The Theologian - The internet journal for integrated theology


Homosexual Relationships

and the Bible

by David Field




Discussing homosexuality today is like fitting a plug to the lead of a lamp without being able to turn the current off first.  Without knowledge, skill and enormous care the risks of disaster are high.  All too often, more heat is generated than light.

I know this from painful personal experience.  Within the space of a few weeks I spoke to two quite different audiences on this theme, using the same set of notes.  On the first occasion, I was branded a reactionary bigot; someone in the second row actually tore up a Bible, screwed the pages into paper balls and threw the lot at me during my talk.  On the second, my approach was considered far too liberal by an outraged Anglican churchwarden who threatened, in his anger, to push me through the wall of his church hall.

Why should homosexuality be such an emotive subject?  There are many reasons, some of them quite complex.  At the root of them all is the fact that every human is a sexual being.  Sexuality is not just about what we may or may not do; it is part of the way we are.  If we belong to the heterosexual majority, the thought of same-sex genital contact probably nauseates us.  It strikes at the heart of our personal being.  And there, of course, we have to pause, because emotional disgust must not be muddled with moral outrage.  The sight of a child swallowing raw bacon rinds may make me feel sick, but my feelings do not automatically brand the action itself as wrong.

Significant shift in public opinion – and the heated debates which follow – also muddy the waters.  A few short decades ago, all homosexual acts between consenting males were illegal in the United Kingdom (the British law has always ignored the existence of lesbianism).  Nowadays, the debate has moved on to consider the age of homosexual consent, and opposition to homosexual behaviour is bracketed with racism, sexism, ageism and everything else that is politically incorrect.  The social climate is certainly not conducive to cool ethical discussion.

“opposition to homosexual behaviour is bracketed with racism, sexism, ageism and everything else that is politically incorrect”

The ecclesiastical climate has changed, too.  Fifty years ago, an article on homosexuality would never have been needed.  The morality of same-sex behaviour needed no discussing because its wrongness was self-evident to everyone – especially to those who engaged in it on the quiet.

Jack Spong, the American Bishop whose writings on this subject are always controversial, helpfully plots the course of change in the way some denominations have approached homosexuality.

First, he says, came the recognition that the subject merited serious discussion.  Then came the distinction between the person and the act (we must hate the sin but love the sinner).  Next was a sharpened awareness of injustice – whatever their moral judgement, Christians must raise their voices in protest whenever homosexual people are denied their civil rights and treated unjustly.  Fourthly, claims that homosexuals cannot be blamed for their orientation (because they do not choose it) were taken on board by the church.  Next the assumption that homosexual people should remain celibate was questioned – why should anyone be required to repress the way he is through no fault of his own?  And finally the church shifted its ground to suggest ways in which homosexuals can be encouraged to lead responsible active sexual lives.

This is the social and ecclesiastical air that we breathe as 21st century Christians.  Whether we inhale deeply or fit ourselves up with masks to filter out the spirit of the age, we must not ignore its existence.  It inevitably affects the way we approach homosexuals and homosexuality (the people as well as the thing) and it charges our emotions (whether for or against the people or the practice).

More seriously, in a book of this kind, the climate in which we live can deeply affect the way we use the Scriptures as Christians.  If you feel your blood pressure rising as you read on through the rest of this article, it may be worth revisiting these first few paragraphs and asking yourself the question, ‘Why?’


What the Bible means

I am assuming (for the sake of argument) that we are agreed on our starting-point as we explore the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality.  We believe in the inspiration and authority of Scripture.  We accept the New Testament’s declaration that ‘all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness’ (2 Timothy 3:16).  If the Bible clearly teaches that homosexual behaviour is wrong, we will not dispute that.  The reverse must also apply, of course.  And we must be careful not to fill in the gaps which Scripture leaves with our own dogmatic opinions.

