Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
I once read an article about Christians torturing each other in order to eliminate homosexuality from among them. That is something that is totally not cool. And the thought stuck with me for several days later. After all, the Bible says, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). The key word of that verse being, “gently.” But I’m not going to spend the whole article telling you what you should already know; which is that as Christians we’re called to be kind and loving to our brothers and sisters. No, what the Holy Spirit put on my heart is a much bigger issue at work in the background of our society today: people are defining themselves by their desires rather than the more important factor of how they relate to God.
Let me start by saying that all sorts of people in the Bible have weird desires – or, probably more accurately, they have what we’d call kinks. For example, Noah liked getting naked; because when he got drunk after the flood that was the first thing he did. History records, “Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent” (Genesis 9:20-21). And Noah wasn’t alone; Peter seemed to have no problem with public nudity either. Depending on which Bible translation you’re reading John 21:7 either has a naked Peter quickly throwing on clothes or getting decent after fishing in his underwear. And what of David and his family? David himself was probably a sex addict considering his many wives and children; just check out the list of the wives and sons of David in 1 Chronicles 3:1-9:
These were the sons of David born to him in Hebron:
The firstborn was Amnon the son of Ahinoam of Jezreel;
The second, Daniel the son of Abigail of Carmel;
The third, Absalom the son of Maacah daughter of Talmai king of Geshur;
The fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith;
The fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital;
And the sixth, Ithream, by his wife Eglah.
These six were born to David in Hebron, where he reigned seven years and six months.
David reigned in Jerusalem thirty-three years, and these were the children born to him there:
Shammua, Shobab, Nathan and Solomon. These four were by Bathsheba daughter of Ammiel. There were also Ibhar, Elishua, Eliphelet, Nogah, Nepheg, Japhia, Elishama, Eliada and Eliphelet – nine in all. All these were the sons of David, besides his sons by his concubines. And Tamar was their sister.
David also might have been bisexual by today’s standards considering how he acted with Jonathan. We read,
After the boy had gone, David got up from the south side of the stone and bowed down before Jonathan three times, with his face to the ground. Then they kissed each other and wept together – but David wept the most (1 Samuel 20:41).
Not everyone will read anything sexual into that, but there’s certainly a lot of fan fictions with similar (though sexualized) relationships on the internet. Amnon, David’s first son was into his sister: “In the course of time, Amnon son of David fell in love with Tamar, the beautiful sister of Absalom son of David” (2 Samuel 13:1). And Solomon had a ton of wives and concubines; yet only three children ever get mentioned (you can find them in 1 Kings 4:11, 15 and 11:43). But Solomon’s marriages weren’t some sort of cover either; he had “big love” with them, enough so that they drew him away from God. The Bible records,
King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter – Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray (1 Kings 11:1-3).
Jonathan was almost certainly gay by Tumblr standards. After all, the Bible notes, “After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself” (1 Samuel 18:1). However, David and Jonathan were honored because they didn’t make their relationship a sexual thing; just a very close friendship. The Bible tells us that the result of this was, “After removing Saul, he made David their king. He testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do’” (Acts 13:22). “He” being God. Even with all of these kinks, David tried to keep things within God’s boundaries and they weren’t the focus of his life – this is an important lesson to remember.
The kinks we find in the Bible didn’t define the people who possessed them. It was just a part of them. Likewise, lots of people have kinds of desires and kinks today, but we don’t make big deals out of them. You know, some people like orgies; do we have orgy pride parades? Some people can’t get off without porn; do we consider that to be a subculture? Some people like cartoons; does this define their personhood? No? What about people who like their close relatives in a romantic way? For some reason everyone seems to be ok with judging such people as deviants. The fact is that we’re not supposed to embrace any sort of sexual immorality at all. Jesus said to the Church in Pergamum,
Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth (Revelation 2:14-16).
And to the church in Thyatira Christ said,
Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways (Revelation 2:20-22).
Immorality is, for the most part, clearly defined in the Bible. Incest: “No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations. I am the Lord” (Leviticus 18:6).
Bestiality: “Do not have sexual relations with an animal and defile yourself with it. A woman must not present herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it; that is a perversion” (Leviticus 18:23). Homosexuality: “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable” (Leviticus 18:22). Adultery: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28). The Bible is very clear that adultery is totes not cool. And in general it is written of sexual immorality, “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people” (Ephesians 5:3). It’s been more than 2000 years since the Bible was penned and God’s stance on such things hasn’t changed since then. Saying that you’re one kind of person because that’s how you were born apparently doesn’t fly as an excuse as far as Scripture is concerned.
But for a little more understanding, let’s take a look at an example from the Corinthian church. There was a dude there who had married his mom. At first, the church boasted of him and his alternative lifestyle; because he was a proudly incestuous follower of Christ. But Paul wrote to them,
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and put out of your fellowship the man who did this? (1 Corinthians 5:1-2).
Paul noted that as Christians, it wasn’t their job to accept his life choices; and he actually recommended putting the man out of the church for his attitude and behavior. Paul continued,
I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat (1 Corinthians 5:9-11).
With his words, Paul wasn’t advocating the judgment of the world (as the world is outside of Christ), nor was he condoning direct punishment of sinners by the church (as such things are God’s jurisdiction). No, Paul just said that if people are unrepentant of their clearly defined sins, then they shouldn’t be allowed in the church until they get their head right. He later wrote back to the church on the subject of the man,
The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. The reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven – if there was anything to forgive – I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes (2 Corinthians 2:6-11).
After being put out of the church for a while, the man became repentant of his sin; therefore Paul advised he be let in and fully embraced as a member of the body of Christ. In fact, the man may have still been married to his mom, since it is written,
“I hate divorce,” says the Lord God of Israel, “and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,” says the Lord Almighty.
So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith (Malachi 2:16).
The issue had never been the sin itself. We’re all human and we sin. The issue is how we regard sin. Do we admit that we are sinners, or do we try to hide behind worldly standards and say “Oh, that’s just who I am” and celebrate things that are clearly stated to be ungodly? Such things aren’t supposed to be celebrated, but repented of.
The same is true for whatever unholy things you may have in your life (sexual or otherwise). Let me give you an example using food in place of whatever sort of sin may grip your life. Vegans have a reputation for always talking about being vegan – like they wear it as a badge of pride. I’m totally cool with you being vegan, that’s between you and God. But you need not talk about your veganism unless we’re talking about eating habits. If half of your ministry involves defending veganism, then it is self-centered not God-centered and I don’t think you should be behind the pulpit. If, however, you’re living a God-centered life and aren’t defined by your veganism but rather by who you are in Christ and are gifted by the Holy Spirit to preach, then preach! Paul also tied these sorts of things to food. He wrote,
So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live (1 Corinthians 8:4-6)
As no idol is real, food sacrificed to idols mean nothing. He continues, “But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do” (1 Corinthians 8:8). Therefore, eating such food (which was meat) isn’t a sin, as the food means nothing special in the eyes of God. However, Paul continues,
For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against your brother in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall (1 Corinthians 8:10-13).
Your sin is between you and God; and Christ’s forgiveness covers the sins of one who is repentant of said sins. However, if you celebrate and promote your sin, then you endanger those whose confidence in Christ is weaker than your own. You could be a strong Christian with an odd habit or kink, but if that habit or kink leads someone less secure in their faith away from the Lord, then you have been the one to damn them to an eternity in hell. Things defined as sin should never be a point of pride for a believer, as we are defined by our relationship to Jesus Christ; our only pride in this world.
Now, I want to stop here and clarify that with some things that the Bible doesn’t approve of, there’s a legal gray area. When I was younger, a very big issue was that of “civil unions.” What people wanted was a marriage-level legal document allowing same-gendered people to have the same rights as heterosexual married couples. This included things like insurance rights, tax things, and even just being able to see your partner in the hospital. The Bible actually supports such things. You can read in the Bible that Jonathan and David were so close that Jonathan was willing to give his entire kingdom to the man of his heart, David. History records of Jonathan’s heart,
And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this.” The two of them made a covenant before the Lord. Then Jonathan went home, but David remained at Horesh (1 Samuel 23:16-18).
Jonathan and David had such a pure love that Jonathan was willing to sacrifice his birthright for David and before the Lord they even made a promise about such things. And even more interesting, God, through various circumstances, upheld the promise and granted David kingship over Israel. So there is nothing wrong at all with wanting to give people close to you proper legal rights, and such things will hopefully be better understood by the church in the future.
Most people have some sort of kink or fetish. That by itself isn’t a sin. The heart wants what the heart wants and unfortunately we have little control over our heart. It is what we do with our impulses that matters. Since most kinks and fetishes are adulterous, we should try to switch the channel in our minds when such things run through them. And we should absolutely do our best not to act on the sins we want to commit; for it is written,
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death (James 1:13-15).
But when we do act on our less-than-holy desires, we should immediately seek forgiveness; for we are told that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). You need to realize that you are more than your desires. James 4:1 notes, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” We’re all fighting wars inside our hearts because as flesh-and-blood humans we are constantly fighting against our sin nature. But remember that you are a child of God, beautifully made in the image of your heavenly father. As is written, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). Jesus loves you, and he died so that you could rock out with him in heaven instead of suffering in hell. Never forget what Paul wrote, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Don’t let your desires define you; you’re far better and more important than that. And also don’t forget that we don’t fight against people, but against sin and the devil –that is our true enemy.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12).
Fight the devil in all you do, not people who are different than you; and do not box yourself into a package that is anything less than God-sized. Be holy and enjoy the Lord’s love, brothers and sisters.