What Does Jesus Say About Same Sex Marriage?

Jesus does not mention homosexuality or same sex marriage in the Gospels.

Some Christians believe that Jesus did, however, when the Pharisees asked him his stance on divorce (divorce, mind you, not same sex marriage). They believe this for two reasons:

  1. Because Matthew 19v9 contains the word porneia, and
  2. Jesus appeals to Genesis 1v27 and 2v24, which acknowledge the obvious fact that human beings are both male and female.

Matthew vs Mark and Luke

Matthew 19v1-12 is very similar to Mark 10v1-12. The majority of Bible scholars believe that Mark was written first (it’s called Markan Priority). For example, 95% of Mark appears in Matthew.

Mark and Matthew are different regarding Jesus’ teaching on divorce. The original Greek of Matthew 19v1-12 includes the word porneia, often translated “sexual immorality,” as grounds for divorce. Mark 10v1-12, the parallel of Matthew 19v1-12, does not include the word porneia. In fact, in Mark 10 and Luke 16v18, Jesus gives no exception to his prohibition of divorce. Matthew adds the porneia clause, which most or all English translations understand to mean adultery, having sex with someone other than the spouse. Matthew also adds a clause to the end of the question that does not appear in Mark, “for any and every reason.”

In addition, Mark, writing primarily to a Greco-Roman audience, indicates that a woman could divorce her husband. Matthew does not include any mention of a woman divorcing her husband. Matthew wrote primarily to Jewish Christians, and in Jewish courts, a woman was not permitted to initiate a divorce. It appears that either Matthew or Mark and Luke contextualized Jesus’ teaching on divorce to their audiences.

These differences, alone, between Mark 10, Luke 16 and Matthew 19 cause problems for proponents of biblical inerrancy, especially those who believe that God is the source of every single word in the Bible. Either Mark and Luke contain an incomplete quote from Jesus, or Matthew adds the adultery clause and omits the clause about a woman initiating a divorce in Mark. Both raise questions that must be considered.


In addition, some Christians believe that because the definition of porneia may include same sex acts, and Matthew has Jesus using the word porneia, it follows that Jesus speaks against same sex acts. If it is true that Jesus has same sex acts in mind by the use of porneia (remember, porneia is not included in Mark or Luke as ground for divorce), then Matthew 19 would mean that Jesus permits a man to divorce his wife if she engages in lesbian acts. I suppose this would be the case! However, to fit the context of the passage, the word porneia in Matthew 19 is usually translated into English as adultery or unfaithfulness.


These passages have been used to clobber those who are divorced. This is unfortunate because the context of the passages is different from the context of our 21st century Developed World.

In Mark 10 and Matthew 19, the religious experts ask Jesus a specific question, hotly debated in their time. King Herod Antipas, the local client king of the Roman Empire, had recently divorced his wife so that he could marry his half-brother’s ex wife (!). Famously, John the Baptist criticized Herod’s behavior, and Herod had John executed. Divorce was a hot topic in Jesus’ culture partly because of the selfish, individualistic behavior of royal families.

Here are the actual questions the Pharisees ask Jesus (notice that Matthew adds an additional clause at the end):

  • Mark 10v2, “Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
  • Matthew 19v3, “Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?’”

Notice all of the specific scenarios we connect with marriage and divorce that are not listed in this question:

  • Domestic violence
  • Neglect
  • Emotional abuse
  • Same-sex relationships
  • And, of course, in Matthew there is no mention of a woman divorcing her husband!

In his answer, Jesus does not address any of the above questions that 21st century Americans might have about marriage and divorce.


Polygamy appears in the Old Testament, but monogamy had become the cultural norm for marriage by the time of Jesus. The famous rabbis Hillel and Shammai, contemporaries of Jesus, debated the grounds for divorce that could be used by Jewish men. Hillel gave the more permissive interpretation that a man could divorce his wife for trivial reasons. Shammai gave the interpretation that a man could only divorce his wife because of adultery. A woman was not permitted to divorce her husband in Jewish law, although Roman law did permit a woman to divorce her husband (Mark 10v12).

In Mark 10 and Luke 16, Jesus’ answer is even stricter than that of Shammai. In Matthew 19, His answer is in agreement with Shammai.


Some Christians believe that because Jesus quotes Genesis 1v27 and 2v24, stating that God made humans male and female, people who are gay cannot be married. Simply put, pointing out that human beings are both male and female does not prohibit people who are gay from being married.

