Infographic: What Does the New Testament Say about Homosexuality?

What does the New Testament say about homosexuality

What does the New Testament say about homosexuality? The infographic below is based on an article by Westar Fellow William O. Walker Jr., Jennie Farris King Professor Emeritus of Religion at Trinity University. You can read the full article here.

It's important to realize we can't take the historical attitudes of the past and apply them uncritically to today. This is called anachronism: misplacing persons, objects, and customs of one era into another. No matter where we fall in the spectrum of attitudes surrounding gender and sexuality in Christian denominations today, we need to be cautious about grabbing from the past to prove our points.

That said, we can challenge common assumptions by pointing out that the past isn't as clear-cut as we sometimes would like it to be. Diversity existed in the past, too. There were all kinds of Christians. Even the writers of books that appear in the New Testament didn't all share the same theology. Sometimes they even edited each other's work to suit their own communities' needs and beliefs! The Apostle Paul regularly complained about missionaries with alternate messages for his communities. An early Christian handbook known as the Didache provided instructions for at least one Christian community to test the validity of itinerant preachers.

To quote Anne Lamott in Traveling Mercies, "If the God you believe in hates all the same people you do, then you know you've created God in your own image." History, especially the history of religion, is more complex and more diverse than we usually imagine, and it doesn't easily fit into modern categories.

16 replies
  1. Dan says:

    Respectfully, your Biblical points are common myths propogated without an adequate knowledge of the Bible.
    There is a continuity between the Old and New Testaments.

    1.) Jesus lived under the Mosaic Law (the Law of Moses). It is the exact same law of the Old Testament documented in Levitcus and Deuteronomy. Jesus is noted multiple times teaching it to his disciples. Look at Luke 24:14 where it uses the phrase “The Law and the Prophets.”

    2.) Jesus had to obey the Law of Moses in order to fulfull it (Matt 5:17-18). As noted in the verses mentioned, he did not destroy the law, but fulfilled it, that means we are able to be forgiven of sin through him.

    3.) His disciples, being Jews, also were under this law. If this were not so, why did they obey the observance of the Passover with Jesus (Matt. 26)?

    4.) Paul, also an apostle of Christ, who wrote most of the new testament, and was previously a Pharisee (Acts 23:6, Phil 3:5),
    who are experts in the law of Moses. His condemnation of homosexuality in 1 Cor 6:9 and 1 Tim 1:10 are consistent with the
    Law of Moses.

    5.) Based on the aforementioned points: Jesus did not have to preach to the Jews about the error of homosexuality, it was a given.

    6.) Those who say that Jesus did not speak out against homosexuality explicitly ignore that he spoke in general about all sexual sins.

    a.) “hasty generalization” which assumes a conclusion based off of a small sampling of data. Just because Jesus did not speak directly to “homosexuality” in name, it does not follow that he did not speak to it in general terms.

    b.) He does speak against sexual immorality (Greek, porneia, from which we get our word pornography), and one would be hard pressed to find anyone in the Jewish culture, who followed the Levitical Law (aka. The Law of Moses under the Levite Priesthood) who would not include homosexuality in the phrase.

    • Cassandra says:

      Dan, thanks also for your comments. I would be inclined to agree with you specifically on the point that Jesus lived surrounded by typical Jewish attitudes toward sexuality. True, we would want to know what those typical attitudes were, and reflect on how they might have influenced him. I’m less inclined, however, to draw such a clear and continuous line from Leviticus to Jesus. This is taking us back to the anachronism problem. Neither the Hebrew Bible nor the New Testament existed as we know them in the time of Jesus or immediately after. We are encouraged to see a continuous line from Leviticus to Jesus and on to Paul specifically because we have a specific collection of texts in front of us that have been organized by earlier generations of the church in this way. We really spent a lot of time discussing this issue at Westar’s Fall 2013 national meeting last October because it can be hard to wrap our minds around a world without a finalized Bible. Here’s the session recap from that meeting for anyone interested in exploring this topic further.

    • John Casper says:

      Dan, since you’re so interested in continuity between the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, let me introduce you to Matthew 5:38

      “You have heard that it was said, y‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, zDo not resist the one who is evil. But aif anyone bslaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And zif anyone would sue you and take your tunic,8 let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone cforces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 dGive to the one who begs from you, and edo not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

    • John Casper says:

      Dan,

      1. On this “continuation” of the Hebrew scriptures into the New Testament, where’s the part about abolishing slavery?

      2. Where’s anything in the Hebrew scriptures about the salvation of the Gentiles? Is there a running argument in the NT between those who thought Jesus of Nazareth came only for the Jews, and those like Paul, who you quote, who took his salvation to the Gentiles?

