Theologians Find Vines' 'Homosexuality Is Not a Sin' Thesis Not Persuasive

Here, Vines defined "natural" differently from evangelical Christians, who view God's original design of male and female as natural.

"Gay people have a natural, permanent orientation toward those of the same sex; it's not something that they choose, and it's not something that they can change," he asserted.

"If the point of this passage is to rebuke those who have spurned their true nature, be it religious when it comes to idolatry or sexual, then just as those who are naturally heterosexual should not be with those of the same sex, so, too, those who have a natural orientation toward the same sex should not be with those of the opposite sex."

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He added, "Paul's reference to same-sex behavior is intended to illustrate this larger sin of idolatry. But in order for this analogy to have any force, in order for it to make sense within this argument, the people he is describing must naturally begin with heterosexual relations and then abandon them."

Lenow's rebuttal:

"The crux of his argument is that Paul knows nothing of committed same-sex relationships. Therefore, the violation would have to be heterosexuals (by orientation) participating in homosexual behavior. The problem with this is multi-faceted. First, it assumes that Scripture is not fully inspired by God. Even if Paul knew nothing of sexual orientation, the Holy Spirit inspired the text. This would imply that God himself was not aware of the concept of sexual orientation and was incapable of framing the message in such a way that it would be clear.

"Second, the idea that homosexuals have a 'natural' inclination towards relationships with people of the same sex is in fact a rejection of what God has revealed about himself. Paul's condemnation of idolatry in verses 22-25 is based on the fact that the unrighteous 'exchanged the truth of God for a lie.' Part of the truth of God is what he has revealed about the creation.

"As told to us in Genesis 2-3 and evident in observing nature, God created two genders that complement one another in multiple ways, not the least of which is through biological differences making sexual intercourse procreative. To reject this natural sexual function of the body is to reject how God created mankind in Genesis 1-2. Thus, Mr. Vines is committing the same sin that he rests solely on the backs of those who worshiped false gods – exchanging the truth of God for a lie.

"Finally, Mr. Vines assumes as scientific fact that which has not been proven. He assumes that sexual orientation is permanent and part of one's genetic make-up. However, there is no scientific study that proves Mr. Vines' position. All scientific studies attempted to prove this suffer from small sample sizes and preconceived agendas."

Dr. Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Seminary, also opposed Vines' argument.

"It is difficult to get around the clear implication here that 'natural relations' means a relationship between a man and a woman. It is quite a leap to suggest that Paul was not ruling out same-sex intimacy. The fact that he does not elaborate on this seems clearly to be due to the fact that he simply takes all same-sex intimacy to be violations of God's creating and redeeming will. It isn't just lustful homosexuality that counts as 'abandoning natural relations' but same-sex intimacy as such."

Gagnon, an ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), asserted that Vines errs in arguing that the Apostle Paul "has only lustful homosexual relationships in view since (allegedly) committed homosexual relationships were unknown in the ancient world."

"Vines … errs in claiming that nothing akin to homosexual orientation was known in the ancient world. Greco-Roman theories (Platonic, Aristotelian, Hippocratic, and even astrological) existed that posited at least some congenital basis for some forms of homosexual attraction, particularly on the part of males desiring to be penetrated," the Pittsburgh professor noted.

"Simply put, many in the ancient world attributed one or more forms of homosexual practice to an interaction of nature and nurture. Moreover, many believed that homoerotic impulses could be very resistant to change. As classicist Thomas K. Hubbard notes, 'homosexuality in this era [viz., of the early imperial age of Rome] may have ceased to be merely another practice of personal pleasure and began to be viewed as an essential and central category of personal identity, exclusive of and antithetical to heterosexual orientation' (Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: A Sourcebook of Basic Documents [University of California Press, 2003], 386). Hubbard also points to a series of later texts from the second to fourth centuries that 'reflect the perception that sexual orientation is something fixed and incurable' (ibid., 446). It is important to remember that many of the same Greco-Roman moralists and physicians who held such views could still oppose the behaviors arising from homoerotic predispositions.

