Does the Bible really prohibit homosexual sex?
This a hotly debated topic in our culture and even in some of our churches today. You most likely know someone who has “come out” as gay or lesbian or perhaps you yourself have same-sex attractions and you’re struggling to know what to do. For Christians who look to Scripture as their primary source of truth regarding how to live, what the Bible has to say about homosexuality is of great importance.
When looking for what the Bible has to say about homosexuality, it’s important to know a couple things about the Bible first and foremost:
- While the Bible has much to teach us, it’s primary message is not about homosexuality. Its primary message about God and His great love for us. His great love for all of us—for you, no matter what.
- The primary image the Bible uses to describe God’s incredible love for us is that of a bridegroom for his bride. In the very first chapter of the Bible, God creates humankind in His image, male and female, and their union as husband and wife is created to be a picture, an image, an icon of His design, desire, and destiny for us.
With this said, what the Bible says about homosexuality, limited as it is, is not all the Bible has to say about human sexuality, God’s design for us as male and female, and the remarkable connection between our design and His loving plans for us.
With this in mind, we can look at some of the main passages addressing homosexuality specifically and what revisionists suggest about each, as well as offer a brief response to each.
Revisionist Views on 7 Passages about Homosexuality
Genesis 19:1-9 – “[The men of Sodom] surrounded the house…and they called to Lot and said to him, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may have relations with them,’” and “Jude 1:7 – “…Sodom and Gomorrah…indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.”
Revisionist interpretation: Revisionists suggest that the sins of Sodom were not homosexual sex because other Scripture passages that talk about Sodom (e.g. Isaiah 1:7 – 17, Jeremiah 23:14, Ezekiel 16:49) site offenses like adultery, greed or lying, not same-sex sex.
Response: Scripture reveals Sodom’s sins are more extensive than just homosexual sex, but Scripture also reveals that homosexual sex was among those activities happening in Sodom that God objected to.
“To say Sodom was destroyed for homosexuality is an overstatement, as is the charge that homosexuality was the primary sin warranting God’s wrath. But it’s just as inaccurate to say homosexuality didn’t figure into Sodom’s profile, when, in fact, it seems to have figured largely” (Speaking of Homosexuality by Joe Dallas).
Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 – “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination,” and “If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death.”
Revisionist interpretation: One revisionist argument is that the word “abomination” is used elsewhere as relating to idolatrous practices or ceremonial uncleanness, and so the kind of male to male sexual act referred to here is not a consensual homosexual union but an idolatrous or cultic religious practice forbidden to the Jewish people.
Response: Scholars agree that there were cultic homosexual practices happening in the Middle East at this time, but however “abomination” is used elsewhere does not negate the straightforwardness of the acts being described as such. In other words, the first phrase, “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female” is straightforward in the Hebrew text. If it had been written about only a specific kind of homosexual sex connected with cultic practice, other language most likely would have been used.
“[The] laws in Lev 18:22 and 20:13 are unqualified and absolute. They neither penalize only oppressive forms of homosexuality nor excuse either party to the act. The general term ‘male’ (zākār) is used…There are no limitations to cultic prostitution” (The Bible and Homosexual Practice by Robert Gagnon).
Romans 1:26-27 – “…for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts…”
Revisionist interpretation: One revisionist argument suggests that the homosexual sex Paul was opposing was connected to pagan temple worship including castration, cross-dressing, and homosexual sex orgies. Another argument suggests Paul is referring to heterosexual men and women exchanging what is “natural” or “according to nature” for them (heterosexual sex) for that which is “unnatural” for them (homosexual sex).
Response: Scholars agree Paul and his readers in Rome would have been aware of pagan temple practices involving homosexual acts, but Paul nonetheless offers no clauses or conditions to suggest he’s only speaking of a specific kind of homosexual practice; he’s speaking generally about women and men engaging in sexual acts with others of the same gender.
In response to the second revisionist idea here that Paul’s, “They exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural” (italics added) refers only to heterosexuals having same-sex sex…First, this notion again ignores the fact that Paul makes no qualification for who is performing the same-sex acts. In addition, this reinterpretation only makes sense if you understand the word “natural” to mean “what comes naturally to you” as opposed to the traditional understanding that by “natural” Paul means “according to nature” or “by design.” Paul is no stranger to the human experience of something coming naturally to us that God forbids (see Romans 6:11-14, 7:14-24). What “comes naturally” has never been a litmus test for Christians to determine God’s will.
1 Corinthians 6:9 – “…Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God,” and 1 Timothy 1:10 – “…[The law is] for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching…”
Revisionist interpretation: One revisionist argument in both of these passages is that the word Paul uses (arsenokoitē) is invented by Paul, and may or may not mean “homosexual.” Paul is actually combining two Greek words, arsēn (meaning “male”) and koitē (meaning “bed”), and his invented word is reused by other Greek writers to mean rape, pederasty, male prostitution, or male homosexuality, so we can’t definitively say Paul was talking about homosexuality.
Response: According to Joe Dallas’ book Speaking of Homosexuality, the Septuagint (the Hebrew Old Testament translated into Greek), which was widely used in Paul’s time, translates “If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman” as follows:
“Hos an koimēthē meta arsenos koitēn gunaikos”
(whoever)(sleeps)(with)(a man)(bed)(as a woman)
Since Paul seems to be the originator of the word arsenokoitē, it’s most likely he coined it from the this Leviticus 20:13 prohibition against homosexual sex. Likewise, his readers at the time would have recognized arsenokoitē’s connection to Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 and understood its meaning to be homosexual sex.
Conclusion: The brief explanations of revisionist interpretations on these passages as well as our responses to each are not intended to be exhaustive, but to give you a helpful look at some of what’s being discussed and debated about the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality.
Remember, the Bible is not a book about homosexuality, and what the Bible teaches about God’s heart and design for marriage—especially as it’s revealed in the New Testament—is the context for understanding what the Bible does or doesn’t say about homosexuality.
For a more thorough discussion of these and more, we’d recommend Joe Dallas’ book Speaking of Homosexuality: Discussing the Issues with Kindness & Clarity, or if you’re looking for a much more in-depth historical, linguistic, and biblical examination about homosexual, we’d recommend Robert Gagnon’s The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics.