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Jesus and “Homosexuality”

This post is free and available to everyone.  Most posts on the blog are for members only.  But the good news is that it’s extremely easy and inexpensive to join.  It costs less than 50 cents a week, for five posts of this substance.  You get TONS for your money.  And all proceeds to to charity.  So why not?

Most Christians today who continue to condemn homosexuality, whether in publicly opposing the LGBTQ community or privately assigning people of various sexual identities or non-heterosexual actions to eternal damnation, or at least to God’s bad side, do so on the basis of the New Testament.  Yes, they know about the book of Leviticus and it’s condemnation of men having sex with men; but most of the time that is a kind of back-up argument. Since they realize and openly admit that so much else in the book of Leviticus is no longer applicable to Christians (for example, kosher food laws), they realize that the case against same-sex relations, let alone sexual orientation, cannot be water-tight with just Mosaic legislation behind it.

No, they need Jesus or the writers of the New Testament to utter their condemnations: then there can no longer be any question about the matter.   And so they forcefully point out that this is one aspect of the Jewish law that continues to be embraced in the Christian dispensation from its very beginning.   Opposition to “homosexuality.”  It’s in the New Testament, right?   Well, that is certainly worth talking about.

I start with Jesus.  And here the conversation is quite easy.  In our surviving records Jesus says nothing about same-sex acts or sexual orientation.  Nothing.  Nada.

You can’t say that, well, he would have condemned it if someone had asked him.  Once you start using that logic, look out.  On those grounds, you too are almost certainly going to be denied entrance to the Kingdom.  Jesus would have condemned most of what we think of as culturally and morally neutral or even superior.  For one thing – I’ll be accused of blasphemy for this one, but it’s absolutely true – he would have forcefully condemned capitalism.  Oh boy would he have condemned it.  And in this case we actually have reasons for thinking/knowing so – unlike “homosexuality” for which he provides no verbal clues.

Jesus is quite explicit about who gets to enter into the glorious kingdom of God and who is doomed to the fires of annihilation.  There is not a lot to debate about this point among those who actually read what he teaches.  But for some reason, what he explicitly and emphatically says runs at odds with what his most outspoken and renowned spokespeople in modern America today say.

Think about the moral and cultural issues that are hammered home time and again among conservative Christians: extreme opposition to abortion and gay rights, opposition to governmental support of programs helping the poor, stress on individualism and therefore on the importance of second-amendment rights to the divinely sanctioned acquisition of personal wealth.   Let me stress, I am NOT saying I’m either against or for any of these things.  We all have our preferences, and reasons for holding them.  What I’m saying it that the Christian right appeals to Jesus for these things.

And Jesus says not a *word* about any of them.   NOTHING about abortion for example.  It’s not good enough to say that Jesus opposed murder; that abortion is murder; therefore that Jesus opposed abortion.  That’s the common line.  And it’s nonsense.  Jesus never says that abortion is murder, and the vast majority of people in the ancient world (or in the world throughout history) did *not* consider it murder.   So Jesus’ opposition to murder has no bearing on the question of abortion.   Again, I’m not taking a stand on abortion (or on why people try to try to make it a simple issue instead of recognizing the massive and often heart-wrenching complexities) for the purposes of this argument here.  I’m simply saying that it’s neither correct nor helpful to appeal to Jesus for support on the issue.  He is silent about it.

It is amazing how conservative Christians can appeal to Jesus for views they themselves so heartily endorse.   You may not know what the best-selling book on Jesus all time was.   Was it a book by Albert Schweitzer?  By one of the popes?  By one of the famous late-twentieth-century biblical scholars?  No, it was by Bill O’Reilly.   Killing Jesus was the #1 book on the New York Time list in its very first week, and it remained on the list for a whopping 52 weeks.  Nothing like this had ever happened with a Jesus book.  (It completely overwhelmed in sales Reza Aslan’s Zealot released earlier that year.)

It’s an awful book, with no serious research or scholarship behind it, or evidence even of trying to do any.  But my point here is about one of its central themes.  O’Reilly (and his fellow author Martin Dugard; not hard to say who did most of the “work”) maintained that Jesus’ mission was largely directed against the Roman occupiers of the Promised Land.   The Jews hated the occupation, and Jesus was completely opposed to it.  The Empire had no business asserting its administrative, military, and cultural power over Judea and Galilee; and they certainly had no right to demand annual tribute to flow into the imperial coffers.

This was at the core of Jesus’ message.  He wanted smaller government and lower taxes.

