NASHVILLE (BP) -- A new book arguing that Christianity is compatible with homosexuality represents a line of biblical interpretation that has only emerged in the last 60 years and conflicts with practically all Christian and Jewish teaching on homosexuality before the mid-20th century, a Southern Baptist ethicist is noting.
Pro-gay critique of Scripture is but a recent aberration, Southern Baptist ethicist Daniel Heimbach said in assessing Matthew Vines' "God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships," released yesterday (April 22) by Convergent Books.
Vines' book argues that the Bible does not forbid committed, monogamous, same-sex relationships. (For Baptist Press' story yesterday on the book, click here
"There is no textual basis for reinterpreting Bible passages that reveal God our Creator very clearly and directly declares homosexual desires and behavior to be immoral for everyone without exception," Heimbach, senior professor of Christian ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, told Baptist Press in written comments.
"There is no valid reason for doubting either the plain reading of the relevant biblical passages or for changing the long-held interpretation and moral teaching of both Jewish and Christian scholars for the entire history of the Bible until modern liberal scholars came along," he said.
From the earliest days of Christianity, followers of Jesus have taught that homosexual desires and behavior are both a sin, beginning with the New Testament authors in passages like Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6. Second-century church leaders Polycarp, Justin Martyr and Athenagoras likewise repudiated homosexuality as a perversion of God's will.
In the fourth century, the famous North African bishop Augustine of Hippo argued that homosexuality was not morally acceptable even though it was widely practiced. In the Middle Ages, Thomas Aquinas and others taught that homosexuality was a sin contrary to God's created order.
Reformer Martin Luther said homosexual acts "departed from the natural passion and longing of the male for the female, which is implanted into nature by God." John Calvin said same-sex lusts reversed "the whole course of nature." In England, the ministers who authored the Westminster Confession of Faith also wrote a catechism that condemned "sodomy" and "all unnatural lusts" as violations of the seventh commandment, which forbids adultery.
The first book that attempted to reinterpret the longstanding Christian consensus was Derrick Bailey's 1955 work "Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition," Heimbach said. Bailey argued, among other things, that Christians had long misunderstood the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19. The men at Lot's door were not demanding homosexual sex but merely wanted to get acquainted with Lot's angelic visitors, Bailey said.
"Bailey's reinterpretation was entirely premised on dismissing the divine origin of Scripture, the coherence of the biblical text and the inerrancy of the biblical text as originally recorded," Heimbach said.
Following Bailey, other books emerged reinterpreting the Bible's teaching on homosexuality. Among them:
-- "Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?" (1978) by Letha Scanzoni and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott;
-- "Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Sexuality" (1980) by John Boswell;
-- "The New Testament and Homosexuality: Contextual Background for Contemporary Debate" (1983) by Robin Scroggs; and
-- Dan Via's portion of "Homosexuality and Bible: Two Views" (2003).
Boswell became particularly influential, winning the American Book Award for history and becoming a staple in homosexual literature. However, the respected "Encyclopedia of Early Christianity" called his work "highly misleading."
Many of Boswell's arguments became standard talking points for pro-gay biblical scholars. He argued that:
-- Paul condemned homosexual practices in Romans 1 and elsewhere because they were associated with cults and temple prostitution, not because all homosexual acts are intrinsically wrong. The late Richard John Neuhaus, founder of the journal First Things, said in a response to Boswell, "It is true that Romans 1 is concerned with idolatry, but the plain meaning of the text is that homosexual acts are themselves an evidence of turning away from God and the natural order that he has ordained."
-- There are many instances of homosexuality in church history. Neuhaus responded that "Christian history is a multifarious affair, and it does not take much sniffing around to discover frequent instances of what is best described as hanky-panky." But "what Boswell's historical scavenger hunt does not produce is any evidence whatever that authoritative Christian teaching ever departed from the recognition that homosexual acts are morally wrong."
-- Paul denounced homosexual acts committed by heterosexual persons, not homosexual acts committed by people with a permanent preference for sex with those of the same gender. The apostle did not consider the possibility of "loving, committed, same-sex relationships." Vines picks up on this point, writing that people in the Bible did not have a modern, comprehensive notion of "sexual orientation."
Although speaking of "homosexuals" as a class of people was an innovation of the late 19th century, Boyce College professor Owen Strachan said Vines -- and by implication Boswell before him -- was wrong to suggest that Scripture contains no concept of humans having a propensity toward sinful behaviors.
"Homosexual behavior cannot be considered as an isolated act unrelated to moral concerns," Strachan, assistant professor of Christian theology and church history, wrote in "God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines" published by SBTS Press.
"The heart that willingly indulges in such behavior is thoroughly sinful. There can thus be no abstraction of practice, as Vines strains to prove. If it is wrong to get drunk, then it is wrong to be oriented (whatever this means precisely) toward drunkenness. If it is wrong to commit pedophilia, then it is wrong to be oriented toward pedophilic acts. If it is wrong for a husband to harm his wife physically, then it is wrong to be oriented toward doing so. There cannot be what Vines calls a 'loving expression' of these and any other sins."
Heimbach urged Christians not to believe revisionist interpretations of the Bible's passages on homosexuality -- even if they come from teachers who appear to be conservative evangelicals.
Homosexual revisionism "has no support in any church, denomination or school that holds to the inerrancy of Scripture, and is not legitimated by any biblical scholar or theologian who holds the same," Heimbach said. "It is taken seriously only among those who view contemporary cultural opinion as having more authority than the Word of God."
Embracing such scholarship casts suspicion on Vines' claim to be an inerrantist, Heimbach said.
Those who teach homosexual revisionism cause harm to society and are in danger of eternal judgment, he said.
They "are not Christians in the manner God defines it, which is the only way that counts in the end," Heimbach said. "Jude 13 says 'blackest darkness is reserved forever' for teachers who reinterpret God's moral order ... like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were doing prior to God's judgment."
David Roach is Baptist Press' chief national correspondent. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress
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