What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?

deyoungFor those who hold the Bible to be the authoritative Word of God, one of the more relevant questions of the day is “What does the Bible really teach about homosexuality?”

As his title clearly displays, this is the question that pastor – and newly appointed Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at RTS – takes up in this book.

DeYoung begins his book in a somewhat surprising way, in that before jumping in to discussing individual passages of Scripture and how to interpret them, he first takes some time to lay out the basic assumptions of the discussion for the reason that “As is so often the case with controversial matters, we will never agree on the smaller subplots if it turns out we aren’t even telling the same story” (p9). Thus DeYoung spends his introduction making sure we’re all on the same page in regards to the basic outline of Scripture, discussing who he is writing to, and defining some of his terms and how he will approach the topic. That is to say, DeYoung first sets out to correct and/or provide a big picture view of Scripture, from which he will then proceed to dip down and analyze certain vital points.

The book is divided into two basic parts. In the first part DeYoung analyzes the five Biblical passages that most directly relate to discussions of homosexuality (Gen 1-2, Gen 19, Lev 18&20, Rom 1, 1 Cor 6 & 1 Tim 1), and argues through contextual, lexical, logical, and exegetical arguments that each of these passages does indeed amount to a condemnation of homosexual activity.

After a clear and thorough analysis of relevant Scripture, DeYoung proceeds to answer the many common objections or questions that come up when discussing the Bible’s relation to homosexual activity. These include the objections that: the Bible hardly ever mentions homosexuality (and therefore it doesn’t really care); that the Bible isn’t referring to modern, consensual, loving homosexuality; that traditionalist are inconsistent in that they don’t treat divorce and gluttony in the same way; that the church is supposed to be a place for broken people (and therefore should embrace homosexual activity); that traditionalists are ‘on the wrong side of history’; that it’s not fair because they were born that way; or that God is a God of love (and therefore approves of homosexual activity).

In each instance DeYoung carefully – and gently – uncovers the misunderstandings or misconceptions involved in each the objections, and he does so in a very concise manner (offering better arguments than similar texts and yet in a quarter of the space). Thus he points out that “The reason the Bible says comparatively little about homosexuality is because it was a comparatively uncontroversial sin among ancient Jews and Christians… Counting up the number of verses on any particular topic is not the best way to determine the seriousness of the sin involved (p72); that “If the ancient world not only had a category for committed same-sex relationships but also some understanding of homosexual orientation (to use our phrase), there is no reason to think the New Testament’s prohibitions against same-sex behavior were only for pederasty and exploitation” (p.84); asking “do we really want to suggest that one sin is no big deal because we’ve been lax about a different sin?” (p90); that “If we think people can find a Savior without forsaking their sin, we do not know what sort of Savior Jesus Christ is… No doubt, the church is for broken and imperfect people – broken people who hate what is broken in them and imperfect people who have renounced their sinful imperfections” (p98); that “As Christians we ought to fear being on the wrong side of the holy, apostolic, and universal church more than we fear being on the wrong side of discredited assumptions about progress and enlightenment” (p108); that “We cannot derive oughts from what is. Our own sense of desire and delight, or of pleasure and of pain, is not self-validating” (p111); and that “the love of God does not swallow up all the other divine attributes” (p121).

On the whole, DeYoung offers an excellent and readable resource for parents, lay elders, college students and ordinary people for dispelling misconceptions and understanding the teaching of the Scriptures on the topic of homosexual activity.

Perhaps most noteworthy in DeYoung’s text – apart from his sound exegesis – is that he doesn’t approach the discussion as one of ‘homosexuality’ itself, but of homosexual activity. That is, what he points out as being condemned in Scripture are the homosexual actions, not homosexuality (what might be called ‘homosexual temptation’) or homosexuals themselves. Thus throughout the discussion DeYoung deliberately – and rightly in my opinion – avoids the use of the term ‘homosexuality’. As he states: “Quite deliberately, these terms suggest a freely chosen activity or behavior. In using these terms I am not speaking in a blanket way about those who find themselves attracted to persons of the same sex, nor am I commenting on whether these desires were consciously chosen (almost certainly not) or whether and when the desires themselves become sinful” (p20).

Through this DeYoung avoids the standard conservative cliche of saying that homosexuals are condemned by the Bible in and of themselves, that it is a sin to be homosexual (or to be more semantically accurate, to have homosexual feelings/temptations). While DeYoung does expertly dismantle the various objections to the Biblical stance on homosexual activity, it is this aspect of his book that I have found to be missing from the contemporary conversation as a whole, and so for this aspect I am especially glad.

