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Are Christians Misunderstanding the Bible on Same-Sex Marriage?

The Bible is often misunderstood
The Bible is often misunderstood
Photo by Christopher Furlong

Times are changing. Public opinion is beginning to shift to a more progressive, inclusive definition of marriage in nearly every region of the country. As more states begin to recognize same-sex marriage--and as the movement begins to reach into the Deep South and Bible belt enclaves--a discussion of what the Bible has to say about the subject becomes more commonplace and, without exception, more complex.

Theological experts can argue the exact translation of any word in the Bible, and often do on the most seemingly insignificant issues. In the end, the vast majority of Christians do not speak Greek, Latin, Hebrew or any of the other languages to which the biblical writings have been attributed or translated over the centuries. Each Christian is ultimately compelled to read, meditate and gain an understanding that is compatible with their individual spiritual walk. This is true regarding issues such as baptism, doctrinal teachings, dress and appearance, even steps toward salvation. Many other issues have divided various religious organizations and followings over the centuries, including the present day argument regarding the sanctity of same-sex marriage.

The apostle Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus and discussed this very subject. He told the church that "wives (should) submit to their husbands" (Eph. 5:22 NKJV), clearly a reference to marriage between a male and female. Some have argued that this is a single writing from Paul and could be taken out of context or erroneously translated over the years. Others have argued that Paul wrote many letters not all of which survive--an argument that would suggest uncertainly over Paul's precise feelings on the matter. Regardless of interpretation of this single verse, there are many other similar references to support such a definition, although not necessarily to the exclusion of other interpretations.

While the exact author of Hebrews is unknown, the writer (some believe to be Paul and others suggest Priscilla and Aquila or someone else) clearly intended to remind the church that "marriage is honorable among all...but fornicators and adulterers God will judge." (Hebrews 13:4 NKJV) There is no qualification, no additional definition or predisposition of understanding, although churches frequently will add an understanding to that verse. The writer later makes a key point that is often forgotten when interpreting the Bible. "Pray for us, for we are confident that we have a good conscience in all things desiring to live honorable." (Heb. 13:18 NKJV) That appears to suggest that the writer was hopeful to be communicating God's will accurately.

Every discussion of same-sex marriage ultimately includes Paul's letter to the church at Corinth wherein he addresses marriage and sexual morality at length. Fundamentalists often cite a direct condemnation of homosexuality found in one specific verse.

"Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, no adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites...will inherit the Kingdom of God." (1 Cor. 6:9 NKJV)

By itself, this verse seems to be sufficient to reject any notion of church recognition of same-sex couples. However, understanding this verse is not quite that simple.

Most translations of the Bible footnote the reference to "homosexual" or insert the word "effeminate" or "catamite" or any of a number of other pederastic-related words. Pederasty is, of course, unnatural sexual relations between a young boy and an adult male. Society in biblical times was more tolerate of such activities, while today's society quite correctly condemns such actions. Paul was condemning pederasty, not the recognized relationship between two adults sealed in marriage.

Regardless of how one may interpret Corinthians, it is important to remember Paul's significant safety that was written in the same letter.

"I say this as a concession, not as a commandment." (1 Cor. 7:6 NKJV)

Paul was expressing his interpretation and his preferences, not roundly sealing the debate on marriage or other matters. The early Corith church (to whom Paul was writing) is universally associated with a litany of morale issues that seemed to infect the early church leaders.

A Christian walk with God is ultimately a personal experience and leans much to an individual understanding and comfort with Biblical teachings. If two people (consenting adults in our society) are in loe and wish to be united in marriage before God, their family, their friends and loved ones, who are we to object? If a homosexual, transsexual, or a green Martian with pointed ears has a relationship with God, who are we to judge? How does anyone's marriage ultimately threaten anyone else's marriage?

Christians are free to disagree--and often do on a host of issues and political matters. Christians are not permitted to judge one another (Romans 14:13 NKJV), therefore there is no legal or moral reason to decide why two people who are ready to pledge their love to one another before God should not be allowed to do so.

Soon the U.S. Supreme Court will be forced to resolve what constitutional and legislative actions have been unable to address for today's society. It is no longer a matter of probability, just when it will happen. When the Court finally rules--probably in the 2014-2015 session--all 50 states will have constitutional resolution. Society will take a little longer to gain the same acceptance.

No debate, no interpretation, no pontificating preacher is going to close this discussion, nor are they able to resolve it without further raising new questions. Like many times before, society will read into Biblical teachings what it wants. Maybe that is the whole problem. This writer is no theologian, biblical scholar or church pastor. Then again, neither are the overwhelming majority of Christians. Could it be that the Bible is inclusive enough for all those who love Jesus Christ? The debate will continue long after the Supreme Court rules.

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