What exactly does the Bible say about homosexuality? And how do pro-gay Bible scholars try to work around those passages?
One of the most pervasive issues of our time is the movement to embrace homosexual behavior, same-sex “marriage,” and the marred versions of masculinity and femininity that accompany this lifestyle. References sympathetic to the homosexual lifestyle appear now in books, on television, in films, and in video games and graphic novels. Even the popular social networking platform Facebook announced the addition of “gay marriage timeline icons” for users.1 And of course the crowning moment for the LGBT movement was the decision to legalize gay “marriage” by the Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges. Our children and teens are inundated with a message of “tolerance” and “acceptance” of homosexual behavior, and sadly even some professing Christians are preaching this message.
Scripture makes clear, as I will argue, that engaging in homosexual behavior of any sort is sinful (Genesis 18:20, 19:5; Leviticus 18:22, 20:13; Romans 1:26–27; 1 Corinthians 6:9–10; 1 Timothy 1:10). But some in the church (such as Matthew Vines) have taken to reinterpreting key passages on homosexuality or even denying outright that these passages mean what they plainly say. So what exactly does the Bible say about homosexuality? And how do pro-gay Bible scholars try to work around those passages?
The Queen James Bible
In 2012, a pro-homosexual group published a Bible translation dubbed the Queen James Bible, based on the 1769 King James Version. Their rationale for the name was that King James’s alleged homosexual acts led his contemporaries to refer to him as “Queen James.” While the evidence for King James’s homosexuality is shaky at best, the editors of this “translation” have only made a mockery of a beloved Bible translation.
The changes that the editors made to various passages on homosexual behavior exemplify the ways in which pro-homosexual scholars twist Scripture on this issue. This article will examine a variety of Scriptures dealing with homosexual behavior and four primary arguments that pro-gay scholars use to justify it, using the editors’ summary of changes in the Queen James Bible as a springboard.
The Creation Order in Genesis
The early chapters of Genesis provide a clear example of what marriage looks like as God designed it. After creating Adam, God declares, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him” (Genesis 2:18). And so He puts Adam in a deep sleep, and forms Eve from his side.
Adam’s immediate response to meeting Eve, his suitable helper, is to declare that she is his counterpart, made from him, and to name her: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Genesis 2:23). The chapter closes with a beautiful illustration of marriage:
Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:24–25)
Marriage, as God designed it, has certain hallmarks that are evident in Genesis 2: a man and a woman joined in a monogamous marriage (verse 24), who complement each other in their gender roles (verse 18), and who can enjoy the fruits of marriage without shame (verse 25).
This is what makes homosexual behavior so morally perverse in Scripture—homosexuality is a direct violation of the creation order. Under the government’s current definition of “marriage,” it is no longer between a man and woman, but between any two people who apply for a license. Moreover, same-sex partnerships lack the complementarity that Adam and Eve’s marriage exemplifies. Men and women were created with unique masculine and feminine roles that, when brought together in marriage, create a harmony that same-sex relationships cannot adequately mimic. Finally, same-sex relationships rarely last and are often not monogamous.2 Regardless of what pro-gay scholars claim, God’s Word is very clear about the sinfulness of homosexual behavior. Same-sex “marriage” turns God-designed marriage on its head.
Sodom and Gomorrah3
Beginning in the Old Testament, the first passage dealing with homosexual behavior is Genesis 19. Here, two angels visit Lot in Sodom and stay with him and his family for the night. In the course of the evening, the men of the city demand access to Lot’s guests:
Now before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both old and young, all the people from every quarter, surrounded the house. 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 carnally.” So Lot went out to them through the doorway, shut the door behind him, and said, “Please, my brethren, do not do so wickedly!” (Genesis 19:4–7)
Just as in many other occurrences in Scripture (e.g., Genesis 4:1, 17, 25), the word know in this passage refers to sexual activity. The angels eventually strike the men of the city with blindness (Genesis 19:11) and declare that the Lord will destroy the cities, “
because the outcry against them has grown great before the face of the Lord, and the Lord has sent us to destroy it” (Genesis 19:13).
While the sin issue in view in Genesis 19 is clearly homosexuality, homosexual advocates typically reframe the issue in two ways, lack of hospitality or gang rape.4
Advocates of the inhospitality view claim that the issue in the text is with Lot’s refusal to introduce his guests to the men of the city. According to this view, the Hebrew word used in Genesis 19:5 for “know,” yada, commonly means “to be acquainted with.” This is indeed one of the primary definitions of yada, but as with all languages, particular meaning is determined by context. Based on the context of Genesis 19, yada is a reference to knowing someone sexually.5 If yada simply refers to acquaintanceship here, Lot’s refusal to introduce his guests to the town was a breach of the rules of hospitality—and the sin is Lot’s. So why did God see fit to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah and spare Lot? Within the context of Genesis 19, the definition that some pro-homosexual scholars insist on for yada makes the passage ludicrous.6
The second view, that the sin is not homosexuality but gang rape, is the position that the Queen James Bible takes. In a convoluted fashion, the editors argue that Lot was pleading with the men not to rape his guests. They continue, “We know from Leviticus that one is not allowed to have sex with a beast, and angels are not human. . . . Rapes such as this one are common between men in prison; they aren’t sexual acts, they are power-dominating acts.”7
As for the Queen James Bible’s claim that the men could have been guilty of bestiality by having sex with angels, there is no textual support for including angels in the category of “beasts.”8 Additionally, the text gives no indication in Genesis 19:5 that the men of the town were aware of the real identities of Lot’s guests. The two angels were men, insofar as the residents of Sodom could perceive. Finally, Jude 6–8 makes clear that the men of Sodom were not simply trying to commit a “power-dominating act”—they had “given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh.” The editors’ own line of reason as well as the biblical language of “know them carnally” shows that this gang rape was a sexual act.
