Christianity and Same-Sex Practice
It’s no secret that Christianity and those in same-sex relationships have been at odds since the Church’s inception. Today in the free world more and more people are engaging in same-sex relationships. As the days go on there is an unprecedented level of friction between the Church and those who are both affirming and engage in homosexual activity. People who identify as homosexual and irreligious are often found condemning the Church for its historic stance on the issue, while those who identify as homosexual and religious can be seen wondering where they fit in the Church. Some have engaged with the affirming to push back against the historic standing of the Church to not only bless the activity as permissible, but also to promote its acceptance in all fields of Christianity, including the Presbytery (clergy). The Church finds itself challenged in this area both to know and accept itself in this battle. Some have opened the door for this in the Church, while mostly others have remained closed. Unfortunately some have also taken a more hateful approach in their conservatism, which certainly has not helped the case. This is a challenge to be taken on by the Church and not by those who are without. Those on the outside, who do not accept the Lordship of Jesus, are alienated from determining Christian practice. So the challenge is this, is the practice of homosexuality permissible in the Church? Here’s my take.
I mentioned in the introduction that those outside of the Church have no say in what is to be determined as Christian teaching and practice. This is because the Church is literally a called out, separate group who are affirming of Jesus’ authority as Lord of all. This is not to say that we never listen to people outside of the Church, just that when it comes to our practices we submit to the ways God has commanded and laid out for us. The Church is not an authority in and of itself, but a submissive group who follows God. Therefore unlike those outside of the Church we are not able to change what we practice on a whim of desire nor do we change according to the vote of the people as in a democracy. If one is unfamiliar with the historical determinate method of what are God’s directives to us, then look no further to Christian Scripture, Tradition, and the moving of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus began His ministry He selected twelve people from among his disciples to be His Apostles (representatives). Christianity has historically understood that while Jesus is the center of our faith it is the Apostles who were left by Him which took up the work to build the Church. The Apostles being those who lived with Him and received revelations from Him by the Holy Spirit are those we look to for pure Christian practice. We do this by means of their writings (Scripture), the practices they have handed down to us as evidenced by church history and continued modern practice (Tradition), and by means of the authoritative Holy Spirit, who is God in the Churches. So then let us see examples from these which determine our practice.
Christian Scripture, also commonly called the Bible, does indeed touch on this subject. The New Testament being composed by Jesus’ Apostles and those closely associated with them make these writtings of great importance for Christian practice. Let’s take a look at what it is recorded in Scripture concerning same sex relations.
Leviticus, of Course
“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” Lev. 18:22 NRSV
“If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.” 20:13 NRSV
This is always one of the go to books for the topic because of its condemnation of the same-sex relations.
So let me introduce a little bit of context before we get started. Leviticus is recording the Law that Moses received from God at the top of Mount Sinai. An entire people group, the Israelites, have made a mass exodus from Egypt to a wasteland at this point. The Law was to be the governing authority when it comes to practice for the Israelites as they were in the wasteland and more properly for when they entered their own land.
So understanding that little bit we can better understand what is going on here. The practice of “man lying with man as with a woman” is said to be a punishable offense. Now it doesn’t take a linguist or an archaeologist to understand what is being implied here. This is an obvious euphemism for sex. Check out other contexts where the Hebrew word for “lie” is used in the Old Testament. (Gen.26:10, 30:15, 1Sam2:22)
Some have argued that because this commandment finds itself within the Mosaic Law, which was fulfilled and not carried over into Christianity, that this is not applicable. It is a seemingly valid objection at first, but even this argument fails. I will discuss this later on.
A Disqualifier from the Kingdom
“Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 NRSV
If this translation along with all other popular ones is to be accepted then practicing homosexuality is “wrongdoing” and without repentance it bars one from entering into the eternal kingdom. Now much has been contested concerning the translations above (male prostitutes and sodomites) in our day. The word translated “male prostitutes” is μαλακοὶ (malakoi). Basically this means “soft” or “effeminate”. A man who acts as a woman is someone who acts soft. Therefore an effeminate male during sexual intercourse would be the one taking the role of a woman during sex. Many Greek Lexicons record the author’s understanding that malakos is used for those who engage in same-sex activity as the passive partner. This should not be understood as a heterosexual male prostitute. The second word I will touch on is “sodomite”. This translation is also contested. In the Greek this compound word, ἀρσενοκοίτης (arsenokoites), comes from the word “male” and “bed”. If you look at the second word ‘Koites” you can see that it is where the Latin derives coitus as it is in our language. This would be more so literally translated as “male bed”. Again bed in this language is another euphemism for sexual activity. This would warrant the current translation. Some translators believe that Paul is referring to both the passive and dominate men in this activity and translate this as below
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals”. 1 Corinthians 6:9 NET
“Contrary to Sound Teaching” and “Disobedient”
“Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it legitimately. This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers, fornicators, sodomites, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.” 1 Timothy 1:8-11 NRSV
I don’t think much commentary is necessary here. The heading pretty much sums it up. The word sodomite is the same word used for sodomite in 1 Corinthians 6:9 (ἀρσενοκοίτης).
Against Natural Use
“For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. 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. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.” Romans 1:26-27 NRSV
Here Paul records that same-sex relationships have been condemned by God and he records that these actions are “degrading”. Now the word “intercourse” as it is reflected in the translation above is not as plain in the Greek as it is here. The Greek word is simpler in that it can plainly be translated as “use” or “function”. Supplying either of these words in the passage, as some translations do, does not change what the author was saying at all. This is just something to be aware of.
Abstain from Sexual Immorality
“From the Apostles and elders, your brothers, to the Gentile brothers and sisters in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia, greetings! Since we have heard that some have gone out from among us with no orders from us and have confused you, upsetting your minds by what they said, we have unanimously decided to choose men to send to you along with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul, who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas who will tell you these things themselves in person. For it seemed best to the Holy Spirit and to us not to place any greater burden on you than these necessary rules: that you abstain from meat that has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what has been strangled and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from doing these things, you will do well. Farewell.” Acts 15:22 NET
After there were some rumors among the Gentile Church that the Law of Moses was required in order to gain salvation the Apostles and elders at Jerusalem decided to write to them that this was not the case. If you notice at the end they place no other burden on them, but these four practices. The last being sexual immorality or fornication (in the older English sense). This is important because Jews and early Christians at the time saw same-sex relations as immorality and perversion. Instruction to abstain from sexual immorality is frequent in the New Testament and because of historical Jewish tradition which forbade homosexual activity this then would be a clear command of abstention from the practice. While the Law of Moses was fulfilled in Jesus, Christian behavior was not set free to do whatever it pleased.
I mentioned earlier about the Christian’s submission to Christ through the Apostles. Their practices as passed down through Church history are therefore authoritative. So does early Church history have anything to say about same-sex relations? Let’s take a look below.
Theophilus 2nd Century
“Why, then, do Epicurus and the Stoics teach incest and sodomy, with which doctrines they have filled libraries, so that from boyhood this lawless intercourse is learned? And why should I further spend time on them, since even of those they call gods they relate similar things?” Theophilus to Autolycus Book 3:6
Origen 3rd Century
“we find that they believe in the Most High God, and in His Only-begotten Son, the Word and God, and that they often exhibit in their character a high degree of gravity, of purity, and integrity; while those who call themselves wise have despised these virtues, and have wallowed in the filth of sodomy, in lawless lust, “men with men working that which is unseemly.” Against Celsus Book VII:49
Cyprian 3rd Century
“Still further, what a degradation of morals it is, what a stimulus to abominable deeds, what food for vice, to be polluted by histrionic gestures, against the covenant and law of one’s birth, to gaze in detail upon the endurance of incestuous abominations! Men are emasculated, and all the pride and vigour of their sex is effeminated in the disgrace of their enervated body; and he is most pleasing there who has most completely broken down the man into the woman. He grows into praise by virtue of his crime; and the more he is degraded, the more skilful he is considered to be. Such a one is looked upon—oh shame! and looked upon with pleasure.
Oh, if placed on that lofty watchtower you could gaze into the secret places – if you could open the closed doors of sleeping chambers, and recall their dark recesses to the perception of sight, – you would behold things done by immodest persons which no chaste eye could look upon. You would see what even to see is a crime. You would see what people made into beasts with the madness of vice deny that they have done, and yet hasten to do: men with frenzied lusts rushing upon men, doing things which afford no gratification even to those who do them. I am deceived if the man who is guilty of such things as these does not accuse others of them.” The Epistles of Cyprian, Epistle I. To Donatus. 8-9
Basil the Great 3rd Century
“He who is guilty of unseemliness with males will be under discipline for the same time as adulterers.” Select Letters of Basil To Amphilochius, the Canons
There is plenty of early witness to Christianity’s disapproval of same-sex relationships. Historically Churches have held to this position and it is alive today. The official position of the top three Churches is against this activity. Roman Catholic Church (Approx. 1.3 billion adherents), the Eastern Orthodox Church (Approx. 260 million adherents), and Oriental Orthodox Communion (Approx. 60-70 million adherents). Most of Protestantism is also against this activity.
The Holy Spirit who has empowered the Apostles and the Church has not seen fit to overturn this position. When He inspired the Apostles in their teachings, both written and unwritten, He has passed down to us a historical understanding that this activity is not permissible.
While society is always changing and progressing it also can be said that in some ways it is regressing back to the past. The great acceptance of same-sex relations, which historically speaking was unthinkable in the past few hundred years, is now barging on into the Church demanding answers and privilege. The only fair answer that the Church is able to give is the one that it has given all along. That answer being that this practice, as outlined in our most Holy Faith under the directive of our most Holy Lord, is not permissible. The Church is to be the herald for the Judge. Although some Christians seem to take the seat of judge in this issue and mishandle this topic by means of rudeness may even this not be a stumbling block for accepting God’s directives.
“We are not entitled to such license, I mean that of affirming what we please; we make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet; we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and approve that alone which may be made to harmonize with the intention of those writings.” Gregory of Nyssa 4th Century A.D.