InterVarsity’s “A Theological Summary on Human Sexuality” | Critique and Commentary

The recent news of InterVarsity’s (IV) position on same-sex marriage is yet another chapter in a very long and arduous epic story of Evangelicalism and sexual ethics. I got word about this through friends via the posting, and IV has posted a clarification of the article’s report. Already, there is a petition for IV to reverse the decision.

Because this blog seeks first to understand and then to engage thoughtfully with critical issues through study and honest inquiry, I have provided my own commentary in bold blue below as an academic or argued response. However, because I am also a pastor with many of my friends, and siblings in the faith who feel they are yet again taking another blow to the soul, I offer and dedicate this to them in love. I hope and pray that my contribution will help them, and others in their engagement with IV and this issue.

The text below is from Ryan Teague Beckwith‘s upload to Scribd on October 6, 2016. I have not confirmed it’s authenticity through IV.

cropped-iv-logo1326684433-intervarsity-christian-fellowship-theology-of-human-sexuality-paperA THEOLOGICAL SUMMARY OF HUMAN SEXUALITY

An InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA Position Paper

Purposes of This Document

  • To articulate InterVarsity’s convictions about human sexuality.
  • To serve as a resource for teaching on human sexuality for InterVarsity staff, student leaders, and faculty.
  • To provide a theological framework for the development of other human sexuality resources within InterVarsity.


The primary audience is InterVarsity staff.

Cultural Context

As men and women created in the image of God, relationships with family, friends, and spouses bring us the deepest joy of human experience. God’s common grace is given to all people (Matthew 5:45) and evident in every sector of life. He designed the sexual relationship between a husband and wife to be enjoyed as a deeply meaningful experience.

However, very few who honestly survey the present state of human sexuality in American life would conclude that all is well. [I would be curious to see the data. While sexual perspectives are becoming much more permissive (cf. Changes in American Adults’ Sexual Behavior and Attitudes, 1972–2012), is it true that the attitudes are more negative?] Actually, much is terribly wrong, with brokenness at the personal, interpersonal, and systemic level.

Too high a percentage of marriages end in divorce. [Divorce rates are in decline, however.] For women under 30, the majority of births take place outside of marriage. [As reported in the NYTimes. The difference stats according to race are notable.] Pornography, which reduces humans to sex objects, is a $14 billion industry [According to Forbes, this number is extremely inflated.] Human trafficking enslaves 27 million victims. Two million children are exploited in the commercial sex trade (International Justice Mission, 2012).

Every two minutes, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted. [cf. RAINN] Each year, more than 89,000 women are raped and the vast majority of rapes are not reported. Sexual assaults are also rampant on campus.

We could go on to consider the societal and personal costs of widespread casual sex, incest, child pornography, abuse, and sexually transmitted diseases. Our society is reaping the harvest of a sexual revolution, and the picture is not pretty.

[There is one huge glaring problem with this opening “cultural context,” and that is the juxtaposition of these abhorrent abuses and injustices with what is to be later talked about in this paper, the issue of homosexuality. This is a significant insult and offensive dismissal of our LGBT brothers and sisters, as if their sexual identity can be categorized with rape, pornography, or child slavery. Let me be clear. I too abhor these injustices, and as stated immediately below, yes, followers of Jesus must respond. But to lump sexual identity in with these “sins” betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of sexual identity and LGBTQ peoples.]

As followers of Jesus, we must respond to our context with truth, compassion, conviction, and hope.


Christian teaching on human sexuality can be framed by four broad theological categories: (1) creation, (2) fall, (3) redemption, and (4) restoration.

[I need to add a critical note here that is really foundational to the rest of the interpretive explanations that are coming. This “creation-fall-redemption-restoration” framework is a standard linear, sequential, and somewhat dispensational reading of the text. Another way of reading the text is layered, which is to say that Genesis 1 is simultaneously true with Genesis 3. The author of this narrative is simply describing the various layers of reality, (that we are created in God’s image and likeness, and that we also eat the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil). This radically changes the theologies that emerge from our reading. Rather than giving us a chronology of what happened, a layered reading describes what happens, here, now, to all of us, all the time. It is a description of existential truth, rather than a history of what we have inherited. More needs to be said to explain this, but time and space are limited here. Because this is so significant, and requires extensive explication, I will simply make the notation “layered,” below when this kind of reading emerges in the explanations.]

This paper provides a theological foundation—grounded in the character of God—for various InterVarsity policies involving human sexuality and relationships. By “human sexuality,” we mean that particular aspect of God’s creation gift where, in marriage, we engage in physical sexual intimacy that is personal, self-giving, and spiritual in nature.


Let us first consider God’s original design. Sexuality is God’s idea, his wonderful and beautiful gift intended for our well-being and his glory. From the beginning, healthy human sexuality was designed as a means of intimacy between husband and wife as well as the context for birthing and rearing children in flourishing families.

Loving Relationships

In all of our relationships—friendships, marriage, family, church, and community—whenever we engage in self-giving love, we reflect the image of God. [I would probably nuance this to say we “express” or “bear” the image of God. While some may see this as a distinction without a difference, or mere quibbling with semantics, I would suggest this may be significant. “Reflecting” the image of God could imply that there is some sort of pure “essence” of God “up/out there” of which we are the conduits or mirrors. However, it is quite possible that the Genesis authors may be more scandalous than that, that what you see in me, and what I see in you, is the image of God. The phrase בצלם אלהים (b’tzelem elohim, Genesis 1:27) is “in” the image. The previous verse writes בצלמנו כדמותנו (b’tzalmeinu kidmuteinu, Genesis 1:26), which some translate as “in our image, after our likeness.” Agreed this is debatable.]

The starting point in our understanding of loving relationships is the Trinity, a perfect love that exists eternally within the Godhead. This uniquely Christian doctrine is extremely important to our understanding of human relationships. The three persons of the Trinity are distinct and differentiated, yet one Divine Being. They relate in perfect love that is completely selfless, non-competitive, non-threatening, and self-giving. In an intimate prayer recorded in John 17, Jesus says to the Father, “You have bestowed glory upon me, because you loved me before the creation of the world” (John 17:24, italics added).

This loving trinitarian relationship is important because human beings are made in God’s image:

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27).

This idea of human beings made in the image of God is a uniquely Judeo-Christian doctrine. It is essential for our understanding of human relationships. [Yes. However, part of the complexity of applying interpretations of this passage to sexual ethics is that Christian theology affirms that God has no gender.]

From the beginning, God made us to be relational beings who reflect his character. The only part of the original creation that God declared “not good” was man being “alone” (Genesis 2:18). This reveals God’s intention for people to live in loving relationship with one another. This love is most commonly expressed by the Greek word agape [αγαπη].

This agape love is most fully described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

This passage is often used to describe marital or romantic love, but its primary application is to the church as the body of Christ, the family of God. [Within the context of “gifts.”] Agape love is most fully demonstrated in the person of Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, in his sacrificial, self-giving love for us: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:12- 13).

So we see what God’s original plan was for human relationships: that we should be characterized by agape love for the well-being and enjoyment of all people. He intended that we should reflect his image as we engage in this kind of self-giving love. [So, this could easily be expanded to imply that agape love transcends, or even usurps any gender related differences or constructs that hinder the well-being and enjoyment of all people. A case could be made that religious and cultural sets and ideals of gender and sexuality have persisted in harming people, which, if logic follows, would mean expanding and broadening our understandings of these particulars rather than restricting them, for the sake of “agape love.”]

