Grand Rapids East Report #9 




“A gently revisionist conclusion would be to suggest that Paul’s theological purpose in Romans 1, and the religious and cultural context that he swam in when he wrote it, precluded him from speaking sympathetically about any kind of same-sex relationships. The “subject” may seem to be the same, but many have argued that the context is so different that Paul’s words are of little relevance to the question of covenanted same-sex relations among devoted Christians. This would not be the only subject on which the contemporary application of Paul’s statements have been reevaluated in this way, leading to the setting aside of his implied or explicit directives (head-coverings, hair, women keeping silent in church, instructions to slaves to obey their masters). Such a conclusion is not compelling to traditionalists, who link Paul’s teaching here to the other texts in the canon that we have explored, notably the creation/design theme, thus decontextualizing Paul’s teaching considerably and viewing it as part of a coherent overall biblical sexual ethic. Still, stepping back, it is appropriate to wonder whether what Paul is so harshly condemning in Romans 1 has much if anything to do with that devout, loving lesbian couple who have been together 20 years and sit on the third row at church. Their lives do not at all look like the overall picture of depravity offered in Romans 1:18-32. You certainly wonder about this when you know that couple—or when you are that couple (2014, 89-90).



Gushee believes that same-sex marriages are scripturally valid. He states here that Paul was incapable of “speaking sympathetically” about them. When he writes this, isn’t he saying that it was not possible for the Holy Spirit to take a stand for something that is good because of the culture of the time? Where does that leave the very important doctrine of the inspiration of God’s Word?

Slavery, especially in the United States, is an area that is often pointed to, saying some churches (especially in the South) seriously got it wrong. It is sometimes stated that Paul gave his blessing to slavery simply because it was such a prominent practice in his culture, making it too large an evil for him to correct in his lifetime. However, I Timothy 1:10 lists those who captured free people to make them slaves among the vices. A footnote in the ESV further clarifies that word to mean, “. . . those who take someone captive in order to sell him into slavery.” We could conclude that John Newton, slave ship captain, and later the author of “Amazing Grace,” was committing one of the vices in I Timothy and therefore was not destined for the kingdom of God at that point in time.

Wasn’t the Spirit capable of inspiring Paul to get the truth out about slavery, in spite of how prominent it was in Paul’s day and culture, then the Spirit would certainly be capable of inspiring Paul to write the truth relative to same-sex marriage.

In addition to slavery, Gushee brings up head-coverings, hair, and women keeping silent in church. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that if women do not cover their heads, they cannot inherit the kingdom of God. The same applies to the length of a person’s hair and women keeping silent in church. Sexual morality is a different matter.* Adultery, fornication, bestiality etc. are all strongly prohibited in God’s Word as are same-sex erotic acts. In Paul’s time, if an adulterer for instance could not inherit the kingdom of God, then it is the same today. Something cannot be a sin at one point in time and not at another time. Matters of sexual morals are in a very different category than the other matters Gushee raises.

We should look at what God explicitly states in the relevant passages. Once it is clear what God’s explicit statements are, then we can proceed to see just how this inspired Word of God is to be applied to our lives today. 

The lesbian couple Gushee uses as an example touches on an area that many of us find challenging. Knowing people personally can make us more leery of criticizing their behavior. It is not possible to adequately state how important this matter is. I Corinthians 13 says that we could have all knowledge, all faith, all power, but if we do not have love we are nothing. Who of us, in and of ourselves understands all these things well enough to be able to say what the right response here is?  

How can we determine what is morally good and what isn’t? Will we somehow be able to discern that through science? Has science ever shown us what is morally good and what is bad? Science can tell us the earth rotates around the sun, not vice versa, but can science tell us what is a sin in God’s eyes and what is not? Can we figure out what is morally good through our common sense and personal experiences? The problem here is that people have always come to different conclusions by using their common sense and personal experiences. For Christians, isn’t the Bible our best, if not our only source for determining what is moral behavior and what is not? We need to put every possible effort into correctly reading God’s Word. Don’t we need God’s Word to reveal what is in fact true? We have been instructed to test the spirits. To test spirits, we must be diligent in searching the Scriptures so that we gain as much as possible from God’s Special Revelation.

To accept Gushee’s reasonings here as biblical evidence in support of same-sex marriage would be to go against key principles of biblical interpretation. Is the Bible primarily a human document, subject to human limitations? Or is it divinely inspired and without error when it comes to these moral questions?

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