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A Welcoming Community—of Grace:
A Law and Gospel Approach to the Sexuality Debate

by Pastor Joel Berthelsen

December 9, 2005

This document should print approximately 80 pages


Go to and key in the word “welcoming.” When I did this I found 1655 matches. This included 71 significant stories in The Lutheran in the last seven years and 145 overall entries in the magazine. The content of the welcoming was wide and varied. The category labeled had 405 entries. The first entry was “Welcoming Gays and Lesbians: a view from the pew.” The second was titled “Welcoming Gay and Lesbian People.” The third was “Tools for a Healthy Congregation – Welcoming.” Welcoming is obviously a needed action in our church, in general, and in recent years the need to be welcoming to gay and lesbian people has received needed attention. In the midst of the talk it is good to reflect on the following. When it comes to questions about welcoming gay and lesbian people, just what does it mean to be a welcoming community of grace?

Perspective for the issue. In July 2000 The Lutheran magazine reported action taken by several synod assemblies regarding homosexuality. The article entitled, “Assemblies take a stand on… same-sex unions,”[1] reported that the Milwaukee Synod adopted the following resolution by a 141-103 vote. This Synod “affirms the blessing of such committed same-gender relationships by pastors of this synod after counseling with the couple seeking such a blessing.” Is this what it means to be a welcoming community of grace?

More perspective for the issue. In June of 2001 The Lutheran reported the unofficial “ordination” of a non-celibate woman living in a long-term lesbian committed relationship. Though it was not an official ordination, as it is precluded by present policy, one active Bishop and three former Bishops were present at this event, along with 160 ELCA pastors, giving emotional support to the idea that it is time for an official policy change regarding homosexuality. Is this what it means to be a welcoming community of grace?

The August 2001 Churchwide Assembly paved the way for officially considering just such change by calling for a study that would lead to official decisions about these issues. That 2001 Churchwide Assembly called for a church-wide study on homosexuality and an action-plan for implementation. January 13, 2005 the ELCA Sexuality Task Force gave recommendation to change the existing policy by retaining the existing policy words but allowing for violation of that policy. April 11, 2005 the ELCA Church Council basically adopted the recommendations of the Task Force and added a resolution to process the allowed violations. This ELCA Church Council decision will be voted on at the official policy-making Churchwide Assembly in August of 2005. The answer to the question “what does it mean to be a welcoming community of grace?” will play a critical roll in how people vote. So, what does it mean to be a welcoming community of grace?

What does it mean to be a welcoming community of grace? There are at least two senses of welcome in the scriptures. One is “to receive kindly or heartily”[2] (in a friendly, sincere, cordial way). The second is “to receive with hearty assent (acceptance of an opinion or proposal).”[3]

THESIS - I submit that the church is to welcome ALL people kindly and in a friendly, sincere, cordial way. But the church need not embrace all people with hearty assent, accepting just any opinion or proposal that comes its way. Taken as a general policy, this second sense of welcome would be ludicrous. The scriptures should instead govern the churches’ assent. In regards to homosexuality, I will argue in this paper that the scriptures leave no room for condoning active gay clergy to be active pastors in the ELCA; nor do the scriptures give reason to bless same sex unions. The scriptures leave no such room for such things because the scriptures give no reason to remove the word sin from any same gender sexual activity. Instead the scriptures call us to provide loving pastoral care and outstretched welcoming ministering arms to homosexual people. To not give welcome in the second sense but to give it in the first sense is to speak of law and gospel. The purpose of this paper is to give a law and gospel approach to the issue of homosexuality and by so doing give needed direction to become a truly welcoming community of grace.

Second Edition ©2005

Personal Reflection

After reading the letter page in a good many issues of The Lutheran, one might conclude that the predominant sexuality issue of the church is homosexuality. I do not believe this is true. Heterosexuality that is out-of-bounds is by far our worst sexual problem: couples living together before marriage, premarital sex, and pornography present a mammoth problem. However, because of the 2005 deadline asking us to make official policy decisions about homosexuality I will move the heterosexual question into the appendix.

To say that homosexuality is not the predominant sexual issue in the church is not to minimize the issue. This is a very serious issue. It is serious because the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is toying with officially sanctioning sin. (The first section of this paper will be a reasonable defense of this claim.)

What is at stake here? Consider this allegory. (a.) If a thief steals, the thief is individually responsible. (b.) If a thief steals and jumps into a car where a second person is the getaway driver, then, though the getaway driver did not actively steal, the getaway driver is in complicity with the thief. (c.) If the 2005 Churchwide Assembly should vote that stealing is no longer wrong, (or acknowledges that we have laws about stealing on the books – but recommends that we need not follow those laws) then WE ARE ALL DRIVERS OF THE CAR. This thinly veiled allegory spells out why we should vie for the defeat (and vie for reversal if it passes in August) of the recommendations of the ELCA Church Council: we will all be in complicity with the decision if it becomes official church policy to look the other way from blessing same sex unions or turn a blind eye to ordaining pastors who are living in “committed same sex relationships.”

Therefore, we cannot allow ourselves to get distracted in the presence of other important issues. For instance, many voices are being heard to say we should place “unity” at the highest premium. Unity must be a high premium but it must not be higher than holiness. We confess in the Nicene Creed that the church is “one, holy, catholic and apostolic.” The call for unity (“oneness”) is not a higher calling than holiness. Nor is the call to “missions” (the church’s apostolic call) higher than holiness. “One, holy, catholic, and apostolic” must stand on the same plane, even while they are at times in tension.

What are the implications of this? Even though this takes time, we must give this issue its due attention. I would rather give my attention to other important issues. But I don’t have this luxury. To simply go on to other important issues and not examine the issue thoroughly will leave the church weaker and less effective. Therefore I have listened carefully to objections people have had to my basic thesis. The following is my response to these voices and a vision for moving ahead. Now that we are beyond the first phase of Journey Together Faithfully, where many pastors felt compelled to not speak of their personal position, I invite all to now enter the dialogue, placing on the table what you think and believe, and why. This is my attempt to do this with as much integrity and seriousness as I can muster


A Law and Gospel Approach to Sexuality

  1. Assumptions
  2. The Law
    1. Out-of-bounds heterosexuality
      1. Marriage is the only place for intimate sex. (Appendix)
      2. The three elements of marriage (Appendix)
    2. Out-of-bounds same gender sexual expression
      1. All same gender intimate sex is wrong is sin.
        1. Objection #1 Selective enforcement of scripture
          1. A thorough look at law (Which law? 10 + 1 negation)
        2. Objection #2 Seemingly clear passages aren’t that clear Big umbrella
          1. A response to language and cultural context The Big Tent
        3. Objection #3 We have disregarded other scriptural prescriptions
          1. Women’s ordination...;In the Context of the Whole;
          2. Slavery...More Broad than we Expect
          3. Divorce... Reformation or Revision?
        4. Objection #4 Genetic ramifications
          1. Science in general...Discovering What Physically Is
          2. DNA... The Dance
        5. Objection #5 It is not loving to insist such boundaries.
          1. What is Love?... Cole Porter’s Question Revisited;
          2. Scripture’s definition
  3. The Gospel... Being clear about the law is not enough. (Details are given in Part Two)
  4. Conclusion
  5. Appendix

Second Edition ©2005


Before I begin, here are my assumptions that I start with. From the perspective of a Lutheran pastor writing to largely Lutheran readers I strongly agree with our constitution’s statement on the authority of the scriptures. Our constitution states, “This congregation accepts the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith, and life.” (C2.03) The dictionary defines norm as a standard, model, or pattern for a group. Then it gives further nuance. The dictionary nuance that best describes how I understand norm is not (a): norm as a median or average, nor (b): Norm as what is typical to a group, but instead I understand norm to mean (c): “a standard of conduct that should or must be followed.”

The scriptures themselves state, “All scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for instruction, correction and reproof and training in righteousness...” I Tim. 3:16 Therefore, this paper will largely take into account the voice of the scriptures to see how they instruct, correct, and train us regarding these important sexuality questions.

In Defense of the Norm

Some, even within our Lutheran church, wonder, “Why would you allow the will of an earlier generation (a generation that had less knowledge then we have available) to be normative in the sense you describe above?” To this I say, “It is not the will of people that is normative, but rather the will of God.” People sometimes then respond, “How is it that God has expressed his will through fallible humans? The Caiaphas story in John 11 describes how God is able to speak through people, going beyond what they themselves intended, while at the same time not violating their will.

The story is John 11:45-53

Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.

What are we accomplishing?’ they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous sings. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, ‘You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.’

He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. So from that day on they plotted to take his life.”

This story illustrates how God can accomplish getting his message communicated through fallible means, and even without violating the speaker’s will. The leaders were concerned that Rome would come in and destroy the temple and maybe all of Jerusalem if the crowds rose up to follow Jesus. So Caiaphas wanted to reassure the other leaders that one man (Jesus) would die so that the Romans would not come and destroy the nation (destroy Jerusalem and the system of organization stemming from Jerusalem.) “You know nothing. It is necessary for one man to die for the nation.” Here Caiaphas clearly stated what he wanted to say. But words are like roads; they take you to different places, depending on which way you take them. God was able to inspire Caiaphas to use certain words that described Caiaphas’ intent while at the same time… when taken differently… described God’s intent. God meant… it is necessary for one man (that is Jesus) to die for the nation (meaning for the sins of the world.) John made this explicit when he explained, “Caiaphas did not speak on his own accord, but as high priest he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation….”

This is an amazing and instructive story. God is like a good poet who knows how to use words to say two different things with one sentence. So God, knowing what Caiaphas wanted to say, inspired him to say what Caiaphas wanted in such a way that God also accomplished what He wanted to say. God was even able to speak through a person who wasn’t intending to speak God’s words.

How much more, then, is God able to speak through people whose burning desire was to answer the call to be a prophet and speak out God’s word? They were listening intently, waiting to hear God speak, and watching closely… eager to step into the flow of what God had been doing with his people.

But there is more. Even with this burning desire, God went beyond what those prophets and writers thought. I call this the Penny Lane factor. In the song “Penny Lane” by the Beatles there is a funny line that describes a man who, “Though he thinks he is in a play, he is anyway.” The line startles and amuses us. We expect the line to finish, “though he thinks he is in a play, he really isn’t…” But that isn’t what is said. Something like that was going on even with the prophets and writers of scriptures. Though they thought they were speaking and recording God’s will, “they were anyway.” It turns out that words are like roads not only in that they can be taken in different directions, but that they also can have more than one lane. And sometimes the lanes split off and separate only to connect later, like I35 W and I35 E splitting again and again to go around and through Dallas and other cities. In the same way words can split off with different meanings and nuances. So we ask, “Is Isaiah 53 about Israel, or about Jesus? And the answer is, “Yes.”

Some at this point might say, “O.K. I understand what you are saying. But how is this possible? How does God intermingle His will in such a way?” To this I say, “I will answer that if you answer this question, ‘How does human will move a person? How does human will operate?’ It’s a trick, of course. I know I will never have to answer the question because we cannot even explain how our own wills function. We some day might be able to follow all the chemicals and electrical impulses through their courses down to the muscle, etc. But how does that first signal ever get started? And what role does the will of others play in that beginning? If we were closer to understanding these questions we might be closer to an answer concerning how God affects his will in the midst of our own will. But if we take the scriptures seriously we will know that the closer we get to the God question, the more complicated the answer will become. Isaiah 55 says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.’ says the Lord.”

What am I saying? Am I saying, “Sit down and stop asking questions?” No. Ask all the questions you have. But put your questions in perspective with other questions. It wouldn’t be wrong of someone, when asked about the theory and workings of calculus, to ask the question, “Just how much prior math have you had?” How can calculus be clear if algebra is a mystery?

When we find we don’t know all the answers to our questions, what we need to do is step back and ask more basic questions. Some questions that are pertinent here are, “The one who made the eye, can he not see? The one who made the ear, can he not hear?” (Psalm 94:9) To these good questions some have added questions of their own. “The one who made the mouth, can he not speak?” If limited, little Satan can place tempting thoughts in our minds, cannot the infinite personal One True God place His good thoughts in the midst of our thoughts? To all these questions I answer, “YES.” I am not ashamed of the mystery. In the end it only makes intuitional sense that the One True living infinite personal God has been at work with His people to express his loving will to us, even through vessels that are “jars of clay.”(II Cor.4:7)

A second assumption I have is related to science and scientific method. I admire science and affirm a place and a need for scientific method. I see a significant intersection between faith and scientific method at the level of inductive reasoning.[5] (See also Appendix #1.) However, scientific method moves from a hypotheses attained by inductive reasoning to testing this hypotheses using deductive (if... then) reasoning, using repeatable and measurable experiments for each “if... then” step. This deductive process is both science’s strength and weakness. Science, when done well, is especially well equipped to speak about “What (physically) Is.” It is not equipped to talk about what “Should Be.” The following discussion in Part One will largely be a discussion about what should be, and as such will help you (at least this is my intention) to critique the sexuality issues confronting the church.

A Welcoming Community of Grace

A Law and Gospel Approach to Human Sexuality

Part One

A. Out-of-bounds Heterosexuality:

Contrary to what many people think, homosexuality is not the most problematic sexual issue of our day. Homosexual issues are complex and opinions are often passionately held, drawing a great deal of media attention. Nevertheless, sheer numbers of people suggest that an out-of-bounds heterosexuality is by far our church’s most pervasive sexual problem. Appendix #2

However, because the ELCA has set a 2005 deadline to make official decisions regarding homosexuality policy, these less pervasive issues must be brought to the foreground.

B. Out-of-bounds Homosexuality

A number of scripture passages speak to the issue of homosexuality: Lev.18:22; 20:13; and Rom.1:18-32 are examples. “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.” (Lev.18:22) “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.” (Lev.20;13) “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.” (Roman 1:26-27) These passages give clear boundaries. Same gender sexual expression is not to be practiced. A clear decisive conclusion like this brings a torrent of objections. (1.) You are selectively enforcing laws. (2.) Of those passages that you say speak clearly regarding homosexuality you have not adequately taken into account the complexities of language and historical context. (3.) We have changed how we look at scripture before; for instance, look at woman’s ordination or the slavery issue, or issues surrounding divorce. Why not change in this instance? (4.) Look how science has generally changed how we interpret scriptures, and particularly, what if people are genetically wired to be homosexual? Shouldn’t that change how we look at this issue? (5.) The gospel calls us to love everyone. You aren’t being loving if you hold to such boundaries.

The following will be my responses to these objections

Objection #1 You are selectively enforcing passages.

The Lutheran article, “What about same-sex unions?” [Sept. 2000] quoted Pastor Hesford’s objections to the use of Lev.18:22 and Lev. 20:13 as normative passages. Rev. Hesford, pastor of Christ Lutheran in Detroit, said, “…individuals can’t selectively enforce only one part of the Levitical code while ignoring its other laws.”[6]

Which Laws are Functioning?

It isn’t only Pastor Hesford who sounds this objection. Many sound this objection as if there is no response. But there is a clear response. Being clear about this will place the discussion on a good foundation to then deal with the other objections. So which laws are functioning? How do we decide which laws are to be enforced?

First I will argue there are 10 laws and one general category of law that have been abolished. Then I will explain why this is, contrasting the abolished law’s strictly external nature to the internal nature of the law that remains.

Ten + One Laws are Abolished... and Why.

The church aims to produce another draft about sexuality out of the study that is under way. No doubt this next draft will consider past drafts, both ones that were ratified and ones that weren’t. In the unratified 1993 draft titled The Church and Human Sexuality: A Lutheran Perspective we see a recognized belief about the law. On page 4 line 43 it states, “Christians are freed from the requirement to observe numerous cultic and purity laws.”[7] This statement is correct. But what needs to be clear is why this is correct. Is the draft’s statement true because we now are free to just pick and choose what laws we like and what laws we don’t like? Do we simply leave out the ones that seem particularly foreign to us, or seem mundane or archaic? What is the basis on which such decisions are made?

Lutherans can point to our constitution for the answer to this question: “This congregation accepts the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith, and life.” (C2.03) The scriptures themselves should be the final norm to answer what is in force and what is not in force. The scriptures themselves have pointed to changes: ten specific laws are changed, and one general category of law has changed. These changes, the scriptures tell us, are brought about by a “change of priesthood.”

A Change in Priesthood Means a Change in Law

Hebrews 7:12 says, “When there is a change of priesthood there is necessarily a change in the law as well.” Hebrews doesn’t entirely explain why this is. I assume it is something akin to when one government falls and an entirely different governmental system arises. They have a new constituting convention... or they do some reasonable facsimile of that. There is a new legislative process established. Probably there is no government that changes all laws. Some laws would be seen as natural and necessary. But, it would be up to the new government to establish the new system. In a similar vein, the new priesthood institutes some changes in the law.

“When there is a change of priesthood there is necessarily a change in the law as well.” (Hebrews 7:12) Is there a new priesthood? Yes. Hebrews 8:1 speaks of Jesus as our new high priest. He is not of the Levitical family from whence priests formerly were to emerge but instead Jesus was from the family of Judah that didn’t have provisions for its members to be priests (Heb. 7:5-17). Because He is not from the priestly tribe of Levi but rather from the royal tribe of Judah, when He became our high priest He introduced a whole new order… (similar to a scenario where the “speaker of the house” became also the president and head supreme court justice, all the while retaining all functions at once.) As Jesus the King became simultaneously the High Priest, a new system had to be established. So, there was “a change of priesthood.” This was a huge change. As Jesus began a non-Levitical royal priesthood there was “necessarily a change in the law as well.”

Now, what specifically are the changes in the law? Once again, it needs to be said that the “scriptures themselves are the norm for all matters of faith and life.” The scriptures themselves tell us what changes have occurred.

What changes have occurred? The scriptures tell us that there are ten specific changes that have occurred.

First of all, there have been changes in the (1) sacrificial laws.

Hebrews 10:1 says, “Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach.” Hebrews 10:8 continues the thought: “When he said above, you have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings, these are offered according to the law, then he added, ‘See, I have come to do your will.’ He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once and for all.”

So the scriptures themselves tell us that the sacrificial laws have been abolished. They also tell us why: the sacrificial laws were only a shadow of the true sacrifice - Jesus Christ. Now that Jesus has completed his work, there is no need to retain the shadow procedures.

Next, (2) food and (3) drink, and (4) religious festivals/special days and (5)Sabbath regulations have been laid aside.

COLOSSIANS 2:16-17 states, “Therefore, do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or Sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come but the substance belongs to Christ.”

Once again we see that these items were only shadows of the substance. Food and drink, and festivals, and the observing of special days (and even practice regarding that special day of special days: the Sabbath) were prescribed to create a distinct people, a people separate from other peoples, who would pass the promise of Abraham from generation to generation without “fumbling” the promise. Indeed, when Jesus came... “the whole world was truly blessed.” (Genesis 12:3) Having helped hold this people together, having helped keep the promise alive by keeping a distinct people who respected their own heritage and remembered the promise, these laws of food and drink, and special days served their purpose. Therefore, after Jesus came there was no need for these laws any longer. We are now free in regard to these laws.

Sixth, the scriptures have abolished (6) circumcision laws.

GALATIANS 5:2-4 says, “Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.”

Once again, circumcision was there to keep the people of Israel distinct. It also served as a shadowy symbol of the need to cast off the old and become new. Baptism is spiritual circumcision and it now carries this symbol substantively: (Col. 2:11-12) “Flesh” is “removed/covered” in baptism. “The one who is baptized is clothed with Christ.” (Gal. 3:27)

Seventh and eighth, the laws regarding the (7) priesthood and regarding the (8) sanctuary(In order to get the full impact of this you need to read Hebrews chapter 4 through 10. I won’t quote all of this, but will quote significant portions. The underlined portions will be the most salient in which they served have been dropped.

Hebrews 7:15 states: “It is even more obvious when another priest arises, resembling Melchizedek, one who has become a priest, not through a legal requirement concerning physical descent, but through the power of an indestructible life. [17] For it is attested of him, ‘You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.[18] There is on the one hand the abrogation of an earlier commandment because it was weak and ineffectual[19] for the law made nothing perfect; there is on the other hand, the introduction of a better hope, through which we approach God.[20] This was confirmed with an oath; for others who became priests took their office without an oath, [21] but this one became priest with an oath, because of the one who said to him, ‘The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, you are a priest forever.’[22] Accordingly Jesus has also become the guarantee of a better covenant.[23] Furthermore, the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office;[24] but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercessions for them.”

Hebrews 8:1-2, 4-5: Now the main point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and the true tent that the Lord, and not any mortal, has set up.

[4] Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They offer worship in a sanctuary that is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly one; for Moses, when he was about to erect the tent was warned, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.”

This is significant material in light of what was earlier sited from the 1993 draft. Why is it true that “Christians are freed from the requirement to observe numerous cultic and purity laws,” as the draft rightly says? We have been freed from these laws because the cultic laws are precisely laws related to the priesthood and the sanctuary. These “shadows” have passed, and the reality has come. Furthermore, many (perhaps not all) of the purity laws deal with the sanctuary as well: many of the purity laws served to screen unclean people from entering the sanctuary until they were again clean.

Now, purity was not always a matter of sin or not sin. Sometimes purity concerns were introduced to distance Israel from pagan practices. They introduced a wisdom very similar to what the Apostle Paul expressed when he said, “Be not misled. Bad company corrupts good morals.” (I Cor.15:33) I think much of the purity law was of this kind; though, because of our cultural and historical distance, it is often very difficult to see it. For instance, I used to wonder why God prescribed pork as impure food. Then I read an archeology article that spoke of a pagan temple where a multitude of hog bones were found. A possible explanation came to mind. Perhaps God was trying to distance his people from pagan sacrifices, and thus prescribed this particular food law.

I think it is possible that we no longer know the reasoning for most of these purity laws because we do not know many of the cultural customs of the day. We shouldn’t resign ourselves to this lack of knowledge. We should continue our study. Nevertheless, what is clear is sanctuary and priesthood laws have been dropped.

Ninth: (9) Tit for tat revenge is abolished.

Tenth and last: (10) various ceremonial washings have specifically been abolished along with a more general principle. This more general principle is summarized in the phrase “external regulations.” Strictly external regulations have passed away.

Hebrews 9:9-10 in the New International Version says, “This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered (in the earthly sanctuary) were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings - external regulations applying until the time of the new order.”

Here, once again, we see food and drink laws apply only until the time of the new order. (And we know the new order has come.) Also, we see “various ceremonial washings” added to the list of laws that have passed away. The writer of Hebrews could have kept going, listing specific kinds of “external regulations” which have passed away. But instead, he gives a general summary of these laws. He categorizes “food and drink” and “ceremonial washings” as “external regulations.” And he lets us know that the observance of external regulations cannot clear the conscience of the worshiper. Therefore, they have passed away with the coming of the new order.

This external regulation category of law is very helpful for us to see what regulations have passed away. God first watches what is happening inside of us, and then secondly watches what happens on the outside of us as it flows from within. For instance, on the one hand, if a person intentionally picks up something that isn’t his or hers and walks off with it, this is called stealing. But on the other hand, if a person unintentionally picks up something that isn’t his or hers and walks off with it, this is an oversight, not theft. The difference between the two is what first happens within the person. This is not to say there is no such thing as unintentional sin. Clearly there is. Exterior actions that flow from sin within us is sin whether we consciously realize it or not. But this is to say that the law, which remains in the “new order”, always makes a connection with the inner thoughts, motives, inclinations, and beliefs of a person.

Internal Nature of the Law that Remains

Jesus shows the internal nature of the law in Matthew 15:3 & 18-20. “Why do you break the commandments of God for the sake of your tradition? For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what makes a man unclean; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him unclean.”

So first, God is concerned about what is happening within us. Secondly, in conjunction with the interior, he is concerned with how the internal plays itself out on the exterior. Strictly exterior regulations fall by the wayside -though for the sake of others they may be freely adhered to so as to not cause another to stumble. (Romans 14) In other words, there is no physical THING in and of itself that is sinful. This inherent external nature is evident in most of the laws mentioned thus far: laws of sacrifice; food and drink; religious festivals and special days; circumcision; sanctuary; and various washings are all exterior regulations which are no longer needed because Christ has begun something new. He has introduced a New Covenant. The New Covenant’s treatment of the law is first a matter of heart, as the scriptures say, “and I will write my law on your heart.” (Jeremiah 31:33) See also Appendix #3

Thus, external regulations, with no relationship to the internal, are no longer needed. The “exterior regulation” principle would also direct us to drop laws such as: clothing (including the one that says we aren’t to weave more than one kind of material into a shirt) Deut. 22:11; hair, Lev. 10:6; kinds of fields we plant (including the one that says we can’t create hybrid crops) Lev.19:19; kinds of animals we raise (including the one that says we can’t cross-breed animals.) Lev. 19:19.

With the ten above mentioned specific kinds of laws which have been abolished and the one general principle of “exterior regulations”, we should be able to go through the entire Old and New Testaments and discern what we are still obliged to follow and what we are not obliged to follow. And it would determine what we give assent to what we do not give assent to. This is not a matter of the New Testament over against the Old Testament. Furthermore, this is not a matter of a particular book (like Leviticus or Deuteronomy, etc.) or a particular chapter in a book, or even a particular verse. There may be one element in one verse that has been abolished and in that same verse one element which hasn’t been abolished. The “10+ exterior regulations” principle is very helpful to us to discern which laws still apply and which ones do not. With this method we avoid simply picking and choosing, as some have charged.

When we apply this method to Lev. 18:22 and Lev. 20:13 what is the result? The result is that there is no reason to remove the moral imperative. Any sexual act is ultimately never just an exterior physical act. It has been said, “The biggest sex organ we have is our brain.” I agree with this statement. Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 have not been negated.

See Appendix #4 for treatment of Menstrual Laws, which deal with matters that are physically internal but nevertheless are “external regulations.”

Important Questions

What about the laws that tell us to corporally punish?

What about the laws that tell us to corporally punish people? This hasn’t been mentioned thus far under laws that have been abolished. Are we thus obliged to follow these? When someone commits adultery, or some other sexual sin, do we stone him or her? When some one curses an elder, do we stone him or her? Or, specific to the issue at hand, when someone engages in a same gender sexual act do we stone them? The answer to these questions is a resounding NO. The reason for the resounding NO will be found later in the gospel section. (If you want to read the explanation now it is on pages 51-52 under the section of “Mercy”.)

What about apparent contradictions?

This 10 + 1 abolition provides a solid basis from which to address questions about same gender sexual behavior. Therefore, I need to take some time to show it is a firm basis to move from, and deal carefully with questions that arise. For instance, if we are taking God’s word seriously, how does the abolishment of the 10 + 1 laws go with what Jesus said in Matthew 5:17-19?

“Think now that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.” Matt. 5:17 See Appendix #5 for a thorough response to this.

Still others take the idea of “change in law,” and, without a clear set of principles regarding what should now be in force, open the door wide to directions we should not go. (Read my response to Dr. Fretheim in Appendix #6)

Objection #2 Seemingly clear passages about same gender sexuality are not that clear.

I have argued that Lev.18:22 and 20:13 have not been negated. But many argue that these passages (along with Roman 1:1-32) are about sexual situations other than mutually committed homosexual relationships. They say these passages do not even speak about people in committed homosexual relationships. Do they or don’t they? This is what must be looked at next.

“The Big Umbrella”

Are these passages about homosexual acts, the ones that have not been negated, are they talking about ALL homosexual acts? Might they not be speaking just against any connection to foreign practices, or more specifically against male prostitution (especially temple prostitution), or perhaps against abusive male on male situations, and not speaking against, or even conceiving of, committed homosexual relationships? These questions must be thoroughly looked at.

Leviticus not merely distinguishing itself from foreign ways

David K. Switzer, in his book entitled Pastoral Care of Gays, Lesbians, and Their Families, in the chapter titled “What the Bible Says About Homosexuality (Homosexual Acts)”, wrote this:

“Leviticus 18:22;20:13. These two passages state clearly that a man should not lie ”with a male as with a woman.” It is an ‘abomination.’ Leviticus 20:13 also states that ‘they shall be put to death.” These statements are among the large number of different rules by which the Hebrews were bound and which are found in the Holiness code (Lev.17:1-26:46).

Bamberger, rabbi and Hebrew scholar, makes clear that Israel distinguished herself from her neighbors by distinguishing Yahweh from all of the other gods. A part of the difference was the sexual nature of the other gods, both male and female. Male and female prostitutes in the temples served the purpose of the worship of the sexual union between these gods. For the Jews, Yahweh was not sexual, but rather was the creator and thus the source of human sexuality. God’s purpose is achieved by responsible use of this gift, not by mindless surrender to sensuality. The sexual impulse is not to be repressed, but it is to be controlled.”

