Responding to Pro-Gay Theology, Part III: Scriptural Arguments
Written by Joe Dallas
This part of the pro-gay theology offers what appears to be a series of conservative, fundamentalist responses to conservative, fundamentalist objections. That is, it meets every Bible verse referring to homosexuality head on, and attempts to explain why each verse is misunderstood today. It is the boldest part of pro-gay theology, and, for many Christians, the most difficult for which to give response.
That is because these arguments take what is obvious and claim to have discovered it has a different, heretofore hidden meaning. To illustrate, let us take a fairly straightforward scripture:
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Mt 11:28, KJV)
The meaning is clear: Jesus invites the weary to come to Him for rest. No need to check the original Greek or review the cultural context; the scripture is clear.
Now suppose someone tells you they have done an extensive word study on this verse, and discovered Jesus was really inviting pregnant women to stay at His maternity ward in Nazareth. It seems ridiculous; the context so clearly points to something else. But if you have not taken the time to study the original Greek in this verse, you cannot technically refute the "maternity ward" idea, though common sense tells you it is nonsense.
That is the power of the pro-gay theology. It takes scriptures we are all familiar with, gives them an entirely new interpretation, backs its claims with well-credentialed scholars, and gives birth to a new sexual ethic. Common sense may reject it, but until it is examined a bit more closely, it is difficult to refute.
To approach this portion of the pro-gay theology, we will review each scripture referring to homosexuality, establish the traditional view of the scripture, name the pro-gay arguments against that view, and offer a response to each.
Creation/Created Intent Genesis 1:27-28; 2:18, 23-24
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."
The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him." The man said, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman,' for she was taken out of man." For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
God's intention for human sexual relationships is limited to heterosexual union between a man and a woman in marriage.
The Genesis account does not forbid homosexuality; it simply does not refer to it, for obvious reasons. A gay couple could hardly begin the population process. But these verses cannot be seen as a model for all couples: many heterosexual couples are childless, or unable to have sexual relations. Are they in sin because they do not conform to the Genesis account?
While it is true this passage does not forbid homosexual relations, it does provide the primary model for sexuality by which other forms of sexual expression must be judged. Thomas Schmidt puts it well:
It [Genesis] provides a basis for Biblical commands and for subsequent reflection on the part of those who wish to construct a sexual ethic to meet changing situations-it is appropriate for us to explore the relevance of Biblical commands about marriage and to evaluate modern homosexuality in light of Genesis.
Stanton Jones, regarding creation as a model for sexuality, adds:
The heart of Christian morality is this: God made sexual union for a purpose-the uniting of husband and wife into one flesh in marriage. God uses sexual intercourse, full sexual intimacy, to weld two people together.
The male-female union, introduced in Genesis, is the only model of sexual behavior consistently praised in both Old and New Testaments. While other forms of behavior (polygamy and the use of concubines, for example) are introduced and even allowed in the Old Testament, a monogamous relation between husband and wife is the standard upheld as the ideal within scripture. While the old phrase, "God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" seems flippant, it is a fair assessment of created intent: whereas heterosexuality is commended throughout the Bible, not once is a homosexual relationship mentioned in anything but negative terms.
The Destruction of Sodom Genesis 19:4-9
Before they [the angels visiting Lot to judge the wickedness of Sodom and determine whether or not to spare it] had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom-both young and old-surrounded the house. They called to Lot, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them [lit., 'so we may know them']." Lot went outside to meet them... and said, "No, my friends. Don't do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don't do anything to these men... ." ...And they said, "We'll treat you worse than them."
The men of Sodom were attempting homosexual contact with Lot's visitors. Sodom was subsequently destroyed for its great wickedness, homosexuality playing a major role in its destruction.
Pro-Gay Argument #1:
Sodom was destroyed because of the inhospitality of its citizens, not because of homosexuality.
Professor John Boswell, in Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality (University of Chicago Press 1980), supports this view, basing it on two assumptions: first, that Lot was violating Sodom's custom by entertaining guests without the permission of the city's elders, thus prompting the demand to bring the men out "so we may know them"; second, that the word "to know" did not necessarily have a sexual connotation.
The Hebrew word yada appears 943 times in the Old Testament; it carries a sexual meaning perhaps 10 of those 943 times. The argument, then, is that the men of Sodom had no sexual intentions towards Lot's visitors.
The argument makes no sense in light of Lot's responses. His first response, "Don't do this wicked thing," could hardly apply to a simple request to "get to know" his guests. His second response is especially telling: he answered their demands by offering his two virgin daughters- another senseless gesture if the men wanted only a social knowledge of his guests. And why, if these men had innocent intentions, was the city destroyed for inhospitality? Whose rudeness was being judged-Lots', or Sodom's citizens?
