When making an argument against something, I always try to deal with the real thing. Demolishing straw men is easy, but never beneficial to the search for truth. After my first post on homosexuality, someone shared a video which deconstructed the traditional Biblical verses against homosexual. Its arguments are well done and persuasive, so I thought it would be helpful to respond to it. Here is the link: The Gay Debate: The Bible and Homosexuality. It is over an hour long.
Matthew Vines’ arguments are powerful. He faces Biblical arguments against homosexuality head on and deconstructs them using Scripture. In fact, Vines knows the Bible far better than many people who call themselves Bible believing Christians. There were many points where I agreed with him so I think it best to start there. The traditional Christian stance on homosexuality has caused immeasurable pain to gays and lesbians. There is no doubt that they experience genuine pain because Christianity calls homosexuality a sin. Christians need to stop treating gays and lesbians like they are taking the easiest route or have no self-control. His critique on the they way that most Christians apply the Old Testament law is right on. The majority of Christians are terribly inconsistent in the way they relate the Law to their own lives, cherry-picking the verses they like. Finally, I agree that no one should be alone. We are made in the image of the Three-in-One and the One-in-Three, meaning we are made for fellowship and community. That said, here is where I disagree.
Vines argues that we should always always judge a teaching by its fruit. However, compassion and peace are not always the immediate fruits of right teaching. Right teaching often causes pain. It is like the child who won’t let you look at their cut because it hurts. Sometimes the antiseptic is more painful then the actual wound. However, the antiseptic will hurt less than the eventual infection that will set in if the wound is left untreated. We should always seek to avoid inflicting more pain than is necessary, but that should be balanced with the other teachings of Jesus.
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Matthew 10:34-36
Sometimes the battle takes place within our person and the only way to true peace is to fight the war. Furthermore, Jesus’ own teaching fails Vines’s criteria.
Vines deals with Genesis 1 and 2 in this way. He argues that the reason a woman was a suitable helper for Adam was because Adam was heterosexual. (It is helpful to this debate to remember that in English translations Adam is nothing more then the Hebrew for “the man.”
“But for the man no suitable helper was found” brings out the archetypal weigh of the passage.) Presumably, if Adam had been gay, the suitable helper would have been another gay man. Of course, the first man and woman needed to be heterosexual for the multiplication of the species.
There are several difficulties with this interpretation. The obvious questions arises: Is the Genesis story then normal only for heterosexuals or all people? When God states that it is not good for the man to be alone, is he only referring to heterosexual men? What about women and homosexual men? Also, if this passage were not intended to limit humanity to man-woman sexual relationships, what others are possible? Could a young boy or girl be a suitable helper for certain men? I don’t know of anything in the Bible that explicitly prohibits pederasty. What about an animal as a suitable helper? This is of course prohibited in the law, but according to Vines, the law no longer applies to us. What about polygamy? All of these could be acceptable sexual orientations according to Vines’ interpretation of Genesis.
There is also an inconsistency when it comes to Vines’s affirmation of saving sex for marriage. Youth pastors know that there is no verse which says, “Thou shall not have sex before marriage.” Genesis 2:23-24 has always been the place the that Christians must go to find a foundation for this.
And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
Marriage is based off the restoration of the one flesh relationship, a restoration that is impossible even in loving, monogamous, homosexual marriage.
The main problem with Vines’s interpretation of Genesis 1&2 is his attempt to find an exception in it. Traditionally, the Genesis creation of man and woman has been viewed by Christians as the pattern for human sexuality. Vines takes certain parts as being normative, for example, it not being good for a man to be alone and marriage, while rejecting others, the suitable helper for a man is a woman. Being arbitrary like this doesn’t work. Either all of it is the normal pattern for human sexuality or none of it is.
I will skip the passage on Sodom and Gomorrah because he has many valid points there. Also, I want to leave references to homosexuality in Leviticus alone. The effectiveness of his arguments there depend on one’s approach to the law.
A point which I agree with Vines on is that Romans 1:18-32 is extremely important. In Romans 1:18-3:20 Paul is building a step by step case for the sinfulness of all humanity, Jew and Gentile, and their consequent need for a Savior. Romans 1:18-2:11 deals with the Gentiles, while 2:12-3:8 concerns the Jews. This is why he says in 3:9, “What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin.” (When he talks about Greeks here it is clearly a synonym for Gentiles.)
Vines keenly points out the parallel between the exchange of the true God for idols and the exchange of natural sexual relations for unnatural. He argues that people rejecting God for idols is the parallel of heterosexuals rejecting their heterosexuality and turning to homosexuality. This sexual chaos is the punishment for their rejection of God. He concludes from this that it would be wrong for a homosexual person to switch to heterosexuality. However, his interpretation is wrong because he is not consistent with the parallel.
The rejection of God for idols is the rejection of the genuine for the counterfeit, gold for gravel. Logically following the parallel then, heterosexuality is the genuine and homosexuality the counterfeit. Vines makes the exchange sin, when it is really what is being exchanged that is sinful. If we follow his use of the parallel, it would be wrong for people who start with the worship of idols to exchange it for worship of God.
