In the view of mainstream culture today, there is no such thing as a principled case for the Christian view of marriage that limits it to one man and one woman. Opposition to same-sex marriage, in this view, can only spring from bigotry, hate, or fear. And once these labels are applied, debate is typically viewed to be no longer necessary, just as one would avoid engaging in reasoned debate with someone who is racist or sexist.
There are, however, good reasons that Christians embrace a biblical view of marriage, and we’ll explore the most important one in this article, followed by a critique of a common argument justifying same-sex relations. Though critics may not recognize the Old and New Testaments as authoritative texts, the following will show that orthodox Christians base their viewpoint on reasons grounded in what they believe to be God’s revelation, rather than visceral emotional reactions. We hope the following discussion is especially useful for church leaders in equipping Christian young people to defend a biblical perspective on the most foundational institution of human society.
The Creation Model of Marriage
To understand God’s intention and design for marriage, we have to go back to the very first marriage—that of Adam and Eve in the garden. That Adam and Eve’s marriage is prototypical for humanity is clear because the author infers from it this universal principle: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).1 When asked about his view of marriage, Jesus likewise cited the creation account and specifically Genesis 2:24 (Matt. 19:3-4).
Given that Adam and Eve’s marriage serves as the model for all humanity, important implications follow. In Genesis 2, Adam is presented with a multitude of animals, which he gives names to, but even among all of these living creatures “no suitable helper was found” for him (Gen. 2:20). God recognizes Adam’s need for a companion, and declares, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Gen. 2:18).2 The suitable helper that God creates to be Adam’s wife is the woman Eve. Adam immediately recognizes that this is the partner he’s been missing, and exclaims, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2:23)—or as John Goldingay paraphrases,
“This is it! She is so different from the animals! This is a person suitable for me!” Goldingay goes on to observe that this interaction “explains the natural attraction of man and woman for each other. In the woman he marries, a man finds a missing part of himself, something that complements him.”3
If another man would have been a suitable partner for Adam, God would have created a second man to be his lifelong companion. But God recognized that Adam not only needed fellowship, but someone whose insights, gifts, and dispositions were different from his own. Thus, together, men and women comprise the image of God in humanity—neither is replaceable or dispensable (Gen. 1:27). This is also true of Adam and Eve’s sexual complementarity. In order to “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it,” God designed Adam and Eve with the capacity to come together as “one flesh” and produce offspring (Gen. 2:24). As Robert Gagnon notes,
In the creation story, intercourse between a man and a woman is justified on the grounds that woman was formed from man. Marriage in general and sexual intercourse in particular is thus evaluated as an attachment of two complementary beings into “one flesh,” a reunion with one’s sexual “other.” No such justification is, or can be, provided for same-sex unions.4
This is born out by the fact that same-sex sexual activity is proscribed in both the Old and New Testaments.5 Because of God’s distinct design for marriage from the very beginning, the vast majority of Christians have recognized that marriage is defined by the union of one man and one woman.6 As A. T. B. McGowan elaborates,
It has always been the conviction of the Christian church in all its branches, based upon Holy Scripture, that sexual relationships outside of that between husband and wife are contrary to God’s intention. This is not just the view of a few ultra-conservative theologians but has been the historic conviction of the church for two thousand years and remains the moral conviction of the vast majority of the world’s Christians today. It is also a view shared with the other Abrahamic faiths.7
Same-sex unions, on the other hand, fall short of God’s design by negating the psychological and sexual complementarity God established with the first man and woman.
Can We Follow Our Hearts?
Many believe that since they have a seemingly natural, inborn attraction to the same sex, that this must be the way God made them. To think otherwise would be to imply that God had made a mistake in creating them the way they are. While this sounds like a compelling point at first glance, it makes the crucial but misguided assumption that our natural desires are inherently good and God-given. But as C. S. Lewis rightly observed,
From the statement about [the] psychological fact ‘I have an impulse to do so and so’ we cannot by any ingenuity derive the practical principle ‘I ought to obey this impulse’. . . . Telling us to obey Instinct is like telling us to obey ‘people’. People say different things: so do instincts. Our instincts are at war.8
Because of Adam and Eve’s rebellion in the garden that resulted in the fall (Genesis 3), every aspect of human existence has been corrupted by sin, including our sexuality (Romans 1:24-27; 5:12, 18-19; 7:18). Thus McGowan writes, “the sexuality of each one of us has been damaged by our inherited fallenness, in different ways and in different measures. For some of us that will mean that they experience same-sex attraction, some will experience gender confusion, others will be sexually attracted to children, yet others will only be sexually satisfied with multiple partners and so on.”9
Every human being is made in God’s image and thus has incalculable value and worth. All of us are also loved by God without measure. But because of the fall and our resulting sinful nature, all of our desires have to be evaluated in light of God’s will for us revealed in Scripture. We can’t simply follow our hearts because our hearts can easily deceive us. As the prophet Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9; cf. Prov. 14:12; Eccles. 9:3; Mark 7:21-22).
Nothing said here is meant to diminish the great anguish many Christians and non-Christians experience as they grapple with same-sex attraction.10 For those who do, individual believers and the church should come alongside them as friends, listeners, counselors, and mentors. Through love, encouragement, support, and wise counsel, same-sex attracted Christians can live joyful, godly lives as followers of Jesus Christ.11
Christopher L. Reese (MDiv, ThM) is a writer, editor, and journalist. He is the editor-in-chief of The Worldview Bulletin and cofounder of the Christian Apologetics Alliance. He is a general editor of the Dictionary of Christianity and Science (Zondervan, 2017) and Three Views on Christianity and Science (Zondervan, 2021) and his work has appeared in Christianity Today, Bible Gateway, Beliefnet, and other sites.