Tag Archives: desire

Was Jesus Okay With Homosexuality? (1 of 6)

I have never discussed homosexuality on this blog.1 I’ve decided it’s time to change this. So, after some reading and conversations to prepare, I’ve drafted a six-part blog series on Jesus and homosexuality:

  1. Introduction, Explanations, and a Summary of this Series
  2. How Should We Interpret Jesus’ Silence About Homosexuality?
  3. Does “Love Your Neighbor” Mean Jesus Affirmed “Gay Love”?
  4. Why It’s Wrong to Say Jesus Said Nothing About Homosexuality
  5. Historical Conclusions: Was Jesus Okay With Homosexuality?
  6. Conclusions for Today: Is Jesus Okay With Homosexuality Now?

Since this is a difficult topic, please bear with me as I share a long preamble in this post. It doesn’t really matter what I believe; what matters is what Jesus believes. Yet perhaps if I explain myself a little first, I can clear the ground for discussing what really matters. However, if you want to jump ahead to my condensed answer to the blog title, go here.

There are many reasons not to write about homosexuality. The topic is a linguistic and political minefield, full of labels and terminology that are constantly evolving in meaning and “correctness.” It’s intrinsically complex, involving questions such as causation (nature vs. nurture, etc.), public policy, and church discipleship. And it’s a sure way to win some enemies—while also winning friends whose responses you can’t always fully endorse.

I’ve also heard it suggested that this is a topic best left for private conversations—face-to-face interactions with people whose trust you have already earned through friendship. I agree that those kinds of interactions offer possibilities that mere blogging does not.

My greatest fear in sharing this series is that my “medicine,” though urgently needed by some readers, will prove to be a painful “overdose” for others—readers who are already convinced of the truth of what I share, and who need help knowing how to live with these truths. If that describes you, please forgive me for not being able to give personalized “medical care” according to each reader’s need. I hope you can still sense love in my words.

Why I Am Writing

Despite these reservations, I’ve noticed something that has convinced me it is time to write. I’ve noticed that many who are promoting homosexual behaviors do not have a similar reluctance about expressing their views in public. I’m noticing that both social media and traditional media are filled with statements justifying and celebrating homosexuality. The closet has long been abandoned for the megaphone. In fact, most North Americans probably hear far more public comments promoting homosexual behaviors than questioning them. I know I do.

When one hears a new idea often enough, it often becomes easy to believe, especially if it is simply and winsomely defended while opposing views are ignored or caricatured. As the years pass, I’m seeing more and more friends and acquaintances abandon what they once believed about homosexuality. Some are now practicing homosexuals. Others are celebrating their choices.

For many people today, contrary to the experience of most people throughout most of history, it now appears much more logical and loving to approve of homosexual relationships than to disapprove of them. In our culture, at least temporarily, the arguments in favor of homosexuality appear to be winning the day.

I know a few blog posts are unlikely to make much difference, and I feel poorly equipped for the task. But “somebody needs to do it,” so I’ll try.

An image I found online. I added the “Really?” What would Jesus do? The original image implied Jesus would affirm homosexuality. My addition calls that into question.

What I Am Writing About

To keep my job easier, I’ll narrow my focus. Narrowing my focus is essential unless I want to write a book, but it also brings dangers. Having a narrow focus means I’ll pass over many crucial pastoral questions that deserve clear and compassionate thought:

  • “I think I’m gay. What should I do about it?”
  • “My friend is LGBTQ+. How should I relate to them?”
  • Is “gay Christian” a helpful label? What about the terms “homosexual” and “heterosexual”? (I am using the former in this blog series as a catch-all term to describe all forms of LGBTQ+ behavior, not because I unquestioningly accept the paradigm, but in order to avoid verbal mouthfuls.)
  • How can we support those who experience persistent desires they did not choose, and which they have repeatedly and unsuccessfully asked God to remove?
  • Is it possible to change one’s sexual orientation, or good to try?
  • How, if at all, should Christians try to shape social policy about sexuality and gender identity?
  • How can we love someone well while disagreeing with them about something as fundamental as sexual morality?
  • And many more…

I will also fail to meaningfully discuss several crucial questions of Bible interpretation, such as:

  • How should Christians interpret and apply the Old Testament, including its commands against homosexuality?
  • What did Paul mean by the specific words he used in the passages where he mentions same-sex behavior?