Reading a statement about same sex marriage into Genesis 1 and 2 is an example of an informal logical fallacy called hasty generalization.

An example of hasty generalization would be: A person visits a farmer’s market and sees that the stand operated by a particular farm is selling only red apples. The person might jump to the hasty generalization that the farm only grows red apples. It may very well be that the farm grows various kinds of apples, but the farmer already sold all of the green ones that day.

Assuming that God condemns same sex relationships because Genesis states that God created males and females is a hasty generalization. Same sex relationships are simply not mentioned in Genesis 1 and 2, nor in Mark 10, Matthew 19 or Luke 16.

By appealing to Genesis 1, Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees is in favor of a committed, monogamous relationship versus a man divorcing his wife for a trivial reason. Neither the question nor the answer addresses homosexuality or same sex marriage.

Again, Jesus’ answer does not address domestic violence, neglect, or even the right of a woman to divorce her husband. These passages cannot even be used to write divorce laws in the U.S., let alone laws regarding same sex marriage.

Marriage is Between…

In current American politics, Genesis 1v27 and 2v24 is used as the biblical support for the slogan “Marriage is between one man and one woman.” I hesitate to say that marriage in biblical cultures was seen as between one man and one woman, because the bride was most likely a teenage girl.

In cultures of both the Old and New Testament, most marriage was an arranged between a 25-30 year old man and a girl who would now be a freshman in high school. The typical monogamous marriage in biblical cultures was between a man and a teenage girl (this probably true of Mary and Joseph, as well).

To be precise, current politicians who want to use the Bible in its cultural context to speak about same sex marriage could say, “Marriage is arranged by the parents and is between one man and one teenage girl.” That doesn’t make for a very good political slogan… and it would require a very large bumper sticker.

Polygamy was common in the cultures that produced the Old Testament. Abraham enters into a polygamous marriage with his slave(!), Hagar. He then divorces her and leaves her to die with their child. Paul commends Abraham’s faith, in Romans 4v3. Solomon famously had 700 wives and 300 concubines. His polygamy is not criticized in 1 Kings 11v2,9-11, but his idolatry is. Polygamy was quite common and uncriticized in the cultures in which the Old Testament was written. Genesis 1 was not used to criticize Abraham or Solomon.

Of course, Genesis 1 is true, that God created human beings as male and female. It’s also true that a small percentage of human beings are born intersex, literally both male and female. That alone creates a question for thoughtful, compassionate people.

Of course, male and female marriage and complementary genitalia makes male-female marriage the statistical norm for the human race. At the same time, we know that there is a percentage of people who do not naturally fit into this mold and are attracted to the same sex. What do we do with those persons whom God has also created?

So far, the standard Evangelical answer to persons who are gay has been, “Either marry someone you’re not attracted to, or live the rest of your life alone, without romantic companionship. If you choose companionship with someone you’re attracted to, then you’re an abomination, a reprobate, and you’re bound for hell… but… God loves you!” For obvious reasons, this does not communicate the love of Jesus to people who are gay.

So What Does Jesus Think Are Grounds for Divorce?

According to Matthew, Jesus says adultery (porneia) is grounds or divorce, but Mark and Luke do not include that clause. If Christians wanted to make a divorce law based on Jesus’ teaching, we would not know which verses should form the basis of the law. Three Gospel passages say two different things about the grounds for divorce.

Regardless, Jesus is not interested in making laws. The Pharisees are the ones interested in debating laws. They wanted to discuss legalistic rules regarding divorce, while Jesus pointed them to the ideal, the bigger story of what God intends for marriage.

Their question to Jesus, (poorly paraphrased) is, “Jesus, what is the minimum reason I can give to trade in my wife for a younger model?”

Jesus’ answer and appeal to Genesis 1v27 and 2v24 is in support of committed monogamy. Jesus answers (poorly paraphrased) “You’re looking for a legal loophole that permits you to commit adultery, but God intends for marriage to mean more than that.”

This is great advice for any marriage.

Leave a comment

Filed under My Sermons, Posts I Consider to be the Most Important, Sermons and Sermon Series Ideas, Uncategorized

Handling Criticism

It’s been eleven months since we launched weekly worship services, and One Church has grown from three people to 200. Overall, the process has been one blessing after another with changed lives, growth, and exciting local and global missions. God has been more than faithful to us.

It’s also true that one of my biggest emotional adjustments since planting One Church has been adjusting to the level of criticism.

