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Words from the Wise: The Bible and homosexuality

Associate professor of biblical and theological studies Darian Lockett offers hermeneutical guardrails regarding homosexuality in the Bible. | Natalie Lockard/THE CHIMES

 

What does the Bible say about homosexuality and same-sex attraction? While scripture clearly addresses the former, it says little if anything about the latter. The Bible doesn’t say a lot about homosexuality in general, but what it does say is clear and authoritative. This column does not allow the space to consider a biblical perspective on homosexuality. Last Spring, Matt Jenson and I gave a lecture on homosexuality and the Bible — available on YouTube, QR code below. Rather than repeat the exegetical and theological discussion already offered, here I suggest some hermeneutical starting points for reading scripture as we consider what it teaches about homosexuality.

HOW SCRIPTURE APPLIES TO HOMOSEXUALITY 

First, the Bible is not primarily a book about human ethics. Though scripture has a lot to say about how we live and act, it is not a manual for moral living. It would be reductionistic to think of the Bible as God’s owner’s manual for life. Rather, the Bible is foremost about God. I understand you already know that, but it bears repeating. God is the hero of the story. Creation, fall and redemption become the major topographical landmarks that help us travel along scripture’s big idea, which is God’s story of creation and redemption. Thus, whatever the Bible has to say about homosexuality, it is within the context of God’s story of redemption — we are all broken and in need of the heroic rescue given in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Because the subject of the Bible is God, we need to ask secondly, how does scripture, then, apply?  Because the story of scripture is first and foremost about God, how might we understand our place in that story? Rather than thinking about how God’s reality might fit into my own — stuffing God’s big story into my small story — it is best to think about how my life’s narrative is taken up into that of God’s. My story now must be reconfigured within God’s story of redemption, if my life or my actions are to make any sense at all. Thus, reinscribed within this new storyline, I come to understand my actions, attitudes and desires — including my sexuality — as reordered by a new and larger purpose set forth by scripture.

HOMOSEXUALITY IN THE OLD TESTAMENT 

Finally, the few passages that directly address homosexual activity include two important passages from the Old Testament: Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. Quoting the Mosaic Law of course does not necessarily settle the question of homosexuality for Christian ethics and theology. Some Christians argue that the prohibition of homosexuality is superseded for modern believers as it is part of the ritual law and therefore morally irrelevant today.

Hermeneutically this is a superficial reading of Leviticus. Though readers often make a distinction between ritual law and moral law — between cultic and moral holiness — Leviticus makes no systematic distinction between the two. In my view this suggests that holiness is intended to characterize the whole of Israel’s life — civic, ritual and moral. Rather than making blanket dismissals of the law in Christian life, in each case the church must think about whether or not old covenant law remains in force for the new covenant community. I suggest that the trajectory set by Leviticus passages above is taken up as the baseline assumption of New Testament teaching. The church consistently adopted the Old Testament’s position on matters of sexual morality and there is no evidence that the New Testament revises the position set out within the Torah regarding homosexual acts.

For a full understanding, one would need to read other key passages that take up homosexual acts: 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 1 Timothy 1:10 and perhaps most forcefully Romans 1:18-32. But here my goal has been to suggest some hermeneutical guardrails for reading Scripture with respect to the question of homosexuality. As God’s redemption in Christ is the subject of scripture, may we seek — as well as speak — the truth in love.
 

Your Turn.  Post a Comment

  1. Chuck Anziulewicz

    I’m reminded of a commentator on a Southern Baptist website who wrote, “I can’t reconcile how someone could feel he or she was born with strong homosexual feelings, love Christ and yet take on the limitations of what seem to me to be straightforward biblical teachings. That’s agonizing, and I don’t really understand it.”

    And this is the weird thing: “Straighforward biblical teachings” should at least be understandable to the average person. So often I hear it said, “OUR ways are not GOD’s ways,” as if God was some sort of inscrutable alien being.

    Consider The Golden Rule: We do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Put all the religious dogma and ritual aside, and this is what our laws boil down to. We don’t lie or bear false witness because we won’t want people to lie to us. We don’t steal from other people because we do not want people stealing from us. We don’t betray the trust of our spouses because we wouldn’t want them doing the same to us. Same goes for killing and a variety of other “bad” behaviors.

    And yet somehow there seems to be this sheepish adherence to a double standard for Gay and Straight people. If you’re Straight, it’s all so wonderful to be able to find a compatible person of the opposite sex, court and get engaged and marry and live happily ever after. But if you’re Gay, all of that is completely out of the question. Don’t even bother trying to find a compatible person. Lesbians and Gay men are precluded from any hope for romance or commitment. Gay people are simply told: “Gosh, sorry about that. You make us uncomfortable; acknowledging your existence means we might have to revise what we’ve been teaching all these years - meaning, Whoops! No infallible Magisterium or “literal” Bible ... so you’ll just have to sacrifice your life and any hope of finding somebody to love. Tough luck, kid. God said it, I don’t necessarily understand it, but there it is.”