Please hear me: By skipping such questions, I do not at all mean to imply that they are unimportant. Rather, I mean to focus my energy where I feel best equipped to contribute. (For one helpful post addressing some pastoral questions, with links to more resources, read “The Powerful Witness of Same-Sex Attracted Christians” by Emily Hallock.)

My goal in these blog posts is to examine a single question, one that is more foundational than most listed above: Was Jesus okay with homosexuality?

I am intentionally phrasing the question in past tense, because I intend to focus on historical evidence, considering what Jesus of Nazareth—the person who lived in the first century, rather than the Jesus of today—actually believed. I am not making this distinction because I believe that those are two different Jesuses. However, I want us to push past our fuzzy feelings about Jesus today to consider actual historical evidence.

It is easy to say “I think Jesus believes X” if we pull him and one or two of his sayings (or his silence) out of his first century context into our own. But if we consider his actual historical context our possibilities are more constrained.

In considering Jesus’ historical context, I will use both the Bible and other ancient writings, treating them essentially alike as historical documents. (The Bible is more than a collection of historical documents, but it is certainly not less.) I will address some theological questions along the way and especially in my final post, “Conclusions for Today: Is Jesus Okay With Homosexuality Now?” But my goal is to focus on historical evidence and, where I make theological deductions and pastoral applications, to keep them tied closely to that historical evidence.

Who I Am Writing for and
What I Hope to Accomplish

I am aiming for a specific audience as I write. As my blog purpose statement says, “This website exists to build up the Church of Jesus Christ by helping her listen carefully to the Scriptures.” This means I am writing primarily to people who identify as Christians. For such readers, I am aiming to shore up your biblical beliefs about homosexuality or, if you have already lost them, to invite you to reconsider the evidence. I also have my children in mind, hoping they will read this or similar material someday. Other readers are welcome to listen in, but please realize I will not be trying to answer your questions.

Please hear me: I am certainly not writing to attack my homosexual friends. You probably did not choose your desires any more than I chose mine. I’ve heard too many stories of people becoming aware of homosexual desires from childhood to believe that all such desire can be explained by personal choice or by external factors such as abuse. I ache for the many who desperately long to escape homosexual desires, but with no success. I ache for those who turn to the church for compassion and support but find only rejection and ridicule.

Please hear me also in this: I do not believe that the mere experience of homosexual desire makes us guilty before God. I say that even though I believe that such desires are disordered or, to use a more ancient term, “contrary to nature” and God’s initial good creation design. I believe we all live in a broken world and that we experience its brokenness in unpredictable and seemingly unfair ways. Some of us are disordered in other ways, leaving us more prone to things such as anger, anxiety, depression, or experiencing deception. I do not believe we are guilty merely for possessing such tendencies any more than I am guilty for having been born with a susceptibility to the shoulder injury I experienced. Rather, we are accountable for whether we feed and act on our disordered desires, or whether we submit them to God.

And even then, whatever your own life choices, one of my life mantras applies to you as surely as to me: “We all need more love than we deserve.” I desire to offer you dignity and love, even (especially) when we disagree. After all, disagreement, too, is a form of love, for “only what is true can ultimately be pastoral.”2

When my title asks “Was Jesus okay with homosexuality?” I am primarily asking about behaviors, not desires. I do believe Jesus held beliefs about homosexual desire similar to what I sketched above—that the experience of mere desire (weakness/hunger/temptation)3 is neither intrinsically sinful nor something to be celebrated as being in line with God’s original good creation design. Yet I also believe that God places people with many varied weaknesses in Christ’s church and intends to use such realities for good. My title, therefore, refers primarily to the question of whether Jesus affirmed homosexual behaviors.

My main goal in writing these posts is to convince readers that agreeing with the historical Jesus and affirming homosexual behavior are not compatible.

I believe it is intellectually inconsistent and also disastrous to the church of Jesus to try to combine the two. If you want to affirm homosexual behavior and yet remain “Christian,” then the onus is on you to do some theological footwork to explain why you can believe differently than the historical Jesus and still remain “Christian.” Most Christians by far disagree with you, and so do most secular gay scholars. I think you need to choose between the two, and I sincerely hope you choose Jesus.

