Last week, the Church of England voted in favor of a trial of special services asking God’s blessing on same-sex couples. I was raised in the Church of England and trained at an Anglican theological college. I’ve also experienced same-sex attraction for as long as I can remember. But this vote breaks my heart.
Let me explain why.
The Bible’s ‘No’ Is Clear
Trust me, I didn’t come to the Bible hoping it would rule out same-sex marriage. At one time in my life, I would’ve been delighted to discover it didn’t. But the closer I’ve looked, the more sure I’ve become.
People sometimes argue that Christians pick and choose from the Old Testament law. Leviticus 18:22 declares, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman,” but Christians merrily eat shellfish, which the law also forbids. So why keep this command? The answer is that we’re following the New Testament, which releases Christians from some aspects of the Old Testament law—including the food laws—but reaffirms others, including the Old Testament commands against adultery and against same-sex sex (e.g., 1 Cor. 6:9–12; 1 Tim. 1:8–11).
People sometimes argue that Jesus never mentioned same-sex sex, so it can’t be that important. But Jesus was addressing Jews, who knew the Old Testament command about same-sex sex, just like they knew the Old Testament commands against idol worship. When writing to the Gentiles, Paul explicitly addressed both—because Gentile Christians lived in communities where male-male sex and idol worship were common.
People sometimes argue that Scripture intends only to outlaw abusive and unequal same-sex sex—which was common in the ancient world—not loving, faithful same-sex sexual relationships. But there is no mention, in any of the verses that speak clearly to this issue, of unequal status or age. So while same-sex sex involving exploitation or child abuse is clearly covered by the ban, it can’t be limited to those scenarios.
I could go on. I’ve written a short book explaining where each of the 10 most common arguments in favor of same-sex marriage falls short. The fact is, the Bible is emphatic in its no to same-sex sexual relationships.
But that’s not all the Bible has to say about same-sex relationships. The clear no pairs with an even more emphatic yes.
The Bible’s ‘Yes’ Is Beautiful
A standard Church of England wedding kicks off with this verse: “God is love, and anyone who lives in love lives in God and God lives in him” (1 John 4:16).
It’s a great verse, and I get why it’s included. But if you read John’s letter, you’ll find he doesn’t mention marriage once. Instead, he waxes lyrical on sibling love:
- “By this we know love, that [Jesus] laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (3:16).
- “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (4:7).
- “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another” (4:11).
- “This commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (4:21).
Jesus himself voiced this commandment on the night he was betrayed: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12–13). Not all Christians are called to marriage, but all of us are called to love one another.
The other classic Church of England wedding text is also not about marriage. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul famously declares, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (v. 1). He proceeds to describe what love looks like in action, beginning with “Love is patient and kind” and finishing with “Love never ends” (vv. 4–8). Of course Paul’s words are relevant to marital love. But Paul was single, and these words are first and foremost about love between believers in the church. The same Paul who warns strongly against same-sex sexual relationships also commands us to lean into brotherly and sisterly love.
This kind of love is modeled in Paul’s relationships. He calls Onesimus “my very heart” (Philem. 1:12). He calls three different Christian men in Rome “my beloved” (Rom. 16:5, 8, 9). He reveals how heartbroken he’d have been to lose Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:27). But none of this is exclusive or romantic love. For example, he calls all the believers in Philippi “my brothers, whom I love and long for” (4:1).
The Greek word adelphoi is inclusive, so when we read of love for “brothers” we can add “and sisters.” This sibling love is not only for believers of the same sex (e.g., 1 Tim. 5:2), but it is, perhaps, especiallyfor believers of the same sex. To be clear, there’s no mandate for exclusive coupling between same-sex believers so long as they avoid sex. The call to love is plural and inclusive, contrasting the call to marriage, which is exclusive. On page after page, the Bible presents a glorious, life-giving vision for love between believers of the same sex. It’s just a different vision from the call to husbands and wives.
What’s more, when we look at Scripture’s vision for male-female marriage, we discover that rather than being an end in itself, it points to a greater love.
Greatest Love Story Ever Told
Some think Christians who uphold the Bible’s no to same-sex sex are hateful. Sadly, some Christians have indeed been hateful in their treatment of people who identify as gay or lesbian. The bullying, stereotyping, and mocking of those we are called to love is sinful, and Christians who have done so must repent. But when we dive into what the Bible says about sexuality and marriage, we’ll find it’s not a story of hate but a story of love—it’s just a more amazing love story than we’d imagined. It starts at the very beginning and finishes at the very end.
When Jesus is asked about divorce, he takes his hearers back to the beginning:
Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?” So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. (Matt. 19:4–6)
Jesus emphasizes that marriage is male-female, quoting not only from Genesis 2:24, when the first man and woman became one flesh, but also from Genesis 1:27, when God made humans male and female. This is Jesus’s definition of marriage: a one-flesh union between one man and one woman. But even though Jesus never married in his life on earth, he stands right at the center of Scripture’s vision for what marriage is about.
In the Old Testament, prophet after prophet pictures God as a loving, faithful husband—and Israel as his often-straying wife. This cosmic marriage is continually on the rocks because God’s people keep cheating on him by worshiping idols. It’s hard to see how the relationship will ultimately work, until—at long last—Jesus comes and calls himself the Bridegroom (Matt. 9:15). John the Baptist pictures Jesus this way too (John 3:29). Jesus is the Bridegroom come to claim God’s people for himself.
This metaphor is reemphasized when Paul calls wives and husbands to relate to one another in a way that images Jesus and his church: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. . . . Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:22, 25). The call to wives is extremely countercultural today. The call to husbands was countercultural in the first century. But Paul explains that God made human marriage from the beginning to picture the exclusive, one-flesh union between Christ and his church (vv. 28–33).
This means Christian marriage isn’t primarily about two people making one another happy. It isn’t even primarily about making babies—though that’s an important element of God’s design. It’s about Jesus and his people. And his eternal, death-defying, sacrificial love for us reaches across the deepest difference: though like us in his humanity, he’s unlike us in his divinity. Male-female marriage is likewise a love across deep difference: the physical difference of male and female bodies. Like Jesus and his people, marriage isn’t a relationship of interchangeable parties. It’s a love across the most profound diversity.
We see this marriage metaphor resurface with resounding force in Revelation. John writes,
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready.” (Rev. 19:6–7)
This is the marriage none of us can live without. This is the love none of us can miss. This is the most magnificent love story into which we’re all invited—male or female, married or single, regardless of our patterns of attraction—if only we’ll turn and trust in Jesus. And this is the happily-ever-after we’ll miss if we persist in unrepentant sin.
Harm Meant to Help
Read it all at The Gospel Coalition