Archives For Homosexuality in the Bible

This entry is part 1 of 20 in the seriesHomosexuality in the Bible

This is the subject of a book I’m working on. And it’s the subject of the next great battle that the church will face in the coming years—indeed, it’s already facing it.

Before I write a book, however, I like to blog about the subject. It’s a good way to test my thoughts, tease out my interpretation, and see if what I’m saying makes sense to a general audience. So what I’m going to do over the next several months is blog about what the Bible says about homosex 1homosexuality. I’ll address several issues such as “nature vs. nurture” (i.e. is same sex attraction biological?), the question of whether it can be “fixed,” (i.e. can gay people become straight?), and whether same sex attraction is a sin or just homosexual sex. However, for the bulk of these posts (and my book) I want to stick more closely to my primary field. I want to stick close to what the Bible says and doesn’t say about the issue.

So in the next post, we’ll dive into the Old Testament to see what it says about Homosexuality, beginning with the infamous story of Sodom in Genesis 19. But first, let’s clear some space for a fruitful discussion by identifying key preliminary issues in the discussion.

First, I’m coming at this topic with a whole lot of baggage. I was raised in a church environment where it was assumed that the Bible outright condemns homosexuality. And maybe it does. But I’d encourage everyone to rely on the actual text of Scripture for their authority rather than their Christian upbringing and assumptions. In my initial phase of study, I’ve seen that the issue is a hundred times more complicated than I thought. No longer do I believe Christians can simply quote a verse from Leviticus (or wherever) and think that the debate is settled. There are a lot of questions surrounding the biblical material that refers to homosexual sex.

Second, let’s use terms and language that aren’t unnecessarily offensive to those who disagree. If truth offends, then so be it. But we shouldn’t add to that offense with our own ignorance and lack of compassion. Here’s what I’m getting at. The gay community (that is, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or LGBT community) does not prefer the term “homosexual” to refer to their orientation. (“Homosexuality” is fine.) The term “homosexual” to refer to people has been used all too often by anti-gay protestors so that the term “homosexual” brings with it many hostile connotations. Gay people don’t usually refer to themselves as homosexuals. Therefore, those who have same sex orientation prefer the terms “gay,” “lesbian,” or more broadly LGBT.

Now, is this a concession? Are we watering down the truth by using “their” terms? No. I don’t think we are. By using the terms “gay” or LGBT, we are referring to the same thing yet using language that doesn’t unnecessarily offend.

As an analogy, Christians in Israel prefer to be called “believers” rather than “Christians.” Why? Because the term “Christian” has too many negative connotations for the Jewish people two-groomsthey’re trying to reach (e.g. “Christian” = a 13th century “Crusader” with a sword in hand). Why use a term that will unnecessarily offend and send the wrong signal (i.e. that Christians hate gays or Jews or whomever)? Let’s use terms that better communicate what we’re trying to say: We’re all cemented in sin and trying to figure out what repentance looks like.

Third, Christians need to think more deeply about what it means to be gay. There’s a massive spectrum of homosexuality that can’t be contained under one general label. On the one end, there are Christians who love God, who submit to His word, who also struggle with same-sex attraction, and who are on the brink of suicide (or already in the grave) because they didn’t know how to cope with their struggle and they didn’t have a community of “believers” (!) who would help them work through their pain. Anyone want to quote a verse and condemn that community? (Unfortunately, many have.)

On the other end of the “gay” spectrum is the aggressive, flamboyant, Christian-hating drag-queen, who’s usually pictured in the media. Mind you: These two types of “gay people” are not the same. They are world’s apart. So when we think about “gay people” and we only think about the drag queen in the media, we won’t be prepared to minister to the 15 year-old Awana champ with a gun to her head, because for some reason she’s not into boys. The point is: We need to go beyond the labels and look at the heart.

There are a whole host of other issues and ignorances that clutter this issue, but we can’t lay them all out here. In any case, I’d encourage you to do a lot of reading on both sides in order to be more informed about the complexities involved. It’s not a simple discussion.

My purpose for these blogs will be more limited, however. I’ll do my best to be sensitive to the God hates fagspsychological and sociological intricacies, but I want to focus primarily on the Bible. What does the Bible say about homosexuality (including same sex attraction and same sex intercourse)? Which passages address it and which ones don’t?