I’m sharing this post for two kinds of people:

  1. Leaders who are considering starting something
  2. Church planters and other leaders who are discouraged

Whenever you hear stories of growth, and everything looks rosy, you should know that those stories usually do not include the continual, daily struggles that occur simultaneously with the growth. Some planters were associate pastors previously, and the associate pastor is the most popular person in the world. Once, you’re in the lead role, look out!

People who know me, know that I’m pretty much a mild mannered Clark Kent kind of guy. I’m a huge nerd. I downplay my family’s financial needs and give myself pay cuts to save money in the church budget. My family has sold items that were dear to us in order to pay our bills. I’m usually too nice, and here is the reality:

  • In the past year, I have been called more names than in junior high and high school combined.
  • I have been accused of heresy several times.
  • 25 people left the church after one sermon they didn’t like.
  • One month after launching, one guy told me I’m leading people to hell.
  • A Young Earth Creationist ended his final email to me like this, “I have issued the warning I was instructed to give you. Now I shake the dust from my garments.”

That was before Thanksgiving.

Now, in the past three months, criticism has become a weekly reality for me. Every single week now there are one or more people who express to me that they are not happy about something in the church, usually something to do with me. It may be criticism of a sermon. It may be that they don’t like something about the music. They not-so-secretly want to control the church. There may have been a miscommunication, and apologizing is not enough. Regardless, the criticism is now a constant.

Of course, constructive criticism helps me and One Church. One Church is better because of people who genuinely care about the church and about me, and they contribute in many positive ways. It is easy to tell the difference between people who love you and people who don’t.

Honestly, however, at least half of the criticism you receive will not be constructive. It comes from people who are acting out of their own issues and spewing on you. They want power they have not earned. They want the church you planted to look like the church they just left. 

The Key to Handling Criticism

In my experience, the key to handling criticism is a prayer I heard from Craig Groeschel:

“God, give me a softer heart and thicker skin.”

In other words, “God, help me to love people even when they criticize me, and help me to know who I am in You, so that the criticism does not discourage me.”

Nope, that’s not easy. It is, however, necessary to succeed in church planting.


Filed under Church Planting, Leadership, Pastors

Bill Nye and the Creation Debate

Bill Nye Creation Debate

Bill Nye “The Science Guy” received some criticism from the scientific community for being willing to debate the founder of the Creation Museum yesterday.

His critics suspect that, regardless of the debate outcome, the Creation Museum has already won on the basis of increased publicity that legitimizes unscientific views that are soundly rejected by the consensus of modern science.

I hope they are wrong, but it’s possible that Nye’s critics are correct.

Bill Nye presented his points better than I expected him to last night. The founder of the Creation Museum is highly skilled and well practiced in convincing his audience. Nye calmly and respectfully presented the basic argument that science is based on evidence and pointed out that Creationism is not based on scientific evidence.

Nye may or may not realize that observable facts and human reason are not the foundation of the creationist position. Creationism is based on a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible.

I view Genesis 1v1-2v3 as “high prose,” an artistically and mathematically beautiful hymn about God, the beauty of the universe and the dignity of human beings. A second creation account begins in 2v4 with a new name for God and a theologically and chronologically different telling of creation altogether. The author/compiler of Genesis makes no attempt to fool any of us and convince us that Genesis is a unified, scientifically tested theory on the origins of the universe.

Most Christians I know both love the Bible and accept the theory of evolution to varying degrees. Thinking Christians in America understand that the Bible must be interpreted. Roman Catholics all over the world see science and faith as compatible. The vast majority of Christians in the world realize that Genesis is simply not a science book.

Christian fundamentalists, however, believe that every word of the Bible originated with God. They view any scientific theory that contradicts a literal, scientific reading of the Genesis creation poem as an attack on their faith. This is the same thinking behind the Church’s condemnation of Galileo for asserting, against three verses of biblical poetry, that the earth revolves around the sun.

Galileo was placed under house arrest for the rest of his life because the Church interpreted ancient Middle Eastern poetry literally.

I grew up in a fundamentalist environment, and I share the following thoughts from my own experience of interacting with many fundamentalist Christians. Regardless of Bill Nye’s debate performance, when a fundamentalist is challenged in his or her belief, the fundamentalist’s faith actually grows stronger for at least three reasons:

1. Blind Faith

When a fundamentalist is challenged with facts or reason, the fundamentalist simply doubles down, because in fundamentalist religion, blind faith is seen as a virtue. If the fundamentalist continues to believe in spite of all evidence to the contrary, he or she is seen as being faithful to God. Increasing evidence to the contrary only fuels the fundamentalist’s faith (a false sense of certainty in spite of evidence).

2. A Common Enemy

Being challenged strengthens the fundamentalist’s sense of community and certainty, because the rational challenger (Nye, in this case) is demonized and gives the fundamentalists a common enemy. Nothing galvanizes a group like sharing a common enemy. In this case, creationists’ common enemy are “those godless heathen, secular humanists,” in other words, people who respect evidence and the conclusions of human reason.

3. Martyr Fantasy

Finally, being challenged only strengthens a fundamentalists faith because it gives the fundamentalist the ultimate payoff- it fulfills their apocalyptic martyr fantasy. A fundamentalists ultimate goal is be so “faithful to God” that she or she is persecuted or even martyred for his or her faith.

Even being respectfully and gently challenged by Bill Nye last night is enough to feed a fundamentalist’s martyrdom fantasy. In a creationists’ eyes, it’s the godless scientists verses the “pure” people who are “faithful” to God. Even though he lost the debate and looked foolish, in the eyes of creationists, the Creation Museum founder is now a martyr who is faithful to God in spite of “persecution” at the hands of a soft-spoken, bow tie wearing children’s TV host.

I hope Billy Nye was correct in debating a religious fundamentalist in such a publicized format. Hopefully, his rationality will awaken some younger persons who could outgrow the fundamentalism of their parents. Regardless, the Creation Museum and creationism will profit handsomely from the debate, and their fundamentalist faith may only grow stronger.

1 Comment

Filed under Pastors, Preaching

New Series- We’re All In This Together: Ephesians

Together EphesiansThis Sunday, One Church is beginning a new sermon series entitled We’re All In This Together: Ephesians.  I have two goals for the series:

  1. To apply practical wisdom from Ephesians to our lives
  2. To learn how to interpret the Bible in the 21st Developed World

Ephesians is a great letter for educating the congregation on how to interpret the Bible. There are questions of authorship and recipients, the cultural context of recipients, our relationship to people who practice other religions, statements about slavery and the role of women, and angels and demons.

In addition, Ephesians is incredibly relevant to our time, and to any time, really. It’s message is about hope and empowerment for people who are tempted to give up hope because they feel powerless to change their circumstances. It speaks to a divided American culture and to stressed out people who are not sure how to balance the demands of life.

Here are the sermon titles:

Feb. 2   | Thankful for You

Feb. 9   | Despite Our Differences

Feb. 16 | How to Stay Together

Feb. 23 | Family Values?

Mar. 2  | Angels and Demons

Leave a comment

Filed under My Sermons, One Church, Pastors, Preaching, Sermons and Sermon Series Ideas, Uncategorized

The Future of Evangelicals and the LGBT Community

(Also see my four-part post “Why I Welcome Those Who Are Gay”.)

This weekend, I will interview two people in One Church who have important experiences to share regarding Christians and the gay community. One is the mother of a gay daughter. The other is a woman who has been in a committed relationship with her partner for 14 years.

The vast majority of One Church accepts those who are gay and will welcome their personal stories this Sunday with open arms. I wholeheartedly believe that churches like One Church will increase in number and size over the next ten years, as more and more Evangelicals exit congregations that eschew intellectual curiosity and cultural openness.

As the inevitability of legal same sex marriage takes hold from state to state, the political battle is winding down in the U.S., just as it has in the fifteen countries that have already made same sex marriage legal. I wonder, however, if the battle within U.S. Evangelical churches is just beginning.

Mainline Christians have been debating the ordination of gay pastors for 30 years or more, but because of the conservative nature of Evangelicalism, Evangelicals have largely avoided church disagreements. This is now changing.

I encounter Christians on a weekly basis who were raised in Evangelical congregations but now have no problem allowing for same sex relationships. They recognize that the Bible must be interpreted in the light of its culture on any issue (other examples include slavery, world religions, women’s rights, and science). They have already left Evangelical churches that they perceive as culturally backward. They are not necessarily activists, but they do not want to cause pain to others, support injustice or be on the wrong side of history.

I wonder how the Evangelical megachurches that dot America’s suburbs will fare over the next ten years, as more and more Evangelicals distance themselves from opposing the gay rights movement. I would love to believe that calm, rational dialogue will win out. My best guess, however, based on my experience in the Evangelical world, is that there will be internal strife that will eventually lead to church splits and decline, as younger and more progressive members exit.

With a majority of Americans now supporting same sex marriage and more and more states making same sex marriage legal, it will be interesting to see how Evangelical pastors and congregations respond to a rapidly-changing America.

