The Bible Does Not Affirm Homosexual Sex or Homosexual MarriagePosted: April 10, 2012
A response to the preaching video from Matthew Vines
Okay, yes this post is ridiculously long. But, you can now find it broken down into manageable sub-topics by clicking <here>, rather than needing to wade through the original post below.
In 2012, a youtube video began circulating through cyberspace and then was featured in news reports (some accused of being unbalanced), claiming to demonstrate that the Bible ultimately supports homosexuality and same-sex marriage, even for Christians. The video is found in various locations, including here http://matthewvines.tumblr.com . Many who view the presentation, including sceptical Christians, seem to be swayed into accepting the reasoning as legitimate. The arguments within the video are apparently not new, and are very similar to previous summaries, eg from Bruce Lowe a decade earlier, and to Five Uneasy Pieces – a book released just one month earlier. (The presenter has subsequently been criticised for saying that his approach of promoting a theology of homosexual relations not being sinful, is new. It’s not a new). Gagnon reportedly says that the arguments were refuted years prior to the filming. So is the presentation as balanced and reliable as it seems? The following critical analysis concludes that there are significant flaws in the presenter’s logic and theology, and that the content of the presentation is contradicted by leading Biblical scholarship, by historical records and by modern sociology.
Avoiding false assumptions about my angle
Before proceeding, I should clarify to avoid false assumptions you may have, based on the fact that Im critiquing homosexuality in the context of Christianity. Due to all the accusations people make about perspectives such as this one, the clarification will take the next 5 paragraphs!
Homosexuality feels natural for some
I dont deny the authenticity of the deep emotional pain that the presenter describes as arising from being gay and trying to be a devoted Christian. I agree it’s difficult to be same-sex attracted to the point that such people have statistically much higher rates of suicide, and I sympathise with this pain. This article does not dispute that. Neither do I claim that homosexuals should simply turn straight. I realise it’s not that simple (ref-2, ref-3, ref-4, ref-5), that it’s more than just about sex and that psychiatrists, while not unanimous on the issue, have by and large concluded that sexual orientation cant be reversed, and they even say the same in regards to a sexual orientation towards children (ref-2, cf). Nor is this article seeking to establish what the that the Bible says about homosexuality is fair. Rather, this article is largely academic; just about the question of whether the Bible actually sanctions homosexual sex and same-sex marriage.
Christianity is not simple and it’s not simply about being nice
Most people tend to think of the god of the Bible as being benevolent and advocating benevolence. On a simple level, they perceive the Bible to advocate a happy, positive, caring life. So if something makes you happy and appears to cause no harm, they would tend to assume that the Bible would support that. But it’s not that simple. The Bible prescribes some very specific requirements for those who wish to follow Jesus, and in some cases, those requirements have no obvious link to happiness. Sure the Bible advocates many broad principles which tend to result in a happy community, eg loving your neighbour, and not being proud or selfish. But it’s a big book, advocating many principles, with some of them being quite specific, and some of them requiring a degree of unhappiness. For example, in Matthew 19:16-30 we see Jesus saying it’s difficult for rich people to gain access to heaven, and that he asked his rich followers to sell their possessions and give to the poor. Some were not happy about that. And in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, one of the early Christians detailed that at times they experienced great pressure and despair. And in 2 Timothy 1:10-11 that same person says they suffered for the sake of pleasing god.
Being a Christian does not necessarily mean being happy
As the presenter in fact pointed out, the Bible does not tend to promote the idea that following it will make you happy. Rather, the Bible states that followers will experience “joy”. In the Bible, joy is an emotion that relates to uniting with god, an emotion that you can supposedly experience even in tough times. IE in James 1:2, it says that Christians should consider it to be a joyful experience to face difficulties. And in Hebrews 10:34, it says that Christians at that point joyfully accepted the loss of their property. Along those lines, you might ask whether the god of the Bible requires gay people to joyfully accept that they cant act on their sexuality.
Being same-sex attracted is not itself sinful
Another pertinent point is that contrary to what a minority of people think, and contrary to what Matthew seems to imply here, most theologians and church ministers do not consider being same-sex attracted to be a sin (EG). To be sexually attracted to anything, is simply to be tempted (James 1:15), and even Jesus was apparently tempted (Matthew 4:1-11, Hebrew 4:15). Those who describe homosexuality as a sin, are usually referring to engaging in homosexuality, either mentally or physically, eg homosexual lust or homosexual sexual behaviour, rather than simply to homosexual attraction.
