This is part 2 of 4 from my sermon on Leviticus 18. For the introduction to the series where I talk about homosexuality and the Reformed Church in America go here. Part one talked about other kinds of sexual sin.
Sixth, God prohibits homosexual activity (22). We need to spend more time on this one. Sometimes evangelical Christians get criticized for spending so much time talking about homosexuality. “Why don’t you talk about divorce or greed or gossip? Why are you always harping on this sin like it is worse than all the others.” Well, I talk about those sins when they are in the text. But homosexuality is in this text. And besides, the reason we have to talk about this sin in particular is because there are lots of professing Christians, not to mention society as a whole, who are saying that homosexuality is good. Every generation in the church has its issues to deal with. This just happens to be one of ours. There is so much confusion about this issue and so many voices affirming what is wrong and destructive, that we have to spend some time here. I can’t recall ever preaching a whole sermon on homosexuality. It is not some hobby horse for me, but when it comes up in the Bible, we have to deal with it, and if necessary defend the teaching of Scripture.
So here’s the place where I can take this sermon in a number of different directions. I could talk about ministering to homosexuals. I could talk about loving homosexuals. I could get very serious and warn about the judgment that God promises to those with unrepentant sin, like homosexuality. I could appeal to anyone here in sexual sin to repent and come to Jesus Christ for freedom and forgiveness. All of those would be biblical directions to go. But what I want to do at this point in the message is simply demonstrate to you that this verse is still God’s word on same-sex relationships.
There are several reasons we know that God still forbids homosexual behavior.
1) Leviticus 18 appeals to nature. “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman…” The implication is that homosexuality is contrary to nature. It’s just not the order of things. Men are supposed to have sex with women, not with other men. That’s how God designed it from the beginning. He made male and female bodies to fit together, to reproduce together. His original design was for a man and a woman to become one flesh (Genesis 2:24).
Both Jesus and Paul reaffirm this creation design. Jesus didn’t have to mention homosexuality by name to disapprove of it. Second temple Judaism and the Rabbinic traditions are all absolutely unequivocal in their rejection of homosexuality. Jesus does absolutely nothing to overturn this. Instead he explicitly affirms the normativity of God’s creation design for marriage (Matt. 19:4-6) and goes out of his way to emphasize his submission to the Law and the Prophets (Matt. 5:17-20). God’s design from the beginning was for one man and one woman to enjoy sexual intimacy in the context of marriage.
All sin is offensive to God and renders us liable to judgment (James 2:10), but certain sins, like homosexuality or bestiality, are particularly detestable because they are contrary to nature and pervert the order of God’s creation. It sounds harsh to make that judgment, but the conclusion was self-evident to virtually every single Christian until about 50 years ago.
2) The witness of the rest of Scripture teaches us that homosexual behavior is sinful. Sodom and Gomorrah are used throughout the Bible as examples of particularly heinous rebellion. Their sin was not just being inhospitable, as some liberal Christians like to argue. Jude makes clear that Sodom and Gomorrah sinned by indulging “in sexual immorality” and pursuing “unnatural desire” (Jude 7). The crime at Gibeah in Judges 19 was not just the violence but the desire by men to have sex with men. Romans 1, in listing many sins (all of which need to be taken seriously), makes reference to “dishonorable passions”–women exchanging natural relations for those that are contrary to nature and men likewise committing shameless acts with men (Rom. 1:26-27).
3) Two passages in particular demonstrate the abiding significance of the prohibitions against homosexuality in Leviticus 18.
First look at 1 Corinthians 6:9. The ESV says, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality…will inherit the kingdom of God.” The word translated “men who practice homosexuality” is the Greek word arsenokoitai. That same word is used in one other passage in the New Testament. 1 Timothy 1:10 says the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for (among other types of sinners), the sexually immoral and “men who practice homosexuality.” Again, that phrase translates the Greek word arsenokoitai.
