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Jesus and “Homosexuality”

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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 Since they realize and openly admit that so much else in the book of Leviticus is no longer applicable to Christians (for example, kosher food laws), they realize that the case against same-sex relations, let alone sexual orientation, cannot be water-tight with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
    veritas  November 15, 2019

    I feel your aggravation because I felt the same way at times in speaking to Christians about common issues.That is why I love what Daniel Dennett said in regards to this exact thing.He stopped trying to convince or change believers because it is difficult.Only time can change their views to the infallibility of their belief,it will eradicate itself.The book sales thing is interesting but not surprising.We as people,I think,enjoy controversy more than say goodness( for lack of a better word)it sells.You should know Bart,having 5 or 6 best sellers yourself,do you think the same could of been accomplished if you remained a Pastor? Ahhhh,ok,I’ll give you one best seller (maybe).So many Christian apologists,evangelicals preachers have one or two best sellers and then everyone figures out the messages are identical and don’t work, so they stop buying them.Surprisingly.Stephen Covey wrote the book,”The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” that sold some twenty, or more,million copies and so many people that I talked to about the book,were not aware he was a Mormon.I wonder if he would of sold that many if people knew his religion.I also think,not sure on this,but he only did a follow up to that book and really nothing else before he died.Lastly, that may be one Scripture to follow in caring for the needy.You have made Calvinists proud(rejoice).There are numerous passages that imply other ways to enter God’s kingdom.John 3;5,Mark 1;14-15,Matthew 19;16-26,Romans 14;17.There are lots more to choose from that allow you to enter the Kingdom, implying a different message other than helping the needy.True that Jesus says nothing,but what about Paul in 1 Cor.6;9-10? would that infer the message?

  2. Avatar
    bradseggie  November 15, 2019

    I found this post strange. I thought it must not be written by you but by a guest.

    You say that Jesus would have opposed capitalism. Aside from whether his concern was a legal system vs private action within a system, I thought Jesus’s motivations on treating the poor well and giving up possessions were due to a need to prepare for the imminent end of the world, and not an systematic view of economic fairness?

    I don’t believe evangelicals want to be anti-gay and are stumbling about for evidence to support that prejudice. To the contrary, I believe that most wish that the Bible didn’t say a lot of what it says. As to the NT writers claiming that homosexuals will not inherit the kingdom, I’ve always believed that the evangelical interpretation that it refers to actions rather than orientation to be motivated by love. Of course, the LGBTQ community is right to say that it’s not what we do it’s who we are, but the two groups are speaking past one another. (Much like non-Catholics who argue that natural family planning is “contraception” as it prevents conception; Catholics are referring to “contraception” within the meaning of church doctrine.)

    • Bart
      Bart  November 17, 2019

      Nope, it’s my post! I’m not saying *I’m* against capitalism, but yes, Jesus certainly would have been, from the outset. He would not consider Adam Smith eligible for the Kingdom. Pursuit of self-interest and gain run directly counter to Jesus’ message. But you’re right, he was not an economic theorist!

  3. Avatar
    mikezamjara  November 16, 2019

    well, I agree completely, but christians say that the bible was written by god (aka Jesus), so if is there anything negative about homosexuality in the bible, it was said by Jesus although it was wrtiten by Paul or others. How can one fight with such an impressive logic?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 17, 2019

      One way is to argue that no where in the Bible is the concept of homosexuality addressed, as I’ll be trying to show.

  4. Avatar
    mathieu  November 16, 2019

    The most persuasive word you’ve ever written:

    “Sigh…”

  5. Avatar
    michael51  November 16, 2019

    I think anyone who really knows the Gospels would agree with your position. If I understand you correctly, then there is one point you made with which I would have a minor disagreement of application with you and everyone else I’ve ever heard reference the passage. It looks like you are applying Matthew 25:31-46 to all people, that is, doing good to all. For me, the key of the application is in v. 40, “…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Jesus had said in Matt. 12:48-50 that his mother and brothers were “whoever does the will of my Father in heaven.” In 10:40, he told the disciples “he who receives you receives me.” From what I see in Matthew, Jesus considers those he calls family—whom he would call “brothers”—to be those who would reflect his values and follow in his ways—“little Christs.” The active believer was a representative of Christ, a portrayal of Christ to the world. So whether we regard these as the actual words of Jesus or a later addition by the early church, I see the “Sheep and Goats” passage as applying to those who called themselves Christians doing or not doing for other Christians. Just as there is now, there would have been people back then who were profoundly affected in attitude and behavior by the stories of Jesus, and there would have been people who came to the believers’ gatherings and believed the accounts of the life and resurrection of Jesus on some mental level, but whose lives weren’t much affected. It’s an admonition to the latter group to help the church—to use one’s life to contribute to the cause. The message here is that doing good or not for the Christian because he/she is a Christian is as doing or not for the one he/she represents. True faith is revealed in actions, especially to other believers. This is repeated many times in one way or another in Hebrews, James, I John, and elsewhere.

