These are among the questions we are asked most often, and this article is the most frequently read Bible FAQ on our Website.
The next two mentions are in Leviticus
You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination. (NKJ, Leviticus 18:22)
If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them. (NKJ, Leviticus 20:13)
Life was harsh in early Old Testament times. The wanderings and struggle for survival of the Israelites did not permit prisons or rehabilitation. Anyone who deviated seriously from the norm was either stoned to death or exiled. The Old Testament prescribed the death penalty for the crimes of murder, attacking or cursing a parent, kidnapping, failure to confine a dangerous animal resulting in death, witchcraft and sorcery, sex with an animal, doing work on the Sabbath, incest, adultery, homosexual acts, prostitution by a priest's daughter, blasphemy, false prophecy, perjury in capital cases and false claim of a woman's virginity at the time of marriage.
Related article: What Does the Bible Say About Capital Punishment and the Death Penalty?
It must be emphasized that, according to the New Testament, we are no longer under the harsh Old Testament Law (John 1:16-17, Romans 8:1-3, 1 Corinthians 9:20-21). The concern with punishment is now secondary to Jesus' message of repentance and redemption. Both reward and punishment are seen as properly taking place in eternity, rather than in this life.
In the Old Testament, homosexual activity was strongly associated with the idolatrous practices of the pagan nations surrounding Israel. In fact, the word "abomination," used in both mentions of homosexual acts in Leviticus, is a translation of the Hebrew word tow' ebah which means something morally disgusting, but it also has a strong implication of idolatry2. Thus, many Bible scholars believe the condemnations in Leviticus are more a condemnation of the idolatry than of the homosexual acts themselves3,4. However, that interpretation is not certain.
Related article: What Does the Bible Say About the Old Testament Law?
What comes out of you is what defiles you. For from within, out of your hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile you. (TNIV, Mark 7:20-23)
The apostle Paul, in one of his letters to the Corinthians, wrote the verses most often quoted on this subject:
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that 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. (NIV, 1st Corinthians 6:9-11)
This verse has been translated in as many different ways as there are different versions of the Bible, so we have to look at the original Greek to see what Paul was really saying. The word translated here as "male prostitute" is the Greek word malakos which literally means "soft to the touch." However, it was used metaphorically to refer to a catamite (a boy kept for sexual relations with a man) or to a male prostitute in general. The word translated here as "homosexual offender" is the Greek word arsenokoites which means a sodomite, a person who engages in any kind of unnatural sex, but especially homosexual intercourse5. Some believe this use of arsenokoites referred specifically to the men who kept catamites6, but that is not certain.
There are two other New Testament mentions of homosexual acts, in Romans 1:25-27 and 1 Timothy 1:8-10. In this passage from Romans, again in the context of idolatry, Paul mentions women who "exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones." This is the only mention of lesbian acts:
They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator-- who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. (NIV, Romans 1:25-27)
The traditional interpretation of Bible teachings is that homosexual acts of all kinds are serious sins. But in recent years, a number of questions and issues have been raised which challenge the traditional interpretation.
It is often pointed out that there was no concept of a loving, consensual same-sex relationship in Biblical times. Neither was there any awareness of an inborn sexual preference. Homosexual acts were viewed as a willful violation of the "holiness code" of Leviticus which separated the Israelites from the conduct of the pagan peoples of the world7. So the question arises whether sexual acts within a loving homosexual relationship violate Bible teachings, or were the Bible passages intended to apply only to homosexual acts involving idolatry, rape, prostitution or pederasty?
Same-sex intercourse is forbidden in both the Old Testament and New Testament. Are these teachings important spiritual principles for all times? Or are they, like the Bible teachings on slavery and subjugation of women, remnants of Biblical-era culture that we must now reject as incompatible with the more important Bible teachings about God's love and mercy for all people?
Our answers to these questions tend to be strongly influenced by our personal feelings about homosexuality. But, if we are sincere about using the Bible for guidance, we must not assume that the Bible passages on homosexuality support our own conservative or liberal viewpoints. Instead, we must put aside our own ideas, feelings and fears and prayerfully seek the truth.
