Book Review: "A Study of 7 References to Homosexuality in the Bible"

John Dwyer is a gay Episcopal priest. Dwyer’s book is a valuable survey of the revisionist interpretations of Genesis 19, Judges 19, Leviticus 18 and 20, Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, and 1 Timothy 1. Dwyer makes no original contributions and produces his survey of the texts on a five-step process:

  1. The biblical authors know nothing of loving, monogamous same-sex relationships. Rather, sex was about power, lust and violence that stemmed from a society that devalued women.
  2. Sexual relationships in the 21st century are different.
  3. The biblical authors cannot have a Jewish worldview informed by the Tanakh, they are influenced by secular culture.
  4. In the passage’s context, the text is really about something else. This is typically done by only a cursory examination of the Scripture.
  5. Therefore, these passages are inapplicable for loving, monogamous same-sex relationships today.

Rather than provide a detailed look at how Dwyer handles each text, I’ll examine at how he handles Genesis 19. His behavior here is a representative sample of what he does with each text. Dwyer says the following:

  • Abraham’s hospitality to the angelic visitors is a deliberate contrast with that of Lot and especially the townspeople[1]
  • The townspeople’s goal was rape, not sex[2]
  • The townspeople’s sin was inhospitality[3]
  • The idea that the sin is homosexuality is a “minority view” in commentaries[4]
  • No references to Sodom and Gomorrah in the entire Bible have to do with homosexuality (Isa 1.9; Isa 13.19; Jer 23.14; Jer 49.18; Amos 4.11; Zeph 2.9; Ezek 16.46; Deut 29.23; Deut 32.32).[5] “These other biblical passages focus on a societal expectation that widows, orphans, strangers, the poor are cared for and treated accordingly.”[6]

Is this last statement true? Let’s examine the texts Dwyer cites:

  • Isa 1:9; 13:19; Jer 49:18; Amos 4:11; Zeph 2:9; Deut 29:23; Mt 10:15; Lk 17:29. In these cases, Sodom is used as a watchword for utter destruction. They say nothing about homosexuality or any sin at all. That was not their purpose.
  • Jeremiah 23:14. The reference gives the sense of  “beyond the pale” or “irredeemable”
  • Ezek 16:46f. This is a reference to sexual sin. Not only did Judah copy Sodom and Samaria’s ways “according to their abominations” (the word toevah is used here), she shortly became “more corrupt,” (Ezek 16:47). This “abomination” was sexual sin. Indeed, Judah exceeded Sodom in her sin (Ezek 16:48). Sodom was full of pride; “[t]hey were haughty and did an abomination [toevah] before me. So I removed them, when I saw it,” (Ezek 16:50). Context, and the use of toevah to match the prohibitions in Leviticus 18 and 20, indicate this was homosexual behavior.
  • Deut 32:32: a rejection of God is the vine the produced Sodom’s sin (cf. Romans 1)

Therefore Dwyer is wrong. This is typical of him; he never walks through a text in the entire book. He assumes you will believe his summaries. For example:

“In Zephaniah 2 and Ezekiel 16 the prophets warn Israel’s enemies against pride and arrogance, and their ignoring of the poor and needy, and prophesy their destruction like Sodom and Gomorrah.”[7]

This is false. In Zephaniah 2:9f there is no condemnation for ignoring the poor and needy. Rather, there is judgment on Moab because of her pride manifested by taunting God’s people and, thus, Yahweh and His character. Ezekiel 16 is directed at Judah for spiritual adultery, not for pride and arrogance!

Dwyer believes sex in the age of Abraham wasn’t about relationships; it was about power. He argues our preconditions for sex, masculinity and femininity must be modified. “The alignment of male and female, or male and male was not in the gender construction/orientation of ‘relationships,’ the alignment was about power in those relationships.”[8] He explains, “[t]hese stories are all about power, who has it, and how that power is utilized.”[9]

For support, Dwyer only cites one secular classicist[10] who wrote about Greco-Roman culture, not Ancient Near-Eastern culture![11] Dwyer not only asks us to believe Moses was controlled by a secular worldview when he wrote Genesis 19. He also asks us to believe Moses was controlled by a secular Greco-Roman worldview, too …

In sum, Dwyer says Genesis 19 (and Judges 19) teach us how God’s people ought not to act. “These passages are not about mutual sexual relations, but are about the inappropriate activity on the part of humans in the wrongful taking, rape, of another and focus on power, and the abuse of power.”[12]

Here is a summary of what this hermeneutic looks like regarding each passage

  1. Genesis 19 and Judges 19. “These stories are all about power, who has it, and how that power is utilized.”[13] They teach us how to not show love and righteousness.[14]
  2. Leviticus 18 and 20. The texts are about patriarchy and how to keep it.[15] The world is different now, so these passages do not apply.[16] Again, he cites as support a scholarly work about Greco-Roman culture and its impact on early Christianity,[17] then exports it back into Moses’ mind and demands we understand that as Moses’ worldview. The biblical author cannot define his terms; he must be defined by secular culture – even if it’s a culture over 1000 years in the future …
  3. Romans 1. The text is about how to honor God, with a rhetorical trap for the reader. It is not about loving relationships. Dwyer’s point is unclear. He both (1) claims Paul is influenced by a culture of power and patriarchy,[18] and (2) says Paul is writing against the misuse of power in one’s relationship with God.[19]
  4. 1 Corinthians 6. The passage is about litigation, not sex.[20] Loving same-sexual relationships were unknown to Paul, so the passage is inapplicable.[21]
  5. 1 Timothy 1:10. The passage is about lawbreakers; exploitative homosexuality is just an example. Loving same-sexual relationships were unknown to Paul, and the culture viewed sex as about power, lust and violence, so the passage is inapplicable.[22]