We have two main tasks ahead of us.  In this section of the article we will do our best to discover what the Bible means in the relatively few passages where it deals with homosexuality directly.  We must go about that job as dispassionately as we can, distinguishing what the Bible writers actually meant from what we would very much like them to have meant – whether they did so or not.  That will involve us in a close study of key words, as well as in a careful recognition of the contexts in which the relevant passages occur.

Our second task is to work out how the Bible’s teaching applies.  The Scriptures were written to real people in real situations.  Those people lived in cultures which are alien to ours.  The situations they faced are in many ways different to those that confront us now.  In building bridges between their times and ours we need to take great care, if our applications of biblical teaching are to be correct.  That will be the theme of the next section.


So where do we start?

The obvious place to begin a Bible search is with the story of Sodom in Genesis 19, if only because the ‘sodomy’ has passed into the English language from this passage of Scripture.  What does the account of Lot’s confrontation with the two heavenly messengers tell us about God’s attitude to homosexuality?

The story is familiar.  ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight?’ screams the mob outside Lot’s door.  ‘Bring them out to us so that we might have sex with them’ (verse 5).  It is only his guests’ powerful intervention which saves Lot’s skin, and Sodom’s destruction follows almost immediately.  No sex act took place, but Christians have long assumed that God’s judgement on the city reflects his extreme displeasure with homosexual intercourse – or even the threat of it.

But is that what the story means?  Forty years ago, Derek Sherwin Bailey pointed out that the Hebrew expression translated ‘have sex with’ in verse 5 is the ordinary word for ‘know’.  The men of Sodom’s sin, he suggested, had nothing to do with sex at all.  It was xenophobia – hostility towards strangers – and that is something which the Bible consistently condemns.

Bailey’s case is weak.  The Hebrew word in question recurs three verses later when – amazingly – Lot offers the aggressive crowd his two virgin daughters if they will spare his male guests.  The sexual connotation there is plain enough.  Moreover, in a similar incident in the won of Gibeah described in Judges 19, the word ‘know’ obviously means ‘have sex with’.  It is a fundamental rule of Biblical exegesis that you fix a word’s meaning, where possible, from its context.  In that light, as Derek Kidner wisely comments, ‘the doubt created by Dr Bailey has travelled more widely that the reasons he produces for it.’

It is clear enough that the male mob’s intention in Sodom was to have homosexual intercourse.  But does God’s judgement on those men clearly prove that he condemns all same-sex behaviour?

The biblical text falls a long way short of proving that.  Sodom’s threatened sin was gang rape.  It comes as no surprise to anybody to find that God condemns this kind of behaviour.  Modern homosexuals do not plead for the legalising of sexual assault.  The loving, consenting relationships they want society to affirm are as distinct from rape as chalk is from cheese.  And Genesis 19 has nothing to say about homosexuality of that sort.

So here is the first note of biblical caution we need to hear.  Whether we like it or not, the story of Sodom is almost totally irrelevant to our modern debate about the rights and wrongs of homosexual relationships.

“Whether we like it or not, the story of Sodom is almost totally irrelevant to our modern debate about the rights and wrongs of homosexual relationships.”

Turning over a few more pages of the Old Testament, we find two unequivocal condemnations of homosexual behaviour in the Levitical law (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13).  Same-sex intercourse is described there as ‘detestable’ and the death penalty is laid down for those who are caught in the act.

If we are looking for plain biblical guidance, these two verses certainly seem to provide it.  There are no overtones of rape to complicate matters, as there are in the story of the threatened assault of Sodom.  But we still need to be absolutely sure what these laws mean and – equally important – how we should apply them.  To work at the meaning and application of Scripture is not to split hairs but to be faithful to the God who has provided his special revelation for our instruction.

We must leave the question of application until later, because it raises the bigger issue of how Christians are meant to use the Old Testament law.  As far as the meaning of these two verses in Leviticus is concerned, the only question that needs concern us is the sense of the word translated ‘detestable’.

