People To Be Loved | Critical Review

Preston Sprinkle. People To Be Loved: Why Homosexuality Is Not Just An Issue. Zondervan, 2015. (223 pages)

Promo video; Missio Alliance review; Andrew Wilson review; Sean McDowell interview; Anne Paulk (TGC) review;


I picked up People To Be Loved because our local Pastors network hosted a forum featuring Preston Sprinkle with the description,

We seek to address two primary needs in the church: ONE. . . to help leaders cultivate a more robust biblical ethic of marriage, sexuality and gender. TWO. . . to help churches and organizations create a safe and compassionate environment for LGBT+ people, their families, and anyone wrestling with their sexuality or gender identity.

While I did not attend the event, I wanted to give the content a fair hearing by reading the book.

First, it is important to recognize Sprinkle’s main audience (as best as I can perceive); Evangelicals. And, Evangelicals of the “non-affirming” theological bent. If I kept that in mind, the book was more palatable than it perhaps would have been otherwise. While I absolutely affirm the fundamental ethic of moving people toward a more compassionate, empathetic, and relational approach to the topic of homosexuality, and while I do appreciate his tone, and while he should be honored for the work he has done, in study, and in bridge-building with LGBTQ+ peoples, there is very little that is new, very little that is philosophically, theologically, or even rationally compelling, and very little that would speak outside of that main audience. In addition, a main disturbing distraction throughout the book was his occasional flippant use of very distasteful and juvenile language. I can only presume he is using it to be relevant, or perhaps it is an attempt at humor. Regardless, the book could definitely do without such puerility, and it casts a shadow on the book and the integrity of the author.

I would not recommend this book to anyone other than to non-affirming evangelicals who would do well to hear some of Sprinkle’s exhortations. Receptivity would potentially be higher because of Sprinkle’s theology, and perhaps, it would result in some redemptive steps forward.

However, that recommendation would come with some significant critiques, which are below in bold blue interlinear with some of my highlights from the book.

Forward (Wesley Hill)

I admire the posture of this book. (8) [Me too.]


So let me tell you up front: I stand on truth and I stand on love. Figuring out how to stand on both is hard work. (9) [There are several ways of interpreting this bold statement, and we would be cautious to use such absolute language. This may be quibbling, but it would be more honest to say that “I strive for truth.” This opening line is too wrought with certitude. Second, “truth” and “love” are far too often bifurcated into opposing realities, as if one can only live at the expense of the other. I completely reject this view, preferring to consider “truth” to be a wildly complex, immensely rich category of which “love” is a part. And vice versa.]

We’re going to hold our views with a humble heart and an open mind–inviting God to correct us where we have been wrong. We are going to do our best to lay aside our assumptions and genuinely seek to know what the Bible, not our tradition, says about homosexuality. (10) [This is an impossible task for several reasons. First, you’re never free from your bias, which is formed through all of one’s personal experiences. Second, to “know what the Bible not our tradition says,” is equally impossible, for it is only through a tradition that one can read and understand “what the Bible says.”]

This book is not my last word on homosexuality, but my first word (in print, at least). It doesn’t represent my codified, unchangeable, etched-in-stone declaration of what I have and always will believe about homosexuality. This book is a contribution to a complex conversation about a difficult topic. I would be in sin if I had the audacity to declare that I have it all figured out. But before God and before you, I pray that the pages that follow give honor to my Lord and King who does have it all figured out. (11) [This is a more honest declaration.]


…most people who are attracted to the same sex don’t end up leaving the church because they were told that same-sex behavior is wrong. They leave because they were dehumanized, ridiculed, and treated like an “other.” (14)



The debate is not about what the Bible says. That much is clear. The debate is over what the Bible means. (17) [As we will see coming up, there is even debate about what the Bible says. Some of the language used is certainly unclear to us, and perhaps the meaning is truly lost to history.]

Throughout my study, I have made many gay friends who have solidified my belief that homosexuality is not about an issue. It is about people. (19) [It is statements like these that make me recommend this book, for I too, like Wesley Hill, appreciate and applaud Sprinkle’s posture.]


I wish in the church I had found myself loved. – Tim.


Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it. – Albus Dumbledore


[So far, so good. There is terminology awareness, people awareness, and stated assumptions upfront, no matter how inadequate they may be, Sprinkle is being forthright and honest.]

2: HOLY OTHERNESS: Is Male and Female Sexual Difference Necessary for Marriage?

So here’s the question: Does the presence of opposite-sex marriages in the Bible contribute anything to the discussion of homosexuality? … It’s not enough just to identify positive statements about heterosexual marriages. What we need to see is if the Bible highlights sexual difference–male and female–as a universal requirement for marriage. (28)



As I studied the phrase one flesh a bit more, I realized that the primary meaning of two becoming one flesh is not male-female sexual union, but two people forming a new family. (30)

In all of these passages [Gen. 29:14; Judg. 9:2; 2 Sam. 19:12], flesh refers to a family bond, not a male-female sexual act. When two people of different families become “one flesh,” this means that they are leaving their old families and forming a new one. (30)

While the word united (Hebrew dabaq) [דבק] here refers to two humans getting married, the word itself does not demand a male and female pairing. Like the word fleshunited is often used of a kinship bond or a close friendship, and rarely, if ever, is it used elsewhere of sexual union. (30)


Eve is a human and not an animal, which is why she is ke (“like”) Adam. (32) [Brief note. Eve is not actually mentioned in Genesis 2. “Woman” is.]

Three things seem to be necessary for marriage according to Genesis 2: (1) both partners need to be human, (2) both partners come from different families (2:24), and–if I’m right about kenegdo–(3) both partners display sexual difference. (33)

[footnote 11]: We should note that even though Genesis showcases “minimalistic binaries,” as my friend Roy Ciampa says, this doesn’t rule out other combinations that don’t fit these basic norms. For instance, God created land and sea–two binaries–but we know that he also created lakes, rivers, ponds, and marshes. Likewise, the creation of male and female as binaries doesn’t in itself rule out intersex and transgender people. But that’s for another book. [I appreciated this note.]

