This article is a sequel to my December 20, 2013 post, “A Strange Set of Juxtaposed Topics: Duck Dynasty, Homosexuality, the Wrath of God, Idolatry, Christmas, Incarnation, Creation, Nature, and Irenaeus.” Some of you will have either contributed or followed the comments made in reply to this last-named article. If not, I would encourage you to read the original article and the ensuing comments before reading this current submission. I especially appreciate that my colleague at Taylor Seminary, friend, and brother, Dr. Allan Effa, contributed two very thoughtful replies to the original article and to my response to his first reply; and I value his contributions. I decided to write this current article in order to both expand on the first article, and to reply to some of the points Dr. Effa made in his second post. I may repeat some things from my first reply to Dr. Effa’s first post, but it would still be good if the reader perused the original interchange in the comment section.
Before I begin, I want to make a distinction that I was not careful in making in the original article. No one has actually called this to my attention, but, in hindsight, I realize that I should have been more careful in differentiating between homosexuality and practicing homosexuality. While I consider both to be against “nature,” I only consider homosexual acts or practicing homosexuality to come under the condemnation as laid out in Romans 1. So, in this present article, I will be careful to make the distinction.
(1) First, I want to reiterate from the first article that I believe that Romans 1 is setting up a biblical-theological antithesis. Romans 1:1-17 should be understood as a redemptive-historical statement, i.e., it constitutes, in very broad strokes, a history of redemption. It is concentrated, to be sure, on the most recent action of God in that history of redemption: the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; but that is, of course the most important development in that history. It is a demonstration of the righteousness of God in salvation. The second half of the chapter, vv. 18-32, contains the antithesis to the history of redemption; it is, in fact, a history of destruction. It is about the plunge of humanity into sin and degradation, and it is about the righteousness of God revealed in his wrath and destruction. The sins listed in the second half of the chapter are in direct opposition, direct antithesis, to the “obedience that comes from faith” in v. 5, and the righteousness that is lived by faith in v. 17. Thus, the Gospel, and the obedience to the Gospel are related antithetically to idolatry, suppression of the truth, wickedness, practicing homosexuality, depravity, greed, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossiping, slander, hatred of God, insolence, arrogance, boastfulness, invention and creativity in doing evil, disobedience to parents, senselessness, faithlessness, heartlessness, ruthlessness, as well as rejoicing in the evil practiced by others. We have here the tale of two cities: the city of God and the city of man. We have here two histories: the history of redemption and salvation, and the history of perdition and destruction.
(2) Dr. Effa, in his reply to my reply, says, “I stand by the statement that we do need to read all scripture with discernment in terms of how it is to be applied to our missional context.” I certainly appreciate the need to use various levels of caution in how we take biblical data and apply to them to “our context” or a “missional context.” But I am not quite sure how the term, “discernment,” is being used here. If he means that we need to exercise discernment as to whether we make the application, I would have a very strong disagreement. As I said in my initial reply, an impressive list of Romans commentators, practically a “who’s who,” understands that Paul is not limiting himself to some kind of cultic homosexual prostitution or pederasty, but is condemning all forms of homosexual activity, including what would correspond to what we refer to today as “committed and loving relationships.” N. T. Wright, for example, in an interview, states:
As a classicist, I have to say that when I read Plato’s Symposium, or when I read the accounts from the early Roman empire of the practice of homosexuality, then it seems to me they knew just as much about it as we do. In particular, a point which is often missed, they knew a great deal about what people today would regard as longer-term, reasonably stable relations between two people of the same gender. This is not a modern invention, it’s already there in Plato. The idea that in Paul’s today it was always a matter of exploitation of younger men by older men or whatever … of course there was plenty of that then, as there is today, but it was by no means the only thing. They knew about the whole range of options there. Indeed, in the modern world that isn’t an invention of the 20th century either. If you read the recent literature, for example Graham Robb’s book Strangers, which is an account of homosexual love in the 19th century, it offers an interesting account of all kinds of different expressions and awarenesses and phenomena. I think we have been conned by Michel Foucault into thinking that this is all a new phenomena. (the entire interview can be accessed here)
So, in terms of “whether,” I don’t think any serious discernment is needed at all. Dr. Effa referred to the “long hair” example in 1 Cor 11:14, saying that, “Clearly Paul’s understanding of the ‘very nature of things’ is very different from our understanding of the nature of things today.” There are certainly a number of difficulties, not only in this one verse, but also in the larger surrounding context. But appeal to this passage as a kind of analogy doesn’t really work to relativize the application of the Romans passage, for at least five reasons. First, the very lack of clarity in this passage as to what Paul is saying provides a huge contrast to the Romans passage, where there is practically a consensus among scholars as to Paul’s meaning. Second, “long” is, of course, a relative term. How long is too long? This does not compare well to the Romans passage, where a homosexual act is a homosexual act is a homosexual act. Third, note that trying to figure out what Paul says here has to take account of the fact that there are other passages where, apparently, the opposite is envisioned or mandated. I refer here to the Nazirite vow, and also the case of Samson. Paul would have recognized these exceptions, and would not have wanted us to take his statement about long hair as an absolute statement. Fourth, there may actually be a very close relationship between the Romans and Corinthians passages, in that they may be talking about the same thing. One very credible interpretation of 1 Cor 11:14 is that it is doing the same thing as the Romans passage—serving as a condemnation of homosexual behavior, with long hair being seen as a sign of effeminacy, making oneself to appear as a person of the opposite sex, and thus inviting homosexual relationships; that would not necessarily be the case in our context today. So what Paul might be condemning here is not long hair, as such, but, rather, a man growing his hair long for the very purpose of looking effeminate. Fifth, it is important to note that this is the only passage that talks about long hair in the New Testament, and the reference appears in isolation. By contrast, the explicit condemnation of homosexual behavior appears in at least three passages in the New Testament, and, in each of the three, it occurs in a larger list of vices (Romans 1:21-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:9-10).