There is an increasing tendency in society, to label people who oppose certain things, as “haters”. Often this label is applied very selectively. Countries that disallow smoking in the workplace, tend not to be called ‘haters’, despite that discrimination. Universities and Colleges that dont admit low-achieving students are not called ‘haters’, despite their discrimination. But churches who say their congregants cant engage in homosexual sex, are sometimes called ‘haters’, even if they are otherwise polite and pleasant in their conversations and dealings with homosexuals. Unfortunately, there are some conservative Christians, who are haters. The reality is, most people find it hard to follow a moral code without holding a sense of negativity towards the elements on the ‘immoral’ list. However, hatred towards homosexuals is unbiblical in light of the Bible requiring Christians to love their neighbours whether those neighbours are Christians or not. Various individuals in the fray do say that most Bible-believers are not hateful. Likewise this website neither advocates hatred towards homosexuals, nor does it support it. The video presenter is wrong to imply as he does here, that those who believe homosexual sex is sinful, naturally seek to oppress and “destroy” same-sex attracted people. Statements from various churches (EG1, EG2, EG3, EG4) of an Evangelical nature, and people like Dan Cathy and Pat Robertson appropriately declare they believe that persecuting homosexuals is sinful itself. And the head of the Anglican church has expressed sorrow for past poor treatment of GLBTQ people. But even if persecution isnt involved, some still claim that saying anything negative about homosexuality leads to a negative social climate where homosexuals commit suicide. This claim is overly simplistic. Unfortunately sometimes human beings commit suicide, whether they are gay or straight, and whether they live in the more GLBTQ-affirming cultures or not. The experience of people such as EricJames Borges, who eventually became very involved in a GLBTQ*-affirming environment, yet still committed suicide, suggests that reasons for suicide are multifaceted and not necessarily based on discrimination. Personally, I have a number of gay friends and our friendships are without friction, so long as we dont talk religion…
Opening comments incorrect about homosexuality matching heterosexuality
Ill now run through the video, from beginning to end. Early in the presentation, the presenter states that the homosexual has the same needs, desires and “identical” quality of love as the heterosexual. He offers little foundation for this statement though, so the viewer simply has to hope that the presenter is basing his statement on reliable sources (NB there is questionable information out there EG2, EG3, EG4, EG5, EG6, EG7, EG8, EG9, EG10, Ref.11, Ref.12, Ref. 13, Ref. 14, sometimes even from supposed Christian leaders!) But in fact the presenter ignores statistically determined differences in average relationship longevity (Ref. 2, Ref, 3), monogamy (Ref. 2, Ref. 3) even if married, average number of sexual partners (Ref.2), tendency to “hook up“, desire to marry, mortality rates compared to heterosexuals (I previously included intimate partner violence (Ref. 2), in this list, but I now note that reports on this vary, perhaps geographically). Gay men sometimes acknowledge that their approach to relationships tends to differ from heterosexuals. Statistics indicate higher rates of violence from a partner and the higher number of sexual partners, for homosexuals of his own generation even at highschool level. By not acknowledging these differences, the presenter is either knowingly misleading the viewers, or he’s revealing that his knowledge of human sexuality is only superficial. His angle differs from other academics such as author of gay literature, Dennis Altman, who has reflected (FODI marketing, 2013) on gay marriage by stating “If the mobilising issue for the gay community is the right to emulate the traditional family with marriage and children, homosexual identity has been sacrificed for social acceptance.”
The structure of the video presentation
The presentation could be logically divided in three; firstly the presenter talks about principles in the Bible which he feels are inconsistent if homosexuality is a sin. Then he talks about what the Old Testament (ie the earlier part of the Bible – pre Jesus) says about homosexuality, and then finally he talks about what the New Testament (the later part of the Bible – Jesus and beyond) says about homosexuality.
The first section of the presentation: cherry picking from Genesis and misinterpretation of the fruit parable
When the presenter begins to focus on the Bible, he lists what he calls two “major problems” with the traditional Christian position on homosexual sex. The first passage he raises is Matthew 7, which he claims states that a valid teaching will result in “good fruit” ie good results. He says that teaching that homosexuality is sin, results in bad ‘fruit’, in this case “emotional and spiritual devastation, and to the loss of self-esteem and self-worth.” But the presenter misrepresents what the parable states. It doesnt state that the fruit test is specifically intended for determining whether teachings are valid. In the parable, the producer of bad fruit is discarded. This parable is a test of the validity of the being that produces the fruit. It’s saying that if a prophet produces “bad fruit”, then you can recognise that they are a false prophet, and not a good source of guidance. It’s about validating the source of the teachings, rather than the teachings themselves. If the fruit test is misapplied to teachings as the presenter does, you could derive the faulty argument that any teaching that produces problems must be false, eg you might conclude that teaching that hell exists, is a false teaching because it makes people depressed, or teaching that Jesus is the only way to heaven is false because it makes followers of other religions angry. But no, this passage is about prophets rather than about teachings. So what would be good examples of good fruit and bad fruit? Unfortunately it’s hard to say. Some have suggested that bad fruit would include the division and non-acceptance that can occur within a congregation when a teacher says that homosexual sex is sinful. But this interpretation conflicts with passages such as Matthew 10:34-36 where Jesus is quoted as stating his teachings bring division, and it contradicts with passages such as John 8:11 where Jesus is depicted as not accepting of sin. The fruit of teaching that gay sex is okay for Christians, seems to often be that gay male churchmembers will tend to engage in, and accept casual sex (ref. 2, ref. 3, ref. 4) despite knowing that this is contrary to the standard Christian position. However exactly what good fruit might entail, I will leave you to decide.
Furthermore, the presenter’s claim at this point that teaching that homosexual sex is sinful, and results in “emotional and spiritual devastation, and to the loss of self-esteem and self-worth” does not align with the broader message of the Bible. Certainly, Jesus’ limiting the options to either life-long heterosexual marriage or the life of a eunuch, is spelled out as difficult to accept by some (Matthew 19), as are some of his other teachings. Records indicate that in the 2nd century, at least some were interpreting the reference to eunuchs as including men who are not attracted to women (ref. Clement of Alexandria) and the interpretation that the term includes homosexuals, is shared by some today (EG2, EG3). And there is nothing in the Bible that implies that same-sex attracted people or eunuchs have no worth. In fact one eunuch is described in the Bible as an “important official” (Acts 8:27) who is warmly welcomed into the church, as were repentant eunuchs in the Old Testament (Isaiah 56). In any case, looking inwards for your sense of self-worth is an unchristian act. A Christian is supposed to let go of their own desires and pride, and instead, put their hope in God working through them rather than in their own abilities (2 Cor. 12).