Sacred Marriage

From the beginning, God also had a plan and purpose for human sexual relationships. In marriage, we reflect the image of God in a unique way by joining together spiritually and physically. We were created in God’s image as male and female (Genesis 1:27). Both genders together reflect the image of God, both in their distinctness and in their oneness.

The main term that the Creator has used to describe this marriage relationship is “one flesh.” [בשר אחד]

The man said,

“This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Genesis 2:23-24, italics added)

This passage describes the establishment of what would later be termed “marriage” as an ordinance of God, not simply a social construct. Notice that it is not just this man and this woman, but it defines a pattern in which men and women would enter into this one-flesh marriage union. [Okay, several things here. Yes, but/and… “Marriage” as an ordinance of God and “not simply a social construct” is anthropologically challenging. One, given the layout of Genesis 1, there’s a lot of things that “go together,” (day 1 and day 4, day 2 and day 5, day 3 and day 6, the waters and fish, the ground and the animals, the seed-bearing plants and people, etc.) that are not imbued with the “marriage” concept. This is more pattern seeking than prototyping. Second, “marriage” is going to take on a wide variety of forms throughout human history within the biblical narrative (polygamy and concubinage, for example) which would suggest that the social constructing of marriage is not only inevitable, its sanctioned by the biblical text itself.]

Marriage is defined as a distinctive union between one man and one woman, as husband and wife, in which they covenant with one another to lifelong devotion. [And here is where we get eisegesis. This “covenantal” and “devotional” language is found nowhere in Genesis. It is a modern “socio-religious construct” being promoted through the appropriation of this Genesis text.] In addition, Christian marriage and family is not viewed as an end, but as a means of serving the kingdom of God in this world.

Much later, Jesus affirmed the Genesis 2 definition of marriage. When asked a question about divorce, he first responded with a strong statement about marriage:

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6)

In this affirmation, Jesus makes it clear that God is the one who made humans male and female and who established marriage. God is the one who declares that they are one flesh. The husband and wife not only join together but also enter into a relationship in which the Lord is at the center. [One, some have suggested that this Matthew 19 passage is dealing directly with Jesus’ contemporary debate about divorce, not about sexual identity or marriage requirements. Two, this is also the passage that mentions “eunuchs,” which, according to some historical analyses, could refer to alternative sexual identities. A “eunuch” may not necessarily be someone who has no gonads, but may be someone with a different “orientation” or “identity.” If that is the case, it is the only time in which Jesus affirms, not only their existence, but also their identity within the kingdom of God.]

Jesus adds the important phrase, “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Because this is a union formed by God, it is exclusive, sacred, and intended to be lifelong.

Paul also affirms this definition of marriage. Quoting Genesis 2:24, he compares the marriage relationship to that of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:22-33). On the one hand, this comparison helps us to better understand the essence of the nurturing relationship between Christ and the Church. On the other, it enables us to see more deeply into the cherished meaning of Christian marriage. [Paul states in v.32, “This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.” So, it could be argued that the analogy is backward. Christ and the church is not an analogy for marriage, but marriage, as was socially known and understood, and that Paul is reaffirming, is an analogy for Christ and the church.]

Sacred Singleness

Numerous Christians view singleness as God’s long-term calling for their lives, and an opportunity to develop a deeper devotion to God as well as invest more fully in friendships. Others do not necessarily regard their singleness as long-term but remain faithful to God and his kingdom work while they look to the future prospect of marriage. Single Christians celebrate their maleness or femaleness as part of God’s creation gift to them. They continue to be devoted friends and to maintain healthy relationships with both single and married people. [This is another area of complication for the “one man and one woman ideal” theology. It does have implications about singleness, more specifically that singleness is also less than the “ideal,” and is therefore, less than fully “whole” in accordance with God’s original design. It feels disingenuous as well, to give single people a pass to “celebrate their maleness or femaleness,” and not give LGBT people’s the same acknowledgement to celebrate their sexual identities.]

Jesus was, of course, single. [The “of course” needs explaining. It would perhaps be more accurate to say, “Jesus was, as far as we know as recorded in the Gospels, single.” I equivocate, I concede. However, the historical context is that we don’t have any record of any rabbi in the first-century being single, which is significant because the first commandment in the Bible is to “be fruitful and multiply.” An unmarried rabbi would call into question the legitimacy of that teacher. Subsequent to that, we don’t have any record of Jesus being criticized for not being married. Either way, it is an argument from silence, but we can’t necessarily say “of course.” Additionally, there is nothing at the core of Christian orthodoxy that would be threatened if Jesus were married.] He lived a complete and fulfilled single life according to the plan of his Father. After Jesus gave some hard teaching about the permanence of marriage, the disciples reflected that it would seem better not to marry. In response, Jesus said that marriage is not for everyone and described a calling for those who choose not to marry for the sake of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:12). That is, some are called to lives of celibacy because of their particular role in the kingdom of God and their place in God’s world.

The apostle Paul was one such person. A great missionary and tireless worker extending the borders of God’s kingdom, he remained single at least for a significant portion of his life. He advised others to remain likewise (1 Corinthians 7:8). Later in the text, because of the “present crisis” to which Paul referred, he recommended that believers remain in whatever station of life they found themselves (7:17, 26-28).

Many of us know faithful followers of Jesus who have lived highly productive lives of godly singleness. Exemplars include Barbara Boyd, beloved former InterVarsity staff member and director of Bible and Life, as well as the late John Stott, rector of All Souls Church in London, InterVarsity Press author, frequent Urbana speaker, and cofounder of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students.

When the church is functioning appropriately as the family of God, single and married people are fully included. Moreover, single people in the church reflect everyone’s eternal destinies. Jesus reminded the Sadducees that in the fullness of the kingdom, we will not be married, explaining that “at the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage” (Matthew 22:30).

[So, it could be argued, that because IV felt it necessary to include an affirmation of singleness, that, in and of itself concedes the point, that the “one man one woman” theology is not absolute and leads to other implications. I make no judgment here, but to simply point out the tension.]

Sexual Union in Marriage

Sexuality is to be enjoyed in the context of marriage for our well-being and for God’s glory. A man and a woman become one flesh through sexual intercourse. Marriage is consummated in sexual union: “Now Adam knew [had sexual intercourse with] his wife and she conceived and gave birth to Cain” (Genesis 4:1).

The Hebrew usage of the word “knew” [ידע] (Adam knew his wife) suggests the intimacy of this one-flesh relationship. Physical union is a fulfillment of the spiritual and emotional union that already exists. Sex was designed to be lived out in the context of an intimate emotional, spiritual, and covenantal relationship.

Because marriage is a solemn covenant before God, between a man and a woman, it requires a “sign” of the covenant (Malachi 2:14; see Marriage as a Covenant). In the case of marriage, intercourse is the God-given sign. In modern Western culture, we generally wear a wedding ring as the public sign of our marriage vows, our marriage covenant. However, it is in sexual union that the husband and wife say to each other, “We are married; we are one flesh.”

[Okay, several problems with this last paragraph. One, Malachi 2:14 does not “require a sign.” It reads:

You ask, “Why?” It is because the Lord is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.

The word “witness” there is the word “hey-eed” (העיד), from the word “eidut” (עדות). This is more about “testimony” or “witness,” as is translated above in the NIV, and it is God–YHWH, actually–who is that witness. The word for sign, “ot” (אות), is not used in this passage. The second problem is that nowhere in the Bible does it say that “intercourse is the God-given sign.”]

