What did Jesus think about homosexuality? While we can’t cite a verse to show that He affirmed or condemned same-sex love, I argued in my last post that Jesus’s Jewish worldview suggests that He probably would not have affirmed it.

For this post, I want to answer another question raised at the end of my last post: “What about Jesus’s disregard for purity laws (washing hands, eating pork, etc.) and His radical, counterintuitive outreach to the outcasts?”

First, we’ve already seen in a previous post that it’s not at all clear that same-sex intercourse was considered a purity law in the Old Testament. For the sake of space, I’ll rely on my previous argument. In short, not all laws in Leviticus 18 and 20 are classified as purity laws, and Paul, who did not embrace OT purity laws still alluded to Lev 18:22 and 20:13 to prohibit same-sex intercourse.

Hebrew BibleSecond, it’s also not clear that Jesus rejected the purity laws of the Old Testament. He certainly challenged some Jewish traditions of His day; traditions about the Sabbath law, washing hands, etc. But it’s far from clear that Jesus actually broke, or taught others to break, the sacred laws of the Jewish Torah. In fact, His words in Matthew 5:17-20 suggest otherwise. Now, there are a few instances where Jesus seems to overturn (or bring to fulfillment) a prior OT law, such as divorce (Matt 5:31-32) and retaliation (Matt 5:38-42). (The Sabbath law is a bit tricky; Matt 12.) But in these cases, Jesus cites the OT law directly. He never does this with the laws regarding same-sex intercourse. Put simply, if we say that Jesus overturned the sexual laws prohibiting same-sex intercourse (Lev 18:22; 20:13), we’d need clear evidence—evidence which we don’t have.

I’m genuinely not trying to push an agenda here, and if you read all my previous blogs, I hope this shines through. But if I’m going to enlist Jesus to support same-sex relations against His Jewish worldview, I’m going to need a good, biblical, historical, and logical argument to do so. And unless I’m missing something, such an argument cannot be found in saying that since prohibitions of same-sex intercourse are part of the purity laws (which they aren’t), Jesus therefore overturned these OT laws (which he didn’t).

Third, to add to this, we should notice that even though Jesus never mentioned homosexuality, when it came to sexual matters in general, He took a very conservative stance compared to other rabbis of the day.

For instance, ancient rabbis disagreed on the grounds for divorce. Some (e.g. Hillel) said that a man could divorce his wife if she made a bad meal, while others (e.g. Shammai) said that divorce is only permitted if the woman has committed sexual immorality. Jesus, of course, is much closer to the latter; that is, he takes the conservative view that divorce is only permitted in cases of sexual immorality.

Jesus also takes a crazy conservative stance on adultery: anyone who simply lusts for a woman has committed adultery in his heart (Matt 5:27-30).

When Jesus moves away from His Jewish tradition regarding sexual matters (and we need textual evidence for such moves), we see Him moving to the right (a stricter interpretation of Torah) not the left (more lenient interpretation of Torah).

But let me end by pointing out a somewhat flawed argument offer by my conservative audience. Some say that since Jesus only sanctioned heterosexual love within marriage, He therefore condemned homosexual love. For instance, in Mark 10:6-8 Jesus says:

But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.” “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

Jesus cites Gen 1:27 and 2:24 as Scriptural proof—but proof for what? Some people say that this is clear proof that Jesus was against homosexual relations. Some will then add the ever clever, knee-slapping hilarious, and studiously logical footnote that “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” which is neither clever, nor hilarious, nor logical. (Seriously, I hope that my Christian brothers and sisters will never, ever, ever say this stupid line, ever, ever again; it ignores biblical exegesis, showcases Evangelical ignorance, and isn’t, and never has been, funny.)

But Jesus’s positive affirmation of heterosexual union does not in itself preclude same-sex union. Although I disagree with 90% of his book, Daniel Helminiak is correct when he writes: “The fact that the Bible speaks often and positively about heterosexual relationships in no way implies a condemnation of homosexual ones” (What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality, 122). Moreover, Jesus cites Genesis 1-2 to show that divorce is wrong, not that same-sex relations are wrong. If we go on the explicit reason why Jesus went to Gen 1-2, that reason is clearly not homosexual love (which is ironic when divorced Christians cite the verse to condemn homosexual unions).