If Dr. Effa means, “how” we apply, then I would be in complete agreement; though I wouldn’t refer to this so much as discernment, but, rather, tact, or care. First, we have to distinguish, as I have already said, between homosexuality and homosexual behavior. As I see it, we have no choice, as those who are committed to the lordship of Jesus Christ and the revelation of his character and his will in the pages of the New Testament, but to condemn homosexual behavior as sinful in the eyes of God. Whereas Dr. Effa suggests that perhaps we should hold our convictions “tentatively” and be “suspicious of certitude,” I believe certitude is entirely warranted here (but, of course, “each one should be fully convinced in his own mind,” Rom 14:5). But this condemnation can still be done in love and compassion. And especially with regard to homosexual orientation itself, the church needs to demonstrate love, compassion, and understanding, and needs to be non-judgmental. A person with a same-sex orientation can lead a very tortured existence, and not simply because of the external pressures of family, church, and society, but also due to internal pressures. One of the most poignant examples of this is the twentieth-century composer Samuel Barber. I don’t know if anyone has ever been able to demonstrate a connection between Barber’s struggles with his homosexuality and his haunting, pathos-filled lament, Adagio for Strings, but the connection has been suggested by many; and, appropriately, the piece has been used in films as background music in scenes where homosexuals are depicted in their struggles with who they are and with how society views them (one version of this piece, conducted by Leonard Bernstein, can be accessed here). So, I very much appreciate and laud Dr. Effa’s own sensitivity here, as well as the call for sensitivity. But I would also argue that we can express this sensitivity, love, understanding, and compassion, while at the same time carrying out our missional mandate to teach all people to observe what, God, Jesus, and the Apostles have commanded. And, again, as I said before, declaring homosexual behavior to be sinful does not need to be our lead article, so that we become more identified by what we are against than what we are for. But we should not shy away from the declaration as the need arises.
(3) Dr. Effa, while acknowledging that a genetic predisposition toward homosexuality has not been demonstrated, nevertheless points to studies that perhaps seem to suggest a genetic cause, and then notes that, if such a genetic link could be demonstrated, “we could be faced with some rather challenging theological acrobatics.” I do not, however, think this is the case. As I said in my original reply, “But, for the sake of argument, granting that it could be genetic, it does not mean that same-sex urges have to be actualized. I do not consider homosexuality to be a sin; but I do consider homosexual acts to be sins. And all human beings have inclinations, genetic and otherwise, to do things which they should not do. In the sexual area this includes: adultery, sado-masochism, the desire for multiple sexual partners, etc. Outside the sexual area there are other potentially genetically caused predispositions, such as kleptomania, susceptibility to various addictions, etc. But these inclinations should not be acted on. And people should not be encouraged to act on them. Genetic predispositions can be understood as being in the same category as temptation. We do not view temptation as sin. So I don’t see why there would be any need for “theological acrobatics.” And many defenders of the traditional position agree with this conclusion.
(4) For my last point, I want to interact with Dr. Effa when he says,
there are, of course many Bible-believing people who have wrestled with passages such as these and come to different conclusions. While my denomination has taken a stand to be “welcoming, but not affirming” there is an association of Baptist churches that are both welcoming and affirming and, of course entire denominations have come to similar conclusions. I don’t think it is fair to dismiss them as being completely sold out to culture nor that they are sloppy exegetes. (I am not suggesting you have labeled them as such, but just making the point that they have done so with integrity and a sincere pursuit of truth).
I appreciate Dr. Effa’s assurance that he is not suggesting that I “have labeled them as such.” At the same time, I am willing to admit, despite Dr. Effa’s kindness in not prejudging me here, that I actually think that, for the most part, this is the case. I believe that the number of exegetes who have honestly, and with a careful and rigid scrutiny, come to a position different from the traditional historic Christian understanding of the Romans passage is indeed very small. I believe there is a larger number of people in these churches who have sincerely relied on what these exegetes have told them, and this, of course, lessens their culpability. So, the ordinary “sheep in the pew,” I can excuse. But the exegetes, the professional theologians, the leaders and bishops of the flocks, are highly culpable.
A couple of quotes here are in order from both an Old Testament scholar and a New Testament scholar, neither of whom could be regarded as “flaming fundamentalists,” and both of whom teach in mainline, rather than avowedly evangelical, seminaries. Old Testament scholar, Christopher Seitz, in an article entitled, “Sexuality and Scripture’s Plain Sense: The Christian Community and the Law of God,” notes the following concerning what he regards, rightly, as revisionist interpretations of the biblical data:
I introduce my fairly traditional reassertion of the church’s proscription of homosexual acts in this way in order to candidly confess a misgiving and to point to what I believe is a real hypocrisy in this debate. My misgiving is that is that it does not seem to me that the church was ever in much real doubt about this issue. If it were not for massive changes in sexual behavior over the past decades, I doubt that we would be considering this issue on the ground that it is one contested in Scripture itself.
In other words, if it weren’t for the rise of gay activism, the discussion as to whether the New Testament condemns homosexual behavior would not even be taking place. Note that none of the other sins listed in the three passages have been the focus of attempts at revisionist interpretations. I am not necessarily against the idea that developments in science and culture might cause us to rethink traditional interpretations of biblical texts. But that is not what is happening in this case. It seems that the only motivation for the revisionist interpretation is to try to get out from under the plain sense of Scripture, and, all of a sudden, to have something declared right which the church has always regarded as wrong.
The other quote is from New Testament scholar, Richard B. Hays, in his book, the Moral Vision of the New Testament. In a substantial section where he discusses homosexuality, he tells about one of his friends, Gary. Hays and Gary had been friends in undergraduate school. Now a number of years later, Gary, a practicing homosexual, is dying of AIDS, and has come to visit his friend to talk about homosexuality and the Bible. Hays notes that Gary
was angry at the self-affirming gay Christian groups, because he regarded his own condition as more complex and tragic than their apologetic stance could acknowledge. He also worried that the gay apologists encouraged homosexual believers to draw their identity from their sexuality and thus to shift the ground of their identity subtly and idolatrously away from God.
In particular, Gary wanted to discuss the biblical passages that deal with homosexuality. Among Gary’s many gifts was his skill as a reader of texts. . . . He had read hopefully through the standard bibliography of the burgeoning movement advocating the acceptance of homosexuality in the church. . . . In the end, he came away disappointed, believing that these authors, despite their good intentions, had imposed a wishful interpretation on the biblical passages. However much he wanted to believe that the Bible did not condemn homosexuality, he would not violate his own stubborn intellectual integrity by pretending to find their arguments persuasive. [A fuller version of this account may be accessed here]
For the most part, the attempts to revise our understanding of what the Bible teaches regarding homosexuality are neither exegetically cogent, nor morally responsible. They are rather, as I sometimes tell my hermeneutics classes, exercises in exegesis by wishful thinking. The sheep in the pew, the nonspecialists in hermeneutics and biblical interpretation, are being misled by those who should know better. As I also tell my hermeneutics classes, there are several kinds of “distance” that separate us from the biblical text. Those distances can be categorized as cultural, linguistic, historical, geographic, temporal, and transcendent. But another one of those distances can be categorized as moral. We must always be cognizant of the gap that exists between the biblical text and ourselves in the area of morality, and also the gap that exists between ourselves and the Holy Spirit, whose role in hermeneutics is to convict with regard to sin and righteousness and judgment (John 16:8-11). Our natural “orientation” is to avoid this convicting process. And that is what I see happening among the interpretational revisionists when it comes to the New Testament teaching on homosexuality. It is important to note, then, in this regard, that Paul talks in Romans 1 about those who engage in such behavior as “suppressing the truth in wickedness,” because they “did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God.”