So here’s what we’ve seen in Genesis 1-2 thus far. First, while it’s obvious that the first marriage was between a man and a woman, this does not in itself mean that all subsequent marriages must be heterosexual. Second, the idea of becoming “one flesh” does not demand an opposite-sex couple. It simply emphasizes two people forming a new kinship bond in marriage. Third, the repeated statement that Eve was created as a “suitable” or “like opposite” (kenegdo) “helper” for Adam seems to emphasize both similarity (human, not an animal) and dissimilarity (female, not a male). Such sexual difference appears to grow out of a larger fabric of unity within otherness in creation. (34)



What Paul says about marriage [in Eph. 5 & 1 Cor. 11] transcends culture as it finds its shape and identity in the diversity of the triune God. Sexual difference seems to be an essential ingredient in showcasing the unity and diversity of the Triune God in marriage. It doesn’t appear to be irrelevant. (39)


Let’s sum up what we’ve seen thus far. | Several statements in Genesis 1-2 do not appear to exclude same-sex marriages. Becoming one flesh, being united, or even the mere creation of Adam and Eve do not rule out the possibility of same-sex relations. However, the use of kenegdo (“suitable,” Gen. 2:18, 20) in light of the unity among diversity in Genesis 1-2, probably highlights sexual difference in marriage. This is reflected in several passages in the New Testament that pick up on sexual difference and consider it to be essential for marriage. (39)

The key biblical passages on marriage don’t just assume opposite-sex marriages because that’s what was known in the culture of the day. Rather, the authors go out of their way to ground sexual difference in something, or Someone, (39) outside of culture. For Jesus, it was the creation of “male and female” oddly fronted to his argument about divorce (Mark 10:6-7) (40)

[Sprinkle’s statement has two main problems. First, his claim is simply unfounded. What evidence is provided that helps us understand that the “authors go out of their way to ground sexual difference in something…outside of culture?” This is simply asserted as a framework for understanding this passage. It is not substantiated. Second, and most challenging is that the constructs of “male and female” are cultural frameworks. This is no doubt a pandora’s box of cultural ontology and hermeneutics, but a box that I feel must be opened, and wrestled with nonetheless. Cultural frameworks are anything that carries the worldview, values, or perspectives of that culture. Indeed, even writing in English IS a cultural framework. To posit that our biology fits into a gender binary of “male and female” is also a cultural framework. It is going to be difficult to decipher, and perhaps impossible to divorce our theology from our cultural framing, and that reality leads to far more complex and deeper understandings of religion. For that we need the tools of cultural, religious, and social anthropology.]

3: FROM SEX IN THE CITY TO LAW & ORDERHomosexuality in the Old Testament


But people are not abominations. We are image bearers of Creator God. Sometimes we do things that are abominable–like slander and hoarding wealth–but this does not make us abominations. (42) [A nuanced understanding is absolutely critical here because sexual identity is not something you “do.” It is not a “behavior.”]




[footnote 21]: Proponents of the view that Leviticus 18 and 20 advocate a “low view of women,” often point out that these texts never forbid lesbian sex. And this is true. The Old Testament never mentions or prohibits women from having sex with women. In fact, it’s only mentioned once in the entire Bible: Romans 1:26. Those who say that Leviticus assumes a low view of women argue that same-sex female relations don’t affect male honor, since no man is feminized in the act. And this is why women are never forbidden from having sex with each other. I’ll admit that it does seem surprising that female same-sex eroticism is never mentioned in the Old Testament. As an honest interpreter, I want to be careful making an argument from silence and conclude that the Old Testament condemns female same-sex acts even though it never mentions them. If I were a lesbian (I think that’s the first time I’ve ever said that…), I’d certainly find such an argument rather biased and unconvincing. If the Bible doesn’t say it, then who am I to make it say it? However, female same-sex eroticism is rarely (perhaps never) mentioned outside the Old Testament during this time either. The first clear reference we have of lesbian relations comes in the writings of the seventh/sixth-century BC poet Sappho. Even in cultures where some forms of male-male sex was discussed, female-female sex (or relations in general) was never mentioned. In other words, the Old Testament is not alone in its silence about female homoeroticism. Therefore, there are good grounds to conclude that romantic love between women either didn’t exist in the Old Testament world, or if it did (more likely) it was kept a secret. Either way, it would be unnecessary for Moses to prohibit something that wasn’t being practiced or was simply unknown.]

[There are several problems and implications with this statement. First, Sprinkle posits two possibilities, which is that female homoeroticism was either a) close to non-existent, or b) kept secret. He does not offer substantiation for this claim, and does not address the scholarly work on the third option, which he mentions at the beginning of the footnote, namely that lesbianism violated no social taboos at the time. So, for him to say “there are good grounds,” is misleading at best. Second, and most critical is that if the Old Testament was written primarily to prohibit things that were being practiced, then that implies that the text was not written to be a universal text. This, in my mind, implicates the entire hermeneutical premise of this book, and other interpretive lenses. In other words, if Moses doesn’t write about lesbianism because Moses doesn’t know about lesbianism, then, the fundamental purpose of writing the Torah is to address things that are known, which posits of view of the Scriptures that are much more culturally and chronologically bound to understand and interpret.]


…the food laws are no longer binding on Christians, but the New Testament makes this clear. (49) [The footnote here references Mark 7:19 and Acts 15:22-35.]

