Tag Archives: Homosexuality
Keller on how the church should speak to the issue of homosexuality:
Keller on how the church should handle the shift to transgender identity in the broader culture:
By Kevin DeYoung
So you’ve become convinced that the Bible supports gay marriage. You’ve studied the issue, read some books, looked at the relevant Bible passages and concluded that Scripture does not prohibit same-sex intercourse so long as it takes place in the context of a loving, monogamous, lifelong covenanted relationship. You still love Jesus. You still believe the Bible. In fact, you would argue that it’s because you love Jesus and because you believe the Bible that you now embrace gay marriage as a God-sanctioned good.
As far as you are concerned, you haven’t rejected your evangelical faith. You haven’t turned your back on God. You haven’t become a moral relativist. You’ve never suggested anything goes when it comes to sexual behavior. In most things, you tend to be quite conservative. You affirm the family, and you believe in the permanence of marriage. But now you’ve simply come to the conclusion that two men or two women should be able to enter into the institution of marriage–both as a legal right and as a biblically faithful expression of one’s sexuality.
Setting aside the issue of biblical interpretation for the moment, let me ask five questions.
1. On what basis do you still insist that marriage must be monogamous?
Presumably, you do not see any normative significance in God creating the first human pair male and female (Gen. 2:23-25; Matt. 19:4-6). Paul’s language about each man having his own wife and each woman her own husband cannot be taken too literally without falling back into the exclusivity of heterosexual marriage (1 Cor. 7:2). The two coming together as one so they might produce godly offspring doesn’t work with gay marriage either (Mal. 2:15). So why monogamy? Jesus never spoke explicitly against polygamy. The New Testament writers only knew of exploitative polygamy, the kind tied to conquest, greed, and subjugation. If they had known of voluntary, committed, loving polyamorous relationships, who’s to think they wouldn’t have approved?
These aren’t merely rhetorical questions. The issue is legitimate: if 3 or 13 or 30 people really love each other, why shouldn’t they have a right to be married? And for that matter, why not a brother and a sister, or two sisters, or a mother and son, or father and son, or any other combination of two or more persons who love each other. Once we’ve accepted the logic that for love to be validated it must be expressed sexually and that those engaged in consensual sexual activity cannot be denied the “right” of marriage, we have opened a Pandora’s box of marital permutations that cannot be shut.
2. Will you maintain the same biblical sexual ethic in the church now that you think the church should solemnize gay marriages?
After assailing the conservative church for ignoring the issue of divorce, will you exercise church discipline when gay marriages fall apart? Will you preach abstinence before marriage for all single persons, no matter their orientation? If nothing has really changed except that you now understand the Bible to be approving of same-sex intercourse in committed lifelong relationships,we should expect loud voices in the near future denouncing the infidelity rampant in homosexual relationships. Surely, those who support gay marriage out of “evangelical” principles, will be quick to find fault with the notion that the male-male marriages most likely to survive are those with a flexible understanding that other partners may come and go. According to one study researched and written by two homosexual authors, of 156 homosexual couples studied, only seven had maintained sexual fidelity, and of the hundred that had been together for more than five years, none had remained faithful (cited by Satinover, 55). In the rush to support committed, lifelong, monogamous same-sex relationships, it’s worth asking whether those supporters–especially the Christians among them–will, in fact, insist on a lifelong, monogamous commitment.
3. Are you prepared to say moms and dads are interchangeable?
It is a safe assumption that those in favor of gay marriage are likely to support gay and lesbian couples adopting children or giving birth to children through artificial insemination. What is sanctioned, therefore, is a family unit where children grow up de facto without one birth parent. This means not simply that some children, through the unfortunate circumstances of life, may grow up with a mom and dad, but that the church will positively bless and encourage the family type that will deprive children of either a mother or a father. So are mothers indispensable? Is another dad the same as a mom? No matter how many decent, capable homosexual couples we may know, are we confident that as a general rule there is nothing significant to be gained by growing up with a mother and a father?
4. What will you say about anal intercourse?
The answer is probably “nothing.” But if you feel strongly about the dangers of tobacco or fuss over the negative affects of carbs, cholesterol, gmo’s, sugar, gluten, trans fats, and hydrogenated soybean oil may have on your health, how can you not speak out about the serious risks associated with male-male intercourse. How is it loving to celebrate what we know to be a singularly unhealthy lifestyle? According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, the risk of anal cancer increases 4000 percent among those who engage in anal intercourse. Anal sex increases the risk of a long list of health problems, including “rectal prolapse, perforation that can go septic, chlamydia, cyrptosporidosis, giardiasis, genital herpes, genital warts, isosporiasis, microsporidiosis, gonorrhea, viral hepatitis B and C, and syphilis” (quoted in Reilly, 55). And this is to say nothing of the higher rates of HIV and other health concerns with disproportionate affects on the homosexual community.
5. How have all Christians at all times and in all places interpreted the Bible so wrongly for so long?
Christians misread their Bibles all the time. The church must always be reformed according to the word of God. Sometimes biblical truth rests with a small minority. Sometimes the truth is buried in relative obscurity for generations. But when we must believe that the Bible has been misunderstood by virtually every Christian in every part of the world for the last two thousand years, it ought to give us pause. From the Jewish world in the Old and New Testaments to the early church to the Middle Ages to the Reformation and into the 20th century, the church has understood the Bible to teach that engaging in homosexuality activity was among the worst sins a person could commit. As the late Louis Crompton, a gay man and pioneer in queer studies, explained:
Some interpreters, seeking to mitigate Paul’s harshness, have read the passage [in Romans 1] as condemning not homosexuals generally but only heterosexual men and women who experimented with homosexuality. According to this interpretation, Paul’s words were not directed at “bona fide” homosexuals in committed relationships. But such a reading, however well-intentioned, seems strained and unhistorical. Nowhere does Paul or any other Jewish writer of this period imply the least acceptance of same-sex relations under any circumstances. The idea that homosexuals might be redeemed by mutual devotion would have been wholly foreign to Paul or any Jew or early Christian. (Homosexuality and Civilization, 114).
The church has been of one mind on this issue for nearly two millennia. Are you prepared to jeopardize the catholicity of the church and convince yourself that everyone misunderstood the Bible until the 1960s? On such a critical matter, it’s important we think through the implications of our position, especially if it means consigning to the bin of bigotry almost every Christian who has ever lived.
Source: http://www.thegospelcoalition.org (June 17, 2014)
By Christopher Yuan
In March 2012, Matthew Vines posted a video on YouTube suggesting that “being gay is not a sin,” and that the Bible “does not condemn, loving, committed same-sex relationships.” He spoke eloquently from the heart with poise, conviction and vulnerability. The video quickly went viral.
Vines is a bright young man raised in a Christian home. At age 19, he left Harvard University after his third semester so that he could come out to his family and friends in Wichita. He knew that his father would not agree with the way he reconciled his sexuality with Scripture. So Vines sought to arm himself with biblical scholarship on the affirmation of same-sex relationships and strove to convince his family and church that they were wrong—that homosexuality is not a sin.
Vines’s new book, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships, expounds further on the arguments made in his video. His aim is not to present new information, but to synthesize gay-affirming arguments and make them accessible for a broader and younger audience. Vines does a good job fulfilling this goal. Unfortunately, his book consists of some logical and exegetical fallacies, and it does not address the shortcomings of the authors to whom it is most indebted. And although Vines professes a “high view” of the Bible, he ultimately fails to apply uncomfortable biblical truths in a way that embraces a costly discipleship.
Good and Bad Fruit
God and the Gay Christian begins with an emotional appeal from Matthew 7:18, “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit.” Vines states that universal condemnation of same-sex relationships has been damaging and destructive for those who identify as gay Christians, producing bad fruit (depression and suicide, for instance). In contrast, Vines asserts that loving, same-sex relationships produce good fruit. Additionally, he claims that the biblical authors did not understand sexual orientation as a fixed and exclusive characteristic. Recognizing that celibacy is a gift, Vines contends that this gift should only be accepted voluntarily. Citing 1 Timothy 4:3, Vines even argues that those who forbid gay marriage are false teachers who promote hostility toward God’s creation.
