Does the Bible condemn homosexual relationships? Part 5

Matthew Vine’s view [ ] is that the Bible not only does not condemn loving, committed homosexual relationships but actually condones them. We are, he tells us, violating the Bible if we refuse to acknowledge the right of homosexuals to marry. Genesis 2:18 tells us that God said, “It is not good that the man be alone; I will make a helper fit for him.” In the story, God then creates Eve but Vine is sure that he also created other Adams for those men who have a preference and other Eves for the women who would like it that way.

Unfortunately, such a surprisingly imaginative way of reading the text is typical of the biblical interpretation we find in Vine’s essay. Yet Vine is not being flippant but quite serious and thus deserves a reading.

In my last blog entry I looked at Vine’s handling of the passage in Romans 1 in which Paul seems to be quite clear that homosexual behavior is the result of idolatry and rejection of God. Such behavior, says Paul, is actually one of God’s punishments of those who have rejected the truth about God and exchanged it for a lie. God has left us to choose the unnatural rather than the natural, choose to be untrue to ourselves and faithful instead to a lie about ourselves.

The lesson Vine learns from this is that it is wrong for heterosexuals to engage in homosexual behavior and equally wrong for homosexuals to engage in heterosexual behavior.

Vine has pointed out, rightfully, that the Bible has references only to homosexual behavior and gives no sign that anyone in biblical times had any idea like what we now call sexual orientation. Rather than learning from this that the Bible condemns homosexual behavior no matter its cause, Vine is sure Paul would have condoned homosexual behavior if only he had known how right it feels for some people.

One of the keys to Vine’s view is his understanding of the word “nature.” We each have a different nature, he tells us, at least when it comes to sexual orientation. There is nothing whatsoever in Roman 1 to suggest that Paul had individuals in mind. He is talking, it seems, about “human nature,” not my personal list of preferences or yours.

In I Corinthians 11:14 Paul uses the word “nature” again: “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him. . .” We, of course, cannot conceive of a way that the physical nature of a man requires short hair, so we assume Paul is using the term metaphorical to refer to custom or convention. That is perfectly legitimate.

Vine argues that the word was used in this metaphorical way by the Greeks and Romans very commonly and that, therefore, we should read it the same way in Romans 1. (He gives no reason why he thinks Greco-Roman culture is the ultimate arbiter of biblical texts.) If we don’t read it that way we are not being “consistent and historically accurate in our biblical interpretation.” He seems to believe that the terrible fruit of God’s wrath toward humankind is that he lets us break social custom.

We need a whole new word to describe Vine’s biblical interpretation: “punify.” He takes serious biblical texts and makes them puny. Punification is not responsible interpretation.


About mthayes42

I am a retired pastor, interested in the Bible, cross-cultural ministries, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the current and past history of western civilization.
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4 Responses to Does the Bible condemn homosexual relationships? Part 5

  1. The problem is that you do not understand. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

    • mthayes42 says:

      I may not understand? You’re absolutely right. We all have to live daily with the reality of our fallibility. If I were sure I have a lock on the truth about homosexuality, I would have stopped reading after John Boswell published his “Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality” in 1980. I have read carefully the Matthew Vine essay you recommended but have been disappointed because it is, in my opinion, of such poor scholarship that — had it been about any other subject — I would not have bothered with it. I have been dwelling in Scripture for more than 50 years and have mastered none of it but I have learned to recognize when someone is twisting a text to suit a bias. I’m not immune to the temptation either, which is why I tend to stick with the “plain sense” of the text (Luther’s phrase) unless some factor forces me otherwise. Vine evades and even reverses the plain sense of his texts for no good reason and therefore does not serve the LBGT community well.

      By the way, are you absolutely sure that I am the only one of the two of us who does not yet understand fully?


      • Oh, possibly not.

        This is what I hate about your posts. All this effort and scholarship, while people are suffering. People can be sacked for being gay, and refused service by businesses. People are bullied, and commit suicide. And you think that the effort you need to make, as if no-one else is saying these things, is to say that the Bible condemns us, which bullies take as encouragement.

      • mthayes42 says:

        Thanks for the note, Clare. I’m aware that the Bible can and very often has been used as a club in the hands of bullies. Any good thing can be abused and the Bible seems to have been a prime example over the centuries. Abusing the Bible, however, by twisting it to mean the opposite of what it says seems to me to be a problem in two ways.

        First, I believe the Bible deserves greater respect. It’s great value has been proven century after century, culture after culture. It’s misuse by bullies (and worse) is the bullies’ fault, not the Bible’s.

        Second, I believe Matthew Vine’s abusive way of dealing with the text is very shortsighted as a strategy. Integrity will outlast manipulation in the long run.

        Yours is the right battle: How can those of the LBGT community be persons of freedom and dignity? There are no easy answers, of course, and that means there are no painless answers on either side of the debate. For the most part, I have stayed out of the public debate over the years because I could see no way either side could speak up without causing pain.

        Is it irresponsible of me now to join the debate at the point of seeking to be clear about the Bible? I don’t know. All I know is that Matthew Vine (following John Boswell and some others) has not dealt fairly with Scripture and thus, in the long run, simply makes matters worse. Could my words be used by bullies? Yes, of course, but so could Vine’s.

        May I tell you a bit about myself? Somehow a long, long time ago I learned a bad lesson: I grew up feeling there was something very deeply wrong with me, something too awful to put into words but something which was repulsive to my mom. Now I know in my head that the problem was hers, not mine, and I wish she were still alive so that I could tell her I forgive her. I have lived a fairly healthy life but only because when I became a Christian at age 20 I began to learn quickly that the question “Who am I?” cannot be answered by introspection. To know myself, I must learn the character of the One in whose image I have been created.

        Since Scripture is a crucial window revealing the character of God, I want to read it without bending or twisting it and I want to help others do the same. That doesn’t make me your enemy. Read it with me and, when you thinking I’m not being true to the text, help me see better. Okay?


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