In building his argument that the Bible has elements that conflict with the idea that homosexual relationships are sinful, the presenter then points to Genesis 2:18, where it states that it is not good for man to be alone. The presenter claims that teaching that Christian homosexuals must remain single rather than having homosexual relationships, is a contradiction of that Genesis passage. But the presenter is cherry-picking the sections of the Bible that suit his desires. Verse 18 is part of a broad narrative that continues on to describe how god made a female partner for man, and at verse 24 it says “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife …” Genesis 2 raises a problem (man being alone) and then offers a solution (uniting with a wife). The presenter wishes to embrace the problem as valid, while rejecting the solution. Is it reasonable to embrace one verse, but not the whole passage? It’s easy to understand the presenter objecting here, with him saying that the solution of verse 24 doesnt work for him, since he’s not attracted to women. Well, this would appear to be addressed in the New Testament. In Matthew 19:3-11, it is raised that marriage may not be suitable for everyone. At this point, Jesus then responds by referring to eunuchs, including those who are “eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” This Matthew 19 passage is rather open to interpretation, but one possible straight-forward interpretation might be that if marriage to an opposite sex partner is not going to work for you, consider staying single. Affirmation for being single is also given in 1 Corinthians 7:8, so long as being single does not result in you burning with passion. Burning with homosexual lust is addressed later in the video and in this response, but based on the additional passages I have raised, I suggest the presenter is incorrect to imply that advocating being single, is to contradict the Bible overall.
The second section of the presentation: The Old Testament – it isnt entirely irrelevant, and there is no clear contradiction
In the second of the 3 parts, the presenter covers the key relevant Old Testament scriptures. People often quote from the Old Testament to condemn homosexual sex, mainly because the wording is quite clear. EG Leviticus 20:13, which states in the NIV translation “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable.” The presenter recognises that the relevant Leviticus passages mean what they state. As Gagnon has written, “… rabbis used the phrase miskab zakur (“lying of/with a male”), drawn from the Hebrew text of Lev. 18:22 and 20:13, to refer to homosexual intercourse” (The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics, Abingdon Press, 2001, p.315).
The presenter does a good job of explaining why we cant draw strong conclusions about homosexuality from the story of Sodom. He then accuses those who hold to the traditional interpretation of scriptures on homosexuality, of contradicting Genesis 2:18 where it says it is not good for man to be alone. But is this a contradiction? No. The presenter is using a straw-man argument. Although being in a same-sex relationship may be sinful, that doesnt automatically mean that being single is “good” – it just means it’s better. Later in this post I’ll point out how the New Testament illustrates singleness as not necessarily ‘bad’ either. But since the current topic is Genesis, we should note that standard Christian understanding is that after God described the creation as good, Adam & Eve sinned by eating the apple in Genesis 3, causing corruption in the world, and the perfection of the way the world works is understood to no longer exist (Romans 8:20). A sexuality without perfect options, fits in to naturally to that framework, ie living in a ‘fallen’ and imperfect world.
The presenter then moves on to basically argue that the other relevant key Old Testament scriptures are no longer applicable to Christians, because those scriptures are from the old Jewish Law, which the New Testament states no longer applies (Romans 10:4, Hebrews 8:13 etc). On the surface, the presenter seems to be correct. However, although the old law no longer applies as a method for salvation, there is still some evidence that it is still to be ‘respected’ in some regard. For example Romans 3:31 says it’s not “nullified” and 1 Timothy 1:8-10, it says that “the law is good if used properly.” That Timothy passage also lists a variety of purposes of the law for Christians. One of these purposes is specifically in regards to … “sexual immorality”! So according to the New Testament, sexual issues matter. And there are various laws (but not punishments) from Leviticus which are still considered valid, eg laws not to lie or steal, and laws urging to love your neighbour (Levitucus 19) and laws against specific sexual practises that are illustrated as remaining in place the New Testament (EG Lev. 18:8 / 1 Cor. 5). But knowing how to determine which parts of the old law are still relevant, which are not, and the reason for the distinction, seems to be unclear for most Christians, and Im likewise unclear on it, although there are people who claim that they grasp it (eg http://youtu.be/WG3-SNty4Nc, here and here). So although the presenter seems to overstate his case, my conclusions on Leviticus remain a little up in the air. The New Testament though, doesnt suffer from this same confusion, so lets now look at that.
The third part of the presentation: The New Testament – firstly Romans 1, questionable assumptions and not regarding the text as authoritative
The presenter introduces this passage by admitting that “… even if a same sex relationship is loving and committed, it is still sinful. That is the traditional interpretation of Romans 1:26-27.” He then basically makes 2 broad points about this passage. Lets look at them one at a time:
1. He claims that the verses that mention homosexual sex are in the context of a narrative about idolatry, and that the pattern of the broader message (swapping honouring god for honouring idols) likewise applies to the references to homosexuality. IE he says the passage is referring to heterosexuals who swapped that sexuality for acting homosexually instead. The presenter claims that because they were heterosexuals, this behaviour was unnatural for them, and therefore sinful. While the content of first half of the video appears fairly logical and reasonable to your average Christian, fatigue can settle in for the viewer by this point and so it can be easy to miss that various elements that appear to be conjecture, suddenly start getting presented as though they are undisputed fact. EG this claim that Romans 1 only refers to heterosexuals behaving homosexually. How do we know that this verse is talking of individuals who stopped having heterosexual sex and started having homosexual sex, rather than of people who engaged in homosexual sex their whole lives? Or from the other perspective, how do we know that the accusation of “abandoning natural sexual relations” was not in the sense of abandoning what people in general normally do? According to Gagnon, Bernadette Brooten, a lesbian New Testament scholar, disagrees with the presenter on this point. The presenter’s interpretation is not an argument that is explicit in the text, and not one that people interpret naturally. But if the presenter is wrong on this point, his argument about this verse collapses.
Also, the presenter states that the author of Romans 1 “speaks only of … casual [sexual] behaviour”, but the presenter offers no proof for this interpretation. The author of this article, who appears to take a middle ground on the issue, disagrees with the presenter on this point, as does the gay-relationship-affirming author of this article. The presenter also claims that Romans 1 would not be referring to homosexuals as presently defined, because sexual orientation of gay people is “permanent”. But he neglects to consider the variability of sexual orientation of teenagers or that many homosexuals/bisexuals (but not all) from recent decades follow a pattern of marrying someone of the opposite sex, having sexual relations with them, but then deciding they are gay, abandoning heterosexuality long-term for homosexual relationships instead (EG1, EG2, EG3 or this study). And the reverse happens too, EG LGBT “person of the year” Kerry Pacer eventually entering heterosexual marriage. And it’s been found that statistically, older people are less likely to identify as GLBT than younger people. Even Alfred Kinsey, several generations ago, believed that sexuality is not always fixed for life, as has been confirmed by recent research too. The semi-common reality of shifting from heterosexual sex to homosexual sex is not “casual behaviour”, but seems to fit with the Romans 1 description. And again, if Romans 1 is not about casual behaviour, the presenter’s argument crumbles. (Apparently he made much the same mistake in his 2014 book.)
