President Barack Obama made this statement in 2008, answering Pastor Rick Warren’s famous interview question during the Saddleback Presidential Candidates Forum. “Now, for me as a Christian—for me—for me as a Christian, it is also a sacred union. God’s in the mix,” Obama said just a few months before his election.
The next five years brought a rapid shift in the political climate. Candidate Obama had assured Rick Warren that “I am not somebody who promotes same-sex marriage, but I do believe in civil unions.” But since his election, President Obama now states that he opposes a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Obama has also said that he would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. He believes the Employment Non-Discrimination Act should be expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity. He has advocated legislation that seeks to expand federal hate crimes law to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
President Obama used a 2012 ABC News interview to clarify his change of heart. “I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” he said, acknowledging that his personal position had changed over the course of several years. He seemed to mirror a national trend. At the time of his election, Massachusetts and Connecticut were the only states with legalized same-sex marriage. Now there are 12, representing 18 percent of the U.S. population. Public dialogue seems to have shifted. No one wants labeled as a homophobe or a hater. And no one wants trapped in a conversation about the Bible that ends with “That’s just your interpretation.”
As the public debate over same sex-marriage continues, pastors and church leaders struggle to articulate their deeply held beliefs. Our careful response is needed in two different ways: what we teach and preach to our own church members, and what we express to a broader public audience. Whenever we address such issues, we usually begin with the authority of Scripture in our own faith and practice. When the debate turns into a theological squabble where both sides quote the same Scripture references, we need to review what the Bible teaches, starting at the beginning. But we also need to be familiar with the theological arguments that are offered by homosexual advocates.
The Creation of Adam and Eve (Genesis 1; 2)
The first chapters of Genesis tell us much about marriage, culminating in a formal definition given in Genesis 2:24. The concept is introduced in Genesis 1:27, where both man and woman are created in the image of God. In addition to showing that human sexuality (male and female) was created by God, this verse emphasizes creation and shows that God is the creator of man and woman. The Hebrew verb for create is used in three verses in this chapter (cf. Genesis 1:1, 21). Here in verse 27 it is used three times. God is one in essence yet three in person (the Trinity). The divine plurality expressed in 1:26 (“Let Us make man in Our image, according to our likeness”) is revealed in some way in His created image: male and female.
Image and likeness are essentially synonymous terms. Both indicate moral and spiritual qualities that God and humans share (intellect, emotion, will, self-consciousness, God-consciousness, freedom, responsibility, speech, moral discernment). These distinguish humans from animals.
God created man and woman in different ways. Genesis 2 reveals that God first created Adam from the dust of the ground (2:7), and then He created Eve from a rib taken from Adam’s side (2:21, 22). God did not create man and woman simultaneously. Adam was created before Eve. Paul will later argue from the order of creation that man is the head (leader) of the woman in marriage (cf. 1 Corinthians 11).
Adam was not complete without Eve. The Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). This is the first “not good” mentioned in the Bible. After God created the woman, He looked on all of His creation and said that it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). God evaluated man’s condition, but He also rectified it. God said, “I will make him a helper comparable to him.” The word for “helper” is not a demeaning term. It is used to describe God in Psalms 33:20 and 70:5. It means that one supports the other in doing the will of God (Deuteronomy 33:7; Psalm 33:20). It means that the woman supplies what the man lacks. The word suitable means basically that what was said of him in 2:7 is true of her. They both have the same nature. What he lacks she supplies, and what she lacks he supplies. They would be opposites in some way that would meet the needs of the other.
The Lord God made man aware of his being incomplete by bringing the animals to him. God brought the animals to Adam on Day Six (Friday) to see what Adam would name them. (Adam didn’t name every individual animal. He apparently gave names to the different kinds God brought before him.) As he named the animals, Adam realized that there was a male and female of each species except his own. By assigning the naming project, God had revealed to Adam that he had no suitable helper. Moses followed this account with God’s creation of the first woman to be Adam’s helper in the service of God (2:21–23).
