Gays, lesbians, bisexuals and the Bible
Reactions by evangelical theologians to Matthew
the Christian Post web site
This topic is a continuation of the previous essay. It showed a
sampling of comments posted by readers of a Christian Post
that discussed Matthew VInes' earlier church presentation.
During 2012-MAY, Harvard University student Matthew Vines delivered a talk about the six "clobber" passages in the Bible that have traditionally been interpreted as condemning all gay and lesbian behavior. He concluded that none of them actually refer to such behavior by loving, committed same-sex couples today:
- Genesis 19 actually refered to anal rape for the purpose of humiliating strangers.
- Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 prohibits sexual activity between male Hebrews in ancient times. The passages were intended to differentiate them from neighboring Pagan cultures. The verses are are not applicable to non-Hebrews, including Christians today.
- Romans 1:26-27 actually refers to heterosexuals who were violating their fundamental nature by engaging in same-gender sex. The passage implies that persons with a homosexual orientation would be equally condemned if they engaged in opposite-gender sex would would be against their fundamental nature.
- 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:9, as originally written, used two Greek words whose meanings are obscure but seem to refer to weak-willed, lazy people and to some form of economic exploitation and sexual coercion -- behaviors that are again unrelated to loving, committed same-sex couples then or now. These passages have been mistranslated in English Bibles to refer to gays and lesbians -- but only in recent translations.
He concludes that proper interpretation of the six "clobber" passages in their original Hebrew and Greek are unrelated to sexual behavior by loving gay and lesbian couples today.
He later posted a video 1 and transcript 2 of his talk on the Internet. Subsequently, The Christian Post (CP) interviewed him. 3
Review of Vines' video by conservative theologians:
CP describes themselves as "the nation's most comprehensive Christian news website" and as a "pan-denominational Christian media source." However, they are a member of the Evangelical Press Association, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the World Evangelical Alliance. When they followed up the Matthew Vines' interview with comments from Christian theologians, they restricted their choice of the latter to evangelical Christians. As expected, the comments were uniformly negative. 4
A person's religious views, at least among the main western religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, are influenced by three main factors: the content of their Holy Book, the individual's general worldview, and their culture. The ambiguities within their Holy Book interacts with their worldview and culture to produce very different beliefs. It would be difficult to find a more divergent pair of worldviews and cultures than between Matthew Vines and the evangelical theologians in the article cite. If CP had included a sampling of mainline and progressive Christian theologians in their article, many would have agreed with Matthew Vines' assessment of the Bible and homosexuality.
Comments by conservative Christian theologians:
- Dr. Evan Lenow, assistant professor of Ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said:
"His arguments are not new, and his predecessors failed to win the day within the Christian community. Therefore, I doubt he will have significant impact in the long term." 4
Professor Lenow's comments are certainly true as far as the conservative wing of Christianity is concerned. The impact on evangelicals of Vines' activity is liable to be minimal. Their analysis of the Bible and their understanding of human sexuality leads them to believe that homosexual behavior is immoral, abnormal, unnatural, caused by poor parenting and/or sexual molestion at an early age, hated by God, chosen, and -- with considerable effort -- changeable . However, liberal and progressive Christians and secularists have generally accepted the findings of human sexuality researchers, psychiatrists, psychologists, etc. that homosexual, and bisexual orientations are morally neutral, normal and natural for a minority of adults, caused primarily by one's genes, determined prior to school-age, unchosen and fixed.
Vines based part of his argument on Genesis 2:18 in which God is quoted as stating: "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him." In common with many religious liberals and secularists, he notes that the only suitable partner for a gay or lesbian is an individual of the same gender. He interprets the passage as implying that God intends gays and lesbians to find a lifetime partner of the same gender. He said:
"... the necessary consequence of the traditional teaching on homosexuality is that, even though gay people have suitable partners, they must reject them, and they must live alone for their whole lives. By holding to the traditional interpretation, we are now contradicting the Bible's own teachings: the Bible teaches that it is not good for the man to be forced to be alone, and yet now, we are teaching that it is."
Professor Lenow rejects this interpretation. He said:
"Mr. Vines is missing the point of the text. Prior to the creation of Eve, Adam was naming the animals. Part of the creation mandate in Genesis 1 is that the animals would reproduce after their kind. This is explicitly stated in Gen 1:22 regarding the sea creatures and birds and implied regarding the beasts of the earth in the language of 'after their kind' in Gen 1:24-25.
