Sexuality and Biblical Hermeneutics

The next time someone begins a discussion of the Bible and homosexuality by asserting that it is a minor issue in Scripture, coming up in only seven disputed cases, refuse that starting point by insisting that it concerns every evocation of marriage or of human creation as male and female in the entirety of Scripture.

Seven prohibitive passages about homosexuality find their primary context within the grand biblical vision for marriage, covenant, fidelity, redemption, and celebration. The interpretive context for these passages is not a proposed socio-historical reconstruction of a particular place and time; rather it is the whole canon of Scripture.

Seven Passages

The abundance of recent evangelical books affirming both a high view of Scripture and monogamous, Christian homosexual unions share a common hermeneutical procedure that I wish to dispute.[1] In fact, their shared approach undermines their supposed high view of Scripture. These books begin by noting that only seven biblical passages refer to same-sex activity and then proceed to marginalize the relevance of these passages to contemporary, loving, monogamous same-sex relationships.

I want to challenge this hermeneutical procedure at its root. Christian sexual ethics proceed not from a handful of condemnatory statements but from the grand positive vision for human sexuality that spans the entire Bible. This debate concerns no mere seven passages but almost every book of the Bible. [For reference, the seven passages are Genesis 19:1-11; Leviticus 18:22; Leviticus 20:13; Judges 19:22-26; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:10.]

The Vision

When Jesus debated the Pharisees regarding the legitimacy of divorce in Mark 10:2-9, the Pharisees referenced the Mosaic regulation in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 that addressed the reality of failed marriages. Jesus, however, grounded his vision in the grand positive of God's creational purpose for human sexuality narrated in Genesis 1-2. In fact, Jesus combined the two creation narratives of Genesis 1 and 2, taking a verse from each to present a synthetic vision:

6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate. [citing Gen 1:27 in v. 6 and Gen 2:24 in v. 7]

The apostle Paul recognized this foundational vision for human sexuality and also cites Genesis 2:24 in Ephesians 5:31-32:

'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church.

Paul's citation underscores not only Jesus' reiteration of Genesis 1-2 but also demonstrates that the covenantal marriage relationship serves as God's created medium for expressing aspects of God's relationship with humanity. In Ephesians, it teaches us about Christ and the church. All of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, uses covenantal marital unity to express God's covenant love, faithfulness, forbearance, and forgiveness towards his people. Wedding celebration conveys the greatest of all human rejoicing and becomes a biblical metaphor for the consummation of redeemed creation and for joyful worship.

The Whole Bible

In other words, as with Paul in Ephesians 5:31-32, marriage is given by God not only for human companionship and procreation but also as a parable for God's desired intimacy with his people. The scriptural vision for human sexuality concerns no mere seven passages but a matrix of images and themes that involve almost every book of the Bible. Altering that God-given sacrament fundamentally alters God's inspired, authoritative revelation in Scripture. Those who confess a high view of Scripture have no authority to alter God's chosen means of self-revelation.

At this point, the revisionist view might argue that homosexual unions could equally reflect the same themes as heterosexual marriage. But here we must reckon with Jesus’ combination of both creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2, quoted above. He grounds the covenantal act of becoming one flesh (Genesis 2:24) in humanity’s creation as male and female (Gen 1:27), as does the “therefore” of Gen 2:24. That is, the biblical image of marriage is rooted in God’s creation of two sexes.

We do not have Scriptural warrant to rewrite that vision.

[1] Recent popular treatments include the following: Matthew Vines, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships (New York, New York: Convergent Books, 2014); David P. Gushee, Changing Our Mind, 2nd Edition. (Canton, MI: David Crumm Media, LLC, 2015); Ken Wilson, A Letter to My Congregation (Canton, MI: David Crumm Media, LLC, 2014.

About the Author
Senior Link Specialist

Bruce has served with InterVarsity in numerous roles for 29 years, most recently as Link staff in Belgium. He also serves on the Theological Council. His favorite thing about his work with InterVarsity is leading students and staff in Bible study, whatever country he happens to be in. When not studying the Bible, he loves bicycling and scuba diving. Bruce is married to JJ, and they have two daughters, one of whom is in college and thriving as an InterVarsity student leader.