God’s provision of a wife for Adam is a concrete example of God’s knowing what is good for man. The saying, “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” is true. God created Eve to be Adam’s wife. God created a woman and not a man to be Adam’s helper. God did not make another man from Adam to be his spouse. Companionship replaced isolation. God then performed the first wedding. He brought Eve to Adam in the Garden in Eden. The first wedding took place in a beautiful garden. Like a father escorting his daughter, God brought Eve to Adam. Adam’s statement in Genesis 2:23 shows his vow of commitment to her (bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh) as well as his authority over her as he named her woman.
Genesis 2:24 gives God’s definition of marriage. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” This definition is repeated in the New Testament in Matthew 19:5 and in Ephesians 5:31. Marriage is a covenant relationship between a man and a woman that includes their physical union. Sexual relations alone do not constitute a marriage. Marriage involves a man leaving his parents, being joined to a woman as his wife, and then consummating their relationship by having sex. The Hebrew word for “joined,” or “cleave,” suggests the making of a sacred covenant. This is the same term used of Israel’s maintaining her covenant relationship with Yahweh (Deuteronomy 4:4; 10:20). God is the witness of marriage vows when women are made wives “by covenant” (Malachi 2:14). Marriage is a “one flesh” relationship. Sexual union reinforces and reenacts the marital covenant. Adam knew his wife sexually, and she conceived a son (Genesis 4:1). The procreation mandate given to Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply” shows that marriage was designed for only a man and a woman, since they alone can produce children.
Homosexuality as the Sin of Sodom (Genesis 19:1–11)
Pro-homosexual interpretation. What were the men of Sodom seeking when they demanded that Lot bring the two men out of his house so that they might “know” them? In Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition, Derrick Sherwin Bailey claims that much of Christian prejudice against homosexuality comes from misunderstanding this story. He argues that the men of Sodom were merely anxious to interrogate the strangers to find out if they were spies. Translating the Hebrew word for “know” in Genesis 19:5 as “to get acquainted with,” Bailey believes that the resulting sin of Sodom was a lack of hospitality. He uses an argument from statistics to support his definition: Of the 943 times the Hebrew word for “know” is used in the Old Testament, only 12 of these refer to sexual relations, all of which were the heterosexual kind.
Evangelical interpretation. Evangelical scholars counter this argument by insisting that statistics can never determine the meaning of a word. The meaning must be determined by the writer’s use of the word in context. The men of Sodom surrounded Lot’s house and demanded that he bring out the two angels whom they thought were men. “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may know them” (Genesis 19:5). The word know carries a sexual connotation, and Lot understood their wicked intentions (“Please, my brethren, do not do so wickedly”). Getting acquainted with someone is not a wicked action. But homosexual gang rape would be a wicked action. Lot showed that Sodom had influenced his morals as he offered his two virgin daughters to the Sodomites. The sexual understanding of know in Genesis 19:5 is supported by the same sexual understanding of the term in Genesis 19:8. Lot’s daughters were virgins; they had not had sexual relations with any man.
Another evidence that the word know refers to sexual relations is found in the book of Judges. The word know is used to describe the gang rape of a concubine by some perverted men of Gibeah in Judges 19:25. “So the man took his concubine and brought her out to them. And they knew her and abused her all night until morning; and when the day began to break, they let her go.” The men of Gibeah were not just getting acquainted with this woman. They raped and physically abused her to the point that she died.
Jude gives a New Testament commentary on the sin of Sodom. “As Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire” (Jude 7). The Greek word means to “indulge in illicit sexual relations/debauchery.” Jude also says that they had “gone after strange flesh”; that is, “dissimilar in kind or class from all other entities; another; different.”
Homosexuality and the Mosaic Law (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13)
The next major statement in the Old Testament about homosexuality comes in the holiness code in Leviticus. God wanted His people Israel to be separate from the immoral and idolatrous practices of her neighbors. In Leviticus 18:22 God condemns homosexual practices: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.” Leviticus 20:13 adds the death penalty for practicing homosexuality.
