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Author: Walter Wink

Walter Wink is Professor of Biblical Interpretation at Auburn Theological Seminary in NYC. He has taught at numerous seminaries. He is a United Methodist minister, works for a Presbyterian seminary, and attends Quaker meetings. His books include Unmasking the Powers, Engaging the Powers, The Powers That Be, The Bible in Human Transformation, and many more.

An expanded 16-page booklet-form version of the article below (copied by permission) is available via Amazon.com.

The article follows:


Homosexuality and the Bible

Sexual issues are tearing our churches apart today as never before. The issue of homosexuality threatens to fracture whole denominations, as the issue of slavery did one hundred and fifty years ago. We naturally turn to the Bible for guidance and find ourselves mired in interpretive quicksand. Is the Bible able to speak to our confusion on this issue?

The debate over homosexuality is a remarkable opportunity, because it raises in an especially acute way how we interpret the Bible, not in this case only, but in numerous others as well. The real issue here, then, is not simply homosexuality, but how Scripture informs our lives today.

Some passages that have been advanced as pertinent to the issue of homosexuality are, in fact, irrelevant.

One is the attempted gang rape in Sodom (Gen. 19: 1-29). That was a case of ostensibly heterosexual males intent on humiliating strangers by treating them “like women,” thus de-masculinizing them. (This is also the case in a similar account in Judges 19-21.) Their brutal behavior has nothing to do with the problem of whether genuine love expressed between consenting persons of the same sex is legitimate or not. Likewise, Deuteronomy 23:17-18 must be pruned from the list, since it most likely refers to a heterosexual prostitute involved in Canaanite fertility rites that have infiltrated Jewish worship; the King James Version inaccurately labeled him a “sodomite.”

Several other texts are ambiguous. It is not clear whether I Corinthians 6:9 and I Timothy 1:10 refer to the “passive” and “active” partners in homosexual relationships, or to homosexual and heterosexual male prostitutes. In short, it is unclear whether the issue is homosexuality alone, or promiscuity and “sex-for-hire.”

Unequivocal Condemnations

Putting these texts to the side, we are left with three references, all of which unequivocally condemn homosexuality. Leviticus 18:22 states the principle: “You [masculine] shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” The second (Lev. 20:13) adds the penalty: “If a man lies with a male as a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them.”

Such an act was considered as an “abomination” for several reasons. The Hebrew pre-scientific understanding was that male semen contained the whole of nascent life. With no knowledge of eggs and ovulation, it was assumed that the woman provided only the incubating space. Hence the spilling of semen for any procreative purpose — in coitus interruptus (Gen 38:1-11), male homosexual acts or male masturbation — was considered tantamount to abortion or murder. (Female homosexual acts and masturbation were consequently not so seriously regarded.) One can appreciate how a tribe struggling to populate a country in which its people were outnumbered would value procreation highly, but such values are rendered questionable in a world facing total annihilation through overpopulation.

In addition, when a man acted like a woman sexually, male dignity was compromised. It was a degradation, not only in regard to himself, but for every other male. The patriarchalism of Hebrew culture shows its hand in the very formulation of the commandment, since no similar stricture was formulated to forbid homosexual acts between females. And the repugnance felt toward homosexuality was not just that it was deemed unnatural, but also that it was considered un-Jewish, representing yet one more incursion of pagan civilization into Jewish life. On top of that is the more universal repugnance heterosexuals tend to feel for acts and orientations foreign to them. (Left-handedness has evoked something of the same response in many cultures.)

Persons committing homosexual acts are to be executed. This is the unambiguous command of scripture.

Whatever the rationale for their formulation, however, the texts leave no room for maneuvering. Persons committing homosexual acts are to be executed. This is the unambiguous command of scripture. The meaning is clear: anyone who wishes to base his or her beliefs on the witness of the Old Testament must be completely consistent and demand the death penalty for everyone who performs homosexual acts. (That may seem extreme, but there are actually some “Christians” urging this very thing today.) It is unlikely that any American court will ever again condemn a homosexual to death, even though Scripture clearly commands it.

Old Testament texts have to be weighed against the New. Consequently, Paul’s unambiguous condemnation of homosexual behavior in Roman 1:26-27 must be the centerpiece of any discussion.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men, likewise, gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

No doubt Paul was unaware of the distinction between sexual orientation, over which one has apparently very little choice, and sexual behavior, over which one does. He seemed to assume that those whom he condemns are heterosexual, and are acting contrary to nature, “leaving,” “giving up,” or “exchanging” their regular sexual orientation for that which is foreign to them. Paul knew nothing of the modern psychological understanding of homosexuals as persons whose orientation is fixed early in life, persons for whom having heterosexual relations would be contrary to nature, “leaving,” “giving up” or “exchanging” their natural sexual orientation for one that was unnatural to them.