Six biblical passages directly address homosexuality, and Vines insists that none address same-sex orientation as we know it today. Thus, in Genesis 19, the sin of Sodom is not related to loving, consensual same-sex relationships, but to the threat of gang rape. Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 are not about committed same-sex relationships, but about the improper ordering of gender roles in a patriarchal society (men taking the receptive, sexual role; women taking the penetrative, sexual role). Paul in Romans 1:26-27 is not referring to monogamous, gay relationships, but instead to lustful excess and the breaking of customary gender roles. In 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10, Paul does not condemn same-sex relationships as an expression of one’s fixed and exclusive sexual orientation, but instead condemns the economic exploitation of others.
After discussing these six passages, Vines passionately argues that God blesses the marriages of same-sex couples. Marriage as a one-flesh union is a reflection of Christ’s love for the church. This relationship between Christ and the church is not a sexual union based upon gender complementarity. Therefore, Vines asserts that “one flesh” refers to a binding covenant of deep relational connection that is not dependent upon gender differences. For Vines, “sexuality is a core part of who we are” and same-sex orientation is “a created characteristic, not a distortion caused by the fall.”
In Vines’s 2012 video, he presents himself with a gentle and winsome demeanor. The tone of God and the Gay Christian is quite different. Unlike others who advocate respectful dialogue on this divisive issue, Vines charges that those who do not affirm same-sex relationships are sinning by distorting the image of God and are essentially responsible for the suicides of many gay Christians. Insinuations like this do not help to foster respectful dialogue on this already divisive issue.
Emphasis on Experience
Throughout the book, Vines declares that he holds a “high view” of the Bible. From this perspective, he says, one can still affirm gay relationships. One of the main weaknesses of God and the Gay Christian is that Vines’s methodology of biblical interpretation clashes with the high view of the Bible he claims to hold. A high view of Scripture is more than just talking about Scripture. It is learning from Scripture. Vines certainly talks about Scripture, but he tends to emphasize his experience and tangential background information, downplaying Scripture and its relevant literary and historical context.
Experiences do inform our interpretation of Scripture. As a racial minority, biblical texts on sojourners and aliens mean more to me than to someone who is not a racial minority. However, experiences can also hinder the interpretation of Scripture. Although it is impossible to completely distance the interpretive process from one’s experiences, it is important to recognize our biases and do our best to minimize them. A high view of Scripture involves measuring our experience against the Bible, not the other way around.
It appears to me that Vines starts with the conclusion that God blesses same-sex relationships and then moves backwards to find evidence. This is not exegesis, but a classic example of eisegesis (reading our own biases into a text). Like Vines, I also came out as a gay man while I was a student. I was a graduate student pursuing a doctorate in dentistry. Unlike Vines, I was not raised in a Christian home. Interestingly, a chaplain gave me a book from a gay-affirming author, John Boswell, claiming that homosexuality is not a sin. Like Vines, I was looking for biblical justification and wanted to prove that the Bible blesses gay relationships. As I read Boswell’s book, the Bible was open next to it, and his assertions did not line up with Scripture. Eventually, I realized that I was wrong—that same-sex romantic relationships are a sin. My years of biblical language study in Bible college and seminary, and doctoral research in sexuality, only strengthened this conclusion. No matter how hard I tried to find biblical justification and no matter whether my same-sex temptations went away or not, God’s word did not change. Years later I found out that the gay-affirming chaplain also recognized his error.
In God and the Gay Christian, Vines relies heavily upon other authors, many of whom also began with a strong gay-affirming bias. John Boswell was an openly gay historian. James Brownson, a more recent scholar, reversed his stance on the morality of same-sex relationships after his son came out. Michael Carden, a fringe gay Catholic who dabbles in astrology, has written on the “homo-erotics of atonement” and contributed to the Queer Bible Commentary, which draws upon “feminist, queer, deconstructionist, utopian theories, the social sciences and historical-critical discourses.” Dale Martin, an openly gay man, believes neither that Jesus’ resurrection is a historical fact, nor that the historical Jesus believed he was divine. These views do not represent a “high view” of the Bible.
Leaning upon experience rather than biblical context leads Vines to some inaccurate interpretations. For Vines, “bad fruit” in Matthew 7:17 refers to the experience of emotional or physical harm. But this does not line up with the storyline of the Bible. Under Vines’s definition, crucifixion, martyrdom and self-denial would all be considered “bad fruit.” Matthew 7:14 reads, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Following Jesus is not easy and can result in very difficult trials. Vines also neglects to note that two different Greek words are translated into one word, “bad.” “Bad tree” literally means a rotten or diseased tree, while “bad fruit” is literally wicked or evil fruit. From the context of Matthew 7, “bad fruit” does not mean emotional or physical harm but refers to sin.
For Vines, “sexuality is a core part of who we are.” This perspective makes his experiences (feelings, attractions, desires, orientation) essential to his identity. Our society may place a great emphasis upon a sexual identity, but Scripture does not. As a matter of fact, our identity should not be placed in anything (such as our sexuality, gender, or race) other than Jesus Christ.
Vines asserts that the biblical authors did not understand sexual orientation as we do today, as a fixed and exclusive characteristic. It is one thing to say that the biblical writers were ignorant. But it is a whole different matter to claim to hold to a “high view” of Scripture and imply that the author of the Bible, God himself, does not understand sexual orientation.
Vines is wrong to claim that orientation is fixed and exclusive. Although male sexuality may be more fixed, the latest research in lesbian and feminist studies shows that female sexuality is quite fluid and not as fixed and exclusive as Vines claims. The view of same-sex orientation expressed in God and the Gay Christianmirrors Vines’s own gay-male experiences. But according to the latest research, it does not represent the broader gay and lesbian community.
God and the Gay Christian includes a good amount of historical background information. For a non-academic book, it is impressive to see all the references to primary sources, such as Plato, Aristotle, Philo, Josephus, Jerome and Augustine. It is disappointing, then, to see insufficient interaction with the actual biblical texts. Investigating historical context is very important, but this must go hand in hand with the investigation of a passage’s own literary context. It is easy to deconstruct one or two seemingly inconvenient words in light of tangential background information, but only if one disregards the immediate historical and literary context in which these words appear.
Vines discusses why Christians do not obey all the laws in the Old Testament. However, he does not discuss why Christians do obey some laws in the Old Testament. There is much discussion about the relevance of Old Testament law. But where the New Testament reaffirms it, Christians remain obligated to obey it. Paul reaffirms Leviticus 20:13 in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10, using a compound Greek word (arsenokoitai) taken from two words found in the Leviticus passage of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament.
Vines dismisses this important allusion. He contends that the parts of a compound word do not necessarily help uncover the meaning. As an example, he states that “understand” has nothing to do with “standing” or “under.” Yet etymologists (those who study of the origins of words and the historical development of their meanings) can trace the origin and meaning of “understand” to Old English.
Vines notes the use of arsenokoitai in the vice lists of three second-century texts. Even though he admits the vice lists are of limited help, he tries to link arsenokoitai to economic exploitation through word association. Vines might have a case if every vice in each list is related to economic exploitation. But these lists contain a variety of vices, related and unrelated. For instance, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 mentions idolaters, adulterers, drunkards, and slanderers.
Vines also asserts that arsenokoitai is only minimally associated with sexual sin because it is not always mentioned alongside other sexual sins—and when it is, it is separated by three words. This is insignificant, and ignores other, more relevant historical information. The Greek Old Testament was probably the most widely read piece of literature among first-century Jews and Christians. The two words, arsen (male) and koite (bed), occur together six times in its pages. On four occasions, the reference is to women lying with men, and on the other two (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13) the reference is to men lying with men. Vines and others who rely upon second-century texts to explain arsenokoitai, dismissing the Greek Old Testament, are inconsistent in applying background information. Again, their biases prevail in their attempt to interpret Scripture.
For Vines, Leviticus 20:13 is not a universal condemnation against same-sex intercourse. Rather, it is “centered around the proper ordering of gender roles in a patriarchal society.” Men were not to act like women by taking the receptive role. Ironically, Vines dismisses Philo (a first century Jewish philosopher) for explicitly linking Sodom’s sins to same-sex behavior, but then affirms Philo for linking the sin of Leviticus 20:13 to “being treated like women.” This is another example of bias and an inconsistent use of background information. If the sin of Leviticus 20:13 is merely a matter of men adopting the woman’s sexual role, then only the man in the receptive role should be condemned. However the verse states that “both of them have committed an abomination.” Both men are condemned.
Vines exhorts gay-affirming Christians to help usher in a modern reformation by “speaking the truth,” which for him starts with personal life stories. Indeed, we must share our personal experiences, but experience should not replace truth. I completely agree with Vines that many gays, lesbians, and other same-sex attracted people have struggled to reconcile their faith and sexuality without much help from the church. Some churches are unwilling to talk about homosexuality, afraid that it will open up a can of worms. Other churches only talk about the immorality of it, while neglecting to discuss how the transformative message of the gospel is also for gays and lesbians. We must do a better job of walking with those who are working through issues of sexuality, regardless of whether they are acting upon their temptations or not.
We have failed to provide gospel-centered support for same-sex attracted Christians. As a 43-year-old single man who did not choose singleness, I know firsthand the challenges of obedience. But there are also blessings, just as marriage involves challenges and blessings. The church must have a robust, practical theology of singleness which involves more than just abstinence programs and the Christian singles ghetto (also known as the “college and career” group). We are not ready to address the issue of homosexuality (or even sexuality in general) if we have not first redeemed biblical singleness.
We have failed to walk alongside same-sex attracted Christians to whom God has provided a spouse—of the opposite sex. Vines limits the power of God by actually believing that there is no possibility for gays and lesbians to marry someone of the opposite sex. He even believes that encouraging such marriages “is not Christian faithfulness,” because they would most likely end in divorce. In this, he offhandedly dismisses many marriages that have not failed. Certainly, there are challenges with these relationships, and getting married should never be the main focus. But fear of failure should not trump gospel-centered living.This is true Christian faithfulness.
We have failed to offer Christ to the gay and lesbian community. We have also failed by giving the impression that orientation change and reparative therapy is the solution. Sanctification is not getting rid of our temptations, but pursuing holiness in the midst of them. If our goal is making people straight, then we are practicing a false gospel.
Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but was accused of being a friend of sinners. Too often, we are more like the older, self-righteous brother of the prodigal son, and our hearts are hardened toward the lost. This is truth at the expense of grace. But the approach that Vines suggest—grace at the expense of truth—also misses the mark. It overlooks the theology of suffering and gives us Christ without the Cross. Jesus, who personifies love, came full of grace and full of truth (John 1:14). Might this be how we live as well.
Christopher Yuan (www.christopheryuan.com) is co-author, with his mother, of Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God, A Broken Mother’s Search for Hope (WaterBrook Press). He teaches the Bible at Moody Bible Institute and has an international speaking ministry.
Source: Adapted from http://www.christianitytoday.com (June 9, 2014)
By Dr. Russell Moore
The Bible tells us that the king of Israel once wanted to hear from the prophets, as to whether he would be victorious over his enemies. All the court prophets told him exactly what he wanted to hear. Yet the king of Judah, wisely, asked whether there might be another voice to hear from, and Israel’s king said that, yes, there was, but that he hated this prophet “because he never prophesies good concerning me” (1 Kings 22:8).
Once found, this prophet refused to speak the consensus word the king wanted to hear. “As the Lord lives, what the Lord says to me, that I will speak” (1 Kings 22:14). And, as it turned out, it was a hard word.
When it comes to what people want to hear, it seems to me that the church faces a similar situation as we look to the future of marriage in this country. Many want the sort of prophetic witness that will spin the situation to look favorable, regardless of whether that favor is from the Lord or in touch with reality.
Some people want a court of prophets who will take a surgeon’s scalpel to the Word of God. They want those who will say in light of what the Bible clearly calls immorality, “Has God really said?” Following the trajectory of every old liberalism of the past, they want to do with a Christian sexual ethic what the old liberals did with the virgin birth—claim that contemporary people just won’t have this, and if we want to rescue Christianity, this will have to go overboard. All the while they’ll tell us they’re doing it for the children (or for the Millennials).
This is infidelity to the gospel we’ve received. First of all, no one refusing to repent of sin—be it homosexuality or fornication or anything else—will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10). This strategy leaves people in condemnation before the Judgment Seat of Christ, without reconciliation and without hope.
Second, it doesn’t even work. Look at the empty cathedrals of the Episcopal Church, the vacated pews of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and right down the line. Let me be clear. Even if embracing same-sex marriage—or any other endorsement of what the Bible calls sexual immorality—“worked” in church-building, we still wouldn’t do it. If we have to choose between Jesus and Millennials, we choose Jesus. But history shows us that those who want a different Jesus—the one who says, “Do whatever you want with your body, it’s okay by me”—don’t want Christianity at all.
But there will be those who want prophets who will say that the gospel doesn’t call for repentance, or at least not repentance from this sin. These prophets will apply a selective universalism that denies that judgment is coming, or that the blood of Christ is needed. But these prophets don’t speak for God. And, quite frankly, we have no one to blame but ourselves since, for too long, too many of us have tolerated among us those who have substituted a cheap and easy false gospel for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Too many have been called gospel preachers who preach decision without faith, regeneration without repentance, justification without lordship, deliverance by walking an aisle but without carrying a cross. That gospel is different from the one Jesus and his apostles delivered to us. That gospel doesn’t save.
So when these prophets emerge to tell people they can stay in their sins and still be saved, we must thunder back with the old gospel that calls all of us to repentance and to cross-bearing, the gospel that calls sin what it is in order to call grace what it is. J. Gresham Machen warned us that our Lord Jesus himself never attempted to preach the gospel to the righteous but only to sinners. Those who follow him must start by acknowledging themselves to be in need of mercy, to be in need of grace that can pardon and cleanse within.
There’s also another form of court prophet of these times. This one has no problem identifying homosexuality as sin. He may do so with all sorts of bluster and outrage, but he still does what court prophets always do—he speaks a word that people want to hear. What some people want to hear is that sexual immorality is moral after all, and what other people want to hear is that same-sex marriage is simply a matter of some elites on the coasts of the country. This prophet implies that if we just sign checks to the right radio talk-show hosts, and have a good election cycle or two, we’ll be right back where we were, back when carpets were shag and marriages were strong.
I don’t know anyone in any advocacy organization in Washington DC—and there are many fighting the good fight on this one—that is saying that. As a matter of fact, the organizations closest to the ground know just how dark the hour is. The courts are hell-bent on redefining marriage, which is why state definitions of marriage, put in place by the citizens of those states, are being struck down. This isn’t happening simply in blue states but in the reddest of red states—Utah, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Tennessee, and so on.
The Supreme Court said last year, in a shocking ruling, that essentially the only reason anyone could have for defining marriage the way every human civilization has for millennia is hostility toward gay and lesbian persons. The answer is not a simple constitutional amendment—though that would be optimal—because any constitutional amendment would require a super-majority in both houses, that, apart from a miracle, no one sees happening in the next several years, now that the Democratic Party is firmly behind same-sex marriage.
What several of us have been saying for quite a while is that, in some form or another, your church will have to address the marriage revolution. My friend Jeff Iorg, president of Golden Gate Seminary in California, has courageously called the church to see that everyone will soon have to be standing where he is standing now. He’s exactly right. The cultural trends are such that the red–blue divide will not ultimately isolate any congregation from this Sexual Revolution, and all it entails.
Moreover, the situation isn’t as easy as just an election or two, given the vast cultural changes that have happened. I—and my co-laborers in other organizations—are fighting every single week in court cases, in hearings, in state disputes for the most basic of conscience protections for those who dissent from the High Church of the Sexual Revolution. Look at the way Louie Giglio was deemed too toxic to pray at the President’s inauguration in 2013. Look at the way the CEO of Mozilla was hounded out of office simply for supporting a ballot measure defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Look at the way photographers and florists are being forced, under penalty of law, to participate in same-sex weddings. And look at the way that even the most base-level religious liberty provisions are deemed discriminatory.
If the church doesn’t read the signs of the times, we will be right where we evangelicals were after Roe v. Wade—caught flat-footed and unprepared. Thankfully, the Catholics were there to supply an ethical framework and a sense of justice until some evangelicals—such as Francis Schaeffer and Jerry Falwell—emerged to rally for the lives of the unborn and their mothers.
So what should we do? Well, precisely what we should have done before and after Roe. We should recognize where the courts and the culture are, and we should work for justice. That means not simply assuming that most people agree with us on marriage. We must articulate, both in and out of the church, why marriage matters, and why its definition isn’t infinitely elastic.
We must—like the pro-life movement has done—seek not only to engage our base, those who already agree with us, but to persuade others who don’t. That doesn’t mean less talk about marriage and sexuality but more—and not just in sound bytes and slogans but in a robust theology of why sexual complementarity and the one-flesh union are rooted in the mystery of the gospel (Eph. 5:22-33).
We must—also like the pro-life movement—understand the importance of a Supreme Court that won’t will into existence constitutional planks by force of its own will. That requires a persuasive public witness, and a long-term as well as a short-term strategy. That means fighting—as we are doing—for the Court not to invalidate state definitions of marriage and for the culture to recognize that a state that can force people to participate in what they believe to be sin is a state that is too big for the common good.
Above all, we must prepare people for what the future holds, when Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality aren’t part of the cultural consensus but are seen to be strange and freakish and even subversive. If our people assume that everything goes back to normal with the right President and a quick constitutional amendment, they are not being equipped for a world that views evangelical Protestants and traditional Roman Catholics and Orthodox Jews and others as bigots or freaks.
Jesus told us we would have hard times. He never promised us a prosperity gospel. He said we would face opposition, but he said he would be with us. If we are going to be faithful to his gospel, we must preach repentance—even when that repentance is culturally unwelcome. And we must preach that any sinner can be forgiven through the blood of Jesus Christ. That means courage and that means kindness. Sexual revolutionaries will hate the repentance. Buffoonish heretics, who want only to vent paranoia and rally their troops, will hate the kindness. So be it.
Our churches must be ready to call out the revisionists who wish to do away with a Christian sexual ethic. And we must be ready to call out those who tell us that acknowledging the signs of the times is forbidden, and we should just keep doing what we’ve been doing. An issue this culturally powerful cannot be addressed by a halfway-gospel or by talk-radio sloganeering.
The marriage revolution around us means we must do a better job articulating a theology of marriage to our people, as well as a theology of suffering and marginalization. It means we must do a better job articulating to those on the outside why children need both a Mom and a Dad, not just “parents,” and why marriage isn’t simply a matter of court decree. It means we must start teaching our children about marriage “from the beginning” as male and female when they’re in Sunday school. It means we may have to decide if and when the day will come in which we will refuse to sign the state’s marriage licenses.
Long term the prospects for marriage are good. Sexual revolutions always disappoint, and God has designed marriage, biblically defined, to be resilient. But, short term, the culture of marriage is dark indeed. That’s why we have a gospel that is the power of God.
Source: Adapted from: http://www.russellmoore.com (Moore to the Point – April 15, 2014)
About Dr. Moore:
Russell D. Moore serves as the eighth president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the moral and public policy agency of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.
Prior to his election to this role in 2013, Moore served as provost and dean of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he also taught as professor of theology and ethics.
A widely-sought cultural commentator, Dr. Moore has been recognized by a number of influential organizations. The Wall Street Journal has called him “vigorous, cheerful, and fiercely articulate” while The Gospel Coalition has referred to him “one of the most astute ethicists in contemporary evangelicalism.
Dr. Moore blogs frequently at his Moore to the Point website, and hosts a program calledQuestions & Ethics—a wide-ranging podcast in which Dr. Moore answers listener-generated questions on the difficult moral and ethical issues of the day. In addition, he is the author of several books, including Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ.
A native Mississippian, he and his wife Maria are the parents of five sons.
An Exegetical Study of Romans 1:18-32
Preaching to his Sunday congregation in Bern, Switzerland, at the Münster on Romans 1:18–32, Walter Lüthi said, “In the words that we have just read we are told the whole truth about our condition. There may well be people among us who cannot bear to hear the truth, and would like to creep quietly away out of this church. Let them do so if they wish” (Walter Lüthi, The Letter to the Romans: An Exposition, trans. by Kurt Schoenenberger. Richmond, Va, 1961, p. 19). There is much justification for Lüthi’s words, for Paul’s canvas upon which he has painted his picture—dark, foreboding, threatening, flashing with lightning and crashing with thunder—is crammed with forms and figures, fights and shadows, of sin, wrath, and judgment. And the revelation of wrath is total and complete, encompassing all and rendering all without excuse and under condemnation, both individually and collectively.
Isaiah has spoken of judgment as God’s “strange work” and His “strange act” (cf. Isa 28:21 – There is nothing unusual about the Hebrew adjectives, translated “strange” in the AV, except perhaps their emphatic position. That is their meaning. The NASB has “unusual” and “extraordinary.”), and the idea that it is strange because contrary to His goodness and grace, while a popular contemporary misunderstanding of his words, is not only out of harmony with the context of Isaiah 28:21, but it also does not agree with the total picture of the being and attributes of God in Scripture. His retributive justice is one of His essential properties, and in this passage in Romans it comes to the center of the stage. In the threefold paredōken (AV, “gave up”; vv. 24, 26, 28) the problem is plainly before the reader. It is the purpose of this article to analyze and, if possible, clarify the meaning of the term, setting it within the context of the theology of the being and attributes of God. But, first, a word regarding the flow of the Pauline thought in this section of the letter.
After having introduced this message to the Romans (cf. 1:1–7) and stated his theme, the gospel (1:16–17), the apostle skillfully and in detail develops the case-history of human sin and condemnation (1:18–3:20). The section moves from the declaration of Gentile sin (1:18–32 – Martin prefers to define the subjects as “the Greek religious type, man without special revelation,” but the sense is the same. Cf. James P. Martin, “The Kerygma of Romans,” Interpretation, XXV, July, 1971, 311) through Jewish sin (2:1—3:8) to the climax of the apostolic diagnosis that “all the world” is guilty, with every mouth stopped, speechless in the terror of condemnation before a holy and righteous God (3:9–20).
In the immediate context Paul, in his endeavor to prove that the only righteousness available to man is that obtained by faith, declared that God’s displeasure toward sin has been revealed from heaven (1:18). It follows, of course, that all who are charged with ungodliness or unrighteousness stand under His wrath and cannot obtain acceptance before God by their character or conduct. That the Gentiles are guilty and, therefore, inexcusable is evident, because they have enjoyed a revelation of God’s eternal power and deity and yet have rejected it (1:19–20 – Notitia and assensus, two of the basic elements of faith, may be present as a result of God’s revelation of Himself in nature, but the vital element of faith, fiducia, is never given through natural revelation. In its place is the rebellion of suppression. Cf. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. by John T. McNeill and trans. by Ford Lewis Battles, in The Library of Christian Classics, Vol. XX, 2 vols.; Philadelphia, 1960; T. H. L. Parker, Calvin’s Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. Grand Rapids, 1959; Edward A. Dowey, Jr., The Knowledge of God in Calvin’s Theology. New York and London, 1965. A recent article of some worth by Gerald J. Postema is “Calvin’s Alleged Rejection of Natural Revelation,” Scottish Journal of Theology, XXIV, November, 1971, 423–34.). And not only have they rejected the light of this truth, they have given themselves up to idolatry (1:21–23). The Pauline picture of the religious history of mankind is one of retrogression, not progression, of devolution, not evolution, downward, not upward. In unbelief man has passed from light to futility to folly. Thus, the divine wrath has found its justification in human rejection of “the truth of God” (1:18, 25).
There remains, therefore, only one alternative for God and man, divine retribution, and it is this that the apostle so solemnly, and yet vigorously (Godet thinks there is more than vigor here; there is a feeling of indignation. He writes, “The verses have something of that παροξυσμός, that exasperation of heart, of which the author of the Acts speaks xvii.16 when describing Paul’s impressions during his stay at Athens” F. Godet, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, trans. by A. Cusin [2 vols.; Edinburgh, 1881], I, 177), proclaims in the final section of chapter one (1:24–32). The dio (AV, “wherefore”) makes the connection. In the light of the rebellion just described the inference of vindicatory justice is drawn. Sin justly brings judgment (The Byzantine text and some of the leading representatives of the Western text have a καί, AV, “also” following διό. If this were genuine, it would suggest the harmony of the nature of the punishment and the offence. Godet has put it well, “They sinned, wherefore God punished them; they sinned by degrading God, wherefore also God degraded them,” I, 177. Zahn appears to incline towards its genuineness, too. Cf. Theodor Zahn, Der Brief des Paulus an die Römer. Leipzig, 1910, p. 96.), a judgment expressed most clearly in the following three verses of this final section of chapter one.
The Biblical Revelation
Verse 24 – Wherefore God gave them over (Gr., paredōken) in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them.
Verse 26 – For this reason God gave them over (Gr., paredōken) to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for the unnatural.
Verse 28 And just as they did not see fit to retain the full knowledge of God, God gave them over (Gr., paredōken) to a depraved mind, to do the things which are not proper (Rom 1:24, 26, 28).
The Interpretation of the Revelation
The essence, the heart, the Leit Motif of the passage and the divine judgment is expressed in the threefold paredōken (AV, “gave up,” vv. 24, 26; “gave over,” v. 28), repeated as a terrifying refrain (Cf. M.J. Lagrange, Saint Paul Épître aux Romains (4th ed.; Paris, 1930, p. 28. He remarks that the term’s threefold occurrence is not climactic, but is a kind of refrain.). It is a term over which there has raged considerable debate, and it is to the elucidation of it that this article is addressed. Generally speaking, there are three contending viewpoints.
First, perhaps the favorite interpretation of the term is that has prevailed since the time of Origen and Chrysostom, in which the paredōken is taken in the permissive sense. According to this view God passively permitted men to fall into the retributive consequences of their infidelity and apostasy. The active force of paredōken is surely contrary to this view. It is not that God permitted rebellious men to fall into uncleanness and bodily dishonor; He actively, although justly in view of their sin, consigned them to the consequences of their acts. It is His divine arrangement that men by their apostasy should fall into moral impurity, sin being punished by further sin, and He himself maintains the moral connection between apostasy and impurity by carrying out the judgment Himself (Cf. Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Epistle to the Romans, trans. by John C. Moore from 5th German ed. 2 vols.; Edinburgh, 1881, I, 86).
Second, another popular view, which became current after the time of Augustine, takes the paredōken in the privative sense. According to this interpretation God deprived man of an aspect of His work of common grace. He withdrew His hand that had restrained men from evil. Godet has expressed and illustrated this interpretation about as well as it can be set forth. “Wherein did His action consist?” he asks. And the answer follows, “He positively withdrew His hand; He ceased to hold the boat as it was dragged by the current of the river. This is the meaning of the term used by the apostle, Acts xiv.16 : ‘He suffered the Gentiles to walk in their own ways,’ by not doing for them what He never ceased to do for His own people. It is not a case of simple abstention, it is the positive withdrawal of a force” (Godet, I).
At bottom this view is the practical equivalent of the permissive view. This is evident from the fact that Godet uses Acts 14:16 as illustrative of the sense. However, in that passage the verb used is eiasen (AV, “suffered”), which normally means simply to permit. As Meyer pointed out a long time ago, “Therefore Chrysostom not only explains it by εἴασεν, but illustrates the matter by the instance of a general who leaves his soldiers in the battle, and thus deprives them of his aid, and abandons them to the enemy. Theodoret explains it: τῆς οἰκείας προμηδείαςἐγύμνωσε (The clause may be translated, he stripped [them] of his own), and employs the comparison of an abandoned vessel. Theophylact illustrates the παρέδωκεν by the example of a physician who gives up a refractory patient (παραδίδωσιν αὐτὸν τῷ ἐπὶ πλέον νοσεῖν – The words may be rendered, he delivers him over for further suffering” – Meyer, I). These illustrations express quite well the privative view, but the Pauline language is stronger than this. The expression, “God gave them up to uncleanness,” describes a judicial act, (John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans 2 vols.; Grand Rapids, 1959), a “judicial abandonment” (Charles Hodge, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. Philadelphia, 1886, p. 40). The active force of paredōken must not be glossed over (Cf. Otto Michel, Der Brief an die Römer. 11th ed.; Göttingen 1957, p. 58; Zahn, pp. 96-97. Both point out that Paul’s expression must not be weakened, but neither develops the question theologically).
Therefore, finally, it becomes clear that the term must be given a judicial sense (Schlatter points out that παρέδωκεν is the usual word for the sentence of a judge. Cf. A. Schlatter, Gottes Gerechtigkeit. Stuttgart, 1959, p. 66). The meaning is not simply that God withdrew from the wicked the restraining force of His providence and common grace, although that privative sense is included in the judicial sense, but that He positively gave men over to the judgment of “more intensified and aggravated cultivation of the lusts of their own hearts with the result that they reap for themselves a correspondingly greater toll of retributive vengeance” (Murray). The usage of the word in both this epistle (4:25; 6:17; 8:32) and in the other Pauline Epistles (cf. 1 Cor 5:5; 1 Tim 1:20) supports this force (See Friedrich Büchsel, “δίδωμι et al.,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. by Gerhard Kittel, trans. and ed. by Geoffrey W. Bromiley, II Grand Rapids, 1964, 170. The positive force is present in each occurrence). The interpretation is also in harmony with the occurrence of the precisely identical form in Acts 7:42, where, in speaking of Israel’s apostasy in the days of Moses, Stephen says, “Then God turned, and gave them up (Gr., paredōken) to worship the host of heaven.” Both the Romans and the Acts passages describe the act of God as a penal infliction of retribution, the expression of an essential attribute of God’s nature and being, and it is thoroughly consistent with His holiness.
There is another striking occurrence of the identical form of the verb in Ephesians 4:19, and that passage serves to remind the interpreter that the infliction of punitive justice does not compromise the free agency and responsibility of man. In that passage Paul, speaking of the sin of the Gentiles, writes, “Who being past feeling have given themselves over (Gr., paredōken) unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.” In the midst of the retributive action of God there is no coercion of man. God does not entice or compel to evil. Man remains responsible and can even be said to be giving himself over to uncleanness while God gives him up to the judgment of his sin.
There is hardly any passage in the Bible that says plainer than this one that moral depravity is the result of the judgment of God. And this raises an interesting question that concerns the present moral condition of the nations of the world, and particularly of the United States of America. The question is this: What is the real significance of the spread of immorality, crime, and violence in western civilization? To compound the problem, the newspapers are filled with stories of clergymen encouraging sexual license. Many Christian ministers, contrary to the Apostle Paul’s teaching, no longer regard homosexuality and other sexual aberrations as a sin. It is rather a sickness, or a weakness. In an article in one of the national news magazines a few years ago homosexuality was referred to by the author as “an undesirable handicap” (“Homosexuality,” Time, October 24, 1969, p. 82). To many today it is nothing more than a deviation from the customary sexual patterns, a third sex. Occasionally, in what must seem to the Christian the ultimate evil, homosexuality is traced to God Himself, for, it is said, He made men and women what they are (Of course, the truth of the matter is that homosexuality is a perversion of the created order. Cf. C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. New York, 1957, p. 39).
Some thirty years ago the famous Harvard sociologist, Pitirim Sorokin, in his book The Crisis of Our Age, warned that increases in crime, suicides, mental breakdowns, revolutions, and war have been symptoms of civilizations in the midst of death pangs. In another article on homosexuals in Time magazine the author wrote, “At their fullest flowering, the Persian, Greek, Roman and Moslem civilizations permitted a measure of homosexuality; as they decayed, it became more prevalent” (“The Homosexual: Newly Visible, Newly Understood,” Time, October 31, 1969, p. 65). Later Sorokin in his The American Sex Revolution pointed out that sex anarchy leads to mental breakdowns, rather than the other way around, as the Freudian psychologists have taught (Cf. I. E. Howard, “The Fever Chart of a Sick Society,” Christian Economics, April 6, 1965, p. 4. Howard’s brief article is very suggestive, and the writer is deeply indebted to it). Further, he pointed out that increasing sexual license leads to decreasing creativity and productivity in the intellectual, artistic, and economic spheres of life. What, then, are the sources of the problems of the present age? As Howard indicates, “Spengler had a biological answer: civilizations grow old and die like any other living thing. Toynbee has a religious answer: civilizations fail to respond to the higher challenges of the Spirit and therefore fossilize. In his Civilization and Ethics, Albert Schweitzer tried to find an ethical answer. St. Paul had still a different answer” (ibid).
The Pauline answer is plain, and Romans 1:24 expresses it most impressively and succinctly. When man rebelled and sinned, God “gave them up” to uncleanness in the lusts of their hearts that by their own activities their bodies might be dishonored. In other words, sexual rebellion, license, and anarchy is the retributive judgment of God. The civilization of the western world, including the particular civilization of the United States of America, is not a civilization in danger of contracting a fatal disease. That civilization has already contracted a malignant and fatal cancer through its unbelief of the message of God in Christ. It is now hurrying on with increasing speed to final climactic destruction. Civilizations do not die because of violence, crime, immorality, and anarchy. These things are the evidences that death already is at work, a death brought on by disobedience to the revelation of God. Charles Hodge was referring to these principles when he said, almost one hundred years ago in reference to the Christian body of truth, “Religion is the only true foundation, and the only effectual safeguard for morality. Those who abandon God, He abandons. Irreligion and immorality. therefore, have ever been found inseparably connected” (Hodge).
It should be carefully noted that the apostle is not speaking of eternal punishment in these three verses. What he has specifically in mind is a judgment that pertains to this life, not to the life to come. But, on the other hand, it is also plain that Paul’s words lead on to the doctrine of everlasting torment (cf. v. 32 – Cf. Barrett, p. 38. He writes, “God’s judgment has already broken forth; only he has consigned sinners not to hell but to sin—if indeed these be alternatives.”). The vindicatory judgment inflicted by God is continued in the life to come in a more terrible and permanent form if the escape through the gospel of the cross is neglected. The doctrine of eternal punishment has never been popular, and it is less so now. Even evangelical seminaries seem embarrassed by it.27 There is an old story about Boswell and Dr. Samuel Johnson that contains solemn truth. When the latter once appeared over fearful as to his future, Boswell said, “Think of the mercy of your Savior.” “Sir,” replied Johnson. “my Savior has said that He will place some on his right hand, and some on his left.”
It is doubtful that there is a doctrine in the Bible easier to prove than that of eternal punishment (cf. Matt 25:46 – The twofold use of the adjective aiōnion AV, “everlasting” and “eternal” with kolasin, AV, “punishment” and zōēn, AV, “life” indicates that the punishment for sin is just as long as the life that God gives the faithful. Both are eternal. Many other passages express the same truth), a fact that reminds one of an incident involving Henry Ward Beecher and William G. T. Shedd, both eminent leaders of their day. The North American Review engaged the two men for articles on the subject of eternal punishment, knowing the views of the two men. Beecher had once commented, “I believe that punishment exists, both here and hereafter; but it will not continue after it ceases to do good. With a God who could give pain for pain’s sake, this world would go out like a candle.” Shedd was asked to write an article supporting the doctrine, and Beecher was asked to answer it. When the proof sheets of Shedd’s article were sent to Beecher he telegraphed from Denver to the magazine’s editors, “Cancel engagement. Shedd is too much for me. I half believe in eternal punishment now myself. Get somebody else.” The reply was never written by anyone. Shedd remained unanswered (Cf. Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology. rev. ed.; 3 vols.; Philadelphia, 1907, III, 1052–53). There is no answer, biblically, logically, or philosophically to the doctrine of eternal punishment.
There is a final question that one might ask regarding Romans 1:24 and its declaration of divine retribution. When did the retribution occur? When did God “give up” the nations? Is the apostle referring to a specific event or time in the past, or is he simply interpreting broadly man’s history? In the collective sense the rebellion of men against God had its inception at Babylon, and it has been surmised that Paul may have had in mind the construction of the tower of Babylon and its destruction, with man’s scattering, by God (cf. Gen 11:1–9). It is doubtful that Paul had this in mind. On the other hand, there are two things that point to the fall of man in the Garden of Eden as the event the apostle was thinking about. In the first place, the fact that Paul traces the entrance of sin into the human race specifically to Eden in Romans 5:12 suggests that 1:24 is to be understood in the light of that important event. It was there that man rebelled against light, the light of both natural and special revelation, and turned to darkness. And it was there that judgment was inflicted on account of his sin, a judgment that consisted of wrath and death, accompanied by consequent immorality and wickedness, as history indicates.
In the second place, the terminology of verse 22–23 points fairly clearly to the Genesis account. For example, the phrases “to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things” (v. 23) is surely reminiscent of “the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth” (Gen 1:26; cf. vv. 20–25). And, further, the phrases “the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image (lit., the likeness of an image) made like to corruptible man” appear to come from the Genesis account’s “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (1:26). It thus seems that Paul was thinking of the Genesis record in the Romans passage, and this would support the view that he regarded God’s giving up of man to uncleanness as occurring at the time of the fall, recorded in the early part of that same Genesis record. There, then, man fell into sin, judgment, and condemnation, with their inevitable companion, the retributive justice of immorality, crime, and all manner of evil.
In conclusion, one must conclude from Romans 1:24, 26 and 28 that retributive justice is an attribute of the living God and a necessary feature of His actions toward unbelieving man. To the question, “Can God really give man up to judgment?,” this passage provides a resounding “yes” answer. But, in fact, it is not the final and convincing answer to the question. That comes from the cross of Jesus Christ, which in the cry it elicits from our Lord, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” unmistakably affirms the fact that God can give man up to judgment. It was there that the sinless Man bore the judgment of God upon sin, and it forever proclaims the true nature of sin—it is worthy of the penalty of spiritual and physical death—and God’s hatred of it with His necessary condemnation of it.
One might say, “Does God, then, really care?” The answer to this question also is obvious, and it, too, comes from the cross. It was God who gave the Son as the vicarious sacrifice; it was He who initiated the work that produced the remedy for sin and condemnation. And it was the Son who voluntarily bore in agony the depths of the vindicatory judgment for sinners. And if that is not sufficient evidence of God’s love and concern, reflect further upon the fact that it is also He who has revealed to men their lost condition and the significance of the atoning death, inscribed its interpretation in the written Word of God and preserved that Word for countless millions to read and ponder. Isaiah was right. Although righteous and necessary, judgment is His “strange work” and His “strange act.”
Article above by Dr. S. Lewis Johnson adapted from Vol. 129: Bibliotheca Sacra Volume 129. 1972 (514) (123). Dallas, TX: Dallas Theological Seminary.
More About Dr. S. Lewis Johnson – A Tribute to Dr. S. Lewis Johnson by Fred G. Zaspel – January 30, 2004:
On January 28, 2004, Dr. S. Lewis Johnson passed away at age eighty-eight. He was a Biblical scholar and theologian of rare abilities and of international renown, and he was a beloved friend. His influence on my own ministry would be difficult to measure. The hundreds of tapes of his preaching and teaching have gone free of charge to thousands of people all over the world, and it was by means of these tapes that I first became acquainted with him. When he first came to preach for me I asked the congregation if any had previously heard him. No one had, but I was quick to assure them all that they had indeed heard him often! Over the years he came to speak at our church and at our pastors’ conference many times, and even in his latest years it was challenging and blessed to hear him expound the Word of God with such precision and clarity.
