Homosexuality: The New Testament

Now we move forward to the New Testament in our quest to understand the bible passages supposedly condemning homosexual practice. Three passages are relevant here: Romans 1:24-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, which we won’t look at because we examined it previously; and lastly 1 Timothy 1:9-10.

Let’s start with the passage from Romans. This has all the appearance of being an ‘open and shut case’ - but appearances can be deceptive.

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator - who is forever praised. Amen.

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. Romans 1:24-27

It seems pretty straightforward at first glance. But actually, there’s a lot going on here, both in these particular verses and in their wider context.

Romans is a letter which, in my opinion, spends a lot of time expanding on the notion that Jews are no longer subject to the law and gentiles never were, but instead all are ‘under grace’ - it even summarises itself in Romans 6:14 -

…you are not under the law, but under grace.

With that in mind, sections like verses 18-32 can seem quite ‘out of place’ in their condemnation. But that’s almost certainly because we’re taking this section out of context. If we read the verses on their own, it seems fairly clear that they are a condemnation of male homosexuality.

Here we come up against one of my ‘favourite’ bugbears - the system of chapters and verses which divide up our text and which mean that, all too often, we divorce a passage from its context and in doing so, misinterpret it. Here, the issue is particularly egregious. After reading Romans 1:18-32, ignore the chapter heading and read on immediately into Romans 2.

…You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.

See - there’s a ‘therefore’ - in the dim and distant past we were always taught to ask ‘so what is it there for?’

That ‘therefore’ is linking all the verses describing sins (including the ‘clobber verses’) in chapter 1 to the admonition to not judge others contained in chapter 2. The intent of this passage, taken as a whole, is therefore not about condemning homosexuality specifically, but it is criticising every single one of us for judging others - because we are no better, and do at least some of the same things.

Jesus commands us not to judge:

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Matthew 7:1-2

What Paul is doing here is reinforcing Jesus’ message about not judging others - whatever heinous sin we may feel they’ve committed, and however justified we might feel in passing judgment on them and excluding them from our churches or, at least, restricting their access to the sacraments, or whatever other discriminatory practices our church has enacted to maintain its ‘holiness’.

We have to remember that we are sinners too. Look at that list in verses 28-32 again and see if there are any there you’re guilty of. If there are, then you can’t judge the sin of others - or, if you do, you’re bringing judgment upon yourselves. We cannot single out sins (such as homosexual acts for instance) which we ourselves are not even tempted to commit and condemn those who do commit them, without at the same time condemning ourselves for the sins we do commit.

Summarising Romans 1:18 - 2:1 we see that Paul is saying:

All human beings are idolaters;

Most human beings are fornicators;

Some human beings indulge in homosexual acts;

But all human beings have depraved minds and do evil deeds;

Therefore, stop judging one another right now.

Paul goes on to expand on this theme through the rest of chapter 2, really socking it to his audience - if, at the beginning, they don’t really ‘get’ the not judging thing, by the end they can be in no doubt whatsoever. And then, in chapter 3, he begins to expound the solution to all of this sinfulness - Jesus Christ’s faithfulness, and God’s grace. There is hope - for all of humanity - no-one is excluded from that hope.

So, in summary, if we use this passage to condemn homosexuality in others, we’re heaping judgment on ourselves.

There is no excuse, whatsoever, for judging others.

Even if homosexuality is wrong, we are not to judge those who are guilty of it, because we are at least as guilty; if not of homosexuality then almost certainly something like idolatry. That’s what it’s saying.

When I began writing, I was intending to ‘dive into’ the minutiae of Romans 1:24-27, and explore what things like ‘unnatural’ mean in the cultural context into which the letter was written (one possible answer is: probably not quite what you were thinking!). I apologise if you thought I was going to analyse the passage - indeed, at first, that was my intention, but I haven’t done it.

I didn’t do it because I saw that, in using these verses to condemn homosexual behaviour, we are misusing them. Homosexual behaviour absolutely isn’t the point here; it’s just one example of a sin, plucked out of a long list: judgment is the point here. Context is everything.

We are, perversely, judging others using a passage in which Paul is specifically teaching us not to judge.

Somehow to me, that says it all about how depraved our minds are - that we can take a piece of scripture which is perfectly clear in what it is saying, misuse it in this way, and then feel good about ourselves for ‘defending the faith'.

Let’s move onto the last of our passages, 1 Timothy 1:9-10. It’s only a little passage, and the important part of it is virtually the same as 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.

We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers - and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine...

Here we find that the word translated "those practicing homosexuality" is the sole other scriptural instance of a word we’ve seen before: ἀρσενοκοῖται (arsenokoitai). Therefore I refer you again back to my first post on homosexuality, in which I explore possible meanings of this word. The arguments I used there are equally valid here; I do not believe, therefore, that these verses provide a sufficient justification for condemning homosexuality either.

Any examples of actual homosexual practice which have been mentioned in the passages we’ve studied during this series of posts seem to be of an exploitative, or coercive, nature, rather than the sort of consensual homosexual relationship the church is trying to legislate for nowadays. Virtually all these passages, if they’re condemning anything, are condemning all coercive, exploitative, sexual practices, whether heterosexual or homosexual. And that, really, is all there is to it - looking back through all of these posts, it seems impossible to detect a specific message regarding modern consensual homosexual practice.

With all that in mind, I’d like to refer you back to my second post on homosexuality, and the arguments therein regarding why I believe it’s unjust to exclude non-celibate homosexuals from full participation in church life.

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2022