Pro-homosexual interpretation. Homosexuals have tried to evade the clear meaning of these texts in two ways. First, they have dismissed them on cultural grounds. They believe that homosexuality was prohibited not because it was morally wrong, but because it was associated with temple prostitution in the surrounding nations. Ralph Blair takes this position in An Evangelical Look at Homosexuality. He later started Evangelicals Concerned as a national network for evangelical gays and lesbians.
Homosexuals evade the clear meaning of these texts in a second way, arguing that the commands in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 are part of the ceremonial aspects of the law which are transitory. Thus, Christians are not bound by the commands of Leviticus today and should not be bound by the prohibition against homosexuality. The authors of Is the Homosexual My Neighbor, Letha Scanzoni and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, compare this to other aspects of the law that are not followed today, such as eating rare steak or wearing mixed fabrics.
Evangelical interpretation. The homosexual view of Mosaic law assumes that ritual purity and moral preaching are always distinct. Blair believes that texts in Leviticus are not really speaking against homosexuality as such, but only warning Israel about the practice of a Canaanite cult. To hold Blair’s viewpoint consistently, you would have to conclude that adultery was not morally wrong (Leviticus 18:20), child sacrifice had no moral implications (Leviticus 18:21), and nothing is inherently evil about bestiality (Leviticus 18:23). My point is that ceremonial purity and moral purity do coincide. These prohibitions are given in the Holiness Code because God’s design for sex is that it is for a husband and wife only (cf. Genesis 2:24).
These statements expose a great ignorance of how the law fits into the total scheme of the Scriptures. The Old and New Testaments both condemn sexual sins outside of marriage. There are prohibitions against homosexuality recorded in the New Testament. This new covenant is called the “law of the Spirit” (Romans 8:2), the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2), and “the royal law” (James 2:8). As a unit the New Testament code is new, but not all the commands in the New Testament are new. There is overlap, deletion, and addition. Some of the commands found in the Old Testament Mosaic code have been reincorporated into the law of Christ.
Yes, the laws concerning a kosher diet, punishment by stoning, or wearing mixed fabrics have been abrogated. However, the condemnation of homosexual behavior is repeated in the New Testament code (Romans 1:26, 27; 1 Corinthians 6:9–11; 1 Timothy 1:9, 10). The Old and New Testaments agree and do not contradict one another. It is always wrong to murder, rape, steal. It is always wrong for persons to have sexual relations with members of the same sex. God has dealt with people in different ways at different times, but His standard of righteousness has never changed.
The Condemnation of Homosexuality in Romans 1:24–28
Pro-homosexual interpretation. Homosexuals make much of the word natural in Romans 1:26, teaching two different kinds of homosexuality: (1) Inversion refers to a condition of constitutional homosexuality, the unalterable sexual preference for members of the same sex (from birth). (2) Perversion is the activity of a homosexual person against one’s constitution (or sexual preference and orientation). By embracing this distinction, they teach that Paul is condemning homosexuality as a perversion, but not inversion. According to homosexuals, if homosexual activity is the result of one’s constitutional preference, it is both unalterable and permissible (because it is according to, and not contrary to, one’s nature). Having limited this text to a condemnation of perversion (homosexual activity that is contrary to one’s constitutional sexual orientation), they believe that this text condemns a homosexual who has sex with a woman or a lesbian who has sex with a man.(See John Boswell’s Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality; also see Mollenkott and Scanzoni, Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? Another Christian View.)
Evangelical interpretation. Paul’s argument in Romans 1:24–28 is that homosexual behavior is against God’s intention for human sexual activity that is plainly seen in nature. God condemns men who leave the natural relationship of having sexual relationships with women (in marriage) to having sexual relationships with men (outside of marriage). God is not condoning inversion. God condemns all homosexuality as perversion.
The Greek verb translated “gave them up” describes a judicial act of God in which He judges sinful people for their rejection of His general revelation by giving them up to their sinful depraved lusts, which include homosexuality and lesbianism. It is not that God withdrew from the wicked the restraining force of His providence and common grace, but that He positively gave men over to what John Murray describes as the judgment of “more intensified and aggravated cultivation of the lusts of their own hearts with the result that they reap for themselves a correspondingly greater toll of retributive vengeance.”
