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My Take: The Bible really does condemn homosexuality
March 3rd, 2011
01:25 PM ET

My Take: The Bible really does condemn homosexuality

By Robert A. J. Gagnon, Special to CNN

Editor’s Note: Robert A. J. Gagnon, Ph.D., is associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics and (with Dan Via) Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views.

In her recent CNN Belief Blog post “The Bible’s surprisingly mixed messages on sexuality,” Jennifer Wright Knust claims that Christians can’t appeal to the Bible to justify opposition to homosexual practice because the Bible provides no clear witness on the subject and is too flawed to serve as a moral guide.

As a scholar who has written books and articles on the Bible and homosexual practice, I can say that the reality is the opposite of her claim. It’s shocking that in her editorial and even her book, "Unprotected Texts," Knust ignores a mountain of evidence against her positions.

It raises a serious question: does the Left read significant works that disagree with pro-gay interpretations of Scripture and choose to simply ignore them?

Owing to space limitations I will focus on her two key arguments: the ideal of gender-neutral humanity and slavery arguments.

Knust's lead argument is that sexual differentiation in Genesis, Jesus and Paul is nothing more than an "afterthought" because "God's original intention for humanity was androgyny."

It’s true that Genesis presents the first human (Hebrew adam, from adamah, ground: “earthling”) as originally sexually undifferentiated. But what Knust misses is that once something is “taken from” the human to form a woman, the human, now differentiated as a man, finds his sexual other half in that missing element, a woman.

That’s why Genesis speaks of the woman as a “counterpart” or “complement,” using a Hebrew expression neged, which means both “corresponding to” and “opposite.” She is similar as regards humanity but different in terms of gender. If sexual relations are to be had, they are to be had with a sexual counterpart or complement.

Knust cites the apostle Paul’s remark about “no ‘male and female’” in Galatians. Yet Paul applies this dictum to establishing the equal worth of men and women before God, not to eliminating a male-female prerequisite for sex.

Applied to sexual relations, the phrase means “no sex,” not “acceptance of homosexual practice,” as is evident both from the consensus of the earliest interpreters of this phrase and from Jesus' own sayings about marriage in this age and the next.

All the earliest interpreters agreed that "no 'male and female,'" applied to sexual relations, meant "no sex."

That included Paul and the ascetic believers at Corinth in the mid-first century; and the church fathers and gnostics of the second to fourth centuries. Where they disagreed is over whether to postpone mandatory celibacy until the resurrection (the orthodox view) or to begin insisting on it now (the heretical view).

Jesus’ view

According to Jesus, “when (people) rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels” (Mark 12:25). Sexual relations and differentiation had only penultimate significance. The unmediated access to God that resurrection bodies bring would make sex look dull by comparison.

At the same time Jesus regarded the male-female paradigm as essential if sexual relations were to be had in this present age.

In rejecting a revolving door of divorce-and-remarriage and, implicitly, polygamy Jesus cited Genesis: “From the beginning of creation, ‘male and female he made them.’ ‘For this reason a man …will be joined to his woman and the two shall become one flesh’” (Mark 10:2-12; Matthew 19:3-12).

Jesus’ point was that God’s limiting of persons in a sexual union to two is evident in his creation of two (and only two) primary sexes: male and female, man and woman. The union of male and female completes the sexual spectrum, rendering a third partner both unnecessary and undesirable.

The sectarian Jewish group known as the Essenes similarly rejected polygamy on the grounds that God made us “male and female,” two sexual complements designed for a union consisting only of two.

Knust insinuates that Jesus wouldn’t have opposed homosexual relationships. Yet Jesus’ interpretation of Genesis demonstrates that he regarded a male-female prerequisite for marriage as the foundation on which other sexual standards could be predicated, including monogamy. Obviously the foundation is more important than anything predicated on it.

Jesus developed a principle of interpretation that Knust ignores: God’s “from the beginning” creation of “male and female” trumps some sexual behaviors permitted in the Old Testament. So there’s nothing unorthodox about recognizing change in Scripture’s sexual ethics. But note the direction of the change: toward less sexual license and greater conformity to the logic of the male-female requirement in Genesis. Knust is traveling in the opposite direction.