Enough about me. Now that I’ve told you where I’m going, let’s jump right in.

A Summary of What I Plan to Say

Here is the sort of argument we sometimes hear from those seeking to undermine Christian opposition to homosexual behavior. It is simple, and it is attractive:

  1. Jesus never mentioned homosexuality, much less spoke against it.
  2. He said love is the greatest commandment.
  3. He befriended social outcasts, including those who were called “sinners” by the religious elites.
  4. Therefore, he was (and is) okay with loving homosexual relationships.

The first three points are, on face value, all true. But what do they mean? Does 4 logically flow from 1, 2, and 3?

These three points need to be read in light of their historical and literary contexts or else they will be misunderstood. All three, or at least the first two, are true only with asterisks. And even if we accept them at face value, point 4 is not proven by points 1, 2, and 3.

Here is a summary of my response to such thinking:

  1. All known Jewish teachers for about 2000 years who addressed homosexual behavior agreed that it is very sinful, so Jesus had no more reason to address the topic than to address a topic like bestiality. If he, as a Jewish rabbi, had disagreed with this consensus, he would have been immediately rejected. His silence on the topic would have been assumed to be agreement—and should be assumed so by us, unless there is very strong evidence to the contrary.
  2. Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself” was a quote from the Old Testament book that also contains its strongest teachings against homosexual activity. Ancient Jews and Christians saw no conflict between promoting love and opposing homosexual behavior. Jesus taught that loving God is the “most important” commandment and that loving your neighbor is “second” to loving God. Thus loving your neighbor, according to Jesus, involves treating your neighbor in a way that pleases God. Jesus’ teachings on love do not indicate he was okay with homosexual activity.
  3. Though Jesus was a friend of sinners, he called them to repent. He also affirmed and even strengthened core Jewish sexual ethics. He spoke against sexual immorality using language that was normally understood by ancient Jews to include homosexual behavior, and his followers spoke explicitly against homosexual activity.
  4. Therefore, no churches anywhere until a few in the past few decades have ever taught that Jesus was (and is) okay with homosexual relationships.

My responses are not as pithy and memorable as the arguments they oppose. Truth involves complexity. But I have tried to summarize these key points briefly, since short arguments are more easily remembered and remembered arguments are more convincing.

Really, it is startling to even have to make these arguments. The historical evidence about what Jesus believed about homosexuality is so overwhelming that it wasn’t seriously questioned by any church denomination until the early 1970s—about the time I was born.

But if my responses here are too brief for you, fear not. I plan to discuss these points and more in the next blog posts, providing historical evidence for my claims.

Meanwhile, thanks for reading. Please comment if you wish, but thank you for understanding that I have limited time for follow-up discussions. I am already investing most of the time I have available in writing these blog posts. Have a blessed week!

If you want to support more writing like this, please leave a gift:

  1. I mentioned the topic briefly twice in book reviews.
  2. Roman Catholic Church, “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons” accessed August 4, 2019, http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19861001_homosexual-persons_en.html. Here is the context for that statement: “We wish to make it clear that departure from the Church’s teaching, or silence about it, in an effort to provide pastoral care is neither caring nor pastoral. Only what is true can ultimately be pastoral. The neglect of the Church’s position prevents homosexual men and women from receiving the care they need and deserve.” I am not Roman Catholic, so would want to replace the allusions to the Roman Catholic Church with references to Jesus’ church and the Scriptures. Apart from this, I agree with this statements.
  3. I realize I am lumping together here some dynamics that some prefer to distinguish for theological or psychological reasons. Such distinctions may be valid, but here I am simply trying to reflect the thought of James 1:14-15: “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” I am in general agreement with Moo’s commentary on this passage, though he did not write with homosexual desires explicitly in mind and though his commentary does not answer all my questions: “Temptation, James has said, involves the innate desire toward evil as it is enticed by the superficial attractiveness of sin. If a person should welcome rather than resist that temptation, desire conceives; and if not turned away immediately, it produces sin. James implies that temptation, in and of itself, is not sinful. Only when desire ‘conceives’—is allowed to produce offspring—does sin come into being. The point is an important one, for some extremely sensitive Christians may feel that the fact of their continuing to experience temptation demonstrates that they are out of fellowship with the Lord. To be sure, as one develops more and more of a Christian ‘mind,’ the frequency and power of temptation should grow less. But temptation will be a part of our experience, as it was the experience of the Lord himself (Heb. 2:18), throughout our time on earth. Christian maturity is not indicated by the infrequency of temptation but by the infrequency of succumbing to temptation.” Douglas J. Moo, The Letter of James, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 76.