In summary, most of the commands in Leviticus 18-20 are applicable either in their full literal meaning (don’t have sex with your neighbor’s wife) or in the principle that drives them (use excess income to help the poor). This doesn’t in itself answer our question, but it does suggest that it is more likely that 18:22 and 20:13 are still binding on believers. At least, we would need to see a good argument to the contrary, since most other laws in this section are still binding. (51)

The most fail-proof text to see if an Old Testament law is still valid for Christians is if it’s repeated in the New. (51)

[I have had problems with this kind of view of the Bible for many years now, which I will try to explain. According to this view, the Old Testament (OT) is rendered a mere skeleton of a sacred text, secondary to the primary text, the New Testament (NT). The OT’s meaning, therefore, is merely derived through some framework of our view of the NT. The problems are vast. First, adherents of this view do not read the New Testament consistently. Interpretations are arbitrarily chosen according to what fits one’s cultural mores. A quick skim over the history of interpretation in America regarding slavery, divorce, end-times, etc., yields this beyond a reasonable doubt. Second, this view posits implicitly that the NT was only written to either substantiate, or rebut the OT. But is that really what the NT authors were doing? I would argue not only is it not what they were doing, but their writings were pushing the OT teachings forward in profound and brilliant ways. Third, the use of the word “binding” as derived from the Bible places the authority of that interpretation in the text itself when, according to Jesus, the authority actually rests with us, the readers and interpreters. Something isn’t binding because the Bible says so. Something is binding because WE say so (cf. Matthew 16:19f.)]


4: RATED R: Homosexuality in Judaism and Greco-Roman Culture





[Sprinkle mentions Nero’s public marriages to two men, but gives no citation. It is apparently found in Suetonius’s life of Nero. In addition, Sporus was a “boy.”]

Agathon as mentioned by Plato in Symposium.

An Ephesian Tale.

Satyricon by Petronius.

We cannot assume therefore that Paul only had nonconsensual, unhealthy, exploitative same-sex relations in view when he wrote about same-sex relations. (64) [The problem with this statement, after all that research and those references (which by the way, is an aspect that is appreciated, Sprinkle did some homework), is simply that we can’t assume anything. This is one of those chapters that appears to be saying something, when it actually isn’t saying much of anything. Providing evidence for “consensual, healthy, non-exploitative same-sex relations” in the ancient world is only evidence that they existed, not what was or was not in Paul’s mind when he wrote.]



After all, most boys that attracted men (66) were teenagers between the ages of thirteen and seventeen. For a Jew, that’s roughly the same age of women who got married. So the problem for Philo, Josephus, and other Jewish writers could not have simply been that these “boys” were too young; the problem is that these boys were males. (67) [It appears that Sprinkle may have his citations wrong here. Philo mentions the “fifth seven” (age 30) as the season for marriage. Pirke Avot mentions 18 as the age for the “wedding canopy.” This most definitely has implications for his argument.]



So here’s the million-dollar question: Did Christianity depart from Judaism with regard to same-sex relations? (68)

If we say that Christians should endorse same-sex relations, then we will need to recreate a rather un-Jewish Jesus and an un-Jewish New Testament. Most Christians today, however, are rightly trying to get back in touch with our Jewish roots, not away from them. But we can’t have it both ways. (68) [This line of argumentation feels dishonest. It appears, for many, that claiming a “Jewishness” of both Jesus and the New Testament is selective appropriation, utilized and deployed when it substantiates a particular theology (e.g. “homosexuality), yet discarded and undermined when it doesn’t (e.g. “the Law”). While Sprinkle claims you “can’t have it both ways,” Christian interpreters do this frequently enough to suggest the attempt.]

5: WHOM WOULD JESUS LOVE? Homosexuality and the Savior

[Jesus] was a short-haired, brown-skinned, Hebrew-speaking Jew. (70) [The footnote here says, “Some say that Jesus spoke Aramaic and not Hebrew. However, there is good evidence for first-century Jews speaking Hebrew more than Aramaic, as seen from the many inscriptions and manuscripts from the first century that are written in Hebrew.” I was impressed with this insight. For more, see the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research.]

Never once do we see a Jewish leader, thinker, writer, or rabbi sanction any form of same-sex erotic behavior. They condemned pederasty, same-sex peer relations (both male and female), and even same-sex marriages, although the latter were rare in those days–rare but not nonexistent as some have argued. One would have to create a rather un-Jewish, pasty-white Norwegian, Western Jesus before they recruit him to support same-sex relations. (70)


There are good arguments from silence–ones that are based on historical evidence–and bad arguments from silence that are created out of thin air. It would make much more historical and cultural sense to conclude that Jesus stood with the rest of Judaism on the question of homosexual relations. (71) [This feels convenient. Did Jesus ever speak on types of clothing or shellfish? Perhaps more poignant, arguments from silence base don historical evidence would then suggest that Jesus was married, and had children. Curious if Sprinkle adheres to this view.]

When he heals a leper, he commands him to go see the local priest, just as Leviticus 13 says (Matt. 8:1-4). (72) [This is an example of the appropriation I mentioned above. Sprinkle cites this as an example of Jesus was a “law-abiding Jew.” But most Christian interpreters suggest that there is no need for the priest, the temple, etc., because of Jesus. So, again, we’re being selective, are we not?]

There are only a few places where Jesus may have improved upon an Old Testament law. In Matthew 19, he seems to correct what Deuteronomy 24 says about divorce. However, Jesus doesn’t clearly go against what Deuteronomy says. Rather, he shows that Moses’ words were a mere concession in light of Israel’s hard hearts. Instead of correcting or overturning Old Testament law, Jesus actually draws out the true intention of the law when he says that a man should not divorce his wife. (72) [By making this argument, Sprinkle is conceding true intentions as an appropriate avenue for hermeneutics. What is most important is the intention of the text, the “ethic” behind the “law.” The question is then begged, why is this same approach not applied to sexual identity?]



[Regarding Matthew the tax collector] A modern-day parallel might be a pimp, who is also a drug dealer, who runs a porn studio on the side, and funnels his profits (76) to support terrorism around the world. (77) [I suggest that Sprinkle is over-embellishing his analogy here. Tax-collectors were involved in economic exploitation, restricted by the boundaries of their professions. They were also “unclean” because of their dealings, ostracizing them from the community. To make out tax-collectors as the “catch all” for the great evils in the world misses the specificity of the cultural place that tax-collectors had within Roman and Jewish contexts.]



Take a stand–yes. But take a stand on love. That radical, countercultural grace that drew sinners and tax collectors to Jesus. Jesus actually did talk about that. (80) [Well said, and another point of appreciation I have with Sprinkle’s posture.]