Knust’s slavery analogy and avoidance of closer analogies

Knust argues that an appeal to the Bible for opposing homosexual practice is as morally unjustifiable as pre-Civil War appeals to the Bible for supporting slavery. The analogy is a bad one.

The best analogy will be the comparison that shares the most points of substantive correspondence with the item being compared. How much does the Bible’s treatment of slavery resemble its treatment of homosexual practice? Very little.

Scripture shows no vested interest in preserving the institution of slavery but it does show a strong vested interest from Genesis to Revelation in preserving a male-female prerequisite. Unlike its treatment of the institution of slavery, Scripture treats a male-female prerequisite for sex as a pre-Fall structure.

The Bible accommodates to social systems where sometimes the only alternative to starvation is enslavement. But it clearly shows a critical edge by specifying mandatory release dates and the right of kinship buyback; requiring that Israelites not be treated as slaves; and reminding Israelites that God had redeemed them from slavery in Egypt.

Paul urged enslaved believers to use an opportunity for freedom to maximize service to God and encouraged a Christian master (Philemon) to free his slave (Onesimus).

How can changing up on the Bible’s male-female prerequisite for sex be analogous to the church’s revision of the slavery issue if the Bible encourages critique of slavery but discourages critique of a male-female paradigm for sex?

Much closer analogies to the Bible’s rejection of homosexual practice are the Bible’s rejection of incest and the New Testament’s rejection of polyamory (polygamy).

Homosexual practice, incest, and polyamory are all (1) forms of sexual behavior (2) able to be conducted as adult-committed relationships but (3) strongly proscribed because (4) they violate creation structures or natural law.

Like same-sex intercourse, incest is sex between persons too much structurally alike, here as regards kinship rather than gender. Polyamory is a violation of the foundational “twoness” of the sexes.

The fact that Knust chooses a distant analogue (slavery) over more proximate analogues (incest, polyamory) shows that her analogical reasoning is driven more by ideological biases than by fair use of analogies.

Knust’s other arguments are riddled with holes.

In claiming that David and Jonathan had a homosexual relationship she confuses kinship affection with erotic love. Her claim that “from the perspective of the New Testament” the Sodom story was about “the near rape of angels, not sex between men” makes an "either-or" out of Jude 7’s "both-and."

Her canard that only a few Bible texts reject homosexual practice overlooks other relevant texts and the fact that infrequent mention is often a sign of significance. It is disturbing to read what passes nowadays for expert “liberal” reflections on what the Bible says about homosexual practice.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Robert A. J. Gagnon.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Bible • Christianity • Homosexuality

soundoff (4,272 Responses)
  1. WhoCares?

    In his rush to denounce Ms Knust's position, Mr. Gagnon, despite is appeal to authority on this issue, really only succeeds in making the argument that the bible is even less relevant relevant today.

    Hey, Bob, the bible is also very clear on beards as well and yet you trim yours anyway... what's up with that?!? Evidently you agree with Ms. Knust that the bible is not without its flaws. At least you didn't just tell the woman to sit down and shut up – like the bible says

    December 23, 2013 at 4:44 pm |
  2. C Murdock

    The author gives us many good reasons not to believe in the Bible. Thank you! Another good reason: When interpreted literally, the Bible condemns 80% to 90% of all people to Hell. Frankly, I don't believe that the universe is designed so stupidly, or that such a cruel god could possibly exist.

    December 23, 2013 at 9:01 am |
    • jmm

      actually the Bible says that 100% of people in this world are destined for hell because there is nothing anyone can do to earn their way to heaven – no one is good enough and everyone has broken God's laws. the Bible also says, though, the God loved the world and that Jesus came into the world to save it, not condemn it, and that he saved it by paying for everyone's law-breaking on the cross, and all you have to do to go to heaven is put your trust in Jesus. i don't know that this can be described as cruel....unheard of, maybe, and a great act of love that Jesus would make a way because no human could do it on his or her own.

