Scripture and Same-Sex Marriage


At the recent Australian Labor Party conference held in Sydney a change of party policy was introduced to allow Federal members a “conscience vote” if an amendment to the Marriage Act is brought before Parliament to change the definition of marriage to include same-sex relationships. To be honest, I think the change is inevitable. The wave of change is swelling towards the shore and no amount of standing ankle deep screaming at the ocean to “cease and desist” is going to avoid same-sex marriage being legalised in this country. It’s now a matter of when, not if.

I have to say, I’m not a “doomsday” Christian on this. I don’t think it’s going to cause society to crumble in a heap of moral decay. I don’t think it will tear at the very fabric of society, nor do I think that it will weaken the institution of marriage.

My concern, as a Christian, is how we are choosing to respond. Or should I say, the way that the “loudest” and “most promoted” voices of the Christian church are choosing to respond. I am particularly abhorred by the use and abuse of the Bible in order to support the various positions. Of course, this is not the first time Christians have done this, but for me it highlights the need to interpret the Bible with great care.

Douglas Moo, for me, summaries the church’s historic understanding of homosexuality, and subsequently same-sex marriage.
The Old Testament is clear about the nature of homosexuality: It is a sin. Nowhere does the New Testament disagree; in at least four texts… it endorses the Old Testament viewpoint.[1]
OK then. Moo’s position is clear here. But let’s apply this hermeneutical principal to other Old Testament “sins”. How about farming to the edge of one’s land (Lev 19:9)? The New Testament doesn’t disagree with this prohibition so we should we continue to label this farming practice a sin? How about wearing a garment made of two different materials (Lev 19:19)? Time for all Salvationists to check the labels on their uniforms, I think. Men, have you rounded off the hair on your temples or marred the edges of your beards (Lev 19:27)? How about those who have tattoos (Lev 19:28)? I know plenty of “so-called” Christians adorned with body art. Will we be as “black and white” on these points as Moo is on homosexuality?

Clearly I’m being a little facetious here, but the question remains valid. This is particularly true since the verses most often quoted by those who oppose homosexuality and same-sex marriage “bookend” the chapter that these examples were drawn from – Lev 18:22 and 20:13. My point is this (and I think it’s Paul’s point in Romans too, by the way), if you’re going to apply the Law then you need to apply the whole Law. Don’t just pick and choose the bits that serve your purpose and ignore others because they “no longer apply to today”.

To be upfront, here, I’m not necessarily an advocate of same-sex marriage at this point in time. I’m still wrestling with this, and choosing to do so openly on this blog as I see the benefit of doing this together. The point of this post, though, is to oppose narrow-minded readings of Scripture that seek to defend what is in fact a cultural formation, and not necessarily a Scriptural mandate – that is, marriage itself.

For example, consider this quote from Archbishop Peter Jensen
''This claim for a right to be married could open the way for other forms, such as polygamous marriages or perhaps even marriage between immediate family members,'' 
"In praise of marriage" ... the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, says same-sex marriage would have unwelcome consequences.Let’s ignore the fact that this statement is really just fear-mongering and not an argument based on any actual facts and deal with it in another fashion. Has Jensen actually heard of David, or Solomon, or Gideon, or Jacob, or Abijah? The list could continue for a very long time. All of these men had multiple wives. How do we explain the expansion of the human race following both creation and the flood, if not with marriages between family members? I’m wondering whether Jensen’s fear of polygamous and incestuous marriages is not because it will signal the downfall of society, but rather because they will have  more Biblical examples than his Westernised view of traditional marriage!

Again, I’m not necessarily advocating for same-sex marriage at this point. I’m still wrestling openly with it. What I am advocating for is for Christians of all kinds to interpret Scripture very carefully. Which leads to the question “How should we read Scripture?” In fact, we should really ask the question “How should we interpret Scripture?” since we never just “read” it, nor does the Bible just “say” it. We always interpret it… always.

My simplest answer to this question is found in Matthew 22:34-40. It seems to me that Jesus, here, has given us a hermeneutical key by which to open the Scriptures, something it is clear to me we desperately need in this situation. Like the two lenses of a pair of glasses the two love commandments (“Love God” and “Love your neighbour as yourself”) are the means by which we, as Christians, read and interpret the Scriptures. This doesn’t mean it’s easy, nor will there always be agreement (since we probably can’t agree on what we mean by love). What it does do, however, is to makes Moo’s methodology seem rather pale in comparison. To say “the Old Testament is clear, and the New Testament doesn’t deny it” results in inconsistent interpretations, as has been demonstrated above. A hermeneutic of twofold love opens the door for the Church to say, “actually maybe love looks different today”.

