QUESTION: If the Bible is indeed the inspired Word of God, and God is all-knowing, when the Holy Spirit transmitted God’s thoughts to Paul, his writings must have included awareness of sexual orientation, those who are homosexual and those who identify as transgender.
First, thank you for asking this question. It seems to come up quite a bit so I appreciate the opportunity to address it.
There’s a few ways to approach a response and I’ll come at that from differing angles.
Let’s think about the “rules” of Bible study. Hermeneutics is a science of interpreting what a biblical author has written. Exegesis is the act of interpreting Scripture as well as rightly discerning the meaning of passages. Though the latter term is often interchanged with hermeneutics, there are rules by which it is done.
It is essential to apply sound principles of interpretation to Scripture. As we read passages, keep these considerations in mind: Who is the author? Who is the audience? What is the cultural or historical context? What was the original intended meaning of the passage? What did the specific words used mean at the time of the writing?
It is not appropriate to reach back into history and assign unintended meaning onto ancient passages. In other words, a text cannot mean what it never could have meant at the time it was written. Adhering to good biblical practices is useful in all study, not just when it works to support our beliefs.
When I do an overview of the verses, I do not ignore or side step any of the six passages (though in the video, I do not spend time on Genesis but you can find that HERE). I acknowledge that in each circumstance, the view of same-sex behavior IS negative. So, we need to follow the rules and ask the above questions. Could Paul or his audience in the culture and time of first century Rome have understood that there were people (who would one day be able to experience and live out a natural part of their sexuality in equal status, monogamous, committed same-sex relationships) who would fall on the spectrum of human sexuality into the homosexual range? Was same-sex behavior loving, mutual and equal at the time of Paul’s writing? No, it was always found in situations of unequal power or with an age differential and always involved one male playing the role of the male and the other playing the role of the female in sex.
In context, what is Paul referring to in any of his letters? All three references fall into the category of: lust, excess, or sexually using another person for one’s own desires. In that culture, those were the motivators of same-sex behavior. Paul warns his readers that anyone (whether Jew or Gentile), any one who tries to live their live without the input and influence of the model of Jesus or the guidance of the Holy Spirit will fail to reach the level of righteousness required by a holy God. In other words, we all need a Savior. What Paul writes about are those who are falling into sexual lust, excess and abuse of another person. This is clearly not what loving, committed same-sex relationships are today. (Heterosexuals and homosexuals alike can use others sexually, but we are examining like-for-like here with loving and committed relationships.)
Lastly, the rules tell us to look at the meaning of words at the time of the writing. I think this was well covered in the video, but HERE is a quick refresher if you need it. 🙂 The two Greek words have no connection to the lives of same-sex couples today in loving and committed relationships.
Yet, another tact of reasoning is to think about God’s communication to the authors through the Spirit. Of course God has always known about His own design for human sexuality. If He had told Paul “Hey Paul, one day in the future, woman will not be looked down on as possessions or far-less than men. Their roles and status will not be something to be dismissed. Some day, people will be able to express love to who ever they love. Remember I said it is not good to be alone. I meant it for all My children.” At the time of writing, same-sex behavior had some form of excess, lust or abuse. Paul and those in his culture would not have understood any other way to see it.
I absolutely adhere to the Bible as the inspired Word of God. I can take these six passages, read them in context, and understand the message to me is: do not sexually use people, operate in moderate behaviors, and the more I allow the Spirit to control my life, the less excesses and lust in all kinds of issues will exist in my life.
Another way to answer your questions more simply is — what was seen as same-sex behavior in the first century, or before the middle of the 19th century as I showed in the video, is NOT what we know of the lives of same-sex couples today in loving and committed relationships. Culturally, people who had such natural attractions would not have openly acted on them; the social stigma was too great. We had no understanding that one male in a same-sex transaction was not taking the role of the female, but following an natural internal attraction. Remember, you cannot divorce the historic social and sexual roles of men and women in a discussion of human sexuality. Context. Context. Context.
Everything I write/say about the historic understanding of those who are gay, is true for those who are transgender. Except, even more so. I did not have time to do a section on sex, gender and orientation in the overview, but here is a free audio of the full chapter on the topics in my book Walking the Bridgeless Canyon. Our modern understanding of those who are transgender just began in the 1950s. Scientists tell us we will not understand brain sex for about another 40-50 years. Until then, perhaps we can listen to those who are transgender and learn from what they are experiencing since those of us who are not transgender do not know what it feels like to have a body sex and brain sex not line up.
I hope this helps you get some clarity. It will take time to think about the big picture of the understanding on human sexuality and then go back and deal with what you were SO SURE you knew as truth. I know it took me time.