Are Sex and Marriage Issues of Orthodoxy?

By John Stonestreet Published on August 22, 2017

Most of us are familiar with the Nicene Creed, the statement of faith adopted in 325 A.D. to unite Christians against the Arian heresy. It is, to this day, the most widely-used summary of Christian orthodoxy.

Lately, “orthodoxy” has become stickier to define. In the wake of the sexual revolution, some who call themselves Christians and would affirm the Nicene Creed, also accept unions between members of the same sex.

Here at the Colson Center, we believe, as the Christian Church has taught for two millennia, that any sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman runs contrary to God’s design. It is serious sin, condemned in no uncertain terms in both the Old and New Testaments. So to justify homosexual behavior, or any other expression of sexual deviance, one must do imaginative hermeneutic gymnastics.

Recently, Christian philosopher James K. A. Smith, whose work I’ve benefitted from immensely, wrote that while he cannot question the historic stance of the church on homosexual behavior and understands it to be sinful, he disagrees with elevating this issue to the level of the o-word. “Orthodoxy,” he writes, refers only to the creed and the doctrines it affirms, like the creatorhood of God, the divinity and humanity of Jesus, and the Trinity.

Adding traditional marriage to the Nicene list of non-negotiable Christian doctrines, he worries, distracts from the life and work of Jesus and reduces Christianity to a set of morals. Evangelicals and Catholics who use the categories of orthodoxy and heresy to talk about sex, he suggests, are being selective and maybe even a little obsessive. After all, there’s never been a marriage council in church history, right?

Now, Smith isn’t saying that he agrees with so called same-sex “marriage” or that it’s no big deal. He’s simply worried that we’re muddying the meaning of “orthodoxy.” And that is a valid concern.

But as theologian Alastair Roberts points out, Smith has forgotten that the very first council in church history, the Jerusalem Council recorded in Acts 15, did take up the issue of sexuality. Gentile Christians were told to “abstain from sexual immorality,” which for the Jewish apostles would mean the list of practices condemned in Leviticus 18, including homosexual behavior.

Second, the Nicene Creed was never meant to be the exhaustive description of the Christian faith. Rather, the creed functions as a summary of God’s full revelation — one specifically tailored to address a destructive heresy.

All the councils and creeds were, in fact, responses to particular heresies. I’d suggest it’s quite telling that sex and marriage were never considered “up in the air” for the Church since the Jerusalem Council until now.

And when the Nicene Creed uses words like “almighty,” “judge,” “holy” and “sins,” we’re not free, writes Roberts, to plug in our preferred definitions. The creed’s words are defined by God in Scripture.

And that’s ultimately why theology that accepts homosexuality is outside of Christian orthodoxy. When the writers of the creed spoke of “sin,” they assumed God’s definition. In the same way, when they spoke of God as Creator, they assumed His design for the world, including the creation of male and female, which Jesus Himself considered authoritative when He talked about marriage.

By responding to the homosexual error some Christians have embraced, evangelicals and Catholics aren’t being selective or obsessive at all. We’re doing precisely what the authors of the church’s creeds were doing when they defended truth against the popular errors of their day.

The Church of today must stand firm on sex and marriage, just as the Church of yesterday stood firm on the deity of Christ at the Council of Nicaea. After all, He’s the same yesterday, today and forever.



Originally published on BreakPoint Commentaries. Republished with permission of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

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  • Joe

    Well, is murdering unborn children a matter of Orthodoxy?

    • Tim Pan

      Out of context.

  • Concerned Christian

    Wouldn’t it be easier if Christians pushed for laws that band sex outside of marriage and adultery etc.?

    that would at least be consistent with the arguments against sexual immorality?

    • Bezukhov

      If you enforced laws against adultery, just imagine all those Christian leader being led away in handcuffs.

    • Pigdowndog

      Wouldn’t it be easier if Christians minded their own business?

      • Bezukhov

        What goes on in your bedroom is their business. I don’t know why.

