(This article was originally posted in May 2012.)
Since President Obama recently came out in support of gay marriage a number of editorials have made arguments in favor of gay marriage from the Bible. Specifically, there have been three assertions made about the Bible and homosexuality that to the normal Christian seem to be a stretch of biblical logic. In a nutshell, those arguments are:
- Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, he never condemned it
- The Bible condemns eating shellfish, and wearing clothes of two different fabrics, along with homosexuality, how then can we take it seriously?
- Paul taught mistaken views about homosexuality. We should follow Jesus’ teachings, not Paul
For the purposes of this article the issue before us is not whether gay marriage should be legal or considered a human right. The issue here is whether or not the above statements regarding the Bible and homosexuality have any merit. It is one thing to argue for gay marriage as a right based upon history, politics, and biology. It is another thing altogether to argue for gay marriage or so called gay rights by using the Bible as a supportive document. Does the Bible support the modern idea of gay rights? Let’s find out by answering the three challenges above.
Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, he never condemned it.
There are two arguments to be made against this position. First, this statement is a classic argument from silence. Better yet, we can classify this more properly as an argument from ignorance. In one sense we can say that, yes, Jesus did not speak of homosexuality specifically. He did not need to. There are, in fact, many things that we have no record of Jesus speaking about, but we don’t consider them to be acceptable behavior, and we don’t use the lack of Jesus’ words as an opportunity to advocate for such behavior. For instance, we have no record in the Gospels of Jesus condemning rape. Would someone make an argument that rape is therefore acceptable because Jesus said nothing about it? How about pedophilia? Is the lack of words from Jesus about this grounds for accepting such a perversion? What about domestic violence? Can a man beat his wife because we have no record of Jesus condemning it? We have no record of Jesus speaking of cannibalism. Does that make it right? We could come up with many such examples of things that we have no record of Jesus speaking about but no one would want to make a case that we should accept those behaviors just because nothing in Jesus’ speech is apparent about them. Why then, is homosexuality any different?
It is a faulty approach to make a moral argument in support of homosexuality from Jesus’ supposed lack of condemnation. In fact, Jesus may have spoken specifically against it, but we do not know. The accounts of Jesus’ life in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are not exhaustive accounts of his life and teaching. The Gospels tell us that there were many things that Jesus did which were not recorded (John 20:30, 21:25). The Gospels were not meant to be exhaustive or comprehensive accounts. Their purpose is to be redemptive. That is, they tell us everything we need to know about Jesus that communicates who he is, what he did, why he did it, and what our response to him should be.
Second, the immorality of homosexuality (and any other sexual sin) was never in question in the day or culture in which Jesus lived. Though ruled by Rome, Israel had its own set of laws—the Mosaic Law—which governed its society. In fact, there were five groups of people whose job it was, in part, to interpret and uphold the law in Jewish society—Aaronic priests, Levitical priests, Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees. The Mosaic Law was the rule and guide in Israelite life. That law clearly condemned homosexuality as a sin (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13). This is important to understand because Jesus spoke supportively of the Mosaic Law (Matthew 5:17-19). Jesus lived under the Mosaic Law and obeyed its commands. In this case we can legitimately make an argument from silence. Jesus never spoke against the Mosaic Law. But more than silence, we see that Jesus advocated the moral code within the Mosaic Law (Matthew 5:17-32). The Law condemned homosexuality. Jesus upheld the Law, thereby signifying his approval of the moral codes within the Law.
The Bible condemns eating shellfish, and wearing clothes of two different fabrics, along with homosexuality, how then can we take it seriously?
This argument is also an argument from ignorance. The Mosaic Law contained three types of law that Israel was to follow:
- Moral Law
- Ceremonial Law
- Judicial Law
Eating shellfish and wearing two kinds of fabric fall under the ceremonial law which was designed to illustrate and encourage holiness among God’s people. There is no moral wrong in eating a crab. But for the purposes of the Old Testament Law, God was setting apart a nation for himself that was unique and was not supposed to be like other nations. As previously mentioned, Jesus upheld the Moral Law. But his approach to the Ceremonial Law was different. Ceremonial laws were not a matter of morality as evidenced by his statement on dietary laws (Mark 7:19; Luke 6:3-4). In addition, no Ceremonial Law was ever commanded for nations other than Israel to follow. The Ceremonial Law was a unique part of Israel’s heritage (Romans 9:4).
The Moral Law espoused in the Old Testament is still applicable for today. Jesus upheld the Ten Commandments (Luke 18:20). All other commandments issued in the Old Testament were, in essence, applications of the original Ten Commandments. The laws on homosexuality fall under the Moral Code, as did all laws on sexual behavior, which Jesus upheld.
Paul taught mistaken views about homosexuality. We should follow Jesus’ teachings, not Paul.
The Apostle Paul taught, on several occasions, that homosexuality was a sin in God’s eyes and that no practicing homosexual would see eternal life (Romans 1:26-27,32; I Corinthians 6:9-10; I Timothy 1:10). Was Paul teaching something of his own invention? On the contrary, as we have already seen, the Mosaic Law condemned homosexuality. Jesus upheld the Moral Code of the Law. Therefore, Paul was doing nothing more than teaching that on which the Old Testament and Jesus agreed. To follow Paul was to follow Christ (I Corinthians 11:1). Paul taught that which was taught to him personally by Jesus (Galatians 1:11-12). The Apostle Peter upheld Paul’s teaching and made no delineation in Paul’s teaching that some should be followed and other teaching not. Peter not only upheld what Paul taught, but he called Paul’s letters “scripture” putting Paul’s teaching on the same level as the Old Testament and all other scripture (II Peter 3:15-16). Thus, to reject Paul’s teaching is to reject the testimony of scripture, which is tantamount to rejecting Christ.
The attempt to use the Bible as a supportive source for political positions such as gay marriage or so called gay rights is not persuasive. Most arguments using the Bible to support or excuse some kind of sin are usually made by twisting out of the scripture meaning that it never intends to communicate, or it comes from ignorance of what the Bible, the whole Bible, actually teaches. Christians should not be alarmed or confused when presented such arguments that appear to be from the scripture. Instead, a careful reading of the scripture will guide the Christian into the truth of the matter.