A Reformation the Church Doesn’t Need: Answering Revisionist Pro-Gay Theology—Part IIRelated Media
Editor's Note: For part one of this two part article Click Here.
Gregory Koukl and Alan Shlemon
Since the birth of the church, no Christian authority—no theologian, no church council, no denominational confession, no seminary—ever hinted that homosexual behavior was morally legitimate. Now congregations across the country are becoming “gay friendly” at an alarming rate, convinced that for two millennia we’ve all simply misunderstood our Bibles.
Organizations like The Reformation Project (TRP) are hosting sophisticated seminars in major cities training activists in revisionist, pro-gay theology and sending them out as missionaries, of sorts, to “reform” the church.
In our last issue of Solid Ground,1 we began our critique of that trend by looking closely at the central biblical texts addressing homosexuality. We discovered that those verses consistently trade on a common-sense observation about the world that is central to human flourishing: Human beings are gendered creatures.
From the beginning, God designed man to function sexually with woman in a life-long union. Jesus’ summary of God’s plan was unambiguous: one man, with one woman, becoming one flesh, for one lifetime (Matt. 19:4-6). Any sexual behavior outside of this kind of relationship—fornication, adultery, bestiality, rape, homosexuality—subverts God’s purpose and is uniformly condemned as rebellion against God.
The new theology claims otherwise. Scripture does not denounce all homosexual behavior, they say, only abusive or exploitive sex. Since the “Christian gay relationship”2 TRP advocates is loving and committed, it doesn’t fall under the Scriptural ban.
This is no small matter. If the new theology is mistaken, multitudes of practicing homosexuals who self-identify as Christian are being led to believe they will inherit the Kingdom when in fact they are destined to perish forever.
We dealt with TRP’s training material talking points regarding Sodom and Gomorrah, Leviticus, and Romans 1 in our last issue of Solid Ground and found their arguments fraught with false-starts and missteps. There’s one final set of passages to look at, though, before moving on to TRP’s other concerns.
Lost in Translation?
Talking Point #9 addresses Paul’s so-called “vice lists,” a catalog of behaviors the apostle says places any so-called Christian on the outside of the Kingdom:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you, but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor. 6:9-11)3
Also, in 1 Tim. 1:9-11, Paul lumps “homosexuals” together with other “ungodly sinners” whose behavior is “contrary to sound teaching according to the glorious Gospel of the blessed God.”
According to TRP, “These lists don’t address LGBT4 people, but cases of pederasty, abuse, and prostitution.”5 They admit that Paul’s combination of Greek words malakoi and arsenokoitai (rendered “effeminate” and “homosexuals” here) does denote male homosexual sex, but probably only “role-differentiated” encounters between “older men and boys (what we would call pederasty), or between master and slaves.” Modern-day gay Christians who don’t engage in exploitive forms of sex are not the target of Paul’s reproach, they say. Further, rendering arsenokoitai as “homosexuals” is misleading since the English word didn’t even exist before the 1892.
Are they right?
First, don’t be distracted by the claim that the English word “homosexual” was only recently created. It’s irrelevant. Clearly, same-sex behavior was common in Paul’s day, as TRP readily acknowledges. The translators simply chose the contemporary term they thought described the specific ancient activity Paul had in mind. The important question is whether the English word “homosexual” captures the meaning of Paul’s Greek rendering. It does.
In these vice lists, Paul coins a new term—arsenokoitai (translated “homosexual”)—by combining two words, arsenos, for “male,” and koiten, meaning “to bed.” Arsenokoitai literally means “bedders of males” or “men who bed with males.”
Why this combination of words? Because these are the very words found in the Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Old Testament regularly used by the Apostles—to describe the homosexual behavior explicitly forbidden in Lev. 18:22 and 20:13.6 In fact, ancient Jews used the Hebrew phrase, mishkav zakur—“lying with a male”—to denote male-to-male sexual contact. No one familiar with the Law would have missed Paul’s meaning.
Second, there is nothing in the words arsenos or koiten, nor in anything in the context of 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim. 1:10, that even hints that Paul’s condemnation is limited to “exploitive” homosexual acts. This is pure fancy. The words paiderastai (“lover of boys”), paidomanēs (“man mad for boys”), or paidophthoros (“corrupted of boys”) would have served Paul’s purpose perfectly if that were his intention. It wasn’t. Rather, these passages—given the context and arsenokoitai’s origin—communicate an absolute prohibition of any form of homosexual sex.
