Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Sin of Homosexuality and Its Destructiveness

Homosexuality is often in the news these days, partly because the homosexual community and the media want it to be, and it should receive more attention in the coming days as a result of recent events in California. I thought I'd repost the segment on homosexuality in my Apologetics Log series (on the NTRM Areopagus forum) from earlier this year.

It seems that support of homosexuality among professing Christians is of recent origin:

“it is only in recent times that some writers have argued that the quality of a relationship, be it homosexual or heterosexual, is what determines its moral value” (F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone, editors, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church [New York: Oxford University Press, 1997], p. 786)

Condemnations of homosexual behavior are found in a variety of Jewish and Christian sources for thousands of years prior to the modern arguments from professing Christians supporting homosexuality:

“Homosexuality was largely unknown in Judaism, but Christianity inherited unqualified condemnations of male homosexual practices in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13….Postbiblical Judaism stressed the homosexual element in the Sodomites’ attempted rape of Lot’s male guests (Gen. 19:4-5; cf. Judg. 19:22), and Hellenistic Jewish writers denounced homosexuality as frequently as any sin….The Greek word arsenokoitai in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10, denoting literally (males) ‘who lie [sleep] with males,’ was almost certainly formed under the influence of the Septuagint text of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. Although first attested in Paul, the term also occurs in Hellenistic Jewish texts (Sibyll. Or. 2.73, influenced by Pseudo-Phocylides’s Sentences). The church fathers universally condemned male homosexual behavior….They [the church fathers] clearly regarded it [homosexual behavior] as contrary to the created constitution and function of men and women, and not merely to the dispositions of particular individuals.” (David Wright, in Everett Ferguson, editor, Encyclopedia of Early Christianity [New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1999], pp. 542-543)

Aristides, for example, a Christian writing in the early second century, criticizes homosexuality along with adultery and incest (Apology, 9). He refers to “lying with males”, so it doesn’t seem that he was only criticizing sex outside of marriage. If he meant to criticize fornication without criticizing homosexuality, why specify that the sex is occurring with males? If the issue is the timing of the sex (before marriage), why refer to the gender of the sexual partner? The most natural way to read Aristides is to read him as criticizing homosexuality. Athenagoras, writing later in the second century, makes similar comments (A Plea for the Christians, 34). Many other patristic passages could be cited. Tertullian sums it up well with the comment:

“The Christian confines himself to the female sex.” (Apology, 46)


“I should suppose the coupling of two males to be a very shameful thing” (Against the Valentinians, 11)

Were all of these Christians misunderstanding what scripture, Jesus, and the apostles taught? While it’s true that some arguments raised against homosexuality have been bad, and some passages of scripture that are cited against homosexuality can be interpreted differently, the overall weight of the Biblical testimony supports the traditional understanding.

Is it possible to interpret some passages about Sodom and Gomorrah as referring to sins other than homosexuality, such as inhospitality and sex outside of marriage, without regard to whether the sex is homosexual? Yes. But some of the passages are read more naturally as condemnations of homosexuality, not just inhospitality or sex outside of marriage. Jude 7 condemns the people of Sodom and Gomorrah because they “went after strange flesh”. The angels they tried to rape had human bodies. Why, then, are they referred to as “strange flesh”? Probably because they had human bodies of the same sex as the people who wanted to rape them. The men of Sodom refer to the angels as “men” (Genesis 19:5). Moses refers to them as “men” as well (Genesis 19:10). Other passages that refer to angels taking on human form also describe them as if they had normal human bodies (Genesis 18:2, Daniel 8:15-17, Mark 16:5; compare Luke 24:4 and 24:23, Acts 10:3 and 10:30). There’s no reason to think that the angels who went to Sodom had non-human bodies. The best explanation for the reference to them having “strange flesh” is that male flesh is strange for males in the context of sexual relations.

Similarly, when advocates of homosexuality suggest that Romans 1:26-27 may only be criticizing heterosexuals who engage in homosexual behavior against their heterosexual nature, the traditional interpretation of Romans 1 is more natural. It doesn’t require us to read a qualifier into the text that neither the text nor the context suggests. Furthermore, as Douglas Moo explains:

“Paul’s use of the word ‘nature’ in this verse [Romans 1:26] probably owes much to Jewish authors, particularly Philo, who included sexual morality as part of ‘natural law’ and therefore as a divine mandate applicable to all people….Philo’s denunciation of homosexuality includes some of the same key terms that Paul uses here” (The Epistle to the Romans [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1996], pp. 114-115 and n. 119 on p. 115)

It seems that Paul had the traditional Jewish condemnation of homosexuality in mind. He wasn’t just condemning some homosexual behavior, such as homosexual behavior by heterosexual people. Rather, he was criticizing homosexual behavior in general, just as Judaism had traditionally condemned it.