Now, please don’t confuse my disagreement with this argument as proof that I disagree with the view it’s enlisted to support. From what I’ve studied so far, I don’t think the Bible sanctions same sex intercourse (or marriage), and Jesus’s silence on the issue cannot be used to support it. But I only want my view (wherever I end up landing in the end) to be based on solid, logical, historically viable arguments from the text of Scripture. I will not race to find it under every rock and tree, chapter and verse.

For the next post, I’ll look at Jesus’s view of unconditional love. Does His embrace of harlot and sinner show that His love is poured out regardless of behavior?

Series Navigation<< Jesus & HomosexualityJesus, Unconditional Love, & LGBT >>

26 COMMENTS

  1. Am I allowed to be the first to comment on my own post?

    Anyway, let me give a footnote to my point about Mark 10 and the reference to Gen 1-2. I’m not saying that a full sweep of what the Bible as a whole says about marriage–from Eden to the New Jerusalem–is irrelevant for the debate. Quite the opposite. Although I haven’t looked at it yet in these blogs, I think that a robust study of gender, sexuality, and marriage in Gen 1-2 and beyond will add something very important to the discussion, and certainly Jesus’s view of Gen 1-2 will play a huge role in this discussion (as will his very important words that there will be no marriage in heaven).

    My only criticism had to do more narrowly with quick quotations of Mark 10 that supposedly shut the door on the discussion.

    I’m also not saying that everyone who uses Mark 10 in the discussion is necessarily supporting an “Adam and Steve” argument.

  2. Preston, I wonder if the approach to law is wrong, seeing Jesus approach as either endorsing OR “overturning” particular laws. Jesus says that overturning is not an option (Matt 5:17). The key term here, I think is “fulfill” (the thing he affirms), what does it mean to fulfill these laws. He then gives several examples in the rest of the chapter.

    My take on this is here http://5minutebible.com/category/jesus/fulfills-scripture/ the bottom one comes first. I am not sure what this says about homosexuality, but I think it does away with the importance or the distinction between moral, civil and ritual law…

  3. There’s an argument from Jesus that is ethical which I hope you address. That is, when coming to moral problems what are the bedrock principles that Jesus believes determine whether something is good, neutral or sin.

    When reading Matthew 5 — which seems the primary case of this kind of thinking — Jesus is most interested in the hear and not in specific actions. As such, I’d argue, Jesus is a Virtue Ethicist and not a deontologist. This is a critical observation, in my mind, when talking about the Christian ethic and what behaviors have soul-damning consequences.

    If Jesus embraces virtue as primary and critiques the law of Moses (a deontological approach) through a virtue ethical lens, we might do the same thing in the case of monogamous gay relationships.

    The question that is most relevant in this discussion is: how does one’s committed gay relationship harm their heart and lead to death (Rm 6)? This issue needs to be rescued from the deontological soundbites and placed in the middle of a vibrant Christian ethic.

    Much love all.

    • Bro, you rock. Always have, always will.

      Love your direction here. My only question (actually, a couple) is: I wonder if there’s a false dichotomy between “the heart” and “specific actions.” Jesus certainly addressed a bunch of concrete actions, not least prohibited breaking “one of the least of these commandments.” Could it be that his emphasis on heart was aimed not at “critiquing the law of Moses” but critique religiosity with no heart? (Or, bad interpretations of Torah.)

      This is a whole other issue in biblical studies right now but I really wonder if Jesus was much more “pro-Torah” that we think.

      Adam Finlay, are you out there? Wanna fill in some gaps here?

      Also, re: “death” for or from sin. Yes, many sins bring visible death and destruction, but can’t death (esp. in Rom 6) refer to the legal penalty not the empirical outcome? Does all sin breed visible death?

      Just thinking out loud…

      Much love bro

      • I read this in Tom Wright last night on Titus, “True purity isn’t a matter of touching this and not touching that. True Purity (Titus 1:15) is a matter of the person concerned having their mind renewed and conscience educated, not a matter of one kind of meat being pure and another impure.”

