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Homosexuality and theological revisionists

By Bill Muehlenberg - posted Tuesday, 9 November 2004

The Melbourne Age is not usually known as a journal of theological opinion. So it was curious that they featured an opinion piece on the Bible and homosexuality early in November. The piece argued that there are all kinds of good biblical and theological reasons why we should embrace homosexuality.

The article was in fact representative of what is known as theological revisionism. It is basically a rewriting of theology, of history, indeed, of common sense, in order to make the unacceptable acceptable: to make, that is, homosexuality appear compatible with the Judeo-Christian tradition. But a lot of special pleading and radical hermeneutics is needed to even come close to pulling this off. It is worth looking at some of these ploys in more detail.

A typical tactic of the revisionists is to argue that we live in modern times, and dusty old books like the Bible need to be re-read in the light of modern understandings. This is partly true. Each new generation must grapple with the text and apply it to new situations, but we are to interpret a changing world by the unchanging Word, not the other way around.


Moreover, since when is truth determined by a calendar? If something is true, it is true now, a thousand years ago, and a thousand years from now. C.S. Lewis called this unhelpful tendency “chronological snobbery”: the idea that the new-fangled is necessarily truer. G. K. Chesterton also commented on this practice:

An imbecile habit has arisen in modern controversy of saying that such and such a creed can be held in one age but cannot be held in another. Some dogma, we are told, were credible in the 12th century, but are not credible in the 20th. You might as well say that a certain philosophy can be believed on Mondays, but cannot be believed on Tuesdays. You might as well say of a view of the cosmos that it was suitable to half past three, but not suitable for half-past four. What a man believes depends upon his philosophy, not upon the clock or the century.

Another revisionist ploy is to make selective use of authorities on the matter. But this means ignoring the bulk of biblical scholarship (both Jewish and Christian), which acknowledges the clear condemnation in Scripture of any sexual relationship outside of heterosexual marriage. The biblical position on human sexuality was elaborated in the opening chapters of Genesis and remained constant throughout all 66 books of the Bible. Accordingly adultery, fornication, homosexuality, incest and paedophilia are all proscribed by Scriptural teaching.

Another tactic is to assert the theologically dubious presupposition that “God made homosexuals”. This is at best half right. Yes, God has made every person. But in the biblical worldview, the good creation of God has been seriously marred by what is known as “the Fall”. That is, every person is now born in less than ideal circumstances. Thus some people are born with poor eyesight. Some are born missing a limb. And some are born with a predisposition to anger, overeating, or various sexual preferences. In a fallen world we expect physical, moral and spiritual imperfections.

One psychologist and biblical authority puts it this way: “The Christian church has never taught that all our desires come from God, has never taught that all our desires are good, and has never taught that every desire, even every good desire, ought to be fulfilled. A heterosexual man’s lust for a woman who is not his wife does not come from God and is not a good desire, and should not be indulged.”

These considerations tell us three things. One, from a biblical point of view, the entrance of sin into the world means that we do not necessarily develop the way God originally intended. Two, various predispositions and orientations are not inviolate. God is in the business of changing our fallen humanity. Three, even if we are born with certain genetic bases, they do not fully determine whom we are.


For example, a study reported in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Biological Sciences in October said that there may be a 20 per cent genetic component to homosexuality. But that leaves 80 per cent which is not. Indeed, the scientists stressed that the influence of non-biological factors, such as environment and upbringing, was an important part of the equation.

Revisionists also play fast and loose with the Sodom story. The reality is we have 3,500 years of Jewish, and 2,000 years of Christian, tradition on this passage. Actually, it wasn't until 1955 that the revisionist interpretation (that inhospitality was the sin of Sodom) was first put forward by the liberal theologian D. S. Bailey.

Also, revisionists are happy to recycle the old canard that “Jesus never said a word about gays”. He of course had no need to. First century Jewish culture was 100 per cent clear on the issue as to what were acceptable and unacceptable forms of sexuality. Moreover, arguing from silence is never very wise. Jesus also said nothing about racism, arson, rape or the destruction of the environment. Does that mean he favoured these activities as well?

A further ploy is to raise the fanciful speculation that David and Jonathan were involved in “gay affairs”. But the fact that they wept together and kissed each other upon David’s departure is no hidden description of homosexuality. One simply reads into the text any hints of homosexuality. Anyone familiar with social customs of the ancient Near East (or even many modern Near Eastern cultures for that matter) will see nothing unusual in such practices. As one New Testament scholar puts it, “Whatever feelings David and Jonathan had for one another, both were definitely heterosexual in behaviour, for both were married and fathered children”.

Revisionists are also happy to appeal to a vague, content-less concept of love, a ploy that is equally unhelpful. Such an ephemeral term can cover a multitude of sins. The love of God is never out of sync with the holiness or righteousness of God. God comes as a package deal, and we are not free to pick and choose those aspects that make us feel good. To love God entails keeping his commands, full stop.

Much more could be said about the current trend of theological revisionism. Suffice it to say that the revisionists will have to do a better job in the future to make their case.

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About the Author

Bill Muehlenberg is Secretary of the Family Council of Victoria, and lectures in ethics and philosophy at various Melbourne theological colleges.

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