“Bamberger goes on to mention a number of the practices of other tribes and nations, including religious practices, and indicates how the Torah explicitly shapes Jewish practice in order to contrast sharply with these other people with their false gods. He points our attention to Leviticus 18;1-3,24-30 as the basis of the refection of the practices spoken of in that particular chapter. ‘The Land of Israel is literally the Holy Land and its sanctity would be defiled by the actions forbidden in this section.” In other words, “Do not do these things because other people with their false gods do them, and your God is Yahweh.” The whole purpose of the Holiness Code is to make an absolute distinction between the Israelites and all other people. “If they do it, we don’t.” It is the way of affirming Yahweh. Within these chapters are ways of worshipping God, caring for one another, and being ritually clean.” All of these are what is meant by holiness, without any other distinctions between the laws themselves, except for varying punishments.”[8]

Granted, strong elements of “If they do it, we don’t ” exists in the holiness code. But it is a great overstatement to say, “The whole purpose of the Holiness code is to make an absolute distinction between the Israelites and all other people.” If this were so, look where it would lead us. Colin Spencer, in his book Homosexuality; A History, wrote, “We know from the Egyptian Book of the Dead that it was thought wrong to steal, to covet, to tell lies, to commit adultery and to kill – at least half of the sins forbidden in the Ten commandments as revealed to Moses.”[9] Recognizing that the Ten Commandments are reiterated in the holiness code in Lev. 19 shows us that there is no “absolute distinction” between Israel and Egypt. So we shouldn’t get sidetracked here. These lines aren’t necessarily just about “do not do these things because people of other lands do them.” These lines need to be looked at on a deeper level by looking at language and history.

What we learn from language itself

Secondly, David Switzer said “Another necessary procedure for interpreting any passage of Scripture written in our common language is to look at the exact wording in the original language.”[10]

Here Switzer raises the issue of language itself. Some have suggested a low bar, indeed, when speaking of language. In the introduction to the book, We were baptized Too: Claiming God’s Grace for Lesbians and Gays, the authors write, “The word homosexual was not even in use in the English language until 1897, and it first appeared in a biblical translation in 1952 with the release of the Revised Standard Version. The original biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek have no word for homosexuality, let alone specific vocabulary to connote any particular understanding of sexuality, gender identity, or sexual orientation.”[11] To even bother to state that the word homosexual did not come into being until 1897 is a particularly anachronistic argument with an incredibly low bar. After all, as Shakespeare wrote, “a rose by any other name is still a rose.” It could be possible to descend hopelessly into semantics and legalese hairsplitting, sort of like President Clinton arguing about what “sexual relations” is, or worse yet, making a case “depending on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.” But the question of language that Switzer raises is an important question. Do those words in Lev.18:22 and 20:13 actually speak of some specialized form of homosexuality, like temple prostitution, or sexual violence? These questions are not legalese hairsplitting. What do we find when we look at the language itself?

Hebrew has specific words for temple prostitute and sexual violence

When we look at just the words themselves several observations are pertinent. If Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 were intended to specifically mean “male temple prostitutes” the Hebrew language does have words that means that. The word “qadesh” specifically means temple prostitute. Therefore Deuteronomy 23:18 uses “qadesh” when it says, “No Israelite man or woman is to become a temple prostitute (“qadesh”). You must not bring the earnings of a female prostitute or of a male prostitute into the house of the Lord your God to pay any vow, because the Lord your God detests them both.” So if the Hebrews wanted to make very clear that they were talking about temple prostitution in Lev. 18 and 20 they could have used “qadesh.” Or, are Lev.18:22 and 20:13 talking about sexual violence? Here too, the Hebrews had a word that referred to this. This word is “shagal.” “Shagal” is used in Deuteronomy 28:30, Is.13:16, Zech 14:2, and Jer.3:2. “Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses will be looted and their wives ravished (shagal).” Is. 13:16

Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 uses a more general word

Now, just because they do not use these two more specific words does not necessarily mean Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 aren’t about temple prostitutes and sexual violence. The Hebrew language is notoriously a language of context. One word can mean many things depending on the context. Let’s look at the word “shakab,” which is the word that is used in Lev 18:22 and 20:13. (Before I look at the specifics please note “shakab” is a verb. Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 are about acts.) “Shakab” is one of those general words with many meanings. It means to “lie down” in a general sense. It can mean just lie down in a bed, in a death bed, on a couch, prostrate yourself, rest, lodge, and the like. It also has many sexual angles. It can mean violent incestuous rape, as when David’s son raped Tamar, David’s daughter. II Sam 13:15. Or it can mean figurative prostitution (related to other gods) as used in Ezek. 23:3. But it can also mean other negative things. It can mean incest as with Lot and his daughters Gen. 19:33. It can mean adultery as with David and Bathsheba. II Sam 11:4. Or it can mean fornication as in laws regarding seducing a virgin Ex. 22:16. It was also used to describe Potiphar’s wife’s attempt to seduce Joseph. Gen. 39:7 It is also used three times in a marriage context, two of those instances are definitely a negative use. The first marriage situation that is negative is found in Gen. 30: 15. Leah convinces Rachel to let her lie with Jacob. When she tells Jacob she says, “I have hired you to lie with me.” Obviously she is making a negative reference using “shakab.” The second instance is after David did lie with Bathsheba. She is pregnant and David has called Uriah home to get him to sleep with Bathsheba so as to hide the adultery. The problem is Uriah is a soldier of great integrity. He says, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my master Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open fields. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and lie with my wife? II Sam 11:11 Here, sexual relations is not negative in any sense except it doesn’t fit into this soldier’s loyalty code of conduct. So, even though having sexual relations with a wife would not be a negative thing it is portrayed from Uriah’s perspective as negative. Now, the one not necessarily negative instance regards David and Bathsheba. David has now had Uriah killed in battle and he has made Bathsheba his wife. II Samuel speaks of his relations as “lying” with Bathsheba. In fact, when Solomon is conceived they say it is a result of “lying” with Bathsheba. II Sam 12:24

Now, what is the point of all this detail about the word “shakab?” The point is, “shakab” is used in a variety of heterosexual ways other than just temple prostitution or sexual violence. The word “shakab” is an umbrella with a wide array of kinds of sexual acts beneath it. The word ranges from sexual violence to “mutual consent” situations (though as fornicative seduction). It also applies to a range from prostitution to marriage situations. So the word itself is inconclusive as to whether it is just talking about sexual violence or temple prostitution – it could be talking about that. But it could be talking about more. Where do we go to understand this word in the context of Lev.18:22 and 20:13? Because the “lying” of Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 are “as” the lying of a man with a woman one could legitimately take this wide array of ways heterosexuals lie with each other and apply those same kinds of acts to homosexual instances. When we consider this logical simile process of interpretation can we find actual historical instances of this wide array of heterosexual acts in same gender sexual contact? This is an important question. If there were no examples of this wider array of same gender sexual experience we might wonder why this would have been in the mindset of Lev. 18:22 and Lev. 20:13. But, in fact of history there are examples of this wide array of same gender sexual experience.

Cultural context helps us understand passages

The Big Tent - “the majority and minority experience”

Switzer wrote, “We need to ask, ‘what was the ‘man lying with a man’ behavior that the Jews knew of?” “…The male homosexual practice that was known to the Hebrews was prostitution and/or other male-with-male sexual activity as a part of the worship of other gods.”[12] “I would hope that it would be clear that the bible knows nothing of what we are increasingly aware of today with the number of gays and lesbians who live together in committed relationships.” p.57

To say that “the bible knows nothing of what we are increasingly aware of” is to say that there were no examples either in their own culture or in the cultures Israel mingled with of androphile (men in love) relationships and of word-pictures that intersected in some sense with the idea of sexual orientation. The history of homosexuality paints a different picture than what Switzer describes.

In their introduction to Homosexuality in the Ancient World, Wayne R. Dynes and Stephen Donalson wrote this.

“The ancient civilizations of the Near East (including Mesopotamia), Egypt, Greece, and Rome are lineal ancestors of Western civilization. As such, the literary and archaeological records of these Mediterranean societies have attracted intense scrutiny and debate. This study has revealed with increasing clarity that the ancient patterns of same-sex behavior did not, for the most part, conform to the androphile model of modern industrial societies – a model that involves pairs of adults, both considered to be of the same gender, of roughly equal social status, and reciprocal in their behavior. Instead they generally adhered to gender – and age-differentiated patterns, Egypt being partial exception. The best-known types are the male temple prostitution of the Near East and the institutionalized pederasty of Greece.”[13]

Majority and minority experience


The above quote at first glance seems to support Switzer. But looking closer we see something else. Two phrases are important to note in the above quote. First of all they say “for the most part.” While a quick glance at Near Eastern same sex experience fits the picture that Switzer describes, there is more going on; thus they say, “for the most part.” Secondly, “Instead they generally” (note the word “generally”) “adhered to gender – and age-differentiated patterns, Egypt being a partial exception.” Note there are exceptions. (It needs to be said here that Homosexuality in the Ancient World is not written from a perspective like mine.) As soon as it is established that you need to say “for the most part” and note that there are “exceptions” the argument of Switzer’s (and many others who share his viewpoint) begins to break down.

When it comes to homosexual practice there is a majority experience and a minority experience. Switzer has described the majority experience. I will now take time to look at the minority experience. This minority experience flies in the face of “The bible knew nothing of what we are increasingly becoming aware of.” I will begin with Egypt and then skip over to the Roman experience. You may read about Mesopotamia (which provides context to a time that the books of Moses were perhaps edited together) and Greece (which gives context to the Roman experience) in Appendix #7.

“Ancient Egyptian literature provides the first example of royal homosexuality in the androphile love affair of the Old Kingdom pharaoh Pepy II (2355-2261 BC) with his general Sisine – the oldest documented pair of homosexual lovers.” “The tomb of the Two Brothers at Thebes likewise points to androphilia.”[14] Thus the minority homosexual experience begins to be noted.

The Dallas Morning News ran an article indicating the evidence continues to be updated with ongoing research. An even older example of androphilia than cited above was written about in an article titled “Evidence of gay relationships exists as early as 2400 B.C.”[15] on July 20, 1998. The article describes a 1964 finding of a tomb of two Egyptian men named Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep. The two men were depicted in poses similar to how tombs might have depicted a male-female married couple: nose to nose in a close embrace, their waist ties from their garments seem to be tied together. In other pictures Khnumhotep is shown in poses normally reserved for a wife. Their names when put together means “joined in life and death.” Nevertheless, even with these suggestive poses questions as to the exact relationship have remained. The two figures look like two very typical men. But if you go to the tomb and take a tour you can see proof positive that this is a same gender sexual attraction depiction. Go to for the entire article written by John McCoy, staff writer. Click on the tomb scene and you will find convincing proof that this is in fact a same gender attraction depiction. Go to the banquet scene and you will see the two males sitting across from one another at a table. One of the men’s wives, behind him, is rubbed out. Across the table is the other man holding a lotus plant. The lotus plant is the convincing proof that this is a same gender attraction picture. Only women hold lotus plants in this tomb. But here is one of the men holding the plant while the other man’s wife is rubbed out. But it isn’t just that he is the only male with a lotus plant in the tomb that shows this is a picture of same gender sexual attraction. The proof comes in what the lotus plant actually was. We know from other Egyptian tombs that the lotus plant is a sign of sexual attraction. In fact, an entire PBS hour long segment out of a series on Egyptian tombs was given to the investigation of the lotus plant. Researchers separated out the chemical properties of lotus plants and found the lotus plant has a chemical property very similar to Viagra.

So, McCoy’s article titled “Evidence of gay relationships exists as early as 2400 B. C.” was an accurate assessment of the tomb. And the inscription “Overseer of the Manicurists in the Palace of the King, King’s Acquaintance and Royal Confidant” gives further evidence of same class, same gender committed sexual relationships in ancient Egypt. So it seems archeology continues to update what Switzer thinks “we know.”

Colin Spencer, in his book entitled Homosexuality, a history says, “Though we know much more about ancient Egypt than almost any other archaic civilization, there is not one legal text extant. We have instead tomb pictures that revel in every possible sexual activity and position.”[16]

Spencer also wrote, “Bisexuality in the male was accepted as natural and never drew adverse comment, but passive homosexuality made the Egyptians feel uneasy. What if a king showed such a feminine disposition? Again, a puzzle, for Amenhotep III, called the Magnificent, a great hunter of lions and husband of Queen Tiy, at the end of his reign had himself portrayed in female attire and maintained a bevy of royal male favorites. His successor and son (though some dispute this) was Akhenaten (1370-1352 BC) who was strong enough to form a new religion and in his lifetime break away from the priests of Amon, supplanting him with a new deity. Akhenaten also appeared in reliefs with his co-regent and son-in-law (or it could also be his eldest son) Smenkahare, obviously showing him affection and often both were naked – a rare convention in the depictions of royalty. Smenkahare is even given titles and endearments which had been used before of Akhenaten’s queen and concubines.”[17]

Ancient culture is being shown to be more diverse than some have depicted. Giving credence to this, Dynes, and Donaldson wrote at the end of the introduction to Homosexuality in the Ancient World., “The study of homosexuality in the ancient world is fraught with methodological problems stemming from the selective nature of the surviving literature. The ancients themselves wrote chiefly of the mores of the upper classes, neglecting the erotic life of women, while fashioning images of their own practices that tend to be either ideal and poetic or satirical and overdrawn. In addition, Christian disapproval influenced the selection of works for copying, and hence survival through the ages, further distorting our picture. The result is a mosaic with huge gaps. Scholars need to make efforts to fill in the blank spaces, drawing upon such sources as the Pompeiian graffiti, and beginning to gather all the scattered references to homosexual liaisons in the Greek and Roman sources which fall outside the usual framework (lower classes, women, pairs outside the conventional age range, sex with eunuchs, etc.). Only when the investigations have found their way to publication can we begin to pretend to a systematic understanding of homosexuality in the ancient world.”[18]

I am not pretending a systematic understanding of Egypt. But these androphile examples give concrete examples of sexual situations other than just temple prostitutes and male sexual violence. Mesopotamia and Greece also give examples of the Minority and Majority homosexual experience. (See Appendix 7 ) But because Rome gives direct context to how Paul would have thought about Leviticus and his own writings I turn to Rome.

The Roman majority experience

“While Greek civilization was in its prime, the Etruscans dominated central and northern Italy. Their surviving art documents homosexuality, which appears to have been androphilic.

Their successors, the Romans, who established the greatest of the ancient empires and left substantial traces of their culture behind in Britain, Germany, and France as well as the Mediterranean world, led sexual lives which have continued to fascinate Westerners to the present day.

Whatever the earliest Roman customs may have been, reflecting perhaps Etruscan influence, by the later Republic Roman sexuality was already an inextricable aspect of the Roman political and economic dominance of their part of the world. Roman rule brought not only vast numbers of slaves from the conquered lands, but Hellenistic culture, including its widespread pederasty, as well. Cultivated Romans were aware of the classical pedagogical role of Greek pederasty, but chose not to revive that aspect of it; see Ramsay McMullen’s article, included herein

Slaves played an important role as passive sexual objects for the Romans, who analogized the act of sexual penetration to that of political and military conquest. The result was a system in which any adult Roman male could take the active role with another male without opprobrium, but severe sanctions attended his assumption of the passive one, seen as a political threat to all Romans. They assigned the passive role to slaves, foreigners, freedmen, and boys. Roman soldiers (professionals could not marry) were allowed to rape enemy soldiers after victory in battle. This gave the Romans a type of same-sex relationship, called dominance-enforcement homosexuality, all their own; it divided roles constantly not on the basis of age (though boys were often preferred, this was not a rule) or effeminacy but on political or power relationships. Similar conceptions appeared later among the Vikings and the soldiers of the Ottoman Turkish army. Even today the Roman type of homosexuality dominates American prisons and characterizes instances of same-sex rape, usually a heterosexual’s act of conquest rather than a token of response to beauty.

The most powerful Romans of all, the emperors, indulged themselves to the utmost in a wide variety of sexual acts, only one of the first fifteen of them (Claudius) being apparently exclusively heterosexual. Their lusts provided grist for the chronicles of historians such as Suetonuis and Tacitus. Being above the law, some of the later ones (such as Heliogabalus) even indulged in the passive role. The emperor’s sexual indulgence, even when extreme, does not, however, appear to have had negative consequences for their administration of the empire.

Lesbianism was of little concern to the male Roman and has left little trace in the literature, though some ladies seem to have been bisexual; see Judith Hallett’s article, included herein.

Roman satirists and poets such as Juvenal, Martial, Petronius, and Catullus frequently wrote of homosexual practices and attachments without trace of homophobia. See Christopher Gill’s article on Petronius and J. P. Sullivan’s on Martial, included herein. The philosophers present a more mixed picture, with Cicero politically attacking Mark Antony for having been penetrated as a boy, Lucretius indifferent, and the Stoics calling for moderation. Homophobia in the modern sense seems to have been virtually absent from Roman culture.

Rome’s contemporary European cultures, those of the Celts and Teutons, have undergone less scrutiny, having left little documentation behind. Aristotle amongst others noted the Celts’ devotion to male homosexuality, and Athenaeus wrote of the pederasty of Celtic warriors. There may have been a tradition of initiatory homosexuality among the Celts, or the practice also practiced pederasty, according to various Roman writers, and stigmatized the adult who took a passive role.

The Romans showed little concern with the sexual lives of their conquered subjects and did not attempt to extend their form of homosexuality throughout the Empire.

The Christian takeover of the Roman Empire under Constantine I in the early fourth century spelled the end of the relatively free status of homosexuality in the ancient Western world; the first enactment of the death penalty for sodomy followed in 342. Justinian (reigned 527-565) launched a witch-hunt against homosexuals in Constantinople, but Byzantine homophobia did not preclude a number of later homosexual emperors and continuing scandals in the sex-segregated monasteries.”[19]

The Roman Minority Experience

The above long quote spells out the majority experience of Roman thinking. But Dynes and Donaldson also acknowledge more than this. They say in their conclusion in the introduction to their book (quoted earlier but worth quoting again),

“Scholars need to make efforts to fill in the blank spaces, drawing upon such sources as the Pompeiian graffiti, and bringing together all the scattered references to homosexual liaisons in the Greek and Roman sources which fall outside the usual framework (lower classes, women, pairs outside the conventional age range, sex with eunuch, etc.) Only when these investigations have found their way to publication can we begin to pretend to a systematic understanding of homosexuality in the ancient world.”[20]

Dr. John Boswell, former chairman of Yale History Department from 1990 to 1992, and developer of the Yale University’s Lesbian and Gay Studies Center, was making the effort to “fill in the blanks spaces,” drawing upon scattered references to homosexual liaisons in Greek and Roman sources which “fall outside the usual framework.” His book, published in 1994 shortly before he died from complications of A.I.D.S., entitled Same-Sex Unions in the Premodern Europe has a chapter titled “Same-Sex Unions in the Greco-Roman World.” The chapter describes many relationships describing what I have called the minority Roman Experience. This minority, though a minority, would have been the type of thing that was known at large.

Dr. Boswell began his chapter, “During this same period (i.e., roughly 400 B.C.E to 400 C.E.) there were, very broadly speaking, four types of same-sex relationships; these exhibit some parallels to heterosexual unions, but also some peculiarities.” The next fifty-five pages of the book were spent describing these four types: lover, brother, friend, and lastly formal union. (The formal union part spans 25 pages.)

I will move more or less chronologically as I give examples from Cicero (106-43 BC) to St. Paul; and, taking social inertia into consideration I will go beyond St. Paul into the second century. First of all I will start with a general statement by Dr. Boswell, then move to specific examples.

“Roman same-sex relationships have been less studied, and one is inclined to contrast, mentally at least, the rather idealized and formal lover/beloved relationships imputed to the Greeks with the riotous and promiscuous sexuality that forms such a lurid mythology about the Roman empire. In fact, in addition to the rather more sensational aspects of Roman sexuality presented – as sensational – by imperial literature, there were also many same-sex couples in the Roman world who lived together permanently, forming unions neither more nor less exclusive than those oft the heterosexual couples around them.”[21]


Dr. Boswell wrote, ‘By far the most common type of same-sex relationship in pre-modern Europe (as it is now in the modern West) was that of ‘lover’ – i.e., two women or two men united by affection, passion, or desire, with no legal or institutional consequences for status, property, household, and so on.” P.57 I’ll note just a few examples of this. Virgil (70-19 BC) called “Aeneid’s Nisus and Euryalus’, a pair of soldiers in the army of Aeneas who were greatly devoted to each other, [He called] their relationship ‘blessed” and [said] that they would be “remembered as long as his poetry.” P.64 Cicero, the great orator and philosopher, living from 106-43 BC, mentions casually that “Catiline’s ‘lover’ – a consul – approached him on Catiline’s behalf.” p.66 Ovid (43B.C.-A.D.17) wrote the Art of Love. Williams stated that in Ovid “the beloved in this poetry can be either male or female.”[22]


Catullus, a lyric poet living 87-55 B.C, made specific and unambiguous references to the use of “brother” as a sexual term. Dr. Boswell summed up the use in this way. "’Brother’ and ‘sister’ were common terms of endearment for heterosexual spouses in ancient Mediterranean societies – most notably in those cultures that linked marriage with love – and in this sense their use by homosexual couples constitutes a parallel to rather than a deviation from the majority culture. Using words suggesting sibling relationship or affective, intimate, family ties rather than the terms of control related to power and hierarchy – constituted a hallmark of ancient lovers of whatever gender. It evokes a relationship of general equality, of persons in the same generation, in which neither party is dependent on or subordinated to the other, without coercion or status differential. This is probably an accurate reflection of the rather looser and more egalitarian love relations under the empire.”[23]


Plutarch, who “was born in Boeotia in central Greece about 45 C.E., came to Rome as a teacher of philosophy, became a consul, and returned to his native Greece to administer Roman government as procurator,” (p.71) was a contemporary of St. Paul living 45 C.E., to 120 C.E. Boswell says, “Although writers sometimes infer from the literary stereotypes of fourth-century Athens that all ancient homosexual relationships were temporary and age-related, the evidence suggests, as noted above, that this picture is exaggerated even for Athens, and homosexual relationships in the rest of ancient Europe were certainly far more varied and flexible than this, probably not very different from their heterosexual counterparts. Plutarch, writing in Greek for a Roman audience of the second century, makes this point explicitly: ‘…the lover of beauty will be fairly and equably disposed toward both sexes, instead of supposing that males and females are as different in the matter of love as they are in their clothes.’ He suggests, further, that the upper age limit for ‘lovers’ and lower limit for ‘beloveds’ would be precisely the same regardless of the genders involved.”[24]

Noting homosexual permanence, Dr. Boswell argues, “Most ancient writers – in striking opposition to their modern counterparts – generally entertained higher expectations of the fidelity and permanence of homosexual passions than of heterosexual feelings. Plutarch adduces with evident disapproval cases of husbands who allowed their wives to be unfaithful to gain some advantage, and then notes, ‘By contrast, of all the many [homosexual] lovers there were and have been, do you know of a single one who surrendered his beloved, even to gain honor from Zeus? I do not’” (Erotikos 760B) p.74 “Indeed, Plutarch, speaking of “friends” makes explicit what sometimes we must adduce from context when he “refers to the attachment between lovers as ‘erotic friendship’ – combining the two concepts – and says that a lover is ‘a friend inspired by god.’ In his discussion of the nature of love he uses (eros – from which we get the word erotic) and (philos – friendship) interchangeably, as do a great many ancient writers… Obviously Plato, Aristotle, Plutarch, Cicero, and other ancient males had and knew friendships that were not erotic, and love relationships that were not friendships. The point is not that that two could not be distinguished, but that there was a substantial overlap…”[25]

Formal Union

“A fourth type of homosexual relationship known in the ancient world consisted of formal unions – i.e., publicly recognized relationships entailing some change in status for one or both parties, comparable in this sense to heterosexual marriage. Cicero, though notoriously straight-laced, persuaded Curio the Elder to honor the debt his son had incurred on behalf of Antonius, to who the younger Curio was, in Cicero’s words, ‘united in a stable and permanent marriage, just as if he had given him a matron’s stola.’ It is most unlikely that Cicero, in making this comparison, actually regarded the relationship as a ‘marriage,’ either morally or legally. His remark is bitterly sarcastic. What is open to speculation is whether he felt that there was some de facto comparability between this sort of same-sex relationship and established heterosexual unions.”[26]

Williams also gives numerous examples in his Appendix 2 titled, “Marriage between Males.”[27]

What did St. Paul know?

One could ask the question, what did St. Paul actually know about? I would assert that in general not much escaped the eyes of the Jewish people who were everywhere in the Roman empire. What is for certain knowable in many instances is not feasible to debate when it comes to Nero. Nero reigned from 54-68 A.D. Paul was active in Christianity from 31 A.D.(?) to probably 62 A.D. (other suggest 68 AD) when he was most likely executed in Rome. Paul specifically tells us in Phil. 1:12 that the gospel had spread to the imperial guard. If news traveled toward the imperial you can assume it also spread from the imperial – not to mention how news of Nero’s exotic life most likely couldn’t be stopped from being spread all around Rome and filtered out to the extremities of the empire.

You can be sure that when Nero “married a man [named Sporus] in a very public ceremony with a dowry and a veil, with all the solemnities of matrimony, and lived with him as his spouse” (p.80) the imperial guard knew about it…as probably did all Rome. Dr. Boswell tells us ‘A friend gave the ‘bride’ away, ‘as required by law.’ …He took this Sporus with him, carried on a litter and decked out in the finery normally worn by empresses, and often kissed him.’ The marriage was celebrated separately in Rome and in Greece. On another occasion, (multiple marriages, regardless of gender, were not unusual) the emperor himself ‘was given in marriage to a freedman, just as Sporus had been given to him, and even imitated the cries and wailings of a virgin being deflowered.”[28]

Masters and Johnson wrote in their well known work Sex and Human Loving, “In the early days of the Roman Empire, homosexuality was apparently unregulated by law, and homosexual behavior was common. Marriages between two men or between two women were legal and accepted among the upper classes, and several emperors, including Nero, reportedly were married to men.”[29] Dr. Boswell wrote, “By Juvenal’s time” (60?-140 AD?) “such ceremonies had become, at least in his disapproving view, absolutely commonplace: ‘I have a ceremony to attend tomorrow morning in the Quirinal valley.’ ‘What sort of ceremony?’ ‘Nothing special: a friend is marrying another man and a small group is attending.’” Or about another situation, “‘Gracchus has given a cornet player a dowry of four hundred sesterces, signed the marriage tablets, said the blessing, held a great banquet, and the new ‘bride’ reclines in his husband’s lap. A man who once bore the waving shields [of Mars]… now dons brocade and a long train and a bridal veil… A man born to nobility and wealth is given in marriage to another man!’ Although Juvenal adduces this as an example of the decline of Roman mores (the subject of all his poetry), part of what dismayed him was obviously its casual and accepting reception by his contemporaries.” Though Juvenal was post Paul, I include him in this discussion reasoning that social trends don’t become “absolutely commonplace” over night. Besides the just cited material Dr. Boswell also gives numerous quotes from novels of the first and second century.[30]

The sum effect of these examples gives, to my mind, ample evidence that what Switzer says “the bible knows nothing of what we are increasingly aware of today with the number of gays and lesbians who live together in committed relations” is in fact not correct. Obviously, male/female relationships were different then, yet we still call them marriages. We shouldn’t, likewise, fail to see degrees of continuity in same gender sexual expression between then and now. The people corresponding to biblical time could have had significant intersections to what we now know.

Therefore, let us return to the initial question of this section. Is Leviticus 18: 22 and 20:13 speaking about A BIG UMBRELLA COVERING A BIG TENT? Is it talking about all homosexual acts or is it talking just about abusive acts or temple prostitution acts?


I believe the word (shakab) encompasses many types of sexual encounters (abusive, and temple prostitute, but also adultery and fornication, and also marital relations). The word itself does not narrow the meaning down to temple prostitution or abuse. Neither does the cultural context. The cultural context does not narrow the meaning of (shakab) by not providing any picture other than prostitution and abuse.

In the general period of the time Leviticus speaks of, and in the time the writings were perhaps edited together into a whole, and in the subsequent times when these passages would have been heard, there was a wide range of same gender sexual activity that could have given intersection to an equally wide range of heterosexual experience as described by “shakab.” I therefore conclude that Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 forbid any and all types of same gender sexual activity. This should in turn determine what we give assent to.

Moving from the old to the New Testament

So Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 are never negated by the 10 + 1 abolitions, and the words found therein encompass all types of homosexual experiences. As far as the scriptures go, since these verses are not negated, this is all the further we would have to go. It is normative. But since the New Testament carries forward this view I will look at this as well.