For example, should the Church ban interracial marriages as Ezra did. Moo’s approach (if he’s to be consistent) requires that many churches must stand at their doorways and replicate Ezra’s approach – “All these had married foreign women, and they sent them away with their children” (Ezra 10:44). A hermeneutic of twofold love enables, empowers and indeed expects us to say, “No – today love looks different to this”. Such exclusion is inconsistent with our understanding of Love for God and love for neighbour. As an aside, I’m predicting that we’ll need to consider Ezra a lot more once same-sex marriage is legalised. How will the Church respond when a legally married gay couple seeks to join the fellowship? What of their children? Will we include them or exclude them? Indeed, what response are we making now?

This is exactly why we need to recognise the need for careful, consistent and in particular loving interpretation of Scripture. I hope in this and other ongoing discussions that we can all take care in the way we interpret. 



[1] Douglas J. Moo, 2 Peter, Jude in The NIV Application Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 253.

Comments

  1. Good job Adam. Your thoughts make a lot of sense to me and I have always struggled with the lack of love shown by the church to anyone perceived to be "sinning". The teachings and example of Jesus seem to be in conflict with the responses of the church on many issues... but especially this one. I, like you, am still in the process of working through this, but feel it is inappropriate for the church (a minority group) to dictate law to society. We don't have a christian mandate in this country - but we act like we have the right to one. I don't know if I've expressed myself very well here. But I thank you for the discussion. I hear way too much of the other rhetoric and welcome your voice.

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  2. Adam, thanks once again for being a voice of reason in what seems to be a reactionary society (particularly in Christian circles). As someone who in the past has questioned their sexuality, I find it refreshing to see that there is at least someone out there who is willing to have an open and frank discussion on the subject without automatically dismissing those who are attracted to the same sex the worst of all sinners.

    In fact, I heard just recently some great advice: "We were taught as children to love the sinner but hate the sin. Better still, just love the sinner and hate the sin in your own life. If you are like me, hating the sin in your own life is a full-time job on its own".

    I, like you, am not necessarily advocating same-sex marriage as I am still wrestling with it myself. It does, however, raise the question (for me at least), 'Outside of the Christian Church, what is marriage anyway?'

    And once legalised (I too believe it will be a matter of when and not if) it will raise many questions in the church about inclusion and levels of involvement - and rightly so. I just pray that we won't be so biggoted as to reject these children of God even before we get to know them.

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  3. Hey Adam...so glad I read this!!!As one who has been through divorce and out the other side I struggle with what is a marriage really and how does a same-sex union or a common law union differ from marriage. I have seen marriage, as we know it, as a construct of our society and that over the years, decades and centuries what marriage is and how it comes into being has changed immensely.
    I have only today been pondering the idea of grace.Grace, to me, blurs the sharp edges that we like to have in our lives and with which we view/judge others. Grace makes the starkly black and white varying shades of grey. Grace is what is called for in this debate, especially from Christians who are called to live differently, to live according to the one they follow - Jesus.

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  4. Adam - Brilliant post!!!!! I don't think I have heard anyone who is still wrestling with the issue articulate the argument of love so beautifully and succinctly. This gives me hope that there can be proper discussion on this subject. I hope that any official discussion includes you in the delegates (I would also love to be there).

    I am one who is no longer wrestling with the issue - My position is the liberal position. It took a number of years of study and prayer to come to the position I now hold. I started off as an extreme conservative (one who in Uni engaged in active campaigns etc) and have ended up being quite liberal on this subject. I also like to study the Bible from different perspectives, gaining an understanding of what different cultures might have understood when they read what they read, and how language has changed over the years etc. This always gives me a wildly new understanding of scripture, and opens my mind to a far more massive God than I ever thought possible. I think this is what is needed.

    Yours in Christ,
    Graeme Randall

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  5. Thanks for the post Adam.
    I wonder which way you would vote if there was a conscience vote tomorrow? I wonder what your reasons would be?