The theory raises more questions than it answers. While Boswell and Bailey are correct in pointing out the seriousness of inhospitality in Biblical times, inhospitality alone cannot account for the severity of Lot's response to the men, or for the judgment that soon followed.
Pro-Gay Argument #2:
Sodom was destroyed for attempted rape, not homosexuality.
This argument is more common; it is proposed by lesbian author Virginia Mollenkott and others, and is far more plausible than the "inhospitality" theory.
"Violence-forcing sexual activity upon another- is the real point of this story," Mollenkott explains. Accordingly, homosexuality had nothing to do with Sodom's destruction; had the attempted rape been heterosexual in nature, judgment would have fallen just the same. Violence, not homosexuality, was being punished when Sodom fell.
The argument is partially true; the men of Sodom certainly were proposing rape. But for such an event to include "all the men from every part of the city of Sodom-both young and old," homosexuality must have been commonly practiced. Mollenkott makes a persuasive case for the event being much like a prison rape, or the kind of assaults conquering armies would commit against vanquished enemies, but her argument is weakened by Professor Thomas Schmidt's cited evidence in early literature connecting Sodom with more general homosexual practices:
The second-century BC Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs labels the Sodomites 'sexually promiscuous' (Testimony of Benjamin 9:1) and refers to 'Sodom, which departed from the order of nature' (Testament of Nephtali 3:4). From the same time period, Jubilees specifies that the Sodomites were 'polluting themselves and fornicating in their flesh' (16:5, compare 20:5-6). Both Philo and Josephus plainly name same-sex relations as the characteristic view of Sodom.
Pro-Gay Argument #3:
The real sins of Sodom, according to Ezekiel 16:49, were that it was "arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy." These have nothing to do with homosexuality.
Again, the argument is partially true. When Sodom was destroyed, homosexuality was only a part-or symptom-of its wickedness. Romans Chapter One gives a similar illustration, describing the generally corrupt condition of humanity, while citing homosexuality as a symptom of that corruption. But Ezekiel also says of the Sodomites: "They were haughty and did detestable things before me" (16:50). The sexual nature of these "detestable" things is suggested in 2 Peter 2:6-7:
If he [God] condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men...
And again in Jude 7:
In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.
Dr. Bruce Metzger of Princeton Theological Seminary mentions other references to Sodom's sexual immorality in 3 Maccabees 2:5: "the people of Sodom who acted arrogantly, who were notorious for their vices." And again in Jubilees 16:6: "the uncleanness of the Sodomites."
The pro-gay interpretation of Sodom's destruction has some merit: homosexual rape was attempted, and the Sodomites were certainly guilty of sins other than homosexuality. But in light of the number of men willing to join in the rape, and the many other references, both Biblical and extra-Biblical, to Sodom's sexual sins, it is likely homosexuality was widely practiced among the Sodomites. It is also likely that the sin for which they are named was one of many reasons judgment finally fell on them.
The Levitical Law (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13)
Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable [or, 'an abomination'].
If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable [or, 'an abomination']. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
Under Levitical Law, homosexuality was one of many abominable practices punishable by death.
The practices mentioned in these chapters of Leviticus have to do with idolatry, not homosexuality.
The Hebrew word for "abomination," according to Boswell, has less to do with something intrinsically evil and more to do with ritual uncleanness. The Metropolitan Community Church's pamphlet, "Homosexuality: Not A Sin, Not A Sickness," makes the same point:
The (Hebrew word for abomination) found in Leviticus is usually associated with idolatry.
Gay author Roger Biery agrees, associating the type of homosexuality forbidden in Leviticus with idolatrous practices. Pro-gay authors refer to the heathen rituals of the Canaanites-rituals including both homosexual and heterosexual prostitution-as reasons God prohibited homosexuality among His people. They contend homosexuality itself was not the problem, but it is association with idolatry and, at times, the way it was practiced as a part of idol worship. In other words, God was not prohibiting the kind of homosexuality we see today; He forbade the sort which incorporated idolatry.
The prohibitions against homosexuality in Leviticus 18 and 20 appear alongside other sexual sins-adultery and incest, for example-which are forbidden in both Old and New Testaments, completely apart from the Levitical codes. Scriptural references to these sexual practices, both before and after Leviticus, show God's displeasure with them whether or not any ceremony or idolatry is involved.
