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Do Jesus and Paul Affirm LGBTQ+?

Do Jesus and Paul affirm LGBTQ+ orientation or relationships? Contrary to traditional views, they don't even address it. Jesus acknowledges sexual diversity; Paul condemns sexual exploitation and abuse.


It is not a surprise to most readers that the traditional Christian position has been that homosexuality is a sin. In recent years, the traditional stance has been updated to say that homosexual orientation is not a sin and unjust discrimination should be avoided. However, many Christian churches insist homosexual persons must be celibate and must not be permitted to do such things as lead in worship, be married, or be a parent or godparent. Some have gone as far as saying that homosexuality is a result of sin in our world, and prayer can miraculously make a person match the normal, heterosexual orientation.


However, today's Christians are taking a closer look at what the Bible says. Did Jesus condemn a homosexual person? Did Paul?

"At the heart of the claim that the Bible is clear "that homosexuality is forbidden by God" is poor biblical scholarship and a cultural bias read into the Bible." - Human Rights Campaign (a)

Does Jesus Address LGBTQ+?

Traditionally the church understood condemnation of "sexual immorality" to refer to homosexuality. Today, new understanding is shedding light on the potential meaning of some of Jesus's words and actions.


Jesus Commended the Man for his Faith

In Capernaum, a centurion came asking Jesus to heal his dear servant who lay at home paralyzed and suffering (Matthew 8:5-13, Luke 7:1-10). Servant or slave is a translation from the ancient Greek word "pais", a word describing a younger same-sex male partner (1). In addition, it was rare for a military commander to care so much about an ordinary slave or servant. In contrast, it was very common at the time for elite Roman men to keep a young boy for intimate relations (2).

Jesus heals centurion's servant
Christ and the Centurion, Adam Camerarius, 1659 approx. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Adam_Camerarius_001.jpg

Jesus was willing to go to the home where the centurion and his male companion lived. The centurion, a high-ranking military authority, said he was not worthy to receive Jesus and had confidence that Jesus could just say the word and the servant would be healed. Jesus praised the centurion's faith, saying the centurion showed greater faith than the Israelites. The disciples were likely shocked that Jesus would praise a commander who enforced the Roman occupation of Israel. This centurion at the crucifixion of Jesus, traditionally named Longinus, stated "Truly, this man was the Son of God." (Matthew 27:45-54). Jesus healed the centurion's servant without condemning the centurion's potentially intimate relationship with the man he held dear.


Jesus Acknowledged God Created Some Men Not to be Heterosexual

Jesus may have been addressing homosexuality when he discusses marriage, divorce, and the fact that some are not suited to marriage. This overturned the Jewish teaching that all must marry and bear children.


Eunuchs were men who did not have male reproduction abilities or who behaved like females or who did not have sexual relations. Eunuchs were impotent men, not females, yet not given the privileges of males in the Roman Empire. Eunuchs were not permitted to enter the male-only Court of Israelites in the Temple. Eunuchs were not treated as either men or women. Eunuch could apply to what we now call sexual minorities (3) such as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transexual.


Jesus acknowledges three groups of eunuchs (Matthew 19:11-12):

  • Those made eunuchs by others. This typically applied to either slaves or guards for female royalty or female harems.

  • Those who choose to live like eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:11-12). This applies to a person of any sexual orientation who chooses to live a celibate life to better serve God. Paul also acknowledges that believers may either marry or remain single or widowed (1 Corinthians 7:8-9). Some are gifted with celibacy; it's not a mandate.

  • Those who are born eunuchs. Researcher John J. McNeill stated that a eunuch who has been so from birth describes what today we understand as a homosexual (4). In acknowledging some eunuchs are born that way, Jesus acknowledges that God creates some people from birth to be neither fully male nor female, and he rejects a binary paradigm (5). Jesus condemns unfaithfulness in marriage and sexual immorality while at the same time acknowledging that some are naturally heterosexual while others are not. Eunuchs were excluded from the Covenant of Moses (Deut 23:1) but they are included in the New Covenant (Acts 8:26-39). Jesus does not condemn them.


In my fiction, Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold Book 1 in the era of the Gospels, Jesus helps a mother learn how to accept her son, even after she realizes he is not made to marry a woman as she had hoped or expected. Jesus accepts him as God made him and calls him to build God's kingdom, regardless of his sexual orientation. His mother follows Jesus's example and loves and affirms her son.


Did the Early Church accept LGBTQ+?