Dwyer’s value for the traditionalist perspective is that we see the fruits of a redemptive-movement hermeneutic unshackled from any fidelity to the text. Dwyer argues, “The living and breathing words of God that live in these pages argue for a radical and complete love of all people, the inclusion of all people, and a protection of those who are abused, used, utilized, taken.”[23]

In other words, Dwyer argues for a trajectory that goes beyond the text. Once you go that way, it is difficult to justify an objective place to stop. William Webb tries to place reasonable and commonsense guardrails on this movement in his redemptive-movement approach.[24] Dwyer is what happens when pragmatism and subjectivity are the guardrails.

I emailed Dwyer, quoted his statements that sex in Ancient Near-Eastern and Greco-Roman times was all about power, lust and violence, and asked:

how does Song of Solomon play into your view? Is this not a book that exalts traditional marriage based on a healthy and blessed sexual relationship? Where is the power, domination and strength? Where is the violence?  Of course, I’m not certain about your views on the Song’s authorship or its date, but regardless – is it not a book from the Tanakh that exalts a tender, loving sexual relationship? How does this book impact your views of Biblical sexual ethics, and their implications for these seven references?

He did not respond.


[1] “The story of Lot and Sodom is sandwiched in the middle of the Abraham story. This allows the reader to more fully understand: Abraham’s journey of faith; to highlight the manner in which Abraham treats guests; and to emphasis God’s keeping of the covenant promise made to Abraham,” (John Dwyer, Those 7 References: A Study of 7 References to Homosexuality in the Bible [CreateSpace, 2007; Kindle ed.], pg. 6).

[2] “Although by referring to the demands of the townspeople as ‘sex’ or ‘sport’ is not accurate either, as rape is not sex in the mutual connotation of the word. Rape is something far different,” (Dwyer, 7 References, pg. 7).

[3] “Many commentators agree that the ‘sin’ of Sodom is that the townspeople were guilty of the social sin of inappropriate conduct to other human beings,” (Dwyer, 7 References, pg. 8).

[4] Dwyer, 7 References, pg. 7.

[5] Dwyer provides the list in footnote 12 (7 References, pg. 8).

[6] Dwyer, 7 References, pgs. 8-9.

[7] Dwyer, 7 References, pg. 8. 

[8] Dwyer, 7 References, pg. 18. 

[9] Dwyer, 7 References, pg. 19. 

[10] See the biography for Dr. Craig Williams at https://classics.illinois.edu/directory/profile/cawllms.

[11] See fn. 43-44 (Dwyer, 7 References, pg. 18), which cite Craig A. Williams, Roman Homosexuality: Ideologies of Masculinity in Classical Antiquity, 1st ed. (New York: OUP, 1999).

[12] Dwyer, 7 References, pg. 20.  

[13] Dwyer, 7 References, pg. 19. 

[14] “Genesis 19 and Judges 19 are about living into God’s covenant through the lens of a negative storyline: of living into righteousness and justice. Genesis 19 and Judges 19 are focused on examples of humans not living into God’s covenant but who instead are degrading others,” (Dwyer, 7 References, pg. 20).

[15] “The prohibitions in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 were not about sex and sexual relations as we understand them in the 21st Century. These prohibitions had to do with keeping a rigid and male-dominated society distinct from that which surrounded it: to clearly delineate roles and societal rules,” (Dwyer, 7 References, pgs. 39-40). 

[16] “Much of sex and sexual relations as we understand them in the 21st Century are different from what was experienced and understood when Leviticus was written. Much of the sexual conduct was about taking, power, and what we would consider, in most instances today, rape. To utilize these verses as weapons of condemnation against people who have been made in God’s image is a disservice to the text, a misuse of the Torah and an insult to God’s word as it is made known to us. God’s word is not meant to be frozen in time, but heard anew today and looked at with fresh perspective and understanding based on the world that is hearing these words anew,” (Dwyer, 7 References, pg. 40).

[17] See fn. 110 (Dwyer, 7 References, pg. 38). He cites Peter Brown, The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988). This is a curious resource to cite to help us understand Moses’ mindset in an Ancient Near Eastern culture …

[18] “The kind of sexual activity that existed at the time Paul was writing was from a patriarchal, male dominated viewpoint in a society severely stratified by class and role and status. Those in the lower strata of society were treated unequally and abusively: physically, psychologically and sexually. This cultural overlay is an important lens through which understanding this text must be viewed. The loving natures of relationships that exist and underpin current understanding of relationships between people today, whether heterosexual or homosexual, were not unknown to Paul, but there existed a mindset that tolerated a taking of another individual, of what we would consider rape and abusive misuse of others,” (Dwyer, 7 References, pg. 57). Emphases added.

[19] “By taking this rhetorical device of Paul’s, the only direct reference in Romans to what we think of as same sex sexual relations, but to Paul was something different, and utilizing this literary device as a categorical and divine denunciation of homosexuality, we fall into the same rhetorical trap Paul set for the initial reader. Paul’s particular selection of the word chresis (‘to use,’ ‘utilization’) proves the point that Paul is making a rhetorical stab at the heart of the community: they must worship God appropriately, not “use” each other in a sexual or other inappropriate way. Paul is not talking about mutuality or love in chapter 1 of Romans. Paul is talking about use, and misuse, of power and authority, and how that impacts one’s relationship with God. He is talking about violence and a wrongful taking, and how those impact one’s relationship with God. Paul is pointing his readers to a proper relationship with God demanding they put away false idols that can and do corrupt that relationship,” (Dwyer, 7 References, pgs. 57-58). Emphasis added.

[20] “Faithful attention to these 12 verses of chapter 6 will show that it is inappropriate to use this text to condemn one or two of the ‘sinners’ listed in Paul’s vice list, when the focus of the passage is on litigation and greed, and not sex,” (Dwyer, 7 References, pg. 61).

[21] “There is no concept of mutuality, or love, or monogamy in what Paul is describing. It is about power and violence and the satisfaction of sexual desire in any available manner, by a person in a higher stratum of society as against a person in a lower stratum. The type and kind of same sex relationship that is mutual, loving, monogamous and entered into freely based upon mutuality, respect and love is not Paul’s focus. This passage, and the list of vices that illustrate a mindset of cruelty and abuse, cannot be utilized, in all good conscience, as against same sex relationships as they exist and are understood in the 21st Century,” (Dwyer, 7 References, pg. 70).

[22] “This passage is not a condemnation of gay and lesbian people in the 21st Century, but rather is a further example of a condemnation of a type of behavior gay and lesbian people, as well as any civilized individual today, would condemn: violence, rape, the unwanted sexual taking of another person. These actions are not homosexuality as it is understood today. The behaviors which are included on the vice list are ones emblematic of a stratified, paternalistic society where power, and sex, and one’s station in life, were intricately intertwined. This passage has nothing to do with a mutually agreed upon, loving relationship between adults, and to use it as such is a misuse of the text that perpetuates an unneeded harm,” (Dwyer, 7 References, pg. 80).

[23] Dwyer, 7 References, pg. 84.  

[24] William J. Webb, Slaves, Women and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis (Downers Grove: IVP, 2001; Kindle ed.).  

Book Review: "Homosexuality and the Christian" by Mark Yarhouse

Mark Yarhouse is a conservative Christian psychologist who is active and publishes regularly in his field. He takes a traditional conservative approach to the homosexual issue. Yarhouse published his book in 2010, and it is a wealth of keen insight.

He advances the discussion by examining the presuppositions that undergird the revisionist arguments for unrepentant, “gay” Christianity. Yarhouse organizes his book into three sections; (1) the big picture, (2) honest answers, and (3) questions for the church. His unique contributions largely come from the first section:

  • Sources of authority. Christians typically draw from four sources of authority; (1) Scripture, (2) Christian tradition, (3) reason, and (4) personal experience.[1] The latter two are increasingly where people place the greater emphasis. People elevate their sexual experiences to the level of self-identity.[2] It is this insight that so many authors seem to miss. Yarhouse pushes back against this hermeneutic of narcissism; “Although it contrasts sharply with a Western culture that focuses on felt needs and ‘self-actualization,’ Christians are called to say no to some experiences so that we can say yes to a life that is obedient to God’s revealed will.”[3]
  • Identity the key. Yarhouse follows up with a lengthy discussion on why sexual identity is the real heart of the matter.[4] He mitigates against the identity category by advocating a graduated, three-tier distinction along a spectrum of attraction, orientation and identity. He refers to individuals as “same-sex attracted,” and will not grant their homosexuality “identity” status at the outset.[5] His discussion of the “gay script,” whereby the homosexual movement offers a warm embrace and an affirmation of sexual identity, is spot on. He suggests the Church offer a competing positive script based on identity in Christ.[6] Yarhouse acknowledges homosexuality often is not sought, but people can make choices about what they do with these attractions.[7]
  • Cause and change aren’t the real issues. Yarhouse is not keen to argue these points. He concludes that the cause of homosexuality is unknown, and many factors likely play a role. Also, the record on “change” (which Yarhouse cautions can be defined many ways!) is mixed. But, he contends, causation is not the real issue nor is “conversion” to heterosexuality.[8]
  • “Our people.” Yarhouse challenges the Church to see “sincere strugglers” as “our people.” Instead, what these individuals often experience is profound shame and a sense of imminent rejection. Why cannot the Church vow to love these sincere strugglers, embrace them and help them in their struggles for holiness?[9]

Yarhouse also has a great deal of practical advice for spouses and parents dealing with sincere strugglers. But, his greatest value is in his emphasis on combatting the “identity” issue, his challenge to embrace sincere strugglers as brothers and sisters in community,[10] and his analogy of “flipping the script” by offering a better identity “in Christ” than the one the homosexual community is selling.

This is the perhaps the most helpful book on homosexuality available. It should be read with Burk and Lambert’s Transforming Homosexuality (see my review) for maximum effect.  


[1] Mark Yarhouse, Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Pastors, Parents and Friends (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2010; Kindle ed.), pg. 18.

[2] “It is important to recognize that sexuality should be experienced as central to a person’s overall sense of identity. I think this was intended by God. We are inherently physical beings, and we are inherently sexual beings. So we don’t want to communicate that our sexuality is somehow removed from who we are. On the other hand, it is also important to recognize that when we ask what God thinks about homosexuality, we are likely to confuse the pattern of behavior with the person.

In other words, while we can acknowledge that some gay Christians say behavior and identity cannot be separated, other Christians who experience same-sex attraction do precisely that. They separate behavior and identity, seeing it as a necessary step in navigating their sexuality in light of their faith. When we instead ask what God thinks about homosexually oriented people, or what he thinks of people who experience same-sex attraction, we can answer without hesitation that God loves them,” (Yarhouse, Homosexuality, pg. 32).

[3] Yarhouse, Homosexuality, pg. 36.  

[4] Yarhouse, Homosexuality, pgs. 37-57.  

[5] Yarhouse, Homosexuality, pgs. 40-43.  

[6] Yarhouse, Homosexuality, pgs. 46-53. “What competing or alternative script can he expect from the church? When Chris looks to the church he hears very little, and what he does hear is usually an oversimplification of the causes of homosexuality, followed by the claim that it can easily be changed or healed through efforts or faith. Is this the only message the church wants to send Chris?” (Ibid, pgs. 49-50).

[7] “Same-sex attraction may be the ethnic aspect of identity, an unchosen characteristic that can contribute in some way to identity, but there are also civic aspects of identity, and people have choices to make regarding what they believe about sexuality, sexual identity, and sexual behavior. These choices will lead them to different communities that, in turn, confirm and consolidate a sense of this sexual identity into who they are,” (Yarhouse, Homosexuality, pgs. 53-54).

[8] “Let me say it plainly one more time: The traditional Christian sexual ethic does not hinge on the causes of sexual attraction or orientation. Also: The traditional Christian sexual ethic does not hinge on whether or not sexual orientation can change,” (Yarhouse, Homosexuality, pgs. 163-164).

[9] “It got me thinking about why the church doesn’t lead with the thought and attitude that Christians who struggle with homosexuality are our people. Think about that for a second: Sexual minorities in the church, by which I mean believers who experience same-sex attraction, are our people. Framing the issue this way can lead to greater compassion as the church tries to find ways to provide support and encouragement to those in our own communities who would benefit from it,” (Yarhouse, Homosexuality, pgs. 157-158).

[10] “What the Christian community can offer the Christian sexual minority is a vision for what it means to be Christlike. That vision places the Christian sexual minority squarely in the middle of the Christian community. They become us. We are all supposed to be working toward the same goal. Whether we experience same-sex attraction or not, we are all to move toward Christlikeness,” (Yarhouse, Homosexuality, pg. 165).

Book Review: "A Response to Matthew Vines" ed. Albert Mohler

Mohler and a merry band of contributors have produced a very short, punchy and substantive 62-page rebuttal to Matthew Vines’ book (see my review of Vines’ work). There are five chapters which discuss, in turn, (1) an overview of Vines’ position and the dangers it presents, (2) Vines and the Old Testament, (3) Vines and the New Testament, (4) Vines and Christian history, and (5) Vines and the Gospel.

This book is remarkable because it is so substantive, yet so short. The contributors each manage to accurately distill Vines’ arguments and highlight the dangers to orthodoxy:

  • Mohler. Vines has severed the relevant texts from the meta-narrative of Scripture, particularly Genesis 1-2, and thus erased any definition of what it means to be human. This hermeneutical decapitation allows Vines to “relativize” the meaning to suit his purposes.[1] Indeed, Mohler argues, Vines allows experience to drive nearly everything he says.[2] Mohler invokes a boogeyman argument by suggesting that a repudiation of gender complementarity[3] will lead, inevitably, to a capitulation of sexual complementarity. This does not logically follow.[4]
  • Hamilton. The author generally echoes Mohler. Vines allows experience to guide his thinking, isolates texts from the meta-narrative and assumes the Biblical authors wrote from a secular worldview.[5] Vines’ work “is a study in sophistry.”[6] His analogy to an eyewitness description of a plane crash (“the witness never said gravity caused it to fall to the ground”) to illustrate Vines’ approach is excellent.[7]
  • Burk. The author largely summarizes some of his arguments from Transforming Homosexuality. Like other contributors, he realizes Vines will not allow the text to have a Scriptural worldview. “Vines has an undue fascination with Paul’s Greco-Roman context to the near exclusion of his Jewish identity.”[8]
  • Strachan. This section was less convincing, but this is not Strachan’s fault. It is rarely convincing to watch two authors toss historical quotations back and forth like dueling wizards. Strachan does a good job, but it is unlikely many readers will be helped. At best, Strachan’s effort will allow Christians to see Vines’ framing of the history is inaccurate.
  • Lambert. Like Burk before him, Lambert echoes and summarizes his own work from Transforming Homosexuality and discusses whether being an unrepentant “gay Christian” is compatible with the Gospel.

The book would have been strengthened by a short chapter each on identity and a “me-centered” hermeneutic. Each author makes references to these, but never directly engages. Vines does make his “gayness” his controlling badge of self-identity. He does have a hermeneutic of winsome narcissism; Vines even opens the book with his ridiculous “bad fruit” discussion. These are the controlling presuppositions that make Christians want the hermeneutic Vines is selling. A rebuttal of Vines’ position that does not attack these false presuppositions is incomplete.

Nonetheless, this is an accessible and substantive response to Vines and every church should provide it as a downloadable resource. It and several other ebooks are available free of charge at the SBTS website.


[1]  Albert Mohler, ed., God and the Gay Christian?: A Response to Matthew Vines (Louisville: SBTS Press, 2014; Kindle ed.), KL 58-70.

[2] Mohler, Response, KL 125. “Vines claims to hold to a ‘high view’ of the Bible and to believe that ‘all of Scripture is inspired by God and authoritative for my life,’ but the modern concept of sexual orientation functions as a much higher authority in his thinking and in his argument.”

[3] I assume Mohler is referring to the complementarian/egalitarian debate.

[4] Mohler, Response, KL 125-150.

[5] Mohler, Response, KL 191.  

[6] Mohler, Response, KL 191.  

[7] Mohler, Response, KL 216-228.

[8] Mohler, Response, KL 483.  

Book Review: "Slaves, Women and Homosexuals" by William Webb

Webb’s book is a tour de force of individual insights that are somehow greater than the sum of their whole. He seeks to bring cultural analysis to bear on the Bible over against a “static” hermeneutic. Today, he argues, we must distinguish what is cultural and trans-cultural. That is, we must discern between cultural values and kingdom values.[1] The basic approach of his “redemptive-movement” hermeneutic is to:[2]

  1. imagine the factors X (original culture), Y (the Bible) and Z (contemporary culture),
  2. discern movement (or lack thereof) in the Scriptures along a particular trajectory
  3. and be willing to continue the movement beyond the isolated words of the text along that same redemptive trajectory  

Webb focuses on the spirit of the text.[3] He proposes a cumbersome 18 criteria for his hermeneutic, organized into four categories; (1) persuasive, (2) moderately persuasive, (3) inconclusive, and (4) extra-biblical considerations. He shows how this works by applying each criteria, in turn, to women in the church, slavery and homosexuality.

Webb has some truly remarkable big-picture insights, particularly on women, including:

  • Concept of movement. There are indications that Scripture moves in a particular direction through Biblical history (e.g. slaves and women). “On the whole, the biblical material is headed toward an elevation of women in status and rights.”[4] Must this movement stop at Revelation?
  • Patterns in original creation. Is gender hierarchy part of original creation, or the Fall? Webb argues the latter, and his explanation is convincing.[5] Should Christians seek to perpetuate a situation (e.g. Gen 3:16) that is arguably a result of the Fall, and not part of original creation?
  • Basis in new creation. What kind of status do women have in the New Covenant, what status do they have in eternity, and what are the implications for our relationships and roles in the church now, as New Covenant people?[6]

However, Webb’s work also has flaws:

  • Too much. His 18 criteria are cumbersome and redundant. The latter nine are arguably pointless and could have been condensed into a short “reminder” list in an appendix. An exegete with a theological framework already accounts for many of these criteria automatically.
  • Out of nowhere. Webb’s hermeneutical principles seemingly appear out of the ether. There are no overarching theological assumptions or framework; just a complicated series of seemingly random hermeneutical principles divorced from an interpretive grid.
  • Western. Webb’s focus on cultural translation has the potential to make PlayDough of the text. He argues for gender-role equality in the Church, in part, because primogeniture is not practiced in Western society.[7] What about other societies? Is meaning fluid depending on the receptor culture?
  • Stunted. This approach works best on texts with more concrete expression, such as narrative, law-codes and perhaps some wisdom literature. It is difficult to see Webb’s criteria being relevant for prophesy or poetry.

Webb has produced an outstanding book. His redemptive-movement approach has much to commend it, but some of his criteria for analysis are redundant for trained pastors, lack trans-culturality (ironically enough!), and are subjective. However, other criteria are extremely powerful and merit serious consideration.


[1] William J. Webb, Slaves, Women and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis (Downers Grove: IVP, 2001; Kindle ed.), pg. 36.  

[2] “A redemptive-movement hermeneutic is characterized by several key components. At the heart of such an approach to the application of Scripture is its focus on (1) redemptive movement, (2) a multilevel ethic, (3) a balanced perspective, (4) cultural/ transcultural assessment and (5) the underlying spirit within a text,” (Webb, Hermeneutics, pg. 49).

[3] “A static hermeneutic lacks power and relevance, while a secular or radical hermeneutic lacks direction. Only a view that utilizes the redemptive spirit within Scripture as its core can construct an enduring connection between the ancient and modern worlds. A redemptive-spirit approach honors the words of Scripture by not forcing them into modern molds that do not fit. The words of Scripture, as read against the ancient world, provide the Christian with an understanding of its spirit and direction. The redemptive spirit generates the power to invade a new generation; the words of Scripture as read within their broader social context provide the much-needed direction for guiding the invasion of that power within today’s world. Once upon modern soil, a redemptive-movement hermeneutic channels its renewing spirit into the modern world with power to change social structures and direction to guide the renewal process,” (Webb, Hermeneutics, pg. 74).

[4] Webb, Hermeneutics, pg. 103.  

[5] Webb, Hermeneutics, pgs. 147-159; 165-171.

[6] Dispensationalism, as a movement, has a tortured hermeneutical relationship with the New Covenant. I assume the Church is a full participant in the New Covenant.

[7] “One might ask if pragmatic factors like these should influence our cultural/ transcultural analysis of Scripture. In short, the answer is yes. The pragmatic factors that drove primogeniture customs were part of the ancient setting but they are no longer part of our world. Pragmatic factors tend to shape the formation of biblical text not so much at the upper abstracted levels of principle, but at the lower concrete expression of principle as it gets fleshed out within a particular cultural context,” (Webb, Hermeneutics, pg. 183).

Book Review: "God and the Gay Christian" by Matthew Vines

Matthew Vines’s book release in 2015 was a watershed event in conservative-ish Christian circles. He effectively popularizes the scholarly arguments for unrepentant, monogamous, same-sex Christian relationships. He has 10 arguments. Here is a representative sample:

  1. A tree and its fruit. Vines argues, based on Mt 7:15-20, for an “experience-based test” that evaluates truthfulness on whether it makes him feel bad.[1] This is narcissism and the fruit of moral, therapeutic deism.
  2. Bad traditions and sexual orientation. The Church was wrong about the earth being the center of the universe, and it is likewise wrong about homosexual orientation. New information about “orientation” gives the church a new lens through which to interpret the Bible.[2] Vines claims ancient sexual preferences were fluid and homosexuality was due to excess passion. He engages no Biblical texts and assumes Scripture is heavily shaped by secular culture, but does not demonstrate this assertion.[3]
  3. Gift of celibacy. Not all homosexual Christians have the gift of celibacy,[4] so Christians must decide which teaching to modify – homosexuality or celibacy. Vines suggests homosexuality, because the traditional view produces “bad fruit” in individuals. This is a version of the prosperity gospel, because Vines refuses to accept mortification of sin as a component of repentance.[5] 
  4. Real Sin of Sodom. Christians only began to interpret this sin as homosexuality until the Greco-Roman era, because of an over-emphasis on ascetism.[6]

The pattern is clear. Vines is largely a popularizer. He is to James Brownson what Kevin DeYoung is to Robert Gagnon. For example, Vines concludes (or, rather, he echoes a scholar who has concluded) that malakoi in 1 Cor 6:9 really means a lack of self-control.[7] What does a word study tell us? The word appears six times in the New Testament and the LXX:[8]

  • Proverbs 25:15 (“gentle”): the sense is gentleness
  • Proverbs 26:22 (“soft”): the sense is pleasant, perhaps tasty
  • Matthew 11:8 [x2] (“soft”): the literal sense is fancy or dressy, but Jesus’ point is something like soft or white-collar in a figurative sense
  • Luke 7:25 (“soft”): identical to above

The sense, then, is “softness.” Words can be literal or figurative. In 1 Corinthians 6, the word is in list of other vices that exclude one from the Kingdom. Is having a gentle or soft character grounds for damnation? Clearly, the word must have a figurative meaning. Because the term is between “adulterers” and “active partners” in a homosexual act, it seems logical to understand it to mean “soft” in the sense of a sexual role. Indeed, this is precisely what lexicons such as BDAG (“pert. to being passive in a same-sex relationship”), Louw-Nida, Friberg, Gingrich, Danker and even Thayer conclude. Which sexual act excludes one from God’s family? Homosexuality. Vines is incorrect, and he can only appeal to revisionist scholars for support.

This, in sum, is how Vines argues. He never does source language word studies, he never exegetes a text, he assumes secular culture had a controlling influence on the Biblical authors, and he appeals to empathy from a place of narcissism.

Vines’ book is infinitely dangerous for the believing Christian, and every Christian leader must understand how the other side argues. This book is the best work a pastor can find to review the revisionist arguments at a popular level.


[1] “Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:13, ‘[God] will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.’ But mandatory celibacy for gay Christians is more than many of them can bear. It produces bad fruit in many of their lives, and for some, it fuels despair to the point of suicide. Such outcomes made it difficult for my dad to see how the church’s rejection of same-sex relationships could qualify as a good tree that, according to Jesus, produces good fruit,” (Matthew Vines, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships [New York: Convergent, 2014; Kindle ed.], pg. 19).

[2] “Here’s what I want you to notice for our discussion about sexual orientation: Christians did not change their minds about the solar system because they lost respect for their Christian forebears or for the authority of Scripture. They changed their minds because they were confronted with evidence their predecessors had never considered. The traditional interpretation of Psalm 93:1; Joshua 10:12–14; and other passages made sense when it was first formulated. But the invention of the telescope offered a new lens to use in interpreting those verses, opening the door to a more accurate interpretation. The telescope didn’t lead Christians to reject Scripture. It simply led them to clarify their understanding of Scripture,” (Vines, Gay Christian, pg. 24).

[3] “Christians made remarkable shifts in their understanding regarding Gentiles, slaves, and the place of the earth in relation to the sun. And as we are about to see, the new information we have about sexual orientation actually requires us to reinterpret Scripture no matter what stance we take on same-sex relationships,” (Vines, Gay Christian, pg. 42).

[4] “But Jesus’s teaching does not support mandatory celibacy for people to whom celibacy has not been given. If even some gay Christians lack the gift of celibacy, we have reason to doubt interpretations that force celibacy upon them,” (Vines, Gay Christian, pg. 48)

[5] Vines Gay Christian, 43-44. 

[6]  “Christians were influenced by their ascetic environment to interpret Scripture in ways that explicitly condemned taboo practices. In later Christian thought, same-sex relations were thought to be ‘unnatural’ in the same way as masturbation, contraception, and non-procreative heterosexual sex. Each of those practices was understood as going beyond nature’s basic requirement of engaging in sex for the sake of having children,” (Vines, Gay Christian, 74-76).

[7] “New Testament scholar David Fredrickson has argued that malakoi in 1 Corinthians 6:9 be translated as ‘those who lack self-control.’ Based on the evidence, that translation stands on firmer footing than any interpretation that defines the word as a specific reference to same-sex behavior. As we’ve seen, malakoi doesn’t refer to merely a single act. It encompasses an entire disposition toward immoderation,” (Vines, Gay Christian, 122).

[8] The quotations which follow from the LXX are from the Lexham English Septuagint.

Book Review: "What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?"

Kevin DeYoung has produced an outstanding book that is essentially a layman’s translation of Robert Gagnon. He organizes his book by first covering key texts, then interacting with common objections.[1]

He takes a traditional, conservative approach to all texts and covers the issues well. Some comments:

  • Genesis 1-2: He provides five reasons why the text shows gender complementarity in creation. DeYoung goes his own way by suggesting complementarity is hardwired into the Bible’s metanarrative of Christ’s union with the church.[2]
  • Genesis 19: DeYoung’s discussion on Ezekiel 16 and the implications for the sin of Sodom is better than Gagnon’s (by drawing attention to Ezekiel 16:47, not just v. 49) and is considerably shorter.
  • Leviticus: He provides six good reasons why Leviticus is still binding today, but does not explain the nature of the Christian’s relationship to the Law.[3]
  • Romans: DeYoung provides a good, conservative overview of the text. He remarks that word studies are unnecessary; “[t]he context gives us all the clues we need.”[4]
  • 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy: He frames his discussion around word studies of malakoi and arsenokoitai,[5] which may not be the most valuable use of paper or electronic real estate in a book like this. The implications for conceptual covenant identity and ethics would have been a more profitable discussion.

DeYoung discusses some objections to Church’s traditional position on homosexuality:

  • Hardly mentioned. He give six reasons why this objection is irrelevant. Jesus believed sexual immorality, in its broadest interpretation, is sinful (Mk 7:21).[6] Sexual sin is always very serious, and it must remain so.[7]
  • Loving and monogamous. DeYoung is quite right to point out that this is an argument from silence.[8] He is rightly skeptical of the idea that most sexual relationships in antiquity were predicated on power, wanton lust and violence[9] – something Dwyer advocates.[10]
  • Gluttony and divorce. This chapter is an unfortunate distraction. DeYoung is reacting to allegations of hypocrisy and selective focus. A discussion of the “you’re picking and choosing from the Old Testament” accusation would have been more profitable.
  • Church is for broken people. He argues against free grace by emphasizing repentance. In a wishy-washy evangelical culture, this discussion is unfortunately necessary.
  • Wrong side of history. This is an unfocused and awkward chapter. DeYoung explains that a progressive view of history is false, and often contains strawmen and falsehoods about Christian positions. He discusses Galileo and slavery. He essentially argues it’s the pinnacle of arrogance to suggest the Church (in a Catholic sense) has always been wrong.[11]
  • It’s not fair! This is perhaps DeYoung’s best chapter because it attacks the idea that your sexuality is your identity.[12]
  • God of love. The attribute of love is often elevated to gives shape to all others, and DeYoung corrects this.[13]

Like Burk and Lambert, DeYoung closes with an excellent list of “ten commitments” for churches.[14] This book is an excellent resource for any Christian, and can credibly be referred to as Gagnon-lite.


[1]  Gen 1-2, 19; Lev 18, 20; Rom 1; 1 Cor 6, 1 Tim 1.

[2] “The meaning of marriage is more than mutual sacrifice and covenantal commitment. Marriage, by its very nature, requires complementarity. The mystical union of Christ and the church— each ‘part’ belonging to the other but neither interchangeable— cannot be pictured in marital union without the differentiation of male and female. If God wanted us to conclude that men and woman were interchangeable in the marriage relationship, he not only gave us the wrong creation narrative; he gave us the wrong metanarrative,” (Kevin DeYoung, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality [Wheaton: Crossway, 2015; Kindle ed.], pg. 32).

[3] Pg. 48.  

[4] Pg. 54.  

[5] Pgs. 59-68.  

[6] Pg. 74.  

[7] “Far from treating sexual deviance as a lesser ethical issue, the New Testament sees it as a matter for excommunication (1 Corinthians 5), separation (2 Cor. 6: 12– 20), and a temptation for perverse compromise (Jude 3– 16),” (pg. 78).

[8] Pgs. 79-82.  

[9] “It seems demeaning to suggest that until very recently in the history of the world there were no examples of warm, loving, committed homosexual relationships,” (pg. 82).

[10] John Dwyer, Those 7 References: A Study of 7 References to Homosexuality in the Bible (self-published, 2007, Kindle ed.).

[11] “As Christians we ought to fear being on the wrong side of the holy, apostolic, and universal church more than we fear being on the wrong side of discredited assumptions about progress and enlightenment,” (pg. 108).

[12] “But if the summum bonum of human existence is defined by something other than sex, the hard things the Bible has to say to those with same-sex desires is not materially different from the hard things it has to say to everyone else,” (pg. 120).

[13] “No halfway responsible parent would ever think that loving her child means affirming his every desire and finding ways to fulfill whatever wishes he deems important,” (pg. 120).

[14] Pgs. 148-150.  

Book Review: "Transforming Homosexuality"

Denny Burk and and Heath Lambert have produced the most valuable book on the homosexual issue available.

They begin with a valuable discussion about “sexual orientation.” They use a secular definition,[1] not because they agree, but because this is how the term is used in everyday conversation. The APA has three triggers for “sexual orientation;” (1) sexual attraction, (2) emotional attraction and (3) self-identity. Burk and Lambert say the Scriptures only support the first of these, and the other two are illegitimate categories for the Christian.[2]

They have a first-rate discussion about whether desire is sinful. They discuss Mt 5:27-28, and answer in the affirmative. The Levitical system prescribed atonement for unintentional sins, which suggests there is no moral distinction between accidental and intentional desire.[3] The moral freight lies in what you wish to do, not how fervently you want to do it.[4] They conclude that the only valid sex desire is within the marriage covenant.[5]

There is an excellent discussion of Christology and incarnation. Jesus did not take on a sinful human nature, thus He was never tempted from within.[6] Too many pastors have a deficient Christology and do not understand this vital distinction.

Burk and Lambert discuss some common myths. They emphasize ethics are not enough; pastors must give people hope about change.[7] Change is not impossible. Change can be harmful, but it is because of the issue at hand, not the attempted treatment. Very importantly, they stress the goal is not heterosexuality, but purity. “The biblical goal of purity, in its manifestations of marriage for some and celibacy for others, replaces the unbiblical goal of heterosexual desire for all people.”[8] Change cannot happen without repentance; a framework quite different from reparative therapy which offers a psychological explanation for homosexual behavior.

Their discussion on change is unfocused and disappointing. The chapter headings are vague and abstract. For example, “repent of covetousness” really means “repent of sexual immorality.” Likewise, “repent of sinful presumption” means “stop living in unrepentant sin while claiming to be a Christian.” They suggest the same sex attracted (“SSA”) Christian “repent of sinful concealing” and find an accountability partner. They also suggest, curiously, singing to Jesus. This is all good advice, but the pastor will find little of substance to grab hold of, here. The best resource on biblical change is still How to Help People Change, by Jay Adams.[9]

The book closes with a discussion on how evangelicals can change to a more fruitful approach. The authors repeatedly emphasize that a focus on ethics is not enough, and here they flesh this out.[10] They offer 10 suggestions, and any congregation that internalizes these will be the better for it.Burk and Lambert’s work is most practical, accessible and substantive brief work available today. It is suitable for any interested Christian and for the busy pastor who needs some straight thinking on a topic that is not, in and of itself, very complicated but has become complicated because of our cultural moment.


[1] From the American Psychological Association’s (“APA”).

[2] Pgs. 26-38.  

[3] Pg. 44.  

[4] “Sin is conceived when desire fixes on evil,” (pg. 56).  

[5] “The only sex desire that glorifies God is that desire that is ordered to the covenant of marriage. When sexual desire or attraction fixes on any kind of non-marital erotic activity, it falls short of the glory of God and is, by definition, sinful,” (pg. 48).

[6] Pgs. 48-56.  

[7] “But we are also concerned that focusing on ethics to the exclusion of the ministry of change both reflects and provides an inaccurate picture that the Bible is all about ethical behavior and not much about how behavior can change,” (pg. 81).

[8] Pg. 76.  

[9] Jay Adams, How to Help People Change: The Four-step Biblical Process (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986).  

[10] They recount a sermon by W.A. Criswell from 1986 that focused exclusively on ethics and offered no hope or grace to SSA individuals (ch. 3, fn. 1).