Sometimes people attempt to argue from silence that Jesus overruled the Old Testament passages regarding homosexuality. True, Jesus never says anything about the subject. Nevertheless, we can’t take Jesus’ silence to be consenting of this form of sexuality anymore than we can take his silence about incest to be consenting

Pauline Tradition

The Pauline tradition takes the same view as Leviticus 18:22 and adds more clarity to the issue. In Romans 1 Paul explains that the proscription also includes women, and in I Corinthians 6 he clarifies that this includes both the passive and the active partners. The following discussion will bear this out. Furthermore, the discussion will show that without ever explicitly appealing to Leviticus Paul makes implicit connections to the passages. I Timothy 1:10, I Corinthians 6:10, and Romans:1-2 all bear this out.

I Timothy 1:10

I Timothy 1:10 makes implicit connections to Leviticus 18 and 20.

The implicit connection starts with a general nod to the law. I Timothy 1:10 is placed in a discussion about how the law is often misused. He says, ‘As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. They promote controversies rather than God’s work – which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm. We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.” (I Tim.1:3-8)

Paul then gives a list of things that he summarizes as “contrary to sound teaching.” (verse 11). The first word in the list of the thirteen things contrary to sound teaching is “lawlessness” further making reference to the law in general. His list is a typical kind of Jewish catalogue of vices. While the things in the list are not necessarily related to one another each item is clearly contrary to sound teaching. The tenth word that appears in this list is “arsenokoites.” This word could be said to make an implicit connection to Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 in that it is a word that is created from two words that appear in the Greek translation of the Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. Furthermore, making further implicit connections, in Lev.20:13 the two words are found side by side. Because Greek manuscripts do not have spaces between words the two words look like the one word “arsenokoites” (except arsenos drops the s sound between the words.) The two words used are “Arsenos”: translated to mean “man” and “koites”: meaning “bed”, (figuratively meaning sexual intercourse: just as we still euphemistically say “he went to bed with her.”) Putting the two words together the one word means same gender sexual intercourse. The word is clear enough.

So Paul demonstrates how to not misuse the law here (verse 8). He is not being “lawless,” (vrs. 9) but instead is referring back to the law (vrs.10) to show what is “contrary to sound teaching...” (vrs.11)

I Corinthians 6:10

A second time Paul makes implicit connection to Leviticus is in I Corinthians 6. The context of our passages bring the law into the picture. Paul is castigating the Corinthians for taking one another to court over trivial matters. He then contrasts trivial matters with matters that are not trivial… acts that are faith-killers. Appendix#8 He characterizes these acts as being acts of wickedness. In this list of actions he includes two words “malikos” and (as used before in I Timothy 6) “arsenokoites”. In this context “malikos” clearly means the passive participant in same gender sexual activity. Malikos’ Latin equivalent, “cincaidi,” had a long history of this meaning. Craig William in his book Roman Homosexuality; Ideologies of Masculinity in Classical Antiquity gives about 25 pages out of his chapter titled “Sexual Roles and Identities” to how “cincaidi” operated and how they were viewed. We learn interesting small details like Roman astrologers sought to explain the innate softness by the stars. But the biggest thing we see in these passages is the attitude of Rome towards the passive partner. As was stated earlier in the historical section on Roman sexuality, the majority of Roman culture had no issue with same gender sexual activity as long it was active and not passive. William’s work bares this out. Paul, here in I Corinthians 6, stands against this cultural view by stating clearly that it isn’t just the penetrated person who is committing acts that adversely affects his faith but also the penetrater… the ‘arsenokoites”: the man-sexual-intercourser”. So Paul again makes a connection to Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 by using the word “arsenokoites.” Secondly, he made implicit connections to Lev. 18 and 20 by explicitly referring to both the active and the passive participant. While this was out of step with Roman culture, this was in step with the scriptures: Lev. 18:20 logically spoke to both partners in the same fashion as the old saying “it takes two to tango.”

Romans 1:18-22

Lastly we look at Romans 1:18-32

Romans 1:18-32 has been misread by both sides of the debate. On the one hand, some have used the phrases “the wrath of God,” and “God gave them up,” to justify accusations that A.I.D.S. is an active judgment from God, and sometimes have justified pouring out their own wrath on gay people (in the form of verbal abuse, and sometimes in the form of criminal violence). Such abuse and violence must be strongly condemned. See the Appendix for a discussion on the “wrath of God” and the phrase “God gave them up.” Appendix #9 & #10

On the other hand, the other side has used the phrase “against nature” to assert that these clear passages are not so clear. They claim Paul could only conceive of the world as heterosexual and therefore all same gender sexual activity was by definition then “against” their heterosexual “nature”. In this way of thinking, Romans 1 would not touch on the present debate because the present debate is often about sexual orientation, acts that would be said to be according to nature. I will respond to this thinking at length. In the end, Paul’s conclusion isn’t different than the Leviticus passages we have looked at except Paul provides the clarification that both men and women involved in same gender sexual activity are acting sinfully. The following will attempt to clear up the above misused phrase.

Against Nature

The phrase “against nature” that Paul uses in Romans 1:27 had a divergent history in the Greek and Roman worlds. This history is explored with some depth by Craig Williams in his book Roman Sexuality in his 13 page Appendix titled “The Rhetoric of Nature and Same-Sex Practices.” One person, referred to earlier, who has taken a particular reading of “against nature” is Dr. John Boswell. Dr. Boswell’s writings articulate many people’s opinions. In short, this is his argument.

Dr. Boswell believes that Paul considers same gender sexual participators to be heterosexual people acting in a homosexual way. Boswell gathers this argument from his understanding of what is “natural” and what is “against nature.” If a person is naturally heterosexual and then behaves in a homosexual way, then they are acting “against (their own) nature.” Dr. Boswell asserts Paul thinks all homosexual activity is heterosexuality acting unnaturally. Therefore he thinks this text doesn’t speak to today’s context where orientation plays such a big part of the conversation.

Because this view has such a huge following it must receive a response. First I will cite the Romans passage in question. Then I will quote Dr. Boswell’s interpretation at length. Then I will respond. In short, I will argue Paul’s use of the word “natural” is different than what Boswell thinks it is. In the end, Paul isn’t saying anything different than Leviticus with the addition of making it clear that Lesbian homosexual acts are also wrong.

Here is Paul’s passage.

“Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations against nature. In the same way 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 errors.” Romans 1:26-27

The following is Dr. Boswell’s interpretation.

“… it should be recognized that the point of the passage is not to stigmatize sexual behavior of any sort but to condemn the Gentiles for their general infidelity. There was a time, Paul implies, when monotheism was offered to or known by the Romans, but they rejected it (vv.19-23). The reference to homosexuality is simply a mundane analogy to this theological sin; it is patently not the crux of this argument. Once the point has been made, the subject of homosexuality is quickly dropped and the major argument resumed.”

“What is even more important, the persons Paul condemns are manifestly not homosexual: what he derogates are homosexual acts committed by apparently heterosexual persons. The whole point of Romans 1, in fact, is to stigmatize persons who have rejected their calling, and gotten off the true path they were once on. It would completely undermine the thrust of the argument if the persons in question were not “naturally” inclined to the opposite sex in the same way they were “naturally” inclined to monotheism. What caused the Romans to sin was not that they lacked what Paul considered proper inclinations, but that they had them: they held the truth, but “in unrighteousness’ (v.18), because “they did not see fit to retain Him in their knowledge” (v.28) “Although the idea that homosexuality represented a congenital physical characteristic was widespread in the Hellenistic world (Dr. Boswell’s footnote: Plato and Aristotle had both suggested variations on this idea, and it was a commonplace of Roman medicine.) … it is not clear that Paul distinguished in his thought or writings between gay persons (in the sense of permanent sexual preference) and heterosexuals who simply engaged in periodic homosexual behavior. It is in fact unlikely that many Jews of his day recognized such a distinction, but it is quite apparent that – whether or not he was aware of their existence – Paul[31]

Dr. Boswell’s argument revolves around how he interprets the word “natural” and “against nature.” Dr. Boswell interprets natural as meaning: “inherent,” “congenial,” “the very essence,” “inborn” “essence,” and the like. This is one of the possible meanings to the word “physis” from which “natural” and “nature” are translated. However, other meanings to physis exist.

The word nature (physis) has many different meanings. Paul uses the word a number of times in the book of Romans and he uses it with many different meanings in those various places. One of the meanings of “physis” is to see it as the regular natural order. This meaning would be the one used when someone might say the hand naturally fits in a glove. The fingers and thumb find an orderly natural fit.

People in Paul’s time sometimes applied this natural order understanding of “against nature’ to homosexuality. “…Seneca (a contemporary of Paul’s) suggest(ed) that men’s maleness ought to preclude them from being penetrated, and… Musonius Rufus (first century) condemn(ed) all sexual practices between males as unnatural. These philosophers’ comments seem to rest on certain assumptions about the function of sexual organs; certainly Seneca emphasizes the notion of the proper order or debitus ordo, according to which men should not ‘drink wine before eating, grow roses in the winter, build buildings over the sea, or penetrate males.’ In short, some kind of argument from ‘design’ seems to lurk in the background of Cicero’s, Seneca’s, and Musonius’ claims: the penis is ‘designed’ to penetrate a vagina, the vagina is ‘designed’ to be penetrated by a penis.”[32]

Could Paul have used this interpretation of “physis”? How would this reading have sounded in Romans 1? With this second understanding of physis one would interpret Romans 1:26 to mean “Even their women exchanged the natural hand in the glove fit given by God for a sexuality that does not fit as well. In the same way the men also abandoned the hand in the glove natural fit with women and were inflamed with lust for a lesser fit with other men.”

Dr. Boswell rejects the natural order argument. He says, “The concept of “natural law” (which flows out of natural order) was not fully developed until more than a millennium after Paul’s death, and it is anachronistic to read it into his words… Nature is not a moral force for Paul…”[33]

At the same time, Boswell acknowledged other contemporaries of Paul did have a seminal understanding of “natural law.” He acknowledged, “Philo Judaeus and a few of the Greek fathers clearly entertained some notion of overriding laws of “nature,” violation of which was inherently sinful even for those ignorant of the law of God. Even in Philo, however, there is considerable overlap of divine law, “natural law,” human legislation, and other sources of moral insight… Among the fathers influenced by or familiar with Philo’s (or similar) ideas the confusion was increased rather than diminished, and in the West there was little clear apprehension of the concept until the High Middle Ages. The writings attributed to Paul show no familiarity with such associations of “nature “and if some familiarity had been present, it would indicate little about Paul’s attitude, since the tradition itself was confused. A strikingly similar passage in Plutarch (Moralia 751), for instance, uses “against nature” and “shameful/indecent” together in discussing homosexuality, but it is hardly illuminating.”[34]

So Dr. Boswell acknowledges some notion of overriding laws of nature at Paul’s time but says that because there was no clear developed system of thought Paul couldn’t have been drawing from them. But what Dr. Boswell misunderstands is that Paul was never endorsing any particular system of thought that described ideas of natural order. Instead, Paul endorses THE CONCLUSION those thinkers came to WHEN they intersect with the law of God. Nothing more. In the same way that he endorsed the conclusion found within a Greek poem -“In him we live and move and have our being.” “We are all God’s children.” (Act 17:28) - without endorsing the system of thought of that poet, nor even the rest of the poem, Paul was able to make distinctions between various Stoic conclusions without endorsing the system of thought as a whole. Paul was able to make distinctions between the thoughts that intersected with God’s word and the systems of thought that housed those ideas.

So if Paul is not getting his ideas about nature from gentile philosophers, or even Jewish philosophers influenced from stoic philosophers, where does Paul, then, get his ideas? Paul, I believe, gets his ideas from the scriptures in general, and perhaps Psalm 19 in particular. “The heavens are declaring the glory of God. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” It seems to me that Paul is simply extending Psalm 19 to a next step. He is simply asserting God somehow speaks through nature, without trying to explain it. The proof that God does speak through nature without the law is that sometimes people do have the same conclusions as the law (as we see in many examples from and before Paul’s day.)

Psalm 19 not only casts light on “against nature” and “natural” as used by Paul in Romans 1 but also casts light on the Logic of Romans 1 in general. Paul is saying that just as the heavens speak without words about God’s glory (Ps.19), so creation also speaks without words about God’s eternal power and divinity (Rom.1). Paul is not personally starting with “nature” to get to the idea of God as creator; no doubt, he was starting from Moses just as Psalm 19 endorses Moses more so than creation: Psalm 19 does not say this speech coming from nature is perfect. No. Psalm 19 moves from creation to the law. After reveling in how God speaks through the glory of the heavens Psalm 19 then moves quickly to the law by saying, “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statues of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right giving joy to the heart. The commandments of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever…”

So the heavens (nature) declares God’s eternal power and divinity. As all are under the heavens, none have an excuse. So also, nature somehow communicates moral truths. Some people - Stoic philosophers and the like - were shown to have heard some of this truth. This communication would not have been thought by Paul (or any other Jew) to be perfect communication. God’s law is perfect speech. But the communication from nature is good enough to not leave anyone with an excuse. And this, after all, is the main argument that Paul is making. In the end Paul will show that all, Jew or Gentile, are without excuse before God.

So then, which reading is the most satisfying reading, natural order or inborn endowment? I think I’ve shown that Dr. Boswell’s concern about anachronism and no consistency between the many users of this language is not an issue. That not withstanding, which one is it? Is “physis” to be read inborn endowment? Or is to be read as a natural order? The answer will be found by seeing which is the most internally consistent in the context it is used, and by seeing which is most externally consistent with the larger logic and context. When you look at the internal and external logic NATURAL ORDER is the better choice.

Dr. Boswell argues internal logic is important. As quoted above, he says, “It would completely undermine the thrust of the argument if the persons in question were not “naturally” inclined to the opposite sex in the same way they were “naturally” inclined to monotheism.” The problem with Dr. Boswell’s “nature” argument is that it does NOT follow in the same way in both sexuality and monotheism, at least it doesn’t in the way Paul actually sets it up.

Follow the thinking. Dr. Boswell says these people are naturally heterosexual: naturally meaning endowed from birth… or in our terms genetically oriented to heterosexuality. But Paul does not speak of people being “naturally” inclined to monotheism in the same way. People are not endowed from birth toward monotheism. Paul states in verses 19-20, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divinity – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” The natural inclination toward monotheism happens in response to what is seen (“the heavens are declaring the glory of God”) it wasn’t endowed from birth. So, in the way Paul sets it up Dr. Boswell has a problem.

Dr. Boswell tries to fix the problem changing Paul’s time frame. Dr. Boswell argues, “There was a time, Paul implies, when monotheism was offered to or known by the Romans, but they rejected it (vv.19-23).[35] ” Dr. Boswell includes this explanation in the footnote. “The idea that pagans had once had a chance at salvation is a commonplace of Semitic religious polemic: see the Qur’an 11:33. All subsequent exegesis assumed that the pagans could have known the truth if they had wished to (e.g., Theodoret).” p.108 Here, you see, Dr. Boswell tries to place the gentile knowing in the past…(“there was a time”) as if this knowing were perhaps in the conception of the Gentile nations. Dr. Boswell needs to speak in these terms in order to make his argument hang together. So when the gentile nations were “born” they were monotheistic (Were Romulus and Remus monotheistic? When was this time? When did it end?). Then they rejected God. If this were what Paul was saying his argument would hang together. But it isn’t what Paul is saying. Even the supporting citations Dr. Boswell gives are suspect. He quotes the Qur’an (7th century A.D.) and Theodoret (5th century A.D.). These examples are post fact.

When you look at the time frame prior and during Paul’s life you see many things being said that support my reading of “against nature.” “In Wis. 13:5 we read, ‘For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their creator.’ Ep. Arist. 132 sums up as follows: ‘there is only one God and his power is evident through everything.’[36] But it isn’t just that there is other literature in Paul’s time frame speaking similarly to Paul that shows Dr. Boswell is wrong. It is Paul’s own words in the Romans text that do not say what Dr. Boswell says it says. Paul says, “For since the creation of the of the world God’s invisible qualities… have been clearly seen, being understood…” (v.20) [The preposition “since” is the Greek word (apo). It has a “directional” sense to it. What is the direction? (Apo) goes from the creation of the world to the present: (The words “have been clearly seen” are a present tense… and the participle “being understood” is a present tense participle translating the participle’s time frame to be at the same time as the main verb (have been clearly seen). The main verb is a “Static Present” representing “a condition which is assumed as perpetually existing.”[37] In other words, Paul is saying that all people from the creation of the world till now are confronted with the truth of God’s existence. This meaning then supports Paul’s main point: he is trying to show that all people (gentile and Jew) are without excuse before God. Dr. Boswell’s way of reading the text would not support this main argument: if it is a past generation that overtly rejected God then why would the present gentiles be held accountable for the past generation’s actions? So therefore, the internal logic of this text tips not towards “nature” as endowed from birth, but rather “nature” as natural order.

If you read “nature” as I have described it (as natural order) then monotheism and moral thoughts regarding sexuality ARE inclined in the same way. Both happen as a result of seeing: 1. All see the heavens and are confronted with the idea that there is a Creative God. Most reject the idea but because the idea came to them they are without excuse. 2. All see something about men and women’s sexual apparatus (some describe this apparatus as a natural fit of men and women concluding that it is like a natural hand in the glove fit – some describe it in other terms). Most in Paul’s gentile world rejected this moral idea but because the idea came to them they are without excuse.

When you compare the two internal logics “nature” in terms of “natural order” is consistent, while “nature” in terms of “endowed from birth” does not live up to what Dr. Boswell says is needed. (“It would completely undermine the thrust of the argument if the persons in question were not “naturally” inclined to the opposite sex in the same way they were “naturally” inclined to monotheism.”) Is Dr. Boswell’s argument “completely undermined” like he said it would be if it wasn’t “in the same way?” I don’t know. But I do know the “natural order” argument isn’t undermined at all.

External logic

The external evidence doesn’t support Dr. Boswell’s reading either. Dr. Boswell describes the Old Testament passages in a way that is consistent with his Romans argument; however, he has to misrepresent the passages to make them agree with his facts. This makes me think Dr. Boswell is just trying to corral the earlier texts so that they don’t get out and cause him trouble. His attempts don’t work.

Attempt to corral

I find most of his arguments in chapter four to be uncharacteristically loose, and in some cases Clintonesque. (Dr. Boswell is characteristically in other places very thorough and careful.) As a first example, he argues, “Sodom is used as a symbol of evil in dozens of places, but not in a single instance is the sin of the Sodomites specified as homosexuality.”[38] Not a “single instance?” Well that depends on what you mean by “specified;” like Clinton thought it depended on what was meant by “sexual relations.” Ezekiel 16:49-50 specifically says, “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did abominations before me.” Now, obviously the sin of Sodom was wider than homosexuality. That is clear. But the list DOES include “did abominations,” the very word used to characterize homosexual acts in Leviticus 18:22. How specific do the scriptures have to be?

Again, Dr. Boswell amazingly states, “None of the many Old Testament passages which refer to Sodom’s wickedness suggests any homosexual offenses… On the basis of the text alone, there would seem to be four inferences one could make about the destruction of Sodom: (1) the Sodomites were destroyed for the general wickedness which had prompted the Lord to send angels to the city to investigate in the first place…”[39]

You would think that with this clear statement no specific connection would be found between homosexual acts and “wickedness”. But that is not what we find. We find the exact opposite. Genesis 19 specifically refers to the homosexual threat of Sodom as “this wicked thing.” “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them. Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, ‘No, my friends, Don’t do this wicked thing.” (Gen.19:5-7) So when Jeremiah said, -“Both prophet and priest are godless; even in my temple I find their wickedness… They strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from his wickedness. They are all like Sodom to me, the people of Jerusalem are like Gomorrah.” (Jeremiah 23:11,14) - it is no stretch to include in the general wickedness of Jerusalem the specific wickedness mentioned in Sodom in Genesis 19. Once again, how specific do the scriptures have to be?

Thirdly, Dr. Boswell also attempts to explain away Leviticus 18:22 and Lev. 20:13 by relating it not as moral law but as ritual impurity, the kind of law which (in my earlier language) has been abolished

He says, “The Hebrew word ‘toevah’ here translated ‘abomination,’ does not usually signify something intrinsically evil, like rape or theft , but something which is ritually unclean for Jews, like eating pork or engaging in intercourse during menstruation, both of which are prohibited in these same chapters.”[40]

Notice the word “usually”. He has to say “usually” because the word “toevah” (abomination) does also include moral categories, such as when the scriptures say that it is an abomination to have “two differing weights in your bag – one heavy, one light. Do not have two differing measures in your house – one heavy, one light…” (Deut. 25:13-16) (see Appendix #11 for the scripture’s wide treatment of “abomination.”)

He continues on, “Although both chapters also contain prohibitions (e.g., against incest and adultery) which might seem to stem from moral absolutes, their function in the context of Leviticus 18 and 20 seems to be as symbols of Jewish distinctiveness.”[41]

I can’t imagine Dr. Boswell is saying that incest and adultery are not in moral categories. I think he is saying that in these chapters the emphasis is on Jewish distinctiveness. But if it is both Jewish distinctiveness and a moral category, what is to stop verses 22 and 13 from being both? Dr. Boswell is doing everything he can to get these verses out of a moral category. But it isn’t working.

Dr. Boswell thinks the Leviticus passages are irrelevant to the Romans discussion. He says, “The irrelevance of the verses was further emphasized by the teaching of both Jesus and Paul that under the new dispensation it was not the physical violation of Levitical precepts which constituted ‘abomination’ but the interior infidelity of the soul.”[42]

For both Jesus and Paul sinful acts came from the heart, but then moved to outward actions. Certainly murder begins with hatred, and adultery and fornication start with lust, and theft starts with coveting. (Matt. 15:16-20) Exterior things that stand alone get abolished as law. But exterior things that are connected to the inward retain their moral weight. Is it possible to be involved in any sexual act and not be affected within? I don’t think so.

So Dr. Boswell tries to corral these verses so that they don’t get out and infect his argument with ideas that will undermine his main point.

I, on the other hand, have described a consistent scenario from Old Testament to the New Testament that levels with the facts of history. I have demonstrated that Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 are passages that still remain after the 10+1 negating, the word “lie” is a very broad umbrella that covers any and all types of same sex activity, the cultures related to the Biblical texts provided a big tent where all types of same sex experience existed. People therefore had words and cultural examples to flesh out those words. They gained their moral understanding from such a framework. Paul did this as well. Paul steps into just this sort of stream. His writings are consistent with this flow of thought. Dr. Boswell, on the other hand is out of step with this larger flow. He doesn’t think that Paul or other Jews were aware of all types of same sex experience. It isn’t that Dr. Boswell thinks that one couldn’t conceive of sexuality in other ways in Paul’s day. He admits, “…the idea that homosexuality represented a congenital physical characteristic was widespread in the Hellenistic world. Plato and Aristotle had both suggested variations on this idea, and it was a commonplace of Roman medicine.”[43] Dr. Boswell simply doesn’t think it is clear that Paul made heterosexual/homosexual distinctions, in his mind and in his writing. This despite everything I noted in the cultural section; and despite the Romans, like the Babylonians, tried to explain effeminacy by “astrology;” and despite Paul traveled with Luke the physician throughout the Roman world (is it possible Luke wasn’t aware of what Roman physicians held in a commonplace way?). In the end, Dr. Boswell’s argument doesn’t hang with common sense. I think Dr. Boswell basically wanted to create a firewall to separate today’s discussion from Paul’s words.

When we look at this larger exterior context it just seems more likely to me that Paul saw a great deal. Furthermore, when he saw what he saw I believe he was morally informed by Leviticus 18:20. Dr. Boswell’s interior logic problems and external consistency problems have broken down the firewall. All this affects how we should look at assent.

For a more distant point about an inconsistent larger exterior context, see Appendix 12.

Further objections about the law as described

Objection #3: We have changed how we interpret scripture before. Why not now?

Still, there are further reservations. Some say, “We have changed how we interpret scripture before. For instance, I noticed the roll of women or slavery laws were not in the list of laws that have been abolished. Yet we have changed our ideas about these in time. What makes the homosexual issue different?”

WOMEN’S ORDINATION “In the context of the whole”

“Scripture says women should keep silent in church, but this year we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the ordination of women.” (“What about same-sex unions?”) [44]

Answer: Seemingly absolute statements must be understood in context. The operative word in the above protest is the word “interpret.” We have changed how we interpret scripture before. This does not change scripture. The way we should interpret scripture is in context with the whole. Sometimes this can be an involved process. Sometimes what seems to be a very clear statement is not so absolute. For instance, take circumcision laws. St. Paul made a seemingly very clear statement when he said, “Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.” Gal.5: 2 This is a strong, clear statement. Yet we do not concern ourselves with either being circumcised or uncircumcised. Why? Because the context gives a qualification to what seems so absolute. Later in chapter 6 Paul says, “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.” 6:15 So, Paul qualifies his seeming absolute statement so that we realize it wasn’t absolute.

Such is the case with the issue of women’s rolls in the church. St. Paul seems to make clear absolute statements at times. But when we look at the whole of scripture we find these statements qualified. For instance, the church clearly received the teaching of Priscilla, the wife of Aquila. She was involved in teaching Apollos and had a teaching ministry at large. (Acts 18:18-28) Paul recognized them. (Rom.16: 31;I Cor.16: 19) Also, we have examples of prophetesses being mentioned in the church. (Acts 21:9) Presumably they spoke to the church. “Paul said there is neither male nor female” (Gal.3:28) giving a philosophical reason to not make absolute roll distinctions. When we look at the whole of scriptures we find plenty of reason to qualify Paul’s seemingly clear and absolute statements about women’s rolls, just like his seemingly absolute statement about circumcision was qualified by other passages. Instead of thinking Paul is just a narrow minded chauvinist we should see him as a wise man exercising a wisdom similar to general advice not to send women missionaries to men in Iran today. I think we should have women missionaries but I think we should also exercise wisdom in the types of situation we place them. Paul is not just a chauvinist. His wisdom has been misread.

Some might respond, “Ah, but he is an unreasoned defender of maleness. His view of husbands and wives reflect this. Paul says flat out, ‘wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.’” (Eph. 5:22) Yes, and the scriptures also say, just before that verse, “…be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” And Paul also tells us, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and game Himself up for her…” (Eph. 5:25) But then, Paul also said, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us…” (Eph. 5:1-2) So, Paul tells husbands to do what he has already told everyone to do for each other. And, he also tells wives to do what he already had told all to do for each other.

So the charge to husband and wife is not an exclusionary charge. Why then does he reiterate what he has already said all should do, singling out husband and wife? I’m not sure. Perhaps these were aspects of life that Paul saw husbands and wives commonly stumbling over. And, speculating even more wildly, perhaps this stumbling came from the new situation of the freedom of the gospel. For instance, I could imagine a wife feeling like she had always before been forced by her culture to be subject to the man. And now, in the new freedom, where there is neither male nor female, she may have wished to assert that freedom over against the subjection Paul now said we should have for one another. And, perhaps the man, being frightened by the new freedom, felt less inclined to now do at home what all were to do. Admittedly, this is wild speculation. However, what can’t be denied is that the charge to husband and wife is not an exclusionary charge. Both charges were to all.

Some might then respond, “But then what of the headship language? Paul tells us the man is the head of the wife.” Yes. And Paul also tells us that, “the head of Christ is God.” (I Cor.11:3) But no orthodox person thinks that Christ is less equally God because of this language. The Trinity is the model for our relationships, not a sinful world where people lord over one another. According to the Trinity, it is possible to have order and equality. When we start with the Trinity, then the whole picture becomes new.

I’m not saying Paul wasn’t affected by the sinful culture around him, or wasn’t sinful himself. Nevertheless, I am saying that he was taken by the freedom of the gospel and sought to incorporate it as wisely as he knew how, while at the same time trying to publicly witness to a world that needed this freedom but didn’t know they needed it.

I think Paul would be shocked and pleased to see a culture that allowed this new freedom to now more publicly flourish.

Slavery “More Broad than we Expect”

Slavery is another issue. “Scripture says quite blatantly that slavery is acceptable, but the church for more than 100 years has said it isn’t,” says Bishop Robert A Rimbo, Southeast Michigan Synod.”[45]

People have noted that the scriptures failed to abolish slavery as a whole, instead putting limits and rules of conduct on the slavery practiced. This is true. We are appalled by this, thinking that the American institution of slavery would have been approved of by the scriptures. This, in fact, is not true. The scriptures would not have approved of the American institution of slavery. Old Testament law prohibited the kind of slave trading which took place and in fact called for death for such slave traders (Ex.21:16, Deut.24:7). Paul listed slave trading in his list of I Tim.1;10 as an example of that which is contrary to sound teaching: ”We know that the law is good if a man uses it properly. We also know that law is made not for good men but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and “arsenokoites,” for slave traders and liars and perjurers - and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.” (I Tim 1:8-10) Those who tried to justify our institution of slavery on the basis of scriptures picked and chose and didn’t take the whole.

