THE AIM OF THIS STUDY is to explore the biblical guidelines for evaluating the role and status of homosexual persons in the contemporary church. The focus on biblical hermeneutics will proceed around three questions. The first question is where the topic of sexuality fits within the spectrum of biblical theology. I will argue that it belongs under the rubric of creation rather than social justice as is often the starting point in contemporary teaching.1 The second question falls into two parts: What is the basis of the biblical teaching on homosexuality when it is approached within a theology of creation, and is there any change in teaching on this topic within biblical tradition? I will argue that there is significant change in the biblical teaching on homosexuality that comes to light when it is interpreted inter-biblically within the larger framework of creation. The third question concerns the sources of revelation that account for change in the biblical teaching on homosexuality.

The study will conclude by summarizing the results of the biblical teachings on homosexuality as three guidelines that may be of service to the contemporary church as it seeks to construct a theology of sexuality within the context of a contemporary theology of creation. Most arguments that have advocated the incorporation of practicing homosexuals into all aspects of church life have pitted social justice or civil rights against biblical tradition. I hope to demonstrate that the change in the teaching on homosexuality within Scripture provides the guidelines for incorporating practicing homosexuals within all aspects of church life.

1. Creation and Sexuality

Ancient Israel and the Christian church have traditionally interpreted human sexuality within an overall theology of creation. In fact, one could argue that the most private of all human action, sex with another person, and the most public of all divine action, the fashioning of our cosmos, define the boundaries of any theology of creation. A consequence of this interconnection is that our discussion of something so personal as sex can never be divorced from the most abstract of all topics, namely worldview or cosmology. Douglas Knight states that cosmology "designates a group's comprehensive view of reality and represents the effort to grasp the nature of the whole and thereby also the place of all the parts within it."2 As Christians our cosmology is our understanding how the world evolved, and it includes our understanding of God as creator and how God is actively present in and through our world. Only within this broad landscape of God and world are we able to define ourselves as humans.

Such a large concept as cosmology is difficult to fathom concretely and an analogy of the human body may be helpful. An elbow joint alone tells us very little. In fact in isolation many of us may not even recognize one. We require an understanding of the human body as a whole in order to recognize an elbow and to judge how an elbow "ought" to work. In much the same way, human sexuality is a part of a larger worldview or cosmology. Our cosmology provides the framework by which we make very concrete ethical judgments about human sexual practice. And herein lies the problem in evaluating sexual ethics in the contemporary church. Kenneth E. McCall states the problem as follows:

We in the church live precisely at a point of transition in which our own orientation in and tacit understanding of cosmos is passing, and yet we are not fully aware of the change that is taking place around us and within us. We can, so to speak, taste it and feel it but still cannot determine what it is we are facing.3

The mutuality between cosmos and individual in a theology of creation indicates how the church's wrestling with human sexuality has profound implications for our understanding of God in relationship to the world and for our social and political visions of community. The framing of human sexuality within a theology of creation is not meant to avoid issues of social justice. Indeed, discussion about the status of homosexual persons in the life of the church includes a range of profound issues of justice.4 But justice with regard to sexual ethics within the church cannot be defined simply by focusing on interpersonal relations, social inclusion and exclusion, or civil rights—as important as these issues are. The central question before the church with regard to homosexual practice at least when it is approached within a broad theology of creation is: What sexual practices are in harmony with God at our moment in time and thus strengthen the emergence of the Kingdom of God, and what practices weaken it? Only within this larger framework of creation or worldview can we gain clarity on the exercise of justice within the church in regard to sexual practice.

George S. Hendry, in the book Theology of Nature, provides a structure for evaluating biblical teaching on homosexuality within an overall theology of creation. He states that God can be understood in three different contexts in a theology of creation: the world as a whole, the history of salvation, and the inner life. He continues that these three contexts translate into three interrelated parameters of theology: the cosmological, the political, and the psychological or individual.5 I will employ this framework to interpret the biblical references to homosexuality within an overall theology of creation. My focus for interpretation will be on the largest of the three categories. An interpretation of worldview certainly requires exegesis of the individual texts that address homosexual behavior, but these texts alone tend to be more limited in scope to individual and social practice. Their authority rests in a cosmology that is only assumed. Interpretation of worldview, therefore, requires that we go beyond the individual texts to discern where in Canon the authority lies for the univocal condemnation of homosexual practice. Interpretation at this level suggests that Genesis 1 is the central text in Scripture for evaluating homosexual practice.

2. Inter-Biblical Teaching on Homosexuality

In a recent study entitled Scripture and Homosexuality: Biblical Authority and the Church Today, Marion Soards demonstrated that biblical writers are unanimous in judging homosexual practice to be unethical.6 The central texts in support of this conclusion include two references in the Holiness Code of Leviticus 17–26 (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13) and three references in the Letters of Paul (Romans 1:26–27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; and 1 Timothy 1:10).7 His exegesis of the individual texts can be summarized as follows. The two texts from the Holiness Code (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13) are explicit in their condemnation of homosexual practice. The laws state: "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman." 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 are also explicit in their condemnation of homosexual practice. Both texts state that sodomites are either excluded from the Kingdom of God or condemned under the law. The English word "sodomite" is a translation of the Greek word ajrsenokoitai, which may literally mean "male bedders."8 Soards judiciously cautioned that, even though these texts are explicit in their judgment of homosexual practice, their point of focus lies elsewhere, which raises questions concerning their appropriateness as authoritative teachings on the topic. The last passage is Romans 1:26–27. And, because Paul is presenting "significant theological reflection" in this passage, it does function as a more central teaching on the topic. Here homosexuality is judged to be a symptom of the more pervasive sin of idolatry. Homosexuality is idolatry because it is human action that "distorts God's created order," and thus it signifies the "rejection of the Creator's design."9