The Spirit of God told Philip the Evangelist to go down a deserted road towards Gaza. On the desert road, Philip encountered a eunuch who was a foreigner from Ethiopia returning home. He had gone to Jerusalem to worship but was considered blemished and not permitted in the Court of the Israelites. He told Philip no one would explain to him the meaning of what he was reading in Isaiah. Philip explained the good news about Jesus to the eunuch. When they saw water, the eunuch asked if anything was standing in the way of him being baptized. Philip could have replied it was not possible for people of uncertain gender, but he did not. Philip baptized the eunuch because whosoever believes in Jesus will be saved and receive eternal life (Acts 8:26-40). Pastor Zach Lambert uses the eunuch's baptism as an example of God authorizing all people, regardless of gender, to be adopted as full members of the family of God(6).


In my novel of the early church, Because She Was Called: From Broken to Bold Book 2, Philip the Evangelist baptizes the Ethiopian eunuch, even though he is uncircumcised and not a Jew, and even though the eunuch is not fully male or female. The Holy Spirit directed Philip to evangelize and baptize this eunuch into God's family, even though a eunuch was detested by Jewish society, considered blemished, and excluded from the temple. Representing an LGBTQ+ person adopted into God's family with the full rights of sons provides a model for how today's church may adopt all people into God's family.


The unknown writer of Hebrews warns against sexual immorality (Hebrews 12:16). This warning is connected to being godless, like Esau, who is called godless. The original language is fornication (sex outside marriage) or profanity (irreverence, disrespect). It does not associate godlessness with homosexuality but with unfaithfulness in a relationship. While it could relate to being faithful in monogamous physical relations, it likely relates to spiritual unfaithfulness (7) It is founded on Old Testament references to God comparing the spiritual unfaithfulness of Israel to a woman unfaithful to her husband (Jeremiah 3:20, Ezekiel 16:32).


Did Paul address LGBTQ+?

In recent decades, the church understood that Paul condemned homosexuality, but new research shows that Paul was more likely speaking against unrestrained lust and abuse of youth. In the ancient world, it was thought that only insatiable lust would lead to same-sex behaviour. Paul condemns greed as opposed to moderation.


Romans

Regarding Romans 1:26-27, the 5th-century theologian John Chrysostom (7) wrote, “You see that the whole of desire comes from an excess which cannot contain itself within its proper limits.” Chrysostom associated same-sex relations with greed, lust, exploitation, and domination. Traditional views of this passage do not address sexual orientation or a monagamous, consenting same-sex partnership.


In the first century, it was common in the Roman world for heterosexual men to show their wealth and power by keeping a boy in their house as a sex slave.

two men
Marble busts of Emperor Hadrian and Antinous https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hadrian_and_Antinous,_at_the_British_Museum.jpg

In the Roman Empire, a man was free to choose either male or female sexual partners but he had to remain the active or dominant partner in the relationship (9). Powerful men often took a male partner of lesser power or lower status. Roman men were condemned for taking the female role, being submissive or effeminate.


The Roman Emperor Hadrian was a well-known example of how married, heterosexual men had same-sex relations with younger, passive men. Hadrian took on Antinous, a younger man known for his beauty, to accompany him. Paul condemns the common Roman practices of sexual exploitation of young boys, pederasty, and abusive activity with youths; he does not address two consenting adults in a same-sex relationship.


In Romans, Paul discusses what is 'natural' using the same language he uses in 1 Corinthians 11. When Paul contrasts short and long hair as 'natural' and 'disgraceful' in 1 Corinthians 11, we understand that the description of natural hair length relates to what was customary in the first-century culture, not a universal rule for Christians about hair length today. Paul contrasts abusive and appropriate couplings using the same culturally specific 'natural' and 'disgraceful' (10).


In the first century, it was natural and expected that all people were right-handed; the left hand was unclean. There was no acceptance for being left-handed. Left-handed people were forced to act as if they were right-handed. We don't know if a child is naturally left or right-handed until they are old enough to discover it as they learn to draw or write. We know today that being left-handed is not an abomination and those who are created to be left-handed thrive when they use their left hand. Similarly, we don't know a child's sexual orientation until they are old enough to discover it. We know that orientation is not an abomination and those who are created with a same-sex orientation thrive when they do not have to act as if they are heterosexual. We know that it is natural for a percent of the population to be same-sex-oriented (11).


