The following is an executive summary if you would, a brief overview of the topics covered so far in the review of Dr. Brownson's book. You can also obtain a Word document of this overview by clicking on Dr. Brownson: Summary.
The question concerning whether or not homosexuality is a sin has been gaining in momentum for years. Especially with decisions such as Obergefell v. Hodges by the Supreme Court in the United States in 2015. This topic is one that the church cannot avoid dealing with. Dr. James Brownson published his book, Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing The Church’s Debate On Same-Sex Relationships in 2013. In his book Dr. Brownson comes to the conclusion that the church needs to accept monogamous same-sex marriage. Since its publication Dr. Brownson’s book has ranked among the top books on this topic in sales on Amazon. This issue is driving a wedge between members of many denominations and congregations. It is important for the church to have a clear understanding of what the Bible teaches on this topic.
As mentioned, Dr. Brownson’s book has received much acclaim. However, when examined, his arguments, for this person, are less than convincing. In his line of reasoning for same-sex marriage as expressed in Part 1 Dr. Brownson offers four arguments. The first one is too vague to be able to be implemented. The second argument doesn’t fit the words used in Scripture. The third is again too vague, too general. The fourth is a logical fallacy. It claims same-sex erotic acts are not sin because, due to the needs to those who experience same-sex attraction, it has to be good in God’s eyes. If that approach was applied across the board it would completely justify many actions as good before God.
When Dr. Brownson argues against heterosexual marriages only in Part 4 he again has three main arguments. The first one, nature as individualistic, results in Romans 1 making no sense and it becomes self-contradictory. The second argument, nature as excessive, really is the same argument as the first one. Likewise, it also cannot fit with Romans 1. The third, “unnatural” as heterosexual non-procreative acts is based entirely on two of the Church Fathers only. It is also clearly contradicted by other teachings of the Bible. The traditional understanding of natural and unnatural in Romans 1 does not run into any of these problems and is a reasonable understanding of the Bible as a whole.
The purpose of the following overview is to provide a type of executive summary of Dr. Brownson’s book. If it is accurate in its representation it can provide the reader with a quick indication of whether or not Dr. Brownson’s book correctly reflects biblical teaching. This paper is being made available to many, many pastors. If something presented below is incorrect, it is sincerely hoped someone will bring it to my attention so it can be corrected and the dialogue concerning same-sex marriage can be furthered.
Part 1: Statement For Same-Sex Marriage
Dr. Brownson takes the stance that egalitarianism (aiming for equal wealth, status, etc., for all people), not patriarchy (social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family), is the principle that the church should strive for. He notes that the New Testament as well as the Old contains patriarchal themes as well as egalitarian, and he says the solution here is the “already” and the “but not yet” dimensions of how God is working out salvation history. In this connection Dr. Brownson also points to the New Testament teaching that in heaven there will be no marriage.
I Timothy 4:3 also teaches us that some will wrongfully forbid marriage in this life. All things considered, Dr. Brownson’s position ends up being too vague. His position isn’t clear concerning whether Christians should abolish all marriage and how far one should go. Abolishing all marriage, by the way, doesn’t help his case when it argues for same-sex marriage.
Conclusion: Since this argument raises more questions than it answers, it cannot be said to support same-sex marriage. It is inconclusive, and therefore does not lend support to Dr. Brownson’s position.
Dr. Brownson argues that the essence of the one flesh reference in Genesis 2:24 is the kinship, the bonding that unites two people. He argues that since two people of the same sex can bond in a life-long commitment of love and mutual up-building they can fulfill Genesis 2:24 and should be allowed in the church to marry.
One valid translation of “flesh” in Genesis 2:24 is “body.” (http://www.dialogos-studies.com/one-body.html) We find a commentary on Genesis 2:24 in I Corinthians 6:16. It quotes Genesis using the Greek word soma which is almost always translated into English as “body.”
Conclusion: By means of intercourse a male and a female can be said to form “one body.” However, two members of the same sex cannot be said in any way to form one body. Therefore, not only can the wording of “one flesh” be said to not support same-sex marriage, it is in reality an argument against same-sex marriage.