The presenter attempts to reinforce the argument that the author of Romans one believed homosexuals to be heterosexuals with excessive lust, by claiming that his interpretation matches understandings of homosexuality at the time the New Testament was written. He quotes Dio Chrystostom of that era, to illustrate an argument that homosexual behaviour was perceived not as an orientation, but as an excess of lust that anybody may experience. Indeed, based on the excerpt, Dio Chrystostom did appear to believe this for males. But if you read the entire presentation from Dio Chrystostom, you notice several things. One is that the context of the section the presenter quotes from, is of how sexual immorality arises. It was not the intention of Dio Chrystostom to explain whether homosexuality is an orientation, or to distinguish whether it is practised by some males or all males. Those familiar with citing from external sources know that if you quote someone and are not citing their main point, the basis of your citation is much weaker than if you were citing their main point. This is because when people try to make a point they often use only simplified or one-sided illustrations in support. IE their supporting arguments are often true in the original context, but are less likely to be balanced if removed from that context to be applied broadly. A second point, is that the presenter misrepresents the meaning a little by abbreviating the quote and not including surrounding sentences. In the sentence before the section quoted, Dio Chrystostom states “But the further developments, I presume, are perfectly evident, since we see so many illustrations.” On the one hand, he says there are many illustrations, but on the other hand, he says “I presume”, as though, there is a degree of uncertainty. So was he sure of his statement? And another part of the except which was missed by abbreviation, states “… and will turn his assault against the male quarters, eager to befoul the youth who will very soon be magistrates and judges and generals …” Yes the original is referring to pederasty; to sex with youthful males, rather than to homosexual sex in general. And Dio Chrystostom was Greek. The author of Romans however, was Jewish – a close, yet different culture.
So were Dio Chrystostom’s perceptions of homosexuality shared by all, or were there others of that era with differing understandings? Yes, historian Flavious Josephus, also lived in the first century and being Jewish, is more likely to have shared the same cultural perspectives as Paul, the writer of Romans 1. In Against Apion, Book II (section 25), Josephus wrote in the context of a section about marriage, that a relationship between males is rejected by Jewish society. Given that the context of section 25 is marriage, it seems likely to me that Josephus was referring to a marriage-like relationship between males. That the possibility of such a relationship is raised by Josephus, suggests that Jewish people were aware of the concept of men who wanted such relationships. The concept of a man marrying a man was later also raised in the Jewish Babylonian Talmud of the 3rd to 5th centuries, where it states (in Chulin 92a, b);
Ula said: Non-Jews [litt. Bnei Noach, the progeny of Noah] accepted upon themselves thirty mitzvot [divinely ordered laws] but they only abide by three of them: the first one is that they do not write marriage documents for male couples, the second one is that they don’t sell dead [human] meat by the pound in stores and the third one is that they respect the Torah.
And there were others in the first century who mentioned homosexual behaviour. Philo for example, wrote a lengthy description in The Special Laws III, cited below. One of the presenter’s favourite theologians, later cited this text as authoritative (Bible, Gender, Sexuality by James V. Brownson, chapter 11) –
“Moreover, another evil … has made its way among and been let loose upon cities, namely, the love of boys, … which sin is a subject of boasting not only to those who practise it, but even to those who suffer it, and who, being accustomed to bearing the affliction of being treated like women, waste away as to both their souls and bodies, not bearing about them a single spark of a manly character to be kindled into a flame, but having even the hair of their heads conspicuously curled and adorned, and having their faces smeared with vermilion, and paint, and things of that kind, and having their eyes pencilled beneath, and having their skins anointed with fragrant perfumes … and being well appointed in everything that tends to beauty or elegance, are not ashamed to devote their constant study and endeavours to the task of changing their manly character into an effeminate one. … the man who is devoted to the love of boys … pursues that pleasure which is contrary to nature, and since, as far as depends upon him, he would make the cities desolate, and void, and empty of all inhabitants, wasting his power of propagating his species … At all events one may see men-women continually strutting through the market place at midday, … And some of these persons have even carried their admiration of these delicate pleasures of youth so far that they have desired wholly to change their condition for that of women, and have castrated themselves and have clothed themselves in purple robes …”
Clearly at least some of these men, those who were “devoting their constant study and endeavours” to becoming effeminate to the point of castration, or not being at all procreative, had no interest in being heterosexual. Craig Williams seems to have referred to the same subculture of people in his 1999 book, describing them as “ever conspicuous” in the early Roman Empire, so it makes sense that the wider community would be aware of them.
Certainly it’s easy to believe the presenter’s claim that the people of that era considered homosexuals to have excessive lust – there are people today who still (ref. 2) believe this to be true, based on the sexual focus and even sexual addiction of many homosexuals. But excessive lust and inclination towards one’s own gender are two different types of desires, and it’s not clear that the author of Romans was not aware of this, especially since others of previous generations were apparently aware, EG Plato (Laws, 1.636c). For the presenter to claim that people of that culture generally believed that dedicated homosexuals as described above, were heterosexuals with excessive lust, is difficult to believe.
