Many Christians today feel confused and conflicted about how to respond to LGBTQ claims in a Christlike way. In this culture of shifting sexual norms, what should our posture be? Can we hold to biblical truth while also extending compassion? This timely episode tackles these critical questions head-on. Dr. Rubel Shelly, our guest, provides clarity from Scripture and history on God’s design for gender, sexuality, and marriage. Listen as Dr. Shelly and Wes McAdams discuss how to navigate these culturally controversial topics with both conviction and Christlike care.
Walking through key biblical texts, Dr. Shelly insightfully presents the traditional Christian perspective on sexuality and marriage. With academic rigor yet pastoral wisdom, he examines historical context and refutes common revisionist arguments. Dr. Shelly stresses the importance of speaking truth with humility, leading with grace not condemnation. He offers hopeful counsel for those struggling with same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria. This is a podcast for anyone desiring to better understand and apply biblical teaching on sexuality and gender.
Our guest Dr. Rubel Shelly has been a minister for over 60 years. He is a respected author, preacher, and professor. His recent book, “Male and Female God Created Them” provides in-depth analysis of LGBTQ+ claims from a biblical viewpoint. Dr. Shelly discusses this book as well as practical guidance for responding to a sexually confused culture with both conviction and compassion.
Links and Resources:
- Watch This Episode on YouTube
- Male and Female God Created Them: A Biblical Review of LGBTQ+ Claims by Rubel Shelly
- The Ink Is Dry: God’s Distinctive Word on Marriage, Family, and Sexual Responsibility by Rubel Shelly
Transcript (Credit: Beth Tabor)
Radically Christian Bible Study Podcast
A Biblical Response to LGBTQ+ Claims with Rubel Shelly
WES: Welcome to the Radically Christian Bible Study podcast. I’m your host, Wes McAdams. Here, we have one goal: Learn to love like Jesus. I want to welcome everyone back to a new year and a new season of the podcast. I’m incredibly excited about some of the plans that we have and some of the guests that we have scheduled to be with us. I know that you are going to enjoy these conversations, and I hope, as always, that they help us to love like Jesus.
Today we’re going to be talking about how to respond in love to some of the theological claims of the LGBTQ community. Obviously, this is not a conversation for children, so you may want to be aware of that before we begin the interview. I also want to say I’m sorry for my sound the first couple of minutes of the interview. I forgot to move my microphone in front of me. I quickly realized and changed that. I don’t think it will affect your understanding of what’s being said, but I did want to apologize for that before we get into the interview.
Our guest today is Dr. Rubel Shelly. He’s a preacher, a prolific author, and a longtime college professor. He’s the recent author of the book, Male and Female God Created Them, A Biblical Review of LGBTQ+ Claims. We’re going to talk about the book quite a bit. I do think that this book is going to be helpful for preachers, for anyone who is helping others to navigate issues around same‑sex attraction or gender dysphoria, or for anyone who’s struggling with those things themselves, especially those that are hearing claims from the LGBTQ community that are taking an affirming stance, or, as Dr. Shelly puts it, a revisionist stance. And Dr. Shelly really helps us to understand how the traditional biblical view of one man and one woman for life loving one another really is the vision and the will of God.
I want to begin today by reading Hebrews 13:4, which says, “Let marriage be held in honor among all and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”
I hope that this conversation, as always, helps all of us to love like Jesus.
Dr. Rubel Shelly, welcome to the podcast.
RUBEL: Honored to be with you, Wes. Thank you for inviting me. I’m glad to meet the people in your audience, most of whom I probably don’t know, and they probably have never heard of me.
WES: Well, I’m sure many, many have heard of you, and I appreciate your work so much, and I’m really enjoying this book. I want to talk about the book that I’m in the process of reading. I told you, before we hit record, that I’m reading the Kindle version. I intended to finish it before our interview, but I didn’t realize how thick of a book. When they’re on Kindle, I can’t measure how thick they are.
RUBEL: It’s a resource book. It is long, has lots of footnotes, and the reason for the footnotes is so that anybody who does pick it up can check the original sources. I don’t want anybody to take my word. These are controversial issues. I’m fortunate I’ve been able to have access to the original sources. You need a good library card and a very good library to get access to some of those. So it is a thick book, but it’s a resource book for academics and teachers. I think preachers and opinion leaders in churches need that book. There’s a shorter version that is a little more popular level for people who don’t like to wade through as many footnotes.
WES: Well, that being said, it is incredibly comprehensive and academic, but it’s also readable, and I think that anybody who is serious about these matters, and especially those that are wrestling with them or have been confronted by these arguments ‑‑ I think that anybody would be well‑served to have this in their library to be able to refer to it. So why don’t you tell us, if you don’t mind, what caused you to tackle this subject? Obviously, this is something that is, as you said, controversial.
RUBEL: Yeah, several factors. I don’t know how many will come to mind in trying to answer that, but the first is, it’s such a live, hot topic in every church that I know anything about, in families that I have contact with. It’s a subject of controversy in academia. Psychology departments in most universities have embraced the change of classification that the American Psychological Association and Psychiatric Association made of homosexual behaviors from abnormal to something that’s simply alternative lifestyle. Religion departments have all of a sudden discovered that what, for over 3,000 years, was a common and consistent interpretation by Jewish rabbis, by Christian scholars that opposed same‑sex marriage, same‑sex relationships, period ‑‑ that we missed that.