For Dr. Brownson unity is the essence of marriage. For Roman Catholicism, procreation is the essence of marriage, but that is not true of Protestantism.
“Unity” as the essence of marriage is too broad, too vague, too general. It says nothing specifically about two people of the same sex. In Brownson’s book much is made of bonding. It is very evident really everywhere that pets such as dogs bond very well with their owners. Also, how does unity argue for two people of the same sex to marry any more than it argues for three people to marry? If unity is evidence in favor of two people of the same sex to marry, then it accomplishes too much. There is clearly something missing in the argument of unity. Since that argument would take us too far, there is something that needs to be added to the argument in order to keep it on track.
Conclusion: just as Dr. Brownson rightly took the position that the matters of justice and love are too broad to be valid arguments, the argument of unity is also too broad to be valid.
Dr. Brownson argues here that not all are called to celibacy. Some peoples’ orientation cannot change. Therefore same-sex marriage should be accepted.
Is this solid reasoning? We could apply the same approach to another area. Doctors have learned that people digest alcohol differently. The way some peoples’ bodies break down the alcohol makes them more susceptible to becoming drunk. Yet, we would not argue that because these peoples’ nature cannot change, we should make drunkenness acceptable.
It seems as if Dr. Brownson’s line of reasoning here has the underlying assumption that if a person’s orientation cannot change, that must be the way they were created in the first place. That is the way God Himself made those people. That is not a valid conclusion. Some people struggle with being overweight all their lives. The desire for food is impossible to change for many people. But again, the correct conclusion is not that obesity must be considered a good thing.
Conclusion: it can be shown the line of reasoning associated with the argument of celibacy is not a valid approach. The example of obesity proves that the argument from celibacy is such that the conclusion does not necessarily follow from the premise. What is needed is for someone to deal directly with same-sex erotic acts and prove that God did not say such acts are sinful.
Part 2: Statement Against Accepting Same-Sex Marriages
For the purposes of this paper, material from this part is not being included as the other parts speak more clearly to what Dr. Brownson has written. This material can be found in other papers on the Dialogos website.
Part 3: Statement For Heterosexual Marriages Only
Heterosexuality - Assumed or Required?
Genesis 2:24 Translation
Of the eight definitions given in the Hebrew lexicon for the word translated “flesh” the best definition that fits is “body.” The Hebrew word is translated “body” in the Old Testament and this translation is supported in the New Testament as well.
Conclusion: in the absence of a response, this will be considered correct.
Given the fact that the word translated “flesh” can also be translated “body,” the only way two people can “become one body” is through heterosexual intercourse. Two bodies do not become one simply because a part of one body is inserted into another body.
Two members of the same sex experiencing intimacy by having sex, does not mean that they have become one body.
When a male and a female engage in intercourse the divine design is such that it results in sexual pleasure for both from the one act. They function as one body. That is not true of same-sex erotic acts. Those acts are instances of two separate people stimulating each other. That cannot be considered becoming one body.
Conclusion: this section also needs a response. Without it, it will be considered accurate.
Both the Old Testament and the New Testament confirm the fact that one of the relevant translations of “flesh” in Genesis 2:24 is “body”. In Genesis 2 and the four times it (specifically verse 24) is quoted in the New Testament it is stated explicitly that marriage has to do with a man and a woman. The statement concerning becoming one body is a statement that goes beyond bonding and can only be understood as a reference to heterosexual intercourse. Members of the same sex cannot become one body. All these considerations support the conclusion that marriage as a union between one male and one female is not only assumed, it is a clear divine requirement.
Part 4: Statement Against Heterosexual Marriages Only
Nature as Individualistic
When Paul speaks of nature in Romans 1:26-27 he is referring to “what comes naturally” (Brownson, pages 226-232). The sin Paul is referring to in Romans 1 is when heterosexual men give up what comes natural to them and engage in same-sex acts. Supposedly Romans 1 is not calling same-sex erotic acts sin for nonheterosexual men because same-sex erotic acts are what comes natural for them.