In other words, Paul really thought that those whose behavior he condemned were “straight,” and that they were behaving in ways that were unnatural to them. Paul believed that everyone was “straight.” He had no concept of homosexual orientation. The idea was not available in his world. There are people who are genuinely homosexual by nature (whether genetically, or as a result of upbringing no one really knows, and it is irrelevant). For such a person it would be acting contrary to nature to have sexual relations with a person of the opposite sex.

Likewise, the relationships Paul describes are heavy with lust; they are not relationships of consenting adults who are committed to each other as faithfully and with as much integrity as any heterosexual couple. That was something Paul simply could not envision. Some people assume today that venereal disease and AIDS are divine punishment for homosexual behavior; we know it as a risk involved in promiscuity of every stripe, homosexual and heterosexual. In fact, the vast majority of people with AIDS around the world are heterosexuals. We can scarcely label AIDS a divine punishment, since non-promiscuous lesbians are at almost no risk.

And Paul believes that homosexuality is contrary to nature, whereas we have learned that it is manifested by a wide variety of species, especially (but not solely) under the pressure of overpopulation. It would appear then to be a quite natural mechanism for preserving species. We cannot, of course, decide human ethical conduct solely on the basis of animal behavior or the human sciences, but Paul here is arguing from nature, as he himself says, and new knowledge of what is “natural” is therefore relevant to the case.

Hebrew Sexual Mores

Nevertheless, the Bible quite clearly takes a negative view of homosexual activity, in those few instances where it is mentioned at all. But this conclusion does not solve the problem of how we are to interpret Scripture today. For there are other sexual attitudes, practices, and restrictions which are normative in Scripture but which we no longer accept as normative:


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  1. […] from Bible experts.  Not that everything is so black and white, but to make my point, many liberal Bible experts do not believe that people are interpreting these verses supposedly relat….  Actually, many conservative Biblical experts do not […]

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    Posted by John Mark Ministries | HOMOSEXUALITY AND THE BIBLE (Walter Wink) « Church and Society | April 3, 2012, 10:31 pm
  3. “Their brutal behavior has nothing to do with the problem of whether genuine love expressed between consenting persons of the same sex is legitimate or not”.

    If this is what you are defending, your logic is fallible to begin with. Is it right for a consenting child and a consenting adult to engage in sex, expressing “genuine love”? Is it right for a consenting adult to engage in sex with multiple consenting children? Is it right for a consenting mother to engage in sex with her son? (No, and Paul discusses this). Is it right for someone who is betrothed or married to someone engage in sex with someone else, both consenting,because they “love each other”?

    Jesus DID address homosexuality and the boundaries of sexual relationships when he answered: Matt. 19: 3 The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” (notice it is a man and a wife)
    4 And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who 1made them at the beginning c‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother (father and mother-not mother and mother, father and father) and be joined to his wife,(man and his wife) and the two shall become one flesh’ ? 6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”

    Jesus reaches back to the beginning of creation to say that this is what God joins together-a man and a woman!

    7 They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?”
    8 He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your hwives, but FROM THE BEGINNING IT WAS NOT SO. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his WIFE, except for sexual immorality,(and anything else is sexual immorality, as Jesus just established) and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”

    You can be sure that the men at Sodom were sexually immoral: Jude 3: 6 And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day; 7 as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to SEXUAL IMMORALITY and gone after STRANGE FLESH are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.

    Paul warns the church not to be deceived!

    1 Cor. 6: 9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? DO NOT BE DECEIVED. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites,(this again reaches back to sexual sin after God ordained the boundaries in Genesis-notice Paul calls them this in direct reference to unrepentant sin and not inheriting the kingdom!) 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.

    Paul then declares! : 11 And such WERE some of you.

    What happened to the previous list of people??

    “But you were washed, but you were sanctified,(set apart to God, growing in holiness away from sin) but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.

    Paul says these people used to be this–now they are something else. Elsewhere he calls believers new creations. The old has gone-the new has come.

    Who is the law made for? Paul says:

    1 Tim. 1: 8 But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, 9 knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the LAWLESS and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, 10 for fornicators, for sodomites,(here Paul again refers back to the sodomy of Sodom , for which God destroyed them in their pride.) for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust.

