How did I come to change my mind? How did I move from believing that the Bible said that all same-sex relationships are wrong to where I am now? This part of my story is not in chronological order, because it is a journey that did not take place in anything like a straight line. It took place over nearly 20 years, with many changes of direction and wrong turns along the way.
There are really only six passages in the Bible that can be used as primary evidence that all same-sex relationships are wrong. They are the story of Sodom in Genesis 19; a couple of verses in Leviticus, 18.22 and 20.13; Romans 1; 1 Corinthians 6.9–10; and 1 Timothy 1.9–10.
One approach to these questions is to ask what do these passages mean? This is an interesting question and one which many people, including me, have studied at length over the years. Unfortunately, while it is interesting, it isn’t a terribly practical question. Instead, I want to consider how these passages relate to two typical same-sex couples.
- Alan and Ben are two men in a committed, faithful, same-sex relationship. They are both Christian.
- Carol and Diane are two women in a committed, faithful, same-sex relationship. They are both Christian.
Although these are two hypothetical couples, they are representative of real-life same-sex couples that I know. We will go through these passages in the order that they appear in the Bible.
Genesis 19: the story of Sodom
In Genesis 19, two angels visit the ancient city of Sodom. They are offered shelter in Lot’s house, but an angry crowd surrounds the house and demands that the visitors are brought out. I think it is reasonable to conclude that the crowd wanted to rape the visitors. That is the dominant theme of the story.
Rape is always wrong. It doesn’t matter what the genders of the people involved are. In Judges 19, we have the story of the destruction of Gibeah. In that story, Gibeah is destroyed because of the rape of a woman. Nobody should look at the story of the rape in Gibeah and extrapolate from that to conclude that God hates all heterosexual sex. Nobody should look at the story of the attempted rape in Sodom and extrapolate from that to conclude that God hates homosexual sex. These stories teach us that rape is wrong. They are not about consensual, loving, sexual relationships.
What does Genesis 19 teach us about the morality of Alan and Ben’s relationship? Alan has never raped Ben, and Ben has never raped Alan. Genesis 19 tells us nothing about their relationship, and it certainly doesn’t tell us that it is wrong. If you try to use Genesis 19 to show that their relationship is wrong, then you are reading something into Scripture that isn’t there.
What does Genesis 19 teach us about the morality of Carol and Diane’s relationship? Once again, Carol has never raped Diane, and Diane has never raped Carol, so Genesis 19 tells us nothing about their relationship. There is an additional factor here. If Genesis 19 is about male–male rape, then another reason why it doesn’t tell us anything about Carol and Diane’s relationship is because neither of them is male. If you try to use Genesis 19 to show that their relationship is wrong, then you are reading two things into Scripture that aren’t there.
Leviticus 18.22 and 20.13: the Law of Moses
Before we think about what Leviticus says about the two relationships we are considering, we have to think about what the role of the Law of Moses is in our lives today. Do we have to follow it? In short, we do not. We are not under the Law, but under grace.1 This is an absolutely core Christadelphian belief, and one of the Doctrines to be Rejected is that “the law of Moses is binding”.
Sometimes people argue that the Law of Moses can be divided into ‘moral’ law and ‘ceremonial’ law, and that Christ’s sacrifice only released us from the ceremonial parts of the Law. While this is an interesting idea, it is one that is not supported by the Word of God. Galatians 3.25
But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster
in particular makes this clear.
Even though we are not under the Law of Moses, it is worth considering what Leviticus 18.20 and 20.13 mean. Leviticus 18.6–20 contains a list of several prohibited sexual relationships. Verse 12 is fairly typical,
Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy father’s sister: she is thy father’s near kinswoman.
the key phrase here is “uncover the nakedness of”. That is repeated throughout the list of prohibited relationships. The phrase “thou shalt not lie carnally with” is used in verse 20.
Leviticus 18.22 uses a different phrase.
Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind.
