How Should the Bible Be Used for Ethical Practice?

This is the fourth post in a five part series on same-sex relationships. The series is intended to be read in order. Each essay is essential for understanding the full picture. Click here to see all posts.

In the previous post, I summarized key arguments in the debate on homosexuality. Traditionalists believe the biblical authors’ rejection of same-sex relations is rooted in God’s design for creation and, therefore, not culturally relative. Progressives interpret the prohibition in its cultural context where homoeroticism was primarily exploitative and, therefore, believe the inspired authors do not address covenanted same-sex partnerships. This is where the debate tends to stalemate. Even traditionalists who might be empathetic to the plight of gay people feel their hands are tied. This is not because traditionalists don’t accept arguments based on cultural relativity. Most conservative churches do not require women to wear head coverings.[1] Sermons against sex with a menstruating woman are unheard of despite the prohibition appearing in the same Levitical list as homoeroticism. And egalitarian traditionalists readily support women in leadership in the face of 1 Timothy 2:12. In other words, traditionalists do understand there is a cultural context and that some directives can be set aside. So why not the prohibition against same-sex relations? Traditionalists believe a creation ordinance is an absolute and unchangeable ethic.[2] How God ordered the universe transcends culture. The question now is whether this conclusion is always warranted. In this post, I explore how we draw ethics from Scripture. 

How Do We Get Ethics from the Bible?

“For the Bible tells me so.” That is a familiar refrain for those of us who grew up in the church.  The song lyric gives reassuring confidence that “Jesus loves me, this I know.” Scripture is full of wonderful truths, including that God is for us and not against us (Rom 8:31-39). Those of us who consider the Bible authoritative find great joy and meaning in it precisely because its divine inspiration makes these assertions trustworthy. But, how exactly do we use the Bible as a source for discerning God’s will in everyday life? In what sense does the Bible “tell” us what to do? Christians have used a variety of approaches to draw ethics from Scripture. In fact, far too much has been written on this subject than I can summarize here (for a start, see the suggested reading list at the end of this post). However, a few examples will suffice:

1.  Commands/rules. The Bible contains direct commands such as “You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind” (Lev 19:14; NRSV). As a result, many Christians have approached the Bible as a rulebook. It’s true that many biblical commands are still relevant today. However, reading Scripture solely this way is insufficient. Some instructions are culturally based, even in the same biblical book. Leviticus tells us to love our neighbor, but also says we cannot plant two kinds of seed in a field (19:18-19). Discernment is needed to distinguish between enduring commands and those only applicable to the audience to whom the instructions were originally intended. As we have already seen, traditionalists believe the Levitical command against male homoeroticism is enduring. Progressives do not.

2. Exemplar. Throughout Jewish and Christian history, the lives of biblical figures have been used as examples to follow: “Imitate Esther who was brave and saved her people,” or “Be like David who was repentant,” or “Notice Mary’s humility, and surrender to God’s will.” A traditionalist might encourage gay people to look to Paul as an example of a celibate man who lived a self-sacrificial life. A progressive might highlight Ruth’s covenant loyalty to Naomi and the God of Israel.

3. Symbolic worlds. Traditionalist Richard Hays points out that the key passage in the debate on same-sex relationships, Romans 1, doesn’t list any commands.[3] If the Bible is read strictly as a rulebook, then this passage doesn’t apply to the discussion. What this passage does do is provide a perceptual world to frame how we might live our lives. For example, worshipping someone or something other than God (i.e. idolatry) is clearly pictured as human depravity. In the current debate, traditionalists interpret Genesis 1-3 as portraying a world of male-female complementarity and procreative union. Progressives draw on Galatians 3:28 to emphasize how the Christian faith allows us to transcend categories of male and female.

4. Virtues. The Bible names specific virtues. For example, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23). Appropriating ethics from Scripture based on virtues means not only paying attention to outward actions, but also the heart. Virtues are about who a person is, whereas rules address what a person does. Good character is the fountain from which outward ethical expression flows. Paul teaches that “there is no law against such things” as the fruit of the Spirit (v. 23). Both traditionalists and progressives can agree on biblical virtues.

Are Same-Sex Relationships Virtuous?

