Biblical Teaching on Homosexuality
July 14, 2012
Someone asked me to review this video. I thought my response might be helpful to others so I posted it here.
I had never heard of Matthew Vines before but he seems earnest and did a fine job presenting and he did a more thorough job of interacting with many of the common arguments against homosexuality than most who take his approach.
Before I get to the specifics of his biblical arguments on homosexuality, I would like to address the verse that he used to frame his whole argument. Early in his discussion, he took Matthew 7:20 “by their fruits ye shall know them” and stated that this verse was telling us that we can judge doctrinal teaching based on its results. There are two major problems with this. First, that is manifestly not what Matthew 7 is saying. Matthew 7 is saying that you will know the followers of Christ by their deeds. In the rest of Matthew 7, Jesus states that many people will claim to have good intentions but the fact that they failed to follow Jesus will condemn them. Far from telling us that God judges the truth of doctrine by its effects on people, Jesus is saying that God judges people based on their willingness to follow doctrine. The passage actually says the opposite of what Matthew Vines is using it to say.
But there is a broader and more telling issue with his statements here. He makes a philosophical assumption that is revealing because I think lies at the heart of this issue in America. He stated that “good teachings do not lead to emotional and spiritual devastation.” He is assuming that a feeling of emotional and spiritual wellbeing are evidence of that something is good (and conversely that which detracts from these are bad). At first glance, it seems that such a statement is obviously true. But is it?
Such a statement is actually quite Western and quite modern. For most of history and still today in most parts of the world, how something makes you feel has not factored into whether or not it has been considered moral. Morals were laws or precepts. Usually morals were determined by a god, sometimes by a king or a philosopher. But in most cases, feelings, emotional, and a sense of spiritual wellbeing didn’t factor in – at all. Throughout Jewish history and most of Christian history, this was the sense of morals that God’s people held to. Morals were determined by God. How we felt about those morals were not exactly something that factored in.
So how did we as a culture get to the point where Matthew Vines can say that and have us all sort of shake our head in complete agreement? We need to look back a few centuries to get the answer. Since the 17th century, there has been a broad desire in academia to find morals that did not come from God. Perhaps the most popular approach was outlined by John Stuart Mill. In his work, Utilitarianism, Mill states that an action that causes happiness is good. An action that causes pain is bad. And based on this rule, we can come up with a system of morals that would make a happy and healthy society.
The problem with this philosophy is legion. The first critique that was leveled by Mill’s contemporaries it is a philosophy of pigs. Pigs seek happiness and avoid pain. Aren’t humans called to be more than pigs? Are we not called to sacrifice? Aren’t humans called to do the right thing even when it is painful?
But the greater critique in my mind is that it is absolutely worthless in application. Try applying it to shoplifting. Shoplifting from a major corporation causes the thief great pleasure. And the corporation is so large that the theft causes almost no pain. Here is an act that causes much more happiness than pain. Is it good? How about adultery? Well, so long as the cheated on person doesn’t find out the cheating husband and his mistress get happiness and no one gets pain. Let’s go broader and apply to governments. The great tyrannical nations of the 20th century were quite utilitarian. The communist regimes said that they might have to kill a few thousand people to create the utopian communist nation. They did the utilitarian calculation and decided that tyranny was good. As you can see from these examples, there is a theme: the actor always considers himself just. It is a philosophy that has caused a lot of devastation in the world.
But despite these glaring issues, Mill was incredibly influential. His approach has become part of our culture. People repeatedly appeal to certain behaviors as good based on the happiness they cause or the pain they avoid.
And this is a philosophy that sits at the heart of the homosexual argument. Matthew Vines articulated it right up front. He says that heterosexuals get these great romantic relationships and homosexuals don’t. This causes homosexuals sadness, loneliness, and pain. So when he comes to Matthew 7, it seems self evident to him that a doctrine that promotes something that causes sadness, loneliness and pain and prohibits romantic love must be a bad fruit. This full embrace of utilitarianism as a framework by which to judge biblical interpretation is a bad start and I think it distorts his whole approach.
The Christian view is that often the thing that we think will bring us the most happiness is the worst possible thing for us. St. Augustine once wrote that we are constantly trying to fill our hearts with things that are not God. Calvin said that our hearts are idol factories. Our hearts seek something other than God for our happiness. That is the heart of idolatry.
Ok. Now for the more specific passages. I am not going to spend a ton of time addressing each one of his biblical discussions but I will touch on some of them.
For Genesis 1-2, he argues that because God said “it is not good for man to be alone” that therefore it is not good for homosexuals to not have a gay partner. But this doesn’t hold up to logic. Loneliness doesn’t automatically make sexual expression right. A man away from his wife on business cannot say, ‘it is not good for a man to be alone’ as he goes to a prostitute. And there are all sorts of sexual relationships that Matthew Vines would join with me to condemn (bestiality, children, etc) that cannot be called right based on the principle that being alone is not good. Furthermore, sometimes being alone can be good. Paul talks in 1 Cor 7 about how he wishes everyone had the gift of being single. Paul was called to be single. Jesus was single. Was this not good? Of course this doesn’t follow.
God gave Adam a wife. Matthew Vines seems to suggest that Adam just happened to be a straight man and therefore it made sense to make Eve but if God had made a gay Adam then maybe another guy would have been appropriate. But I think this fails also. Adam and Eve are not just two random people. They are the prototypes of all humanity. The name Adam literally means human. God created an order to the world. He created things as they should be. And he gave Adam a wife not because Adam asked for a wife or because Adam felt lonely but because God wanted Adam to have a wife. It was not good for Adam to be without one. It had nothing to do with Adam’s feelings or emotions.
When Vines moves to Leviticus he seems to get very confused in a way that many people get confused. What in the Old Testament still applies and what does not? Tim Keller wrote an excellent article on this (you can check it out herehttp://www.redeemer.com/news_and_events/newsletter/?aid=363). Keller’s basic point is that there are three aspect s of the Old Testament Law: 1) Laws relating to the temple and ceremonial cleanliness, 2) Laws relating to the punishment of sins and the operation of Israel’s legal system, 3) Moral commands. Since Jesus fulfilled the temple (Hebrews 10), the laws relating to the temple and ceremonial cleanliness are no longer necessary. Since we are not ancient Israel, the laws relating to the operation of their government are not good for us to follow. But the third division of the law, is still quite relevant to Christians. Jesus repeats the moral law to the Rich man in Matthew 19 is told to follow the 10 Commandments. Paul throughout his epistles reaffirms the morals of the Old Testament even defending the use of the Old Testament for moral law in Romans 7:7 saying, “I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” And since the first century, Christians have held tight to the 10 Commandments (a summary of the moral law). So, what is Leviticus 18 that condemns homosexuality? Which category of law is it? It is clearly moral law. These commands do not apply to the Temple or the government. These are issues of living the moral life. And these morals are repeated and assumed throughout scripture including in the New Testament.
Matthew Vines’ biblical arguments do not get any better as he moves to the New Testament. His efforts on Romans 1 (that the problem Paul is touching on is heterosexuals giving into gay sex) is an old argument that has been rejected by many scholars for the reason that Paul (nor any other ancient) had any concept of a homosexual identity or a heterosexual identity. Vines acknowledges this argument and tries to get around it but in order to do so he has to keep using the phrase that Paul was opposing “general sexual chaos”. This forces the question – what does that mean? How do we know what is sexually ok and what is not? Historically Christians have looked to the Old Testament. Specifically Leviticus 18 (that includes homosexuality). The New Testament says little about sexual morals other than a general assumption of the morals of the Old Testament. How would we know “general sexual chaos” if we saw it?
His work on 1 Corinthians 6:9 is simply poor scholarship. He rejects mainstream scholarship on the meaning of “malakos”. For example, my lexicon lists this definition, “effeminate, unmanly; especially of a man or boy who submits his body to homosexual lewdness catamite, homosexual pervert”. These lexicons are not put together by fundamentalist republicans seeking to bash gays. They are put together by crusty old scholars at places like Oxford and Cambridge who eat sleep and drink ancient literature. Matthew Vines did not point to a single lexicon to support his very unique translation because there is not a single lexicon that would support it. I have five separate lexicons that I checked and all gave some variation of the definition given above.
His discussion on 1 Corinthians 7 is also curious and points to an inability to define what is sexually immoral. He suggests that Paul saying it is better to marry than to burn with passion justifies homosexuality fails to understand what Paul is saying. Paul is saying it is better to marry than to act in sexually immoral ways. But there is a presumption in Paul’s writing that we know what is immoral. Where would we get that answer? How would we know what is moral and what is not? The Old Testament is the only possible place. And the Old Testament is clear that lying with a man like you would with a woman would fit the category of an immoral thing to be avoided rather than a moral thing to solve the possibility of immorality.
Last point: He says that “straight Christians somehow assume that gay Christians are somehow inferior to them.” This is untrue. I don’t think I am superior to Matthew Vines in any way. He might be better than me. He might be a nicer guy. He might be harder working. He might be smarter. He might be kinder. He might give more to the poor.
But he and I are both broken. Sin is the first great equalizer. We both deserve nothing. The second great equalizer is that God extends his grace to us. Freely. Not based on what I did or do but based on what Jesus did. I cannot brag. I cannot say I am better.
Jesus calls on us first to trust in him as Lord and then to take our cross and follow him. Following him means following his commandments (1 John 2:4) as best we can and repenting when we fail. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a theologian killed in a concentration camp for fighting against Hitler, once wrote “When God calls a man he calls him to come and to die.” We are not called to be Christians so that we can go do whatever makes us happy. Often the Christian walk is a painful one. Often it is one of sacrifice and trouble. But the reward of the Christian walk is immeasurable. CS Lewis said it best, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.” My statement to people struggling with homosexuality would be to keep struggling. As I keep struggling against my sins. And understand that you worship a God who knows every temptation (Hebrews 4) and sympathizes with you. Understand that you worship a God that died for you when you were still a sinner. Understand the grace of God.