Should You Desire to Be an Elder?

(Old Facebook Post–Slightly edited and shared November 19, 2015.)

When we seek to understand Scripture, we should ask not only what the words say, but what they were intended to do. It is not sufficient to consider the abstract, factual meaning of words and sentences, as if reading from a dictionary or an encyclopedia. We must also consider why they were written. What difference were they intended to make? Or, to phrase it a bit differently, what actions were the words designed to perform?

(In philosophical discussions of hermeneutics, these questions are the focus of an approach called speech-act theory, but I’ll avoid technical terms.)

I’m thinking of this because I was thinking tonight about 1 Timothy 3:1:

This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. (KJV)

I have often heard this verse expounded along these lines: Paul is saying that it is good to desire to be a pastor in a church. Being a pastor is a good work, and it is a worthy goal to pursue; those who desire this work are to be affirmed for their desire. In fact, one of the qualifications for being a pastor is that you really should have a desire to be one; if you don’t have a deep inner desire for this office, then you are probably are not qualified to fill it.

Whether or not the above statements are all true—and I think evangelicals tend to err here on one side while conservative Anabaptists tend to err on the other—I that think such an exposition is missing the point of this verse.

It always makes me nervous, however, when I find myself reading a passage of Scripture in a unique way, without finding confirmation for my reading from any other interpreters. After all, here are a few prominent explanations of this verse:

An obvious but not insignificant qualification is the shepherd’s personal desire to love and care for God’s people. Paul and the first Christians applauded such willingness by creating a popular Christian saying [1 Tim. 3:1]… In brief, this early Christian saying declares the great value of the work of the office of overseer (eldership) while also encouraging those who desire this work… The first matter to consider in appointing elders is the candidate’s personal desire.” —Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership,1 emphasis added.

Before he lists the qualifications for overseers, Paul affirms the importance of their work… Those who desire to serve in this way are to be encouraged, perhaps as those who build the church with valuable materials as in 1 Corinthians 3:12-14, a task that is indeed “noble.” —Walter Liefeld, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus,2 emphasis added.

Why does this statement warrant the solemn introduction of a faithful saying? Most answer that the church placed its greatest esteem on the more visible, ecstatic gifts, and the Ephesians needed to be reminded that the more practical functions such as overseer were also significant and worthy of honor… It seems, rather, that any hesitancy to accept positions of leadership by members of the Ephesian church was the result of the excess of the opponents. They were bringing reproach not only upon the church itself but also upon anyone in leadership. Perhaps as well people were hesitant to accept positions that would bring them in direct confrontation with the opponents… The church needed leaders who would do their job well, and it was therefore a good thing to aspire to the office of overseer… The word [ὀρέγεται, “desire”] describes an ‘ambitious seeking’...; whether the aspiration is good or bad is determined by the context. In our text it must be good since Paul is recommending it.” —William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles,3 emphasis added.

Notice how all three commentators above make the same exegetical slip (most clearly in the 1st and 3rd example): They slip from the biblical words about a “good work” to talking about a “good desire.”

Read 1 Timothy 3:1 again; it does not actually say that the desire is good. True, presumably the desire is good—or at least it could potentially be, since the object of the desire is explicitly affirmed as being good. But the main point of the verse, even on an abstract, factual meaning, has nothing to do with “good desires,” but with a “good work.”

(My point here is not to belittle these commentators; I have been helped immensely by them, especially by Strauch and Mounce.)

When we consider the question of what this verse is intended to do, then the real message of the verse becomes clearer.

But before we do that, let’s consider another hurdle: A concordance search for the Greek phrase behind “good works” would seem, at first reading, to affirm the commentators I’ve quoted above. This exact phrase is used elsewhere in the Pastoral Epistles to describe:

  • What widows should be doing if they are to be considered eligible for the “widows list” (1 Tim. 5:10).
  • The behavior that potential elders should be demonstrating before they are appointed (1 Tim. 5:25).
  • What rich Christians should be “rich” in (1 Tim 6:18).
  • What Titus should show himself to be a pattern of (Tit. 2:7).
  • What all the Cretans should be eager to do (Tit. 2:14; 3:8, 14).

In all these cases (and elsewhere in the NT, such as in Heb. 10:24), God’s people are urged to be pursuing “good works.” So doesn’t it make sense that here, too, in 1 Timothy 3:1, Paul is urging people to pursue a “good work”—this time the “good work” of an overseer?

I don’t think so. Here context is key, and two aspects of context bear consideration:

(1) First, and most importantly, notice how the following verse begins: “A bishop then must be blameless…” (KJV). Do you notice the word “then”? This word links the first two verses of 1 Timothy 3. Verse one says that the office of overseer involves a good work; verse two says that, because that office involves a good work, the overseer must be blameless. Or, to say it in reverse: Why must an overseer be blameless (v. 2)? Because he is doing a good work (v. 1).

The NASB and NET read much like the KJV. The ESV makes the connection even clearer: “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach…” The NIV hides the connection almost entirely: “Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach…”

This link suggests something of why Paul wrote verse 1; he was not trying to lift up the office of overseer so that everyone would start filling out applications for the pastorate. Rather, he was lifting up the office of overseer in order to demonstrate why such high qualifications were required for those who filled it. Perhaps we could paraphrase: “If anyone is reaching for the chance to be an overseer, he’s reaching very high indeed!”

(2) Second, the context of the entire letter (and of all three Pastorals) is that Paul is writing to churches wracked by false teachers. Both 1 Timothy and Titus begin abruptly; after brief greetings, Paul skips the customary prayer/blessing found in most letters, and jumps right into the topic of the need for proper leadership. Here in 1 Timothy we read of false teachers who were “desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions” (1 Tim. 1:7). Similarly, in Titus 1:16 we read of false teachers who were “unfit for any good work” (“good work” here is a different, but similar Greek phrase).

This context suggests that Paul was facing a situation where unqualified people were serving as leaders in the church. In such a situation, Paul was concerned to elevate the office of the elder/overseer, reminding people of the high qualifications that were required of those who would fill it. The first and overriding qualification in both 1 Timothy and Titus is that leaders must be “above reproach.”

The problem facing Paul was not simply a lack of leaders (“Let’s lift up the office of overseer so we receive more applications!”) but a multiplication of bad leaders (“Let’s lift up the office of overseer so that only qualified persons will be allowed to lead”).

I have read this verse along these lines for quite a while, so I was delighted tonight to find a commentator who affirmed my reading:

Why does Paul cite a trustworthy saying (1)? Since this appears to be a commonly known saying, he was probably here using it to underline the importance of the overseer’s office for the benefit of those who were underestimating it. Paul sees the work as a noble task. Such an office needs the right kind of people to fit it. —Donald Guthrie, The New Bible Commentary,4 emphasis added.

(To be fair, both Strauch and Mounce also say similar things, but only after being temporarily derailed by first emphasizing the points quoted above; Guthrie never gets similarly derailed.)

Does this all matter? Well, suppose I say, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the hand of my daughter, he desires a noble lady.” Would I be content if all the young ruffians in town thought I was urging them to aspire to marry my daughter? Or might I be happier if one of them took a good look at how noble my daughter really is, then refocused his gaze inward to become the man truly qualified to win her hand?

May we read God’s Word not only to discover God’s truth, but also to discover God’s desires.

What do you think? Am I reading Paul well here? Do we need a renewed sense of how noble the task of overseeing is? (I sometimes think some conservative Anabaptists are a little too afraid of possessing a desire to shepherd–or at least of anyone saying they possess the desire.) Are there other Scripture passages where we might be understanding the words but missing the point? Share your insights in the comments below.

  1. Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership (Colorado Springs, CO: Lewis and Roth, 1995), 83, 187, 281.
  2. Walter Liefeld, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), Kindle location 2487.
  3. William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2000), 167-68.
  4. Donald Guthrie, The New Bible Commentary, 21st Century Edition (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), note on 1 Timothy 3:1-7 (Logos Bible Software edition, page unknown).