Five references to homosexual practice in Scripture do not appear to be very significant in a body of literature that spans centuries in its formation. The infrequency of references to homosexual practice in Scripture, however, does not indicate a lack of interest in the topic by biblical writers. Sexual behavior is extremely important throughout the history of ancient Israel and the early church because it is an essential component in a theology of creation. In fact, the lack of explicit discussion reinforces the authority of the few texts that we have. There is no debate in either the Old or the New Testaments on homosexual practice of individuals or on its negative impact in society. Thus Scripture would appear to present clear guidelines to the contemporary church. But before these texts are appropriated as literal guidelines a problem must be noted. The problem is that when these texts are approached as components within a comprehensive theology of creation, they do not explicitly ground their ethical conclusions in a worldview. Such a worldview would include at the very least a statement of God's interrelationship with creation and the place of sexuality within this framework.10 Neither priestly writers nor Paul provide such a worldview, most likely because they assume either that their readers know it or that it is already explicitly stated someplace else. When a foundational worldview is not given the reader has three choices: one, to intuit why homosexual practice is an abomination for priestly writers or idolatry for Paul; two, simply to accept their teaching at face value as being authoritative because it is in Scripture; or three, to locate where in Scripture the authority lies for the explicit prohibitions against homosexual. An interpretation of homosexual practice within a biblical theology of creation demands the third alternative.

Examination of the two priestly laws in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 and the three Pauline teachings in Romans 1:26–27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; and 1 Timothy 1:10 suggests an inter-biblical relationship in which the New Testament teachings are dependent on the Old Testament laws. 1 Corin thians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 are explicit in their dependence on Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. These texts introduce a new Greek word, ajrsenokoitai, "male bedders" which is derived from the Greek version of the priestly laws in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.11 Romans 1:26–27 does not have this term, and thus Paul's dependence on priestly law is less clear in this passage. Yet, there are indications that Paul is also working in Romans 1 within the context of priestly teaching. Richard Hayes writes that "[t]he reference to God as creator [in Romans 1] would certainly evoke for Paul, as well as his readers, immediate recollections of the creation story in Genesis 1–3, which proclaims that 'God created man in his own image . . . male and female he created them,' charging them to 'be fruitful and multiply.'"12 And, indeed, the reference by Paul in Romans 1:32 to the death penalty for homosexual practice would appear to be a reference to priestly teaching in Leviticus 18:29 and 20:13. The inter-biblical relationships point to the priestly legislation in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 as the authoritative teaching on homosexual practice in Scripture.

Thus it is priestly tradition in the Old Testament where the church must begin its study to evaluate homosexual practice within a biblical theology of creation. And, within priestly tradition, as the quotation from Richard Hayes has already suggested, it is Genesis 1 that provides the authoritative worldview for sexual ethics. Interpretation of the biblical teaching on homosexual practice within the worldview of Genesis 1 will bring to light both continuity and change between priestly law and Pauline teaching that is not evident when the texts are exegeted in isolation.

Genesis 1

Genesis 1 is most likely written by the same priestly writers who author the laws against homosexual practice in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.13 Priestly writers are preoccupied with order in Genesis 1, because order provides safeguards for dangerous and potentially chaotic forces that threaten life. The priestly cosmology in Genesis 1 conveys the importance of order both in its style of presentation and in its content. No words are wasted as the cosmology moves through a seven-day cycle from un created chaos as a dark liquid (Genesis 1:2) to a perfectly structured world that allows for divine rest on the Sabbath (Genesis 2:1–3). The six days in between chaos and rest describe divine acts of creation as an evolution of opposites from darkness to light, from water to air, from sea to dry land, and from profane time (six days) to sacred time (Sabbath). The opposites balance each other, resulting in a good creation, in which the world is an ecosystem with everything in its proper place, including all life on earth.

The creation of animals and humans in Genesis 1:24–31 takes place on the sixth day. Two things are said about the creation of humans in Genesis 1:26–28. The first is that humans are created in the image of God. Normally, in the ancient world only kings are said to be in the image of God. The divine image in kings was a royal theology meant to support an ancient version of the divine right of the state.14 Thus, when priestly writers attribute this quality to all humans, they certainly intend to make a political statement that rejects the power of any state to be the representative of God on earth. And this becomes clear when they characterize the image of God as dominion over creation, signifying the responsibility of rule.15 Thus, we might characterize the image of God as a democratization of a royal designation.16 All humans, according to priestly writers, bear the responsibility of rule as God's special representatives in creation.17 The second characteristic of humans in Genesis 1:26–28 is that they are gender specific and blessed by God to be fertile. This characteristic identifies humans with creation rather than God. Humans, as male and female, are part of the balance of opposites in creation that is so central throughout Genesis 1. Thus, the implied heterosexuality of humans follows literally from the structure of creation, and it provides an ordered way for life to continue.

There has been debate in modern biblical scholarship on the relationship of human gender to the image of God. Karl Barth, for example, argued that the creation of humans as male and female defined the content of the image of God. Thus he identified the two characteristics of humans in Genesis 1:26–28 as being interrelated, with the result that there was an analogy of relationship (analogia relationis) between humans as male and female and the image of God.18 The present interpretation has moved in another direction. It concludes that the divine image and human gender are not related in Genesis 1. The image of God relates humans to the divine and thus describes how humans are distinct from other creatures. It designates the human responsibility of rule. Indeed, as Phyllis Bird states, "[t]he idea that God might possess any form of sexuality, or any differentiation analogous to it, would have been for [priestly writers] an utterly foreign and repugnant notion."19 The blessing of fertility for males and females moves in just the opposite direction. It identifies humans with creation. It bestows divine blessing on human reproduction between males and females. The two characteristics of humans, therefore, are not interdependent. Once again Phyllis Bird writes, "Unlike God, but like the other creatures, adam is characterized by sexual differentiation."20

The two characteristics of humans in Genesis 1:26–28 are conveyed through different kinds of speech. The blessing of fertility is a literal statement about human reproduction in a cosmology characterized by opposites. Like the analogy of the elbow in the introduction to this paper, heterosexual practice is embedded in the biology of the priestly worldview and it derives its meaning within this setting. The image of God is a metaphorical statement about humans in relationship to the divine. It is a metaphorical statement, because God is more than the sum total of humans for priestly writers, even though humans carry the image of God.21 In other words, priestly writers are not equating God and humans biologically. They are not saying that humans are God or that God is humanity. What they are saying, however, is that the responsibility of rule is permanent. The image of God is universal and automatically perpetuated through procreation, even after humans are expelled from the paradise garden. Thus, the image of God continues in humans from Adam to his descendants (Genesis 5:1), and it is still present after the flood (Genesis 9:6). To be born human is to be in the image of God, and humans have no ability to change this reality or to avoid their responsibility of rule.

Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13

The distinction between divine image and human sexuality in Genesis 1:26–28 is maintained by priestly writers in their legislation on sexual practice in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. It is the creation of humans as male and female in Genesis 1:28 along with the divine blessing of humans to be fertile that provides the authoritative background for priestly legislation against homosexual practice in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.22 Thus, homosexual practice for priestly writers does not directly defile the image of God, nor is sexual practice ever discussed in any way in relationship to the divine image. Rather, their legislation follows from the literal statement about human reproduction between males and females. Homo sexual practice defiles the world of Genesis 1 because it is a sexual act devoid of the possibility of such reproduction. Thus, it is a sexual act of death rather than life, which goes directly against the divine blessing to reproduce.23 The law is grounded biologically in the belief that human life resides in the male sperm.24 As a consequence, a sexual relationship between two males was specifically judged to be an action that weakened the very structure of creation itself by promoting death over life.

Leviticus 18:24–30 clarifies how the priestly law is rooted in their overall theology of creation. Priestly writers ground their ethical teaching in the conclusion that homosexual behavior defiles the land. In other words, creation cannot support this action. Josephus states the principle behind the priestly law positively rather than as a negative prohibition, when he writes: "The law recognizes only one kind of sexual intercourse, the natural one, that [of a man] with a woman, and this [only] if it is to take place for the sake of having children. It abominates intercourse of men with men, and death is the punishment if anyone attempts it."25 When interpreted within a biblical theology of creation it is important to see that death is the punishment to those involved in homosexual practice and that death to creation is also the consequence of their action.

1 Corinthian 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10

Paul's teaching on homosexual practice in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and in 1 Timothy 1:10 simply restates priestly law from Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. We have already seen how each text builds from the Greek version of the laws.26 Paul's teaching confirms his dependence on tradition. 1 Timothy 1:10 explicitly affirms the value of the law, while 1 Corinthians 6:9 does little more than restate the priestly theology of creation through the language of the Kingdom of God. Both texts, therefore, imply a literal interpretation of the priestly statements about human reproduction in a cosmology characterized by opposites. And that teaching appears to be sufficient in a literary context where Paul would appear to be more concerned about other matters.

Romans 1

Romans 1 is different from 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10, because Paul does, indeed, wish to address homosexual practice in a more sustained manner and to ground his conclusions in a larger theology of creation, which he does through an interpretation of Genesis 1:26–28. Paul's teaching on homosexual practice is embedded in the larger literary unit of Romans 1:18–32, which feeds into an even larger theological argument on the power of sin in Romans 1:1 8–3:20. Romans 1:18 is the thesis statement for Romans 1:18–32. In it Paul states that God's wrath is revealed against all ungodliness. Romans 1:19–21 drives home two points: that divine wrath is universal in scope and that, as a consequence, all humans who fail to honor God are under divine judgment and found to be guilty. The consequences of such guilt are described in Romans 1:22–32, where homosexual practice is a central illustration. Romans 1:22 provides the organizing theme for this section. Paul states that humans who fail to honor God embody a tragic reversal: They claim to be wise when, in fact, they are foolish. The remainder of Romans 1:23–32 outlines the nature of this reversal through a process in which humans "exchange" something (ajllassw and metallassw in vv. 23, 25, 26), which, in turn, prompts God "to give them up" (paradidwmi in vv. 24, 26, 28). The process results in a digression that eventually leads to a divine death sentence on humans (v. 32).

The initial and fatal exchange that humans make is stated in v. 23. Persons not honoring God exchange divine "glory" for the "likeness of an image of humans, birds, four-footed (or domestic) animals, and reptiles" (v. 23). The syntax of the phrase "likeness of an image" is awkward. Paul uses two words for image (oJmoiomati and eijkono"), when one would have been enough.27 The pairing of these terms points to the Greek translation of Genesis 1:26, where the two words designate the "image" and "likeness" of God in humans. Paul is developing the reversal that he introduced in the previous verse by using these terms to describe human life apart from, rather than in relationship with, God.

The verbal point of contact in Romans 1:23 is a window into a larger inter-biblical relationship. Genesis 1:26–28 stated two essential characteristics of humans: that they are both distinct from creation (by bearing the divine image) and a part of it (through sexual gender and the divine mandate to procreate). This distinction provides the background for Romans 1:23. The glory of God is, for Paul, a reference to the image of God in human.28 In their foolishness, Paul concludes, rebellious humans ex changed this glory for an "image" and "likeness" of themselves, or even worse, of the creatures over which they were intended to rule: birds, domestic animals, and reptiles.29 Paul's argument in v. 23 is certainly about idolatry, but it is by no means limited to cultic icons.30 Rather, his argument is about the human condition itself within a larger theology of creation. By exchanging the glory of God for an image of self, all human aspiration and activity for the things of God—those realities that endure and are immortal (afqarto")—are doomed to idolatry and decay (fqarto"). Romans 1:26 summarizes well the doomed status of humans who give up the glory of God. They exchange divine truth for a lie, and thus they will endlessly worship and serve the creation of which they are a part, rather than the creator.

Paul's interpretation of Genesis 1:26–28 continues in Romans 1:26–27 with a more specific reflection on the sexual character of humans as being male and female. Romans 1:23 emphasized that an exchange of the glory of God for an image of self cuts humans loose from the divine image, which reduces them, paradoxically, to the status of slave to the creation that they were meant to rule. But Paul takes his argument a step further in Romans 1:26–27. The reversal in function of rebellious humans from ruler over creation to its slave is accompanied by a reversal in nature. Once estranged from God humans no longer fit into God's creation, and the clearest evidence for Paul in support of this conclusion is homosexual practice of males and females. Such humans are changed in kind from other creatures, because their sexual dysfunction is now an act against nature itself. Thus, the exchange of heterosexual function in Romans 1:26 follows for Paul from the loss of God's glory in Romans 1:23. Human sex, performed as an end in itself rather than for the purpose of procreation, is clearly an act of self-worship and therefore idolatry for Paul.

There is every reason to believe that Paul considered his teaching on homosexual practice to be self-evident and in no need of further theological grounding. But Paul's central aim is not simply to repeat what is already obvious to his audience. Rather it is to reach a more debatable point in Romans 1:28–31: That any one who steals, gossips, boasts, covets, etc. suffers the same consequences as homosexuals. They too have exchanged the glory of God for an image of self, and, in the process, are changed in their very nature. They, too, are alienated from, and subservient to, the creation over which they were intended to rule. Paul concludes this section in Romans 1:32 by referring to the priestly law from Leviticus 18:29 or 20:13 requiring the death sentence for homosexuals, which now applies to anyone who is guilty of any of the practices listed in vv. 28–31.

There is no indication in Romans 1:22–32 that Paul intends to present a new teaching on homosexual practice. In fact, the inter-biblical connections suggest just the opposite: That Genesis 1:26–28 and priestly law in Leviticus provide the background for Paul's evaluation of humanity in general and for his teaching on homosexual practice in particular. There is every reason to believe that Paul would be in agreement with the quotation from Josephus noted above: That natural sexual intercourse meant procreation. And, in view of this, we can conclude that, on the matter of homosexual law, Paul sees himself in continuity with priestly teaching.

It is doubtful, however, that priestly writers would recognize Paul's dependence on their teaching, nor, for that matter, would they recognize Paul as embodying their vision of human sexuality. Paul makes both literal and metaphorical statements about humans just as priestly writers do in Genesis 1:26–28. But the emphasis of Paul changes in Romans 1 toward metaphorical speech, indicating his different worldview. Hints of this change in emphasis are evident already in 1 Corinthians 9:1–9 where Paul includes passion as a reason for sexual relations. There are also several indications in Romans 1 that, even though Paul intends to make a literal statement about the unnaturalness of homosexual practice, he has left the world of priestly writers in his reinterpretation of Genesis 1:26–28. For example, humans cannot exchange the image of God for something else according to priestly writers. Then, too, the sin of homosexuality is not rooted in idolatry for priestly writers. Rather it is literally an act of death in that male semen does not lead to procreation. And it is for this reason that homosexual law was limited to males in priestly law. Paul's inclusion of woman is a metaphorical extension of their teaching.31

Paul's interpretation of homosexual practice lies somewhere in between a literal and non-literal reading of priestly law. Homosexual practice is still "against nature" for Paul.32 But he also interrelates the image of God and human sexuality in a sequence of actions so that homosexual practice takes on metaphorical and theological significance about the loss of divine image in humans. As a result homosexual practice is no longer simply an act of death that defiles the land. It now symbolizes a rejection of the divine glory in humans. And it is for this reason that Paul is able to extend the law to woman, who appear previously to have been excluded from homosexual law for biological reasons.33 It is the combination of literal and metaphorical interpretation of homosexual practice that allows Paul to make his central point in Romans 1:28–31: That those who gossip are like homosexuals in acting against nature. This analogy would not arise in priestly law.

Finally Paul's own sexual practice indicates how far removed he is from the theology of creation in priestly tradition. Paul is most likely celibate for religious reasons.34 Such a situation is not even entertained by priestly writers, and thus they have no legislation on celibacy. One would assume, however, that priestly writers would judge celibacy also as a violation of the divine mandate that humans procreate, since creation could not bear this action any more than homosexual practice. The exclusion of eunuchs from the temple in Deut 23:1 provides some evidence of the negative view of a lifestyle without sexual procreation.35 Yet, in the New Testament, to be a eunuch becomes a higher calling in the kingdom of heaven.36

There are two theological reasons for the significant change in Paul's theology of creation and human sexuality. Both provide important guidelines for the church as it fashions a contemporary theology of creation and human sexuality through Scripture. The first is that Paul received further special revelation. He was confronted by the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, and this confrontation with God changed both his understanding of salvation and creation. One result of this is that Jesus becomes, for Paul, the image of God. This theological innovation is certainly influencing Paul's teaching in Romans 1:22–32. The experience of Paul is equally true for the church in general. Thus, one criterion for change in the ongoing life of the church is further special revelation by the leading of the Holy Spirit. Such charismatic leading may put the church in a similar relationship to Paul's teaching as he found himself in relationship to priestly tradition. A second influence on Paul is more subtle and ambiguous to evaluate theologically. It is the influence of Hellenistic culture on Paul. It raises the theological question of whether God is revealed through both special revelation of Scripture and tradition as well as a more general revelation that includes new understandings of creation. The answer to this question is crucial because the church is presently overwhelmed by new information about creation that ranges from cosmology to human sexuality. Every report on homosexuality in the church makes reference to biological research on sexual orientation regardless of whether the results of the research are supported or rejected.

3. The Bible and General Revelation

General revelation signifies the belief that God can be known through creation.37 The opening couplet in Psalm 19 defines general revelation as simply as possible: "The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows forth God's handiwork." The problem, of course, is that knowledge is not value-free, which, indeed, is the source of praise for the psalmist, who frames the subjective character of all knowledge positively in Psalm 19: Creation can reveal God. But there is also a dark side, voiced most strongly in this century by Karl Barth. Searching for God in creation can subordinate the special revelation of God in salvation history. Natural theology, for Barth, is the result of such an inversion of authority, of which he believed liberal Protestants were guilty, and he reacted strongly against it.38

The rejection of natural theology by Karl Barth has had a powerful influence in contemporary Protestant theology in general and in biblical theology in particular. Whether it can be attributed solely to the influence of Barth is doubtful; nevertheless, it is clear that biblical theology in this century has focused more on the special revelation of salvation history than on creation. James Barr has summarized well this one-sided development within modern biblical studies in his Gifford Lectures, entitled Biblical Faith and Natural Theology. He notes how biblical dictionaries and encyclopedias often lack articles on natural theology and how works in biblical theology proceed as if they had never heard of any such thing as natural theology.39 As a consequence we are less articulate as a church than we should be in a whole range of issues surrounding the status of general revelation and the Bible. Does Scripture itself give authority to a more general revelation of God through changing cultures and through new insights into creation? Can new insights in the physical and biological sciences prompt changes at all levels in our theology of creation from cosmology to human sexuality, even beyond the explicit conclusions of biblical writers? If so, does Scripture provide guidelines for evaluating new insights into creation?

The opening lines of Psalm 19 provide clear teaching. Of course Scripture encourages the church to look for God in new ways through creation. Day by day the creation pours forth new speech. And, indeed, the entire wisdom tradition of ancient Israel is predicated on this reality.40 And, if anything, the role of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament intensifies the revelatory power of God in creation. The encouragement of Bible to seek out the reality of God in a general revelation through creation introduces change into the life of the church that requires constant interaction with the more special revelation of salvation history which is also contained in Scripture. The interaction of the two is a delicate balance that shifts through time, and thus defies any set formula. A clear articulation of the role of general revelation within an overall understanding of biblical authority goes well beyond this brief study. My aim is limited in scope: It is to demonstrate that Scripture yields two principles concerning the relationship of general and special revelation that are always present at any given time in the life of the church: one, that change in human culture influences our understanding of creation and that such change has the potential of being a general revelation from God to the church; and, two, that all such changes are judged critically by the church through special revelation. Genesis 1 and Romans 1 illustrate these principles at work in priestly writers and in Paul.

Genesis 1 is written out of the social context of the Neo-Babylonian empire in the sixth century B.C.E. Much of the language, concepts, and structure of Genesis 1 have been influenced by the Neo-Babylonian worldview, which is canonized in their mythology, Enuma Elish. Priestly writers accept many of the insights into creation of the Neo-Babylonians with regard to chaos and its relationship to order, as well as the structure of creation. But priestly writers also realize that the Neo-Babylonian cosmology is not value-free, and it is for this reason that Genesis 1 is written as a polemical response to the worldview of the Neo-Babylonians. The goodness of creation, the subordinate role of chaos, the creaturely status of the stars, the high view of humanity, the rejection of the divine right of any state are scathing criticisms of the dominant worldview of the culture in which priestly writers live. Their criticism, however, is not a simple repetition of their own tradition. Indeed, the impact of Neo-Babylonian culture provides the springboard for a significant reinterpretation of their own past tradition of Zion.41

Paul provides the same complex relation between past authoritative tradition and the Hellenistic worldview that dominates his culture. The inter-biblical interpretation has brought to light how Paul has departed significantly from the worldview of Priestly writers. Interpretation of these changes would require a much closer look at the formative influence of Hellenistic cosmology and philosophy on Paul. Richard B. Hayes, for example, has demonstrated that the language of 'natural' (kata fusin) versus 'unnatural' (para fusin) to define heterosexual and homosexual action in Romans 1:26–27 is deeply rooted in Greco-Roman moral philosophy.42 The categories of 'natural' and 'unnatural,' Hayes concludes, "play a major role in Stoicism, where right moral action is closely identified with action kata physin." And, Hayes continues, that the terms are used more specifically to distinguish heterosexual and homosexual practice. Thus, it is important to note that the explicit language of "natural" versus "unnatural" is Hellenistic and not priestly in origin. The quotation from Josephus noted above contained similar language. Paul, like Hellenistic Jewish writers in general, is reinterpreting tradition within the Greco-Roman worldview. The impact of this culture has deep roots in Paul's theology. The additional contrast in Romans 1:23, for example, between immortality and decay, would also most certainly baffle the priestly writers. Yet, Paul sees himself in continuity with priestly teaching on homosexual practice even while he is reinterpreting it.

Both priestly writers and Paul illustrate that changes in human culture influence their understanding of creation. Yet both would see themselves firmly rooted in the special revelation of salvation history. And it is special revelation that provides a springboard for cultural criticism. Through this interaction of special and general revelation, however, both past tradition and the dominant culture change. These principles must also influence the contemporary church as it fashions anew a theology of creation and human sexuality.

4. Summary and Guidelines

My aim in this study has been to search for guidelines for reading Scripture as a source of special revelation in constructing a theology of creation in general and in making ethical judgments about homosexual practice in particular. The point of focus has been on the worldview of biblical writers that supports their theological reflection on sexual ethics. The study provides three general guidelines for the church as it reflects on the status of homosexual persons as members and leaders within the church. The guidelines include, first, creation and human sexuality; second, change within biblical teaching on homosexuality; and, third, the relationship of special and general revelation.

