Throughout most of the last 2,000 years, Christians have considered homosexual activity a sin. Could Jesus’ opinion on homosexual activity differ from this? Homosexual activity is condemned in both the Old and New Testaments (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13; Romans 1:26-27), and until very recently, Christian opinion on this issue has almost unanimously agreed with Scripture. However, as our society has become more accepting of the practice, some Christians have gone along with the cultural tide and have questioned their faith’s traditional teaching about it. They have begun to think about the issue in novel ways, and in doing so they have come up with numerous arguments in favor of this new position.
For instance, these Christian proponents of homosexual activity often point out that none of the Gospels record Jesus condemning the practice, and from this they conclude that he must not have had a problem with it. However, I would suggest that this argument doesn’t really prove anything. In fact, if we really examine the Gospels, we can see that Jesus’ silence on the topic actually implies the exact opposite.
To begin, we have to recognize that at best, this argument is inconclusive. The mere fact that Jesus never said anything about a topic doesn’t tell us what he thought about it. As far as we know, Jesus never said anything about rape, infanticide, or child molestation, but I doubt anybody (except for maybe a few nutjobs) would say that he had no problem with those things. Moreover, we do not really know that Jesus was silent about homosexual activity. Sure, the Gospels do not record any teachings about it, but we have no reason to think that they contain everything he ever said and did.
In fact, they explicitly tell us that they do not. The Gospel of John says that “there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25). Granted, that verse is talking only about Jesus’ actions, but the principle surely holds true for his teachings as well. He was an itinerant preacher, so there is no way that four relatively short books could contain everything he ever taught. Consequently, the mere fact that the Gospels don’t record anything about homosexual activity doesn’t mean that Jesus did not consider it a sin.
In fact, if we look at what he did say, we can see that his silence about the practice implies that he most likely did consider it sinful. For one, the Gospels tell us that he accepted the Old Testament as inspired Scripture. For example, he explicitly said that he came to fulfill rather than abolish the Jewish Law (Matthew 5:17), and every time he talked about the Old Testament, he always treated it as the word of God (for instance, Matthew 19:4-5, Mark 12:24-27, Luke 24:25-27, John 5:46).
Now, the Old Testament is very clear about this issue: it teaches that homosexual activity is a sin (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13). And since Jesus accepted its authority, he almost certainly accepted its teaching on this matter. In fact, if he disagreed with it, we would have expected him to say so. The Jews of his day believed the Old Testament’s teaching about the practice, and he did not need to remind his listeners of things they already knew. Rather, his task as a teacher was to correct their misconceptions and bring them to a more accurate knowledge of God. Consequently, if Jesus disagreed with them on this issue, we would have expected him to correct them on it just like he corrected them on other matters (for example on divorce, Mark 10:2-9). However, he didn’t, so his silence actually implies that he agreed with his countrymen.
And this point becomes even more significant when we consider the fact that Jesus condemned sexual immortality in general in two passages: Matthew 15:19 and Mark 7:21. Unfortunately, this point is obscured by many English translations of these verses. The Greek word used in these texts is porneia, which modern Bibles often render as “fornication.” However, the word is actually broader than that. It refers to sexual immorality in general, not just fornication in particular, which should raise a question for us: what constitutes sexual immorality?
Since the Gospels give no indication that Jesus disagreed with any of the Old Testament’s teachings on this subject, we have every reason to believe that for him, sexual immorality would have included homosexual activity. Moreover, since Jesus was a first-century Jew preaching to other first-century Jews who considered homosexual activity a sin, his audience would have understood his condemnation of sexual immorality in general to include same-sex activity. If he didn’t want them to think that, he would have had to make it clear, but he never did. As a result, once again the most likely explanation for his silence on the topic is that he considered homosexual activity a sin, not that he was okay with it.
Finally, we can take a look at what Jesus’ earliest followers said about the issue. The New Testament doesn’t say much about it, but the little bit it does say is clear: homosexual activity is a sin (Romans 1:26-27). Granted, from a purely historical perspective, we have no guarantee that his disciples followed his teachings exactly or that they would have even known Jesus’ position on the matter if he never explicitly addressed it, but this is still a valuable part of the overall argument. It is one more piece of evidence that points towards the conclusion that Jesus did in fact consider it a sin.
In a nutshell, the argument, that Jesus’ silence on the issue of homosexual activity implies that he was okay with it, simply doesn’t hold water. At best, that argument is inconclusive, but its prospects are actually much grimmer. Every angle we consider, whether it’s his reverence for the Old Testament, his historical context as a first-century Jewish preacher, or the teaching of his earliest disciples, points towards the conclusion that Jesus did in fact consider homosexual activity a sin. There is not a single shred of evidence that he didn’t. While this does not prove the point beyond a shadow of a doubt, it does refute one of the most common arguments in favor of the practice, and it supports the traditional Christian position on it.