      3. You wrote: 4.) Paul, also an apostle of Christ, who wrote most of the new testament, and was previously a Pharisee (Acts 23:6, Phil 3:5),
      who are experts in the law of Moses. His condemnation of homosexuality in 1 Cor 6:9 and 1 Tim 1:10 are consistent with the
      Law of Moses.

      I thought the author of Luke wrote Acts? Is it your position that Paul wrote Luke’s Gospel?

      4. Who are the scholars who support Paul’s authorship of Acts?

      5. You wrote: “5.) Based on the aforementioned points: Jesus did not have to preach to the Jews about the error of homosexuality, it was a given.

      So what you wrote above about Cor 6:9 and 1 Tim1:10 are wrong?

      6. You wrote: “6.) Those who say that Jesus did not speak out against homosexuality explicitly ignore that he spoke in general about all sexual sins.”

      Do you mean like Luke 7:36-50?

      Or John 8: 1-11?

      Do you understand you’re talking about a guy who was well-known for fraternizing with sinners and that included sex workers? Have you ever read the canonical gospels?

      Did some LGBT group send you here as a subterfuge to make the anti-LGBT groups look bad?

  2. Jasmine Yow says:

    Thanks for your article. FamilyVoice published a paper on the subject, “Does the Bible really say homosexuality is OK?” by Dr Barry Chant in November 2013.

    The analysis presented challenges the assertions above.

    Nearly 500 years ago, in his pioneer 1526 translation, William Tyndale translated arsenokoites as “abusers of themselves with mankind”. The word “abuse” was used in 1538 to refer to “improper use or perversion”.

    Liddell adn Scott’s 1872 lexicon defines arsenokoites as applying to one who practises “unnatural offences”, a 19th century term for same-sex interaction.

    The evidence is compelling that the Bible’s reference in 1 Cor 6:9-10 is to homosexual sin.

    • Cassandra says:

      Jasmine, thanks for sharing your thoughts about this. William Tyndale would have been confronted by the same essential difficulty we’re trying to pinpoint here: we can’t just translate words and concepts straight across from one language to another, and from ancient culture into modern culture. What did the term mean in the first-century Roman Empire, compared to what it might mean today? Sexuality, including masculinity and femininity, is signaled and defined in different ways across cultural lines. This week alone several articles have been floating about the topic of gender in the Muslim community (see Hind Makki’s round-up article about this). Jewish ideas of sexuality, and the various ideas of other ethnic and religious groups in the ancient Roman Empire, are not going to fit perfectly with ours, so how do you translate it in a meaningful way without just arbitrarily assigning modern connotations? The short answer is, you can’t–but at least you should commit to a good-faith effort to communicate about any known differences.

  3. Matt says:

    Although visually appealing the infograph is weak in NT exposition. It did motivate me to a quick keyword search of the NT in regards to sexual sin, rather than “make assumptions” – here’s what I found in the ESV, the mention of the following words and the number of instances… 1. Sexual immorality (31) 2. Adultery (20) 3. Homosexuality (2) 3. Fornication (0) 4. Pornography (0) 5. Pedophile or Pedophilia (0) 6. Incest (0) 7. Necromancy (0) 8. Bestiality (0).

    Most of the above sexual sins would be acceptable if our only qualification is love commitment and monogamy like this infograph asserts.

    The NT does not have to reestablish what sin is, isn’t that what the OT does for us? Besides, I know how wicked the desires of my heart are, any attempt to describe my goodness before God is just further evidence of the blind reality that sin creates. The NT reveals God’s love solution for my separation from God, due to the sin of breaking his law. Everyday I am in a battle to live for the desires of my flesh or to live for the spirit, in a life submitted to Jesus. Everyday like most people I face decisions regarding my sexual purity. Everyday I need Jesus. What I don’t need is people to help me excuse my sin problem – I need a solution. I am so thankful for Jesus who took my sin, the shame and the punishment, so that I could know and experience the love of God. I find when I revel in the glory of the gospel message, God changes my heart to crave him and his presence rather than pursue my sin.

    From what I read in the NT, Jesus was very graceful, loving & truthful with ‘sinners’. Where I see him get pissed, is with Pharisees, it was to the Pharisee that Jesus said, “These people honour me with their lips, but their heart is far from me”. To the Pharisee Jesus said, “You have a fine way of rejecting the command of God in order to establish your own tradition!”.