Some Old Testament scholars claim that this word is a cultic term.  It is associated only (they say) with idolatry.  So what the law is actually condemning here, when it labels homosexual intercourse as ‘detestable’, is cultic prostitution.  Leviticus has nothing to say to a homosexual couple who have intercourse in order to express their love, not to worship false gods.

In we are to take the meaning of Scriptures seriously, as we must, this is an interpretation well worth investigating.  It is certainly not far-fetched.  We know that male prostitutes had a high profile in pagan rituals during Old Testament times (see, for example, 1 Kings 14:24, 15:12 and 22:46).

Nevertheless, those who maintain that the word in question never occurs outside a cultic context in the Old Testament are claiming too much.  It is used several times in Proverbs, for example, in passages where moral, not religious, offences are highlighted.

The most important thing to work out is the meaning of this word in its context in Leviticus 18-27 (the only place where it is found in this book).  Is the setting here cultic or moral?  If the former, we must pause before taking it as God’s veto on all homosexual intercourse.  If the latter, we can apply it more widely to situations which do not involve the worship of idols.

It would be nice if we could be absolutely certain.  Unfortunately we cannot.  What we can say with confidence, however, is that though there are cultic overtones here and there in Leviticus 18-27 (such as the sacrifice of children to Molech in 20:21 and the defiling of the land in the following verse), it is moral issues which  predominate.  Homosexual behaviour is condemned in the same breath as adultery and incest.  A fair, balanced study of the context in which homosexual intercourse is condemned as ‘detestable’ does not bear out the argument that these laws are only targeted at cultic prostitution.

What about the New Testament’s teaching on homosexuality?  Apart from allusions to Sodom in 2 Peter and Jude, there are just three explicit references to homosexual behaviour – all of them in Paul’s letters.

Some would add to that short list Jesus’ comment about eunuchs: ‘for some are eunuchs because they are born that way’ (Matthew 19:12).  It is more natural, however, to understand this saying as a reference to those who are incapable of having sexual intercourse of any kind, not to congenital homosexuals specifically.

In Romans 1, Paul uses homosexual behaviour to illustrate the way God judges sinners by abandoning them to the destructive power of the lifestyles they themselves have chosen.  Lesbians come under his hammer as well as men who practise gay sex.  So do idolaters and the greedy, the envious and the arrogant.  There is no league table of wickedness; all these sins illustrate the outworking of ‘a depraved mind’ (Romans 1:18-32).

“They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator - who is for ever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural 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 indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.”
Romans 1:25-27

We find a similar list in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.  Among the ‘wicked’ who ‘will not inherit the Kingdom of God’ are ‘male prostitutes’ and ‘homosexual offenders’ – along (note) with drunkards, swindlers and other people whose lifestyles are incompatible with God’s rule in their lives.  As in Romans 1, homosexual offences are not singled out as sins in a league of their own, nevertheless, they are decisively condemned.

“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Finally, in 1 Timothy 1:8-10, ‘perverts’ (the NIV’s translation of the same word Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 6:9) feature in yet another list – of ‘lawbreakers and rebels’ this time, men and women whose behaviour (sexual or otherwise) ‘is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God’.

In spite of their scattered and illustrative nature, these New Testament verses seem to point clearly to just one conclusion: a homosexual lifestyle is against God’s will and subject to his judgement.  Some biblical scholars, however, seriously question whether this is what Paul actually meant.  And if we genuinely want to let Scripture say what it means (and are not just after textual ammunition to fire at opponents), we must listen carefully to their arguments.

In Romans 1, they maintain, Paul targets men and women who ‘abandon natural relations’.  Natural to whom?  Well, natural to them, of course!  He is aiming his guns at heterosexuals who act unnaturally by having homosexual intercourse.  Indeed, he seems to assume that anyone who has intercourse with someone of the same sex is a heterosexual gone wrong.  We cannot blame Paul for that assumption (the argument goes) because it is only recently that the experts have revealed the existence to a fixed homosexual orientation.  Nevertheless, we cannot extend his condemnation of unnatural sexual behaviour to cover people who accept same-sex intercourse as the most natural thing in the world for them.