Ironically, while TRP dispenses assurances that Christians are allowed to be practicing homosexuals, Paul’s grave warning says just the opposite: “Do not be deceived. Neither effeminate…nor homosexuals…will inherit the Kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9).
Inspecting the Fruit
TRP’s Talking Point #1 says, “Experience shouldn’t cause us to dismiss Scripture, but it can cause us to reconsider our interpretation of Scripture.” In principle we agree with this point, and good examples can be offered to defend it. But what kind of “experience” does TRP have in mind here that might disqualify an interpretation? The feelings of hurt and the damaging consequences of a teaching or doctrine, they suggest.
“You will know them by their fruits,” Jesus taught. “Every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit” (Matt. 7:16-17).
The view that the Bible prohibits all homosexual behavior, TRP points out, has caused “serious harm in LGBT people’s lives”—family turmoil, rejection, guilt, shame, depression, illegal drug use, even suicide. This kind of “bad fruit” is a clear sign that we need to reassess our view of homosexuality, they argue.
There are at least two problems with TRP’s case. First, their reasoning suggests that any unpleasantness, difficulty, anguish, or even tragedy—like suicide—qualifies as “bad fruit” in the sense Jesus had in mind. If so, all sorts of immoral behavior could be justified when holiness leads to hardship. Virtually any command of God could be annulled.
Denying fleshly, sinful desires means dying to oneself, Jesus taught. That’s always difficult, unpleasant, and inconvenient—bare minimum. Sometimes it means significant sacrifice and suffering. Jesus promises an array of temporal woes for those who follow Him faithfully: persecution, tribulation, family division, even death. Is this bad fruit? By TRP’s criteria it would be, yet Jesus calls such burdens blessings (Matt. 5:10-12).
Second, and more serious, TRP has turned Jesus’ teaching upside down. This passage does not vindicate them; it condemns them.
The TRP material never actually quotes the teaching in question, so let’s look at it. The whole point of Jesus’ lesson is the warning He begins with: “Beware of the false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (v. 15).
Be careful, Jesus cautions. Be on the alert. Dangerous people will infiltrate your ranks unrecognized because they’ll look just like true sheep in many ways. How do we distinguish fleece from fur? “You will know them [the wolves, the false teachers in your midst] by their fruits. Every good tree [good teacher] bears good fruit, but the bad tree [false teacher] bears bad fruit.”
Jesus’ teaching here is not ambiguous, veiled, or complex. He’s giving a sober warning, so His words are clear. The “bad tree” represents false teachers in the midst of the flock (v. 15). The good fruit is doing the will of the Father (v. 21). The bad fruit is practicing lawlessness (v. 23). Nothing complicated here.
There is no suggestion anywhere in this passage that “bad fruit” is the kind of harm or distress described by TRP. “Fruit” for Jesus is not the consequence of a teaching (turmoil, anguish, hardship, self-loathing), but the conduct promoted by the teacher. Any Christian advocating immorality is a wolf within the fold, denounced by Christ in the harshest terms: “I never knew you. Depart from Me!” (v. 23).
So here is our question. In this discussion about homosexuality and the Bible, who in our midst is teaching Christians to practice lawlessness, those encouraging sexual restraint or those championing homosexual indulgence?
The Bible says nothing good about homosexuality, as we’ve seen, but rather condemns it at every turn. Paul warns that no unrepentant homosexual will inherit the Kingdom (1 Cor. 6:9). It’s virtuous for TRP to be concerned about the anguish LGBT people experience. It’s vice, though, to justify the immoral behavior at the root of their problem. According to Jesus, that is bad fruit. According to Jesus, that is evidence of wolves in our midst.
Something New Under the Sun?
TRP’s talking point #2 says, “Sexual orientation is a new concept—one the Christian tradition has not addressed.” Since the concept of sexual orientation was unknown to the biblical authors, they suggest, and since those writers didn’t understand same-sex attraction as it’s understood today—committed, monogamous love between social equals—then their comments simply are not relevant for gay Christians in our churches.
In their defense, TRP cites two 1st century sources, the Roman philosopher, Musonius Rufus, and the Greco-Roman orator, Dio Chrysostom. These men describe sexual adventurers who, unsatisfied with conventional heterosexual carnality, indulge in same-sex encounters to satisfy their excessive sensual cravings. It was this excess the biblical authors condemned, TRP claims, not homosexuality itself.