The first guideline is that any ethical evaluation of homosexual practice arising from Bible must be anchored within a theology of creation, which includes cosmology or worldview, political structures, and the individual. This model is firmly rooted in Scripture. The interrelation of human sexuality and divine creation is certainly true for biblical writers. Their ethical views of human sexuality follow directly from their over arching understanding of creation. Thus, theological anthropology for biblical writers always requires a vision of the character and nature of the world in relationship to God. The mutuality between cosmos and individual indicates how the church's wrestling with human sexuality has profound implications for our understanding of God in relationship to the world and for our social and political visions of community.

The church's discussion of homosexuality has not yet achieved the large scope that is required if biblical literature is to provide the model. A brief review of recent Presbyterian studies, for example, illustrates how two major task forces on contemporary cosmology and human sexuality have had very little or no mutual influence, even though they were working at the same time. The result of such fragmentation is that the discussion of homosexual practice in the church has not yet been clearly lodged within a comprehensive theology of creation. Instead it has been defined more narrowly as an issue of social justice. In the case of the Presbyterian study reports, one can only speculate what the 1991 report on human sexuality would have looked like had it been written in conjunction with the task force on Theology and Cosmology.43

The second guideline concerns the biblical teaching on homosexual practice. The inter-biblical interpretation brings to light significant change between priestly writers and Paul regarding both worldview and the theological basis for their judgment against homosexual practice. Both share the principle that sex is primarily for the purpose of pro creation. Priestly writers are literal in their application of this principle. Homosexual practice could not possibly lead to life, and therefore it defiles creation as an act of death. Paul shifts to a more metaphorical interpretation. Homosexuality is still literally an act against nature, but it also signifies for him idolatry as does envy, greed, and a whole host of other sins. The shift to metaphor allows Paul to include woman in his judgment against homosexual practice.

Paul's teaching on homosexual practice in Romans 1 emerges as a very important text for the contemporary church as it evaluates homo sexual practice within a comprehensive contemporary theology of creation. It indicates that there can be significant change in how we see God in creation and that such change influences our teaching on sexual practice. Paul provides biblical guidelines for how the church should evaluate both continuity and change in constructing its own theology of creation and human sexuality. It is clear that tradition is the starting point for Paul in discerning the divine presence in creation and the implications of this for human sexual practice. Scripture provides the language and the structure of Paul's discourse. It is special revelation of God for Paul. As such, Scripture provides guidance for Paul in locating human sexuality within a comprehensive theology of creation, and it even provides specific teachings for him regarding homosexual practice. But Paul's dependence on Scripture as special revelation does not preclude significant change in his teaching, to the point where his conclusions become unrecognizable to the authors of his Scripture.

The third guideline is the relationship between special and general revelation. Special and general revelation are too often pitted against each other in the contemporary debate over homosexuality. The result is that Christians are left to choose between Bible or a contemporary ethic of justice. Neither choice is satisfying. A narrow reading of biblical teaching on homosexuality leaves little room for the church to engage significant changes in our understanding of creation and human history that are taking place all around us. The ethical arguments based on a narrow definition of social justice lack clear grounding in the complexity of Scripture and Christian tradition with the result that these teachings appear to be driven by little more than cultural change itself. Priestly writers and Paul work out of a different model, in which tradition and culture interact critically. Both priestly writers and Paul are profoundly influenced by changes in human culture. These influences transform their understanding of creation. Yet both would see themselves firmly rooted in the special revelation of salvation history, which provides a springboard for cultural criticism. Through this interaction of special and general revelation both past tradition and the dominant culture change.

The church is at a juncture where its emerging theology of creation encourages a completion of the metaphorical interpretation of homo sexual practice that was begun by Paul. Such a reinterpretation may even save the church from the sin of sexual idolatry that comes ever more clearly into view as heterosexuals and homosexuals debate the validity of their own sexual experience. Sexual experience is important, but it alone cannot provide a basis for the church to form authoritative teaching. The priestly teaching in Genesis 1:26–28 does provide a theological foundation for a new teaching by church. The image of God as ruler over creation has forced the church to abandon the one point of continuity between priestly writers and Paul. More broadly based teachings within the church on human sexuality, which are no longer limited to procreation, and a new awareness of the limited resources of our creation, which has given rise to new teachings on human sexuality and birth control, have pushed the church beyond the worldviews of both priestly writers and Paul. As a result most Protestant churches do not hold firmly to the biblical teaching that sexuality is primarily for procreation.

Thus, in the end, it is the image of God in humans and not human rights that must be the engine, which drives the church ahead and forces us to present a new teaching that includes homosexuals in all aspects of church life. Such a teaching must be embedded in a more extensive understanding of creation, which includes instruction on a range of related topics including marriage, family life, sexuality in general, community, leadership, and ordination.


* I would like to thank my wife, Mary R. Talen, for working with me through the issues in this study. I would also like to thank Marion Soards for refining my interpretation of Paul's view of human sexuality. The overall interpretation in the study is my own responsibility.

1. For an articulation of sexual ethics from the perspective of justice see the report by the General Assembly Special Committee on Human Sexuality of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) presented to the 203rd General Assembly (1991) entitled, Keeping Body and Soul Together: Sexuality. Spirituality, and Social Justice, where the committee concluded that "[h]omosexuality . . . should be approached as a justice issue" (p. 102).

2. Douglas K. Knight, "Ancient Israelite Cosmology," in The Church and Contemporary Cosmology: Proceedings of a Consultation of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (ed. James B. Miller and Kenneth E. McCall; Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1990) 30–31.

3. Kenneth E. McCalI, "The Church and Contemporary Cosmology: Introduction," in The Church and Contemporary Cosmology: Proceedings of a Consultation of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (ed. James B. Miller and Kenneth E. McCall; Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1990) 14–15.

4. See n. 1.

5. George S. Hendry, Theology of Nature (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1980) 22. Also see Kenneth E. McCall, "The Church and Contemporary Cosmology: Introduction," 11–17.