Presbyterian theologian Mark Achtemeier argues against the traditional view of homosexuality in his book, The Bible’s Yes to Same-Sex Marriage, An Evangelical's Change of Heart:8
This book is the story of a change of heart. In the middle 1990s, I was a conservative church activist working hard to defend the “traditional” teaching of my own Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) that was condemning homosexual practice. In the fall of 1996, I published an article supporting traditionalist efforts to keep openly gay and lesbian people from serving in positions of ordained church leadership. Those efforts proved successful, and the result was a constitutional ban on gay ordination in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), beginning in the summer of 1997. The passage of fourteen years found me working to repeal the ban on gay ordination I had once helped put in place.Achtemeier uses the story of a young seminarian named Kristi (not her real name) to illustrate the problems with traditional interpretations:
What kind of God were we dealing with, I wondered, if the traditional condemnations of homosexuality were faithful and accurate reflections of the divine will? That would mean that God places Kristi and others like her in a situation from which there is no escape. They have absolutely no ability to wish or pray or choose their way out of their same-sex attraction, yet God condemns them unless they can change it. God further adds to the difficulty of the situation by withholding the gifts and calling that would make lifelong celibacy a realistic possibility.
... That was a distressing picture to contemplate, but fortunately I realized it was a picture that stood in utter contradiction to the portrait of God painted by Scripture. If the Bible and Christian proclamation are true and if Jesus really is God-with-us, then the clearest picture we have of what God is really like is Jesus himself. And there was absolutely nothing in Jesus’ life or ministry that even remotely resembled the kind of gratuitous cruelty that would bring someone into existence only for the purpose of breaking or condemning them. To the contrary: Jesus’ love and compassion broke through all the traditional barriers of his age, reaching out to embrace even his own enemies (Luke 23:34). Jesus spoke about God’s heart rejoicing when the wandering find their way home (Luke 15) and about God’s desire that no one be lost (Matt. 18:14). None of this fit with the picture of a God who would cruelly leave no path to grace for people like Kristi.
Achtemeier concludes that traditional condemnations of homosexual acts are based on a fragmentary reading of the Bible that is inconsistent with overall Bible teachings:
At the beginning of this journey, described in chapter 1, I had found strong reasons for doubting whether the church’s traditional condemnations of homosexuality were in line with the will of God. Now I found myself considering how it was possible for those teachings to be mistaken, even though they seemed to be based on a reasonably straightforward reading of individual passages taken from the Bible. I found strong evidence, both in the history of the church and in the testimony of the New Testament, supporting the conclusion that this fragment approach to interpreting biblical Law is unreliable and highly prone to error. These findings lent further credibility to my initial strong suspicions that the traditional condemnations were contrary to the will and plan of God.
... The predecessor denominations of my own Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) split over the issue of slavery in the mid 1800s. Going back and reading about that history, one discovers that the pro-slavery churches were defending their positions by appeal to the Bible! Isolated fragments, pulled out and interpreted apart from the overall witness of the Scripture, led those devout southern Presbyterians to conclude that their pro-slavery cause was blessed by God. Another such episode, which extends into more recent times, saw well-intentioned Christians appealing to isolated scriptural fragments as they argued to keep women in subordinate roles within both church and society. The fragment method clearly has a long and sad history of providing “biblical” justification for teachings that we can recognize in hindsight as contrary to the will of God.
(Mark Achtemeier, Ph.D. has served the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) since 1984 as a pastor, writer, and theologian. He taught theology and ethics for 15 years on the faculty of Dubuque Theological Seminary.)
However, regardless of how we interpret the Bible's teachings about homosexual acts, it is important to note that the Bible does not condemn people for being sexually attracted to persons of the same sex. It is sexual intercourse between persons of the same sex that is prohibited by Bible teachings, not tendencies or feelings.
A boy or girl who discovers homosexual feelings should realize that, like other interests and feelings, it may be only a passing phase that will fade away in time. Meanwhile, he or she should avoid becoming obsessed with the feelings or indulging in any kind of sexual activity.
A homosexual Christian man or woman is presented with great challenges, and great strength is often achieved by learning to deal with great challenges. Perhaps God has some special mission in mind for that person that is best accomplished outside the restrictions imposed by traditional marriage and family duties.
In modern Western culture we associate touching, kissing and the word "love" with a sexual relationship. But that was not at all the case in Biblical era culture. Most Bible scholars say these relationships were no more than close friendships. That is especially clear in the case of Jesus and John - the word translated as "loved" was the Greek word agape, which means kindness and respect rather than romantic or sexual love.
