Christian Living

Aren’t the Apostle Paul’s Sexual Ethics Outdated?

Author Alan Shlemon Published on 12/14/2016

At a recent presentation where I gave the Bible’s position on same-sex relationships, someone asked me, “How do we know that most of Scripture about homosexuality that Paul wrote still applies to us today, as our culture and society are different from his?” Here’s how I answered the question.

First, if the argument is that Paul’s sexual ethics are outdated and can be safely ignored in today’s times, then this would lead to an absurdity. We could ignore virtually any moral proscription mentioned in the New Testament. Nothing Paul said would apply to us today. After all, our culture and society are allegedly different from his.

Second, Paul’s comments about homosexual behavior (Rom. 1:26–27, 1 Cor. 6:9–11, 1 Tim. 1:10) are hardly culture bound. His teaching is consistent with all of Scripture, throughout every period of biblical history. Genesis, for example, teaches that God made male and female and commanded them to unite and form a one-flesh union (Gen. 2:18–25). They were also commanded to be fruitful and multiply, something only possible with the complementarity of the sexes. In fact, the male-female pairing is the only arrangement of people described in Scripture that can form a one-flesh union. No other pairing or group of people is ever described in this way.

The Mosaic Law also included a prohibition of same-sex behavior in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. In other words, from the creation of humanity through the time of Moses, Scripture has been consistent regarding sexuality. It is only to occur between a married man and woman.

Jesus later restated (and upheld) the Genesis creation account of male-female complementarity (Matthew 19:3–9). Not only did He quote the relevant parts of Genesis, He added His own words: “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” In other words, Jesus believed male-female marriage was a God-ordained institution.

So when Paul mentioned that homosexuals were engaged in sin (Rom. 1:26–27, 1 Cor. 6:9, 1 Tim 1:10), he was speaking consistently with what Scripture taught in every era of biblical history. This was not something that merely reflected his culture or own thinking.

Third, Paul grounded the prohibition of homosexual behavior in the created order, indicating this was not a culture-bound concern. Romans 1:26–27 was written in the context of a creation narrative. Paul argued that God made creation in a certain way that makes His divine attributes evident from what is made. Men and women, in particular, are natural compliments of one another and are intended to sexually function with each other. Homosexual sex violates the natural design of male-female coupling. That’s why Paul argues such behavior is symptomatic of rebellion, and consequently, sin.

Paul’s sexual ethics on homosexuality, therefore, are consistent with the rest of Scripture and, therefore, relevant to us today. Dismissing Paul’s teaching is dismissing the inspired word of God and the purpose of marriage God has ordained since the creation of the world.