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Editors’ note: We received the following question from a reader:

Conservative Christians oppose gay marriage. Many conservative Christians in the past century also opposed interracial marriage. Is it possible that those opposing gay marriage are interpreting Scripture through the lens of their own prejudice and are wrong on this just as their grandparents were wrong on interracial marriage?

Nearly four years after the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry, many Christians still oppose homosexual unions. Why?

One view, particularly popular with the younger generation and social progressives, is that the opposition to same-sex marriage is rooted in prejudice. They believe conservative Christians remain on the “wrong side of history” due simply to our prejudice—and our biased interpretation of Scripture.

The framing of this question posed by our reader shows the inductive reasoning that leads them to this conclusion. In using inductive reasoning, a person makes broad generalizations from specific observations. To make an inductive argument we present a case that, if the premises were to be true, then it would be unlikely that the conclusion is false. The reasoning behind the question goes something like this:

At time A (pre-Loving), conservative Christians opposed issue X (interracial marriage) because of the way they interpret Scripture.

At time B (post-Obergefell), conservative Christians opposed issue Y (same-sex marriage) because of the way they interpret Scripture.

Conservative Christians were wrong to oppose issue X because of their prejudice.

Therefore, conservative Christians are also likely to be wrong about issue Y because of their prejudice.

Much of this argument’s appeal depends both on how you define “conservative Christians” and also how you feel about members of this group. But I believe the key element in this reasoning is not the term “conservative Christian” but rather the phrase “way they interpret Scripture.” When we focus on that aspect it becomes clear that those who use Scripture to support same-sex marriage have a lot in common with those who used the Bible to oppose interracial marriage.

Way of the Faithful Interpreter

Most Christians—whether conservative or liberal—would agree that the proper goal of biblical interpretation is three-fold: (1) to discern God’s message, (2) to avoid or dispel erroneous perspectives and conclusions about what the Bible teaches, and (3) to be able to apply the Bible’s message to our lives. The outcome of this process should be neither conservative nor liberal, so let’s instead use faithful/unfaithful to describe the way we interpret Scripture.

We can say, as do many biblical interpreters, that a faithful interpretation of the Bible is one in which the meaning of the text is based on (1) what the words and grammatical structures of the text disclose about (2) the probable intention of the author/editor and (3) the probable understanding of the text by its intended readers. An unfaithful interpretation finds the meaning of the text outside of or in contradiction to these three elements.

A faithful interpretation is also based on exegesis, the examination of a particular text of Scripture in order to properly interpret it, while an unfaithful interpretation is often based on eisegesis, the process of interpreting in such a way that the process introduces one’s own presuppositions, agendas, or biases into and onto the text.

Noah Found Race in the Eyes of the Lord?

To support the conclusion the Bible opposed interracial marriages, interpreters had to engage in an embarrassing amount of eisegesis. For instance, since the Bible has no concept of race, white supremacists had to shoehorn the idea of race into the text.

A primary example of this sort of textual eisegeis—one still used by modern-day racists—is the claim that the three sons of Noah (Shem, Ham, and Japheth) were the forefathers of three main “races” of mankind. After the publication in 1775 of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach’s “The Natural Varieties of Mankind,” these three races became identified as the Caucasoid race, the Mongoloid race, and the Ethiopian race (later termed Negroid race). Blumenbach’s categorization gave a scientific veneer to a claim that, while culturally popular, was wholly foreign to the Bible. Yet many Christians latched on to this absurd and ungodly interpretation, because it fit with the dominant cultural narrative that the races were unequal and distinct, and must be kept from interbreeding.

White supremacists did not begin by reading the Bible and then decide to oppose interracial marriage. Instead, they first opposed to interracial marriage for cultural reasons and only then found within Scripture a justification for their view. The fact that it was an interpretation that previous generations of Christians had never discovered before (or found plausible since) did not dissuade them. They knew what they needed to find, and when they looked in the Bible—surprise, surprise—a culturally compatible interpretation miraculously appeared.

In other words, the white supremacists did back then what many homosexuality-affirming Christians are doing today: using a bizarre eisegetical interpretation of Scripture to force the Bible to conform to what culture says we must now believe.

On the issue of same-sex marriage, most conservative Christians are simply interpreting Scripture faithfully. It’s not that we’re allowing our prejudice against homosexuality to change how we interpret Scripture, but rather that we are merely refusing to follow the culture’s lead in twisting Scripture to claim support for what God’s Word clearly opposes.