“Jesus Never Said Anything Against Homosexuality”
Jesus is a real authoritative guy. Apparently, even what He didn’t say carries weight and defines the moral standards for some people. In support of homosexuality, I often hear that “Jesus never spoke against homosexuality.” Let’s assume that those who say this are not just trying to stop the conversation and let’s unpack it.
What’s the argument?
My first thought is, “so what?” What’s really the argument here? Whenever people make general claims like this I think it’s helpful to break it down into what’s know as a syllogism. Since the point of those who use this argument is clearly to affirm homosexuality in some way, then I think the syllogism must be something like the following.
- Anything Jesus did not speak against is morally permissible
- Jesus did not speak against homosexuality
- Therefore, homosexuality is morally permissible
(The first two items are “premises” and the third is the “conclusion.”)
When you spell it out like that, the flaws just kind of jump right out at you. Assuming that Jesus actually did not speak against homosexuality, either directly or indirectly, I could also point out that He didn’t speak against wife abuse, pollution, or gay bashing. According to this logical construct, these things cannot be condemned either. Premise #1 is clearly too permissive, but it’s really the only thing that could provide a pro-homosexual innuendo to premise #2.
The statement that Jesus never condemned homosexuality really doesn’t do any logical work. It’s nothing more than an observation without a patent conclusion. However, a more moderate claim might be made. Someone might observe that if homosexuality really is such a big deal, then it’s odd that Jesus never addressed it Himself. This weaker form of argument will take a bit more work to unpack.
Arguing on principle
First, it should be noted that homosexuality is only a big deal these days because of the modern efforts to normalize it. If and when polygamy, incest, or bestiality become the de jour issue we shall again be wondering why Jesus didn’t explicitly condemning these things.
There are a lot of moral issues, and will be many more, that are important to people. Jesus couldn’t possibly speak to them all. In fact, there was not even a proper context for Him to speak about some issues. For instance, in what conversation would things like genetic engineering, gun control, or embryonic stem cell research ever come up? Jesus addressed what he encountered in the culture and those things on which His critics challenged him, like adultery, the poor, religious hypocrisy, and various theological matters. Jesus’ primary audience and antagonists were Jewish, and homosexuality was already covered in the Mosaic Law and was quite uncontroversial.
For those things not explicitly covered by Jesus we would need to apply general moral and theological principles(1). In fact, it is noteworthy that the New Testament spends so little time speaking about moral specifics (as does Leviticus) even while continuing to emphasize the problem of sin and certain examples of it. More than a small clue to the reason may be seen in statements about the Law by Jesus and Paul.
When asked what the greatest commandment is Jesus says that we should love God above all else, and love our neighbor as ourselves. He then goes on to point out that all the Law and Prophets hang on these two things (Mat 22:36-40). In Galatians 5:18-25, Paul tells us that we are no longer under the law, but instead should be led by the Spirit. Being led “by the Spirit” surely involves the guiding conviction of the Holy Spirit, but this cashes out to be a matter of obedience to moral intuition and the consistent application of those things clearly understood about God’s nature and His moral desires. In this way all the moral issues yet to be raised may be weighed and considered on principle.
In weighing the issue of homosexuality we would consider the biblical principles of self-control, sexual chastity, recognition of our complementary sexual design, belief that God is the author of that design and is a purposeful God, understanding of our unique spiritual nature (we are not just animals pursuing our carnal instincts and desires as they do), knowledge of God’s perspectives on reproduction and family and the unique character of each sex, and knowledge that we exist in a fallen world where sin and sickness abound and “the heart is desperately wicked.” One might even dare to say that the “yuck factor” regarding homosexuality, which must be “educated” out of the majority of the population, could be a relevant moral intuition.
Implicit in the Old Testament
An implied premise for my syllogism is that only explicit statements by Jesus are relevant. It seems reasonable, though, to make some extrapolations from other things that Jesus said.
It should be noted that Jesus quoted from every major section of the Hebrew Scriptures and held them to be authoritative. He even tells us that He did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. While it is apparent in what way He fulfills (and supersedes) the sacrificial laws, and one need not work too hard to see how He fulfills various priestly and ceremonial laws, it is not clear in what way He could completely embody or abrogate the moral laws. These He only “fulfills” in the sense of obedience to them. And since He reaffirms many of these moral laws Himself, even while offering “scandalous” interpretations of the ceremonial laws, Christians have always understood the moral laws to be a useful guide for righteous living. In fact, Jesus not only affirmed laws against such things as murder and adultery, He upped the ante by insisting that even our hateful and lustful thoughts qualify as a violation of them. He is clearly reaffirming at least some of the moral teaching of the old covenant.