Well, I don’t think we did miss it. I think Scripture is very clear, but it is such a raging topic where there is so much misinformation circulating. And the reason why that book is a thick book is because, as an academic and as somebody who believes that truth matters ‑‑ really, really matters, I went back and reread sources, especially some scholars that I was surprised at might say something affirming towards same‑sex relationships. I went back and re‑read the material, re‑read it in original languages. Had I missed something? I’ve been wrong about things before. Maybe I’ve been wrong about that.
So I’ve actually read much more affirming literature toward same‑sex relationships than I have opposition literature because I think I’m as honest as any of my critics would ever be. If I was mistaken, I wanted to know it, so I went back and re‑read the material, and the longer I lived with the material, studied the material, the more convinced I was that not only is Scripture translated properly, not only did the rabbis get it right, not only was that Second Temple Judaism’s position ‑‑ Jesus’ and Paul’s day ‑‑ not only is the New Testament clear on it, but you have to duck the truth in order to take an affirming position. So my first reason was I think truth matters and I wanted to go back and restudy it. If I was wrong, ready to admit it, and if the position I’d held was right, articulate it and be clear and concise about it.
Second reason, I love some people who are caught into that trap. I love some parents who are struggling with children who are dealing with gender dysphoria, the idea that I’m a woman in a man’s body, I’m a man in a woman’s body, I need some sort of gender therapy, I need to undergo surgery and alter my anatomy, the anguish that parents are going through. But let’s go to the people who are struggling with it, the anguish those people are going through, whether they’re 14 or 24 or 62. I’m concerned about those people.
And the third reason, I guess, that I could name off the top of my head is so much of the information that is out there is just bad information. Books by people like Adam Hamilton and Gushee and Mark Achtemeier that are affirming books, not only are they not well argued, most of them, in fact, aren’t argued; they’re emotive overflows. When they do attempt either to recast the interpretation of a scripture or to represent history, they’re so wide of the mark that it hurts me to think a publisher puts good money into this when it’s just so factually mistaken.
So all of those things combine to say, look, even people who take the position that I take, some of that literature I don’t like because it’s harsh. It tries to hit people over the head with a hammer. That’s not the way to approach the presentation of the gospel or the defense of an ethical stance, whether it’s about drug abuse or whether it’s about opposite‑sex behaviors. It’s a matter of trying to deal with it the way Jesus did. You know, John closes his prologue in chapter one by saying the law came through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. I think both those words are important. I want to treat people that I have dealt with dealing with this issue ‑‑ and I have dealt with a great many as far back as, believe it or not, the late 1960s. The first move has to be grace. You listen. You care. You don’t get harsh. You don’t correct something by hitting someone with a queer joke, by talking about how stupid they are, by damning them to hell because ‑‑ either of a view they hold or a behavior they’re involved in. You love people. Jesus could do that with people.
And yet, in loving them, part of the loving is to guide them to what is the truth. For me, the case of Jesus and the woman taken in the very act of adultery is the model here. Jesus first comes to her defense from people who want to stone her when clearly they set her up for this. They’re not concerned about the woman, and they’re not trying to correct her ethical errors; they’re trying to trap Jesus. Jesus knows that. He’s smart. This is not the first time somebody’s tried to put him on the spot. And so Jesus goes back, and because he knows Torah better than they do, he quotes that text out of Deuteronomy that says, well, now all of you know that if you give false testimony, if you’re a malicious witness against a person, that any penalty that your testimony would have brought on that person comes back to you. And when Jesus said, if anybody here is without sin, cast the first stone, he’s not saying, hey, if anybody here is perfect. He’s saying, if you’re not sinning in this moment, if you’re not lying about this woman, if you’re not part of setting her up, if you’re not part of either before, during, or after the fact trapping her, which makes you a malicious witness, then you can testify to this. And interestingly, John says ‑‑ or whoever wrote that piece of it ‑‑ the old folks dropped their stones and walked away before the young ones did. The old folks knew that they’d been had before it dawned on the young ones. So Jesus showed grace, and he used the technical language of Torah, not to defend her, but to rescue her. And then when they’re gone, he says, dear lady, you got a break today and your life has been spared, and not “so get back to whatever you were doing.” He said now that you’ve gotten grace, don’t sin again. Don’t do that again. Whatever drove you today to be in the position to be trapped doing something immoral, rethink your relationship to God, rethink your relationship to what’s right, rethink your relationship to a husband. Don’t commit this sort of sin again.
I think that has to be the approach. It’s the approach I want to take with anyone, grace and truth. I want to be loving. I want to be kind. I want to try to understand, to the degree that I can, a life experience that I’ve not had any part in personally. But I have friends who are gay, I have relatives who are gay, I have people in churches that I’ve served who are gay. I love them as much as the people who are struggling with some other sin. All of us are struggling with some sin, and the person who’s not struggling with sin is probably struggling with self‑righteousness to think that, you know, I just don’t have any of those problems. So to love people is the right place to begin, and yet part of loving them is to say, but this is the call of God and this is the demand of God’s will on all of us who want to follow Jesus, and we can’t dismiss those things. We cannot be dismissive about the obligation to tell the truth, the obligation to keep our promises, the obligation to be sexually chaste if you’re single, to be sexually faithful within a male‑female marriage.
