Back on October 1, I wrote a blog post about the misuse of the so-called “clobber passages.” In particular, I noted that we can’t claim to be faithful to 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 while simultaneously using these passages to ‘club’ people. That should go without saying, but it must be said anyway because the church has a terrible history—one over which we must repent.
In that post, I also commented about how I would return to these passages so I could talk about their content. Specifically, I’m talking about the content of these passages: Gen. 19:1-10; Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:9-10 (click here to read them all at once).
I want to use this post to unpack just a few of these texts. It’s important work because some Christians assert “the Bible is clear” based on these passages alone. However, there are other Christians who assert that if we closely examine these passages and consider their context, we find valid reasons to call the clarity of these passages into question. So, who’s right? Is there reason to discount these texts based on a context that no longer applies? Is there reason to question the clarity of what these passages say? Do they address covenantal, monogamous same-sex relationships as we know them in our present day?
Let’s start with the first question: Is there reason to discount these texts based on a context that no longer applies? Some would say that’s precisely the reason to discount the lines from Leviticus. Why? Because (A) the apostle Paul was adamant in teaching that we are no longer under the Law and (B) that same section of Leviticus also includes prohibitions against shellfish and clothing made with different types of thread. If we no longer adhere to the law, nor do we follow those prohibitions in particular, should we still follow the prohibitions of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13? Determining whether or not these verses apply—and to what they apply—takes careful exegetical work. Personally, I still think there’s reason to adhere to the prohibitions because these prohibitions against same-sex behavior are found within a list of commands about sexual immorality that are still relevant today (including sexual relations with relatives and with animals). Yet, I’m also sympathetic to the argument that we’re getting choosy about which prohibitions still apply and which don’t, esp. when Paul emphasized freedom from the Law.
What about the second question? — Is there reason to question the clarity of what these passages say? Some would say there is because most people misinterpret Genesis 19. Most people think this passage about Sodom and Gomorrah is primarily about condemning sodomy. But if we trust the Bible, we might want to question that interpretation. Why? because Ezekiel 16:49 speaks directly to the issue: “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” As a general rule, it’s a good idea to let Scripture interpret Scripture. If Ezekiel says the issue was pride and prosperous ease, then we should trust it. And indeed, if you read Genesis 19 in light of Ezekiel 16, it sure seems like the primary sin was a lack of hospitality rather than a glut of same-sex behavior. While Ezekiel 16 makes vague references to “abominations,” it mostly condemns that lack of justice for the “poor and needy.” That’s worth considering.
And how about the third question: Do these passages address covenantal, monogamous same-sex relationships as we know them in our present day? Some would argue that no, the passages do not address relationships as we know them now. Instead, Paul was attacking a popular practice in ancient Greece called pederasty. This socially-acceptable practice involved a non-consensual, sexual relationship between an older male and a young boy. It makes sense that Paul would condemn it because it was exploitative, abusive, and nonconsensual. But was he also condemning the consensual, monogamous same-sex relationships that exist in our day? It sure seems that way in Romans 1 because he condemns relationships that seem mutual/consensual in nature rather than exploitative. But, based on the texts in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy, there are valid reasons to ask the question because the Greek word there is not the exact equivalent for our contemporary word ‘homosexual’ even though some translations might make you think that. But despite all that, the Greek word there (arsenokoítēs) condemns men sleeping with other men, which might mean pederasty and might mean more (and probably does since arsenokoítēs seems to be a word Paul made up based on two words in Leviticus 20:13).
Given this analysis (albeit cursory and imperfect), where do we go from here?
First, we acknowledge that there are reasons to question the relevance of these passages for our current context and specifically, for application against covenantal, consensual, monogamous same-sex relationships. If we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit that there’s some credence to some of these arguments.
Yet, second, a simple fact remains: when the Bible addresses forms of same-sex behavior, it is unequivocal in it’s condemnation of that behavior. There are no passages that condone forms of it. That’s hard to say about some other major issues the church likes to debate. For instance, even though I support infant baptism based on the scriptural evidence, I have to admit that there are a few passages that challenge the notion. The evidence is not unequivocal. Likewise, even though I support women in church offices based on scriptural evidence, I have to admit that there are a few passages that challenge the notion. Again, the evidence is not unequivocal. But when it comes to same-sex behavior, the message is unequivocal. Where it’s addressed, there’s zero ambivalence. It might not be speaking directly to consensual, monogamous same-sex relationships, but it’s unequivocal in what it does address.
Third, we have to ask ourselves, “if there’s reason to doubt that these passages apply to modern covenantal, monogamous same-sex relationships as we know them today, should the church go ahead and condone such relationships?” I will attempt to answer that question in the sermon on October 31. In the meantime, I will say this: even without those passages, I’m convinced I’d still hold to the historic Christian view of marriage. Why? because there is a consistent Scriptural teaching on marriage—traceable from Genesis to Revelation—that is built on procreation and complementarity. These passages could disappear and there would still be overwhelming reason to include sex difference as a core element of God’s design for marriage.