    I wish more social conservatives and Christians would at least TRY to wrap their minds around why this makes so little sense to Gay people, and why constant exposure to this sort of disdain is exactly WHY so many Gay young people end up taking their own lives. November 10, 2013

  2. Sam O'Neal

    Interesting thoughts, especially noting that the Bible says very little about same-sex attraction or homosexual orientation.

    I've also written on this topic at bible.about.com -- http://bible.about.com/od/Biblicalprinciples/a/What-Does-The-Bible-Say-About-Homosexuality.htm November 10, 2013

  3. Janet

    This a well written article. Thanks for having the guts to tackle such a difficult subject. Like everyone, I want to be liked. I want to be politically correct. I want to be progressive and open minded, but more than that, I want to be holy. Christians who are attracted to same sex partners, people outside their marriages,pornography,and selfish sex acts within their marriages, all need to look at their instincts in light of scripture and what a life lived close to God has in exchange for what we believe we need. Homosexuals and heterosexuals alike who want to be disciples, are challenged to that kind of sacrifice. November 10, 2013

  4. Jerry Lewis

    All this Bible talks sounds like so much self ticklimg the sum of which could sit between a smirk and a fart. November 13, 2013

  5. franknolo

    In response to Chuck Anziulewicz:

    If you are born gay (and i still dispute that homosexuality is biological), it is no more different than if you were born blind. It is a fact that people are sometimes born with disabilities. The question is why is someone who is born gay, so adamant that the world tell them they do not have a disorder? If the world sees a blind man walking the street, or a child with cerebral palsy, or any other matter, the reality is that sometimes people are shocked to see disorders. Heterosexuals are shocked to see people who are engaging same-sex relations, so generally they don't want to tell them, 'congradulations, your gay' just like it would be wrong to walk up to the kid with cerebral palsy on the street, and tell them, congradulations that you were born crippled. Gays can do whatever they want, and pursue a relationship with whomever they choose, but they do not automatically have the right to demand that everyone on earth congradulate them for their disorder. Heterosexuals wish that everyone was born healthy, but we do not celebrate disorders to make those who were born crippled to feel better about themselves. It is not normal for people who can see to poke their own eyes out just so that people who are blind can feel better about themselves.
    November 13, 2013

  6. franknolo

    In response to Chuck Anziulewicz:

    It is also not normal for someone to take their own life just because others do not want to endorse their lifestyle. I think gay people just have to understand that it simply is not possible to change the bible/torah/quran to suit their personal psychological need. I would suggest that gays write their own bible of religious beliefs, publish it and then live by it. Bible/Quran/Torah is not sucepbtible to change. November 13, 2013

  7. Biola alum

    It's particularly easy for a straight Christian academic to apply these passages to blanket gay and lesbian people. But it's short-sighted and closed-minded.

    Dr. Lockett has not had to wrestle with these passages the way that lesbian and gay people have had to.

    God teaches us to love, and to love fully. Shutting down LGBT people through misapplied Bible passages contradicts that message.

    Conservative interpretations of the Bible on homosexuality don't take that into consideration. They don't interpret with a gay or lesbian mind, because they haven't had to. November 15, 2013

  8. Daniel Willson

    "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."

    I think it's worth pointing out what the author says about these passages:

    "The church consistently adopted the Old Testament’s position on matters of sexual morality and there is no evidence that the New Testament revises the position set out within the Torah regarding homosexual acts."

    Praise God for brave Christians like the Biola Queer Underground for standing up for life and for ending the spiritual violence that continues to this day. November 15, 2013

  9. Pam Ling Toth

    I love all people but God love the sinner not the sin. and I love the person who said let the gay people write their own bible of religious beliefs and publish it and then live by it. I say Amen to that.
    November 16, 2013

  10. steve finnell

    VAIN ATTEMPTS TO DISCREDIT GOD'S WORD ABOUT SALVATION

    Mark 16:16 "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. (NKJV)

    Critics claim that since Jesus did not say he who is not baptized will be condemned; therefore water baptism is not essential to be saved. If a heart surgeon told you that if you have a heart transplant you will live; he would not have to explain to you that if you refuse the heart transplant you will die. Negatives are understood. If the electric power company informs you if you pay your bill the power will be turned back on; you do not have to be informed that if you do not pay your overdue bill the power will not be restored. Negatives are understood.

