This past Saturday, June 28, on Moody Radio, I debated a young man named Matthew Vines who has become the new face of “gay Christianity.”
Because Matthew could not use the Bible to support his arguments, he contended that while the biblical authors clearly condemned homosexual practice, it was only because they knew nothing of loving, monogamous homosexual relationships. Otherwise, they would have sanctioned them.
In contrast, I pointed out that the consistent testimony of the Bible was that God designed men to be with women, which is why homosexual practice in any form was rejected by the authors of the Scriptures.
I also stated that Paul, living in the ancient Greco-Roman world, would have been aware of long-term male-male relationships that were neither pederastic nor abusive.
Matthew challenged me to produce one first-century text that spoke of committed homosexual relationships, and I mentioned that I had relevant references in my book "Can You be Gay and Christian?" but didn't have those sources in front of me at that moment. (It would be great if I could cite from memory every text I have ever studied in my life, but there are some that I have to look up.)
When Matthew tried to press me again on the subject, I reminded him that biblical scholarship was my field, and I referred him to some other scholars whom I cited in my book for further references.
In other words, I was telling him that he was barking up the wrong tree and would be shooting himself in the foot by pressing the issue, since there are definitely sources that support my claim, and I could easily supply them once off the air.
To my great surprise, while the radio debate was still in progress, Matthew tweeted out this message: "@DrMichaelLBrown has conceded he cannot cite any 1st-century texts referring to long-term, committed gay relationships. Huge concession."
Later in the day, he posted a lengthy comment on Facebook trying to press this home – his alleged "gotcha" moment – claiming that I had no basis for my historical claims. Not long after that, one of his colleagues posted an article trying to reinforce how important Matthew's point was.
In reality, there was no concession – I just didn't have all the relevant sources memorized – while the real concession was that Matthew could not use the Bible to support his position. That's why I tweeted out, "How revealing that @VinesMatthew concedes he can't use the Bible to support same-sex relationships. Let's keep praying for him & his friends."
As for his question about first-century texts describing committed homosexual relationships, there are actually five important answers.
First, as I stressed during the debate, Paul rejected homosexual practice, not because he was unaware of long-term male-male relationships but because it was contrary to God's design for men and women, two same-but-different individuals who come together as one. (See Romans 1:24-27, which borrows language from Genesis 1.)
Second, you can't create a doctrine that violates the plain teaching of the Bible based on the alleged non-existence of contrary sources outside of the Bible. (In this case there are sources; I'm simply making a point.)
Third, classical scholars have supplied numerous ancient texts that speak of long-term homosexual (and even lesbian relationships), from a few hundred years before the time of Jesus and from a few hundred years after the time of Jesus. This begs the question: If these relationships existed before and after the first century, why not during the first century? As one frustrated (and scholarly) commenter noted, "We can cite texts before the first century and immediately following the first century. Did people somehow magically forget about this concept once the year 1 A.D. hit, and then remember it again in 100 A.D.??????"
Fourth, there are ancient texts that speak of concepts similar to today's "sexual orientation," including texts which claimed that certain people were biologically inclined to same-sex attractions or that some people were exclusively attracted to the same sex. As New Testament scholar Preston Sprinkle wrote, "There's no reason – no good historical reason – to believe that Paul was unaware of same-sex orientation."
Fifth, and most importantly, there are texts that are roughly contemporaneous with the New Testament writings that speak of two men "marrying" each other or of two (adult) men being in love with each other. In fact, scholars have emailed me since the debate with further documentation, and some of it is so powerful that it absolutely and totally sinks the entire historical argument Matthew Vines sought to make on behalf of "gay Christianity."
In the words of Anthony Thiselton, a respected scholar who wrote a 1,450-page commentary on 1 Corinthians, "Paul witnessed around him both abusive relationships of power or money and examples of 'genuine love' between males. ... The more closely writers examine Greco-Roman society and the pluralism of its ethical traditions, the more the Corinthian situation appears to resonate with our own."
Top gay and lesbian scholars have documented this as well, as noted by professor Robert Gagnon, the foremost authority on the Bible and homosexuality.
Not only, then, is the testimony of Scripture against "gay Christianity" (referring to those who claim that God will bless committed homosexual unions), but the testimony of history is against it as well.
Unfortunately, for Matthew Vines and his colleagues, by reiterating the empty claim that Paul would have embraced homosexual practice if only he saw committed, same-sex unions in his day, and by clamoring for evidence that Paul could have known of such practices, they have now quite unintentionally put another nail in the coffin of their beliefs.
It's time for them to abandon this path of deception and come back to God's liberating truth.
What will it be? Will they put their sexuality first or will they put the Scriptures first?