Also, from the beginning, it was God’s intention that humans should reproduce and fill the whole earth (Genesis 1:28). This is not simply a command to have lots of babies. It was God’s intention to fill the whole earth with his glory, with people who would know him. This is still his plan, inherent in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). [Another way of looking at this is that the command is not so much about doing the work of multiplying and filling, but being a multiplier and filler, because that is who Elohim (God) is. In other words, this may be a description of humanity more than a commandment to humanity. In addition, by being a multiplier and filler, we are being like God.]

In Genesis 2, it was made clear that the marriage relationship was to be the means of fulfilling the procreation component of that mandate. Having children was regarded as “good.” This is part of God’s intended plan for the marriage union. This was God’s design for sexuality at creation and remains so.

[Again, positions like this are tenuous, simply because the interpretive lens by which we read Genesis is thick with our own cultural mores. Second, if this is so, then childless marriages “fall short,” and create a similar theological problem as with singleness.]

In spite of this clear [Aaaand, cue the hermeneutical arrogance. If centuries of biblical interpretation have taught us anything, it should be exegetical humility. The word “clear” is more about our authoritarian conclusiveness than the actual text of the Bible.] and positive biblical teaching, various negative views about marital sexual expression soon crept into the early church (1 Timothy 4:3). This has influenced attitudes in the Church toward sex throughout history, with the Church sometimes viewing sex as a necessary evil, and sometimes identifying it as the original sin, or generally as a dirty thing. Others often view Christians as being “against sex before marriage, and within marriage, they try not to enjoy it too much.”

Sexual intimacy between a husband and wife is beautiful; it is a sacred expression of what it means to be one flesh—“bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” It follows that any sexual expression outside of this special marriage relationship—whether extramarital, premarital, or same-sex union—is a distortion of God’s gracious gift. [I suppose more is to come to explicate this, however, at this juncture it is sufficient to point out that the gender complementarity ethic is simply assumed here.]


The consistent intention of God is either to biblical marital faithfulness or to chaste singleness. [Again, this statement dismisses the realities of polygamy, concubinage, and divorce and remarriage.] In both cases, it is a call to a lifestyle void of promiscuity. [It is often commented that this “lifestyle void of promiscuity” is exactly why gay marriage should be permitted. The strength of that argument is more rhetorical than philosophical, nevertheless, it attempts to get at the heart and foundation of these arguments which is so often glossed over by the “rules” and “laws” of sexual behavior.] In the book of Proverbs, men are called to be faithful to their wives. Contrary to modern notions that we have an indisputable right to seek sexual fulfillment in any manner possible, God calls us to monogamous lifetime relationships and emotional faithfulness.

In poetic language, Proverbs lovingly appeals to young men to avoid the lures of the adulteress and to maintain fidelity to their own wives:

May your fountain be blessed,
and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.

A loving doe, a graceful deer—
may her breasts satisfy you always,

may you ever be intoxicated with her love.
Why, my son, be intoxicated with another man’s wife?

Why embrace the bosom of a wayward woman? (Proverbs 5:18-20)

This fatherly advice and wisdom is a call for the husband to rejoice in his own wife all of his days, to find satisfaction in her body, and to be captivated by her devotion. The same advice applies to the wife (Ephesians 5:33).

In modern Christian weddings, vows are made promising fidelity in all kinds of circumstances. These words usually include “for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, in joy or in sorrow, as long as we both shall live.” These are powerful words and bold promises that take into account the reality of aging and the possibility of sickness or an accident that causes one partner to be unable to engage in sexual activity. These vows are the stipulations of the marriage covenant and stand in contrast to selfish ambition.


What we have considered so far describes the beautiful, harmonious, joyful expression of relationships and human sexuality as God intended it. But the world we live in does not conduct itself that way.

We live in a world where the common experience of sexuality is broken and distorted to some extent, sometimes to the extremes of manipulation, abuse, and violence. [I often like to point out that the same world that has distorted our views of sexuality, also has distorted our views of theology. You cannot claim corruption of one and purity of the other as they are both products of the same world.] There is a striking difference between “knowing” one’s spouse and using, abusing, or neglecting one’s spouse. We have a sense that it is not intended to be this way. How did we drift so far from the Creator’s grand design for human relationships? How did we move from self-sacrifice to self-gratification? How did we move from meaningful sexual intimacy to casual sex? [I see several ironies here. First, there is no “self-sacrifice” mentioned at all in the previous theological construct. Nowhere in the Genesis narrative is that even hinted at, nor is it even in constructs of marriage as explicated by hermeneutical exegesis. Second, self-gratification is mentioned in the biblical passages, specifically the Proverbs passage to which they refer. And, that self-gratification is seen as a positive in light of the alternative, adultery.]

The Fall is described in Genesis 3. [“layered”] It was an assertion of human will in opposition to the Creator. The result of this fall from grace—this “foul revolt” as described in Milton’s Paradise Lost—is almost beyond comprehension. Every area of life is affected, especially human relationships, resulting in shame, enmity, hostility, accusation, broken relationships with the Creator, broken relationships among people, and death.

The devastating consequences of the Fall in the experience of human sexual behavior are also far-reaching. People have distorted God’s marvelous gift of sex in every way imaginable. Scripture speaks against premarital sex (1 Corinthians 7:9; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8), [1 Thessalonians uses the word porneia, (πορνεια) which may mean any illicit sexual behavior.] sexual promiscuity and prostitution (1 Corinthians 6:13-18; Proverbs 6:25-26), and any form of distortion of God’s original intention for sex (1 Timothy 1:10; 1 Corinthians 6:9; Romans 1:27; Leviticus 18–20).

Sexual Abuse

One result of the Fall [“layered”] is that violence has become associated with sex. The occurrences of assault, exploitation, misuse of power, trafficking, rape, and other forms of abuse are particularly disturbing sexual distortions of God’s design. Among developed countries, the U.S. has one of the highest occurrences of rape.

It is hard to imagine something that is further removed from God’s original intention—that sexual expression should emanate from a loving, affectionate relationship in the context of marriage.

The Bible views sexual assault upon a woman, man, or child as a particularly heinous crime in society. The Mosaic Law code views this as a crime worthy of capital punishment and recognizes the innocence of the victim, protecting the victim from retaliation (Deuteronomy 22:25-27). In one of the darker periods of Israel’s history, a Levite’s concubine was raped by the men of Gibeah of the tribe of Benjamin. The result was an all-out civil war resulting in the near annihilation of the tribe of Benjamin (Judges 19–20). [We must be careful, for the Bible is also not so great on this subject. See Numbers 31; Deuteronomy 20, 22 and others.]

As Christians, we must counter a culture of rape and abuse, protecting the innocent, seeking justice for perpetrators, and calling people back to God’s sacred design for human sexuality. [AMEN!]


When God first established marriage, he made it clear that this was designed to be a lifelong binding covenant between a man and a woman. But divorce continues to be a present reality in our society, with no-fault unilateral divorce permitted in most states.

Divorce has devastating consequences for the home, society, and the Church. It creates trauma for children as well as economic instability, and often has negative health and psychological effects. The breakdown of marriages should make our hearts ache and move us to renew our efforts to strengthen them.

Due to sin and hardness of heart, the Bible makes some provision where divorce may be permitted (though never promoted). Moses made an exception in the law (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). His was not a command but a concession (as Jesus later made clear). [Or, Jesus “reinterpreted.”] The cause for divorce was “uncleanness,” which meant either marital unfaithfulness or deception as to premarital virginity. In these situations, a “certificate of divorce” was permitted. Some have suggested that this was an act of mercy, so that the divorced party (in this case, the woman) would have the freedom to remarry and not become economically destitute. [In addition, Jesus’s reference to that passage is because there was an existing debate around what Moses meant by the teaching (you know, two Jews, five opinions).]