      December 27, 2013 at 11:19 am |
  3. Bonnie

    Our righteousness had to exceed the Pharisees, Mathew 5:20, Mathew 11:25. In other words the Pharisees would wash cups and had other ordinances so they could ignore what the Word of God taught. But in this day, “many proclaim blood and the cross” while teaching it’s OK to use the Word of God for their toilet paper. In fact Jesus explained to his apostles the reason he spoke in parables, was so the meaning would be hid from those who were obviously workers of iniquity. But if you understood, His Word, correctly, more would be given unto you, Mathew 13:11-13, Luke 8:18, Mark 4:24, 1 Tim 4:1, 1Thes 2:4.
    In this day, many have interpreted the Bible claiming many different things. The Bible does not mean many different things. God is not wishy-washy nor a hypocrite. Yet I have since come to realize, the Word of God can be compared to an ink blot test. In other words Adam and Eve were tested by having the forbidden tree available, and we are tested by our interpretation of Scriptures.
    For an example, many esteem a Psychiatrist as being wise. And if a man by his wisdom developed an ink blot test, insomuch, the picture one sees, enables a Psychiatrist to determine the intent of one’s heart. Why wouldn’t God be able to have a book written with these same capabilities?

    December 22, 2013 at 10:15 am |
  4. Bonnie

    The Lord God knew the heart is deceitful above all things, Jeremiah 17:9. This means what will motivate an individual given a free will cannot be determined. [The works of God are marvelous] All of us are given a brain so we can think, and are able to calculate things. All of us are given eyes so we can see, ears to hear, etc. However, love, greed, stubbornness, deceit, and hate are emotions which governs the heart. And this is what can’t be determined or measured when God created a soul given a free will.
    So in the beginning, to enable God to test the heart of mankind, He established the forbidden tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden. Mankind has always been given a free will, and has always been able to choose what they want to believe. Those who are of a good and honest heart will do and believe things that are good and honest, and those who don’t won’t, Luke 8:15.
    Satan taking up residence in the beasts of the field decided to take up residence in a snake, thereby; gaining him another name–the old serpent. Entering in the snake he approached Eve in the Garden of Eden. Scripture tells us the reason Satan chose the serpent was because it was more sly, cunning, and crafty, than the other beasts God created, Genesis 3.
    Did a snake actually talk? Or was Satan capable to take up residence in the snake, and able to convey a message unto Eve via mental telepathy like it was her own thoughts, yet conveyed through the serpent? Farfetched? I don’t think so, as I have seen in this day they hook up wires to the brain and a person is capable to operate mechanical limbs. So who is to say how Satan conveyed this message, other than we know he did.
    Eve, gave heed to her hearts desires, and was persuaded by the cunningness of the Serpent. She didn’t even consider the Lord and his words, but instead convinced Adam to eat of the fruit also.
    And the reason Satan wanted to hinder mankind, was because he knew once the Lord had found those that loved him, they would believe him, and want to please him. And Satan, also, realized when this happened the regeneration of the Kingdom of God would come to a conclusion; yet, so would his end, Mathew 19:28, Proverbs 31:10-31. And for this reason, beginning with Adam and Eve; Satan started his war upon earth trying to get people to listen to him, and not to God.
    Hence the world became the court whereby God tries the hearts of mankind, Jeramiah 19:14, Psalm 84:10, Jeramiah 11:20, Psalm 17:3, 1Peter 1:7 [too many verses to list].

    December 22, 2013 at 9:58 am |
    • C Murdock

      I feel sorry for you, Bonnie. Your mind is full of terrible things.

      December 23, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
  5. Sam Maloney

    Thank God I just don't care. I live my life with honesty and integrity. If that's not enough for God, screw it.

