Homosexuality: Church, Scripture, Society Session 3: Scripture

  1. Opening Prayer
  2. Review
    • The Kingdom of God
      • This should be the focus of our faithful lives. Seeking to live and be in the world in a way that reveals the Kingdom of God to our neighbor.
        • Questions of sinfulness and judgment are simply less important because our focus is on mercy, peace and forgiveness.
          • Pope Francis, “Who am I to judge?”
    • Sodom and Gomorrah
      • The sin of Sodom is inhospitality, not homosexuality.

        • The homosexuality in the story is not the most offensive part of the story to the original reader. Most offensive is the violent gang rape of a guest. The story makes this clear by suggesting that violently raping one’s daughter was better than raping a guest in the story.
      • While this scripture certainly does not condone homosexuality, using it as a condemnation of homosexuality most scholars would agree is a misuse.
    • Understanding scripture in context
      • For tonight’s two scriptures this is key. Both clearly condemn homosexuality.
      • The original writers of either would not have not known what homosexuality or heterosexuality for that matter meant, nor could they have imagined a same gender monogamous relationship.
        • Does the different context matter?
  • Leviticus 18:22, 20:13
    • What is the clear meaning of these verses?
    • What specific words stand out or do you have questions about?
    • What questions do you have about the context?
    • Literary context
      • In the story
      • Holiness Code, Leviticus 17-26
    • What are your reactions to other verses from Holiness Code?
      • 19:18
      • 23:4-6
      • 19:9-13
      • 19:19
      • 21:16-24
      • 25:35-38
      • 19:26-28
    • Does this story speak to us today about the faithfulness of homosexuality?
    • What scholars say about this speaks to our understanding of homosexuality.
  • Romans 1:26-27
    • What is the clear meaning of these verses?
    • How do these verses fit into the first chapter of Paul?
    • What seems to be Paul’s view of Gentiles?
    • Pederasty.
      • Does it seem important to you that pederasty is the only reference for homosexuality Paul might have had?
    • What scholars say about this speaks to our understanding of homosexuality
  • Next week, more scripture.
    • I Corinthians 6:9-11, I Timothy 1:9-10
  • Closing Prayer

Leviticus 18:22

22You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.

Leviticus 20:13

13If 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.

Romans 1:19-25, 26-27, 28-32

19For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; 21for though they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. 22Claiming to be wise, they became fools; 23and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, 25because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, 27and 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.

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. 29They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, 30slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious towards parents, 31foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32They know God’s decree, that those who practise such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practise them.

Notes from scripture

Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13

    • These two are part of the Holiness Code, a smaller and older document within Leviticus from chapters 17-26. Lev. 19:2- paraphrase, Be holy because I the Lord God am holy.


  • The holiness code deals with how God set up creation. Everything has a place, an order and humanity is to maintain this. This is why two kinds of materials can’t be worn at the same time, those animals/plants were never meant to be next to each other. Same gender relations were mixing two things never meant to mix. The sin is idolatry because the sinner is denying the existence of the creator by not honoring the intention of the creator.


  • The literary context is that God is giving various prohibitions to the Israelites that deal with the dangers of entering into the land of Canaan.
  • There is great debate about when the actual codes were written and what the historical setting for them originally might have been. Few scholars believes it was the time of Moses.
    • Post-exilic, after they are released from Babylon. It was a time of resurrecting the faith, that had been weakened by a generation spent in Babylon. This is called the Priestly writings of Bible and many such writings from this time are identified in the first five books of the bible. The goal was to help the Israelites be set apart, holy, now by relating this to how their ancestors acted before.
    • While in exile in Babylon.
    • Before the exile in Babylon, in the reign of the kings.
    • All three, a collection of codes, prohibitions and laws dating from many different generations that were organized into the Holiness Code after the exile.
  • Chapter 18:6-30 and 20:10-24 deal with proper sexual behavior for people who want to be holy. They document forbidden sexual behavior. Most would be forbidden today too, incest, adultery, bestiality, and boundaries of sexual relationships within families. We would be disappointed with the male centric way these laws are written. Canaan did these things, scripture says and this is why God is taking their land from them.
  • Chapter 18 and 20 verses differ on who is punished. Just the one who committed the act is punished in 18, whereas both in verse 20.
  • A constant is that the act is an abomination. This means something that is hated by God or incompatible with the nature of God. The punishment for this abomination is death. The activity that is being condemned is anal intercourse. The problem is  that the activity results in a confusion of gender roles, since one male is acting as though he were female. This kind of breaking of the boundaries God sets for us constitutes a threat to the purity of the land.
  • Middle Eastern cultures have placed more stigma on being the “woman” in the male to male anal intercourse. This scripture then makes clear both are condemned.
  • Different responses to how the laws apply to us today
    • It refers to cultic male prostitution in Canaan that does not exist now and would not be accepted by anyone today if it did.
      • The problem is that there is little evidence of this. Plus, they are in a group of laws about family and community not worship.
    • The laws are a part of Israel’s concern for procreation, that are not an important issue for Israel or humanity today. Not only do agrarian societies need a lot of children to thrive, Israel did especially to overwhelm the Canaanites. So, spilling of the seed (semen) was a big deal in these laws. Therefore, these laws are for a particular for a time and place, and not universal for all time and place.
      • Critics question where this argument is made fully in scripture.
    • Many scholars accept that God’s intention for creation is at the heart of this law and others. They counter that since our understanding of creation is so different today, these laws from a pre modern view of creation do not make sense and are no longer applicable for us. For example, one of the problems with anal sex was that men shouldn’t make a woman of a man, because that was obviously moving him beneath his created dominant station, something we don’t believe any longer. Concepts of sexual orientation, heterosexuality and homosexulaity were unknown to biblical writers.
      • The problem with this is that it creates a slippery slope that makes one wonder what one can believe is applicable in scripture, since much of our understanding of the world has changed since it is written.
    • Some believe the law only deals with abnormal sexual behavior in the eyes of the ancient Israelites and not meant to become the law for all cultures. According to this view every culture has their view of what is normal and abnormal, and one culture should not inflict their view on another.
      • This reading makes one wonder what law would be applicable in scripture, then.
      • The counter to this question by critics is that this is exactly the work of the church, the gathered people of God. As Mark Allan Powell poses, “the problem for interpreters is to discern which passages speak of what Christians should regard as enduring or universal standards and which reflect matters specific to the culture of Israel.” The New Testament church began that process and set aside many of the purity laws, i.e. stopped believing Christians were bound to keep them. However, Leviticus 19:18 in the Holiness Code became the heart of the Christian faith.
      • That this is the work of the early church is accepted by most scholars, but many counter that homosexuality is unlike dietary laws which are specifically overturned in the New Testament, homosexual activity remains prohibitive in the New Testament.