However, by 2013, the presenter was promoting the book Bible, Gender, Sexuality by James V. Brownson. In chapter 11 of that book, Brownson states that there is evidence of ancient people grasping the concept of sexual orientation. Brownson writes
“… an awareness of a “natural” orientation toward same-sex relations is attested in some Greek and Roman sources. The myth of human origins presented in Plato’s Symposium (189C-193C) assumes such a view …”
The presenter mandated the reading of Brownson’s above book, for his students at the 2013 Reformation Project. So does this mean that the presenter subsequently ate his words?
Furthermore, does the presenter’s original claim that people would believe that anyone could be “inflamed with lust” for members of their same sex and abandon heterosexual relations, sound sensible? Many (but not all) heterosexual men today would laugh at such a suggestion being valid. So why would men of the New Testament era accept that this as being how all human beings work? A good friend of mine is clearly heterosexual and non-religious, and tells me that he once tried gay sex, but didnt enjoy it, and that he is disinterested in ever doing it again. He’s a perfect example of an open-minded person who would still laugh at Matthew’s perception of ancient understandings on this. The idea that people of the first century believed that any and all heterosexuals could be “inflamed with same-sex lust” AND abandon heterosexual relations, is a rather unlikely suggestion.
We should note too, that the presenter’s basis for claiming that homosexuality was thought to be an excess of lust for heterosexuals, and that Romans 1 would therefore not be referring to homosexuals as currently understood, is based on materials from outside of the Bible. To embrace the argument that the author of Romans believed homosexuality to simply be an excess of lust on the part of heterosexuals, is to say that Paul did not understand that homosexuals are not heterosexually attracted. IE it’s to claim that people who authored the Bible did not understand the reality of human sexuality. That claim brings into question the standard Christian notion that the entire New Testament was “god breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16), ie that god guided the authors in what they wrote. That level of doubt is not be a new position; it’s Biblical liberalism. But that’s not the angle that the presenter is generally coming from. In the presentation he generally treats the Bible as authoritative, but not Romans 1. And if Paul doesnt know what he’s talking about here, is it reasonable to take the rest of the epistles as authoritative, especially on matters unseen such as the afterlife? Why does the presenter even bother treating the Bible seriously at all? He’s being disingenuous, especially since he has claimed that his arguments conform to “the highest view of the authority of Scripture.” He finishes his presentation by claiming that the Bible does not condemn committed same-sex relationships, when in actual fact, his argument is partially based in a position of believing that what the Bible states doesnt matter, because the writers didnt know what they were writing about. His low regard for the authority of Scripture is further revealed his more recent work; The Reformation Project, where the Statement of Faith refers to the Bible as the Word of God and as inspired, but makes no mention of it being inerrant, or as being of ultimate authority.
2. The presenter goes on to make another point about Romans 1. He claims that the descriptions of homosexual lust and sex as being ‘unnatural’ and ‘shameful’, have the same meanings as used in 1 Corinthians 11 where they refer to hair length for men, and that both passages are culturally specific. IE that homosexual sex, and long hair for men are both only unnatural and shameful for the cultures that were initially addressed; the Christians in Rome and in Corinth respectively. Well, at present my knowledge of the Greek language is too limited for me to comment directly on the meaning of the Greek words, although others who are more familiar, disagree (ref. 2, ref.3) with the presenter’s claim. But I do know that in the 4th century, Christians were using a word meaning ‘nature’ to describe homosexual sex as sinful, and they were basing their case on the laws of Leviticus, not on local cultural mores. The Apostolic Constitutions 6, sections 27-28, state in part –
“… For He that made them at the beginning made them male and female; and He blessed them, and said, Increase and multiply, and fill the earth.” If, therefore, the difference of sexes was made by the will of God for the generation of multitudes, then must the conjunction of male and female be also acceptable to His mind.
But we do not say so of that mixture that is contrary to nature, or of any unlawful practice; for such are enmity to God. For the sin of Sodom is contrary to nature … For the practisers … endeavour to make the natural course of things to change for one that is unnatural … these things are forbidden by the laws; for thus say the oracles: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind.” “
We should note also, that when the presenter quotes from Romans 1, he includes only part of the passage. In the NIV translation, verse 28 starts with the word ‘furthermore’, continuing the passage through to verse 32, which states “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” If verses 26 & 27 mean what the presenter claims, then what decree is verse 32 referring to? But if the meaning of verses 26 & 27 is the standard interpretation, the answer is fairly obvious to me – Leviticus.
And not only does he downplay what comes after verses 26 & 27, but also what comes before. Ponder verse 25, which states in part; “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator”. This could be a very good description of an active homosexual who seeks to replace the truth of the Bible. IE they exchange the truth about God (IE a well translated Bible) for a lie (EG a translation that conforms to the presenter’s manipulation of the Greek), in order to lustfully worship members of their own gender, rather than to worship the creator. This is what the presenter is doing. He’s saying the goal that is most important to him is to not be a single man all his life. He’s worshipping the idea of being able to enter a gay relationship. He places that goal as a higher priority, than a straight-forward honest interpretation of the Bible, and accordingly, he exchanges the truth about God, for a lie, in order to achieve his goal.
The presenter’s argument for Romans 1 just doesnt fit well, even when historical considerations are made. The passage makes much more sense if it’s simply saying that homosexual lust and sex are not permitted for any Christian.
The second New Testament passage: 1 Corinthians 6:9 – an incomplete argument and poor knowledge of history
Here the presenter focuses on the Greek words that are often translated into English as referring to homosexuality. For this passage, those Greek words are ‘arsenokoites’ and ‘malakos’. He says that the “somewhat ambiguous translations in the King James [Bible] are consistent with how these words were actually translated into English for hundreds of years: some kind of immorality or abuse, but specifically what kind was never stated. This changed halfway through the last century, when some Bible translators began connecting these terms directly to homosexuality.” From this statement, you might conclude that until mid last century, English-speaking Christians did not perceive this section of the Bible to refer to expressions of same-sex activity. But this is not the case. Various bible translations and bible commentaries prior to the 20th century, described the Corinthians reference as sodomy, which was widely understood to mean sex between males, eg John Gill’s Exposition of the New Testament (18th c.) and the very popular Notes by Albert Barnes. My own amateur attempt at translating John Wycliffe’s 14th century wording “thei that doon letcheri with men” from 1 Cor. 6:9, would be as “men that commit adultery with men”, so it’s fairly obvious that many centuries ago, a similar perception of meaning was there.