    Peace

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  6. I don't think I can agree with same-sex unions. When we interpret scripture we need to do so with the whole of the text in mind. Sometimes you'll find it's not WHAT the Bible says but what the Bible DOESN'T say that can be most revealing. Take for example Genesis 2:24 - it outlines marriage very clearly as being between a man and a woman. It doesn't say a man and a man or a woman and a woman. People man say "why isn't this clearer?"- well how far should the writer of Genesis have gone? Not between animals and people? Not between people and objects? Of course I'm just being facetious now, but I hope you get my point.
    Marriage isn't something that human beings envisioned (it really doesn't make a whole lot of sense for people to have made it up- why not just live with someone you love forever?), marriage was instituted by God.
    I agree we can't just say (e.g. in Leviticus) that some laws apply and some don't- you need to look at why those rules were created, when they were created, by whom (or Whom) they were created. Is it a cultural law, a natural law, a law for the Jews, a law for all of us? But I think Paul reiterates what God's intentions were originally for us in marital/sexual relationships when he stated in Romans 1:26 and 27 that there was a difference between 'natural' acts and shameful 'unnatural' ones.
    Just my thoughts.
    I do believe in accepting all peoples into our church families though. If our sins counted against us at the door, I'd never be allowed in :)

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  7. Nice thoughts, on a very complex matter, I have been very concerned by the nature of the debate. I think that anonymous has raised an interesting question what is the nature and understanding of marriage outside the church. I always feel that there are two completely different arguments happening whenever this topic is discussed.

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  8. I am an imposter here and I hope you don't mind me posting a few thoughts here. You have written some interesting thoughts which (believe it or not) lead me to these thoughts below. Ponder on the fact that, even outside the church, pretty much all cultures have some kind of institution of Marriage, and it is always between man and woman. You can look anywhere in the world and it is the same. I feel that this is because the institutions that different cultures have come up with reflect the fact that our human nature has the 'role' of marriage imprinted on our souls from almost the beginning of time. Early in Genesis, it says that God created man in the image of Himself, and it then goes on to repeat this by saying "in the image of God He created him," followed by "male and female He created them". We always talk about our dignity as humans, basing it upon this passage, referring to the fact that God has granted mankind alone out of the whole of physical creation both a will and an intellect. It strikes me though, that one part that often gets missed is the comment at the end - "male and female He created them". This is significant, I believe, that in His image we were created as male or female. This suggests to me that our dignities are not exclusive from our genders, and that our genders are a Holy part of us. Furthermore, just as Christ is the Knowledge and Love that the Father has of Himself, and that the Holy Spirit is the Knowledge and Love that the Father and Son have for each other (pardon the brevity and crudity of all of that), so this can be seen to be roughly reflected in the fact that woman was made of part of the man, and that the love they share is open to the creation of a new life! Heavy stuff when you try to think it through, but what I am currently thinking all of this leads to is the fact that God Himself instituted Marriage through the fact that He has included it as part of our nature.

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  9. We either believe in and be liberated by the truths in the bible through Christ or not. 2 Tim 4:3-4
    When we start re-defining marriage we are eroding one of the moral pillars of society. Same sex marriage does not fit the definition of marriage. If people wish to be in a gay relationship that is their business. But according to my bible they are still living in sin. 1 Corinthians chapter 6 is a great chapter to read with the message that as such were some of you (homosexual among the sin mentioned), but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God... also in the chapter it tells us to flee sexual immorality because we were bought for a price. Some must feel that the price paid for our bodies must not have been good enough to continue living in a homosexual relationship and still claim to be a follower of Christ. We either believe in what Paul has declared to us, or reject it. There's no middle ground.

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  10. p.s. Gee, when Paul says to flee sexual immorality and that adulterers nor homosexuals or sodomites nor thieves etc will not inherit the kingdom of God, what does he really mean??? Lets see. Is it o.k. that adulteres can still be adulterers and still call themselves bible believing Christians and still remain in the sexual activity because that was the way they were born? What about a thief? ARE WE DISCRIMINATIONG AGAINST the thief because we say to him or she that what they are doing is wrong? What about a Peapophile? That is ntheir sexual preference... and yet it is wrong? It doesn't take much interpretation to work out what Paul means when he says that homosexuals will not inherit the kingdom of God and to flee sexual immorality. It couldn't be clearer. But hey, lets interpret it until we make it suit ourselves.

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  11. Thanks for this Adam - I found it interesting. I would also like to raise the point that the word"homosexuality" was not around in biblical times it is in fact a 20th Century term, so we really have to be carefull when discussing what the bible says about homosexuality. It does give clear guidlines on what is appropriate sexual behaviour, but it is also what has been acceptable behaviour over the preceeding milleniums. But an interesting topic...