In 1 Corinthians 6, the same scholars point out that Paul’s negative reference to ‘homosexual offenders’ comes in the context of an extended passage about prostitution.  When trying to discover the meaning of a biblical verse, we know how important it is to read the words in their wider context.  So is Paul’s real target here promiscuity – straight or gay?  If he only means to condemn those who treat intercourse as a recreational release from a demanding physical appetite, homosexual couples who intend to live in an exclusive, lifelong relationship do not come into the picture here at all.  All Paul is condemning is the one night stand.

There is also a serious problem in understanding the meaning of the words Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 6.  The expression translated ‘male prostitutes’ (malakoi) in verse 9 is the ordinary Greek word for ‘soft’.  Some writers in New Testament times used it to describe boy prostitutes.  Given that restricted meaning, might not the next word (arsenokoitai, translated ‘homosexual offenders’) logically have a cultic significance, too?  After all, this letter was addressed to a bustling city port where sailors and traders were encouraged to let off their sexual steam in the name of religion by buying the services of temple prostitutes.  If that was what Paul had in mind, we are quite wrong to translate either expression as though he meant it to apply to two homosexual people in love.

Finally, argue some scholars, the context of 1 Timothy 1:10 highlights wrecked relationships.  ‘Perverts’ come in the same category as those who ruin other people’s lives by killing, stealing and telling lies.  But two homosexual people who have intercourse to seal their love and cement their relationship are not wreckers at all.  It is surely quite wrong to use Paul’s words to condemn something that never entered his mind.

Quite deliberately, I have set out the exegetical case against the popular understanding of these New Testament passages without hinting at any counter-arguments.  The scholars whose position I have summarised demand our serious attention simply because they highlight two vital principles of biblical interpretation.  If we have a high view of the Bible’s verbal inspiration, we must take great pains to discover what biblical words actually mean.  And if we believe that Scripture retains its authority today, we must pay special attention to the original contexts to which its teaching was directed.  If those exercises torpedo some of our most cherished ideas about Christian beliefs and behaviour – so be it.

There are counter-arguments, of course.  Most of them bridge the gap between the meaning of Scripture and its use – the two main sections of this article.  For that reason, I will not set them out quite yet.  But we can at least deal briefly at this point with the linguistic doubts raised by the two key words Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 6:9.

The problem, you will remember, is whether the words malakoi (translated ‘male prostitutes’) and arsenokoitai (‘homosexual offenders’) are just religious words in Paul’s vocabulary.  Do they refer to religious prostitution – and nothing else?

As far as arsenokoitai is concerned, the case for giving the word such a restricted meaning is very weak indeed.  This expression is, in fact, two Greek words rolled into one.  Put together, they mean ‘male intercourse’.  There is no evidence that this expression was ever used in a specialised religious way.  It simply refers to men who have sexual intercourse – for whatever reason – with other men.

The case for limiting the meaning of malakoi to religious prostitution is a little stronger, but by no means conclusive.  Outside the Bible it occasionally has this restricted sense, but there is no other example of its use in Scripture to encourage us to endorse the NIV’s narrow translation.  The word itself simply means ‘soft’.  Many commentators – and they are as likely to be right as the scholars who disagree with them – think that Paul is referring to the ‘soft’ or submissive partner in a homosexual relationship here.

Linguistically, it is fair to say that a shadow of doubt may remain.  But the weight of the evidence suggests that Paul has all kinds of homosexual behaviour in mind, not only male prostitution, just as he intends to make no distinctions later on in his list between different kinds of greed and slander.


How the Bible’s teaching applies

So far, we have identified the few passages in Scripture which refer to homosexuality explicitly, and have struggled with different interpretations of the biblical text.  Now we move on to the next stage.

