Reading Those Disputed Texts–TOGETHER

(These are my sermon notes from 5-24-15.  –geno)

Rom. 1:18-27; I Cor. 6:9-11; I Tim. 1:8-11; Lev. 18:22; 20:13

Intro:        Rebecca Manley-Pippert quipped in her book on evangelism years ago that Christians and non-Christians agree on at least one thing about evangelism—it makes both of us nervous.

Feeling awkward in a conversation in which we disagree with one another is very normal. We don’t have such conversations unless we feel compelled to do so, or they are thrust upon us.

It’s one reason why I have had us discuss the matter of homosexuality at the conclusion of each of the past two sermons—I felt it necessary to compel us in a relatively ‘safe’ environment to talk about our experiences and feelings with regard to our homosexual friends and family members.

Being able to engage in a conversation with those who disagree with how I read the Bible’s disputed texts on homosexuality…and do that with grace…demands, I think, some understanding of how to fairly interpret what it says.

So let’s take a look at five disputed texts and discuss several interpretations by non-traditional and traditional teachers. Most often my take on these verses will line up with the traditional interpretation.

Let’s begin with the central text most often argued over—Romans 1:18-27.

I. Dishonoring God (Romans)

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:18-27, ESV)

Paul’s Logic:

  • God’s wrath is being revealed against people who suppress the truth about God. In His creation God’s attributes are revealed. Instead of honoring God the creator theyexchanged the glory of the immortal God for images’ of creatures and worshipped things they had created instead—including images of themselves.
  • One result of the suppression of the truth about God is found in the broken sexual expression of human beings because God ‘gave them up’ to their desires. That’s the meaning of the word ‘impurity’ (Gk. akatharsia), ‘uncleanness.’ It most often refers to sexual impurity, sexual Thus the use of the phrase “…the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,…’
  • Paul goes on to drive home his point. Because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie’, God gave up idolatrous, lustful human beings to ‘dishonorable passions’ meaning homosexual desires. Paul illustrates what he means by ‘dishonorable passions’ with the language of ‘exchanging natural relations’ by women with men and by men who ‘gave up natural relations’ with women and instead were ‘consumed with passion’ and committed ‘shameless acts.’
  • Here, then, is the third exchange made by unrighteous men and women. They exchanged the natural relations of heterosexuality for same-sex relationships.
  • These egregious sexual exchanges are the result of women and men turning away from what can be ‘clearly perceived ever since the creation of the world’ about the nature of God and therefore their due penalty is that they refuse to embrace what may be ‘clearly perceived’ about their own sexual nature.

Non-Traditional Argument:

In general the non-traditional argument says this text and others like it do not speak to contemporary, loving, monogamous same-sex relationships.

Here are a few of the most-used lines of argument:

1. Paul is using homosexual relations as an illustration pointing to the various and sundry ways in which human beings rebel against God. Homosexuality is no better nor worse than the other sins listed shortly after this in the text including covetousness, malice, envy, murder, strife, deceit, gossip, slander and disobedience to parents. (Virginia Mollenkott in conversation with Richard Mouw on NPR radio show.)

2. This text is making reference to exploitative sex (‘shameless acts’; ‘dishonorable passions’; ‘consumed with passion’) and not to loving, consensual sex in committed same-sex relationships.

3. Paul is talking about heterosexual males and females who are engaging in what is ‘unnatural’ to them—engaging in sex with persons of the same gender. Only those persons who have a same-sex orientation can be said to be engaged in what is ‘natural’ for them. This text does not speak to the current debate on same-sex relationships. (Boswell)

4. Paul is making reference to ritual uncleanness, which was the same reason why homosexuality was condemned in the ‘holiness code’ in Leviticus. This can be seen in that Paul is clearly referencing the pagan worship of idols. Therefore he is here thinking about temple prostitution, not loving, committed homosexual expression.