Romans 1:26-27

  • The letter to Romans is Paul’s great theology of God revealed in Jesus. The first part of that work are chapters 1-3:19. Paul makes clear in the first chapter that both Jew and Gentile are guilty of unrighteous behavior that angers God, whether they know God or not. This first chapter, deals with Gentiles who don’t know God but who still have a sense of what is right and wrong. When he has completed this argument, he will declare in 3:20 that God has declared peace even though all of us are wicked. God wants relationship with humanity and not to be separated from us by sin.
  • The Gentile’s wickedness is based in their refusal to acknowledge God as creator and Lord. Though as Gentiles they may not know the name for God, the created world makes clear God exists.
    1. Paul gives many examples of their wickedness. These two verse on homosexuality are just one example.
  • Paul’s problem with the Gentile world are not new. Similar things were written by other Hellenist Jews. The popular criticism of Paul’s day is that they were idolaters and sexual deviants. Nearly all known Hellenistic Jewish texts of this time speak of and condemn same gender sexual activities. This was obviously something that bothered Jews in Paul’s day. The question is what exactly were they witnessing that was so alarming and so obviously wicked?
    1. Some writings that expand on this topic describe is called pederasty. A practice of some wealthy men of the day, where an older man would take a young boy as a sexual partner in a passive, female role. Most interpreters agree that this practice is what is most often referred to in New Testament scripture when the topic of homosexuality is brought up. It was universally reviled by Jews.
      • Historical evidence of same gender sexual activities between persons of the same class are non existent. Paul’s condemnation imagined nothing like a committed homosexual relationship found today.
    2. The counter is that this would have made no difference to Paul or his argument. Paul saw this misuse of sexuality as central to his argument that Gentiles were denying the obvious creator by acting in unnatural ways. It is his first piece of “evidence” because Paul thinks this practice is his strongest proof. There is no indication Paul would have thought otherwise if confronted with a modern, mutual and committed experience of homosexuality.  
  • There are arguments over Paul’s use of nature, natural and beyond natural. This is important because much of our later ideas about sexuality in general come from Paul’s writings on what is natural. These are the two sides to this argument.
    1. natural in that it is the natural order of things, i.e. how God made things, how God created things. “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”
    2. natural in that this is the natural way to do things, like the word normal. What is normal is what I am exposed to and how I understand the world from my own limited experience.
      • For example, when I was young it was normal for white people to date and marry white people and not normal for white people to date and marry black people. My parents thought there was great harm in this second happening, “because their kids wouldn’t know what community they belonged to”. It was simply “natural” for people of the same race to want to create families together. Neither me nor my parents saw this as racist at the time. Now, they have biracial grandchildren and their views have changed because their experience has changed.  
      • Paul only used the word this way in his other writings. The implication is that Paul’s comment might be more about the culture than the physical world and God’s intent
  • Argument over translating “contrary to nature”. Some make the case it should be beyond natural or in excess of what is natural. This goes along with the context better because the problem in Paul’s argument was that the lusts of the Gentiles could not be satisfied. Plus, a whole host of contemporary Jewish writers also complained about the insatiable lusts of the Gentiles. In this argument, Paul’s problem with homosexuality is that men want sex so much that when they tire or run out of women they turn to other men, and vica versa. It is almost comic to Paul, beyond normal/natural.
  • There is interest in Paul’s use of women in this text, which is pretty unusual in other writings. One reason suggested by scholars is that Paul is building his case with hyperbole, these people are so bad, even their women are sleeping with women. Again, the complaint is not necessarily about homosexual women but oversexual women. The belief is that it is unlikely from contemporary writings Paul would have ever encountered female homosexuality.
    1. Some scholars counter that because Paul used women in his example, same gender homosexual relationships are what he is describing in a comprehensive way and not pederasty which was not a practice of women.
  • Nearly all scholars agree that Paul is not addressing a problem in the Roman church, but in the larger world outside their congregation. Paul is describing the wrath of God against all humanity. The question before the church is whether the activities he envisions as typical and characteristic of the Gentiles are symmetrical with those forms of same gender sexual activities ath are currently under discussion.


Sources: Background Essay on Biblical Texts for “Journey Together Faithfully, Part Two: The Church and Homosexuality”, Arland J. Hultgren, Walter F. Taylor, 2003.

These are my notes from the ELCA document, Background Essay on Biblical Texts. Many clauses, sentences, even paragraphs are taken directly without citation from that document.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.