    Acts 2:38 Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.(NKJV)

    The apostle Peter did not have to say unless you repent and are baptized your sins will not be forgiven. Negatives are understood.

    YOU ARE INVITED TO FOLLOW MY BLOG. http://steve-finnell.blogspot.com November 19, 2013

  11. Matthew Helton

    Dr. Lockett,

    I am a current DMin. student and am mostly removed from campus. I have recieved an email from the BIOLA Queer Underground. I know you state in your post that you have gone into detail of the theological and hermeneutical explanations surrounding this issue, but would you state where you are. It seems that at times with the BIOLA Queer Underground, the inmates are running the prison. In my opinion, if they cannot abide by the principles of the school, then they need to find another school. I DO NOT like my name associated with such organizations as the BIOLA Queer Underground. I wish that you had stated your stance on the issue since it would at least seem to be official since you are a professor. More than guardrails, I believe there is a need for a line in the sand.

    Thank You,

    Matthew Helton November 19, 2013

  12. Waynel Walker

    I agree with Matthew - you make little sense, Dr. L. The bottom line...and I like bottom lines...is that God sets up the rules. They are for our good. We run the line of homosexuality and the rest of the lines go away, too. There is a way that seems right to man.... November 19, 2013

  13. T. Anon

    Our society seeks to diminish the quality of our lives to the quality of our sexual fulfillment. This is a shame. Are we to believe that all heterosexual couples enjoy thrilling sex with their spouses from beginning to end? I am married to a man who struggled for years with homosexual attractions. Yet we have experienced a rich and fulfilling marriage, raising our children and serving the Lord together. We've even found lots of satisfaction in our sexual relationship. In the same way that I must deny myself the freedom of eating everything I want or seeking sexual satisfaction outside of my marriage, my husband chooses to deny himself sexual satisfaction outside of our marriage. I don't think he'd have it any other way. He walks sincerely before His God, struggles and all, and embraces the salvation of His Savior. How I praise God for His redemption and the life we have shared walking in that new life. That said, truth is, regardless of my experience. And were my experience otherwise, I pray that I would have the courage and faith to take God at His word. November 19, 2013

  14. Brian Fredrickson

    One aspect I seldom see dealt with is that of behaviour vs. orientation. As a heterosexual male, it was still beholden upon me to remain celebate until I was married. I'm wondering why those with homosexual tendencies (or same sex-orientation -- if you prefer) feel they are not under the same mandate -- to remain celebate. I'm not saying it's easy... I waited until I was 50 to become married. The idea that someone has "the right" to engage in sexual relations because they are attracted to the same sex doesn't seem logical to me.

    It becomes a situation of action vs. tendencies. If an individual has same sex attraction, it doesn't mean they must act upon those tendencies any more than a heterosexual individual must act on his/her leanings outside of marriage.

    Acting out on ANY impulse which is sinful is simply that -- sin. It matters not whether it is gluttony, murder, homosexuality, lying, or what have you. The action is sin. November 19, 2013

  15. Daniel Shaw

    In response to "BIOLA ALUM":

    As Christians, we are called to have the mind of Christ. The presumed expectation that we must read the Bible "with a gay or lesbian mind" in order to take on another's perspective greatly concerns me. While empathy requires it, Biblical study does not.

    You are certainly correct that those of us who do not/have not struggled with same sex attraction cannot fully empathize with those struggles. Conversely, I would ask whether one can ascertain Biblical truth unless he or she has struggled at some point with a particular issue. For instance, if you have never struggled with pedophilia, are you capable of interpreting the Scriptures which relate to it? If you have never struggled with alcoholism, are you rendered incapacitated when a friend becomes reckless and out of control with drinking? Or is the Bible sufficient for lovingly and firmly confronting your brother about that sin, hoping to persuade him to repent (James 5:19-20)?

    Regarding the issue of "shutting down" the LGBT community, I would simply say that Christians should not regard those who struggle with homosexuality as outside God's grace or ability to save. I would simply remind us of Jesus' words: "Go and sin no more." One of the most helpful phrases for me in this debate is the statement that we are saved from our sin, not in it. In other words, there is a vast difference between struggles with sin and the open practice of it. This applies to any and all sin.