The practice of divorce became too common among the Hebrew people of the Old Testament period. The prophet Malachi laid out the complaint that God had against his people:

It is because the LORD is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. (Malachi 2:14)

This passage is significant because it reveals God’s heart for the plight of the woman in Israel’s society. It also serves as a reminder that marriage is a covenant, before God, that is binding between the husband and wife.

By the first century, divorce in Greek and Roman society had become commonplace, even fashionable. Some rabbis adopted a permissive view: any and every cause could serve as grounds for divorce—poor cooking, sloppy housekeeping, or simply “if she finds no favor in his eyes” (Rabbi Hillel). Other rabbis (Shammai) held to a strict view: divorce was only permitted in cases of adultery. It was not only considered immoral but also cruel to cast out an innocent wife, leaving her socially destitute.

Jesus treated the subject of divorce in a way that is consistent with Moses [And Shammai]:

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:3-9)

The single exception—sexual immorality—implies that a breach in the marital covenant has taken place. Jesus used the broader term porneia that applies to any kind of sexual immorality, not the specific term for adultery, but in this context the clear implication is that there has been marital unfaithfulness. In addition, the most natural reading is that this exception clause applies to the entire sentence (Matthew 19:9), so that where divorce is permitted, remarriage is also permitted.

The Pharisees came to Jesus with a politically charged question: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” (Matthew 19:3), echoing the more permissive rabbinic views [Just earlier, they acknowledge the more accurate view, that there are a diverse set of views within Judaism. This is a consistent Christian misconstrual of the first-century Judaisms of which Jesus is one voice among many.] Contrary to this approach, Jesus took a very restricted view—only one cause, adultery, is a legitimate reason for divorce. But instead of first dealing with the exception, he dealt with the general rule: from the beginning God made marriage as a permanent union. In a parallel passage, Mark 10, Jesus made this rule reciprocal to the wife “if she divorces her husband.” This is a radical teaching, since in Jewish culture the man alone had the option of divorcing his wife. [cf. Jew FAQ]

Sexual immorality is the one act that violates and makes a mockery of the marriage covenant and the one-flesh relationship. [Sorry to be flippant. I can think of many more acts. This also speaks to the narrow view and it’s damage it does if someone feels they are bound to an abusive marriage if there has been no explicit sexual immorality.] Even in this case, divorce is permitted, but not commanded, as the Pharisees intimated. There is still hope for a marriage when infidelity has occurred, but it is a long journey to rebuild the trust that has been lost. From a pastoral viewpoint, we should always first seek to preserve the marriage. Hosea was told to return to his wife even though she had been a prostitute (Hosea 3:1). [This is an appropriation of the Hosea narrative, which is an analogy of Israel’s God’s covenantal commitment to YHWH’s wife, Israel. It is very possible this passage could be used in harmful ways when dealing with individual cases of marriage and divorce, and great care should be taken to neither harm the people, nor misappropriate the passage.]

In dealing with special problems arising in the early church, the apostle Paul added further teaching about marriage and divorce in 1 Corinthians 7. In the case of two believers who were married, he appealed to them that they should not leave one another. If one spouse were to separate, they should remain unmarried and seek reconciliation (7:10-11).

But in the Corinthian church, there were cases when two non-believers had been married, and one became a follower of Jesus. If the unbeliever was willing to remain in the marriage, Paul instructed the believer not to seek divorce (7:12-14). But if the unbeliever abandoned the marriage, the believer was not “bound” in such cases. That is, while the believer ought not seek divorce, neither should the believer contest the divorce initiated by the unbeliever. “God has called us to live in peace” (7:15). Since the believer was no longer bound in such cases, we take it that the believing spouse was free to remarry. The same terminology is used in Romans 7:1-4, where in the case of death, the remaining spouse was no longer bound to the marriage.

How far should this teaching about abandonment extend? Does it apply, for example, to cases of physical and psychological abuse? As a backdrop, we must consider the instructions for husbands to love, cherish, and nurture their wives, and for wives to respect their husbands (Ephesians 5:28-33; 1 Peter 3:7). This is the model description of a healthy Christian marriage. Physical and psychological abuse are serious violations of marital responsibility, and are in some cases, we believe, tantamount to abandonment.

To sum up, Scripture consistently teaches that marriage is intended to be a lifelong commitment. But because of sin and hardness of heart, there are exceptional cases where divorce and remarriage are permitted. While acknowledging that these issues are complex, and confessing that none of us perfectly meets God’s standards, we seek to hold marriage in high honor and to be faithful to biblical teaching. [Fair.]

Premarital Sex

From a theological viewpoint, what happens when an unmarried couple engages in casual sex? They are taking God’s sacred gift of sex and stealing pleasure without commitment, engaging in what is intended to be the consummation of a lifelong marital commitment. [The tone of this segment is already problematic. Using the word “stealing,” is pejorative, and stating “without commitment” is speculative. Though still controversial, many Christians are rethinking the puritanical views of our modern Evangelicalism. Bromleigh McCleneghan’s Good Christian Sex is the most prominent example of this. I would also recommend watching John Oliver’s Sex Education.]

Sexual monogamy within the context of unmarried cohabitation also falls outside the bounds of biblical sexual practice. Cohabiting is certainly on the rise in America. Ironically, those seeking security and companionship through cohabitation often find themselves insecure and uncertain about the future (see The Defining Decade by Meg Jay and Sexual Freedom by Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen). [It would be important to study why. This is one of the biggest problems in this discussion, is that the corollary of cohabitation with “insecurity” and “uncertainty” is often stated as “causally” linked. Is it, though? I believe more precision is necessary here.]

To describe such premarital or non-marital behavior, the Scriptures use the words “sexual immorality”—or, as mentioned before, the Greek word porneia. It is regularly included in the New Testament lists of sins of the flesh (1 Corinthians 6:18; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 5:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8). [So, some have posited that the word porneia (πορνεια) is more appropriately translated illicit sexual relationships, those which are illegal and/or culturally taboo. This would significantly alter the absolutism that often defines the understanding of words like “sexual immorality.”]

Even Christian couples will sometimes try to make the case that they privately consider themselves married to their sexual partner. But marriage is not a private decision between two people. It is a public declaration, a societal institution, and an ordinance of God, where public vows are made before a community. [So, where is this substantiated, biblically at least? How can this be stated so absolutely, especially given the Genesis 1 definition, in which the only party present is God himself honoring or acknowledging that relationship?! One can say “they believe that…,” but that’s different from stating so absolutely what marriage is when predicated upon a Genesis interpretation as this paper does.]

Jesus recognized the difference between marriage and living together when he compassionately confronted the Samaritan woman: “. . . you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband” (John 4:18). [I want more historical substantiation to equate this passage with “living together” in today’s context.] Paul also addressed this issue in 1 Corinthians 7:9: “It is better to marry than to burn with passion.” This statement would be illogical if a person could have it both ways—could have their sexual passions fulfilled without entering into marriage. [It is true that what IV is arguing here is no doubt the predominant sexual ethic. We see this codified in this statement (and others) by Paul in his letters. What has to be established, however, is extrapolating the “spirit” of the text into our modern context. If we fail to do that work, then in an effort to be consistent with how we read 1 Corinthians 7 (and many other passages), we would also have to advocate that married men are “concerned about the affairs of this world” (7:32), or that the virgin to which a man is impassioned has no voice in the relationships (7:36)]

Unmarried young people who consciously choose to wait for a sacred sexual union in marriage deserve our support. We affirm single men and women who have remained chaste, whether viewing singleness as God’s long-term calling for them or while waiting for marriage. We urge others who are sexually active to repent and return to God’s design for sexuality and marriage.