Sigh…

So back to Jesus himself.   Jesus does talk about government and taxes. (By the way: he says to pay them).  But they are not his central message.  His central message is not about the current kingdom but the coming one.   God is soon to intervene in this evil age to destroy the forces of evil and everyone who sides with them.  He will then set up a new world, a new realm of peace, justice, and love; there will be enough for everyone; it will be all happiness, no hate; all joy, no pain.  It will be a utopian world for all God’s people.  Those not among God’s people will be left outside the kingdom in the darkness, and when they realize the very big error of their ways, they will be annihilated for all time.

OK, that’s an important message.   And the key is obviously to be among the chosen few, the people of God.  Who is in this elite corps?

Jesus is crystal clear on this point.  He addresses the matter directly and he states his message explicitly.  Just read Matthew 25:31-46.   Inheriting the Kingdom has NOTHING to do with small government or taxes,  NOTHING to do with views about or abortion or having an abortion or supporting abortion; NOTHING to do with same-sex relations or sexual orientation.  NOTHING.

Those who enter the kingdom will be those who help people in need – EVEN (especially) people one doesn’t even actually know.  It comes to those who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, and help the foreigner.  The foreigner!   That’s how to enter the kingdom.  And who is sent for destruction to the eternal flames?  Those who refuse to do these things.  Who don’t care about the hungry, naked, sick, imprisoned, and foreigner.  The issue for him is active love for others.  Not just for a spouse, children, and best friends.  But also and especially for those you don’t know but have heard about.

These were Jesus’ deep and abiding concerns.  They are attested not just in this passage, but time and time and time again in the Gospels.   And so why is it that the strongest Christian voices in our world (I mean our 21st century American world), the people who proudly boast to be Jesus’ true followers, why is it that these are not *their* deepest concerns?  Why are they more interested in talking about individualism, smaller government, lower taxes, second-amendment rights, and, especially, fervent opposition to abortion and “homosexuality”?

I guess I know the answer to that, but I find it highly aggravating.  I myself am not a Christian.  But I can read.   Every Christian I know can also read.  But they either don’t read or they don’t believe what they read.  That’s upsetting.

But to return to my initial point.  What does Jesus say about people who engage in same-sex relations?  Or about people who identify with as something other than heterosexual, who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, queer, pansexual or any other “orientation”?  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.

And so opponents of same-sex relations appeal to other passages of the New Testament.  But in all twenty-seven books, there are only a couple that are relevant.  And they do not actually say or mean what people normally assume they do.  I’ll deal with that in the next couple of posts in the thread.

 


Is the Bible Inspired by God? Guest Post by Evangelical Apologist Mike Licona
The Gospel of Thomas and the Other Gospels

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    James Chalmers  November 15, 2019

    “Jesus never says that abortion is murder, and the vast majority of people in the ancient world (or in the world throughout history) considered it murder.”

    Did you mean “did not consider”?

  2. Avatar
    crucker  November 15, 2019

    I do often hear many of these individuals citing Matthew 19:3-12 or Mark 10:2-12 in claiming that Jesus “defined marriage” as being between one man and one woman in these passages. That’s always sounded a bit ridiculous to me, even in my conservative evangelical days, but I’m wondering if it’s worthwhile for you to address it as well given how common this argument is.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 17, 2019

      Yeah, he’s not actually defining marriage. He’s answering a specific question.

    • Avatar
      RorscHaK  November 18, 2019

      It’s a little bit more awkward that conservative Christians today are more comfortable with serial divorcees than homosexuals, given what Jesus was talking about in that passage…

  3. Avatar
    RICHWEN90  November 15, 2019

    You did it again– I had to generate a PDF so I could keep your comments handy as a reminder of what Christianity was meant to be, as opposed to what it became. When you look at Christianity today, there sure isn’t much evidence of any sort of “Holy Spirit” at work to preserve and protect the “WORD”. More like entropy. More like degradation and decay. All natural processes.

  4. Barfo
    Barfo  November 15, 2019

    In Matthew 5:17, Jesus says that He did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets. In other words, Jesus’ purpose was not to abrogate the Word, dissolve it, or render it invalid. The Prophets will be fulfilled; the Law will continue to accomplish the purpose for which it was given (see Isaiah 55:10–11).

    ^^^^^ This is the first thing that came to mind with me. Is this relevant? Jesus said he has come to “fulfill” the law. Which has many interpretations.

  5. Avatar
    mjordan20149  November 15, 2019

    My impression is that the synoptic gospels, especially Matthew, seem to be more interested in salvation by charitable practices than in salvation by faith. Sadly, maybe thanks to Paul, the Christian church has a terrible track record when it comes to these moral teachings of Jesus. Today, it seems like fewer and fewer Christians actually read and follow Jesus’ teachings. I suppose that we can only read these passages and do our best to follow them as individuals, regardless of what we “believe.”