Despite the UFMCC's contention that the word for abomination (toevah) is usually associated with idolatry, it in fact appears in Proverbs 6:16-19 in connection with sins having nothing to do with idolatry or pagan ceremony:
There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable [an abomination or toevah] to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.
Idolatry plays no part in these scriptures; clearly, then, toevah is not limited to idolatrous practices.
If the practices in Leviticus 18 and 20 are condemned only because of their association with idolatry, then it logically follows they would be permissible if they were committed apart from idolatry. That would mean incest, adultery, bestiality and child sacrifice (all of which are listed in these chapters) are only condemned when associated with idolatry; otherwise, they are allowable. No serious reader of these passages could accept such a premise.
Paul on "Natural" and "Unnatural" Romans 1:26-27
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.
Paul views homosexuality as a symptom of fallen humanity, describing it as unnatural and unseemly.
Pro-Gay Argument #1:
Paul is not describing true homosexuals; rather, he is referring to heterosexuals who, as he says "exchanged natural relations." The real sin here is in changing what is natural to the individual. Boswell takes this argument up when he states:
The persons Paul condemns are manifestly not homosexual: what he derogates are homosexual acts committed by apparently heterosexual persons. The whole point of Romans 1, in fact, is to stigmatize persons who have rejected their calling, gotten off the true path they were once on.
Mollenkott agrees, saying, "What Paul seems to be emphasizing here is that persons who are heterosexual by nature have not only exchanged the true God for a false one but have also exchanged their ability to relate to the opposite sex by indulging in homosexual behavior that is not natural to them."
In short, Paul in Romans 1 describes heterosexuals who have deliberately committed homosexual acts, thus violating their true nature. Homosexuality, if committed by true homosexuals, is not a sin.
Paul is not speaking nearly so subjectively in this passage. There is nothing in his wording to suggest he even recognized such a thing as a "true" homosexual versus a "false" one. He simply describes homosexual behavior as unnatural, no matter who it is committed by.
His wording, in fact, is unusually specific. When he refers to "men" and "women" in these verses, he chooses the Greek words that most emphasize biology: arsenes and theleias. Both words are rarely used in the New Testament. When they do appear, they appear in verses meant to emphasize the gender of the subject, as in a male child (arsenes). In this context, Paul is very pointedly saying the homosexual behavior committed by these people was unnatural to them as males and females (arsenes and theleias). He is not considering any such thing as sexual orientation. He is saying, in other words, that homosexuality is biologically unnatural-not just unnatural to heterosexuals, but unnatural to anyone.
Additionally, the fact these men were "burning in lust" for each other makes it highly unlikely they were heterosexuals experimenting with homosexuality. Their behavior was born of an intense inner desire. Suggesting, as Boswell and Mollenkott do, that they were heterosexuals indulging in homosexual behavior requires unreasonable mental gymnastics.
Besides which, if verses 26-27 condemn homosexual actions committed by people to whom they did not come naturally, but do not apply to people to whom those actions do come naturally, then does not consistency compel us to also allow the practices mentioned in verses 29-30-fornication, backbiting, deceit, etc.-so long as the people who commit them are people to whom they do come naturally?
Pro-Gay Argument #2:
This scripture describes people given over to idolatry, not gay Christians who worship the true God.
The homosexual practices cited in Romans 1: 24- 27 were believed to result from idolatry and are associated with some very serious offenses as noted in Romans 1. Taken in this larger context, it should be obvious that such acts are significantly different than loving, responsible lesbian and gay relationships seen today.
Idolatry certainly plays a major role in Romans Chapter One. Paul begins his writing by describing humanity's rebellion and decision to worship creation rather than the Creator. The pro-gay theorist seizes on this concept to prove that Paul's condemnation of homosexuality does not apply to him-he does not worship idols, he is a Christian.
"But," Schmidt cautions, "Paul is not suggesting that a person worships an idol and decides therefore to engage in same-sex relations. Rather, he is suggesting that the general rebellion created the environment for the specific rebellion. A person need not bow before a golden calf to participate in the general human denial of God or to express that denial through specific behaviors."
A common sense look at the entire chapter bears this out. Several sins other than homosexuality are mentioned in the same passage:
Fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity, whisperers; backbiters, haters of God, disobedient to parents.... (vv 29-30)
Will the interpretation applied to the verse 26-27 also apply to verses 29-30? Any sort of intellectual integrity demands it. If verses 26-27 apply to people who commit homosexual acts in connection with idolatry, and thus homosexuals acts are not sinful if not committed in connection with idolatry, then the same must apply to verses 29-30 as well.
