I’ve been hearing a lot in the public square about trajectories. In these conversations God’s Word is used to argue that the church needs to change its view on same-sex marriage, even though Scripture seems uniformly against it. This comes not only from newspaper columnists, such as Steve Blow in the Dallas Morning News, but also from evangelical commentators who claim the direction of the Bible takes them there. I understand this desire to love well, taken from the great commandment (Matt. 22:39), and I also see that one can ask such questions not out of a desire to rebel, clear a new path, or conform to culture, but out of sincerity.
Sincere questions deserve sincere responses. This article is designed to engage those who say the real thrust of the Bible is to joyously enter our brave new world with open arms and hearts. I’ll discuss various claims arguing that Scripture either doesn’t clearly address our specific contemporary situation or that Scripture is open and inconsistent enough to allow room for a category previously rejected.
Claim 1: Jesus didn’t speak about same-sex marriage, so he’s at least neutral if not open to it. What Jesus doesn’t condemn, we shouldn’t condemn.
This is an argument from silence, but the silence doesn’t take place in a vacuum. Jesus addresses and defines marriage in Matthew 19:4–6 and Mark 10:6–9 using both Genesis 1:26–27 and Genesis 2:24 to parse it out. Here Jesus defines and affirms marriage as between a man and a woman, a reflection of the fact that God made us male and female to care for creation together. With this definition, same-sex marriage is excluded. Had Jesus wished to extend the right of marriage beyond this definition, here was his opportunity. But he didn’t take it.
Jesus never discussed same-sex marriage because the way he defined marriage already excluded it. He was not as silent on the topic as some claim.
Claim 2: The Old Testament (OT) allows all sorts of “prohibited” marriage, including polygamy and what would today qualify as incest. If those were permitted, surely monogamous same-sex relationships should be allowed.
Here’s where a look at trajectory helps us. If we observe what Scripture actually teaches, we see that (1) such past marriages are consistently portrayed as resulting in social chaos and aren’t so much prescribed as described; and that (2) Scripture’s expansion into the New Testament (NT) narrows down the scope of options to the standard of one monogamous union between a man and woman in which the marriage bed is to be honored but porneia—sexual infidelity in all its manifestations—is to be avoided (Heb. 13:4). Additionally, elders are to show the community what it looks like to be the husband of one wife (1 Tim. 3:2, 12).
So opening up marriage to a new category actually works against Scripture’s trajectory on marriage.
Claim 3: The move to prohibit recognition of same-sex marriage is like the church’s past blindness on slavery, women’s rights, and a geocentric universe—where what was “clearly” taught in Scripture is now seen as wrong.
It’s fair to point out that some views that used to be considered clear in Scripture have actually turned out to not be so clear—and even wrong. Hermeneutical humility for all is not a bad thing. But it cuts both ways. Whereas with creation/slavery/women one can point to passages where counter-tensions existed with what was clear (such as the way Paul asks Philemon to treat Onesimus, or how Mary sat as Jesus’s disciple, or how the Spirit is said to indwell all women), no OT or NT text is even neutral on same-sex issues. Every single text that mentions the topic does so negatively.
So here also trajectory helps us, since with same-sex passages there is no trajectory. The reading is consistent. That should count for something.
Claim 4: We don’t follow all sorts of OT laws today (try laws on having sex while a woman is menstruating, or eating certain types of food), so why should we accept what the OT says about same-sex relationships?
We already set the trajectory for this answer when we noted that all the biblical texts on homosexuality, both in the OT and NT, are negative. Yet one other observation needs to be made. Some OT laws deal with the issue of uncleanness tied to the temple and worship, which aren’t categories of sin but of appropriateness tied to worship. These aren’t moral laws, but restrictions that distinguished Israel from the surrounding polytheistic nations who were morally loose and sacrificed certain types of animals (and in some cases, children) as part of their worship. This claim shows no sensitivity to these biblical distinctions. In some cases, it ends up comparing apples to oranges since issues of uncleanness were set aside in the NT when Gentiles came into the fold (Acts 10:9–29; Eph. 2:11–22; Col. 2:13–15).
We don’t read the Bible as a flat text. It progresses, even along certain trajectories, so that with the arrival of the promise certain parts of the law are set aside (Gal. 3; Heb. 8–10).