Out of the above examples, ethics based on virtues is especially helpful. First, virtue is not culturally relative in a way that a law might be. The fruit of the Spirit transcends all time and culture. Second, virtue includes all the previous examples: The command, “Love your neighbor” is enduring because love is enduring. Jesus is an example of love to imitate, whether washing feet or dying for another. The author of Titus paints a world that characterizes God as freely extending mercy to humankind (3:4-5).

In the debate on same-sex relationships, progressives make a compelling argument from virtue ethics. If sin is defined as something that violates the fruit of the Spirit, how are loving, monogamous same-sex relationships sinful? These partnerships are fully capable of exhibiting all the fruit of the Spirit. If Jesus says all the law can be summed up in love, then don’t these relationships meet that requirement? Paul says, “The only thing that counts is faith working through love” (Gal 5:6). The whole purpose of the law is to teach how to love one another. Jesus also suggests that if we act out of virtue, the outcome is always the will of God. He said, “[G]ive that which is within as charity, and then all things are clean for you” (Luke 11:41).

The virtue ethics argument is strong.[4] One worthy of consideration. However, many traditionalists are still uneasy. Part of this discomfort stems from hesitancy to put virtue and biblical commands in opposition to one another. Progressives might respond to this concern by saying the Bible does not speak to covenanted same-sex relationships, thus, we can feel confident in discerning God’s will based on virtues. They are right; the Bible doesn’t address covenanted same-sex relationships as we know them today. But the argument is one from silence. Given that some negative assessment of homoeroticism exists in the Bible, traditionalists prefer to err on the side of caution. Traditionalists also base their sexual ethics on God’s design for creation. Genesis states that God made male and female. Such a design is deemed an immutable mandate for all sexual relationships.[5]

I want to offer an argument that speaks to the continued concerns that traditionalists have. One that does not put law and virtue at odds. Rather, virtue helps us to know how to apply law. The biblical authors themselves show us how to do this. The way they interpreted divine revelation to apply ethics provides a model for us as we contemplate the ethical question of same-sex relationships.

How Did the Biblical Authors Apply Ethics from Scripture?

One thing I never learned in Sunday School is that the biblical authors interpreted previous divine revelation in new ways. Like most people who grow up in conservative evangelical circles, I viewed the Bible as static. That is, I assumed each book of the Bible had been written by one particular author (Moses, Ezekiel, etc.) who submitted his work in final form to what we now call the Bible. In my mind, the words were set in stone, carefully penned during moments of direct revelation, with no editing necessary. But as I went on to study the Bible full-time, I noticed something fascinating. The Bible is a document characterized by various layers and revisions that occurred as it was passed down over hundreds of years.

In antiquity, writing occurred in short spurts on clay, papyrus, or animal skins. Bound books did not yet exist. The Bible is a collection of smaller texts that have been pieced together like a quilt. Various scribes compiled and edited these texts. For anyone who takes the time to study this phenomenon, hundreds of editorial marks can be spotted. In fact, we have two different books of Jeremiah, providing us a major example of scribal work in progress.[6]

The biblical authors respected and retained older revelation, but readily interpreted scriptural texts in fresh ways to address their contemporary situation. Even divinely inspired laws could be changed. Below is one example related to ethics.[7] The writer of Deuteronomy wanted to know how to apply ethics to the question of slavery. He turned to an older scriptural text in Exodus for guidance and read the old law in a fresh way that best allowed the law to fulfill its intention within his contemporary context. Read both passages, noticing the distinctions:

Exodus 21:2-11 (NRSV)

“When you buy a male Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, but in the seventh he shall go out a free person, without debt. If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s and he shall go out alone. But if the slave declares, “I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out a free person,” then his master shall bring him before God. He shall be brought to the door or the doorpost; and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him for life. When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed; he shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt unfairly with her. If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter. If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish the food, clothing, or marital rights of the first wife. And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out without debt, without payment of money.”