In my next post we’ll begin with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 and I’ll try to show why this passage does not clearly condemn homosexuality.

This entry is part 2 of 20 in the seriesHomosexuality in the Bible

I wonder how may gay people this guy’s led to Christ

You know the story. Two men visit Lot and they must have been hot, because they attract the attention of the men of the city—every single one, even the kids:

“The men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house…and called to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.’” (Gen 19:4-5)

This raises the question: Was Sodom the first all-gay city? And if so, how did it get this way? Was there something in the water?

As it turns out, Lot’s guests weren’t men at all. They were angels. In any case, I want to see how this passage contributes to our understanding of God’s view of homosexuality—if at all.

As the story unfolds, the men of the city never “know” Lot’s visitors. Lot offers his virgin daughters to them instead, but they decline. Instead, the men of Sodom seek to attack Lot for refusing to give up his guests, so the angels strike the men with blindness (Gen 19:4-11).

Some scholars have argued that the passage isn’t talking about sex of any form. When men of Sodom want to “know” Lot’s guests, they only want to know more about them. Where are you from? What are you doing here? Would you care for a Felafel, or would you prefer a Shawarma? This is the view of the late John Boswell—a world renown Yale theologian—who said:

“When the men of Sodom gathered around to demand that the strangers be brought out to them, ‘that they might know them’, they meant no more than to ‘know’ who they were, and the city was consequently destroyed not for sexual immorality but for the sin of inhospitality to strangers” (Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, Kindle loc. 2662).

And many others agree with Boswell. However, even though the Hebrew word for “know” (yadah) rarely conveys sexual intercourse, in this passage it almost certainly does. Lot describes his daughters as never having “known any man” (19:8), which clearly means that they were virgins, not just socially awkward. Plus, was the entire city really roasted for seeking to get acquainted with some strangers? I doubt it. As weird as it may be, the men of Sodom were seeking to gang rape God’s angels.

But Boswell and others are on to something. Most of the other Old Testament passages highlight the sin of inhospitality whenever they reflect on the sin of Sodom. “This was the guilt of…Sodom,” writes Ezekiel: they had “pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did jsodom_and_gomorrahnot aid the poor and needy” (Ezek 16:49). In other words, they were inhospitable, and plenty other Jewish and Christian thinkers said the same (e.g. Wis 19:13) including Jesus (Matt 10:5-15).

So was the sin of Sodom only inhospitality?

Certainly gang raping your guests isn’t the best way to welcome them. Yes, the men of Sodom were inhospitable. But the severity of Sodom’s punishment points to the extensive manner in which they sought to mistreat Lot’s guests. Seeking to sexually violate and abuse the men, or angels, was the pinnacle of their inhospitality.

But I still don’t think this passage speaks to our contemporary issue of homosexuality. In other words, Genesis 19 does not have in view consensual, monogamous, same-sex marriage. In fact, such an orientation wasn’t much of a known category in the ancient Near East. Most evidences of homosexual intercourse had to do with a man of a higher social standing having sex with another man of a lower social standing (a slave, a conquered enemy, a boy, etc.), and the one who was socially lower played the role of the woman. I’ll save you the details. In any case, consensual, same-sex attraction that leads to monogamous sex is never discussed, as far as I know, in the ancient world. It’s certainly not what Genesis 19 condemns.

What’s at stake today is whether consensual, same-sex attraction can be acted upon, not whether it’s okay to gang rape one’s guests. The story of Sodom does not directly answer the questions most Christians are asking today.

Put differently, if Lot’s guests were women, and the sin was (attempted) heterosexual gang rape, would the crime be less severe? Was there anything more sinful about the fact that men were seeking to rape (what they thought to be) men? Maybe, but I don’t think this is the point of the text. At least, later Old Testament and most early Jewish thinkers didn’t think so. Again, the sin of Sodom was remembered as evidence of pride, inhospitality, and immorality as a whole. Not acting upon same-sex impulses. I don’t think the entire city of Sodom, young and old, was gay.

In sum: Genesis 19 should not be a primary passage used in the discussion over whether God condemns homosexual sex. However, there is some evidence that it may speak indirectly to the issue. We’ll explore this in the next post.

