Many gay religionists insist that Jesus never mentioned homosexuality and thus could not have opposed it. Often conservatives counter that He taught against any form of sexual expression other than heterosexual marriage, so He did not need to specify every sexual act outside of marriage for condemnation. What is the correct position?
Certainly, Jesus did address the topic of sexual ethics and marriage. In Matthew 19:3-9, Jesus said: “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate. “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
Jesus’ disciples were nervous at this teaching. In fact, since Jesus made divorce much more difficult to attain than Moses did, they wondered aloud if marriage was such a good thing after all (“If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” Matthew 19:10). Like many people today, the disciples thought the fidelity and permanence taught by Jesus might be too difficult for anyone to follow.
To the skepticism of the disciples, Jesus responded, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” (Matthew 19:11-12).
For years, I did not give much thought to who Jesus might have been referencing here by the use of the term “eunuchs.” I assumed that all eunuchs were males who were castrated or otherwise physically incapable to have sexual relations. Recently, however, I have begun to wonder if the Greek word eunouchoi (eunuchs) might include someone without physical abnormalities but who has no natural attraction to the opposite sex.
Could Jesus be referring here to male homosexuals as being among those who experience no other sex attraction, and if so, does this passage signal the blessing of Jesus on homosexuality?
A recent paper by a Norwegian theologian, Raghnild Schanke, asserts that Jesus was indeed referring to several categories of people including asexual persons and those who would fit the modern concept of homosexuality. She notes that many eunuchs in antiquity were capable of sexual relations but did not seem to have natural desire for women. She amasses an impressive array of ancient references to some eunuchs being disinterested in the opposite sex even though physically capable.
To address these questions, I turned to one of the top biblical scholars in the world regarding sexuality, Dr. Robert Gagnon, of the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Author of the encyclopedic, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, Dr. Gagnon commented, “I think that the phrase “eunuchs who were born so from the womb of mother” (Matt 19:12) is probably an inclusive group consisting of any man who lacks sexual interest in women. This group would include both men who have genital abnormalities that result in impotence and men whose genitals are still capable of begetting children. It would also include both asexual persons and persons who, in time, develop exclusive same-sex attractions.”
Regarding Jesus’ phrase “eunuchs because they were born that way,” Dr. Gagnon said, “The saying does suggest a recognition on the part of Jesus and early Christianity that some men are born in such a way that they do not develop, as adolescents and adults, other-sex attractions, for whatever reason.” Such men are not born gay, but rather, without responsiveness to the opposite sex. Attractions to the same sex may or may not develop during the formative years via a combination of biological and environmental factors.
There is a modern-day, experiential validity to this interpretation. I have counseled individuals who from their earliest recollections have little or no attraction to the opposite sex. Also, the opposite-sex desire of some is hindered due to traumatic circumstances in life, whether physical injury or emotional trauma (“eunuchs made that way by men”). And still others choose celibacy for “the kingdom of heaven.” Note that Jesus does not condemn such persons for their situation.
So do homosexual relationships have the endorsement of Jesus? Not so, says Dr. Gagnon: “The implication of Jesus’ saying is that all such ‘born eunuchs’ have no option for engaging in sexual activity outside of a man-woman bond.” Fidelity to this teaching “does not require that one become exclusively heterosexually responsive with no homosexual temptation. However, it does require abstinence from homosexual bonds.”
For classical Christianity, the union of male and female is much more than a sociological convenience but provides imagery for some of its central teachings (e.g., Christ as the bridegroom and the church as his bride). The teachings of Jesus in Matthew 19 deepen this commitment to male-female unions by very specifically considering people who either are unable or choose not to form such sexual relationships.
Thus, if one supports same-sex relations or unions as sound ecclesiastical policy, one must do it with some other philosophical base than can be found in these teachings of Jesus.