Deuteronomy 15:12-18

“If a member of your community, whether a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and works for you six years, in the seventh year you shall set that person free. And when you send a male slave out from you a free person, you shall not send him out empty-handed. Provide liberally out of your flock, your threshing floor, and your wine press, thus giving to him some of the bounty with which the Lord your God has blessed you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; for this reason I lay this command upon you today. But if he says to you, “I will not go out from you,” because he loves you and your household, since he is well off with you, then you shall take an awl and thrust it through his earlobe into the door, and he shall be your slave forever. You shall do the same with regard to your female slave. Do not consider it a hardship when you send them out from you free persons, because for six years they have given you services worth the wages of hired laborers; and the Lord your God will bless you in all that you do.”

The author of Deuteronomy revised the law on slavery.[8] In Exodus only male slaves are permitted to go free after six years. The updated law applies freedom equally to female slaves. This new provision improves the circumstances for slaves. A male slave is not forced to leave behind a wife since both male and female slaves are freed after six years. A female slave is not subject to the whims of the owner. She gets to decide if she wants to stay or not. If she does stay, she is to be treated with the same regard as a male slave. The revision also requires the owner to give an abundance of provisions to help slaves reestablish themselves.[9] Moreover, the author is concerned about attitude, desiring the owner to empathize with his slaves (e.g. “you were a slave once too”), appreciate what the slaves offered over six years served, and release them without any resentment.[10]

How is it that the biblical author felt comfortable revising divine revelation? According to Exodus, the original slavery law was given directly by God on Mt. Sinai: “The LORD said to Moses . . .[t]hese are the rules that you shall set before them” (see Exod 19:18-21:1-11 for context). Notably, the original law gives a prohibition: the female slave “shall not go out as the male slaves do.” This prohibition is overturned. The biblical authors understood the nature and function of revelation differently than many conservative evangelicals. They did not view it as inflexible and impervious.[11] Rather they understood that laws need to be interpreted with discernment, not blindly applied without regard for context. The intent of the original statute was to provide certain protections for slaves; the revised law enhances that objective by expressing greater care for the people involved.[12]

We see a similar interpretive principle at work in the New Testament when it comes to laws on divorce. At first it seems that Jesus tightens divorce laws such that no further discussion should be had (Mark 10:2-12). In fact, he says Moses allowed an accommodation of divorce only because of hardness of heart (v. 5).[13] But, interestingly, the biblical authors do not interpret Jesus’s strong statement as a reason to blindly apply it. Here we see how the original teaching in Mark (the earliest written Gospel) is interpreted by the author of Matthew’s Gospel, as well as by Paul.

Author of Mark (10:11-12): “He said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.’”

Author of Matthew (19:9): “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity (porneia), and marries another commits adultery.”

Paul (1 Cor 7:10-15): “To the rest I say—I and not the Lord—that . . . if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound.”

The original teaching did not specify any exceptions for divorce. However, Matthew and Paul both add exceptions. Matthew allows divorce in cases of unchastity and Paul allows divorce if a spouse is abandoned. Like the author of Deuteronomy, they did not blindly apply law without discernment. If we are to consider these biblical authors inspired, we must concede that the exceptions do not reflect the hardness of heart that Jesus was referring to in relation to Moses. What might have been the difference? Moses’s law allowed a man to divorce if he found “something objectionable” (ervah) about his wife (Deut 24:1-4). The ambiguity in this allowance resulted in men divorcing their wives for even trivial things. Jesus addresses that abuse. When Matthew and Paul interpret Jesus’s mandate, they do not trivialize it. They affirm that couples should not divorce. So their interpretive method is not a rejection of law. Rather, they employ a deliberative method to discern how a law is to be applied. They realize that to arrive at the will of God, nuanced application is necessary. To apply law indiscriminately can lead to cruel outcomes that God never intended.

One more thing to notice about Jesus’s teaching on divorce: it is grounded in a creation ordinance (Mark 10:6-8). One might think that would settle the matter with no further discussion required. But we see the biblical authors did not consider that a reason to forgo a discernment process. Paul was in a situation that Jesus had not addressed: Christian converts married to unbelievers. To properly apply Scriptural mandates, he had to engage in a deliberative process to determine how best to do so in his particular context. Both Matthew and Paul upheld the teaching on divorce while extending mercy to victims in a marital tragedy (betrayal or abandonment).

