Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Same-Sex Marriage and The Bible

Same-sex marriage seems to be a divisive issue for many Christians. Most fundamentalists are against it, because "The Bible says homosexuality is a sin." Most progressives are for it, because "Jesus taught us to love and respect each other." Most liberals don't know what to make of The Bible and dismiss it as mostly irrelevant.

So what does the Bible says about same-sex marriage? Based on the intensity of the debates, you might assume that same-sex marriage is the major issue of The Bible. In fact, same-sex marriage is never mentioned in The Bible.

But wait, say the fundamentalists. Same-sex marriage may not be mentioned, but homosexuality is mentioned and it is specifically condemned.

In reality, even homosexuality is a minor issue in the Bible. Let's take the Book of Leviticus from the Hebrew Bible (aka the Old Testament.) The Book of Leviticus contains the most commonly cited examples of anti-homosexual verses.

In the entire Book of Leviticus, the subject of homosexuality is mentioned twice in passing. That same book discusses the subject of burnt offerings in extensive detail no less than fifty times. So we would assume the topic of burnt offerings was far more important to the author of Leviticus than the topic of homosexuality. Yet I don't know a single church that includes among its worship rituals the offering of burnt animal remains to God.

Fundamentalists explain their lack of interest in burnt offerings as based on their understanding that New Testament laws supersede Old Testament laws. If this is true, then I ask why Leviticus is quoted with such abandon in the debate about same-sex marriage.

The common fundamentalist response is that Paul also condemns homosexuality as a sin. Since the sinfulness of homosexuality is mentioned in both the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and Christian Bible (New Testament), its sin status remains intact.

So let's take a look what Paul has to say on the subject. Here is a frequently quoted verse:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
- 1 Corinthians 6:9-10
Now Paul, of course, did not write "men who practice homosexuality." He wrote "ἀρσενοκοίτης" (transliteration: arsenokoitēs.) And it turns out that it is not clear what this word means. The New Jerusalem Bible, the official translation of The Bible by The Catholic Church, for example translates this word to "self indulgent sodomites." 

Sodomites is a reference to those that lived in Sodom, an ancient city that was destroyed by God for being a harbor of sinners. But homosexuality is never mentioned as one of the sins of Sodom. According to Ezekial 16:49-50,
Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it.
Even if Paul did mean ἀρσενοκοίτης to refer to homosexuality, he certainly didn't mean it to refer to a committed same-sex relationship. This much is clear from the context of the rest of the verse. For example, in the same verse he condemns adulterers. Adulterers are those who have heterosexual sex outside of their committed relationships. One would never say that Paul's condemnation of adultery should be taken as a diatribe against committed heterosexual relationships.

So we must assume that if Paul is discussing homosexuality at all, he is discussing casual homosexual sex outside of the context of a committed relationship. This is completely consistent with his view of heterosexual sex. While Paul isn't crazy about any sexual activity at all (Paul was, by today's standard, a prude), he does accept sex within the context of committed long-term relationships (aka marriages.) And he rejects any sex, homosexual or heterosexual, outside of committed long-term relationships.

I believe that Paul was most likely supportive of same-sex committed relationships. Why do I believe this? Because such relationships were blessed by Christ himself. 

As described in Matthew 8:5-13

When he [Jesus] had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed... And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.

The Greek word used to describe the servant was pais,a term typically used to refer to a male concubine. But Jesus didn't care if the servant was a pais or not. Jesus blessed the man and he was cured. 

This blessing occurred in a highly public gathering that included all of Jesus' disciples. It is inconceivable that Paul would not have known about this blessing. And it is not likely that Paul would have taken it upon himself to condemn a relationship that Jesus specifically blessed.

There is quite a bit more that one could explore about the topic of committed same-sex relationships and The Bible. For example, there are a number of committed same-sex relationships that are portrayed in the Hebrew Bible in positive, even glowing terms. One example is the relationship between David and Jonathan, a topic explored in 1 and 2 Samuel in detail. Hopefully this is obvious, but 1 and 2 Samuel are books of the Hebrew Bible, the same Bible that supposedly condemns homosexuality in Leviticus.

Based on the fact that same-sex committed relationships are portrayed positively in both the Hebrew and Christian Bibles, I can only conclude that if homosexual sex is condemned, it is in the context of casual sex. In other words, the Bible sees no difference between homosexual and heterosexual sex. Casual sex is casual sex and casual sex is bad. And the Bible sees no difference between same-sex committed relationships and different-sex committed relationships. Committed relationships are committed relationships and committed relationships are good.

From this discussion, I hope it is clear that there is a sin associated with committed same-sex relationships. But the sin is not on the part of those committed to such relationships. The sin is on the part of our society that refuses to sanction such relationships. Relationships that are sanctioned by the Bible.