Nevertheless, people will wonder out loud. “He didn’t out-and-out abolish it. Why?” But as difficult as it is at times, we need to interpret the scriptures in the light of all of the scriptures. It very well may be that the scriptures do not out-and-out abolish slavery because it defines slavery so broadly. For instance, the scriptures say, “The borrower is slave to the lender.” (Prov.22: 7) If we take the scriptures seriously what this means is our whole American way of life is enslaving. Capitalism is based on a kind of slavery according to the scriptures. Who can own a house in America without becoming a slave? What business can operate without ever borrowing money, and thus becoming enslaved? Very few. But it is a slavery most of us accept. Now, the Marxist Communists would say, “Yes! We have always analyzed capitalism this way. Get rid of it!” But Marxist communism has been documented to be a terrible kind of slavery of its own. So, in this broad sense, there is no way, this side of the final day, to 100% escape slavery in all its forms. I think this is the reality that Paul recognized (Not in terms of capitalism. Of course, that would be anachronistic to Paul). I think he looked at his social system as a whole and realized there was no absolute escape, while at the same time advising slaves to get out of whatever facet they can. (I Cor.7:21)

In order that what I am saying is not misconstrued to in any way justify the institution of slavery, let me say this. One of my proudest family tree connections is to the family of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s father was a famous preacher named Lyman Beecher. Her mother’s maiden name was Roxanna Foote. Lois Dillison Foote married my great great grandfather, Frank McClallon Auten, in 1862. Roxanna Foote’s great great grandfather and Lois Foote’s great great great great grandfather were brothers (or is there another great in there? I lose track). I am extremely proud to have my ancestors rub shoulders (if only on paper) with the person who Abraham Lincoln said, “Here is the little lady who started this big war.” No doubt, Uncle Tom’s Cabin did have a huge roll in setting people’s minds against our institution of slavery. The scriptures were soundly against this institution. (Ex.21:16, Duet.24:7,Ex.21:20-21;26-27, I Tim. 1:8-10, Eph.6:9, Col.4:1, Col.3:11) If I, as I stand now, were to be transported back in time to then, then I would have been an abolitionist. But my revulsion to the institution of slavery does not stop me from reading Paul in the context of the whole.

What about divorce?

Jesus’ hard word about divorce should be read as a straight forward description of what marriage is and should be read on the same level of Jesus’ intensifications about lust. It is very often common to just ignore his difficult words about divorce to try to find “good news” by turning our head the other way. Instead, we should look at Jesus’ words squarely. Those who divorce and remarry are adulterers (except in cases of unchastity) – what else could it be as marriage is declared to be forever, by vow? (What piece of paper is going to change the vow? Given what marriage is, Jesus is in a sense merely declaring the obvious.) But they are no less adulterers than those who have experienced “lust in the heart.” Hasn’t everyone at some point in time lusted in the heart? “Certainly,” some people think while struggling with the emotion of the situation, “Lust in the heart is not the same as the adultery of remarriage. Is it?” But, contrary to what some feel, it IS the same. They are not of unequal weight before God. (They do, however, have different consequences. This is important to note. It has pastoral care ramifications.) Nevertheless, who, according to Jesus’ words about lust, is not an adulterer? Who doesn’t stand at the cross in need of Christ’s forgiveness offered freely? Indeed all of us. As forgiveness is offered freely regarding the adultery of lust in the heart, forgiveness is also offered freely regarding the adultery of remarriage.

Because the emotion of the two adulteries is very different, it is helpful to note that Jesus seems to tacitly acknowledge that he expects remarriage. Jesus says, “But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, CAUSES her to BECOME an adulteress.” (Matt. 5:32) Note that Jesus says, “Causes her.” Certainly it isn’t the divorce itself that is equated with adultery. It is the remarriage. Therefore, when Jesus says that to divorce a wife causes her to commit adultery, it suggests that Jesus is tacitly expecting the woman to remarry. (This is not a command. It is a possibility.)

Therefore, the inevitableness of the adultery described as “lust in the heart” and the likelihood of the adultery described, as remarriage are not as far apart as some might think they are. There is comfort here for those considering remarriage if they are willing to take it ALL seriously. In fact, if we are honest we will admit that to remarry will be to trade one kind of adultery for another. At least as we remarry and ask for forgiveness we then have a place to direct our desires where otherwise the desire will have no legal home. In addition, it needs to be said clearly and loudly that divorce and remarriage are not the unforgivable sins. There is newness in Christ. In the same way that “lust in the heart” is forgivable, so are divorce and remarriage forgivable. All things become new in Christ. The relationship is not adulterous forever. Christ throws our sin into the sea of forgetfulness.

Still, there is confusion about this issue. The Lutheran magazine article titled “What about same-sex unions?” takes this often-complicated emotion-filled issue of divorce and uses it in an argument. However, the argument, in strict logical terms, is an enthymeme: an argument in which one of the premises and maybe even the conclusion is not expressed but implied. This creates confusion. Just what is being said? First I will quote the article. Then I will express the premise and the missing part of the premise. Then I will point out the problem with what is implied, and what it has to say about divorce.

The Quote

“Hesford and others compare biblical interpretation regarding slavery, divorce and women in ministry, issues on which the church has changed its stance…” (Bishop Rimbo, of Southeast Michigan Synod stated…) “Jesus is very clear that divorce isn’t acceptable, yet we have many divorced people in our pews and in our pulpits. The kingdom of God ultimately is inclusive.” [46]

The Argument

The argument here is, (A.) Jesus stated clearly that divorce is unacceptable yet, (B.) Divorced people are in our pews and pulpits. Therefore, (C.) the kingdom of God is ultimately inclusive.

The missing part of the premise

The missing portion is in premise (B.) Why are divorced people in our pews and pulpits? It is either (a) because of forgiveness or, (b) because Jesus now thinks divorce is acceptable.


If Bishop Rimbo meant that (a) divorced people are in our pews and pulpits because of forgiveness, then the conclusion (C.) (“the Kingdom of God is inclusive”) isn’t news. It has always been known that “the son of man came for sinners.” If this supports an implied “change of stance” in the church, it does so in the same way that the church changed its stance about “justification by faith” in the 16th century: the change was a reform to the scripture’s teaching.

If Bishop Rimbo meant that (b) there are divorced people in the pews because Jesus now thinks divorce is acceptable, then (C.) (“the kingdom of God is inclusive”) IS news. It is announcing something the scriptures have not previously announced. And the implication, that “the church has changed its stance,” is more than a reform, it is revision.

Since this is an enthymeme, it is a little difficult to know just what Bishop Rimbo means about divorce. This lack of clarity carries over into the homosexual question. They are comparing divorce to the question of homosexual blessing. They are arguing that the church should “change its stance” about homosexual blessing as it has “changed its stance” about divorce. But, once again, just what does Bishop Rimbo mean about divorce? Is Bishop Rimbo looking for reform or revision when it comes to the homosexual question? If he sees himself as a reformer, what is the scripture to which he is reforming? If he wants revision, on what basis does he seek it?

Lastly, some will ask, “If we allow divorce and remarriage, expecting forgiveness and newness, why not allow homosexual blessing, then expect newness? The obvious answer is marriage, as an institution, is never spoken of as sin, while same gender sexual relationships are always spoken of in the category of sin. To try to say there is wonderful newness for the estate of same gender blessing is like saying forgiving the thief will make wonderful newness for the act of stealing. (see appendix 13 for further thoughts about this issue.)

In conclusion of this section

I have argued three things here. First, women’s ordination is the result of now properly understanding women’s roles in the scriptures and is not a change from the scriptures. Second, the scriptures, taken as a whole, condemn the American institution of slavery but do not condemn all forms of slavery as it defines slavery in such a broad way, including debt. Therefore we should condemn the American institution of slavery but should not allow the fact that the scriptures do not condemn all forms of slavery to cause us to either be confused or ashamed. Thirdly, the reason we respond to divorce as we do is reformation to the gospel, not revision of the scriptures. None of these would affect this paper’s prior statements about assent.

Objection #4 “Genetic Ramifications”

Science and Scripture “Discovering what Physically IS”

What about science? Hasn’t science dramatically changed how we interpret scriptures? Or, to put it another way, if the scientific theories of the Big Bang and Evolution have dramatically shifted our interpretation of Genesis, then can’t present hypotheses about homosexuality dramatically shift our interpretation about passages on homosexuality?

The short answer to this question is no. The explanation really requires a book. But let me say this. As I stated in my introduction, I love science and love scientific method for what it is. Science is especially well equipped to ask questions about “what (physically) is” and investigate those questions through if-then deductive reasoning, checking out each if-then step with repeatable, measurable experiments. Science is not well equipped to say “what should be”. The reason for this should be clearer after we have looked at where the law comes from. The law is based on and comes from God. (See the later discussion on the Ten Commandments.) Once the law (“what should be”) is seen to have come from God and not from “what (physically) is”, then the scientific discussion of “what (physically) is”, while very interesting, does not change the issue of “what should be.”

Having said that, I know the impression that people have about science is that it has changed everything. This impression must be questioned. At various times in history the scriptures have been interpreted differently. The middle ages loved an allegorical reading of the scriptures. Luther criticized the allegorical readings of the church fathers and others of his day, choosing instead to interpret the scriptures with the plain sense of what was said. But sometimes Luther thought the scriptures plainly left room for a more figurative interpretation of what was said. For instance, Luther preached on Genesis in his Commentary on Genesis saying (I’m paraphrasing here) when Adam and Eve hid themselves after hearing God walking in the cool of the garden they actually only heard the sound of leaves rustling in the wind; but when God brings us under the conviction of sin even all of creation is at his disposal to accent that conviction. This was a rather free figurative reading not uncommon in his preaching. C. S. Lewis followed in Luther’s steps but did so with modern images. The point I’m making is this: we have always had some Christians interpreting Genesis with a degree of figurativeness.

Personally, I don’t think that science poses a threat to the scriptures at all. I read science and Genesis side by side and find they complement each other. The question for Genesis is, "where does it intersect with the truth?" If it intersects only in the first verse, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth...” then that is a very powerful intersection. Some will say from that point on Gen. 1 is a poetic/liturgical portrayal of the unfolding of verse one. This certainly can be a faithful reading. I, personally, look for an intersection in each word while at the same time reading figuratively. (For instance, when the scriptures say, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” I think, “Bang, a bang caused by God in every sense… [the original singularity from whence the bang came was created by God ex nihlio – out of nothing], not brought about by chance.” And when the scriptures say, “…and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” [Water is not always just H2O in the scriptures. See Isaiah 25:10]- I think of this passage as a statement that God was intimately involved in all that was unfolding, hovering over all “pre-physical-law sludge.” And when the scriptures say, “Let there be light.” I think of how, at some early point, God caused atomic structure to be formulated creating energy as we now understand it, giving off light. The days spoken of are “a period of time,” as “day” is sometimes used elsewhere in the scriptures. This gives you a sense of how I read Genesis 1. – I read this way all through chapters 1-3. For instance, Adam really existed. He was the first being to be mutated up to a human level, not by chance but by God’s hand. Eve was taken from his rib, [cell, – the same word that describes the storage cells in the side of the Temple] … the human DNA information stored there was used to create Eve. I think through every word and verse in this sense, believing every word is true. [“…Thy word is truth.” John 17:17] I think all of this, not leaving one stone unturned [dinosaurs, creation from dust, “…just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men…” [Romans 5:12], all of this I account for in the text. But I do not believe my accounting is more true than the text. The Word is paramount, my musings are my musings. Therefore I know the story itself is the most powerful way to communicate the creation truth. And therefore I generally just preach the story as it is given in the scriptures.) What about those who read Genesis strictly in a literal sense? You will not find me chiding them or making them to seem less intelligent just because they resist a modern “take” on how things came about. I certainly believe that if God wanted to create in the literal way Genesis l speaks of He is certainly able. God is God. God can do anything. Let me make two points about those who take this track. Some of them seek to not to fight with science by saying that in the same way that they imagine God to have created Adam at age thirty (or so)... they also imagine the rest of creation to have been “created old”. Therefore, the earth, indeed the whole universe, was created seemingly with a lot of “water under the bridge”. So science, when probing this earth and universe, may find it looking older than it actually is – and baring the marks (be it geologically or paleontologically) of looking older than it is. This approach does not challenge what science is doing now. It simply says science ultimately isn’t able to probe the true reality. A second group who read Genesis more literally take many scientists on. They ask radical questions of science and seek to rebut the current state of scientific orthodoxy. While I am not in this group I think radical questioning is good for science. The more questions the better.

So, how much has our interpretation dramatically changed regarding Genesis? The answer to this depends on which group you are in. But, ultimately, no matter what group you are in, in final analysis it does not affect the question of “what should be.”

DNA “the galactic dance”

Countless will speak up in chorus at this point. They will say, “You missed the point in the last section! The hypotheses about homosexuality is precisely dealing with ‘what (physically) is’. Some genetic research is suggesting that homosexuality is not a choice or the result of an arrested development, or even a sociologically conditioned response, but instead is simply how they are “wired”. If people are genetically wired that way then it would be immoral, indeed unchristian, to demand that they live an unsatisfied life. In other words, ‘what (physically) is’ leads directly to ‘what should be.’”

What causes homosexuality? The complexity of the issue is not likely to allow an easy answer any time soon. The complexity of other behavioral studies searching for causes should teach us to go slow and not think we can jump to conclusions. For instance, look at “Seeking the Roots of Violence”[47] in April 19,1993 issue of Time Magazine. Lower levels of the chemical serotonin were identified to raise the aggressive nature of monkeys. Similar levels have been identified in violent humans. Genetic explorations were reported to be under way regarding this. Yet, people were able to see the complexity and raise surrounding issues in the article. Despite some possible physical causes they were not quick to endorse the interpretation that it is all simply a genetic issue. We should be AS wise with the issue of homosexuality

Is it nature or nurture? Some blend? What part does human will play in the issue? The studies are interesting, yet inconclusive. My personal view is that there may be some element of a genetic proclivity for some. This proclivity may be in various amounts in various people sort of like the difference between diabetes type 1 and diabetes type 2. I don’t think proclivity explains it all. A galaxy of nurture, (here I am relating each causal factor to be equated to a star in a galaxy) I believe, is also a factor, including family issues, at times sexual abuse, and broad sociological factors. Thirdly, I think a complex galaxy of ideas, images, information, inferences, and feelings have a huge impact. The will, no doubt, has a place in this galaxy but in most situations the will is part of the galactic vortex, not the defining center around which everything rotates. These three galaxies - nature, nurture, and the above mentioned complex array of internal shapers - most likely create a complex gravitationally swayed galactic dance (similarly to how galaxies affect one another in their movements) that go into the gay experience. The gravitational dance probably isn’t the same in any one person’s experience. For one there is more of one factor than another. For another it is a different mix. However, even with this complex situation, because human will is “in the mix” there is moral culpability. In the end we are responsible for our behavior.

How is it that the will is not the galactic center of the vortex yet still brings about moral culpability?


Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that it is nature that is the predominate shaper: it is genetically wiring which largely brings about homosexuality. If homosexuality is from “what (physically) is” then does that automatically mean no choice exists regarding behavior? The answer is no.

Look at alcoholism for instance. A high percentage of people, including people in the AA program, believe that genetic factors are behind a good many alcoholics. (For a very good article on this read, “Were We Born This Way?: Double Shots and Double Helix… the latest discoveries from the scientific frontier of addiction.”)[48] These same AA program people say as a first step that they are powerless to overcome it. Still, AA people will not say that therefore it is impossible to do anything else but follow the urge. AA speaks of responsibility. It speaks of making choices. “Ah,” but some will protest, “Drinking is something that you can choose to do or not do. Sexual urge is a drug which is internal.”

The internal chemistry of love

We know the chemistry of attraction. The February 15, 1993 edition of Time Magazine reported this chemistry.[49] First comes attraction. “The brain is revved up by phenylethylamine (PEA) and possibly the neurochemicals dopamine and norepinephrine, all natural amphetamines. These produce feelings of euphoria and elation. This stage can last for two to three years, then starts to wane.” Then comes attachment. “During this stage, larger amounts of endorphins (chemically similar to morphine) flow into the brain, leaving lovers with a sense of security, and peace and calm.” On top of this comes a “cuddle chemical.” “The brain’s pituitary gland secrets oxytocin (the cuddle chemical), which stimulates sensations during lovemaking and produces feelings of relaxed satisfaction and attachment.” The article points out gay experience is chemically the same.

“So,” objectors argue, “while alcoholics and other drug addicts deal with real choices (though genetically inclined) gay and lesbian people deal with a drug issue which is internal and not by choice.”

All of this may be true. But here is something that can’t be denied. Heterosexual people deal with the same internal drug issues, and a significant percentage of them do not just give into the attraction. For instance, I was 26 when I was married. My wife was 24. We were both virgins. We were virgins because we chose to be virgins. But someone will say, “Ya, but you did get married. You finally had the satisfaction and attachment feelings fulfilled. What about gay and lesbian people? They have no option according to your thinking!” To this I say I have plenty of single friends who have stayed single for years, as virgins... and maybe they will be single the rest of their lives. Is it hard for them? I would imagine it is in many ways hard. But, do I, because it is hard for them say, “just go ahead and fool around?” Or, do I say to widows, “Feel free. Follow the urge?” No. As hard as I know it is, I say to them, “don’t go there.” Then someone will say, “At least they have hope. They may yet find some one and get married. But you have given no hope to the gay and lesbian person. Certainly if God “wired” people this way He must intend for them to find fulfillment.

But does it really follow that if a person is wired a certain way God must intend for them to fulfill the urge? What about bi-sexual people? Their urge is both directions. Are they genetically wired that way? If not, why can’t we tell the difference on the level of attraction? If they are wired that way, did God intend for them to go both ways? This isn’t likely. Someone might say, “Bi-sexual people should go one way or the other then count all other urges as temptation just as married people are tempted with heterosexual lust yet don’t all follow the urge.” But how do they know without experimentation which way to go? The unfulfilled side - the unchosen-bi-side - may leave a person feeling unfulfilled. They may be left with the nagging question of whether they made the right choice. So, is the presence of urge a sign that God has intended the urges be followed? I think the answer is clearly no.

The bottom line is this, when it comes to behavior we are not people without choice. If there is choice there is also moral culpability.

Polygamy is no justification here. See Appendix #14

Objection #5 “It is not loving to insist that gay people follow such boundaries.” “Cole Porter’s Question Revisited”

To the section above some might say, “To say such a thing doesn’t seem very loving. And besides, instead of looking at unfulfilled urges why don’t you look at the many examples of gay relationships that are working, that are long lasting, that are loving examples.”

This protest raises a very basic question. What is love anyway? Is love never making people feel bad because a boundary has been presented? I’m going to argue against this idea. Is it always love when people seem to get along so well? I am going to argue against this too.

What is love?

“What is this thing called love? What? Is this thing called love? What is this thing called? Love.” (Cole Porter) Cole Porter cleverly put the question well. It is an allusive issue, indeed. Talk of love is all around us. It is in music lyrics, movies, TV, magazines, and novels. But for all the talk and for all the attention, we seem to know so little about it.

WHAT? Is this thing called LOVE?

The question of love is a very important question. It fuels the most followed ethic of our day: Situation Ethics. Joseph Fletcher, situation ethics’ greatest advancer, described a very simple scenario. He argued that there aren’t laws that speak to every single situation that comes up. So he asked, what do you do? His answer was equally as simple. He said, “Do the “loving” thing!” Sounds good. Who can argue against doing the loving thing? But one problem exists. Joseph Fletcher never defines love. He might as well have said; Do the “szmorzmorsh” thing! “Szmorzmorsh” has as much definition as love the way Fletcher uses it, and the way most use it today. Is there an answer to this?

What is this thing called? LOVE.

The Greeks had something up on us. They used at least three words that are each translated into the English word love. (In classical Greek there was less distinctiveness in these words. But in later Greek, called Koine Greek, these words took on greater distinctiveness.) The three words are:(1) “Agape” – charity. In Christian circles it came to be known as God’s kind of unconditional love. (“We know love by this that he laid down his life.” I John 3:16) (2) “phileo” - brotherly love (The word Philadelphia, “city of brotherly love,” comes from this, and (3) “eros” from which we get the word “erotic”. The scriptures speak of each of these loves, eros being celebrated in the book of Song of Solomon. (“Eros” is also about infatuation and romance.) All three are good and appropriate in the right place.

No one is going to argue that homosexuality isn’t about “eros.” I wouldn’t argue with anyone that it could be about “phileo.” In fact, when people speak of the goodness of a homosexual relationship I can readily see this on the level of “phileo.” Is homosexuality agape? I think a homosexual relationship could be about agape if we are subtracting the “eros” out the equation. We see this, for instance, when one partner cares for his partner in sickness. In other words, when two homosexual people are not involved sexually their personal interactions could be characterized by the word “agape.” But when sexual activity (eros) is added into the equation then it no longer is “love.” It no longer is “agape.” On what basis am I subtracting the “eros?”

The Scriptures have the best definition we have

While I believe it is impossible to totally comprehend all of what love is, the scriptures do give a definition of agape that is tangible and discernible. This definition is found in I Corinthians 13. WHAT IS “AGAPE” LOVE? A good definition says what a things “is” and what a thing “isn’t”. I Cor. 13 gives both.

I Cor. 13 Love is...

patientnot self-seekingalways trusts
kind not easily angeredalways hopes
not enviousnot recording wrongsAlways perseveres
not boastfuldoes not delight in WRONG Always perseveres
not proudrejoices in the truthalways protects

Here we see what love is and what love isn’t. One of the things that the scriptures say love does not do is “delight in wrong.” Here we find words that speak to our topic.

“Love does not delight in the wrong.” What is “wrong?” The words “adikia” or “adikeo” are the Greek noun and verb for the word “wrong”. Romans 2:8, II Thess. 2:12, and II Timothy 2:12 contrast it with the truth. I John 5:17 equates it with sin. Romans 1: 18-32 gives a list of “wrong”.

“Wrong” (adikia)... Romans 1:18-32 idol worship, same gender sexual experience, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossips, slander, God-haters, insolent, arrogant, boastful, invent ways of doing evils, disobey parents, senseless, faithless, heartless, and ruthless.

“Love does not rejoice in wrong”… so love does not rejoice in idol worship, same gender sexual experience, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossip etc. As we see that love does not rejoice in wrong then love takes on definition: love does not behave in certain ways.

We could add to the list of Romans 1 by simply saying the law that remains defines what is “WRONG.” So agape love has definition. Love behaves in a certain way and it doesn’t behave in a certain way. As we see this then we see that love is something and it isn’t something. The implications are clear. A couple can’t say we are so in love, why wait? If we were speaking about agape then this statement would be a contradiction in terms. It is also true of homosexual intimate contact. Homosexual intimate contact is not (agape) love. “Agape does not delight in “adikia.” So we see love and keeping the law are connected.

St. Paul is not the only one to make a connection between love and the law. Jesus also tells us that love keeps the law. “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) The first epistle of John, I John 5:2, also tells us this. “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.” II John verse 6 is perhaps the most direct. “And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment just as you have heard it from the beginning - you must walk in it.”

This is not to say that love is simply keeping commandments. Love is MORE than keeping commandments, (it is all that I Cor. 13 speaks of) but at the same time it isn’t LESS.

So, no amount of feeling, or attraction, or mutual consent, or private commitment ever changes the law regarding sexual expression. As the law gives limits to our behavior, love gains definition. People will call love many things... they will say they have it, even a lot of it. They may have stars in their eyes... or even seemingly cherubs lifting them off their feet. They may be as compatible as any inventory can project, or friends have ever seen. Nevertheless, God’s word is what gives definition to love. Our society’s confusion should cause us to be vigilant. The church needs to cast off the confusion with energy if we are to have an impact on the ridiculous state of affairs about us. If the church isn’t clear about love then there is no hope that the world will ever be clear.

This has implications for more than sexuality. It has implications for all of ethics. When we no longer are saying “do the szmorzmorsh” thing, but rather do the LOVING thing. Then we are saying something. It could create a whole new “Neo-Situation Ethic.” Appendix #15

It is not unloving for me to point out these boundaries and speak of love with definition. “Love rejoices in the truth.” But love is also patient and kind. Love is not arrogant or rude. I am not trying to be rude in pointing these things out. Nor am I trying to be arrogant. If I am wrong about these things then point it out where I am wrong. I can listen. I can change if I am convinced by the word of God. I have every intention to be kind and patient with those who disagree. And I call on all who agree me to welcome others with the same kind of patience and kindness, and not rudeness, and not arrogance. This defines a welcoming community of grace as I spoke of it earlier. We welcome all people with warm kindness. We do not welcome all people with hearty assent. Some people would call this tough love. Indeed, if we do not pay heed to this we are in danger of more and more becoming an enabling church. We need to love more concretely and more truly than this.

[For a thumbnail sketch of Part One see the Appendix Summary.]

Part Two


Part One ended with the subject of love. Love is a natural transition to the gospel as the scriptures tells us “we know love by this that Christ laid down his life for us.” I transition to the gospel because I want to do more in this paper than be clear about what shouldn’t happen. I want to paint a picture of a path that will lead the church to provide loving pastoral care and outstretched welcoming ministering arms to all people, specifically including those attracted to homosexual practice. The gospel is the path to this goal.

Once again, there are at least two senses of “welcome” in the scriptures. The first is “to welcome kindly or heartily (in a friendly, sincere, cordial way). The second is “to receive with hearty assent” (acceptance of an opinion or proposal). The church should welcome all people in the first sense, not in the second. We welcome one anther because of the Gospel. “We love because Christ first loved us.” As we were loved and are loved “while we were yet sinners” so we welcome all people in the same vein. We do not welcome one another by abolishing law that God has not abolished.

A woman came into my office and explained she had a history of stealing. In fact her latest terms of getting caught were that she needed to meet with a counselor to talk through her issue. We met over a course of weeks. When the time was right I invited her to church. She was welcome. But she was welcome in the first sense, not in the second. I did not drop the seventh commandment to make her comfortable. It is only the gospel that comforts. So it is with issues of homosexual practice. Law and gospel are both needed. So far I’ve written about the law. We now turn our attention to the gospel.

The Gospel

Part One may leave many feeling like I’ve done nothing but imprison people. In some ways, that is what I have done. Simply being clear about the law is not enough to set people free. How do imprisoned people find freedom? The scriptures say, “…the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe by faith.” (Gal.3:22) The gospel is the answer to the imprisonment brought about by sin.

Simply being clear about the law is not enough. It is the Gospel that is the power of God for salvation/wholeness/healing (Romans 1:17). The law’s chief purpose is to point us to Jesus (Galatians 3:19-25). If we are going to offer hope to the world it must be through the gospel.

What is the gospel? The gospel in one word is Jesus: who he is, the good he promised, and all he did for us. Literally meaning GOOD NEWS, the gospel is the good news of what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross, the powerful promise he offered us when he rose from the dead, the living hope he gave us when ascended on high to the right hand of the Most High. He will come again to judge the living and the dead (Rom.2:16). Until he comes he is forever making intercession for us. He is for us not against us. (Not to be confused with unbridled assent.) He desires that all people be saved/whole/healed. The gospel is all the good things that our God promises us. It is what God does, in contrast to the law that shows us what we are to do. The gospel must be our main focus if we desire freedom because we are an imprisoned people in need of a deliverer.

Outline cont'd

  1. The Gospel
    1. New Covenant Framework (“law” and “GOSPEL)… a framework to be a welcoming community that focuses on the “Gospel” while also holding the proper place of the “law”.
      1. Jesus is our Righteousness - brings peace with God
        1. grace — we are all in the same boat
        2. mercy — grace’s compliment… what about corporal punishment?
      2. Jesus is our Sanctification
        1. How is this done? “Dancing around the center”
        2. How is this done? “Jesus does it. — the center”
      3. The Relationship of the Law and Gospel
    2. Help to Move With the Gospel
    1. Pastoral Care in the Context of a Welcoming Community - general look
      1. Four General Settings - worship/small groups/one-on-one/individual
    2. Positive Agenda “God is Calling”
    3. A more specific look at the four settings
      1. Worship… the most all-encompassing setting
      2. Seven Helps in the Three Other Settings
        1. Small Groups
          1. Spiritual Formation Groups
          2. Spiritual Direction Groups
          3. 12 Step Groups
        2. Giving personal encouragement one–on-one
          1. Intentional Discipleship
          2. Spiritual Direction
          3. Appointment
          4. Counseling
        3. Individual Disciplines
          1. Spiritual Disciplines
    4. New Covenant Repentance
  2. Conclusion 1.)A final Image...“Putting it Together” 2.)A final word
  3. Appendix

The Gospel

Not only should we be gospel-people in the church, we should especially be New Covenant gospel-people. The difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant is not one of content (both include law and gospel) but one of focus, attention, clarity, and emphasis. (Old: Law and gospel. New: law and Gospel.)