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  12. I was going to avoid commenting on this post after my essays on the last one, but J. Goodwin's appalling use of 1 Corinthians 6 to justify his position sucked me in.

    I think Nicole and J. Goodwin have both missed the point of Adam's post, which is that you can't cherry pick Bible passages and use them to support your argument, especially when you haven't done any work to understand them in their context.

    Back to 1 Corinthians 6. If you read any good commentary (or perhaps a good Greek lexicon) it will tell you that translating the two Greek nouns μαλακοι (malakoi) and αρσενοκοιται (arsenokoitai) is difficult because we have very little other uses to go on.
    Malakoi, according to Thayer's lexicon (sorry I don't have access to BDAG at home) usually means 'effeminate male'.
    Arsenokoitai is even more difficult because it is an amalgamation of the Greek word for 'man' and 'bed'. Literally it is man bedder but we have little to go on with understanding what it actually means.

    But first a bit of context. We know that the early Christian church, and the church in Corinth specifically had large numbers of slave within its membership. Now when we think of slaves we understand it as Africans working in chains on Southern plantations. This isn't how slavery operated in the first century world. The one defining aspect of slavery that is relevant to the present discussion is that the owner of slaves had complete ownership of his slave, including his body. It was the owners decision as to whether the slave could marry or have children. The slave was the sexual property of the owner and slaves, both male and female, would be used sexually by the owner himself or other guest he was entertaining at his dinner parties.

    Back to 1 Corinthians. Paul is speaking to a group that would have included a large percentage of slaves (perhaps over 50%).
    The term malakoi (effeminate man) is usually used in 1st Century Greek to denote a male who's body is used for another male's sexual pleasure. It was used both for slaves and non-slaves, as has been mentioned pedastry was almost a rite-of-passage in Greco-Roman culture.
    As for Arsenokoitai we have little clue. Either Paul made the term up or was referring to a group known to the Corinthians. (A bit like referring to us Victorians as Mexicans, you know, from south of the border. Try finding that reference in a dictionary).

    Having dealt with the difficult of translation the key point of Paul's argument is that because of Grace that which we have been before we are no longer. "Some of you used to be this, but you have been washed" What does this mean when Paul is talking to a group of slaves who continue to be slaves? If a Corinthian Christian slave is being raped by their owner, Paul's lovely statement on the reality of grace does little to change the owner's behaviour.

    So you are left with two options. Firstly, that Paul is condemning the victims of rape. There is no place in the church for those who are raped and before God they are as culpable for 'their' sin as the perpetrator is. (Hard to explain why Christianity flourished amongst slaves in the first and second centuries).

    The only other option that I see is to say that the grace of Jesus is big enough to change someone's standing before God regardless of their ability to control the sinful behaviour of others. This sounds like a message of liberation to me. It also has nothing to do with two consenting adults choosing what to do in the privacy of their bedroom.

    If you want to take 'a Biblical approach' on marriage then we must heed Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 7:8. The unmarried should remain unmarried. So marriage should be denied to all and not just same sex couples. Sure proves the adage "the church is only ever one generation away from extinction."

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  13. Liam, On this, I think you have written a very good response. I fully agree with you. You've said it better than I could have in such a short post.

    As for the post by 'the impostor'... Your very first assumption is incorrect. It is only in modern (largely western) cultures that marriage is considered between man and woman only. ALL other cultures have have had a very inclusive/liberal understanding of marriage.

    Yours in Christ,
    Graeme Randall
    Former Officer in Australia East.

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  14. This has been a very interesting article Adam. It certainly has generated a great deal of discussion. I agree with your first point that same-sex marriage is inevitable. It is the way the world is heading. A great deal of discussion and debate has been over whether it's supported by a majority of the Australian population or not. I remember watching a program discussing this that said over 80% of people supported this. They then went on to state the question that was asked was about whether or not the legalisation of same-sex marriage was inevitable.

    Like most people I'm not necessarily a supporter of this. I am wrestling with my response as a Christian and my understanding of what Scripture has to say on the topic of marriage. This is something that I struggle with on a regular basis.

    One of the things that I learnt early on as a Christian was the saying that Anonymous raised in that we should love the sinner but hate the sin. In recent times my thinking has been to journey through life with people without judging them for what they do. Who am I to judge when there are things that I have done that I am not proud of. Sometimes I wonder if we were to say to someone that I love you, but I hate what you are doing, if they take it as we actually hate them.

