Natural Law, Theonomy, and Homosexual Marriage

R. Scott Clark has an interesting blog post up on the issue of Homosexual Marriage (link). RSC approaches the issue from the standpoint of “two kingdoms theology,” a viewpoint that I’m not sure I can fully embrace. Instead, I tend to self-identify with “theonomy” (a term that’s perhaps even more liable to confusion than “two kingdoms theology”). Accordingly, I’ve prepared some thoughts on the issue in parallel to those of RSC, but with an emphasis on the civil law of Israel.

Issue: how, from a “theonomic” perspective one should think about the question of whether the state should sanction homosexual marriage? Beyond the ambiguity over what constitutes “theonomic,” there’s some ambiguity in the question, since “sanction” can mean either “approve” or “enforce a penalty against.” Thus, we’ll consider the issue as broadly as possible.

1. Explicit Old Testament Law
A. The Old Testament specifically condemns homosexual behavior:

Leviticus 18:22 Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.

B. The Old Testament also specifically prescribes the death penalty to both parties to a homosexual act:

Leviticus 20:13 If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

2. New Testament Light

A. The New Testament confirms that the disapprobation of homosexual behavior was not merely a matter of ceremony:

1 Corinthians 6:9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,

1 Timothy 1:10 For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine;

B. The New Testament also draws an equivalence between Male and Female homosexuality:

Romans 1:26-27 and 32
26For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: 27And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

Romans 1:32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

3. Resolution of the Issue

Therefore, the most fitting rule for the King to implement is not only to prohibit so-called homosexual marriages from recognition as marriage, but also to punish capitally those who engage in these abominable practices.

4. Objections Answered

A. It may be objected: “The moral law of God has been revealed in creation and re-stated, in the context of the national covenant with Israel. For the purposes of deciding deciding post-theocratic civil questions, the national covenant having been fulfilled by Christ and thus having expired and having been abrogated, it is proper to appeal to the natural revelation of the moral law in creation.” (source, R. Scott Clark)

We answer: that although the national laws of Israel are expired and abrogated, and though the ceremonial aspects of the national laws of Israel are fulfilled in Christ, the moral aspects of the national laws of Israel remain. As demonstrated above, the prohibition on homosexual behavior is a matter of moral law, not mere ceremony. Furthermore, where the moral law is explicit, there is no need to appeal to the natural revelation of the moral law in creation, since it is not proper to interpret the more clear by the less clear. We acknowledge, however, that general revelation is from God, and that consequently – in principle – natural law, as derived from general revelation, is not rendered completely illegitimate, simply because it is not completely clear.

Furthermore, even examining such a scholarly source as R. Scott Clark, we cannot find a very rigorous argument from natural law alone (i.e. without recourse to special revelation) to determine what path should be taken.

B. It may be objected, that “Some scholars however, e.g. John Boswell, have argued over the last twenty-five years that earlier periods in church history were more approving of homosexuality than once thought.” (noted by RSC with disapproval)

We answer: since our rule of faith does not depend on the customs of men, we do not have a vested interest in the outcome of the historical battle over whether previous generations of Christians were more or less approving of homosexuality.

We note, however, that if we are to return to the apostolic and Old Testament periods of church history, the clear evidence is severe condemnation.

C. It may be objected, that “in contrast to our own times, most of the ancient Christian writers were not, by contemporary standards, very explicit about homosexual behavior. Doubtless some will attempt to capitalize on the rhetorical restraint of earlier times as a sort of tacit approval of homosexuality.” (noted by RSC with disapproval)

We answer: again, for the same reasons as above, we do not have a vested interest in this historical battle. We note, however, that a reasonable alternative explanation for such guarded language among the ancients is shame because of recognition of the sinfulness of the acts:

Ephesians 5:12 For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.

D. It may be objected, that “Romans 1:27 indicates that those engaging in homosexual activity were ‘receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.'”

We answer: it seems most natural to view this phrase as referring not to the reception of the reward for the error of homosexual behavior, but for the error of worshiping the creature more than the Creator. There are several reasons to believe that this reading is more natural and the proper reading:

1) the point of the passage is to emphasize that God is punishing the wicked for sins against himself; and
2) in general, in the passage a system of punishments are laid out for us:
vss. 20-21 punishment for refusing to act on the obvious knowledge of God = darkening of the mind
– further impact: vs. 22-23 punishment for claiming to be wise = that they become fools
— yet further impact: vs. 24 – punishment for dishonoring God by images = that their own bodies are dishonored among themselves
— still further impact: vss. 25-27 – punishment for worshiping the opposite of what they should = that their bodies’ lusts are unnaturally reversed
– parallel impact vss. 28-32 – punishment for being unmindful of God = a reprobate mind.

Nevertheless, even if the point of vs. 27 is merely to identify the impact of homosexuality, and even further assuming that the impact is simply the laws of nature (sexually transmitted diseases and so forth, as opposed to execution by the King) being applied to homosexual acts, we would not therefore conclude that the King is forbidden to impose a prohibition on the wicked acts of men, since among the list of things resulting from a reprobate mind are murder, which the King must not tolerate.


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