It may surprise some to find the gospel in the Old Testament. Paul explicitly says it is there. “The Scriptures foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” (Gal. 3:8) But even in other passages where it is not explicitly stated to be there it is there. In a sense, we could say that the gospel is in the Old Testament wherever God’s good promises are found.

But the gospel is in many ways hidden in the Old Testament. The law gets the bulk of the attention there. There are 613 laws there with pages and pages elucidating them. In contrast to this, in the New Testament the 10+1 commands are dropped and the law that remains fits in our heart (Jer.31:33-34). The Gospel becomes very clear. It looms large. It gets our focus. Jesus is the subject in the New Covenant. (Having a New Covenant mindset even changes how we read and see the Old Testament. All things become new.

New Covenant Framework

The New Covenant gives us a way to deal with Law and Gospel in such a way that it will bring life to us. It places the gospel front and center. Sadly, it is possible, even in a post Old Covenant time, to continue to operate in an Old Covenant way (“LAW” and “gospel”). In this way, Jesus and the cross and resurrection will be mentioned but will not be the main focus and receive the greatest clarity of emphasis. Instead the law, and moralizing, and civil goodness, and an infinite number of “self-justifying projects” will receive the main focus. Jesus will be mentioned, but he will be peripheral. But Jesus is NOT peripheral. He is “King of kings and Lord of lords.” “In him we live and move and have our being.” An Old Covenant approach will not do. “For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law.” (Gal. 3:21)

So the goal of his gospel section is to illustrate why the gospel must always be front-and-center while also retaining the proper peripheral place of the law. Keeping this perspective will help us be a welcoming community of grace in the first sense but will not compel us to offer assent indiscriminately.

Understanding this gospel view is critical to becoming a welcoming community of grace. Until we clearly see and entirely believe that we are saved by grace through faith, APART FROM WORKS OF THE LAW, we will not be able to truly welcome others (in the first sense) APART FROM WORKS OF THE LAW. In other words, we will always have a law litmus test before we hand out kindness and receive others heartily if we don’t truly believe the gospel of the New Covenant.

But even as we believe the gospel, to truly move towards being the people the gospel calls us to be is a process. To move there the gospel must be front-and-center not only in the obvious places - such as in “justification” - but it also must be front-and-center in the less than obvious places such as “sanctification.” Thirdly, this section will illustrate ways we can find help to move in the gospel through the help of “pastoral care.” All people need pastoral care. Those who struggle with same gender attraction need it. And those struggling to extend kindness in a sincere, cordial way to people with some ideas they do not give assent to need it as well. I will speak to both groups.

Keeping our major focus on the gospel while also retaining a peripheral view of the law is the path. But it is no easy task to succeed at in a paper such as this where the issue thus far has been a question of boundaries and the law. Therefore I will move slowly with many illustrations designed to place our attention on Jesus and explain why this must be the case. At the same time, I will keep the issue of homosexual practice peripherally in view, suggesting practical ways people struggling with this particular sin can experience help, while at the same time suggesting practical ways welcome (in the first sense but not in the second) can be extended. In the end, the picture I will be painting will help us see how to provide loving pastoral care and outstretched welcoming ministering arms to all people. This will be a healthy picture of what it means to be a “welcoming community of grace.”

New covenant framework and justification

(law and GOSPEL)


With a New Covenant framework Jesus will be in the center of the Greek word that we translate as “justification” and “righteousness.” (That same Greek word is also translated as “justice.” It seems God is pleased to be hidden in justice. Instead of being the center, God is the ground, the basis on which justice stands. Without God, justice would have no meaning. Nevertheless, an atheist judge can administer justice as well as a judge of faith. Not so with justification and righteousness. With these two Jesus’ name is to be named and called upon.) But even with justification and righteousness, which seem so obviously to be gospel themes, it is no easy task to keep our attention where it needs to be. The Reformation basically occurred to put Jesus back into the center of Justification. Luther was set free from his fear of death when he realized that righteousness was God’s given to us by grace through faith. Luther came to realize that when the scriptures say, “Jesus is our righteousness” (I Cor.1:30) they meant it. In this thinking Jesus is our “Robe of Righteousness” covering up ALL our sin. There is no sin he will not or cannot cover. Same gender sexual experience is not a class of sin that is different and therefore cannot be covered. We are all in equal need. Once our sin was as crimson. Now, with the robe of righteousness, we (ALL people of faith) are pure and clean. We are not left in fearful prospect of being exposed as unclean in the presence of a Holy God, but instead we are received for Jesus’ sake. No wonder the scriptures say that “justified by faith we have peace with God.” (Romans 5:1).

To talk about justification by faith is to also talk about grace. St. Paul states in Eph. 2:18 that “we are saved by grace through faith.” And he explains the connection between justification and grace in Romans 5:1-2 when he says, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” Because we are ALL saved “by grace through faith” (Eph. 2:18) we know that we are ALL in the same boat in equal need of God’s salvation.

The Lutheran church has traditionally used the word grace to help us keep our emphasis in the right place (on Jesus) - as grace emphasizes what God has done for us through Jesus. But grace can become a syrupy word if we don’t keep in mind grace’s compliment: grace’s compliment is mercy. If grace is getting what we don’t deserve (grace: God’s riches at Christ’s Expense) mercy is not getting what we do deserve.[50] Rightly understood, grace can never be too syrupy. But sometimes we slip into overemphasizing the riches we receive and the gifts God gives without enough emphasis on Jesus’ life and his great cost to give those gifts. Grace’s compliment (mercy) helps us remember that not only do we not deserve the good God has given us but we also do deserve (apart from the gospel) to receive the spiritual outcome (“the wages for sin is death” Rom.6:23) of our behavior. So grace and mercy together helps us keep a right focus on the gospel, on Jesus. We are people enslaved to sin and death. Jesus sets us free from sin and death.

As we focus on the gospel, mercy (not getting what we DO deserve) then brings us to the question asked earlier. What about Lev. 20:13? The death penalty hasn’t been repealed? What do we do with that? As it turns out, one moment the sentence seems to not only imprison us but also condemn us. But in the end the sentence shows the gospel clearly.

What about the laws that tell us to corporally punish?


So God’s mercy brings us back to the question asked earlier. What about the laws that tell us to corporally punish people? As stated before, these laws have not been abolished. Are we thus obliged to follow these? When someone commits adultery, do we stone him or her? When some one curses an elder, do we stone him or her? When Leviticus 20:13 tells us to put to death the man who lays with a man as with a woman” do we put him to death? The answer to these questions is a resounding NO. The reason for the NO brings us squarely to the gospel.

When I first thought of the question regarding corporal punishment I fully expected to find a New Testament passage that clearly abolished it. After all, the church has had no viable history of this kind of practice. Jesus did abolish the “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” revenge law. This did abolish a “tit for tat” mentality, but this does not specifically repeal all corporeal punishment laws. And Jesus did tell us to “turn the other cheek.” But, as C.S. Lewis pointed out in his book Why I am Not a Pacifist, those words refer to offended honor, not to all types of received force. Therefore policemen wear guns, armies train, and mothers who are slapped by their children would do well to turn the child over their knee rather than turn the other cheek. Nevertheless, I was surprised when I did not find a clear abolition of various kinds of religious death penalties. In fact, I found the exact opposite. The New Testament does not explicitly abolish corporeal punishment laws; it intensifies them to the point that we all deserve death.

What do I mean by this?

Matthew 5:21-47 has a series of “You have heard it said”... “But I say to you” teachings. Each of these deals with the law. In general, these do not abolish law, but instead intensify it.

Take verse 21-22 for example. “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”

Here Jesus intensifies the command to include continual anger. As we express this prolonged anger, Jesus says we are subject to judgment as murderers were subject to judgment.

Or take verse 27-28 as another example. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Here again Jesus intensifies the command to include lusting in the heart. Stoning was prescribed for adulterers; therefore, death is implied for lusting in the heart, as it is also adultery.

These two intensifications are enough to condemn ALL of us. Who has never had an anger that has burned and burned? Who has never experienced lust in the heart? These intensifications leave us all condemned to die. So does Jesus expect us all to receive this corporeal punishment? Has the church missed the boat, as it has never viably followed these corporeal punishment laws? No. I think Jesus showed his intentions when he said to those who brought the woman caught in adultery, “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.” We all deserve to die. So who is going to start the stoning? In John 8, all walked away in response to Jesus’ words regarding this woman caught in adultery. We walk away too. How can we do otherwise? The whole world would be dead at the end of the stone throwing. But Jesus didn’t walk away. He said, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She answered, “There is no one, Lord.” Jesus answered, “Neither do I condemn you, go now and sin no more.” Jesus wasn’t excusing her sin... he wasn’t saying, “No big deal.” He was pardoning her from sin. He could have picked up the stone and begun throwing. After all, he was sinless. Instead he did the most amazing thing. Instead of picking up a stone, he picked up a cross.

Hebrews 2:9 states, “He has tasted death for all.” Isaiah 53:5 says, “His punishment brought us peace.” Instead of abolishing corporeal punishment he intensified it so that all deserved death. Then, instead of coming to condemn the world, (John 3:17) and instead of coming to start throwing the stone, he saved the world by taking on himself the death that the woman in John 8 deserved, and the death that we ALL deserve. He fulfilled the law’s demands in the most amazing way. So, who is going to pick up the stone now? No one. We are all sinners. Instead, we too are called to pick up our crosses, and follow this one who chooses to offer mercy.

So the law has “imprisoned all people under sin” (Gal.3:22) so that ALL may be saved by Jesus and his gospel. Where does this leave us as the church? The church treats all the same. This is the basis of being a “welcoming community.” The church puts our attention on the gospel. As we put our attention on Jesus we see with peripheral vision those things that we need to see. Like the unraveling of the proverbial onion, God will show us what we need to see all in good time. The kindness of God, directly before our eyes, leads us to repentance. (Rom.2:4) So Jesus must be the center of justification and righteousness as he is the source of grace and mercy.

New Covenant Framework and Sanctification

Jesus is our Sanctification

If the church struggles to keep Jesus in the center of justification it reels when it comes to the issue of sanctification. Sanctification means to be made holy. Holiness is to be “set apart,” to be “different than the world in the way that God wants us to be different.” Words like purity, blamelessness, and godliness often get used to help us think about this difference. But so often the church dives back into the law with both feet when it undertakes the process of sanctification. As the church does this it is dragged back into becoming an Old Covenant people even while walking through the pages of the New Testament. The law didn’t work before. It won’t work now.

So how do we keep a New Covenant framework with sanctification? The scriptures point us to the answer. Not only is Jesus our righteousness, but the same I Cor.1:30 passage tells us that “Jesus is our sanctification.” If justification is Jesus covering us with a robe of righteousness, sanctification is “Jesus living his life through us.” “Jesus living through us” is how we become “different from the world in the way that God wants us to be different.” As the reformation was begun with seeing Jesus in the center of justification received by grace through faith, the reformation will powerfully move forward with Jesus as the center of sanctification received by grace through faith. As we are encouraged to be a welcoming people with Jesus as our robe of righteousness we are also encouraged to be a patient welcoming people as we learn to more and more trust Jesus to live his life through us — to sanctify us.

Dancing Around the Center

How is this done? Allow me to give many tangible answers to the question of process, then provide an illustration of why everything that is said is not the whole answer. All of the tangible answers will be merely dancing around the real issue. In the end we will be left with our eyes squarely not on tangible actions but on the unseen Jesus, who is our sanctification.

What does it mean to be sanctified by grace through faith? How is this done? It is done by “walking in the spirit,” (Gal. 5;16-26/Rom.8) or, it is done by “counting yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom.6:11-12) Because we are “simul justus et peccator.”(“simultaneously saint and sinner”) it is done by “picking up our cross daily” (Mark 8:34) and expecting Jesus’ resurrection life to be our life. It is done by “presenting ourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and presenting the parts of our body to him as instruments of righteousness.” (Rom. 6:13-14)

Notice the active verbs and who is doing it. But these active verbs are not the whole story. If they were we would not be different than the world because the world seeks to bring about personal change mainly through the enactment of active verbs. Sanctification is to be different than the world so the process of sanctification must be different. In the church we look at these active verbs differently. We believe our enemy that is within us, our flesh (Rom. 7:23), is conquered in the manner the Israelites conquered Canaan: “Hear, O Israel, today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not be terrified or give way to panic before them. For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.” (Deut.20:3-4) Even while we step up to the process with active verbs (just as Israel actually gathered itself for war) we believe it is God who is the one who is fighting for us. The enemy within is (Romans 7:21) defeated by God himself.

The Center — “Bubble Maker Illustration”

The process of sanctification involves the above sort of active verbs. But sanctification’s heart and soul is not our doing of the active verb. Ultimately New Covenant sanctification is done by Jesus living his life through us. It isn’t what we do. It is what God does. (“May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and HE will DO it.” I Thes.4:23-24) How do we properly understand the actions sited in the above paragraph in light of New Covenant Sanctification? We process every call for tangible action through Isaiah 26:12. “Everything we have done, you have done for us.”

Remember when we were children. We received a bubble solution bottle and a plastic bubble maker that we used to dip into the solution. There in the center of that bubble maker a thin almost unseen film stretched out. A dynamic within the film held it in place. Then we blew on that film, and, if done gently and persistently a bubble formed and then floated away. That is what sanctification is like. All the things I said in the paragraph above are the bubble maker. They are a string of actions and beliefs dancing around sanctification, but they are not sanctification itself. As we are engaged in these actions we are asked not to look at the plastic outer part. We look at what is unseen. We dip ourselves daily, hourly, moment by moment, into the word of God. We are held in place by a dynamic (the power of the Spirit). All this happens and still we are not yet set free. Then Jesus blows his gentle breath across our lives. “Receive the Spirit,” he says again. He blows into our lives and we begin to emerge, first small, then larger. Then all of a sudden we set sail. Jesus has launched us for a task, for a thing of beauty, for just enjoying life. We sail away to the glory of God.

This is a very imperfect illustration. Yet it gets at the issue. In the end, all we do or believe is not what is yet to emerge. The real stuff is unseen. An unseen dynamic holds us. God’s breath is decisive. In the end Jesus is our Sanctification as he himself works through our life.

Or, to give another illustration, the process of sanctification is like the process of a pastor preparing and preaching a sermon. The pastor prays, studies, and ponders. The pastor goes through the effort of sensing what it is God wants him or her to say. The pastor writes it down in full text or in outline form, or at least has the outline in his or her head. All of this is effort on the part of the pastor. But no wise pastor thinks his or her effort is the sermon. Every pastor prays that God speak through the sermon, proclaiming the word of God in a fresh and alive way. Every wise pastor understands that if God does not act nothing happens. The Holy Spirit’s work is the main event. Nevertheless, no wise pastor says, “Because the Holy Spirit is the one who calls us through the gospel therefore I will do nothing.” Pastors go through a process and then they struggle in faith to believe that God is going to speak through them.

So it is with sanctification. There are active verbs for the Christian to engage in. It takes effort to do what the word of God tells us to do. But the decisive event is what the unseen Holy Spirit does. God works in the midst of our action leading us again to Isaiah 26:12, “All we have done, You have done for us” and leading us again to the above illustration: our actions are the plastic bubble piece. The unseen dynamic and breath is God’s decisive work. But how do we know God is doing and is going to do this work? We believe it because God’s word has said so. Sanctification is an issue of faith.

This mysterious process is, I believe, what St. Paul is talking about when he said, “Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.” Rom.1:5 And it is what he speaks of when he said, “Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.” Rom.3:31 As we do not “nullify the law” and call ALL people to the “obedience that comes FROM FAITH” we are set on a course to provide loving pastoral care and outstretched welcoming ministering arms to all people.

Relationship of law and GOSPEL

So how do the law and gospel function together? Or to put the question in biblical terms, DOES PART ONE PUT US BACK UNDER THE LAW? Or to put the question in the context of this paper, how do we properly view the law without making it a litmus test before receiving people kindly and heartily?

The law is not to be our main focus

The aim of giving such scrutiny to the law in Part One was not to put the law into the center spotlight and send us out with “ought” and “should” ever before our eyes. The main purpose for examining the law of God, which still remains, was to push us toward what we need: a relationship with God in the center spotlight.

Tennis illustration

Consider this metaphor of how the law is not the main focus of our faith, but at the same time it plays an important role in our faith. The main focus of faith is not the law just as the main focus of tennis is not the boundary lines. No one, except a line judge, spends all their time watching the lines in a tennis game. The main focus of tennis is the joy of the exchange in the game. When two players are exchanging with skill and passion it is a joy to watch. The longer the volley extends the more exciting it is. One almost hopes the play to go on and on, not going out. The boundary lines in good tennis are not the major focus.

But while the above is true, to not have the boundary lines would render the game of tennis unplayable and in a sense meaningless. It would change its character entirely, to the point that it would no longer be tennis, as we know it. What would a tough hit and an impressive return look like without lines? The lines give definition, showing us when the exchange is acceptable or not.

So it is with our faith. The law is not the focus of faith but instead shows the boundary lines. The focus of faith is in the living relationship with God.

Therefore, we have looked at the abolition of some law to see what law remains, to the end that we then would see the boundaries with our peripheral vision. But there is a danger in handling the law with the scrutiny I gave it.

The importance of not being under the law

The danger of abstracting the law from Jesus: “THE LAW IS THE POWER OF SIN”

St. Paul was very careful how he handled the law. He was so cautious that at one point he had to rhetorically ask, “So, is the law sin?” (Romans 7:7) He went on to emphatically answer “Certainly not!” But his words warn us to handle the law carefully too. Misusing the law can be dangerous to our faith. This is a strong word. What are we to be concerned with? What could be dangerous about the law, which, after all, God gave? Paul tells us. He says, “The law is the power of sin.” (1 Corinthians 15:56) He also says, “Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.” (Romans 7:8-11)

These are strong words. “The law is the power of sin.” “The law springs sin to life.” How are we to understand this?

Toddler illustration

First, look at children. All you have to do is say “NO” to a toddler and the toddler wants to do it. Say... “DO THIS”... to a toddler and the toddler does not want to do it. The command... (The law) has an uncanny ability to raise a kind of rebelliousness and stubbornness in children. We see this again and again. The toddler within us is alive and well. Just because the law is God’s law doesn’t mean we have lost this reaction.

The danger of civil goodness

Not only this. There is a second way the law brings sin to life in us. The second way is subtler and as such is even more common and dangerous than an overtly rebellious reaction. We, as adults, have learned to manipulate the law. We have a grand sense of how to use it to make us look good. It makes us look civil as we perform it. In fact, we not only fool others, we fool ourselves. We focus in on certain laws... don’t murder... don’t commit adultery (with an external read)... don’t bear false witness... “do not lie with a man as a man lies with a woman”… and we feel so good about ourselves as we seem to be doing these laws. Feeling good about ourselves we are tempted to forget our utter dependence on God for life itself. As we begin to focus in on the law (and it is almost always the portion of the law that we have less trouble doing), we forget our need to place our trust in God, the only one who is truly “good”: Mark 10:18. It is possible for a Christian to lose faith in the face of such civility... and appearances. “Whatever is not of faith is sin,” Paul says. Indeed, the law (misused) does have a power to awaken sin.

How do we avoid being under the law?... PUT FOCUS ON JESUS.

So, how can we handle this law without empowering sin? St. Paul teaches us. He says, “Christ is the completion/end of the law.” (Romans 10:4) As we understand what Paul meant we see more clearly how to handle the law.

What does Paul mean when he says, “Christ is the end/completion of the law?” The word translated as “completion” in the Greek is the word telos. Telos has several basic meanings: (1) it means “End” in the sense of termination or cessation, or it means (2) “end” in the sense of goal. I believe both meanings apply to the law - though they apply to the two aspects of law we have been talking about: (a) Jesus is the “end” - the termination/cessation/completion - of the law that the scriptures themselves say have been abolished. (b) But Jesus did not end the force of the law that remains. In regard to the law that remains Jesus is “the goal.”

What does it mean to have Jesus as the goal of the law? The answer to this can most easily be seen by looking at the eighth command. In the eighth command we see an easily graspable example of Jesus as the goal.

Eighth command: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

One description of Jesus’ character is that he is a truth-teller... “I AM truth,” he said. Now, because he IS a truth-teller he tells us to tell the truth: “Do not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

We see from this that his character is the basis of the eighth command. Once we see God’s character reflected in the command we then also see the goal of the command: we who were created in the image of God are then to image him. But how we seek to image God is the difference between life and death. To experience life we are invited to not focus in on the law itself. We are invited to look at Jesus. We are invited not to the “letter of the law”, but to a spiritual relationship with the one who does not lie. This is nothing less than walking hand-in-hand with the God of this universe who has shown himself to be a truth-teller. Like a loving spouse who becomes more like their beloved spouse by walking hand in hand with the beloved through life, we are changed in a love relationship with the one who called himself the bridegroom. As we walk with him in a love relationship we more and more desire to tell the truth as he himself tells the truth. Therefore, Jesus shows himself to be the Goal, the telos of the law.

Jesus’ character is the basis of all the law

This is not only true of the eighth commandment: Jesus’ character and action which flows out of his character is the basis of all the law which remains, and as such he is the “goal” of all the unabolished law, as the scriptures say, “You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy.” (Lev. 19:2) The scriptures overtly explain this sense of the law with the third commandment. See Appendix #16 for the treatment of the rest of the Ten Commandments.

3. “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.”

“Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God... For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

Here we are told that the third commandment was based on how God operated. Life, to God, is not all work but also rest. Therefore, God tells us to rest. Or, to put it an other way, because God rested on the seventh day, we too are to rest. We who were created in God’s image are to image him in our action. (In saying this, keep in mind that we have been set free from a particular day, seventh day, first day, whatever particular day. And we have been set free from external regulations that do not connect with interior belief. This command is about receiving rest from God by faith, which, as Luther explained, is about taking in and believing the Word of God. “What does this mean? You shall not neglect His Word or the preaching of it, but regard it as holy and gladly hear and learn it.” Luther’s Small Catechism)

Lev. 18 and 20 are also drawn from God and his Character. (On the one hand, the laws are a part of the sixth commandment… on a deeper level the laws are part of the first commandment.)

How does Leviticus 18 and 20 relate to God’s character?

Just as the sixth commandment is rooted in God’s covenant keeping character I believe Leviticus 18 and 20 are also part of a larger covenant of God’s order for larger society. Our sex lives are ultimately never just about individuals but are also found in the context of extended family and community at large. The marriage covenant that we keep is found in the context of larger society. See appendix #1) Leviticus 18 and 20 lay out explicit boundaries for sexual lives in the context of the larger society. See Dr. James Nestingen for a good treatment of this point.[51]

On a deeper level, or perhaps a more basic level, Leviticus 18 and 20 are about the first commandment. (“You shall have no other gods before me.”) Luther once said that a god is that which one looks to for all “good.” (Large Catechism) He said this assuming there is a common definition of what “good” is. We can no longer assume this. Therefore, we must go a step beyond Luther. Not assuming anything, we could then say, “a god is that which defines what “good” is. (The word “good” is a general word meaning “how things should be.”) Therefore, part of God’s "Godness" is the very defining of how things “should be.” This kind of thinking explains why Paul uses homosexuality to talk about idolatry in Romans 1: idolatry is centrally about who your God is, which, I just explained, is also a question about who is defining how things should be. As we rebel against God’s declaration of how our sexual lives should be lived out we are rebelling against God’s Godness. To be sure God’s "Godness" is certainly more than defining “how things should be”. But it is not less than this. See appendix #17 for more about this.

Summary about not being under the law

(See Appendix #18 for further pertinent treatment about abolition of law)

In summary, the law (that remains) finds its basis in and comes from who God is. It could rightly be said that the Ten Commandments are merely a number of partial statements about who God is and how he acts. Psalm 1, Psalm 19, and Psalm 119, etc., are a fabulous celebration with this viewpoint. Each command suggests that because God is such and such a way we are to be this way too. But more than this, we are invited not to focus in on the command but instead walk with and even “live through” this God who has revealed himself to be this way in the gospel. (This, again, was my point in the sanctification section.) It is in the relationship with Jesus that we are changed from the inside out. As the scriptures say, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which come from the lord, who is the Spirit.” II Cor. 3:17-18

The danger in handling the law comes when we abstract this law from God. Or, to put it another way... the danger comes when we separate the law from God as if the law were something in and of itself. To do so would be to experience the law as the power of sin. Instead of coming to God we may be deluded into thinking we are doing just fine by keeping, or at least trying to keep, this stated ideal. Instead, our focus should always be on Christ, even as we realize that the law is based on him. THEREFORE, CHRIST IS THE TELOS — THE GOAL — OF THE LAW.

We need help to live in the Gospel

So how are we to live our lives dipping ourselves into the word of God, focusing on our relationship with Jesus, drawing from his life, seeing peripherally the boundaries set out by the law, all the while free and alive? We need various kinds of help to do this. Offering these various helps to all is an important part of what it means to be a welcoming community of grace.

No One-Size-Fits-All Solution… big picture

There is no cookie cutter, one–size-fits-all pastoral care program for all individuals or any group, not withstanding those struggling with same gender attraction, and not withstanding those who struggle to be kind to those who are deemed to be different than themselves. But we can lay out a general scope of help. Because we are unique, and must be dealt with uniquely, we therefore need a wide range of pastoral care settings where we can come and be welcomed and loved and accepted and ministered to as children of God. The power of this kind of love and acceptance cannot be overestimated. We all need it.

Here is a scope of helps that have proven to be beneficial to people to live out the gospel. I will start with a very broad brush suggesting four general settings to receive pastoral care and an attitude that must pervade all of these settings. Then I will offer more detail to each of the settings. The purpose is not to write a book about each of these various pastoral care settings but rather my purpose here is to cast a vision by painting a big picture. Pastor’s and lay people’s training, and a myriad of good books on these topics can add the needed extra detail of how this can be worked out in a local setting.


We need church services where we are loved and welcomed — and where the gospel is the main reason for the gathering. Worship is the overall most powerful setting to receive lifelong help to experience the gospel as it is the most age inclusive, and provides the fullest range of help we need. A community that truly gathers to worship will ultimately also be a healing community.

Small Group Ministry

Furthermore, we need a wide range of smaller group settings where we can continue to gather in the name of Jesus, and be loved and accepted, bringing our unique situations to light where we both listen and are heard, and pray and are prayed for. These small group settings include groups like men’s groups, women’s groups, prayer and praise gatherings, like-interest groups, support groups including parent and family support groups, book reading groups, service groups, and small group Bible studies. These each have dimensions of spiritual formation. There are also groups that are overtly Spiritual Formation groups, such as Christ Care (from Stephen Ministries) and Renovare. As these groups seek to gather around the Word of God and for the express purpose of providing an incubator for spiritual growth great things happen.

One-on-One Experiences

We also need one-on-one settings where we can be loved and accepted, and be given practical aid to walk in the gospel. One-on-one experiences include Spiritual Direction, Intentional Discipleship, appointments with a trusted shepherd such as a pastor or another trusted shepherd. Professional counseling also fits in this category.

Individual Experience

Fourthly, we also need solitary experiences. Individual disciplines, traditionally spoken of as Spiritual Disciplines, need to be taught and encouraged. The help we receive from spiritual disciplines also cannot be overestimated.

Each of these settings and disciplines are examples of the “plastic bubble maker structure” I spoke of in my earlier illustration. They are structures where we are encouraged to consider our lives in God’s presence. But the Holy Spirit does the true work by blowing his breath across our lives and launching us off like bubbles into whatever God has for us. Each of these settings are examples of a wide range of various ways and places pastoral care (not always done by an ordained pastor) is carried out.

A Needed Positive Agenda… attitude

In addition to these four general settings, a general attitude needs to be lifted up. These four settings will fall short of the pastoral care experience they need to be without proper attitude. The attitude must be characterized by grace and mercy (which I spoke of earlier) and hope.

A positive agenda is very important to move forward with hope. We must do more than repress and suppress. And we must do more than clearly state what shouldn’t happen. We must move forward into a positive future. This positive agenda can be spoken of in many different ways. I will speak of it here in terms of how I speak of it at our church. I find that the concept of “call” is one way of speaking of the positive agenda that God has for us.

God’s call on our life provides a positive agenda. It brings us face to face with words like destiny and purpose. The word church literally means “called out ones.” As we pay close attention to our call from God we will not only be dealing with the heart and soul of what church is, we will also have a positive agenda clearly laid out before us. What is God calling us to? God’s call in our life is like one loaf of bread that can be sliced in different ways. At our church we slice it in three sections: God calls us to Know Jesus intimately; God calls us to Follow Jesus in every area of life; and God calls us to Serve Jesus and his world in the tailor made unique way he has niched out for us. This positive agenda has to do with vocation (Latin word for calling) and avocations and happens in the arenas of church, home, community, and the larger world. (This is a fleshed out way of seeking to live out what Luther described as the Priesthood of all Believers.) To seek to respond to God’s call in our lives in these three areas and four arenas is a positive agenda we can identify to move forward with our eyes squarely on Jesus. Others might describe this positive agenda in other terms. The important thing is that we have a biblical vision for this.

