Homosexuality and the Bible
by R. Albert Mohler, Jr. President, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., serves as the ninth president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary—the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.
A leader among American evangelicals, Dr. Mohler hosts a daily live nationwide radio program on the Salem Radio Network. He also writes a daily commentary on theological, moral and cultural issues for Crosswalk.com. Dr. Mohler was listed in a TIME magazine cover story as one of its “50 for the Future.” Christianity Today described Dr. Mohler as one of the 40 emerging evangelical leaders and Time.com called him the “reigning intellectual of the evangelical movement in the U.S.” He is a frequent guest on national and international news outlets and is a popular preacher, teacher and lecturer.
A native of Lakeland, Florida, Dr. Mohler is a theologian and an ordained minister, having served as pastor and staff minister of several Southern Baptist churches. He came to the presidency of Southern Seminary from service as editor of The Christian Index, the oldest of the state papers serving the Southern Baptist Convention.
He is married to the former Mary Kahler. They have two children:Katie and Christopher.
Homosexuality and the Bible:
Telling the Truth
Homosexuality is now the most controversial issue of debate in American culture — and it is likely to stay that way for a long time. Once famously described as “the love that dares not speak its name,” homosexuality is now openly discussed and debated throughout American society.
Behind this discussion is an agenda, pushed and promoted by activists, who seek legitimization and social sanction for homosexual acts, relationships, and lifestyles. The push is on for homosexual “marriage,” the removal of all structures and laws considered oppressive to homosexuals, and the recognition of homosexuals, bisexuals, transsexuals, and others as “erotic minorities” deserving of special legal protection. The movement to normalize homosexuality won a huge victory last year when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in the case Lawrence v. Texas. In that momentous decision, a majority of justices struck down the Texas sodomy laws as unconstitutional, declaring that individuals have a basic right to define their own existence and sexual lifestyle without government interference. As Justice Antonin Scalia noted, this means the effective end of all morals legislation.
The larger culture is now bombarded with messages and images designed to portray homosexuality as a normal lifestyle. Homoerotic themes are so common in the mainstream media that many citizens have virtually lost the capacity to be shocked. Gay characters abound on television and in film, and story lines supporting sexual “tolerance” and diversity now appear in programming for children. Cable television’s “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” represents the symbolic rise of gay culture in the nation’s mainstream.
These days, anyone who would oppose homosexuality as a fully valid lifestyle is depicted as a narrow-minded bigot and described as “homophobic.” Anyone who suggests that heterosexual marriage is the only acceptable and legitimate arena of sexual activity is lambasted as out-dated, oppressive, and outrageously out of step with modern culture. Opponents of same-sex marriage are disparaged as intolerant, judgmental, and fundamentalist. Defenders of marriage are truly on the defensive — and the homosexual advocates know it.
The Church has not been an outsider to these debates. As the issue of homosexual legitimization has gained public prominence and moved forward, some churches and denominations have joined the movement — even becoming advocates of homosexuality — while a few stand steadfastly opposed to compromise on the issue. In the middle are churches and denominations unable or unwilling to declare a clear conviction on homosexuality. Issues of homosexual ordination and marriage are regularly debated in the assemblies of several denominations — and many congregations, and the issue may eventually blow those denominations apart.
This debate is itself nothing less than a revolutionary development. Any fair-minded observer of American culture and the American churches must note the incredible speed with which this issue has been driven into the cultural mainstream. The challenge for the believing church now comes down to this: Do we have a distinctive message in the midst of this moral confusion?
Our answer must be Yes. The Christian church must have a distinctive message to speak to the issue of homosexuality, because the Bible has a distinctive message. Faithfulness to Holy Scripture demands that the Church hold to the biblical witness. Anything less is a road to theological oblivion.
The challenge for the believing church now comes down to this: Do we have a distinctive message in the midst of this moral confusion?
The affirmation of biblical authority is thus central to the Church’s consideration of this issue — or any issue. The Bible is the Word of God in written form, inerrant and infallible, inspired by the Holy Spirit and “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” [2 Timothy 3:16]. This is the critical watershed: Those churches that reject the authority of Scripture will eventually succumb to cultural pressure and accommodate their understanding of homosexuality to the spirit of the age. Those churches that affirm, confess, and acknowledge the full authority of the Bible have no choice in this matter — we must speak a word of compassionate truth. And that compassionate truth is this: Homosexual acts are expressly and unconditionally forbidden by God through His Word, and such acts are an abomination to the Lord by His own declaration. These are strong words, but they are the Bible’s words.
