I’ve been asked by a number of people to respond to an article by Erica Williams Simon titled “There are 6 Scriptures about homosexuality in the Bible. Here’s what they really say.” Here’s her introduction:
“I’m the daughter of two ministers and still spend every Sunday in church, so I grew up studying the Bible pretty closely. But in all my years, I’ve never heard the scriptures about homosexuality explained this way. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting this guy [Matthew Vines], and I can tell you that, like me, he loves his faith very much. So who better to study and challenge it? What he found just might be a game changer.”
Vines is the author of God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. There’s nothing new about any of Vines’ arguments. They’ve been answered numerous times in any number of articles and books. The only people who would see any of his arguments as “a game changer” have not studied the subject.
What I don’t cover in this article in response to Vines’ comments can be found in these books, many of which have been available long before Vines published his book on the subject:
- Homosexuality: A Biblical View (1978).
- The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (2001).
- The Same Sex Controversy: Defending and Clarifying the Bible’s Message About Homosexuality (2002).
- Homosexuality: Contemporary Claims examined in Light of the Bible and Other Ancient Literature and Law (2002).
- Making Gay OK: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior is Changing Everything (2014).
- What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? (2015)
Christopher Yuan writes that Vines’ God and the Gay Christian “begins with an emotional appeal from Matthew 7:18, ‘A good tree cannot bear bad fruit.'” I found the use of Matthew 7:18 ironic given the nature of same-sex relationships: a consistent homosexual relationship can’t bear any fruit. Barren/fruitless trees are cursed (Matt. 21:18-22) and cut down (Luke 13:7-9). The first command given to Adam and Eve is “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28).
The first line of argument for Vines is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that there is not a single verse in the Bible that says a negative thing about same-sex sexuality. Would homosexuals have a case? Not at all because the standard for sexual relationships is established in Genesis (1:27-28; 2:24) and confirmed by Jesus (Matt. 19:4) and Paul (1 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 5:31). A restroom sign that says “men” does not need to say “no women.” A speed limit sign that reads “55” does not need to say “Not 60.”
Moreover, anatomy also precludes any rational validation of same-sex marriage. That’s why Paul can argue that same-sex relationships are “against nature” (Rom. 1:26).
Pro-same-sex advocates argue that Jesus never condemned same-sex sexuality. Of course, He didn’t have to since the creation account defines the proper sexual and marital relationship. People like Vines claim that Jesus affirmed same-sex sexuality by not condemning it. If this is true, then why didn’t He speak out on the subject by condemning the anti-same-sex view that was prevalent in His day? He didn’t, because He couldn’t since He had to uphold the law of God which condemns same-sex sexuality by logical deduction and statute (Matt. 5:17-20).
Even though Genesis and Jesus are clear on the subject, and there are verses that oppose same-sex sexuality, it’s necessary to deal with them.
In the minds of most clear thinking Bible students, Genesis 18–19 (also Judges 19:22–26) is quite clear in its condemnation of homosexuality. Two male visitors (actually “angels” who act as God’s “messengers”: Gen. 18:22; 19:1) “came to Sodom in the evening as Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom.”
Lot invites the two men “to spend the night” at his “house” (19:2). The angels want to “spend the night in the square” (19:3). Lot “urged them strongly” not to stay in the square but to enter “his house” (19:3). Before they all went to sleep, “the men of the city, the men of Sodom, surrounded the house, both young and old, all the people from every quarter” (19:5). Without any desire to meet the strangers, the men of Sodom demand that Lot “bring them out to [them] that [they] might have [sexual] relations with them” (19:5). The word translated “relations” is the Hebrew word yadha (“to know”). The word yadha appears nearly fifty times in the book of Genesis and in at least seven instances it means sexual relations.1
When Lot offers his daughters as substitutes for the Sodomites’ request, he uses yadha (19:8). If the word yadha means “to get acquainted with” in 19:5, then it means “to get acquainted with” in 19:8.
John Boswell, assistant professor of history at Yale University, has written the most highly regarded defense of homosexuality: Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality. It purports to be a scholarly work. In design, it is. His arguments, however, at crucial points, are flawed. Vines’ arguments are no different from Boswell’s 1980 work on the subject. Like I said, these are old arguments.
