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Why Gentile Inclusion Doesn’t Affirm Same-Sex Marriage

Last Tuesday, I met as usual with my church community group for Bible study, fellowship, and prayer. It’s a joyful, rowdy, diverse consortium, featuring people born on five continents and across five decades. Some are married; others are single. Several (like me) would identify as LGBT+ if we weren’t Christians, and several have a history of same-sex sexual relationships. One of our members came to Christ last year and has multiple tattoos of naked women on her body.

According to some who affirm same-sex marriage for Christians, believing that Scripture forbids same-sex sexual relationships means excluding people who identify as LGBT+ from God’s mercy. If we saw the big picture of Scripture, they suggest, we’d realize our mistake. Just as Gentiles were included in the early church, so we should include groups of people who were once outsiders.

I want to make the opposite case: rather than opening the door for same-sex marriage, Gentile inclusion is the reason we have multiple New Testament texts condemning same-sex sexual relationships. And far from placing anyone beyond God’s mercy, these texts help us see that every human is invited into Jesus’s kingdom on the same basis.

Here are four reasons Gentile inclusion does not justify same-sex marriage.

1. Gentile inclusion isn’t God changing his mind.

People sometimes suggest Jesus changed his mind about including Gentiles after witnessing a Gentile woman’s faith (Matt. 15:21–28; Mark 7:24–30), which sets a precedent for God also changing his mind about including LGBT+ people. But this view is untenable on many fronts—not least because Jesus didn’t change his mind.

Not only do we see God’s plan to welcome Gentiles in his promise to Abraham (Gen. 12:3), but Jesus’s inclusion of Gentiles had already been established before he met this woman. Earlier in Matthew, he’d taught that the Jews are the first heirs of God’s kingdom but that any Jews who reject him will be thrown out—while any Gentiles who accept him will be welcomed in (Matt. 8:10–12). After his death and resurrection, Jesus proclaimed the rollout of God’s plan: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of  all nations” (28:18–19).

2. Gentile inclusion wasn’t just based on experience.

Advocates for same-sex marriage sometimes argue that since the apostle Peter changed his mind about Gentile inclusion after witnessing Gentile faith, we too can change our minds about LGBT+ inclusion after witnessing their faith. But Peter didn’t only have experience; he also had specific revelation from the Lord (Acts 10)—as did Paul, whom Jesus sent as an apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:1–19).

When Peter reports on his vision from God and on the Spirit being poured out on Gentile believers, the Jewish followers of Jesus respond,  “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted  repentance that leads to life” (11:18). The Gentiles didn’t need to get circumcised or follow Jewish food laws to become Christians. But they did need to repent of their sin—and to repent, they needed to understand what God does (and doesn’t) regard as sinful.

3. Gentile inclusion is why we have clear New Testament ‘nos.’

Some point to Jesus’s apparent silence on the question of same-sex sex as a reason for affirming same-sex marriage. But Jesus’s ministry was primarily addressed to Jews, and since Jewish law was crystal clear in its condemnation of same-sex sexual relationships (e.g., Lev. 18:22), there was no need for Jesus to make this explicit. (Similarly, Jesus didn’t make a point of teaching that God’s people shouldn’t worship idols, because his Jewish audience knew idol worship was forbidden.)

The Gentiles didn’t need to get circumcised or follow Jewish food laws to become Christians. But they did need to repent of their sin.

Conversely, Jesus sent Paul into a first-century Gentile world in which male-male sex was common. So it’s precisely because the Gentiles were now included in God’s people that Paul was explicit in his “no” to same-sex sex (e.g., Rom. 1:26–28; 1 Cor. 6:9–11; 1 Tim. 1:9-11)—just as he was explicit in his “no” to idol worship (e.g., 1 Cor. 10:20).

4. Gentile inclusion isn’t evidence of a trajectory toward same-sex marriage.

Some suggest that if we chart the direction of movement from the Old Testament to the New, we’ll find a trajectory that (if continued) results in us affirming same-sex marriage. But if we compare the Old Testament laws regarding sex to the New Testament, we find no such trajectory. When asked about divorce, Jesus emphasizes that marriage is a lifelong, one-flesh union between one man and one woman (Matt. 19:1–9). He also makes the prohibition on adultery more strict by saying it applies to what we do not just with our bodies but also with our minds (5:27–28). When it comes to same-sex sex, while the Old Testament includes two clear prohibitions (Lev. 18:22; 20:13), the New Testament includes at least three texts that condemn same-sex sexual relationships (Rom. 1:26–28; 1 Cor. 6:9–11; 1 Tim. 1:9–11).

What’s more, if we look at Scripture’s grand narrative, we discover that male-female marriage is intentionally designed to be a temporary “scale model” of the eternal union between Jesus and his church. This is sketched out in the Hebrew Scriptures, where God is pictured as a faithful husband to his often unfaithful wife, Israel (e.g., Isa. 54:5; Jer. 3:20; Ezek. 16; Hos. 2). Then we see it fleshed out when Jesus claims he is the Bridegroom (Mark 2:19–20) and when Paul commands husbands and wives to imitate Jesus and his people in their marriages. Stunningly, Paul claims that God’s original design for marriage—a one flesh union between one man and one woman—was always about Jesus and his people (Eph. 5:22–33).

This is the great love story of the Scriptures, and we’re all invited to participate.

So What?

The New Testament is clear: no one is barred from Jesus’s kingdom on the basis of something they cannot change—whether by being born a Gentile or by their age, sex, race, or sexual history. The invitation to repent and put our trust in Jesus is an invitation to all humans, emphatically including those who presently identify as LGB or T.

But when we put our trust in Jesus, we receive him as Lord. Jesus has the right to tell us when our hearts’ desires are sinful (Mark 7:20–23). He has the right to tell us to deny ourselves (Luke 9:23). He has the right to tell us what to do with our bodies. Why? Because he bought us with his precious blood (1 Cor. 6:19–20).

Jesus has the right to tell us when our hearts’ sexual desires are sinful.

When my young friend with lesbian tattoos was baptized last December, I gave her a cross necklace with the words “washed,” “sanctified,” and “justified” engraved on it. It’s a reference to 1 Corinthians 6:9–11. In that passage, Paul warns the Corinthians that the unrighteous will not enter God’s kingdom and includes same-sex sex in a list of sinful practices that—without repentance—will stop people from entering. But Paul concludes, “And  such were some of you. But  you were washed,  you were sanctified,  you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (v. 11).

Like me and every other sinner who repents and trusts in Jesus, my young friend has been washed, sanctified, and justified in Jesus’s name. The invitation to repent and trust Jesus is on offer to you now, regardless of your sexual attractions, history, or long-embraced identity. The only person who has ever loved you perfectly—so much that he endured the most excruciating death for you—is reaching out his arms to you today. He’s paid the price so you and I and any human on this earth can enter into everlasting life with him. Don’t buy the claim that anyone is barred from this by Christian sexual ethics. And if you have not repented and believed in him, don’t wait.


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