        Such observations push toward where I’d want to go in response. Jesus may be all-Torah-all-day-long (that’s an official hermeneutic by the way), but virtue is the lens through which he reads Torah. Fruit–our actions–are very important, but “A bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” It seems to me the origin, the roots, matter most in the ethical life.

        And, from experience, some committed homosexuals are fantastic trees.

        • Hi Jeff,
          Hope you don’t mind if I share some thoughts. Regardless of how Jesus interpreted the Torah, he upheld everything the Torah said as the authoritative word of God. If Jesus went to the extent of affirming not only the “weightier matters of the law” but also the tithe of mere spices (Matt 23:23), how on earth can you justify the practice of a man lying with a man? And just because Jesus took a very conservative stance on the Torah as Preston has argued, to the point of the importance of maintaining purity of mind, does not, in any way override the weight of action. If Jesus condemned a man lusting thereby committing adultery in his heart, you can certainly count on Jesus condemning homosexual lust of the heart.
          Regarding Titus, I don’t believe Wright’s interpretation of this verse is entirely accurate, nor do I feel this is very relevant to our discussion. He is confusing Pharisaic laws of purity with Torah commandments of kashrut. Titus 1:15 is a reference to Lk 11:31 and has nothing to do with dietary laws.
          But MOST IMPORTANTLY, Jesus was far from neutral regarding the subject of same sex practice and internal lust. He condemned “sexual immortality” (Mark 7:21 – porneia or in Hebrew: “gillui arayot”) which from a Jewish standpoint encompasses everything the Torah says regarding what sexual acts are off limits (such as Lev 18 & 20), including same sex acts. There is zero room for neutrality here.

  4. I read this and I think if you are talking logical and using what a person says as evidence you have to realize that when we teach someone, we never tell them the million wrong ways to do something but the right ways to do something. It would be time wasting to teach someone all of the wrong ways not to do something and most of the sins that are addressed are the basis for most of the sin we do. If God and Jesus told you the right way for marriage, trying to say that does not let you know that anything else is not acceptable is illogical. I have no problem with a person saying that God did not say Adam and Steve because if you understand that woman was made for man and not man for man/woman for woman then all this same sex marriage talk does not need to be directly addressed. It takes a man and a woman to come together to be one flesh. Two men and two women can not do that and the bible does support that. I think you are trying to be partial and the bible says yea or nay. Don’t be lukewarm on this or any other issue spiritually related.

    • Earl, what I have begun to notice in the past few years with my personal Bible study is that God presents an ideal in Scripture and yet sometimes, because He is dealing with a broken world, He allows for less than His ideal (i.e. divorce, polygamy). The ideal union God presents is a lifelong union between one man and one woman. Yet we see in Scripture that there have been times in history when God allowed less than His ideal.

  5. I hadn’t thought of it til your comment. The picture of “no marriage in heaven” may be huge here. If we embrace an inagurate eschatology then there are elements of our sexual identity that–at the end of the day–lack eternal value. They are shadows that will be replaced. Perhaps God thinks sex (straight or gay) isn’t all that interesting, or at least that its not worth retaining. Perhaps seeing sexuality as a second tier, even morally neutral issue would be best.

  6. Awesome post. I’m no scholar or theologian, but just because Jesus doesn’t address homosexuality doesn’t mean that He as God has changed where He stands. And so for people to argue that Jesus was okay homosexuality because He doesn’t say anything doesn’t seem like a solid argument. I’m sure Jesus didn’t cover everything from Gen 1:1 till present day when He was doing ministry. And because He didn’t, it doesn’t mean that anything has changed. And just because Jesus never speaks directly to certain issues doesn’t mean that we are left in the dark either. We can go to other passages or scripture to see God thinks of a lot of issues and how we can go about it. Just because Jesus never says anything about going about getting an iPhone 5s or Galaxy S4 doesn’t mean we should just be without phones. There is scripture that can help us make decisions on what is going to glorify God the most. I might be all over the place with my comment…but anyways, great stuff! I’ve been following your blogs for years now and this is the first time I’ve commented.

  7. It seems Jesus is silent on the issue, because it’s still not okay to have unrestrained sex with whomever, whenever and wherever you want.

