The Bible and Homosexuality, Part 1: The Purpose of Human Sexuality in Genesis 1 & 2
One of the most heated cultural debates of our time is that of homosexuality. While the scales seem to have tipped in favor of seeing homosexuality as a morally neutral behavior, at least in the culture at large, there remains a significant minority who think otherwise.
It will probably come as no surprise that these dissenters most often come from the ranks of those who consider themselves religious in a traditional sense. This is by no means limited to those of the Christian faith. On the contrary, orthodox Islamic teaching against homosexual behavior is, arguably, more pointed than anything to be found in the Jewish or Christian scriptures (cf. Qur’an 4:15-16, 7:80-82, 26:165-175, 27:55-58, 29:28-29).
In the West, however, it is the Christian view of homosexuality that has received the most attention. This is understandable, given Western culture’s indebtedness in the Judeo-Christian worldview which has always viewed homosexuality as morally negative; that is, as sinful. This historical entanglement of Western culture and Christian theology is a matter of some difficulty for those who are presently advancing the morally-neutral view of homosexuality. Changing the cultural perception of homosexuality clearly goes against the stream of our history. Therefore, the attempt to modify our culture’s view of homosexuality must do one of two things: disassociate Western culture from Christian faith or redefine the Christian view of homosexuality.
Both approaches are currently being employed by those who hope to see homosexuality accepted as a morally neutral, or even morally positive, behavior. However, it is the latter one, the attempt to redefine the Christian view of homosexuality – which most concerns us here. One of the techniques – and indisputably a clever one from a purely rhetorical perspective – has been to challenge the traditional interpretation of biblical passages which seem to speak against homosexual behavior. If it can be shown that these passages do not actually condemn homosexual behavior, as has been thought, then the moral foundation of objecting to such behavior is lost and such objections become nothing more than personal preference.
The question before us, then, is whether or not the Bible actually does evaluate homosexual behavior as being morally negative. A secondary question is whether or not any such negative evaluation – if it exists at all – is to be understood as timeless or if it was limited to a particular cultural context (much like the Jewish dietary prescriptions have been understood to be non-binding for non-Jewish Christians).
To do this, we will look at each of the relevant biblical passages, employing standard principles of responsible interpretation.
Genesis 1: 26-28 & 2:18-24
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:26-28)
18 The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” 19 Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. 23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman’, for she was taken out of man.” 24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. (Genesis 2:18-24)
While these two passages do not directly speak to homosexual behavior, they do provide important context for the larger discussion. Human sexuality cannot be understood as an isolated construct. Rather, it must be understood within the larger framework of human nature. Within the first two chapters of Genesis, critical teaching about the purpose of human existence is given:
- Humanity is a single whole made up of two constituent parts, male and female.
- Human beings were created to be/act as the Image of God, representing God and His purposes in all creation.
- In order to accomplish #2, humans were commanded to procreate and fill the earth with their offspring, a task which necessarily requires heterosexual behavior and which is obstructed by homosexual behavior.
Again, these two passages do not directly address the issue of homosexual behavior, but they do provide important context to the discussion by teaching that human procreation is closely linked to the purpose of human existence.
However, while it seems clear that procreation is a central function of sexuality according to these passages, it may be an overstatement of the evidence to say that procreation is the only purpose of human sexuality. Gen 2:24 says “for this reason a man…shall be united to his wife and they will become one flesh.” It is likely that the statement “they will become one flesh” here is related to sexual union but it should be noted that both marriage itself (“man…united to his wife”) and the sexual union that occurs in the context of marriage (“become one flesh”) are both intended to accomplish some larger goal; that is, both marriage and sex are given “for this reason”. The question then becomes, what is “this reason”? In the context, it seems clear that the reason is that “it is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen 2:18). In other words, both marriage and sex are intended to foster companionship. Therefore, producing children is not the only purpose of sexual activity.
Recognizing that procreation is not the only purpose of sexuality, some might attempt to argue that the teaching here in Gen 1 & 2 is not necessarily restricting sexual activity to heterosexual partners. However, such an argument would have to ignore the larger context of this section. In context here it is clear that both marriage and sexuality serve to unite man to woman, apparently because, while both are made as God’s Image, their representation of Him is of differing sorts (e.g. strength and nurturing) and it is only when male and female are together that they are able to accomplish this purpose. Add in the fact that procreation is one of the central purposes of sexual activity and it becomes clear that homosexuality is fundamentally contrary to the goals of human sexuality as described here in Genesis 1 & 2.
Even apart from these contextual observations, it must be acknowledged that these first mentions of human sexuality in the Bible are exclusively concerned with heterosexuality. As we shall see in our consideration of subsequent passages, the biblical teaching on human sexuality appears to proceed from this basic assumption of heterosexuality as the intended norm.
 I will typically speak of “homosexual behavior” rather than “homosexuality” for two reasons. First, many people contend that there is a valid ontological/praxis distinction to be maintained here, much like there is a distinction between “sexuality” (which is primarily ontological) and “sexual behavior” (which is a matter of praxis). Second, many Christian and Jewish theologians maintain that homosexual behavior is morally neutral but that homosexuality (understood as the innate impulse rather than the practice) is never directly addressed by Scripture.
 I am not suggesting by this statement that either the Western world generally or the United States particularly should be described as a historically “Christian” culture, though this is, in my opinion, a sustainable argument. Here I am merely saying what is undeniable: that the Judeo-Christian worldview has exerted considerable formative influence on Western culture.