So what about the New Testament scriptures? Romans, 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy are all part of the New Covenant and they seem to insist the same thing as the Old Testament verses…
To start with, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 1 Timothy, and Galatians were all written by Paul. (We haven’t looked at Galatians yet, but I bring it up now because it will become relevant later…)
For context’s sake, I want to make mention that many Christians accept the following verses as part of the core teachings of Christianity.
Side note: All the verses listed below are attributed to Paul.
|Verse||Link to parallel translations||Link to original translations|
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,
|2 Corinthians 5:21
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
|2 Corinthians 8:9
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–
For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”
Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.”
The point is…If these verses are at the core of our faith, then a punitive reading of Romans 1:26-7, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and 1 Timothy 1:9-10 are immediately contradictory to the values of Christianity.
How? Well, if we believe that all have sinned, that Christ died for the ungodly, that we are justified through faith, not our actions, and that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ, then an interpretation of scripture that says an LGBT person who accepts a relationship with Christ built on faith cannot inherit the kingdom of God is inaccurate (unless you believe an LGBT person can’t accept Christ… in which case there are dozens of other scriptures, parables, and examples in the bible that contradicts the belief that a sinner (any sinner great or small) can’t be saved…)
For the sake of argument, let’s take on the assumption for a second that being gay is a sin… even if being gay is sinful, the bible doesn’t treat other sins with such sweeping punitive measures. In fact, Paul admits in Romans 7 that sin is a consistent struggle and not something that is completely purged from the lives of Christians… Likewise, Christ, in the lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) alludes to ongoing (if not daily) sin and our need for a daily prayer that includes forgiveness (as we forgive others); so simply stated, a punitive measure supported by the bible against same sex interaction is contradictory to core teachings. This means that either:
- Paul is wrong
- The interpretation of these scriptures is skewed
- Or Paul was speaking about a certain situation/context we are missing
To stay on track, let’s remember that Paul was not writing in a vacuum; there was a specific context and purpose behind what he wrote. Paul wrote Romans, 1 Corinthians, 1 Timothy (and all his other epistles) to address specific concerns, threats, and situations arising / relevant to their time and place. In order to fully understand and interpret authorial intent, we need to know as much about these factors as possible.
All three of the passages used to condemn homosexuality in the new testament come from an epistle (letter) written by Paul to a specific community in a region geographically removed from his current location. He wrote his letters to provide direction, encouragement, and rebuke.
Romans was written to the Romans
We need to remember that the Rome of the bible was a hypersexualized society. Prostitution was legal. Pederasty was legal (as long as it was with a slave). And many religious acts and ceremony included sexual practices as part of worship. Sex cults were extremely active and enticing, and orgies (which, by definition, includes same sex activity) were often used in the worship of Roman gods.
When it comes to Romans chapter 1, Paul starts off by introducing himself (1-2), explains that he wishes he could be present to provide direction and encouragement (3-7), then goes on to explain that Christ came as the fulfillment of the law, and that Jew and Gentile alike can be justified through faith instead of through perfect fulfillment of the law (8-17). Starting in verse 18, Paul explains the rejection of the knowledge of God as a sequence that has taken place throughout history, stating in verse 23 that they (the godless) “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.”
|Verse||Link to parallel translations||Link to original translations|
For this reason, God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature;
and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
Now, The remainder of Romans 1 (including verses 26-27) remains within the context of rejecting God in favor of the worship of idols/other gods. Everything mentioned in verses 18-32 is within the context of worship… meaning that the sexual immorality mentioned in these verses are conceptually (and grammatically) tied to a discussion of the worship of other gods. Now, we know the historical context of the Rome Paul is addressing…and it would have been clear to his audience that Paul was directly attacking the acts of sexual depravity that were connected to the religious ceremony of Roman/ Greek gods such as Aphrodite and Bacchus/Dionysus. The same sex actions mentioned in verses 26-27 suggest the act of orgy (which were commonly used in ceremonial celebration in honor of Bacchus and Aphrodite). So here, the sexual acts he includes would be a direct reference to actions related to the worship and belief systems of another god.
Side Note: This passage is interesting because of its inclusion of the phrase “exchanging natural relations for those contrary nature.” If same sex attraction is what comes natural to a person, wouldn’t attempting to take on an opposite sex attraction be contrary to one’s nature?
1 Corinthians was written to the Body of Christ in Corinth
Like Rome, the Corinth of the bible was a society where sexual behavior was a normal part of religious celebration and worship. In fact, Corinth had one of the largest temples dedicated to Aphrodite (some accounts mention that the temple hosted over 3000 prostitutes); Corinth was also known for Bacchanalia/Dionysia (festivals in honor of the god of wine, freedom, intoxication and ecstasy). So Paul’s understanding and the understanding of the people of Corinth would be one that connects same sex sexual interaction with the celebration/worship of these gods, not with a form of sexual identity.
Check out the links below for more information…
So what exactly was Paul trying to say in 1 Corinthians 6?
