The biblical texts on same-sex unions

he biblical texts on same-sex unions

Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 13.14.04My Grove booklet on the key biblical texts on same-sex unions is now out. You can order it from the Grove website, either as a printed booklet or as PDF.

I cover the debates around Gen 1 and 2, Gen 19, Judges 19, Leviticus 18 and 20 , Jesus and the gospels, Acts 15, Romans 1, 1 Cor 6 and 1 Tim 1. For each of these, I set out what I see as the ‘traditionalist’ and ‘revisionist’ readings of these texts (though these and any other terms are always problematic) and then evaluate them in the light of interpretation of the texts in question.

I hope that the booklet will serve to clear the air a little on the debate, by clarifying what the Bible does and does not say on this issue. Here is part of my introduction.


Why another Grove booklet on same-sex unions? There are numerous reasons. For one thing, since the first Grove Biblical booklet was published addressing this question some 15 years ago, the landscape of the debate has changed both significantly and remarkably rapidly. Secondly, this question has dominated media coverage of the Christian churches and their engagement with society. (Some of us have argued that there might be more important or even more urgent things to consider, but the media, and in particular social media, does not appear to agree.) Thirdly, this issue is often tied in together with the issue of women’s leadership in the church, and as the Church of England is moving decisively to ordain women as bishops, many are saying that the church’s position on same-sex unions is the next thing that must change.

But this leads to the fourth, and perhaps most important reason for a short, accessible overview of the biblical texts. Something quite strange has been happening in the public debate about same-sex unions. Although there is extensive literature on the question, and specifically on the issue of how we read the biblical texts, conclusions that once could be called well established now appear either to be ignored or forgotten.

For example, one leading advocate of a change to the church’s position, from what is described as an ‘evangelical’ perspective, argues that we should ignore the texts on sexual ethics in Leviticus 18 and 20 because we ignore the prohibition on eating shellfish and wearing clothes of mixed fibres. I had thought that this kind of ‘naïve’ (in the strict sense) reading of the Old Testament, which assumes that all commands have equal significance so must be accepted or rejected together, had been set aside in the debate. But it is continuing to make its presence felt in popular discussion.  Another example occurs in recent scholarly work; a text published only last year (Brownson’s Bible, Gender, Sexuality) questions the link between Paul’s term arsenokoitai in 1 Cor 6.9 and the Greek version of Lev 18.22—a link which I think most would regard as very well established (p 271). There is really no other plausible explanation for this term, which Paul appears to have coined himself.

Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 13.14.04 - Version 2So the purpose of this booklet is not to bully people, nor to make a minority in the churches or society feel marginalized, nor to defend the mistreatment of people who experience same-sex attraction in previous generations or other cultures. It is, however, to set out the key texts, to explore concisely the issues in the interpretation of these texts, including engaging with important and recent commentators, and to see whether the biblical witness can offer any warrant for the affirmation of same-sex sexual union as a ‘way of life, hallowed by God’ on a par with the marriage of one man to one woman. This is not an attempt at an academic treatise, but aims to be relevant and accessible for church members and leaders who would like some guidance through this discussion. I have engaged both with academic and popular arguments, and sought to connect the two areas of discussion.


Order now from Grove Books

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