With the SCOTUS decision on gay marriage coming down this morning, I have had several Christian friends ask about how to respond biblically to questions about gay marriage. This is an important question and one that all Christians will likely have to address in conversation with family and friends. It is an interesting time to be a Christian, it seems that we are all of the sudden hateful bigots for holding a position that the church has held for 2000 years, and for holding a position Barak Obama held just 4 years ago. The world has certainly shifted its view on homosexuality and gay marriage, but if God is there and if he has spoken, then his word is very clear on how he has designed marriage and sexuality. The following are four challenges to a Christian view of Marriage and Sex that I often hear with biblical answers that I hope will be helpful my fellow believers:
1. If Christians are going to use the Old Testament to condemn Homosexuality then shouldn’t the consumption of shellfish, pork, work on Sundays, wearing clothes made from mixed material, etc. also be condemned?
Understanding Old Testament Law can be very big and nuanced, but it can also be understood very simply. So simply put, God saved Israel out of bondage to be his own people, and through the Law, God was shaping, or building them into a holy people in order to display his glory. When Jesus came he didn’t abolish the law, he fulfilled the law, so that Christians could be made holy apart from the law through faith in him. The law however is still very useful in terms of understanding the patterns and rhythms of God. So while Christians are free from the Old Testament law, the law is still helpful in terms of understanding the character and design of God. So for example, while Christians are free from the dietary laws of the Old Testament, we are still given a stewardship of our bodies and so followers of Christ should eat food that is good for our bodies, food that is clean, and healthy. A person who cannot control his unhealthy dietary appetites is in sin in the same way that a person who cannot control his unhealthy sexual appetites. Therefore, the Old Testament is very instructive for the Christian in determining God’s design for marriage and sex, and helpfully God’s ethic for marriage and sexuality are repeated in the New Testament, or in the New Covenant.
2. The New Testament doesn’t condemn Homosexuality…
It is interesting to me that this is so often said, as the New Testament very clearly and explicitly speaks directly to homosexuality in several places, and defines a biblical position for marriage and sexuality that excludes homosexuality in several other places. Specifically the New Testament condemns Homosexuality in three places. In Romans 1:18-32 the apostle Paul talks about the corruption of culture and in the middle of this passage (v. 24-27) he mentions homosexuality calling it dishonorable, impure, unnatural, shameful, and deserving of punishment. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Paul says of those who practice homosexuality (listed among other sins) that they would not inherit the Kingdom of God. In 1 Timothy 1:8-11 Paul again lists homosexuality with other sins and calls the practice sinful and ungodly. So very clearly throughout the New Testament the practice of homosexuality is condemned, and any fair reading of any of these passages makes that truth undeniably clear. There are many points of doctrine and theology that have been disputed through the centuries, but this point has been virtually undisputed in the church for 1950 years and only in the last 20 years or so have people questioned the meaning of these passages.
3. If Paul had known what we know today, his writing would have been different.
This statement calls into question the Christian doctrine of inspiration, which is foundational to the church. Christians don’t trust the bible because we admire Paul and his earthly wisdom, rather Christians believe that the Bible was ultimately written by God through inspiration. We believe the third person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit, inspired, in a supernatural way, the biblical authors to write the very words of God. Therefore we believe that in the original autographs of scripture every word recorded by the biblical authors was the exact word that God intended for them to write. Therefore to challenge the bible isn’t to challenge the wisdom of Paul, but rather it is to challenge the wisdom of God.
4. Jesus never condemned homosexuality.
It is true that Jesus never directly “condemned” homosexuality, just like he did not directly “condemn” beastiality, or pedophilia. What Jesus did do is give a positive definition of what marriage and sex are in Matthew 19:4–6 where he said, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” In this passage Jesus defines the permanence of marriage, the nature of the one flesh union of marriage, and the fact that by definition marriage is the union of one man and one woman. He is also referencing Genesis 2 wherein God created the institution of marriage, after he created the woman to be a “suitable” spouse for the male.
The bible is so clear on this issue, that it isn’t a question of “what does the bible say?” but rather it is a question of, “is there a God and has he spoken?” Christians of course believe that God has spoken, and what God makes even clearer than sexual ethics is that we are all sinners in need of salvation. So whether we struggle with sinful homosexuality, or sinful heterosexuality, all of our sin separates us from God. And the problem with sin is that when we try in our own strength to renew ourselves, or to rid ourselves of sin, we become self righteous and puffed-up like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, who he condemned more harshly than anyone struggling with homosexuality. But thankfully, the bible is also clear that God has offered a way of salvation from sin through his son Jesus. Jesus came to earth to live as a man and he never sinned, he always followed the rhythm and design of God, but then on the cross he willingly took on our sin, becoming guilty on our behalf and died in our place. The good news of the bible is that after he died, Jesus rose from the dead and offers forgiveness and life to everyone who believes in him. What the bible is clear on, is that we are all sinners and that we all need Jesus. I was born with a propensity for pride, lust, greed, and a long list of other sins but through my faith in Jesus I have been given a new identity – not one of a sinner but one of a son, and God offers the same kind of forgiveness and new identity to anyone struggling with homosexuality. If this is true of you, you don’t need to change the Bible, you just need Jesus. And if you have him he will lead you in all truth, in all righteousness, and in all love before God.