Homosexuality and the Misinterpretation of Scripture by Conservative Christians: An Analysis of Dr. Michael Brown’s Appearance on the Piers Morgan Show

On December 20, 2013, conservative biblical scholar Dr. Michael Brown appeared on (the now defunct) CNN’s Piers Morgan show to debate the homosexuality issue as it related to the comments that were made by one of the stars of the television show Duck Dynasty, who stated in an interview that homosexuality is a “sin.”

When Morgan asked if Brown could point to a single instance of Jesus himself denouncing homosexuality, Brown responded that he could cite not one but three examples. The examples that he cited are as follows: According to Matthew 5, Jesus “did not come to abolish the law of the Torah, but to fulfill.” This is a reference to the Old Testament book of Leviticus, in which homosexuality is condemned. The second verse that was cited was Matthew 15, where, according to Dr. Brown, Jesus said that “all sexual acts committed outside marriage defile the human being”—although he did not explain how this pertains to homosexuality. The third example that Dr. Brown cited was Matthew 19, in which Jesus is recorded saying that “marriage as God intended it, is the union of one man and one woman for life.” Conservatives were quick to declare Dr. Brown’s appearance on the show a decisive victory for their cause, and even used the occasion to mock Piers Morgan for being “schooled.”

However there are problems with the examples that Brown cited. First, Brown only cited passages from the Gospel of Matthew; however, as will be shown, the Gospel of Matthew is especially problematic in terms of its accuracy. Furthermore, in Matthew 19 Jesus does not indicate that “sexual immorality” is homosexuality; although he does cite “adultery.” Here is how the verse appears:

For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; […]— Matthew 15:19

In this case, how are we to know that sexual immorality does not pertain to other issues, such as rape, bestiality, and incest? The assertion that “sexual immorality” refers to homosexuality is actually only a forced and erroneous assumption.

Likewise, in Matthew 19 Jesus is not talking about homosexuality, but rather he is specifically referring to an issue that is related to divorce. Here is the context:

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
—Matthew 19:3-6

Jesus used an example of a man and a woman simply because that is the most common form of marriage, not because he was making a statement about homosexuality. Therefore, Jesus was actually advocating for the institution of marriage itself.

Furthermore, according to Dr. Brown: “all sexual acts committed outside marriage defile a human being.” If this is true then he would be inadvertently making a case for gay marriage!

It is at this point that a Judeo-Christian fundamentalist would cite the Old Testament in order to reinforce the claim that sexual immorality pertains to homosexuality. The reference to homosexuality is found in Leviticus 18:22, in which we are told that Yahweh (i.e., “Jehovah”) considered homosexual acts to be “detestable.” However, in the very same book of the Bible Yahweh also decreed that his followers must not cut the hair on the sides of their head, nor trim the edges of their beard (Leviticus 19:27); nor could they “wear clothing woven of two kinds of material,” or plant their fields with “two kinds of seed” (Leviticus 19:19). They were also instructed not to eat pigs, which would include bacon and ham, and seafood that do not have “fins and scales,” such as crabs and lobster (Leviticus 11:7-10). In this case, one must wonder how many strict fundamentalists, including Dr. Brown himself, are guilty of violating these out-dated infractions? Furthermore, according to the very same book of the Old Testament, slavery was permitted! (Leviticus 25:44) This raises the question: why then are the proponents of the book of Leviticus not advocating for the reinstitution of slavery!

Moreover, in the very same book of the Bible, Jehovah not only ordered a blasphemer to be stoned to death (Leviticus 24:23), but affirmed the law “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” (Leviticus 24:20); both of which are practices that Jesus overturned! (Matthew 5:38; John 8:7)

The final passage that Dr. Brown cites is the following:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.
—Matthew 5:17-18

In order to understand this passage in the book of Matthew it is necessary to understand the book of Matthew itself. Biblical scholars have conceived a “Two Source Theory” concerning the history of the authorship of the gospels of the New Testament. The first source has been traced to Mark—who was not one of the original disciples. Besides the Gospel of Mark, the other original source material that scholars believe that other gospel authors (of Matthew and Luke) referred to was the so-called “Q” material (From the German word Quelle, meaning “source”). Even though the original Q source has yet to be found, most biblical scholars agree that it must have existed.

