In a previous article, I outlined a few key biblical texts on the subject of homosexuality. The biblical record is consistent throughout, and thoroughly convincing on the subject, yet many in our culture today dismiss those teachings. They ground their dismissal of the historical interpretation of the biblical texts with the claim that those texts have been misinterpreted by the church.
For thousands of years, Jews have believed the Hebrew Scriptures taught homosexuality as a sin. The church of the Lord Jesus Christ has followed the same view based on both the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) and the New Testament as well. The debate over what the Bible actually says on homosexuality is a recent phenomenon with no historical precedent.
The main argument in reinterpreting the meaning of these texts is that that they do not refer to consensual homosexual relationships between two free, adult, and loving individuals. The passages clearly address same-sex activity, and in each case condemn it. However, some have argued the passages are denouncing things like cultic prostitution, male prostitution and pederasty, or the Isis cult in Rome.
This article looks at the key Scriptures previously argued as prohibiting homosexuality and examines what proponents of homosexuality (people who are open and affirming) say about those texts. I’ll outline their arguments and then show why they fail to overthrow the church’s historical interpretation of these passages.
1. Leviticus 18:22
Leviticus 18:22 — You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.
Those who deny this passage is a blanket condemnation of homosexual acts say it’s referring to cultic prostitution practiced by the Canaanites of the Ancient Near East. How do they ground that assertion? They point to God forbidding Israel from offering their children to Molech in child sacrifice in the previous verse (Leviticus 18:21). They argue the reference is an indicator that what is being forbidden here are the actions of the Canaanites, which included cultic prostitution. A few verses later (Leviticus 18:24) God tells Israel not to do any of the things listed in the chapter because it is on account of these things that God is driving out those nations due to their uncleanness. Again, they say, “See, it’s about Canaanite practices.”
The argument is that the prohibition of a male laying with another male (Leviticus 18:22) is only forbidding the Canaanite practice of cultic prostitution. It certainly forbids that, but there is nothing that indicates God is forbidding only this kind of homosexuality. The injunction to not lie with a male as with a woman is general in nature. It’s found in a long list of restricted sexual behaviors. In fact, the clarification in the passage (“as with a woman”) shows us that sexual activity occurring between a man and a woman should never happen between those of the same sex. God says it is an abomination to Him.
2. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 — 9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
Advocates of same-sex relations interpret this passage as describing pederasty. Pederasty in ancient Greece and Rome was a socially acceptable sexual relationship between adult men with young boys, usually teenagers. The younger male was the passive partner. The older male would likely still be married to a woman and didn’t need to exclusively feel homosexual desires. But this interpretation of the text is unfounded.
First, there is a specific Greek word Paul could have chosen to forbid pederasty (paiderastês). Paiderastês (a pederast) is the technical word that describes this practice. But he didn’t use this word. Second, there is nothing in the context of the passage that shows pederasty was Paul’s focus. He uses words (arsenokoitai and malakoi) that refer both to one who beds other males (arsenokoitai) and to the passive partner (the effeminate partner) in a sexual act (malakoi). If Paul’s focus was exploitive sex (as pederasty was), then he could have used that word (paiderastês). He certainly had no need to mention the passive partner (malakoi) if that were his argument.
This argument fails. And the historical interpretation—that homosexual activity of any kind is forbidden—remains.
3. Romans 1:26-27
Romans 1:26-27 — 26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
This passage is a real problem for those who want to affirm consensual homosexuality as not being prohibited by the Scriptures. There are a few current arguments that seek to cloud the clarity Romans 1 puts on the topic. First, some argue that Paul is forbidding those who only have heterosexual desires. Since he talks about doing what is contrary to nature (para physin) the argument is that if homosexuality is what you naturally feel drawn to, then it doesn’t violate Romans 1. But this collapses quickly when you understand that Paul isn’t talking about the nature of how we feel or personal inclinations, but God’s intention and design in the creation order. A second argument used is that Paul is condemning the Isis cult prominent in Rome during his time. The prohibition of women with women is said to refer to the Isis priestess behavior, and the men with men is referring to the castrated male priests in the Isis cult. The argument fails for several reasons, not least of those being that Paul never mentions the Isis cult specifically. This thesis is simply imposed upon the text rather than being gathered from the text or context. A third argument is pederasty, but it too collapses when Paul mentions women with women. The ancient world only considered pederasty in the context of males.
The study of these passages reveals that the Bible rejects any form of homosexual behavior. No amount of reinterpretation changes their meanings. The issue for Christians is not whether God has spoken clearly about homosexuality, but whether we will affirm and submit to what He has said. Will we listen, or will we gather for ourselves teachers who will say what our itching ears desire to hear (2 Timothy 4:3)?