    Of course the believer is expected to show compassion to those outside the church. Jesus said “love your enemies” and Luke, the advocate for the poor, is the one illustrates extending compassion to those who are different in the Good Samaritan passage. I just think the Matthew passage has a restricted application.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 17, 2019

      I don’t think he can be talking about his actual brothers or even CHristians. The sheep have never even *heard* of him — I’d say that’s one of the key points of the parable.

  6. John4
    John4  November 16, 2019

    Good, lol, to see you citing NASB, Bart.

    The red letters my conservative Christian friends have cited in defense of the traditional view of homosexuality are found in Mark 10:6-8. The argument they build on these verses is, of necessity, oblique. But not, to my mind at least, unworthy of consideration.

    Thanks (I think, lol) for your rant, Bart. 🙂

  7. Avatar
    meltuck  November 16, 2019

    I agree with what you say as to the main focus of Jesus’s teachings being about “Those who enter the kingdom will be those who help people in need, “ but I would challenge the assertion that “he would have forcefully condemned capitalism.” It was not capitalism, but the abuses of capitalism that troubled him. He did not hesitate to accept the hospitality of wealthy people and in the parable of the talents, he praised the efforts of the servants who took risks to earn profits for their boss. While he clearly did not live an ascetic life (see Matthew 11:18,19), he encouraged those who had more than enough to share with those who did not, and warned against measuring one’s life by possessions.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 17, 2019

      I think I disagree. He would have considered Adam Smith and the very idea of promoting self-interest and gain condemnable.

  8. Avatar
    GeoffClifton  November 16, 2019

    Very interesting. When I have had arguments with conservative Christians over Leviticus and point out that other prohibitions (eg. mixing fabrics) no longer apply, the usual response is that those transgressions didn’t attract the death penalty and therefore were not viewed as seriously as homosexuality. I feel that’s a specious argument which suggests that the Bible is being used to shore up their prejudices. I believe Leviticus sanctioned capital punishment for rebellious children which few would agree with today (however annoying one’s kids can be!)

    • Bart
      Bart  November 17, 2019

      So they do agree that we should execute disobedient children and people who work on Saturday?

      • Avatar
        GeoffClifton  November 18, 2019

        Good point. I must make sure to ask them that next time.

  9. Avatar
    Bwana  November 16, 2019

    I think the “social concept” being translated in the bible as “eunuch” or “chamberlain” could in ancient times very well have been equivalent to what we nowadays understand as a third gender. As such I believe Jesus has something very important to say about “orientation” in Matt. 19:12.

    If only those Nashville Declaration people were able to receive this message …

    • Bart
      Bart  November 17, 2019

      Eunuch meant a very specific thing, a man who had been castrated or otherwise genitally mutilated. It did not involve same-sex relations. (I had a student once who wrote a PhD dissertation on eunuchs in antiquity!)

  10. Avatar
    fishician  November 16, 2019

    Like you, I am baffled and frustrated that so many Christians have strong opinions on social issues that seem to run contrary to what I read in the Gospels. Question: Jesus reportedly made a comment that some people “are born eunuchs.” I take this to mean that even in Jesus’ day they recognized some people even from birth did not conform to the expected sexual norms. But there is no condemnation in the statement. Think I’m reading too much into that brief comment?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 17, 2019

      He was referring to males born without normal genitalia. (I had a student once who wrote a dissertation about this passage once. he went into the gory details about how men were “made eunuchs” (in a variety of ways) in antiquity. Not pleasant reading)

      • Avatar
        fishician  November 18, 2019

        Eunuchs could still have “normal” genitalia, the testicles having been rendered ineffective by crushing, for example. So I’m not convinced he was referring to the appearance of the genitalia when he says some men were “born eunuchs,” although it’s possible he meant something physical, like undescended testicles or other apparent abnormalities.

        • Bart
          Bart  November 19, 2019

          Yes, it’s hard to know how well versed he was in the possibilities…. But I would think undescended testicles would be a good option, given how that would look to a parent.