The late Elizabeth Achtemeier, for many years an influential professor at Richmond’s Union Theological Seminary, stated the case clearly: “The clearest teaching of Scripture is that God intended sexual intercourse to be limited to the marriage relationship of one man and one woman.” The clearest teaching of Scripture? That this is so should be apparent to all who look to the Bible for guidance on this issue. This assessment of the Bible’s content would have been completely uncontroversial throughout the last nineteen centuries of the Christian church. Only in recent years have some biblical scholars come forward to claim that the Bible presents a mixed message — or a very different message — on homosexuality.
The homosexual agenda is pushed by activists who are totally committed to the cause of making homosexuality a sanctioned and recognized form of sexual activity — and the basis for legitimate marriages and family relationships. Every obstacle that stands in the way of progress toward this agenda must be removed, and Scripture stands as the most formidable obstacle to that agenda.
We should not be surprised therefore that apologists for the homosexual agenda have arisen even within the world of biblical scholarship. Biblical scholars are themselves a very mixed group, with some defending the authority of Scripture and others bent on deconstructing the biblical text. The battle lines on this issue are immediately apparent. Those who deny the truthfulness, inspiration, and authority of the Bible, in the main, will eventually argue that Scripture sanctions homosexuality — or at least argue that the biblical passages forbidding homosexual acts are confused, misinterpreted, or irrelevant.
To accomplish this requires feats of exotic biblical interpretation worthy of the most agile circus contortionist. Several decades ago, the late J. Gresham Machen remarked, “The Bible, with a complete abandonment of all scientific historical method, and of all common sense, is made to say the exact opposite of what it means; no Gnostic, no medieval monk with his fourfold sense of Scripture, ever produced more absurd Biblical interpretation than can be heard every Sunday in the pulpits of New York.” Dr. Machen was referring to the misuse and misapplication of Scripture that he saw as a mark of the infusion of a pagan spirit within the church. Even greater absurdity than that observed by Machen is now evident among those determined to make the Bible sanction homosexuality.
Biblical Christianity is the final wall of resistance to the homosexual agenda. In the end, that resistance comes down to the Bible itself. Those working tirelessly for the normalization of homosexuality know that the Bible’s clear and unambiguous opposition to all forms of homosexual behavior must be neutralized if they are to be fully successful. Their efforts to this end deserve our closest attention.
Biblical Christianity is the final wall of resistance to the homosexual agenda.
Homosexuality and the Bible:
Twisting the Truth
Biblical Christianity represents the greatest obstacle to the normalization of homosexuality. The reason for this is quite simple — the Bible emphatically condemns all forms of homosexual behavior. If homosexual advocates are to succeed, they must either marginalize or neutralize the Bible as an authority.
Different approaches are taken toward this end. For some, an outright rejection of biblical authority is explicit. With astounding candor, William M. Kent, at one time a member of a committee assigned by United Methodists to study homosexuality, declared that “the scriptural texts in the Old and New Testaments condemning homosexual practice are neither inspired by God nor otherwise of enduring Christian value. Considered in the light of the best biblical, theological, scientific, and social knowledge, the biblical condemnation of homosexual practice is better understood as representing time and place bound cultural prejudice.” This approach is the most honest as found among the revisionists. These persons do not deny that the Bible expressly forbids homosexual practices — they acknowledge that the Bible does just that. Their answer is straightforward; we must abandon the Bible in light of modern knowledge and sensitivities.
The next step taken by those who follow this approach is to suggest that it is not sufficient for the authority of the Bible to be denied — the Bible must be opposed. Gary David Comstock, Protestant chaplain at Wesleyan University charges: “Not to recognize, critique, and condemn Paul’s equation of godlessness with homosexuality is dangerous. To remain within our respective Christian traditions and not challenge those passages that degrade and destroy us is to contribute to our own oppression.” Further, Comstock argues, “These passages will be brought up and used against us again and again until Christians demand their removal from the biblical canon, or, at the very least, formally discredit their authority to prescribe behavior.”
A second approach taken by the revisionists is to suggest that the human authors of Scripture were limited by the scientific immaturity of their age. If they knew what we now know, these revisionists claim, the human authors of Scripture would never have been so closed-minded. Victor Paul Furnish makes this case: “Not only the terms, but the concepts ‘homosexual’ and ‘homosexuality’ were unknown in Paul’s day. These terms like ‘heterosexual,’ ‘heterosexuality,’ ‘bisexual,’ and ‘bisexuality’ presuppose an understanding of human sexuality that was possible only with the advent of modern psychology and sociological analysis. The ancient writers were operating without the vaguest idea of what we have learned to call ‘sexual orientation’.”
Indeed, Paul and the other apostles seem completely ignorant of modern secular understandings of sexual identity and orientation — and this truth is fundamentally irrelevant. Modern notions of sexual orientation must be brought to answer to Scripture — not vice versa. Scripture must not be called upon to defend itself in light of modern notions. Paul will not apologize to Sigmund Freud or the American Psychological Association, and the faithful church must call this approach what it is — a blatant effort to subvert the authority of Scripture and to replace biblical authority with the false authority of modern secular ideologies.
