This essay is written with a particular audience and approach in mind. Its audience is a type of conservative or moderate Christian who is questioning LGBTQ+ issues, and its approach is unusually opinionated. This is not a pure and simple “introduction to gay apologetics” type essay. Personally, I am tired of those, since there are a hundred available on the internet, in libraries, and through book sellers. Instead, I will attempt to put some life into a well-trodden field by presenting some of my own views, while still trying to show a conservative Christian the validity of queer apologetics. Further reading will be provided at the end should you desire a different perspective or more details.
This essay will follow a structured pattern. It will walk through the Bible, talking about key points, from front to back. It will cover both the “clobber passages,” those passages which tend to be used against gay people, and points that are used to construct a positive case for LGBTQ+ people, in addition to other related sections. Gender will be taken as the central idea, since sexual orientation (e.g. “homosexual”) tends to rely on gender, but gender does not tend to rely on sexual orientation. As noted, the end will provide further reading which help buttress my points, or provide alternative perspective.
Adam and Eve
In a front-to-back analysis of pertinent Biblical passages, there’s nowhere to start except with Adam and Eve. You’ve heard the refrain: “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” The idea of a divinely-ordained gender binary and heterosexuality tends to find its roots in the creation of the first man and his wife. I do not believe, however, it is sufficient for those purposes, and I actually derive arguments for LGBTQ+ people from these verses.
Firstly, there is reason to believe that there is justification for same-gender relationships from the creation of Adam and Eve. Particularly, in Genesis 2:18, the Lord declares that “it is not good that the man should be alone,” (ESV) so He made a helper for him. The logic of “Side X,” in demanding the suppression of any homosexual feelings, has led to people completely alienated from their (opposite-sex) partners. The logic of “Side B,” in demanding celibacy, has led to people being alone despite their desire to be otherwise. Only the logic of “Side A,” in affirming such desires, is able to account for the truth that loneliness is bad as they do not demand conditions that lead to loneliness.
On the gender side of things, in the creation narrative there is plenty of justification for gender variance. God created day and night, yet dusk and dawn exist and are beautiful; God created sea and land creatures, but amphibians exist. It takes no stretch of the imagination to read the creation narrative, including the creation of Adam and Eve, and find ample room for nonbinary gender identities.
An Interlude on Gender and Sex
A quick word must be said about gender. Some think that “gender” is either an invalid category, or is equivalent to “biological sex.” Neither of these positions are tenable. Gender has clearly come to mean something distinct from biological sex in popular discourse, and that is because it describes something distinct.
I ask that you think about gender regulations, both legal and social. For example, for the longest time, it was illegal to wear clothing intended for the opposite sex in the United States. Another example is the set of norms surrounding masculinity and femininity, and how these are applied to people at large. It is immensely obvious that different things are expected of those who are seen as men and those who are seen as women, and failure to meet these expectations can lead to punishment. Yet, at the same time, these regulations have shifted quite dramatically. As one book put it, Jerry Falwell (a major Religious Right leader) was a feminist by older standards.
If gender was a naturally occuring category (that is, it just presents itself to us without us having to make it) then why does it need so much regulation? Why is so much energy expended, now and in the past, on trying to label, differentiate, and control gender? We have not spent nearly as much energy in regulating hair color. Thus the saying, “one is not born, but becomes, a woman.”
In addition, biological sex has been questionably categorized as well. It does not lend itself to the binary that people claim it does. Intersex babies are born every day, and constitute a real portion of the populace. However, due to norms surrounding genital morphology, an immense amount of energy has been spent to change the genitals of intersex babies into something more “normal” and to keep such things secret. Doctors, now and in the past, have been under-informed regarding intersex conditions and have pressured families into keeping intersex conditions secret.
The fact of the matter is that body types have a tendency to fall into two rough camps, but not always. Attempting to force bodies to fall into one of two is a denial of natural diversity – a diversity you cannot deny using the Bible. Acts has a story of the inclusion of a eunuch, and eunuchs included intersex men. Attempting to act as if intersex conditions are ignorable abnormalities, too rare to be worth consideration, isn’t very reasonable either. A binary system of sex accounts for nearly all body morphologies, while the system I am suggesting here accounts for all body morphologies. It is not incredibly complex, and meshes better with the Bible. There is no reason not to accept it.
Sodom and Gomorrah
I will be brief with this section, because I find it to be ridiculous that Sodom and Gomorrah have become so connected with gay sex.
In Genesis 18, we find that God has heard of the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah prior to the attempted rape of the angels. Ezekiel 16:49-50 says this: “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it.” The sins that are clear involve pride and prosperity without helping those in need. The closest connection to gay sex is “an abomination,” but the Bible is chock full of listed abominations. Additionally, I hope we can agree that rape is an abomination, regardless of the sexes involved.
Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors
Part of my goal here is to provide not just a defense of LGBTQ+ people from a Christian perspective, but also an offense in favor of them. Part of this offense involves a very simple line of thought: “Surely, gay and gender non-conforming people existed in Biblical times, right? So where are they?” When you don’t disclude the possibility that they’re in the Bible, you find ample bits and pieces to suggest they are positively included.
The first example which I’d like to give is that of Joseph. Joseph’s story is well known to anyone who was raised in a church: Israel had many sons, but Joseph he loved the most. He made Joseph a coat of many colors. Joseph’s brothers resented him for this, and one day they sold him to a slaver and told their father that Joseph had died. Joseph was sold as a slave in Egypt, and eventually became Pharaoh’s right-hand man. When famine hits the land, Joseph’s God-given wisdom helped Egypt be prepared, and so Egypt had plenty of food. Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt for food, and recognizing them, Joseph proceeds to torment them for a bit before revealing himself and letting his family come live in Egypt.
A fact that has been noticed by a few is that the Hebrew words used for “coat of many colors” are also used to describe the virginal outfit that Tamar wears in 2 Samuel 13:18, and are used nowhere else. The intense hatred of Jacob’s brothers makes more sense when we consider that this might not be just a matter of favoritism, but of gender variance. Many people have grown up in homes where it was obvious that one child was more liked by the parents, but very rarely does selling them into slavery feel like an adequate solution. However, the long history of the treatment of gender non-conforming people presents plenty of extreme responses by family.
Leviticus: On Lying with Men
Possibly the most famous anti-gay prooftexts are Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13, which say “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination,” and “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them,” respectively. It’s immediately obvious why these are the most (in)famous.
The ultimate problem with using these verses as prooftexts is the fraught issue of “moral” and “ceremonial” laws, with the former referring to things which are still applicable, and the latter referring to that which is no longer necessary. The relevance of the Mosaic Law was highly debated in early Christianity, and the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 came to determine that “it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.” (Acts 15:28-29) This clearly did away with large sums of the Mosaic Law, and “sexual immorality” remains somewhat vague. We can agree that rape is sexual and immorality, but the point of contention is if men having sex with men (since, curiously, these verses do not include lesbian sex!) is immoral.
Some claim that it is obvious that these are moral laws. I disagree. Leviticus 5:1-6 presents a mixed bag of “ceremonial” and “moral” laws, proclaiming the equality of them. Shortly before Leviticus 18:22, it mentions not having sex with a person during their menstrual cycle, because “by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean, and the land became unclean, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants.” (Leviticus 18:24-25) It is clear that we do not care about that at all anymore, and the context of Leviticus 20:13 makes it clear that these laws are instituted to keep the Israelites distinct from the Canaanites.
Leviticus 20:23-26 says “And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them. But I have said to you, ‘You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey.’ I am the Lord your God, who has separated you from the peoples. You shall therefore separate the clean beast from the unclean, and the unclean bird from the clean. You shall not make yourselves detestable by beast or by bird or by anything with which the ground crawls, which I have set apart for you to hold unclean. You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.” Indeed, the entire set of Levitical laws are very concerned with the separation of the Israelites from the Canaanites. In this is a mixed bag of “ceremonial” concerns which we may refuse to obey, and “moral” concerns which clearly apply to us today. However, “abominations” are included among the things which we readily ignore, and the Bible itself does not make the distinction between moral and ceremonial clear.
Because of this, we are obligated to look to other places for ethical justification. Leviticus alone cannot make clear what is and isn’t allowed.
There is but one verse of interest in Deuteronomy, and that is one of the very few which are ever used against gender non-conforming people. This is Deuteronomy 22:5: “A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.” We have already addressed the issue with “abomination,” and Deuteronomy is part of the Mosaic Law, but there is more that might be said.
Firstly, this passage is surrounded by things which we might consider “good advice” but not binding. For example, verse 6 says if you come across a birds nest with young and eggs and a mother, you can take the young and the eggs, but not the mother. Other parts seem completely irrelevant, like verse 11, which says not to wear mixed wool and linen cloth, and verse 12, which says “You shall make yourself tassels on the four corners of the garment with which you cover yourself.”
Secondly, the translation of this passage has been disputed. Some believe that this refers not to garments in general, but specifically to military clothing, suggesting this is about women sneaking into the military and men avoiding it. Others think it is more about deception in general, which ties into my last point.