    If one is a new creature-he doesn’t behave as the old creature does. He begins to love what God loves and hate sin. He has a new relationship with sin-he abhors it, as God does.

    You make the claim that Paul didn’t know then what we know now. That is bogus. Paul knew the wrath of God abides on sinners who do not flee to the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ! The attempt of psychologists to legitimize sin is yet one more way the devil comes in to twist Scripture. Thou shalt not twist Scripture, lest you be like Satan!

    I’ve seen so many people use misunderstanding of Mosaic Law given to Israel to justify sin. God will not do so. God “commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” Acts 17: 30, 31

    Woe to him who calls evil good.

    Paul never speaks of the church except in holiness, singleness w/ holy conduct, or marriage between a man and woman. Christ died for the church! The church is warned toward sexual purity: 1 Thess 4: 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality( any of it!!) 4 that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who DO NOT know God; 6 that no one should take advantage of and DEFRAUD his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified. 7 For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in HOLINESS. 8 Therefore he who rejects this does not REJECT man, BUT GOD, who has also given us His Holy Spirit.

    Paul says this: Col. 3: 5 Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon nthe sons of disobedience, 7 in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them.

    “you once walked”..”the wrath of God is coming on the disobedient”..

    ANY fornication (sex outside marriage) God will judge.

    God reserves the “blackest of darkness forever” for false teachers. Jude 9: 13

    Posted by fisherwoman | December 18, 2011, 4:00 am
  4. Wow…
    I am so amazed that i stumbled across this article on Facebook, by recommendation from Anne Rice.

    I am not tutored in all things theological, i mean most aren’t but i thoroughly enjoyed reading this essay.

    I have found answers to a lot of woes in finding an explaination to why certain things in the ”church’, aren’t explained well the way Prof. Winks, just did.

    (1)Masturbation: My Mormon dad caught me out, at one of the most embarracing, bad-timed moments in my pubescent life at age 15, when the hormones were raging – i was politely took aside after i recovered, & told that it was evil and that was it! My gullibility tormented me for years!

    (2)As the body is the temple of God; that going to the beach and changing into swimmers was a no-no: Yet it was okay to disrobe and be attired in Polynesian costume, by virtue of my heritage and be objectified as a cultural performer, whatever, come what may… shirtless, semi-clad, the whole shabang!- i found liberating but hypocritical by way of double standards.

    (3)That hanging out with hookers & my well to do adult escort mates was deemed sinful by way of association, even though according to this ‘Essay’, prostitution isn’t after all bad, according to the bible although ‘we’ condemn it today.

    (4)Sex before marriage, as told to me was evil, that i will go to hell if i did ‘sleep with a girl’ before getting married. Who was to know , considering that ‘ i am genuinely gay – born effeminate, because i was a mummy boy’… that was how it was for me, during my upbringing.

    The list goes on….

    Anyway, thank you Prof. Winks for the your Essay.

    I thoroughly enjoyed your learned insight into the subject at hand.

    Thank you very much.


    Roberta Dau Bosha.

    Posted by Robert Dau Bosha | December 9, 2011, 10:16 pm
  5. Well, I am very taken back by this article. Here we have a minister, a teacher of the Word, who doesn’t even know the basic of the very book he is defending. Let’s start.

    Angels in Sodom: The townspeople who were trying to sleep with the angels just wanted sex, with anybody; this is why Lot offered his daughters to them. Even with the argument they only wanted sex with the angels to humiliate them, that strengthens the case that homosexuality is nothing but lustful sin without any intimate feelings.

    In 1 Cor. 6:, and 1 Tim. it is very clear that Paul is speaking of homosexuality. It is embracing sexual immorality.

    And to claim that Paul didn’t have a understanding about homosexuals is absurd. Paul’s letters are inspired by God, to say the words in his letters are wrong, is to say God’s Word is wrong. And all of God’s Word is good for doctrine 2 Tim. 3:16.

    To claim that God’s will is for someone to be homosexual is also wrong. Paul is right, everyone is intended to be straight, Adam and Eve were made perfect-they were straight, and when we are made perfect is Jesus, we should be straight, to continue to live in sin after hearing the Word of God is to forfeit the blood that covers our sins Hebrew 10:26.

    You spoke about Old Testament laws, and how people in the Church today pick and choose which ones to follow. Jesus told us to follow the “commandments” and to keep and teach them Matthew 10:17-19. However, some of the laws, like not eating shellfish like you spoke about, are no longer required. All food, if blessed, is good to eat now.