Key Interpretive Principle: Mercy

We learn from the biblical authors that to apply Scripture properly to our lives we need to bring its teaching into conversation with context and employ careful discernment for how to apply it. But how can we be sure we are doing so correctly and not just interpreting the Bible according to our own whims? Fortunately, the above examples give guidance. In the case of slavery conditions and divorce, the interpretive key is mercy. Pre-existing divine revelation was applied with an eye toward the welfare of those involved. This is where virtue comes into play and helps us to interpret and apply law. Ethics are derived from Scripture by means of the virtue mercy.

I want to discuss a few more examples to bring home this point. Not only do we see that the biblical authors interpreted scriptural texts in nuanced ways, but Jesus also states that violation of law in and of itself does not always constitute sin. Mercy affects how sin is defined. For example, Jesus readily admits that David violated the law when he and his companions ate sacred bread that only priests were permitted to eat (Matt 12:3-4). According to Levitical law the tabernacle bread was the most holy portion the priest could eat from the offerings to God (Lev 24:5-9). Only the descendants of Aaron could lawfully consume it. Violating such a law might normally have serious consequences, as when two of Aaron’s sons did not follow protocol for offering incense (10:1-3). So, why does Jesus approve what David did? David was hungry.

We see a similar example in how Jesus addresses the Sabbath law. Now Jesus did not actually break the Sabbath law as he was accused of doing (more on this below). But he responds to his accusers on the terms of their objections. In other words, he doesn’t reply, “Well, technically I didn’t violate it; let me parse it out for you.” Instead, he takes their concern about properly applying law seriously. He teaches them that mercy is necessary to rightly employ Scriptural mandates. He gives specific examples such as helping an animal or person who is suffering (vv. 9-13) or freeing a man who hadn’t walked in 38 years to finally pick up and carry his mat (John 5:5-9).

Essentially Jesus says, yes, hypothetically even if he had violated the Sabbath law, God’s law must be administered mercifully. And yes, David violated the law, but given his circumstances, the overall intent of God’s law was best upheld by employing mercy. In other words, Jesus tells us that when we derive ethics from Scripture: “I desire mercy, and not a sacrifice,” and it is always “lawful to do good” (Matt 12:7, 12). The laws hadn’t changed. The bread was still only for the priests to eat, and Sabbath was still “on the books,” but how to apply these mandates was discerned through the virtue of mercy. As we can see from the above examples, mercy is not a license to do whatever we want, but rather specifically addresses ways people are suffering or in need (slavery conditions, victims in marriage, hunger, illness, etc).

What About a Creation Ordinance?

Previously, I mentioned how the biblical authors used discernment even for laws based on a creation ordinance, namely, the permanency of marriage. So also, Sabbath law is grounded in creation. The Israelites were given the Sabbath law because “in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed” (Exod 20:10-11; 31:16-17; see also Gen 2:1-3 and Isa 58).[14] Like homoeroticism, violating this law demanded the death penalty (Exod 31:12-15). Contrary to popular belief, Jesus did not do away with the Sabbath. In fact, it was his custom to observe it (Luke 4:16). After Jesus’s death, his most intimate followers honored the Sabbath even when it meant waiting to care for his body (Mark 16:1). This is hardly what we would expect from his disciples if Jesus had taught that Sabbath is no longer relevant.

Jesus was falsely accused of violating the Sabbath. Yet, his response to his accusers takes their objections at face value and teaches the fundamental reason for God’s law. Namely, God’s law is made for humankind, not humankind for God’s law (Mark 2:27). In other words, God’s ordinances are always on behalf of people, and not for the arbitrary appeasement of God’s sensibilities. For that reason, even a creation ordinance requires discernment to be properly interpreted and applied. Lest we think such interpretative work was only for the inspired biblical authors, Jesus indicates otherwise. His instructions for how to interpret the Bible were given to ordinary religious leaders of his day (i.e. the faith community). In other words, the interpretive practices we see Jesus and the biblical authors employ are examples for us to follow. Jesus wanted his accusers to learn how to be better readers and appliers of Scripture.