    The issue as I see it is, if we choose to follow Christ, are we willing to die to ourselves? As previously mentioned, there are a number of sexual issues which we must face and the righteousness of Christ requires that we flee each of them. Regardless of the difficulty, are our eyes on the prize, running the race so as to win? Rather than focus on the struggle, recall the many calls to perseverance for the follower of Christ. May God grant you strength to finish well and leave behind the old man (as I desire to do as well). November 19, 2013

  16. James Clark

    Maybe not born homosexual, but all born sinners who display their actions in various ways. I still remember before Talbot as an undergrad at BIOLA, a couple of students were apparently caught in the act. Dr. Gordon Kirk and others from BIOLA confronted these young men. Pointed out their sin and asked if they would be willing to repent? According to Dr. Kirk, they blantantly refused, and were then asked to leave BIOLA. Now I see from my FB that there is actually a group known as Queers of BIOLA. We all sin. I am humbled each time someone points out sin in my life which .....happens frequently. I try not to sin again in this area. However, as God gave them up as the WORD says, there is little repentence and trying to walk the other way. Continue to pray for our fellow BIOLANS who have fallen in this area that Christ will lift the veil of blindness so that they are able to repent and follow the Master. Amen! November 20, 2013

  17. Kris Wiese

    I woke up this morning with what I fully believe is a fierce and righteous anger against my co-workers. I would love to act upon my feelings, but those darned scriptures about showing love and mercy to my neighbor have kept me from taking action and ending their pathetic lives. Like David v. Nabal, I have had to stop myself often and I would rather not suffer without proper satisfaction. To add to my injury,I am also forced to repent every time that I have these thoughts. (Thoughts which in fact keeps me from enjoying much of my life as I ought). That said, I do feel great sympathy for those who struggle with sin, even the sin of queerality. (No, that one isn't mentioned specifically in the scriptures). Still, if you claim to believe that some day we will all stand before God, are you actually planning on making the same void & lame arguments to HIM in defense of your flaming-out-loud reprobate behavior? At the end of our evil days I fear that we will not escape His wrath if we have trampled God's grace so willfully and without any true repentance. The scriptures are not quiet on the latter statements, so neither should those called to make disciples remain quiet as we all try to follow the path of repentance from sin. "Take up your own cross, punk, I encourage you." November 20, 2013

  18. Anon

    The comments in this post have honestly made me sick with shame. I don't even know what to say to a majority of these comments except that many of your words are cruel and derogatory and you should be ashamed that you would type those things and I can only pray you would not say them to another human's face. Most of these comments show a gross misunderstanding of what many of your brothers in sisters in Christ who are LGBTQ actually desire from you, which is not necessarily a celebration of their gender or sexuality, but an understanding and your continued love and acceptance of them as a person.
    Please do not make the mistake of assuming that they are "trampling on God's grace" as many friends of mine have grappled more seriously with God, His Word, and their faith than anyone else I know. It is a constant battle that heterosexual people have never had to experience. All of our faith comes at a price and I would beg you not to assume you know that cost that others have paid.

    I would not typically call someone out, but to Frankolo:
    Those who have taken their own lives do not do so because people "do not want to endorse their lifestyle." They do so because they are brutally and sometimes nearly constantly abused mentally, emotionally, and physically. It is things like your final statement that have created such a cruel image of the church, wherein Christians have no room or love for anyone who does not conform to an individual's ideas and interpretation of scripture.

    November 21, 2013

  19. jerry

    The anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-religious minority Manhattan Declaration is not primarily about opposing any of those things. That's all just collateral damage. The primary purpose of the Manhattan Declaration, its raison d'etre, is to help the authors and signatories convince themselves that they're better than everyone else. The ridiculous, overweening pride is what it's for.

    Chuck Colson, Robert George and Timothy George are blitzed out of their minds on the drug of smug. They're hard-core umbrage junkies, snorting offendedness, mainlining grievance, freebasing uncut self-righteousness.

    This is your brain on smug. Just say no.
    December 1, 2013

  20. Bret

    I think most of us have found this site because at some level we are wanting to find answers to this question of "what does God" say about the act of gay, lesbian and transgender. I am first, and foremost a follower of Christ and a believer in the bible as the world of God. I'm an airline pilot and have worked with many gay men serving as flight attendants. I also have family members who are lesbian. I love and care for these people as much as I do those who share my heterosexual life. If the bible is truth, and I have come to believe it is, then the act of gay, lesbian and transgender living brings me great distress and fear for those active in this life style. I understand being born trending in a specific direction. Truthfully, I struggle with even looking at beautiful women without wondering what it would be like to have sex with them. I've been this way my entire life. I'm happily married and yet still have these thoughts. So, I was definitely born this way, wanting to have sex with beautiful, and sometimes not so beautiful women. I've been created or born with these tendencies so, will God ignore if I act out on these tendencies? He knows that I have them, and he knows all my secrets. How does he feel about adultery, fornication, murder, lying? As best as I can tell, we are told not to act out based on what we feel but rather on every word December 2, 2013

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