Pastor Bob O'Bannon
Below is the first post from Pastor Bob in an ongoing blog series designed to help Christians think through the issue of homosexuality in a careful and Biblical way. For more on the reason for this series, click here.
Question 1: How can we know whether homosexuality is a sin when there are so many interpretations of the Bible?
This seems like a good place to start in this blog series, since this is really the crucial question: does the Bible say homosexual activity is a sin or not? If the answer to this question is no, then conservatives have been wasting a lot of time lately. But if the answer to this question is yes, then not only are a lot of people in our nation and in the church deceived, but they are deceiving others in their efforts to normalize homosexual activity.
It has always seemed to me that the bigger question behind the question about homosexuality is how we should interpret the Bible. Is it possible to grasp what the Bible means, or is the Bible a collection of ancient texts that are simply too remote and obscure to understand? I suggest that while not everything in the Bible is equally clear, nevertheless a substantial portion of the Bible can be quite easily understood – this includes most primarily the unmerited forgiveness of sins and full reconciliation with God that is offered to any who would trust Christ, but also the conviction that homosexual activity is indeed a sin.
(Notice that I wrote “homosexual activity” is a sin. That phrasing should be distinguished from the phrase “same-sex attraction,” which is not the same thing. All of us must fight against certain proclivities to do wrong, whether it be the temptation to addiction, self-pity, angry outbursts or being drawn sexually to a person of the same gender. The mere tug we might feel in these directions is not necessarily sin, but the willful acting out on these desires is.)
There are some who drag their feet on whether to call homosexual activity a sin, on the argument that the Bible is simply not clear on the question. For instance, Brian McLaren back in 2006 called for a “five-year moratorium on making pronouncements” on this issue, because no position at that time had yet won his confidence. Is the issue really that elusive and ambiguous?
Not according to Diarmaid MacCulloch, a professor of church history who left the Church of England because of his own homosexuality. Regarding Biblical interpretation on this issue, he said: “Despite much well-intentioned theological fancy footwork to the contrary, it is difficult to see the Bible as expressing anything else but disapproval of homosexual activity . . .” MacCulloch could have pretended that the Bible was unclear on the question, but instead he did the hard thing, acknowledging the Bible’s clarity on the subject, even though it must have caused him much difficulty to do so.
The reason I believe the Bible can be clearly understood is because the Bible assumes it can be clearly understood. For instance, in Deut. 30:14, Moses says the word of God is “very near you,” and that we can do it. Ps. 119:130 says the unfolding of God’s word “gives light.” In Neh. 8:8, we read that the law of God was interpreted so people could “understand the reading.” In Rom. 15:4, Paul says the Scriptures written in “former days” (centuries before Paul’s day) were given for the instruction and encouragement of the Christians of his day. How can any of these passages make sense if the Bible is basically murky and obscure?
In fact, the entire thrust of the Bible is to present not a God who shrinks away from us behind clouds of mystery (though He certainly is mysterious in many ways), but a God who is eager to reveal himself, first through the created order, then through dreams, visions, and theophany, and now most supremely in the completion of Scripture and in the person of Jesus Christ himself. The progression is not one of increased mystery, but increased clarity.
Does this mean the Bible is clear about how sin entered the world, or about whether people should speak in tongues, or about whether Jesus will return before or after the millennium? No. But is the Bible clear that homosexual activity is sinful? Yes.
If you are not convinced, I would simply suggest that you read the following texts: Lev. 18:22 and 20:13; Mat. 19:1-6; Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:8-11. But before you read these passages, ask yourself a very important question — if these verses do teach that homosexual activity is wrong, am I willing to accept it? Or will I hide behind the smoke screen of Scripture’s alleged obscurity so I can continue to believe what I want?
Next week’s question: Are homosexuals welcome at your church?