RESPONSE: The Reformation Project tries to argue that “The prohibitions in Leviticus don’t apply to Christians, and they are rooted in cultural gender roles.” Note, again, their culturally-grounded arguments. The problem for their position is that the case against homosexual relationships isn’t culturally-grounded, but rather creation-grounded.
Even if Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 didn’t exist, it would be apparent from Scripture that homosexuality is wrong — and therefore sinful. Thankfully, God has given His people more than we deserve, and that includes the multiplicity of teachings in Scripture that echo and affirm God’s good designs for marriage and human sexuality.
But back to the specific question at hand: Do the laws in Leviticus about sexual morality apply to us today? The answer is emphatically “yes,” but we do need to be specific in exactly how.
Christians have historically understood that the moral laws in the Old Testament continue today because they are tied to the character and nature of God, which does not change. God does not change, and neither does His moral law. God is holy and demands holiness.
So what type of law is being given in Leviticus and, specifically, in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13?
Bible scholars have argued that one way to understand the laws of the Pentateuch is in three categories: civil, ceremonial, and moral. With the coming of Christ, and the ending of the distinct nation of Israel as God’s chosen ethnic people and the sacrificial systems, both the civil and the ceremonial laws are fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Some might argue that they are a mixture of the civil law and moral law — both here are “how you are to live together and what should be illegal” and “what is illegal in this case is also clearly immoral.” So, while the civil and ceremonial laws have been completed by the work of Jesus Christ at the cross, the moral law of God remains forever. This is why we need the Gospel in the first place.
Coming back to their favorite phrases, the Reformation Project argues that “The prohibitions of male same-sex relations in Leviticus are grounded in cultural concerns about patriarchal gender roles, which the New Testament points us beyond.” But far from pointing us beyond the teachings of Leviticus, the New Testament points us back to the teachings of Moses. Jesus Himself does this in Matthew 19:4-6, asking, “Have you not read that He Who made them in the first place made them man and woman? It says, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and will live with his wife. The two will become one.’ So they are no longer two but one. Let no man divide what God has put together.”
Jesus confronted the religious leaders of His day who were trying to get out from under the clear teaching of God’s laws by asking them, “Have you not read?” We could ask the authors of the Reformation Project the same question. Because if they would read the Bible, they would find a clear continuity between the Old Testament teaching on homosexuality and the same teaching found in the New Testament. As biblical scholar Jim Hamilton summarized, “The Law of Moses clearly prohibits same-sex relations (Lev 18:22; 20:13), and that prohibition is reinforced in the New Testament (Rom 1:26–27; 1 Cor 6:9–10; 1 Tim 1:10).” Which means, dear Christians, it actually does apply to us.
RESPONSE: When considering the biblical data related to Sodom and Gomorrah, it is crucial that we consider all that is available to us, and not just pick and choose certain texts out of context to weave a convenient narrative, which is what the Reformation Project does.
The fourth mention of Sodom in the Bible is in Genesis 13:13, which tells us that “Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD.” This verse has nothing to with the attempted “gang rape” of Lot’s guests in Genesis 19:5. Rather, this speaks to a broader, ongoing disposition of the inhabitants of Sodom as “wicked” and “great sinners.” Again, this would have nothing to do with a very specific point of failing to show hospitality. When you set this “banner” verse, so to speak, over and in the context of the rest of what the Bible has to say about Sodom, it grows increasingly clear that the main indictment was their sexual perversion, expressed in homosexual behaviors.
The Reformation Project sadly lies, outright, when they claim, “The Bible never teaches that same-sex behavior was even part of Sodom’s sin.” In fact, the Bible tells us in Ezekiel 16:49-50 that, “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it.”
The word abomination here most likely refers to homosexual acts, which is further corroborated by Jude 1:7, which says, “In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.” The word here, “perversion,” can also be translated as “unnatural acts,” which is the same wording we find in Romans 1, where Paul is clearly talking about the sin of homosexuality.
While there is no doubt that an attempted gang rape is recorded in Genesis 19, that is not the main focus of the story nor is it the main indictment of Sodom and Gomorrah throughout the Bible.
RESPONSE: In reference to Romans 1, The Reformation Project butchers the passage to convey that Paul isn’t actually condemning homosexuality when referring to men consumed with passion for another. They argue that Paul is instead condemning “self-seeking excess as opposed to moderation.” In other words, Paul is referring to men and women indulging in their sexual appetites for unrestrained lust.
Perhaps unbeknownst to The Reformation Project, they are actually admitting that homosexuality is wrong, although, only in the context of excess. They’re actually adding to the text and ascribing meaning to it that is not there.
