“But Jesus Never Said…”
One common objection to Christian teaching on homosexuality is that Jesus is silent about it. You typically hear this argument coming from people that aren’t really familiar with the Faith but have read Buzzfeed or Jezebel articles condemning “Christian hypocrisy” on homosexuality (you know the type: articles arguing that Christians shouldn’t eat shellfish or wear mixed fibers if we want to teach that homosexuality is a sin). The thinking is that if Jesus didn’t condemn homosexuality as a sin, then it must not be a sin, and the Christian condemnation of homosexuality is just bigotry.
The first aim of this article is to provide you with an answer for the objection, but the way that we do that requires that we consider the nature of biblical authority. Our answer here will help us understand the way that Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels interact with the Law of Moses more generally, so you can apply the logic of this argument to much more than just homosexuality. It also corrects a misconception that is commonly taught in the Churches of Christ, namely that Jesus wholly invalidated the Law of Moses. Jesus Himself taught otherwise: “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” (Matt 5.17).
Our argument consists of two answers. The first appeals to what comes prior to Jesus’ ministry in the Scriptures, namely the Law. The second appeals to what comes after Jesus’ ministry, namely the apostles.
Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels assumes the Law of Moses as a beginning point. He talked with people who knew the Law and believed it. We see this in the fact that Jesus commonly expands His hearers’ understanding of the Law; sometimes, He even tells them that they have misunderstood the Law entirely, and He corrects them. The essential point is this: Jesus begins with the understanding that the Law is good and true. He doesn’t repeat all of the commandments of the Law in His teaching, because He doesn’t need to. The Law is already there for anyone who will hear it.
The objection is that Jesus is silent regarding homosexuality, and His silence must imply acceptance. But this is a faulty understanding of Jesus’ silence. If someone asks you, “Where does Jesus forbid homosexuality in the Bible?” you should ask in return, “Where does Jesus condemn Moses’ teaching on homosexuality?” He doesn’t. And because Jesus’ teaching assumes the Law to be good and true, His silence implies that He agrees with Moses and with His audience’s understanding of Moses on the issue.
It is not as if Jesus is unwilling to address what Moses has to say about sex. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5.27-28). “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matt 5.31-32). Jesus is perfectly willing to tell His audiences that they were wrong on sex. Furthermore, Jesus’ teaching on the matter is more strict than Moses, not less!
There are a host of other sexual laws in Moses that Jesus does not address. Moses forbids incest, prostitution, and rape, just to name a few. But Jesus never said anything about rape. Are we to think that Jesus approves of it? Clearly, Jesus’ silence on these matters is an assumption that Moses was right and that His audiences generally understood Moses correctly on these issues.
Our second answer to the objection comes from what follows Jesus’ ministry, the ministry of His apostles. We confess that Jesus extended His authority to the apostles, which is why the bulk of our New Testament contains the teachings of the apostles. The Holy Spirit guided them as they ministered to the early Church and as they continue to minister to us today through their inspired writings.
The apostles, like Moses, explicitly condemn homosexuality. “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6.9-10; cf. Rom 1.26-27; 1 Tim 1.9-10; Jude 7).
The whole testimony of Scripture condemns homosexuality, just as it condemns every manner of heterosexual immorality. Jesus calls us all to radical purity. Speaking about sexual sin, Jesus says, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (Matt 5.29-30).