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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. interesting

    CNN. You need to adjust your computer moderation. I've submitted my comment three times and can't for the life of me figure out why it wouldn't be approved.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
  2. Heather

    I am tired of people who pick and choose what to enforce from the bible. The bible also states no tattoos and killing children who disobey, as well as advocates keeping slaves among so much else.

    Stop being hypocrites. Either follow the book whole, or don't. Don't say "Well the bible says this!" when ignoring the rest of it, because frankly, that's exactly what you are doing. And you can't follow the book as a whole because killing your children would get you tossed in jail or get a needle in your arm; and how many of you that scream "Being gay is wrong!" have tattoos or extra piercings? (Hint: ears that are pierced count as extra piercings.)

    Also, the bible is written by *man*. Man is fallible. Interpretations could be wrong.

    Last I remember from my Catholic upbringing was that above all, Jesus loved everyone and wanted people to love and be good to each other. So sad to see that this isn't happening here.

    Also, don't we have bigger things to worry about in this country?

    March 3, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
  3. Lily in Texas

    1) Not everyone believes in the Christian Bible.

    2) The establishment clause doesn't support American laws be based on a Christian Bible.

    Bottom line: This is America. It's YOUR choice what YOU believe in and how YOU conduct YOURSELF. Your Christian Bible has no power over me or anyone else. Period. End of story. America rocks!

    March 3, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
  4. lance corporal

    who cares? the bible is meaningless to most of us and the author is the poster boy for repressed latency

    March 3, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
  5. Bob M.

    The Bible also specifically endorses (in fact, Expects) slavery. Far too many people write as if we should stipulate to the Bible's authenticity, accuracy, and efficacy. We should Not.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  6. Holy Crusader

    Is this from the original bible that contains over 500+ books or the 13th centery Gregorian canonized version, or the further canonized king james version. The so called "Current" or "official" Bible is nothing more then lies to build the control structure. Organized religion is nothing but an opiate for the small minded. Let follow in Europes foot step and have 80% of our population be against organized religion.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  7. Sven

    If we are going to base morality and value systems on books, why not choose a good book? "To Kill a Mockingbird" maybe?

    March 3, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  8. cwby

    I saw not ONE quote from the Bible in this "opinion piece" that says anything regarding gays.
    I saw a bunch of quotes that refer to "man and wife", and "opposites", and that's fine.

    Yes, "man and wife" can procreate. great!
    That does not interpret "no gays" in my mind. Sorry, bad article, and you lost the argument because of your bad article with no real support of your claim.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  9. jaxxy

    my question is this: If God only wants str8 people on this earth then why did he create so MANY gay people?

    March 3, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • Trenor

      I take your question one step further: If God didnt want people to "sin" than why give them the ability to "sin" in the first place!!!

      March 7, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
  10. Ken Margo

    Religion is the biggest problem in the world today. Example. Islam bans divorce, gay rights, abortion, birth control and has total devotion by it's followers. Christians would kill for us to follow christianity the same way. How well has it worked out in the Arab world? The most miserable area in the world is the middle east! Until society deals with reality and treat religion the way it's supposed to treated. As an individual belief, not a rule society should follow.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • Loren

      Sorry, Ken, the problem is not religion, the problem is mankind and how it chooses to interpret what other men say. I for one think that Islam is mere tribal politics in the guise of religion, whereas Jesus was a teacher of a way that should we be up to the challenge could provide mankind with true salvation. Unfortunately, the capacity of man to follow that path is limited.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  11. Wondering

    So Tom, seems you have the answers. Help me understand, why do tsuamis happen?

    March 3, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
  12. jayman419

    If I agree with you about the gay thing can I have my slaves back? Because I don't really care what people do in the privacy of their own bedrooms, but slavery gets stuff done.

    Speaking of which... why do YOU spend so much of your limited time on this earth wondering what people do in the privacy of their bedrooms?

    March 3, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • derp

      "I don't really care what people do in the privacy of their own bedrooms, but slavery gets stuff done."

      That could be the new tea party slogan.

      I like it!!!

      March 3, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  13. Anita

    You lost me at "does the Left " (choose to read and not ignore, but question). Buddy, "the Left" is not the only one questioning. People on "the Right" aren't all sheep who follow what the loudest person says or avoid thinking for themselves. I know you meant to get snarky at Liberals, but what you really did was insinuate that part of being "the Right" means blind adherence to accepted dogma. I know that's sort of what it's come to mean, but I would have hoped you'd have avoided such a cheap way to get cheers.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • Loren

      He is not advocating blind acceptance of dogma, but refuting her poor analysis of biblical text. If you choose to follow Jesus, then you will find yourself constrained in what would be considered acceptable behavior under his teachings. Professor Gagnon ultimately isn't passing judgment on the behavior, merely stating that Knust's analysis is deeply flawed.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
  14. Buns Mccallister

    Christianity is one big loophole if you ask me

    March 3, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • David Brenchley

      THANK GOD for that !

      March 3, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  15. scott

    The fact that you would publish this ignorance is shameful....

    March 3, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • Loren

      How is his reasoned analysis of Knust's argument ignorance? I understand that you might disagree with his analysis and believe in what Knust has to say, but he is not spouting ignorance, but refuting her ill-formed argument. You expess your own ignorance through such judgment.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  16. derp

    Where's my burka?

    March 3, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  17. PulTab

    i like boobies

    March 3, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • Buns Mccallister

      boobies yeah!

      March 3, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • j4sef

      I like those too.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • derp

      Jesus hates boobies. It says so in the magical book!

      March 3, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • lance corporal

      good to know.... I'm a leg man

      March 3, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  18. RealisticHumanist_986487563

    I bet the voices in this guy's head are constantly saying "I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, oooh, but he's cute, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay!"

    March 3, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • derp

      "I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, oooh, but he's cute, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay, I'm not gay!".........I like Men!.....Ooops!

      March 3, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  19. tom

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WpYeekQkAdc&w=640&h=390]

    March 3, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  20. karatekiddin

    Who cares what the bible says. Xinu is the one true God and Tom Cruise is his one true prophet.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • amy

      The Flying Spaghetti Monster doesn't care if you are gay or straight, as long as you speak pirate. Ramen!

      March 3, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • derp

      Argh matey!!

      March 3, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
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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.