    The prohibitions in Lev 18/20, which, of course, include male-male sex, are called “customs” that the men of Canaan “practiced,” as if these were statutes, as in something they were expected, or at least encouraged, to observe. God tells them not to “practice” any of these abominable “customs” and, instead, to observe His statutes. What was “practiced” was a set of statutes brimming with rampant, indulgent sexual activity at a completely unrestrained level. The prohibition against male-male sex is in this context. Men (whether they were straight or gay) were freely having sex with other men. Men were freely approaching their relatives for sex. Men were freely approaching menstruating women for sex. Men were freely approaching married women for sex. Men were freely having intercourse with animals. It’s all unbridled, animalistic lust and sex. Again, this is the context in which we find
    the prohibition against male-male sex. So, how can we use this to prohibit gay monogamous unions?

    • Ya, I’m still not sure we can reconstruct very clearly all the motivations for the acts prohibited in Lev 18. Would God allow incest if it was consensual? And if the goat actually wanted…

      …never mind. Too far. Or what about sex with your menstruating wife, as long as it’s confined to a monogamous marriage? The fact is, all we have prohibited is the act regardless of motivation.

      I think we may disagree on this, but I still think that we need to have better evidence, textual evidence, to say that the seemingly absolute and unconditioned prohibitions of Lev 18/20 would have been allowed in some circumstances.

      Regarding the relevance of Canaanite practices, see my previous comment.

      As always, Julie, thanks for dropping in. Your wisdom and insight is very much appreciated!

  8. The problem with discussions surrounding this is that they very very quickly descend into very gross, offensive caricatures (as one such piece by an organization has shown) so thank you for a much more calm and respectful approach.

    I’ve changed my views a few times on this subject (and may do again the future) I’m very much for same-sex marriage and don’t believe that loving monogamous same-sex relationships (and indeed same-sex sex) is sinful. Arguments can’t be made from silence as you’ve said (this goes for arguments for and against) but looking at the gospel as a whole, Jesus’s teachings and the Bible as a whole, I just don’t see it being condemned. The usual passages that get used to condemn it aren’t about same-sex relationships at all.To me, it’s almost begging the question of what is the default position? Is something condemned unless specifically stated otherwise, or is something allowed unless specifically stated otherwise?

    As much as I have looked into this, studied and prayed about it, I’m not going to pretend it’s as much as yourself so I’m looking forward to reading more of your views on it. I do feel stuck in the middle somewhat trying to take onboard all view points to better understand.

    That’s just where I am at the moment

    • The fact that you are willing to study it out and let the evidence guide you speaks volumes! Thanks for dropping in, bro, and for offering some helpful comments!

      I’m not sure the evidence, from what I’ve seen, backs up your statement: “The usual passages that get used to condemn it aren’t about same-sex relationships at all.”

      Also, I think arguments from silence carry varying degrees of merit. They’re not all wrong. Again, Jesus never condemned incest or bestiality, yet I don’t think this means that He was either indifferent or in favor of it.

  9. Even if Lev 18/20 and Paul’s comments on homosexuality prohibit “the act” (esp. being the receiver in the act) that still doesn’t prohibit gay marriage/union if the partners refrain from “the act.” So, then, what do we tell our gay brothers in Christ?

    And when you have time, I’d still like to hear your response to how this interpretation seems to overlook that the prohibition is in the context of unrestrained, rampant sexual activity for which an entire culture (i.e. Canaan) is known.

    • No “act” within marriage? Man, I don’t know what to say to that, except: Good luck!

      Seriously, let me think about that…

      I don’t think the the sinfulness of Canaan along these lines necessarily precludes the ongoing relevance of the command itself. For instance, if I prohibited my church from being greedy or consumeristic because our American culture indulges in these things, this doesn’t in itself mean that the command holds no weight when I move to Argentina.

      Again, the primary strength, I think, for seeing continuing validity in Lev 18/20 is in its repetition in the NT. If ALL we had was Lev 18/20…well, that would be a game changer.

