*Editor’s Note: As the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments on same-sex marriage this week, the Church & Culture Team felt it timely to take a recent address by Dr. White on the matter and turn it into a four-blog series that will be issued Monday-Thursday of this week. This is part two of that series. To read earlier installments, click here.
To address the issue of homosexuality biblically, we have to begin with God's original design for human sexuality and relationship. This design is found in the book of Genesis, which tells the story of the very creation of humanity:
The Lord God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him’...the Lord God made a woman...and brought her to the man...For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame." (Genesis 2:18, 22, 24-25, NIV)
There are four foundational truths to be learned from that passage.
First, that God created sexual identity.
Second, that in making sexual identity, He made human beings male and female. That was the sexual identity He made. After Adam, a man, was created, a help-mate was made that was suitable, appropriate and correct. For Adam, that person was a woman.
Third, we find that God created sexual intimacy. Not just identity, but intimacy.
Finally, that God intended the expression of that sexual intimacy to take place between a man and a woman in the context of marriage. This means that femininity and masculinity are at the heart of God’s design. They form the basis for marriage, for the two becoming one.
Both genders reflect God’s image, and together, reflect and honor God as they join in union with one another. God created men, God created women and God created marriage so that their differences would complete one another in every conceivable way - emotionally, physically and spiritually.
Which means marriage is more than merely personal. It is more than a contract. And it is much more than tax returns and health insurance. As an editorial from Christianity Today once opined, it is a lived-out parable of the principles that undergird the universe. It is the foundational building block of human society. This is why the Bible says that for this reason a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one (Genesis 2:24).
Which brings us to homosexuality.
Homosexual behavior departs from God's blueprint in two foundational ways:
First, instead of embracing the man-woman design, homosexual behavior embraces a same-sex (man-man, woman-woman) preference as the blueprint for sexual intimacy.
Second, at least until recently, it also departed from God’s intent for that sexual intimacy to take place within the confines of marriage.
Bracketing off the marriage issue for a moment, let’s look at what the Bible has to say about the choice for same-sex sexual intimacy.
In the Old Testament book of Leviticus, the Bible says:
"Do not practice homosexuality; it is a detestable sin." (Leviticus 18:22, NLT)
Then one chapter later, it adds:
"If a man has sex with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is abhorrent." (Leviticus 20:13, Msg)
The same is upheld in the New Testament. This is from the book of Romans:
"Instead of believing what they knew was the truth about God, they deliberately chose to believe lies...Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. And the men, instead of having normal sexual relationships with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men....” (Romans 1:25-27, NLT)
There are other verses, but I won’t take time to read them all. Suffice it to say that every single reference to homosexual behavior in the Bible - Old and New Testament - condemns it.
Without question, and without qualification.
The passages aren’t ambiguous, in the way that people might have once looked to the Bible to cherry-pick things and erroneously affirm slavery, or make women second-class citizens.
You don’t have that with these passages.
As Edith Humphrey has written, there are no internal tensions on this matter, and “the moral tradition of the church, from the earliest period into the Reformation and since, has been emphatic: Homoerotic behavior is against the will of God.”
But some have still questioned whether what we just read really says what it seems to say.
It seems clear enough on the surface, but those who wish to advocate for the legitimacy of a homosexual lifestyle have gone to great pains to discredit each and every biblical reference.
For example, in the passage that we read from Leviticus, they would argue that the book of Leviticus goes on to condemn eating shellfish, cutting your sideburns and getting tattoos. They would say that it’s all ancient religious law shattered by the New Testament fulfillment in Christ, including what it says about homosexuality.
Yet that is a terribly misguided and misinformed way to read the Scriptures. You can’t write these off as mere cultic practices in ancient Israel, and no longer binding on Christians, because that misses out on one of the basic understandings of the Old Testament. Namely, that there is a whole body of teaching on ritual uncleanness and a whole body of teaching on clear immoral behavior.
One was time bound – caught up with the sacrificial system of the people of Israel.
One was timeless.
There’s one thing when it describes temple rituals. It’s a whole other deal when it’s talking about the Ten Commandments. Those are two different things.
Further, the New Testament condemns it too!
So when it’s talked about in the Old Testament, it’s rooted in creation. In morality. It’s not the same as which foods you can eat, or what’s kosher or not. Just like the prohibitions in the Old Testament against incest, the prohibition against homoerotic behavior is for every age.
Then there are those who take the New Testament verses to task by saying that while it seems to condemn homosexuality, it was really talking about male prostitutes, but not same-sex consensual relationships.
The problem with that is that the Greek words used for homosexuality in the New Testament were very clear. They referred to homosexuality of any and every kind.
So the conclusion remains:
God created human beings as male and female. He meant for sexual intimacy to be there and there alone in the context of marriage. As a result, the Bible sees any departure from that design as outside of God's will for our lives.
James Emery White
Editorial, “Just Married?” Christianity Today, April 24, 2000, read online.
Edith Humphrey, “What God Hath Not Joined,” Christianity Today, September 1, 2004, read online.
Adapted from the fourth installment of “Holy Matrimony,” a series at Mecklenburg Community Church, Charlotte, North Carolina. If you would like to listen to this address as originally delivered, as well as the series of which it was a part, click here.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.