Gay Marriage and the Bible

An Exploration of the Key Verses in Holy Scripture



A discussion about the authority of the Bible
and the topic of gay marriage
with a focus on six passages:

Genesis 19:4-5
Leviticus 18:22
Leviticus 20:13

1 Timothy 1:9-10
1 Corinthians 6:9
Romans 1:26-27




Christian community in the United States is bitterly divided over homosexuality and same-sex marriage today. The debate is splitting denominations, churches, and families.  Many people who grew up in the church are leaving, either forced out by rejection or voluntarily in solidarity with those they believe are being wronged.

For many Christians the debate is deeper than the surface question of sexual ethics or political policy. Our understanding of the authority of the Bible (especially for Protestants) and Christian Tradition (especially for Catholics and the Orthodox) is at stake, and the affirming perspective on homosexuality and same-sex marriage appears to threaten the foundations of our faith.

This is legimately scary and worrying. I do not wish to minimize these concerns. Yet we must seriously engage with the questions of our time. We cannot ignore or dismiss them, in either a conservative or progressive direction. I believe that the Bible is vital to our faith and relevant in our time, and that it speaks anew to every age.

and a Little Background

In the hopes of giving some helpful context for this writing, I'd like to start with a very brief look at the following topics. Feel free to skip ahead if this isn't relevant for you.

  1. Brief explanation of terms and assumptions.
  2. A little bit about me, my background, and why I'm writing this.
  3. Notes on how I've been doing my research and writing.
  4. Brief overview of what I am covering.

If you have come across this without any knowledge of what it is, let me summarize what it's about:

This is about a Christian response to Gay Marriage

It is written for a generally conservative evangelical Christian audience, beginning with my friends and family, who want to know why some Christians seem to be taking affirming positions on gay marriage and homosexuality, and how they end up reading the Bible. It is the work of one straight married man who has been working on these questions as an amateur (not a scholar) for the past few years.

Setting the Stage

It’s important to be sure we share an understanding of the basics before diving into the content of this book.

Three Christian community responses to homosexuality

Here are the three main responses that Christians have to the question of same-sex orientation:

  1. Sinful Choice Response: Homosexuality is a deliberate lifestyle choice and a sin. It is the epitome of rebellion against God and a sign of pursuing worldly lusts instead of Christ. For some of the most concerned parties, all sexual activity between same-gender partners is a crime against society and should be punished through the judicial system.
  2. Temptation Response: Homosexual desire is a symptom of the fall, and is a temptation to sin no different than the pattern of heterosexual adultery or greed. Those who struggle with same-sex attraction (SSA) are no more sinners than the rest of us in the desire alone. Christians must encourage and support our brothers and sisters in lifelong celibacy with no hope of marriage (this is known in some circles as 'Side B’), or in pursuing a marriage with the opposite sex in spite of their orientation. This view is that sexual activity between same-gender partners in any context is a sin.
  3. Affirming Response: Homosexuality is part of how some of us are created by God, and we can affirm our gay brothers and sisters to find good and holy expression of their God-created orientation through consensual, lifelong, monogamous gay marriage (this is sometimes called 'Side A').

In the American evangelical Christian community, most held to the Sinful Choice Response through the 1990s. Now many, through seeing testimonies and research, have moved to the Temptation Response above. In the last few years, a small but growing percentage of those who claim the title “Evangelical Christians” are moving to the Affirming Response. They are following some of their brothers and sisters in Christ from some mainline denominations who have accepted gay folks as equals in life and marriage for some decades now.

The big questions – on the Bible and homosexuality

This leads to serious questions amongst both accepting and non-accepting groups.

  1. Are all Christians who choose the Affirming Response either abandoning their faith or encouraging their fellow believers to remain in sinful lifestyles that they will face temporal and/or eternal negative consequences for?
  2. Can an individual affirm the continued authority of Scripture for Christian living and support same-sex marriage at the same time?

These are very important questions for the global Christian church today. I’m assuming that the reader recognizes that being gay is not a choice for many, and that there are faithful God-honoring Christians who are attracted to the same gender without conscious choice, whether they are in relationships or celibate. If this is not true for you right now, but you are willing to listen to some testimonies from some of these people then you can find some helpful resources here.

What I believe:

I desire the covenant and sacrament
of life-long monagamous marriage
as the ideal context for sexual expression,
the uniting of two souls in one relationship,
and ultimately the reflection of God’s love,
to be available for all people as
consensual adults, gay or straight.
— My current statement on the topic

Given my background, many of my conservative friends and family assume that I can only give the statement above if I have rejected the authority of the Bible for our lives. I have written this book to show why I disagree. I believe that there is an option to embrace both the Bible and our LGBT brothers and sisters.

