Is the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery relevant to the discussion of same-sex relations?
People have sometimes referred to passages in the Gospels to encourage support for same-sex relations. Sometimes, one is left wondering what status their “argument” has. It seems to be no more than a very subjective experience - "I was reading this about Jesus. God spoke to me about what my attitude to same-sex relations should be." What are we to make of this kind of thing? We must surely ask, “What is the connection between what you read in the Gospels and what you’re saying about same-sex relations?”
This question must be asked of the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. It’s a story about sex. The moment we say this, we are recognizing that this story has some relevance to the discussion concerning same-sex relations. There are, however, significant differences. It’s a story about a man and a woman. It’s not about same-sex relationships. It’s about adultery. It’s not about a committed relationship.
What are we to say about these differences?
The story about the woman caught in adultery is speaking about the kind of sexual activity which has the potential for procreation: “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). Same-sex relationships do not have the potential for procreation.
Adultery is about the betrayal of trust. A committed same-sex relationship is based on trust. Whatever we may say about the value of trust in every relationship, we must raise an awkward question about same-sex relationships: Should people who accept the authority of Scripture move beyond a close same-sex friendship into same-sex sexual activity?
Here are three reasons why this question needs to be asked.
- First, same-sex relations lie outside of the sexual activity which has the potential for procreation, the potential for fulfilling God’s instruction, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28).
- Second, in the case of male-female sexual relations, the prohibitions in Leviticus regarding sexual activity are, specifying that certain relationships are inappropriate – “committing adultery with another man’s wife’s … his father’s wife … his daughter-in-law” (Leviticus 20:10-12). In the case of same-sex relations, there is no distinction between appropriate sexual partners and inappropriate sexual partners. We simply have the general statement: “If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination” (Leviticus 20:13). As well as noting the contrast between the statements regarding male-female relationships – some are permitted and others are prohibited – and the same–sex relations - a general prohibition, we may also observe that the general prohibition regarding same-sex relations is followed by another general prohibition: “If a man mates with an animal …” (Leviticus 20:15).
- Third, we come to Paul’s words in Romans 1, looking for some kind of distinction which allows us to distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable same-sex relations, we find that it’s just not there. If we were to make such a distinction, we would have to bring it to Scripture. We do not find it anywhere in Scripture.
Why do I bring up these three points?
The moment we say that we accept the “according to the Scriptures” principle, we are committed to looking at life from a particular point of view – listening to what God’s Word says to us and living in the light of God’s Word. It is difficult to see how, from this starting-point, we can reach the conclusion that, under certain circumstances, living “according to the Scriptures” can include same sex relations. The logic seems to be “God has said this. I disagree with what He has said. I choose to do what I want to do rather than what He says I should do.”
If we accept that there is sufficient similarity between the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery and the issues raised by same-sex relations, we may ask the question: Can this story help us obtain a more positive outlook to those who are pulled in the direction of same-sex relations?
Yes! We see Jesus taking a stand against the legalism of the Pharisees. We see Him exposing their hypocrisy. He takes us beyond the idea that those who have fallen into sin should be stoned. The question, “Should those who have fallen into sin be stoned (or treated badly)?” has been answered by Jesus: “Neither do I condemn you” (John 8:11).
There is another question we must ask, “Is there anything in Jesus’ words to the woman which gives us any encouragement to continue in a way of life from which the Word of God calls us to draw back?
No! Jesus doesn’t only say, “Neither do I condemn you.” He also says, “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11). Here, Jesus is not addressing the question, “Should the fallen sinner be stoned (or treated badly)?” He has moved on to the next question, “How are we to live once we have received forgiveness from the Lord?”
The teaching of Jesus finds an echo in Paul’s words in Romans 6. The final verse tells us that “the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). The first verse gives us this challenge: “Shall we go sinning so that grace may increase? God forbid!” (Romans 6:1).
We may not like the idea that all same-sex relations should be described as sin. If, however, we are to get to the idea that there are some same-sex relations which are not to be described as sinful, we need to bring this idea to the Bible. We don’t find it there.
In the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery, we see compassion without compromise. There’s salvation by grace which we must never lose as we lapse into legalism and hypocrisy. We must never forget: “we are not under law” (Romans 6:14). There’s also the call to holiness. As we strive for holiness, we must never forget this: “the law is holy” (Romans 7:12).