What does the Bible teach about homosexuality?

I’m working today on a paper for the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, which is to be held in New Orleans on November 18-20. The title of my paper is “Why Evangelicals Should Ignore Brian McLaren: How the New Testament Requires Evangelicals to Render a Judgment on the Moral Status of Homosexuality.”

While working on the paper, I came across a video featuring Robert Gagnon—a New Testament scholar who has written the definitive work on the Bible’s teaching about homosexuality. It’s pretty heady stuff, but I’ve posted the video above. If you’re interested in his book, you can buy it here: The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics.


  • Michael Bird

    Mate, I think Maclaren’s silence on the topic is for family reasons. And I agree, Gagnon’s book is the best one on the subject!

  • Denny Burk


    I hadn’t heard that. I still don’t think that’s a sufficient justification for the “moratorium” he proposed.

    Are you going to be in New Orleans? Good to hear from you!


  • Justin

    I’m an ETS member, but I’m not able to go to the annual meeting. Will you post your paper for us to read? Or, will there be some way we can get a copy?
    Thanks for all you do,

  • John Holmberg

    In my opinion, the vast majority believe homosexuality is a sin. What we take issue with from guys like you et al in your camp is the way you go about letting everybody know it’s a sin. You do it in an oppressive way by rallying voters, writing papers, and posting on blogs about it constantly.

    Homosexuals should know how much Christians love them, and trying to enforce your morals on a secular society is not the way to go about doing it in our context. Perhaps looking at the life of Christ may just be helpful here instead of quoting 6 proof-texts saying it’s a sin.

  • Brian Krieger

    When commenting on the woman at the well, Dr. Gagnon says the following:

    No matter what they feel affectively in themselves, functionally, it turns out to be hate. If [a] person has two young children and those young children want to touch a hot stove and the parent says there there, knock yourself out, go ahead and explore, those parents are not considered loving. In fact state social services takes the children out of the home and the parents go to prison. So clearly tolerance is not always loving. The issue that has to be faced here with regards to homosexual practice is first a truth question. Are people generally at risk in their relationship with God through serial unrepentant behavior, not only this, but of course other sexual offenses that we could bring out as well. And if the answer to that question is yes, they are at risk, then what does love mean in that context? Clearly, once that truth question is asked, love cannot mean perpetuating the behavior in question with the fewest negative side effects. Love must mean ending the cycle of behavior lest the individual not inherit God’s kingdom.

  • mike


    although i agree with you theologically, should we really just “ignore” mclaren? i might suggest that you, in fact, are not ignoring him by writing about him. i don’t know, just some thoughts, but can’t we engage and dialogue with those with whom we disagree? “ignore” might have its own dangers.

  • Scott

    So you didn’t know that McLaren’s silence may be due to familial issues, but you’re perfectly comfortable calling him out on it. Maybe it would be wise to understand the man’s motives before needlessly calling him out. I understand your desire to speak out on the issue, but why drag McLaren into the conversation (no pun intended) in the first place?

  • Matthew Staton

    I believe that homosexual behavior is sin, that sin is wrong, and that despite claims to the opposite, sin creates victims. However, I also believe that we are fallen creatures in a fallen world and different people have inclinations towards different sins. I do not like the fact that it seems I will struggle with some sins like lust and anger for the rest of my life. I do not struggle with substance abuse or theft. I do not struggle terribly with gluttony but I do often eat more than I should. I do not struggle with homosexuality.

    It is an old complaint that people in church tend to pick and choose sins. I have not read Gagnon’s work, just this quote above. I wonder if the parent-to-child analogy is a good one. I am not a parent to anyone in church. With my own child, I do not follow him around and stop him from every possible action that might hurt him. That would make me a helicopter parent, an over-controlling parent that is driven by fear. To exaggerate, If someone in the church decided I was their child, and they chose which sin they were going to follow me around and make me stop, I’m not sure that would result in a productive relationship.

    There are definitely times to step in and intervene in someone’s life. I would suggest that it is easy for us to decide that this sin or that sin is the one that needs work right now, when God might be working elsewhere and that we need to be careful not to decide for God where the person needs the most work right now.

    Example: the elder’s wife who is the church’s piano player habitually gossips, hurting other people. She refuses to admit she has a problem. The guy in the back row struggles with homosexuality, greed, bitterness, rebellion, smoking, watching too much TV — it’s too big a list to tackle everything at once. Right now, maybe the Lord is working on him in the area of bitterness much more than the other areas. If he is responding to that and allowing the Lord to give him a forgiving heart, maybe in some ways he is doing better than the lady who plays piano but looks so much better on the outside than him.

    This is different than the person who draws a line in the sand and says “never.” But it is also different than complete, immediate “healing” such that the old feelings and struggles just disappear.

  • Ted

    This is Gagnon at his best. Anyone further interested in this topic should visit Gagnon’s site:

    Two questions:
    1) Gagnon refers to the woman caught in adultery in John 8. But is that text really in our Bible? How do you sort out the textual critical issue?

    2)Gagnon says those who habitually practice homosexuality risk “not inheriting” the kingdom. Does that mean exclusion from the Kingdom–i.e. eternal separation from God in hell? Or, does that mean getting into the Kingdom/heaven by the skin of your teeth? I’m pretty sure Gagnon argues “not inheriting” means exclusion and separation.

  • Darius T

    “If he is responding to that and allowing the Lord to give him a forgiving heart, maybe in some ways he is doing better than the lady who plays piano but looks so much better on the outside than him.”

    Wow, that’s almost exactly what John Owen said in On the Mortification of Sin in Believers (albeit in old school English).

  • Jeremy

    Great video examining the topic. A small-group young men’s Bible study that I participate in is looking for new topics to study. I think there are few that are as relevant to our day as that of the Biblical view on homosexuality, but I fear that this book will be a little in depth for the average layman. Does anyone know of another book that might be better suited for such a study?

  • Raycol

    While the Bible does prohibit sex between men (homosexuality), it can nevertheless be shown that the prohibition does not apply today when the sexual activity causes no harm. Also the prohibition does not apply today because it applied only to the ancient Israelite and Roman cultures. The Bible criticizes, but does not prohibit, sex between women. Full reasons for these conclusions are given on the Gay and Christian website…

  • ex-preacher

    Gagnon seems to think that comparing homosexuality to polyamory or incest provides some sort of trump card on this issue – as if no sane person could possibly approve of those things.

    The truth is not quite so simple. With regard to polyamory, the Bible contains many instances (about 60 I believe) of Bible characters engaging in polygamy. Most of those committing the polygamy are “good guys” and none are condemned, save for Solomon (the world’s wisest man), whose crime was marrying foreign women and for going a bit overboard with his 700 wives and 300 concubines. Neither the Old or New Testament ever explicitly forbids polygamy. Augustine and Luther, among other church leaders, admitted that the Bible did not prohibit polygamy.

    The matter of incest is a bit trickier. One critical issue is defining it. Virtually everyone agrees that a parent having sex with a minor child is incest and should be outlawed. But what about first cousins? Or second cousins? Some jurisdictions outlaw and some permit marriage between former in-laws or step-siblings. Some states and nations do not criminalize sex between consenting adults regardless of relationship. Even in the majority of states, where laws prohibit consensual adult sex between relatives, enforcement is almost nonexistent.

    It seems to me that sex between consenting, mentally competent adults should not be a matter to be interfered with by the state. One additional and legitimate caveat would be to maintain prohibitions on sexual relations between a parent or parent figure and their child due to a probable imbalance of authority.

    As to what various religious groups want to condone or condemn, that’s their business.

  • Sue

    One additional and legitimate caveat would be to maintain prohibitions on sexual relations between a parent or parent figure and their child due to a probable imbalance of authority.

    I would say the same about any authority figure, whether it be professor, doctor, psychologist, employer or anyone at all with authority over you. Consensual sex is really moot under conditions of authority.

  • John Mark Harris

    ETS is the perfect place for a paper like this. We are called to judge sexual immorality and exclude those who might practice such without repenting. That’s just basic Bible. On the other hand, we can do nothing but love and offer truth to those outside of the faith, but once they claim the name “Christian” we can’t allow it. I’d love a copy of that paper too please.

  • Amy Burton

    Denny, I love you, but you need to take your judgment elsewhere. Who made you God? Here’s the title of my paper: “Why Normal, God-fearing Folk Should Ignore Evangelicals: How the Bible Says We Should Not Throw Stones”.

  • Denny Burk

    Hey, Amy. Thanks for stopping by to comment. It is great to hear from my long lost friend!

    The paper addresses an intra-evangelical debate that is going on right now. One side (Brian McLaren, et al.) argues that Christianity should revise its 2,000 year old teaching on sexual ethics. The other side argues that the Bible’s teaching is still relevant today even though it is definitely counter-cultural.

    The title of the paper probably reads like an anti-gay tirade, but that’s not what it is. As I said, it’s addressed to other evangelicals. Moreover, even though Christians believe that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is a sin, we also still believe that the gospel is for sinners. As the apostle Paul has said, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners– of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15).

    One of the great texts on this topic is 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, “Do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals… shall inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.”

    The important line is “and such were some of you.” The apostle Paul wrote to those who had engaged in homosexual acts, and he adds that they have been washed, sanctified, and justified because of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

    The truth is that homosexual sinners are no worse off than heterosexual ones. We’re all in the same boat. Thankfully, God has made a way for all sinners to be forgiven and cleansed and to inherit eternal life. That’s the good news (even if my title didn’t communicate that!).

    Thanks again for writing. Great to hear from you.


  • Chris Myers

    Denny, keep up the good work of defending the true teaching of Scripture. Truth is truth, whether it is palatable to everyone or not! You should post you paper. We need more solid food to nourish ourselves on. (If you are not going to post the paper can you send me a copy via email?) Blessings.

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