In regards to the Corinthians passage stating that homosexuals will not inherit eternal life, the presenter says it would not be relating to homosexuals as homosexuals are identified in our modern world, because homosexuality was not recognised as an orientation in that era. He states that modern “terms and concepts regarding sexual orientation are completely alien to the biblical world” and that “the concept of sexual orientation is very recent; it was only developed within the past century”. But this claim contrasts with the above quotes from Josephus and Philo. We should note also records from the 5th century talk of being “consumed” by the practise of same-sex sex (Justinian I, Novel 141) suggesting it was a focus for some. And also that Clement of Alexandria in c. the second century, in Stromata, Book III, perhaps indicates that exclusive same-sex attraction can be inborn; “Some men, from their birth, have a natural sense of repulsion from a woman; and those who are naturally so constituted do well not to marry.” Additionally, if you Google “Sifra Leviticus” you can quickly find claims that same-sex relationships were actually recognised thousands of years ago, and that the Jews of the Bible knew about them. Likewise there are records of homosexual relationships in ancient Greece. Robert Gagnon provides further similar refutation here including forms of ancient same-sex marriage. Technology and customs change as eras pass, and certainly understandings become enhanced, but for the presenter to claim that the Bible writers were not familiar with as aspect of human nature as organic and basic as variations in sexual attraction, is a huge departure from standard Christian understanding of the New Testament. It doesnt require fancy computers or complex statistical analysis to work out that there are variations in sexual attraction within the human race – it just takes a confidant like a priest, to whom a range of people confess their inner thoughts. For the presenter to have apparently devoted two years of his life to this topic, and yet seem so naive, suggests superficiality to at least some aspects of his study.
The presenter also claims that there was no word for ‘gay’ in the original Greek or in Latin languages. This claim is in contradiction with what other gay activists have said, eg as per the website gaychristian101.com . But whether there was or wasnt a specific word is not essential. Language can usually accommodate that situation fairly well, by using a phrase or a description instead.
The presenter also writes off the Corinthians passage due to its use of the Greek word ‘arsenokoites’. He tells us that in Greek, ‘arsen’ means ‘male’ and ‘koites’ means ‘bed’, “generally with a sexual connotation”. But states that various factors “indicate that this term referred to some kind of economic exploitation, likely through sexual means.” He offers no appeals to authority for this one-eyed conclusion. To a large extent, he simply expects us to take his word for what would actually appear to be his preference for a translation that suits his views. Few Bible translators seem to agree with him that this is the likely meaning in Corinthians (eg http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/kjv/arsenokoites.html), so why should we? And according to this well-referenced webpage, the translation of the word as something along the lines of ‘buggery’ is historic. Interestingly, the presenter does not mention a dominant theory on how the word arose. New Testament professor Richard B. Hays wrote in The Moral Vision of the New Testament, p.382, that the Greek Septuagint translation of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 is translated to English as: ‘Whoever lies with a man as with a woman [meta arsenos koiten gynaikos ], they have both done an abomination.’ (Emphasis mine). The professor comments that St Paul appears to have taken the verb form of the Greek and derived a noun form of ‘arsenokoitai’. If this is the case, then 1 Cor 6:9 is referring to the same thing as those Leviticus passages!
Disputes over the meaning of this word and others are not new. The Letters section of this website includes correspondence to and from the International Bible Society from over ten years ago, suggesting mistranslation of these passages in the NIV Bible. But subsequent versions of the NIV Bible now translate the passages as even more clearly referring to homosexual sex being sinful, than previously, and without any indication that it involved economic exploitation. Use of the word ‘homosexual’ in Bibles has also gone to court for alleged mistranslation, but as far as I know, there has been no success from such litigation. Yet these borderline conspiracy theories about mistranslation to ‘homosexual’, continue.
There are also perhaps undertones of conspiracy when the presenter talks of a “shift in translation” from the King James version to more recent translations in relation to the relevant New Testament passages. Although the presenter looks into these changes, he fails to mention the fact that in certain times past, certain words were considered outside the realms of polite conversation. The King James translation promotes this approach in Ephesians 5:3 “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk …” Under such an approach, is it surprising if the King James version appears to gloss over the topic of homosexual sex?
The presenter also says the meaning of another Greek word used here, ‘Malakos’ is ambiguous. However, having said it’s ambiguous, the presenter then makes a jump in logic by simply stating that it wouldnt apply to homosexuals. Why not? Well the presenter says that such an interpretation “simply doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.” What scrutiny? We are not given any other than his claim of ambiguity – IE we are simply asked to take his word for it. Is his “scrutiny” based on his earlier flawed interpretations of Matthew 7 & Genesis 2? Others such as Robert Gagnon and Matt Moore do think it holds up under scrutiny. But having made this seemingly arbitrary statement that the word is not referring to homosexuality, the presenter goes on to make the questionable claim that “There is no contextual support for linking this term to loving, faithful relationships.” However, if the definition of the word in this context is men having sex with men, then of course a faithful homosexual relationship would tend to be sexual and therefore would be linked!
The third New Testament passage: 1 Timothy 1:10 – yet another incomplete argument
When the presenter moves on to the 1 Timothy passage, he again invokes his earlier (doubtful) argument about the Greek word ‘arsenokoites’, as that word is also used in the Timothy passage. IE he claims that most translators are wrong to believe that this is a reference to homosexual sex as understood in our modern world. Again, why should we trust the presenter over the professionals? He then moves on, leaving this 1 Timothy passage behind. But we should note also that although English translations of this passage tend to refer to homosexuality being “contrary to sound doctrine”, the passage also lists other behaviours as being contrary to sound doctrine. These behaviours include “sexual immorality” (NIV). Yes, the Bible does indicate that some sexual behaviours are okay and some are not. It would seem that the presenter would prefer to ignore this though, opting instead for a late 1960s approach of “if it feels good, do it” (I note that society seemed to turn away from that degree of liberalism soon after the 60s though, deciding by the mid 70s that a more conservative approach was better).
