The Bible, Jesus, and Same-Sex Marriage
Let’s be honest. Most of the sexual mores in the Bible are skewed because they reflect the customs and practices of a pre-scientific age and a pervasively dominant patriarchal culture.
Consider these examples:
-- Menstrual blood was deemed “unclean” and sexual intercourse during this period was strictly forbidden (Lev. 18:19; 15:19–24).
-- A woman left her father’s dominion to enter the dominion of the head of the family into which she was marrying. In the event of the husband’s death, the woman stayed in the new family, either as the mother of the children, or being passed to another son through the institution of levirate marriage (Gen. 38:7–11; Deut 25:5–10).
-- Polygamy (many wives) and concubinage (a woman living with a man to whom she is not married) were regularly practiced in the Old Testament. These practices are mentioned numerous times without condemnation.
-- A woman was expected to be a virgin when she married, while male virginity is never even mentioned. A man could accuse his bride of not being a virgin and the woman would then be subjected to a test. If the test proved false, the man was subjected to a fine and would never be permitted to divorce his bride. If the test proved true, then the woman was to be stoned to death (Deut. 22:13–21).
-- A man could divorce his wife quite easily, but a woman had no legal right of divorce, since she was basically the possession of the man, the head of the family (Deut 24:1–4).
Given the assumptions, biases, customs, laws, and practices of a pre-scientific, patriarchal culture, it should come as no surprise that the few times homosexual behavior is mentioned in the Bible it comes under condemnation.
When Paul condemned homosexual behavior in Romans 1:26–27, he would have assumed that these were heterosexuals acting contrary to nature. Paul would have had no concept of homosexuality as a sexual orientation. The idea of sexual orientation as a disposition determined genetically or very early in life would have been foreign to Paul and his world. We now know that human sexual orientation is complex, involving genetic makeup and physiological conditions over which one has no control. The possibility of a committed, faithful same-sex union would never have occurred to him.
The Bible cannot possibly supply us with specific answers to questions of sexuality and marriage faced in the modern world and church. To look to the Bible for such answers and proclaim them as God’s will for today is both silly and foolish. To do so is to use the Bible as an instrument of oppression and death.
On the other hand, the Bible gives us the Gospels, and the Gospels portray the theological meaning and significance of the Christ Event, as the early disciples understood it. Jesus is presented as “the authority” for those who would live a Christian life. For Christians, Jesus is Lord and the life of faith is a life of discipleship to the living Christ.
The historical Jesus, of course, would have shared some of the cultural presuppositions of his day and age, but interestingly, there is not a word about homosexuality in the Gospels. Jesus condemns “lust” in Matthew 5:27–28, not as sexual desire per se, but as an exploitive desire to use the other sexually for one’s own gratification.
Jesus opposed divorce and this is subject to different interpretations. The most likely basis for such teaching was Jesus’ desire to provide some equality to the playing field (see Mark 10:1–12). In that culture men could legally divorce their wives for any reason whatsoever; whereas women did not have a legal option. Jesus wanted to give women some leverage by eliminating the male option of divorce.
What we know for sure is that Jesus embodied and taught an ethic of love and compassion, and considered this ethic to be the heart and core of conformity to the will of God (Matt 22:34–40). We know that Jesus was a boundary breaker. He disregarded and violated
laws, challenged the status quo and the reigning traditions of the Hebrew
Scriptures and oral law that he considered oppressive, and overturned barriers
that excluded, marginalized, and condemned various persons and groups.
The trajectory of the Divine Will incarnated in Jesus of Nazareth culminates for Christians in the living Christ, who is the archetype for all our relations and interactions with others.
I have no doubt that the living Christ is prodding, leading, and calling us—the body of Christ in the world—to welcome, accept, and approve of same-sex marriages where partners vow mutual fidelity, honesty, responsibility, love, and care for one another.