Homosexual Objection 1
Boswell writes: “The sexual overtones to the story are minor, if present, and that the original moral impact of the passage had to do with hospitality. Briefly put, . . . Lot was violating the custom of Sodom (where he was himself not a citizen but only a ‘sojourner’) by entertaining unknown guests within the city walls at night without obtaining the permission of the elders of the city.”2
Biblical Response 1
First, by this time Lot was no longer a “sojourner,” although the crowd accused him of being one (Gen. 19:9). The text states that Lot “came in as an alien” (19:9), but by this time he had his own house (19:2) and may even have been a ruler since he met the angels while he “was sitting in the gate of Sodom” (19:1). The gates of the city is where the rulers met to hold court (Deut. 16:18). Since Lot met the angels at the gates of the city, the elders were no doubt present. Lot operated according to custom. Lot showed hospitality to the strangers by feeding them and offering them his home for lodging (19:1–3). He even washed their feet which was symbolic of hospitality (cf. John 12:3; 13:5).
Second, if the men of Sodom were only asking to “get acquainted” with the two men, was this not an act of hospitality? Obviously Lot did not consider their advances to be hospitable: “Please, my brothers, do not act wickedly” (19:7). It’s obvious that the men of the city had some evil thing in mind.
Third, the severity of punishment for a lack of hospitality seems extreme. Greg L. Bahnsen writes: “It calls for a strange mentality to see (1) how a simple desire of the townsmen to get acquainted would be a breach of hospitality, (2) how it could be deemed seriously wicked (especially in light of the city customs, which Lot certainly understood), and (3) why it would be so vile as to warrant dramatic divine punishment.”3
Homosexual Objection 2
Boswell: “Sodom is used as a symbol of evil in dozens of places, but not a single instance is the sin of the Sodomites specified as homosexuality.”4
Biblical Response 2
First, in listing Sodom’s sins of “arrogance,” “abundant food,” and “careless ease,” and a refusal “to help the poor and needy,” homosexuality was the outgrowth of spiritual decadence. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak.
In a sense, homosexuality is the cultural culmination of rebellion against God. It represents the ‘burning out’ of man and his culture. Paul described accompanying aspects of a culture that reaches this stage in [Romans 1] verses 29–31. The vices enumerated by Paul accompanying the open practice of homosexuality and characterize a society in which homosexuality is practiced and tolerated. Therefore, homosexuality that is publicly accepted is symptomatic of a society under judgment, inwardly corrupted to the point of impending collapse. Paul the apostle regarded it as the most overt evidence of that degeneracy to which God in His wrath gave over the nations.5
Second, Boswell quotes Ezekiel 16:28–49, but he fails to include verse 50: “Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me.” The word “abominations” is the same word used in Leviticus 18:22 to describe explicit homosexual behavior. Notice too that “abominations” is listed last. Homosexuality is the culmination of evil, a point that Paul makes in Romans 1: “God have them over” (vv. 24, 26)
Homosexual Objection 3
Boswell: [Sodom] “was destroyed because the men of Sodom had tried to rape the angels.”6 Matthew Vines puts forth a similar argument: “For centuries, this story was interpreted as God’s judgment on same-sex relations, but the only form of same-sex behavior described is a threatened gang rape.”
Biblical Response 3
The rape argument assumes without biblical proof that consensual same-sex relationships are not prohibited. If the men hadn’t wanted to rape the visitors, consensual sexual relationships would have been OK. Boswell and Vines are begging the question by assuming what must be proved. It’s possible that Lot knew that visitors often came to Sodom to engage in homosexual relations. Sodom was known for its decadence, similar to parts of San Francisco, New York, Atlanta, and Tel Aviv. This is why Lot is so insistent that the angels stay with him. The square was considered a “pick-up” point for visitors to the city. James White notes, “There was no violence on the part of the crowd until Lot identified their desires for these men as wicked.” This is why Jude writes that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them . . . indulged in gross immorality” (v. 7; also 2 Pet. 2:6-7, 10).
Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13
“You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination” (Lev. 18:22). The verse is rather clear in its portrayal of homosexual activity without using the word “homosexual.” The Greek word homo means “same.”7 The word “homosexual” was coined from Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13: “A male shall not lie sexually with a male, someone of the same sex (homo + sexuality), as a male would normally lie with a female.”
Even pro-homosexual writers admit this verse depicts same-sex (homosexual) activity, but they deny that same-sex activity is condemned by God. Contrary to their opinions, a same-sex relationship is described in the Bible as “an abomination.”
“Abomination, a term of strong disapproval in Hebrew (to’evah), is used five times in this chapter [Leviticus] (vv. 22, 26, 27, 29, 30) and in 20:13. It is more common in Deuteronomy (17 times), in Proverbs (21 times), and in Ezekiel (43 times). Other writers use it less often. It comes from a root meaning ‘to hate’ or ‘abhor.’ An abomination is literally something detestable and hated by God (e.g., Prov. 6:16; 11:1).”