The presenter’s flawed conclusions
Having made the above oversimplifications, jumps in logic, and one-sided readings from the 1st century, the presenter then proceeds to ignore these flaws in his final conclusions. EG he states that the “only place in Scripture where male same-sex relations are actually prohibited” is in Leviticus. But critical thinkers would notice that he actually hasnt provided sufficient rationale to his audience to be confident of this. He then states that “The Bible … certainly does not condemn, loving, committed same-sex relationships.” But obviously if those relationships are sexual, then he’s also yet to prove this assertion either. So should his unsubstantiated claims be believed? We should keep in mind that as even Rachel Held Evans has written, (and others have echoed) “Matthew … isn’t exactly a biblical scholar”. And indeed he humbly referred to himself the same way in the introduction to his 2014 book. He is neither a seasoned historian, nor an revered expert in the original languages of the Bible. Rather he is a philosophy student who has read Boswell etc and doesnt necessarily have a well rounded perspective.
The presenter’s excessive emotion and idealism
The presenter then proceeds to attempt to guilt-trip those who interpret the Bible to portray homosexual behaviour as a sin. He says such a view is an “…absolute condemnation that was never intended. But you are also striking to the very core of another human being and gutting them of their sense of dignity and of self-worth.” However, a homosexual would only be ‘gutted’ if he or she primarily defines themselves by their sexual orientation, and if people are unkind about it. The presenter’s statement is incongruent with studies that have found that “LGBT rights” are not always the top priority even for gay men themselves. The presenter also contradicts research such as that cited by Melissa M. Wilcox, PhD, in LGBT Studies and Queer Theory (2006);
“Interestingly, religion in general has not been shown to have a simple connection to internalized oppression, and even attendance at LGBT-specific religious organisations does not seem to result automatically in differing levels of self-esteem from those who attend other religious organisations or those who do not attend at all.”
The presenter says that to consider homosexual relationships sinful, perpetuates a “heartless notion that homosexuals will always be unloved and alone”. He ignores the fact that many same-sex attracted people have historically and contemporarily actually entered heterosexual marriages (EG, EG2, EG3, EG4), sometimes to a spouse who was similarly oriented, and had families. Admittedly these marriages sometimes fail, perhaps increasingly so as homosexuality is more socially accepted. But we should acknowledge that being alone as priests are, is not the only option, and it’s not worse than the trials and tribulations that the Bible tells Christians to expect. We also need to consider St Paul’s portrayal of being single as being the optimum path and that there are gay Christians who are at peace with this approach and who point out that singleness does not necessarily mean loneliness. And of course the truly sincere Christian, would note that they are following Jesus, who is reputed to have been single for all 33 years of his life.
We should also keep in mind that the desire of young gay males, to find a handsome life-long partner with whom they will live happily ever after, is not uncommon, but tends to be short-lived. The presenter, being only 21 at the time, seems to be idealistic, and in fear that he will live his whole life unable to realise his dream. But he probably doesnt realise that his desires will likely change. Research by Jack’d has found that gay men aged under 26 are much more likely than those aged over 25 to intend to enter a gay marriage. And a survey from the CDC found that most sex between males in the USA (who congregate in a gay community) is with a ‘casual’ partner rather than with a relationship partner. Like most gay males, whether Christian or not, once he has a partner, he’s likely to eventually feel sexually restless (ref2, ref3, ref4), and chances are that the intended monogamy would not last long. Some eventually conclude that expectations of a gay utopia, were false (EG, EG2), and a few find themselves so dissatisfied (ref2) with homosexual relationships, that they decide to go straight instead. In say, ten years time, he’s likely to have reached the same conclusions of many same-sex attracted Christians of years gone by; that homosexual monogamy tends to be an unrealistic expectation.
No Biblical Support
The presenter is preoccupied by the idea that “There is no biblical teaching about sexual orientation”, concluding that same-sex relationships do not contravene Biblical teaching. But time and again, in both Testaments, from the second chapter of the Bible, right through to the epistles, the Bible presents only heterosexual relationships as normative. Jesus himself in passages such as Matthew 19:3-11, and Luke 14:26 portrays Christian relationships only as heterosexual and makes no provision for homosexual relationships. The same is true of other sections of the New Testament, eg 1 Corinthians 7, which frames heterosexual marriage as suitable for “every man” and “every woman”. Ephesians 5 is another example where no room is allowed for same-sex marriages when it says “each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” This statement is made despite the practise of homosexuality amongst the non-Christian Greek culture at the time. If Jesus felt that it is okay for a Christian man to have a husband, why would he portray a Christian man’s spouse to only be a wife? Even the presenter agrees that the Old Testament declares same-sex relations sinful. Accordingly you would expect that any change in policy for homosexuals, would be explicitly stated in the New Testament. It’s not. Homosexual sex is only biblically denied, never affirmed. And if homosexual sex is sinful, then relationships involving homosexual sex are likewise without Biblical support. The presenter prefers to hide behind elaborate pseudo-intellectual excuses to avoid what the Bible plainly states.
Around one year after the video was first made available on the internet, this web page was posted. The presenter is quoted here saying;
“What frustrates me so much about a lot of the literature on this subject is that it will say something diminishing toward the Bible at the very beginning. Like, “Well, the Bible says a lot of things that we think are strange.”
And the moment you say things like that, you are putting forward a very different view of the Bible than the people you’re trying to engage with. And so they stop listening instantly. And you’re not going to get anywhere.