The list of churches and denominations which have taken an “affirming” stance with regard to practicing homosexuality is not one that commands a great deal of confidence. The great majority of such churches and denominations have previously departed from one or more tenets of the Christian faith. And many of the denominations which have affirmed same-sex relationships have also, and rightly so, lost significant numbers of their dioceses, churches, and members in the process. Perhaps the most egregious example is the Episcopal Church in the United States of America (ECUSA), led by the, at least nearly, heretical bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori (as well as her predecessor, Frank Griswold). The blessing of same-sex marriages, and the ordination of openly practicing homosexual priests and bishops has caused many dioceses and churches to leave the ECUSA and align themselves instead with other Anglican bodies, such as the Southern Cone, or Anglican bodies in Africa (Nigeria, Uganda, Sudan). And Bishop Schori, who has not been willing to defend and guard the faith of the church, has, nevertheless, been more than willing to aggressively and litigiously defend the right of the ECUSA to retain the properties and holdings of the churches who have seceded.
I have so much appreciated the response of the Anglican churches in Africa to the deterioration that is taking place in the ECUSA. Two examples are given by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck, in their book, Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be). The first is Peter Akinola, Primate of the Anglican Church in Nigeria, who, in response to the ordination of Gene Robinson as Bishop, wrote:
We are astonished that such a high level convention of ECUSA should conspire to turn their back on the clear teaching of the Bible on the matter of human sexuality. Even more shocking is the violation of their own constitution in which they claim to be in fellowship with churches “upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer.” Yet at the time of testing, this has proved to be, for the present generation, no more than mere rhetoric. They have chosen the path of deviation from the “historic faith” once delivered to the saints.
Our position on this matter is already well known. We have taken this position prayerfully, being aware of the pain this will bring to all who understand the price some have had to pay to preserve the faith of our fathers. But more than our human pain is the anguish this must bring to the heart of the Lord of the Church and the setback to our witness as a Church before the watching world.
We applaud the admirable integrity and loyalty of those gallant 45 Bishops of ECUSA who have refused to succumb to the pressure for compromise. In the language of the Bible, they have refused to bow their knees to Baal. We assure them, and all the faithful within ECUSA, of our unflinching solidarity and fullest cooperation. We shall continue to be in full communion with them and we will do all that is necessary to actualise this bond in practical terms.
As for ECUSA, the present development compels us to begin to think of the nature of our future relationship, which would be determined after the ongoing consultation with other Provinces and Primates.
Nevertheless, as things stand, a clear choice has been made for a Church that exists primarily in allegiance to the unbiblical departures and waywardness of our generation; a Church that enthrones the will of men over and above the authority of God and His revealed and written Word. Such a Church is bound to become a shrine for the worship of men rather than God. We cannot go on limping between two opinions.
May the Lord, who has promised to build His Church so that the gates of hell will not prevail against it, bless His Church in this dark hour. [Available online here]
Even stronger was the response from Archbishop Livingstone Mpalanyi Nkoyoyo of Uganda in a letter to the ECUSA:
Considering those things, we were shocked to receive a letter from you informing us of your decision to send a delegation to the enthronement of our new Archbishop in January, and your intention for the delegation to bring aid and assistance for the people who live in desperate conditions in the camps in Gulu that you have ignored for years.
Recent comments by your staff suggesting that your proposed visit demonstrates that normal relations with the Church of Uganda continue have made your message clear: If we fall silent about what you have done–promoting unbiblical sexual immorality–and we overturn or ignore the decision to declare a severing of relationship with ECUSA, poor displaced persons will receive aid.
Here is our response: The gospel of Jesus Christ is not for sale, even among the poorest of us who have no money. Eternal life, obedience to Jesus Christ, and conforming to his Word are more important. The Word of God is clear that you have chosen a course of separation that leads to spiritual destruction. Because we love you, we cannot let that go unanswered.
If your hearts remain hardened to what the Bible clearly teaches, and your ears remain deaf to the cries of other Christians, genuine love demands that we do not pretend that everything is normal. As a result any delegation you send cannot be welcomed, received, or seated. Neither can we share fellowship nor even receive desperately needed resources. If, however, you repent and return to the Lord, it would be an occasion of great joy. [Available online here]
My only regret about the departure of these groups from the ECUSA, as well as the departure of other groups of churches from denominations who have done the same as the ECUSA, is that they were occasioned by the issues of same-sex marriage and ordination of openly practicing homosexuals, rather than by the prior apostasy of those denominations from the more foundational tenets of the Christian faith.
So, for those churches who have affirmed same-sex relationships, again, I feel sympathy for the ordinary person in the pew. The real culpability belongs to those pastors and bishops whose responsibility it is to guard the flock of God entrusted to their care, and have, instead, abdicated that responsibility.
My initial point in the first article was that the thrust of Paul’s discussion of homosexuals acts was that they were the revelations of God’s righteous wrath against societies that had become idolatrous and departed from the right knowledge of God. Now, I would like to further the point and say that the same thing can happen to churches. When churches depart from the right understanding of who God is and how he has revealed himself in the Holy Scriptures and in his Christ, the revelation of God’s righteous wrath against those churches can take place in his giving them over to the affirmation of practicing homosexuality. I believe this has already happened.
Hermeneutics and biblical interpretation should happen in community. So, again, I appreciate Dr. Effa’s heart and his contributions to this dialogue, and I invite others of you to feel free to join the dialogue and either affirm me (Amen, preach it brother!), push back at me (you’re way out in left field, barely in the ball park; how did you ever get that PhD in hermeneutics?), or nuance the discussion as you see fit. Thanks, and blessings.