Dr. Johnson was born in Birmingham, AL and grew up in Charleston, SC. He was always quick to assure everyone that his smooth, dignified, and pleasant southern accent was actually “English in its pure form.” He graduated from the College of Charleston with an B.A. degree in 1937 and was converted through the teaching of Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse while in the insurance business in Birmingham. He left the insurance business in 1943 to enter Dallas Theological Seminary, from which he received the Th.M (1946) and Th.D. (1949) degrees. He completed further graduate work at the University of Edinburgh, Southern Methodist University, and in the University of Basel. Remaining at Dallas Seminary Dr. Johnson was Professor of New Testament from 1950 to 1972 and Professor of Systematic Theology from 1972 to 1977. He later served as Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL, and as Visiting Professor of Systematic Theology at Tyndale Theological Seminary, Amsterdam, Netherlands. Dr. Johnson preached and lectured in many places, large and small, taught countless home Bible studies, and was involved in starting several churches. In 1963 he and others planted Believers’ Chapel in Dallas, and it is from the Chapel that so many thousands of his tapes have gone to the benefit of countless people.
He was in so many ways a man to emulate. He was a true gentleman. He was always personable and a great delight in conversation. His humor was always good, and his wit was always quick. He was a careful student of the Scriptures with unusually superior abilities as an exegete and theologian. His abilities with the original languages were clearly superior, and when discussion began he would always lead from his Greek and Hebrew text. He was a man of conviction, willing to step down from a noted career rather than surrender his beliefs. He was passionate for the gospel, and his heart was always hot for Christ. He was a humble and godly man. I have said many times that if God would allow me to grow old as gracefully and as saintly as Dr. Johnson I would become proud and ruin it. He was a model scholar, a model teacher, a model preacher, a model friend, and a model Christian. He was that rare combination of so many abilities and virtues. I thank God for him and feel much the poorer without him.
Among his greatest passions was the faithful expounding of the nature of Christ’s atoning work. He clearly cherished any and every opportunity to demonstrate from the Scriptures the success and effectiveness of Christ’s death as a substitute for His people. And when it was his turn to listen, elderly though he was, he would sit right up front with his Greek and Hebrew Bible in hand. And though virtually every speaker he would hear would necessarily be a man of comparatively inferior abilities, he seemed always just to delight in hearing the Word of God preached. And afterwards he was always eager to fellowship with younger preachers and laymen alike and discuss the things of Christ and examine the Word of God together.
The last time I spoke with Dr. Johnson, about a month or so ago, it was evident that he was growing tired and frail. He fell ill earlier this month, but his illness was brief before the Lord took him home to glory. He leaves behind him his wonderful wife Martha whom we love dearly also, and our prayers are now for her. By his tape ministry I came to love Dr. S. Lewis Johnson before I ever knew him, and I count it a great blessing to have known him. Probably no one outside my own father has taught me more, and few could ever be more beloved. I praise the Lord for him.
On Tuesday afternoon, CNN ran an article on its Belief Blog by Catholic priest (sort of) Daniel Helminiak entitled “My Take: What the Bible really says about homosexuality.” The article is amazing for including so many bad arguments in so little space. A quick trip through the piece will show you what I mean. Helminiak’s writing will be in bold and then my response will follow.
President Barack Obama’s support of same-sex marriage, like blood in the water, has conservative sharks circling for a kill. In a nation that touts separation of religion and government, religious-based arguments command this battle. Lurking beneath anti-gay forays, you inevitably find religion and, above all, the Bible.
We now face religious jingoism, the imposition of personal beliefs on the whole pluralistic society. Worse still, these beliefs are irrational, just a fiction of blind conviction. Nowhere does the Bible actually oppose homosexuality.
These two paragraphs perfectly depict how many see any Christian opposition to homosexuality or gay marriage. We are undercover (or not!) theocrats trying to impose our personal preferences on the rest of the country. But the charge of legislating our morality is not as simple as it sounds. For starters, the government legislates plenty of morality already—morality about killing, stealing, polluting and a thousand other things we’ve decided are bad for society or just plain wrong. Moreover, the arguments being made in favor of gay marriage are fundamentally about morality. That’s why you hear words like justice, love, and equality. Most gay marriage advocates are making their case based on moral categories, if not religious and biblical.
What’s more, the pro-gay marriage side would like to see the state reject a conjugal view of marriage in favor of a new, heretofore unknown, definition of marriage. And in insisting upon the state’s involvement, they want this new definition to be imposed on all. We may not all have to like gay marriage, but the government will tell us what marriage means whether we like it or not.
In the past 60 years, we have learned more about sex, by far, than in preceding millennia. Is it likely that an ancient people, who thought the male was the basic biological model and the world flat, understood homosexuality as we do today? Could they have even addressed the questions about homosexuality that we grapple with today? Of course not.
Here we have an example of progressive prejudice, the kind that assumes we have little to learn from the benighted masses who lived long ago. Whether they thought the world was flat has nothing to do with whether ancient people can teach us anything about sexuality. Such a tidbit is thrown in, it seems to me, as a rhetorical cue that these people were as dumb as doorknobs and can’t be trusted. More importantly, Helminiak distances himself from an orthodox understanding of biblical inspiration. Instead of approaching the Scriptures as the word of God, his first step is to position the Bible as a book by ancient people who don’t know all the things we know.
Hard evidence supports this commonsensical expectation. Taken on its own terms, read in the original languages, placed back into its historical context, the Bible is ho-hum on homosexuality, unless – as with heterosexuality – injustice and abuse are involved.
That, in fact, was the case among the Sodomites (Genesis 19), whose experience is frequently cited by modern anti-gay critics. The Sodomites wanted to rape the visitors whom Lot, the one just man in the city, welcomed in hospitality for the night.
The Bible itself is lucid on the sin of Sodom: pride, lack of concern for the poor and needy (Ezekiel 16:48-49); hatred of strangers and cruelty to guests (Wisdom 19:13); arrogance (Sirach/Ecclesiaticus 16:8); evildoing, injustice, oppression of the widow and orphan (Isaiah 1:17); adultery (in those days, the use of another man’s property), and lying (Jeremiah 23:12).
But nowhere are same-sex acts named as the sin of Sodom. That intended gang rape only expressed the greater sin, condemned in the Bible from cover to cover: hatred, injustice, cruelty, lack of concern for others. Hence, Jesus says “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:19; Mark 12:31); and “By this will they know you are my disciples” (John 13:35).
How inverted these values have become! In the name of Jesus, evangelicals and Catholic bishops make sex the Christian litmus test and are willing to sacrifice the social safety net in return.
There is really only one argument in the foregoing paragraphs: the sin of Sodom was about social injustice not about sexual immorality. No doubt, there were many other sins involved, as Helminiak rightly observes. But there is no reason to think homosexuality per se wasn’t also to blame for Sodom’s judgment. For example, Jude 7 states that Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities “indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire.” Even the NRSV, translation of choice for the mainline (and the version Helminiak seems to be using), says “pursued unnatural lust.” Clearly, the sins of Sodom lived in infamy not simply because of violent aggression or the lack of hospitality, but because men pursued sex with other men.
The longest biblical passage on male-male sex is Romans 1:26-27: “Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another.”
The Greek term para physin has been translated unnatural; it should read atypical or unusual. In the technical sense, yes, the Stoic philosophers did use para physin to mean unnatural, but this term also had a widespread popular meaning. It is this latter meaning that informs Paul’s writing. It carries no ethical condemnation.
Compare the passage on male-male sex to Romans 11:24. There, Paul applies the term para physin to God. God grafted the Gentiles into the Jewish people, a wild branch into a cultivated vine. Not your standard practice! An unusual thing to do — atypical, nothing more. The anti-gay “unnatural” hullabaloo rests on a mistranslation.
