Friday, August 3, 2012

What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality: A Brief Reply to Daniel A. Helminiak

Helminiak's words will be in blue.

There's been a lot of buzz lately about the Bible's supposed "anti" or "pro" homosexual teachings.  To be clear, the Bible never condemns anyone for having a homosexual disposition or being homosexual.  Rather, the claim has traditionally been that homosexual acts are sinful.  Many times we're asked, "why do Christians so often bash homosexuality?  Isn't it just one sin among many?"  In a word, yes.  Homosexual behavior, at any rate, is one sin among many.  Some, such as rape and murder, are undoubtedly worse, regardless of how conservative on the issue you may be.  Homosexual acts are, for the most part, consensual.  However, the reason homosexuality appears to be the topic of debate so often is because nobody is trying to justify (albeit worse) actions, such as rape and murder.  If they were, then Christians (and not just Christians) would be up in arms about that, too.

I've argued in other venues that the Bible's condemnation of homosexuality is not capricious.  Rather, it is justified on the grounds that there are correlations between homosexual behavior and mental illness, drug abuse, and other unhealthy conditions.  (See: J.M. Bailey, Commentary: Homosexuality and Mental Illness. Arch. Gen. Psychiatry 56, pp. 876-880, 1999.)  With that said, I'm not going to address this issue any further in this post.  I've said on numerous occasions that we can love people without necessarily approving of their behavior.  Think of drug addiction or obesity as examples.  These are unhealthy lifestyles, but surely no reasonable person thinks we hate drug addicted or obese people.  It's the same with those who engage in homosexual acts.

Now that I've added that disclaimer, here's what I'm really getting at in this post: Daniel A. Helminiak is the author of What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality.  He's also the author of an article with the same name.  I want to focus exclusively on Helminiak's interpretation of Romans 1:26-27: "Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual 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 shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error."

Helminiak comments:

Paul used two other words to describe male-male sex: dishonorable (1:24, 26) and unseemly (1:27). But for Paul, neither carried ethical weight. In 2 Corinthians 6:8 and 11:21, Paul says that even he was held in dishonor — for preaching Christ. Clearly, these words merely indicate social disrepute, not truly unethical behavior.

However, when one looks up 2 Cor. 6:8 and 11:21, we find that Paul's words certainly do carry ethical weight.  In the context of 6:8, we find Paul discussing the various hardships of the Christian witness.  In verses 7-8, Paul explains: "in truthful speech, in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness at the right and at the left; through glory and dishonor, insult and praise.  We are treated as deceivers and yet are truthful."

The reason for the dishonor is due to the alleged Christian deception.  Deception, being contrary to the righteousness of verse 7, is rightly condemned.  It's just that Paul claims to be innocent of these charges.  In Romans 1:26-27, those engaging in homosexual behavior are not being falsely accused.  Hence, Helminiak's exegesis breaks down immediately.

As for 11:21, Paul writes: "To my shame I say that we were too weak.  But what anyone dares to boast of (I am speaking in foolishness) I also dare."

In this instance, Paul is writing ironically and then goes on to refute the charges of weakness.  How Helminiak thinks this verse supports his case is a mystery.  Besides, Paul is writing in the context of 11:13, where he denounces "false apostles" and "deceitful workers."  These terms most certainly carry ethical implications.

In any case, the notion of "shame" and "dishonor" almost always carries ethical weight throughout the Bible, and in Paul's writings in particular.  In Romans 6:21, he writes: "But what profit did you get then from the things of which you are now ashamed?  For the end of those things is death."

In this context, "death" refers to a spiritual death (Romans 6:23) that results from sin: "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Fortunately for all of us, we are given a means of reconciliation to God, which Paul explains in the same sentence above.

I'm not writing this post to say that homosexual behavior is wrong, the appearance of what I've written notwithstanding.  Rather, my point is to show that recent attempts to reconcile homosexual behavior with Biblical precepts are misguided.


  1. To be clear, the Bible never condemns anyone for having a homosexual disposition or being homosexual. Rather, the claim has traditionally been that homosexual acts are sinful.

    Man, this, this, a thousand times this. I never tire of correcting people on this particular point, whenever the whole "the bible condemns gay people" schtick shows up, since a tremendous amount of ... condemnation-currency, for lack of a better word, is traded on the idea that the Christian/Catholic position is "If you have same-sex attraction, you're burning in hell automatically for that, you monster."

    Great, informative post.

  2. Thanks, Crude. All we can do is keep repeating the same points whenever the same objections are raised. While I don't expect some to change their minds, we may have a positive influence on those who are on the fence.