“But, Jesus Never Mentioned Homosexuality!”

Jesus did not use the term “conservation” but that doesn’t mean that as Christians we have no responsibility to care for the planet.  He didn’t talk about anorexia but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t care for our bodies.  He doesn’t mention human trafficking but that doesn’t excuse us of responsibility to those sold into sexual slavery.  Jesus doesn’t even mention orphans, though caring for orphans and the needy is a central part of the Christian life.

You are right– Jesus didn’t use the word “homosexuality” (which is an English term). He did explicitly use the broader term of “porneo” in the Matthew 5:32 and 19:9.  The Greek word porneo is an umbrella term to describe any sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage.  This includes sex before marriage, sex with prostitutes, adultery, incest, and homosexual sex, etc.  The definition of porneo, and all the deviant sexual behaviors that it encompassed, would have been well-understood by Jesus’ Jewish audience.     For those who now say that Jesus would be in favor of gay marriage, He chose not to leave that door open for interpretation when He explicitly reiterated the Old Testament concept of marriage as a one man/one woman relationship in Matthew 19:4-5 (see Genesis 2:24).

Jesus recognized the impact that porneo and other sin has on us: “But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man unclean.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality (porneo), theft, false testimony (lying), slander.  These are what make a man ‘unclean’…” (Matt 15:18-20.)

Christians build doctrine on the whole of Scripture because Jesus taught on the whole of Scripture.  Jesus, as well as the New Testament writers, regularly quote and refer to “the law and the prophets”— a euphemism for the Old Testament.   Jesus said “I have not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it.”  In addition, Jesus’ application of the Old Testament Law (also known as a rabbi’s “yoke”) in the Sermon on the Mount is more stringent than the Old Testament commands.  Now we are not only to refrain from murder, but also hate.  Now we are to avoid lust and not just adultery. Jesus said that we are not to “love our neighbor and hate our enemy” (at the time a common interpretation of Lev 19:18) but we are to love our enemy.  (See Matthew chapter 5.)

Why didn’t Jesus explicitly refer to homosexuality?  The answer is that Jesus almost exclusively spoke to Jews— the same people to whom God had revealed His law through Moses.  They understood and followed the law, sometimes to a fault (e.g., the Pharisees of whom Jesus was often critical.)  Homosexual behavior was nearly non-existent within first-century Judaism because it was outlawed in their culture.  Sexual behavior of all kind outside of the marriage covenant was punishable by death.  If someone was caught molesting a child—death.  Adultery—death.  Prostitution—death.  As astounding as it may be for our twenty-first century American mindset, within that culture men and women would have sex only with their spouse.

There is likely another reason why homosexuality was not prevalent among Jews of the time; within first-century Judaism, gender roles were clearly defined.  Boys spent significant time with their fathers, grandfathers, uncles and brothers.  They studied in Synagogue with other boys and had distinct responsibilities from their sisters and other female relatives.  Right around the age of 11-12 they would begin to apprentice with their father and learn his trade – Jesus was a carpenter, because he had learned the trade of his adoptive father, Joseph.   Girls would have meaningful work alongside their older female relatives.  From an early age they would care for younger children, prepare meals and assist their mother in managing the home.  This is a tough scenario for a little girl who wants to grow up to be a soldier, or a little boy who wants to be a stay-at-home dad.  But it is a pretty ideal set-up for developing a strong gender identity.

If child abuse, early sexual experience, exclusion for same-gender peers or parents, or homosexual experience plays a role in sexual orientation, the first century Jew would have experienced little if any of those.  (See “Aren’t People Born Gay?” for more on this.) Jesus didn’t mention homosexuality to his Jewish audience because it was rarely part of their world.

Paul, on the other hand, addressed homosexuality in his letters to the early church.  Paul was the “apostle to the gentiles” (non-Jews).  The Greeks to whom Paul was writing faced different issues than Jesus’ predominantly Jewish audience.  Jesus was critical of those to whom the Law and the revelation of God had been entrusted because their legalism and hypocrisy hindered them from truly knowing and recognizing Jesus as the Messiah.  Paul was addressing a sensuous and idolatrous culture within which porneo (sexual immorality and temple prostitution) was a regular and accepted part of worship to the Greco-Roman gods and goddesses.  The Jews called these people “gentiles” because they were “outsiders” who had no knowledge of the Law and God’s standards whatsoever.  Paul had to condemn in detail the porneo from which many of these new Christians were emerging.  The Corinthian church is the perfect case-study of Paul identifying how new Christians must abandon their previous cultural practices.  In his first letter to them, Paul reprimanded the church because they were tolerating a believer who was in a sexual relationship with his step-mother.  He made it clear that sexual immorality was incompatible with Christ’s lordship.

Regarding prohibited behavior, Paul and the early church leaders were unambiguous about how one needed to “flee sexual immorality” after s/he became a new creation in Christ. (1 Cor 5:9-11, Eph 5:5,  1 Tim 1:9-10, Heb. 13:4, Rev 21:8, Rev 22:14-15, 1 Cor 6:9-10).  All of these verses explicitly identify that homosexuality is not in line with the sexual purity (sex within a heterosexual marriage) that nearly every book of the Bible affirms and encourages.  Now, I know that at times these verses have been used to spiritually bludgeon gays.  So let’s take a look at who else is included in these lists; the greedy, swindlers, idolaters, drunkards, slanderers, murderers, adulterers, perverts, slave traders, liars, perjurers and thieves.

I am guilty.  I can pick out several in that list that tell me I am guilty.  These verses are talking about me.  But as I Corinthians 6:11 states “And this is what some of you WERE, but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  Though I had absolutely transgressed God’s standard for morality, I have been cleansed “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”  There are times when I still struggle with greed, worship the idol of comfort and exaggerate (lie) to make myself look good.  Amazingly, growth and freedom from these natural and in-born habits is available.  Through the combined effort of self-discipline and the power of the Spirit of Christ working in me, I am being transformed into someone who is more generous, selfless, and truthful.  Those behaviors and natural tendencies do not define me and don’t have to rule me.  This is the reality of the gospel.

Christ gave an invitation to the Samaritan (the despised enemies of the Jews) woman who had had five husbands and who was currently in an immoral relationship: “…whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  God accepts us as we are, but doesn’t leave us as He found us.  And when we drink of Him, the Living Water, we are changed.

For more on what the true Christian life entails, see the post “Christianity according to Jesus.”

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19 thoughts on ““But, Jesus Never Mentioned Homosexuality!”

  1. Marriage between on man and many women is very prevalent in the Bible, but these days “Biblical Marriage” is virtually always represented as between one man and one woman,
    I haven’t gone looking for any research to support this, but I suspect that a comparison of parenting outcomes from polygamist households would show better than average results. If following the Bible and providing an excellent environment for the rearing of children is your intent, it seems as if you should be more supportive of polygamy.

  2. Keith, thank you for your remarks.

    One of the great assets of the Bible is that it does not sanitize real life. It’s heroes, patriarchs, kings and prophets (like all of us) have moments of greatness and moments of great failure. This feature is one of the primary reasons why atheistic CS Lewis (expert on allegory, myth, and literature) began to investigate Christianity. He observed that unlike myth and many religious texts, the protagonists within biblical stories were uncommonly flawed. The writers of the gospels, for example, were strikingly self-effacing.

    Within scripture there are prescriptions and descriptions. The bible describes people transgressing God’s standard in every generation and in every way, usually when imitating the surrounding cultures- cheating the poor, offering their children as a sacrifice, mimicking pagan worship practices, engaging in polygamous marriages, etc. For those in scripture who did choose to engage in polygamy, the bible is detailed about the household fall-out that ensued. But whenever the bible prescribes standards for marriage, it is between one man and one woman.

    I have not examined how children fare when being raised within a polygamous environment. But I heard a piece on NPR where leading polygamous figures conceded that the fight to legalize polygamy is about 20 years behind the same-sex marriage battle. So it may not be long before that familial structure is being scrutinized as well.

    All the best to you, Keith.

  3. Looks like you read my post “God won’t send you to hell if you’re homosexual”, or perhaps it’s a case of great minds think alike. Then again, isn’t there a similar saying that fools seldom differ? 😀

  4. Very well written and insightful piece.

    Just as the Jews in Matthew chapter 12 try to trap Jesus with Scripture, non-believers try to trap us with Scripture today. As Jesus said “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.”

    We try to make them understand that you can’t pick out one passage of scripture and think you understand it. It has to be taken as a whole, and even then, the truth of it opens to us over our lifetime. It is amazing how I have spent my entire adult life in scripture, but can go to a post like yours (clearly much younger than I), and learn new things.

    But many of them really have no interest in understanding.

    Have a blessed Triduim.

  5. You are so right about the depth and consistency of scripture. I delight in this “great cloud of [blogging] witnesses” who open my eyes to how God’s truth illuminates this and many other current-day issues. Thanks for your comments here and have a great Easter!

  6. Hey! Thanks for your comment and referring me to this article, very insightful! Would it be OK to include the link to this article on mine as a “see also”?

      • I have included the link to this article and your archives for further reading. I hope many come to read your articles for help in the matter. Thanks for taking such a loving stand for truth. Truth with love and humility are the goal, I do genuinely appreciate your efforts and I encourage you to keep doing what you are doing!

  7. Pingback: The Reality of Homosexuality (In the Bible) | TOTALTRUTH.NET

  8. Pingback: Is being gay a sin? | asktheBigot

  9. Amen and amen! Well done here, “Ask!” The term “homosexual” did not exist in language during biblical times. But as you said, we build doctrine on the “whole of scripture.” It is unmistakable that God refers often to the unnatural act of same-sex relationships. We are not to encourage anyone who believes they can involve themselves in such acts and be pleasing to God.

    A very good post. The “world” may not agree, but it isn’t the world we try to please. We must try to help the world see past the temptations of Satan and be enlightened by the word of God.

    Jefferson Paul

    • Hi Jefferson! Welcome to askthebigot. Thanks for your comments. I’m going to use it as an opportunity to give a full explanation of the main New Testament reference to homosexuality. It is helpful to have it listed in conjunction with this post.

      This explanation from my scholar husband:

      About homosexuality “not” being listed in Scripture – this is simple and straightforward:

      It says in 1 Corinthians 6:9 – “[9] Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,”

      In verse 9 there are two words that describe “homosexuality” – now before I continue it needs to be known that the English word is relatively new in the last 150 years. So some would argue it should not be in our Bibles. BUT it needs also to be known that it doesn’t matter what we think SHOULD be in our English Bibles, what matters is what is in the Greek Bible from the beginning of Christianity. It is the job of a translator to take the Greek Bible, discover the meaning of the Greek words used in the text based in how the words would have been used in the first century and based on how the author of the verse of the Bible is using that word in a sentence, and then the translator is charged with taking the author’s intended meaning and putting it into equivalent contemporary language for us to understand SO THAT we have an accurate translation (the reason for multiple translations is because there are good translations and bad translations – most are good, but translators are always trying to make a better translation as our language in our culture changes over time).
      The words “nor men who practice homosexuality” (1 Cor. 6:9) in Greek is transliterated like this – “oute malakoi oute arsenokoitai” – which when literally translated word for word means – “nor the passive partner in homosexual relations nor the male who has sexual relations with a male.” (Cleon Rogers Jr., The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament, s.v., malakoi and arsenokoitai. P. 359).

      The second word “arsenokoitai” comes from the root word “arsenokoites”, which means “male homosexual, pederast, or sodomite.” (Colin Brown, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Pp. 569-571). The word is a compound word combining “arsen”, which means male and “koite”, which means intercourse (something that is reserved for a male and female in marriage according to Hebrews 13:4 – see also the article on “koite” – Colin Brown, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. 2. Pp. 586-587).

      So the best translation to date of 1 Corinthians 6:9 is the NIV – “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men,”

      Another word that needs to be pointed out is the word “sexually immoral” – which is the main word used throughout 1 Corinthians 5-7 and is the word used in the New Testament to describe immorality sexually speaking and which is the word Jesus uses in Matthew 5 and 19. The Greek word in these Scriptures for sexual immorality is “pornoi” – this word in Classical Greek covers all sexual deviance from marriage between a male and female. This includes fornication, prostitution, incest, homosexual activity, bestiality, etc. This kind of sex was strictly prohibited in Judaism (see Leviticus 18), which was the root religion of Jesus. When Jesus preaches against “pornoi” in Matthew 5 He is preaching against all forms of sex outside of male-female married sex.
      To come to a different conclusion about the above takes creative hermeneutical gymnastics rooted in poor exegesis and bad scholarship based either in emotional ignorance or an attempt to deceive the ignorant to give people a reason to continue in sexual sin and use the Bible to “justify” their opinion. I.e., poor scholarship is being used to make people feel better.

      • My goodness…this is quite a detailed explanation! It is very good that you took the time to give me (us) the background and education involved.

        Yes, it is very clear that the whole of scripture leaves little doubt as to what is “natural” and “unnatural” where relationships are concerned.

        Thank you for all of this again. This is a full post in and of itself!

        May the Lord bless your work in Him…
        Jefferson

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