So as you can tell, there are lots of reasons. The immediate reason for writing that book was I was working with a church where that issue ‑‑ in a temporary role that I had with them ‑‑ involved some confusion on that issue, and so I was doing some public teaching about it, and the more I went into it in the context of today’s plethora of books and speeches that are affirming towards same‑sex relationships, more and more people said, why don’t you publish something about it? Why don’t you write something about it? And the more I went into it, the thicker that book got. And, yeah, it’s not as thick on Kindle as it is in paper, but it’s a thick book, about 400 pages. But it’s a book where I tried to do a scholar’s work with a pastor’s heart, to teach the truth, but to do it in a way that’s kind and loving and respectful. We don’t gain any ground with anyone by being rude, by being needlessly offensive, by name‑calling, by misusing scripture to try to hurt them, embarrass them. So it’s important to me that we begin where Jesus did with people. He showed grace and kindness. He was loving and gentle. But yes, truth counts, and this book is an attempt to hold those two things in tension and to uphold the demands of a gospel lifestyle.
WES: Yeah, yeah. Well, I so appreciate the fact that ‑‑ I feel like so many people in our world are ‑‑ even in the church feel like the ground underneath them is shifting drastically, and I think that so many people have been faced with this false dichotomy that they have to choose between what they believe is true about sexuality and loving people, and they’re told constantly that if you hold to this, quote‑unquote, traditional,
position, then you’re unloving, you’re bigoted, you’re all of these things.
In fact, I attended a conference not too long ago here in this area at a Church of Christ here in the local area. Most of the people there were from Churches of Christ, and they were taking a very affirming position at this conference. Even though it was sort of couched in terms of there’s people from both perspectives here, it tended to not only be affirming, but I felt, as someone who takes this position that the church has held for 2,000 years, that I was somehow the enemy of those who were standing for love and grace. And I know that there are so many people that are dealing with this, even in their families, and they’re being told that they’re unloving and unkind.
And I attended one class in particular, and I ‑‑ this is one reason I appreciate your book so much, because I attended one class at this conference, and the stated goal of the teacher was to muddy the waters on the issue of sexuality. He wanted to take some of these texts about same‑sex relationships and present other interpretations and never really take a position on any of them, but simply to say, well, some scholars say this and some scholars say that, and we just don’t know.
RUBEL: So that proves we can’t be sure, yeah.
WES: That’s right. And so ‑‑ and we were left with the impression that if you take a strong stance, if you are dogmatic on these things, then you are unloving, unkind, and, eventually you’ll be on the wrong side of history, as they say. And that’s why I really appreciate you walking through in a loving way, but also in an academic way, in dealing with a lot of these issues that are brought up.
Much of your book is focused on historical context. So, if you would, kind of help us understand what the first‑century world was like as it pertained to sexuality because so many of these arguments really hinge on that question of historical context.
RUBEL: Yeah, yeah. A couple of things. Number one, it can sound terribly dogmatic to say Jesus Christ is bodily raised from the dead and is thereby the Son of God. You can take a firm position, even call it a dogmatic position if you want to. It’s a position on which I stake my hope and my life and my faith. And you can be bigoted and hateful and ugly with it, but because you’ve taken a position and argue that it’s true, that doesn’t make you a bigot. You’re a bigot if you’re not willing to listen and if you’re not willing to entertain thoughts opposite to the view that you hold. I think I’ve shown in this book, and in my life in dealing with people, I’m not only willing to listen, I want to hear, and the position that I take, if it’s not true, I want someone to help me move away from it. So you’re not a bigot if you have a firm conviction about something. You’re a bigot if you take a position and are unwilling to even consider the possibility that what your opponent is saying is true.
So from the deity of Christ, which is the fundamental doctrine around which we stake our faith, to some issue about the sanctity of marriage or the nature of same‑sex/opposite‑sex relationships, those things matter, and you’re not a bigot if, in fact, you weigh options and draw a conclusion.
Now, on this matter of history, I used to think the most critical issue in studying the Bible was to be able to read Hebrew and Greek, and if you read Hebrew and Greek, everything would come clear. Well, reading Hebrew and Greek, or Aramaic for some sections of the Old Testament, that’s really good; it’s helpful. But the more I study the Bible, the more convinced I am that the most critical thing in understanding the Bible is understanding the historical context in which the Bible emerged, and that has to take you back, in the case of Moses, to life circumstances, lifestyle, and alternate worldviews and religions in Egypt, and then you move through Assyria and Babylon. Then you come for the New Testament background into Greece and Rome and the culture and the history and the religions and the philosophies.
So it’s quite ‑‑ I want to say funny, but I don’t mean to be dismissive. It’s strange to me that the history of Old and New Testament context is so misrepresented by people who take an affirming view. A simple illustration: “Antiquity knew nothing about the kind of same‑sex relationships we’re talking about today. Therefore, Moses, in Torah, or Jesus, in what he says about ethics, and certainly Paul and what he says about same‑sex behaviors, they could not have been talking about what we’re talking about because these relationships simply didn’t exist. In antiquity, you didn’t have same‑sex pairings that were public and open and approved. You certainly didn’t have same‑sex marriages in antiquity.” That is so terribly mistaken. The first time anyone ever approached me by saying, well, you know, in the ancient world, they simply didn’t have open and public same‑sex relationships and certainly didn’t have same‑sex marriage, long‑term, same‑sex relationships ‑‑ the person who raised that point to me, I said, well, hold on a minute. I have a degree in philosophy and I spent a lot of time in Plato, wrote my dissertation in Plato, and one of Plato’s dialogues ‑‑ the entire dialogue is a celebration of public, socially approved, committed same‑sex relationships, and that dialogue argues ‑‑ Plato argues that same‑sex relationships between two males is a purer form of sex and love than that between male and female, and he makes an extensive argument.