As we set the positive attitude and agenda that God gives us before our eyes, often we need assistance to help us on our way.

More detail concerning the four general settings


In church we do not single out any group of people or any person as being different than the rest. We ALL are sinners in need of grace and mercy, love and truth, power and purpose. ALL are welcomed to gather, hear, partake, and be sent into a God given future. Worship, in this light, is a dynamic setting in which all of what we most need is focused on. This includes God himself, his word, his people, proclamation of the gospel, the sacraments, response of worship and sending to live out God’s call. In this dynamic matrix of relationships and activities the Holy Spirit works to transform us.

Because of this dynamic matrix, corporate worship (though listed as one of the spiritual disciplines I’ll later speak of) is important enough to single out. The scriptures say, “Do not neglect gathering together.” (Hebrews 10:25) Still, in this individualist day people wonder why? Paul once answered the question, “should we keep on sinning that grace may abound?” with the response, “Certainly not. How can we who have been baptized into Christ’s death still live in sin?” To the question, “Do we need corporate worship? I respond similarly to Paul. “Of course we need corporate worship. How can we who have been baptized into Christ’s body not connect with Christ’s body?” In church we connect with the body we have been connected to, we soak ourselves into the word of God in the hearing and singing of his Word through liturgy and hymns, reading of the Word, and preaching (especially hearing God’s forgiveness announced to us, and also especially in the receiving of the sacraments.) At church we are uniquely helped to live in the gospel as church itself is often described to be “wherever the gospel is rightly proclaimed and the sacraments are rightly given.” This New Covenant Gospel focus lays the foundation for being a welcoming, ministering, loving community that we need to be for one another, not excluding those of us who struggle with certain sin, not the least homosexual temptation. As God loved us while we were yet sinners, as he ate with “sinners” (offering them fellowship), as he offered bread and wine to all of his weak disciples, including Judas (Luke 22:1-23), we seek to be a community of grace for one another. Worship is a powerful structure, like the plastic bubble maker, that helps us dip ourselves into God and His word. At church the Holy Spirit calls us through His gospel to His good purposes.

To gather in a place where we are loved and accepted (not equated with assent), while we are yet sinners, is revolutionary. When we speak of being a welcoming community this must be what we mean. When we love in more than words but also in deed and truth we set the stage for being a transformational community. (See the web sight for an example of groups of churches that are trying to be transformational “communities of grace.”)

While the public worship service is by far the most powerful structure we are given, it is not the only structure. ALL must be invited into the entire life of the church. Wherever we gather in Jesus’ name and around his word, in small groups or one-on-one, there must be an open invitation to ALL. The smaller group provides opportunity for each member to have their own uniqueness taken into account. It allows for a supportive environment where each cannot only listen but also be listened to. The small group is the inner-working of the church in process. The following are seven examples of powerful ways and places members of the church are encouraged to live in the gospel. The ways and places are open to ALL.

Pastoral Care and Spiritual Formation

Spiritual Formation groups are a prime example of small group church experiences where we experience pastoral care. These groups come in many kinds. Men’s groups, women’s groups, prayer and praise gatherings, support groups of various kinds (including parent and family support groups), book reading groups, service groups, small group Bible studies, and Christ Care Groups are some examples. I highly commend Stephen Ministry’s “Christ Care Groups,” and Richard Foster’s “Renovare: As well designed Spiritual Formation groups. Christ Care provides a guided process where people encounter the word of God and one another and themselves in such a way that it encourages growth. Renovare is an approach that helps participants think about spiritual growth in six areas: the contemplative tradition, the holiness tradition, the charismatic tradition, the social justice tradition, the evangelical tradition, and the sacramental tradition. These groups provide helpful structures for us to dip ourselves into God and His word and see Him do His work in our lives and through our lives. People struggling with homosexual temptations should be encouraged to join these groups and the groups should welcome them (receive them kindly and heartily) with loving ministering accepting arms. The effect of this very tangible love and acceptance (an acceptance that is not equated with assent but instead as lifting them up as children of God) cannot be underestimated regarding the help its members find.

Group Spiritual Direction is Different than a Spiritual Formation Group

Spiritual direction is the aid a Christian gets from another Christian to be confident about identifying the voice of God. God deals with us with his own timetable. What others think should be happening and when it should be happening is not always in step with God’s timing and dealings with us. Meeting with a Spiritual Direction group can provide aid in discerning what God is saying to us about our lives. People struggling with homosexual temptation should be encouraged to join Spiritual Direction to help them identify what God is saying to them. We cannot pre-guess what and how that might be. Spiritual Direction groups are a non-judgmental confidential group that can be a powerful structure to help us dip ourselves into God and His word.

Pastoral Care and 12 Step Groups

Twelve Step groups can also be very helpful. The honesty of these groups is incredibly refreshing to me. “Hi, I’m ______. And I am an alcoholic… addicted to relationships… driven by my emotions… etc.” The first step professes we are helpless to fix ourselves. The steps and group encouragement to do the steps are structures to dip ourselves into God’s healing activity and healing presence. Twelve step groups can be very helpful to aid those struggling with homosexual temptation deal with other accompanying struggles.


There are also individual encounters of pastoral care experiences.

Intentional Discipleship

Spiritual formation can also be done on an intentional individual level. One can enter into an Intentional Discipleship process where each individual maps out what they want to do to grow spiritually. My wife, Wendy, developed this process and I think it has a lot of promise. The plan would be unique to each person, taking into account previous faith learning experiences, and considering where each person believes they most need to learn and grow right now, and in the future. It could have several components, classes at church, personal reading, other learning opportunities (such as videos, tapes, or seminars), conversation with others, creating a personal devotion time, etc. Having mapped out a course it is helpful to check-in occasionally with a friend, pastor, or other to talk about how it is going. The process can be a helpful structure to dip ourselves into God and His word. People struggling with homosexual temptation would receive the benefit of a structure like this just as others would.

Spiritual Direction

Spiritual Direction can also take place one-on-one. One could speak to a pastor about this. Or check out the internet for resources. An example of this is Or check out Christian retreat centers or Christian bookstores for help. Those struggling with homosexual temptation could be greatly benefited as they meet with a nonjudgmental trained listener to help them identify the voice of God in their life.


Sometimes we need a less organized and less ongoing level of pastoral care. Talking to a pastor or another Christian shepherd can be helpful to think through issues of feeding, healing, binding up, etc. When an individual feels stuck, praying with another can be very helpful. Individuals and parents and family of individuals need to know they are welcomed and encouraged to come and share their burdens and pain. When an individual feels stuck in conscience, private confession and absolution is very helpful. Church members should know they may call their pastor at any time to make an appointment to address any issue. Those struggling with homosexual temptation need to know they are invited and welcomed to a safe confidential place.


The last of the one-on-one pastoral care experiences is counseling. Formal counseling can be helpful when we feel particularly stuck. A good pastor will refer a member to a professional when the pastor is in over his or her head. There are many areas we may feel stuck. For those stuck in same gender sexual experience there is hope.

Merton Strommen, in his book titled The Church and Homosexuality, searching for a middle ground, makes a case for Re-orientation Therapy. He states, “Contradicting these efforts to present reorientation therapy as harmful is research that overwhelmingly shows that professional counselors have been successful in helping men change their sexual orientation. More than 100 outcome studies (from which Throckmorton selected 83), carried out during the 1950’s though 1970’s conclude that therapists have had considerable success at helping homosexually oriented people reduce and overcome their homosexual tendencies. (James, 1974)[52]

Quoting Throckmorton, Strommen wrote, “Efforts to assist homosexually oriented individuals who wish to modify their patterns of sexual arousal have been effective. They can be conducted in an ethical manner, and should be available to those clients requesting such assistance.”[53]

Pastoral Care and Spiritual Disciplines

One of our church’s great missing pieces towards moving ahead with a positive agenda is the area of Spiritual Disciplines. I’m thankful to Richard Foster and Dallas Willard for their teaching in this area. I’m not going to say much about it here except to give a list that Dr. Foster gives (his list isn’t the only one you could come up with) then to quickly say these are a part of the plastic piece that helps present ourselves to the Holy Spirit’s breath. Foster provides this list: prayer, meditation, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, service, confession, worship, and celebration. Notice some of them are very familiar to church members, for instance corporate worship. Some are perhaps less familiar. Know that none of them are anything in and of themselves. They do not earn brownie points with God. But they do provide a way to do what the Scriptures ask us to do: “…present yourself to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.” Romans 6:13 Furthermore, they provide structure to dip ourselves into God and his word. Having a wide variety of disciplines gives us the variety we need and the “public-to-personal” range we need to keep our life from getting stale and stagnant. There are corporate disciplines and personal disciplines. There are disciplines that are outward moving. There are disciplines that are inward moving. Considering these together we have a nice balance to help keep us from gravitating only one direction. Just as isolating a particular aspect of the jump shot and practicing it in a concentrated way helps a basketball player to be a better shooter in the real game, so practicing spiritual disciplines helps the Christian to walk in the Spirit, extend the kingdom, and appropriately deny ourselves of things we need to deny ourselves of in our real daily life. Basketball players go to practice to prepare for the game. Christians practice Spiritual Disciplines to prepare to respond to God’s call in their life. (This idea is from The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard.) People who struggle with homosexual temptation will be greatly helped by prayer, meditation, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, service, confession, worship, and celebration. The Spiritual Disciplines are structures to help us ALL dip ourselves into God and His word. The Holy Spirit will come and blow his breath into and through our lives to do wonderful things to his glory.

Wekcoming, Loving, Ministering Community

The picture I just painted of four settings and a general attitude found in new covenant pastoral care provides possibility for powerful aid for ALL church members to live in the gospel. Those struggling with homosexual temptation need to again and again be informed they are welcome and encouraged to seek such aid with the rest of the church. The strength we gain from fellow followers of Jesus as we struggle with our own unique struggles is invaluable. Through these structures we present ourselves to our God who goes beyond what we ask or think.

New Covenant Repentance

All the above examples of Pastoral Care provide the opportunity for New Covenant Repentance. Repentance, of course, literally means to “turn around.” A helpful way to think about repentance is to turn around our thinking, and take on a new mindset or agenda. But one can turn in an Old Covenant way or in a New Covenant way. Turning has two aspects: there is “turning from” and “turning to.” If the emphasis and focus is largely on “turning from,” then it is Old Covenant. If it is “turning to”… (Jesus) then it is New Covenant. Obviously when there is a “turning” both aspects exist. The question is, which aspect will get our fullest attention and emphasis. New Covenant Repentance will focus on the one we turn to, not just the turning “away from.” But the turning “away from” will not be lost.

Even when attention is given to the law and what we are “turning from” we should give our attention to Jesus similarly to when we look at those computer generated pictures that have a three dimensional picture within them. I have one hanging in my office titled “The Christ.” At first glance it merely looks like a set pattern of shape and color. But, if you understand what the picture is you learn to not focus on the pattern and design, and instead learn to shift your focus off these to look for a deeper picture. As I take my focus off the design (even while looking at it) suddenly a three dimensional picture of Jesus hanging on the cross jumps out at me. This picture reminds me of how we should deal with the law, reminding me to, even while looking at the law, (even celebrating it as with Psalm 119), keep my true focus on Jesus.

Keeping in mind everything I said about New Covenant Sanctification applies here. Ultimately all of these above mentioned actions and structures are nothing in themselves. Jesus is everything. All the above activities can be ways we dip ourselves into the word of God and into God Himself. But God’s decisive work is what sets us free. He blows His Spirit into our lives and His work emerges.

The stakes are high. If we slip into an Old Covenant mentality our focus on the law will not free us. Since the stakes are so high let me further expand what I’ve said about focusing in on (Jesus) and seeing the law peripherally. This gives further detail to the welcoming picture I have been describing.


A Final Image... The Plateau - bringing Part One and Part Two together

Allow me to end with a picture that brings Part One and Part Two together. It encourages us to move forward with a New Covenant perspective and illustrates wonderful freedom and powerful redemption. It helps us to focus in on the gospel with the law peripherally out around the edges.

First, draw a circle. Inside the circle write the words “good,” “right,” and “true.” Outside the circle write “bad,” “wrong”, and “not-true.”

image of circle and text

The words inside the circle describe who God is, and who God has been, and who God always will be. It also describes how God acts, and how He always has acted, and how He always will act. The words outside the circle describe what God is not, never has been and never will be. (These, of course, are not the only words that describe God. They are, however, important words in our normal daily experience of life.)

The words “good”, “right”, and “true” find their definition from who God is and how He acts. In other words, how do I know what being “good” is? Answer: I look at God in Christ, who is good. Thinking in these terms places “Goodness” and Trueness” and “Rightness” on an unchanging base (Many would the word “absolute truth” to describe this.) — it is found in the personality and character of an eternal, unchanging God. As the scriptures say, “Jesus is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) If I want to be “good” then I need to trust Jesus to cover me with his “robe of righteousness.” If I want to do good then I need to trust Jesus to live His life through me. I need to walk hand in hand with the one who is good, right, and true, and trust his good character to change me to be like Him.

Now, imagine you have been looking at the above circle from a top view. Move your perspective so that you are now looking at it from the side. As you do this you discover that you were looking at a plateau from a top view. From the side you discover the plateau is a very large plateau. The plateau has room for all people who have ever been and ever will be. On this plateau there is room for much individuality and personal creativity, freedom, and uniqueness. People can be very different and still be good. People can act very differently and still act rightly. People can state many different creative things and still all be true. The plateau is large indeed. There is great freedom. But, there is an edge to the plateau. Not everything we want to do is good. Not everything we do is right. Not everything we think and say is true. There are absolute edges to the plateau. And falling off is harmful to our well-being. In fact, we die in the fall.

image of circle and text showing drop off

How do we know where the edge of the plateau is? The law, which remains, tells us where the edge of the plateau is. Signposts with the Ten Commandments would be found near the edge. Also, Lev. 18:22 would be on a signpost near the edge. To break the law is to fall over the edge. To break the law is not good. To break the law is to act wrongly. To break the law is to live in what is not true. Therefore, we might put signs up at the edge of the plateau saying, “Warning, ‘you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.’ Go beyond this sign and you will fall.” And, “Warning, etc.”

This image paints a picture that we can live with (and in): it gives us both freedom and direction. God has made room for all of us with our uniqueness and individuality. We do not have to be just like Billy Graham or St. Augustine, or the Apostle Paul, (or, pick your own well known Christian) to be good, or be acting right, or be behaving true. There are an infinite number of ways to be “good, right and true” just like there are theoretically an infinite number of points between any two fixed finite points. If we are willing to humble ourselves (make ourselves smaller) there will always be room for our individuality. But this picture also gives direction. It shows us where the boundaries and edges are. We are not left saying, like our world around us,“Whatever you authentically decide to do is “good”. Or, “It can’t be wrong if it feels so right.” Or, “Truth is whatever you think it is.” No. We have more direction than this. This is the sweet freedom and direction we get from our God. And it is also a picture from which our post-modern world can receive benefit.

Our Lutheran church has been considering questions about sexuality (what kind of behavior is on the plateau, and what behavior is not?). To bless same-sex unions would be to fall off the plateau, as would ordaining active homosexual pastors. But, any moral issue can be thought of with this image in mind. I encourage you to take your moral questions and try to understand where the boundaries or edges are. Search the scriptures. Be thorough. Then turn your thoughts inland. Think positively. Look for beauty. Revel in freedom. Remember, the plateau is large. Don’t end up with a tight wire… where there is not room for anyone to inch to the left or right without falling off.

Most of all, don’t abstract the whole process from God. Ultimately, what I am saying is LIVE IN CHRIST! Life is Jesus. There is a great deal of room on the plateau. Make life in Jesus (which is life all over the plateau) the focus. Don’t make the major focus of your life a question about the edge, as if all we are going to do is spend our time staring at the “law signs” at the edge. This would be moralizing at its worst. And ultimately it would kill our faith. No. Take advantage of your great freedom. There is a whole world to explore, inland.

image of circle and text showing drop off with cross

Last Word About the Image

Last of all, remember – we have all fallen off the plateau. The cross looms large, leaning up to the edge of the plateau, providing a way back on to the plateau. Thanks be to God who loves the whole world, and who descended off the plateau to come and get us and carry us back to the plateau. Without Jesus’ cross we would be lost forever. The cross is the way for the whole world to enter in. Let us walk in Jesus. We can live in spectacular freedom.

A Final Word

I have spent a lot of time exploring boundaries. I have done so because the objections of Part One take us there. However, I believe much more ink and conversation needs to be given to the arena of pastoral care. This should be where the church spends its resources and energy. The church has historically dealt with homosexuality in a mixed way. In its best sense it has dealt with homosexuality with a clear moral voice while at the same time responding in a pastoral way. (Because of the sensitivity of the issue we will probably never know about the aid and comfort, which has long been provided.) But we have also, no doubt, because we are sinful, many times responded poorly in this area. We have used a law litmus test before extending kindness. We, at times, have also pronounced condemnation as if homosexuality is the unforgivable sin. I am hoping that this and other clear treatments of the issue will help move the church away from these failings and into the right direction.

The question of same gender sexual expression is not whether it is sin or not. It is sin. The scriptures declare it as such. But we, as Lutherans, have always said we are saint and sinner at the same time. How can we help the church struggling with sin? The focus of our church should be on the gospel and what kind of pastoral care is needed. I suggest that there is a continuum to pay attention to. On one end of the continuum is a person who is proud of his or her homosexuality and flaunts it and sees nothing wrong with it, and hates the law and wants to do away with the law to hold up an “alternative lifestyle.” On the other end is the person who knows it is sin but struggles with lust in the heart. Both ends of the continuum need to be loved. We are a New Covenant people. And we should offer pastoral care in this light and from this posture.

Nevertheless, we are not a lawless people. The call to repentance (from a New Covenant perspective) needs to be given to both extremes of the continuum, though in a different manner for both. We will mostly be dealing with people between the continuum’s extremes. Between the continuums the struggle of St. Paul with sin, as expressed in Romans 7, should inform our compassion and sensitivity. Who does not struggle with sin? We all do. Paul did. It leaves us feeling wretched. Compassionate sensitivity needs to be given. But also, between the continuums the power of Romans 8 should direct our counsel. There is no condemnation for those in Christ. In Christ there is hope. Homosexuality is not more sinful than other sins. It is perhaps more complex. A whole range of aids such as I mentioned in the pastoral care section needs to be available, including loving accountability. Most of all, a firm and committed love which does not negate the law but which is also inspired and informed by the cross is needed from the pastor AND the congregation. This is what it means to be a welcoming community of grace.

There should be no witch-hunt, no inquisition. We don’t go far out of our way to confront gossips; we shouldn’t go far out of our way to confront those struggling with same gender attracted and acting people. We shouldn’t treat them differently then heterosexual couples living in sin, out of wedlock. There is a time to deal pastorally with all of the sin just mentioned (and the time isn’t always NOW – though it perhaps is often sooner than our pastoral lack of courage recognizes.) In short, gossips, heterosexual couples living in sin, and homosexual couples living in sin are all invited to worship (and should be welcomed – in the first sense), where they will hear the gospel proclaimed, hear the call to repentance (in a New Covenant way, and with a tone sensitive to the above mentioned continuum), and be invited to the communion table. The homosexual issue should not be dealt with as if it is a special kind of sin. As I stated earlier, a heterosexuality that is out-of-bounds is by far, in terms of sheer numbers, our worst sexual problem in the church, and it needs to be addressed with the above-mentioned similar continuum in mind as well. See Appendix #20, #21 & #22 for thoughts about Church Discipline, Legal Issues, and Positive Suggestions.

Last Word

Lutheran Christians are accustomed to thinking in terms of Law and Gospel. All Christians are called through the gospel to a high calling. It is gospel that brings life. The reason I have given such attention to the law in the first section is it is at the boundaries where synod assembly and church wide assembly actions have been made and called for. My prayer for our church is that we will “not turn our freedom into an opportunity for the flesh” (Gal.5:13/I Peter 2:16) but instead will live in the marvelous freedom of the gospel. May God’s grace, mercy and hope fuel us all to be a welcoming, ministering, loving people of God.


A few words about how I see Inductive Reasoning and Faith intersecting:

Science is governed by a straight forward proposition or method: it makes an inductive (specific to general reasoning) reasoned hypotheses then checks out the hypotheses by means of deductive (general to specific reasoning) reasoning with experiments which are repeatable and measurable. It seems to me that faith and science make a significant intersection in the area of inductive reasoning.

Einstein speaks of his inductive process in striking terms. In an article he wrote in 1934 titled “Notes On the Origin of the General Theory of Relativity” he said, “when by special theory of relativity I had arrived at the equivalence of all so-called inertial systems for the formulation of natural laws (1905), the question whether there was not a further equivalence of coordinate systems followed naturally.”[54] As he further explained the origin of the General Theory of Relativity, he said, “These investigations however, led to a result which raised my strong suspicions.” And later he said, “I was in the highest degree amazed at its existence and guessed that in it must lie the key to a deeper understanding of inertia and gravitation.”p.280 He later said, “I was much bothered by this piece of knowledge for it took me a long time to see what coordinates at all meant in physics.” Then he ends his article, “In the light of knowledge attained, the happy achievement seems almost a matter of course, and any intelligent student can grasp it without too much trouble. But the years of anxious searching in the dark, with their intense longing, their alternations of confidence and exhaustion and the final emergence into the light - only those who have experienced it can understand that.” p.283 Ideas and Opinions: Collected Writings of Albert Einstein, Dell Publishing Co., Inc. 1979

Does it seem strange to you that such an important finding came about by questions fueled by hunches, “suspicions”, “guesses,” and feelings of being “much bothered?” But this is the language of induction. Inductive reasoning is a thought process that moves from specific to general. The specifics are traceable. But it is as if all the specifics are gathered up into a bag, taken into a cloud, and out the other side comes a general proposition that describes all the specifics in the bag. Einstein put it well, “Then comes the “final emergence into the light.” But you always have to go through a cloud to get there. What happens in the cloud is always ultimately untraceable. When others described Einstein’s inductive reasoning they used words like “intuition” and “creative leaps.”

You don’t have to be an Einstein to see the similarity between this induction and faith. Faith, Hebrews says, “is the evidence of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.”

Heterosexuality Out-of-Bounds

I place this issue first in my outline because I truly think it is our biggest sexual problem in the church. I place it in the Appendix because our church’s 2005 deadline has placed the same gender sexual issue on the front burner.

What are the proper boundaries for heterosexual intimate relations? Intimate sexual relations, according to the scriptures, are only to take place within the confines of marriage. The words, adultery and fornication, suggests these boundaries. Adultery occurs when married persons are involved in sexual relations outside of marriage. Fornication occurs when unmarried persons are involved in intimate sexual relations outside of marriage. The scriptures forbid both adultery and fornication.

Thus marriage is the only context for intimate sexual relations between a man and woman. It is no surprise that this notion is disputed outside the church. Some will be surprised, however, to find that even this notion is disputed IN the church. One needs to look no further then the first draft of the church’s statement on human sexuality circulated in October 1993. Though this draft was never officially adopted, it contains and remains a widely held position on sexuality. Therefore, I will respond with some depth to this draft.

A Response to the ELCA draft on Human Sexuality

After affirming marriage as the best place for intimate sexual contact, and following this with a positive definition of marriage, the draft goes on to suggest a situation where legal marriage was not necessarily the only place for sexual expression. Two quotes from the draft show this.

First, this is the draft’s definition of marriage. “Marriage is a covenant of fidelity - a dynamic lifelong commitment of one man and one woman in a personal and sexual union.... It is an unconditional relationship, a total commitment based on faithful trust. This union embodies God’s loving purposes to create and enrich life.”[55]

Then comes the caveat. “In some situations there may be an enduring commitment to one another with a clear intention to marry at a later date. It is the binding commitment, not the license or ceremony, that lies at the heart of biblical understandings of marriage (Gen. 2:24; 24:67).”[56]

These two short sentences (from page 10) undo much of the positive content found in the earlier portions of the draft. Contrary to what the draft forwards, I would like to suggest that not only is it important to have (1) binding commitment in marriage, but it is also important that this commitment be (2) made known publicly, and (3) the commitment should be made in the most binding way possible. The ceremony and the license are what points (2) and (3) are about: the ceremony and the license are necessary for the commitment to be publicly known and for it to be made in the most binding way possible. These three aspects together define marriage. Without these three aspects, we drift into ambiguity and confusion.

Why the ceremony and license are at the heart of the matter

Walter Wangerin Jr. suggested in his book As For Me and My House: “Crafting your marriage to last”[57] that a corollary question to “what is marriage?” must be asked to truly define marriage. This corollary question is: “when does marriage begin?” How one responds to this question contributes to how one defines marriage. I would like to suggest that marriage begins when a man and woman publicly commit their lives to be together for the rest of their lives and their commitment is made in the most binding way possible.

Again and again couples that are already living together, seek out a pastor in order to get married. The caveat above suggested by the human sexuality draft only “muddies the water” concerning what they are doing as they cohabitate. The content of this caveat creates confusion, and therefore serves to justify sin (perhaps unwittingly serves, yet serves nonetheless). The draft suggests that a binding commitment perhaps made in private can be at the heart of marriage. While this is very much status quo thinking of today (a large percentage of couples think they already have binding commitments in their hearts, and they therefore also think that living together before the ceremony isn’t really wrong) this isn’t what the scriptures suggest. The passages of Gen. 2:24 and Gen. 24:67 are given to support the draft’s propositions. What these passages suggest, however, do not support the mistaken notion that a binding commitment privately made is enough to establish marriage.

First, here is the sited passage from Gen. 24:67. “Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he married Rebekah. So she became his wife, and he loved her.” However, there is a very public dimension to Gen. 24 that is being overlooked and should not be overlooked.

Genesis 24:1-4 tells us that Abraham sent his servant to his own people to “get a wife.” This was a society accustomed to arranged marriages. The very sending of his servant was a public act. In verse 34, the servant tells why he has come: “to get a wife.” Laban agrees (51), “Take her and go, and let her become the wife of your master’s son...” Rachel then agrees (57), “I will go.” When she said this, she was given a blessing by her family (60): “Our sister, may you increase to thousands upon thousands; may your offspring possess the gates of their enemies.” In verses 53-54, the binding nature of the intention was expressed publicly: “Then the servant brought out gold and silver jewelry and articles of clothing and gave them to Rebekah; he also gave costly gifts to her brother and to her mother.” When she arrived and saw Isaac she (65) “took her veil and covered herself.” Then the servant told Isaac all that had happened. Following all of this comes Gen. 24: 67, “Isaac brought her into his mother’s tent.”

We are wrong to miss the public nature of the entire event. I suppose in some cultures taking a woman into a mother’s tent could be considered a public event in itself. Various cultures will express the public binding nature of the relationship in different ways.Our culture expresses this by demanding that two witnesses must be present as the man and woman stand and make promises before a person approved by the state. The point that I am making is this: it is a mistake, a huge mistake, to not see the place and function of the license (our culture’s expression of the binding nature) or the ceremony with witnesses (our culture’s expression of the public beginning of marriage.) Furthermore, so as to not be ambiguous, let me state clearly that a ceremony before a judge with only the witnesses and the couple is just as much a public ceremony as one in a church.

As mentioned earlier, Gen. 2:24 is also used by the draft to support the notion that a binding commitment made privately is sufficient to begin marriage. Genesis 2 has its own kind of peculiarities. Obviously, there is no literal public present at this point. However, the absence of the public in a literal sense does not give credence for the absence of a public in marriage’s beginning. After all, we wouldn’t accept incest on the basis of Cain and Seth’s apparent joining with Adam and Eve’s daughters. (Every confirmation student sees that apparent scenario clearly.) After Adam and Eve’s unique situation as the first two people a literal public is lifted up.

What is at stake in all of this? What is at stake is the health of our community. The ELCA draft on sexuality speaks of the importance of community. But then, by not being clear about the public nature of marriage, the door is left open for confusion, darkness and life in the shadows.

It is a disturbing thought to think that not only do many couples live with each other before marriage because of being influenced by the strife of their parent’s marriage, or because of the influence of secular society. But perhaps they also live with each other before marriage because of the confusion IN the church itself as the church believes notions such as are expressed in the sexuality draft. (“In some situations there may be an enduring commitment to one another with a clear intention to marry at a later date. It is the binding commitment, not the license or ceremony, that lies at the heart of the biblical understandings of marriage.”)

