How should Christians respond to biblical scholarship that denies that passages like Leviticus 18 and Romans 1 condemn homosexual practice?
That’s a big question. I’ll try to give just a short answer.
One of the main arguments people make is to suggest that the homosexual behavior we are dealing with in the ancient world is much different than the homosexual practice that we have now. In other words, we’re talking about committed, consensual, adult, monogamous, lifelong relationships, whereas, in the ancient world, they only knew of homosexual behavior that was man/boy love or was some form of exploitation or domination or prostitution—"bad" forms of homosexuality.
That is an argument from silence. There is nothing in the Bible that suggests that we are only dealing with those kinds of homosexuality. In fact, the passages I just referred to all harken back to the created order—that a man should not lie with a man as with a woman because that is the design in the garden; that a helper was made who would be fit for the man. That language of “fittedness” suggests functionality because the man and the woman, in order to fulfill the creation mandate in Genesis chapter 1 to multiply to fill the earth, had to have a differentiation. A man and a man could not fulfill that function. So a woman would be “fit” for the man.
Leviticus is harkening back to that. Romans 1 has many echoes of creation in talking about likeness and image. And even the way some of the animal pairs are mentioned makes it clear that this is a created order and a design. And then the passages in 1 Corinthians 6 and in 1 Timothy 1 are using a Greek word that is drawing explicitly from Leviticus. So all of these passages are pointing to a divine design for sexuality and for marriage, and to say otherwise is really an argument from silence and an argument against what the Bible says.
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The other point to make is that this cultural distance argument—that what we are dealing with in the ancient world is so different from what we are looking at today—doesn’t really hold. If you read some of the best scholarship on this issue—I'm talking about books by non-Christians—will point out that the ancient world knew of all the different kinds of permutations and expressions of homosexual behavior. To be sure, man/boy love was very common, and there were master/slave and exploitative relationships. But there are also examples in literature, in manuscripts, in vases and pottery, of relationships extending far into adulthood. There is even evidence of some fledgling ideas related to orientation and the causation of how people were this way. Especially when we get to the first century, there is a real polarity: as homosexuality becomes more and more vibrant in its expressions, so does the denunciation from many different quarters.
So it’s just not accurate to say that what we are seeing now as expressions of homosexuality were completely unknown to the biblical authors or were unheard of in the ancient world.
This is an issue about which Christians should not be indifferent.
A thoughtful answer to a question that we all—sooner or later—may need to face, and how to honor Christ with our response.
That‘s a fair question, though it’s a question that would have been strange to anyone in the biblical world.