A Biblical Teleological Argument for Identity, Sex, and Sexuality, Part 2

Read Part 1.

Moral Permissive View (Cultural Distance Theology)

Built on the essential yet unstated premise that God cannot or will not hold a person morally accountable for what they do not choose, Matthew Vines asserts that “Gay people have a natural, permanent orientation toward those of the same sex. It is not something they choose, and it’s not something they can change. They aren’t abandoning or rejecting heterosexuality—that’s never an option for them to begin with.”9 Vines adds an emotional appeal, emphasizing the hurt caused by viewing homosexuality as wrong:

Being different is no crime. Being gay is not a sin. And for a gay person to desire and pursue love and marriage and family is no more selfish or sinful than when a straight person desires and pursues the very same things. The Song of Songs tells us that King Solomon’s wedding day was “the day his heart rejoiced.” To deny to a small minority of people, not just a wedding day, but a lifetime of love and commitment and family is to inflict on them a devastating level of hurt and anguish.10

Elsewhere, Vines characterizes Paul’s negativity toward homosexual activity as targeting only a particular kind of behavior. Vines suggests that, “Paul is explicit that the same-sex behavior in this passage is motivated by lust. His description is similar to the common ancient idea that people “exchange” opposite-sex for same-sex relations because they are driven by out-of-control desire, not because they have a different sexual orientation.”11

Vines’ advocacy of permissiveness is rooted in three key factors. First, Vines appeals to cultural distance—the idea that the culture that the Bible is addressing in its negative connotations of homosexuality is not the responsible culture of same-sex love that Vines seeks to exonerate. Second, God has an obligation to respect human free will, and can not (or will not) judge humanity for that which is not chosen. Finally, Vines’ strongest and perhaps most effective appeal is to the heartache that he purports is brought on by condemnations of same-sex relationships. Note that the desired outcome for Vines is not merely tolerance, but rather acceptance. Anything less will not resolve a devastating level of hurt and anguish. Vines’ argument is rhetorically powerful. Who would want to cause hurt and anguish? Certainly, no one who holds to any kind of Christian ethic. However, claims of injury of this sort are difficult if not impossible to prove, and they don’t make for strong arguments, outside of their emotional appeal. Vines’ other two premises, on the other hand, are perhaps more grounded in historic philosophical argument.

The idea that homosexuality is not a choice and thus cannot be condemned on moral grounds cuts to the heart of whether or not humanity is a completely free moral agent. While there has not, as of yet been provided any scientific data to suggest that homosexuality is actually individually predetermined, determinism is important to Vines’ argument. The premise holds that if God were to judge that which is not chosen, then His justice could be questioned. But the flaw in this assumption is especially apparent in Romans 5. In that context, Paul acknowledges that Adam’s sin resulted in the sinfulness of all humanity.12 Thus, people who did not choose to be born were brought into this life, born into death and separation from God. They did not individually first choose against God, they were already by nature children of wrath,13 enemies of God,14 and helpless.15 God holds humanity morally accountable for what they don’t choose. Consequently, even if the claim that homosexuality is inherited and not chosen was demonstrated to be true, that would not invalidate God’s sovereign right to hold His creation accountable on His own terms.

Vines’ cultural distance premise is well voiced by Justin Cannon, who suggests that the Bible isn’t addressing a culture of honorable and respectful homosexuality, but rather an abusive form of same-sex activity:

…the Bible really does not fully address the topic of homosexuality. Jesus never talked about it. The prophets never talked about it. In Sodom homosexual activity is mentioned within the context of rape (raping angels nonetheless), and in Romans 1:24-27 we find it mentioned within the context of idolatry (Baal worship) involving lust and dishonorable passions. 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 talk about homosexual activity in the context of prostitution and possibly pederasty. Nowhere does the Bible talk about a loving and committed homosexual relationship.16

In one sense, Cannon is right—there is minimal Biblical discussion of homosexuality compared to other issues. There are six clear references to same-sex activity in Scripture,17 and yet there are forty-four mentions of adultery, thirty-five references to lust, seventy-two instances of deceit, and thirty-eight instances of jealousy. If the Scripture has so little to say on the matter, why the controversy? Cannon suggests that the six same-sex references are generally mishandled (by those advocating the Moral Prohibitive View), even with respect to the terminology used.

