College Sundays: Questions 3 & 4: Jesus, Homosexuality, and the Law

25 July 2013

Christopher J Wiles

writer | speaker | servant

Question 3: Why do people say that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality?

Why is this question so important?  It’s assumed that if Jesus never addressed homosexuality, it must not really be a sin.

In philosophical terms, the argument looks something like this:

  • Major premise: Jesus addressed specific sins.
  • Minor premise: Jesus never addressed homosexuality.
  • Conclusion: Therefore, homosexuality is not a sin.

We can agree with the minor premise.  Jesus never did specifically address homosexuality.  But is the major premise true?   Was Christ’s mission to address specific sins?

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day saw it as their business to regulate morality.  But Jesus came to offer transformation.  Do you see how this might change you and I read the Bible?  If we read it as a moral code, a set of instructions—then you and I will live and die based on what we “shalt” and “shalt not” do.

But Jesus changes all that.  In one of His most famous sermons, Jesus repeatedly says: “You’ve heard it said…but I say to you.”  Do you hear what Jesus is saying?  He’s saying: “Don’t assume you’re a good person just because you follow the right rules.  I’m looking for purity in your heart.”  In relation to sexual purity Jesus says this:

Matthew 5:27-32 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart….”It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’  32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

This changes everything.  Jesus brought an increase in the demand for sexual purity.  But does this necessarily exclude homosexuality?  In Matthew 19:5-6 Jesus affirms the Genesis text about man and woman becoming “one flesh.”  He never overturns this principle.  Robert Gagnon concludes:

“Jesus did not overturn any prohibitions against immoral sexual behavior in Leviticus or anywhere else in the Mosaic law.  He did not regard sexual ethics as having diminished importance in relation to other demands of the kingdom.  It is highly unlikely that he would have held some sort of secret acceptance of homosexuality in the face of uniform opposition within the Judaism of his day.  Clearly, he did not adopt more liberal positions on other matters of sexual ethics such as divorce and adultery.  Instead, he was more demanding than the Torah, not less.  He would have understood the tension between the model of male-female union in Genesis 1-2 and the alternative model presented by same-sex unions.  Consequently, the idea that Jesus was, or might have been, personally neutral or even affirming of homosexual conduct is revisionist history at its worst.”  (Michael Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, p. 227-8)

Question 4: The Law contains instructions regarding women and slaves as well.  If Jesus fulfilled these laws, why do we still focus on homosexuals?

If the Law never contained any instructions regarding homosexuality, would that change anything?  When we are seeking to understand the basis for marriage, we don’t go to the Law but to the original design as seen in Genesis 1-2.  This is why Paul describes homosexuality not as a violation of God’s Laws, but as something of a “crime against nature” (Romans 1:24-27).  God’s character is revealed in Genesis.  The Law served to clarify God’s ethical character.  So the primary answer to this question is that sexual ethics are described in the Law, but they are ultimately rooted in the timeless character of God.

Still, many wonder why Christians are so “inconsistent” in which laws they choose to follow.  A classic example of this comes from the Television show The West Wing.  At a press event, President Bartlett confronts a prominent radio talk show host for her comments on homosexuality:

“I wanted to ask you a couple of questions while I had you here. I’m interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. She’s a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent Italian, and always clears the table when it was her turn. What would a good price for her be? While thinking about that, can I ask another? My Chief of Staff, Leo McGarry, insists on working on the Sabbath, Exodus 35:2, clearly says he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself or is it okay to call the police? Here’s one that’s really important, ’cause we’ve got a lot of sports fans in this town. Touching the skin of a dead pig makes one unclean, Leviticus 11:7. If they promise to wear gloves, can the Washington Redskins still play football? Can Notre Dame? Can West Point? Does the whole town really have to be together to stone my brother, John, for planting different crops side by side? Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing garments made from two different threads?”

Many feel that Christians are “inconsistent” in following some laws and not others.  But does following Jesus change the way we apply these laws?  Jesus said that He came to “fulfill” the Law (Matthew 5:17).  But what does that mean?

The Law was given to reveal God’s ethical character.  It shows you and I where we measure up—and where we fall short.  Jesus “fulfilled” the Law by perfectly matching God’s expectations of moral perfection.  And because we are “clothed” in Christ’s righteousness, God treats us as if you and I have a spotless moral record.  This is what is meant by the Christian term “justification.”  We are “declared righteous” in the eyes of God.

So the question can be flipped: Why should Christians follow what has been fulfilled?  This was the question that Paul asked the church in Galatia.  They followed Christ—yet insisted on keeping some of the rules, namely circumcision.  But Paul insists that they have a solemn choice: trust in the gospel, or trust in their own moral code:

Galatians 5:2-6  Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.  3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.  4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.  5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.  6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

So in a very real sense, Paul is saying that it is inconsistent to follow Christ and keep the Law.  By following Christ, we fulfill the requirements of the Law.  In the case of homosexuality, we must again appeal to the fact that sexual norms are rooted in God’s timeless character rather than the timely principles of the Law itself.

25 July 2013

Christopher J Wiles

writer | speaker | servant

Chris is a writer and speaker from the Charlottesville area. He regularly serves as a research writer for Docent Research Group in addition to doing some guest speaking.

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