I do not believe I am guilty of hyperbole to say what I just said. In a couple’s idealism, they think they are closer and more unified than they really are. They “move in” thinking they have what is required by the “heart of the Biblical understanding.” Then, add sexual relations to the picture, and these couples further think they are more unified than they actually are. The tragedy is, sexual intercourse will create a unity for a time, but it can’t create bindingness. Dr. Short, author of Sex, Love and Infatuation, says that a satisfying sex life can hold couples together for three to five years, but not much longer if there are no other unifying factors. He also states that it is not possible to clearly identify and evaluate other unifying factors if a sexual relationship exists. I think this contributes significantly to our high divorce rate. Couples simply think they are closer than they actually are. They decide to go ahead and “legally sanction” what they think already exists. Is reality ever a shock? This lack of clarity about when marriage begins leads to confused thinking often with a tragic outcome.

Example of confused thinking

“In some situations there may be an enduring commitment to one another with a clear intention to marry at a later date.”[58]

The problem is “enduring commitments” spoken of in this line #1 are NEVER, I repeat NEVER truly “clear” until those commitments are publicly made known. Even when private commitments are enduring, the community is still damaged. Others may be led to follow their example. But what is their example? It isn’t clear. We have half of a generation confused about what marriage is. We are in a downward spiral and must do everything possible to hold up what remains. We must be crystal clear about what marriage is in order to start to bring healing to our communities.

What is marriage?

What is marriage? Well, once again, the draft gave a good definition. “Marriage is a covenant of fidelity - a dynamic lifelong commitment of one man and one woman in a personal and sexual union.... It is an unconditional relationship, a total commitment based on faithful trust. This union embodies God’s loving purposes to create and enrich life.”[59] But the crucial question “when does marriage begin?” helps give further definition to what we actually mean by “total commitment.” Marriage begins when (1) the enduring commitment is (2) publicly made known (3) in a culturally accepted binding way. Cultures may change how these elements are declared, but the three elements are always there.

This is very important. Our drafters are right in encouraging couples to marry who have this privately nurtured commitment. But the vow said in public and verified on a legal document by two witnesses is not to be thought of in similar terms as what St. Paul spoke of as a lifeless “letter of the law.” This is a spiritual matter. It is at the heart of the matter. God takes our vow said in public and in a binding way so seriously that if we “decide” not to keep the vow and get a certificate of divorce God does not, except under situations of unchastity, recognize the new certificate: if you marry again “it is adultery.” This word about remarriage and adultery puts the seriousness of the vow in no uncertain terms.

Yes, couples should be encouraged to marry if they have this private commitment. But let’s not confuse the matter by providing shadows for sin to hide. If couples are living together before marriage, it is sin. Yes, there is forgiveness for this and other sin. But let us not turn to what Bonhoeffer warned us of. It is “cheap grace” when we are not willing to call a spade a spade... when we “offer absolution without confession.”

In summary then, marriage, which begins with a vow said publicly and said in the most binding way possible is THE ONLY place for intimate sex. All other intimate sexual encounters between people are out-of-bounds.

A few words showing examples of the internal nature of the law seen in the Ten Commandments

  1. “You shall have no other gods before me” is first a matter of the heart. Luther, in the Large Catechism, tells us that having God as your God is a matter first of trust: an interior affair
  2. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” God’s name used in vain is a matter first of the inner intentions. The difference between a prayer and cursing is first of all found in inner purpose and motive.
  3. “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” Remembering the Sabbath starts within: remembering or observing by definition happens within.
  4. “Honor your father and mother.” Honoring or not honoring a parent is first a matter of inner respect
  5. “You shall not kill.” Unleashed anger is a matter first of inner anger.
  6. “You shall not commit adultery.” Adultery always starts with lust in the heart.
  7. “You shall not steal.” As mentioned above, if a person picks up something that isn’t his or hers intentionally and walks off with it, this is called stealing. If a person picks up something that isn’t his or hers unintentionally and walks off with it, this is an oversight, not theft.
  8. “You shall not bear false witness against they neighbor.” Lying starts with the desire to deceive.
  9. & 10 “You shall not covet...” Coveting is by definition an internal affair.

A Few words about MENSTRUAL LAWS:

In short we could just say these types of laws deal with “temple regulations.” Secondly, though they are physically interior, they are in fact “exterior to the ‘heart’” and therefore are exterior regulations. Therefore, they are negated. However, it is helpful to think about this a little more thoroughly.

There were many purity prescriptions. What was the purity issue with various body fluids: with menstrual blood, with semen, or with other fluids? The workbook, which came out before the "Human Sexuality" draft titled Human Sexuality and the Christian Faith, suggested it had to do with violations of God’s order and that body fluids defiled the person. There was no specific explanation of this though the work book went on to insinuate that it had to do with “not wasting precious seed.”[60] (i.e. intercourse would not procreate during a menstrual cycle.) While, of course, it is true that intercourse will not procreate during the menstrual cycle this insinuation ultimately didn’t make sense. If it only had to do with not wasting seed then there would have been a law against sexual intercourse with one’s wife after she was pregnant: they were not so foolish that they couldn’t see that after one is pregnant further “seed” would not produce more children.

I don’t think it is crystal clear why there were laws such as these bodily fluid laws. However, some possibilities do come to mind. I think the explanation for these practices might be more closely related, once again, to a call to distance Israel from pagan worship. Petra Habiger, in her article titled, “Menstruation, Menstrual Hygiene and Woman’s Health in Ancient Egypt” pointed out that, ‘Many myths accord menstrual blood a life-giving nature: The Mesopotamian mother goddess Ninhursag was said to make men out of loam and her ‘blood of life.’ She taught women to make loam dolls for use in a conception spell by painting them with their menstrual blood.”[61] When discussing various Egyptian taboos she stated, “Menstruation was treated ambiguously, because menstrual blood was generally considered to have a healing effect and was used for producing drugs, ointments, etc., as described in the so-called medical/magic papyri.”[62] She asserted that “Menstrual blood was supposed to have a cleansing effect,”[63] and was used in spells to protect from demons,[64]“In some ‘spells for mother and child’ menstrual blood is used as an ointment to protect newborns from demons.” I think these are the kinds of things (and more) that Israel was distancing itself from. It isn’t any wonder that Israel called “unclean” what the Egyptians said “cleansed” considering the magic and the thoughts about demons that were associated with Pagan practices. As some of these laws are associated with the sanctuary (“When a woman gives birth and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean for seven days, as in the days of her menstruation she shall be unclean... she shall not touch any consecrated thing, nor enter the sanctuary, until the days of her purification are completed.” Lev. 12:2-4) We may know, applying the 10+1 formula, (which includes sanctuary laws), that these laws have passed away and we no longer have to pay attention to them.

As for menstrual restrictions related to sex that was not tied directly to the sanctuary (“Do not approach a woman to have sexual relations during the uncleanness of her monthly period.” Leviticus 18:18) the exterior regulation part of the 10+1 formula causes it to be dropped. Menstrual blood is exterior to the man to whom the prescription is stated. As the new order came, and as people no longer associated menstrual blood with spells, and protection from demons, etc., the blood no longer had anything negative about it. We are free.

What about apparent contradictions?

First of all, verse 18 makes it clear WHICH law Jesus is talking about: Jesus is talking about the written law. Jesus often ran into problems because of breaking the unwritten oral law. For instance, Jesus broke all kinds of non-written, non-Mosaic, non-Canonical, oral Sabbath regulations and oral cleanliness regulations. (Mark 2:23-28, Mark 7:1-4) Here, Jesus makes it clear that he wasn’t talking about these oral regulations, which were designated as “traditions of the elders”. Jesus says specifically that it is the WRITTEN LAW... the ones having “letters” and “strokes of the pen” which he is speaking about.

Secondly, if we take this verse at its most literal level, difficulties fall away. If we read verse 18 to plainly mean that the writing itself “will not pass away until heaven and earth pass away”, then we have no contradictions to deal with. In fact, it is true, the writing itself has been painstakingly preserved; we see this when we look at a Bible in the original Hebrew text with a good apparatus and good column notes. (These notes preserve scribal changes in the text.) Jesus’ words endorsed this kind of preservation from the past and encouraged the same preservations in the future.


The implications of this are clear. Jesus’ words (if they would have been applied) would have helped to fend off later heretics such as Marcion who was active in 170 A.D. Marcion wanted to exclude the entire Old Testament as unauthoritative. Marcion was a heretic, but one can see how even the orthodox might have considered it unnecessary to preserve parts of the Old Testament in the canon. After all, we have been talking about which laws do and do not apply anymore. If some laws don’t apply anymore, then why keep them in the book? But no, these laws also need to be preserved. Even when these laws were no longer authoritative, they inform and instruct us. In fact, they more than instruct us. They illumine the gospel. For instance, we learn about the scope of the sacrifice of Christ when we read the sacrifice laws of the Old Testament. We learn a lot about the priestly role of Christ when we read the sacrifice laws of the Old Testament. We learn a lot about the priestly role of Christ when we see the priestly laws... and so on, and so on. Though these laws are only “a shadow of the substance” they do instruct us in a similar way that a shadow of a man does in some sense inform us of the man’s shape. Even in these obsolete laws, we see that it is true; “All scripture is inspired by God and IS profitable for teaching correction and rebuke.” (1 Timothy 3:16)

More concerns

However, someone might say, “Okay, verse 18 is specifically talking about the written word. And read in this way, one could abolish the force of a law without removing the writing from the page. But, verse 17 (“think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets”) isn’t just talking about the writing itself. The Law and the Prophets included specific kinds of law... some of which you just said are obsolete and abolished. Isn’t this a problem?

Once again, when we read these words in their most straightforward way, contradictions fall away.

Jesus said, “Think not that I have COME to abolish the law and the prophets. It is true. Jesus didn’t COME to abolish the law and the prophets. It was only when he LEFT that some law was abolished. The change in law happened with the change in priesthood. Hebrews 8:4 specifically said, “If he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law.” It was AS Jesus ascended and took his place at the right hand of God that he became high priest and changes were instituted. While he was here, he didn’t abolish... he fulfilled. When he LEFT, some laws were abolished, having fulfilled their purpose.

Matthew 5:19 states, “Anyone who breaks the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom...” Here again I believe Jesus was speaking of the written code which WAS IN FULL FORCE as a unit until Jesus died and rose. While Jesus never upheld the oral tradition as authoritative, calling it “man’s traditions,” he always kept the written law. Jesus never encouraged disrespect for Moses or the Prophets. He did give levels of importance to it. He saw the greatest law was to first love God, and the second greatest was to love each other. All the other laws, he said, hung on these two. So, some laws cover a greater scope than others. But, Jesus didn’t want this to confuse people. He was present to uphold the law... he didn’t teach people to disregard written laws, no matter how small.

Evidence exists, however, that Jesus anticipated the coming change. For instance, when someone pointed to the beautiful temple Jesus responded, “The day is coming when there will not be one stone left on another.” We cannot underestimate the magnitude of this change. It would have affected not only the sanctuary laws, but also priesthood laws. The Judaism of Jesus’ day would not be the same with these changes. However, though Jesus saw change, he also saw the connection between the new and old. He said, “Therefore any teacher of the law instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” (Matthew 13:52) The “new” was certainly coming with a clarity unmatched before the apostles. The apostles took the clarity of the change to a new level.

Making Too Much By Implication of “a Change of Law”

We can disagree and have good relations with those we disagree. Dr. Fretheim’s article “The Old testament and Homosexuality” is a personal example. Dr. Fretheim was an instructor of mine at Luther Seminary. I learned a great deal from him and saw and see him as person of genuineness and integrity. Nevertheless, I disagree with the implications he makes in his article found on line at

The article is 14 pages long and has a lot of detail. He makes many interesting points. I’m only going to respond to two of his basic points and a third inferred point.

  1. Creation is not static… God’s creation is an ongoing work.
  2. “The Bible… revises or sets aside earlier laws in view of changing times and places…” Thesis - “If laws are to connect appropriately with the changing realities of creation, they must change to keep pace with those realities.” P.9 The principle Dr. Fretheim draws on to negotiate this change is “…generally speaking, God’s laws manifest a basic concern for the life, health, and good order of the community; put negatively, they are concerned to shelter the community from disease, instability and death.”p.7
  3. After noting some changes in law in Exodus and Deuteronomy, and after noting how God changed his laws about eunuchs being allowed into the temple (Deut. 23:1/ Lev.21 /Is.56;1-8), Dr. Fretheim infers that we should consider whether God is not now changing his law regarding committed homosexual relationships.


  1. It is true. God is involved in the ongoing creation – after all, you and I are the work of his ongoing creating.
  2. We, however, must discern whether change we see is good or neutral, or not good; after all, not all mutations and social trends are positive. The idea that the change must “manifest a basic concern for the life, health, and good order of the community” in order to be legitimate is too undefined. How do we determine good health in light of mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual realities? How do we analyze good order in community? (So on so forth.) In contrast to this lack of definition I repeat the following. God’s remaining law after the 10 + 1 abolition is the basis from which we should make the determination about changed law.
  3. Dr. Fretheim puts #1 and #2 together and implies #3. First I will make some points about his observation about changes in law. Then I will make a couple of points about the Eunuch laws that were changed.
    1. Among these 10 + 1 changes in law there were perhaps precursory changes. (Some of the changes cited seem, to me, to perhaps be slightly different situations and not change per say. For example: Exodus 21:2-11 and Deut.15:1-18 are similar but different laws.) Even if they are change, among the laws that were going to change and be adjusted anyway, perhaps what we see is God making those adjustments ahead of time, tipping off the true nature of those laws to begin with.
    2. Among the law that was not going to change, God made additions that did not change the spirit of the law… for instance…. When God said, “you shall not covet… then listed x and y as concrete things that shouldn’t be coveted, it was not a substantive change to later add z or not later mention x. (Ex. 20;17 and Deut.5:21) Also, to give one motivation and then another motivation does not change the law either. (Ex. 20:11 Deut.5:15)

The 10 commandments are always a little broader than we think they are. (For instance, all the commands are caught up in the first command, and the 9th and 10th commands are internal first checks to the breaking of the other commands.) Sometimes what we might think is a change is merely the realization that the law was broader than we first thought. For instance, the addition of naming one gender where it hadn’t been named before in many instances is probably not much of a change.

The Eunuch laws make seemingly close connections to our subject. Just as the Eunuch laws were changed, Dr. Fretheim implies we should change the committed homosexual relationship laws. The novelty of Isaiah 56, however, is exaggerated. Most definitely there is a change described between Duet. 23:1, Lev. 21 and Is. 56:1-8. But once again, this change is described in the very kind of law that was going to be changed anyway… (the 10 +1 law: these eunuch laws specifically dealt with the temple and priesthood laws). Secondly, when did this change happen? Isaiah says it will happen (in the future). Did it ever happen before Christ? Or did it only come in with the New Covenant and the spiritualizing of the temple and priesthood of all believers? I’m not sure. At any rate, this isn’t an unexplainable change. Therefore, it shouldn’t lay groundwork to bring about change that the scriptures don’t prescribe for us. It shouldn’t cause us to remove the word sin from the act of same gender sexual activity.

The Big Tent… the majority and minority sexual expression in Mesopotamian, Greek Culture.


Dynes and Donaldson tell us “a special aspect of Mesopotamian homophilia appears in the legend of Gilgamesh, which is not only the first literary instance of male bonding but contains explicit same-sex elements in the relationship of the hero to his ‘wild man” companion, Enkidu.”[65] (A fragment of the Gilgamesh epic has been found in fourteenth-century Megiddo.”)[66]

“There is evidence for Mesopotamian male homosexuality from the beginning of the third millennium B.C. Babylonian myth explained the origins of homosexuality; its astrology accounted for it in the individual… Middle Assyrian laws penalized same sex rape.”[67] (I would need to investigate this more, but it seems to me that this astrology derivation would be important to study regarding early concepts of sexual orientation. Here the determining orientation doesn’t come from genetics but rather from the stars. I say this knowing that the Babylonians didn’t use our exact language about sexual categories. Nevertheless, here, it seems to me, distinctions are being made. Intersections between various concepts should not be ignored.)

Colin Spencer tells us, “In the early civilizations of Mesopotamia, the extensive fragments of legal codes still extant (dating from 2375 to 1726 BC) are extremely detailed on laws which circumscribe the lives and rights of women. Nor do any of them prohibit homosexual acts, though the subject is hardly mentioned.”[68] “We know that homosexuality flourished. However within archaic societies, as in the ancient world, there was simply sexuality. The only disgrace connected with sexual expression concerned the type of act and the status, not the sex of your partner.”

“The Babylonians loved to divine the future and we still have one of their manuals which prophesies on the basis of sexual acts. It would seem that if a man had intercourse with the hindquarters of his equal, he would be foremost among his brothers and colleagues. If he had intercourse with a male courtier for a whole year, all worries would leave him. But if a man had intercourse with his male slave he would be troubled. Evil itself would strike him if he went with male cult prostitute.”[69] At the very least these prophetic divinations describe situations and attitudes other than male violence and temple prostitution.

Following the history on to other important civilizations helps us to consider how these same passages would have been contextualized at other times and other places. Next we take a look at infamous Greece.


Greece and Rome shed more light on the New Testament than the Old. But Greece’s roots extend back to the 6th century BC giving some context to the Old Testament and how the Old Testament passages would have been heard.

Greece’s institutionalized pederasty is well documented. It was a system of a young adult male taking a boy starting at age 12 to 18 or 20 for a sexual partner. After that period of time the boy, having become a young adult, took his own boy as a partner. At age thirty he was expected to marry a girl of about the age of 18 and settle down

Dynes and Donaldson wrote, “After the transition to marriage, homosexuality ceased, according to the paiderasteia model, but there are numerous indications that many married men continued to frequent male prostitutes, or even take a new eromenos (boy partner) and later, Stoics of the Hellenistic period suggested that pederastic relationships could continue until the younger was into his late twenties. Many such pairs probably continued as close, if nonsexual, friendships. The famous couple Aristogiton and Harmodius were both old enough to be married at the time of their assassination of the Athenian tyrant Hipparchus, who had made persistent advances to Harmodius; Hipparchus had apparently never developed in erotic interest in females. It must be kept in mind that the system of paiderasteia described in ancient literature was an ideal type, and may have admitted many variations in practice.”[70]

Where did this system come from? Dynes and Donaldson wrote, “The origins of the institutionalized form of pederasty have occasioned much scholarly dispute, but it now seems clear, thanks to the research of William A. Percy, that the practice emerged, perhaps from a far older tradition of initiatory homosexuality in warrior societies, but more probably from widespread situational homosexuality, in ancient Crete about 650 BC.”[71]

Minority experience

In our language today, we would say the pederastic system was a largely an experience of same sex involvement between heterosexuals. This, no doubt, describes the majority experience. However, around the edges of the pederastic system we see other things going on.

Dynes and Donaldson wrote, “The Greeks knew other types of homosexuality, but considered them rare or silly; the adult pathic (passive partner) was an object of ridicule. Pedophilia in the sense of attraction to boys younger than twelve has left no trace in the literature.”[72] p. xi

Some of these “rare” types of homosexuality show up as topics of plays and poetry. Colin Spencer wrote, “In actual practice these rules were constantly being infringed. The comedies of Aristophanes revel in such contradictions, for though passivity in adult men was an occasion for scorn, this did not seem to have much effect in making it that unpopular. In the Frogs, Dionysius confesses to Heracles that he is in love. No, he says shamefully, not with a woman, or a boy, but with a man. And worst of all, the man is Cleisthenes who is noted for his effeminacy.”[73]

“Love between two adult men occurred often, but only the ‘effeminate’ man” [same word used in I Cor. 6:10] “incurred the social opprobrium. The slang terms used for passive homosexuals are variations on ‘broad-arsed’, while those for active homosexuals accentuate a brutish masculinity – rough, black or hairy-arsed.”[74]

Greek literature also speaks of women. Spensor writes, “There is one amusing picture from Lucian of Samosata, in the fifth of Dialogues of the Courtesans. Clonarium and Leaena, two courtesans, are gossiping. Clonarium has heard that Leaena is the lover of a rich lady from Lesbos, Megilla, who loves her like a man. Leaena agrees that this is true, then goes on to say how very masculine Megilla is, for she has shaved her head but wears a wig in the day to disguise it. She has not got a ‘man’s thing’ for she has her own way of making love which is much pleasanter. Megilla tells her that though she was born a woman, her desires are all those of a man.’”[75]

Sappho (ca.612-560) of Lesbos (where we get the word lesbian from) was leader of a girls school. She wrote much homoerotic poetry but she basically followed the pederastic age differentiated model, only on the female side. Nevertheless, as we see above with Megilla, other experiences existed around the edges.

Where did the Greeks think a same sex desire came from? Plato and Xenophon had ideas about this. Colin Spencer relates a story from Plato’s Symposium. “one of the most famous speeches in the Symposium is that made by Aristophanes which suggests that at the beginning the human race was made up of three genders. There were double males, double females and a male and female stuck together. Each had four arms and four legs and moved by cartwheeling. But they became too proud and annoyed the gods who took a blade and severed each of them in two. Aristophanes then tells us that each half has been searching for its twin ever since and defines love as the desire and pursuit of the whole.”[76] Francis Mondimore, in the chapter titled “Before Homosexuality” in the book The Natural History of Homosexuality related the same story from Plato’s Symposium but added this line of Aristophanes’, “Such a person is always inclined to be an erastes (adult partner) or an eromenos, (boy partner) as he always welcomes what is akin. So when one of them meets his own proper half… then they are wonderfully overwhelmed with affection and intimacy and love, and never wish to be apart for a moment.’ Aristophanes goes on to say that such men “naturally do not trouble about marriage and getting a family but that law and custom compels them.”[77]

It seems to me that this is an unmistakable attempt to describe distinctions amongst people that they saw. They never used the word homosexual, (that word, as was noted earlier, first appears in 1897) but what Plato describes intersects with that idea. Plato did not have the concept of sexual orientation as we describe it, but who can miss that what he describes intersects with the idea of sexual orientation? Not having our concept of genetics, still Plato saw shaping factors that were beyond simple choice. Lastly, when we read “So when one of these meets his own proper half… then they are wonderfully overwhelmed with affection and intimacy and love, and never wish to be apart for a moment,” if we didn’t know this came from Plato, might we not think that this was written about modern day gay experience? It seems to me that elements in the ancient world experience is much more complex and familiar than many are making it out to be. The Apostle Paul certainly could have known much more than many today are saying he could have been aware of. This becomes even more evident when we look at Roman experience.


“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the… nor… nor… will inherit the kingdom of God.” I Cor.6:9-10 “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want… The deeds of the flesh are obvious… I warn you as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal 5:16-21)

So has Paul forgotten that “we are saved by grace through faith, and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast?” (Eph. 2:8-9) I don’t think so. So what is Paul doing as he mentions certain actions, and then says that those who do those things “will not inherit the kingdom of God?” He is pointing out actions that are faith-killers.

This is easiest understood in logical form (though Paul’s thinking isn’t strict logic)... “if a is b, and b is c, then a is c.”

“We are saved / by grace through faith …” Eph.2:8

stated in the negative… “ if (a) a lack of faith, is linked to a lack of salvation (b) (Eph.2:8); and if (b) a lack of salvation, is linked to certain actions (c.) (I Cor.6:9); Then (a) is linked to (c.): a lack of faith is linked to certain actions.

If certain actions cause us not to be saved it must be that faith is destroyed by those actions.

So, Paul does believe that we are saved by faith apart from work of the laws. This is unarguable. Nevertheless, Paul does cite actions that adversely affect our faith. For instance, Paul says, “… fight the good fight of faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith.” (I Timothy 1:18-19) In a similar vein as this, here I believe Paul also recognizes that other actions adversely affect our faith. Those actions are faith-killers. Paul doesn’t think that if you get “drunk” once you won’t be saved. But he does believe that if you make a practice of getting “drunk” you will adversely affect your faith… and may lose it all together. The same is true with the rest of the works of the flesh in Gal. 5:16-21. And the same is true with the list in I Cor. 6:9-10. Participating once in any of that list won’t necessarily cause one to lose all faith. But practice the things on the list and faith may be killed.

The wrath of God

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness…” (Rom.1:18)

Our culture is generally uncomfortable with talk about God’s wrath. Paul Achtemeier, in his commentary on the book of Romans, spells out well what Paul means. Wrath, we shall see, is not always what most people think it is.

“The most frightening thing about this passage is the way Paul describes God’s punishment for the sin of idolatry. It is frightening simply because, had Paul not told us they were signs of wrath, we could easily have mistaken them for signs of grace! When God visits his wrath in the way described in this passage there is no divine cataclysm, no fire from on high sent to consume sinful society. Rather, the wrath which God visits on sinful humanity consists in simply letting humanity have its own way. The punishment of sin is therefore simply – sin! God, says Paul, delivers sinful humanity over to its own desires. In a move that our contemporary world shows is perhaps the most terrifying thing God could do, God punishes sin by letting us have control over our own destinies. God’s wrath therefore does not mean some divine restraint imposed as punishment on humanity. Rather, that wrath gives us a free hand to do whatever our desires incline us to do. The way God in his wrath delivers humanity over to the just punishment of sin is to become permissive. He withdraws the gracious power of his absolute Lordship and allows other lordships to prevail.[78]

So, God’s wrath, as Paul speaks of it here, is to let us have our own way. It isn’t that God never pours out his wrath in the traditional way of thinking about it. Annanias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11), and King Herod (Acts 12:21-23) are examples that he has done this even in a Post Old Testament setting. But it took an Apostle to be able to see and reveal the cause and effect relationship between the behavior and the consequence in those situations. We cannot by naked principle trace simple cause and effect from behavior to punishment. Therefore, all should be wary about what they assert. Unless we are a prophet or an apostle we should stick with the scriptures and call God’s wrath the freedom to do whatever we want. We shouldn’t tag the consequences of that behavior.

This means we can’t simply tag AIDS as the overt wrath of God against homosexuals. To speak thus does a great disservice to people like Margaret Brazzel, my friend who died from AIDS contracted in a blood transfusion in the 1980’s. And it does a great disservice to the spouse who contracted it from her unfaithful husband. And it does a great disservice to the newborn baby who got it from her mother. It is also improper to tag the homosexual person who contracted AIDS in a sexual experience as God pouring out his overt wrath in form of a consequence. The homosexual act itself is God’s wrath as Achtemeier described it. To go beyond that takes a prophet or an apostle to see and reveal God’s role in the consequence.

"God gave them up"

The words, “God gave them up” is a difficult phrase because it talks about the hidden action of God. But we can confidently say what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that God is giving up on them so that they never come to him. What it does mean is more difficult to say. But here is an attempt.

I think the phrase leans toward, but does not go as far as, the Old Testament phrase “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” When the scriptures say that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart we see that God is not creating the desire of Pharaoh’s heart but is taking the already existing desire of Pharaoh and casting that desire in concrete, causing what Pharaoh desired to happen to actually happen. In a similar way, the phrase “God gave them up” means God notes the already existing desire of the person and “ALLOWS” that desire to run its course. God does not cast that desire in stone to make an example of it but gives them up to their own desires, ultimately to make an example of it. In a sense we could say God’s giving them up is not to give up on them but is ultimately precisely to draw them near. When they see the consequences of their way they then might turn to God for forgiveness and healing. The church, then, should follow God’s lead. We should not give up on people, but instead, noting that it is “the kindness of God that leads to repentance,” (Romans 2:4) we should demonstrate God’s loving kindness.

A Wide Look at Abominations from the book of Proverbs

Notice how some very common things are called abominations. This says something about how we shouldn’t make such huge distinctions between kinds of sin. Jesus took all sin seriously. He said, “If your hand causes you to sin cut it off.” Etc. All sin is viewed the same before God. This is not to say there are no differences at all. Some sin obviously has different consequences. Hating a person is murder. Murdering a person is murder. Both are sin. They have very different consequences.

  1. Prov. 3:32 — crooked man
  2. 6:16 — haughty eyes, lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, heart that devises wickedness, feet that run rapidly to evil, false witness who utter lies, one who spreads strife among brothers
  3. 11:1 — false balance
  4. 11:20 — perverse heart
  5. 15:8 — sacrifice of wicked
  6. 15:26 — evil plans
  7. 16:5 — proud of
  8. 17:15 — justifies the wicked, condemns the righteous
  9. 20:10 — differing weights, differing measures
  10. 24:9 — the scoffer
  11. 28:9 — If you do not obey the law, God will find your prayers too hateful to hear.
  12. 29:27 — Locusts have no king, but they all go forward in formation.

