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.