“If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they surely shall be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them” (Lev. 20:13). This verse repeats the prohibition of Leviticus 18:22. There is a penalty of death attached to the prohibition. The death penalty puts the behavior in a category different from ceremonial uncleanness found elsewhere in the chapter and the larger legal code.
Homosexual Objection 5
“The Hebrew word ‘toevah,’ here translated ‘abomination,’ does not usually signify something intrinsically evil, like rape or theft (discussed elsewhere in Leviticus), but something which is ritually unclean for Jews, like eating pork or engaging in intercourse during menstruation, both of which are prohibited in these same chapters.”8
Biblical Response 5
Certain ceremonial violations were considered “abominations,” but none of them was punished with death. “The breach of the ceremonial law results in separation from the cultic [religious] activity for a stated period. Breaking the moral law results in death or expulsion from the camp. Thus there is a qualitative difference between eating pork (Lev. 11:7) or shaving (Lev. 9:27) and cursing one’s parents (Lev. 20:9; [Mark 7:6–13]), adultery (Lev. 20:10), incest (Lev. 20:11–13) and homosexual practice.”9
Homosexual Objection 6
The homosexuality condemned in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 has to do with the “prohibition of idolatrous sexuality,” not with homosexuality per se.10
Biblical Response 6
This is an argument from silence. Even Boswell is not consistent with his claim: “Although both chapters also contain prohibitions (e.g., against incest and adultery) which might seem to stem from moral absolutes, their function in the context of Leviticus 18 and 20 seems to be as symbols of Jewish distinctiveness.”11 When he finds moral absolutes within the context of the prohibition against homosexuality, Boswell must abandon his original premise of the “prohibition of idolatrous sexuality” only.
Homosexual Objection 7
What is being prohibited in these passages is homosexual lust, not homosexual love.
Biblical Response 7
This, too, is an argument from silence. One would first have to prove that homosexuality was legitimate. Sexual lust is condemned for everyone (Matt. 5:28), so why single out homosexual lust as a separate category?
Homosexual Objection 8
Boswell argues that Romans 1:26–27 only appears to condemn homosexuality. He claims that Paul was criticizing sexual activity that is against a person’s nature. In Greek society, homosexuality and bisexuality were regarded as “natural” for some people. Paul was criticizing heterosexuals who were engaged in homosexual activities against their nature.12
Biblical Response 8
Of course, Boswell is begging the question. He assumes what he must prove, that homosexuality is “natural.” The Bible defines “natural” sexual relationships in Genesis 2:18–25. Jesus confirms this in Matthew 19:4–6: “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined 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 no man separate.’”
Paul affirms what the Old Testament teaches about what’s sexually natural (Eph. 5:25–33; cf. 1 Cor. 7:2–3, 10–16; 1 Tim. 3:2, 12). Homosexual behavior is unnatural in terms of the sexual “equipment” used, self-inhibiting (no progeny except by artificial means), unsanitary, and disease causing (AIDS). Then there’s the further problem of determining what else might be “natural.” Pedophilia? Rape? Incest?
Much more could be said on this topic. The articles and books listed above can flesh out any argument being raised today on attempts to justify same-sex sexuality based on the Bible.
- Genesis 4:1, 17, 25; 19:5, 8; 24:16; 38:26; Numbers 31:17, 18, 35; Judges 11:39; 19:22, 25; 1 Samuel 1:19. [↩]
- John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1980), 93–94. [↩]
- Greg L. Bahnsen, Homosexuality: A Biblical View (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1978), 33. [↩]
- Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, 94. [↩]
- Bahnsen, Homosexuality, 59. [↩]
- Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, 93. [↩]
- The Latin homo means “man.” In the Latin Vulgate, John 19:15 reads Ecce Homo, “Behold, the Man.” The original Greek is Ἰδοὺ ὁ ἄνθρωπος (Idou ho anthrōpos). [↩]
- Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, 100. [↩]
- John N. Oswalt, “The Old Testament and Homosexuality,” What You Should Know About Homosexuality, ed. Charles W. Keysor (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1979), 54–60. Quoted in Fowler and House, Civilization in Crisis, 129. [↩]
- Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, 100. [↩]
- Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, 100–101. [↩]
- “It cannot be inferred from this that Paul considered mere homoerotic attraction or practice morally reprehensible, since the passage strongly implies that he was not discussing persons who were by inclination gay and since he carefully observed, in regard to both the women and the men, that they changed or abandoned the ‘natural use’ to engage in homosexual activities.” (Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, 112–113). [↩]