Some Christians are strongly opposed to legalizing what they view as sinful behavior and a perversion of God's plan for marriage and distinct gender roles (Genesis 2:24, 3:16-19, Leviticus 20:13, Mark 10:6-9). Other Christians view equal civil rights for gays and lesbians as a requirement of Bible teachings that we must act with kindness and respect for all people and avoid judging the moral choices others make (Matthew 22:37-40, Matthew 7:1-5, Romans 14:10-14, James 4:11-12 ).
Related articles: What Does the Bible Say About Salvation?, What Does the Bible Say About Forgiveness of Sins?
The Bible's moral teachings are to help us live according to God's will. They are not intended to be used to condemn other people. Jesus told us to eliminate the sins in our own lives rather than passing judgment or looking down on others. If we judge other people harshly, we will, in turn, be judged harshly:
"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (NIV, Matthew 7:1-2)
Christians have a responsibility to correct matters of wrongdoing among themselves (Matthew 18:15-17), but this should always be done fairly and with compassion. We are never to take upon ourselves the task of judgment that belongs to God alone (Matthew 22:37-40, Hebrews 10:30, Romans 14:10-13, 1 Corinthians 4:5). James makes it clear that we must treat others with mercy, not with judgment (criticism or condemnation) or partiality (prejudice or discrimination):
You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For the one who said, "You shall not commit adultery," also said, "You shall not murder." Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. (NRSV, James 2:8-13)
As Christians, we must remember that all of us are sinners in our own ways (Romans 3:21-24, 5:12, 1 John 1:8). Despite that, God loves all His children (Genesis 1:31, Psalms 145:9, Matthew 5:43-45, John 3:16, Romans 5:8). We cannot afford to let our feelings or fears about homosexuality blind us to Jesus' commandment to "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:36-39).
Of course, society has a legitimate right and duty to take legal action against those sexual offenders, homosexual or heterosexual, who use coercion or who prey on children or the disabled.
Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.
The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.
Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.
From Catechism of the Catholic Church, (c) 1994, United States Catholic Conference, Inc., http://www.nccbuscc.org/catechism/text/index.htm
We affirm God's plan for marriage and sexual intimacy - one man, and one woman, for life. Homosexuality is not a "valid alternative lifestyle." The Bible condemns it as sin. It is not, however, unforgivable sin. The same redemption available to all sinners is available to homosexuals. They, too, may become new creations in Christ.
From Position Statements, Copyright (c) 1999 - 2001, Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, http://sbc.net/default.asp?url=position-statements.html
Homosexual persons no less than heterosexual persons are individuals of sacred worth. All persons need the ministry and guidance of the church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. Although we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching, we affirm that God's grace is available to all. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn their lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.
Certain basic human rights and civil liberties are due all persons. We are committed to supporting those rights and liberties for homosexual persons. We see a clear issue of simple justice in protecting their rightful claims where they have shared material resources, pensions, guardian relationships, mutual powers of attorney, and other such lawful claims typically attendant to contractual relationships that involve shared contributions, responsibilities, and liabilities, and equal protection before the law. Moreover, we support efforts to stop violence and other forms of coercion against gays and lesbians. We also commit ourselves to social witness against the coercion and marginalization of former homosexuals.
From The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church--2000, ¶161G, 162H. Copyright 2000 by The United Methodist Publishing House, http://www.umc.org/abouttheumc/policy/
1 The male prostitutes of pagan temples are mentioned in Deuteronomy 23:17-18, 1 Kings 14:23-24, 15:12-13, 22:46, 2 Kings 23:6-8, but it is not certain whether or not they engaged in homosexual acts.
LGBT in the Church
In 1976, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church declared that “homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church" (1976-A069). Since then, faithful Episcopalians have been working toward a greater understanding and radical inclusion of all of God’s children.
Along the way, The Episcopal Church has garnered a lot of attention, but with the help of organizations such as Integrity USA, the church has continued its work toward full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Episcopalians. In 2003, the first openly gay bishop was consecrated; in 2009, General Convention resolved that God’s call is open to all; and in 2012, a provisional rite of blessing for same-gender relationships was authorized, and discrimination against transgender persons in the ordination process was officially prohibited.
To our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender brothers and sisters: “The Episcopal Church welcomes you!”