What is homosexuality? The Bible never uses this term, though from time to time it does refer to behavior to which we now refer as homosexual. Homosexuality is the desire for and the experience of sexual behavior between members of the same sex. This way of understanding homosexuality shows the importance of consent between two adults, as Paul suggest in Romans 1:26-27, “because people did those things, God left them and let them do the shameful things they wanted to do. Women stopped having natural sex and started having sex with other women. In the same way, men stopped having natural sex and began wanting other men. Men did shameful things with other men, and in their bodies, they received the punishment for those wrongs.”
This passage in Romans 1 is one of only a handful of passages in the Bible that directly relate to homosexuality. Homosexuality is mentioned only two or three times in all of the Old Testament. According to the Gospels, Jesus does not even talk about sex between men or of sex between women. This silence is probably a result of the common and widespread rejection of relations between people of the same sex in Israel and the church. The community of God’s people, in both the Old and New Testaments, appears to have assumed that everyone would recognize that homosexual practices are not allowed by God. The Old Testament law refers to a man having sex with another man as “a hateful sin” (Leviticus 18:22), and this view of things seems to have been taken for granted throughout the Bible.
This does not mean that we receive no help from the Bible on the question of homosexuality. Questions about homosexuality must always be understood the larger category of human sexuality as treated in the Scriptures. Like sexual practices of all kinds, sexual relations between people of the same sex do not exist as a separate category for discussion. Instead, homosexuality must be understood as one part of a much larger discussion about sexuality and marriage, and about faithfulness as God’s people. According to Genesis 1-2, it is together, as man and woman, husband and wife, that people must be understood as one part of a much larger male and female, they reflect the image of God and are able to fulfill God’s instructions to them (Genesis 1:27-28). In marriage, a man and woman are united and “become one body” (Genesis 2:24). In the same way, when Jesus speaks of marriage and divorce, he assumes the uniting of a man and a woman in marriage (Mark 10:6-9). The Bible undoubtedly affirms sexual relations between a woman and a man who are married to each other.
We should not be surprised, then, when we read biblical texts that reject sexual relations between men or between women. Desires of this kind and the sexual activities that accompany them are signs of something gone wrong in God’s creation. Homosexuality results from people rebelling against God’s intentions for human beings. According to Paul, homosexuality is one kind of proof that sin is active in the world (Romans 1:18-32). He even writes that those who practice homosexuality will not inherit the kingdom of God. This is true even though Paul’s churches included people who had had sexual relations with people of the same sex in the past (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:10).
The Bible does not make a clear distinction between people who are homosexual by orientation and people who engage in homosexual behavior. These are modern categories. However, the message of the Bible is compatible with this way of thinking. One can understand the orientation of homosexuality because of sin at work in the world. If one were to act on one’s homosexual orientation through sexual activity with a person of the same sex, this would be more than a consequence of sin at work in the world. It would be between the human condition (we need God’s grace already at birth) and subsequent sinful acts that separate us from God. Homosexual behavior, like all sexual relations outside of marriage, is immoral.
This does not mean that homosexuality is an especially “bad” sin, however. Paul rejects homosexuality as one of the sins that result from the rebellion of the human race against God. But he also describes as people who disobey God those who are greedy, get drunk, rob others, and so on. In fact, in Romans 1 he talks about selfish people, people who gossip, and children who disobey their parents as sinners in just the same way that women who have sex with other women or men who have sex with other men are sinners. This is a reminder that God wants all of us to be faithful to him in every part of our lives, and that no kind of sin is worse than any other in God’s eyes. This is also a reminder that God’s love and offer of forgiveness are not held back from those who desire and experience sexual relations with others of the same sex. Like the rest of us, homosexuals are people among whom God is at work so that we all might be members of God’s family.
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