Traditional Argument:

1. Paul views engagement in homosexual acts as an egregious example of human idolatry, not just another sin in a series of sins. Here is Kevin DeYoung in What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? (Crossway Books, 2015)

“In Paul’s mind, same-sex sexual intimacy is an especially clear illustration of the idolatrous human impulse to turn away from God’s order and design. Those who suppress the truth about God as revealed in nature suppress the truth about themselves written in nature. Homosexual practice is an example on a horizontal plane of our vertical rebellion against God.” (DeYoung, pg. 52)

2. The text here is, in fact, referencing something more akin to contemporary same-sex engagement because both parties are said to be consumed with passion one for the other. Also scholars agree that there is no record of adult-youth sexual intimacy among women, therefore pederasty is not in view. Again, DeYoung:

“Gender is the point, not orientation or exploitation or domination.” (DeYoung, pg. 52)

3. Non-traditional and traditional writers agree that there was no category for same-sex ‘orientation’ in the minds of first-century authors, including Paul. While the Apostle certainly was not aware of contemporary psychological categories, orientation was not the issue, expression

“According to Paul’s logic, men and women who engage in same-sex behavior—even if they are being true to their own feelings and desires—have suppressed God’s truth in unrighteousness. They have exchanged the fittedness of male-female relations for those that are contrary to nature.” (DeYoung, pg. 55)

4. Paul certainly has in mind the idolatry of the gentile world, but his language is not limited to temple prostitution because he indicts all of humanity, not merely those who worship improperly. He is driving toward the point that all humanity stands guilty before God (Ro 3:23).

“Here is the central paradox that Paul describes in Romans 1: seeking to avoid their appropriate worship and service to God, and to establish their own agendas and their own independent purposes, humans end up enslaved to lustful passions instead, passions that control their lives and lead them to disgrace and corruption. Seeking greater autonomy, they lose control over their lives.” (James Brownson in Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships, 2013, pg. 153)

My View: The traditional one outlined above.

II. Dishonoring One Another (I Corinthians & I Timothy)

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. 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, ESV)

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. (1 Timothy 1:8-11, ESV)

Non-Traditional Argument:

1. No one really knows what Paul really means by the use of these terms because one has a wide range of meaning (malakoi) and the apostle probably invented the other one (arsenokotai). Other words are used in Greek literature to describe homosexual acts outside of Paul.

2. ‘Men who practice homosexuality’ is unclear. This ‘practice’ of homosexuality is probably talking about an older male taking advantage of a younger boy, which was common in ancient Greece.

Traditional Argument:

1. Malakoi and Arsenokoitai represent the two partners in a homosexual liaison—the passive or ‘soft’ partner (malakos) and the aggressor partner, (arsenokoites) ‘one who beds men’, thus the ESV translation of the two words taken together, ‘Men who practice homosexuality’.

Paul probably coined the second term from the Greek translation of the Old Testament (Septuagint) in Leviticus 20:13 ‘whoever shall lie with a male as with a woman’ where the Greek words are {hos an koimethe meta arsenos koiten gynaikos }. Arsenos =man; koiten=bed.

In his letter to Timothy the apostle is apparently running through the ten commandments in his mind (specifically commandments 5-9). It would have been clear in his readers’ minds that Paul was making reference to sexual immorality and specifically, homosexual engagement.

2. These words do not necessarily refer to exploitation. Paul could easily have used the common Greek word for adult males who had sex with boys (paiderastes), from which we get the English pederasty.

“…if Paul wanted his readers to know he was referring only to exploitative forms of homosexuality, he wouldn’t have coined a term from a portion of the Mosaic law where all sex involving a man with a man is forbidden.” (DeYoung, pg. 64) [Note: pederasty is probably not in view in Leviticus.]

My View: The traditional one outlined above.

III. Be Holy for I am Holy (Leviticus)

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. (Leviticus 18:22, ESV)

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. (Leviticus 20:13, ESV)

Non-Traditional Argument:

1. Leviticus is applied inconsistently by Christian teachers. For example the text expressly forbids sex when a woman is menstruating (Lev 18:10), forbids sowing one’s field with two kinds of seed and wearing a garment of cloth made from two kinds of material (Lev. 19:19).

