Now that the Supreme Court has issued its sweeping ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, we can expect an avalanche of commentary, analysis, and punditry. I’m not a law professor, a politician, a talk show host, or a public intellectual (whatever that is). I’m a pastor. I study and teach the Bible for a living. Which means, among all the things I may not be an expert on, I may be able to say something meaningful from the Scriptures. So as we pour over legal opinions and internet commentary, let us not forget what the Bible says.
The Bible says the Lord alone is God and we should have no other gods before him (Ex. 20:2-3). Not the state, not the Supreme Court, not our families, not our friends, not our favorite authors, not our cultural cache. No gods but God.
The Bible says we should love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:39). And who is your neighbor deserving of such love? Wrong question, just worry about being the neighbor you’d want for yourself (Luke 10:25-37).
The Bible says love is not the same as unconditional affirmation (James 5:19-20). Love is patient and kind. It does not envy or boast. It does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor. 13:4-7).
The Bible says that disciples of Jesus will be hated as Jesus was hated (John 15:18-25; 2 Tim. 3:12). If the world loves us, it is not a sign of our brilliance, but that we belong to the world.
The Bible says that when reviled we should not revile in return (1 Peter 2:21-25). We should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44).
The Bible says Jesus came into the world to save sinners, especially the worst of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). That means people like me, like you, and like the Apostle Paul who at one time opposed everyone and everything he later came to love and defend.
The Bible says marriage is between a man and a woman (Gen. 1:27-28; 2:18-25; Mal. 2:15; Matt. 19:4-6; Mark 10:6-9) and that homosexual practice is sin (Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Rom. 1:18-32; 1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:10; Jude 7), but a sin from which we can be washed clean (1 Cor. 6:9-11).
Any Christian who really believes the Bible must believe all of the Bible. You can’t applaud what Jesus says about loving your neighbor from Leviticus 19, if Leviticus 18 and 20 are throwaway chapters. You can’t unpack the good news of Romans 8, if Romans 1 is overstuffed with cultural baggage. You can’t marvel at the goodness of God’s creation, if there is no good design in how he created things. Either the Bible is God’s Word or we are sufficiently godlike to determine which words stay and which words go.
The cultural breezes are blowing against us. The worldly winds are stiff in our faces. But the hard parts of the Bible are no less true for being less popular. The Bible says what it says, so let us be honest enough to say whether we think what the Bible says is right or wrong. Diarmaid MacCulloch, a decorated church historian and gay man who left the church over the issue of homosexuality, has stated the issue with refreshing candor:
This is an issue of biblical authority. Despite much well-intentioned theological fancy footwork to the contrary, it is difficult to see the Bible as expressing anything else but disapproval of homosexual activity, let alone having any conception of homosexual identity. The only alternatives are either to cleave to patterns of life and assumptions set out in the Bible, or say that in this, as in much else, the Bible is simply wrong. (The Reformation: A History, 705).
Yes, those are the only alternatives. I know books are right now being written by the dozens trying to make the case that the Bible is really keen on gay marriage, but it can’t be done. Not with exegetical and historical integrity.
Not with gospel integrity either.
A holy God sends his holy Son to die as an atoning sacrifice for unholy people so that by the power of the Holy Spirit they can live holy lives and enjoy God forever in the holy place that is the new heaven and new earth. Is this the story celebrated and sermonized in open and affirming churches? What about twenty years from now? And what if we flesh out the gospel story and include the tough bits about the exclusivity of Christ and the reality of hell? What if the story centers on Calvary, not as a generic example that love (defined in whatever we choose) wins, but as beautifully scandalous picture of a love so costly that God sent his Son into the world to be the wrath-bearing propitiation for our sins? What if the story summons us to faith and repentance? What if the story calls us to lay down everything–our ease, our desires, our family, our preferences, our sexuality, our stuff, our very selves–for the sake of the Storyteller? What if part of the story is believing that every jot and tittle in the Storybook is completely true?
I’d rather not talk about homosexuality again. But the world hasn’t stopped talking about it. And the Bible hasn’t stopped saying what it has always said. So let’s not be shrill and let’s not be silent. If you already know what the Bible says about homosexuality, don’t forget what the Bible says about all of life and godliness. We can be right about marriage and still wrong about everything else that matters. And if you like most everything else the Bible says, why would you on this matter of homosexuality decide the Bible suddenly can’t be trusted? If you won’t count the cost here, what else will you be willing to sell? The support for homosexual behavior almost always goes hand in hand with the diluting of robust, 100-proof orthodoxy, either as the cause or the effect. The spirits which cause one to go wobbly on biblical sexuality are the same spirits which befog the head and heart when it comes to the doctrine of creation, the historical accuracy of the Old Testament, the virgin birth, the miracles of Jesus, the resurrection, the second coming, the reality of hell, the plight of those who do not know Christ, the necessity of the new birth, the full inspiration and authority of the Bible, and the centrality of a bloody cross.
If Jesus is right and the Scriptures were spoken by God himself (Matt. 19:4-5) and utterly unbreakable (John 10:35), then the place to start when it comes to something as fundamental as marriage is also the place to end, and that’s by asking the question “But what does the Bible say?” As Christians living in the midst of controversy, we must keep three things open: our heads, our hearts, and our Bibles. Don’t settle for slogans and put-downs. Don’t look to bumper stickers and Facebook avatars for ethical direction. And don’t give up on the idea that God has a clear word and a good word on this issue. God has already spoken, and he specializes in gracious reminders, so long as we stay humble, honest, and hungry for the truth. After all, man does not live by bread alone (or sex alone), but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4).