Gagnon: Bridging the Bible and Gender Confusion, Part 3

Gagnon_review_06082015Robert A. J. Gagnon.  2001.  The Bible and Homosexual Practice:  Texts and Hermeneutics.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press. (Goto part 1; goto part 2)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

If homosexual conduct reduces life expectancy today when modern medicine is readily available, then it must have been even worse in the ancient world. In a context where the poor routinely starved to death, child mortality was extreme[1], and any access to medical care rare, except among the very wealthy, living a godly lifestyle was a survival strategy.  When the Apostle Paul writes:

 “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures…” (1 Cor. 15:3 ESV)

Life and death hang in the balance.  So Paul describes faith as of “first importance”.

New Testament

Gagnon divides his discussion of the New Testament into a short chapter (44 pages) on the witness of Jesus and a long chapter (108 pages) on the witness of Paul.  He writes in 6 working chapters, including:

  1. The Context of Ancient Judaism and Jesus’ View of Torah.
  2. Jesus on Genesis and Male-Female Complementarity.
  3. Deconstructing the Myth of a Sexually Tolerant Jesus.
  4. Love and Righteousness in the Ministry of Jesus.
  5. Romans 1:24-27.
  6. The Vice Lists in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10.

Let me focus on the longer discussions, items 4 and 5 above.

Love and Righteousness in the Ministry of Jesus

One of the enduring pictures of Jesus come from the parable of the loss sheep (210). Luke the physician writes:

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost. Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:4-7 ESV)

Notice that the parable targets those who are lost in sin and, when lost, are brought back to repentance.  Jesus’ healing ministry was not restricted to physical healing, but focused on repentance of wayward lifestyles and transformation into godly lifestyles (211).

Faith in God is like that—life  requires acknowledging that we participate in both a physical and spiritual reality.  Ignoring our spiritual reality leaves us like zombies—physical beings without life; ignoring our physical reality leaves us like ghosts—spiritual beings without a body.  Jesus rose from the dead both physically and spiritually [2].

Luke 15

Gagnon makes the point that Luke 15 has a theme of lostness—lost sheep, lost coins, lost (prodigal) sons.  He writes:  “The lost son is even identified with a dead person or corpse.” (211) In some sense, the modern church has, relative to those lost in gender confusion, often played the part of the older brother in the parable of prodigal son (also lost) who could not love his father and refused to accept the return of his wayward brother (211-212).

How do you properly love an unrepentant sinner?  Luke points to the father in the parable of the prodigal son who offers forgiveness and reinstatement in the family. Gagnon (213) points out:  “Jesus did not confuse love with toleration of all behaviors…”  Citing the story of the woman caught in adultery, Gagnon focuses on Jesus’ parting words to her:

“Jesus stood up and said to her, Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? She said, No one, Lord. And Jesus said, Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:10-11)

Healing comes not only from being loved on but also from being transformed. Truth and grace together make the Gospel—truth alone cannot be heard; grace alone denies the law [3].  This idea is captured also by the author of Hebrews:  “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb 4:15)  We need to hear the bad news before the good news makes any sense.  Grace is a gift that we have to live into if it is to transform us.

Romans 1:24-27

One question that intrigued me in seminary was the nature of the new covenant that we have in Christ.  What exactly does the new covenant look like and what are its provisions?

The Mosaic covenant is fairly easy to articulate because the law, starting with the Ten Commandments, is laid out in concrete detail in Exodus 20 (and Deut 6) and the blessings and curses are laid out in even more detail in Deuteronomy 28.  In Paul’s writing, the new covenant in Christ is loosely described as the Gospel and in the dichotomy between law and grace.  The most specific statement of the Gospel appears in Romans 1:

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, The righteous shall live by faith [in Jesus Christ]. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Rom 1:16-18)

Salvation from sin is freely given to all that believe in Jesus Christ—those that reject this salvation become objects of wrath.  What is this wrath?  Rejecting salvation garners a curse:  “God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity…” (Rom 1:24)  Because of the deprivation of original sin, being given up to your own desires is a curse—it is a curse to get what you want [3].  Rejecting the Gospel also means that one remains subject to the law.  Living a Christian lifestyle is not denying our true selves as victims of dark desires; it is expressing our true selves as victors in Christ’s righteousness.

Gagnon observes that Romans 1:24-27 is a central New Testament text dealing with homosexual conduct, both among men and women (229).  The overall context for Paul is original sin which affects both Jews and Gentiles (240; Rom 3:9).  This passage is edgy because:

“God does not judge them for their ignorance but for acting contrary to the knowledge that they do have.  This suppression of knowledge shows itself especially in two ways: idolatry and same-sex intercourse.” (247).

Idolatry is about priorities.  Idolatry is anything that we substitute for God’s  priority in our lives—is our identity in Christ or is it in other things like our work, sexuality, or entertainments?  Idolatry is not just substituting stone statues for the reality of God; it is replacing God’s priority in our lives for other priorities. The prohibition on idolatry is the first of the Ten Commandments because our survival depends on it:

“You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me…” (Exod 20:3-5)

God is jealous, not because He depends on our love or somehow needs sycophants; God is jealous because He loves us and knows how easily we are tempted into self-destruction.

Notice the inter-generational curse implied in Exodus 20:5 focused on those that hate God (247-249).  Paul is not making up stuff in Romans 1—he is just adjusting the law to suit the new covenant in Christ.  Ignoring God means worshiping something else and earns the curse of being given over to your own desires.  Because the Romans were famous for their immorality and homosexuality, Paul’s emphasis on immorality and homosexuality is tailored to his audience—but it is also obviously tailored to our unrighteous situation today.


In spite of the passage of time, Robert Gagnon’s The Bible and Homosexual Practice remains an important resource for biblical scholars and interested Christians. A key difference between Gagnon’s exegetical work on homosexuality and other treatments is his insistence on using scripture to interpret scripture. Authors who claim homosexuality is consistent with scripture usually focus on a narrow number of verses (e.g. Matt 22:36-40) and discount other passages (e.g. Lev 20:13) that disagree with their position.  Consequently, progressives desiring credibility on this subject and evangelicals wanting to be informed need to engage this text.


[1] A parallel is found in Deuteronomy for disobeying the Mosaic covenant:  “The LORD will strike you with wasting disease and with fever, inflammation and fiery heat, and with drought and with blight and with mildew. They shall pursue you until you perish.” (Deut. 28:22)

[2] Resurrection of the Body (

[3] The story of the woman caught in adultery is widely recognized as a later addition to the text of the Gospel of John and is bracketed in the Greek text.  However, the tension between grace and truth is deep part of the biblical tradition.  See, for example, the attributes of God listed in Exodus 34:6 which are divinely reveal immediately after God gives Moses the Ten Commandments.  The translation reads: “The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,” (Exod 34:6).  Grace is specifically translated.  The word translated as faithfulness ( אֱמֶֽת ), is translated as truth in the King James and the New American Standard versions.  This implies that both grace and truth have always been God’s character traits.

[3] Child mortality is still a problem in many countries.  My mother-in-law (born 1914) grew up in a well-to-do family in Iran. Still, her mother had only 4 children survive out of 16 live births.

Gagnon: Bridging the Bible and Gender Confusion, Part 3

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