Upholding Clarity in an Age of Confusion: The Nashville Statement, Part 2

Combatting the Devil’s Lies with the Truth of Scripture

Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”
Genesis 3:1

Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’”
Matthew 4:5-6, where Satan uses a quotation from Psalm 91:11-12 to tempt Jesus to sin (Christ’s temptations [see Matt. 4:1-11] are depicted in the 12th century mosaic  pictured above and located at St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, Italy)—

The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
An evil soul producing holy witness
Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,
A goodly apple rotten at the heart.
O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!
William Shakespeare, in The Merchant of Venice

 

You can access summaries of all the articles in this series here.

Key point: The gospel and its teachings on sexuality and holy living unite believers in Christ but also expose those who approve of homosexuality as believing something that directly contradicts biblical teaching.

Last time we began a series of articles on The Nashville Statement on Biblical Sexuality, a declaration that reaffirms what biblical teachings about God’s creation of human beings as male and female and about human sexual relationships. The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) spearheaded the document. Of it, CBMW president Denny Burk wrote,

I would say that by far, the most push-back that I have heard today has related to Article 10, which says this:

WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.

WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.

Evangelicals who have been drifting away from biblical fidelity on these issues have often been running under the cover of confusion—confusion about what is essential and what is not essential to the Christian faith. From the very beginning of the Christian faith, sexual morality has always been central. Those who wish to follow Jesus must pursue sexually pure lives. A person may follow Jesus, or he may pursue sexual immorality. But he cannot do both. He must choose. One path leads to eternal life, and the other does not. These are not new teachings. They are the ancient faith.

And yet, there are many “evangelicals” who are trying to convince other evangelicals that homosexual immorality is a special case. They are trying to convince people that same-sex immorality and following Jesus can indeed go together. One of the main reasons for The Nashville Statement is to expose this contradiction.

Burk goes on to cite 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 in the New American Standard Bible. Here we will quote it from the New International Version. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul wrote,

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.

Believers, Burk rightly contends, cannot pretend verse 8 is not in the text. I would add that neither can believers pretend that approval of homosexuality or any of the other sins named in Romans 1:18-32 (NIV, NKJV) isn’t sinful. It is sinful, just as Paul explicitly indicated in verse 32. Paul wrote about people “who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them (emphasis added).”

Satan—A Brilliant Strategist

How has Satan succeeded in getting so many who claim to follow Christ to approve of homosexuality and same-sex marriage? Well, he is very shrewd. Certainly he is glad to hear someone say, “I know what I’m doing is against biblical teaching and is sinful, but it’s my life and I’ll live it the way I choose.” A few people might make choices and statements like this one, but this kind of scenario is rare. When people sin, they’re far more comfortable believing a lie about their beliefs and behavior than the truth.

Think of how many more individuals Satan can lure away from God if he can convince them that something the Bible clearly teaches to be sinful isn’t really all that bad. If Satan can get people to believe either (1) that God doesn’t disapprove of a particular sinful activity or (2) that He actually approves of it, he can lead people away from God just as powerfully as the Pied Piper of Hamelin led away the children of the town with his music.

Illustration by Kate Greenaway

“But wait!” someone might say. “Can Satan really do that?” Yes. He can and he does. This kind of trickery is easier than you might think. After all, Satan is “the commander of the powers of the unseen world…[who is] at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God” (Eph. 2:2, NLT). Remember, too, that we’re talking about the one who “walks around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour,” but who also “transforms himself into an angel of light.”

Satan Twists Scripture and Uses His Distorted Interpretations to Deceive

Let me use a simple example. What Satan has done with regard to homosexuality is a good bit more complicated and involved, but this illustration will help us understand in a general way Satan’s ability to deceive.

Suppose someone were to tell you that God actually does not disapprove of stealing. Another individual goes even further, saying He even approves of it. Both people cite Ephesians 4:28. They claim this verse says,

If a man steals, let him steal; no more let him labor with his hands.

What would be your response? Keep in mind these people are using Scripture to back up their claim.

Truthfully, the English words they’re using are correctly translated—but that doesn’t mean the translation as a whole is accurate. Here’s another rendering of Ephesians 4:28 that uses the very same words, yet faithfully represents what Paul really meant.

If a man steals, let him steal no more; let him labor with his hands.

What is the difference between these two statements? Only the location of one element of punctuation—a semicolon! In this illustration, by moving just one semicolon, the devil can change a biblical statement and get it to say the exact opposite of what the inspired writer originally intended.1

“Well,” our advocates of stealing might say, the original Greek manuscripts of the New Testament have no punctuation marks.” Yes, that’s true, but what Paul wrote never can justify placing a semicolon after the phrase “let him steal” in the English translation we cited.

