Summary: What the Bible teaches about homosexuality.
I have said before that 1 Corinthians is a letter I have both wanted and not wanted to preach through for the same reason – its practicality. The apostle Paul wrote the Corinth Church about issues it was struggling with, issues which have an uncanny resemblance to those we are facing today. Today, we will consider the issue of homosexuality.
These are confusing times, especially for young people. Today marks the end of Gay Day at Disney World, which in reality is a full week of gay festivities in the Orlando area. Most universities and colleges observe Gay Pride week as do many cities and towns. Homosexuals are now featured in many TV programs, all as positive role models and all of whom are shown as victims of bigotry. I would venture to say there is no TV or movie production that would show a homosexual as being troubled by his condition other than the trouble caused by bigotry.
This is to be expected. What adds further to the confusion is the rise of “Christian” advocates for homosexuality. This has long been a cause of liberal churches, and the only surprise is that mainstream denominations are still battling over such issues as having same-sex marriages and homosexual clergy. But now, even self-described evangelicals are entering the pro-homosexual movement. Mel White, who wrote for Pat Robertson and Billy Graham, came “out of the closet” a number of years ago and is now a minister in the Metropolitan Community Churches denomination, which reaches out to the GLBT community – gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender. He is but one voice of many who profess the orthodox doctrines of salvation and contend that Scripture affirms homosexuality.
Has the church made a mistake? Did it misunderstand Scripture and is guilty of wrong teaching that homosexuality is a sin? What guidance can be given today, particularly to our young people?
Consider our text. The first question is whether or not homosexuality is actually the sin as listed. The two Greek words that the ESV translates nor men who practice homosexuality are difficult to translate. Consider the various Bible translations. The KJV reads “nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind”; the NKJ has “nor homosexuals nor sodomites”; and the NIV weighs in with “nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders.”
The word translated by the KJV for “effeminate” literally means “soft.” It could be used to describe someone with a weak character, who is easily manipulated. It could also describe what we normally would associate with the term – a male with feminine-like characteristics and mannerisms.
The second word used is difficult to translate because this is its first appearance in any literature and rarely used. It is a compound word combining the term for “man” with a slang term for “intercourse,” which accounts for its rare use. By itself, the word could mean a man who has immoral sex of all kinds, or it could mean a man with another man.
These two words are separated by the word “nor,” which separates the other words on the list. That is why most of the translations give two categories instead of combining them into one phrase as the ESV has done. The NIV is probably closest to the mark. The first term likely indicates the passive person and the latter term the active person in a homosexual act.
Even then, we have to be cautious in interpreting these words to apply to all homosexuals and homosexual behavior. It may be that Paul is presenting specific illicit behavior. Certainly, he would be thinking of the religious prostitution that was carried on in the pagan temples, and which, as we will learn later, the Corinth Church men were still availing themselves of.
So, where does this leave us? Is homosexuality a sin? Is the practice condemned in Scripture? Until the last century, it had not been much of a debate. Now, even within evangelical circles, doubt has been raised about the biblical teaching. What is the case for the traditional church teaching about homosexuality?
The starting place is Genesis 2:18-24:
The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
19 Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.
But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.