Homosexuality, Part 3: The Bible

Dr. James Emery White | Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary | Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Homosexuality, Part 3: The Bible

This is the third installment of a six-part series (start here), a first for Church and Culture, on what is arguably the most pressing and divisive moral issue which faces our culture.  Rather than follow our normal Monday/Thursday postings, these will be posted every day for six straight days.

A few housekeeping matters:

*Feel free to engage each post individually, but please realize it’s a six-part series.

*As always, keep all comments civil.  Anything lacking in civility will be removed.

*Though a six-part series, I am under no illusions that this is a comprehensive treatment of such a very complex subject.

*If you are just joining this conversation, you would be well-served to read the other blogs.


That the Bible condemns engaging in homosexual behavior has been the dominant view throughout Christian history.

So what are those biblical texts?

To address the issue of homosexuality biblically, we have to begin with God's original design for human sexuality and relationship.  This design is found in the book of Genesis, which tells the story of the very creation of humanity:

The Lord God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a helper suitable for him’...the Lord God made a woman...and brought her to the man...For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.  The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame" (Genesis 2:18,22,24-25, NIV).

There are four foundational truths to be learned from that passage.

First, that God created sexual identity.

Second, that in making sexual identity, He made human beings male and female.  After Adam, a man, was created, a help-mate was made that was suitable, appropriate and correct.  For Adam, that person was a woman.

Third, we find that God created sexual intimacy.

Fourth, that God intended the expression of that sexual intimacy to take place between a man and a woman in the context of marriage.

This means that femininity and masculinity are at the heart of God’s design.  They form the basis for marriage, for two becoming one.  Both genders reflect God’s image, and together, reflect and honor God as they join in union with one another.  God created men and women, and marriage, so that their differences would complete one another in every conceivable way – emotionally, physically and spiritually.

As an editorial in Christianity Today put it, marriage is more than merely personal.  It is more than a contract.  And it is much more than tax returns and health insurance.  It is a lived-out parable of the principles that undergird the universe.  It is the foundational building block of human society.

This is why the Bible says that for this reason a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.

Which brings us to the homosexual departure. 

Homosexual behavior departs from God's blueprint in two foundational ways:   

First, instead of embracing the man-woman design, homosexuality embraces a same-sex preference as the blueprint for sexual intimacy.

Second, at least until recently, it also departed from God’s intent for that sexual intimacy to take place within the confines of marriage.

Bracketing off the marriage issue for later in this series, let’s look at what the Bible has to say about the idea of a same-sex preference for sexual intimacy.

In the Old Testament book of Leviticus, the Bible says:  "Do not practice homosexuality; it is a detestable sin" (Leviticus 18:22, NLT).  Then one chapter later, it adds:  "If a man has sex with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is abhorrent" (Leviticus 20:13, Msg).

The same is upheld in the New Testament:  "Instead of believing what they knew was the truth about God, they deliberately chose to believe lies...Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other.  And the men, instead of having normal sexual relationships with women, burned with lust for each other.  Men did shameful things with other men...” (Romans 1:25-27, NLT).

There are other verses, of course.  Suffice it to say that every single reference to homosexual behavior in the Bible - Old and New Testament - condemns it. 

Without question, and without qualification.

The passages aren’t ambiguous, in the way that people might have once looked to the Bible to affirm slavery, or make women second-class citizens.  As Edith Humphrey has written, there are no internal tensions on this matter, and “the moral tradition of the church, from the earliest period into the Reformation and since, has been emphatic: Homoerotic behavior is against the will of God.”

It is tempting at this point to jump into the question of whether these verses really speak to homosexual behavior.  Yes, it seems plain enough on the surface, but those who wish to advocate for the legitimacy of a homosexual lifestyle have gone to great pains to discredit each and every biblical reference. 

For example, many would argue that the book of Leviticus, while it clearly says what it says, also condemns eating shellfish, cutting your sideburns and getting tattoos.  It’s all ancient religious law shattered by the New Testament fulfillment in Christ.

But to write these off as mere cultic practices in ancient Israel, and no longer binding on Christians, reflects a weak hermeneutic.  There is a difference between immoral behavior and ritual uncleanness.  Further, since Scripture must interpret Scripture (a canonical context), what does the general pattern of the Scriptures direct us to understand about this specific prohibition?

“The answer is that homoerotic behavior contradicts God’s purposes for all his creatures,” writes Humphries.  “It is not in the same category as the cultic or cultural prohibitions regarding non-kosher foods and the twining together of two types of thread.  Like the prohibition of incest (Lev. 18:6-18), the prohibition of homoerotic acts addresses every age.”

And the New Testament passages?  While seeming to clearly uphold the sexual ethics of the Old Testament, some would argue that the original Greek words translated as “homosexual” or “homosexuality” in various sections refers to male prostitutes and the men who hire them, not same-sex consensual relationships.

But again, this is a weak hermeneutic, and certainly not the conclusion found among the vast majority of biblical scholars.  To limit the terms malakoi and arsenokotai to male prostitution would be mistaken.  For example, arsenokotai is a compound word derived from the Greek version of Leviticus 20:13 for those men “who lie with a man.”  And malakoi means literally “soft ones” and in Greek writings frequently identified the passive homoerotic partner.   So limiting either term to masturbation, as some would suggest, or male prostitution would be mistaken.

To engage such questions at greater length would be beyond the scope of even a series of blogs.  But if you have any doubts about whether the verses say what they plainly seem to say, read Pittsburgh Theological Seminary Professor Dr. Robert Gagnon’s monumental 500-page text, “The Bible and Homosexual Practice,” considered by people on both sides of the debate as the most thorough treatment of the biblical materials in print.        

Once you do, the conclusion remains:

God created human beings as male and female. 

He meant for sexual intimacy to be there and there alone in the context of marriage. 

As a result, the Bible sees any departure from that design as outside of God's will for our lives;

Including homosexuality.

Whether you accept the Bible’s authority on the subject is another matter.

But the Bible itself is quite clear.

James Emery White


Homosexuality, Part 4: Orientation and Desire.


Christianity TodayEditorial, “Just Married,” April 26, 2000;

Edith Humphrey, “What God Hath Not Joined,” Christianity Today, August 20, 2004.

Gagnon, Robert A.J. The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics.

Grenz, Stanley J.  Welcoming but not Affirming.

Stafford, Tim.  Sexual Chaos.

White, John.  Eros Defiled.

Editor’s Note

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Homosexuality, Part 3: The Bible