Paul provides another example of how to interpret a creation ordinance in congruence with Jesus’s teaching. Like Jesus, Paul regularly observed Sabbath (Acts 17:1-2; 18:4). But he recognized that humankind was not made for Sabbath to blindly and slavishly practice it. Human need matters when applying biblical law. Thus, Paul countered legalistic application of it (specifically, teachers promoting harsh treatment of the body and rule-based religion; Col 2). He says, “Do not let anyone condemn you in matters of the Sabbath . . . [because this is] only a shadow of what is to come.” Paul reminds his audience that Sabbath is meant to help us see God. It foreshadows or points to the glorious new heaven and new earth. It witnesses to and symbolizes spiritual truth. The writer of Hebrews reiterates this: “The law possesses a shadow of the good things to come” (10:1; NET).

This last point is important to the debate on same-sex relationships. Traditionalists frequently argue that male and female must be upheld for marriage as it symbolizes spiritual realities. It points to the eschatological wedding between Christ and the church or the Trinitarian relationship. Yet, even if one were to concede that point, what we learn from the biblical authors and Jesus is that showing mercy toward human suffering is more important than a symbol that witnesses to heaven. Why? Because heaven is the absence of human suffering (Rev 21:3-4). The eschatological wedding is the celebration of the ultimate act of mercy.

Conclusions

Traditionalists assert that same-sex relationships are always prohibited because they are based on a creation ordinance. In this essay, I examined that assumption and found that, according to the biblical authors, a creation ordinance in and of itself does not make a rule immutable to nuanced application. In fact, blindly applying law without discernment violates the very purpose of God’s law–which Jesus indicates is given on behalf of humankind. The biblical authors show us by example how to go about this discernment process. The virtue mercy is the interpretive key.[15] That does not mean “anything goes.” Rather law is applied with attention to human need and suffering. Virtue and law hold hands and work together to guide us to the will of God.  In summary, when we are confronted with an ethical question, we carefully study the biblical mandates, evaluate the ethical situation, and apply the hermeneutical key of mercy. All while seeking God in prayer. [16]

In the next post, I discuss the question of mandatory life-long celibacy for gay and lesbian people and its relationship to human suffering.

Further Reading on Ethics and Scripture:

John Barton, Ethics in Ancient Israel

Charles Cosgrove, Appealing to Scripture in the Moral Debate: Five Hermeneutical Rules

Lúcás Chan, Biblical Ethics in the 21st Century: Developments, Emerging Consensus, and Future Directions

Bernard Levinson, Legal Revision and Religious Renewal in Ancient Israel

Karen Keen, “Fifty Shekels for Rape? Making Sense of Old Testament Laws

Mark Noll, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis (while I believe this author is a traditionalist, this book is one of the most compelling for the progressive argument. It shows how the use of Scripture can be used in a legalistic fashion. Slavery was technically never outlawed entirely in the Bible, but arguing in favor of it missed the spirit and essence of the whole law: love your neighbor. The book is quite thought-provoking for anyone interested in sound interpretation of the Bible).

Luke Timothy Johnson, Scripture and Discernment: Decision-Making in the Church

___________________________________________

[1] To understand a conservative interpretive explanation for why some directives like head coverings can be dismissed, but not others, see this Gospel Coalition article by Benjamin Merkle, “Should Women Wear Head Coverings?

[2] I realize progressives might disagree with the prohibition being a creation ordinance. However, this post is geared toward addressing the concerns and objections that conservative evangelicals have.

[3] Richard Hays, Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, and New Creation, A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics (New York: HarperOne, 1996), 209. Hays names four modes of appealing to Scripture: rules, principles, paradigms, and symbolic worlds. His book offers one helpful example (among others) of how to think about appropriating ethics from the Bible.

[4] Another common progressive argument is liberation for the oppressed. However, that is not as strong of an argument. While the Bible clearly speaks to liberation, such an argument already assumes the innocence of those who are oppressed. To a traditionalist’s ears, the liberation argument sounds like: “We need to liberate people so they are free to sin!” Also, the liberation argument sounds too similar to “my rights” rhetoric. That is also antithetical to most traditionalists who understand Christianity as giving up one’s rights, even laying down one’s life, for the greater purposes of God.

[5] However, it’s not clear that “violation of the created order” is a biblical definition of sin.

[6] Joseph Blenkinsopp, A History of Prophecy in Israel, revised (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1996), 130-135.

