to look like women even in such a seemingly minor issue as hair length (see above discussion of I Corinthians 11:14). The roles of men and women in the home and in the church are distinctive, and homosexuality blurs the distinction.
Examples of Biblical Homosexuality?
Toward the end of his book, Helminiak mentions three stories from the Bible that he claims could be seen as positive accounts of homosexuality in the Bible. Two of them, involving what Helminiak calls “serious speculation” (p. 105), are too ridiculous to mention; to his credit, Helminiak does not try to draw any forceful conclusions from them. It appears, however, that Helminiak sees some force in the third one, and so we will address it. We will also address a story that Helminiak reviewed at length in his lecture which does not appear in his book. The first story to be reviewed is the relationship between Jonathan and David found in I and II Samuel. Helminiak’s explanation of that relationship is seen below.
For example, I Samuel 18:1 – 4 recounts a striking show of affection on the part of the prince, Jonathan, toward the ruddy and handsome shepherd boy, David, newly come to the court: [quotation of I Samuel 18:1 – 4]. King Saul’s angry outburst against Jonathan in I Samuel 20:30 is also revealing: “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman! Do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse [i.e., David] to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness?” … Saul disparages Jonathan’s relationship with David. The Hebrew of this verse is ambiguous; and, following the Greek Septuagint translation, could also be rendered, “Do I not know that you are an intimate companion to the Son of Jesse?” Then, given that the words “shame” and “nakedness” are common biblical ways of talking about sex, surely the innuendo here is sexual. It appears that Saul is deriding Jonathan’s sexual liaison with David … (p. 103).
To begin with, we should first note that the word for love, ahab, used in the chapter 18 passage does not inherently possess the sexual overtones that Helminiak implies. It is used variously to denote a man’s love for his wife (Genesis 24:67), a man’s love for his son (Genesis 25:28), a woman’s love for her son (Genesis 25:28), the Lord’s love for His servant (II Samuel 12:24), the Lord’s love for His people (II Chronicles 2:11), a servant’s love for the Lord (I Kings 3:3), all of Israel’s and Judah’s love for David (I Samuel 18:16), the love of God’s commandments (Psalms 119:47), and the wicked’s love of cursing (Psalms 109:17). While it certainly can and does refer to love between individuals who are sexually intimate, it does not, in any way, imply sexuality per se. The attempt to link the word ‘shame’ (bosheth) to sex is even more problematic. This word is rarely, in fact, used with sexual connotations and is often used without such connotations (II Chronicles 32:21; Job 8:22; Psalms 35:26; 40:15; 44:15; 69:19; 70:3; Isaiah 30:3 – 5; Jeremiah 3:24 – 25; 7:19; Habakkuk 2:10; Zephaniah 3:5, 19, etc.). It is most often used to express embarrassment, humiliation, disgrace, and dishonor without so much as a hint of sexual overtones. Helminiak’s comment with regards to the word ‘shame’ is therefore puzzling.
Moving to the context of the story, we encounter beliefs that are even more problematic. Apparently, Helminiak thinks that Jonathan’s disrobing also has sexual implications. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In context, we see that Saul tried to kill David several times (18:6 – 11, 17; 19:1; 20:31), because he wanted his son Jonathan to be next in line for the crown. He knew, however, that David had already been chosen by God (16:1 – 13). Even Jonathan knew that David was to be the next king (23:16 – 17). This is why Jonathan gave David his robe, armor, and weapons. These gifts from Jonathan signified his knowledge that David was God’s chosen king. Jonathan was, in a sense, giving the crown to David, since the robe refers to kingship (15:27 – 28). Thus, the word bachar is correctly translated ‘chosen’ at 20:30; there is no ambiguity. Saul was outraged because Jonathan had recognized and “chosen” David as the next king instead of himself. Helminiak should not have stopped at verse 30. “Do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness? For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, you shall not be established, nor your kingdom. Now therefore, send and bring him to me, for he shall surely die” (20:30 – 31). Thus, we see that the subject is kingship - not sexuality. Jonathan’s choice was shameful for him and his mother (according to Saul), because it meant that the crown had left him and his family line. Again, we see a truncated quote by Helminiak in order to support a tortured interpretation.