    December 20, 2013 at 8:53 pm |
  6. rich

    Somebody may loose their job at CNN for not following the GLADD marching orders.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
  7. rich

    Nicely written and factual

    December 20, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
    • Conqui

      Gagnon picks and chooses bits of history, bits of linguistic/Hebrew translation trends and understanding for 2500 hrs (clearly stated in nearly any scholarly Jewish book on the topic, also available to the layperson online), and rabbinic writings from 200 BC than continued until a century or two after Jesus. I won't even begin to comment on his misstatements about Paul. His use of "context" is itself disingenuous and out of context. It is possible to make Gagnon's arguments, tenuous as they might be, without the outright intellectual dishonesty and fabrications.

      December 20, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
      • gs_ares

        I like the article, he specifically says he is having to limit his scope and is dealing with 2 particular problems. I would suggest reading his books before making such claims... you really only presented conjecture, not a real critique. Sadly this is often how the internet functions... rather than serious dialogue – just a serious of groundless complaints, especially aimed at things other than the author's intent.

        December 22, 2013 at 7:53 pm |
        • Conqui

          In fact, I have read ALL Gagnon's books. Myself and others have written books/chapters refuting his method of cherry-picking out of context, and gross illogical and irrational arguments. Gagnon keeps harping on the same things, with only feeble attempts to address the scholarly issues that others bring up.

          December 23, 2013 at 9:16 pm |
  8. tommich

    The bible is a good guide for Christians. We need to use our judgement & discernment to figure out out. Never forget that the writers of the King James version were directed to include nothing in the writings they would include, that were against current Anglican doctrine. This has colored our interrogation since then.

    December 20, 2013 at 2:56 pm |
    • tommich

      Figure out out -it out. Interrogation – interpretation.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:59 pm |
    • phdlynn

      Very good point. The Council of Nicaea called by Pope Constantinein the 7th Century also made wholesale decisions of what to put in the Bible and what to take out. That gets to my comment about man made agendas. As long as Man was involved there will be human error both intentionally and unintentionally.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
      • jrreuter

        The Council of Nicaea had nothing to do with canonization of scripture. And the man who convened the Council was no pope, he was an emperor (Pope Constantine lived hundreds of years later) Everything I've said here can be substantiated within minutes of research, if anyone was actually willing to do so and not just regurgitate the latest crap they heard on television. Ignorance either continues or stops with the individual.

        December 20, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
        • Andrew

          It wasn't even Emperor Constantine. He's probably referring to the 2nd Council of Nicea, which undid the Council of Hieria (which an emperor Constantine called).

          His facts aren't straight, but his point may well be there. The Council of Trent in the 16th century changed the canon in the Roman Catholic church, thus they have a 'different' BIble than Protestants (a few more books). Roman Catholics actually reformed the canon several times, and it's explicit in Catholic theology that the church's tradition supersedes Scripture. The canon answers to the church leaders, not the other way around. For a long time this is part of why Catholics were viewed as the 'democrats' and 'liberals,' because they rejected the fundamentalist interpretation of Scripture.

          The introduction of modern contraceptives flipped a switch somewhere though, as they've spent the last 45 years on the same political page... at least before this newest pope.

          December 22, 2013 at 8:20 am |
  9. Jun

    Please Read Genesis chapter 19:1-14. Also read Leviticus 18:22, and Romans 1:20-27.

    December 20, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
    • phdlynn

      The Bible was written by MEN, not God so it is pointless to point to specific Bible passage to make a case. Yes, I do believe that God and Jesus's words are in the Bible but where and how do you pick and choose that from what man of the day wrote.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
  10. phdlynn

    The Bible was written by MEN with agenda, politics, egos, etc., and just because it is in the Bible does not mean it represents God's viewpoint. So many Christians forget this fact!

    December 20, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
    • FPP

      If you read 2 Timothy 3:16,17 you will clearly see that it says that the Bible was "inspired" by God. That means that he guided their thoughts in what He wanted man to know. He allowed each writer to use his own style, but the Bible as a whole is in full harmony with God's purpose. To call the Bible, The Word of God, and then dismiss it's content because it was written by man, is a sign of ignorance. Please read your copy of the Bible, if you even have one, and then make an educated decision on your life and express your opinions based on fact, not your personal agenda.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
      • Kyle

        Sorry buddy. It's not just a different style. There are many outright contradictions in the bible and therefore the entire book is at question. Just because you feel that you can trust that particular verse and draw the conclusion doesn't give you any right to so arrogantly proclaim yourself as correct and condescendingly send others to

        "Please read your copy of the Bible, if you even have one, and then make an educated decision on your life and express your opinions based on fact, not your personal agenda."