December 28, 2013
The concern for being sensitive. Sometimes a little distance from the academic world gives you an appreciation for the importance of rigorous academic work, and also the dangers of over thinking things and forgetting that the basic messages of the word of God can be understood by someone who is ignorant of the cultural, historical, linguistic, situation that it was written in. While I am not promoting the latter approach as the solution to all hermeneutical debates it is worth asking the question, “If I read the Bible for what it says, what does it say?”
If I read what the Bible has to say about hell and judgement, what does it say? After two and a half years of pastoring and sitting with dying people I have a fairly good appreciation why, from a human perspective, those doctrines are distasteful and insensitive. I have a fairly good understanding why people might want the Bible to say something else, or at least for the Bible to mean something other than that people who have not received forgiveness of their sins through Jesus Christ will suffer terribly for eternity in a place that’s a very hot. But as I read my Bible it would seem that God is a either a very poor author, or that is what he wants me to understand. And maybe he wants me to understand that because he doesn’t share my hangups over judging the sinners that I am scared to offend.
I think the same principles apply to the above debate.
My morning reading two days ago opened with, “The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The Lord takes vengeance on his foes and maintains his wrath against his enemies.” Nahum 1:2
At eight in the morning it didn’t strike me as being very sensitive, but if one considers the historical time that Nahum lived in, and the nuances of the Hebrew language, I’m sure what he meant was that God loves everyone and ……
Ryan, I appreciate your reflections here. Thanks for this view through a pastoral lens. Interesting satirical conclusion as well. Thanks.
Thank you Dr. Shepherd for your well thought out reply. Your hard work is blessing to those of us in the pastorate, who deal with this issue frequently, but often don’t have the time or just don’t care to do the work needed to understand the Bibles stance on this topic.
Thanks for keeping us on track. God bless!
Hi Butch (is it okay to call you that?). I am very much gratified and humbled by your words. To help busy pastors was part of my stated purpose in the very first article. Thank you very much.
At the risk of offering my thoughts at a very inchoate stage of their development in an environment (“the Internet”) that is very unforgiving and to a debater who is relentless in counter-argument, here is a rebuttal:
As always, Jerry, you are a skillful debater. I certainly agree that we have to be wary of wishful thinking in our exegesis but, at the same time, the abolitionists must have seemed to be engaged in wishful thinking. As Eugene Genovese has shown, many of the southern philosophes who defended the institution of slavery did so with a clarity and piety that, when read empathetically, not only seems to counter the abolitionists effectively with a biblical perspective but is insightful and prescient in its anticipation of the ills of industry and wages. In some ways, it is only with the benefit of time that we can fully appreciate the error of the pro-slavery argument; but oh how the southern philosophes must have thought the very fabric of moral society was unfolding before their eyes. Yet, now, I think we can safely agree that the trajectory of scripture leans heavily away from slavery and undermines the very premise, despite OT laws institutionalizing slavery, an NT letter restoring a slave to his master, and NT household codes that presume it as a normative institution.
In approaching the issue of homosexuality, it is important to take a cue from the great debate over slavery. While the issues are not identical, they are also not entirely dissimilar either, all the more so depending on how one interprets and applies (or denies the applicability of) the laws of the Torah for the Christian.
My main concern around your interpretation is the assumption that Romans 1 necessarily embraces all forms of homosexuality. Romans 1 implicitly juxtaposes the Christian life with the life of the pagan, especially Roman, elite; Paul creates an antitype that presupposes a real type. Of particular note here is that Paul says they are “exchanging” and “giving up” natural relations for unnatural. The issue, therefore, is not simply, or even at all, the sinfulness of the unnatural relations. The exchange is of significance in this context and suggests the contravention of an agreement, most likely the conjugal rights of marriage. On conjugal rights, Paul speaks plainly in 1 Corinthians 7:1-5, which I think provides an important subtext for what is really at issue in Romans 1. (On the importance of contractual language and contracts in Romans, see Danker 1972). Recognizing that Paul almost certainly possessed a cultural and even religious bias against homosexuality, Paul’s subtleties and nuanced language are very important! Given the cultural horizon of the text, the subtleness of the text may, in fact, be a reflection of divinely intended timelessness, its malleability designed for future generations, whose cultural contexts would be vastly different than those of the original author through whom God chose to speak. In light of the purpose of Scripture to speak to future generations, interpreters, I think, need to be very careful to distinguish between what Paul may have thought (as a Jew and first century Christian) and what he actually wrote (and not to fill in the latter with the former).
In the Roman context, it was not uncommon for husbands and wives to eschew marital relations with one another for marital relations with their slaves, students, or peers. In a recent book review, Peter Brown insightfully summarizes the work of Kyle Harper on this topic:
“In his first book, Slavery in the Late Roman World, AD 275–425, Harper showed that the late Roman world had remained a slave society deep into Christian times. In From Shame to Sin, Harper takes us back into this world. It is one that we rather wish it had not been: ‘a society whose moral lineaments were sculpted by the omnipresence of slaves’ and where ‘the flesh trade was a dominant institution.’
Harper’s book makes plain that the modern spate of works on sexuality and on the construction of gender in Roman and early Christian times, ingenious though they may be, are lightweight confections compared with this gross, ever-present fact of Roman life. We must look up from our literary games and see what is almost too big to be seen—the fact of slavery, towering above us like the trees of an immense forest of unfreedom that covered the Roman world. What mattered, in Roman law and in Roman sexual morality, had little to do with sex. It had everything to do with whose bodies could be enjoyed with impunity and whose could not be touched without elaborate formulas of consent.
The joys of sex were there for all. Harper shows how the puritanism of the Romans in relation to their own spouses has been greatly exaggerated. But the primary school of sexual endeavor remained, to an unusual degree, the bodies of slaves—along with the bodies of the poor and of prostitutes, who were all too easily sucked into the gravitational field of dishonor associated with outright slavery. Then Harper sums up his feelings: ‘The laws deflected lust away from the freeborn body, and slaves provided a ready outlet.’”