The dialogue is The Symposium. In The Symposium, there are three couples, one of which couples has been in a committed same‑sex relationship for over 30 years, and The Symposium argues for the beauty, the nobility of same‑sex partnerships. The word “marriage” does not occur in The Symposium. It’s just the word “love” is used repeatedly. This is the purest type of love. Same‑sex marriage is, in fact, referred to in numerous pieces of literature. I’ve traced it in the book that you’ve already mentioned from at least 400 BC through 200 AD and have given the original source documents. Cicero, for example, tells about going to the wedding of ‑‑ that he’s planning to be at the wedding the next day of two men who are saying their marriage vows to each other. There’s an excellent book by Kyle Harper. He’s not a Church of Christ preacher, as far as I know. He’s a classic scholar at the University of Oklahoma, and his book From Shame to Sin traces, in the Greco‑Roman period, our period within which the New Testament is written, the way moral values were shifting dramatically because of the entry of Christianity into the world, and one of the things he traces, in particular, is the public approval of same‑sex relationships in Greek and Roman society. They looked at it differently. The Greeks looked at it very much like Plato did. It’s a pure form of love, purer even than procreational love. It’s the love of the mind; it’s the love of the intellect.
Actually, the Greeks had a [chain of being] where ‑‑ forgive Plato for a moment ‑‑ males were just more important than women. They were smarter than women; they had a better academic and social and cultural standing. Women were one step beneath their breeding stock. And so, for Plato, yeah, there’s a necessity of sometimes men having sex with women; we need to keep the race alive. But the purest love is when two men are in love, and when they have sexual intercourse their souls mingle and this is the purest form of love. In fact, in The Symposium, Plato sort of makes fun of the idea of people whose idea in sex is to have sex with a woman so that they can experience an orgasm when, in fact, the purest form of love is when two men are deeply in love and when they have sexual intercourse. Well, enough, I suppose, about The Symposium, but Plato is one of many writers that I cite in the book.
There was actually a fighting detachment in the Roman city state of Thebes. When Sparta was threatening Thebes, they formed a band of fighters, and some people think it grows out of the suggestion that Plato made in The Symposium, that men who loved each other would always be faithful to each other beyond what men and women often were. They formed a band of same‑sex fighters, 150 same‑sex couples, and they fought very valiantly in a number of encounters. And their theory was that men who loved each other sexually would not be embarrassed by running in a pitched battle, and that they would always fight to defend their lover with whom they were paired in battle settings.
So, historical setting says, number one, we are not up against something new today when same‑sex relationships ‑‑ whether they’re called marriage or whether they’re just called partnerships or covenant commitments, there’s nothing new about that. They were open and public and socially approved in Greek culture, in Athens, in Corinth, in Thebes. And when you come into the Roman period, the same sort of thing. In a militaristic culture, such as the Romans had with thousands of soldiers marching out, same‑sex relationships were very commonplace, just as they sometimes are today in military or even male dormitories. So it’s not new that same‑sex marriage was an option. In fact, it was Cicero who said, you know, I think we’re very soon coming to the point that same‑sex marriages are going to be registered in the public documents along with those of males and females to each other. Now, you have to understand, as a Roman, Cicero ‑‑ only the marriages of the elites were registered. Slaves and the people of lower classes, their marriages never had any public registration, but he’s saying, in that line, in that writing, it’s becoming common enough that men are marrying men and women are marrying women, that he saw the day coming that they would be registered for landowning purposes and inheritance purposes just as male‑female marriages were registered for the sake of their children inheriting.
There’s nothing new about same‑sex relationships. There’s nothing new about social approval being sought for same‑sex relationships, and there’s nothing new about same‑sex marriage. And so the claim of David Gushee, of Adam Hamilton and others, that what the Bible is condemning is rape when soldiers defeat each other on the battlefield, rape to humiliate a defeated enemy, it’s about a pederasty or pedophilia, it is about the rape of children, the misuse of children, it’s about prostitution ‑‑ well, I would say those things are, in fact, covered when the Bible says these are outside the will of God. They are indeed. But the kinds of things that some are wanting to legitimate today by saying, well, the Bible could not have been condemning these; they just didn’t exist at the time, that’s so far from the reality of the situation, that that’s an argument that cannot be sustained. And when, in Leviticus, Moses pronounces the relationship of men having sex with men as an abomination to God, as something detestable to God, that they knew exactly what we know in our culture, that there are people who practice what Paul later would call unnatural sexual relations. By the way, Aristotle and Plato also called them unnatural sexual relationships because they regarded the natural sexual relationships as being reproductive. And then, when you come into the New Testament where you have Paul, especially in Romans 1, again in 1st Corinthians 6, talking about men who have sex with men, women who have sex with women, they knew exactly the sort of sexual behaviors, permissiveness that we know in our culture, and they spoke against it clearly.
I think it comes as a shock to some people to find out that with all of the things going on in our culture, whether it’s by athletes or music stars, performers, Hollywood actors and what we look at from that world as being just so out of control sexually and ethically, we’re still pretty prudish compared to the Greco‑Roman world in which the New Testament was written. They were much more sexually open, sexually free, sexually uninhibited, and from the writings of biblical persons such as Paul or Jesus, sexually out of control, sexually sinful, and, for them, it was the norm in their culture. It was assumed that the elite upper classes could have sex with their slaves, male or female, and that was commonplace. Women could not, because the men wanted their elite wives to make sure that the inheritance of their estates, farms, and money went to their own offspring, so they protected the virtue of their women, but it was assumed that brothels and slave women or slave men ‑‑ the male of the house had the sexual freedom to exploit that to the fullest. Our culture is still pretty prudish compared to the culture in which the New Testament was written.