A third approach taken by the revisionists is to deny that biblical passages actually refer to homosexuality at all, or to argue that the passages refer to specific and ‘oppressive’ homosexual acts. For instance, some argue that Paul’s references to homosexuality are actually references to pederasty [the sexual abuse of young boys], to homosexual rape, or to “non-committed” homosexual relationships. The same is argued concerning passages such as Genesis 19, Leviticus 18:22, and Leviticus 20:13. Yet, in order to make this case, the revisionists must deny the obvious — and argue the ridiculous.
Modern notions of sexual orientation must be brought to answer to Scripture — not vice versa.
Likewise, some argue that the sin of Sodom was not homosexuality, but inhospitality. John J. McNeill takes this line, arguing that the church oppressively shifted the understanding of the sin of Sodom from inhospitality to homosexuality. The text, however, cannot be made to play this game. The context indicates that the sin of Sodom is clearly homosexuality — and without this meaning, the passage makes no sense. The language and the structure of the text are clear. Beyond this, Jude, verse 7, self-evidently links the sin of Sodom with sexual perversion and immorality, stating, “Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example, in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.”
This verse is sufficient to indicate the severity of the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality. Leviticus 18:22 speaks of male homosexuality as an ‘abomination’ — the strongest word used of God’s judgment against a human act.
The most extensive argument against homosexuality is not found in the Old Testament, however, but in Romans 1:22-27, a passage which is found within Paul’s lengthy introduction to his Roman letter.
“Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason, God gave them over to degrading passions; for the women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.”
As Romans 1 makes absolutely clear, homosexuality is fundamentally an act of unbelief. As Paul writes, the wrath of God is revealed against all those “who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” God the Creator has implanted in all humanity a knowledge of Himself, and all are without excuse. This is the context of Paul’s explicit statements on homosexuality.
Homosexual acts and homosexual desire, states Paul, are a rebellion against God’s sovereign intention in creation and a gross perversion of God’s good and perfect plan for His created order. Paul makes clear that homosexuality — among both males and females — is a dramatic sign of rebellion against God and His intention in creation. Those about whom Paul writes have worshipped the creature rather than the Creator. Thus, men and women have forfeited the natural complementarity of God’s intention for heterosexual marriage and have turned to members of their own sex, burning with an illicit desire which is in itself both degrading and dishonorable.
This is a very strong and clear message. The logical progression in Romans 1 is undeniable. Paul shifts immediately from his description of rebellion against God as Creator to an identification of homosexuality — among both men and women — as the first and most evident sign of a society upon which God has turned His judgment. Essential to understanding this reality in theological perspective is a recognition of homosexuality as an assault upon the integrity of creation and God’s intention in creating human beings in two distinct and complementary genders. This text may be dismissed and ignored by those who reject its message, but it cannot be neutralized.
As Romans 1 makes absolutely clear, homosexuality is fundamentally an act of unbelief.
Homosexuality and the Bible: Trusting the Truth
With the movement toward same-sex marriage and the normalization of homosexuality gaining momentum, some churches are running for cover. Yet, our Christian responsibility is clear — we are to tell the truth about what God has revealed concerning human sexuality, gender, and marriage. No one said it was going to be easy.
At every point the confessing and believing Church runs counter to the cultural tidal wave. Even to raise the issue of gender is to offend those who wish to eradicate any gender distinctions, arguing that these are merely “socially constructed realities” and vestiges of an ancient past.
Scripture will not allow this attempt to deny the structures of creation. Romans 1 must be read in light of Genesis 1 and 2. As Genesis 1:27 makes apparent, God intended from the beginning to create human beings in two genders or sexes — ”male and female He created them.” Both man and woman were created in the image of God. They were and are distinct, and yet inseparably linked by God’s design. The genders really are different, and the distinction goes far beyond mere physical differences, but the man recognized the woman as “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.”
The bond between man and woman is marriage, which is not an historical accident or the result of socialization and cultural evolution. To the contrary, marriage and the establishment of the heterosexual covenant union is central to God’s intention — before and after the Fall. Immediately following the creation of man and woman come the instructive words: “For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”
Evangelical Christians have often failed to present this biblical truth straightforwardly, and thus many of our churches and members are unarmed for the ideological, political, and cultural conflicts which mark the modern landscape. The fundamental axiom upon which evangelical Christians must base any response to homosexuality it this: God alone is sovereign, and He has created the universe and all within by His own design and to His own good pleasure. Furthermore, He has revealed to us His creative intention through Holy Scripture — and that intention was clearly to create and establish two distinct but complementary genders or sexes. The Genesis narratives demonstrate that this distinction of genders is neither accidental nor inconsequential to the divine design. “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make for him a helper suitable for him,” determined God. And God created woman.