Paul instructed Timothy: “Treat . . . the younger women as sisters, with absolute purity” (1 Timothy 5:2). What if young men and women were to view each other first and foremost as brothers and sisters? [Then, we would never get married, nor have any sexual urges toward another human being, yes?] Far from abusing and exploiting one another, they would desire one another’s sexual purity. They would treat the other with respect and gentleness. Those pursuing marriage would wait for the full marital blessing that God intended for their sexual fulfillment in a committed covenant relationship.


The source of adultery begins in the heart. Taking another person to bed in thought is also a violation of the person made in God’s image.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addressed the issue of lust by expanding the command against adultery to include “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully” (Matthew 5:27-28). [There’s a slight nuance that the word “epithumeo” (επιθυμεω) may imply, which is, “to strongly desire to have what belongs to someone else and/or to engage in an activity which is morally wrong—‘to covet, to lust, evil desires, lust, desire.’” {Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 290). New York: United Bible Societies.}] He was not discounting the seventh commandment but rather going to the core of the matter. His disciples must move beyond the external righteousness of the Pharisees to a posture of humble confession and purity of heart.

Lust is clearly a step beyond attraction. It is usually not the first look but the second covetous stare. Temptation becomes lust when we imagine others as sex partners. The impulse to use them—or an image of them—for our own gratification dehumanizes them, transforming them into objects. [In the midst of a lot of “Christianese” in this phraseology, there are real problems with the absolutism and “clarity” of these assumptions. What does a “second covetous stare” mean in real life? How does courtship, or even discussion about one’s honeymoon even happen with these parameters, unless that, too, is a violation of the moral?]

Jesus said, “Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). The point that Jesus makes about lust is twofold: (1) God is concerned about our hearts, our thought-lives, not just our actions; and (2) sexual sin is something that begins in the heart and must be dealt with there. [But again, this is about “adultery” and “illicit sexual behavior,” which means covetousness, etc. Can this truly be extended to all forms of attractional thoughts?]

Scripture does not teach that temptation is sinful. Jesus was “tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15). We need not feel defeated because we feel an attraction or are tempted. In fact, in our sex-charged culture, with sexual images commonplace, there is hardly anyone who does not struggle with sexual temptation at some level. But this does not give us an excuse to yield to temptation. In every circumstance, God is able to provide an acceptable means of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13; James 1:12-15).

[We really need to be careful not to conflate too many disparate passages, which is really “proof-texting” for an a priori assumed point. 1 Corinthians 10 is about the idolatry of the Israelites in the desert and their “testing/examination of Christ.” James 1 is about faithfulness (through works), and generosity, not sexuality.]


Marital faithfulness was God’s design for husbands and wives, but this standard was quickly violated. The seventh commandment states: “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). The word “adultery” is a technical word [(נאף)] that refers to a married person engaging in sex with someone other than their spouse; thus, it involves the sexual sin of violating the marriage covenant and results in havoc to the marriage, the family, and the community. [In confirming the term in this section, I was struck with the specificity applied to these single terms which are potentially broad in scope and understanding. This is evidence that the weight of eisegesis taking place is heavier than perhaps it ought to be.]

The book of Proverbs again speaks poignantly:

Do not lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes.
For a prostitute can be had for a loaf of bread, but another man’s wife preys on your very life. (Proverbs 6:25-26)

The act of adultery begins with a lustful heart and roving eyes. The results are deadly. The eye is one medium of temptation and lust; the body is the vehicle of committing sin. [Some clarification would be helpful here. They just stated that “sin” can take place “in the thoughts” according to the interpretation of Jesus’s teachings.] Peter speaks of corrupt men of his day: “With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed—an accursed brood” (2 Peter 2:14).

This sin is specifically prohibited within the list of sexual sins in Leviticus 18:20: “Do not have sexual relations with your neighbor’s wife and so defile yourself with her.” [As I would hope people would already understand, the citation and referencing of Leviticus is going to prove problematic on this, and other issues, as we may see later. It would be wise not to “quote” Leviticus, but rather to study it and contextualize it. Unlike the vice lists in the New Testament epistles, Leviticus is a code book for the priests. Conflate the two, and you end up promoting capital punishment for adultery, cursing one’s parents, and of course, homosexuality. Unless that is your position, stay clear of proof-texting Leviticus.]

Adultery is a sin not only against one’s spouse, but also against God himself. When Potiphar’s wife tried to entice Joseph to sleep with her, he responded, “How . . . could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9). After his affair with Bathsheba, David confessed to God: “against you . . . have I sinned” (Psalm 51:4).


Pornography is a major vehicle for lust, turning another into an object—or conjuring up an imaginary person—for one’s personal pleasure. Pornography undercuts marital trust and can lead to dissatisfaction with one’s current or eventual marriage partner.

Romance novels and movies can also provide opportunities for fantasizing about an idealized person who possesses all the qualities that a spouse is lacking. The entertainment industry normalizes destructive sexual lifestyles. The rapid increase of “online liaisons” is also devastating for marriages.

Compulsive masturbation, which is often associated with these practices, is another distortion of God’s intentions for genuine marital sexual intimacy—bonding two people into a one-flesh relationship of self-giving service. In contrast, compulsive masturbation values only self- satisfaction, is inherently selfish, and is devoid of real intimacy. Whether married or single, it leaves a person isolated and often full of shame.

[Okay. Several things. Nowhere in this paragraph do the injustices against women and girls make “the cut” of reasons why pornography is immoral. This speaks to the puritanical influences of our Evangelical faith, and misses the social justice reasons for abhorring pornography and its practice. Second, the issue of masturbation is far more complex than what is mentioned here. It could be suggested that their usage of the word “compulsive” attempts to address the complexity. However, this kind of teaching can induce significant shame in someone’s life who may actually be dealing with a psychological disorder. If it’s true, that “compulsive masturbation” is what is wrong (as opposed to “run-of-the-mill-every-now-and-then” masturbation?) then someone is struggling with a psychological disorder. Calling that person “inherently selfish” completely misses that human dynamic, and adds condemnation and shame. This is not helpful. And once again, we see why the Christian ethics of sexuality is being jettisoned for something more liberal.]

Same-Sex Relationships

All are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26) and included in Jesus’ command to love our neighbors (Mark 12:31). Many of us have relatives and friends who are same-sex-attracted. We may experience same-sex attraction ourselves.

Regrettably, many Christians have not loved same-sex-attracted people as we ought. Too often, we have responded with exclusion and caused them shame or remained silent when hatred has been expressed toward them. We humbly own our past failures and offer genuine love. [I sense a “but” coming…]

At the same time, Scripture is very clear that God’s intention for sexual expression is to be between a husband and wife in marriage. Every other sexual practice is outside of God’s plan and therefore is a distortion of God’s loving design for humanity.

[So, the problem is that this is still responding “with exclusion.” The challenge in this debate is that you cannot bifurcate / separate / segregate the content of your teaching with the tone of your teaching. Someone who has same-sex attraction, according to this teaching “is a distortion of God’s loving design for humanity.” I can appreciate IV’s attempt at repentance and contrition, and I genuinely believe that those who hold to a “non-affirming” view do so with the utmost intent at being faithful and loving to God, the Bible, and the people. This issue does not permit this, however, and to continue to teach “non-affirming” interpretations, while being “accepting” of the people is theologically abusive.]