      Still Friday night, and I’m still blogging…

      • One aspect of the discussion of an argument in the direction of sexx/abstinence within marriage has to be the marriage-contextual instructions Paul gives about not withholding sex apart from short times of fasting/prayer, and about the “partners’ bodies each belonging to the other.” Unless we argue that those and more or less all other marriage related instructions in the Bible refer to heterosexual marriage alone, which probably raises more questions than it answers.

  10. I have another question. 🙂 If there are absolutely no exceptions in Lev 18/20, why was there a time it was okay to marry a relative and okay to marry a woman in addition to her sister? Does that suggest that some of these prohibitions (“abominations” Lev. 18:29) are not inherently sinful activities? Does it imply exceptions can be made, say, for a married couple to engage in intercourse during the wife’s menstruation (i.e.there are women who have ongoing bleeding issues) or, say, for two committed/married gay men to participate in sexual activities?

    Again, isn’t Lev 18/20 about an overall, cultural lifestyle (motivated by pagan worship) that God found abominable rather than any one particular act? I’m not saying some acts aren’t clearly wrong. We do have God-given consciences. I mean, clearly, sex with innocent minors and innocent animals goes against one’s conscience. We don’t need Lev 18/20 to tell us that is wrong. And even if marriage to a relative doesn’t “feel” morally wrong, the offspring of such unions tells us to
    avoid it.

    • Once again, Julie, you raise very good questions! And I immensely value your keen input and time you’ve put into reading my blog. I hope you continue reading throughout the entire series.

      Here’s a few thoughts.

      First, your opening line (the “if…then”) seems like a non-sequitor; that is, I don’t see how other ethical commands/allowances (polygamy, marrying a relative, etc.) directly nullifies the absolute nature of Lev 18/20. There are many, many ethical dilemmas in the OT. Some of the commands/allowances are time-bound and done away with under the New Covenant, others may be done away with partial while the principle driving the command still remains, etc. etc. I think it’s quite okay correlating the same-sex prohibition in Lev 18:22 and 20:13 with other sexual prohibitions in the context.

      Second, sex during menstruation is the only sexual prohibition in Lev 18 that many people argue, or assume, has been done away in the NT. That’s a tough one. I would definitely need to provide an argument why this command is nullified while 18:22 isn’t.

      Third, it’s not clear that same-sex prohibitions in Lev 18, esp. 18:22, is driven by pagan worship. Was sex during remonstration also connected to pagan worship? Or incest?

      Fourth, Paul seems to draw on Lev 18/20 in Rom 1 and 1 Cor 6:9, which strengthens, to my mind, the ongoing validity of Lev 18/20. But I need to do more work here 🙂

      Fifth, I’d be super careful making human conscience the ultimate standard of moral authority. Yes, of course, our conscience my convict us, but it also excuses us too. And, depending no your view of human nature, it’s tainted by sin and must be cross-checked with Scripture (or: a higher moral authority). In some cultures, rape, beating wives, murder as retaliation for minor offenses don’t seem to prick anyone conscience (see “The Spirit of the Rainforest”).

      Much more to say, but gotta go! It’s Friday night…

  11. Ya, I like fulfill too. I thought I said this, but maybe I could have been more clear. I said: “it’s also not clear that Jesus rejected the purity laws of the Old
    Testament” and “there are a few instances where Jesus seems to overturn (or bring to fulfillment) a prior OT law.” So, by “seems to” I wasn’t suggesting that he actually did, and the parenthetical “bring to fulfillment” hinted at my real view.

  12. Great series. I think that this issue is only complicated insofar as culture is pushing so extremely hard against Christians on an otherwise not very complicated issue, but that is my 2 cents.

    I have a question that is very important to me and I hope you will, at least partially, address it: What do we do about being friends with people that live in open defiance against what God teaches? For instance, if I knew someone that was a serial thief, adulterer, drunkard, I would have to part ways with them and tell them in a non hostile fashion why. I cannot help but think the same would happen with a homosexual. I do not see how a Christian can make close friends with anyone that intentionally lives a life apart from God.

    You might say, ‘well you have friends that are non-Christians but “good” and you hang out with them.’ Actually, I do not. Not close ones, anyway.

    I hope I made a clear enough point in that, that you have enough to reply to.
    Again, great series and I really like reading your stuff (especially Fight).