I carefully worded my headline here to avoid an obvious issue. Paul is not the only Biblical author to call homosexuality a sin. However, he is the only author I’m aware of to tell his readers they shouldn’t get married. Hence, I titled this a Pauline defense as opposed to a Biblical defense. Whether my conclusion would apply across all Biblical authors is debatable. Since marriage isn’t condemned elsewhere, one could argue either way.
What homosexuality meant in Paul’s day.
In 1st century Rome there was no concept of homosexuality as we know it today. Sexual identity wasn’t a thing. Same sex relationships were largely pederasty. Basically, an adult man would mentor a young teenage boy. These relationships often included sex. Most other same sex relationships of his time were also abusive or exploitative. They involved sex with slaves or prostitutes.
What is clear is that there were virtually no monogamous, loving relationships between same sex couples at the time of the Apostle Paul. Thus, they had no words that would accurately translate as “homosexual”. Hence, Paul had to coin a new word for the occasion.
He did so by combining two words from the Septuagint. They are found in Leviticus 18 and 20. “Arsen” means “man”, and “koite” means bed. He combined them to form “arsenokoitai” meaning roughly “male only bed”.
Why would a same sex relationship be sinful?
Yes, it’s banned in the law given to Moses. However, that creates a unique challenge with Paul. First, he’s an apostle to the Gentiles, to whom the Jewish law didn’t apply. Secondly, he argues that we are now free from following the law. So why would a loving, same sex relationship be off limits?
If a married man has a one night stand that he instantly regrets and swears off, that is adultery. One who carries on a years long affair with several women commits the same sin. Adultery. However, we can agree that the second example is worse than the first because it’s not a slip up. It’s a lifestyle.
Worse yet would be a man involved in an abusive or exploitative sexual relationship. Say for example prostitution, slavery, or pederasty. And these are the only examples Paul would have of men bedding other men. Hence, by opposing homosexuality Paul was intentionally opposing these abusive relationships. Moreover, those relationships are a far cry from the loving same sex relationships we see today.
Arriving at a Pauline defense of gay marriage.
In Acts 15 the Jerusalem Council decides that Gentile converts should avoid meat sacrificed to idols. Paul was involved in this process arguing against the restrictions. Thus, he instructs the church in Corinth that it’s unnecessary to follow this stipulation in 1 Corinthians 8. In verse 9 he calls partaking in sacrificed meat “this liberty of ours”, and in verse 10 he says it’s a matter of conscience.
But how can Paul advise his readers to disobey church law that would eventually become Biblical law? Because to Paul, we are free from the law. In 1 Corinthians 6:12 he says “all things are lawful to me, but not all things are beneficial”. This leads us to 1 Corinthians 7:8-9.
8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. 9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.1 Corinthians 7:8-9
So imagine there are two young men, and two young women burning with passion in the church. Paul has concluded that it is indeed beneficial for them to marry. So the only thing preventing them if they are same sex is his restrictions on homosexuality. Therefore, if all things are lawful and we have concluded that it is beneficial, on what grounds does one prevent this marriage?
Reasonable people can disagree.
It is not my intention here to say that I’m right and you are wrong. Rather, I wanted to present othis perspective for your consideration. If there is a way that churches can Biblically support same sex couples, they have an obligation to do so. However, their ability to do so depends on how one reads these passages.
For too long, many churches have targeted homosexuality, classifying it as a worse sin than others. Looking at it in a proper historical context, it becomes unclear if modern homosexuality is even a sin at all. That is, of course, assuming that it occurs within a marriage. Moreover, if the church prevents gay couples from marrying unnecessarily, aren’t they prodding them into a sinful lifestyle that they are supposed to be helping them to avoid?