And they feel disrespected. They feel like you are attacking their faith and that you’re attacking the text through which they allow their lives to be shaped and from which they gain their understanding of God.
So I just felt like there were not good resources on this issue. I felt I needed to create a new resource on my own. And having grown up in this conservative atmosphere, I felt that I understood the cultural and social politics of these communities. And I felt that I could maybe bring along other people with me.”
This seems a little manipulative to me. Like he’s separated himself and is talking of ‘them’ rather than ‘us’. And it feels like his primary goal is to advance the gay cause, rather than to advance the Gospel, and that he’s simply packaged his message in such a way to try to make it compliant with and palatable to the cultural language and ethos of conservative Christendom. He knows how to talk the talk, but as we have seen, he doesnt consider St Paul’s Scriptures to be fully authoritative, so he’s not entirely walking the walk. And he’s coming from an educational institution that reportedly has a hook-up culture, even amongst heterosexuals. Does he actually practise the largely conservative Biblical perspective that he implies in the video?
Many people who watched the video were initially convinced by the arguments presented. Some have promoted the video on other websites, sometimes furthering confusion, EG this one which at the time of me writing this, refuses to display my feedback in their comments section. Even Dan Savage promoted the video in his column. By mid April though, Dan appeared to acknowledge that the Bible does not in fact support homosexual sex. Matthew’s original home church (here?) largely didnt buy Matthew’s arguments either. In May, a general conference was held by the United Methodist Church (Matthew’s video was recorded at a United Methodist Church), and despite Matthew’s input (ref.), the conference also decided to retain their official position that active homosexual behaviour is incompatible with Christian teaching. One month later, the Southern Baptist Convention voted likewise. Initially some described the video as “scholarly”, but later, even some LGBT-affirming sources have admitted that it’s not. By the end of the year, the top search result on Google for the search terms “Matthew Vines”, was a page refuting his presentation. And around 18 months after the video was released, one of the biggest names in Christendom in regards to the gay topic; Alan Chambers, even after going through a huge redevelopment of his approach in ministry to GLBTs, was still saying that the Biblical model for relationships is heterosexual.
Many now consider the video presentation to be fundamentally flawed and heretical (EG1, EG2, EG3, EG4, EG5, EG6, EG7, EG8, EG9, EG10, EG11, EG12, EG13, EG14, EG15, EG16, EG17, EG18, EG19, EG20, EG21, EG22, EG23, EG24, EG25, EG26, EG27, EG28). Even one or two secularist have joined the critics, as has at least one guy who is same-sex attracted. Some of the critics (EG, EG2, EG3) have challenged the presenter to a public debate, but tend to report that he doesnt reply. One critic says the presenter blocked him on facebook rather than engaging in reasoned dialogue. And at least one blogger seemed to find the video humorous. A little more than 6 months after the release of the video and after much of the publicity and reaction had died down, liberal Christian communities such as Huffington’s Religion section and CToBM, both of whom promoted the video, were promoting articles such as this one, which stated that “It is utterly futile to imagine that the biblical writers would be pleased with the concept of men marrying men or women marrying women …”. The liberal-leaning MSNBC also said much the same and Australia’s ABC also expressed a conservative leaning on the topic. Such reports indicate that the video did not result in a watershed change of widespread opinion, even amongst liberals. At the end of the year, the pro-gay Huffington Post recognised Matthew’s ability to get attention by including him in their list of 30 Most Compelling LGBT People Of 2012, but despite his plans for revolution, Matthew’s presentation was not listed in their 51 Hottest LGBT Stories Of The Year. And a little over a year after the video was released, a poll from the Barna Group reportedly found that the percentage of evangelicals who believe that marriage should be defined as the union of one man and one woman, had increased over the last 10 years.
Some Christians shrink in the face of this issue, ultimately deciding not to weigh into to it, and claiming that it’s not their place to judge. But it seems to me that in terms of what is permitted in churches, Christians are actually required to judge. 1 Corinthians chapter 5 indicates that sincere Christians should not associate with those who call themselves Christians but who are seriously corrupted by sin, specifically those in sexual sin (note this does not apply to associating with non-Christians). And in Revelation chapter 2, the indication is that Christians are required to not tolerate teachers who lead others into sexual sin. Christians are supposed to “judge correctly” (John 7:24) and to encourage other Christians to be holy (Gal 6:1-5, James 5:19-20, Titus 1:13) rather than ignoring the sin. Christians are not supposed to judge non-christians though (1 Cor 5:12) or to be judgemental hypocrites (Matthew 7:1-5). Those who cite Matthew 7:1-4 to claim that Christians should not point out others’ sins, tend to ignore verse 5, which encourages us to help others avoid sin.
The presenter of the video was a student at Harvard University. By chance, Ive come across the contrasting story of another man from Harvard University, as mentioned towards the end of this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CIw6ngIqaD0&feature=player_embedded
Gay and troubled? If you are in the US, you can call the Trevor Project for help, on 866-488-7386. TheTrevorProject.org
Source material / further details:
- Alpha & Omega Ministries’ 5 hour audio critique of the video (incl. misleading references to immutability)
- Robert Gagnon speaking on relevant themes at GROK Radio
- Maka Nagasawa’s written critique of the video
- Dr Greg Bahansen’s response to similar claims from pro-gay leader John Boswell
- Bobby Conway’s 2012 1 hr loving video overview of homosexuality (incl. misleading references to immutability)
- Dr Howard Batson’s response to similar claims from Bruce Lowe (incl. possibly inaccurate statements about St Paul’s understanding)
- Sexegesis, an Australian Evangelical book that responds to the recent book Five Uneasy Pieces.
- Answers to the broader questions about homosexuality, from Christopher Yuan
- Ron Belgau’s theological analysis of homosexuality
- William Witt’s The Hermeneutics of Same-Sex Practice: A Summary and Evaluation
- An Anglican position.