On a similarly helpful note DeYoung also attacks the idol of [monogamous] sex and marriage that we’ve set up for ourselves within the church, where marriage is the highest ideal; thus he points out that “If everything in Christian community revolves around being married with children, we should not be surprised when singleness sounds like a death sentence. If that’s the church’s challenge, what’s needed in the wider culture is a deep dymthythologizing of sex. Nothing in the Bible encourages us to give sex the exalted status it has in our culture, as if finding our purpose, our identity, and our fulfillment all rest on what we can or cannot do with our private parts” (p119). In this DeYoung reminds us that we ourselves as the church have contributed some of the factors that make this conversation so difficult, that it is the conservative church that has helped make marriage and sex pivotal for out purpose and identity. It is only natural that after having this ideal set up for them by the church that those who have a desire for homosexual activity feel like they are having their very identity and purpose denied them.

All in all, DeYoung’s short text is the single most lucid, orthodox, and concise discussion to be found today.

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Memorable Quotes:

“The central plotline of the story of Scripture was set in motion: a holy God making a way to dwell in the midst of an unholy people.”-11

“If you are not convinced by the lexical, logical, and exegetical arguments, I only ask that you make doubly sure it is the actual arguments that are unconvincing. Our feelings matter. Our stories matter. Our friends matter. But ultimately we must search the Scriptures to see what matters most. Don’t discount the messenger as a bigot if your real problem is with the Bible.”-18

“The act of sexual intercourse brings a man and a women together as one relationally and organically. The sameness of the parts in same-sex activity does not allow the two to become one in the same way. mere physical contact – like holding hands or sticking your finger in someone’s ear – does not unite two people in an organic union, nor does it bring them together as a single subject to fulfill a biological function.”-28

“Marriage is, by definition, that sort of union from which – if all the plumbing is working properly – children can be conceived.”-29

“The meaning of marriage is more than mutual sacrifice and covenantal commitment. Marriage, by its very nature, requires complementarity. The mystical union of Christ and the church – each ‘part’ belonging to the other but neither interchangeable – cannot be pictured in marital union without the differentiation of male and female. If God wanted us to conclude that men and women were interchangeable in the marriage relationship, he not only gave us the wrong creation narrative; he gave us the wrong metanarrative.”-32

“Homosexual practice is sinful because it violates the divine design in creation. According to Paul’s logic, men and women who engage in same-sex sexual behavior – even if they are being true to their own feelings and desires – have suppressed God’s truth in unrighteousness. They have exchanged the fittedness of male-female relations for those that are contrary to nature.”-55

“The English translations are almost always right, especially when they basically say the same thing… That doesn’t mean they can’t make mistakes or that we can’t learn new things they missed. But it does mean that after reading a few commentaries and perusing a couple of articles online you will certainly not know the ancient work or Koine Greek better than they did.”-62

“[H]omosexual activity is not a blessing to be celebrated and solemnized but a sin to be repented of, forsaken, and forgiven.”-67

“Talking is not the problem. The problem is when incessant talking becomes a cover for indecision or even cowardice… It’s death by dialogue… The moratorium on making pronouncements will only be lifted once the revisionist position has won out.”-76

“Silence in the face of such clarity is not prudence, and hesitation in light of such frequency is not patience. The Bible says more than enough about homosexual practice for us to say something too.”-77

“A rant is not an idea, and feeling hurt is not an argument. To be sure, how we make each other feel is not unimportant. But in our age of perpetual outrage, we must make clear that offendedness is not proof of the coherence or plausibility of any argument. Now is not the time for fuzzy thinking. Now is not the time to shy away from careful definitions. Now is not the time to let moods substitute for logic. These are difficult issues. These are personal issues. These are complicated issues. We cannot chart our ethical course by what feels better. We cannot build our theology based on what makes us look nicer. We cannot abdicated intellectual responsibility because smart people disagree.”-126

“Sweeping statements about nebulous spiritual sentiment do not a worldview make.”-127

“Faithfulness is ours to choose; the shape of that faithfulness is God’s to determine.”-129

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Specific Criticisms

The only real criticism I have of this text is that the author jumps too quickly to assigning homosexual activity as one of the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah. While he did prove that homosexual activity was involved in the actions being done in Sodom and Gomorrah, he begs the question when he concludes that homosexual activity was condemned in that narrative. He seems to have only been successful in that chapter in proving that the sin there condemned violent homosexual activity. On the whole this does not affect the overall thesis of the book, but it does seem a case of overstating his conclusions on the part of the author.

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