The Christian Approach to Homosexuality – Part 2

Peter Eng

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Romans 1
26 That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other.27 And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved.
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1 Corinthians 6
Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality,10 or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.11 Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
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1 Timothy 1
For the law was … for people who are lawless and rebellious, who are ungodly and sinful, who consider nothing sacred and defile what is holy, who kill their father or mother or commit other murders.10 The law is for people who are sexually immoral, or who practice homosexuality, or are slave traders, liars, promise breakers, or who do anything else that contradicts the wholesome teaching 11 that comes from the glorious Good News entrusted to me by our blessed God.

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Wait! Wait!

Before I begin this discourse with you on homosexuality as a sin in the NT, it is important, perhaps even vital, that I skip ahead and emphatically state that homosexuality is NOT the only sexual sin pointed out in Scripture. I will elaborate on this point later, but I fear I will lose my audience who do not have the patience to come to the end of the discourse. My position is that: (1) homosexual acts are sinful—just as (2) certain other heterosexual acts. In view of the reality of both (1) and (2), how do we as Christians regard homosexuality? How should we posture our heart, and align our actions to how God wants us to treat those who are still caught in a sin?

Homosexuality in the NT

Three passages in the NT discuss homosexuality: Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:10.There are two areas of discussion associated with these texts: (1) the words used for homosexuality, and (2) the context. As it is easy to miss out the whole issue on account of the minutiae, let’s discuss the context first and specific words thereafter.

Romans 1—Context

We must not let the issue of homosexuality hijack Paul’s message to the Romans. He is talking to them about the Good News of Christ as “the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).

The Good News concerning Jesus Christ is able to save us from the wrath of God against all who reject God by worshiping idols (Romans 1:18-23) In response to their rejection of God, God abandons them to sexual impurity that leads to the degradation of the body (Romans 1:24-25). A case in point is the widespread shame of homosexuality which serves as evidence that God has abandoned them to their body-destroying sexual abuse(Romans 1:26-27). Their personal depravity is not limited to homosexuality but 29 Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip.30 They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents.31 They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy.”

Paul is describing the lives of people in a certain type of society. He simply uses the generic “they.” He could be referring to Rome, but in principle, it would apply to any society. Homosexuality is singled out as an example of impurity that destroys the body. But other sins are not neglected.

The most stinging statement is left to the last, 32 They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too.” In the Bible, both the OT and the NT, the final expression of sin is “mocking.” This is the sin that mocks all things good and praises all things evil. This is reflected here in those who justify their evil deeds by gathering companions for their evil.

The process starts when they “suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Romans 1:18) and is completed when they “encourage others to do them [the same evil they do] too” (Romans 1:32).

On the sexuality issue, the right place to begin is Romans 1:24 “God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.

There is a degrading of the body with certain sexual activities. Here Paul is non-specific. The great sin of rejecting God has resulted in a sexuality that degrades the body.

There are many sexual practices that degrade the body. Sexually transmitted diseases must cross our minds. But that is not all. The degrading of the body by turning people into objects is another degradation of the body. This was very common then, when slaves were used for sexual gratification. A life that is ruled by sexual lusts degrades our life in ways too numerous to recount. Then Scripture points out one specific expression of sexuality that degrades the body—homosexuality.

“God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.  In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1:26-27).

Is homosexuality selected because it is more evil than other sexual misconduct? Perhaps, but we can think of worse sexual misconduct. I like to suggest from the context that homosexuality is selected for two reasons: (1) it illustrates the degrading of the body; and (2) it is misconduct that some refuse to recognize as such, and mock those who say it is sinful.

sharing-the-gospel-with-homosexuals1-1030x600The Bible rejects both female and male homosexuality. The text is clear that the judgment is against the act of homosexuality. But an act is never done without first the desire to do so. Homosexuals were “inflamed with lust for one another.” Yet, it is clear that the activity of homosexuality is the point mentioned here.

