I’ve been asked to respond to a viral video claiming that Jesus never says anything about homosexuality. We have discussed this in the past and I generally do not want to let politicians set the church’s agenda for how we preach and teach. So, I am not linking to something that is already viral and misrepresents Jesus. I also recognize that there have been a lot of politicians saying false things on all sorts of topics. Why respond to this one and not all of them? In addition to members asking me about this specific case, I believe the claim that Jesus hasn’t said anything on a topic gets at a larger question.
So, here are a list of all the things Jesus says about bullying:
And here are a list of all the things Jesus says about racism:
Once more, with feeling, here are all the things Jesus says about cannibalism:
In each of these cases, I am misleading if you think I have represented what we understand Jesus commanded His disciples to be taught. Regarding bullying, the Old Testament Law taught: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord” (Lev 19:18). Additionally, Jesus’ apostle taught, “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim 1:7). I could continue to list many passages that apply to bullying.
Similarly, on the subject of racism, I believe the Bible itself makes the first and foundational case against discrimination based on tribe, tongue, and race. This case starts in the first verses with Genesis, depicting all of humanity as having a common ancestor, all being made with dignity in God’s image. This continues through a book like Jonah, which satirizes Jewish prejudice against Gentiles. Jesus’ apostle explained that in the Baptized community, “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female” (Gal 3:28). This carries through to the end with John’s Revelation hoping for a restored and perfect community that will contain every tribe and nation. The Bible, page after page, combats racism.
Why, then, don’t we have a nice pull quote from Jesus Himself saying in bright red letters, “Thou shalt not be a racist”? Jesus lived among people who regularly expressed prejudice against outsiders, and who also felt that discrimination from their conquerors. His undercutting of racism is canny and requires explanation in our context. If you read His encounter with a Gentile woman in Mt 15:21-28, the passage as a whole makes clear that Jesus is uplifting the outsider as an example of faith. To get there, though, we pass through some ugly words expressed unashamedly. Jesus’ actions show how short-sighted His disciples’ prejudices were. But like a good teacher, He brings them along so that the truth dawns fully. There’s a reason, after all, that one of those disciples faithfully and self-critically records those events. Jesus taught His disciples so that they would be ready for the second stage of His ministry when He sends them to all nations (Mt 28).
We know from ancient writings that the Jewish community Jesus lived among was very much opposed to homosexual activity. Jesus’ contemporaries were disgusted by the practices they saw in the Gentile cultures around them. If Jesus agreed with the underlying moral case, He didn’t need to preach it while among Jews, just like He didn’t need to preach against cannibalism. It was not a live issue among first century Jews. On the other hand, if Jesus believed there was no moral case against some forms of sexual immorality, if He believed that the Jewish perspective was prejudicial, we might expect Him to undercut those tendencies as He undercuts cultural prejudice in Mt 15:21-28. He knew He was sending apostles out among Gentiles and prepared them for that cross-cultural ministry. When those apostles encountered Gentile sexual immorality, they declared homosexual acts sinful (e.g. Rom 1:24-32). They also overcame their culture’s disgust and were glad to share complete fellowship with Christians who had once practiced those sins and repented (1 Cor 6:9-20).
Jesus was careful to prepare those apostles because of the known authority anyone’s apostle carried. The office of apostle was not just religious. In a world without the communication technology we have, authorized messengers were necessary to carry out business. An “apostle” was more than just a messenger; rather, an apostle is more like an ambassador. When an apostle spoke, his words counted as the words of the one sending him. This concept is present in Jn 5:23 when Jesus says, “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.” Later, Jesus expands this in Jn 17:18 and 20:21 when He tells the apostles He is sending them as the Father sent Him. Not only will John and Peter speak for Jesus, but the apostles of Christ speak for the Father, too. The Apostle Paul- a previous enemy of the church forgiven and restored- is also recognized as sent by Jesus (Acts 9:15).
Ignoring that Jesus chose and authorized and sent the apostles who wrote the New Testament would be like saying I don’t know what the President believes about an issue his press secretary has been covering again and again in official briefings. The official teachings of Jesus’ apostles are Jesus’ words.
Now, all this has been taking people at their word when they claim Jesus doesn’t say anything about homosexuality. I have no doubt that several of the people who repeat that claim do not know any better. Still, it is not true.
Jesus, for example, defines marriage very clearly in Mt 19. “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.” This passage is an equal opportunity offender, teaching against plenty of heterosexual sin commonly overlooked in some churches. We should take the log out of our own eyes first as we apply these verses (see Mt 19:10-12). Still, those wondering what Jesus teaches about possible homosexual unions can find Jesus’ teaching here.
Similarly in Mark 7:21-23, Jesus says, “From within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery… all these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Jesus does not specify particular forms of sexual immorality, but the word used is broad and can include homosexuality. As Jesus uses the word, He clearly intends “sexual immorality” to include more than just “adultery.”
Finally, Jesus explicitly endorses the moral teaching of the Law of Moses. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them… whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:17-20). The Old Testament is God’s Word fulfilled in Christ (John 5:46-47).
Claiming Jesus says nothing about homosexuality makes for a cute and misleading soundbite; disciples serious about following Jesus will beware those who relax even the least of these commandments. At the same time, none of us will think we have kept all the commandments. The commandments teach us how far Jesus has come to forgive and restore us. Flowing out of His perfect life, the commandments also guide how we should try to love our neighbors. After all, very few of us do not have to learn the hard way that not everything which claims to be loving proves to benefit our neighbors, ourselves, and society. So, we keep listening to God’s Word- all of it- seeking to correct our own hearts before anyone else’s, confident God forgives the sins of all the world in Christ Jesus.