The translators used a different English phrase here because the underlying Hebrew is different. The Hebrew does not say, “Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of a man” or “Thou shalt not lie carnally with a man”. The meaning of the underlying idiom is not clear,2 and if the author of Leviticus had meant verse 22 to be a prohibition as general as the ones in 6–20, he would surely have used the same Hebrew idiom. This same, unclear, idiom is used in Leviticus 20:13 as well. Fortunately, as we are not under the Law, we do not have to worry about the precise meaning of this prohibition.
What do these passages mean for our two couples? Once again nothing, as the two couples are under grace, not the Law. Binding them with the prohibitions of Leviticus 18 is as foolish as requiring Alan and Ben, or any other male Christadelphian, to follow the rule in Leviticus 19.27:
Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard.
These passages, like Genesis 19, cannot be applied to female–female relationships. That is a second reason why Leviticus tells us nothing about Carol and Diane’s relationship. In fact, even the most conservative reading of the Old Testament has no verses that can be used to argue that female–female relationships are wrong. This means we must be on our guard if we come across something in the New Testament that suggests that they are. After all, consider a Jewish female couple in the first century. It would seem usual that they would be expected to end their relationship if they wanted to convert to Christianity.
Verses 26 and 27 of Romans 1 are commonly used to show that all same- sex relationships are wrong. However, when we examine these verses in context, we find a different message. In verses 21–23, the chapter describes people who abandoned God and became idol worshippers,
…when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
and then these people, the idol worshippers from verses 21–23, start to sin sexually,
Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. (vv. 24-25)
and then, the idol worshippers extend their sexual sin to include same-sex activity in verses 26 and 27.
For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use of that which is against nature: and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.
The pattern is idolatry, followed by opposite-sex sexual sins, followed by same-sex sexual sins.
You would be right to point out that the language used in verses 26 and 27 is extremely negative. Could it be argued that, because this language is so negative, all same-sex relationships are wrong, even those between Christians? In verses 24 and 25, opposite-sex sexual relationships are described, and they are described using equally negative language. If you are going to argue that the negative language in verses 26 and 27 means all same-sex relationships are wrong, then you should also argue that the negative language in verses 24 and 25 means all opposite-sex relationships are wrong, and that is clearly a ridiculous position to take.
What does this mean for our two couples? Remember, they are two Christian couples. They are not idol worshippers. Romans 1 does not talk about them, and this passage cannot be used to say that their relationships are wrong.
1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy
The final two passages are 1 Corinthians 6.9–10 and 1 Timothy 1.9–10.
Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6.9–10, emphasis mine)
Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine; (1 Timothy 1.9–10, emphasis mine)
In 1 Corinthians, the word ‘effeminate’ is malakos in Greek and the phrases ‘abusers of themselves with mankind’ is arsenokoites. A footnote to the NIV translation says,
The words …[are] two Greek words that refer to the passive and active participants in homosexual acts.
In 1 Timothy, arsenokoites is translated as “them that defile themselves with mankind”, but malakos is not present.
If the NIV is correct in its interpretation of these words, we have to ask why the words appear together in 1 Corinthians, but only one of them is in 1 Timothy. After all, you can’t have one partner without the other. This is the first thing that should suggest to us that the interpretation of these passages has to be done with care.
Same-sex relationships were well-known and even celebrated in the first century Greco-Roman world. First century Greek has a rich vocabulary for talking about sexual relationships between men,3 and the words malakos and arsenokoites are not part of that vocabulary. In particular, the word kinaedos carries the meaning that the NIV ascribes to malakos.4
Although the etymology of arsenokoites can be used to suggest a connection with sex between men, the etymology of a word is not a solid guide to its meaning, and in other ancient sources arsenokoites is used to describe sexual sin between a husband and wife.5
Once again, reading these passages as general references to same-sex relationships is reading into Scripture something that is not there. If Paul had intended these passages to contain condemnation of same-sex relationships, he would have used other words. These passages teach us nothing about Alan and Ben’s relationship, or about Carol and Diane’s relationship.