  6. Avatar
    Cathach  November 15, 2019

    “Jesus never says that abortion is murder, and the vast majority of people in the ancient world (or in the world throughout history) considered it murder.” This reads a little ambiguously. If the vast majority of the ancients considered it murder, then wouldn’t we be justified in assuming (lacking any pronouncements on the subject from him) that he shared that dominant cultural view? That seems to go against the thrust of your argument.

    Or did you mean that the vast majority of the ancients didn’t consider it murder?

  7. Avatar
    godspell  November 15, 2019

    First of all, is this what you meant to write?

    “Jesus never says that abortion is murder, and the vast majority of people in the ancient world (or in the world throughout history) considered it murder. So Jesus’ opposition to murder has no bearing on the question of abortion. ”

    It doesn’t seem to logically follow, and I have edited blog articles of my own well after I posted them, because I realized I had accidentally said the opposite of what I meant to say. I don’t believe most ancient people did consider abortion murder. Augustine didn’t, and he’s the most influential Christian writer outside the New Testament. He believed it couldn’t be murder, because that would mean unborn children were fully human and ensouled, which would mean God had created a state of affairs where a child who had never had the chance to be baptized would be damned to perdition through miscarriage (since Augustine believed baptism was necessary for salvation).

    The general feeling seems to have been that it was only when the fetus had begun to ‘quicken’ that there was a life there worth respecting, and even then probably not considered equal in value to a child breathing air, and even then (of course) there were cultures like the Spartans and Vikings (and many less famous) which practiced infanticide in the case of children who were seen as unfit somehow.

    Secondly, polling data suggests most Christians don’t consider abortion murder, even if they find it personally distasteful, as I would think most people do, religious or not.

    Jesus was, as you say, more concerned with what people did in a positive sense than he was in this or that arguably sinful behavior, which makes it hard to know what he did or did not consider sinful. As he saw it, you could always shrug off sin, and live a better life, as he told the Woman Taken In Adultery to do (and no indication she ever became a follower of his–she just had to stop committing adultery and be kind to others to enter the Kingdom–did she? Not the point of the story.) Every day you wake up is a new chance to live your life as you should always have lived it, and that option remains open right up to the moment of your death. Many Christians have understood this (Dickens wrote a rather famous Christmas story about it).

    • Bart
      Bart  November 15, 2019

      Sorry: typo! I’ll correct it!

      • Avatar
        godspell  November 15, 2019

        A typo is when you hit the wrong key. “Considered” is ten wrong keys. You meant to type “didn’t consider it” (or something like that.) You knew what you wanted to say and you said something else. And if I had a denarius for every time I’ve done that–what were those worth again? Oh well, I’d have to fork them all over to those damn Romans, anyway. Where’s Bill O’Reilly when you need him? 😉

        • Bart
          Bart  November 17, 2019

          A typo is when you type something incorrectly. One form of typo is when you hit the wrong kiy.

          • Avatar
            AstaKask  November 23, 2019

            My favorite example of a typo is from a Bible, where Exodus 20:14 was changed to “Thou shalt commit adultery.” This is known as “the wicked Bible”, and the poor printer was fined the equivalent of £50,000 (about $65,000) for corrupting God’s word. I suppose he was lucky he wasn’t killed.

    • Avatar
      Pegill7  November 15, 2019

      You make a lot of good points. Thanks.

  8. Avatar
    mwbaugh  November 15, 2019

    I’ve heard that there are conservative think tanks and religious institutions like Focus on the Family who regularly buy huge bulk orders of books by authors who promote their ideas. They artificially inflate sales to get books they want to promote onto the bestsellers lists. The bestseller lists will often include a dagger symbol to indicate suspicious bulk orders that suggest this is being done. As I understand it, this is done both to promote sales and because being on the bestsellers lists gives an author more exposure to talk about their ideas. FOX News personalities and televangelists often have the dagger added to their listings, and so does TRIGGERED by Donald Trump Jr.

    i suspect this is true for KILLING JESUS also, though I haven’t checked it out. I’m sure that many have read and believe its ideas, but not nearly as many as its listing suggests.

  9. Avatar
    Maglaw  November 15, 2019

    I do not believe that Jesus would have “forcefully condemned capitalism” for the simple reason that a person who is able to gain from their own efforts (that would be most people) is in the best position to be charitable to others by their own efforts. In other words, feeling self-righteous because one votes for a policy – or a politician who supports a policy – of taxing people who make a living and then redistributing that wealth according to their own lights is not being “charitable.” If anything, it’s the lazy way of claiming virtue. I say everything Jesus taught can be reduced to two points: Love God, and Love each other. This is about people with souls, not governments who hope to curry favor with the next round of voters.