        Are you kidding me? I mean seriously. Is this a joke? What kind of christian do you think you are? Do you think that because you said please that it automatically DOESN'T make this a snide and pathetic excuse for a statement from a so called christian? Get your act together. Pride is still a sin according to your bible.

        December 20, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
        • carol

          FPP, you are spot-on! Thank you for that excellent explanation.

          December 20, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
        • Chris

          Hi Kyle,

          I was wondering if you could share with us the direct passages you are referring to in the Bible that show contradictions.

          December 20, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
        • Larry

          I agree with Chris . Please show me an example of one contradiction . Over many years I have asked some powerful intellectual minds this question . To this point not a single person has been able to come up with a contradiction .

          I also appreciate CNN for carrying this opposing view .

          December 20, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
        • Ty

          This is not a reply to Kyle, but a reply to those asking for an example of contradictions in the bible. To those I would suggest you find a website called "Google", it is a search engine that will help you find things on the internet. Just type in "contradictions in the bible" and look at the first few sites. You may not like the sites, but they do list the actual bible verses where you can see the contradictions for yourselves, then get out your copy of the bible and read what the bible states. There will be your contradictions. There are hundreds of them, which makes one wonder how God things so wrong.

          December 20, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
        • OhPlease

          This is actually a reply to Ty – of course those websites exist, and the arguments they make have existed for years and years. They've also been responded to by Christians over and over. Do the websites update their sites to respond to the counter arguments made by the Christians? Of course not. That would take effort and time on their part, and they're not going to do that. You folks seem to think this stuff is all new and Christians don't know about it. Right. If you have the courage of your convictions, head on over to aomin.org and tell the owner of that site you'd like to call his show and debate bible contradictions with him. I looking forward to hearing your arguments.

          December 20, 2013 at 6:34 pm |
    • Petermich

      I love reading your comments. You seemed well versed and in formed.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
  11. Sam

    Excellent article! Thank you for taking the time to write it, so that the rest of us may benefit from it.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
  12. Nexus974

    Well, kudos to CNN for publishing an opposing point of view.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
    • Sam

      I was thinking the same thing!

      December 20, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
  13. Cross

    Hey. Cool article. There's a prleobm with your website in internet explorer, and you may want to check this The browser is the market leader and a huge part of folks will miss your wonderful writing because of this prleobm.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
  14. Apasi

    15.9 The definition of “family” in the Ministerial Handbook is uancelr as to the meaning of the word “parent”, which could lead to an abuse of the travel privileges of members of the executive.Well spotted PP!Now all we have to do is clear up a few definitions for the HANDBOOK and then all should be well.1. Crook eish, that's a hard one. let's ask Sakur!2. Family that's easy. Friend's neighbours, distant relatives, strangers, cousins, uncles, aunts, neigbour's families, other relatives, somebody's relatives.3. Parent anyone who's not family.You're welcome DCJ!Anyway, PdV was a bit sleepy morning. (T)he first thing they teach one at political school is that it's ok for politicians to lie! (c/o former President Mbeki's administration)

    July 31, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
  15. Carole

    Yes I was really dispeaointpd it was not shown in any news channel even Times news. They can show people march against the government in Egypt, why can't they our own countrymen doing the same here? I thought the media was above such things. But I did see the video by times news in their site where they had covered all parts of India.

    July 29, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
  16. โรงเรียน ศิษย์วัฒนา

    Wow, amazing blog layout! How long have you ever been blogging for? you made blogging look easy. The whole glance of your web site is magnificent, as smartly as the content!

    April 13, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
  17. Vusal

    Good read on the Houston game. By the way,I never saw a tweet for the Bronze Free Pick. I did receive an e-mail from you which is good gneuoh.Just thought you may want to know.

    March 4, 2012 at 12:04 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.