The Middle Ground?

There are many conservative Christians who embrace their fellow gay Christ-followers in love, as made in God's image, yet cannot condone gay marriage. I respect and understand their motivations and heart for people, and I agreed with them for a long time, but I cannot do so any longer. The three main recommendations from this perspective are:

  1. Reparative ("Ex-gay") Therapy: Some of the largest organizations that were a part of this work for decades have finally made it clear that an actual change in experienced orientation does not happen for nearly all people who seek it, and is not healthy for most people. Some of the methods have involved shock therapy combined with gay porn and convincing kids that they're the last gay person left because the government killed all the rest. The best programs can at the most help a small percentage to live with their same-sex desires without seeking a same-sex partner (which leads to the next two options). Russell Moore, leader of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and proponent of the Temptation Response, publicly denounced reparative therapy as “severely counterproductive” in October 2014. The American Association of Christian Counselors now recommends that its 50,000 members counsel for celibacy, not reparative therapy. 
  2. Traditional Marriage: As part of the ex-gay philosophy, many gay individuals have been encouraged to marry the opposite sex and remain committed regardless of any same-sex attraction they have. This appears to work out fine for some, but I have heard many stories and know people personally where this works out tragically for both partners and children in the long run.
  3. Lifelong Celibacy: Our apostle Paul was a big fan of celibacy in his epistles, and we know of many saints whose celibacy has given them space for great ministry. However, there is a big difference for me in forced celibacy instead of chosen celibacy. This is larger than simply sexual drive (a large part of who we are as humans to start with) – it is blocking any access to the life-long committed relationships that are freely offered to heterosexual Christian couples (regardless of their maturity or wisdom). This as the only option is leading many gay Christians to either abandon the faith, commit suicide, or return to Scripture to seriously study what it has to say.

When you have read accounts like I have, of people who pray daily, sometimes for decades, for a change of their same-sex orientation, and never experience a difference, it's hard to think that this is something God plans to change for most people.

Even though I am not gay, I saw the dilemma my fellow Christians were facing, and knew I had to join them in this search of the Bible. Following is a brief version of how this happened:

My Journey

I’ll answer the following questions to help you understand a little bit more about how I came to write this book.

  1. Why would I research and write something like this?
  2. What perspective is it coming from?

I was raised in a good conservative fundamentalist and evangelical Christian home and church. There are many things to say, and value, about that. What is relevant for this topic is that I grew up assuming the following things:

  1. that the Protestant Christian Bible we read in English (NIV being most popular) is our complete and self-sufficient rulebook for Christian faith and all of life,
  2. that it provides us all the answers we need with consistent and unchanging interpretation,
  3. and that it clearly and unambigously tells us all sex and desire outside of a heterosexual marriage is wrong

All that being said, I have a confession to make. For decades I valued the Bible in principle, but rarely read it for myself. Sure, I knew personal devotional reading was a general religious expectation, but I never experienced much value to the practice for me personally. I had pastors and teachers explaining it to me all my life, and every time I opened it up I thought “I know what that’s about from Sunday School” and lost interest.

It wasn't until I began attending a Bible study started by my pastor a few years ago that this began to very gradually change. In this class we started with Genesis 1, and began reading long passages (10-20 chapters per week). We would then be challenged to think about and discuss what we read – not what we remembered from past lessons. By the time we reached the New Testament two years later, I had started realizing that there was so much more depth and excitement in the text than I had ever thought possible, and my love for Scripture was born.

A Conversation with a Friend

Several years ago my wife and I decided to quit my career, sell everything, and become missionaries overseas. We spent a year raising support by meeting individually with people all over the country and asking for financial and prayer assistance.

On the verge of getting on the plane in January of 2012, I had a pivotal conversation over email with a business colleague and friend. I had been working with him on various projects over the last few years and always enjoyed our relationship, though we have never met in person. He had been following our journey online, and he reached out to ask:

As you may know, I am a gay dude, made by God.
I will happily support your work
if I know you don’t discriminate against me.
Let me know.
— from my friend's personal email

I knew my friend was gay, and had been with his partner in California for longer than I had been married, so I wasn’t surprised to hear this. I reached out to him with the message I understood at the time: affirming his faith (with the traditional “we’re all sinners” language) and inherent value as created by God, but saying that I could not affirm his sexuality because the Bible was very clear on this.