Of course, the men of the city did intend to rape Lot’s guests, and rape is indeed a sinful act. However, if the sin issue in Genesis 19 is rape alone (regardless of whether it is heterosexual or homosexual), we must ask a similar question as before—why did God destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for a sin that never actually occurred? The only reasonable answer is that the city was guilty of regularly participating in homosexual behavior, and the attempt to rape Lot’s guests was just the latest occurrence.
There are two verses in Leviticus that clearly condemn homosexual behavior as sinful:
You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination. (Leviticus 18:22)
If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them. (Leviticus 20:13)
Homosexual advocates typically challenge this part of the Levitical code by reframing these sanctions against homosexual acts in the context of pagan idol worship. Indeed, the editors of the Queen James Bible have done just that, adding wording to these verses to fit their argument:
Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind in the temple of Molech; it is an abomination. (Leviticus 18:22, QJB, emphasis added)
If a man also lie with mankind in the temple of Molech, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death. (Leviticus 20:13, QJB, emphasis added)
There is no textual support in the Hebrew manuscripts for the additional wording the editors of the Queen James Bible have introduced. But the added phrase “in the temple of Molech” suggests that, in the view of these particular editors, homosexual behavior would only have been prohibited when associated with pagan rituals. The editors reached this conclusion by arguing that the Hebrew word for abomination, tow’ebah, means “ritually unclean.” Uncleanness related to pagan idolatry is one of the definitions of tow’ebah; however, it is also used in Scripture to denote something that is morally (ethically) repugnant in God’s sight, such as homosexuality (see, for example, Proverbs 6:16).9
Furthermore, chapters 18 and 20 in Leviticus are lists of prohibited behaviors for the Israelites, including incest, bestiality, and child sacrifice. To be consistent, the editors of the Queen James Bible must apply their changes to the whole of these chapters. But the implications of this hermeneutic are severe—incest, bestiality, child sacrifice, and a number of other behaviors would all become acceptable except in the context of pagan idolatry.10 Surely pro-homosexual scholars do not intend to argue for the acceptability of all these practices. The clearest interpretation of these passages is that homosexual behavior is an abomination in the sight of God, whether or not it is in the context of ritual pagan idolatry.
The Apostle Paul’s epistle to the Romans contains a substantial New Testament passage on homosexual behavior. In Romans 1, Paul is explaining the sinfulness of man, “
who exchanged the truth of God for the lie,” and man’s willing rejection of God. He sums up the results of this rejection in verses 26 and 27:
For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.
In a plain reading of this passage, the Apostle Paul demonstrates that, because of man’s rejection of the truth for a lie, God gave humanity over to their sin. Homosexual behavior is a prominent part of these consequences. Romans 1:29–31 is a list of further sinful acts and behaviors associated with this giving over. And in Romans 1:32, Paul condemns not just those who practice these things, but also those who approve of them.
But pro-gay scholars and church leaders disagree. For example, John Shelby Spong, a homosexual advocate and retired bishop of the Episcopal Church, attempts to damage the Apostle Paul’s credibility and characterizes the Pauline statements on homosexuality as something other than the Word of God:
Yes, I am convinced that Paul of Tarsus was a gay man, deeply repressed, self-loathing, rigid in denial, bound by the law that he hoped could keep this thing, that he judged to be so unacceptable, totally under control, a control so profound that even Paul did not have to face this fact about himself. But repression kills. It kills the repressed one and sometimes the defensive anger found in the repressed one also kills those who challenge, threaten or live out the thing that this repressed person so deeply fears.11
In Spong’s view, the Apostle Paul was allegedly repressing homosexual desires and that led him to condemn homosexual behavior in general. Furthermore, Spong argues that in Paul’s time, homosexuality was socially unacceptable, so Paul was supposedly forced to react negatively to homosexual behavior. When asked in one interview how he could so easily dismiss the Bible’s words on homosexuality, Spong replied, “I don’t see the Bible as the Word of God. I see the Word of God as that which I hear through the words of the Bible. There’s a very big difference.”12 A big difference indeed—between the orthodox Christian view of Scripture as “
God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16) and Spong’s heretical view that accords divine authority to his own thoughts.
The editors of the Queen James Bible chose to apply the same criteria to Romans 1:26–27 that they did to the Levitical laws. In other words, they believe that Paul condemns homosexual behavior only in the context of idolatry. They write, “It is much more likely that Paul meant to express that women were ritually defiling themselves (sexually or otherwise).” They go on to claim that what was “shameful” among these people was pagan idolatry, not homosexual behavior.
Neither of the above views has any biblical support. Whether or not Paul dealt with feelings of same-sex attraction (and there is no biblical evidence for that), he was given the authority of an apostle by God (Galatians 1:1; 1 Corinthians 1:1) and his words in Scripture are the Word of God (2 Peter 3:16). Spong’s basis for rejecting them is faulty: the entire Bible was composed by sinful men who were led by the Spirit of God to write what they did. There is no reason to doubt the veracity of their claims or the binding authority of their words for us today based on their humanity.
Finally, the idolatry position of the Queen James Bible editors still does not fit with the whole of Romans 1. Sexual perversion and excess were common in the Roman Empire during the Apostle Paul’s day, making his words in Romans 1 fitting for his audience. Once again, the clearest interpretation of this passage is one that takes hold of the plain meaning of the words: homosexual behavior is sinful in the eyes of God.
Arsenokoitēs and Malakos
In the New Testament, two Greek words appear in reference to homosexual behavior: arsenokoitēs and malakos. Paul uses these words together in 1 Corinthians, and arsenokoitēs appears alone in 1 Timothy:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate [malakos], nor homosexuals [arsenokoitēs], nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9–10, NASB)
. . . for fornicators, for sodomites [arsenokoitēs], for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine. (1 Timothy 1:10, NKJV)
Conservative Bible scholars typically accept (based on solid historical and textual evidence) that arsenokoitēs refers to the active sexual partner in a homosexual act, while malakos refers to the passive partner.13 Pro-homosexual scholars, however, challenge the translations of these two Greek words. Some have tried to limit the words to adulterous homosexual relationships, while others have offered alternate definitions related to rape or sex with young boys (i.e., pederasty). For instance, the editors of the Queen James Bible chose to translate malakos as “morally weak” and arsenokoitēs as “promiscuous.”
The first term, malakos, “means literally ‘soft’ . . . and in Paul’s day served as an epithet for the ‘soft’ or effeminate (i.e., passive) partner in a homosexual (pederastic) relationship.”14 Even secularists recognize that in a homosexual act, one of the partners must act as the opposite sex—one of the males plays the female, and vice versa. It is an absolute inversion of the order set forth by God. The definition of the word arsenokoitēs has been the subject of much more debate.
Dr. Robert A. J. Gagnon, associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburg Theological Seminary and an authority on sexual issues in Scripture, explains why the word arsenokoitēs so clearly relates to homosexual acts. Among the evidences Gagnon presents, one of the most compelling is the context of 1 Corinthians 5:1–5, where the apostle Paul is rebuking a man who was sexually involved with his stepmother:
1 Corinthians 5 treats a comparable case of intercourse involving consenting adults who are too much alike or same (here, on a familial level), with echoes to Leviticus and Deuteronomy. . . . For Paul, as for early Judaism and Christianity generally (and even us today), there were structural prerequisites for acceptable sexual unions that transcended appeals to loving dispositions. Gender and degree of blood unrelatedness were two such prerequisites.15
In other words, since 1 Corinthians 5:1–5 is dealing with sexual sin between two closely related family members (adultery is not the whole issue), and arsenokoitēs appears in a vice list in the midst of that, it is reasonable that this word references homosexual acts in general. Indeed, the definition of arsenokoitēs provided in BDAG (a standard Greek lexicon) is “a male who engages in sexual activity w. a pers. of his own sex,” specifically, “one who assumes the dominant role in sexual activity.”16
Furthermore, even the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Old Testament, draws on the word arsenokoitēs in its translation of Leviticus 20:13 (“
If a man [arsenos] lies [koitēn] with a male as he lies with a woman . . .”), demonstrating that the word would seem to imply men in general who lie with other men. Lastly, concerning the appearance of arsenokoitēs in the vice list in 1 Timothy 1:10, Gagnon writes, “The fact that arsenokoitai appears here in the midst of a vice list that the author states is derived from the law of Moses (1:8–9) confirms that Paul would have recognized a link to the Levitical prohibitions.”17
Try as they might, the arguments of pro-homosexual scholars simply are not convincing. In the very first book of the Bible, we read that God created a man and a woman for the first marriage (not a man and a man or a woman and a woman). And just a few chapters later, God’s Word plainly condemns homosexual behavior—a condemnation that continues into the New Testament and is still binding today. The church must stand on the authority of Scripture in this matter, speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) about homosexuality, and clearly share the message that Jesus Christ has the power to forgive and heal everyone who comes to Him in repentance and faith, regardless of the kinds of sins that ensnare them. Paul reminded the Corinthian believers of this truth:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9–11)