6. Scripture and Homosexuality: Biblical Authority and the Church Today (Louisville: Westminster Press, 1995) 15–24.

7. Soards (Scripture and Homosexuality, 15–16) provides a full listing of other texts that have also been cited, especially the tradition of Sodom and Gemorrah in Genesis 19. He rightly notes how the ongoing interpretation of this story in biblical tradition suggests that issues of hospitality are the primary themes in the story. For further study of Genesis 19 see Richard B. Hays, "Awaiting the Redemption of Our Bodies: The Witness of Scripture Concerning Homosexuality," in Homosexuality in the Church: Both Sides of the Debate (ed. Jeffrey S. Siker; Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994) 4–5; Victor Paul Furnish, "The Bible and Homosexuality: Reading Texts in Context," in Homosexuality in the Church: Both Sides of the Debate (ed. Jeffrey S. Siker; Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994) 19–20; and Simon B. Parker, "The Hebrew Bible and Homosexuality," Quarterly Review 11 (1991) 6.

8. The term does not mean "male prostitutes." The translation "male bedders" is from Soards (Scripture and Homosexuality, 19), but the research derives from Robin Scroggs, The New Testament and Homosexuality (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983) 106–108. Scroggs notes how the Greek word ajrsenokoita may be a translation of the Hebrew phrase, rkz bkvm ("lying with a male") which is derived from the language of divine prohibition in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13: "You shall not lie with a male" (. . . bkvt al rkzAtaw).

9. Soards (Scripture and Homosexuality, 21) is quoting Richard B. Hayes, "Awaiting the Redemption of Our Bodies," Sojourners 20 (July, 1991) 20. The article by Hayes is reprinted in Homosexuality and the Church. See n. 5. See also the larger study by Richard B. Hayes ("Relations Natural and Unnatural: A Response to John Boswell's Exegesis of Romans 1." The Journal of Religious Ethics 13 [1985] 184–215) where he reviews critically the interpretation of Romans 1 in the work of John Boswell, Christianity. Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980).

10. See the discussion of Jack Rogers ("Sex, Philosophy, and Politics: How and What the Church Must Decide in the Debate over Ordination of Homosexuals," in Homosexuality in the Church: Both Sides of the Debate [ed. Jeffrey S. Siker; Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994] 161–177) on the way in which worldview is more often than not implicit rather than explicit.

11. See Scroggs, The New Testament and Homosexuality, 106–108.

12. Hayes, "A Response to John Boswell's Exegesis of Romans 1," 191.

13. For an introduction to priestly literature see Robert B. Coote and David Robert Ord, In the Beginning: Creation and the Priestly History (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991).

14. See Phyllis Bird, "'Male and Female He Created Them': Gen 1:27b in the Context of the Priestly Account of Creation," Harvard Theological Review 74 (1981) 135–144.

15. The language of rule occurs in Genesis 1:26b and 28b. Claus Westermann (Genesis 1–11: A Commentary [trans. John J. Scullion; Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing, 1974] 158–161) underscores the royal background to the Hebrew word, hdr, which is translated "to have dominion over." Its literal meaning is "to tread the wine press," and it also means "to subdue." See also Psalm 8 for further language of the high status of humans in relation to God.

16. See Phyllis Bird, "Male and Female He Created Them," 129–159. An abbreviated version of this study occurs in The Image of God: Gender Models in Judaeo-Christian Tradition (ed. Kari Elisabeth Børresen; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995) 5–28. The interpretation of the image of God has a long and complex history in Christian tradition. For a review of the exegesis of Genesis 1:26–28 see Westermann, Genesis 1–11: A Commentary, 143–165. For a more recent and a more succinct review see James Barr, Biblical Faith and Natural Theology (The Gifford Lectures for 1991 Delivered in the University of Edinburgh; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993) 157–173.

17. The divine mandate for human rule in the Hebrew version (MT) of Gen 1:28b includes fish (hgd), birds (#w[) and reptiles (vmr) or as the NRSV translates, "things that creep." Humans do not appear to rule over cattle (hmhb) or wild animals ($rah tyj) in this version although they are mentioned initially in Genesis 1:26b. The Greek tradition (LXX) reinterprets Gen 1:28b by including cattle (kteno") as another class of creatures over which humans rule. Thus the Greek tradition (LXX) brings Genesis 1:28b into conformity with Genesis 1:26b. The Greek word kteno" is used synonymously with another word for cattle (tetrapodou") from Genesis 1:24–25. The distinction between the two traditions indicates Paul's dependence on the Greek tradition (LXX) in Romans 1:23. Paul mentions birds, cattle (using the Greek word tetrapodou") and reptiles as creatures that rebellious humans, paradoxically, serve rather than rule. The absence of fish in Paul's list may be a result of its symbolic role in the early church as a reference to Christ.

18. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics (vol. III/1; trans. J. Edwards O. Bussey and H. Knight; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1958) 195 et passim. Barth's reading has received extensive review and criticism. See Gerald Sheppard, "The Use of Scripture within the Christian Ethical Debate Concerning Same-Sex Oriented Persons," Union Seminary Quarterly Review 40 (1985) 23–25; and for extensive criticism of Barth see Barr, Biblical Faith and Natural Theology, 1–20, 159–168.

19. Bird, "Male and Female He Created Them," 148.

20. Bird, "Male and Female He Created Them," 148.

21. Metaphor encourages an identification between God and humans, or perhaps better a relationship of resemblance. The result is that when we read the statement 'humans are in the image of God' "we have two thoughts of different things active together and supported by a single word or phrase, whose meaning is a resultant of their interaction." As a consequence there is a surplus of meaning which eliminates the possibility of reading the phrase exclusively in a literal way. The quotation is from I. A. Richards, The Philosophy of Rhetoric (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1936) 94. For further discussion of metaphor and additional bibliography see Thomas B. Dozeman, God on the Mountain: A Study of Redaction, Theology and Canon in Exodus 19–24 (SBLMS 37; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989) 30–32.

22. Tikva Frymer-Kensky ("Sex and Sexuality," in The Anchor Bible Dictionary [vol. 5; ed. David Noel Freedman; New York: Doubleday, 1992] 1145–1146) writes that the strong prohibition against male homosexual practice "is best explained as a desire to keep the categories of 'male' and 'female' intact." The reason for this: "The biblical view of creation is one of organization and structure; collapsing the categories of existence is a return to chaos."

23. The most fundamental contrast in the priestly theology of holiness is not completeness versus incompleteness or order versus disorder as was argued by Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger (London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1966). The more fundamental contrast is life versus death, as Jacob Milgrom has argued in Numbers (The JPS Torah Commentary; Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1990) and Leviticus (Anchor Bible 34/1; New York: Doubleday, 1990).

24. Marvin Pope ("Homosexuality," in The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible [Supplementary Volume; Abingdon: Nashville, 1978] 417) explains: "Without understanding of ovulation and the female role in conception, the ancients supposed that the semen supplied the essential material which coagulated with menstrual fluid to produce the embryo or fetus. The woman's part was to serve as a receptacle and incubator in which the semen was planted like a seed in a field." Given this view of biology, the absence of legislation about female homosexual practice would seem to be that it could not possibly defile creation, and thus it fell outside of the scope of the law. See also Sheppard, "The Use of Scripture within the Christian Ethical Debate Concerning Same-Sex Oriented Persons," 21.

25. Contra Apion ii, 199. This law still appears to be focused exclusively on male homosexual practice.

26. See n. 6.

27. Such syntactical constructions are called pleonasms. An English example would be the sentence, "I have had plenty enough." The meaning of the sentence requires only the word 'plenty' or 'enough,' but not both. The exact meaning of the two Greeks words is more than likely important to Paul's argument, because they embody a long tradition in Greek speculation about the nature of the world. For an initial overview of their meaning see J. Schneider, "oJmoiwsi", oJmoiwma," in TDNT (vol. 5; ed. Gerhard Friedrich, trans., Geoffrey W. Bromiley; Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1967) 186–199, esp. 190–198; and Gerhard Kittel, "eijkon," in TDNT (vol. 2; ed. Gerhard Kittel; trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967) 392–397.

28. 'Glory' is a translation of the Greek word, doxa, which is, itself, a translation of the Hebrew word, dbk. For discussion and bibliography of dbk as representing the presence of God see Dozeman, God on the Mountain, 87–143.

29. See Hayes, "A Response to John Boswell's Exegesis of Romans 1," 212 n. 6. These three classes of animals reflect the Greek version of Genesis 1:28b. See n. 16.

30. Paul's use of Psalm 106:20 (Psalm 105:20 in the LXX) reinforces the imagery of idolatry, since this verse describes how Israel exchanged the glory of God for an image of an ox at Mount Horeb.

31. See the comments by Pope in n. 23.

32. See Hayes, "A Response to John Boswell's Exegesis of Romans 1," 196–199.

33. See the comments by Pope in n. 23.

34. See Paul's teaching on celibacy in 1 Corinthians 9:1–9 esp. vv. 7–9. Paul wishes that all Christians were like him—unmarried. But he realizes that all humans are not given this "gift from God."

35. Note the critique of this worldview in the post-exilic prophetic tradition of III Isaiah (Isaiah 56:3b).

36. See Matthew 19:10–12, where Jesus is presented as revealing a specific teaching, in which some persons become "eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven." This teaching implies a very different worldview from the priestly theology of creation.

37. For definition see G. C. Berkouwer, General Revelation (Studies in Dogmatics; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955) 9–17 et passim.

38. Natural theology signifies, for Barth, the ability of humans to know God apart from the revelation of Christ—that is, apart from grace. Such knowledge, according to Barth, would require an analogy of being (an analogia entis) in humans that would separate God the creator from God the savior (Jesus). See the Gifford lectures by Karl Barth in The Knowledge of God and the Service of God According to the Teaching of the Reformation (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1938). For a point of entry into the many references by Barth on natural theology throughout his Church Dogmatics see Berkouwer, General Revelation, 21–33.

39. Barr, Biblical Faith and Natural Theology. See especially his final chapter, "Natural Theology and the Future of Biblical Theology," 198–221.

40. See the helpful discussion by Leo G. Perdue (Wisdom and Creation: The Theology of Wisdom Literature [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994) on the importance of interrelating creation and salvation history in biblical theology.

41. See Ben C. Ollenburger, Zion, The City of the Great King: A Theological Symbol for the Jerusalem Cult (JSOTSup 41; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1987). For a partial description of the priestly reinterpretation of Zion see Dozeman, God on the Mountain.

42. Hayes, "A Response to John Boswell's Exegesis of Romans 1," 196–199

43. In 1982 the Mackinac Presbytery wrote an Overture in which they requested that the church "study [the] role of cosmology in the Bible and in the traditional doctrinal formulations of the church, the changes in cosmology as the result of the rise of science, and the theological significance of contemporary cosmological positions for traditional doctrinal affirmations." The 195th General Assemble (1982) commissioned such a study through the Advisory Council on Church and Society, who formed a Task Force on Theology and Cosmology. Their report was presented to the 200th General Assembly (1988). The 199th General Assembly (1987) commissioned a study of human sexuality through the Assembly Committee on Justice and the Rights of Persons. Their report entitled, Keeping Body and Soul Together: Sexuality, Spirituality, and Social Justice was presented to the 203rd General Assembly (1991). The present study of creation and sexuality in the Bible would suggest that these two reports should be merged into one, and thus mutually influence each other.