Although the author of the Gospel of Matthew is attributed to the disciple of the same name, scholars know that it was actually written by an anonymous scribe, and that the name of the disciple was added as a title to the document at a later time—which was done in order to increase its credibility (Harrington 1991). What the author did was use the Gospel of Mark, as well as the original Q source, as a reference, which he then infused with the interpretation that was popular among the group of Christians that he was a member of (i.e., the “Mattheans”) (Harrington 1991). Scholars believe this group was most likely located in Antioch (modern-day Turkey) (Nolland 2005). Indeed, according to Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (Galatians 2:11-14), Antioch was the location of a Jewish-Christian community who believed in the retainment of Mosiac law (i.e., the “circumcision group”). It was also a group that was specifically affiliated with Peter (i.e., Cephas/Kefa), which explains why Peter is referred to as the “rock” of the Christian movement in—and only in—the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 16:18). It can therefore be concluded that it was a member of this community (i.e., “M-Source”) who inserted favorable references to both Peter and Old Testament law in the Gospel of Matthew.

In this case, some might argue that the community in Antioch could have received direct information from Peter; however, even though Peter was one of the original disciples, he cannot be considered to be a reliable source. This is because, according to the Gospel of Matthew itself (as well as the Gospel of John), Peter never understood the true teachings of the Christ and was scolded several times by Jesus himself because of his ignorance (John 18:10-11; Matthew 16:23; Matthew 15:15-16; Matthew 14:29-31). When, or if, Jesus ever called Peter the cornerstone “rock” of the future Christian movement, it was a statement that was clearly based on Peter’s optimistic disposition—which is indeed the context of the statement—rather than his mental comprehension.

The truth is that the alleged utterance of Jesus that is recorded in Matthew 5:17-18 is in neither the earlier Gospel of Mark nor in the original Q source; nor is it in any other gospel for that matter. This is because these words that were attributed to Jesus were added at a later time. Indeed, the Gospel of Matthew is filled with errors. For example, Matthew 27:9 references a passage that is attributed to the prophet Jeremiah together with Judas and thirty pieces of silver, which is presented in a prophetic context; however, no such passage exists in the book of Jeremiah. What is even more telling are the passages in the Gospel of Matthew that contradict information that is reported in the other gospels. For example, in John 21:16 Jesus referred to Simon Peter as the “son of John”; but in Matthew 16:17 he is referred to as the “son of Jonah.” Likewise, in Luke 3:23 it is reported that Joseph was the son of Heli, who was the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, etc.; but in Matthew 1:15 it is reported that Joseph was the son of Jacob, who was the son of Matthan, the son of Eleazar, etc.. Mark 7:26 reports that one of the women who sought out Jesus was a “Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia”; but in Matthew 15:22 she is said to be from Canaan. In Luke 11:1-4 it is reported that Jesus delivered the Lord’s Prayer only to the disciples; but in Matthew 6:9-13 (beginning in Matthew 5), he is said to have delivered the Sermon on the Mount before the multitudes. In Luke 23:39, only one of the criminals who was crucified next to Jesus insulted him, while the other one accepted Jesus as the Savior; but in Matthew 27:44, both of the criminals “reviled him.” In Mark 10:19, it is recorded that Jesus instructed the people to “honor your father and mother”; but in Matthew 10:35, we are told that Jesus had come to cause “division” between a “man and his father, and a daughter against his mother.” The Gospel of Matthew not only contradicts the other gospels, but there are even passages in Matthew that contradicts itself! For example, in Matthew 5:22, Jesus says do not call someone a fool; but in Matthew 23:17 he calls the Pharisees “blind fools!” Likewise, Matthew 10:5 and 15:24 report that the gospel was only to be reported to “the lost sheep of Israel”; but in Matthew 28:19 (and Matthew 12:17-21) the gospel was to be spread to the Gentiles. Furthermore, Matthew 1:17 lists fourteen generations between Abraham and David, while Matthew 1:2 lists thirteen. This is because the account that is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew is the least accurate of all the gospels. Therefore, the previously cited passage, in which Jesus is reported to have claimed that he did not come to abolish the old laws, is simply not accurate. Furthermore, Jesus actually did attempt to abolish, or at least challenge some of the laws that were enacted in archaic times (e.g., Matthew 5:38-39).

Some might make the case that God is perfect and therefore corrections would not have been necessary, but according to the Bible itself Yahweh was capable of regretting his own actions (Genesis 6:6; 1 Samuel 15:11; 2 Samuel 24:16; 1 Chronicles 21:15; Jeremiah 42:10).

In regards to the apostle Paul, who was also influential in those formative years, it should be understood that he was not one of the original disciples, and therefore we cannot expect his interpretation to be completely accurate. Indeed, there are differences in the type of message that was originally professed by Jesus, and that which was later promoted by Paul (Wilson 2009). For example, Mark 2:15 records that Jesus ate with sinners, but according to 1 Corinthians 5.11, Paul instructed his followers not to eat with sinners. It is also disingenuous to cite the words of Paul to support an anti-homosexual argument when it was Paul himself who stated that the Old Testament law was no longer required for salvation (Romans 7:6, 6.24; 2 Corinthians 3:14; Galatians 2:16, 3:13, 23-25, 2:21, 5:4). Furthermore, according to Paul’s own teachings, people will not be saved by the old covenant, but by the “new covenant” (2 Corinthians 3:6, 3:14), which simply required “faith” in Christ (Galatians 3:11). Therefore, when Paul condemns homosexuality (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Romans 1:26-27) he is actually contradicting himself.

Of course, these findings contradict the claims made by hardened fundamentalists, who adamantly assert that the Bible is completely “inerrant.” However, what must be taken into account is that these documents were both written and interpreted by man, and even a zealous Judeo-Christian traditionalist must admit that man is an imperfect being. Indeed, distinguished New Testament scholar, Bart D. Ehrman, presents a compelling case in his works, Misquoting Jesus and Forged (and others), that the Bible is actually filled with the mistakes of man. His works remind us that no original copies of the Bible exist, and that the copies that do exist are not only from centuries later but contain many differences that were both unintentional mistakes, as well as intentional edits and additions that were committed by the scribes.

Therefore, Dr. Brown not only did not take the dubious history of the Gospel of Matthew into account, but he also made unsubstantiated assumptions and even misinterpreted scripture.

The fact is that consenting adults who engage in intimate and loving relationships are not evil. Indeed, it is the discrimination, the persecution, the hatred, and the violence that is being directed at homosexuals that is the real “sin.”

Review & Commentary

  • Julie

    It makes it really hard for me to take you seriously on promoting what you think Jesus said about marriage, when you later try to trash the bible as inaccurate. Which is the reader suppose to believe? If you had understand what Jesus meant in Matthew 5.17-18…you would have not felt the need to try to discredit the bible. It meant HE would fulfill all the laws Himself. Jesus had to do that because no human being could ever keep them all…because of what He did, in Romans we are told, as Christians, we are no longer bound by the laws..the hundreds of laws in the OT given to the Jews! And Jesus was a Jew. He fulfilled all the OT laws because we were unable to do so. The Ten Commands still stands though. The Commandments and the laws in the OT are two different things. Jesus did have to correct the religious leaders of His day because they had twisted the laws, used and abused them (read Matthew 23). He wasn’t changing them, He was correcting those misusing them.

    But lets go back to the beginning of your article. Well first I would like to make a note here…since this is posted on a Christian website, it would seems that you and the readers would not only be Christians…followers of Christ, but know and understand the bible. But it seems you at don’t.

    When you bring up and quote what Jesus says in Matthew 19.3-6, He goes far beyond just talking about what marriage and divorce is…He in fact quotes the OT…. ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Genesis 2:24. Yes He was advocating marriage, but very clearly between a man and a woman. To say He only used that example because that was common then is simply not true. That is how God Himself started things…and there is a reason for that. Other types of marriage, were excluded from the very beginning. Jesus often quoted the OT scriptures and being the Son of God, its not like He wouldn’t know what people would do or want in the future.