Jesus knew about those things; Paul knew about those things. You’d have had to have been uneducated and in a total backwater of intellectual awareness not to know of them because they were matters of public record. Roman emperors were bisexual Roman emperors. Nero had parades for two of his same‑sex lovers. So it’s so out of the margins of what’s true historically to say, “The New Testament could not be inveighing against what we’re talking about today. They simply didn’t have those relationships that were socially approved in antiquity.” Yes, they did, by the scores, by the hundreds.
WES: Yeah. And that is the argument that I hear most often, is that these prohibitions against same‑sex relationships, in particular, are limited to acts of violence, acts of oppression against weaker, marginalized people.
RUBEL: Exploitation of children, yeah.
WES: Exactly. And you do such a great job of saying, yes, that’s true, that those kinds of things were popular and those things were condemned, but it is not limited in any way, shape, or form just to those things. And to hear not only what you’re saying now, but also what you’ve written in the book about the sexual ethic of Christians that obviously was practiced by the Jews long before Christianity spread throughout the world, I can’t imagine what a unique counter‑cultural lifestyle this would have been and how that would have been received.
How do you think that ‑‑ that that instruction to abstain from sexual immorality, as defined by the Torah and by the apostles and by Jesus ‑‑ how would that have been received in the first‑century world? What would the average Roman ‑‑ especially Roman man think about the instructions to abstain from these kinds of behaviors?
RUBEL: They mocked it. They said these Christians are crazy. They don’t understand that men simply have urges that need to be satisfied. And to exploit a slave, even if it’s a slave, a man, a woman, and they are ‑‑ again, the marriages of slaves would not have been documented and recorded in the way the elite would have been, but in a de facto way, this slave was married to this slave and they had two children. The fact that they were married did not mean that their owner could not exploit either the man or the woman. There was nothing like that in their culture. It was legal. It was socially known, even for the people in the lower classes who resented it because it was exploitation. Among the elite, it’s just part of the privilege of our being wealthy and owning these people.
And so when Christianity comes along and says, wait a minute, humans have more worth and dignity before God because they’re made in the image of God, and to exploit a male or a female or a child, this is an offense against God ‑‑ the Romans mocked that. In fact, certain Roman writers said Christians are haters of humankind, and what they meant by that was, they’re taking away our sexual pleasures. They’re telling us we shouldn’t go to the brothels. They’re telling us we shouldn’t ‑‑ we’ve used the term “cheat on our wives.” They didn’t consider it cheating. Go back to what I said a moment ago. They protected the virtue, if they could, of their wives because they wanted the children born that would inherit their estate and money to be their own offspring, but they operated under no such limitations. The brothels, the slave women or men, they could exploit.
Christianity comes into the world, and what does it say? Oh, no, men, you must protect virtue, just as you have historically said women’s virtue must be protected, because your ultimate commitment of purity is to God himself. And so, if you are not married, the brothel is not an opportunity for you and a slave is not someone for you to exploit. If you’re unmarried, you must live a chaste life, and if you are not chaste, you are ‑‑ and the term they would have used, in most English translations, you’re a fornicator. You’re guilty of having illicit sexual relationships because licit, legal, God‑approved sexual relationships happen within marriage. So until you are married, no sex. Roman writers said, those foolish Christians. They think that we should restrain our natural urges that the gods want us to satisfy by having sex freely and enjoying. They mocked Christianity because of its narrowness. And then the idea that when we marry, yes, our wives must be chaste, but we must have no sexual partners other than our wives? Those Christians are such fools. It was one of the ways that Christianity was mocked in the ancient world, that they didn’t understand that the body was meant for pleasure and that no pleasure was outside the limit.
WES: One of the things that you talk about in the book ‑‑ and I think it’s such an important part of this conversation because there’s a difference between the sexual ethics to which we hold ourselves and then our desire to police the world, and I get it. I mean, I understand that it is very difficult to watch our kids and grandkids grow up in a world that is very different than the one that we wish that it was. But as you’ve painted this picture for us, the first‑century world was even more sexually exploitative. It was even more sexually promiscuous. But Paul is very adamant in 1st Corinthians 5 that it’s not our place to police and to punish the world for their immorality, but it is the place of the church to discipline those within the church and make sure that we are living by this standard, not to enforce this standard on the world. Talk to us about the importance of that idea.
RUBEL: What we’re recognizing today to be a threat, Christian nationalism, the idea that the obligation of Christians is to take over the courts and rewrite the laws and make sure the changes that have been made are rolled back, that’s not the responsibility of the church. The church is not going to be saved through the United States Congress. The church is not going to be saved by the election of somebody from this party as opposed to that party. The message of salvation and redemption is the message of the gospel, and it’s not an American message. It works in Russia. It works in China. In fact, the church is growing most rapidly in the global South, in Africa and in India, not in Europe and the Americas, and the notion that we should be beating the doors down of the legislatures and that we should be in the streets to get the laws changed, that’s not a biblical view.
