Editor's Note: This is part two in a three-part series that will feature both sides of the debate on the Bible and homosexuality. The series launched with an interview with Matthew Vines. This second story features responses from evangelical theologians. Ending the series will be guest contributions from Christians who have chosen not to engage in homosexuality and those who don't believe a gay lifestyle conflicts with the Bible.
"Being gay is not a sin" is the mantra that one young Harvard student is trying to promulgate. But while Matthew Vines has attracted a growing following with what some are describing as accessible, scholarly arguments, evangelical scholars don't believe he'll make much headway in the Christian community.
"His arguments are not new, and his predecessors failed to win the day within the Christian community," said Dr. Evan Lenow, assistant professor of Ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. "Therefore, I doubt he will have significant impact in the long term."
Vines, 22, grew up in a Christian home and takes his faith seriously. Thus, as a homosexual feeling conflicted with the church's teaching – that homosexuality is a sin – he decided to take a leave of absence from Harvard University two years ago in order to study Scripture and dozens of scholarly works on the subject.
The Wichita, Kan., resident went into his research questioning the "traditional" teaching as it has caused emotional devastation among gay persons in the church, according to Vines. Also motivating his study was a picture of a bleak future for him – where he would "always be left out" and "always be alone" while his friends get married and have children.
Two years later, he ended up producing a dissertation that he believes "dismantles every Bible-based argument against homosexuality."
But the arguments he presents have been rehashed from the work of such scholars as Finnish Old Testament scholar Martti Nissinen, homosexual New Testament scholar Dale Martin (Yale), and homosexual church historian John Boswell, according to Dr. Robert Gagnon, associate professor of New Testament at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, who is considered the foremost expert on the Bible and homosexuality.
"Every one of these rehashed arguments I have refuted in previous work, of which Vines shows not the slightest awareness," said Gagnon, who studied the issue for 15 years after completing a masters of theological studies at Harvard Divinity and a Ph.D. in New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary.
Nevertheless, Vines is challenging the "traditional interpretation" of Scripture, maintaining that Christians who hold this view are misreading the Bible.
His arguments can be viewed in an hour-long video where he breaks down six passages (seven if you include the Creation account) in Scripture that are commonly used to condemn homosexual behavior.
The Christian Post asked several evangelical theologians to respond to some of those arguments.
Genesis: God Created Them Male and Female
Vines argued (in his video) that while Christians cite the Genesis account of God creating a man and a woman to argue against same-sex unions, he said they miss an important point in the creation story.
"In Genesis 2:18, God says, 'It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him,'" Vines stressed.
For Adam, that suitable partner was Eve, a woman. And for most men, a woman is the right partner. But for homosexuals, a "suitable" partner would be someone of the same-sex, Vines contended.
"But the necessary consequence of the traditional teaching on homosexuality is that, even though gay people have suitable partners, they must reject them, and they must live alone for their whole lives," he maintained. "By holding to the traditional interpretation, we are now contradicting the Bible's own teachings: the Bible teaches that it is not good for the man to be forced to be alone, and yet now, we are teaching that it is."
Rejecting the argument, Lenow told CP, "Mr. Vines is missing the point of the text. Prior to the creation of Eve, Adam was naming the animals. Part of the creation mandate in Genesis 1 is that the animals would reproduce after their kind. This is explicitly stated in Gen 1:22 regarding the sea creatures and birds and implied regarding the beasts of the earth in the language of 'after their kind' in Gen 1:24-25.
"Adam surely noticed that each of the animals had a 'partner' by which they could reproduce. Thus, part of the idea that it was not good for man to be alone was that he could not reproduce 'after his kind' without a suitable partner. Therefore, as part of the first marriage in Genesis 2, God intended for procreation to be a part of this union."
Lenow added: "We need to look at Adam not only as a historical figure but also as the representative of all mankind. Scripture itself views Adam in this way in Romans 5 as Paul speaks to sin entering the world through one man – Adam. Therefore, in this context, we see Adam representing all of mankind. God's design for man is that he could enter into a complementary relationship with a woman, who is like him yet still different. At a very basic level, the complementary biological differences between man and woman make this clear. Thus, homosexual intercourse cannot be the union of a man and his suitable helper since the complementary biological differences do not exist.
"Related to this, if God viewed marriage as the means for mankind to reproduce after his kind, then homosexual marriage and intercourse violates God's command in Gen 1:28."
Sean McDonough, professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, also offered his take.
"His (Vines') take on Genesis 1 is theologically incoherent. He seems to concede the goodness of God's creation of man and woman (which forms the basis for subsequent biblical teaching on marriage and sexuality), then claims that in the current state of things homosexual desire is natural, and therefore good, for homosexuals. But this spectacularly avoids the problem of the Fall in Genesis 3.
"One might equally argue that while peace was a desirable state for Adam and Eve in Eden, murderous envy was the 'natural' state of Cain, and thus he cannot be condemned for acting on his innate desires. He also suggests that the only possible way not to be alone in the world is to be in a sexual relationship. Why would this be so?"
Also denouncing Vines' argument that it is not good for man to be alone and that a "suitable" partner is needed, Gagnon of Pittsburgh Seminary stated:
"Such arguments [show] a complete disregard for context, which stresses that the missing sexual element in man is woman. A more accurate rendering of the Hebrew than NIV's 'helper suitable for him' is 'a helper as his counterpart (ezer kenegdo).' The Hebrew term kĕnegdô consists of kĕ meaning as, like; suffix ô meaning his; and neged connoting both corresponding to (i.e., similarity as humans) and opposite (i.e. difference as regards a distinct sex extracted from him). The text does not present the sex of the 'counterpart' or 'complement' as optional. Four times in three verses (2:21-23) the narrator emphasizes that something is 'taken from' the adam or undifferentiated human and formed into a woman ('side' may be a better translation than 'rib' of Hebrew tsela' since it means this in its 36 other uses in the Hebrew Bible). The principle of two sexes becoming one flesh is thus grounded in the picture of two sexes emerging from one flesh (2:24). What is required in the story line of Gen 2:21-24 is not merely a joining or merger of two persons but a rejoining of the two sexes into one.
"Orientation does not take precedence over formal (embodied, structural) prerequisites such as gender, monogamy, and age. If people are unhappy with God's conditional provision, they do not get to choose whatever option brings satisfaction to their sexual desires.
"Moreover, while it is 'not good' for humans to be alone, it is far worse for humans to engage in same-sex intercourse. The former is not a sin but an experience of deprivation. The latter is regarded by Scripture as a violation of a core value in sexual ethics. To engage in same-sex intercourse as a means to averting loneliness is to subvert a higher value in Scripture for the sake of lesser consideration."
Natural vs. Unnatural; Lust vs. Loving
Romans 1:26-27 is a New Testament passage where the Apostle Paul writes, "Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way, the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error." (NIV)