It is also quite apparent, even apart from the fact that the gift of the robe was in reference to the kingship, that the fact of being unclothed often has nothing at to do with sexuality. Over and over again, we see in the Bible that someone has torn their clothes because of distress. Indeed, in the very same story, we find that, “the Spirit of God was upon him [Saul] also, and he went on and prophesied until he came to Naioth in Ramah. And he also [like the men he had sent previously] stripped off his clothes and prophesied before Samuel in like manner, and lay down naked all that day and all that night” (19:23 – 24). This again just supports, from another angle, what we saw above. The story in question has nothing to do with sexuality. Instead it deals with Jonathan’s recognition and transfer of kingship to David and Saul’s outrage over Jonathan’s actions.
Helminiak also quoted II Samuel 1:26 on page 104 with the insinuation that the subject is a homosexual relationship. We should note, however, that this verse falls within a song filled with imagery and metaphorical lyric. The song tells us that Saul and Jonathan were “swifter than eagles” and “stronger than lions” (1:23). Does Helminiak want to take this verse literally as well? Is beauty really slain on an altar (1:19)? Can a shield be defiled (1:21)? In addition, Jonathan is called “my brother” (1:26), but there are no familial relations to be found here. Moreover, this song was to be taught to the children of Judah (1:18). Are we to believe that David told the men to teach the children of Judah a song which makes reference to an act that God said is an abomination punishable by death? In addition, we know that the Lord looks on the heart (I Samuel 16:7); consequently, He chose David, a man after the Lord’s own heart (I Samuel 13:14). Indeed, throughout this early period of David’s life, the Lord was with him (I Samuel 16:18; 18:14). Are we really supposed to believe that someone whom the Lord was with and who was “after His own heart” was, at the same time, violating God’s law by committing an abominable act worthy of the death penalty?
In the end, all that Helminiak shows from these passages is that he can force onto the text an “eroto-centric” mindset that does not recognize the ability of men to love each other in a nonsexual manner. Earlier, we saw that Helminiak’s definition of the concept of “love” has almost nothing in common with the biblical view of that concept. We saw how his definition reflects a humanistic, autonomous-man understanding, laden with sexuality at its core. With his exposition of David and Jonathan, we have an example of how this erroneous view distorts Scripture. Indeed, Helminiak’s view completely misses the main point, i.e., the sacrificial (and biblical) nature of Jonathan’s love (he gave up the crown and then died for his people); and, instead, imports an eroto-centric concept of love into the text. Finally, here we see yet another example of his smuggling autonomous-man presuppositions into his interpretation of the Bible, thus rendering that interpretation incoherent. This is certainly ironic, since the act of foisting a modern mindset onto the text is one of the very things for which he most strongly criticizes “fundamentalists.”
The story that Helminiak reviewed in his lecture involved Jesus’ healing of the centurion’s slave (Matthew 8:5 – 13; Luke 7:1 – 10). Concerning this event, Helminiak made some dauntless and groundless assumptions in order to arrive at the sub-conclusion that the centurion and his servant were homosexual lovers. He then applied this sub-conclusion to the text to reach his final conclusion:
(V1) Since Jesus met a homosexual, and since the Scriptures do not show that He condemned him for his sexual preference, it is almost surely the case that Jesus did not think that homosexuality is sinful.
What shall we say about this? First, as was already mentioned, Helminiak’s assumptions are simply unsupported conjecture and again reflect his unbiblical concept of “love” which must have “sexuality” at its core. He pointed out that the centurion was probably wealthy, but whether or not the centurion was wealthy is irrelevant to Helminiak’s argument. He also pointed out that the slave was probably young (see below concerning the use of the Greek word pais), and that, therefore, he probably did not have high utility as a worker. In addition, he claimed that the Greek word entimos (translated ‘dear’ in Luke 7:2) means “deeply cared for.” Since one male applied this term to another male, and since the slave was probably not there for his high utility value, we allegedly have good grounds for supposing that the two were engaging in a homosexual relationship. This is quite a leap. To begin with, the fact that the slave may have been young (how young is unknown) really says nothing about his capabilities as a slave. Not all slaves, after all, were used for heavy labor. Moreover, entimos can be variously translated ‘valued,’ ‘dear,’ ‘honorable,’ or ‘precious.’ It is rendered ‘more honorable’ in Luke 14:28, ‘in esteem’ or ‘in reputation’ in Philippians 2:29, and ‘precious’ in I Peter 2:4, 6. Here again, we see Helminiak’s propensity for arbitrarily choosing the definition he likes the most. By doing this, he imports his own presuppositions into the text. Even granting that the word should be translated ‘precious’ or ‘deeply cared for’ as opposed to ‘dear,’ ‘honorable,’ or ‘valuable’ (quite an assumption), Helminiak’s argument is still a non sequitur. It is, after all, entirely possible for a male to apply such words to another male without implying anything of a sexual nature. Indeed, none of the biblical usages of the word entimos even hint at having a sexual content.