    In terms of 'excluding' those in a same-sex marriage from the fellowship of the church would be just like saying to a hetrosexual person/couple or child of either that God isn't interested in you. When we do this we are treading on dangerous ground because my Bible says that God's love is for ALL people, not just for those who believe what I believe.

    Yes we do need careful interpretation of the Scriptures and we definitely need to be careful of taking Scripture out of context.

    Once again, thanks Adam for such a thought provoking article

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  15. Richard,

    You hit on a point that is really the absolute heart of the discussion. Yes, you are right. When people say 'love the sinner, hate the sin' in relation to homosexuality, homosexuals do take it as though you actually hate them.

    The point that needs to be debated is 'what is homosexuality?' To the homosexual, being homosexual is who they are. It is not a choice by any stretch of the imagination. To the homosexual, saying 'love the sinner, hate the sin' is like saying to a woman 'I love you as a person, but your femaleness is a sin and I cannot accept your femaleness'. We cannot use the argument about thieves or any other action. A person is not created as a thief. A thief can refrain from stealing and still be a whole person, not denying any part of who they are. To say all homosexuals need to live a celibate life means that homosexuals must deny part of who they are. To deny any part of the creation of God, is to deny the deity of the creator Himself.

    We really need to wrestle with the question of 'what is a homosexual?' before we can even begin to ask what the Bible says etc.

    Yours in Christ
    Graeme Randall
    Former Officer in Australia East.

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  16. I have just watched Adam's link to "The Gospel in Chairs" and it is here that I see that the essence of this debate is seen.
    If we see death as about satisfying the wrath of God then we will see people in terms only of their sinful actions that have to atoned for, which can be judged and condemned.
    If however we see Christ's death as restorative then we see God's love pursuing people to restore them to the relationship with Him that was intended. We, as his followers, then can see people as they are, accept them, love them, and seek by being Christ to them to be agents of that restorative love. God then can make those changes in them that he desires.

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  17. Adam......you certainly have given many food for thought........well written my friend.........and I don't propose to make any further comment..........except this!........the term "so-called" Christians adorned with body art may be a little judgemental.........I'm sure it wasn't your intension but this statement as written appears to question that tattood Christians are not actually Christians.......?

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  18. Hi Ross...
    Thanks for your feedback. That was an attempt at that point to be sarcastic, not judgemental. The point being (as you've highlighted) that no one would justifiably suggest that persons with tattoos cannot be Christians, but this is what is done (in some quarters) against those who are LBGT. Yet, the prohibitions are equivalently represented in Leviticus... so what are we to do with this hermeneutical inequality? That's why I've called for careful and consistent exegesis.
    I apologise if my sarcasm led you to believe that I doubted the salvation of people with Tattoos. I can assure you I don't. After all, God's into body are too (Is 49:16)
    Thanks for reading this and taking the time to respond.
    Adam

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  19. The bed is not defiled in marriage. Flee sexual immorality. A man lying with a man as a man with a woman is detestable before the Lord. All words in the NT from the Apostle Paul. Other words to give more thought too.Were these opinions or words under the inspiration of the Spirit of God ? The Bible was written by men. Men that God gave a message to (mankind) that was to be written that we may see and study.With some of the reasoning I have seen on this site it WOULD make one wonder what scripture can be relied upon. What do you choose? For God so loved the world... Is that true? or just opinion ? Many times too much is read into scripture. The NT has enough teaching to show that marriage is between a man and woman and that homosexual activity is sexual sin as well as adultery or sex outside of marriage.
    What people do behind closed doors is their business. We are not bedroom inspectors. People have choices. With choice comes responsibility and accountability to God our judge.God has not changed. He loves us all.Is God going to judge me in a negative way because I wear a shirt made of two different fabrics ? I am not Hebrew. I live under a New Covenant (NT)of grace.Levitical law was for OT Hebrews.As far as warnings concerning life and practice as human beings I see a link up from the OT to the NT.I still see warnings about sexual immorality among other sins listed in the NT. Nothing in the NT about wearing a cotton and wool shirt (or whatever.)Nothing concerning human nature warnings has changed. If so, God changed. Then He would be a God that we could not trust and a God of confusion. But, I believe that is not so. We can trust Him and what has been written.

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