It’s one of the most contentious issues in the church today. Denominations are splitting over it as we speak. Homosexuality has taken center stage and will likely be in the spotlight for years to come. It’s an important topic that needs to be addressed. More than mere ideas, the issue involves people—people whom God loves deeply; therefore, every God-honoring Christian must enter the conversation. We cannot be silent.
Christians have not handled the issue well. It’s certainly one of the reasons why Christianity, at least in the West, has fallen on hard times. Many people view Christians that hold a traditional view of human sexuality as homophobic and judgmental. Unfortunately, in some parts of the church, those accusations are warranted. In other parts, people have remained silent, producing anxiety and confusion in their communities. Regardless of your stance, Christians must avoid bumper sticker slogans and begin thinking seriously about God’s intention for the relationships and sexuality of men and women.
Although there are many thoughtful voices in the conversation, Christians must seek clarity from God’s word, first and foremost. Kevin DeYoung has written a book called What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? to help believers (and all curious people) understand the topic from the Biblical texts. I have reviewed a DeYoung book in the past, and, generally, find him to be a thoughtful guide when dealing with complicated topics.
His book on homosexuality is organized by two main sections. The first part looks at the five biblical texts that speak about it directly—Genesis 1-2, Genesis 19, Leviticus 18 and 20, Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, and 1 Timothy 1. The second part attempts to answer common objections from the world at large.
To begin section one, DeYoung argues that God intended for a one man, one woman, and one flesh union in the creation account of Genesis 1 and 2. He provides five reasons to make his case, spanning from the procreative purposes fulfilled only by opposite sexes to Jesus himself reinforcing the significance of the Genesis account when speaking of marriage. DeYoung ultimately claims that “if God wanted us to conclude that men and women were interchangeable in the marriage relationship, he not only gave us the wrong creation narrative; he gave us the wrong metanarrative.”
DeYoung then turns his attention to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. There are many authors and scholars who claim that social injustice was the sin depicted in those accounts, not homosexual practice. DeYoung acknowledges the legitimacy of that argument but believes that same-sex sexual intimacy was one aspect of the story and argues his case with a couple points.
First, he shows how the word abomination in Ezekiel 16:47-50 is also used in Leviticus 18 and 20 when referring to a man who lays with another man as with a woman. Second, he explains how Jude 7 associates those infamous cities with sexual immorality and perversions. Contrary to the opinion of many traditionalists, DeYoung says same-sex sexual intimacy is less obvious in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah but cannot be ruled out altogether.
According to DeYoung, “the most detailed and significant treatment of homosexuality is found in the first chapter of the most important letter in the history of the world.” The letter he is speaking of is Paul’s letter to the Romans. In the letter, the Apostle claims that people by their unrighteousness have suppressed the truth about God. Furthermore, no one has an excuse because everyone has some knowledge of God’s existence (Romans 1:20). Instead of worshiping God out of a knowledge of his eternal power and divine nature, people exchange the truth about him for a lie and worship created things (v. 25). The Scripture explains three exchanges brought about by human depravity.
First, people exchange the glory of God for images of earthly things. They live without giving thanks to God and seek worldliness instead of the world’s Creator. They believe their behavior is wise and proclaim it as such (vv. 21-23).
Second, people exchange the truth about God for a lie. God gives them over to sexual impurity and the degradation of their bodies. They begin worshipping the created order instead of the Creator (vv. 24-25). Much of their worship is found throughout Scripture (and the history of the world) in the perversion of money, sex, and power.
The third and final exchange is seen when people trade natural sexual relations with the opposite sex for relations with those of the same sex (vv. 26-27). DeYoung says “same-sex intimacy is an especially clear illustration of the idolatrous human impulse to turn away from God’s order and design.” Romans 1 makes a striking argument for God’s opposition of homosexual behavior.
The other biblical texts addressed by DeYoung are Leviticus 18 & 20 and the use of the Greek word, arsenokoitai, which modern English Bibles often translate “homosexual” in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10. The discussion around Leviticus hinges on the Holiness Code found in chapter 17 and onward. DeYoung claims Christians are still obligated to live holy lives as determined by God and Scripture. Such holiness rules out same-sex intimacy as a viable option for believers.
I found the discussion about the translation of arsenokoitai more interesting than the holiness discussion, primarily because a recent documentary has been brought to my attention where the accurate translation of the word is called into question. I am not criticizing the film as I have only watched the trailer. It does, however, seem to be picking up speed in the realm of ideas around the use (or misuse) of this Greek word. DeYoung argues that the modern translation and understanding of arsenokoitai is accurate and can be trusted.
As far as scholars can tell, Paul invented the word by blending two words from the book of Leviticus. In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, we see arsenos and koiten used in 18:22 and 20:13. In 18:22, God’s people are told not to “lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” (ESV). Similarly, in 20:13, it says “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them” (ESV).
Some people argue that the homosexual behavior condemned by the Bible is exploitative in nature, not consensual as we see today with many adults. DeYoung argues that Paul could have easily used a different word if he was only referring to exploitative forms of the practice. Paul goes to some lengths to coin a word from the Mosaic law “where all sex involving a man with a man is forbidden.”
The second half of DeYoung’s book is spent answering common objections. He responds to statements such as “The Bible hardly ever mentions homosexuality,” to “The God I worship is a God of love.” Many other objections are addressed.
While I appreciate DeYoung’s thoughtful responses, I believe the strength of his book is found in the exegetical work from section one. The conversation about homosexuality has evolved greatly since the publication of the book in 2015. I’m certain more objections could be added with an updated edition. Again, I believe the value in the book stems from the careful consideration of the Biblical texts. As important as voices from psychology and science and numerous other areas of research are, the most important question a Christian can ask is What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?
If DeYoung’s exegetical work is correct, the Bible does not condone any form of homosexual practice. Even if the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and the word translated homosexual was removed from the Bible, people still must deal with Romans 1 and the creation narrative of the one flesh union between man and woman.
I recommend the book to you.