Looked at from another angle, however, something ironic emerges. If we take the same method of argumentation and apply it to the very example that Helminiak uses, we must reach a conclusion that directly contradicts his position with respect to the institution of slavery. Earlier in his lecture, Helminiak mentioned that there are some people (past and present) who try to justify slavery on biblical grounds. He made it clear that he thought this position was disdainful (he likewise derides the institution of slavery on page 29 of his book by assuming that it is a “clear case” of what is wrong). In addition, Helminiak correctly notes that the text under consideration is talking about a slave and not just a child. Although the Greek word pais can refer to a child or a servant, doulos, which is also used in this story, refers only to a slave. The imprudence of Helminiak’s methodology should be evident to all. According to Helminiak’s own method of argumentation, we should reach the conclusion that:
(V2) Since Jesus met a slave owner, and since the Scriptures do not show that He condemned him for that practice, it is almost surely the case that Jesus did not think that slavery is sinful.
So, in his exuberance to find support for his humanistic presuppositions, Helminiak adopts a methodology that would condone what he elsewhere claims to be a clearcut case of sin. Yet again, we see confirmation of the proposal mentioned at the beginning of this paper. Helminiak is not operating from a Christian worldview. His presuppositional commitment in favor of the ethical neutrality of homosexual behavior, based on the autonomous man worldview, has again led him to beg the question with respect to vocabulary and to present an argument that, even if it were sound, would contradict his (presupposed?) position on another matter.
Numerous passages have been reviewed, and some consistent themes regarding Helminiak’s beliefs and argumentation have emerged. It is clear that Helminiak’s argument, before we even get to the specific topic at hand, is self-refuting, because he does not start with the Christian worldview. He begins by tacitly assuming that the atheist is correct when he believes in his own mind as the ultimate authority. As a result, the Bible is not the final court of arbitration for ethics. In his mind (which, of course, begs the question), as “a thinking person,” numerous subjective and secular details come to bear on the matter. This is, as was noted previously, self-refuting, because one cannot pretend to explain the Christian position while standing on a worldview that is diametrically opposed to that position. Within the Christian worldview, moral law reflects God’s normative and unchanging will. He tells us what is ethical and what is not. Helminiak’s position rests on the rejection of the Christian divine command theory in favor of man’s scholarly endeavors. His position is therefore incoherent. He will not be able give us a coherent explanation concerning “what the Bible really says” about ethics until he first rejects his unbiblical presuppositions regarding the metaphysical and epistemological foundation of ethics.
It is also clear that Helminiak’s more immediate assumptions regarding homosexual behavior have led him to beg the question numerous times with respect to semantic analysis. Over and over again, he dogmatically defined words in order to support his position. Often, this was accompanied by tendentious quoting of certain passages that demonstrated the definition he favored without a consideration of all the passages in which the specific word appears. Word studies should only be used to set the range of potential definitions, and all usages of the word should be noted. Moreover, contrary to Helminiak, the immediate context is always the final arbiter of a word’s definition.
A number of times, we saw how Helminiak’s arguments either refuted each other, or refuted his position on other matters. From the absurd belief that the commands in Leviticus 18 – 20 were necessarily nonethical commands, to his careless use of zimah, to the ill-chosen example of the centurion slave owner, Helminiak has demonstrated that his position is a mass of inconsistencies and absurdities. We also saw many inaccurate claims made by Helminiak with respect to historical and contextual issues such as the claim that homosexual acts in the first-century Roman Empire were only decried because they were abusive, or the claim that the “vessels of dishonor” in Romans 9 were unsightly pots. Again, most of these problems can be attributed to Helminiak’s attempt to force the biblical text to agree with his presuppositions. This is not exegesis, but eisegesis.