Therefore, we must assume that fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness et al are also condemned by Paul only because they were committed by people involved in idolatry; they are permissible otherwise.
Which is, of course, ridiculous. Like homosexuality, these sins are not just born of idol worship; they are symptomatic of a fallen state. If we are to say homosexuality is legitimate, so long as it's not a result of idol worship, then we also have to say these other sins are legitimate as well, so long as they, too, are not practiced as a result of idolatry.
Paul and 'Arsenokoite' 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:9-10
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 ['abusers of themselves with mankind']... will inherit the kingdom of God.
We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels... for adulterers and perverts ['them that defile themselves with mankind']...
"Them that defile themselves with mankind" comes from the word Greek word arsenokoite, meaning "homosexual." Paul is saying homosexuality is a vice excluding its practitioners from the kingdom of God.
'Arsenokoite' is a word coined by Paul. It never appeared in Greek literature before he used it in these scriptures. There were, at the time, other words for "homosexual." Had he meant to refer to homosexuality, he would have used one of the words already in existence. Most likely, he was referring to male prostitution, which was common at the time.
Boswell points out, accurately, that the word is peculiar to Paul, suggesting he did not have homosexuality in mind when he used it. Prostitution is Boswell's first choice. If not that, he suggests Paul was condemning general immorality. At any rate, the term, according to this argument, means some sort of immoral man but not a homosexual.
Paul coined 179 terms in the New Testament. The terms do not, because they are original, significantly change the context of the verses they appear in.
Nor is it remarkable he would have coined this one, considering he derived it directly from the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint):
meta arsenos ou koimethese koiten gyniakos (Lev 18:22)
hos an koimethe meta arsenos koiten gynaikos (Lev 20:13)
In other words, when Paul adopted the term arsenokoite, he took it directly from the Levitical passages-in the Greek translation- forbidding homosexual behavior. The meaning, then, could not be clearer: Though the term is unique to Paul, it refers specifically to homosexual behavior.
As for the inference that it applies to male prostitution, a breakdown of the word shows it implies nothing of the sort. 'Arsene,' as mentioned earlier, appears few times in the New Testament, always referring to "male." 'Koite' appears only twice in the New Testament, and means "bed," used in a sexual connotation:
Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality [koite] and debauchery... (Rom 13:13)
Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed [koite] kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. (Heb 13:4)
The two words combined, as Paul used them, put "male" and "bed" together in a sexual sense. There is no hint of prostitution in the meaning of either of the words combined to make arsenokoite.
I remember clearly, and with inexpressible regret, the day I convinced myself it was acceptable for me to be both gay and Christian. Not only did I embrace the pro-gay theology-I promoted it as well, serving on the staff of the local Metropolitan Community Church and presenting the arguments cited in this series. Twelve years have passed since I realized my error, and during those years the pro-gay theology has enjoyed unprecedented exposure and acceptance, both in mainline denominations and among sincere (albeit sincerely deceived) believers.
Many Christians are unaware that there is such a thing as pro-gay theology, much less a movement built around it. And many who are aware of it have no idea how to answer its claims. Yet an answer is required; the pro-gay theology, like the gay rights movement it represents, grows daily in scope and influence. With the love Christ showed while weeping over Jerusalem, and the anger He displayed when clearing the Temple, the Church must respond.
[This article was revised and abridged from the book, A Strong Delusion: Confronting the "Gay Christian" Movement, by Joe Dallas (Harvest House 1996).]
Schmidt, Thomas. Straight & Narrow? (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1995), p. 41.
See Boswell, John. Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), p. 93- 94.
Mollenkott and Scanzoni. Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1978), p. 57-58.
Schmidt, p. 88-89.
Metzger, Bruce. "What Does the Bible Have to Say About Homosexuality?" Presbyterians for Renewal, May 1993, p. 7.
Boswell, p. 100.
Perry, p. 341.
Boswell, p. 109.
Ramey and Mollenkott, p. 65-66.
Perry, p. 342.
Schmidt, p. 78-79.
Boswell, p. 344-345.
Joe Dallas, founder of Genesis Counseling, is the author of three books on homosexuality: Desires in Conflict, Unforgiven Sins, and A Strong Delusion: Confronting the "Gay Christian" Movement. A former gay rights activist and staff member of a Metropolitan Community Church, he has worked with hundreds of men and women struggling with homosexuality and related problems. Mr. Dallas is available for conferences and seminars, and can be reached at Genesis Counseling, 1774 N. Glassell, Orange, CA 92865, Phone 714-502-1463.
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