This maneuver is typical of TRP’s method: find an ancient writer describing an extreme example of homosexual conduct, then assume this radical behavior alone was the subject of the Bible’s censure.
TRP’s approach is flawed and self-serving. Connecting Rufus’ and Chrysostom’s observations to Paul’s intentions in the epistles or the Mosaic Law is completely unjustified. All scriptural evidence points in the opposite direction. Every biblical text prohibiting homosexual behavior does so in absolute terms. All homosexual conduct is condemned, not just certain species of it (master-slave, man-boy, excessive lust, etc.).
The Bible categorically and unequivocally prohibits all sensual behavior outside of a married man/woman union. No exceptions. Consult any passage—Leviticus 18 or 20, the vice lists in 1 Cor. 6 or 1 Tim. 1, Romans 1. No text gives any hint of any exemptions. The authors have every opportunity to qualify their comments, but they never do.
What, then, are Christians with same-sex attraction to do to remain godly? Is celibacy their only option—a lifetime of denying their pressing sexual desires? No, TRP says, this is not what God demands.
“Celibacy is a gift,” we read in Talking Point #3, not a mandate. “Jesus says celibacy can only be accepted by those to whom it is given (Matt. 19:11-12). Paul says that, while he would prefer everyone be celibate like him, ‘each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that’ (1 Cor. 7:7).” Since celibacy should not be forced on those who don’t have the gift, there must be a legitimate alternative for gay Christians.
This appeal neglects an important distinction: the difference between sexual purity and celibacy. Sexual purity is God’s command for every believer in every circumstance. Paul “solemnly warns” all Christians to “abstain from sexual immorality” (1 Thess. 4:3-6). This applies to the married and unmarried alike.
Unmarried Christians—both heterosexuals and those with same-sex attraction—are commanded to abstain from all forms of sex. That’s not celibacy. It’s simple sexual purity. Married couples are also to be sexually pure in a way appropriate to their situation (note Prov. 5:15-20).
Celibacy, on the other hand, is more than merely abstaining from sex. It’s a life wholly devoted to God. Singleness allows a believer to dedicate his time, talents, and resources completely to Kingdom concerns, unfettered by the demands of marriage and family (1 Cor. 7:32). Celibacy entails sexual abstinence since marriage is the only place sexual desires may be satisfied, 7 but it is more than mere abstinence.
The requirement of purity applies to all Christians, incidentally, regardless of their gifting. Some are gifted with celibacy and their unsatisfied sexual desires are not a distraction. Others are celibate by circumstance8 and must make the best of it, in spite of unsatisfied sexual desire.
The simple fact is, many are “forced” into singleness. It’s not always the result of the gift Jesus and Paul had in mind. The moral standard is still the same, regardless. Those permanently single, by accident or design, must still remain sexually pure. Not having the “gift” does not release any Christian from the requirement of holiness. Christians with same-sex attraction must shoulder a burden every other single Christian must also bear.
Complementarity, Not Kinship
TRP’s “Talking Point #4” says, “The Bible does not teach a normative doctrine of gender complementarity.” We’ll explain what that means, but first a warning: Fasten your seatbelts.
Scripture, TRP is claiming, is actually silent on the idea that males were made by God as the appropriate sexual complement to females (the “normative doctrine of gender complementarity”). Rather, “the focus in Genesis 2 is not on the complementarity of male and female, but rather on the similarity of male and female, over and against the created animals. The ‘one flesh’ union spoken of in Genesis 2:24 connotes not physical complementarity, but a kinship tie.”
The one-flesh union then, has nothing to do with men and women being designed to physically fit together (complementarity) since, “There are simply no texts in Scripture that address the most common way that anatomical complementarity is defined: the ‘fittedness’ of penis and vagina.”
Rather, it’s referring to their kinship as members of the same species. Since two men or two women are kin in that sense, they are allowed to enter into a “one flesh” union that fits God’s design. “Jesus’ discussion of Gen. 2,” TRP offers, “focuses the discussion on a particular sort of kinship” [emphasis added], i.e., husband/wife kinship. Same sex unions would be another legitimate type, in their view.
This, to put it bluntly, is nothing short of willful blindness.
Eve was a suitable helper for Adam because she was human, not animal—true enough. But that is not the whole of it. God also said, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28). Complying with this command requires more than a species kin relationship. It requires the “male and a female” genders mentioned in the verse right before it. Indeed, the reproductive system is the only human bodily function that requires uniting with a human being of the opposite sex to fulfill its purpose.
When a man leaves his parents, he cleaves to—becomes one flesh with—his wife (Gen. 2:24), not just to another human he is “kin” to. This is the kind of one-flesh union God had in mind, the only union capable of fulfilling the “be fruitful and multiply” creation mandate. That’s why there is not a single instance in Scripture where a pair of men or a pair of women are described in a “one-flesh” union.
And pardon us for asking the obvious, but do we really need a Bible verse to enlighten us that sexual organs are designed by God to fit together? Please.
Finally—and decisively, we think—the Gen. 2:24 “one flesh” reference appears in another vital passage about marriage that erases any possibility of ambiguity about God’s intended meaning. In Eph. 5:22-23, Paul cites heterosexual, man/woman, husband/wife marriage as a picture of the mystery of Christ and His bride, the church. The analogy only works if gender differences are inherent to marriage. Kevin DeYoung explains:
The meaning of marriage is more than mutual sacrifice and covenantal commitment. Marriage, by its very nature, requires complementarity. The mystical union of Christ and the church—each “part” belonging to the other but neither interchangeable—cannot be pictured in marital union without the differentiation of male and female.… Homosexuality simply does not fit with the created order in Genesis 1 and 2.9
Of Eunuchs and Men
Finally, TRP’s “Talking Point #5” says, “The New Testament points toward greater inclusion of gender and sexual minorities, including those who do not fit neatly within binary categories.”
As evidence for this claim, they note that eunuchs were sexually different and thus barred from entering God’s assembly under the Mosaic Law. In the New Testament, though, eunuchs seem to be fully accepted as members of the Christian community under the New Covenant (note Acts 8). Therefore, they say, we have a biblical precedent for inclusion of sexual “others” today, including homosexuals.
Yes, the Ethiopian eunuch’s physical abnormalities (not sexual differences, but anatomical differences) were no barriers to him entering the Kingdom. It’s a stretch beyond belief, though, to characterize this as a “greater inclusion of gender and sexual minorities.” It’s nothing of the kind.
The eunuch’s acceptance into the Kingdom tells us nothing of God’s attitude towards “sexual minorities,” TRP’s euphemism for those with unconventional sexual appetites and/or gender confusion.
Philip was sent by the Spirit to the Gaza Road to respond to a gentile genuinely seeking the true God based on the limited light he’d been given. Nothing can be inferred from this encounter about God’s interest in expanding the church’s sexual diversity.
God’s grace is given to all who put their trust in Him, regardless of sexual appetite. But grace does not leave sinners in sin. Even after condemning homosexuality and other sexual sin, Paul writes, “Such were some of you, but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). That’s the lesson of the Ethiopian eunuch: forgiveness and transformation, not celebration of sexual diversity.
TRP has advanced a battery of biblical and cultural arguments meant to undermine confidence in two millennia of church teaching on homosexuality and marriage. At the end of the day, though, the straightforward truth of Scripture still shines through with clarity.
This revisionist attempt should not surprise us, however. In Paul’s final missive to the church he warned his own disciple, Timothy, that…
…the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myth. (2 Tim. 4:3-4)
TRP and those who follow its lead have succumbed to the same temptation the Church has faced for millennia: conforming to culture. God’s plan for sex and marriage is built into the structure of the world He made. Since the beginning of time this has been obvious to everyone, even those without Bibles.
Yes, times change, but reality does not. And God’s Word does not. It abides forever, telling us the truth, protecting us from error, shielding us from harm.
Editor's Note: For part one of this two part article Click Here.
1 Available in enhanced digital form at str.org.
2 We think this is a contradictory notion, but we’ll let it stand now for the sake of this discussion.
3 All Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible.
4 LGBT stands for “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender.”
5 This and other citations are taken from the Reformation Project D.C. Conference 2014 Program.
6 Respectively, “meta arsenos ou koimethese koiten gyniakeian,” and “hos an koimethe meta arsenos koiten gynaikois.”
7 “But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband,” 1 Cor. 7:2. Note here that Paul identifies a single provision for avoiding sexual immorality—heterosexual marriage.
8 In Matt. 19:12, Jesus identifies three reasons for celibacy. Only one is voluntary.
9 Kevin DeYoung, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015), 32.