His emphasis on those who start with a knowledge of God is also a problem. The entire argument of the Romans 1:18-3:20 is that no one is ignorant of God’s requirements, everyone starts with a knowledge of God’s requirements, whether they are cognizant of it or not. In the same way, everyone starts heterosexual, no matter how distortedly it makes its appearance. Hopefully, I can use the word distortedly without an air of spiritual superiority. God knows that there is much that is twisted and broken in me, that daily I feel the scoliosis of my soul.
Vines relates the Romans passage to 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 which discusses head coverings for women. He contends that Paul argues from Genesis that it is natural for a woman to wear head coverings/long hair, while it is a disgrace for a man to have long hair. Normally, Christians interpret natural to refer to cultural customs in the Corinthians passage and to the created natural order in Romans, yet they are the same word in Greek. Vines argues that the use of natural and unnatural in Romans 1:26-27 signify cultural customs.
First, this makes the Roman passage ridiculous. God punishing people who exchanged worship of Him for idols by allowing them to practice uncustomary things is an odd kind of judgment Second, context is the primary determiner of word meaning. Authors can use the same word with different meanings. As an experiment, read John’s first letter and count the different ways that John uses the word world. In most translations this will be the same Greek word kosmos.
A word on 1 Timothy 1:10 and 1 Corinthians 6:9. Vines’s dealing with theses verses is completely flawed. A good case could be made that the the word ἀρσενοκοίτης, literally male-beds, is taken from the Septuagint translation of the Leviticus 18:22. The Septuagint was the version of the Old Testament that most early Christians read. We also have the Latin Vulgate which is a late 4th century translation of the Bible. In 1 Timothy 1:10 and 1 Corinthians 6:9 (6:10 in the Vulgate) the word is translated as masculorum concubitoribus, or male bedfellows. English translations of the Bible have translated the word as “thei that doon letcheri with men” (Wycliffe, 1395), “nether abusars of them selves with the mankynde” (Tyndale, 1525; Miles, 1535; Bishops 1568), “buggerers” (Geneva, 1587), “abusers of themselues with mankinde” (KJV, 1611), “brutal” (Mace, 1729), and “sodomites” (Wesley, 1729). Vines chooses the King James Version’s rendering of arsenokoites. The King James Bible is a wonderful piece of literature, but it is also 400 years old. The meaning of “abusers of themselves with mankind” is as clear to modern readers as “buggerers” is. The word homosexual actually didn’t exist in English until 1892, and then only as an adjective. It wasn’t until 1912 that it was used as a noun. The modern rendering of arsenokoites as homosexual by translators is not without precedence or sound cause.
Contrary to what Vines said, sexual orientation is not a new concept. Plato’s Symposium (c.a. 380 B.C.) contains an amusing story about the creation of humans as we know them and explains the existence of three sexual orientations: female same-sex attraction, heterosexual attraction, and male same-sex attraction. However, the concept of homosexual orientation is not affirmed in the Bible, even thought it existed well before the writing of the New Testament.
Vines also tries to dichotomize gender and sexual orientation. Each gender can have two possible orientations in his view. However, this is not native to the Bible. The Bible doesn’t view gender and sexual orientation as separate. They form a unity. Scripture had the opportunity to take in the Greek concept of multiple sexual orientations, as John did with the Greek concept of logos, but it did not. The absence of any positive affirmations of homosexual love, in contrast to the many affirmations of heterosexual love which litter Scripture, speaks quite strongly to this.
I apologize for the length of this post. My desire has been to actually deal with his arguments, rather than accuse him of distorting Scripture and be done with it. I do have one last thought on Matthew Vines’s presentation. His cry of loneliness is one that resonates with me. However, my agreement with his point would in no way solve the problem of his loneliness. He had the opportunity long before this to seek a romantic relationship with another gay man. Had he done so, there are Christian denominations and communities which would embrace him. What his argument really begs for is the acceptance of such a relationship by certain other Christians. To put his argument in other words: If only you embrace my same-sex attraction, then I can let myself fall in love with a man and not be lonely. How many people does he need to agree with him before he feels free to do this? Whom does he need to agree with him? To make your ultimate happiness dependent on what other people think about you is a sure way to make sure that you will never be happy. It is also a way of holding people emotional hostage. Give me what I want or I’ll never be happy and it will be your fault. Whether he recognizes it or not, he is using guilt as a weapon against his audience. It is the equivalent of a child telling his mother, “I’m going to hold my breath until you buy me that donut because I am dying of hunger.”
If he truly believes that the Bible promotes tolerance of homosexuality and that finding a same-sex partner is the only cure for his loneliness then he should go for it. However, I cannot do otherwise then believe that homosexuality is a sin. I believe it is the right of every human being to believe what they want to. He has the freedom to believe what he wants, but so do I. There is, however, no right to the truthfulness of your belief. In the end, the person who is causing and can cause Matthew Vines the most hurt is himself. Either he must reject homosexuality or embrace it, and experience the consequences of his choice. For that, I have compassion for him.
Here is an interesting response to Matthew Vines’s video: