One of the most common arguments used against the Bible’s teaching on marriage is that since Jesus never explicitly condemned homosexuality, there is nothing wrong with same-sex relationships. How can you condemn something that Jesus never condemned? It is not my purpose here to marshal biblical evidence in favor of the Bible’s teaching against homosexual practice or to address the question of what causes homosexual desire. Many books have been written on the subject and many more have been written in response to revisionist arguments on the Bible and homosexuality. Rather, this article seeks to answer the question of why Jesus never specifically mentions homosexuality among the many sins he taught against in the Gospels.
First, this objection stems from a kind of “red-letter” Christianity where the words of Jesus are more authoritative than the rest of Scripture. This approach to the Bible flows out of a view of Scripture that rejects Verbal Plenary Inspiration. But the Bible teaches that “all Scripture” is breathed out by God (2 Tim 3:16), not just the words of Jesus or the portions of the Bible we like. Because all Scripture has the Holy Spirit as its author, all of Scripture is authoritative and must be obeyed. The New Testament affirms the inspiration of the Old Testament Scriptures in 2 Peter 1:19-21 where we are told that “no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Even if Jesus had nothing to say on the subject, that doesn’t mean we don’t have a clear word from God on the issue.
Second, we interpret the Old Testament in light of the New Testament. The reason why Christians do not observe Jewish food laws is because they have been abrogated in Christ. Mark 7:19 says that Jesus “declared all foods clean” and Paul says in Romans 14:14 that “nothing is unclean in itself.” Paul declares in Ephesians 2:14-15 that God has abrogated those laws which divided Jews and Gentiles. But in contrast, Paul reaffirms the Old Testament prohibitions against homosexuality from Leviticus 18 and 20 in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10.
The reason why Jesus does not specifically mention homosexuality is that he is speaking in a Jewish context where it was assumed that homosexuality was wrong. He did not need to speak out against homosexuality because Jewish people did not engage in homosexual acts. Paul, on the other hand, does speak against homosexuality because he is writing in a Gentile context to Christians who had just come out of paganism. In the Roman world, homosexuality was alive and well and these new Christians needed to know that homosexual behavior was a twisting of God’s original design for marriage and sex. That’s why he mentions homosexuality in Romans 1 when talking about the sins of pagan Gentiles but omits it in chapter 2 when he focuses on the sins of Jewish people.
While Jesus did not mention homosexuality explicitly, he does condemn it implicitly in many places. In Matthew 15:19 Jesus says, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” The term “sexual immorality” or porneia in Greek is a broad term describing every kind of sexual relationship outside of marriage. Homosexual practice would fall under porneia since it takes place outside of marriage which has always been between one man and one woman. Jesus, as an Old Testament Jew, believed in the authority of the Torah which includes the book of Leviticus. He quoted from Leviticus 19:18, the chapter in-between Leviticus 18 and 20, which says “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus reaffirmed the moral law of the Old Testament in Matthew 5:17-19 and considered “the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44) to be canonical for New Testament believers.
Jesus reaffirmed the Old Testament’s definition of marriage as one man and one woman in Matthew 19:4-6: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Every passage of Scripture that teaches marriage is the union of one man and one woman is an argument against homosexual practice. We do not need to restrict ourselves to just those passages that prohibit homosexual behavior. David Wright explains the Old Testament background of the New Testament’s teaching on homosexuality:
“Homosexuality was largely unknown in Judaism, but Christianity inherited unqualified condemnations of male homosexual practices in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. . . . Postbiblical Judaism stressed the homosexual element in the Sodomites’ attempted rape of Lot’s male guests (Gen. 19:4-5; cf. Judg. 19:22), and Hellenistic Jewish writers denounced homosexuality as frequently as any sin. . . . The Greek word arsenokoitai in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10, denoting literally (males) ‘who lie [sleep] with males,’ was almost certainly formed under the influence of the Septuagint text of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. Although first attested in Paul, the term also occurs in Hellenistic Jewish texts (Sibyll. Or. 2.73, influenced by Pseudo-Phocylides’s Sentences). The church fathers universally condemned male homosexual behavior. . . . They clearly regarded it as contrary to the created constitution and function of men and women, and not merely to the dispositions of particular individuals” (David Wright, in Everett Ferguson, editor, Encyclopedia of Early Christianity [New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1999], pp. 542-543).