He was gracious and kind in our series of responses, but it was clear we would continue to disagree on this point. Initially I was proud of my half of the conversation. I felt that I had demonstrated an open and kind attitude to the topic, but that I had stood firmly for the truth.

Over the following year I could not shake this conversation. I thought about it every few weeks, and there was one thing that I began to be uncomfortable with. No matter how I rephrased the message, or thought about the implications, there was nothing I could say from the traditional position that would completely affirm my friend as a good creation of God without requiring him to change who he deeply knew himself to be as a fellow believer in Christ. My pride in how graciously and lovingly I handled this began to change into realizing that there was very little practical difference in the end for my friend between my message and the condemnation language of Westboro Baptist Church.

I wasn't sure what to do with this idea. I couldn't throw out the Bible just to "make my friend feel good," yet I also was troubled with the feeling that what I felt forced to say was unloving in some fundamental way.

What is sin anyway?

Another part of my journey came out of my continued reading and study of the Bible. As I read continuously through the Scriptures, I began seeing a pattern in what was called out as sin by God. Up until this point I assumed that sin was a fairly arbitrary thing from a human perspective­—if God said that something was off-limits or seperated us from him, then that was that.

What I began to see is the deep connection between lists of sins and behaviors that harm and break community and relationships between people. Stealing, lying, adultery, and gossip all have a direct negative effect on those around us. The one sin that didn’t always seem to fit this mold was same-sex attraction within a covenanted relationship. I could see that not all homosexual couples were promiscuous or seeming to be engaging in empirically harmful behavior, just as not all heterosexual couples avoided these things.

I started wondering why this didn’t always seem to fit the pattern, and decided to start doing some more reading.


I began to read more stories online of believers, growing up in conservative Christian homes and deeply devoted to God, who reached adolescence and found to their horror that they were attracted exclusively to the same sex. I read of how depressed and suicidal they became, knowing that their unasked-for feelings and every expression of love through a physical relationship that they could imagine were seen as corrupt and rejected completely by the God they loved.

After many months of reading and thinking, I realized that I was no longer as certain of the interpretation of the Bible that I had always heard on this topic. By the summer of 2014 I had decided I would no longer be able to tell my friend that he was wrong. As of only a few months ago (fall of 2014), after more conversations and research, I finally changed my mind completely. I am personally convinced that the truest expression of our faith, founded on the Bible, is seen in offering our brothers and sisters the opportunity to join together in consensual, monogamous, committed marriage regardless of gender.

Writing this

While I had read a number of books on this topic, and hundreds of articles online, I had not done my own study of the Scriptures before making my decision.

Around the time that this happened, our family returned from the mission field and I entered the discernment process for ordination in the  Episcopal church. When we told my family about our plans, one family member reached out in concern over this particular issue.

During the course of our email dialog in the fall of 2014, I was asked to respond to the following (among similar related questions):

How do you explain the following passages in the Bible: Leviticus 18:21-22 and 20:13, Romans 1:25-27, I Corinthians 6:9-11?

Can the hermeneutic you use on those passage be applied to any other passages?

How does that affect the gospel?

Initially, I planned to write an email in response with a brief summary of the arguments I had read. I can’t even recall now how exactly this whole project actually started, but I found myself doing my own research for the first time. That little email has grown into this book. I’m very grateful for the challenge to explore this topic on my own, and the love that was expressed for us in the concern from this beloved family member.

I will be focusing on the small set of verses that are generally understood to be specifically against all homosexuality. I’ve added two sections from Genesis (covering Jude as well) and 1 Timothy to the list above.

Wherever you are on this topic, or wherever you end up, I hope this book is helpful and illuminating for all those who are wondering why some Christians like myself do not think that affirming gay marriage requires throwing out the authority of Scripture.

Reading the Bible

Before we begin, I'll try to explain a little bit about my methods in research and writing.

How I did my research

First, please note that I am not nor do I claim to be a Bible scholar. I do not know Hebrew, Greek or Latin, and I have not read any untranslated original source material. Everything I have read is accessible to the average reader. I have read a lot of books that have helped me generate some ideas and perspectives, but I'm going to try to focus in this article on sources that are freely available online (like articles and research tools). The Bible itself will function as both primary source as well as the subject of the discussion.