Consequently, read in light of 1 Corinthians 7:1-5, Paul in Romans 1 seems to me primarily concerned with a perceived symptom of an unfree, pagan society, the “exchange” of normal conjugal rights for lustful, unnatural, and oppressive indulgences. Paul’s (sexual) ethics, it seems to me, are less constructed around a series of moral injunctions or imperatives but rather are constructed on a core principle, to live Christianly in whatever circumstances one finds oneself, where to live Christianly effectively means to live in genuine relationships with God and others (Rom 13:8-10). Paul is not concerned in Romans 1 with homosexual relations per se but rather with the exchange of loving, natural relations for oppressive and coercive relations, with deceit and the violation of contractual, conjugal, rights highlighted in the choice of words. For Paul, homosexuality provides a very visceral and powerful image in this argument, probably all the more so in light of his own moral prejudices, but the passage, as far as I can see, is not concerned to promulgate moral absolutes. Paul’s central concern is unfaithfulness to God, as revealed in the inability of humanity to keep faith with each other (Danker 1972: 93). Therefore, as much as we might be inclined to assume that Paul would disapprove of homosexual relations on the basis of this passage, to interpret the passage as a prohibition of homosexual relations goes beyond its intent and purpose and makes the assumption, rather than the passage as written, normative.
In general, I think the Bible largely resists moral absolutism. The Hebrew Bible especially presents a stunning and very moving awareness of the messiness of human existence and its moral exigencies. Even the apodictic laws of the Ten Commandments are qualified in the literary arrangement of the casuistic laws related to them in Deuteronomy. Paul’s standard, Jesus’ standard, the prophetic and legal standard, for moral action is almost always the individual conscience before God, guided by the core principle(s): to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind and to love your neighbour as yourself. For sure, this makes it difficult for me to judge my fellow human beings and create standards of conduct to maintain good standing in my religious community but then I do believe that is the point.
First of all, thanks for joining in on the conversation, and I very much appreciate your thoughtfulness here, though, as you’ll see shortly, I think it is very much wrongheaded. 🙂
Thanks also for your comments about me being a “skillful debater,” and one who is “relentless in counter-argument.” I have always thought that the best way to win a debate, everything else being equal, was to be sure to choose the correct side. That is what I have done with regard to this issue. Several points in reply to your post.
(1) Your choice of the slavery issue to make an analogy with the homosexual issue was not the best decision. You rightly note that they are “not identical”; but I think you fail to appreciate how different they really are. As Jeff Kilmartin pointed out in his reply, William Webb, in the book to which Jeff refers, delineates how different these issues really are. Additionally, Willard Swartley, well-known for his book covering a number of issues, Slavery, Sabbath, War and Women: Case Issues in Biblical Interpretation, in a subsequent volume, Homosexuality: Biblical Interpretation and Moral Discernment, has also noted the difference. Unlike the issue of slavery, where one can, indeed, see a trajectory toward freedom (though not, as you say, “heavily” so), there is no such trajectory when it comes to homosexual behavior. The biblical testimony here is univocal. It is an abomination in the eyes of God and it is a departure from God’s creational intent. There is no trajectory.
(2) So, the only cue to be taken from the debate over slavery is: don’t employ bad exegetical arguments like the pro-slavery groups did. Some of their arguments were actually exegetically credible, but not all. And they fell down terribly when they tried to use texts like Genesis 9-10 to suggest that one particular race of people was cursed to be enslaved.
(3) You say, “Romans 1 implicitly juxtaposes the Christian life with the life of the pagan, especially Roman, elite.” And my reply is: “Where did you get that from?” Is there anything in the text that says that Paul is concerned only with Romans? Paul is talking here about all Gentiles, and, to my mind, all Gentiles at all places and at all times. And there is absolutely nothing here to suggest that he is only dealing with the “elite.” He only has two groups in mind: Jew and Gentile. Paul’s “exchange” and “giving up” language is not drawn from Roman legal contractual language, but, as Bruce Johnson has suggested in his comment on this post, rather from Psalm 106. So I can’t follow you, when you say that “the issue, is not simply, or even at all, the sinfulness of the unnatural relations.” I agree that is not the main issue. As I said in my first article on this, the unnatural relations is more a punishment, a revelation of God’s wrath. But there is no way Paul does not consider the unnatural relations to be sinful.
(4) Paul didn’t simply have a “cultural bias” or “even a religious bias” against homosexuality (I don’t understand your use of the word “even” here); he had a Torah-bias against homosexuality. And it didn’t who matter who was engaged in it, Jew or Gentile, it was unnatural, sinful, and condemnable. I don’t see Paul using any “subtleties and nuanced language.” There is no room for “malleability.”
(5) Maybe there is other literature out there that suggests a connection between what Paul is saying in Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 7:1-5; but I do not see the connection at all. The most likely explanation for the Corinthians passage is that some kind of teaching had crept into the Corinthian church that held that abstention from sexual relations would make one more spiritual or “super”-spiritual. Paul, perhaps, might have even been in agreement with this to some extent, for those who were not yet married. But for those who were already married, such abstention was out of the question, except for very short periods of time and by mutual consent. I don’t see any need to read into either the Corinthians or the Romans passage the kind of thing you are talking about ; and, I would consider that to be a “reading in.” Furthermore, the language in Romans 1, along with the language in 1 Cor 6:9-10, gives no hint that Paul’s concern was in any way primarily about masters having sex with their slaves, coercion, or oppressiveness. Rather, the homosexual behavior in these passages has to do with parties who freely give themselves over to this behavior. So, I really find Harper’s work here to be very much irrelevant. I think the kind of things Harper mentions would have been a subset of the things that Paul may have been addressing, but only a subset. Paul is not suggesting that the breaking or suspension of a marriage contract is analogous to, or flows out of, idolatry. Paul is saying that the exchange that takes place in idolatry, trading in the glory of the creator for images, is analogous to, and results in, unnatural relations. To bring in a master/slave or contract-breaking issue, and make that the whole of what Paul is talking—for me that is eisegetical and does, in fact, play into what I describe as “exegesis by wishful thinking.” This is simply a variation of the old suggestion that what Paul is concerned with here is master/slave relationships, and this kind of importation has been rejected even by scholars and exegetes who identify themselves as either gay or pro-gay.
(6) Finally, I do not at all understand your statement that the “Bible largely resists moral absolutism.” The casuistic laws only present an awareness that exigencies and mitigating circumstances might exist. Paul’s standard, Jesus’ standard, the prophetic and legal standard for moral action is not “the individual conscience before God.” You are right about the core principle, love for God and love for neighbor. But the Bible never takes it for granted that we know what this love looks like. Everywhere, it is assumed that our love for God and neighbor has to be guided into correct action—”do not turn aside to the right or to the left”; “do not lean on your own understanding.” There are things that are never right. Several of them are in the lists in Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, 1 Timothy 1: idolatry, murder, adultery, wickedness, greed, depravity, slander, arrogance, prostitution. And in the same lists is homosexual behavior.
In paragraph 5, the two occurrences of “marital relations” should read “sexual relations.”