    • Avatar
      sjhicks21  November 18, 2019

      I think your view that Jesus would have supported capitalism is a modern interpretation of the benefits of capitalism. I think that basically he viewed people who had gained wealth or were born into wealth as unlikely to b charitable. There was always the suspicion that they gained their wealth by taking unfair advantage of others. Additionally their basic experience with the wealthy was that the wealthy used their wealth to enjoy lavish lifestyles or make it more difficult for the poor to earn a reasonable livelihood, since doing so would make the poor more likely and able to challenge the power ant authority of the wealthy. I also don’t think that Jesus distinguished like we do today between the public and private sectors. When he talked about taxes he talked about Ceasar not the Roman Government. There are many political theorists today that argue that before modern democracies/republics it was the dictator that tended to side with the lower classes as a way of protecting himself from the machinations of the wealthy and powerful individuals surrounding him. Governments are no less soulless than some individuals who only care about power, control and wealth. At least republican governments need the support of a significant portion of the population, which keeps them from being as completely rapacious as dictators and oligarchs. Jesus of course was not concerned about any of this since he accepted that governments of any kind and wealthy power hungry individuals as all part of the environment that would go away once the kingdom of God had arrived.

  10. Avatar
    mannix  November 15, 2019

    Has anyone ever raised the issue of Jesus’ own sexual orientation? A 30 year old man presumably never married, associating with other men… and the disciple “…that Jesus loved..” OTOH the relationship to Mary Magdalene and its not-so-subtly implied sexual component would refute that. Or possibly a bisexual one? Maybe he was “self-partnered” ala Emma Watson. In any event. sexual orientation and abortion do not seem to be prime issues for Jesus. Maybe he left those for the Holy Spirit.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 17, 2019

      Oh yes, many times. See, for exmample, Dale Martin, Sex and the Single Savior.

      • Avatar
        Kirktrumb59  November 20, 2019

        And, Leo Steinberg, “The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion”

  11. Avatar
    AstaKask  November 15, 2019

    On the other hand, according to Matthew he says that not one iot or tittle of the law shall pass away untill all shall be fulfilled. And that law includes a ban on homosexuality.
    He also says to keep the commandments – is he meaning the Decalogue or all the commandments?
    How many Christians have sold all their stuff and given the money to the poor?

  12. fefferdan
    fefferdan  November 15, 2019

    OK, this is NOT about a typo!
    Bart…. I agree that Jesus said nothing about the subjects you mention. But would you admit that it’s sensible to assume that he was operating within the lines of normative Judaism on these points? Were there any rabbis at all that supported gay marriage? No, not that we know of. And in all three synoptic gospels, Jesus took an even stricter stance on sexual ethics than normative Judaism did. In Matthew he even condemns looking with desire on a woman. I think we can safely presume he didn’t think it was OK for a man to look with desire on another man. I happen to disagree with what Jesus taught on these points, but I can’t trick myself into thinking he was a post-Freudian liberal when it came to sexual ethics 😉 Seems to me those who argue that his silence is evidence of his support for gay sex or gay marriage are making the same mistake Bill O’Reilly does when he argues that Jesus was for smaller government and lower takes. Would you agree?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 17, 2019

      When people say the Bible condemns this that or the other thing, they are referring to the words int he Bible, not to what the authors or the people they talk about would have said if asked. My point is that you cannot use the Bible to condemn homosexuality, since it doesn’t address it? Would Jesus himself, the historical man, approve of same-sex relations? Almost certainly not. But you can’t use the Bible to prove it. He would also condemn with equal force capitalism, governmental policies on immigration, clothing manufacturers who make sweaters from two different fabrics, and anyone who has to work on Saturday….. And, as it turns out, those *are* things that the Bible speaks directly about! We can’t cherry-pick our issues that “jesus condemns” especailly they are ones that are never mentioned in our sources.

      • Barfo
        Barfo  November 17, 2019

        I agree with Jesus the historical man would not condone homosexuality as is still the opinion maintained by Orthodox Judaism. I also believe he would not have condoned the concept of abortion, but that’s just a speculation on my part. Note: I hope this reply does not hang up in “waiting for moderation approval” for too long.

        • Bart
          Bart  November 18, 2019

          Why would it wait for moderation too long? I post comments virtually every day (from the previous day), unless they are inappropriate. If you have had one that wasn’t posted, it was probalby an accident. But I don’t see any!