So where does Jesus stand? | He stands on love. He stands on compassion. And he therefore stands on truth. | He stands in solidarity with the woman caught in adultery, taking on her shame and sin, and declaring: “Neither do I condemn you.” (85) [So, this last portion is fantastic in what it is attempting to communicate, but the problem is that it is not an answer to the fundamental question/tension. Pushed to the edges of implication, if homosexuality is ultimately un-affirmed, and/or labeled as “sin,” (which is really the only possible binary choice) then that is ultimately a rejection of one’s identity, and is therefore subjectively “unloving,” is it not? While Sprinkle rejects the phraseology, he is essentially still “loving the sinner, hating the sin.”]

6: FALL SHORT OF GOD’S GLORY: Homosexual and Heterosexual Sins in Romans 1

If we race to form a conclusion too quickly, this only shows that we already had our minds made up before we study the authoritative Word. In which case, the Scriptures are not all that authoritative. Just a handy supplement. (88) [It is here that the other issue emerges, namely what is “authority” and how does it influence hermeneutics?]





Paul considers both people involve din the sex act to be doing something wrong in Romans 1:26-27. …it would seem that Paul’s words apply to consensual same-sex acts in both verses. [This is where we see a “hermeneutical stretch” so as to impose a view that is neither explicit, implicit, or implied.]


If Paul situates the same-sex relations (Rom. 1:26-27) in the context of departing from the Creator’s intention, then this suggests that Paul’s words are not limited to some cultural way of behaving. (93) [This is a false “if/then” argument. Paul appropriates all sorts of Biblical narratives for the specificity of particular arguments.]


para physin was used to critique same-sex relations as against the design of nature or, in Paul’s view, against the design and intention of the Creator. The fact that Paul uses para physin in a context saturated with allusions to Genesis 1-2 suggests that this meaning is most likely what Paul has in mind. (98)


…while many ancient writers believed that same-sex relations were the result of excessive lust, other writers did not. (98) [I think it’s important to consider Paul’s audience in this interpretation, not necessarily a statistical analysis of extant interpreters.]

Plutarch’s Dialogue on Love.

I cannot emphasize enough how important 1:26 (female homo-eroticism) is for interpreting this passage. Female homosexual relations were mutual, nonpederastic, and not the result of an out-of-control sex drive. Still, Paul says they are against nature. (99) [There are couple problems with this. First is the footnote that Sprinkle himself provides which states,

The one reference that may go against this is Seneca, Moral Epistles 95:21, which condemns some women who indulge in drinking binges and “penetrate men” … In the context, though, Seneca critiques the women for acting like men. He never says that female homoerotic behavior is wrong because it is the product of excessive lust. Some Roman satirists also played on the manliness of some women, like Philaenis who “buggers boys,” “bangs eleven girls a day,” and lifts heavy weights “with an easy arm” (Martial 7:67). Not only is the historicity of such satirical pieces difficult to establish, the point again is that some women acted like men in the bed and in the gym.

Second, the “nonpederastic” nature of female homosexuality is not substantiated.]

The honest interpreter should recognize how general Paul’s language is. … Paul uses basic terms and language of mutuality–male ad female, natural and unnatural, one another–to describe consensual same-sex acts. (101) [Is this kind of hermeneutic problematic, relegating any cultural context null and void?]


As Bible-believing Christians, we have a responsibility to accurately interpret, believe, and respond to God’s Word. I only hope and pray that I have done that in this chapter, and I genuinely invite feedback and critique if I have not done so. (101) [In the same spirit of humility, we continue…] I hope that I have done nothing (101) more than accurately convey Paul’s words. And if I’ve read anything into this passage, then please dismiss it. In fact, you have  spiritual duty to dismiss anything I’ve said that does not convey Paul’s original intention. (102) [“Authorial intent” is one of those sticky scholarly debates. In some circles, this means dismissing virtually every interpretation…]

If I have rightly interpreted Paul, then this would logically mean that it would be more destructive, not less, to encourage to fulfill their desire for sexual intimacy with a person of the same sex. (102) [Not necessarily. In addition, this posits a potential inverse argument, that if same-sex relationships are less destructive, more fulfilling, more in-tune with human flourishing, then the argument follows that this interpretation is wrong in accordance with those metrics. Continued in the next paragraph…]

If God is love, and if God wants humans to flourish, and if Romans 1 accurately reflects the will of God, then it is not loving nor would it cause a person to flourish as a human to encourage them to pursue same-sex sexual intimacy. [See previous note.]

But let’s remember the context of Romans 1. Paul doesn’t write this chapter to condemn gay people. He writes it to condemn all people. Reading Romans 1 without reading Romans 2-3 (or the rest of the letter) is like walking out of a theater five minutes after the movie started. Any discussion, debate, sermon, or lecture on homosexuality that doesn’t showcase the scandalous grace that beams from the rest of Romans is itself as scandalous disregard of the gospel. Until we find our own self-worth in Jesus, cling to his righteousness and not our own, pray every log from our eyes right down to the last splinter, assault every species of judgmentalism and hypocrisy lurking in the corners of our pharisaic hearts, trumpet the majesty of the cross and the triumph of the vacant tomb above all our good deeds–which are by-products of God’s grace, though salted with our own sin–and pummel the insidious notion that we straight people are closer to God than “those” gay people over there–until we do these things, we will never view homosexuality the way God does. (102)

[So, this is a nice sentiment, but it appears to me that the “context” of which Sprinkle is talking only gets this one paragraph, while the “exegesis of the particulars” gets a whole chapter. That is a significant disconnect in this book, especially since context transforms the entirety of meaning and interpretation.]

7: LOST IN TRANSLATION: Homosexuality in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10









Do not arsenokoiten, do not betray information, do not murder. Give one who has labored his wage. Do not oppress a poor man. – Sybilline Oracles 2.70-77.10



1 TIMOTHY 1:10

It appears that Paul is grouping these vices under the Ten Commandments as was common in Jewish and Christian tradition. (118) [Citation?]