1 Corinthians


In 1 Corinthians, English translations of the Bible did not use the word homosexual until 1946 (12).  The ideas of whoremonger and sodomite were combined and the word homosexual was introduced to English translations of 1 Corinthians. The literal translation of 1 Corinthians 6:13 condemns men who are whoremongers, (men who take the active role in using a woman or young boy as a prostitute), or effeminate (men or boys who take the passive role, being exploited by dominant men with promiscuous lust). Paul used the word that indicates these dominant males who were abusing boys (13). Paul criticizes lasciviousness, lechery, and debauchery, which refer to excessive sexual desire (Galatians 5:19-21). The writer seems to be calling out lustful men who lack self-control and sexually abuse (14) or exploit boys or prostitutes.  It has only been in the most recent one hundred years that Bible translations have used the word homosexual on this list. Paul condemns exploitive, abusive relations, and not faithful, monogamous homosexuality.


1 Timothy

1 timothy verse
1 Timothy 1: What does it condemn?

The writer of 1 Timothy cites a list of wrongs including "whoremongers, sodomites, men-stealers, liars' (1 Timothy 1:9-10 Young's Literal Translation of 1898 (15). Many scholars believe 1 Timothy was written by a follower of Paul and is not an authentic letter from Paul himself. The letter seems to copy from Paul's authentic letter to Corinth, which lists whoremongers, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, sodomites, thieves, and covetousness (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 Young's Literal Translation.


Let's look at why it may be incorrect to say that homosexuality should be on the list of unrighteous actions. This letter to Timothy condemns exploitive, abusive behaviour as immoral - whether by heterosexuals or homosexuals. Whoremonger is a term meaning an adult male sexually exploiting an adolescent boy (16), or the dominant partner in using a prostitute. Idolatry can apply to worshippers of Aphrodite treating temple prostitutes as idols or it can apply today to treating sex as an idol. Effeminate refers to (17) a male being passive in a same-sex encounter, being dominated or used like a female. Sodomy is connected to violent rape and gang rape of boys or men (Genesis 19:4-7, Judges 19:22-23).


Paul condemns men taking advantage of young boys since it was historically unrighteous to rape a male but acceptable to take advantage of females (Genesis 19:8, Judges 19:24). The writer lists men-stealers, which likely refers to the kidnapping or human trafficking of adolescent boys as slaves for prostitution. At the temple of the goddess Artemis (18) in Ephesus, there is no evidence of women temple prostitutes, but it was common to enslave young boys at brothels. The writer does not place blame on the prostitutes, who were likely minors or women (not legal persons). Instead, the writer criticizes people who kidnap, steal people, take charge of prostitutes, or use prostitutes.


Application for Today


When I have had conversations about this topic with fellow Christians, I believe the crux of the issue is the assumption that homosexuality or same-sex activities are a sin, and believers are required to repent and turn away from sins or sinful desires. A person who continues being same-sex oriented is told they are making themselves lord of their own life instead of obeying God's commands. Conservative Christians believe it is loving to tell the homosexual to repent, to go and sin no more, to be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect, and to act as if they are heterosexual. Otherwise, they are condemned to celibacy.

What if homosexuality is not a sin? Perhaps instead of judging a minority, the Bible condemns the majority. Perhaps Paul's condemnation is directed at adultery and exploitation. Perhaps the Bible condemns both heterosexuals and homosexuals who are promiscuous, sexually abusive, or involved in child prostitution, child abuse, or pornography. What if the Bible exhorts both homosexuals and heterosexuals to be faithful?


In the fall of 2023, evangelical pastor Andy Stanley came under fire when he put it this way:

"The Faith of the Next Generation is worth leading our churches to acknowledge there are gay people, not just straight people with a sin problem."

An affirming church believes it is loving to accept a homosexual person as God made them, to include them in the body of Christ, and to encourage them to be faithful to God without acting like a heterosexual. Affirming Christians agree that believers, both heterosexual and homosexual, must repent of sin, turn to God, obey the commands, and be faithful in marriage.


Because She Was Called, From Broken to Bold Book 2, A Novel of the Early Church, includes a fictional Longinus and his companion, Griffin, both baptized as full members into the congregation of faith.


It helps us imagine the early church embracing people of faith while condemning exploitative behaviour in Rome. Readers see the difference between the sexual immorality that Paul condemns and the faithfulness of a homosexual partnership.


I created this image of the fish and rainbow design to indicate an LGBTQ+ affirming Christian, Queer Christian, or ally. Click the image for your free download and use it to indicate your status on your profile, book, affirming church, or organization.