Response: Let’s test Dr. Brownson’s position expressed above to see how it fits for men who are homosexual. It can be tested by substituting synonyms for the references to men and for “natural.”
“ . . . 27 and the homosexual men likewise gave up homosexual (natural) relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.”
Most would agree that this wording is illogical. First, there is no such thing as men having "homosexual relations with women..." Second, “ . . . 27 and the homosexual men likewise gave up . . . homosexual relations . . . and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men . . .” Again, this is logically self-contradicting. If the men gave up homosexual relations they couldn’t be committing acts with men.
Conclusion: this argument that nature is individualistic is in error. This interepretation causes passages of Scripture to make no sense, they become illogical and self-contradictory. It does not bring support to the position that the church should accept same-sex marriages.
Unnatural as Excessive
Again, according to Dr. Brownson what is shameless in Romans 1 is when people are so caught up in the excesses of their drive for sexual pleasure that it gives rise to situations such as when heterosexuals go against what comes naturally to them and they engage in same-sex erotic acts.
This passage does not prohibit those who are born with same-sex attraction from doing what comes naturally to them.
Dr. Brownson refers frequently in his book to what is extreme or excessive. He refers to the Roman Emperor Caligula as an example of what is wrong with such excess. When all is considered, it appears that what is wrong in Dr. Brownson’s mind with the unnatural in the sense of excessive ultimately boils down to the statement quoted above concerning what is shameless. If this is correct, then this argument is really one and the same argument as “Nature as Individualistic” given immediately before this section.
Conclusion: with the heart of this argument being the same as that of “Nature as Individualistic” it can be seen by the response given above that this interpretation causes Romans 1 to be self-contradictory. Therefore this section is also wrong and does not provide support for accepting same-sex marriages.
“Unnatural” as Heterosexual Non-Procreative Acts
According to Dr. Brownson on pages 240 and 244, for the first 300 years of Christian history the church thought women exchanging natural intercourse for unnatural meant women having non-procreative heterosexual intercourse.
The highest authority a Christian has is the Bible. Let’s consider the possible understanding during the first 300 years from the perspective of I Corinthians 7:9. “But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”
The reason marriage resolves the burning with passion is because of the fact that married couples will be engaged in intercourse. That means that intercourse is not only for the sake of procreation. If a couple marries because they cannot exercise self-control, that passion is quite likely to be there after the children are born as well as before the marriage. Therefore, the Bible itself is advocating non-procreative heterosexual intercourse. How can that then be considered unnatural, or somehow bad?
An Extended version of the paper covering Dr. Brownson’s book contains four additional reasons that the understanding of unnatural being non-procreative intercourse is not biblical.
Conclusion: one must ask why does Dr. Brownson bring up what supposedly two of the early Church Fathers believed in this regard? Is he proposing it for consideration as a valid interpretation? If he is, I Corinthians 7:9 shows that is not a valid interpretation. This argument is not valid evidence against marriages being only heterosexual in nature.
The Traditional Understanding of "Natural" and "Unnatural."
It is interesting to note Professor Brownson advocates in his book to one extent or another, multiple definitions of the words, natural and unnatural (the same root word). For the Greek word that appears three times in Romans 1:26-27, Professor Brownson has no less than five definitions that he claims are all relevant to the passage. In fact, the three instances of the word are even found in the same sentence (as in the ESV, KJV, NASB and RSV). Brownson’s definitions of natural/unnatural are:
1. natural - what is true of a given individual
2. natural - common knowledge, cultural norms
3. natural – procreation, biological complementarity
4. unnatural – excessive/extreme
5. unnatural for females – non-procreative heterosexual acts
The first definition has been dealt with on page 5 in the section Nature as Individualistic. When the synonyms for that definition are inserted in place of the terms “nature” and “contrary to nature” one runs into an irreconcilable conflict in the wording of verse 27.
The second and third definitions do not necessarily pose complications as far as the aspects of the tension between being natural and contrary to nature are concerned.