Leave a comment

Filed under Leadership, Pastors, Preaching, Uncategorized

Give Up Your New Years Resolutions

I gave up on making abstract New Years resolutions.

Instead, I set a few realistic, measurable goals that I can accomplish fairly quickly. One goal completed leads to another, then another, then another, etc. I gave a sermon about it on Dec. 29, 2013 called “Peace in 2014″ where I talk about four categories of goals. You can watch or listen at onechurch.com.

My goal for my inner life is to reread Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen. Here is a quote:

“By presence I mean attentiveness to the blessings that come to you day after day, year after year. The problem with modern living is that we are too busy– looking for affirmation in the wrong places– to notice that we are being blessed.”

- Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved, 79

Leave a comment

Filed under Leadership, One Church, Pastors, Sermon Illustrations, Uncategorized

When Pastors Fall

A friend informed me that another pastor in our area was forced to resign after the church discovered that he was engaging in extramarital affairs. That is the second lead pastor within driving distance of One Church to be caught in affairs in the past two years. We should pray for them, their families and congregations.

As a pastor, I feel the weight of knowing that some people expect me to represent Jesus Christ (a horrifying and impossible task). Of course, any socially well adjusted pastor knows that he or she does not deserve to be placed on a pedestal, but congregations tend to do it anyway. Even worse, some pastors enjoy it.

If you have been disappointed by a spiritual leader:

1. Remember that Jesus is the Leader of the Church (Matthew 16v18).

Don’t “Drink the Kool-Aid” for any pastor. Jesus has earned your trust more than any pastor ever could. You can allow a pastor to lead and teach you, but keep Jesus the main thing.

2. Resist the temptation to become cynical.

Some pastors will betray your trust. Most won’t.

3. Forgive as you have been forgiven.

We have all been disappointed, and unfortunately, we have all disappointed others. It helps to know that forgiveness does not equal trust. Forgiveness can take place in an instant, but rebuilding trust takes time.

Whenever someone disappoints us, we can remember how it feels and choose to not cause that same disappointment in others.

A Sobering Warning

Adultery is a sin to which any person is susceptible, and none of us should assume that we are immune. As the well-known Proverb warns:

“18 Pride goes before destruction,
a haughty spirit before a fall.
19 Better to be lowly in spirit along with the oppressed
than to share plunder with the proud.” [Proverbs 16v18-19]

We also need to know that adultery causes more damage in the form of broken homes, disappointed friends and scarred children than anyone could calculate.

I am aware that people who have already had an affair will read this post, and my intention is not to add further pain to their lives. Anyone considering an affair, however, needs to know that cheating on your spouse will hurt your children deeply and for a long time.

Preventing An Affair

Prevention is option number one. At One Church, one of our values is, “No perfect people allowed.” What we mean by that is that we do not expect our congregation to be super Christians and pretend to have no problems.

Churches who pressure people to pretend are hypocrisy factories. While the Religious Right seems to be focused on preventing same sex marriages, hidden adultery continues to threaten all marriages. For example, I know more than one family in which a spouse acknowledged that he or she was gay after years feeling of pressured to hide it.

We are all dealing with brokenness, so there is no sense in pretending. It is surprisingly freeing to call each others’ bluffs and just admit it.

You have stuff to deal with, and so do I.

Once we admit the obvious, then we can confront our needs, anxiety and addictions. Counseling is readily available. If we don’t face them, they won’t magically go away. We will find ourselves habitually engaging in behaviors that temporarily relieve anxiety but are incredibly destructive to those we love. It’s cliche but true that “If you don’t deal with your baggage, it will deal with you.”

After the Fact

If you have engaged in an extramarital affair, there is good news and bad news.

First the bad news:

Asking God for forgiveness does not remove the pain and consequences for you or your family and friends. God specializes in creating order out of chaos, good from pain, but it will be a far longer and more painful ordering process than you imagined.

Refuse to play the victim game when the process of re-earning their trust takes far longer than you thought.

Now for the good news:

“6 Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” [Isaiah 55v6-7]

God offers mercy and forgiveness to the truly repentant, and He can grow you into the type of person who deals with your baggage and chooses to be faithful. There is always hope.

We pray that, in time, your family and friends will be able to forgive you and heal. They need to, but that is in God’s hands, and you cannot speed up that process.

Your continued faithfulness over the long haul will rebuild their trust.


Filed under Leadership, Posts I Consider to be the Most Important, Preaching, Uncategorized