“The issues about homosexuality are very complex and are not understood by most members of the Christian church,” according to Bernard Ramm of The American Baptist Seminary of the West. This evangelical authority on biblical interpretation says that, “to them, it is a vile form of sexual perversion condemned in both the Old and New Testaments.” But as Calvin Theological Seminary Old Testament scholar Marten H. Woudstra says: “there is nothing in the Old Testament that corresponds to homosexuality as we understand it today” and as SMU New Testament scholar Victor Paul Furnish says: “There is no ‘text on homosexual orientation in the Bible.” Says Robin Scroggs of Union Seminary: “Biblical judgments against homosexuality are not relevant to today’s debate. They should no longer be used … not because the Bible is not authoritative, but simply because it does not address the issues involved. … No single New Testament author considers [homosexuality] important enough to write his own sentence about it.” Evangelical theologian Helmut Thielicke states: “Homosexuality… can be discussed at all only in the framework of that freedom which is given to us by the insight that even the New Testament does not provide us with an evident, normative dictum with regard to this question. Even the kind of question which we have arrived at … must for purely historical reasons be alien to the New Testament.”
Ideas and understandings of sexuality have changed greatly over the centuries. People in biblical times did not share our knowledge or customs of sexuality; we do not share their experience. In those days there was no romantic dating as we know it today; marriages were arranged by fathers. The ancients, as MIT’s David Halperin notes: “conceived of ‘sexuality’ in non-sexual terms: What was fundamental to their experience of sex was not anything we would regard as essentially sexual: rather, it was something essentially social — namely, the modality of power relations that informed and structured the sexual act.” In the ancient world, sex was “not intrinsically relational or collaborative in character, it is, further, a deeply polarizing experience: It serves to divide, to classify, and to distribute its participants into distinct and radically dissimilar categories. Sex possess this valence, apparently because it is conceived to center essentially on, and to define itself around, an asymmetrical gesture, that of the penetration of the body of one person by the body, and, specifically, by the phallus — of another. …. The proper targets of [a citizen’s] sexual desire include, specifically, women, boys, foreigners, and slaves — all of them persons who do not enjoy the same legal and political rights and privileges that he does.” In studies of sex in history, Stanford classics professor John J. Winkler warns against “reading contemporary concerns and politics into texts and artifacts removed from their social context.” This, of course, is a basic principle of biblical hermeneutics.
In spite of all of this, some preachers continue to use certain Bible verses to clobber lesbians and gay men today.
Let’s take a closer look at these texts.
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