How Clear is the Bible About Same-Sex Marriage?

RingsWhen the Supreme Court of the United States (and earlier the Supreme Court of Canada) legalized a new form of marriage joining man-to-man or woman-to-woman and calling it matrimony, this tectonic shift thrilled some, distressed others, and left yet others confused on what they should believe about marriage.

Many Christians are in the latter category. They have never questioned that marriage is the joining of one man and one woman for life but have also never thought deeply about why this “heterosexual oneness” is God’s exclusive standard.

Because some Christians may be drawn away from God’s standard by feelings of empathy for same-sex unions, or what they believe is a need for greater justice, all Christians must be ready to respond to uncertainty on the subject with clarity and grace.

The Bible is our guidebook. In facing questions like this we may reflect on other sources (tradition, experience) but the clear teachings of the Bible must prevail. For evangelical believers down through the centuries, this book has been the primary source for what we must believe and how we must live.

I therefore offer biblical passages that support the long established contention that marriage from creation forward is in essence the union of one man and one woman in covenant for life.

When we enter the front door of the Bible (at the book of Genesis) the very first declaration is the sweeping claim that there is one God and everything that exists was created by him (Genesis 1:1).

This lyrical account then unfolds but does not trail off into the creation of planets or distant stars; rather it reaches its apex with the creation of mankind. It says: God created humankind as male and female and gave them together the primary assignment of procreating and subduing the earth (Genesis 1:26–28).

For Christians, that brief command is the ground for marriage as a conjugal union – the joining of a man and woman as one flesh, thus uniting them as one unit in society for the propagating of the race.

This unique joining is more fully developed in the story of Adam and Eve (Genesis 2). I read this story as the model for what marriage was divinely intended to be, noting especially that God’s ordering of marriage precedes even the fall of man.

No same-sex union or three-party alternative can be worked into the story of Adam and Eve. Marriage is clearly presented from the start as the union of one man and one woman without options.

But the Bible reports a number of departures from this unique and exclusive male-female joining; in its pages there are loathsome tales of bigamy, adultery, incest, fornication, polygamy, sodomy, etc. Consider even the concubinage of the patriarchs, Solomon’s extensive harem of foreign women, King David’s multiple wives, etc. Does all this disordered conduct cancel out the idealism of Eden?

When we read the Old Testament, it is important to distinguish between what the Scriptures “report” and what they “approve.” They may report sinful and destructive sexual deviations from conjugal marriage; they only approve the union of one man and one woman.

Real marriage is also repeatedly approved in the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament. For example, “May your fountain be blessed, / and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth, / A loving doe, a graceful deer — / may her breasts satisfy you always, / may you ever be captivated by her love” (Proverbs 5:18,19). There is only one man and one woman in that picture.

The prophets of Israel even used marriage as a metaphor for God’s relationship with his chosen people. For example, Jeremiah 50:1 presents Zion collectively as the mother, individual Jews as the children and Jehovah as the husband and father. The metaphor represents the standard of one man in sacred union with one woman.

But, how can the deviations be wrong when they are reported so plentifully in the Old Testament? Many generations later the Apostle Paul answers the question. He addressed the Athenians on Mars Hill in Greece and took note of all their idolatrous practices by saying, “In the past God overlooked such ignorance but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). The New Testament light shines brighter.

The New Testament shows regard for conjugal marriage in many ways: it reports Messiah’s coming as involving two couples, Zachariah and Elizabeth, and Mary and Joseph (Luke 1,2); it attempts to re-order marriages seriously dis-ordered by sin (1 Corinthians 7); it warns against the sin of unfaithfulness in marriage (Hebrews 13:4); it exhorts the cultivation of Christian graces in the marriages of a husband and wife (Colossians 3:18–21); and it calls for sexual purity in marriage as a male/female union (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8).

In none of these does it hint that marriage is to be anything other than the union of one man and one woman covenanted for life. In fact, in the Scriptures there is not even a hint of a same-sex union as an alternative form of marriage.

Jesus spoke the clearest words recorded in the New Testament on the essential nature of marriage when the Pharisees tried to engage him regarding divorce. In answering, he took them back to the original orders of creation.

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together let man not separate” (Matthew 19:4-6).

The temptation to compromise our views may be great in a secularizing culture. Our feelings of empathy for same-sex couples may be strong and there may be legal problems that same-sex laws promise to fix. But we are called in sacred Scriptures to “contend for the faith (the revealed content of what we believe) that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3).