Here’s what Ephesians 4:28 says in its entirety.

Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.

You see, even though the words are accurately translated in both of the above summaries, the translation in the first one affirms the opposite of what Paul actually wrote. Note that to discover the truth in this instance, we really didn’t have to dig all that deeply.

Countering Deception by Reaffirming the Truth of Scripture

We do have to dig deeply to effectively counter pro-gay theological arguments, but a first step in refuting them is to accept what Scripture teaches at face value. This is an important Bible study principle. When approaching any particular Scripture, we do well first to ask, “What does it appear to say?” Almost always, the answer will point us in the right direction. When we dig deeper—and certainly we always should—we will find insights we had not initially noticed, and sometimes we will discover minor qualifications and nuances. We won’t find passages appearing to teach one thing while actually promoting the opposite idea.


How can we know the intended meaning of a passage of Scripture? We first should ask, “What does the passage appear to say?” The answer will nearly always point us in the right direction.


“But what about Jesus’ telling His followers to pluck their eyes out?” Doesn’t such a statement seem, initially, at least, to mean something other than what was said?” This is a good question. The answer actually is no. In this instance Jesus used a hyperbole, a literary device where exaggeration is employed to drive home a particular point. We never should take a hyperbole literally, but we need to take its intended meaning seriously. In fact, this is the main purpose of this literary device.

Hyperboles and other literary devices need not derail us from properly interpreting Scripture. Recognizing them, we see that they season the spoken and written word—yet they need to be recognized for what they are so they can be properly understood. Other factors such as history, culture, and geography should be taken into account as well. Go here to read a brief discussion of some basic guidelines for biblical interpretation.

The Bible Is Clear About Homosexuality

Let’s now discuss what the Bible teaches about homosexuality. We can summarize its message this way: Homosexual activity is sinful, a violation of God’s holy character, and contrary to His design for humanity.


The Bible teaches that homosexual activity is sinful, a violation of God’s holy character, and contrary to His design for humanity.


Three passages from the Old Testament mention sexual contact between persons of the same sex, and three from the New Testament mention same-sex intimacy or refer directly to those who practice it. The passages are Genesis 19:1-29; Leviticus 18:22; Leviticus 20:13; Romans 1:18-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 1 Timothy 1:8-10.

It’s important to say we must keep the historical context of Leviticus 20:13 in mind. Homosexuality was deemed a capital crime for Israel when she became a nation. Her neighbors were pagan peoples, and God wanted His people to testify to His holiness before the world. We should not see the death penalty for homosexual activity as applicable for us today.

It’s also important to say that we must never assume anyone is beyond the hope and transforming power of God’s saving reach. First Corinthians 6:9-11 demonstrates this truth. God had saved some of the Corinthians out of homosexuality, demonstrating that His specialty is changing people from the inside out, no matter how entrenched in sinful practices they were. Paul wrote,

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God (emphasis added).

Diligent study will uncover many more insights, but for now, let’s let these passages speak for themselves. As we read them, we notice they’re quite straightforward in their teaching. If literary devices ever created challenges to interpreting any passage of Scripture, they certainly don’t with regard to these. One has to perform a great many linguistic, grammatical, and interpretative contortions (also go here) to make the case these passages say something totally opposed to what they appear to say at first reading.


An individual has to perform a great many linguistic, grammatical, and interpretative contortions to make the case that Bible passages on homosexuality actually convey ideas opposite those they appear to uphold at first reading.


Even so, as we have indicated, Satan has been extremely successful in getting people to believe Scripture teaches God doesn’t disapprove of homosexuality, and even that in certain situations He approves of it.

This makes the Nashville Statement all the more necessary, and all the more timely. Let’s expose Satan’s trickery for what it is!

As Jesus said, “The truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).

Part 3 is available here.

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.Ownn

For further study:

  • Joe Dallas, “Responding to Pro-Gay Arguments,” available here; also available online here
  • Upholding God-Ordained Marriage Is One of the Greatest Ways to Advance the Gospel, Part 7—Why We Must Never “Agree to Disagree” on Homosexuality and Same-Sex Marriage, available here

Note:

1Safe Exit: Balancing grace and truth on the complicated subject of same-sex attraction, (PFOX—Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, 2015), 64. Go here for more information.

Unless otherwise marked, Scriptures have been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Passages marked NIV are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

One Scripture, which is marked NLT,  was taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.