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Homosexuality and the New Testament

In my last post, I explored the Old Testament view of homosexuality showing how both God’s original intent and continuing desire was for marital and sexual relationships to be confined to couples of the opposite sex. The New Testament continues this view as it hearkens back to Old Testament teaching to continue the prohibition against same-sex relationships and affirmation of an opposite-sex sexuality.  If you haven’t read Homosexuality and the Old Testament yet, this post will make more sense if you do.  Click here to read that post, then follow the link at its end to return to Homosexuality in the New Testament.

In the New Testament, we again see that any discussion of marriage is between a man and a woman, confirming this model as the norm.  When homosexuality is mentioned, it is listed with sins of sexual immorality as opposed to normal or healthy alternatives to the norm.  Proponents of “Christian homosexuality” are quick to explain away the New Testament texts which deal with homosexuality so a closer look at these texts is worthy of our time.

Fresco from the Tomb of the Diver c475 BC Paestum Italy

Greek same-sex love. Fresco from the Tomb of the Diver. 475 BCE located in the Paestum Museum, Italy.

Romans 1:18-32 reveals how Paul was fully aware of the decadence of the society in which he lived.[1]  In Romans 1:27, Paul describes homosexual activity when he writes, “In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.  Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion” (NIV).  This fulfilling of one’s lust contrary to “natural relations” (v. 26) is descriptive of how “God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another” (v. 24).

According to this passage, the homosexual activity described in verse 27 is opposite of natural sexual activity, is the outflow of sinful desire, is an impure expression of the gift of sex and degrades the bodies of those engaging in it.  This passage clearly teaches that homosexual acts are contrary to the will of God and are, therefore, sinful and immoral.

Those who would declare that homosexuality is not at odds with Scripture are quick to explain away this passage three ways as described by Rae:  First, that it is referring to the male prostitutes which were part of the pagan temples, therefore it was the idolatry of having sexual relationships with these men that Paul condemns.  Second, that this passage refers to men who are normally heterosexual engaging in homosexual activity, therefore engaging in unnatural sexual relations.  Third, in this passage Paul is not opposed to homosexual activity per se, which may be practiced between loving homosexual couples, but rather he is against the perversion of homosexual activity in a lustful—non-committed—way which could also be practiced in heterosexual activity.[2]  None of these explanations fit the context and flow of this passage, however, so the reader who gives due authority to God’s Word must accept this passage as a prohibition of homosexual behavior.

Paul states again in his letter to the Corinthians his view of homosexuality.  Along with other sins that are included in a list of those who are “wicked [and] will not inherit the kingdom of God” (I Corinthians 6:9, NIV) is “homosexual offenders” (v. 9, NIV).  The Greek word translated “homosexual offenders” here and in a similar form in 1 Timothy 1:10 is arsenokoitais.  We have more trouble with this passage because the translation over the centuries has been more ambiguous.  In Corinthians the NIV translates it “homosexual offenders” and in Timothy, “perverts.”  The KJV translates it both in Corinthians and Timothy as “abusers of themselves with mankind.”  The New King James version translates it as “Sodomites.”

Those who contend that homosexuality is not thought to be sin by the Scripture writers often site Paul R. Johnson’s definition of arsenokoitais in support of their position.  In an article Johnson wrote for Second Stone magazine in January/February 1994, he writes:

The Greek compound term arseno-koitais literally means ‘the male who has many beds’. The word arsen means ‘male’, the adjective o means ‘the’, and the term koitais is defined as ‘many beds’. Thus, the entire phrase means a male with multiple bed-partners; a promiscuous man. Everywhere that the word koitais is used in the plural in the Bible denotes promiscuity. However, when the same word is used in the singular form, the Bible gives approval because the singular denotes monogamy.[3]

However, Donald S. Metz defines this same Greek word translated “abusers of themselves with mankind” as sodomy.[4]  While the modern use of sodomy could be a practice between members of the opposite sex, the same sex or even animals; used in the context of Scripture it seems to indicate homosexual activity, being an obvious reference to the sin of Sodom in Genesis.  One must have come to terms with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah being at least partly for their homosexuality to accept this premise.  To support this translation, the word translated “male prostitute” in the NIV and “effeminate” in the KJV just prior to the word under discussion is defined by Arndt and Gingrich as “men and boys who allow themselves to be misused homosexually”[5] which apparently identifies both partners in the condemned sin of homosexual acts.

Stott provides further explanation of these two terms which is worthy of our consideration:

The two Greek words malakoi and arsenokoitai should not be combined, however, since they ‘have precise meanings.  The first is literally “soft to the touch” and metaphorically, among the Greeks, meant males (not necessarily boys) who played the passive role in homosexual intercourse.  The second means literally “male in a bed,” and the Greeks used this expression to describe the one who took the active role.’[6]

Some suggest that since Jesus did not prohibit or speak against homosexuality, he then condoned the practice. This is a weak argument, however it still deserves an answer.  Erwin Lutzer suggests four reasons why this argument should be rejected:

Sermon on the Mount by Carl Bloch

“Sermon on the Mount” by Carl Bloch

1. Jesus upheld the Old Testament [law and prophets in all of His teachings and stated emphatically, “I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17)]

2. Jesus said that even looking lustfully was a commission of adultery, so would he really condone a sexual sin so strongly condemned in the Old Testament?

3. Jesus indirectly commented on homosexuality in his conversation about divorce (Matthew 19:5), affirming the man and woman of marriage (returning to the creator’s original intent).

4. By application, if Jesus condoned homosexuality by not mentioning it, does he also condone ‘bestiality, necrophilia, and incest’ since he didn’t mention them? [7]

While many today place homosexual rights on the level of slavery and women’s rights, stating that the Bible was wrong on all of these issues suggesting that just as the Church has adjusted its position on slavery and women it should also do the same with homosexuality.  As this argument is considered, Webb’s examination of Scripture’s treatment of homosexuality, slavery and the oppression of women is worthy of further discussion. In his text, Webb affirms Scriptural precedence for slavery and female oppression, as well as homosexuality but as he projects these three trajectories from the ancient cultures of the Biblical texts to those of today, Scripture catapults homosexuality in a different direction than the other two, affirming the universal application of the prohibition of homosexuality in contrast to that of the oppression of women and the practice of slavery.  According to Webb, the Church was right to reform its positions on women and slavery but is also correct in maintaining its position on the prohibition of homosexual activity.[9]

Paul Mickey, in his book Of Sacred Worth, sees beyond the apparent prohibition of homosexuality in the Biblical texts to a greater or higher picture of the ideal intimacy and love which is always described in heterosexual ways. He denies that sexual encounters are primarily for the purpose of procreation but rather to develop intimacy with one another and with God. Mickey further explains:

…the consistent witness of Scripture attests to a paradigm of heterosexuality clearly evident in the creation narratives of Adam and Eve in Genesis as well as in numerous other passages that endeavor to express the intimacy of God’s people.  The positive images about human relations—husband and wife, male and female, parent and child—and the metaphors used to draw attention to the nurturing power of God and the Holy Spirit within the life of the church employ heterosexual language.  Wherever sexual intimacy is discussed or analogies or metaphors are employed, the paradigms and safeguards assume heterosexuality as normative.[10]

Mickey echoes what has been previously observed, that there are few passages in the Bible which directly deal with homosexual behavior, but insists that the ones that do, “… are clear in their theological assumption that heterosexuality is the foundation of sexuality.”[11]

While there are many in and outside of the Christian Church who take an affirming position of homosexual activity, there is sufficient evidence from Scripture that God considers homosexual acts to be sinful and against His will.  While Scripture alone cannot be used as a mandate to outlaw homosexuality in this country or any other, it does serve as a foundation for the Christian who seeks to know God’s will on the matter-and wants to live according to that will.

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[1]  John Stott, Same-Sex Partnerships? (Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell, 1998), 21.

[2] Scott B. Rae, Moral Choices (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 2009), 282-283.

[3] GayChurch.org, “Arsenokoitais,” http://www.gaychurch.org/gay_and_christian_ yes/calling_ the_rainbow_ nation_ home/7c_gac_clobber_passages_arsenokoitais.htm (Accessed June 22, 2012).

[4] William M. Greathouse et al., Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. VIII (KC, MO:  Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1968), 364.

[5] Ibid., 363.

[6] Stott, 27.

[7] Erwin Lutzer, The Truth About Same-Sex Marriage (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2010), 95-96.

[8] Timothy J. Dailey, The Bible, the Church & Homosexuality (Washington D.C.: Family Research Council, 2004), 24.

[9] William J. Webb, Slaves, Women & Homosexuals (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 251.

[10] Paul A. Mickey, Of Sacred Worth. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1991), 47.

[11] Ibid.

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Photo credits:

Greek Same-Sex Love: Public domain, downloaded from http://en.wikipedia.org

Jesus teaching: Public domain, downloaded from http://commons.wikimedia.org

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One comment on “Homosexuality and the New Testament

  1. […] article was written by Daryl Densford and was first posted at his blog, Here I Sit. It is reposted here with permission of the […]

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