When we are reasonably sure what the biblical writers meant to say, only half the exercise has been completed.

That is not to disparage what we have been doing up to this point in the article.  All too often church leaders who claim to teach biblically, especially on a subject as emotive as homosexuality, twist the meaning of Scripture to prop up their own pre-set conclusions – rather like a secretary who drafts the minute of the meeting before it has happened.  That is very tempting, but very wrong.  Discovering what the text of Scripture means is the foundation on which accurate application of its teaching rests.

Nevertheless, we must not muddle the two exercises.  Biblical builders have not finished their task when they have laid the foundation.  Discovering how the Bible’s teaching applies across the culture gap between then and now is not something which comes automatically once the meaning of Scripture has been worked out.  Building sensible applications calls for even more careful work.

Do not be put off by that thought – the rewards are exciting!

The idea of a ‘culture gap’ is a helpful starting point.  It is worth repeating that the biblical writers did not aim their words into a cultural vacuum.  They spoke to real people living in real places over the course of several centuries of real time.  The political, economic and religious conditions in which those people lived were – by and large – quite different from ours.  It should not surprise us, therefore, to find the Bible addressing issues that make us either smile or scratch our heads.  Nor should we be puzzled when Scripture says nothing about issues which (to us) cry out for clear teaching – like nuclear war and organ transplants.  There is a culture gap to be bridged.

In thinking about homosexuality, we have already glimpsed the breadth of this gap.  If the Old Testament law has ritual prostitution in its sights when it targets homosexual intercourse, how can we apply that teaching to today’s world where most prostitutes do not sell their bodies in the name of religion?  If Paul did not understand about a fixed homosexual orientation, how can we apply what he says about ‘unnatural’ sex to modern situations?  How do we build bridges across the culture gap between biblical times and our own?

The most important thing to do in this bridge building exercise is to recognise the difference between lasting principles and specific rules in Scripture.  To take just one straight forward example (and one which has nothing to do with sex), the Old Testament law tells householders to build parapets round their roofs.  That was a specific rule aimed at people who lived in houses with flat roofs on which they often entertained their guests.  As a law, its wording does not apply to most  21st century Christian householders living in the United Kingdom.  Our homes are not usually built that way.

But the principle this Old Testament law expresses – that God’s people are under a moral obligation to make sure that visitors to their homes are safe – is one that crosses every culture gap.  And it would, of course, be very east to retranslate it into specifically modern guidelines (referring, perhaps, to slippery floors or exposed electrical wiring).

Forgive me if that sounds trivial.  At a deeper theological level, a search for lasting principles will take us straight to the fundamental truths of our faith – truths that transcend all human differences, like the nature of God (which ultimately defines the difference between right and wrong), his creation scheme for mankind, and his kingdom lifestyle for those who submit to his rule.

Yes, the water is getting deeper!  But we must plunge in, if we are to apply the Bible’s teaching about homosexuality to modern society with any confidence.  And once we have identified the lasting principle which underlies a specific biblical rule or veto, its application usually becomes clearer and compelling.


Revisiting the Texts

It is time to re-visit the key New Testament passages about homosexuality.  What are the lasting principles which underlie Paul’s highly specific vetoes on homosexual behaviour when he writes to Christians living in first-century Rome and Corinth, and to Timothy in Ephesus.

In Romans 1, Paul’s theme is God’s creation scheme.  His aim is to show how mankind has made a bad exchange, both spiritually and morally, from the Creator’s plan for human life.  The word ‘exchange’ holds his argument together in the second half of the article.  Men and women were created to glorify God, he writes, but they ‘exchange the glory of the immortal God for images ….  They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator’ (verses 19-25).  And that bad spiritual exchange was matched morally, as ‘their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones.  In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another’ (verses 26-27).