          • Barfo
            Barfo  November 19, 2019

            My comments get posted but they await moderation approval for at least 2 days before becoming visible. I was the first one to comment on this topic on November 15th but it did not appear until November 17th…..from what could see from my end. Perhaps I’ll try a different web browser and see if that shows something different.

          • Bart
            Bart  November 21, 2019

            I post all comments every one of the five days of the week I deal with the blog. You may be posting on my off days! (They are usually Thursday and Saturday)

  13. Avatar
    kazawolf  November 15, 2019

    True, he didn’t talk about those things. And Jesus said a number of other things that aren’t routinely observed, or even given lip service. For example, Luke 16:18 says if we remarry after divorce, we’ve committed adultery. Almost no one in the evangelical community believes this. Matthew 5:39 says we shouldn’t resist evil, but turn the other cheek. Can anyone even imagine a foreign policy based on this enigmatic saying? So we have two categories: things Jesus didn’t talk about, and things he did which we don’t put into practice in any meaningful way. When it comes to Bible ethics and commandments, the term “Cafeteria Catholic” really applies to all of us.

  14. Avatar
    doug  November 15, 2019

    Does Jesus suggest something about which sex should marry which sex in Mark 10:6-8 (NRSV): But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.’ “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.

    BTW, I favor full equality for all people, regardless of sexual orientation. Same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, regardless of what Jesus or the Bible may or may not say about it.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 17, 2019

      He’s answering a specific question, and doesn’t say anything even here about “homosexuality”; I’ll later be arguing that he would have had no concept of it.

  15. Avatar
    HoltG  November 15, 2019

    Thank you Dr. Ehrman! This post is so incredibly important on so many levels! You reveal the truth about those issues and what they would mean in the time of Yeshua and the world of the first century. I personally believe this post should be read and understood on a global scale! Thank you again for this!

  16. Avatar
    Kmbwhitmore  November 15, 2019

    You are quite right Jesus said nothing about homosexuality. Paul on the other hand was very definitely against it as in Romans 1:26-27 ,Corinthians 6:9. but Paul was not held up as the truth, the life and the way. Jesus was and he identified with the hungry, the homeless and the vulnerable. He said, “What ever you do to the least of these you do unto me.” The LGBTQ community are a vulnerable group as well and I think he would have identified with them in the same way.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 17, 2019

      I’m going to be arguing that Paul is not at all saying what people assume he was saying, as they read their Bibles in English translations

  17. Avatar
    Tempo1936  November 15, 2019

    If you ever want to feel the wrath of God, try Sharing your Educated rational views in a fundamentalist Adult fellowship. There is no greater anger than a woman scorned or a fundamentalist being told something new from the Bible about family values and sexuality.. it’s in the Bible, God said it And , I believe it and it’s settled. Just give them what they want to hear.

  18. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  November 15, 2019

    1. Really terrific post. Thanks
    2. It would have been so helpful if Jesus had just said something about abortion, homosexuality, and the role of women in the church. If Jesus had said something about such things, it would have saved us a lot of discord. I wonder why, if Jesus was all that some people say He was, that He did not know this discord was coming and clarified all of this. It would have saved us a heck of a lot of trouble.
    3. With regard to Christians not reading or not believing what they read, I have been reading “Caught in the Pulpit” a book you recommended on this website. It is really a good book. In Chapter 3, Dennett describes how churches and political parties are “cell membranes” which let in some stuff, but filter out any toxic stuff keeping everything inside about the same all the time. I think this “cell membrane” analogy explains this “confirmation bias” issue in religion and politics about as well as we can understand it. .

  19. Avatar
    leobillings@cox.net  November 15, 2019

    I feel that you make some very somewhat lazy common assumptions about what ‘one side believes vs. ‘the other side’.
    In today’s environment. Is everything really that black and white.? Aren’t you lumping many people into boxes?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 17, 2019

      I’m not sure what you’re referring to.

      • Avatar
        leobillings@cox.net  November 17, 2019

        ‘Think about the moral and cultural issues that are hammered home time and again among conservative Christians: extreme opposition to abortion and gay rights, opposition to governmental support of programs helping the poor, stress on individualism and therefore on the importance of second-amendment rights to the divinely sanctioned acquisition of personal wealth’ Rather stark definition of ‘conservative Christian.’ I believe our labels will be our downfall: Republican, Democrat, Conservative, Liberal.

  20. Avatar
    cmdenton47  November 15, 2019

    If you want to know why Evangelicals still (and Always will) support Trump, you need to read “Against: What Does the White Evangelical Want?” by Tad Delay – available on Amazon and thru Kindle. The first chapter is dry, but then ….

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