What Does the Bible Teach About Homosexuality
Owen Strachan and Gavin Peacock recently co-authored a trilogy of books offering their views on “what the Bible teaches about” lust, homosexuality, and “transgenderism.”
I’ve read and reviewed over 6 dozen books in the Bible and sexual orientation/gender identity genre. Though Strachan and Peacock rehash much of what’s typically presented from conservative-leaning sectors, their books are noteworthy in that their words are more caustic and direct than most. Insensitive or unaware of the effects of their ideology, they oddly suggest their book as hopeful to someone “reading this book and looking for help to overcome a homosexual lifestyle.” I simply cannot imagine this book as “hopeful.” Not only is the trilogy thinly academic, but it is also sub-par to the well-researched work being done in the progressive and LGBTQ-affirming communities.
For almost 20 years, I’ve been walking closely alongside LGBTQ people, and in particular Christians, and their families. I’m quite confident that LGBTQ Christians and their families have deeply examined the Scriptures within their lived experiences to discover “what the Bible teaches about” orientation and gender. For the most part, they have done far more in-depth study on this topic than the authors of this trilogy. So, no, these books are not hopeful. They are poison to the soul.
In the second book of the series, “What Does the Bible Teaches About Homosexuality?” (Christian Focus, 2020, UK) the authors resolutely assert:
“Homosexuality is sinful. This is true at every level: homosexual identity, homosexual thinking, homosexual desires, homosexual actions. There is no part of homosexuality that the Bible sanctifies and calls holy. There is no part of homosexuality that we can distinguish as good. There is no part of homosexuality that a Christian can embrace.”
They label homosexuality a “preference” (a dismissive and willfully ignorant term implying one’s sexual orientation is a choice), a “substitute sexuality,” a “pagan sexuality” of a new order which has “dynamited the design of God.” Homosexuality is “the sin most representative of the radical nature of our fall,” “the clearest expression of the depth of our perversity,” “opposite sex lust,” “a clear picture of self love,” a neo-paganism and anti-order structure in which “there is no biblical God; no divine design; no male or female; no script for sexuality, no God-designed family with a father, mother, and children; no need to protect and care for children at all; no Savior, Lord, or theistic end to the cosmos, and no judge of evil.” To be LGBTQ is to “reject God’s good plan for personal holiness.” Read that paragraph again and let it sink in. This is what Strachan and Peacock believe about LGBTQ people, even those who identify as Christian.
For this review, I’m just going to touch on the key elements of the framework upon which the authors construct their convictions: biblical inerrancy, homosexuality as a moral issue rather than as an orientation within the science of human sexuality, complementarity, and biblical anthropology.
Adhering to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, the authors assert the Bible speaks “with one voice about homosexuality.” (As a reminder, the Chicago Statement affirms the translation of Scriptures that we read “faithfully represent the original” “autographic text of Scripture.” It may surprise you to know that there are over two thousand versions of the Bible in over one thousand languages. Between translation teams and linguistic challenges, there is not full agreement between versions.)
One of the key verses the authors as an example of the unified negative voice on homosexuality is I Cor. 6: 9-10. Unsurprisingly, the translation they use the English Standard Version (2001, ESV). I’ve done extensive work on this verse investigating the original translation notes where available. In extensive comparison of translation, the ESV is the most sharply anti-LGBTQ. It is also the least accurate translation of the original texts. Faithfulness of translation is not just a language exercise, it is understanding the context of time and audience of the original text.
The ESV translation of I Cor. 6 excluded from heaven “men who practice homosexuality.” The footnote clarifies the point further as “two Greek terms translated by this phrase (men who practice homosexuality) to include passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts.” The authors use this translation and claim its inerrancy, but do the “original autographs” really instruct that homosexuals, even those in a consensual Christian marriage are on the list of the banned-from-heaven folks?