The Bible discusses thousands of human lives in a wide variety of contexts covering thousands of years of history. Homosexuality is never portrayed positively, and there is no homosexual marriage.

Something can be unhealthy or unnatural, yet be morally acceptable. For example, organ transplants aren’t natural, but we don’t conclude that organ transplants therefore are sinful. However, the fact that homosexuality is so unhealthy and unnatural does offer further support for the Christian belief that homosexuality is immoral. The Christian philosopher William Craig writes:

“Hollywood and the media are relentlessly bent on putting a happy face on homosexuality, whereas in fact it is a dark, twisted, and dangerous lifestyle, just as addictive and destructive as alcoholism or smoking. The sobering statistics I’m about to share with you are all fully documented by Dr. Thomas Schmidt in his remarkable book Straight and Narrow? To begin with, there is an almost compulsive promiscuity associated with homosexual behavior. Seventy-five percent of homosexual men have more than 100 sexual partners during their lifetime. More than half of these partners are strangers. Only 8 percent of homosexual men and 7 percent of homosexual women ever have relationships lasting more than three years. Nobody knows the reason for this strange, obsessive promiscuity. It may be that homosexuals are trying to satisfy a deep psychological need by sexual encounters, and it just is not fulfilling. Male homosexuals average more than 20 partners a year. According to Dr. Schmidt, ‘…the number of homosexual men who experience anything like lifelong fidelity becomes, statistically speaking, almost meaningless. Promiscuity among homosexual men is not a mere stereotype, and it is not merely the majority experience – it is virtually the only experience….lifelong faithfulness is almost non-existent in the homosexual experience.’ Associated with this compulsive promiscuity is widespread drug use by homosexuals to heighten their sexual experiences….Studies show that 47 percent of male homosexuals have a history of alcohol abuse and 51 percent have a history of drug abuse. There is a direct correlation between the number of partners and the amount of drugs consumed. Moreover, according to Schmidt, ‘There is overwhelming evidence that certain mental disorders occur with much higher frequency among homosexuals.’ For example, 40 percent of homosexual men have a history of major depression. That compares with only 3 percent for men in general. Similarly 37 percent of female homosexuals have a history of depression. This leads in turn to heightened suicide rates. Homosexuals are three times as likely to contemplate suicide as the general population….our bodies, male and female, are designed for sexual intercourse in a way that two male bodies are not. As a result, homosexual activity, 80 percent of which is carried out by men, is very destructive, resulting eventually in such problems as prostate damage, ulcers and ruptures, and chronic incontinence and diarrhea. In addition to these physical problems, sexually transmitted diseases are rampant among the homosexual population. Seventy-five percent of homosexual men carry one or more sexually transmitted diseases, wholly apart from AIDS….leaving aside those who die from AIDS, the life expectancy for a homosexual male is about 45 years. That compares to a life expectancy of around 70 for men in general. If you include those who die of AIDS, which now infects 30 percent of homosexual men, the life expectancy drops to 39 years….It [homosexual behavior] is horribly self-destructive and injurious to another person.” (Hard Questions, Real Answers [Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2003], pp. 140-142)

Some of the modern advocates of homosexuality would have us believe:

- Even though homosexuality was considered acceptable by God and was never actually condemned by scripture, none of the hundreds of Biblical passages on love and marriage refer to homosexuality in a positive way.

- Although the homosexual interpretation of passages like Romans 1:26-27 and Jude 7 requires reading speculative assumptions into the text, and the traditional understanding of these passages is more natural, we should accept the homosexual reading.

- The Jewish and Christian mainstream, perhaps every Jew and Christian, misinterpreted the Biblical view of homosexuality for thousands of years. This includes such early sources as Aristides, who probably was a contemporary of the apostles.

- Though homosexuality is acceptable to God, it just happens to have the sort of negative physical and psychological effects we would expect to be associated with a sinful lifestyle.

Are these conclusions possible? Yes. Are they probable? No.