    Just because Christians have made poor doctrine in the past, doesn’t mean to should continue that by manipulating the Word of God to create our own doctrine that is politically correct. I love everyone; I hope everyone finds God, and that God knows them. But to claim that it is not a sin to commit homosexual acts, and to say living in that lifestyle is not living in sin is wrong. Homosexuality is a sin just like any other sexual immorality, just like murder, just like lying to your parents. People who are attacked by Satan with this sin need to know what God really says about the subject, they don’t need Christians to tell them its okay and ultimately lead them down the path of destruction.

    Posted by Scotteku23 | December 9, 2011, 10:05 pm
  6. Unfortunately, much of the research in areas such as homosexuality, has been not only misrepresented in the media but by the scientific community as well, through the tendency to overestimate the quantitative contribution of their findings.
    Estimates of heritability are based upon careful analyzes of studies conducted with identical twins. Such studies are important and lead to the conclusion that heredity is important in many of these traits. In just the same way as abusive and inappropriate sexual behavior can be present. It is important however, to note that even in such studies with identical twins, that heritability is not to be confused with inevitability, as environment can influence gene expression, and free will determines the response to whatever behavior might be present. Such findings may be indicating that sexual orientation is genetically influenced but not hardwired by DNA, and that whatever genes are involved represent predispositions, not predetermination’s.
    So we are to accept homosexuality as valid sexual orientation but not abusive tendencies or pedophilia, which we find repugnant and hennas
    Since we are talking homosexuality and the bible, may I quote a passage from Proverbs 14:12
    “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.”
    Seems to be fairly clear that we can make various claims and facts (sometimes not reliable) about our position in God’s sight, but in the end there will be a reckoning. Not for me to judge.

    Posted by dr.jim | January 12, 2011, 11:26 am
  7. very interesting

    Posted by SassysOpinion | December 24, 2010, 12:44 pm
  8. Universities are full of this kind of logic, but the Bible reminds us there is good and evil wisdom. To purport that the “Bible has no sexual ethic” is unbelievable. I think we do ourselves a great disfavour by writing-off the old testament under the banner of legalism. Jesus was not the contradiction of the Law, He was the fulfilment of it. The “end of the law” in Rom 10.4, is the completion of it. Of course many aspects of the Mosaic system become redundant, but the spirit we sometimes get the idea that God is saying, “Sorry about that, I didn’t mean any of it, in fact it was all wrong.” Sexuality is very important to God. Adam and Eve, husband and wife, Cain, Able, and Seth. The biblical nuclear family is sacred and the express design of the Father. Sin is the perversion of God’s design and the precise reason for Jesus’ wonderful gift of Himself to the cruel cross.

    Posted by senayim | October 12, 2010, 11:02 am
  9. I was surprised by Wink’s suggestion that the Bible doesn’t condemn prostitution. I disagree with him on this point.

    Posted by rmhaggis | June 4, 2010, 1:19 pm
  10. After a cursory reading of this article, I’m surprised to read that Wink suggests the Bible doesn’t condemn prostitution. I disagree with him on this point.

    Posted by rmhaggis | June 4, 2010, 1:12 pm
  11. Dear authors, how can I get the booklet mentioned in the beginning (the link is dead) and how may I contact it’s copyright holders for translation into Russian?

    Posted by Jeka | May 26, 2010, 7:49 am
    • This article has been amended to include a link to the Amazon.com site where copies can be ordered.

      All the best with your translation into Russian!

      Rowland Croucher

      Posted by Rowland Croucher | June 2, 2010, 5:44 pm
  12. An interesting article with several noteworthy points, however I find it of little help to those of us who still consider the Bible to be word of God and not just words written by godly men. Do you have some thoughts to help me but homosexuality in perspective in our modern world where one is trying to love all people and bring all people to Jesus, no matter their background, while still holding to the Bible as the Word of God?

    Posted by Dan Harris | May 23, 2010, 3:25 pm
  13. I accidentally clicked this link while I was browsing some unrelated webpage, and I’m very pleased I did.

    What a clear, concise analysis of the Biblical condemnation of homosexuality and the problems with applying any of the content of the Bible literally into modern life.

    I must say, it’s a pleasure to read an article on the subject that isn’t laden with inflamatory implication for either homosexuals themselves or citizens of the church!

    Crosslinking this article in my blog.

    Posted by asynca | May 21, 2010, 8:10 pm