    • Avatar
      RorscHaK  November 18, 2019

      And Albert Mohler was angry that young Americans are not getting married/have kids…
      He even claimed that it’s the responsibility of every human to get married and have children.
      Not sure which Bible does he have

  11. Avatar
    sks27012  November 17, 2019

    Thank you!!! Thank you!!! Thank you!!! Dr. Ehrman!!! Simplicity of argument is so much more powerful then rhetoric.

  12. Avatar
    Matt2239  November 17, 2019

    Jesus brought a higher moral standard to sexual conduct than existed in the Old Testament. He said if a man merely desires his neighbor’s wife then he has already sinned in his heart. Hence, those who argue against same-sex marriage have more than just a few cites in the epistles to hang their hats on. Battling on the absence of scripture is weak strategy. Jesus did in fact concern himself with more important things.

  13. Avatar
    RorscHaK  November 18, 2019

    I think most of the homosexual issues in the NT are from Paul, ie several passing mentions of “arsenkotai”, and the “men lying with men” in Romans 1.
    Also somehow somehow “other flesh” in Jude/2 Peter means homosexuality, I guess.
    Do you have any opinions on these terms?

    Also as a rant, I’ve had evangelical friends recoiling when I read out Luke 6…since if I don’t add a ton of fine prints into it, I’d be preaching “works-salvation”, by saying what you need to get into heaven is “Love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return”.
    Works for Sheep and Goats as well, Protestant commentaries on that parable are often…well

    I wonder if there’s any judgment materials in Synoptics that won’t make Evangelical Protestants bothered.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 18, 2019

      Yes, I’ll be getting to the Pauline passages soon. Hadn’t thought about addressing the passages in Jude/ 2 Peter, but (maybe I should. (I suppose the question is whether they were punished for the sin they *wanted* to commit or the one they did? Both sins involved sexual activities with people they were not supposed to be having sex with since they were “other” or “foreign” — i.e. not their own married partners)

      • Avatar
        RorscHaK  November 18, 2019

        I think you probably answered this somewhere, but I do wonder how did young Evangelical Bart interpret the Parable of Sheep and Goats?
        Also Luke 6:24-26 and 6:35-36, did you think rich people were accursed?

        • Bart
          Bart  November 19, 2019

          Young Bart probably thought that the sheep were good people because they believed in Jesus…. And for Luke 6, yes, if they didn’t believe in jesus.

  14. Avatar
    RSKICE  November 19, 2019

    My question to you is:
    How would you translate the words from the 1. Cor. 6:9 “Malakoi [μαλακοι]” and “Arsenokoitai [αρσενοκοιται]”. I don’t know Greek but have understood that these words can tricky.
    Also, what do you think about how the translation was handled below. (I won’t quote you on that haha).

    When we (Icelanders) renewed our bible translation in 2007 the intent was to translate this wording a manner that it would not hurt but still be within the meaning of the words. A group of people were called together to read over and comment on the texts me being one of them. It was a diverged group from all Christian denominations and organisations, such as (YMCA/YWCA, Gideons, YWAM), The LBGT community, Universities and so on. So out of many suggestions everyone came to an understanding that they could live with.
    My English translation 1. Cor 6:9 from Icelandic: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Don’t be deceived! No one who is wanton, worships false gods, or lives in adultery, no male who let others take advantage of himself or takes advantage of others for debauchery.”
    One odd thing is that the Icelandic bible translation from 1540 uses the word “candy-man” or “sugar-man” I did not check in earlier Icelandic translation we have parts of the bible in Icelandic that are from the 12th century and on.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 21, 2019

      I’m (slowly) gettin’ there! It’s taking me longer than I thought it would. (I’m trying to be methodical….)

  15. Avatar
    VEndris  November 20, 2019

    My son asked me the other day if Jesus condemned homosexuality. I told him that, because Jesus was Jewish, I would not be surprised if he would have condemned it. However, if you asked Jesus if it was ok for two men who loved each other to be committed to each other, get married, and have sexual relations with each other in a committed relationship he’d say, “sure, what’s wrong with that.” I based this answer on some comments that you and one of your guest posters made about our definition of homosexuality today vs. the definition of homosexuality they would have had in the past. Did I understand both of you correctly? Would you agree with my answer or am I misunderstanding?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 21, 2019

      I don’t think he would be pleased with two men loving one another romantically — but he had no idea of two people meeting, having good chemistry, going on “dates”, falling in love, and moving in together. Marriage simply didn’t work that way in his world. So he never would have thought of *heterosexual* relations in that pattern let alone same-sex ones. What would he say today? No way to know. Except love is more important than rules.

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