Finally, the ultimate question is if a transgender person is the gender they claim to be. To say that a transgender man is condemned by this verse because he is a woman wearing men’s clothes is to simply assume that transgender men are not men. It is not useful for argumentation. You cannot prove that transgender people are not the gender they identify as with this verse. It is, essentially, useless.
David and Jonathan
Similar to Joseph, David and Jonathan present another possible example of queer people within the Scriptures. Their case is very simple. In 1 Samuel 20, they either present the strongest bromance of all time, or they present an instance of Biblical homoromanticism.
Jonathan chooses to support David over his own father. He tells David, “Whatever you say, I will do for you.” (1 Samuel 20:4) In verse 17, it says “Jonathan made David swear again by his love for him, for he loved him as he loved his own soul.” Paul says that husbands should love their wives as they love their own bodies (Ephesians 5:28), so what does it mean that Jonathan loved David as he loved his own soul?. Lastly, they kissed each other and wept over David’s fleeing in verse 41, which while more common back then, continues to show the level of intimacy which they shared.
It is very possible it is just a great bromance, but if we don’t rule out the idea that queer people may be present in the Bible, and instead keep our ears perked for possible instances, this story stands out prominently. As I said before, there’s no reason to think that there are no queer characters. David and Jonathan may very well be bisexual.
Regarding the Eunuchs
Eunuchs are an interesting case in the Bible. They are typically seen as infertile men, whether they were born that way, or chose to become infertile, or were forced to become infertile. Regardless of the reason, they are a distinct, gender variant class in the Scriptures, and the path the Scriptures take regarding them is fascinating.
In the Mosaic Law, eunuchs are discluded from the temple (Deuteronomy 23:1). Later, in Jeremiah, the Lord promises that faithful eunuchs will be given “a monument and a name better than sons and daughters,” (Jeremiah 56:5) which is incredibly suggestive and a major revision. In Acts 8, we see the fulfillment of this, with the Ethiopian eunuch being included into the Church.
Eunuchs held a special place in Biblical times. They were often given positions as royal advisors or guards to female royalty, and they were often more feminine than most men, due a lack of testosterone production. They occupied a unique class which defied standard gender roles, and early on, they were penalized for it. However, Jesus acknowledges their uniqueness in Matthew 19 without condemnation. He makes room for eunuchs, proclaiming, “Let the one who is able to receive this [teaching] receive it.” (Matthew 19:11) If Jesus can make room for people who do not fit the binary, surely we can too.
Marriage, Part 1: Jesus
Speaking of Matthew 19, it and its counterparts in the other gospels are used as prooftexts against gay marriage. There, Jesus says this: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?” (Matthew 19:4-5) This is taken as proof that Jesus only recognized opposite-sex marriages as true marriage. However, this is jumping the gun. Marriage was typically heterosexual, as it is today; it is hardly surprising to think that Jesus, in a discussion on divorce, might just assume the relevant parties are male and female. In addition, the reason they become one flesh was discussed earlier in the section on Adam and Eve (that is, because it is not good that someone should be alone).
Paul, Part 1: Romans
Romans has one of my least favorite prooftexts against same-sex relationships. However, I also believe that it is best examined step by step, and not quickly dismissed like I did with Sodom and Gomorrah. So, here is a thorough examination of the pertinent section of Romans.
Paul follows a very specific chain of thought. I emphasize chain, because it truly is a set of linking ideas. If any one of them falls out, it no longer stays together. It starts at Romans 1:18.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
In this passage, Paul is setting up his point: God is justified in punishing the unrighteous and ungodly because we all have plenty of ability to see the nature of God.
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Now Paul is targeting a very specific set of people: Idolaters. God’s visible in nature, so why are you worshipping images resembling nature? They aren’t even worshipping nature, for crying out loud. This should give pause. How does idolatry pertain to people in same-sex relationships?
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
God’s basically going “Alright, if you don’t want me, you don’t get to have me. Have it your way. I won’t help you out; I’m giving you up to your worst desires.”
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
This is the set of verses that is always used against gay people. Notice the connection here. Paul is very specifically speaking of idolaters. While it might be tempting to say that since it calls these passions “dishonorable,” they must be bad in any context, but please remember to pay attention! Paul is writing to the church in Rome, the center of a pagan empire. It is immensely obvious that Paul’s target here is the religious prostitution that was common in that context.
In addition, some people have gotten the impression that “natural” here must mean “good.” This is unsupported by Romans and leads to the idea that God is evil. Romans 11:24 talks of how God “grafted” in the Gentiles to His plan, “contrary to nature.”
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
Hopefully now you can see how this is fully disconnected from our modern discussions regarding same-sex sexuality. I have known plenty of people in homosexual relationships who were more upright than plenty of people in heterosexual ones. Paul here is presenting a very clear chain of events, and if any link drops out of the chain, the entire thing falls apart.