Since the Ten Commandments were believed to sum up the entire Old Testament law, it’s possible that Paul tethers Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 to the seventh commandment by means of the word arsenokoites. (118) [Citation?]

Linking same-sex prohibitions to the seventh commandment was common. (118) [Citation?]


I know several self-identified gay men who are attracted to men but would never have sex with other men because they believe the Bible condemns such an act. None of them are arsenokoites. (119)

Translating malakos or arsenoikoites as “homosexual” is not only linguistically wrong and historically naive; it is pastorally destructive. [Another place of appreciation for Sprinkle’s posture.]



…in Genesis 2 Eve’s femaleness seems to be a necessary prerequisite for her marriage to Adam–a marriage that becomes the prototype for all God-sanctioned marriages (Gen. 2:24-25). (122) [“Prototype” does not equal “prerequisite.” For example, “work” and “gardening.” in Genesis.]

If Christians were going to depart from Judaism’s clear stance against same-sex relations, we would expect it to be rather clearly stated in the New Testament. (122) [There are some interesting implications in this line of argumentation. First, there are tremendous lines of argumentation happening now, which, just because it takes a little bit longer, does that mean it is less “authoritative,” especially since the NT wasn’t codified and authorized until the late 4th century? Second, the early Christian Church was in fierce development, and not everything is in the NT, for how could it be?]



When Christians race to quote Genesis 19 to condemn same-sex unions, it feels like they are not interested in what the Bible actually says, but only want to load their gun with proof texts that have little to do with the current discussion. (125)

Jesus didn’t open up a relationship by giving his stance on a person’s sin. Rather, (125) he opened it up with love. If we desire for people to live holy lives, then we need to begin with love. (126)


Since I believe that the Bible does not sanction same-sex relations, I will assume this position throughout the rest of this book. (126)

8: “BORN THIS WAY”: Does God Make People Gay?


What people want, and what they do, in any society, is to a large extent what they are made to want, and allowed to do. Sexuality…cannot escape its cultural connection. – Pat Caplan (Anthropologist)

I’m not saying that same-sex behavior will reconfigure your brain. That’s not my point. But I am saying that the interplay between biology and choice, nature and nurture, desire and action, is incredibly complex and it is unhelpful (and unscientific) to try to pin down same-sex attraction as just the by-product of the way people are born. | The one lesson I’ve learned is that the claim “I was born gay, and therefore it’s okay” is not only theologically wrong; it is scientifically naive. (130)  [But Sprinkle’s summation is also a bit deprecating and misleading. When someone says “born this way,” they’re not making a biological claim. They’re stating colloquially that they’re not “choosing.” I concur that the interplay is very complex, so much so that people like Robert Sapolsky write extensive books on the subject. But that doesn’t dismiss the “claim” in its vernacular, idiomatic sense.]


…solving the nature-versus-nurture question doesn’t solve the ethical question. (131)

Christian theology has always taught that our desires are tainted by sin and are terrible instructors of morality. (133)


For what it’s worth, the Bible only directly addresses, and prohibits, homosexual sex and not same-sex attraction. (134) [There’s a couple problems with this. Christian theology (puritanically, according to Jesus) has traditionally condemned the “heart” in addition to the “actions.” (This is actually part of the complication of Christian sexual theology. Teenagers begin becoming “attracted” to each other, but we are not to “lust.” Yet, we’re supposed to “want” each other before we are married. How this all works out is inexplicable, rendering the theological premise unsustainable.) Second, if the Bible is only against homosexual sex, then could gay people get married, have kids, etc., if they abstain from “sex?”]

Labels are easy; relationships are hard work. Quick categorizations are anemic; listening to one’s narrative is rich and exhilarating. And it is much more Christian. (135) [Amen.]


A pastoral approach that only looks at the tip, yet fails to explore the larger story, will fail to love people the way Jesus does. (137)

9: GAY AND CHRISTIAN: Can Someone Be Both?






[This segment of the book is really inadequate as the topic of “sex” itself is extremely complicated and nuanced. What does or does not constitute “sex?”]




But even more unloving would be to cherry-pick verses from the Bible that feel right to us and ignore the rest that don’t feel loving to us. (155)

10: ON THE SIDE OF THE ANGELS: What Does Christian Faithfulness Look Like?

So what are the options for nonaffirming same-sex attracted Christians. For the most part, there are three. (157) [Sprinkle cites his friends Lindsay and sarah from]


[This section includes a really important footnote: “Alan Chambers said recently that 99.9% didn’t experience change, and this has been quoted by some people as proof that reparative therapy is a complete shame. However, Alan told me that what he meant is that 99.9% of people who sought change still battled same-sex attraction to some degree. As we’ll see below, this does not mean that people never experienced any change, only that hardly anyone changes from totally gay to totally straight.]

First, be realistic with your expectations. (161)

Second, the person who experiences same-sex attraction must desire the change. (161)

All in all, it is important to make sure that we don’t preach a gospel of heterosexuality, as if the good news of Jesus is that he can make you straight. Wholeness and salvation should not be equated with becoming straight, but becoming more like Jesus, which is possible if a person remains totally attracted to the same sex from cradle to grave. (161)



…marriage was not designed to solve a person’s loneliness. (66) [So, the celibacy argument falls apart because it is substantiated on a view that is diametrically opposed to a reading of Genesis that argues marriage is to solve “loneliness,” and that it is “God’s original design.” The argument against homosexuality and for celibacy are hermeneutically incompatible.]



Singleness should never be seen as a stage to get through, but a unique gift intended to be used for God’s glory. (171) [As Matthew Vines has argued, if this is true, this should be chosen.]



I reject the myth that true love and intimacy are only found in a partner you can have sex with. (174) [This statement feels quite biased. Who is truly arguing that?]





4. EDUCATE OTHERS ABOUT THE COMPLEXITIES OF HOMOSEXUALITY [I commend this exhortation, but the first step for anyone is to first get educated. Far too many people dive in to this without the proper understanding.]