Inconsistent larger exterior context

If you need one last big reason to accept what I am saying about how it was possible that Old Testament people down to Paul would have been aware of a full range of same sex behavior, here is such a reason. For those who believe that these earlier cultures wouldn’t have been aware of such a full range of same sex behavior and yet at the same time believe, as Dr. Boswell does, in an orientation that is genetically created, the question must be asked, “When do you think genetic orientation began?” Certainly such genetic experiences, if they exist, do not come into being over night. Certainly if they exist now they existed all the way back to early Egypt and early Babylonia. If the genetic orientation existed then, then why wouldn’t it have created examples of people who were oriented this way in actual behavior? If there were such people, then why wouldn’t have observant and thoughtful people seen it and thought about it? These are, of course, all rhetorical questions. The obvious answer to these questions undermines people who believe in orientation but don’t want it to be seen or thought about by the people of that time. Just because they didn’t have science as we now have it wouldn’t have kept some from wondering about it. This point is a logical problem for Dr. Boswell and the myriad of other people who hold variations on the theme he presents.

#13. Lastly allow me to pick up a few loose ends. Bishops do have a higher standard in some areas. This is one of those situations. “Bishops should be above reproach, the husband of but one wife...” (I Tim.3:2) What is translated as “should be” here is the word “dei.” It is an impersonal verb meaning “must be, should be, it behooves…” It is a very strong word. In some situations it is has a slightly less absolute sense to it. It means “of the compulsion of what is fitting.”[79] Compulsion is a strong word that can mean “strongly urged.” So this verse can be translated, “It is proper/ fitting/ strongly urged/ necessary for bishops to be above reproach: the husband of one wife…” The “strongly urged” aspect of the word should not be taken lightly. But I think even in this case where a higher standard exists the phrase “strongly urged” provides room for flexibility.

Polygamy is no justification here

Polygamy is no justification to the issue of relating to two people at once. Polygamy literally means two marriages. The gay relationship in a bisexual situation is not marriage. For those who want to read the notion of two marriages more allegorically there is still more to consider. I agree with The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible when it says, “It is significant that the common Semitic name for “second wife” is (tsaw-raw), the root meaning of which is ‘show hostility toward,’ ‘vex’.”

Polygamy is not to be thought of as normative. While examples of polygamy exist in the scriptures, the citing is the scripture’s stark honesty about human behavior that gives it a place in the writ, not a claim that it is normative. Solomon had seven hundred wives and three-hundred concubines. Is anyone saying this is normative? Jesus referred to Genesis two as the only normative picture of marriage in the scriptures. All other pictures besides the law are descriptions not prescriptions.

The scriptures do acknowledge reality. Law existed about divorce because of hardness of heart, not to normalize divorce (Mark 10:1-9). Similarly, Deuteronomy 21:15-17 acknowledges polygamy not to normalize it but to protect people in the midst of the inherent pain and relational struggle. In a sense polygamy is divorce without termination. Just as divorce is always painful so also there are no unhurtful examples of polygamy in the scriptures. We shouldn’t use a convoluted picture to justify an even more convoluted situation.

The bottom line in all this is this: people are asked to control their urges all the time. If we ask some to do it we shouldn’t flinch and not ask others to do it. While it may leave us feeling sad, depressed, hopeless… whatever, these feelings do not negate the command.

A Few Thoughts Touching on Classical Ethical Positions

For those who have studied Ethics before, here are a few comments to help you make connections with what you’ve studied. Also, these remarks will help you make connections to my final image in the paper.

I am a Teleologist: most clearly seen in my treatment of Romans 10:4 “Jesus is the telos (end/goal) of the law. This plateau image I have painted helps me avoid the common teleological problem (“end justifies the means”) by requiring that the means also be on the plateau. But I believe that what I have written about, and painted an image of, would aid other ethical positions. It should aid Deontologists as they attend to the law that remains as absolutes. I believe what I have written would also help Situation Ethicists: I suggest a Neo-Situation Ethics where love is defined. Neo-Situation Ethicists would add the word “love” (a love with definition) to the words “good, right, and true” that I placed in the image of the plateau. Also, Character Ethicists should be helped as I have based my whole argument on the belief that God has personality and character and the law (which remains) finds its root precisely there.

God’s Character is the Basis of the entire Law

Some of the commands take more time to grasp how they are connected with God’s character. Nevertheless with some thinking it can be seen how Jesus is the goal (the telos) of the entire remaining law. I will move through the remaining eight commandments from easiest to understand to hardest.

7. “You shall not steal.” God did not steal us but bought us with his own precious blood. God is not a thief. Therefore, God tells us not to steal.

6. “You shall not commit adultery.” God is faithful. God is a covenant keeping God. Therefore, God calls us to be faithful and keep our covenant with our spouse: “…and I promise to be faithful to you until death parts us.”

9. & 10. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife... house... etc. God IS within Himself what he IS on the outside of himself as demonstrated by his actions. God keeps himself utterly pure within. Therefore, God tells us not to even lean towards sin on the inside even though it can’t be seen; he tells us not to covet.

1. “You shall have no other gods before me.” How is God’s character the basis of this command? Look at Jesus. Jesus stood before Satan in a weakened state after fasting 40 days. Satan said, “Bow down and I will give you all the kingdoms of the world.” Jesus refused and quoted the first commandment. Jesus had no other Gods. And even in his weakened state he was not going to fall for what he could see rather then going with what he could not see. Or, look at the Trinity as a whole. The Godhead has no other God. Jesus worshipped the Father and the Holy Spirit alone. The Father called Jesus God (Hebrews 1:8-9). And the Holy Spirit seeks to give the highest glory only to the Father and the Son. The Godhead has no other God.

How does this character then point us toward a goal? Because this is how God IS, God then asks us to be like him. Therefore, as those created in the image of God, we are told to have no other Gods - imaging God who has no other Gods.

2. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” The Godhead only speaks in the most reverent way of one another. The Godhead has the ultimate healthy self-esteem. Therefore, God tell us not to use the Lord’s name in vain, but instead speak of God and to God with the reverence he deserves.

4. “Honor your father and mother.” Jesus lived to honor his Heavenly Father. Even with equality in the Godhead, there is order. The Father is the head of the Son. Therefore, God tells us to honor our parents.

5. “You shall not kill (murder is a better translation.)” God takes no pleasure in the death of anyone. He works instead to bring life... “…that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life.” Therefore, God tells us to not murder.

As an aside

When the relationship of God and humans was figuratively represented as a marriage relationship it was not the sexual aspect of marriage that was referred to. As the church is spoken of as the bride of Christ (even though it is made up of males and females) so also God, as He is spoken of as the bridegroom, is beyond gender categories. This figurative language is shown to be just that, figurative, when Jesus said, “when the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” (Mark 12:25)]

A few more words about the Abolition of Law AND Jesus’ Character

Ephesians 2:14-15 says, “For He himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which IS the Law of commandments CONTAINED IN ORDINANCES, that He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace.”

“He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances . . . “ Eph. 2:15. The meaning of the English translation of this verse is less specific than the meaning found in the Greek text. Here is the sense of the verse when one accents the grammar of the Greek text.

He has abolished the law. [All the law? No, not all the law.] The part of the law, which is abolished, is defined by the commandments[80], and more specifically, the commandments located in the ordinances.[81] [82][1. A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament Dana and Mantey, The Macmillan company 1927 pp.72-76 (The Genitive of Description) (2) Ibid. pp. 83-87 (The Locative Dative of Sphere)]

The grammatical sense of the word “commandments” and “ordinances” lend definition and limitation to the connected noun (which in this case is “law”). Now, we may say to ourselves, “This doesn’t define which laws are abolished very well. What is meant by “commandments located in ordinances?” Ephesians doesn’t answer this question. All it does is make clear that he isn’t supporting “lawlessness.” In other words, not all of the law is abolished. But the commands contained in ordinances are abolished.

To know what portion of the law has been abolished, one needs to look at the New Testament as a whole. But we can say this. Humanity has a tendency to abstract the law from its true base. We have seen how the law has its true basis in God... in God’s character. But many use the law simply as a principle in itself: the atheist can learn civility from the law just as well as the Christian can. One does not need to believe in God to say that the Ten Commandments are their basis for behavior - minus the first commandment, of course. This “commandment,” the “commandment” simply found in “ordinances,” has been abolished. We are called instead to Christ: the “telos” of the law.

COLOSSIANS 2:14 has similar sentiment as Ephesians 2. “He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code (literally: handwriting)* in regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.” [Ibid. pp. 83-83 (*The Locative Dative of sphere: “Indicates a point within limits.)]

What has been canceled? The “handwriting of the written code,” simply found in “regulations,” and not-found-in-God-himself, has been canceled. Here Paul is talking about the same thing that he talks about in II Cor 3:1-18. The figure of speech, “The letter of the law” (that which is abstracted from God) is done away with. Instead, what remains is the spirit of the law. Or, to put it as I did before, we are called instead to Christ: the “telos” of the law.

Church Discipline

First of all let me say that it is one thing to say that there is sin and the church, sexual sin and otherwise. It is entirely a different thing to sanction sin in the church. When we have policy calling what the scriptures call sinful not to be sinful we have stepped into grave error. While homosexuality is one sin among others the policy questions at hand make it a different level of concern. To have active homosexual pastor’s is to officially sanction sin.

Secondly, when Bishops refuse to discipline overt unrepentant sin it strengthens the grip of sin. Our Bishops have an overseeing function when it comes to our creeds. They are to oversee not only the unity of the church (“one, holy, catholic, and apostolic”) but also oversee the holiness aspect of the church (“one, holy, catholic, and apostolic”). Our Bishops should not wait for human declarations (such as is found in Official Assemblies). Our Bishops should administer policy because it is based on the scriptures. It has been telling that the publicized discipline given thus far regarding churches that have desired active homosexual pastors has been based on human decisions regarding order in the church. They censured churches (a low level discipline) because churches called people who weren’t on their official lists. While order is important it does not take priority over the scriptures. We need to encourage our bishops to have the courage to deal with these important issues of “holiness.” If they won’t we need to vote them out of office or consider other options.

If the present recommendation (keep the present policy in tact but allow for violation of that policy) from the Sexuality Task Force is used as the final recommendation hopefully it will be defeated. If it isn’t defeated it will make it even harder to get our church to stop enabling behavior that isn’t beneficial to the actors.

Thirdly, the question whether we would ordain non-active gay and lesbian people is more complicated. The question to ask in this situation is where are they at in their posture towards the law? In other words, are they inwardly in rebellion against the law and therefore are only keeping it in an exterior way? Or are they struggling with their sin (as we all are) and therefore are well situated to aid the church of Christ in our many various kinds of temptation? I have no doubt that there are good pastors in the latter posture. I affirm them. It would be well for Bishops to set up support systems for them. The former group is sewing seeds of disaster. Lastly, we should have zero tolerance for confirmed abuse. Abusive pastors should be removed from ministry and then treated pastorally. Pray for wisdoms for our Bishops.


There is also a legal arena. I am particularly unqualified to speak to this arena. All I can do is not overlook that it is there. Questions of gays in the military, homosexual rights and the like fall in this area. They are complex issues. Also, questions of homosexual blessings and the recent Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling on a constitutional right for homosexual marriage intersect with this arena. My above treatment speaks clearly to these last two questions. We should not be a voice in favor of gay and lesbian blessings or marriage. Marriage should not be redefined. If our Supreme Court does not overrule this state decision than I am in favor of a constitutional amendment outlawing homosexual marriage.

We shouldn’t allow the complexity of legal issues to cloud our thinking. There certainly are legal questions concerning rights about work and housing. These should be dealt with individually in a just manner. And justice means legal protection from discrimination. But we shouldn’t think we can solve the whole problem merely by legalizing gay and lesbian marriage. This would be like two farmers quibbling about a boundary issue and the one farmer saying, “Shoot, there may be a very real quibble on my neighbor’s part, regarding that one section of land. So, I’ll just fix that problem by giving away my entire farm to my neighbor.” Encouraging gay and lesbian legal marriage to fix particular legal matters would be to “give away the farm.”

Are gays a new kind of minority? I think the answer is no. Behavior is almost always a complex blend of nature and nurture and personal mind, emotion and will factors. At any rate, it is far too early to suggest that science has a firm conclusion regarding “what (physically) is”. Psychology and sociology are notoriously even less firm then Biology. We should be careful lumping various kinds of rights together: if people are asking to have their alternative lifestyle declared okay we should speak against it. If people are seeking legal protection regarding discrimination, that is another matter. As far as church affiliations, (should our church affiliate with “Reconciled in Christ” and other like groups? The above moral discussion should play into the kind of official church affiliations we make. It makes no sense to link up with groups who have nice titles like “Reconciling in Christ,” and “Welcoming Synods” (who can be against such good things?) if the stated purpose of the groups run contrary to the law of God. If a group is merely encouraging loving pastoral care, that is another matter.

Positive Suggestions

Sexual expression in marriage is a joy and should be celebrated for the unity it brings (“The two shall become one flesh”); for the joy of the gift of children when they are given (“children are a blessing” Ps. 127:5); and for the joy of erotic love (Song of Solomon.) There is no room (ZERO) for sexual intercourse outside of marriage. It is reserved solely for the marriage bed. This is not to say romance is turned on only after the vow. I want my children to know about love, sex, and infatuation (Dr. Short gives a very helpful summary of this... in his book and video titled Love, Sex and Infatuation[83]). The movement from infatuation, to love to the mature love of marriage can be a joy-filled movement. The romance of infatuation is to be celebrated… though celebrated with wisdom. The restraint of the romance of infatuation should be Jesus’ declaration that “if you look at a woman or man to lust in your heart you have committed adultery already.” Romance, which does not lead into lustful thoughts, should be celebrated when willingly entered into by a male and a female. This response of lust in the heart will vary from person to person. Some people will kiss fully and hold another closely and it will be pure. Others may have difficulty even with this. Petting should be reserved for marriage. After all, they don’t call it “foreplay” for nothing. Pornography should be in no uncertain terms be avoided: it clearly goes against what Jesus talked about when he said, “anyone who sees a woman for the purpose of lusting after her has committed adultery in the heart.” It is sin. Masturbation needs to be talked about with parents. Males need to know that just as a girl menstruates on cycle, boys will ejaculate about every 10 days or so, either through wet dreams or masturbation. Wet dreams are normal, no lusting in the heart fantasies are consciously called upon, and thus – it seems to me – is not sin. Married people who are separated because of work or the military or some such reason should not be told they can not masturbate thinking about their spouse. Regarding unmarried people, is masturbation sin? I’m not sure. But here are some thoughts. If masturbation can be done without “looking at a woman (even in fantasy) for the purpose of lusting after her” then I think it may not be sin. In other words, is it possible to have an identity-less image in mind… or maybe something like a veiled image of an unknown future spouse? Or some other angle that does not violate Matt.5:28? If it is possible the same would be true for females. Pleasure is not sin.

The internal desiring passage of Matthew 5:28 needs a little more treatment. When a temptation flies into a head this is not what Jesus is talking about in this passage. The Greek grammar shows that when the “seeing” and the “desiring” are simultaneous it is sin. People need to know that at times “seeing” comes first bringing desire. This initial desire is not sin. Sin comes when we nurture the “seeing” (even internal imagining) and the “desiring” together. In other words, as Luther has been purported to say, “you can’t keep birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.” The last thing we want to do is set up a situation where false guilt takes over. Heaven knows there is enough real guilt without fueling false guilt into the mix. With all of this we are blessed to know we have a “merciful high priest who was tempted in all ways as we, yet without sin.” We have every reason to speak to our children openly and frankly and compassionately and teach them to go to him, as we ourselves are blessed to do. He will help us in our time of need.

Appendix Part I Summary

Journey Together Faithfully is long on positions from both sides of the issue and short on reasons to hold those positions. I think this is partly because “sound bite” responses are not very satisfying. But sometimes the lack of attempt to give reasons for holding a position against change makes it feel like there are few good reasons for holding that position. The following will be “sound bite” responses (and therefore not entirely satisfying) to questions and issues that come up over and over again. There are many full and good reasons not to allow the blessing of same sex unions or announce upfront we may be allowed to violate the policy of Vision and Expectations. The following are cursory answers meant to work against the feeling that reasons do not exist.

It is asked in various ways, “How can Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 be used as normative passages when we don’t use all of Leviticus normatively?

The answer is found in how the scriptures say law has changed. Why have laws changed? They have changed because Jesus is a high priest of a new order. (Heb.7:12) How do we know what law has changed? This is not just up for us to pick and choose. The scriptures themselves tell us what has been dropped. The scriptures tells us...

  1. Sacrificial laws (Hebrews 10:1),
  2. Food,
  3. Drink,
  4. Religious festivals/special days,
  5. Sabbath regulations (Col.2:16-17),
  6. Circumcision laws (Galatians 5:2-4),
  7. Priesthood laws
  8. Sanctuary laws (Hebrews 7:15/Hebrews 8;1-2,4-5),
  9. Tit for tat revenge (Matt.5:38-39),
  10. Various ceremonial washings (Heb. 9-10)

...and the general principle regarding strictly exterior regulations [this principle would include hybrid fields/two cloths in one garment/hair/minstrel laws and the like (Hebrews 9:10) have all been removed. We are constitutionally required to observe as normative all that remains (Lev. 18:22 and Lev. 20:13 are in the list of that which remains.)

Why, then, do we not condemn to death as Lev. 20:13 instructs us to do?

The gospel saves us all. If we followed condemnation laws the whole world would be dead because the whole world deserves death according to the law. (Lust in the heart is adultery and on-going anger is murder. Therefore, the whole world is guilty of adultery and murder. These are punishable by stoning, like Lev. 20:13.) Still the laws are in place. What are we to do? The gospel saves us all. We do not condemn to death and we are not personally condemned to death because Jesus was condemned to death in our place. (Is.53 & II Cor 5:14-15) Jesus led the way "neither do I condemn you” (to death). “Go, and sin no more." The Gospel literally saves us.

Is Leviticus talking about some other kind of homosexuality — for instance, male violence or temple prostitution?

Leviticus says "no" to action of all sorts: "you shall not lie (the verb is “shakab”) as one lies with a woman." Every way a man lies (“shakab”) with a woman is prohibited when directed toward the same sex. “Shakab” describes all kinds of sex: violence, prostitution, fornication, adultery, and even loving marital relations - for instance Solomon is conceived after David did “lie” with his, now, wife Bath Sheba. So this logical simile interpretation of Leviticus 18:22 speaks against narrowing down the meaning to just violence or temple prostitution.

Are there cultural examples of caring homosexual relationships that the ancient people would have been aware of to cause them to include caring homosexual relationships in the list of situations Leviticus 18:22 is forbidding? More specifically, was the ancient world aware of anything like what we describe today as "orientation" and loving committed relations of a comparable social standing?

The clear emerging historical record makes us answer “yes” to this question. While the majority of ancient homosexual experience would be described today as heterosexual action toward the same sex (violence/power/etc) there is a minority androphile relationship recognized and written about in Egypt, Babylon, Greece, and Rome. Babylon and Rome tried to explain it not in terms of DNA - like many do today, that of course is anachronistic - but nevertheless they used deterministic explanations such as astrology. Plato and Aristotle also tried to explain homosexual desire with a story from a myth that has obvious intersections with orientation. Homosexual marriage was allowed in Rome at the time of Paul and both historical record and the literature of Greece and Rome shows there were androphile relationships. Throughout the time the Hebrew Scriptures describe, when the scriptures might have been edited together, and later when those scriptures would have been thought about, influencing Paul, there are historical examples of androphile relationships.

If genetics have a major part, or even just a small part, in homosexual orientation then the question should legitimately be asked, “when do you think those genetics began to have an effect? It is only logical, according to the logic of most of those purporting the importance of genetically affected orientation, to assert this minority experience would have shown itself long ago because genetic trends do not simply appear overnight. At any rate, history demonstrates androphile relationships.

What causes homosexuality? An entirely genetic cause has not been scientifically established. Nevertheless, very few would claim that homosexuality is merely a simple act of volition. I believe it comes about because of a complicated dance of nature, a multi-faceted array of nurture and a multi-faceted array of internal shapers. Simple volition is not THE cause, however, because behavior always in some sense involves the volition individuals are responsible for their behavior.

What does the New Testament add to this picture?

Jesus’ silence about homosexuality shouldn’t be read as acceptance anymore than his silence about incest should be read as acceptance.

Paul is in step with Leviticus when he writes of homosexuality and only adds two points: he specifically says women are included in this (Romans 1) and he specifically included both the penetrated and the penetrater as being wrong. (I Cor. 6) (The I Cor. passage is in step with Leviticus but out of step with Roman culture, as Roman Culture only thought being penetrated was dishonorable.)

What about parallel change regarding eunuch laws and laws about homosexuality?

The novelty of “eunuch law change” between the torah and Isaiah 56 is exaggerated. This change is either an anticipation of change of law (similar to when David ate the bread of the presence when running from the enemy, an act that was unlawful, but would later be dropped by the 10+1 negations) or it is merely specifically speaking of the future change as demonstrated in the sanctuary law in the 10+1 negation. Which of the two kinds of change Isaiah 56 represents depends on whether eunuch sanctuary change ever occurred before the New Covenant. (I am unaware of the historical reality concerning this.)

What about changes regarding women’s ordination?

Women ordination is a reformation to the scriptures not a change

What about changes regarding cultural responses to divorce laws?

The adultery language of Jesus is a logical outcome of how he defines marriage: i.e. it is forever. Nevertheless, God can make all things new... with repentance and forgiveness divorce is not adultery forever. Furthermore, divorce and remarriage seems to be expected in the scriptures. When Jesus said you “cause a woman to become an adulteress if you divorce your wife” he was implying he expected remarriage, as it is not adultery to simply be divorced. This is not to say Jesus is encouraging sin. In a sense he is encouraging less sin, because to marry will be trading one form of adultery for another (Lust in the heart is also adultery.) In marriage, desire receives a legal home. On the other hand, God will not make the homosexual relationship a wonderful “new creation" anymore than he will make the act of stealing a "new creation" after forgiveness is given.

What about changes regarding slavery?

The American institution of slavery is condemned by the scriptures. But the scriptures define slavery so broadly that it doesn't abolish slavery in all its forms entirely: the scriptures say we become slaves when we borrow money. This broad sense of slavery is not removed: according to the scriptures all of capitalistic society is enslaving. It is a slavery most are comfortable with. But the abolitionists (my family history includes abolitionists) were right to fight against the American institution of slavery.

What is God’s part in human desire?

The mere existence of homosexual desire does not mean the desire is from God. Lust of any variety is to be held in check. Furthermore, bisexual people desire two directions. Therefore desire clearly exists that God did not intend to be followed as God does not allow two at once. (Polygamy is no answer here.) As we ask abstinence of widows and other single people we should also ask abstinence of GLBT people. But we should ask it with great compassion and humility.

Where is the love in holding to scriptural norms?

It is not unloving to state homosexual boundaries should be followed. I feel for those in their struggles. But love keeps God’s commands. (John 14:15, I John 5:2, II John 1:6) Furthermore, Paul says love “does not rejoice in what is wrong.” (wrong= “adikia” in Greek) Paul specifically puts homosexual action in the list of what is “adikia.” (Rom.1) Just as it is a contradiction in terms for a young man to say to his girl friend "I love you so much! Let’s move in." It is also a contradiction in terms to call homosexual erotic engagement "love." The "phileo" friendship in the relationship is love... the "agape"/selfless-giving in the friendship is "love." (I know of gay people who selflessly care for their friend in sickness.) But the sexual engagement is not love. Therefore it is not unloving to hold up the scriptural boundaries. It is love of the most real kind. We, as a church, must not become an enabling church as individuals sometimes enable various addictions. To become an official enabling church would be truly unloving. This is what we are in danger of becoming.


[1]Margaret L. Farnhaur and David Miller and Elizabeth Hunter, “What About Same Sex Unions?” The Lutheran, September 2000.

[2]Harold K. Moulton, ed., The Analytical Greek Lexicon Revised (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 1978), p.88

[3]Harold K. Moulton, ed, p.88

[4]Dallas Willard, In Search of Guidance (Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1993), p.65

[5]Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions (New York: Dell Publishing Co., Inc., 1954), pp 280-283.

[6]Farnhaur and Miller and Hunter, p.37

[7]Rev. Dr. Karen Bloomquist, dir. of study, “The Church and Human Sexuality: A Lutheran Perspective” – First Draft (Chicago: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Oct. 1993

[8]David K. Switzer, Pastoral Care of Gays, Lesbians, and Their Families (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999), p.48

[9]Colin Spencer, Homosexuality, A History (London: Fourth Estate, 1995), p.32

[10]David K. Switzer, Pastoral Care of Gays, Lesbians, and Their Families (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999), p.41

[11]Marilyn Bennett Alexander and James Preston, We Were Baptized Too, Claiming God’s Grace for Lesbians and Gays (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), p. XVII

[12]Switzer, p.49

[13]Wayne R. Dynes and Stephen Donaldson, ed., Homosexuality in the Ancient World (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1992), p. vii

[14]Dynes and Donaldson, p. ix

[15]John McCoy, “Evidence of Gay Relationships Exists as Early as 2400 B.C.” The Dallas Morning News, 20 July 1998

[16]Spencer, p.30

[17]Spencer, p.34

[18]Dynes and Donaldson, p. xv

[19]Dynes and Donaldson p. xiv-xv

[20]Dynes and Donaldson, p. xv

[21]John Boswell, Same-Sex Unions in the Premodern Europe () p. 65

[22]Williams, p. 255

[23]Boswell, p.69-70

[24]Boswell, p.71-72

[25]Boswell, p.78

[26]Boswell, p.80

[27]Williams, p. 245-252

[28]Boswell, p. 80-81

[29]William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson, and Robert C. Kolodny, Sex and Human Loving (Boston, Toronto: Little, Brown and Company, 1982), p.346

[30]Boswell, p.81-82

[31]John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1980), p. 108-109

[32]Williams, p.242

[33]Boswell, p.110-111

[24]Boswell, p.110

[35]Boswell, p.108

[36]Ernst Kasemann, Commentary on Romans (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 1980), p.40

[37]H. E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (Toronto: The Macmillan Company, 1955), p.186

[38]Boswell, p.92

[39]Boswell, p.93

[40]Boswell, p.100

[41]Boswell, p.100-101

[42]Boswell, p.102

[43]Boswell, p.109

[44]Margaret L. Farnham and David Miller and Elizabeth Hunter, “What About Same Sex Unions?” The Lutheran September 2000 p.37

[45]Farnham and Miller and Hunter, p.37

[46]Margaret L. Farnham and David Miller and Elizabeth Hunter, “What About Same Sex Unions?” The Lutheran September 2000 p.37

[47]Anastasia Toufexis, “Seeking the Roots of Violence” Time Magazine, 19 April 1993

[48]Amy Wong, “Were We Born This Way?, Double shots and the double helix… the latest discoveries from the scientific frontier of addiction” 12 Life In Recovery premiere Issue June 2002 p.44

[49]Paul Gray, “What Is Love?” Time Magazine, 15 February 1993

[50]Dave Uerich, “Sermon” Chicago, Lutheran Youth Encounter, 1990

[51]James M. Childs Jr., ed. Faithful Conversation, Christian Perspectives on Homosexuality (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003) James A. Nestingen, “The Lutheran Reformation and Homosexual Practice” pp.50-57

[52]Merton P. Strommen, The church & Homosexuality, Searching for a Middle Ground (Minneapolis: Kirk House Publishers, 2001), p.54

[53]Merton P. Strommen, p.54

[54]Einstein, p.280

[55]Bloomquist, p.8

[56]Bloomquist, p.10

[57]Walter Wangerin, Jr., As For Me and My House (Nashville: Thomas Nelson publishers, 1987) p.16-18

[58]Bloomquist, p.10

[59]Bloomquist, p.8

[60]Human Sexuality and the Christian Faith (Chicago: ELCA) p.13-15

[61]Petra Habiger, “Menstruation, Menstrual Hygiene and Woman’s Health in Ancient Egypt” 1998 p2

[62]Habiger, p.3

[63]Habiger, p.9

[64]Habiger, p.9

[65]Dynes and Donaldson, p. viii

[66]John Bright, A History of Israel 3rd. Ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1981) p.89

[67]Dynes and Donaldson, p. viii

[68]Spencer, p.29

[69]Spencer, p.30

[70]Dynes and Donaldson, p. xi

[71]Dynes and Donaldson, p. ix

[72]Dynes and Donaldson, p. xi

[73]Spencer, p.51

[74]Spencer, p.51

[75]Spencer, pp. 51-52

[76]Spencer, pp.49-50

[77]Francis M. Mondimore, The Natural History of Homosexuality ( John Hopkins University Press, 1996), p.12

[78]Paul Achtemeier, Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and preaching Romans (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1985) p.40-41

[79]Walter Bauer, ed. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2nd. Ed. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1979), p.172

[80]no link

[81]no link

[82]Dana and Mantey, p. 72-76

[83]Dr. Short Love, Sex and Infatuation