If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say? John 5:46-47
Jesus didn’t address the issue of homosexuality directly, at least, not in the record of his preaching and teaching in the New Testament. It is referenced in the Old Testament law, including Leviticus 18, among a whole list of sexual sins. The argument against using this particular reference is that in the church today, we don’t literally follow the laws in Leviticus. Yes, we do accept the principles that are found there, but we don’t execute unbelievers, or tear houses down because of mildew, or consider it a crime to wear clothing made from more than one kind of cloth.
Homosexual behavior is also referenced in the New Testament, most notably by the Apostle Paul, in Romans 1. There is some disagreement over his use of the term “arsenokoites” in the passage, though in the context of the passage, the meaning seems pretty clear. However, these are the words of the apostle Paul, and not Jesus, and therefore, at least goes the argument, they don’t constitute a conclusive doctrine on the subject. Jesus himself didn’t address the issue, and that speaks volumes about whether or not homosexuality is sinful, and requires repentance and forgiveness like adultery, or other sexual sins do.
Jesus didn’t address a lot of issues. However, his teaching is very clear, and the principles he taught are illustrated by parables and examples. Of particular note are his words recorded in Matthew 5-7, in a body of teaching known as the Sermon on the Mount, in which he states that the purpose of his coming was to fulfill the law, and in which he lays out an interpretation that took the law out of the hands of those who had modified and adjusted it with tradition, and put it back into the realm of self-evaluation and soul freedom. And the biggest change that he brought, the most radical shift in the practice of the Jewish faith as it had developed and evolved since the Babylonian Captivity, comes in that particular record of his words, most notably those statements which begin with, “You have heard that it was said…” and ended with “but I say unto you…” But he never abolished the law, and in fact, he showed his acceptance of its principles, while at the same time going to a sacrificial death on the cross to pay its penalties on behalf of everyone else.
Jesus isn’t silent on the issue of marriage. In Matthew 19:4-6, he references the book of Genesis, citing a statement supporting the fact that marriage is between a man and a woman. The context of his remarks are related to a question he was addressing regarding divorce, but that doesn’t change his reference to the Old Testament principle, which he clearly considers authoritative. No other recorded statement of Jesus would support the claim that he also considers same-gender marriage legitimate.
The New Testament
While it is true that Jesus doesn’t mention homosexuality specifically, that fact doesn’t subtract from the authority of other Biblical authors, who were guided and inspired by the Holy Spirit, and who make statements under that authority. Paul, who was an Old Testament scholar in his own right, spoke with spiritual authority when he penned the verses of Romans 1, describing and contrasting the wickedness of human unrighteousness with the truth that originates with God. Romans 1:26 and 27 are specific definitions of depravity related to same-gender sexual activity, described in this passage, while in other places, I Timothy 10, and I Corinthians 6, the Greek word arsenokoites is used, and is translated to generally mean “homosexual.”
Paul’s apostolic authority comes from Jesus, whom he encountered on the road to Damascus. It’s not contradictory to the teaching of Jesus, and who better than Paul would have an understanding of the Old Testament scripture and of Jesus’ interpretation of the role of the law in Christian faith?
What did Jesus Think?
Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for sin. He didn’t abolish the law, he fulfilled it. Paul explains how this works. The law defines the boundary between human sin and God’s perfection. Though it is impossible for fallen, sinful humanity to live up to it, salvation, and a relationship with God was once only possible through obedience, and when that didn’t happen, payment of the penalty through personal sacrifice. Once Jesus did that for us, we were set free. The law still defines sin, and sacrifice still pays the penalty. We are obedient out of gratitude for the penalty that Jesus paid, not in an attempt to try to earn salvation or appease God.
But Jesus still demonstrates respect for the Old Testament law, and still uses it to define that boundary between God’s perfection and human sin.
“And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘whoever reviles father and mother must surely die. But you say, if anyone tells his father or mother , ‘What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father. So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.” Matthew 15:3-7, ESV
So how does that apply to this discussion? Jesus doesn’t set aside the law for human tradition. The law emanated from God. Tradition emanates from human wisdom. Human wisdom is blind to sin, especially in itself, and can’t find the pathway to the truth, and to salvation. Jesus gives us all kinds of ways to find the truth, including pointing to the scriptures in an authoritative way. God’s eternal power and divine nature are observable in creation, according to the Apostle Paul. The written word, which Jesus affirms, provides a lot of fine tuning when it comes to understanding God and his will. So Jesus isn’t exactly “silent” on any subject, whether it is mentioned by name or not.
Beyond mere understanding
We need to pay attention to what Jesus taught. Christians should be known by their love for others, but we are, unfortunately, more often than not, known for what we exclude, judge and attempt to change with our own power. Probably nothing illustrates that fact more than the way most of us handle this issue. Sin is the condition of fallen humanity, but we’re the ones that categorize it into degrees, and make some sin worse than other. God doesn’t do that.
Many Christians aren’t comfortable dealing with this issue. They lack understanding of those who struggle with it, and can’t empathize, so they condemn it as a character weakness or a choice, and then ignore those who are suffering as a result of it. Others have somehow determined, through their own wisdom and reason, or from that of the cultural influences around them, that there is nothing inherently sinful or wrong with same-sex attraction, and think they are doing right by affirming the individuals who struggle with it. Both of those positions fall outside the parameters of Christian faith, and not only fail to adequately address the issue, but they condemn gays and lesbians to spiritual death with their thinking. Condemnation denies people the opportunity to hear the gospel, while affirmation bypasses the necessity of conviction and repentance which blocks the work of the Holy Spirit.
There are a lot of places where the Bible provides counsel on dealing with this, but John 15 is where I’d go. The fact of the matter is that Jesus does prune our branches, so to speak, getting rid of those things in our life that need to be taken out in order for us to grow and develop in our faith, while nourishing and feeding those which are necessary for our growth and development. Jesus will, in his own time, and in his own way, take care of the sin problem we all have, if we are willing to allow him to do so.