[7] There are also revisions unrelated to ethics. For example, the author of Chronicles drastically changes the profile of King Manasseh. In the Book of Kings, Manasseh is the most wicked ruler of Judah who is responsible for the destruction and exile of God’s people. In Chronicles, he is portrayed as humble and repentant. Click here to see how the older tradition was revised by the author of Chronicles. For more on legal revisions see Bernard Levinson’s Legal Revision and Religious Renewal in Ancient Israel and Deuteronomy and the Hermeneutics of Legal Innovation. See also the blog series “How Did We Get the Bible?

[8] For those who might be concerned about the contradiction in the biblical slavery laws (women not allowed to go free vs. allowed to go free), see R. W. L. Moberly discussion on the phenomenon of disparity in Scripture in Old Testament Theology: Reading the Hebrew Bible as Scripture Scripture (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 111-116.

[9] The passage could be interpreted as saying only male slaves receive the provisions upon going out. In a patricentric culture, a woman would have subsisted on the resources of male relatives. However, the statement “You shall do the same with regard to your female slave” could be interpreted as including female slaves in the provisions.

[10] In the Levitical law, owning a Hebrew slave is outlawed entirely (Lev 25:39-46). However, owning foreign slaves is still approved.

[11] One might ask if the law given at Mt. Sinai was directly from God, why God did not give the instructions clearly in the first place. That is a great question that helps us to begin looking at how we define the nature and function of Scripture as revelation. Paul acknowledged that prophecy is only “in-part” and that we can only know “in-part” (1 Cor 13:9-12). We see through a glass darkly. Even Scripture is an example of that.

[12] Paul’s writing is earlier than Mark, but he is clearly quoting the tradition that has been passed down to him that also appears in Mark. Traditionalist Richard Hays writes about this interpretive movement on divorce. See his discussion in Moral Vision of the New Testament (353-361).

[13] One might be curious that Jesus recognizes cultural distance from his own Scriptural tradition. He refers to Deuteronomy 24:1-4, not as God’s law, but Moses’ law. However, the writer of Deuteronomy saw these laws as divinely inspired from God: “These are the statutes and ordinances that you must diligently observe in the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has given you to occupy all the days that you live on the earth” (12:1; see also chapter 11 for context). This statement refers to the laws of Deuteronomy listed in chapters 12-26, commonly known as the Deuteronomic Code by scholars. For more on understanding Old Testament law and why Jesus might have felt comfortable speaking of Scripture in this way, see my post on “Fifty Shekels for Rape? Making Sense of Old Testament Laws

[14] Notice how in Isaiah 58, Sabbath is put in the same category as practicing justice rather than merely ceremonial law. Indeed, per Torah, Sabbath is a matter of justice as it required allowing slaves, laborers, and animals to have their rest too.

[15] Should anyone protest with a slippery slope argument, this is what I say: If we cannot tell the difference between mercy and licentiousness, then our spiritual problem is far worse than anything related to gay and lesbian relationships.

[16] In addition to the points made in this essay, also consider these biblical nuances to ethics:

1. Discernment of context. Proverbs 26:4-5 provides a good example of how to think about Scripture and ethics. One proverb says we should answer the fool. The other says we should not. These back to back maxims teach that we need to discern when and how to apply certain principles depending on the situation we are in. Sometimes it is good to answer the fool. Sometimes it is not.

2. Discernment of conflicting ethical instructions. What do we do when Scripture gives conflicting directives? For example, the biblical authors condemned homoeroticism, but Paul also directs those who are unable to remain chaste to marry and those who are married to not deprive each other (1 Cor 7:5, 9, 36). A heterosexual person, even if temporarily single, has options for pursuing marriage and following this advice. How does a gay person apply these ethical instructions?

3. Discernment of the heart’s intentions. Paul said that even though eating meat sacrificed to idols is not sin, if you think it is sin and eat it anyway, you are guilty (Rom 14:21-23). In this case, no law is violated, but the person is still guilty. The issue is the intentions of one’s heart. So, also if you do break a command, but don’t realize it, God is not as concerned (Luke 12:47-48; see also 23:34). He said to the religious leaders, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin, but now because you claim that you can see, your guilt remains (John 9:41). What constitutes sin depends, in part, on our conscience and heart’s intentions. How might this affect how a traditionalist relates to someone who genuinely believes a same-sex partnership is not sin?

 

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