How Many Bible Passages Speak to Homosexuality?
On a predictably regular basis, someone publishes a book claiming that the Bible only speaks to homosexuality in a handful of places and that if those references are explained away, Scripture can be viewed as “open and affirming” toward same-sex relationships. Most recently, Matthew Vines’ God and the Gay Christian (Convergent Books, 2014) focused on six Scripture passages that condemn homosexuality.1 Similarly, Adam Hamilton’s Making Sense of the Bible (HarperOne, 2014) references five passages that depict same-sex intimacy. In 2012, homosexual activists produced the Queen James Bible, a version of the Bible with eight key verses edited to prevent “homophobic interpretations.” Before that, Jay Bakker’s Fall to Grace (FaithWorks, 2011) identified three “clobber passages” in the New Testament that are used to “beat people over the head” regarding homosexuality. The list could go on—you get the idea.
But is the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality limited to just a smattering of references? In short, no. All of these “open and affirming” interpretations do violence to the plain meaning of the verses in question, and Christian scholars have demonstrated that to be the case.2 Yet there is a broader issue. Not only do specific passages condemn homosexuality; many of the Bible’s major themes, metaphors, precepts, and commands assume that monogamous heterosexual marriage is the norm. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible leaves no doubt about God’s intentions regarding marriage and sexuality. Consider the following:
-- The Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 15:1-6) depended on God’s people marrying and producing offspring for its fulfillment.
-- In the Decalogue, the fifth, seventh, and tenth commandments all assume a backdrop of traditional family structure, with a husband, a wife, and children (Exodus 20:12, 14, 17).
-- The entire book of Song of Solomon assumes the inherent beauty of male-female marriage. In at least two places, the book depicts a man describing his wife’s female anatomy in admiring detail (Song of Solomon 4:1-5; 7:1-9)—a phenomenon with no homosexual parallel in Scripture.
-- In both Testaments, God’s relationship with His people is compared to the relationship between a husband and wife. Whether it’s Isaiah 1:21, Jeremiah 2:1-37, Ezekiel 16:1-63, or Hosea (chapters 1-3) in the Old Testament or Paul in the New Testament (Ephesians 5:22-33), the authors of Scripture believed heterosexual marriage provided an apt metaphor for God’s tender care of His people and their gracious commitment to love Him.
-- The New Testament’s pervasive references to the church as God’s household presumed that a traditional family structure was normative. In Paul alone, the terms “brother” and “sister” are used 139 times; “Father” is used 63 times in reference to God; and Christians are referred to as “sons” 17 times.3
-- The character of candidates for church leadership was to be gaged by the faithfulness of their participation in heterosexual marriage (1 Timothy 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6).
-- The relationship between the persons of the Trinity is reflected by the intimacy between a husband and wife (1 Corinthians 11:2).
So don’t let anyone convince you that the Bible’s case against homosexuality is dependent on just a handful of verses. Marriage lies at the heart of Scripture, providing the best earthly analogy of God’s passion for His people. When we accept any distortions of God’s plan in this area, we begin to lose our understanding of what it means to have intimacy with Christ.
For a biblical response to Vines, see R. Albert Mohler Jr., ed. God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines (Louisville, KY: SBTS Press, 2014), http://www.sbts.edu/press/ (accessed May 7, 2014).
See, for example, Robert Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Nashville: Abingdon, 2001).
Joseph Hellerman, When the Church Was a Family (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2009), 77.