You’ve already referred to the key text. It’s in 1st Corinthians 5, and I’ve reached for my Bible to turn to it just as you were talking about it. Paul says, look, I’ve been writing to you folks ‑‑ Corinth was a notoriously wicked city. There was gambling, there was theft, there was street violence, there was murder, and sexual sin the likes of which would make most anyone cringe in the worst parts of the red‑light district of any city in the world ‑‑ open brothels, prostitutes soliciting on the streets, male prostitutes soliciting on the streets. Paul is telling these people who are now Christians at Corinth ‑‑ he says, look, I’ve been writing to you in a previous letter, that apparently we don’t have, that you should not associate with sexually immoral people. In other words, you have to resist the ads for the brothel, you know, for a 50% discount on Thursdays, or whatever their come‑on was in that day. And I’m not at all meaning ‑‑ and I’m reading from chapter 5, verse 10 ‑‑ not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral or the greedy or the swindlers or the idolaters. In that case, you’d just have to leave the world. But I’m writing you that you mustn’t associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or a sister in Christ but is sexually immoral or greedy, and so on. And then here’s the key verse. This is verse 12: What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. Expel wicked persons from your own fellowship.
Paul’s point there is not that the church just must get in this upcoming election cycle ‑‑ or any election cycle that’s coming up. It is not the business of the church to write the distinctives of Christian morality into public legislation. We can’t do that. We’ve tried it in the past ‑‑ blue laws, prohibition, mandating prayer, Bible reading in school. That’s not the business of the church. It is not the business of the church, and there will have to be people who watch or listen to this podcast who are going to disagree with this. We shouldn’t mandate prayer in public schools. What if my kid’s school teacher happens to be Muslim? Or what if he or she happens to be Catholic? Do I want them taught Muslim prayers? Do I want them taught Catholic prayers? No. The business of the church is prayer and the gospel and the teaching of ethics. There are some common ethics that people, even who are not Christians ‑‑ we instinctively know that murder is wrong. The protection of private property, laws against stealing, those aren’t distinctive to Christian ethics.
There are certain sexual things, though, that are distinctive to Christian ethics, and one of those has to do with same‑sex behavior, same‑sex marriage, the kinds of things that are very much the front‑page issues today. So things that are distinctive to Christian morality, Christians embrace, and we don’t have the right ‑‑ Paul says we don’t have the right to judge people who are not Christians to the standards that are distinctive to those of us who follow Christ, but he insists we must hold one another accountable to those things. That’s why I’m so ‑‑ I even use the word aggravated by the occasional scholar or preacher or person who wants to come ‑‑ do I use the term here, “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” to say, “Now, church, you know, we may have missed it on some of these things, and we need to realize that the cultures are different and that, in our time and place, history is going to pass us by if we don’t affirm these changes in culture and if we don’t allow the things that we used to condemn like same‑sex coupling or what today the law allows, same‑sex marriage. We just have to change our views on that.”
As long as scripture is scripture, we can’t change our views on that. In fact, I’ve written a follow‑up book to the one that you’ve already mentioned, and the title of it is The Ink is Dry, and the point of the title is to say God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and so basic ethical demands don’t change with the cultural mood. They flow out of God’s nature because God is holy. He reacts to certain human behaviors, and that reaction defines whether those actions are right or wrong. If they go with the grain of God’s holiness ‑‑ telling the truth, being honest, honoring your covenant commitments ‑‑ those things are holy and right to do. If they go against the grain of God’s holiness ‑‑ adultery, rape, same‑sex relationships ‑‑ if they go against the grain of God’s nature, that’s why they’re prohibited. The Bible has no clobber texts. That’s one of those rhetorical flourishes that people who want to take a different case than the one you and I are defending here ‑‑ they, you know, would call me a bigot because I hold a view that marriage is a male‑female covenant commitment under God, and that’s the only thing that is marriage in God’s eyes, and then they would say, yeah, you want to run to those clobber texts. That’s a rhetorical device. The Bible doesn’t have any clobber texts. The Bible has affirmative texts about the sacredness of sex within marriage, and these are not clobber texts. I call them guardrails, where God protects the sanctity and the purity of sex within a marriage covenant between a man and a woman, and that is guarded by the prohibitions.
The Bible is not a negative book. Everything that is important for us to know about the nature of marriage and holy sexuality is in the first two chapters of Genesis, and I’m confident of that because when Jesus is asked some marriage questions in Matthew 19, and especially about whether divorce should be allowed for just any old reason ‑‑ we can throw a wife or a husband away and go get another one ‑‑ Jesus doesn’t say, well, let me give you some legislation about that. He says, haven’t you read that, at the beginning, God made them male and female? Now, that’s significant, for starters. He made them male and female, and said to them, for this cause a man leaves his father and mother, cleaves to his wife, and they’re one flesh. Jesus says what you need to know about marriage and sexuality is modeled in the beginning, before the fall, before sin entered. It’s one man, one woman, one covenant for one lifetime, and living that in fidelity to each other. Anything outside of that, there are some guardrails ‑‑ yes, in the Torah, yes, in the teachings of Jesus, yes, in the writings of Paul. There are some guardrails that say, now, don’t go to these places because those are against the flow of God’s holiness and God’s righteousness, and they subvert the flourishing that God wants you to experience in marriage.