Conclusion


The church today is divided on its views of homosexuality. As I have talked about my affirming Christian fiction, I have personally experienced what a gay person told me long ago: if they're not publicly affirming, chances are pretty good that they believe homosexuality is a sin or that there should be restrictions on LGBTQ+ people that don't apply to heterosexuals.


Today we can recognize that LGBTQ+ love and companionship (19) is different from what is condemned in Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, and 1 Timothy 1. Affirming Christians are not turning a blind eye to sin or immorality; we believe that sexual orientation is not a sin but a gift God gives in creation. All who believe in Jesus are called to follow his commands, and the foremost command is to love God and love one another.


The fruit of the Spirit is good fruit. The fruit of excluding LGBTQ+ (20) from full participation in the body of Christ is hurting the LGBTQ+ community as well as the reputation of Christ and the church. The Bible makes many references to equality, unity, and God showing no favouritism or partiality based on our characteristics. (See Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11, Ephesians 2:19, 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 1 Corinthians 12:13, Acts 10:34-35 Romans 2:11, Romans 3:22, John 3:16-17). There is no equality where one person has the authority to limit, restrict, or control what another person says or does. When one group has freedoms that another group does not, it means favouritism, inequality, and divisions. When we love one another as we love ourselves, we show others the same respect and freedoms we give to ourselves.


It is easy to find passages used to clobber homosexuality (21) but these passages may not say what they appear to at first glance. We can look more closely at the biblical texts, discuss ideas, and respectfully disagree. Understanding one another allows us to love one another. The lists of sins in these passages (Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, Galatians 5) include attitudes and activities of which many of us are guilty: being unjust, wicked, greedy, jealous, fighting, deceiving, doing evil, gossipping, slandering, being rude, proud, bragging, disobeying parents, disloyal, or being without mercy. Paul says that any of these sins show you are not living in God's kingdom. Paul states that everyone who judges is condemning themselves. Followers of Christ are called to welcome and love everyone and leave the judgment and condemnation to God.


 

Elaine Ricker Kelly Author is empowering women with historical fiction about women in the Bible and early church and Christian blogs about women in leadership, church history, and doctrine. Her books include:

  • Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold, Book 1

  • The Sword A Fun Way to Engage in Healthy Debate on What the Bible Says About a Woman's Role

  • Because She Was Called: from Broken to Bold, Book 2, A Novel of the Early Church, imagines Mary Magdalene's trip to testify before the emperor


 

Sources:



  1. Qspirit, https://qspirit.net/gay-centurion/

  2. Whosoever. https://whosoever.org/maybe-jesus-actually-did-say-something-about-homosexuality-after-all/

  3. Rev. Joseph H. Gilbert, Los Angeles Times, https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1993-10-18-me-47121-story.html

  4. Mark Brustman quoting John J. McNeil, The Church and the Homosexual, https://people.well.com/user/aquarius/thesis.htm

  5. J. David Hester, Journal for the Study of the New Testament https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0142064X05057772

  6. Restore Austin, Pastor Zach W. Lambert, https://youtu.be/k3d_mhbTwL4?si=zJPzJYSbNUwBMLbY

  7. Verse By Verse Commentary, Grant C. Richison, https://versebyversecommentary.com/2019/11/24/hebrew-1216/

  8. The Reformation Project, https://reformationproject.org/case/romans/

  9. National Museums of Liverpool https://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/antinous-and-hadrian

  10. The Reformation Project, https://reformationproject.org/case/romans/

  11. Drew Downs, https://drewdowns.net/2016/06/21/romans-bible-gay-lgbt/

  12. 1946 The Movie, https://www.1946themovie.com/

  13. Rev. Adam Ericksen, Clackamas United Church of Christ https://c-ucc.org/open-and-affirming-part-2-the-misuse-of-paul-1-corinthians-69-10-and-the-heterosexual-agenda/

  14. https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/article_ephesus_baugh.html 

  15. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Timothy+1&version=YLT

  16. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prostitution_in_ancient_Greece

  17. "Was there a mistranslation that shifted culture", https://christianpublishinghouse.co/2021/04/28/homosexual-1946-was-there-a-mistranslation-that-shifted-culture/

  18. The Reformation Project https://youtu.be/rdfxPDZEO5k

  19. The Reformation Project https://reformationproject.org/case/1-corinthians-and-1-timothy/

  20. The Reformation Project https://reformationproject.org/biblical-case/

  21. Wyatt Houtz, Post Barthian, https://postbarthian.com/2017/10/11/clobber-verses-six-scriptures-cited-gays-lesbians-sex-relationships-lgbtq/


 


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