Perhaps the title of this article is a bit deceptive, because the Gospels don’t actually record Jesus specifically addressing the issue of homosexuality. This is not surprising, because Jesus was a Jew who ministered predominately to Jewish people, and the Hebrew Bible was very clear in prohibiting homosexual practice (Leviticus 18.22; 20.13).
It is no coincidence that Paul, who worked primarily in a Greco-Roman context, was the one who addressed homosexuality (Romans 1.18-32; 1 Corinthians 6.9-11; 1 Timothy 1.8-10), because a wide variety of homosexual practice was common in the ancient Greco-Roman world and would have been well known to Paul. It was not a widespread cultural practice of the Jewish people, however, and thus, was not something Jesus specifically addressed.
Having said that, we know enough about Jesus’ life and teachings to make some confident claims about what Jesus would have taught about homosexuality.
Jesus would have emphasized God’s design for sexual intimacy.
One of Jesus’ more unpopular teachings comes in Matthew 19.1-12, where He discusses marriage and divorce. There, He greatly limits the practice of divorce, saying that sexual immorality is the only basis for divorce and remarriage. Furthermore, Jesus roots that teaching in God’s plan at Creation: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
Jesus’ appropriation of God’s original ideal displays His understanding of the only appropriate context for sexual relations: the marriage relationship between a man and a woman. That context excludes all other contexts and steps on the toes of a lot of people. In a culture of serial divorce, it emphasizes the commitment and faithfulness of the marriage relationship. In a culture characterized by rampant premarital sex, it reserves sex for marriage. And yes, in a culture that increasingly accepts and even advocates homosexual activity, it limits sex to married husbands and wives.
Jesus emphasized God’s design for sex and marriage, and because of that, He would have condemned widespread divorce…and extramarital sex…and homosexual behavior.
Jesus would have understood the reality of temptation.
Jesus knew about temptation. Hebrews 4.15 says that He was tempted in every way as we are, and Matthew 4 and Luke 4 both recount a 40-day period that Jesus spent in the wilderness being tempted by Satan. Those temptations yield a couple of important theological truths. First, since Jesus was tempted but was also sinless, that means that temptation itself is not inherently sinful. Second, since Jesus Himself was tempted, that means that He understands what temptation is like; He sympathizes with our weaknesses.
These truths are of great comfort to those who struggle with homosexual feelings and temptations, but desire to live according to the teaching of Scripture. Temptation is not sin; it is giving into that temptation that is wrong. Furthermore, although Jesus does not excuse sin, He does understand that people—even those who are striving to follow God’s will—will succumb to temptation from time to time.
Jesus understood the reality of temptation, and understanding that reality, He would not have belittled people, shunned them, or made them feel inferior because of the temptations they struggle with.
Jesus would have loved those caught up in sin.
In John 4, we see Jesus interact with a Samaritan woman who had been married multiple times and was currently shacking up with a guy she was not married to. Despite the woman’s despised ethnic background and dubious moral character, Jesus does not shun her: instead He takes the time to engage her in real conversation and addresses her real needs in life. In John 7.53-8.11, Jesus refuses to lead the charge to execute a woman who had been caught in the very act of adultery. Instead, His words to her accusers lead to her pardon, and He then tells her to go away and sin no more. In both situations, Jesus showed genuine interest in the sinful women. In no way did He offer approval of their sin, but neither did He leave any doubt of His love for them.
Too often, in the case of those who practice homosexuality, we let our fear of giving the impression that we approve of sin prevent us from forming real relationships with them and showing them that we love them.
But Jesus didn’t fear that. He loved those who were caught up in sin, even when it brought criticism upon Him. He showed that it was possible to love people without approving their sin.
What Jesus would have done tells us much about what we, as His followers, should do:
(1) We should emphasize God’s plan for sexual intimacy, and consistently speak out against those behaviors that ignore that plan, including divorce for any and every reason, extramarital sex, and homosexual practice.
(2) We should understand that the temptation to sin is to be distinguished from the practice of sin. We should not belittle nor alienate people because of the temptations they feel.
(3) We should love those who are caught up in sin. We don’t approve of sin, but neither do we let the fear that others might think we approve of sin prevent us from loving people.
Mark D. Smith, “Ancient Bisexuality and the Interpretation of Romans 1:26-27,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 64 (1996): 223-56.