Holy Love: The Passages #1


 I have not counted the total number of passages in the Bible that refer to human sexuality in general or sexual behavior in particular.  There are many, hundreds I would assume.  What I do know is that only a few are said to refer to homosexuality.  I use the words “said to refer” because I have come to believe the verses are used to substantiate a view which the Bible itself does not teach.  I write about these passages in chapter three of ‘Holy Love.’  In this post, and the upcoming round of them I will expand upon what I wrote in the book.  This post is an overview/summary.  Upcoming ones  will be about specific passages.

To begin with, it is a complex and tricky thing to read the selected passages using contemporary definitions of sexuality, sexual identity, sexual orientation, etc.  In fact, it is possible that the so-called “clobber passages” have nothing to do with homosexuality as we typically think of it today.  I realize this is a radical statement, but I also believe it is plausible. [1] The history of homosexuality makes a direct link between the present and the past difficult. [2]. No matter where anyone comes down regarding the passages, this complexity must be acknowledged.  Failure to do so is theological obscurantism.

But at the same time, it is true that the oft-cited passages are all negative and prohibitive.  The question is, “What are they negative about?  What kind of sexuality does the Bible prohibit?  Here is a brief summary that I will expand upon in upcoming posts…

     –Leviticus 18;:22, 20:13—sexuality that is promiscuous.

     –1 Corinthians 6:9-10—sexuality that is lustful (malakoi)

     –1Timothy 1:10—sexua!ity that  is abusive (arsenokoitai)

     –Romans 1:18-32—sexuality that is idolatrous

From these passages, we see that sexual sinfulness is about aberrant behavior, not a person’s gender, sexual identity or orientation.  There is not a straight sexuality and a gay sexuality, there is only human sexuality. People of all sexualities can honor it.  Holy sexuality is not limited to heterosexuals.

So, what id the means for establishing sexual morality in Scripture?  It is the Covenant.  As Walter Brueggemann rightly notes, the Covenant is the way God intends for people to relate to God and each other, summed up (as I have already described it) in the word love as expressed in the two great commandments.  With respect to sexuality, the Covenant enjoins behavior that reflects sacredness, fidelity, permanence, and (with the coming of the New Covenant) monogamous.

This is precisely why promiscuous, idolatrous, lustful, and abusive sexuality is forbidden.  These behaviors are contrary to God’s will for sexuality, not because of the identities/orientations of the people, but because they violate Covenant standards.  Conversely, holy sexuality reverences and reflects sacredness, fidelity, permanency, and monogamy—and all people can honor the Covenant in their sexuality, and they do.  The sign of their intent to do so (in both the Old and New Testaments) is marriage.  And that is why all people must be allowed to enter into “the covenant of holy wedlock.”

There is more to be said about the specific passages, and I turn to this in upcoming posts, even while recognizing the limitations of such in both the book and these blogs.  Nevertheless, what we see in this introduction is a Scriptural basis for an inclusive sexuality.  Some Christians will not agree, but the plausibility exists regardless.  [3]


(1) Are you willing to explore biblical passages about sexuality in ways that invite you to consider more than one point of view?

(2) Are you willing to include in your study of Scripture the contributions of tradition, reason, and experience?

[1] The word ‘plausible’ is crucial.  I recognize that serious scholarship has been done on the conservative side of the theological spectrum.  My aim is only to show that a more progressive interpretation is serious and scholarly as well.  So, I use the word ‘plausible’ to state my case and make my claim as a “Bible-believing Christian” just as conservatives do.  It is wrong for conservatives to allege their interpretation is correct and everyone else’s is less so.  I reject that view, and instead advocate a view that has a comparable scholarly foundation underneath it. The diversity of views is not due to differences in belief regarding the inspiration and authority of Scripture, but rather a difference in hermeneutics (interpretation) with respect to the cited passages.

[2] Francis Mondimore’s book, ‘A Natural History of Homosexuality’ shows the complexity of the subject from a historical point of view.  Jerold Greenberg’s book, ‘Exploring Dimensions of Human Sexuality’ reveals the same thing from a scientific perspective.

[3]  Christians have held varying views of human sexuality and sexual ethics across the centuries, and will likely continue to do so.  What is essential, however, is to unmask the false allegation that the conservative view is the only one that can legitimately be drawn from the Bible.  That is simply not true.  Equally devout Christians and credible scholars see things differently.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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