Pax Christi!

A good resource for information on this topic is


  1. Thanks for this post, Roger; it is awesome!

    1. You are welcome. I hope it does some good. Thanks for your note.

  2. Your trying to make the Bible say something it does not. We can guess what could of happen when Christ walked the earth. This is why we have the Bible. We can read the Bible and see what it says, follow what it says. The Bible tells us what we need to know. The bible very well describes Husband and wife, just like Adam and Eve. LL ye that are married, or that intend to take the holy estate of Matrimony upon you, hear what the holy Scripture doth say as touching the duty of husbands towards their wives, and wives towards their husbands.
    Saint Paul, in his Epistle to the Ephesians, the fifth Chapter, doth give this commandment to all married men; Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water, by the Word; that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy, and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself: for no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the Church: for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife; and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery; but I speak concerning Christ and the Church. Nevertheless, let every one of you in particular so love his wife, even as himself.
    Likewise the same Saint Paul, writing to the Colossians, speaketh thus to all men that are married; Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.
    Hear also what Saint Peter, the Apostle of Christ, who was himself a married man, saith unto them that are married; Ye husbands, dwell with your wives according to knowledge; giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers be not hindered.
    Hitherto ye have heard the duty of the husband toward the wife. Now likewise, ye wives, hear and learn your duties toward your husbands, even as it is plainly set forth in holy Scripture.
    Saint Paul, in the aforenamed Epistle to the Ephesians, teacheth you thus; Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church: and he is the Saviour of the body. Therefore as the Church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. And again he saith, Let the wife see that she reverence her husband.
    And in his Epistle to the Colossians, Saint Paul giveth you this short lesson; Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.
    Saint Peter also doth instruct you very well, thus saying; Ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the Word, they also may without the Word be won by the conversation of the wives; while they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning, let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible; even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands; even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord; whose daughters ye are as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.
    It is convenient that the new-married persons should receive the holy Communion at the time of their Marriage, or at the first opportunity after their Marriage.

    1. Dear Pastor Jay Randolf,
      Thank you very much for your reply! It is wonderful to hear from somebody who thinks deeply about the sacrament of marriage, as obviously you do.

      The verses you quote make a strong case that Paul understood marriage to be between a man and a woman. I don't think anybody would dispute that. The question is not what did Paul understand, but what did Paul forbid.

      For example, Paul mentions a number of times that he is "traveling." It is clear that he understood travel as a journey by land or by sea. He never mentioned travel by air. Should we understand this as an indictment against air travel?

      In Paul's time, the idea of two men or two women marrying was simply not considered. It wasn't even expressible in the language of the day. It was no more part of his consciousness than was air travel.

      It should be no surprise, therefore, that Paul never mentioned same-sex marriage, either positively or negatively.

      But times change. It is our job to take new ideas and try to understand them within the moral framework of The Bible. When we look at the new idea of same-sex marriage, we need to look at what guidance The Bible gives on committed same-sex relationships, the closest thing to same-sex marriage that The Bible does address.

      When we do this, the message is clear. Same-sex committed relationships are good. See the example of David and Jonathan. See the example of the centurion.

      Can we extrapolate The Bible's acceptance of same-sex committed relationships to an acceptance of same-sex marriage? The Bible doesn't tell us, one way or the other.

      Reasonable people can disagree on what the Bible would tell us if it did tell us.

      I wouldn't argue that you should be forced to perform same-sex marriages. You have a right to your opinion. I simply argue that nobody has the right to prohibit others from performing such marriages. And nobody has the right to prohibit others from partnership in such marriages. Just as nobody had the right to prevent you from marrying your wife.

      Best wishes to you in your ministry. Thanks again for taking the time to respond.

      Pax Christi!

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Note: This post was the same as the one posted at 3. I deleted it to correct a spelling so people could understand what the word was.

  4. This is a gross interpretation of Scripture in an attempt to equate heterosexual relationships with homosexual ones.

    God and Scripture are clear that homosexuality is a big no-no. Your post is an example of eisegesis - or the attempt to interpret a text by introducing one's own views as its meaning.

    God is truth. He cannot contradict Himself. To imply that God would condemn homosexuality only to later bless it makes God into a liar.

  5. Jesus Himself upheld Genesis' view that God made them male and female (not male and male, not female and female) "Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?" And He answered and said, "Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, and said, 'FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH '? (Matt 19: 3-5) A man is not joined to a man. A woman is not joined to a woman. God bless you. Susan Fox

    This is a piece you might enjoy re: SSA and the Catholic Church's view of it: