Homosexuality And The Bible
“What do Christians think of gay people?”
Whenever I’m asked this kind of question, I try to answer in three parts.
There are a few places in the Bible which talk about homosexuality directly, so it might seem like a good idea to start with one of those. But it’s pretty hard to understand what the Bible says about homosexuality unless you know what it says about sexuality. So it’s much better to start with the Big Picture, then get into the specifics.
But my goal is always to try to say something about Jesus. More than anything, I want people to see how brilliant he is, and I want them to see that they can trust him with their lives.
We could say loads about each of these (and I’ve suggested some good places to find out more if you want to), but here goes…
Look at the Big Picture
Right from the beginning, the Bible explains that we’re more than just mammals; God created human beings deliberately, with significance and meaning. And that means everything about us, including sex, is meaningful and significant too. In fact, one of God’s first commands to Adam and Eve was to “be fruitful” – basically, to have sex and make lots of babies!
Genesis 2 zooms in to give us a closer look at the way God created Adam and Eve. Adam needed a helper, but he needed more than a sidekick so he didn’t get lonely. He needed the right kind of companion, someone like him (a human being) but different to him (a woman). He needed someone like Eve.
Then we see God’s pattern for marriage laid out, not just for Adam and Eve, but for humanity: one man will leave his family and start a new one with his wife. And they will be united so closely that they become ‘one flesh’ - it’s like they become a new person. When sex is enjoyed within a marriage like this, it expresses and deepens the intimacy a husband and wife share.
But then in the New Testament, when Paul talks about sex and marriage (Ephesians 5), he explains that marriage, where the one-flesh intimacy of sex is enjoyed, has always been a picture of something bigger. It’s actually a miniaturised picture of the relationship that God wants to have with humanity. It describes the way that Jesus loves God’s people, the church. The committed and faithful relationship between a husband and wife points to the committed and faithful relationship that Jesus enjoys with the church. And the intimacy and union that a husband and wife experience is a reflection of the intimacy and union that Jesus and his people can know.
So if we start changing sex and marriage, it really matters. It matters because when we change the miniature version, we change what we’re saying about big picture.
But the sad fact is that ever since the first humans rejected God’s way of living and decided to go it alone, all of our other relationships have been broken in all kinds of ways. And now all of us feel the pull to express our sexuality in ways that don’t fit with God’s pattern. Unmarried people want to have sex with people they aren’t married to. Married people want to have sex with someone other than their husband or wife. Some people want to have sex with someone of the same sex.
And that means that lots of Christians have to set aside what they want to do and instead do live the way God wants.
Can you see how this is a big challenge for everyone, whatever your sexual orientation happens to be? But if we believe that God’s pattern for sex and marriage is good, and if we want our lives to display the truth about the kind of relationship God wants with us, then I think it’s a challenge worth accepting.
That’s the Big Picture, and it forms the backdrop to anything else the Bible says about sex and marriage.
There are only about six places in the Bible that seem to talk about homosexuality, three in the Old Testament, and three in the New. Lots of people will (correctly) point out that isn’t many, but that doesn’t mean the subject isn’t important. The Big Picture we just looked at is always there in the background; these six passages are places where the implication of that big picture are applied to homosexuality.
The Old Testament
The first one is in Genesis 19, where two angels visit Lot in a city called Sodom. During the night all the men in the city arrive and demand that Lot allow them to have sex with his guests. In the end, the angelic visitors strike the men blind and then destroy Sodom as punishment.
Of course, no gay person I know would argue that treating people like this is OK. But when Jude writes about this incident (in Jude 7), he deliberately highlights their “sexual immorality” and “unnatural desire”. There are clearly lots of things wrong with this situation, but at least part of the picture is that this is men having sex with men.
Then in Leviticus there are two places (18:22 and 20:13) which talk about men having sex with men. There are some important questions about how Christians understand the laws in the Old Testament, but what’s clear here is that God labels lots of different kinds of sexual relationship as sinful, and that includes between two people of the same sex.
The New Testament
All three mentions of homosexuality in the New Testament come from Paul the apostle, and all of them in letters he wrote to help Christians understand how serious sin is, but also how good God is and how willing he is to forgive us and welcome us back.
In the first chapter of Romans Paul explains how human beings have ignored the obvious truth about God and put other things in his place. One of the ways you see it in action is our relationships, as people have sex with whoever they want, even when it doesn’t fit with God’s design for us. But that’s not the only way. Paul includes a whole list other examples, from greed and lying to gossip and disobeying your parents!
In fact, when Paul talks about homosexuality, each time he includes it as one of a list of sins. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and 1 Timothy 1:9-11, he includes two more lists of things that followers of Jesus shouldn’t do, because they don’t fit with the new identity and the new priorities that come with knowing Jesus. He includes sex between two men, but he includes lots of other things too. And that’s really important; the uncomfortable truth is that whatever your sexual orientation, you’re probably included in the list. Sin isn’t a problem for LGBT people – it’s a problem for human beings, including you. And we all need Jesus to help us and forgive us.
Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of discussion about these Bible passages because they have big implications for how we think about sex and sexuality, and you should definitely check out some of the books I’ll recommend at the end to find out more. But as well as the big picture of sex and sexuality that God gives us in the Bible, he says some specific things too.
Say something about Jesus
When you talk about what the Bible says about homosexuality, I think you’ve missed the point if you don’t mention Jesus.
You can’t really understand anything else I’ve said without Jesus. The God who tells us how he thinks we should live is also the God who stepped into the world in the person of Jesus to bring us back to him. And he died to pay for all the ways we fail to live the way he wants. That puts things in a very different perspective, doesn’t it? But, sadly, that’s an important detail that often gets lost.
And you’ll also find that a lot of LGBT people might have big problems with ‘the church’ or with Christians, but find Jesus attractive and intriguing. And it’s not hard to see why.
If you open up any of the gospels and have a look at Jesus, one of the things that leaps out is the way Jesus welcomes outsiders. Sick people, people with bad reputations or questionable pasts. All kinds of people from the very edges of society - Jesus went to them, and they flocked to Jesus. You also notice that Jesus doesn’t is clear with people about where they’re going wrong and how they need to change. But he saves his harshest words for those who claim that certain people are too bad or too hopeless to be accepted by God.
Ultimately, Jesus was willing to die to rescue us and to bring us into a life-giving relationship with the God who made us. That’s how much he loves and welcomes outsiders! Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, whatever your sexual orientation.
And, I don’t know about you, but no-one else has ever done anything like that for me. Jesus gave his life for me. So I trust him. I trust that he wants what’s best for me, and I trust him when he asks me to do hard things and make hard choices. And Jesus himself promises that it will be worth it, like selling your possessions and ending up with something infinitely more valuable (check out Matthew 13:44-45).
So, what do Christians think of gay people? When your friends ask you that question – and they almost certainly will – you can say something. Give them the big picture, because it’s a big question. But get specific too. And, above all, say something about Jesus, because he’s the one your friends need to hear about, whoever they are.
Want to know more? I’d recommend you check out www.livingout.org, which tackles some of these issues in the kind of detail they deserve. And two of my favourite books on the subject are ‘Is God Anti-Gay?’ by Sam Allberry, and ‘Living in a Gray World?’ by Preston Sprinkle.
This article has been written by Gareth Leaney, a writer for Living Out, a group of Christians who experience same-sex attraction and seek to bring out into the open the questions and dilemmas that gay Christians can often face.