2. The ‘Holiness Code’ (Leviticus 17-26) was intended to keep OT Israelites ‘set apart’ unto God in a ceremonial sense. It was not intended to be used as a moral absolute.

3. Only exploitative sex is in view (temple prostitution) in Leviticus 18 and 20, not the loving, monogamous relationships we see today.

4. This is a pre-scientific view of homosexuality. The ancient Israelites had no category for ‘sexual orientation’. These were heterosexual men doing ‘unnatural’ things, things ‘contrary’ to their nature.

Traditional Argument:

1. There is no imperative for followers of Christ to obey Old Testament law consistently. Instead, we who confess Jesus as Lord should follow Him as He interprets the Law and how New Testament writers who knew Christ best, use the Mosaic Law.

In Christ the ceremonial law (how ancient Israel worshiped) is repealed (e.g. Christ declared all foods clean, and animal sacrifice has ended–see the book of Hebrews). Also, the people of God in Christ do not comprise a nation-state imposing civil penalties. So the question is not so much, “Why aren’t you following all the laws?” But rather, “How did Jesus and the apostles follow the law?” We should seek to follow Jesus consistently.

Let me recommend a brief but very helpful article along these lines: “Making Sense of Scripture’s Inconsistency’, by Tim Keller. accessed 5-23-15

2. The idea that the ‘holiness code’ of Leviticus was only intended to be used for ceremonial purification misses the fact that Paul understood it be morally binding in places. He specifically reached back to it to describe the repugnancy of homosexual acts to God.

3. The list of sins where these verses are drawn from in Leviticus says nothing about temple ritual or exploitation. All but three of the 19 forbidden sexual liaisons in Leviticus, chapter 18, are about heterosexual engagement. They are found in a series of sexual liaisons that are mostly familial and they are forbidden because they are relationally too close, not that they are necessarily This would also be true of the reason for forbidding homosexual sex—it is structurally too close (same gender).

4. I agree that Leviticus represents a ‘pre-scientific’ view of homosexuality and that the author probably had in mind mostly heterosexual men engaged in homosexual acts. I would also agree that these men are engaged in acts that are contrary to their nature. At the same time there is no provision here to support loving, monogamous homosexual relations. Instead, homosexual sex is simply forbidden.

My View: The traditional one outlined above.


Please note this—people who love God and know God are at odds over these texts and how to interpret them. This is an intra-mural scrimmage and should be taken seriously by all of us. This morning I have presented what I believe to be the fairest way to understand them. If you believe differently, you are welcome here at Hope Chapel. Let’s continue the conversation.

Also, how we interpret these texts, or any texts in the Bible, has very real and powerful effect on people. While we can be fairly confident in how we understand the Bible, we should never be arrogant and self-assured. We should approach each conversation with humility seeking to understand first, before seeking to be understood.

Just this past week I sat across a table from a person who feels boxed in by the way I interpret and teach these texts. I listened intently as this person poured out words and tears in response to my teaching.

We should sit quietly in the face of this kind of suffering and be very careful about how we use the Bible admitting that we struggle with obedience as well and seeking to help our fellow-strugglers.


Take a few moments with someone to talk something that struck you or even something you disagree with in today’s teaching and then pray for one another.

Let’s pray.

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2 Responses to Reading Those Disputed Texts–TOGETHER

  1. Sara, thanks for your encouraging words.

  2. Sara Minan says:

    I read your blog, so it’s not so lonely! I love this sermon series. I agree with you on every point. This one was so interesting. I liked hearing the “non-traditional” views. I agree that loving others is our overarching goal. People living a homosexual lifestyle are real people with real feelings. They have hearts that are fragile and vulnerable just like we do. We can’t reject people or condemn them. We have to love them!

    I’ve listened to each message and followed your notes, since Jose and I have been teaching Sunday school this month. I like to hear sermons that inspire me to follow Jesus better, but I love to hear sermons on the “hard stuff.” (And the hard stuff also helps me follow Jesus better!)

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