Understood about the correction in paragraph 5. I’ll be getting back to you tomorrow with a lengthy, and of course, all-argument-ending reply. 🙂
Note the trajectory Paul describes in Romans 1: (1) They knew God but did not acknowledge him as God, or give thanks; (2) they fell into idolatry; (3) they fell into depraved/homosexual acts. Perhaps Paul was thinking of the last five chapters of Judges (the two so-called appendices). Chapters 17-18 deal with the descent into idolatry of a portion of the tribe of Dan, facilitated by an apostate Levite. Chapters 19-21 deal with village rape at Gibeah of Benjamin and its aftermath. The rape was of a Levite’s concubine but the Levite himself was the original target, so the perverts were bisexual (not likely all “born that way,” at least genetically). The crimes of both appendices are described in the laws of Deuteronomy as cases where capital punishment should be carried out; “You shall purge the evil from your midst.” The Israelites in fact quote such passages in demanding that Benjamin give up the sinners of Gibeah so they might be put to death. But the first of the series of statements, “so you shall purge the evil from your midst” concerns idolatry, in Deuteronomy 13. The Israelites went to war over the sexual depravity of Gibeah, but did absolutely nothing about the idolatry of Dan. Men from Dan in fact joined the fight against Gibeah! And where does it all begin? As Paul says, with unthankfulness. The way this is brought out in Judges is in the detailed directions that the men of Israel have to give to the surviving Benjamites to Shiloh. It’s obvious they’ve never been to Shiloh, though they are supposed to go there three times a year, especially Passover, to remember what the Lord did for them in delivering them from Egypt. What a warning: (1) unthankfulness; (2) idolatry; (3) moral depravity. Not difficult to see it being played out in our culture all the time. Thanks for staying true, Jerry.
Hi John. It is good to reconnect again. Thanks for your contribution. I believe your analysis of what’s happening in the book of Judges is very insightful. And it works very well with the whole idea of the downward spiral–kind of a downward spiral within a downward spiral! I’m not sure about whether Paul gives any clue that he is consciously referencing the Judges incidents; but I think if he had been conducting a class on the subject, and John Ronning had been there and had asked, “Hey Paul, have you ever noticed how well your comments line up with Judges 17-21?” he might have replied, “Nice, very nice; I’ll have to incorporate that in my next letter!” Thanks, John.
Thanks for the sharpening of iron that is going on here. It has been beneficial in my own thought processes, even when I feel at times I am well over my head.
I would encourage you all to keep going on this because it is an important pastoral question, and one that very much affects our mission. It used to be that the number one question posed to Christians was the one about evil (“If God is such a good, wise, and powerful God why is there evil in the world?”). Now this question is frequently joined by another, usually phrased something like this: “What do you, as a Christian (or as a church), think about gays?”
As my own contribution to the discussion, in reply to one of Ken’s observations regarding slavery, I would point readers to William Webb’s very good book, “Slaves, Women, & Homosexuals.” There he shows how the trajectory of Scripture reveals an increasing freedom for slaves and status for women, but an unrelenting flat line when it comes to the non-affirmation of the practise of homosexuality.
Hi Jeff. Thanks for your comments here. I imagine the conversation will, indeed, keep going. And I hope the sharpening of iron that takes place doesn’t whittle our implements into swords! Good reference to Webb’s book.
(Pardon my length – though this is just one edited portion of a larger statement I’ve been working on for some time.)
I believe it is CORRECT to use Romans 1 to address homosexual sin, but that there is MUCH MORE going on here — and esp. that Paul is also alluding very forcefully to Israel’s/the Jews’ sins. This has significant implications for a proper understanding of homosexual sin as NOT itself “the sin par excellence” but one overt manifestation the Jews clearly recognized. Paul is here appealing to Jews – who saw in such sin a clear evidence of the depravity of the Gentiles – but in a way that means to show that THEY who condemned others, were likewise guilty, even if their sin/rebellion was not manifested in quite the same way.
In fact, John R is correct to seek an OT background for Romans 1, but I do not believe Judges is the best place to look. Yes, the story of ‘the fall of humanity’ (the pattern from not giving God the glory and thanks due him…. to idolatry… to depraved behavior) laid out in Romans 1 is firmly rooted in the Old Testament story of Israel, but it is chiefly in their paradigmatic rebellion with the golden calf (Ex 32 but ALSO 1 Kings), based on the presentation of that story (as a key part of the story of ALL Israel’s rebellions) in Psalm 106.
I believe this has enormous implications for understanding the argument Paul develops at the beginning of Romans, including the point he makes more explicit in chapters 2-3 – that it is BOTH Jew & Gentile who have sinned/rebelled and so need God’s gracious provision of the cross. Indeed, Israel’s sin is itself paradigmatic.
It also seems to have some very clear implications for how we consider the story of SEXUAL sin in Romans 1. By subtly alluding to Israel’s own history, Paul includes THEIR sin as on the same level. In other words, he is saying to his Jewish readers, who were so appalled at the Gentile sins described here — that they are no less guilty. For us this means, among other things, that we are not to isolate homosexual sin as qualitatively different from sins, and in particular, we are not to regard our ‘normal'(?!) sexual sins as any less sin/rebellion and failure to give our God glory and thanks….
The key is Ps 106:19-20.. “. . . They exchanged their Glory for an image of a bull. . . ”
Oddly, few NT commentators notice that this verse is deliberately echoed by Paul in Romans 1. And it isn’t just that Paul happens to use familiar phrasing — it is a key part of the ARGUMENT Paul makes in the opening chapters of the book. Most of us are familiar with how the later part of the argument works — in chapters 2-3 Paul is determined to show that BOTH Jew & Gentile are alike under sin and in need of a Savior (and from there, that God has PROVIDED one Savior for both). The same point is carried forward in chapter 5 where Paul uses the “second Adam” image of Christ to show that this rescue of God’s enemies is extended to ALL humanity.
But, in fact, this line of argument is there from the start, when Paul begins to summarize the gospel (esp the need for it) in Romans 1:18ff, going back to the CREATION (v.20).
It works list this. In ch 1 Paul presents the rebellion of ALL humanity against their Creator, declaring that
although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened
You might already notice that Paul’s two-part characterization of humanity’s sin in the words “neither were they THANKFUL” is a fitting summary not only of the rebellion of Genesis 3 (in which the problem all starts with accepting the notion that God, who gave so much, was not GOOD, but was withholding something good from his people), but also of THE sin that frames Israel’s wilderness sins & wandering. They GRUMBLED –as we see through the three stories of food!-complaints in Exodus 15-17, and at the beginning of the desert journey record of sins in Numbers 11. In fact, Psalm 106 highlights the fact that the root of the people’s great rebellion in rejecting the LAND (esp not TRUSTING God’s promises to grant it) begins with GRUMBLING against the land & the Lord.
But Paul does much more than this to connect the story of human rebellion (“the Gentiles”) with the story of Israel (the Jews). He fleshes out the other half of the formula “did not GLORIFY him of God” with the following —
22-23 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
How does he describe mankind’s sin? With a direct echo of Psalm 106, where it is used to describe the first great sin of ISRAEL! That is, Paul deliberately chooses to characterize all of humanity’s sin with a powerful picture of ISRAEL’S sin and rebellion.
This connection is seen (and helps explain the specific sins cited) in the following verses, beginning with:
24-25Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator
The IDOLATRY of humanity –of believing the LIE that images tell — Paul argues, leads to the “giving over” to all sorts of sin, beginning (but not solely restricted to) SEXUAL immorality.
Many suggest that Paul is here, as elsewhere, characterizing the degraded moral standards of the Gentile world of his day. Probably so. But it is MORE than that. Note that the corruption that follows from corrupted worship (whether of other gods OR of trying to worship the true God by false means, like idols/images) is PRECISELY what we find in the golden calf rebellion in Exodus 32.
6 the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.
In other words, the pattern of idolatry leading to (sexual) immorality is seen in Israel’s OWN story. (Paul draws the connection again in 1 Cor 10, where he specifically cites the OT stories, as well as seeing a ‘pagan revelry’ parallel in the feasts of unbelievers in Corinth.)
Of course, we find the very same thing in the final desert rebellion at Peor in Numbers 25. (In this way, the golden calf & Peor rebellions of idolatry act as bookends to the desert-rebellion narrative. In short, the TWO great sins of Israel here are rejecting God for idols [‘not glorifying him as God’] and rejecting God’s promises, not trusting him nor recognizing his goodness & provision, esp of the land [‘neither were they thankful’].)
More than that — this seems to be the very POINT of what Paul is doing here. What he will argue by proposition later he argues by the very way he frames the story of humanity’s rebellion here. He shows his Jewish readers (or rather reminds them, since the OT actually does the same in many places) that the story of THEIR rebellion & judgment is parallel to (even a microcosm of) that of all humanity. It is all the more forceful in that Paul’s list starts by highlighting sinful sexual behavior of the surrounding Gentile culture that the Jews found particularly offensive (and so evidence of how much better they as Jews were than the Gentiles).
This serves not only to convict them of their sin & need, but to argue that
God had graciously forgiven & restored rebellious Israel, even promising them a NEW covenant after they broke the first (first seen NOT in Jeremiah 31 but in Exodus 34 when he renews the covenant, in response to Moses’ intercession, just AFTER the golden calf rebellion!). In the same way God’s plan, in Christ, is to extend that sort of covenant grace to the GENTILES
My principle intent in developing this was not to interact with the recent re-readings of Romans 1 that attempt to redefine the sins Paul refers to — and so to exempt some class of homosexual behavior. I do, however, believe this reading undercuts the new reading. But, more than that, understanding Paul’s argument helps us to avoid certain ways of misapplying Paul’s indictment of these particular sins. It pushes us never to lose sight of our own sin and need of a Savior. This is critical to understanding Paul’s argument, and in sympathetically but honestly applying this passage (and the gospel!) to our culture.
Well, come in right in and take over my blog, will ya! Hi Bruce, this is excellent stuff; and I think it is right on track. I don’t know how many of my blog readers will see the comment. But, I tell you what; when you finish the larger statement, let me know, and if you’re ok with it, I’ll put it on the blog, perhaps in a series of posts, depending on how long it is. A very nice piece of biblical theology. Thanks you.
And, by the way, John Ronning, that goes for you as well; if you develop your thoughts into a post-length article, let me know, and perhaps that’ll also be something I could put on the blog.
Bruce (also responding to Jerry’s reply to my post re. Judges 17-21) – agreed that Romans 1 alludes to the golden calf incident especially as expressed in Psalm 106. I don’t think it’s either (golden calf)/or (Judges 17-21). And I think you’re use of the word “primarily” shows you agree. To strengthen the possibility of Paul’s dependence on Judges 17-21 I’d point to another place where Paul seems to have a portion of that text in mind – 1 Corinthians 5. At the end of the chapter paul says “remove the wicked man from among you” which is a quote from the manifold command of Moses in Deuteronomy (starting at 13:5 – about 10 such in all), also quoted by the Israelites to the Benjamites in Judges 20:13). The sin Paul was dealing with was one not seen among thre gentiles. This is reminiscent of the irony that the Levite’s servant wanted to stop in (Canaanite) Jebus but the Levite didn’t want to stay in a pagan city, so went on to Gibeah, which reveled itself as a neo-Sodom. The unwillingness of the Corinthians to punish sin reminds us of the Benjamites, who actually went to war to spare the perverts from judgment. Perhaps the greatest irony is that Paul, who was Saul, a Benjamite, by the grace of God is transformed from his ancestors as he is the one pressing for justice here. Jerry you asked if I’d written something up. Years ago I wrote a treatise on “The Emerging Churches in the Book of Judges” (with ref. to the Emerging Church movement): http://postbiblical.info/PDFS/Emerging_Churches_in_Judges.pdf – I could not resist the idea of paralleling ancinet with modern – emergent villages (Dan and Gibeah) and missional leaders (the 2 worthless Levites of chapters 17-20).
John, very intriguing suggestions; you’ve made a very plausible exegetical case here. Excellent! I’ll check that article out a bit later and get back to you.
Thank-you for the rich and insightful post on this timely subject. As a great deal of the two blog posts on homosexuality lean heavily on an understanding of Rom. 1, I have a question that stems from something I saw some time ago. I hope in my haste of reading the lengthy articles and comments that I did not miss you addressing this. I wonder if you, or other theologians, have seen a connection or whether there can be attributed a connection between Rom. 1 and Psalm 81? Upon my reading of Rom. 1 is a Pauline warning and corresponding signs of a society in moral decline of which homosexuality is a considerable factor. On three occasions Paul says, “God gave them over.” This seems rather similar to PS. 81 which seems to describe the goodness of God but also the decline of Israelite society at which God says in vv.11 – 12 that He “gives them over.”