5. PROMOTE BIBLICAL (NOT CULTURAL) MASCULINITY AND FEMININITY [This is extremely problematic. First, the description that Sprinkle gives exacerbates enculturated views. Second, there is no such thing as “biblical masculinity and femininity.”]


First, have no fear. … Second, stop fighting the culture war. (184) [This is a perplexing statement given the other parts of the book.] Third, live as exiles in Babylon. (185)







But it’s a false dichotomy. Paul’s rhetorical twist does not mean that he is saying things he does not actually believe in Romans 1. (190) [But it also means that what he is talking about is not the actual point. So, not a “dichotomy,” rather, a non sequitur.]



Amazon Review by Kathy Baldock

Link here:

When I began “People to be Loved—Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue” by Preston Sprinkle (Zondervan, 2015), I was tentatively encouraged by the author’s gracious tone and seeming willingness to break away from the evangelical party line on exclusionary practices on LGBTQ people. After all, Sprinkle includes hopeful declarations throughout the book: “We are going to do our best to lay aside our assumptions and genuinely seek to know what the Bible, not our traditions, says about homosexuality.” (p. 10) “As Bible-believing Christians, we have a responsibility to accurately interpret, believe, and respond to God’s Word. I only hope and pray that I have done that in this chapter and I genuinely invite feedback and critique if I have not done so.” (p. 101) And, “This book represents part of my journey in thinking through homosexuality, it’s not the end of my journey. “ (p. 177)

To those who are not fully immersed in the conversation about faith at the intersection of sexual orientation and gender identity, Sprinkle does seem balanced and courteous. I do appreciate that he is not as acerbic in tone as some other authors whose books I’ve read and reviewed, but still, this book is not as generous as I had hoped. So here you go, Mr. Sprinkle. You’ve asked for feedback and indicate that you are willing to learn along this journey.

Sprinkle’s book begins with a chapter on marriage and is, expectedly, based largely on Genesis 1 and 2. He uses these texts as a sort of blueprint for marriage, but maybe these chapters are not intended to be used as blueprints for human sexuality and marriage. After all, which creation story should we use as basis? Genesis 1 or Genesis 2?

Science informs us that the order of creation as told in Genesis is neither logical nor probable. Taking it a step further, even if we use the most literal reading of Genesis, Adam and Eve were created about six thousand years ago. Three thousand six hundred years later, the author(s) of Genesis wrote the creation story(ies) down—about 3,600 years after the event. Verbal transmission over 3,600 years is sure to net at least some errors in the “blueprint.” Adding to the declining integrity of a message, for over 1,000 of those years, there was no ability to write.

More logically, perhaps, the creation narrative was not intended to be a blueprint for human sexuality and marriage, but rather, the way in which ancient people understood how they came to be and how they are seen in the eyes of God.

If it is not a blueprint for all time and all peoples, are you willing to consider an expanded view of the diversity of human creation by listening to the stories, witness, and testimonies of LGBTQ people today, those who have had conversion experiences and are indwelled by the Spirit of God, and those who want access to equality in churches?

This should be stamped across every Bible: “Read ancient texts in ancient context.” Further, allow yourselves to be informed by science. We love science when it comes to medical care, but many of us push it aside when it comes to what is known about human sexuality.

The Genesis texts and the verses on marriage in Ephesians 5 were written to a culture could [sic] have only understood very distinct categories and roles of men and women. Men were the dominant and superior; women the submissive and the inferior. All biblical and ancient texts were written through this lens. When a man took the social or sexual role of a woman, it was entirely degrading. No biblical writer could have imagined a time in the future when women attained a more equal status to men and the cultural stigma of same-sex relationships (or rather, a man “taking the role of a woman”) would lift and no longer be degrading.

Sprinkle, along with the majority of conservative Christian pastors, hold tightly to the creation story as a strict blueprint for both human sexuality and marriage. Reading literally, Sprinkle invests a chapter building the case that male/female marriage is the only way in which people can form sacred vows.

I’ve done a great deal of historical research (Walking the Bridgeless Canyon: Repairing the Breach Between the Church and the LGBT Community) so that I could both understand biblical texts in contexts and to understand the slow progression of understanding of human sexuality toward same-sex relationships. The expression and comprehension of same-sex attraction only visibly began at the turn of the 20th century. From there, it was a slow progression to confronting cultural stigmas which coincided with increased medical information about human sexuality. Sexual orientation and faith is a new conversation that was inconceivable to biblical authors. Whenever they wrote about same-sex behavior, they were not writing about what we understand today as a homosexual orientation.

In the ten years in which I have done equality work, I have seen the witness of hundreds of LGBTQ Christian couples in God-honoring, mutually sacrificial, and covenantal marriages. It is clear that God is blessing these couples, and that they are flourishing in Him, with one another and in community. Their mere existence and witness should challenge the literal reading of Genesis 1 and Ephesians 5 with their restrictive interpretations.

Do we regard all biblical texts as applicable to us today? No, we use our sensibilities to understand that some verses only had ancient application. We don’t toss menstruating women out of the house, or scream “abomination” at tattooed people, or make sure to treat our slaves well, or muzzle women at church and insist they cover their heads.

[via: Well, I know some church actually do.]

But we sure get weird when it comes to human sexuality. We do not like this progression of understanding. We want Adam and Eve and nothing else.

In Chapter Six, “Fall Short of God’s Glory,” Sprinkle tackles Romans 1. I was quite disappointed in Sprinkle’s work in this chapter. I realize some people, especially vice presidents of Bible colleges (one of which the author is), are bound in a stranglehold to their deeply ingrained beliefs when reading and interpreting Scripture. Few risk challenging their views, even when their views so clearly damage others.

I had hoped Sprinkle would do as he promised and “lay aside (his) assumptions and genuinely seek to know what the Bible, not our traditions, says about homosexuality.”

Sprinkle believes Paul is referring to the creation narrative in Romans 1:18-25. If so, the story goes something like this: after Adam and Eve, at some point, humanity rebelled against God and turned from Him, they made idols and worshipped them. To punish them for idol worship and polytheism, God allowed them to be depraved, fall into their passions and homosexuality. Thereby, homosexuality becomes the punishment handed out for idolatry, and polytheism.