Here, in a nutshell, is the great, lasting principle which underlies Paul’s distinction between ‘natural’ and ‘homosexual’ sexual behaviour.  He may have had promiscuous heterosexuals at the front of his mind when he wrote his letter to the Christians in Rome – men and women in Roman society who were sacrificing their sexual integrity by experimenting with same-sex intercourse.  He may even have been ignorant of the existence of people with a fixed homosexual orientation – though personally I doubt it.  These just may have been the specific cultural conditions in which Paul’s readers at Rome lived out their sexual lives.  But the lasting principle he invokes to condemn the specific kind of homosexual behaviour they knew builds a solid bridge across the gap between their culture and ours.

In writing about ‘natural relations’ within the context of God’s creation scheme, Paul is not referring to individual men and women as they were and are.  By ‘unnatural’, he does not mean ‘what seems unnatural to me as a homosexual or heterosexual person’.  His canvas is much broader than that.  He is taking the argument back, far more radically, to man and woman as the Creator made them.  And when we follow his lead and look back to what we are told about the beginnings of human sexuality in the Book of Genesis, we find that sexual intercourse was intended to be the seal on a faithful, loving, exclusive heterosexual relationship.  As God created man and woman together in his image, ‘becoming one flesh’ in heterosexual intercourse is not just a union but a reunion – and a homosexual relationship is in effect a denial of that awesome divine arrangement.

Putting it all together, Paul is arguing that homosexual behaviour is as much the outcome of mankind’s rebellion against God as idolatry – or (as he goes on to say) greed, envy and gossip.  The bad ‘exchange’ he highlights is not just the capricious sex-swapping of a heterosexual person searching for a fresh physical stimulus but the divergence all homosexual behaviour represents from God’s creation scheme.  When seen in the light of that lasting principle, every homosexual act is ‘unnatural’.

If Paul’s argument in Romans 1 moves against the backdrop of creation, the doctrine of the Kingdom of God provides the setting for his veto on homosexual behaviour in 1 Corinthians 6.  Certain kinds of behaviour, he warns his readers, are incompatible with life in God’s Kingdom.  That is the principle at stake.  And among those behaviour patterns (which include, please notice, greed and slander) is a homosexual lifestyle.  People who acknowledge God’s rule must turn their back on these things.  And the good news is that our situation is never hopeless, however ingrained the bad habits may be.  Change in the power of God’s Spirit is always possible.  No doubt Paul had particular individuals in his mind’s eye as he concluded in triumph, ‘And that is what some of you were’ (verse 11).

Once again, it is recognition of the principle behind the rule which builds the necessary bridge across the culture gap between New Testament times and our own.  Paul certainly had prostitution at the front of his mind when he wrote this chapter, but he gives his veto on homosexual behaviour (as well as on the other attitudes and activities in his list) far wider currency by rooting his rules for Christian living firmly in the doctrine of the Kingdom.  The Bible tells us that God’s Kingdom will fully come when his will is perfectly done.  And in that eschatological scenario there is no place for homosexual behaviour.

What then, of Paul’s third list of banned activities in 1 Timothy 1?  In some ways, this is the most compelling of them all.

Paul is writing about the lasting relevance of God’s law.  The wording of the Ten Commandments is, in fact, only just below the surface of his list of banned activities in verses 9 and 10.  He does not quote the Old Testament’s wording exactly because he is keen to do exactly what we are trying to achieve in this article.  His aim is to apply God’s Word across the culture gap which separated Old Testament times from his own.

So he takes the principles behind the commandments and re-clothes them in contemporary language.  ‘You shall not murder’ is sharpened to include ‘those who kill their fathers and mothers’ – a practice all too well known in the sub-culture of the pagan city where Timothy worked.  And ‘You shall not steal’ is aimed at slave traders – because there was a thriving black market in kidnapped slaves in Ephesus.