Well, chapter 6:1-11 actually discusses the settling of disputes between Christians; it is not an explicit discussion of sexual immorality like many people interpret it as.
So then, how does 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 fit into this discussion?
Before I explain, I would like to encourage you to read the verses yourself chapter 6:1-11, then continue…
In verses 1-6, Paul condemns the church of Corinth for resorting to suing each other as a way to settle disputes among themselves. He says that it is a shame that there is no one wise enough inside the church to settle these disputes, and that it is likewise shameful to turn to a non-believer to weigh in on situation. In verse 7, he tells the church of Corinth to basically suck-it-up, saying that it is better to be wronged or defrauded than to cause division among the church or to have people on the outside judging the church for not being able to get along with one another. Verse 8 takes this one step further and calls the action of dissent/disagreement a defrauding of the church (assumedly because of the perception it gives off); and in the same breath/context comes verses 9-11:
“9Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with mena 10nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
So how does the mention of fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, men who have sex with men, thieves, greedy, drunkards, slanderers, and swindlers connect with settling disputes and lawsuits?
Paul is not going off topic to make a moral judgment about these acts, instead he is using them as criteria to identify non-believers. And this identification has everything to do with differences of worship. What does fornication, idolatry, adultery, same sex action, stealing, drunkenness, etc. have in common (within the context of ancient Corinth)? These are all actions one would partake in during a ceremonial orgy in celebration/worship of Aphrodite and Bacchus/Dionysus.
Simply put, Paul does not make mention of these acts to state that if someone does any of these things that they are doomed and that they will not inherit the kingdom of God (again, that type of statement would go against dozens if not hundreds of verses that state otherwise). In fact, to the contrary, directly after stating the verses people use to uniformly condemn homosexuality (yet, hypocritically enough, don’t use to uniformly condemn drunkenness), Paul states:
12All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. 13Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body.
Sit and digest this for a second (Look up the greek translation if you need to).
If anything, the full context of 1 Corinthians 6:1-13 would imply that the actions mentioned are not what separate one from God (12, “all things are lawful”), but rather overindulgence.
Here, Paul is insisting that the overindulgence associated with the world around makes it ill-suited to judge or mediate between the disputes of the church, which has been called to worship and live differently.
So what about the verses in 1 Timothy?
1 Timothy was written later in Paul’s life to encourage, direct, and mentor Timothy.
As a whole, 1 Timothy is a list of best practices for church structure (many we interpret as culturally/historically specific and don’t follow letter to law, especially those pertaining to women). It warns against false doctrine, explains the qualifications for leadership in the church, and makes mention of what the general treatment between and towards other members of the church should look like.
In verses 1-2, Paul gives his salutation. Verses 3-11 he gives his warning against false teaching. His warning is not towards other religions, but rather, the false teachings spreading themselves as a version of Christianity. Paul calls out anyone teaching a version of Christianity that is prescriptive in nature, relying on a justification through the law of the Old Covenant). This is where Paul sums up one of the core teachings of the New Testament, stating:
But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (verse 5)
Paul says these false teachers have turned from the grace and mercy of the new covenant and have tried to become teachers of “the laws of Moses” (verse 7), and that, simply, they know not what they speak (Paul hints that the danger of this is a perversion of the two covenants, where God has made it clear that it is one or the other…justification through the law or justification through faith…not some of each). From there, Paul goes on to list the purpose of the law:
|Verse||Link to parallel translations||Link to original translations|
9Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, 10For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for men stealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine;
Paul mentions these things, including the phrase “them that defile themselves with mankind,” (often translated as homosexuals), not to state that these are unforgivable acts, but to characterize actions contrary to the law.Yet, strictly speaking we are not bound by the law of sin and death, but afforded life through God’s mercy (Ephesians 2:8-9 It’s not what we do or don’t do).
Side Note: the phrase “them that defile themselves with mankind,” is interestingly specific where the blanket term homosexual/homosexuality is not… “mankind” being plural, even if this is a condemnation of a same sex act, it’s hard to argue that this would apply to a singular, loving, and committed relationship between two people. To defile one’s self with all of mankind sounds more like prostitution and/or public, prolific, and unbridled sexual interaction. Likewise, the term “mankind” was/is universally used to reference humans with the inclusion of women… so it seems like the act Paul condemns here has nothing to do specifically with what we know as gay or straight sex; instead, it has to do with hyper-sexual and rapacious intercourse.
To sum things up:
outside of their context, the scriptures used to condemn homosexuality seem uncharacteristically punitive; but within context of their time period and Paul’s purpose for mentioning these acts, they make sense with in the larger context and core teachings of the New Covenant.
We know that God is a jealous God. What is emphasized over and over again, and what is sound doctrine is that man cannot have two masters, nor can he be of a divided heart. You can’t devote your life one day to the pursuit and worship of Christ yet turn around the next day and participate in practices that worship another god. In a real way, early Christians may have been tempted to go to church in the morning and an orgy at night. Paul is speaking out against that duplicity.
And with that in mind, the uniform intent and purpose behind Paul’s epistles was to separate Christians from religious practices contrary to Christianity.