This entry is part 3 of 20 in the seriesHomosexuality in the Bible

In my last post, I argued that it’s unlikely that the entire city of Sodom was “gay” in the sense that we know it today, and that the city was condemned primarily for inhospitality, which included the attempted gang rape of Lot’s guests. Homosexual sex was only a subsidiary issue.

But it may have been at least an issue, according to Ezekiel.

Most scholars cite Ezekiel 16:48-49 as proof that Ezekiel only saw Sodom’s sin as inhospitality—or neglecting the poor. However, Ezekiel 16:50 uses an interesting phrase that’s often passed over too quickly. It reads:

“They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it.”

Now, the term “abomination” may seem generic. Scripture talks about all sorts of sins as “abominations.” However, in the book of Leviticus, “an abomination” (toevah) refers to WhatWereSinsSodomhomosexual sex (Lev 18:22; 20:13), and of all the books that Ezekiel draws upon for his theology, Leviticus is at the top of the list. That is, Ezekiel depends on Leviticus for his ethic and theology more than any other biblical book. And—follow me—the book of Leviticus singles out homosexual sex as “an abomination;” no other sin is identified as such.

Here are the two texts:

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination (Lev 18:22)

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them (Lev 20:13)

So look again at Ezek 16:48-50:

As I live, declares the Lord GOD, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. Behold, 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. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it.

Is Ezekiel reading the Sodom story through the lens of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13? Maybe. Notice the singular: an abomination. Therefore, it’s possible—and I’m only saying it’s possible—that Ezekiel thinks that part of Sodom’s inhospitality was not just attempted gang rape, but attempted gang rape with acts of “abomination;” that is, with homosexual intercourse.

But let’s be honest. This is not a clear, slam dunk, “how could you suggest otherwise” argument. It’s an implicit reference that may carry some relevance. Moreover, as my good friend Jon Marshall reminded me last night: Sodom was condemned in Genesis 19 before the attempted rape. No one had any sex in Genesis 19, hetero or homo: they didn’t even get to first base.

And again, even if the attempted rape of Lot’s guests added to their judgment, it was rape. There was no courting, no wooing, no chocolates or flowers. Nothing in the story of Sodom mentions same-sex attraction leading to a monogamous relationship.

Interlude: Sodom was clearly condemned for having excessive food, prosperous ease, and being unconcerned for the poor (Ezek 16:48-49). Evangelicals listen up. It’s embarrassingly hypocritical to condemn homosexuality while indulging in Sodom’s primary sin. 6,000 children die daily from hunger and preventable diseases, and you’re worried about Prop 8?

I’m always curious how early interpreters read the Bible. They often help us in our own interpretations. So, how did Jews living in the first century interpret the Sodom story? As far as we know, most of them (like Ezekiel) condemned Sodom for inhospitality (Wis 19:14–15; starving-child-5Josephus, Ant 1:194), having pride and selfish wealth (Ezek 16:49–50; 3 Macc 2:5; Tg.PsJ Gen. 13:13; 18:20), or for sexual immorality in general (Jub 16:5–6; 20:5; T.Levi 14:6; T.Benj 9:1). However, both Josephus (Ant. 1.194-95, 200-201) and Philo (Abr. 133-41; QG 4.37) also cite same-sex intercourse as at least part of the reason for their intense condemnation. (Philo is much clearer than Josephus.) But this does not seem to be shared by the New Testament writers. Jude 7, for instance, refers to the sin of Sodom as “going after strange flesh,” but this almost certainly refers to attempted sex with angels, not fellow men (see Bauckham, 2 Peter, Jude, 54). Jesus in Luke 10:10-12 assumes that the sin of Sodom was inhospitality.

Let’s bring it back to my original point. In my preliminary stage of research, I’ve found that the Sodom story is not very relevant for our contemporary debate about same-sex attraction leading to monogamous, consensual sex. The only reference that may suggest otherwise is Ezekiel 16:50, when read through the lens of Leviticus 18 and 20.

So that leaves us with Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13: the only two passages that might condemn homosexual sex in the Old Testament. But do they? Take a look at them and see what you think. Then join me in my next post.


*For an argument that the Sodom story does have same-sex intercourse in mind, see Robert Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 71-146, 159-183.