The Bible is a very pro‑sex book, but the Bible affirms that sex is holy within the marriage relationship that my wife and I had for 60 years. It is a betrayal of my personal humanity and commitment to God, it dehumanizes me as a person and it exploits and dehumanizes and hurts my wife if I should betray that by taking a third partner to that marriage, male or female, or a third partner in some clandestine arrangement. Our culture has long since abandoned that. Paul says we might as well stop wasting our time trying to tell the Romans how they should live. Their gods let them do these things, their religion, their philosophy, their social structures. They have brothels, and they’re public brothels. The government taxes them. They want you to go there and use the services of the prostitutes. The prostitutes work the streets, male and female. He said we don’t like it because it’s against all that’s holy, but, he said, we don’t set their norms. But, Church, we have to live up to the norms God has given us within the church. That’s the appeal that I’m making. I’m not calling Christians to get out in the street and rail against the politicians and the judges for some of the decisions they’ve made and have a redefined marriage. Do I regret it? Do I think they’re wrong? Yes. But I don’t have that space. I don’t have that influence. I don’t have that power. But within the church, I have no right to change anything that God has said with regard to what’s sacred, what’s holy, and I can’t change the rules because the culture has changed.
WES: Yeah, yeah. I can’t tell you, Brother, how much I appreciate this book because I know ‑‑ you and I both know, and so many people listening, either they have these desires, these feelings, or they know people that do that are wrestling with gender dysphoria or they’re wrestling with same‑sex attraction or they’re wrestling with attraction and compelling desires for anyone with whom they’re not married, and we have compassion for those that are struggling with sex as much as we have compassion for anyone who’s struggling with any of the desires of the flesh. But it is an attack on the church, what’s happening, in that these texts are being ‑‑ that doubt is being cast upon them, and people just don’t know what to believe anymore. They don’t know what to think, even from people who are purporting to be Christians and making these arguments, and so I so appreciate you tackling these arguments and helping people to understand that, no, no, no, the way that we have understood the text, that marriage and sex is between one man and one woman loving one another as a picture of the gospel, as a picture of Jesus and the church, has been, and continues to be, the will of God. And I so appreciate you making that case in such a loving and also academic and thorough way.
RUBEL: Well, I appreciate the affirmation of the book, and I want it to be helpful. And you even made a good point even in patting me on the back, and I do appreciate that. We talk about nature and nurture. Some people would make this argument: Look, if we are born a certain way, if we are genetically predisposed, if we are genetically wired to same‑sex attraction, how could it be wrong if God made us that way? That’s a terribly specious argument. Everything about the human experience, Paul says in Romans 8, since the fall, since Genesis 3, is groaning under the burden of sin, and, folks, we are broken all the way down to our genetic material. I mean, it’s not just that from Genesis 3 and the fall. Now, then, lies are being told, violence is in the streets, people murder, people steal. I think the brokenness extends all the way down to our genetic material.
For example, some of the people listening to us, I’m sure, have a disease like, let’s say, diabetes, not because they don’t control their lust for sugar, but there’s something genetically wrong with them physiologically so that diabetes is a health concern, or heart disease is a health concern of theirs, or they were born with some sort of birth defect. God didn’t make you that way. That’s part of the brokenness that has come with the fall. Some things about our personality are genetically rooted, too, and so it’s not just diabetes or heart disease. It may be the attraction that a person has, as an opposite‑sex person, to be out of control sexually. And I’m convinced that I’ve known people that, not because they were evil and set out to say, I want to find a way to defy God so I’m going to have gay or lesbian sex. I believe they were naturally drawn toward people of the same sex as opposed to opposite sex, so, “Well, if God made me that way…”
God didn’t make you that way. The brokenness of the fall has made you that way. And just as if you have diabetes, you’d go to the doctor to get help, with a moral or spiritual issue, you go to Christ to get help. What’s Christ’s counsel? Hear the commandments of the Word of God. Live within what’s pure and holy. Avoid and abstain from the things that are evil, whether it’s opposite‑sex fornication or adultery or same‑sex fornication and adultery. It is to live by the power of the Spirit. It is the power of the Holy Spirit that breaks the hold of any sin. It’s not willpower. And just as I have ‑‑ I’ve worked a lot in my adult life in ministry with alcoholics and drug addicts. There is a genetic predisposition to addiction that has been documented to the degree that science can document anything about human behavior. That doesn’t mean that the alcoholic or drug addict has no responsibility to get help for that addictive personality. And it is the business of the church to be helpful when someone comes to us, not to shake a bony finger in their face and shame them, but to say, in the name of Christ, I want to love you, welcome you, help you, guide you in a different direction, but the power to do what you need to do is not going to come from deep within you. It’s a gift of the Holy Spirit.
Paul argues that in the latter part of Romans chapter 8, that when we walk in the flesh, we don’t please God. In fact, some people are surprised to find Paul say we can’t please God and we can’t find the power to please God. It’s only when the Holy Spirit lives in us, when we are redeemed people, that by the power of the Holy Spirit ‑‑ one of the fruits of the Spirit is self‑control, self‑restraint. So as the Spirit bears his gentle fruit in our lives, we come to have the power ‑‑ with regard to sexual desire or with regard to the appeal of drugs or pornography, we find the power from the Spirit of God to deal with this. So, this is not a self‑help program. This is not an attempt to shame someone who feels same‑sex inclinations. You are feeling those perhaps altogether against your will.
Now, nurture also factors into it. Yes, the culture is encouraging people to experiment even if you don’t feel those urgings. Well, if you experiment, you find out that ‑‑ you may find out that that’s what you really crave or that’s what is best for you. Nature and nurture are the combination with regard to every human behavior. Some things we are by nature, by genetic temperament we are drawn to, we’re inclined to. Nurture encourages us to do some of those things. In Christ, we’re called to holiness. And one of the bones that I pick with the way psychology has tended to go in the last 50 years ‑‑ 50 to 100 years, a psychologist or a counselor who isn’t a Christian wants to help you look deep within yourself to find your authentic personhood. My response to that is I know enough of my authentic personhood to know I don’t want to be that person, to be selfish, to be proud, to be arrogant, to be self‑serving. Christianity says no, we want you to find a new identity in Christ, and we want you to find the identity of unselfishness and kindness and love and self‑giving as opposed to the things that may be natural to yourself. Those things come by the power of the Spirit of God.