    This next part..quoted from the article: “The second example that Brown cited references “sexual immorality.” Here is how the verse appears:

    For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.
    —Matthew 15.19

    In this passage Jesus does not cite homosexuality as sexual immorality; although he does cite “adultery.” In this case, sexual immorality could pertain to other issues, such as rape, bestiality, and incest. Therefore, the assertion that “sexual immorality” includes homosexuality is an unwarranted assumption.”

    An ‘unwarranted assumption”??? Holy cow! Now if the bible never ever say one word about homosexuality, then it would be an assumption…but since it does in both the Old and New Testament, its hardly an unwarranted assumption..

    You are wrong in attacking the OT as if that is the only place that says homosexuality is a sin. It says it is in the NT also. 1 Corinthians 6, Romans 1:18, Jude verse 7.

    As far as your Q and M theory, that again only serve to try to discredit the bible that you used to try to justify your ideas…which makes no sense at all. You take a passage from Matthew to make your case for marriage then try to prove how messed up Matthew is pretty much ruining your case…

    As far as your break down on the inaccurate in the bible that doesn’t go so well either: “Mark 7.26 reports that one of the women who sought out Jesus was a “Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia”; but in Matthew 15.22 she is said to be from Canaan.”

    So this lady can’t be Greek born in another town but came from Canaan to see Jesus? I was born in a different town then I live in now. I am part German,..if I went to see someone out side of my town, I would be said to be from the state I lived in. Most of the other very minor things aren’t worth addressing…this one though I will: “In Luke 11.1 it is reported that Jesus delivered the Lord’s Prayer only to the disciples; however, in Matthew 5 he is said to have delivered the Sermon on the Mount before the multitudes.”

    It appears here you have read neither of these all the way through Read the Sermon on the mount…Jesus does not say the Lord’s prayer to the multitudes, these are two completely different events.

    From your article: “The fact is that consenting adults who engage in intimate and loving relationships are not evil. Indeed, according to the teachings of Jesus the Christ himself, it is what is inside a persons heart that either saves or damns the soul. In this case it is the discrimination, the persecution, the hatred, and the violence that is being directed at homosexuals that is the real “sin.””

    Jesus said a whole lot more then that! What is inside of us, comes out through words and actions.

    Matthew 7
    A Tree and Its Fruit

    15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will [m]know them by their fruits.

    21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

    I do however agree with you on that last part of what you said, hatred towards homosexuals (or anyone) and violence against them really is the worse sin. Jesus meant it when He told us to love each others as He has loved us….in that I truly wish more Christians actually followed His teachings on. While I cannot support and encourage someone to sin because of what the bible says…I do not see that has loving at all! To go against God’s Word and possibly be sending them to hell while patting them on the back…to me that is very hateful…:( So I will continue showing them what God’s Word says, but the focus shouldn’t be on what I or others think is a sin…the focus should be on Christ Jesus only.

  • Lois

    Thirty-five years ago, whilst undertaking doctoral studies at Boston University, I was privileged to attend a lecture by a Jewish theologian whose name I forget, on the topic of cross cultural misinterpretations of texts, and in particular Christian misinterpretations of Jewish texts. Homosexuality was discussed, of course.

    Here’s the gist of what we were told. Two millenia ago, the Jewish understanding of human reproductive biology was not as we understand it today. Back then, it was believed that a man had a single mini human, a mini Jewish human, in his ejaculate. If that mini human was placed in the only place it could grow, the body of a woman, a child, a Jewish child, would eventuate.

    If a man’s ejaculate was placed anywhere else but in the body of a woman – in a man, a beast, on the ground – the mini Jewish human would die, and that was murder of a Jew by a Jew, breaking the sixth commandment – You shall not kill. It was the act of killing another Jewish person that was the abomination.