This entry is part 4 of 20 in the seriesHomosexuality in the Bible
stop lying

Really? Do you keep ALL the laws of Leviticus?

No, it doesn’t. At least, these texts no longer carry lasting relevance for Christians. While many conservative Christians think Leviticus 18 and 20 offer everlasting authority for this issue, they are not only sadly mistaken but naïve in their interpretation. The relevant verses read:

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination (Lev 18:22)

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them (Lev 20:13)

For five reasons, these two verses are not significant for today’s debate about homosexuality.

First, to point out the obvious, these two texts—the only two texts in the entire Old Testament that talks about homosexual sex—does not mention Lesbian sex. It only specifies male-male sex. Nothing in the Old Testament mentions Lesbianism and therefore it was never condemned.

case closed

The complexities of this passage can’t be contained on a church sign

Second, the context of these commands occurs in the section of Leviticus that commands Israel not to live like the surrounding nations (Lev 18:1-5, 24-30). “You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt…and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan” (Lev 18:3). In fact, all of Leviticus 18-20 is focused on purity laws; laws that are to maintain Israel’s purity from the nations. The point is: these laws are time-bound and culture-bound. Like the dietary laws (Lev 11) and laws about mixing different types of fabric (Lev 19:19, ever wear a poly-cotton blend, you sinner?), these laws against male-male sex belong in the same category. And like all purity laws, they are no longer binding on Christians. Jesus (Mark 7) and the apostles (Acts 10-11, 15) made this crystal clear. Christians are no longer obligated to keep Israel’s purity laws.

Third, and related, male-male sex is called an “abomination” in Leviticus 18 and 20, but so are all sorts of other laws that Christians aren’t obligated to keep. For instance, Leviticus 20:25-26 says:

You shall therefore make a distinction between the clean animal and the unclean, and between the unclean bird and the clean; you shall not bring abomination on yourself by animal or by bird or by anything with which the ground teems, which I have set apart for you to hold unclean. (Lev 20:25).

So, Christians who still eat bacon yet use Leviticus 18 and 20 to condemn homosexual sex are inconsistent, if not naïve. They race to cherry-pick verses that support their pre-conceived notions of what they want the Bible to say, but check their brains at the door in the process.

Fourth, the reason Leviticus 18 and 20 gives for why male-male sex is wrong is because it makes the “receiver” act like a woman. “You shall not lie with a male as with a female” (18:22). But think about the underlying logic here. Israel was a patriarchal society where women were viewed as much lower on the social scale than men. So to treat a man like a woman (i.e. having sex with him) was shameful, not because the act is inherently sinful but because men are better than women and shouldn’t lower themselves by acting like a woman.

So, if you still want to quote Leviticus to condemn homosexual sex, then you must bring with it the inherent degrading view of women to make this command work.

any questions

Ya, I’ve got several questions! Got any answers?

Fifth, the type of homosexual sex described in Leviticus 18 and 20 has to do with male cult prostitution, not same sex intercourse in the context of a monogamous relationship. Again, this passage doesn’t carry any relevance for the modern debate. All it does is condemn male cult prostitution, but I don’t know anyone who would want to uphold this practice.


Okay, I’ll stop. Some of you may have wondered what happened to me. Let me assure you: I don’t agree with most of what I’ve argued for above. Let me be clear: I was playing devil’s advocate in these five arguments. I believe that Leviticus 18 and 20 still carry lasting relevance for how Christians should view same sex intercourse. What I’ve done above is tried to understand and argue for the other side. The five arguments I summed up are, from what I’ve seen, the five best reasons to dismiss Leviticus 18 and 20. And some of these arguments are actually very good.

So here’s the point. Until you can refute these five points, you should probably not cite Leviticus as armament to condemn homosexual sex. The issue, as you can see, is more complicated than you might think. So far in my study, I have found that the Bible prohibits homosexual sex. But I’ve come to see that there are many good biblical arguments for the other side, and until we can address these arguments, we can’t have an intelligible, biblical conversation with those Christians who sanction same-sex, monogamous intercourse.

In the next post, I’ll argue against myself (!); I’ll show that the five points listed above don’t carry as much weight as they may seem.

