This is part 4 in an ongoing series where I answer the arguments of 22-year-old Harvard University student, Matthew Vines. In the previous three parts, I addressed his interpretation of Genesis 2 and Romans 1 and his claim that denying marriage to homosexuals inflicts undue pain. In this post, I consider his omission of Jesus’ teaching on the issue. Follow the links for Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
Throughout his argument, Matthew Vines attempts to contrast the supposedly legalistic teachings of the Old Testament and Paul with an ethic of love in the teachings of Jesus. His overall premise is that teaching cannot be good if it leads to “emotional and spiritual devastation” or “the loss of self-esteem and self-worth.” Vines claims that such concepts come from the teachings of Jesus, thus elevating the words of Jesus above any other teaching in Scripture.
Sacrifice and suffering were integral to the life of Christ, and as Christians, we’re called to deny ourselves, to take up our crosses, and to follow Him. This is true. But it assumes that there’s no doubt about the correctness of the traditional interpretation of Scripture on this subject, which I’m about to explore. And already, two major problems have presented themselves with that interpretation. The first problem is this: In Matthew 7, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns against false teachers, and he offers a principle that can be used to test good teaching from bad teaching. By their fruit, you will recognize them, he says. Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Good teachings, according to Jesus, have good consequences. That doesn’t mean that following Christian teaching will or should be easy, and in fact, many of Jesus’s commands are not easy at all – turning the other cheek, loving your enemies, laying down your life for your friends. But those are all profound acts of love that both reflect God’s love for us and that powerfully affirm the dignity and worth of human life and of human beings. Good teachings, even when they are very difficult, are not destructive to human dignity. They don’t lead to emotional and spiritual devastation, and to the loss of self-esteem and self-worth. But those have been the consequences for gay people of the traditional teaching on homosexuality. It has not borne good fruit in their lives, and it’s caused them incalculable pain and suffering. If we’re taking Jesus seriously that bad fruit cannot come from a good tree, then that should cause us to question whether the traditional teaching is correct.
This line of argumentation suffers from a couple of problems. First, it diminishes the inspiration and authority of Scripture by subjecting the Word of God to an artificial hierarchy. Vines considers the words of Jesus to be more authoritative than the rest of Scripture. While Jesus was certainly God incarnate walking this earth and teaching his followers, the rest of Scripture is also from the mouth of God. Second Timothy 2:16–17 reads, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” Thus, the words of Paul in Romans 1 are just as inspired as the Sermon on the Mount.
However, this is not the only problem with Vines’ arguments from the teachings of Jesus. Vines simply ignores Jesus’ teaching on marriage, which is devastating to his larger discussion. In Matthew 19:3–12, Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees about marriage. While their question addresses the issue of divorce, Jesus answers them with his interpretation of God’s design for marriage—one man and one woman for life. In verses 4–6, Jesus responds, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” In this passage, Jesus affirms that God created male and female and that marriage is designed between one man and one woman. Those who say that Jesus never addressed the issue of same-sex marriage typically overlook this clear passage of Scripture. Biblical marriage and biblical sexuality are heterosexual in nature according to Jesus himself.
Based on his “love ethic,” Vines is missing a crucial part of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus declared that marriage is designed for one man and one woman. Even in his hierarchal hermeneutic, Vines must acknowledge Jesus’ words on this subject. Therefore, his condemnation of false teachers falls back on himself. Jesus made a clear statement about both gender and marriage. Any departure from that standard is a false teaching. Vines stands convicted by his own words on this issue.
It has been my hope in this series to provide reasonable answers to the arguments posed by Mr. Vines. Almost nothing about his argument is new; instead, he has repeated the same points that have been made by proponents of homosexuality for the last 40–50 years. While my counterpoints do not cover the entire scope of the discussion, I hope you can see that his logic is severely flawed.
This debate will most likely continue for years to come, especially in light of the push for legalizing same-sex marriage. I encourage you to study the Scriptures diligently and see how the consistent message of the Bible is that homosexuality is a sin. However, we must also remember that it is not the unpardonable sin. Paul declares, “Such were some of you; but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6:11). The key here is that some in the church at Corinth WERE homosexuals. They were redeemed by Christ, and he changed their lives. May we pray for the same for Mr. Vines and others struggling with this and any other sin.
For the full text of article on The Christian Post, see Lillian Kwon, “Theologians Find Vines’ ‘Homosexuality Is Not a Sin’ Thesis Not Persuasive,” The Christian Post, September 28, 2012.
For the full text of Matthew Vines’ defense of homosexuality, see Matthew Vines, “The Gay Debate: The Bible and Homosexuality,” http://matthewvines.com.