The Old Testament certainly contains prohibitions on homosexuality(2), but the question then is whether this is an example of moral or ceremonial law. In Leviticus, it puts this teaching in the context of other sexual prohibitions (ch. 18), like incest and bestiality, most of which are pretty uncontroversial. Child sacrifice is included here, too, and probably also fits the category of sexual sin because it was effectively a form of birth control (the Romans left the unwanted babies out for the wolves, but the Canaanites made a religious production of it). This particular chapter does not give much ammo for one asking the question, “Does this really still apply?”
We can also infer that those things enumerated in Leviticus 18 were of the moral variety because God says that the prior inhabitants of the land were driven out because they practiced them. He does not say the same thing in regards to civil and ceremonial laws. The Israelites were accountable for the entirety of the special covenant that they had made with God; the Canaanites and Amorites, however, were judged only by their moral behavior, which included sexual excesses.
Implicit in Jesus’ statement on marriage
Another implicit denial of homosexuality can be found in Jesus’ own words: when He quotes Genesis 2:24 in relation to marriage.
Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, and said, ‘FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH’? (Matthew 19:4-5)
It should first be noted that when God made a suitable mate for Adam he chose a woman and did not provide alternatives. Additionally, Jesus has His chance here to add qualifications and does not. There is no hint of same-sex relations in the formula: not in the binary description of the genders, not in the definition of parents as “fathers and mothers,” and not in who will be joined in “one flesh.” In summarizing the whole institution of marriage Jesus seems to neglect a very important group that He presumably affirms.
It’s not as though Jesus didn’t bother to address anything beyond conventional heterosexual relationships, or that the authors didn’t bother to record it. In fact, later on in this same discussion (in Matthew) He talks about people who are born eunuchs, made eunuchs, and choose to be eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom. These are controversial things (that the author recorded nevertheless), which He understands, and for that reason adds, “Let anyone accept this who can.” This would have been the perfect place to add an exception for homosexuality as well if it were indeed an important and sacred part of the human experience, but Jesus “failed” to capitalize here.
Additionally, the whole concept of “one flesh” seems to be overlooked in these discussions. What does it mean for two distinct people to be considered “one?” Is it simply a matter of unity, or maybe hyperbole? If we take Scripture to be inspired by God, and Jesus (who reiterated these words) to be divine, then we might be justified in thinking that the phrase “one flesh” is a carefully chosen and nuanced thing. Let’s plumb this phrase at a deserving depth.
Two of one sex could never be “one” in any sense other than metaphor. 1 + 1 never equals 1. In order for two things to be one in a meaningful and literal sense the two things would have to be incomplete in some way. They would have to be two halves of a whole, or two parts, which when combined make a singular, new thing. Men and women, coming together in marriage and the sexual expression that results, are exactly like that. They are sexually and socially complementary, and as such make a new thing when united. Indeed, they can make additional new things at will — babies — by literally and biologically joining as one. Matthew 19:4-5 is pregnant with heterosexual overtones.
Implicit in the New Testament
Another implied premise for the original syllogism is that Jesus is the only authoritative voice in Scripture, or that Jesus’ will is only expressed when it comes out of His own mouth. Scripture tells us that Jesus called His Apostles, gave them authority, and infused them with the Holy Spirit to go out into the world to speak for Him, make disciples, and teach them all that they had learned. In fact, it is only through the efforts of His followers that we have any words at all of Jesus recorded to inspect. To question the authority and fidelity of the authors of the New Testament is to abandon hope of certainty over anything that Jesus believed. Some are indeed skeptical and doubt the biblical record to one degree or another, but my project here is to address those who claim Jesus never spoke against homosexuality, which begins with the presumption that we actually know what Jesus did and did not say(3).
In surveying the books of the New Testament we do indeed find explicit statements against homosexuality. The most explicit and unequivocal discussion can be found in Romans 1:26-27, which is worth quoting in full.
For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.
This passage is important for the following reasons:
- It is clearly referencing same-sex activity. Many have bickered over linguistics in other passages, but here it is clear that we’re talking about men with men and women with women.