Adam surely noticed that each of the animals had a 'partner' by which they could reproduce. Thus, part of the idea that it was not good for man to be alone was that he could not reproduce 'after his kind' without a suitable partner. Therefore, as part of the first marriage in Genesis 2, God intended for procreation to be a part of this union."
We need to look at Adam not only as a historical figure but also as the representative of all mankind. Scripture itself views Adam in this way in Romans 5 as Paul speaks to sin entering the world through one man – Adam. Therefore, in this context, we see Adam representing all of mankind. God's design for man is that he could enter into a complementary relationship with a woman, who is like him yet still different. At a very basic level, the complementary biological differences between man and woman make this clear. Thus, homosexual intercourse cannot be the union of a man and his suitable helper since the complementary biological differences do not exist. Related to this, if God viewed marriage as the means for mankind to reproduce after his kind, then homosexual marriage and intercourse violates God's command in Gen 1:28."
- Dr. Robert Gagnon, associate professor of New Testament at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, is described by the Christian Post as "the foremost expert on the Bible and homosexuality" within the evangelical community.
He notes that Vines' work is largely based on Martti Nissinen, an Old Testament scholar, and Dale Martin of Yale, a New Testament scholar, and John Bosel a gay church historian. Gagnon said:
"Every one of these rehashed arguments I have refuted in previous work, of which Vines shows not the slightest awareness."
"Such arguments [show] a complete disregard for context, which stresses that the missing sexual element in man is woman. A more accurate rendering of the Hebrew than NIV's 'helper suitable for him' is 'a helper as his counterpart.' ... The text does not present the sex of the 'counterpart' or 'complement' as optional. Four times in three verses (2:21-23) the narrator emphasizes that something is 'taken from' the adam or undifferentiated human and formed into a woman ('side' may be a better translation than 'rib' of Hebrew tsela' since it means this in its 36 other uses in the Hebrew Bible). The principle of two sexes becoming one flesh is thus grounded in the picture of two sexes emerging from one flesh (2:24). What is required in the story line of Gen 2:21-24 is not merely a joining or merger of two persons but a rejoining of the two sexes into one.
"Orientation does not take precedence over formal (embodied, structural) prerequisites such as gender, monogamy, and age. If people are unhappy with God's conditional provision, they do not get to choose whatever option brings satisfaction to their sexual desires.
"Moreover, while it is 'not good' for humans to be alone, it is far worse for humans to engage in same-sex intercourse. The former is not a sin but an experience of deprivation. The latter is regarded by Scripture as a violation of a core value in sexual ethics. To engage in same-sex intercourse as a means to averting loneliness is to subvert a higher value in Scripture for the sake of lesser consideration."
- Sean McDonough, professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, also rejects Vines' interpretation. He said:
"His take on Genesis 1 is theologically incoherent. He seems to concede the goodness of God's creation of man and woman (which forms the basis for subsequent biblical teaching on marriage and sexuality), then claims that in the current state of things homosexual desire is natural, and therefore good, for homosexuals. But this spectacularly avoids the problem of the Fall in Genesis 3.
"One might equally argue that while peace was a desirable state for Adam and Eve in Eden, murderous envy was the 'natural' state of Cain, and thus he cannot be condemned for acting on his innate desires. He also suggests that the only possible way not to be alone in the world is to be in a sexual relationship. Why would this be so?"
The article in the Christian Post continues with an analysis of the other "clobber passages" as interpreted by other leading evangelical theologians. 4
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Matthew Vines, "The Gay Debate: The Bible and Homosexuality," You Tube, 2012-MAR-10, at: http://www.youtube.com/
- Matthew Vines, transcript of his presentation, at: http://matthewvines.com/
- Stoyan Zaimov, "Matthew Vines: Bible does not condemn homosexuality," The Christian Post, 2012-SEP-25, at: http://www.christianpost.com/
- Lilian Kwon, "Theologians Find Vines' 'Homosexuality Is Not a Sin' Thesis Not Persuasive," The Christian Post, 2012-SEP-28, at: http://www.christianpost.com/
- "Counterpoint: Gay Man and Ex-Gay Discuss Homosexuality,"
Copyright © 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2012-OCT-02
Latest update: 2012-OCT-02
Author: B.A. Robinson