    Of course, the basis for the belief that the “seed” of a new human was provided by the man alone was incorrect, so the fury of some Christians is based on ignorance of a basic and important fact. We were told, rightly so, that the Christian interpretation of sexual acts as described above focused on genitalia, and not on the sin of murder. Conception requires the genetic contribution of a woman. Ejaculation in any other situation is no sin at all.

    • Bob Garbett

      Hi, Thank you for your post I found it very helpful and insightful, once again context makes all the difference when it comes to understanding text we cant take a very modern /post modern understanding and then transfer it to a time and place where the context was so very different to ours.

  • Its a great pity that we are still having to have these out-dated discussions these are issues, so it would seem, primarily for conservative Christians but for many who define themselves as “followers” and not so much “believers” its not an issue.

    The challenge with so much conservative Christianity is that it is defined by what it is “against” or as Brian McLaren once said it seems to be the “gospel of against-it-ness”.

    I no longer call myself Christian however, I long for the day (and I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime) where Christianity “grows up” and it embraces a more adult view of spirituality seems to me that it is stuck in a very dysfunctional very adolescent model of spirituality that is all about who is “right” and who is “wrong”…..God help us all.

  • ……NIV (21st century translation)…..God made “Adam and Steve” and God was pleased with what He had done

  • I’ve never really had in issue with homosexuality in my experience its been the Church that has told me again and again, that I should have. Having been in an around the Church for over 40 years I see now that its sometimes very easy to get scripture to support all sorts of views and both the “for” and “against” can be supported with a great deal of conviction, credibility and lots and lots of verses.

    I think it would be much more honest and dare I say truthful to state ones own position independent of what sacred text says or doesn’t say. This doesn’t apply to all people, let me make that clear, but I’ve seen a great deal of homophobic reaction both in the Church and outside the difficulty, those outside the Church don’t have the advantage of lots and lots of verses to hide behind they just come out and say it as it is wow!! how truthful is that.

    Having done theological training for almost 10 years, and during that time I’ve seen many arguments about many different issues, it seems the following is true “wrong motives / agenda’s disguised by well selected verses is STILL wrong”. All to often the Bible is used as a way of defending my position (but of course we can never own up to such honesty) and or ending a conversation.

    It does seem more than a coincidence that “Im right see, the Bible says so”. The Bible can be rightfully translated in its original context or as a famous theologian once said “three things matter when reading scripture..context, context and context”. Im no theologian however, one thing is sure the Jewish cultural view on sex and sexuality was very different to ours and for very different reasons to ours.

    I don’t understand what its like to be attracted to someone of the same sex its foreign to me but neither am I confronted or do I have a need to resort and or translate everything in to “right and wrong” categories furthermore, I don’t need a whole lot of verses to support or refute my case I’m willing to stand on my own two feet regardless of what any sacred text says.

  • Barbara

    Interesting fact for all those who believe that marriage is defined in the scriptures as a union of one man and one woman. If we look at Biblical history we see quite a few marriages that were based on one man and multiple women. I don’t think the Bible every defined marriage as being between one man and one woman.

  • Truth Tolife

    Barbara-that there are polygamists in the Bible does not mean God approves of polygamy. There are murders in the Bible, too–even by the “man after God’s own heart”, David (who was also a polygamist and an adulterer!). But God did not approve of murder or adultery anymore than God approves polygamy. Moses described God’s intention for marriage–one man and one woman–which is referred to in other books, The Pslams and Proverbs, to name two, and which is reiterated by Jesus and Paul.

    Mark Twain described our problem the best when he confessed, “It is not the parts of Scripture I do not understand that gives me to most trouble; it is the parts I do understand.”

    Scripture very clearly informs that God designed marriage as a union between one man and one woman to be the only proper relationship for sexual expression. It is only because we find God’s structure too confining that we seek ways to explain away the plain command. Of course, breaching the boundaries of behavior declared holy by God was once called sin. Today it is blithely mistaken for freedom–but only if we talk our way around the ancient commands.

    • Liz Davenport

      I would be careful about quoting Mark Twain on this point. As truly wonderful as he was, among many observations he made about faith and religion was this: “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” And there is more, so much more.

      Check it out.