“But my people did not listen to my voice;
Israel would not submit to me.
So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts,
to follow their own counsels.”
Just as a message of grace follows after Romans 1 so too is there a message of grace that follows in Ps. 81: 13-16
“Oh, that my people would listen to me,
that Israel would walk in my ways!
I would soon subdue their enemies
and turn my hand against their foes.
Those who hate the Lord would cringe toward him,
and their fate would last forever.
But he would feed you with the finest of the wheat,
and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”
Just wondering your thoughts…
Grace and Peace to you,
Hi Marcel. First, thanks for the feedback and the blog promotion. I appreciate it very much. With regard to your question, yes, scholars have noticed the connection you’re pointing to; so you’re not the first, but you are perceptive for noticing it. And you are certainly correct, to note that this is part of a continuing pattern and sing of moral decline. However, one of the things scholars look for in these allusions to OT passages is some kind of linguistic connection. So, even though Ps 81:11-12 and Romans 1:24-28, in English translations have the language of “giving them over,” the LXX of Psalm 81 uses a different verb than the one Paul uses in Romans 1. Interesting in this regard is that the verb Paul uses, paradidomi, occurs in some very important OT passages that have to do with how God “gives over” his own people to their enemies (Lev 26:25; Deut 32:30; Judg 2:14; 6:1, 13; 13:1; 1 Sam 28:19; 1 Kgs 8:46; 2 Kgs 21:14; 2 Chron 6:36; 24:24; 25:20; 28:5, 9; 30:7; 36:17; Ezra 9:7; Pss 78:61; 106:41; Isa 64:6; 65:12; Jer 15:4; 21:10; 22:25; 24:8; 32:28, 36, 43; 34:2; 38:3; Ezek 7:21; 11:9; 16:27, 39; 21:20, 32, 34, 36; 23:9, 28; 39:23; Dan 1:2; Micah 6:16; Zech 11:6). So while I very much agree that the picture in Romans 1 is one of moral decline, it is also one in which that moral decline is itself a punishment. In Romans 1 the peoples are punished by being given over to this moral decline. I should also add that this punishment by no means exhausts God’s wrath. What happens in Romans is only the beginning of the revelation of God’s wrath. In any case, good thoughts, Marcel.
Jerry, I am so thankful for this discussion and I praise God for your faithfulness. I was one of the pew-sitters (though not from my own church, which has a welcoming not a affirming stance) who so desperately wanted the revisionist view to be correct. How EASY it would be to say “Yes! You can be a Christian AND a practicing homosexual.” I wanted this so badly… But after prayerfully reading your arguments I must conclude that God does not want us to take the easy road on this issue. I am almost in tears over this, but I can’t afford to ignore the words of God. And I couldn’t abide to allow myself to lead others astray, as a hopeful some-day theologian. So, thank you.
Hi Sarah. Thank you very much for your comments on this, and I also appreciate your wrestling with the issue. I’ll be posting some more stuff about this, perhaps later this week. But the more I look at the issue, the more I become convinced that this really is a matter that deals with the integrity of the Gospel. So, thank you. By the way–“hopeful some-day theologian”–any plans in place along this line?
I finished my BA minoring in theology at King’s, just before becoming pregnant with our first child. So, for now, my plans are to raise children who love The Lord and to pursue theology as more of a meaningful hobby. I do hope to go on with my Masters at some point when “the kids” (however many we have – a point of debate, haha!) are in school. I love to learn and study and write essays. 🙂
Very good, Sarah. Keep theologizing. By the way, if you have not read them before, two very fine, more popular, treatments of theology are Packer’s Knowing God, and Tozer’s Knowledge of the Holy.
Thanks! I will check them out!
Dr. Shepherd, you’ve commented on the pastoral lens that I bring. I believe that one of the red herrings that is brought into this debate is the “committed, loving, relationship” concept that justifies sexual behavior. My understanding of the argument is this, if sexual behavior occurs in a committed loving relationship it’s okay. Now that line of thought has been relentlessly pressing and pushing on the church’s understanding of heterosexual marriage as well. The prevalence of committed loving heterosexual relationships in society does pose a theological challenge as we try to answer the question, “what does it mean to be married?’
It is interesting to note that when Jesus interacted with the woman at the well he distinguished between what would appear to have a been a committed loving relationship (apparently she wasn’t a shrine prostitute, sex slave, etc) and said, “the fact is you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true” (John 4:18)
From a pastoral perspective I remain perplexed by society’s expectation that I would be delighted to marry any and every couple regardless of whether or not their lives even pay lip service to the doctrines of the church that I represent. Or, should “loving committed relationship” redefine the way the church views co-habitation, polygamy, and adultery (many an affair has gone on for years)? Perhaps the term doesn’t reflect Biblical thought and morality nearly as well as some would suggest it should.
Ryan, this is a very important point you’ve made (and one that I had intended to make somewhere along the way). I would also add that we are not always the best judges of what love looks like. So, both for those who feel that their love commitment excuses their sinful relationship, and for those who believe they are doing a loving thing by tolerating the sins of others, rather than pointing them out as being sinful, their actions, in the end, turn out not to be very loving.
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Apparently, by challenging some of what Jerry has written in this blog, some people have wondered where I stand on the crucial matter of human sexuality and marriage. Actually, Jerry and I agree on many points. I strongly believe that sex is a sacred gift from God originally created to be expressed in the context of a life-long commitment of marriage between a man and a woman. I also have no doubts that the Bible condemns homosexual behavior. Because of this, I affirm the NAB statement that says “we believe the Bible teaches that marriage refers to the covenant relationship exclusively between one man and one woman, as instituted by God in the beginning.” This was God’s design for marriage. However, we live in a world in which many people both inside and outside the church fail to live up to God’s ideal. Our missional challenge is to uphold the teachings of scripture while also offering hospitality and a spiritual home to those who are broken and have fallen short of these ideals. Our first response to those who have divorced and remarried cannot be a string of scriptures that condemn, but a loving posture that invites them toward God’s healing and holiness. The teachers of the law who brought the woman accused of adultery had many texts to support the harsh treatment they wanted Jesus to endorse. Instead, he refused to condemn her, but invited her into a new life. So must be our attitude to those who struggle with same sex attraction.
Thanks for this note and clarification, Allan. As you said, we agree on a lot of things here. Where I think we differ has to do, perhaps, with implications for missional application. But you and I can talk about those things over a cup of coffee, which I’ll be happy to spring for with that McDonald’s gift card you gave me!