God’s decree is rightly limiting: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they (two) will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

 

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Photo credit: Tekke (via flickr.com)

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7 thoughts on “How Clear is the Bible About Same-Sex Marriage?

  1. This is such a good explanation and defense for traditional marriage from a Biblical view, that all Christians should read this so they can have a good reply for those who say “why not?” to same-sex marriage. The secular world will always have its way (and we Christians know who is in charge of “The World” in this age), but we Christians, who have to be in the World and not of it, need to be able to explain our position, and have a defense for what we believe. This article is as good as any in this regard.

  2. Thank you Pastor. I am so appreciative of your Godly wisdom, grace and, biblical knowledge. It is a blessing to be able to grab onto an all powerful, unchanging, loving God during times of human error.

  3. This is such a painful issue for many ,so huge,that I fear I cannot comment as briefly as I would wish.For this issue is creating divisions in many churches worldwide and offering false hope to so many

    It’s difficult to see how the Bible could be clearer on this issue.As you say ,Pastor Don ,there has been a tectonic change .No wonder it has taken so many people by surprise,posing a difficult problem for Christians.

    This difficulty does not stem from exegeeis of the Bible,which is crystal clear on thisIt stems from one single fact.That as Christians ,this is our responsibility,our problem.We need to get it right..There can be no them and us.Christ commands us to love our neighbours,who in the modern context in this world which has become a global village,means the human race.

    What has happened? Nations,their governments and their laws have spoken,changing everything.This predominantly in the West,which many fondly call the Free World.What n earth can we do? First and foremost keep our faith,put our trust in God,our Lord the Holy Spirit !

    Canadian Law changed everything regarding same gender sexual relationships,earlier than any other nation I know of.In 1969 the Canadian Parliament decriminalized homosexuality.By 1971 all Canadian homosexuals who had been imprisoned for the’ dangerous sexual offences ‘ of homosexuality were released from prison Was prison ever the right answer?.Soon same sex marriages began to be legalized province by province.On 20 July 2005 ,by statute,the Canadian government,extended this new definition of marriage nationwide,to all provinvces.Canada had pioneered a new definition of marriage,which has spread to the whole of North America,and in the last year spread across the Atlantic Ocean to the whole of UK except Northern Ireland ( aka Ulster).

    In UK ( at least England , Scotland & Wales, same gender marriage is legalized,but not Christian same gender marriage.In 1998 ,the 13th Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops resolved that homosexual acts are incompatible with scripture. As far as I understand this decision stands to this day in UK ,and as far as I know no churches of any Christian denomination in UK allow same sex church weddings.

    I may be wrong,but I believe this holds true in Canada to – for now! As for Anglicans in Canada ,the Anglican Synod of Canada meets next year to vote on the issue of same sex marriage.To decide whether to change the Church’s canon on marriage,to ‘’allow the marriage of same sex couples in the same way as opposite sex couples’’ But even if the vote is yes, this will not be the end of the matter.It will require a second vote,at the 2019 Synod of Canada,to change the marriage canon and allow same sex church weddings

    .If this happens,history tells me UK will in time follow Canada’s lead and same sex marriage in church will be a reality in UK.We usually follow our New World North American cousins .

    The debate about same sex sexuality and same sex marriage is the most divisive issue in the church,certainly the Anglican Communion.It is tearing the church apart,even more than the previous controversy – women’s ordination.When women were ordained in the Anglican church many congregants and many clergy abandoned the protestant Church of England , to join the Roman Catholic Church.

    In my own church,Coventry Cathedral,we have a deep division on the issue of same gender sex and marriage.As Christians we have tried our best to keep the debate loving and not rancorous.I think we have just about succeeded in this.We even had an open discussion in our church,with some clergy and congregants on one side,and some clergy and congregants on the other.One side argued that same gender sexuality and marriage is incompatible with scripture. This included our canon Justin Welby ,who is now Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the Anglican Communion worldwide.

    Archbishop Justin has strong ties with the Anglican churches in Africa ,who are almost universally on the side that sees same gender ex and marriage as incompatible with scripture.

    The other side in our church debate,took a different tack,not seeking to deny the incppatiblity of same gender sex and marriage with scripture,but arguing that those members of our congregation who are ‘gay’ in their term,are decent charitable God loving people to whom we should be kind and loving and not jugemental.Of course we should be loving.Christ commands us .But is it loving if we let fellow Christians fall.We must consider this and be sure to take the right course.

    Pain was expressed on both sides of the argument.

    Those opposed to same gender marriage felt pain that the Bible was being undermined and that marriage too is being undermined.Our church congregation includes protestants and Anglo cathoilics and even some Roman Catholics.For Roman Catholics,marriage is a sacrament like baptism and Lord’s Supper is for us.