It is all the more interesting, therefore, to find Paul’s condemnation of ‘adulterers and perverts’ (or ‘male homosexuals’ – the second word translates arsenokoitai, which we have looked at already) is his updated version of the seventh commandment – ‘You shall not commit adultery’.  He obviously believed that homosexual behaviour betrays the principle behind this commandment as blatantly as heterosexual unfaithfulness.  The parallel is incredibly striking.


Summing Up

We are now in a position to sum up.  The three New Testament references to homosexuality which we have been examining are not three isolated passages from letters written to long-forgotten early Christian communities.  Once we expose the lasting principles behind the specific prohibitions, we find that we are handling three links in a very impressive doctrinal chain.

All three references are to do with God’s will – something that crosses every culture gap.  Romans 1 sets out his will as Creator.  1 Corinthians 6 explores his will as King.  And 1 Timothy 1 illustrates his will as law-giver.  We can draw a straight theological line from God’s creation plan (when his will was perfectly done) through to the coming of his Kingdom (when it will be perfectly done once more).  And the biblical link between the two is the Ten Commandments – God’s law which reflects his creation plan for human behaviour and anticipates his Kingdom lifestyle.

The conclusion is clearly inescapable.  In God’s scheme for mankind, from the beginning of creation to the coming of his Kingdom, homosexual behaviour has no place.

And yet we have not quite reached the end of the biblical road.

Towards the beginning of this section I forecast that a search for lasting principles would take us straight to the fundamental truths of our faith.  I mentioned three in particular.  We have already found our way to two of them – the great doctrines of Creation and of God’s Kingdom.  What about the third?

The third, if you remember, is the nature of God himself.  And fundamental to the Lord’s nature, according to Scripture, is the quality of love (see 1 John 4:16).

Here we have to move with great care.  For one thing, ‘love’ is such a slippery word.  If we want to use it biblically, we must make sure it is packed with its biblical meaning (agape is the New Testament word).  And in the second place we must not be taken in by the false reasoning that tries to persuade us that any action – even one that breaks God’s law – is justified if it is done lovingly.  Jesus never taught that.  He told his followers that love is law’s headline (Matthew 22:37-40).  He never suggested that it is the Heavenly Editor’s blue pencil which puts a line through the small print underneath (see, for example, Matthew 5:17-20).

Nevertheless, Christians who uphold the Bible’s condemnation of homosexual behaviour with great relish, but without a glimmer of love for homosexual people, earn Mark Twain’s caustic description of being ‘good people in the worst sense of the word’.  Homophobia – a fear of homosexuals which leads to rejection – should not be on any church’s agenda.

“Homophobia should not be on any church's agenda”

To explore the ways in which God’s agape standard can be applied would need another article.  Let me conclude this one by making just two suggestions.

The first is that Christians should be in the forefront of those who protest when homosexuals are treated unjustly.  That is because love and injustice are incompatible.  Whenever homosexual people are the object of snide humour on the television screen or harsh penalties in the law-courts, genuinely loving Christian people ought to be the first to stand up in their support.  Any minority group which suffers discrimination should have full Christian backing in a struggle for their legal and moral rights.

My second suggestion is also a requirement, if biblical standards are to be kept.  Those who accept the Bible’s veto on homosexual behaviour must go out of their way to express genuine love for homosexual people.

At least two important distinctions underlie this essential Christian requirement.  In the first place, temptation is not the same as sin.  Even if homosexual acts are wrong in God’s eyes, it is not sinful to be tempted to make love to someone of your own sex – unless, of course, you go on to perform the act mentally (see Matthew 5:27-28 where Jesus has heterosexuals in his sights).  Heterosexual Christians who ostracise their homosexual neighbours simply because of the pattern of temptations they experience are very confused and very wrong.

About the Author

David Field was formerly Vice-Principal of Oak Hill Theological College, London.  This article originally appeared in The Anglican Evangelical Crisis (edited by Melvin Tinker) and appears with his permission. He is not the David Field currently teaching at Oak Hill!