God’s creative intention is further revealed in the cleaving of man to the woman [“his wife”] and their new identity as “one flesh.” This biblical assertion — which no contorted interpretation can escape — clearly places marriage and sexual relations within God’s creative act and design.
The sexual union of a man and a woman united in covenant marriage is thus not only allowed, but is commanded as God’s intention and decree. Sexual expression is limited to this heterosexual covenant, which in its clearest biblical expression is one man and one woman united for as long as they both shall live.
Therefore, any sexual expression outside of that heterosexual marriage relationship is illicit, immoral, and outlawed by God’s explicit command and law. That fundamental truth runs counter, not only to the homosexual agenda, but to the rampant sexual immorality of the age. Indeed, the Bible has much more to say about illicit heterosexual activity than about homosexual acts. Adultery, rape, bestiality, pornography, and fornication, for example, are expressly forbidden.
Any sexual expression outside of that heterosexual marriage relationship is illicit, immoral, and outlawed by God’s explicit command and law.
As E. Michael Jones argues, most modern ideologies are, at base, efforts to rationalize sexual behavior. In fact, he identifies modernity itself as “rationalized lust.” We should expect the secular world, which is at war with God’s truth, to be eager in its efforts to rationalize lust, and to seek legitimacy and social sanction for its sexual sins. We should be shocked, however, that many within the Church now seek to accomplish the same purpose, and to join in common cause with those openly at war with God’s truth.
Paul’s classic statement in Romans 1 sets the issues squarely before us. Homosexuality is linked directly to idolatry, for it is on the basis of their idolatry that God gave them up to their own lusts. Their hearts were committed to impurity, and they were degrading their own bodies by their illicit lusts.
Their idolatry — exchanging the truth of God for a lie, and worshipping the creature rather than the Creator — led God to give them over to their degrading passions. From here, those given over to their degraded passions exchanged the natural use of sexual intercourse for that which God declared to be unnatural [literally, against nature]. At this point Paul explicitly deals with female homosexuality or lesbianism, as well as male homosexuality. This is one of the very few references in all ancient literature to female homosexuality, and Paul’s message is clear: All forms of homosexual eroticism and sexual behavior fall short of God’s glory, violate God’s revealed law, and are inherently unnatural.
But the women involved in lesbianism were not and are not alone. Men, too, have given up natural intercourse with women and have been consumed with passion for other men. The acts they commit, they commit without shame. As a result, they have received within their own bodies the penalty of their error.
Beyond this, God has given them up to their own depraved minds, and they do those things which are not proper. The message could not be more candid and clear, but there are those who seek to deny the obvious. Some have claimed that Paul is here dealing only with those heterosexual persons who commit homosexual acts. The imaginative folly of this approach is undone by Scripture, which allows no understanding that any human beings are born anything other than heterosexual. The modern — and highly political — notion of homosexual “orientation” as a natural human condition cannot be squared with the Bible. The only orientation indicated by Scripture is the universal human orientation to sin.
In other letters, Paul indicates that homosexuals — along with those who persist in other sins — will not inherit the Kingdom of God. The word Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:10 is arsenokoites, a word with a graphic etymology. Some modern revisionists have attempted to suggest that this refers only to homosexual rapists or child abusers. This argument will not stand even the slightest scholarly consideration. The word does not appear in any Greek literature of the period. As New Testament scholar David Wright has demonstrated, the word was taken by Paul directly from Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, and its meaning is homosexuality itself.
The biblical witness is clear: Homosexuality is a grievous sin against God and is a direct rejection of God’s intention and command in creation. All sin is a matter of eternal consequence, and the only hope for any sinner is the redemption accomplished by Jesus Christ, who on the cross paid the price for our sin, serving as the substitute for the redeemed.
Our response to persons involved in homosexuality must be marked by genuine compassion. But a central task of genuine compassion is telling the truth, and the Bible reveals a true message we must convey. Those seeking to contort and subvert the Bible’s message are not responding to homosexuals with compassion. To lie is never compassionate — and their lie leads unto death.
The only orientation indicated by Scripture is the universal human orientation to sin.
In the end, the Church will either declare the truth of God’s Word, or find a way to run away from it. It really comes down to trust. Do we trust the Bible to tell us truthfully what God desires and commands about our sexuality? If so, we really do know where we stand, and we really do know what to say. If not, let’s just admit to the world that we really haven’t a clue.
This series originally appeared as part of Dr. Mohler’s daily Crosswalk Commentary. For more information, please go to http://www.albertmohler.com.
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