    This whole info graph is interesting, but in my mind it really doesn’t say anything new regarding homosexuality, but it does say a great deal about the pharisaical heart of a weak church – rewriting the message of Galatians is sick.
    Jesus perfectly balanced grace and truth. I pray that we would do the same.

    • Cassandra says:

      Matt, thanks for sharing your thoughts. A word search of a particular biblical translation for particular terms related to sexuality is not getting to the heart of the problem, which is what is often lost in translation (see response to Jasmine above).

      What we’re not saying here is, “You can’t be Christian,” or “Christianity is bankrupt.” That would be a gross oversimplification. Rather, the point is that we should give fair attention to both the diversity among early Christians (and ancient people generally), and the likely differences in how people in the ancient world defined sexuality compared to the modern one.

    • John Casper says:

      Matt, w/r/t “The NT does not have to reestablish what sin is, isn’t that what the OT does for us?”

      The synoptics (Mark, Matthew, Luke) refer to “sin” in the plural. The Fourth Gospel, John’s refers to sin only in the singular. Which of those goes back to the Hebrew scriptures?

  4. Ric Woods says:

    I agree with Dan and Yasmine, but I bet your church has more liars and cheating spouses than homosexuals. Where’s the outrage and contemt for that? It’s as if Christian leaders got together and looked for a group to sacrifice in order to give their followers someone to hate… someone to point to and say, “well at least I’m not one of those”.

    A group moved by God should not use their power and influence to bully a group of people who have already been exiled from traditional society. Instead, their time and resources should be used campaigning against the things that hurt us as humans (as a whole)

    • Cassandra says:

      Ric, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Yes, it seems like regardless of where we fall on this issue, we need to be charitable toward one another and take concrete steps toward better relationships and better living situations. Of course, most of that must take place outside debates about what a Bible does or does not say, but after all, this kind of topic isn’t meant to end conversations. Rather, the hope is to spark new thinking about what is possible.

  5. David says:

    This is a very flawed argument
    They seem to be playing hermeneutic semantics
    As well as denying the trustworthiness of scriptures

    Reason with me, please
    What actions punishable by death under Levitical law
    Has Christ made honorable in God’s eyes?

    Outside of the laws concerning the temple and tabernacle that we no longer have
    Noe the one’s involving sin sacrifice which is fulfilled in Christ’s perfect sacrifice

  6. Jerrell says:

    When Jesus was asked about divorce, He reached back across time and culture and quoted Genesis 2:24 from the creation account, which states that God’s design for man and woman is that a man and a woman marry in a lifelong union. Jesus’ use of this Scripture demonstrates that God’s design intent is timeless and, therefore, applies to us today. The premise that the Bible can’t tell us what is morally acceptable today is false.

    The issue is not difficulty in identifying what is sin based on God’s Word (adultery, fornication, homosexual acts, lying, stealing, etc.), but in each of us recognizing that this sin dwells in us, no matter which particular sinful expression is most tempting for us. Once we see our own sinfulness and need for forgiveness, we can hear and receive the good news that Christ has paid for our sins, and that He can empower us by the Holy Spirit to overcome them. The Good News is only good once we are honest about our own fallen condition before God and we ask for His salvation in Christ.

  7. Carl says:

    Whatever one thinks these Bible passages mean, it doesn’t excuse those who use the Bible for hate-mongering. The Bible is certainly no moral compass for people living in the 21st century. It sanctions slavery, capital punishment, genocide, war, animal slaughter, sexism, superstition, and nonsense. It supposes a god who is jealous, angry, vengeful, somewhat of an egomaniac, appeased by the site of blood sacrifice, animal and then human. Anyone who would use the Bible to make a decision about homosexuality is misguided to say the least. It is little wonder than humanity is so warlike and crime-ridden, for Judeo-Christianity is an underlying component of the human condition. The world would be better off without it.

  8. Dennis Dean Carpenter says:

    I get a kick out of Christians playing Jewish exegetes on biblical matters from the Tanakh. The Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh gives this explanation of Lev. 18:22: “Biblical and ancient Near Eastern culture was not familiar with homosexuality in the sense of a defined sexual orientation or lifestyle… It seems that H [the Holiness Codes of Leviticus] views all sexual acts that are not potentially procreative as aberrant.” (Bracketed explanation is mine.) In other words, the love of two people of the same sex, which is how modern people who aren’t obsessed with sex see these loving relationships, isn’t mentioned in the Bible, except perhaps in the love of Jonathan and David. And, that was considered good. The prurient out there should probably quit peeking into the bedrooms of others and worry about their own “non-procreative” sex! They are hopelessly out-of-step of reality.

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