While Sprinkle quotes the brilliant Yale New Testament scholar Dale Martin several times in his book, he does not seem to let what Dr. Martin writes about the context of Romans 1 truly challenge him to stretch beyond a restrictive view. In many of his writings, in particular in Sex and the Single Savior: Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation, Dr. Martin builds a strong case for what he believes is the context of Romans 1. Though the differentiation between the two views of the context of the verses seems subtle and perhaps insignificant, it is important.

According to Dr. Martin, Paul reminds his audience of stories from their Jewish history that tell them how evil and sexual impurity entered the world. Paul’s audience would have known the stories in 1 Enoch and the Book of Jubilee of the Watchmen, or the fallen angels, who came down to earth and had sex with women. Through them, evil entered the world along with sexual immorality.

Sprinkle wants to connect Romans 1 to creation so he can highlight the sex differences between Adam from Eve, “Paul situates the same-sex relations in the context of departing from the Creator’s intention.” (p. 93) He adds, “It seems that Paul draws attention to God’s creation of humans into different biological sexes. Therefore, Paul considers same-sex relations to be a departure from God’s intention in creation.” (p. 92)

Context matters. Easy, and apparently obvious interpretation does not mean the interpretation is correct. Sprinkle continually makes the same grievous error that Dr. Robert Gagnon is adept at and so well known for. Read a verse, assume the context, slap God’s clear meaning to it, and call it a truth. When it comes to texts dealing with same-sex behavior in the Bible, this is a pattern not worth repeating but unfortunately does, over and over. That is sloppy work that damages LGBTQ believers.

The scene that follows in Romans 1:26 – 28 is out of control, sex with lust, filled with passions and desire and largely non-procreative. Both the Jews and Gentiles alike would have seen this as over the top excesses.

Paul considers his audiences and is not only speaking to the Jews at the beginning of Romans, he is also addressing the Stoic Gentiles. When he introduces “nature,” and “natural,” Paul is speaking to the Gentiles in language they understand. To them, to be in harmony with nature, or to operate naturally, included: social and sexual male dominance, control of sexual lust, passions and desires, and participation in sex with an intent toward procreation.

Make no mistake here all you (me included) heterosexuals, Paul has nothing good to say about passions and desires in marriage or out of it. He is anti-sexual passions, as were good Stoics who operated in harmony with nature. People, the Jews, the Gentiles, you, me, are to keep it under control and rein in those sexual passions. So, those of you who think your steamy heterosexual sex in marriage would escape Paul’s bony finger of condemnation, you are wrong. He is talking to you too. Uncomfortable, right? So much easier, and wrong, to make it about LGBTQ people rather than dig into what Paul was saying in the context of time and his beliefs.

When I read difficult passages in Scripture, I consult commentaries and a variety of experts, while always keeping in mind “Does my reading or understanding of this passage alienate or harm people? Does my reading or understanding of this passage extend dignity to others who do not share my experience?” If your interpretations and conclusions exclude others, especially those who make be unlike you, it is important to question whether you are interpreting incorrectly.

Next, when Sprinkle deals with Romans 1:26, he writes, “I cannot emphasize enough how important 1:26 is for interpreting this passage. Female homosexual relations were mutual, nonpederastic, and not the result of an out-of-control sex drive. Still, Paul says they were against nature.” (p. 99) His interpretation of this verse becomes a lynchpin for the validation of his other assumptions. And it fails.

In using her body unnaturally in Romans 1:26, a woman could be participating in sex in multiple ways: having non-procreative sex (use your imagination for the many things that couples do that do not involve penis/vagina), she might be taking a dominant/superior sexual position, or penetrating a man with an object, or having sex with another woman. Reading it as Sprinkle does as mutual female sex unassociated with out-of-control sex is to narrow the verse down to woman-woman sex only, which is not what the verse was translated as until 1971. 1971. Grasp that. There was no translation in any language in any version of the Bible that specifically translated Romans 1:26 as exclusively woman-woman sex until 1971.

Sprinkle brings up another postulation frequently about the value and status of women in both the OT and the NT. In discussing Leviticus 18 and 20, he writes, “neither text goes on to say because women are inferior to men. The texts hint at maintaining gender distinctions; men should act like men, and women should act like women. But there is nothing in either passage that assumes a low view of women. Men should act like men not because they are superior, but because they were created differently.” (p. 48) And, “Did Paul really think women were inferior?” (p. 95) “I’ve always been struck by Paul’s high view of women, especially when measured against his environment.” (p. 95)

I kept thinking, “you’ve got to be kidding!” The entirety of the Bible is written (and has been interpreted until recently) through the lens of male superiority and patriarchy. If you miss that point, or conveniently ignore it, then using a male sexually as one would a woman, does not carry the gravity it actually did in ancient cultures. Old translations read precisely this way—using a man as one does a woman, or variations of those words. Again, read my book, it will expand your universe about context.

In Chapter Seven, Sprinkle tackles two Greek words malakos and arsenokoitai. Again, I wish he would, with risk, intellectually and honestly engage both Dr. Martin’s work on these words, along with the work of Dr. James Brownson in Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships. Though Sprinkle appears to build a logical flow to his final conclusion that malakos “was most often used to describe men who looked and acted like women, that is, effeminate men” (p. 106) and arsenokoitai “probably refer(s) to men who have sex with other males regardless of age,” (p. 113) the author either intentionally ignores the etymology and contextual understanding of both words, or it is far too risky to say, “hey, you know what, we may be wrong about these words. Maybe our working definitions are not as conclusive as we think they are.”

When I read this chapter, and marked it up massively and wrote notes in the margins. [sic] By then I lost confidence in Sprinkle’s repeated declaration that he was willing to put aside assumptions and investigate passages on same-sex behavior with academic and moral integrity.