    Those supporting same gender marriage felt shunned,ostracized and looked down on by the other side.And those who are ‘gay’ felt that they were being made pariahs .

    The whole controversy is very distressing.For me,it seems impossible to argue that same gender marriage is compatible with scripture,and Pastor Don ,you have shown in this blog exactly why,clearly and methodically with precise reference to Scripture.

    I don’t empathize with the pro same sex lobby.I don’t understand it,because I was not born that way.However I do sympatize with their pain.I cannot see but that to love one of one’s same gender is admirable and compatible with Christ’s second law – to love others as oneself.

    But brotherly love,sisterly love, Christian love.Not sexual love – that’s something different.But is it a sin if someone is born with the inclination to be tempted to sin ?Even if one always resists that temptation. This is a moral and philosophical question worth asking and answering

    .Each of us is born to sin, but Christ saved us,showed us ,by His trials in the desert before the start of His ministry,how to resist temptation and overcome sin.Maybe Jesus’ time in the wilderness was actually the start of His ministry.For He showed us how to resist temptation.

    All Christians should seek to live in harmony with the Bible,and live their lives to the Biblical standard.The Bible is authoritative for us, t’s written word is inspired by the Holy Spirit .It is therefore God’s written word.It tells us how God wants us to live our lives.All we need to do is clearly understand the Bible ,God’s message to us as to how He wants us to live our lives.

    Fellow Christians in our churches ,particularly our church pastors and leaders can help us exegete the Bible when we are not sure about something..Most local churches and denominations have some kind of catechism or handbook ,statements of faith or articles of religion to guide us.

    Worshiping in an Anglican church,when seeking particular guidance over a specific issue of how to live my life,I’ve sometimes found very different ,even contrary guidance given me.For the Anglican church is a very broad church.It encompasses Anglo catholics,protestant evangelicals,Wesleyans and charismatics.It’s services vary in style from the most simple , plain and spontaneous to the most formalized and compicated (‘smells and bells’, with incense,bells and trumpets plus elaborate groups of choirs ).But I’m not sure that form of worship is the most important thing.

    Furthermore ,the church I worship in,St Michael’s, has a Unity chapel physically but not denominationally joined to it Not Anglican ,but ecumenical ,where Christians of all denominations meet together to pray and worship : Lutherans,Methodists,Baptists,Presbyterians,Roman Catholics,Elim Pentecostals and Mennonites,to name but a few churches.This chapel,though physically joined to it’s structure, does not even belong to the Anglican Cathedral I worship in.Here I find an even wider divergence in guidance as to how to interpret the Scriptures to shed light on a particular issue.Where can I turn? To the Bible of course! But how interpret scripture correctly if I’m unsure?

    The great controversy ,almost a split in the Anglican communion used to be over the ordination of women.Now it is over the ordination of those in same gender unions and over same gender marriage.The more I looked into the Bible,the more I saw how important women were in Christ’s ministry ,the more clear I became that womens ordination was in harmony with the Biblical standard.

    As to same gender conjugal unions and same gender marriages,I could find no words in the Bible to justify them,no msatter how hard I looked.That was clear.Yet I had met Christians in same gender unions who seemed nice people and who loved God ,loved Christ.I didn’t want to shun them,especially as I understand from the Bible that all people sin.We all do.It’s our nature,what we do.It’s how we were born.Who am I to take the mote from a brother or sisters eye?

    Christ commands me to love others ,it’s his second commandment,with His first commandment,His law – uion which all laws hang.And yet the Bible is clear on same gender marriage. And I don’t want any brothers and sisters to fall.What kind of love would that be?

    I always sought help from any catechism or statement or article of faith I could find,when in doubt about Biblical interpretation and how to behave to my Christian brothers and sisters who appear in trouble.The only Anglican catechism I could find were a few pages in The Book Of Common Prayer,pages of general advice for confirmation candidates.

    I seek Christian help wherever I can fiind it ,and though I am a protestant not a Roman catholic,I have much love and respect for the Roman church,for it is the church from which Protestantism flowered.Like the Lutheran church,the Anglican church grew out of the Roman church in the Reformation.So I looked into the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church.

    Now here was comprehensive guidance.Over 800 pages of it! Of course many pages are unhelpful to me,like the pages on Purgatory.But then I read methodically and critically and weigh everything I read carefully. So these pagers didn’t lead me into any blind alleys.When I came to the many many pages on marriage,I found much good illumination.