That word is only used these two times in the New Testament. In fact, no one used the word at all before Paul. It seems that Paul just made it up. So the question becomes: what does this made up word mean? One article I found online says, “What does arsenokoitai mean? Nobody knows for certain. Arsenokoitai is made up of two parts: arsen means man; koitai means beds. Although the word in English Bibles is interpreted as referring to homosexuals, we can be fairly certain that this is not the meaning that Paul wanted to convey. If he had, he would have used the word paiderasste. That was the standard Greek term at the time for sexual behavior between males. We can conclude that he probably meant something different than people who engaged in male-male adult sexual behavior” (religioustolerance.org). Then the article gives some possible meanings for arsenokoitai: abusive pedophiles, male prostitutes, pimps, maturbators, a boy sex slave, but not homosexuality.
This is the sort of argument you will hear all the time from those trying to defending homosexuality from the Bible. They’ll say, “Look, Paul was talking about pedophilia or sex slaves or man-boy love or something else. But he wasn’t talking about two consenting adults.” This line of reasoning sounds plausible, but it ignores the most obvious place Paul would have gone in order to create this word, the Old Testament. The most natural meaning for arsenokoitai comes from Leviticus 18 and 20. Paul made up the word by combining two words used together in Leviticus. You don’t have to know any Greek to see the connection.
Lev. 18:22 kai meta arsenos ou koimethese koiten gunaikos (“you shall not lie with a male as with a woman)
Lev. 20:13 kai hos an koimethe meta arsenos koiten gunaikois (and whoever shall lie with a male as with a woman…”
Remember, the word in question in 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1 is arsenokoitai. Some scholars pretend like we just have to guess as to what this new word means. But it seems clear that Paul, a former Pharisee who knew the Old Testament (including the Greek translation of the Old Testament) better than any other book, combined the two words arsen and koiten from Leviticus to make a new word, arsenokoitai. So Paul was not using a narrow word that refers to only some kinds of homosexuality. He was using a purposefully broad word that referred to any sexual relations between members of the same sex. That’s what Leviticus clearly forbade. And Paul restates the principle from Leviticus in these two places in the New Testament.
In fact, if you look at the context for 1 Corinthians 6, you’ll see that in the surrounding chapters Paul is talking about incest and marriage and sexual immorality. So it would make sense that he has the Holiness Code in his mind. Likewise in 1 Timothy 1, Paul’s list of vices is simply a commentary on the Ten Commandments, so it makes sense that Paul would reference what the rest of the Law says about sexual immorality. Given the Holiness Code in Leviticus, and the unequivocal stance against homosexuality in ancient Judaism, and the clear rejections by Paul and Jude, and the implicit rejection by Jesus–given all of that, I don’t how see any honest student of the Bible can conclude anything except that the Bible considers homoerotic behavior a sin.
Listen to what Luke Timothy Johnson, a well-respected scholar from Emory University and a pro-gay advocate, says about defending homosexuality from the Bible:
The task demands intellectual honesty. I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says, through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says. But what are we to do with what the text says? We must state our grounds for standing in tension with the clear commands of Scripture, and include in those grounds some basis in Scripture itself. To avoid this task is to put ourselves in the very position that others insist we already occupy-that of liberal despisers of the tradition and of the church’s sacred writings, people who have no care for the shared symbols that define us as Christian. If we see ourselves as liberal, then we must be liberal in the name of the gospel, and not, as so often has been the case, liberal despite the gospel.
I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us. By so doing, we explicitly reject as well the premises of the scriptural statements condemning homosexuality-namely, that it is a vice freely chosen, a symptom of human corruption, and disobedience to God’s created order (Commonweal, June 15, 2007).
Thank God for an honest liberal who, despite his flawed appeal to the authority of experience, can see what everyone should be able to see: the straightforward commands of Scripture prohibit homosexual activity.
Seventh, God prohibits bestiality (23). This will be the next taboo to fall in our culture. It is already considered chic in some artsy circles. The trajectory we are on as a culture, relative to sexuality, is not good. It will not be long before polygamy has no stigma. Not long before incest is tolerated. Not long before bestiality is considered avant garde. Not long before pedophilia goes mainstream. Western culture is one of the grandest, most impressive civilizations to have ever existed, but our inability to put sexual impulse in its proper place may prove to be our undoing.