This entry is part 5 of 20 in the seriesHomosexuality in the Bible

Most heterosexual Christians I know exhibit a massive misunderstanding of homosexuality. I would put myself in this category. That’s why I’ve started an in-depth study of the issue, including conversations with LGBT

Christians. I still have a long way to go and I’m excited about the journey. But it doesn’t take long before you realize: We Evangelicals have so much to learn.

For instance, I often hear Christians use the term “homosexual” or “gay” without a specific definition in mind. Do we mean people with same sex attraction? Or people who are in a sexual relationship with someone of the same gender? Or someone who experiences some level of same sex attraction, but still possess more attraction to people of the opposite sex? Or what about people attracted to the same sex but remain celibate because they don’t believe the Bible allows them to act on their desires? Do you think of them when you use the term “gay?”

Or what about people who pursue a relationship with someone of the same sex but not because they are sexually attracted to them? For instance, when Maddie was 9 years old, her dad chained her to a toilet in the basement for three months, giving her scraps of food to keep her alive. After he released her, he raped her repeatedly for the next four years. Now, Maddie chooses only to pursue relationships with other women. “I’m not attracted to girls, but no man will ever touch me ever again,” says Maddie (see Marin, Love Is an Orientation, 41).

Is Maddie a lesbian? Does she have a “gay agenda?”

And that’s another often-misused term: agenda. As if everyone who is attracted to the same sex is on a soapbox trumpeting an agenda. Are some gay people pushing an agenda? Sure. But we heterosexuals, who still hold to a traditional view of Scripture (that it prohibits same-sex

intercourse), would do well to dig deep and understand the complicated and often painful reasons for that agenda. (And, it should go without saying, that many LGBT people don’t have an agenda.)

As I’ve read and listened to stories about people growing up with same-sex attraction and being abused and hated and unloved by the church, I cannot help but think that we’ve missed something. We’ve missed our divine mission of mediating the love of Christ to a broken world. Much of the “gay agenda” that does exist is a backlash to hateful oppression by Christians.

Other aspects of the LGBT community are misunderstood by conservative Christians. Too many to list, actually. One is that every person who ends up gay got that way because of certain societal influences. Their dad was absent. Their mom was domineering. Their sisters dressed them up in pink as a child. Or, of course, they must have been sexually abused.

Although societal influences often play a role, most experts believe—and most LGBT Christians would affirm—that both biological and societal influences play a role in one’s sexual orientation. Think about it: Many heterosexual people had an absentee dad, a domineering mom, creative sisters who donned them with dresses, and who were sexually abused yet are not attracted to the same sex.

Justin Lee, for instance, is a gay Christian and the leader of The Gay Christian Network. In his book Torn, he says that his upbringing defies the stereotype. His dad was affectionate and spent tons of time with him. His mom was not domineering. He wasn’t abused. His sisters didn’t make him wear panties as a kid. In fact, he grew up in a conservative, Southern Baptist, Bible believing, healthy Christian environment and to this day he remains committed to the inerrant text of Scripture, believing in its authority, celebrating the Lordship of Jesus over all areas of life, and has spent hundreds of hours praying that God would make him attracted to girls. But he’s not. Justin is gay. He never chose to be this way and he remains committed to following Jesus while being attracted to dudes.

So what does all this have to do with Leviticus 18?

Leviticus 18:22, along with Romans 1:25-27 and 1 Corinthians 6:9 (the three main passages about homosexuality), have been used to slap, kick, abuse, curse, and stab many—if not most—gay people today. It’s a text dripping with blood. It’s a text associated with hate, not love; abuse, not embrace; ignorance, not understanding. I still believe that these texts need to be studied and believed (in that order). They are God’s words not mine. But they need to be studied with a sober awareness of how they

have been wielded to slaughter people made in the image of God who grew up with SSA (same sex attraction).

A Christian friend of mine, who has struggled with SSA, encouraged me to be sensitive to the long, dark, blood-stained history of these texts before I venture to exegete them—hence, this blog. After all, we are not just studying a text, but trying to love real people with real pain. People like Maddie.

With that in mind, in the next post I’m going to try to interpret Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 by responding to the 5 arguments I gave in my last post. I apologize ahead of time if these next blogs come off as wooden, cold, or academic. If anything, they should be read alongside this blog to capture the full heart of what I’m striving for.

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