Of the two words, Sprinkle concludes “Malakos refers to men who thoroughly cross gender boundaries by receiving sex from men. Arsenokoitai refers to men who have sex with other males.” (p. 120) No. No. No. This is not the meaning of these words, again, in ancient contexts, in ancient languages.

The short version is—malakos refers to the complexity of all it meant to be female, which involves a very long list of ugly traits associated with women in ancient cultures: lazy, lustful, unchaste, deceitful, excessive, and malakos was also used to indicate men who ignored their business, dressed up like dandies to attract women, were too bookish, ate too much, and yes, took the female role in sex. It is a word that is tough to translate to modern understanding because it is no longer degrading to be a woman.

Arsenokoitai, on the other hand, is a word we do not know the precise meaning of. We can get hints by looking at its appearance and position in vice lists around the time Paul used it. The word, seemingly coined by Paul, was only used about 100 times over a 600 year span, and it was never defined. It never appears in close proximity on various vice lists along with sexual sins like incest or adultery, but rather, it is associated with exploitative sins, economic sins, and in context of slave trading (or what we might call sex-trafficking). When we translate arsenokoitai to homosexuality, do you think that it is accurate to reduce same-sex relationships to economic exploitation and sex trafficking? Not only is that dehumanizing, it is highly insulting.

Though there is far more to address, the last topic I’ll address is one on which Sprinkle seems to be camping lately—the increasingly popular “solution” for LGBTQ Christians to stay in compliance with biblical mandates—lifelong celibacy.

First, Sprinkle takes issue with those who identify as gay Christians. He says, of “one who used the term gay to describe their core identity, central to who they are, a primary aspect of their existence as a human. I have a hard time seeing how this can be reconciled with the gospel, which shatters and shackles all other identities and submits them to Christ.” (p. 141)

His validation is “On the one hand, I don’t call myself a ‘straight Christian.’ Why then should same-sex attracted Christians call themselves ‘gay Christians’? We are all just Christians. (p. 142)

Christians, if you learn nothing from the Black Lives Matter movement, please learn this. When you enjoy the privilege of being part of the dominant culture, you may be tempted to say, “all lives matter.” This snappy pushback erases the radically different experiences of those on the margins as if their alternate views, or the oppression they feel, are not valid.

It is similarly so for gay Christians/LGBTQ Christians. For decades, LGBTQ people did not even have the language to express their life experiences that existed outside the binary. Now, they have the language and a way to express that their feelings and experiences which are often quite unlike those of us who are heterosexual. Is it really so difficult to allow people the space, language and community to define their experience as unlike yours (mine)? We have no hesitation declaring our denominational loyalties saying “I am a Baptist, I am an evangelical, I am a Nazarene.” No one yells back, “No, you are not, we are all Christians.”

Of course the linguistic trap here is that we are to all place our identity in Christ. Using an identity label of “gay” does not negate Jesus or supercede Jesus. We straight Christians don’t need to label ourselves. We don’t need to say heterosexual Christians. We are the default; we are the “normal.”

Sprinkle lists few options for LGBTQ people who want to follow Christ wholeheartedly: reparative therapy, mixed orientation marriage, or celibacy.

How gallantly does the man who writes in his bio that he is married with four children, encourage LGBTQ people to enjoy “no genital contact” love like that of Jonathan and David’s that was “rich, satisfying, intimate love” that “was better than the love of women.” (p. 167) Or, “Jesus, John, Paul all talked about life-giving love that fills your lungs with the breath of heaven without ever mentioning sex.” (p. 167) “When affirming Christians talk about celibacy in the worst possible light, they not only misrepresent what celibacy is, but they reinforce a secular and rather thin view of love where intimacy is impossible without genital contact.” (p. 167) Sprinkle, like others, try to sell imposed singleness as the good life, yet most statistics show married people are happier, have less stress, are at reduced risk of dying from cancer and heart disease, and potentially live longer. Yet, we want to fence out same-sex couples from marriage and intimacy. For what? For their good. Certainly not.

If, as a gay person, you don’t feel called to celibacy, which incidentally is not imposed on a class of people anywhere in the Bible, Sprinkle offers: “The Bible actually does talk about being called, . . . all Christians have been called by God, and we all have a call to live a faithful Christian life—even if you don’t feel like it.” (p. 172) “So I reject the notion that a gay Christian must feel some sort of call if they are to remain single and celibate forever. They are called to be like Christ, to love Christ, to uphold Christ as supreme in their lives. Celibate Christians are called to love, to serve, to rejoice in their suffering as Christ rejoiced in his. They are called to pick up their cross and follow a Savior who has suffered more than any of us ever will, who calls us—married or single—to rejoice in our sufferings inasmuch as they broadcast his suffering to the world.” (p. 173)

So, where are the heterosexual leaders who are willing to lay aside “a secular and thin view of love and intimacy,” to pick up their cross and rejoice in the suffering of their loneliness as Christ did and sacrifice their lives as an example of lifelong celibacy to show LGBTQ Christians the beauty of such a holy calling?

I am going to hope for the best and believe Sprinkle when he writes, “But I still think there is room for dialogue and fellowship with those who hold different views on this topic. Maybe I will change my mind on this.” (p. 152) Though I see no indication on the immediate horizon that Sprinkle is willing to take the risks associated with challenging his views by engaging with LGBTQ Christians or affirming leaders, I hope he will listen to his LGBTQ siblings and other progressive Christians with intentionality and humility. It is risky business and the cost is high. But the cost to the “other” is high too. Actually, immeasurably far higher.

Sprinkle begins his book by stating, “I stand on truth and I stand on love.” (p. 9) I contend that, though Sprinkle’s beliefs may be sincere and heartfelt, they do not square with an orthodox and academic reading and understanding of the Bible as it refers to same-sex behavior. Further, Sprinkle’s views are not loving. They are exclusionary, not well grounded in Scripture, and seen through his filter, his binary, his lack of understanding of and empathy for the lives and experiences of others whose relationship with God and Jesus are just as rich as his.

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  1. Pingback: Living In A Gray World | Reflections, and Notes & Critique | vialogue

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