  • Trilemma

    Leviticus 18 does not condemn sex between two women so it’s not condemning homosexuality in general but just a specific act between men most likely in the context of idolatry. The Old Testament does not condemn a man for having sex with his own daughter nor does it condemn the rape of a woman who does not belong to a husband or a father. The Old Testament does not condemn prostitution. In the Old Testament, a woman who has sex with any man other than her husband is guilty of adultery. But a married man who has sex with another unmarried woman is not guilty of adultery. Clearly, the Bible is not the best way to determine what’s sexually immoral. The Bible’s idea of sexual immorality is not the same as today’s idea of sexual immorality.

    • Shaquille Harvey

      The Old Testament does condemn rape though

      • Trilemma

        If a man rapes a betrothed or married woman, he gets the death penalty because it’s adultery. If a man rapes an unbetrothed woman who still belongs to her father, then he gets a monetary penalty and marries the woman. If a man rapes a woman who does not belong to a husband or a father, then there is no penalty.

        • Shaquille Harvey

          Deut 22:25 But if a man find a betrothed damsel in the field, and the man force her, and lie with her: then the man only that lay with her shall die:
          force: hebrew verb = וְהֶחֱזִֽיק־ (Chazaq)
          28If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; 29Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.
          Lay hold: Hebrew verb = וּתְפָשָׂ֖הּ (taphas)
          See those two DIFFERENT verbs genius? That’s why those two passages are JUXTAPOSED in the text.
          The maiden in verse 28 is not raped.

          Deut. 22: 23-24 is not a rape. Further down in that same chapter is God’s stern injunction against rape. in OT law, Rape was punishable by death.

          Additionally, the parallel law in exodus describes a seduction.
          If a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the bride-price for virgins. – Exodus 22:16,17

          • Trilemma

            If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, – Deuteronomy 22:28 NIV

            The scholars who translated the NIV disagree with you and say she was raped. Lay hold: Hebrew verb = וּתְפָשָׂ֖הּ (taphas) is usually translated seize. It’s also used in Joshua 8 concerning the conquest of Ai.

            “Then it will be when you have seized the city, that you shall set the city on fire. You shall do it according to the word of the LORD. See, I have commanded you.” – Joshua 8:8 NASB

            But they took alive the king of Ai and brought him to Joshua. – Joshua 8:23 NASB

            Ai did not go along willingly nor did the king of Ai go along willingly. This was an act of violence. A woman seized in this manner for sex was raped.

    • Shaquille Harvey

      There is no context of idolatry in the passage. That was made up. Romans 1 covers women.

      • Trilemma

        Romans 1 does not say anything about sex between two women.

        • Shaquille Harvey


          (Replace dot with real dot and remove brackets)

          • Trilemma

            The webpage does not say anything about sex between two women.

          • Shaquille Harvey

            And ?
            Why does it need to specify in places like Leviticus ? Why would they think male homosexuality was forbidden but women got a free pass? That’s like arguing that because the OT says “If a man…” does something like steal a cow, he gets punished, it implies women can steal cows with no punishment.

          • Trilemma

            My claim was that the Bible does not condemn sex between two woman. Yes, it does need to specify it if people are going to claim the Bible condemns it. Concerning stealing cows, the Bible says, “You shall not steal.” It applies to both men and women.

          • Shaquille Harvey

            My question why should apply to one and not the other ?
            That’s a made up rule that’s been created. However, you’ll be wrong, the verses in question use the word “ish” which means man, masculine.

          • Trilemma

            The verse in question also uses the word “shakab” which is used frequently to describe sex that is forced. So the verse in question is condemning a man raping another man.

          • Shaquille Harvey

            I am referring to the verse about a man stealing an ox.
            However I think it best if this conversation carried on with a friend who is better explaining this verse and can be able to reference what it means as he would have better experience in this. He would also disagree a lot of your statements so far, here is this site to have this conversation with him;

          • Trilemma

            Oops, sorry. I thought the verse in question was Leviticus 18:22 which appears to condemn a man raping another man. Here’s Exodus 22:1.

            Whoever steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it must pay
            back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep. – NIV

            Even though “ish” is normally translated “man” it can also be translated to refer to a person, either male or female.

          • Shaquille Harvey

            No, it can’t be translated as “woman”. “Woman” is ishshah, not ish.
            Also as I stated earlier, it is best if you take this up on theology web. My friend on there is better acquainted and has better knowledge than I to explain this all and will be able to deal with your issues.

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