With reference to men, specifically, the consequence of their action is that they “received in themselves the due penalty for their error.” This is polite speech. Pardon my more direct speech at the expense of politeness just in case we don’t get the point—Scripture is saying that homosexual men received in themselves [their bodies] the consequences of their homosexual activities.

Anoreceptive intercourse regardless of man-man or man-woman, significantly increases bowel incontinence. Not only is this common sense, it has also been documented in scientific studies. (One example: Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine).

I am no sex expert on homosexuality and it would be too indelicate for me to say more. But the above suffices to demonstrate the point that unnatural sexuality can damage the body. (HIV had not arisen then, so I will not raise it in the interpretation of the text.) There are many ways to abuse our bodies, and male homosexuality is one.

“Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done” (Romans 1:28).

God abandoned certain people to their foolish thinking and to their sinful action. In modern day language, we will say, God let them choose their own way of thinking and their own actions without intervening to stop them. The law of God was abandoned and they could do what they wanted, and thought what they liked. That is what happens when the social restraints of a nation’s law freely allows homosexuality.

Here Scripture may be hinting on the contrast between the Jew who had the law of God as a restraint on the Jewish nation, and the Greco-Roman world that did not have such restraints.

But we must not lose sight of the point of the passage.  It is about the power of God saving everyone who believes!

Romans 1—Words

How then can anyone see a justification of homosexuality in this text? We must not underestimate human creativity. The pro-homosexuality argument goes this way:

The issue is about what is “natural.” Scripture is talking about people who are not using their bodies in a natural way. In the case of a homosexual, the natural use of the body is to engage in homosexual acts. So God’s judgment is not on homosexuals to whom homosexuality is natural, but on people who are not real homosexuals, but pervert their heterosexuality to homosexuality. The rest of the argumentation is so tortuous that I am not sure if it is worth following.

Let’s appeal to integrity in reading. Scripture starts with a gasp of horror at the depth of sexual depravity, which is usually initiated by men, by saying the depravity has gone so deep that women are also engaged in homosexuality. The very literal translation (NASB)says:“for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural,” and call to attention that there is a separate and distinct word in the Greek for “function,” also translated “use” (KJV), “way,” (NLT) and “sexual relations,” (NIV). All the versions can only translate the Greek one way, i.e. by demonstrating that it is the act that is rejected and not some hypothetical construct of what constitutes “natural” with whom. It’s the physical function that is addressed.

The text is clearly talking about the act itself that is not natural. Any woman-woman or man-man sexuality is action that is not natural.  There is no discussion about what is natural to a person as opposed to what he actually does.

The point that the homosexual acts are committed by those who first “burned with lust” disqualifies the view that there is a naturally occurring homosexuality that is acceptable.

Some try to argue that Scripture is condemning the Greek custom of pederasty (taken over by some Romans), of older men taking teenage boys and making lovers out of these. Romans generally disapproved of this, but the boys were not criticized unless they continued their effeminate role into adulthood.

Apart from pederasty, coerced homosexuality was rare and attracted much unwanted attention. A case in point was when Emperor Nero kicked and killed his wife Poppaea, but then missed her terribly. He saw a young man, Sporus, who looked like Poppaea. Nero had him castrated and married him. 

If we allow the argument that coerced homosexuality is the issue, we are saying that the wrath of God falls on the young boys (or Sporus) who were not homosexual by nature but were subject to an erotic relationship with older men (or Nero). So God picks on the victim!!! You be the judge of whether or not we ought to make God judge the victim and justify the perpetrator.

It is more honest to say, “OK, that is what the Bible says, but I do not accept its authority.” That ends the discussion based on the Bible and we can discuss using other bases for consideration. The reality is that not many Christians or honest readers can accept the “natural” argument to justify the meaning of the text, and thankfully, such a reading has not gained wide acceptance.

[Next week: 1 Corinthians, 1 Timothy, etc.]

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