So if someone is listening to us now and someone says, I don’t want to feel this way. I didn’t ask to feel this way. I don’t cultivate these things. What am I supposed to do? Did God make me this way? No. The brokenness of the fall has made all of us inclined to certain things that would be against the will of God, but God gives to us redemption from guilt if you’ve already been in those places, and by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit gives you the resource to ‑‑ not so much “self‑restraint.” I don’t like that term so much as “spirit restraint.” The power of the Spirit of God works in you to enable you to do what you can’t do in your own strength and in your own natural resources. So if you’re burdened with shame that you feel certain inclinations, all of us do. We feel an inclination to revenge when somebody hurts our feelings. We feel an inclination to want and desire things that we shouldn’t because someone else has it and it looks pleasant or good or life‑enhancing. So we steal? No. We restrain those urges by the power of the Holy Spirit. There are sexual urges that people who don’t have same‑sex urges that are called lust. So whether the lust is for someone of the same or an opposite‑sex person, that’s the same temptation. The temptation is to be self‑gratifying rather than God‑honoring.
And, again, going back to Paul, we can’t judge the world that they don’t live up to the standard of Christ because they haven’t embraced the standard of Christ. To be a Christian is a voluntary choice. It’s not coerced, but Paul says, but for those of us who’ve said we are going to accept Christ’s redemption, we also have to accept Christ’s guidance, Christ’s will, Christ’s law about what constitutes a flourishing life within the heart and will of God.
And so that’s the appeal, to understand that God made us male and female. Males are not trapped in female bodies. Females are not trapped in male bodies. We are body and spirit, one person, one whole person, and our anatomy is the key to our personality. And yes, in every culture, in every civilization, some persons who are male have enjoyed things that we sometimes call feminine. One of my best friends loves to do needlepoint. He’s a macho man. So, I mean, we don’t have to prove our machoness by strutting and hitting somebody in the nose every once in a while and being coarse and crude. To be a male is to have a wide range of options in front of you. I have people who are female friends of mine who like to drive trucks or they’re business persons with powerful personalities. Those are not distinctively male or female traits even if, historically, certain people have dominated as males this profession or females this role. You are what your bodily anatomy identifies you to be, and it is far more reasonable to think that if my anatomy says I’m male, that there’s nothing about my internal personality, even if it’s something that somebody else might deem feminine, that says I’m a woman trapped in a male body. No, I’m a man who likes to do needlepoint, as my friend Willis does, or a woman who likes to do something that, historically, is considered male.
All of us know that in the last hundred years there have been radical changes. A hundred years ago women weren’t admitted to law school; they weren’t admitted to medical school. When my mother was born, she was not, because she was female, allowed to vote. In my mother’s lifetime, she had the right to vote. That used to be an instinctively male privilege. These things are not male and female. These are functions that males and females can perform. I function as a male to perform them, you, as a male, to perform them, and we find our gender identity in our anatomy. There’s not a sliding scale of masculinity to femininity. There are two sexes, male and female, although today, if you go out and get a new passport application, you have three options. You can check a box that says you’re male, you can check a box that says you’re female, or you can check a box that says you choose to be neither ‑‑ classified as neither male nor female. You can choose X. Facebook has, you know, countless ‑‑ you can choose your gender on Facebook. There are two: You’re male, you’re female. God created us male and female and created sexuality to function within male‑female marriage. And just as Jesus, in Matthew 19, says, Genesis establishes the norm. That still has to be the message of the church to the world. That is the norm. That doesn’t say everybody has to marry, but it does say that marriage, as a relationship, is a one male, one female relationship in submission to God, and sexuality is holy and approved in that relationship and in that relationship only.
WES: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Well, Brother Shelly, I want to respect your time. I so appreciate you giving us this book and giving us this time today. I so appreciate what you’re doing because I think that it’s going to help a lot of people to navigate these issues. And, you know, like we’ve been saying, it doesn’t mean that if you choose to follow Jesus, these desires, whatever those desires might be in all of us, suddenly disappear. It just means that now we have the help of the Spirit.
RUBEL: You have a resource for dealing with it you didn’t have before, yeah.
WES: That’s exactly right. And the truth of the gospel, the hope that we have that Jesus is coming and will make all things new, that’s the hope that we all place our hope in and live in light of that, and we get to be the ones to show the world what the will of God looks like if we are living in submission to his will and walking by the Spirit, so I appreciate so much you helping us to do that.
RUBEL: Wes, thank you for letting me meet your audience and your podcast and to make them aware of the book that you’ve already mentioned, Male and Female God Created Them. But I might let you know and them know there’s also a shorter version of that book ‑‑ it’s about half the length ‑‑ and it’s written on a much more popular level, six chapters. It’s written for personal reading, family reading, church, small group readings. The title of that one is The Ink is Dry. Both are available through Amazon. College Press has published both of them. I want the books to be helpful to people. They are not “beat folks up.” They are “call people to” the biblical norm, the biblical standard for the lifestyle that Jesus says will flourish because we’re walking with Him, who is the way and the truth and the life.
WES: Amen. Well, thank you again, Brother.
RUBEL: Thanks for the time. God bless.