The use of “gave them up” in both this epistle (Romans 4:25; 6:17; 8:32) and in the other Pauline Epistles (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Timothy 1:20) supports this view. This interpretation is also in harmony with the use of the word in Acts 7:42, where Stephen says that God gave Israel up to worship the stars because of their apostasy in the days of Moses. The same verb is used in Ephesians 4:19. This text shows that sinful people give themselves up to sexual sins: “Who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.” This verse shows us that God does not force sinners to sin. Sinners choose to give themselves over to sexual sins, and God holds them accountable for their sinful actions.
I agree with the approach of Homosexuality: a Biblical View (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), where Greg Bahnsen observes that man’s sexual identity is defined by God, because his orientation is ordained by God, and because his sexual activity is limited to heterosexual marriage by God. Homosexuality is not a variation within creation, like left-handedness or another aspect of God’s diverse world. Instead, Bahnsen says, “It represents a choice, in some sense, to set one’s desires and satisfy one’s physical drives in a way contrary to God’s appointment and creation. There is no natural homosexuality, for homosexuality is precisely a perversion of nature (understood as God’s design for human relations). Homosexuals are made, not born; their disorder is developed contrary to their God-given identity, learned in opposition to the created order; pursued in defiance of the marriage ordinance.”
The Condemnation of Homosexuality in 1 Corinthians 6:9–11
Pro-homosexual interpretation. Homosexuals interpret “homosexuals” in these verses as “self indulgent.” They interpret “sodomites” as a male homosexual prostitute. They believe that the text is condemning self-indulgence and homosexual prostitution. But they do not believe that these terms include a constitutional homosexual in a committed and loving relationship with another homosexual.
This is the position Ralph Blair takes, limiting the passage to mean homosexual self-indulgence in the same sense that Paul condemns Epicurean overindulgence, drunkenness, and greed. “One should not assume uncritically that there is in the Corinthian passage a proof text against all homosexuality or even all homosexual acts,” Blair says. “Of course, homosexual behavior can be perverted and sinfully exploitive, just as heterosexual activity can be—or any activity can be—but this is not the same as rejecting either sexual orientation or specific acts as sinful as such.”
Evangelical interpretation. Paul lists in these verses the people who will be excluded from the kingdom of God. These sinners continue their sinful practices and are characterized by their specific sins. The terms homosexuals and sodomites refer to those who are involved in committing acts of homosexuality. The term homosexuals in 1 Corinthians 6:9 literally means “soft; or effeminate; it refers to those who are passive in a same-sex relationship. It refers to those men and boys who are sodomized by other males in such a relationship.” The NKJV term sodomites in 1 Corinthians 6:9 is a compound word (male and bed) referring to a man who engages in sexual activity with a person of the same sex.The KJV says that they are “abusers of themselves with mankind” (1 Corinthians 6:9) and those that “defile themselves with mankind” (1 Timothy 1:10). They are called “sodomites” because the city of Sodom was known for its homosexuality (Genesis 18:20; 19:4, 5). Homosexuals and sodomites (those whose lifestyle is characterized by practicing homosexuality) will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Conclusion. The Bible teaches that marriage is a covenant relationship between one man and one woman. The Bible condemns homosexuality as a sin. God loves sinners and Christ died for all sinners (including homosexuals). The gospel gives hope for homosexuals that they can be washed and transformed by the grace of God (1 Cor.6:9-11). The Church must defend the biblical definition of marriage in a world that rejects God and his word.
Gary Gromacki (DMin, Dallas Theological Seminary; PhD, Baptist Bible Seminary) is director of the DMin program at Baptist Bible Seminary and associate professor of Bible and Homiletics. This article is an updated excerpt from “Why Be Concerned about Same-Sex Marriage” (Journal of Ministry and Theology, Fall 2005).
- Download a PDF of “Same-Sex Marriage: What the Bible Really Says.” Readers are welcome to reproduce this article for use in their own church ministries.