I will not be citing work in an academic way. I will assume some level of trust at certain points that I am doing my best to be accurate when referring to various things I bring up. This doesn't mean that every claim I reference is the one option available, but merely that I have tried to make sure there is some collective agreement that what I'm saying is a viable interpretation. If you have a question about a specific item, feel free to contact me. However, you'll likely find the same material I have by simply doing an online search.

I do not claim to have found unshakable proof of anything. I am certain I can be, and am, wrong about many things. In fact, I'm eager for readers to send me corrections, additions or refutations to improve the article. In the end, this is simply my own flawed attempt to figure out this very tough topic for my own use. I hope it can be useful for others as well, whether you agree or disagree with the conclusions by the end.

Because of my research methods, I hope that you will be able to follow along with your own research using the base I'm laying out, if that's something that interests you.

Source notes:

I am using the New Revised Standard Version (NSRV) translation of the Bible for the primary quotes, since it is a version many Biblical scholars recommend. If you don't like this translation, please feel free to use your own. There is no substantial difference in translation of the key words we’ll be looking at. I have cross-referenced a number of other translations while writing such as the Young's Literal Translation (YLT) and both Greek and Hebrew interlinear translations. I'm using the conservative standard Strong's Exhaustive Concordance (along with some more modern resources) to research the Hebrew and Greek words, and I have provided the Strong's reference numbers for each one that I bring up in the text. I'm trying to use mostly resources that are freely available online so that all readers can follow along.

I used a lot for both the Strong's references as well as the Interlinear readings. I prefer's layout for comparing different translations though.

Nerd note: If you like comparing many versions on Bible Gateway with a large screen, apply the rule below through something like the Chrome extension "Stylebot" for more useful columns.

.container { max-width:98%; }

I took the liberty of reclaiming the King James's translation word choice of "effeminate" for the title of the section on 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. This is also the word used in Young's Literal Translation.

Other Minor Notes

For dates I'm using the BCE/CE notation. The term "Christian / Common / Current Era" was first used in 1584 CE, and has been gaining acceptance since the 19th century at the urging of Jewish scholars. No rejection of the origin of the numbering (based on Christ's estimated birthdate by a monk in 525 CE – he was only off by a few years) is implied by this!

I've chosen to use the Hebrew term "Tanakh" to refer to what most Christians call the Old Testament, since it seems more specific and honoring of the Hebrew community that God first revealed himself to in the Scriptures. If you're not familiar with the term, Tanakh is an acronym from the three sections of the Jewish Bible: Torah (Teachings or Law), Nevi'im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings)—hence TaNaKh. As a side note, the "Prophets" include what we would consider the books of prophecy and Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings (but not Chronicles). When New Testament writers referred to "the Law and the Prophets" they were speaking of the two highest regarded and first canonized sections of the Tanakh. The Psalms, Proverbs and other books complete the Hebrew Bible in the Writings section, and were accepted into the Scripture canon just a few hundred years before Jesus was born. I've just been learning all this, and I find it fascinating, so wanted to share.

Starting Our Read

This book started as a simple email response in a personal conversation. My, how it’s grown! I pray you find it helpful, wherever you end up on the final conclusions.

There have been many books written on this subject from a variety of perspectives. You will find a list of additional resources at the end of this book.

What you will find in this book

We will be focused primarily on the translation and interpretation of certain words and phrases found in six key passages in the Bible. The case I would like to make for you is that the current accepted translations and understandings of these verses are subjective and opinionated, and that there are other options we may consider without abandoning a traditional view of the authority of the Bible.

 Okay, let’s get started, shall we?


I'll briefly summarize the structure of what I've written here, and then we can dive in.

  1. Setting up our topic
    1. Introduction. A little background on the author and the central questions.
    2. Why are we even asking these questions, and are we "allowed" to do so as Christians who hold to the authority of Scripture? A look at history and current social contexts.
  2. What does the Bible say against homosexuality?
    We look at the most-often cited passages in order:
    1. Genesis 19: The Sin of Sodom and Gomorrah
    2. Leviticus 18: Do not lie with a man – an abomination
    3. Leviticus 20: Death penalty for sexual immorality
    4. 1 Timothy 1: Law laid down for the lawless, including the arsenokoites
    5. I Corinthians 6: The effeminate and sodomites do not inherit the kingdom
    6. Romans 1: Abandoning God, and unnatural acts that lead to sin
  3. Finishing the discussion
    1. Conclusion and summing up of our exploration.
    2. Further resources for study.

Follow the link below to start reading.

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Page photo credit: "Holy Name Church" by Michael D Beckwith