For many people today, the Bible’s no to same-sex marriage is a big reason for thinking Christianity isn't true. Many of my friends would say the Bible only teaches that sex between two men or two women isn't okay because the people who wrote the Bible were hateful, self-righteous, and ignorant: they just didn't understand how two men or two women could have the kind of faithful, sexual love that goes with marriage. I can see why people think this. Sadly, many Christians have treated gay and lesbian people hatefully and looked down on them with self-righteous judgement. But that's not what the Bible calls us to.
Paul – who wrote many of the Bible passages that say gay relationships are not allowed for Christians – was intentionally single, so you might think he was being judgmental. But if we look more carefully, we find that Paul did not look down on people in gay relationships, as if he was better than they were. In fact, right after telling his friend Timothy that all sex outside marriage (including gay relationships) goes against God’s plan (1 Timothy 1:8-11), Paul said that he himself was the worst sinner and that Jesus saved him to show that even somebody as terrible as Paul could be made right with God (1 Timothy 1:15-16)!
But the Bible says that sex and marriage isn't just about two people making each other happy. It's meant to be a little model of Jesus’s love for his church.
It's also not true that people in Jesus’s day didn't understand same-sex attraction. Some of the first Christians had a history of gay relationships (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). They lived in a culture where many people thought it was okay for men (at least) to sleep with other men, as well as with women they weren't married to. While same-sex marriage wasn't generally practised in the Roman Empire, the notorious Emperor Nero, who ruled during the time when much of the New Testament was being written, at one point got dressed up as a woman and married another man.1 The Christian insistence that sex only belonged in marriage between one man and one woman would have seemed as strange to many people back then as it does to people now. But the Bible says that sex and marriage isn't just about two people making each other happy. It's meant to be a little model of Jesus’s love for his church.
If you've ever built a model airplane, you know that the pieces (wings, cockpit, tail, wheels, etc.) match up with pieces of a real airplane. Likewise, the pieces of Christian marriage match up with Jesus’s love for his church. Jesus’s love is faithful and forever, so marriage must be to just one person until death. Jesus’s love is life-giving and creative. So marriage is the place to create new humans. Jesus’s love is sacrificial, so husbands are called to sacrifice for their wives. And Jesus is different from us, so marriage is a love across difference: male and female. In fact, God designed humans so that the differences between a man's body and a woman's body would be the exact thing that enables men and women to have babies together. Switching the design of marriage to two men or two women is like putting two left wings on your model plane: it doesn't match the original.
Of course – just as a model plane doesn't really fly – marriage isn't half as good as Jesus’s love. That's why it's totally fine not to get married. In fact, The Bible says that staying single can actually be better than getting married (1 Corinthians 7:7, 32-35). Jesus wasn't married. Paul wasn't married. If we’re following Jesus, we don't need another sinful human to ‘complete’ us. Some of the most wonderful Christians I know are single. For example, my friend Lou serves our church community in a hundred different, valuable ways: from making meals for homeless people to leading singing at our church summer camp. Or my friend Mary is a single woman and one of the best Bible teachers I know. Single people of all ages play vital roles in the church and help us all to see that relationship with Jesus is the most important thing. Likewise, good marriages help us all understand a bit more of what the Bible means when it says that Jesus loves us.
Taken from 10 Questions Every Teen Should Ask (and Answer) about Christianity by Rebecca McLaughlin, Copyright © 2021, pp. 124-126. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.
- See Cornelius Tacitus, The Annals: The Reign of Tiberius, Claudius, and Nero, trans. J.C. Yardley (OUP, 2008), p.356.