- It covers both men and women. This would negate any objection that this is just a male-only issue, or a matter of pederasty. It is a problem of same-sex relations, in general.
- It refers to the denial of the natural function (or use) of the opposite sex. This bypasses the whole discussion of age, motivation, relationship, or context of the sexual act and indicates that the mere rejection of the opposite sex and the teleology of gender complementarity is a problem.
- It notes the burning desire to perform these homosexual acts as part of the problem. Some claim this passage doesn’t apply to those who are “born” as homosexuals. This passage would seem to apply nonetheless; no matter why one has such attractions, or when they are acquired, they would still qualify as the “burning desires” spoken against here(4).
- It calls these acts “indecent” and the passions “degrading.” If these physical acts are themselves indecent, then there is no particular context in which they are justified. Not even for those having a desire to do so, as such passions are considered degrading.
The only way that Paul could have been more clear about his meaning would have been to inject a side-bar explaining all the future sexual diversities that he intended to include or exclude in his indictment(5). They appear, though, to be implicitly and adequately covered in what he has shared.
It cuts both ways
At this point we could turn the tables on those raising the issue of Jesus’ supposed silence. While it may be true that Jesus never said anything explicitly against homosexuality, He never said anything affirming either. In fact, in the whole long canon of Scripture there isn’t a single explicitly affirming mention of homosexuality. Gay apologists typically spend their time in defensive mode trying to demonstrate how we naive biblical literalists have misunderstood those apparent homophobic passages all these centuries(6). Of course, this is more typical of liberal Christians who still make a show of taking Scripture to be authoritative, else why appeal to Scripture at all. Many self-admitted unbelievers actually affirm the existence of anti-homosexual sentiment and consider it just one more reason to reject the whole biblical project. If homosexuality really is such a prevalent and important sexual orientation that God sanctions and authors (e.g., “God made me this way”), then how odd that Jesus never affirmed it. Indeed, how odd that the entire corpus of Scripture should be so easily “misunderstood” to be against it. What a careless God — even an unsporting God — Who neglects to affirm homosexuality in His revelation, produces “homophobic” disciples, and designs our bodies in such a way as to make heterosexuality appear the natural and intentional way we ought to be.
- Liberal Christians certainly try to apply the rule of principles when they insist that “social justice” and tolerance of “sexual diversity” are what Jesus would have supported.
- Gay advocates often equivocate over the meaning of these passages by saying things like, they do not apply to people who are born homosexual and are in committed, loving relationships. This is mere speculation that is not indicated by anything included in the text itself. What is explicit, however, is a rejection of the functional aspect of “having sexual relations with a man as one would have with a woman.” This physical dynamic would be violated no matter how the same-sex partners happened to feel about each other.
- Those with a low view of the accuracy and authority of Scripture can only be appealing to what Jesus did and did not say to argue with Christians on their own terms. Given that they are outside of the camp it seems questionable to dispute with the vast, historic body of Bible-believing Christians who hold that homosexuality is a problem. Those presumably inside the camp must wrestle with everything covered in Scripture, and it is my experience that those Christians who find a place for homosexuality in their theology fail to find a place for various other essential and historic doctrines that are explicitly and repeatedly covered therein.
- Another response is that this passage isn’t talking about natural homosexuals, but rather heterosexuals who engage in homosexual acts against their nature. Since the passage talks about these people burning with passion for each other, and heterosexuals find their passions elsewhere, by definition, then it’s not clear how this is supposed to work. Some have pointed to the preceding verses to indicate that these are idolatrous people whom God had given over to “unnatural” homosexuality. But to say that God curses some people with homosexuality is hardly a defense of the sanctity of homosexuality of any form (does God curse people with morally acceptable things?). Additionally, if someone finds themselves to possess sexual desires for the same sex, it’s not clear how we are to distinguish them from “authentic” homosexuals. This response effectively excludes from qualification everyone who would call themselves “homosexual.”
- Matthew Vines insists that “The Bible doesn’t directly address the issue of same-sex orientation.” The concept of sexual orientation “didn’t exist in the ancient world.” But, as Albert Mohler notes, “This leads to a haunting question. What else does the Bible not know about what it means to be human? If the Bible cannot be trusted to reveal the truth about us in every respect, how can we trust it to reveal our salvation?”
- There are, however, a number of pro-gay biblical scholars who admit that the bible is not affirming of homosexuality. http://barbwire.com/2014/04/29/liberal-scholars-homosexuality/