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.”