An Interlude on Fruits
This is related to the relevance of “fruits” in determining who and what are right and wrong. Jesus says that you will know who are false prophets by their fruits, emphasizing that what is good comes from God (Matthew 7:15-16). Paul tells of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, which are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23) Speaking of love, in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul goes on a long discussion about what love is and does, such as “It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful.” (1 Corinthians 13:5)
We must consider what doctrines bear fruit, and which do not. Unimaginable numbers of people have been scorned, killed, and tortured because they were gay or gender variant. Others have killed themselves, either because they couldn’t bear the guilt of their condition, because their condition was unbearable in general, or some combination of the two. Today, LGBTQ+ people face high rates of alcoholism and mental illness because of high levels of stigmatization, including violence and homelessness. A Christian doctrine should be able to bear positive fruit in this area.
Paul, Part 2: Arsenokoitai
In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Paul says “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” In 1 Timothy 1:9-10, he says that “the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine.” Obviously, given the presence of “homosexuality” in both these verses, they need a response.
The word translated “homosexuality” here is “arsenokoitai” in Greek. Arsenokoitai has been the subject of fierce debate. The NRSV renders it as “sodomites,” which is hardly much more clarifying given the huge diversity of meanings that “sodomite” has taken over the years. Some have suggested it comes from the Septuagint version of the Levitical verses mentioned earlier. Others think it refers to pederasty, a common and contemporary practice in Paul’s time of men having sex with boys.
Given the level of confidence I’ve expressed thus far, it might come as a bit of a let-down that I won’t present a single position I find right here. Instead, I suggest that intellectual humility be present in interpretation of these verses, and that we not take translations for granted. “Homosexuality” was not a concept in Paul’s time, and “sodomite” is incredibly vague.
A Pauline Case for Gay Marriage
Paul is not typically where people expect to find arguments for gay inclusion, but there is an argument which you can derive from him. Particularly, there is the question of the point of getting married. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul presents marriage as more a concession than a holy command. Marriage is to keep people from sexual immorality, but if you can avoid sexual immorality, avoid getting married.
Side B and X positions cannot account for this, as people who cannot get sexual release with the opposite sex, yet “burn with passion” for the same sex find no respite. Paul, though, says that “it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” Only an affirming position seems in line with this.
Marriage, Part 2: Paul
We come to our last stop in this trip across the Bible, and it is Ephesians 5. Ephesians 5:22-33 has been used as a justification for a ban on homosexual marriages by arguing that heterosexual marriages take the form of Christ and Church, just like God intended. I find this interpretation tenuous.
Ephesians 5:21 says that we should all submit to each other. Paul seems to be using a subsect of submission to make an analogy of Christ and Church. Submission is asked of all the followers of Christ. We are each to be like Christ, and Christ came not to be served, but to serve (Matthew 20:28). It is hard to establish a hierarchy in the family in this context. The “hierarchy” of Jesus over Church is that Jesus gave up everything for the Church, and now the Church is expected to act like Jesus, as His hands and feet. They are not readily distinguishable – they have “become one flesh.” Paul says this mystery is profound, and that it refers to Christ and Church (Ephesians 5:32). I say this mystery is equally applicable to homosexual marriages.
I ask that the acceptance of LGBTQ+ people by Christians not be seen as a negative idea (“It’s not condemned, so we can do it”), but instead as an exciting new frontier. Seeing the Bible through the eyes of queer people presents new opportunities for growth, and exploring the Bible to find themes that relate to queer people can deliver improved, more comprehensive narratives. The assumption that heterosexism and gender binarism rules in Christianity and the Bible has created a long history of debatable theology, and letting the Spirit of God work where it will is wiser than boxing God in.
What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality by Daniel A. Helminiak. A short tome which I highly recommend.
Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate by Justin Lee. A more narrative based argument which is generally highly recommended.
Resources by The Reformation Project, found at https://www.reformationproject.org/resources.
Between XX and XY: Intersexuality and the Myth of Two Sexes by Dr. Gerald N. Callahan. Another short book, it’s very clear and concise in thoroughly documenting the reality of intersexuality and the dangerous social situation surrounding it.
Radical Love by Patrick S. Cheng. This book is a summary of “queer theology,” a theological approach which goes beyond gay apologetics to outlining a theology with queer people in mind.
Imitation and Gender Insubordination by Judith Butler. One of the founding texts of gender theory, it’s challenging but incredibly influential.
The Bible and the Transgender Experience: How Scripture Supports Gender Variance by Linda Tatro Herzer. Excellent and exactly what it says on the tin.