What’s the Old Testament View of Homosexuality?
What was at the core of the Old Testament view of homosexual behavior?
The second chapter of Genesis is the basis for Old Testament condemnation of all sexual sin.
The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame” (Genesis 2:18-25 NIV).
Here Scripture declares that man and woman were created for each other. It strongly implies that they also were made to be lovers whose mysterious differences would be the source of renewed human life and love. The symbolism of Eve having been made of Adam’s flesh vividly illustrates how God designed them specifically for each other: not only in the construction and function of their physical bodies, but in spiritual and emotional interdependence.
The same story also says they were designed to be “one flesh.” Unlike the other creatures, Eve was to be to Adam a companion (Genesis 2:18, 20). God took the initiative to create a new kind of human creature (Genesis 2:21-22) out of Adam’s own flesh (Genesis 2:23). Because God intended them for each other, within the context of marriage their sexuality involves “no shame” (Genesis 2:25).1 Their sexually expressed love is a perfect expression of what God intended them to be. Anglican pastor/theologian John Stott—who is unmarried and celibate—wrote this about sexuality within marriage:
Heterosexual intercourse in marriage is more than a union; it is a kind of reunion. It is not a union of alien persons who do not belong to one another and cannot appropriately become one flesh. On the contrary, it is the union of two persons who originally were one, were then separated from each other, and now in the sexual encounter of marriage come together again.
It is surely this which explains the profound mystery of heterosexual intimacy, which poets and philosophers have celebrated in every culture. Heterosexual intercourse is much more than a union of bodies: it is a blending of complementary personalities through which, in the midst of prevailing alienation, the rich, created oneness of human being is experienced again. And the complementarity of male and female sexual organs is only a symbol at the physical level of a much deeper spiritual complementarity (Same Sex Partnerships? pp. 34-35).
In The Bible and Homosexual Practice, Robert Gagnon shows that the Hebrew Scriptures’ view of homosexual behavior is not based on an arbitrary interpretation of Israel’s national experience or the relationship of homosexual behavior to idolatry or ritual impurity or procreative incapacity. Old Testament rejection of homosexual behavior was the result of “the conviction that same-sex intercourse was fundamentally incompatible with the creation of men and women as complementary sexual beings. For a man to have sexual intercourse with another male as though the latter were not a male but a female violates God’s design for the created order. It puts another male, at least insofar as the act of sexual intercourse is concerned, in the category of female rather than male. It is nothing short of a rebellion against the way in which God made humans to function as sexual beings” (The Bible and Homosexual Practice, Gagnon, pp. 156-157).2
In other words, homosexual sex, like heterosexual unfaithfulness in marriage, violates the biblical principle that “sexual intercourse was made by God to create and sustain one flesh in a male-female married couple.” 3
- Shame is not natural to marriage. It is the result of humanity’s fallen state.
“We now turn briefly to the impact of the Fall on our sexuality. Shame over their nakedness was the first and most immediate effect of the Fall; though there was nothing wrong with their physical nakedness, Adam and Eve could not bear the vulnerability of nakedness before God or before each other. Shame remains part of our human heritage—beyond shame over what we have done, we feel shame at what we are (and their shame over nakedness is a powerful clue for us of the integral connection of our bodies with who we are as selves). Immediately after Adam and Eve sinned, God told them that power and control struggles between the two of them and between women and men forever would be one of the legacies of their choices (Gen 3 ). The Fall brought the distortions of selfishness and pride into our sexual lives” (Stanton L. Jones & Mark A. Yarhouse, Homosexuality: The Use of Scientific Research in the Church’s Moral Debate, p. 164). Back To Article
- John Stott corroborates Gagnon’s basic point:
“Sexual intercourse belongs, according to the plain teaching of Scripture, to heterosexual marriage alone. Therefore, homosexual intercourse cannot be regarded as a permissible equivalent, let alone a divine right. True gay liberation (like all authentic liberations) is not freedom from God’s revealed purpose in order to construct our own morality; it is rather freedom from our self-willed rebellion in order to love and obey him.” (John Stott, Same Sex Partnerships?pp. 57-58). Back To Article
- Stanton L. Jones & Mark A. Yarhouse, Homosexuality: The Use of Scientific Research in the Church’s Moral Debate, p. 164. Back To Article