When proper hermeneutical principles are applied to the relevant passages, and when we rid those passages of Helminiak’s preconceived beliefs, it becomes clear that his view of homosexual behavior is mistaken. Such behavior is condemned without qualification in Leviticus, and this condemnation is assumed to be valid by Paul when he discusses the depravity as well as the end result of homosexual behavior. The entire Bible, in fact, presupposes that homosexual relationships are illegitimate. The creation of mankind was distinctly heterosexual, Christ’s relationship to the church is like that of a man and his wife, and the marriage union and the dominion mandate are distinctly heterosexual such that a homosexual version would make no sense.
In today’s culture it has become fashionable to wave high the flags of uncritical acceptance and tolerance as moral virtues or even absolutes. The issue of homosexual behavior provides yet another example of such a mindset. The modern mindset seems to be that it is simply “mean-spirited” and “extreme” to oppose such a “loving” practice. The well is poisoned before the discussion even begins. Often, such views come from truly sincere and well-meaning individuals. This, in fact, may be one of the most difficult as well as dangerous aspects of the situation to surmount. It is easy to fool ourselves into believing that, based on our “loving” motives, our positions must be right. “How can anything that feels so right be wrong?” Even apart from the fallacious nature of such a belief, the practical danger is apparent. Like the enabling spouse who “covers for” her alcoholic husband, thus making it easier for him to drink himself into oblivion, we seem to be more than willing to put aside sound biblical principles to facilitate “good will,” to avoid being seen as boat rockers, or to avoid offending non-Christians in hopes of increasing the probability of winning them to Christ. Ultimately, as Christians, we need to ask ourselves the critical question. “Whose standard will I submit to in order to direct my life and my views?” In the end, the sincerity, kindness, and personality of those who engage in the act in question (whatever it may be) are completely irrelevant, as is our intuition concerning the level of harmlessness we believe that act entails. Will we submit to God as the only standard, or will we reject that standard in favor of our intuition, feelings, or scholarly opinions?
On the question of homosexual behavior, God’s Word is crystal clear. However, our treatment would not be complete without some mention of the Christian’s responsibilities. This complex subject has been treated in the excellent book by Bahnsen , and we will only summarize his treatment here. Homosexual acts are inherently sinful, as taught in many ways in Scripture. Homosexuals, like all others who are unrighteous, are outside the kingdom of Christ (I Corinthians 6:9, 10). God reveals His will in the Bible, and it is our responsibility in carrying out the Great Commission to proclaim His will accurately and in love. If the accurate proclamation of what the Bible says offends someone, so be it; of course, we should be careful to never add any offense to it and never to compromise on its teaching. We cannot convert the souls of others; only God can convert the soul. However, the law of God plays a significant role in conversion (Psalm 19:7; Galatians 3:24). The power of Christ will transform any sinner who surrenders unconditionally to Him in repentance, once and for all, including homosexuals. Indeed, the gospel of Christ offers the only real hope for homosexuals. This is why Paul could say “such were some of you” and confidently proclaim that anyone who is “in Christ is a new creation.” The apostle John could add that no one who abides in Him willfully and habitually sins, sin being the transgression of the law of God (I John 3:4 – 6).
This does not imply that Christians are perfect – just that sin no longer dominates their life. As incongruous with the law of God and new creation as homosexual acts are, it is unthinkable that a true Christian would ever commit such a heinous act. Certainly we would have grounds to suspect our own conversion if we continued to commit those specific sins that dominated our lives before our profession of faith, especially if they were among the sins that place one outside the kingdom of Christ or that merited the death penalty under Mosaic law (such things as murder, rape, homosexual acts, etc.). Of course, not all professing Christians really belong to Christ. Since we do not know hearts, it is our responsibility to see to it that any professing Christian who commits a homosexual act is disciplined by the Church. The most severe discipline the Church can impose is to treat the professing Christian as an unbeliever until he learns to hate his immoral behavior to the point that he renounces it. He cannot be received back into church membership or at the Lord’s Table until this issue is settled. When it is settled, then he should be received with open arms and treated like any other Christian (Matthew 18:15 – 17; I Corinthians 5). It also follows that those who teach doctrine contrary to that which is taught in Scripture must be subject to Church discipline as well. False teachers, such as “gay theologians,” are not to be tolerated in the Church.
Bahnsen also considers the state’s responsibilities. While not all Christians will agree with Bahnsen’s position on this subject, his compelling arguments cannot be ignored. As we’ve seen in this study, homosexual acts fall into the category of crimes under God’s law. Since only God’s law is “perfect” (Psalm 19:7) and brings true liberty (Psalms 119:44 – 47; James 1:25; 2:12), as part of the dominion mandate Christians should be working to bring about the reformation of society, so that its laws are in conformity with Biblical law (Deuteronomy 4:6 – 8). As part of that activity, for example, Christians in every culture should be exerting pressure on civil authorities to enforce God’s law, which requires execution of capital offenders, after due process. Capital crimes under biblical law include murder, rape, adultery, child molestation, homosexual acts, etc. (Note that individuals who are not civil government officials, who attempt to “enforce” any of God’s laws by being violent aggressors against sinners, are themselves sinning.)
The humanist in us may have a hard time with such strong measures, but the law of God is a delight to the new nature (Psalm 19:7 – 10; 119:16, 24, 35, 47, etc.; Romans 7:22). If one thinks that God’s laws are too harsh, he is presupposing the existence of a standard outside of God Himself. It is not our place to judge God’s law, but rather to obey it (James 4:11); God’s commandments are not burdensome to the Christian (I John 5:3). John went on to say that those who are “of God” listen to biblical doctrine; but those who are not, do not (I John 4:6). Doctrinally, if one is soft on homosexuality, willing to tolerate this act in the Church or in society, he is not in agreement with God. If one’s heart is not teachable to all that the Bible says, he has grounds for seriously questioning whether or not he belongs to Christ. How can two walk together except they be in agreement?
 Here we refrain from delving more deeply into the self-refuting nature of the secularist’s denial of the existence of moral absolutes. Secularists generally deny the existence of absolutes while simultaneously denouncing those who violate the secular culture’s own set of “absolutes.”
 Daniel A. Helminiak, What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality (San Francisco: Alamo Square Press, 1994). For the sake of brevity, further citations of this reference will simply refer to page numbers in the body of the paper.
 Daniel A. Helminiak, “What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality,” Lecture at the Georgia Institute of Technology, October 29, 1996.
 Don Kistler (ed.), Sola Scriptura! The Protestant Position on the Bible. Soli Deo Gloria Publications, Morgan, Penn., 1995.
 Helminiak sets up a false dichotomy by strongly suggesting that his hermeneutic is the only viable alternative to what he calls “the literal approach.” The literal approach would take words “to mean exactly what they say.” For example, upon hearing that “Robert is a real space cadet,” we would be forced to assume “that he is truly a NASA astronaut” (p. 28). Applied to the Bible, it would require us to believe that God has feathers (Psalms 91:4).
 Catechism of the Catholic Church (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1994), p. 566.
 Unfortunately, we do not have a hard copy of this quote as evidence; and the lecture was not, to our knowledge, taped. However, we were not the only ones who noticed these statements (and reeled at them).
 All Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version of the Bible.
 Greg Bahnsen, Homosexuality: A Biblical View (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1978), p. 32.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, p. 572.
 Greg Bahnsen, Homosexuality: A Biblical View, pp. 44 – 45.
 Although the word shaqats may refer either to morally detestable things or to ceremonial uncleanness, it more frequently refers to the latter.
 Richard B. Hays, “Relations Natural and Unnatural: A Response to John Boswell’s Exegesis of Romans 1,” The Journal of Religious Studies, vol. 14, no. 1 (Spr. 1986), pp. 184 – 215. Hays’ analysis of Boswell’s (see note 14) exegesis of Romans 1:26 – 27 is sound, but his comments with regard to the modern applicability of the passage are anything but compelling.
 John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginnings of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980).
 David Wright, “Homosexuals or Prostitutes?” Vigiliae Christianae, Vol. 38 (1984), pp. 125 – 153. For a rather tangential critique of Wright, see William Petersen, “Can Be Translated By ‘Homosexuals’?” Vigiliae Christianae, Vol. 40 (1986), pp. 187 – 191, and for Wright’s reply, see “Translating ,” Vigiliae Christianae, Vol. 41 (1987), pp. 396 – 398.
 Richard Lewinsohn, A History of Sexual Customs (Greenwich: Fawcett Publications, 1958).
 Vern Bullough, Sexual Variance in Society and History (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1976).
 Greg Bahnsen, Homosexuality: A Biblical View, Chapters 4 and 5.
-Jonathan Barlow, CRTA
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