First, no one has the “original autographs” on I Corinthians. It should be an obvious point, but I have come across too many people who believe the word “homosexual” was in those original texts. We do however have the Codex Vaticanus from the 300s which use the two Greek terms “malakoi” and “arsenokoitai.” The use of these words is consistent up until the King James Version when they were translated into English as “the effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind.”
In KJV time and parlance, “malakoi” is best thought of as men who act like and have the ugly traits of a woman. (You know, like women are deceitful, lust-filled, excessive in actions, and lacking in self-control. Whew, thankfully, we’ve come a long way in our views about women!) Or, they take on the sex role of a woman as the one penetrated. “Arsenokoitai” is more complicated to accurately translate. No one knows exactly what the word means. From context and limited usage within the wider culture of the time, the meaning is likely close to a person who participates in abusive, excessive, lust-filled, or non-procreative sex with some kind of economic gain.
Another point that most people don’t realize is that no translation of any version of the Bible contained the word “homosexual” until the 1946 New Testament Revised Standard Version used it. When the RSV team did their translation work on Corinthians in the 1930s it had only been about fifty years since people began to investigate why some people (including what we eventually termed heterosexuals) had desires towards participating in sex that was not intent towards procreation. Another surprising fact from history, people never spent much time thinking about how people did sex. It was broken into two categories — it was either procreative and then, there was everything else. In the 18th century when Linnaeus created plant taxonomies based on how plants “had sex” that was a door slightly ajar to discussing how people had sex which would come a century later. Paul was not thinking about human sexuality eighteen centuries prior. Throughout most of history “normal” sex was intent toward procreation and dispassionate.
When medical doctors and scientists did start thinking about human sexuality, the theories were all over the place. Were such the non-procreative aberrations centered on body abnormalities or in the brain? Was the desire a crime, or maybe a mental illness therefore not a crime? By the 1930s, those studying human sexuality in scientific ways were far from unified in theories. One huge shift had happened though. Sex was becoming unhinged from procreation and sexual intimacy was seen as a human need.
This was the cultural, medical, and social backdrop to the RSV translation teams’ work. In doing their work, they looked at the original Greek and translations from the KJV (1611), the English Revised Version (1885), the American Standard Version (1901) (each was consistent with the KJV) and the Moffatt Bible (1913) (which used catamite and sodomite). The RSV team it seemed a modern translation of the verse might best be achieved by combining the two Greek words and rendering them as “homosexual.”
The understanding of homosexuality and who homosexuals are has radically shifted since the word was first coined over a century and a half ago. The study of human sexuality is a science that has expanded its understanding over that time span. Today we know homosexuality is a part of the normal spectrum of human sexuality. But, they certainly didn’t know that in the 1930s. When the RSV was published in 1946, I Cor. 6:9-10 had previously referred to people who lived a loose and free lifestyle of general debauchery or participated in any form of perverse, abusive, non-procreative sex. With the insertion of one word, the verse was no longer associated with an action, but now with a type of person—the homosexual.
Several Bible translations right up through the ESV used the RSV as the base text. Behind the scenes, the RSV team realized they’d made an error that could not, by mutual agreement with the publisher, be corrected until 1971. It was then corrected to “sexual perverts” in the RSV-r.
Extensive historical research informs that the ESV translation of I Cor. text, the key verse the authors say is inerrant and nails the coffin shut on the issue of homosexuality as sin, is a sloppy, non-academic, and severely biased translation.
I had to chuckle when I read “You may not get a PhD in Greek, but here’s what you should know: Paul condemns homosexuality in the broadest terms.” Such bloviated arrogance. Here’s what you should know: Paul is condemning self-centered, lust-filled, abusive, non-procreative sex. Oops, some good heterosexual Christians might be in holy trouble with a more accurate translation.
It certainly appears that the claim to adhere to biblical inerrancy in this book has been “dynamited” for the sake of bias. The authors take the heaven ticket away from more than just those who participate in “homosexual acts” and “homosexual sexual activity,” they believe it is also sinful to experience same-sex desires. Even “effeminate” behavior for a man or “manly” behavior in a woman will be enough to banish one from heaven. They offer the “chilling warning” that “wearing make-up, carrying themselves in a womanly way, and speaking with a nasally high-pitched voice” results in a ticket to hell. “Just look around any shopping mall at many serving positions in the women’s department in those malls.” A woman with “manly womanliness” is equally condemned. A woman operating in biblical womanhood should have a “gentle and quiet spirit.”
The rules they created were birthed of poor translations and are suffocating.
Second framework error: the authors view homosexuality as a moral issue rather than understanding it through the lens of the science of human sexuality.
This was partially addressed above. Along with other scientific fields including modern medicine, the study of human sexuality began to unfold as mentioned in the late 19th century. I’ve written extensively about this elsewhere and in my first book. While we embrace advancements in medicine, there are still some, including these authors, who do not acknowledge or respect advancements made in understanding of human sexuality. We like advancements in medical science because they serve us, yet some resist advancement in the science of human sexuality because that threatens the structures (patriarchy and gender hierarchy) some use to stay in power, to control people, and fence others out of both civil rights and equality before God.
A homosexual orientation is not a moral category; it is a category on the normal spectrum of the science of human sexuality. What each of us does with our sexuality and how we choose to use it, whether for loving purposes and relational glue, or in actions which are self-centered, or in abuse of others, is a moral category—one to which the Bible does speak.
The next framework upon which the authors construct an ideology to tell us “what the Bible teaches about homosexuality” is complementarity.
Both authors have leadership ties to The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) founded in 1987. CBMW jointly sponsored a gathering of evangelical and Southern Baptist leaders focused on the need to stop the spread of feminism from the culture into the church which began in the 1970s. Feminism was on the rise and so was “biblical feminism.” Women wanted to teach, lead, and preach. In response, the assembled group drew up the Danvers Statement to affirm “distinctions in masculine and feminine roles ordained by God as part of the created order, and should find echo in every heart.” In the same year that my oldest child was born, this document conveniently took its place as part of “timeless” Christian tradition and biblical doctrine.
Socially and culturally, the time was ripe to challenge patriarchy and gender hierarchy in the US. This scared the leaders of conservative denominations. Transparently discussing keeping patriarchy and gender hierarchy cemented in place would have created significant negative attention amid newly found freedoms for women. Instead, the power and control structures were maintained but softened in appearance with a new more gentle word—“complementarity”—the two genders working together in the church and home with the man as the head was God’s plan for all time.
In the early 1990s, it was becoming apparent that gay people wanted the protections of legal marriage for their relationships, their families, their assets, in making health care choices for their partner, and even burial arrangements amid the AIDS pandemic. Two people of the same sex in a marriage would disrupt the man as the head and woman as submissive model.
The Danvers Statement needed an update and clarification. Marriage partners needed to have different anatomical sexual parts. But God wasn’t done clarifying His stance on men, women, their roles, marriage, and heaven tickets yet. Over the next 25 years, transgender people would seek to be treated with human dignity, have access to civil rights, and even find a place of acceptance within Christianity. The 2017 Nashville Statement was created to affirm God’s guidelines for biblical manhood and biblical womanhood while clarifying who can get married, and what anatomy they needed.
The authors further enshrine the need for complementarity in marriage in this book. They divide complementarity into subcategories of complementary unity (the creation order dictates that man is the leader over a woman), polarity (penis inserted into vagina is the only God-ordained way body parts fit together sexually), reciprocity (the requirements to be a “biblical” man or a “biblical” woman), interest (the only right sexual desire is a desire for the opposite sex within a man-woman marriage, everything else is lust), and desire for marriage (“it is right and holy to desire marriage”). Unsurprisingly, every one of these additional subcategories of compliance from God disallows Christian same-sex marriage. (Good luck trying to find these “timeless” marriage requirements which were created since 1987 in the Bible.)
The final framework on which the book is constructed is biblical anthropology.
The authors believe that God “invented” marriage, therefore, they, as experts on biblical manhood, biblical womanhood, and marriage, can interpret God’s intentions and apply their version of His marriage rules for all time and all people.
As with the other foundational “truths,” this premise is highly problematic.
I tried to contact Peacock to ask two simple questions about his understanding of when the Creation story took place and when the account of it may have been written. He blocked me and has not responded to an email, so I’ll make some assumptions about standard conservative timeframes and place them within a respected and researched historical and anthropological framework.
About 12K years ago, during the Agricultural Revolution, people began to join together in groups of bands and tribes. To ensure men retained their property, knew who their children were, and protected their family units from rivals, marriage-like unions were formed. Populations grew and there were likely around 5 million people living under such arrangements about 8K years ago.
The first evidence of a marriage contract originated in Mesopotamia, modern-day Turkey, and was written on a tablet dating back about 4,300 years. The Creation Story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is time and place where the many traditional Christians (the authors included I assume; this is where a response to my questions from Peacock would have been helpful) believe that God “invented” marriage. This is assumed to have taken place about 4K years ago.
Five hundred years later, after Abraham left his birthplace to set out to a new land where he would lead what would be the beginning of the nation of Israel, the Creation Story is recorded in the Book of Genesis.
Over the next one thousand years, the nation of Israel was polytheistic. It was during their Babylonian captivity that the Hebrews became monotheistic and began to follow one God, the same God we Christians know as God.
Polygamous marriages took place among the Hebrews/Jews until almost the year 1000 AD.
Additionally, we know 1st-century Christian church leaders were instructed to be a husband to one wife. Augustine was still writing about Christian polygamy in the 4th century. Christian monogamy started to become the norm between the 6th-9th centuries, and Martin Luther finally condemned polygamy in the 1500s. Marriage became a religious sacrament in the Roman Catholic Church in the 12th century.
The institution of marriage has changed over time, but never as much as it has in the most recent century and a half. For the overwhelming bulk of history, marriage was an arrangement of economics and politics and an institution in which to procreate heirs. Of course, romantic love was sometimes involved, but marriage was fundamentally not about love. In the 19th century, marriage for love, companionate marriage, became the expected and the norm.
Marriage and dating traditions radically shifted as economics changed the social structure at the turn of the 20th century. Same-sex marriage was made legal in the U.S. in 2015.
Still, the authors assert their team owns marriage and the rules. They claim same-sex marriage is a “devastating dismantling of marriage” that rejects God and His design, “reinvents gender and marriage” where there is “no male or female, no script for sexuality, no God-designed family a mother, father and children, no need to protect and care for children at all, no Savior, Lord, or theistic end to the cosmos, and no judge of evil.” They believe that LGBTQ people who adopt children show them an “anti-biblical, anti-traditional view of family.”
I recently listened to a church presentation given online by Strachan. He encouraged Christians to put ideology and theology to a legitimacy test. Truth, he said, must take the lead over the heart and feelings. He encouraged believers to study history, to use sound resources, to think, to resist lazy thinking, and to seek God’s wisdom with our heart, soul, mind, and strength. (Mark 12:30)
I fully agree.
Seeking the Bible for wisdom in concert with studying history and science while holding dear the treatment, relationships, and respect for people right in front of us, living alongside us, will make us better witnesses to our faith.
I devoted a significant portion of time this week in reading and reviewing these books in consideration of my friend Devin. Devin came out at 18 and ended his life at 58. There was deep sorrow underpinning his life. Sorrow birthed in the constant rejection of who he was by his conservative Christian family. For the past four decades, they told him that he lived his life out of the will of God. Their theology was deadly and they were wrong. Devin was a man of God. He prayed, he served, he gave, he sacrificed for others.
His family was poisoned in their hearts, souls, and minds by books like this.
[Final point to the publisher. Two of the books in this series are poorly bound. Pages are coming out of them.]