    For Roman Catholics ,marriage is a sacrament,like Baptism and Lord’s Supper.It is sacred.For protestants too,marriage is sacred.Pastor Don,I was much struck by something you said about marriage in ‘God’s House Rules’.About ‘’when a couople stands before a minister in a house of worship to exchange vows at the altar’’you warn –

    ‘’do not confuse a wedding with a marriage’’ page 21 ‘God’s House Rules’

    You advise

    ‘’marriage is an institution created by God’’ page 21 ‘God’s House Rules’

    You go on to explain that marriage is a covenant,just the same word used in the Bible to describe God’s agreements with Abraham and Noah.And you say-

    ‘’the sealing of covenant is always a solemn and moving event ‘’ p22 ‘God’s House Rules’

    Just so .Marriage is a solemn and holy covenant.

    Understandably,the Roman Catholic Catechism warns against ‘’grave offences against the dignity of marriage’’.These include such offences as adultery,polygamy,divorce and free union.Free union is included as the Roman catechism sees it as fallacious since there is no commitment to each other,seemingly no trust in one another ,in oneself or in the future.

    The RC Catechism surprisingly doesn’t include same gender marriage as breaching the dignity of marriage.I ‘m sure this is simply because it cannot imagine or perceive such a thing ever existing.For the RC Catechism is quite clear that the end of marriage is fecundity which is a Godly good,a gift..The RC Catechisn states –

    ‘’By giving life ,spouses participate in God’s fatherhood’’ Paragraph 2398

    What a beautiful way of putting it! Sadly for those same gender individuals who form couples and call themselves married ,possibly so as not to be excluded from something wonderful – they ARE excluded.They are excluded by nature !
    They are excluded from this great benefit and beauty of marriage.Nature excludes them from this blessing.They cannot receive the gift of fecundity.It is barred them and they can only grieve .I do not gloat or exult over their grief.I sympathise with their pain.But God created Nature & God insists this is the way things must be.It is so.God wills it so.To resist is as futile as King Canute who tried to stop the tide coming in on a north east English shore.He had to learn to curb his foolish pride,see how small man is compared with God.

    The RC Catechism has much to say about the plight of those born with homosexuality or born with ‘gay’ tendencies, in current parlance.It recognises that

    ‘’The number of men and women who have deepseated homosexual tendencies is not negligible’’ Paragraph 2358

    Being a Christian church , the RC Catechism is naturally mindful of Christs central command to love our neighbours and so ideally has the greatest compassion for such of our brothers and sisters.It recognises such inclination ‘’constitutes for most of them a trial’’Their Catechism is clear –

    ‘’They must be accepted with respect compassion and sensitivity Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.These persons are called to fulfil God’s will in their lives ,and,if they are Christians to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross.the difficulties that their condition may encounter’’ Paragraph 2358.

    Paragraph 2359 calls ‘gay’ people to chastity and’’ to gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection’’ With Christ as the model of all chastity,Roman Catholics call all to chastity ,including those engaged to be married.And chastity excludes lust,as Christ commanded.For Christs laws ask more of us than the Ten Commandments handed to Moses.Nothing less than perfection will do.The affection that belongs to married love should be recerved for marriage, in the RC Catechism’s words.

    This Catechism cannot sanction ‘gay’ marriages ,for it is quite clear in opposing them,for

    ‘’They close the sexual act to the gift of life’’

    All things which close the gate to the God given gift of life are anathema to the RC Catechism – contraception,masturbation,same gender sex, and of course abortion ,which goes so far as to be plain murder. This high standard of Christian perfection is more breached than honoured,but I cannot but see it as a worthy standard which all Christian people must surely seek to follow.

    The Roman Church ,from which Anglicanism sprang,is just one church.I am Wesleyan by nature and conviction and the Methodist churches which sprang from John Wesley ,an ordained Anglican ,and from his fellow Anglican Methodists.The Methodist churches I know of offer very good guidance.

    The Roman Catholic Catechism recommends a loving attitude to people living with these challenges of sexual inclination and orientation..I think the Free Methodist Church goes even further.It takes full resposibilty for such people,a responsibility of loving care.

    When I was first looking for guidance as to how to live my life to the Biblical standard,I had not yet heard of the Free Methodist church founded by B.T & Ellen Roberts & other good souls called by the Holy Spirit to reawaken the church to return to the Biblical standard of Christianity.To free itself from the shackles of Mammon,slavery and cults and secret societies.