Raymond Hays helps interlocutors understand the significance of the terms chosen, and argues that the verbiage is clear enough to invalidate the cultural distance premise. Hays’ comments in that regard are worth noting here:

The word malakoi is not a technical term meaning “homosexuals” (no such term existed in either Greek or Hebrew), but it appears as pejorative slang to describe the “passive” partners—often young boys—in homosexual activity. The other word, arsenokoitai, is not found in any extant Greek text earlier than 1 Corinthians. Some scholars have suggested that its meaning is uncertain, but Robin Scroggs has shown that the word is a translation of the Hebrew mishkav zakur (“lying with a male”), derived directly from Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 and used in rabbinic texts to refer to homosexual intercourse. The Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) of Leviticus 20:13 reads, “Whoever lies with a man as with a woman [meta arsenos koiten gynaikos], they have done an abomination” (my translation). This is almost certainly the idiom from the noun arsenokoitai was coined. Thus, Paul’s use of the term presupposes and reaffirms the holiness code’s condemnation of homosexual acts.18

If Hays is right, then the terms employed in the New Testament passages are enough to include all homosexual activity, and not just the kinds that Vines and Cannon would perceive as abusive.

Still, perhaps the strongest assertion for the Moral Permissive View is simply that no explicit rule prohibiting same-sex activity is ever given in the New Testament. However, to state the positive assertion of Biblical permissiveness on those grounds would be to postulate an argument from silence. This would be the same (il)logical maneuver employed in perceiving Christian ethics as permissive of murder because there is not one direct prohibition of murder in the New Testament. The nearest to any such direct prohibition are the several references to Mosaic Law from Jesus and James, and it is worth noting that neither actually stated the mandate on its own merit outside of the Mosaic context. If homosexuality can be absolved this way, then so can murder.

While the aforementioned grounds for the Moral Permissive argument are persuasive to some, their limitations are not difficult to identify. Nonetheless, the emotional appeal and the simple peer pressure that results is perhaps the most persuasive of all. It is ironic, in the view of this writer, that kindness, compassion, and respect remain the most valuable influencers in favor of same-sex activity. Still, it is important to note that if these virtues are misplaced in advocating for homosexuality, then their persuasiveness is a mirage and even a deception. Kindness, compassion, and respect must be rooted in truth—just as the kind of love that drives orthopraxy is a particular kind of love—from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

(Next: The Moral Prohibitive View)

Notes

9 Matthew Vines, “The Gay Debate: The Bible and Homosexuality,” March 10, 2012, viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ezQjNJUSraY.

10 Ibid.

11 Matthew Vines, “Debating Bible Verses on Homosexuality,” New York Times, June 8, 2015, viewed at https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/06/05/us/samesex-scriptures.html.

12 Romans 5:12-19 states six times explicitly that Adam’s sin caused all to be in sin.

13 Ephesians 2:3.

14 Romans 5:8-10.

15 Romans 5:6.

16 Justin Cannon, “The Bible, Christianity and Homosexuality,” GayChurch.org, viewed at https://www.gaychurch.org/homosexuality-and-the-bible/the-bible-christianity-and-homosexuality/.

17 Genesis 19, Leviticus 18:22, 20:13, Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6:9, and 1 Timothy 1:10.

18 Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: (San Francisco, CA: HarperOne, 1996), 382.

Christopher Cone 2016


Dr. Christopher Cone serves as President of Calvary University, and is the author or general editor of several books including: Integrating Exegesis and Exposition: Biblical Communication for Transformative Learning, Gifted: Understanding the Holy Spirit and Unwrapping Spiritual Gifts, and Dispensationalism Tomorrow and Beyond: A Theological Collection in Honor of Charles C. Ryrie. Dr. Cone previously served in executive and faculty roles at Southern California Seminary and Tyndale Theological Seminary and Biblical Institute, and in pastoral roles at Tyndale Bible Church and San Diego Fellowship of the Bible.

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