What did Jesus teach?
What did Jesus teach about same-sex relationships? In particular, did he condemn them, or brand them all as sinful?
There can be no doubt that Jesus approved of men and women marrying.
And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder. (Matthew 19.4–6)
But does everybody have to follow this pattern? No:
But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. (Matthew 19.11)
If you remember nothing else about Jesus’ teaching on marriage and relationships, remember that verse. It is good for men and women to marry, but it is not for everyone.
We cannot twist Jesus’ support for men and women marrying into opposition for same-sex relationships, because at the very least we have to acknowledge that he did not teach that every man should marry a woman.
Where is Jesus’ condemnation of same-sex relationships? It is nowhere.
The core teaching of Christianity is what Christ taught himself. Everything else must be mere aspects of that. If same-sex relationships are fundamentally wrong, if a same-sex relationship can never be ‘pleasing’ to God, why can we not find Christ teaching that in the Gospels? It is inconceivable that our Master would have failed to tell us about such an important teaching.
What about the story of Adam and Eve? Does that teach that same-sex relationships are wrong?
And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. (Genesis 2.18)
That verse is the foundation of marriage; marriage is fundamentally about companionship. Can someone find a help meet through a same-sex relationship? Of course they can. I am in a same-sex relationship, and my partner is my “help meet”, and I am his. Our relationship matches the pattern of an Eden-like marriage. We can’t reproduce, but neither can many opposite-sex couples, and reproduction only came about after the Fall, so it cannot be an essential part of an Eden-like marriage.
In this article I have presented what I think the Bible teaches about same-sex relationships. It may or may not be what you think the Bible teaches about them, but I hope you can see that this is an issue of scriptural interpretation, not one of scriptural authority. It is much more of a conscience issue than one of doctrine. What ought we to do? Romans 14.5 tells us:
Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
Paul wasn’t just talking about holy days, he was writing about all matters of conduct.
Paul went on to say
no man [should] put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way (Romans 14.13).
If you say that Alan and Ben must end their relationship before joining your ecclesia, think how huge a stumbling block that would be to both of them. As long as they are fully persuaded in their own minds, their relationship is of faith and not of sin.
I believe in a loving God, a God who doesn’t want anyone to perish, but wants everyone to come to repentance. If same-sex relationships are fundamentally wrong, if being in a same-sex relationship is inherently sinful, then I believe God would have made it clear. After years of Bible study, comparing scripture to scripture, and comparing scripture to my own life and my own direct experience of same-sex relationships, I came to the conclusion that, while the Bible speaks out against some sexual behaviours, it does not speak out against all same-sex relationships.
1. See, for example, Romans 6.14, Galatians 3.24–25, and Galatians 5.18.
2. For an academic discussion of the idiom, please see Olyan, S.M. (1994) ‘ “And with a male you shall not lie the lying down of a woman”: on the meaning and significance of Leviticus 18:22 and 20: 13’ in Journal of the History of Sexuality, (Oct. 1994) vol 5, no. 2, pp. 197–206, Austin: University of Texas Press. Also available online at http://www.jstor.org/stable/3704197/ [last accessed 21 October 2012].
3. See for example Hubbard, Thomas K., ed., Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: A Sourcebook of Basic Documents, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. Print. http://www.laits.utexas.edu/ancienthomosexuality/.
4. Dale B. Martin, (1996) “Arsenokoiês and Malakos: Meanings and Consequences”, Chapter 8, in Robert L. Brawley, ed., Biblical Ethics and Homosexuality, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press. Also available online at http://www.clgs.org/arsenokoites-and-malakosmeanings-and-consequences/
5. The translation and practical application of 1 Corinthians 6.9–10 and 1 Timothy 1.9–10 is discussed in more detail in Martin 1996 and McFarland Campbell, A. R. A., Same-Sex Relationships: 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy, http://mcfarlandcampbell.co.uk/2012/10/25/corinthians-and-timothy/.