Besides, Paul used two other words to describe male-male sex: dishonorable (1:24, 26) and unseemly (1:27). But for Paul, neither carried ethical weight. In 2 Corinthians 6:8 and 11:21, Paul says that even he was held in dishonor — for preaching Christ. Clearly, these words merely indicate social disrepute, not truly unethical behavior.
This line of reasoning is also common among revisionists. There is little to say in its favor, however, and Helminiak’s argument—that para physin “carries no ethical condemnation”–is particularly weak.
1) He makes the rudimentary error of forgetting that words have a semantic range of meaning. Just because Paul used “against nature” or “dishonorable” in non-ethical settings (sort of), doesn’t mean those words and phrases cannot carry ethical weight in another context. It’s like suggesting that if FDR once said “this soup is terrible” and later said “what the Nazis are doing is terrible” that he couldn’t possibly mean anything more than “what the Nazis did was kind of strange and not my personal preference.”
2) The context in Romans 1 tells us how to understand para physin. Paul has already explained how the unrighteous suppress the truth about God seen in nature and how they exchange the glory of the immortal God for images of created things. In both cases Paul contends that people believe a lie which prevents them from seeing things as they really are (1:25). Then in the very next verse he singles out homosexuality as “contrary to nature.” He is not thinking merely of things that are unusual, but of acts that violate the divine design and the ways things ought to be. For Paul, the biological complementarity of the male-female union is the obvious order of things. A male-male or female-female sexual pairing violates the anatomical and procreative design inherent in the one flesh union of a man and a woman. That Jewish writers of the period used comparable expressions to describe same-sex intercourse only confirms that this is what Paul meant by the construction.
3) Even more obviously, we know Paul considered same-sex intercourse an ethical violation, and not simply something uncommon, because of what he says in the very next sentence. Helminiak conveniently cuts off Paul’s thought halfway through verse 27. Notice what Paul goes on to say: “Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error” (NRSV). When you read the whole verse, Helminiak’s “non-ethical” argument becomes implausible. Paul thought homosexuality not just unusual, but wrong, a sinful error deserving of a “due penalty.”
In this passage Paul is referring to the ancient Jewish Law: Leviticus 18:22, the “abomination” of a man’s lying with another man. Paul sees male-male sex as an impurity, a taboo, uncleanness — in other words, “abomination.” Introducing this discussion in 1:24, he says so outright: “God gave them up … to impurity.”
But Jesus taught lucidly that Jewish requirements for purity — varied cultural traditions — do not matter before God. What matters is purity of heart.
“It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles,” reads Matthew 15. “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”
Or again, Jesus taught, “Everyone who looks at a women with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Jesus rejected the purity requirements of the Jewish Law.
In calling it unclean, Paul was not condemning male-male sex. He had terms to express condemnation. Before and after his section on sex, he used truly condemnatory terms: godless, evil, wicked or unjust, not to be done. But he never used ethical terms around that issue of sex.
Helminiak’s argument seems to be: Paul said homosexuality was an impurity; Jesus set people free from the purity requirements of the Jewish law; therefore, homosexuality is not wrong. This reasoning is so specious that it’s hard to know where to begin. Jesus did recalibrate the purity laws, but Mark 7:19 makes clear that the episode in question was about declaring all foods clean. Jesus was not saying for a second that anything previously called “unclean” or “impure” was now no big deal. Helminiak again connects words in a facile manner, suggesting that because Jesus fulfilled certain aspects of the ceremonial code, now anything described with the language of impurity cannot be condemned. Nine times in his epistles Paul references “impurity” and it is always in the context of vice and immorality (Rom. 1:24; 6:19; 2 Cor. 12:21; Gal. 5:19; Eph. 4:19; 5:3; Col. 3:5; 1 Thess. 2:3; 4:7). Besides all this, Jesus explicitly lists “sexual immorality” (in the passage Helminiak quotes) as one of the things that defiles a person. The Greek word is porneia which refers to “unlawful sexual intercourse” (BDAG), especially, for the Jew, anything condemned by the Law of Moses.
It is simply not true that Paul, or Jesus for that matter, never considered homosexuality an ethical matter. To cite just one more example: in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-10 Paul uses a rare Greek word, arsenokoites, which is a compound from two words found in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. Paul thought the prohibition against homosexuality in the Old Testament was still relevant and the sin was still serious.
As for marriage, again, the Bible is more liberal than we hear today. The Jewish patriarchs had many wives and concubines. David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, and Daniel and the palace master were probably lovers.
The Bible’s Song of Songs is a paean to romantic love with no mention of children or a married couple. Jesus never mentioned same-sex behaviors, although he did heal the “servant” — pais, a Greek term for male lover — of the Roman Centurion.
These are wild assertions without any corroborating evidence. Whatever one thinks of Leviticus 18 and 20 for today, it’s obvious that the Torah considered homosexual activity an abomination. It’s absurd to think that any ancient Israelite would have any celebrated David or Jonathan or Ruth or Naomi or Daniel if they were homosexual. It is the worst kind of special pleading and reader response to conclude against all exegetical, theological, and historical evidence that any of these Old Testament heroes were gay.
Likewise, there is no evidence to suggest that the centurion’s servant was his lover. The leading New Testament lexicon (BDAG) gives three definitions of pais: a young person, one’s own offspring, one who is in total obedience to another. If the word somehow means “male lover” in the Gospels, we need evidence greater than Helminiak’s bald assertion.
Paul discouraged marriage because he believed the world would soon end. Still, he encouraged people with sexual needs to marry, and he never linked sex and procreation.
Were God-given reason to prevail, rather than knee-jerk religion, we would not be having a heated debate over gay marriage. “Liberty and justice for all,” marvel at the diversity of creation, welcome for one another: these, alas, are true biblical values.
The link between sex and procreation did not have to be articulated by Paul because it was already assumed. God’s design from the beginning had been one man and one woman coming together as one flesh. This design is reaffirmed throughout Scripture, not least of all by Jesus (Matt. 19:4-6) and by Paul (Eph. 5:31). An important aspect of this union is the potential blessing of children. The prophet Malachi made clear that procreation is one of the aims of marriage when he said about a husband and wife, “Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring” (Mal. 2:15).
None of this proves the case against gay marriage as a government injunction (though that case can be made as well). What careful attention to the Bible does show is that the revisionists do not have a Scriptural leg to stand on. From the first chapter of the Bible to the Law of Moses to the New Testament, there is no hint that homosexuality is acceptable behavior for God’s people and every indication that it is a serious sin.
This is why I appreciate the candor of honest pro-gay advocates like Luke Timothy Johnson:
The task demands intellectual honesty. I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says, through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says…I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us. By so doing, we explicitly reject as well the premises of the scriptural statements condemning homosexuality-namely, that it is a vice freely chosen, a symptom of human corruption, and disobedience to God’s created order.
Of course, I disagree with Johnson’s approach to the authority of Scripture and his liberal deference to experience. But I commend him for acknowledging what should be plain: the Bible really really calls homosexuality a sin. A sin that can be forgiven in Christ like a million other sins, and a sin that can be fought against by the power of the Holy Spirit, but still a sin. That’s what the Bible says. And as the CNN article demonstrates, it takes a lot of contorted creativity to make it say something else.
About the Author: Kevin DeYoung is the Senior Pastor at University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, right across the street from Michigan State University. DeYoung has been the pastor there since 2004. He was born in Chicagoland, but grew up mostly in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area. He roots for da Bears, da Bulls, da Blackhawks, the White Sox, and the Spartans. He is married to Trisha, lives in Lansing and has five young children, and, for some reason, a bunny. He is the author of numerous excellent books including: Freedom and Boundaries: A Pastoral Primer on the Role of Women in the Church; What is the Mission of the Church? (co-authored with Greg Gilbert); Why We Love the Church and Why We Are Not Emergent (both co-authored with Ted Kluck); and The Good News We Almost Forgot and the forthcoming The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness.
The article above is adapted from Kevin DeYoung’s blog on The Gospel Coalition’s website: “DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed” – May 16, 2012 blog entry at http://thegospelcoaliton.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/