Paul the apostle, somehow, appears at a 21st century university. After some years of study in English and the New Testament, Paul answers questions in a lecture hall at the university, with his friend, Don, a professor at the university.
Tristan: (A student at the university) Paul, my boyfriend and I have been having this argument, and we were wondering if you could answer it for us.
Paul: (Smiling) Perhaps. However, the modern courting practices are far beyond my level of competence.
Tristan: (Smiling in return) I suspect it might be beyond mine as well. Anyway, Duane says that the idea that homosexuals go to hell was something that Jesus taught and you reflected. I think, however, that you, in your letters must have reflected the culture of your day, but it wasn’t really taught in Jesus. So which was it?
Paul: Well, that is a tricky question. I never said that homosexuals go to hell.
Tristan: (Confused) But I read in Romans…
Duane: (Seated next to Tristan) and First Corinthians…
Paul: I can’t remember everything I wrote, word for word, so long ago. Let me just tell you what I’ve always believed about homosexuals, and then we’ll talk about Jesus, okay?
Tristan: (Still confused) Okay.
Paul: Homosexuality is a sin, just like all other sins. Just like adultery, greed, dissention and gossip. There are times and places that homosexuality can be a horrible sin, such as in the city of Sodom, or in the history of my own tribe, the Benjimites. My fathers tried to used homosexuality to punish the immigrants who happened to pass through their city. Homosexuality can be a very mild sin, such as those who participate in a loving homosexual relationship, such as the patrons in my day who would tutor young men and receive loving sexual favors in return. It was common practice among the Gentiles in my day, and it was not really frowned upon by anyone in our society. Of course, it would never have taken place among Jews, but we recognized that Gentiles had that as a part of their social practice.
Tristan: So… if you believed it was sin, then it could be forgiven?
Paul: Of course it could. There were many people who were practicing homosexuals in my churches. I remember a man in Corinth who was a patron and used to gather young men to tutor them.
Tristan: So people would commit the sin and you would just forgive them and that would be that?
Paul: Not exactly. Homosexuality, like the other sins I mentioned, had to be a part of a person’s past when they came to the Christ. Baptism is a symbol of death. When a person comes to King Jesus, they die—and all of their evil practices die with them. Sin dies at the cross. So the people who were baptized in the church, they would forsake the old practices that characterized them, so they could live in the Christ.
Tristan: People had to forsake their sin on their own, before they came to Jesus?
Paul: No, for some of these practices were too ingrained in people for them to forsake the sins themselves. They needed the help and guidance of the Spirit. Jesus never told anyone, “Just get the sin out of your life.” First he heals them, then he commands them not to return to sin.
Tristan: (Glancing at Duane) Does this mean that we have to be sinless to be in Jesus? I thought he forgave our sin…
Paul: Oh, he does, certainly. But first you must repent of your sin. A person comes into Jesus as a new creation, pure before God, just like Isaiah in front of the throne of God, having the coal touch his lips. In Jesus, we do sin, but we repent of the sin, confess it as sin to our Lord and then we are cleansed again. It is a process, not just a one time event.
Tristan: But I thought you said you had a homosexual in the Corinthian church?
Paul: Yes. He was a homosexual. Then, before his baptism, he forsook the practice, and after baptism the Spirit came and helped him overcome the sin. He never went back to it, as far as I know.
Tristan: So you DO say that homosexuals go to hell.
Paul: That really depends on what you mean. Your word “homosexual” in English means more than I have ever said. I meant that if a person practices homosexuality, they will not be in God’s presence, except to repent. But a repentant homosexual is more pure than an unrepentant miser. As far as who goes to hell, that is God’s choice on the judgment. But it is clear in all the Scripture that a person who commits a homosexual act will not enter God’s presence until they repent in Jesus.
Tristan: Okay. I guess. I don’t really see the difference, though.
Paul: It’s really simple. To say, “Homosexuals go to hell” is to say that God is interested in judging people for making a mistake. That isn’t true, ever. God always has mercy on all people. To say “Homosexual practice is a sin which prevents one from entering into God’s presence,” gives the opportunity for a person to apologize for their error and to do right before God.
Tristan: But if they don’t repent…?
Paul: Then they will never be in God’s presence.
Tristan: Hmm. I’ll have to think about that. But if, as you say, those who practice homosexuality don’t enter into the presence of God…
Paul: If they don’t repent.
Tristan: If they don’t repent—where did you get that idea?
Paul: It is common knowledge to all Jews.
Tristan: Ah, so you got it from your culture!
Paul: But that doesn’t mean Jesus didn’t teach it.
Tristan: Well, did he?
Paul: Let me teach you a Greek word: porneia.
Tristan: Like… porno?
Paul: I suppose porneia became the word pornography in your culture, but it means something different. It is usually translated “sexual immorality” or “fornication” and it is a summary word. It is a word that speaks about every kind of sexual sin. The most complete definition you will find for it is in Leviticus 18. It covers incest, bestiality, homosexuality, having sex with your wife during her bleeding, sex before marriage and others.
Paul: So Jesus never taught on homosexuality specifically—just as he never taught on incest or sex before marriage. But he did teach on porneia. He said that the one who acted on his thoughts of porneia would be unable to be in God’s presence.
Paul: I am so bad at your numbering system. Let’s see, he said, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, porneias, thefts, false witnesses, slanders—these are the things which make a man unclean.” To be unclean means to be unable to be in God’s presence, even if only temporarily. But the one who lives in this kind of uncleanness will be separated from God for their life.
Tristan: But… Jesus didn’t specifically mention homosexuality.
Paul: But yes, he did. He mentioned porneia, which includes homosexuality—as well as sex before marriage. Many young folks today think that sex without commitment is a good practice, yes?
Tristan: (Glancing again at Duane) Yes, some do.
Paul: Well, that practice also keeps people out of God’s presence, just like homosexuality. They are really the same sin—porneia.
Tristan: It’s not all that bad, is it?
Paul: I wouldn’t know if it was “bad” or not. I am just saying that such a sin puts a wall between the one who practices it and God. But there is good news—Jesus can help you overcome that sin. You can be set free. Just repent, be baptized and have the Spirit make you holy—make you a saint. Then there is nothing that will be a block between you and God.
Tristan: But let’s say that someone doesn’t repent of … porneia? Does that mean that they shouldn’t go to church anymore?
Paul: That really depends. If a person has been baptized and they are a new creature and they develop a lifestyle of porneia after that, and they refused to repent, that would be a problem. They would be open to judgment and punishment at Satan’s hands. Of course, if they repented, then no problem, they could be welcomed back to the church without any bitterness. And if a person has never committed themselves to Jesus through baptism, then of course they are welcome! Jesus always welcomed the sinners, in the hope that they would repent!
Tristan: Thank you, Paul.
Paul: I hope I answered your questions well.
Tristan: Oh, more than that. I’ve—we’ve go things to think about.
Paul: Good. I like helping people think