The fourth definition, excessive, does not to fit into Romans 1 as far as “nature” and “contrary to nature” are concerned. The full paper examining Dr. Brownson’s position has presented five reasons “excessive” cannot be taken as the definition of “contrary to nature.” In addition, in specifying nature and what is contrary to it, the passage deals with two concepts that are opposites of each other. What is the opposite of excessive? It is not something that is “normal.” According to Thesaurus.com the opposites of excess are insufficiency, lack, need, want, scarcity, deficiency, deprivation etc. Try substituting excessive and any of its opposites in Romans 1:26. “For their women exchanged deficient relations for those that are excessive . . .” Does this make any sense? The word excessive expresses more quantity rather than type. What is natural and what is unnatural are concepts that differ in type, not quantity. Natural as heterosexual and unnatural as same-sex are two concepts that differ in type. In the above section, UNNATURAL AS EXCESSIVE, the case was made that Dr. Brownson’s table containing the words “exchange” and “were consumed” etc. does not present a full, balanced assessment of Romans 1. If this is correct, it also removes key evidence which would support Dr. Brownson’s definition of unnatural as excessive.
The fifth definition of unnatural is “heterosexual non-procreative acts.” Once again, if we consider what the opposite of heterosexual non-procreative acts would be we run into difficulties with this definition. The only opposite of that would be procreative same-sex acts. Can those opposites by substituted into Romans 1? Does that make any sense?
With respect to the use of the term nature in Romans 1:26, Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich and Danker provides the definition of “the regular natural order.”[i] As Dr. Gagnon has pointed out, the Greek word chresin in those verses carries with it sexual overtones.[ii] Therefore, a very reasonable meaning of “the regular natural order,” which has sexual overtones is “heterosexual.” And the opposite of that, a reasonable definition of that which is “contrary to nature” would be “same-sex erotic activity.”
If we go back to the table which Dr. Brownson has on page 224 in his book we will find that the above definition is also readily apparent there. Using the English Standard Version the table is basically as shown below:
(See Word document for table)
Verse 26 deals with women and says simplythat women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature. Verse 27 deals with the men and is connected to the women in verse 26 by the word "likewise," or "in the same way . . ." In other words, what will be said about the men in verse 27 is a direct parallel to what was said about the women in the previous verse. The phrase in the direct object of verse 27 expounds on what "natural relations" are. " . . . the men gave up natural relations with women . . ." Once again, natural relations (with sexual overtones) of men with women can be nothing other than heterosexual intercourse. Verse 27 tells us these men substituted "shameless acts with men" for the "natural relations with women." This is further reinforced by the fact that natural relations comprise the direct object for both the women and the men and the modifying phrase in both verses show what they exchanged the natural relations for. Given this parallel between the relations that are contrary to nature and men being consumed with passion for men, men committing shameless acts with men it can readily be seen what the definition of "contrary to nature" or “unnatural” is. When the context is sexuality and it says that men were committing shameless acts with men there is only one possible definition of that: homosexual acts. The parallel between these two modifying phrases then shows that these homosexual acts are the same as that which is "contrary to nature" in verse 26.
Substituting equivalent words for heterosexual and homosexual for the relevant words in verses 26 and 27 we have:
26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged heterosexual relations for those that are same-sex erotic activity; 27 and the men likewise gave up heterosexual relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (ESV with substitutions)
One will note that there is no logical contradiction, no incompatibility in these verses once that has been done. There is no problem or conflict as was the case with “heterosexual non-procreative acts.” Louis Berkhof stated the principle of interpretation that a word used multiple times in close proximity probably carries the same meaning in each usage.[iii] And these two meanings are in fact opposites of each other. These two meanings do not conflict with other Scripture passages such as I Corinthians 7:9.
[i] Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich and Danker, page 869.
[ii] Gagnon, page 236.
[iii] L. Berkhof, Principles of Biblical Interpretation, Baker Book House, page 77.
Remember, you can also obtain a Word document of this overview by clicking on Dr. Brownson: Summary.
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