    When I was evangelized to entire faith by a young Ontarian Free Methodist I became awarere of this church for the first time.A church setting itself the highest standards of Christian perfection and Biblical standard of life.A church aiming high in duty to our Lord.I contacted the Free Methodist Church of UK.

    In the Handbook of the Free Methodist Church of UK I found 48 pages of valuable Bible based guidance on daily Christian living to the Biblical standard.I found it’s basis in Scripture very reassuring and the Handbook gave the confidence one gets from clear good codes of conduct.I think it is in our human nature ,since our childhoods, to welcome such clarity.It gives us assurance.Every child seeks clear standards and are we not all children of God?

    I look to the Handbook of the Free Methodist Church of the UK now ,which I discovered long after I first looked to the Roman Catechism to help me think things out.

    This is what the Handbook of the Free Methodist Church in the United Kingdom says on the matter.

    ”The church has a corporate responsibility to be God’s agent of healing ,ministering in love to homosexuals and giving them support as they learn to live a Christian life that is wholesome and pure’ ‘

    1Corinthians 2 :7-8 is cited

    ‘’ No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.
    None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.’’1 Cor 2:7-8 NIV

    Well,these verses certainly answer those who cite Bible characters ,even Judges and Kings,who break God’s Law in the Old Testament. Samson the suicide. Well perhaps Samson was commanded by God to do what he did.Only God and Samson know if that is the case.King David the adulterer who arranged the death of the husband whose wife he lusted for.God’s prophet Uriah showed him the error of his ways.,Solomon the serial adulterer with his harem,who worshiped idols. Even the personification of faith,Abraham commited adultery.In each case bad consequences followed.These are people who did great good things,but ever human also did bad things.The Bible doesn’t hold up their bad deeds for commendation.It shows what ill follows from them.

    Slowly,painfully mankind learned the consequences of falling short of God’s expectations.God’s wisdom is revealed through His Son Christ,in the New Testament,to which the Old Testament points and leads up to.

    Our Christian responsibility will not be easy and we will need the support of the Holy Spirit.It may help if we recall the behaviour of our Lord when he faced the woman at the well and the woman taken in adultery.Steadfast yet kind.

    I just read an article by Dermot Riordan,in August’s issue of British Mensa magazine.Dermot has lived all his life in Kilkenny in soiuth east Eire.Aged 15 he was startled to realize he wasn;t attracted to girls.He was baited by his classmates, felt confused and alone and realized he was a son who would never bring his parents grandchildren.He felt he had an uncertain future.

    He fely unvalued,,excluded,unloved.When the Irish government introduced civil partnerships for same sex couples in 2010,then legalized same sex marriage this year,Dermot at last felt included,valued and loved.

    Shouldn’t his fellow Christians around him have stepped in to do that.

    If only we could find a better way of including and bringing people like Dermot in from the cold ,showing compassion for the trial he faced,,maybe there could have been another way.Is it realistic to expect people to change therir inclinations just like that.I think Bible based Christians would expect people in Dermot’s position to embrace chastity .If so Christians should offer support and encouragement not shunning,name calling and exclusion.For who among us is so free of sin as to cast the first stone?

    People who are challenged need support and guidance,not stones cast at them.As Christians they are our responsibility.

    Our Christian responsibility will not be easy and we will need the support of the Holy Spirit.It may help if we recall the behaviour of our Lord when he faced the woman at the well and the woman taken in adultery.Steadfast yet kind.

    Have big governments and legislatures given people challenged by the sexuality they were born with ,false hope of one flesh ,of generative marriages? For how can that ulyimate blessing be achieved ?.False illusions are being offered How cruel!

    Thankyou for speaking so clearly Pastor Don.With a lifetime of close reading of scripture and seven decades of faithful loving marriage and a family of many generations,you are ideally placed in these rapidly changing and uncertain times, when huge powerful governments and legislatures are shifting the tectonic plates of millennia of Christian marriage.

  4. Apologies for my silly error.Sometimes I get carried away and don’t pause to check what I’m saying.

    So when I talked about King David’s sins and it’s consequences I got my names muddled up.I talked of God’s prophet Uriah.Of course I meant God’s prophet Nathan ,who showed David the error of his ways.

    Uriah ,of course ,was the Hittite ,husband of Bathsheba,whose wife David commited adultery with.The King then sent Uriah in harms way ,to see that his love rival was killed and put out of the way.

    • Hi, Francis: Join the club. We all make our mistakes no matter how careful we try to be. I’ve made some classic ones in my times. A preacher with a good sense of humour said in my youth, “Of course I make mistakes; sometimes I make them on purpose to keep my average up”.

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