By Matthew Vines
There are six passages in the bible that refer to same sex behavior, three in the Old Testament and three in the New Testament. The most famous passage is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. God sends two angels disguised as men into the City of Sodom where the men of Sodom threatened to rape them. The angels blind the men, and God destroys the city. For centuries, this story was interpreted as God’s judgment on same-sex relations, but the only form of same-sex behavior described is a threatened gang rape. Ezekiel 16:49 sums up the stories focused on violence and hostility towards strangers. “Now, this was the sin of your sister, Sodom. She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned, they did not help the poor and needy.”
In Leviticus 18:22, male same-sex intercourse is prohibited, and violators are to receive the death penalty. “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.” Other things called abominations in the Old Testament include having sex during a woman’s menstrual period, eating pork, rabbit, or shell fish, and charging interest on loans, but they’re part of the Old Testament law code, which was fulfilled by Jesus.
Hebrews 8:13 says that the old law is obsolete and aging. Romans 10:4 says that Christ is the end of the law, so the Old Testament doesn’t settle the issue for Christians, but lets look to the New Testament which contains the longest reference to same-sex behavior in the bible.
In Romans 1:26-27, people who turn away from God to worship idols are then turned over to their own lusts and vices. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones, in the same way, men committed shameful acts with other men and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. Paul’s words here are clearly negative, but the behavior he condemns is lustful. He makes no mention of love, commitment, or faithfulness.
His description of same-sex behavior is based solely on a burst of excess and lust. In the ancient world, same-sex behavior mainly occurred between adult men and adolescent boys, between masters and their slaves, or in prostitution. Most of the men engaged in those practices were married to women, so same-sex behavior was widely seen as stemming from out of control lust and vice of excess, like gluttony and drunkenness. And while Paul labeled same sex behavior unnatural, he says in 1 Corinthians 11:14 that for men to wear their hair long also goes against nature, and most Christians interpret that as a reference to cultural conventions.
In the last two likely references to same-sex behavior in the Bible, two Greek words, malakoi and arsenokoitai, are included in lists of people who will not inherit God’s kingdom. Many modern translators have rendered these terms as sweeping statements about gay people, but the concept of sexual orientation didn’t even exist in the ancient world.
Yes, Paul did not take a positive view of same-sex relations, but the context he was writing in is worlds apart from gay people in committed, monogamous relationships. The Bible never addresses the issues of sexual orientation or same-sex marriage, so there’s no reason why faithful Christians can’t support their gay brothers and sisters. It’s time.