I’m just going to say it, no holds barred: one of the shallowest objections to traditional Christian sexual ethics is that “the Bible didn’t even use the word ‘homosexuality’ until 1946.” I’m gobsmacked that people actually get taken in by this special sort of tomfoolery. I know a lot has been written on this canard already, but it can only aid the cause of truth to get one more voice sharing the facts.
Here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter that the Bible didn’t use the word ‘homosexuality’ until 1946. The point is completely irrelevant. Let me illustrate with other phenomena. Consider:
No Bible translation has ever used the word ‘evolution.’ Does it follow that the Bible has nothing to say about Darwinian macro-evolution?
No Bible translation has ever used the word ‘transgender.’ Does it follow that the Bible has nothing to say about the transgender ideology?
No Bible translation has ever used the word ‘racism.’ Does it follow that the Bible has nothing to say about that?
Christians understand that the Bible’s relevance is not bound up with the use of an exact word. It would be juvenile to take a word designating a topic (any topic), check an online concordance and, failing to find the word mentioned, conclude that the Bible has nothing to say on that topic. The classic example is the Trinity. Imagine someone checking a concordance for any mention of the word ‘Trinity’ in the Bible and, not finding it there, concluding that the doctrine of the Trinity is not in the Bible. No, the word isn’t there, but the concept or doctrine certainly is. Christians realize that, to do the Bible justice, we have to take the totality of its witness — that goes far beyond the usage of individual words.
Language is always in flux. During our family worship, we take turns reading from the Bible. My wife and kids read from the ESV while I read from the KJV. I’m always surprised at how words change over the centuries. For example, the KJV uses the word ‘corn’ in several places. When we think of ‘corn,’ we think of the crop developed from maize. It’s a New World crop — it didn’t grow in Israel in biblical times. However, the KJV simply used the word ‘corn’ to describe any type of grain. The English language has changed and Bible translations change with it. Today there’s no corn in modern English translations.
While language changes, biblical truth does not. Bible-believing Christians didn’t suddenly start seeing homosexuality as a problem in 1946. Nor did Bible-believing Christians wake up one morning in 1946 and decide that they needed to have a Bible translation that supported their views. History matters and history testifies that Bible-believing Christians have consistently maintained that homosexuality is contrary to God’s will for humanity. Let me give two examples to illustrate.
The Heidelberg Catechism was written in 1563 for the teaching of children in the German-speaking region known as the Palatinate. Lord’s Day 41 deals with the seventh commandment, “You shall not commit adultery.” Someone might read Lord’s Day 41 and note that it makes no mention of homosexuality. But you shouldn’t conclude that Reformed churches therefore have no problem with homosexuality. Answer 109 says that God “forbids all unchaste acts.” One of the biblical proof-texts is 1 Corinthians 6:18-20, a passage which has traditionally been understood to refer, in part, to homosexual behaviour. Zacharias Ursinus was the main author of the Catechism and he wrote a commentary on it — actually lectures to his seminary students. While the Catechism addressed to children understandably avoids this subject, his commentary definitely discusses homosexuality. He speaks of it as being “contrary to nature.” Homosexuality, according to Ursinus, is a heinous sin and an abominable transgression. True, he doesn’t use the word ‘homosexuality’ — he couldn’t because it didn’t exist yet! Nevertheless, the concept is there.
You can see the exact same thing in John Calvin’s commentary on Romans 1:26-27. Again, Calvin doesn’t use the word ‘homosexual’ and neither should you expect him to. Yet he still speaks of “the dreadful crime of unnatural lust” and of a “filthiness which even brute beasts abhor.” Calvin found what we call ‘homosexuality’ to be contrary to God’s will, even though he didn’t use the word itself. Were he alive today, he would no doubt find it ludicrous that some would argue that the Bible has anything other than condemnation for such things.
What Christians need to learn today is another important word: revisionism. In an effort to make homosexuality acceptable to Christians, progressive sorts are constantly trying to revise our theology and history. This revisionism ought to be self-evidently anti-biblical. In other words, it isn’t true to the Scriptures. However, it can appeal to those who, for whatever reason, wish for a happy union between Christianity and homosexuality. It appeals to those who think: “Wouldn’t it be nice if our Christianity wasn’t so counter-cultural?” Yet: let no one join together what God has put asunder.