A proper reading of Romans 1 leaves no qualifiers or exceptions to homosexual behavior. We read that some men reject the Creator and instead choose to worship creation. As a result, God gives them over to their lustful desires. In verses 26-27, Paul describes women who exchanged natural relations for those contrary to nature and men who were consumed with passion for one another and committed shameless acts. If Paul were referring to excessive, coercive, or unrestrained acts of homosexuality, he would have added that as a qualifier. But he didn’t. It’s quite clear that this entire passage refers not to how homosexuality is practiced, but to the practice itself. These men and women abandoned God’s proper design for them, and, in turn, God turned them over to depraved minds. That’s what the entire passage is about: man rejecting God’s creation for which there is no excuse.
RESPONSE: Regarding Matthew Vines and his book God and the Gay Christian, New Testament scholar Denny Burk writes that “It is no exaggeration to say that Vines’s reading of Scripture is an agenda in search of an interpretation.” This is exactly what is happening here, as the Reformation Project attempts a scriptural sleight of hand, trying to convince Christians that the word “homosexual” doesn’t really mean “homosexual.” While we do live in a day and age where many words seem to have lost their fixed meanings, we know that this is not the case with God’s Word. After all, the “grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever” (Isaiah 40:8).
In this section, the argument is that in these two passages, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-10, Paul intends to condemn “exploitative forms of it, not loving relationships.” One hopes that the Reformation Project warmed up before making that rhetorical stretch. The Reformation Project tries to zero in on the two Greek words used here that translate as “homosexual” — “malakoi” and “arsenokoitai.” Focusing on those words, in their “Greco-Roman context” (again, note the cultural context argument), the Reformation Project wants to have you believe that these are terms meant to describe a “softness” that is akin to a lack of self-control and/or a homosexual practice that is built on power structures and exploitation. But, as Denny Burk explains further, “It is an illogical reduction, however, to shoehorn Paul’s use of these two terms into that narrow frame.”
Burk is correct. It’s worth noting that Paul was a Jew. As a Jew, he would be writing with a deep knowledge of the Old Testament, and all of the verses we have covered so far from the Old Testament condemn homosexuality, both in nature and practice. Paul was not a man completely captivated by his time and context, but rather fully inspired by the Holy Spirit in his writing of these New Testament books. And under that inspiration, Paul made it clear: These passages are talking about homosexuality, and homosexuality is a sin.
RESPONSE: In this tenth and final point, the Reformation Project asserts that marriage is fundamentally about commitment. It minimizes the biblical emphasis on gender hierarchy and reproduction to instead argue that covenantal love and faithfulness in marriage can be achieved in same-sex couples.
The problem is that Paul’s writing in Ephesians 5 specifically lays out what we should regard as the foundational view of marriage, rooted in creation in Genesis 2. Paul explains the roles of man and wife in verses 22-28, and he follows it by quoting Genesis 2: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
Kevin DeYoung in his book What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? says this:
“The meaning of marriage is more than mutual sacrifice and covenantal commitment. Marriage, by its very nature, requires complementarity. The mystical union of Christ and the church—each ‘part’ belonging to the other but neither interchangeable—cannot be pictured in marital union without the differentiation of male and female. If God wanted us to conclude that men and women were interchangeable in the marriage relationship, he not only gave us the wrong creation narrative; he gave us the wrong metanarrative.”
Marriage as God designed it does not allow room for anything outside of the created order. If it did, the Holy Spirit would have led Paul to acknowledge exceptions. The truth is this: Homosexuality does not fit within the created order in Genesis 1 and 2.
One liberal Bible scholar, Luke Timothy Johnson, has put his opposition to efforts to twist Scripture into making it say something it just doesn’t say rather bluntly. While we would not share his theological commitments or his views on homosexuality, his honesty is insightful and a breath of fresh air for this debate. He says:
“I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says, through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says. But what are we to do with what the text says? I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us.”
While he wrote this long before the Reformation Project, we have to ask: Isn’t this exactly what they are trying to do? Appealing to “linguistic or cultural subtleties” to make God say something he didn’t?
Yes, that is exactly what the ill-named Reformation Project is doing. And we should have little patience for it.
Yet rather than cast off Scripture because we don’t like what it says, like Johnson, or twist it, like Vines and the Reformation Project, all true Christians must submit to God’s Word, the full counsel thereof, and humbly obey it. This is not a burden, but a blessing. We should strive for the same posture as the Psalmist who proclaimed, “I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart!” (Psalm 119:32).
We also must remember that God is our Creator. He sets the standards, we do not. Since He does not change, we have no liberty to force His Words to change to better suit us. That isn’t progress, that’s disobedience.
Ultimately, we know that our hope isn’t ever in ourselves or our orientation, but rather Christ’s finished work on the cross. But even as we ground ourselves in the Gospel, we must ready ourselves to engage and press back against the warped worldviews of many professing Christians that have become manipulated by the godless teachings of the world. We must equip ourselves to stand firm on the foundation of Truth.
Our hope is that this article helps you stand strong this June as the world celebrates sin in such a loud and confusing manner. Prepare yourself with God’s Word to defend God’s ways. Remember that in the end, love does win. But it’s the love of Christ on the cross which conquers our sins — whatever they may be.