"Paul viewed sin as innate, generating impulses that people don't ask for and often wish they could get rid of. If some Greco-Roman moralists and physicians, operating within a culture that tolerated and at times endorsed at least some homosexual practice, could reject forms of homosexual practice committed by those with a biological predisposition, it is virtually impossible that Paul, operating out of a Jewish subculture, would have embraced homosexual unions entered into by homosexually oriented persons.

"There is nothing in the language of Rom 1:24-27 that limits Paul's indictment only to exploitative or promiscuous forms of homosexual relations. On the contrary, Paul clearly echoes Gen 1:26-27 in Rom 1:23, 26-27, picking up from Gen 1:26-27 eight terms in the same tripartite sequence (human, image, likeness; birds, four-footed animals, reptiles; male, female). Paul's indictment centers around what homosexual practice is not and can never be: a complementary sexual union between 'male and female.'"

Rejecting Vines' argument that Paul only condemns lustful behavior and heterosexuals engaging in homosexual acts, Gagnon further maintained that the expressions "exchanged" and "leaving behind" do not refer to a willful exchange of heterosexual desire for homosexual desire.

"Rather, they refer to a choice of gratifying innate homoerotic desires instead of complying with the evidence of male-female complementarity transparent in material creation or nature. This is clear from the preceding example involving idolatry, where Paul states that the Gentiles exchanged the truth about God and the glory of God transparent to human reason through observation of 'the things made' by God. Likewise, on the horizontal sphere, some humans suppressed the truth about male-female complementarity evident in anatomical and physiological structures of male and female and instead pursued gratification of innate urges to have intercourse with members of the same sex.

"Although Vines claims that Paul means by 'nature' merely social convention, an examination of the use of the word phusis in Paul suggests otherwise. 'Nature' in Paul corresponds to the essential material, inherent, biological, or organic constitution of things as created and set in motion by God (Gal 2:15; 4:8; Rom 2:14; 2:27; 11:21, 24). This includes even the reference to nature in 1 Cor 11:14-15 where the hair argument is similar to the Stoic argument for beards for men, based on natural endowment. Specifically, nature gives an indication that scalp hair is more indispensable for women than for men by making major hair loss there much rarer for women. (Vines incorrectly reads Paul as saying that nature allows men only short hair.)

"Obviously, the conclusion drawn from an observation of nature is more convincing in some cases than others, which is probably why the nature argument is only one of multiple arguments used in 1 Cor 11:2-16, whereas it is the argument, along with the echo to Gen 1:27, that Paul uses to reject homosexual practice in Rom 1:26-27."

Homosexuals Won't Inherit the Kingdom of God?

In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Paul lists those who will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Vines noted that the King James Version includes those who are "effeminate" but later translations have altered the word to "homosexuals" or "men who have sex with men."

"Effeminate" in the Greek is "malakos" which literally means "soft," he pointed out. In a sexual context, the word was used to describe general licentiousness and debauchery and men who took the passive role in sexual relations. But Vines argued that the term was also used in other contexts such as to label those who are weak-willed, cowardly or lazy.

"So many people were labeled this term for so many different things – most of them not even sexual in nature, and most of the sexual ones about men in relationships with women ... The notion that Paul is singling out gay people here and saying that they will not inherit the kingdom of God simply doesn't hold up under scrutiny."

McDonough said Vines' argument is "fatally flawed."

"He (Vines) fails to recognize that Paul is using (or creating himself) a word drawn directly from the vocabulary in Leviticus 18," noted the Gordon-Conwell professor. "Thus not only does he fail to see that Paul is indeed forbidding all homosexual practice in the church, he is doing so precisely on the basis of the Law – a Law which, contra Vines, was still looked upon a guide for Christian faith and practice in all sorts of ways."

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