This tension—between humble, loving relationships on the one hand, and a biblical sexual ethic for Christians on the other—is very challenging. It requires us to address three distinct areas: attraction, identity, and behavior.

It is important to distinguish between attraction and sexual behavior. Jesus was “tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Presumably, this included the experience of sexual attraction. Sexual attraction, whether opposite-sex or same-sex, is clearly not sin, unless it turns into lust or improper sexual behavior (Matthew 5:27-28). Certainly, not crossing over the line into temptation is something we all struggle with. Specifically relating to same-sex attraction, the late apologist John Stott put it this way: “We . . . distinguish between a homosexual inclination . . . and homosexual physical practices” (Same-Sex Partnerships?).

Some devout believers are same-sex-attracted but seek to remain celibate (see Wesley Hill’s Washed and Waiting [see my review] and Michael Ford’s Wounded Prophet: A Portrait of Henri J. M. Nouwen). They merit our praise. We can fail them by (1) acting as if we have it all together and are not broken in our own sexuality; (2) encouraging them to act unbiblically on their desires; or (3) condemning same-sex attraction as sin.

Our culture pushes us to sexualize our identities, that is, to define ourselves primarily as sexual beings. While sexuality is a gift from God, it is not the chief quality that characterizes us as humans, and certainly not as Christians. Our chief identity is that we are people made in God’s image. As Christians, our central identity is found in our union with Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:4- 6; Romans 6:4-5; Romans 8:1).

In fact, it is problematic to assume that all people view their sexual identity as central. To say that someone has a same-sex attraction does not describe their full identity, though it may be a significant shaping factor in their experience of life. Our sexual attractions—whether opposite- sex or same-sex—do not describe the most important things about us, such as our values, hopes, dreams, or spiritual convictions. As Jenell Williams Paris argues, sex is not the “big deal” that our society has made it to be (The End of Sexual Identity).

Like all Christians, believers with same-sex attraction should be afforded the opportunity to discuss how their sexuality affects their hopes for the future, their struggles with temptation, and their repentance from sin. These conversations can, in fact, be an important aspect of discipleship, helping to center their lives in Christ and find his call.

[De-centralizing the sexual component of someone’s identity is extremely problematic for several reasons. First, it’s a straw-man argument, and misconstrues reality. While I’m sure there are some that would affirm their sexual identity as their core identity, the vast majority of the conversation by LGBT people is about an aspect of who they are which is innate to their identity. Analogous to this is one’s race. As a Christian, I wouldn’t consider my race/ethnicity to be “central” and “defining” of who I am. Yet, if someone were to say that my particular race/ethnicity is “not ideal according to God’s design,” that is calling into question the value of my personhood, in theological, and real terms. Second, I don’t understand how they can affirm that, “believers with same-sex attraction should be afforded the opportunity to discuss how their sexuality affects their hopes for the future, their struggles with temptation, and their repentance from sin,” while at the same time condemning said attraction. Perhaps I’m truly misunderstanding, which, if someone were to explain, would help me. But on the face of it, this is hypocritical, and non-sensical.]

Scripture teaches that same-sex sexual activity is outside of God’s will in the same way that heterosexual pre- or extra-marital sexual activities are. This teaching resounds from the strong and consistent affirmation throughout the Bible that the unique context for sexual practice is between a man and a woman in marriage. Jesus himself reaffirms the creational intent for marriage between a man and a woman (Mark 10:2-9).

[So, my only comment at this stage is that it is best to use the phase, “We believe.” There’s plenty of rich theological discussion around the passages and arguments mentioned below to warrant a qualified position rather than an absolutist one, (and why I won’t interact with much of what is stated below). Stating it the way IV does in this paper creates a “centered-set” theology which excludes Christians who think different, holds up their interpretation as the interpretation, and does not advance deeper, more thoughtful inquiry.]

This paper is not the place to address every biblical passage forbidding same-sex sexual activity. For further reading, see InterVarsity’s paper, “Responding to the LGBT Movement: A Theological Statement.” [Could not find the paper.] See also the list of resources in the “Recommended Reading” section at the end of this paper. Further, we encourage inductive, communal Bible study around issues of human sexuality, beginning with the following passages:

  • Genesis 1–3
  • Mark 10
  • Matthew 19
  • 1 Corinthians 6
  • 1 Timothy 1
  • Leviticus 18–20

The most extensive treatment of same-sex behavior in Scripture is found in Romans 1:18- 32. The relevant verses are:

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. (vv. 26-27)

The passage begins with a universal indictment by a righteous God against all manner of human rebellion against his general revelation in the creation. Instead of worshiping the Creator, humans have worshiped the created thing, mainly themselves. They have exchanged the truth of God for a lie. Humans have consistently suppressed the truth, and as a result, their hearts have become darkened, their desires sinful, and their actions degraded. In all of this, humanity is said to be without excuse.

Besides exchanging the glory of God for idols and the truth of God for a lie, some exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. The word “natural,” in Paul’s writing, hearkens back to creation and God’s original intent for sexuality, part of the natural law that God built into the universe (Romans 2:14; Romans 11:24; Galatians 4:8).

The term “unnatural” suggests a deviation from the natural order of creation in Genesis 1–2. As John Stott points out, this behavior is described as an exchange—“women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones” (27). Therefore, although some would say that their homosexual activity is “natural” (i.e., consistent with their desires), Paul would argue that it is unnatural because it is not consistent with God’s original intent for sexuality.

Some have argued that the people in view here are those with a natural opposite-sex attraction who choose to practice homosexual behavior. However, this behavior seems to result from women following their “inflamed . . . lust” for one another (Romans 1:27), which connects desire to behavior. The words “natural” and “unnatural” are used with a variety of meanings in Greek and Roman literature. But the phrase “contrary to nature” or “unnatural” (Greek: para physin) in this passage clearly refers to a rebellion against God’s natural order rather than acting contrary to one’s own nature (see “The Meaning of ‘Nature’ in Romans 1 and Its Implications for Biblical Proscriptions of Homosexual Behavior.”). [Okay, as alluded to in this RNS article, readings and explications like this are spiritually abusive and illustrate again, the problem with these myopic readings of the text. If someone argues otherwise, then there must be some sort of character flaw, or nefarious ethic at work, rather than a thoughtfully critical person engaged in trying to understand the text fully and completely with nuance, study, and contemporary culture. Cf. To Interpret Is To Be Human.]

Others have argued that what is in view in this passage is pederasty, since it was so common among the elite in the Greek and Roman world for men to have both a wife and a boy to fulfill their sexual desires. This view argues that Paul was condemning the exploitation of youth by pedophiles. There are at least two obvious problems with this view. One is that there is no hint of adult sex with children in this passage; rather it is men with men, women with women. There is another Greek word, paiderastia, which was used in pagan literature to describe the love of boys, and Paul does not use this term nor does the word appear in the New Testament. Second, the mention of lesbian sex, between two women, makes it highly unlikely that pederasty is in view, since this was not the common ancient pagan practice among women and girls. [I would agree.]

Still others have suggested that the sexual practice here has to do with temple prostitution. However, there is no reference to temple prostitution or ritual sex in this passage. Despite the earlier mention of idolatry and false worship, there is no implication of temple prostitution. The pagan practice of male and female temple prostitution was a fertility rite, in which Israel, in disobedience, also occasionally engaged, and was strongly condemned for (Deuteronomy 23:17; 1 Kings 14:24). For a more thorough treatment of Romans 1, see Richard B. Hays’s The Moral Vision of the New Testament. [I would also concur.]

Finally, our commitment to the authority and entire trustworthiness of Scripture means that we interpret specific texts such as this in light of the whole body of Scripture—without imposing preconceived conclusions. [“Without imposing preconceived conclusions?!” A, not true. No one does this. Bias must first be acknowledged and dealt with a priori when one engages in hermeneutics. B, this is a haughty attitude, unbecoming of such an established and collegiate Christian ministry. C, if one was to interpret specific texts “in light of the whole,” then the scant references to homosexuality would indicate that something more important and central is driving Paul’s writings.] All attempts to interpret Romans 1 must be read in light of how Paul consistently advocates for sexual expression exclusively in the context of God’s intended marriage union between a man and a woman (Romans 7:2-3; 1 Corinthians 7:5-7; Ephesians 5:22-33; Colossians 3:18-20; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8; 1 Timothy 3; 1 Timothy 5; Titus 2), which is consistent with the testimony of both the Old and New Testaments.

We conclude, therefore, that God’s loving intention—seen in the clear teaching of Scripture in both the Old and New Testaments—restricts sexual expression to a committed marriage relationship between a husband and wife.

Christian community must be a place where all are welcome to “come as you are” to be transformed by the gospel. With a humble posture toward our own failures, we must be a community of grace toward people with all kinds of attractions. We must find our identity in union with Jesus Christ, in submission to Scripture, and in sexual integrity. As a community that practices radical obedience to God, all of us—same-sex-attracted, single, and married—commit ourselves to Scripture’s vision of marriage. With these foundational commitments we can be the kind of community that offers the good news of redemption to all, bringing our gifts to bear on God’s mission in the world.

[It’s frustrating to read about the “gospel” after an explication of this sort, as if those who are gay are somehow missing out or are un-transformed by “the gospel.” While IV has clearly taken as stance with references listed below, there is no acknowledgement of Christian, biblical scholarship on this issue that concludes differently from IV with the same Christian and biblical convictions. These scholars’ and practitioners’ affirmation of LGBT identities and relationships would do absolutely no damage to the fundamental truths of “the gospel,” and many LGBT peoples have found great hope and love in embracing both, an acceptance and affirmation of their same-sex relationships, and the truth and power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The tone and logic of the non-affirmative position is becoming more and more untenable as further and further elucidations and expositions emerge. They cannot continue to hold restrictive views and “come as you are,” because that is simply not what they are saying. You cannot “come as you are,” when you’re “LGB” or “T,” and especially “Q,” not to mention “I” in a religious community that dehumanizes your personhood, and desacralizes your sexuality.]


We live in a broken world. Many—both Christians and non-Christians—are sexually shattered, defeated, and hopelessly caught in the cycle of bad choices. Some are trapped in sexual addictions, crippled by guilt, damaged by sexual abuse, and wondering if there is a way out.

The good news is that Jesus sets people free and delivers them from defeat. He is the One who restores and redeems. He is the One who loves us with an everlasting love. [Do we also believe that Jesus sets us free from bad theology?]

Of course, there are many non-believers who are living sexually active lives—perhaps with multiple partners—who do not see this as a problem. They do not feel broken or trapped. They may feel that it is the Christian who is really trapped.

However, the Bible counsels that when we violate God’s standards, we will eventually reap the consequences. They may come after some time, but eventually this way of life will be shown for the empty, shallow, dead end that it is. Even those who reject Christian morality often struggle with debilitating guilt because of violating the moral laws that God has built into his universe. [If this logic holds true, the if there are long-lasting, fulfilled, genuinely loving and committed gay relationships that do last, then the construct of this argument begins to fray, and the numerous gay relationships that do exist are evidence against the Bible and “God’s standards.” Caution is warranted here.]

By God’s grace, and through the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we can experience God’s healing. In turn, we can offer this healing to others who suffer from sexual brokenness. The rewards of living lives in this manner are great. When we live this way, we are experiencing what God intended for us; we are most fully human. We are living in harmony with God’s purposes, have an inner peace, and live in integrity with others.

By the word of Jesus, we can offer hope to those who wish to be liberated from destructive patterns of behavior: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). Sometimes this healing is instantaneous. For others, it involves a long process of counseling, and the Christian community is immensely important to provide a supportive, healing environment. In other cases, full healing will come only at the restoration of all things at the end of time. We affirm that God’s grace and power are available to all.

After King David was crushed with guilt for committing adultery, he genuinely repented. As a result, he found cleansing, forgiveness, and even restored joy (Psalm 51:7-12). This grace is available for us today. Through the blood of Jesus, we can have “our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience” (Hebrews 10:22). The promise of an unburdened conscience is one of the greatest practical benefits of redemption in Christ Jesus.

Through the resurrection of Jesus, we can experience the power of transformed lives and the means of overcoming temptation. Sin does not have to rule over us. Sexual temptation is not our master (1 Corinthians 10:13; Romans 6:12; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5).

We may struggle with particular temptations for long seasons. C. S. Lewis notes with regret in his autobiography Surprised by Joy that the temptation of lust never really left him. But God does not intend for these temptations to defeat us (James 1:13-15), but rather for them to purify us and bring us to maturity (James 1:2-4). Temptations provide a daily opportunity to confess, repent, and remember the gospel, surrendering joyfully to the righteousness that God credits to our account through the price Christ paid on the cross.

Scripture reminds us that we have an enemy, the devil, who is out to defeat us. He “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). We must be vigilant, but never fearful. Satan can be resisted by the One who is greater—Jesus, who stands by our side. “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them [evil spirits], because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

Satan is “the accuser of our brothers and sisters” (Revelation 12:10). When we hear negative messages in our minds—such as “you will never change” or “you are still the same old person”—we know that this is not from God, but from the enemy. God’s word to us is: “you are mine; you are pure; you are a new creation in Christ. With me all things are possible.”

Perhaps the most amazing passage in Scripture regarding sexual healing is found in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (italics added):

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

The Corinthian church was made up of these very kinds of “wrongdoers.” They were sexually immoral and greedy—thieves, drunkards, slanderers, and swindlers. Paul was no stranger to these realities. Yet he speaks of this in the past tense—“this is what some of you were.” But not anymore! You are a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). Paul himself was converted from being a “blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man” (1 Timothy 1:13), and God’s grace was poured out on him.

Likewise, today’s Church comprises forgiven, transformed sinners of all kinds. God has redeemed us. There is tremendous hope in Paul’s statement above: there is forgiveness, there is cleansing, and, there is the promise of complete restoration. Jesus is able to give us back our lives, just as he did with Mary Magdalene, Zacchaeus, the prostitute who washed his feet with her tears, Peter after his denial, and the Samaritan woman with five former husbands who was living with a man to whom she was not married.

We are called to live in a new kind of kingdom community, a radical alternative to the way of this world. We are told to hold marriage in high honor, to love our spouses as our own flesh (Ephesians 5:28).

In relating to those of the opposite sex, we treat men as brothers and women as sisters. In the family of God, we desire to protect the sexual and spiritual well-being of others (Romans 12:10). When we live in this way, we demonstrate the presence of God’s kingdom breaking into this world through our relationships.

Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity. (1 Timothy 5:1-2)

Jesus died to give us back our lives—life in all its fullness—as he intended in creation, and made possible through his redemptive work on the cross and his victory over death.

[So, while I may quibble with some of the theological assertions above, much of what is written here in this section is quite beautiful and hopeful. It’s these kinds of messages–that Jesus sets us free, that grace abounds, that change can happen, that self-condemnation is from the devil, and that God’s kingdom is breaking into this world–that make me proud to be a part of this Church. At the same time, it breaks my heart that all of those things are simply lost, and/or contradicted, in the very restrictive teachings on human sexuality. This often leads to tragedy upon tragedy; that you are first shamed and condemned, and by the very community that is commissioned to free and liberate you from that very shame and condemnation. For LGBT people, there really is no good news.]


Of course, even as Jesus’ followers, we do not always live according to God’s kingdom values. There is an “already but not yet” nature to our present experience of the kingdom. Still tempted by the world, the flesh, and the devil, we sometimes yield to these temptations. It is comforting to remember that God is always ready to forgive. He extends his grace to the humble and repentant (James 4:6).

One day, at the end of this age—in the new heaven and new earth—God will restore all things to be as he intended in the original creation:

“God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” . . . Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21:1-4, 27)

In this restored heaven and earth, all of our brokenness, all of our waywardness, all confusion, distortion, and rebellion will be transformed, because “when Christ appears, we shall be like him” (1 John 3:2). At last, our relationships will be fully pure, honest, whole, and healthy. We will know God for who he is, for he himself will live among us. All will be light, all will be love—our joy will be full.

But even now, because of Jesus, there is strength in our struggles, victory in our temptations. He has promised never to leave us—nothing can separate us from his love (Hebrews 13:5; Romans 8:37-39). And through the Holy Spirit, we receive hope when we feel hopeless, help when we feel helpless, cleansing when we feel dirty.

Christian discipleship is therefore not so much a matter of being pushed into conformity with an ideal set of standards. Rather, it is a matter of being joyfully pulled into our certain futures in God’s restored kingdom. It is the experience of living now, in part, what we will one day be fully, in glory.

When Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creation: the old is gone, the new is here” (2 Corinthians 5:17), he is stating a new reality. Those of us who are in Christ are part of that new movement of God, that new kingdom, which God has already put in motion. By God’s grace, we are the signals of that new creation that is already breaking into this world and rolling on toward the new heaven and new earth where all is made right.

What we are seeing is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy:

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)


In our rapidly changing culture, we recognize that questions of human sexuality are often connected with gender and identity. We are committed to understanding these evolving issues.

As one example, we are appointing a task force to examine the implications of transgender identity. Pastorally, how should we respond to people who are transgender? First, we acknowledge that it is not sinful to have feelings of ambivalence or aversion to one’s birth gender. Nor do we respond with disbelief or impatience. We recognize the difficult social realities they face and commit to a response of love and respect. [Well, it’s hard to glean what IV understands about this issue by the line “it is not sinful to have feelings of ambivalence or aversion to one’s birth gender.” First, there is a distinction between one’s biological sex and one’s gender. Transgender people do not have an “aversion to one’s birth gender.” They are living with the reality that their biological sex is different from their gender identity.]

Recommended Reading

Atkinson, David. The Message of Genesis 1-11. The Bible Speaks Today. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990.

Barrett, C. K. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Black’s New Testament Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1993.

Blocher, Henri. In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1984.

Cornwall, Susannah. Sex and Uncertainty in the Body of Christ: Intersex Conditions and Christian Theology. Gender, Theology and Spirituality. London: Routledge, 2014.

DeFranza, Megan K. Sex Difference in Christian Theology: Male, Female, and Intersex in the Image of God. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015.

DeYoung, James B. “The Meaning of ‘Nature’ in Romans 1 and Its Implications for Biblical Proscriptions of Homosexual Behavior.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 31, no. 4 (1988): 429-41.

Evangelical Alliance Policy Commission. “Transsexuality.” Milton Keynes, U.K.: Paternoster, 2000.

Field, D. H. “Sexuality.” In New Dictionary of Theology. Edited by Sinclair B. Ferguson, J. I. Packer, and David F. Wright. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988.

Ford, Michael. Wounded Prophet: A Portrait of Henri J. M. Nouwen. New York: Doubleday, 1999.

Gagnon, Robert A. J. The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics. Nashville: Abingdon, 2001.

Hays, Richard B. “Relations Natural and Unnatural.” Journal of Religious Ethics (spring 1986): 192.

Hays, Richard B. The Moral Vision of the New Testament. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996.

Hill, Wesley. Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.

Hugenberger, Gordon P. Marriage as a Covenant: Biblical Law and Ethics as Developed from Malachi. Biblical Studies Library. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994.

Instone-Brewer, David. Divorce and Remarriage in the Church: Biblical Solutions for Pastoral Realities. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003.

Instone-Brewer, David. “What God Has Joined.” Christianity Today, October 5, 2007.

Jay, Meg. The Defining Decade. New York: Twelve, 2013. (See especially chapter 8, “The Cohabitation Effect.”)

John Paul II. The Theology of the Body: Human Love in the Divine Plan. Parish Resources. Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 1997.

Meier, Mindy. Sex and Dating. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007. Padawer, Ruth. “Men of Wellesley: Can Women’s Colleges Survive the Transgender

Movement?” The New York Times Magazine, October 15, 2014.
Paris, Jenell Williams. The End of Sexual Identity. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011.

Peterson, Margaret Kim, and Dwight N. Peterson. Are You Waiting for “The One”? Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011.

Schmidt, Thomas E. Straight & Narrow? Compassion & Clarity in the Homosexuality Debate. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995.

Stott, John. Same-Sex Partnerships? A Christian Perspective. Grand Rapids: Revell, 1998. Stott, John. The Message of Romans. The Bible Speaks Today. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001.

Van Leeuwen, Mary Stewart. Sexual Freedom. IVP booklet.

Webb, William J. Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001.

Yarhouse, Mark. Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015.

— via commentary —

It’s hard to put into words the feelings that emerge when reading documents like this while thinking of friends, colleagues, and family who continually have to carry the burden and condemnation upon their shoulders for being a “distortion” of God’s design for sexuality. Our puritanical Evangelicalism has prioritized sexual mores to such a degree that injustices against someone’s personhood are “lesser commands” than the commands to “love one another.” This is a hierarchy which I would argue is directly contradictory to the Way and yoke (interpretation) of Jesus. Worse, this spiritual abuse is often touted as “love,” which creates further dissonance and often creates anger.

I recognize that this paper is a “statement” of which the arguments and resources are one-sided. However, IV has a history of thoughtful engagement through the Veritas Forum, allowing for debate, discussion, and even dialogue to be part of its culture, or so I thought. It is disheartening, though not surprising, that contrarian viewpoints or authors are not at all mentioned or referenced so a reader could be at the very least educated on other perspectives and research. [Cf. this blog’s postings on the topic]

In addition, given the current social trends in sexual attitudes, coupled with declining spirituality, the exodus of Millenials from the Church, and the rise of the “nones,” one would think that IV, an “expert” at college ministry, would speak the language more pertinent to the future trends of American religion, rather than the past standards of doctrinal purity.

So, what? Well, we have yet to find out what will happen to IV in the coming months and years. I acknowledge that this news really isn’t “new” as simply a reiteration of IV’s 75 year position. That is both enlightening and disheartening. Perhaps, like Alan Chambers and the Exodus International story, IV doesn’t take as long to engage with more contemporary arguments and trends, learn from the journeys of others, and reconsider their statement to perhaps augment it to be more in line with the tensions and ambiguities that exist in the Bible, cracking the doors to a more open and affirming Christianity.

About VIA

One comment

  1. Daniel Mata

    Thanks Mr. Neuner, I really appreciate you sharing your knowledge and analytical mind with those willing to listen. Definitely food for thought I’ll be chewing on for a while.

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