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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. mervpride

    It is interesting how the terms 'beliefs' and 'believers' have been tossed around. Those who 'believe' the bible are no different than those who don't 'believe' in the bible. Both hold 'beliefs'. What it truly comes down to is a simple question?

    Do you have faith? If so, in what? You have free will and are free to choose.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  2. gebbeth

    "does the Left read significant works that disagree with pro-gay interpretations of Scripture and choose to simply ignore them?"
    Christians already ignore the half of the bible they find brutish or inconvenient, why not go one-half further?

    March 3, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  3. Frogist

    I'll have to read this one again to get a clearer idea of the author's point by point meanings. Until then, my only point is who should we believe? Kunst or Gagnon? They are both scholars of the Bible. Both their positions are valid. Both are backed up by evidence from the Bible. I will choose the one that is more compassionate. I will choose the one that fits my society better. I stand with Kunst. I think others will do the same. But I acknowledge that I stand with her because of my background, my experiences and my surroundings. Unfortunately, others will stand with Gagnon, just because their Bible "says" so. No matter their background, experiences or surroundings, they will stick with the less compassionate view. Those people IMO are mistaken. They are just holding onto ancient prejudices despite all evidence that their views are harmful. And despite there being an equally valid interpretation that is more compassionate.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  4. Dapper Dan

    This guys is a real idiot. His interpretation – and it is only that, HIS interpretation – of the bible is why people are turning away from Christianity and religion in record numbers.

    Typical so-called "Christian," typical conservative bigot.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  5. Mike R

    To Kevin.
    You are right the adultery is still the fault of the one who committed the act. I was not trying to say that the other party had a part in the adultery just that there may be more fault than just the adultery.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  6. matt

    extremely well said Robert

    March 3, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  7. Squito

    Nobody really believes literally what they read in the old or new testament, right? I always thought anybody who said so was just joking. I mean the bible, seriously, the bible? Are you kidding? The bible? Huh?

    March 3, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
    • Terri

      YES, The Bible! Quite a few of us believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. And we believe everything in it.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
  8. Colonelphoenix

    Should this intellectual look a lot closer there are many things banned by the Bible including questioning the infallibility of our Maker. The only profession more prone to opinions than lawyers are Biblical Scholar Ph Ds. If for every statement in the Bible that banned something or food, we would still be eating bark from trees and trying to decide if walking upright or on all fours made us more efficient in our food hunting and survival skills. Come now Dr, let's reason together. Or excuse me, maybe reasoning is also banned since the only thing God gave us than what the animals have is free-will.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  9. Marty in MA

    get a life

    March 3, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  10. NJ Bob

    I can't think of anything more irrelevant to today's issues than this Stone Age book (bible). It's an embarrassment that people actually attach so much importance to it. At the same time, these people know nothing about science, can't perform simple math, and are completely ignorant of history.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • Terri

      That statement sure shows your own ignorance!

      March 3, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
  11. MEME

    AMEN. Thanks to this author for standing up to the liberal immoral landslide.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  12. berger

    THE BIBLE WAS THE FIRST LORD OF THE RINGS

    March 3, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  13. jaxxy

    and now that i am thinking about it,,,what about Jesus?? He was a dude in his 30's, still living at home with his folks, wears a dress, hangs with all dudes, and can feed a whole lot of people with a fish and a loaf of bread,,he's the ultimate caterer,,,the ultimate gay guy!! I think he just became my homeboy! xo

    March 3, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  14. riceman

    Seriously folks... More than 2 thousand years later and we are still debating the meaning of a book supposedly handed down by an omnipotent God? If this God is in fact omnipotent, why can't he inspire a text that at the very least is beyond interpretation? He can literally raise people from the dead, but can't convey simple facts in a way that isn't contradictory? Give me a break.... The interpretation of the Bible, a text originating from an ancient culture of nomadic herds people, has got the be the biggest waste of time mankind has ever endeavored upon. If a consensus can not be agreed upon after more than two thousand years, I argue the text literally means nothing because it can be made to mean anything to anyone. And spare us the notion that this was God's intention as it can not be proven or disproven in any way. It is unknowable and therefore pointless to even consider. It is like debating for two thousand years weather or not Zeus likes thunderbolts because they were pretty or because they made loud noises. Either way, you just wasted two thousand years. Time to move on people, there is life going on outside and it is going to continue to do so weather your preconceived notions regarding the Bible are valid or not.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • delrose

      Love your response..but it's whether..not weather

      March 3, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  15. Buns Mccallister

    my er ec tion has lasted over 4 hours. What does the Bible say I should do?

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

      Well it was written by shepherds so...

      March 3, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • derp

      The pope suggest you call every little boy you know

      March 3, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
  16. Mark

    I always liked that Sodom & Gomorrah story and the cheesy film they made with Stewart Granger. Fun stuff, especially when Lot's wife gets turned into a pillar of salt and became the trademark for Morton Salt...way cool.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  17. ???

    From the picture posted it looks like this guy has trimmed his hair and is likely wearing clothes of two different types of material. I guess he is doomed to a fiery afterlife.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  18. CanuckDJS

    I am continually fascinated that one can achieve a PhD in bible study. I am equally fascinated with the exhaustive fervor theologians work themselves into regarding interpretation of ancient myths as fact. In 500 years, I wonder if we will see schools offering PhD's in Hogwart's Studies? "Clearly, Voldemort was in fact part of Harry's soul, and as such, could not murder Harry lest he murder himself!" "Hogwash! Voldemort was only part of Harry inasmuch as Harry allowed it to happen!"

    March 3, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • NJ Bob

      You've got a point, but you can also get a PhD in Greek mythology. It's just that no one believes Greek mythology is actually true.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • Mike

      I know I could get a PHD in Marvel Universe! Heck, I could CLEP it! (College Level Examination Program (CLEP) for those not in the know)

      March 3, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • rita

      Greek mythology does not promise me everlasting life and brownie points for thwarting the lives of others.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  19. TruthFirst

    It's amazing that someone can be a scholar of a manufactured myth, book, idea. This author sure did waste his life on make-believe. There is absolutely no proof that Jesus ever existed...none. Not one contemporary historian of jesus mentioned him, not one. His life was chronicled about 200 years later after his "death" in the gospels. Even in today's world, we can't get the story straight concerning an event 200 years ago. Wow, hope someday the "scholar" figures out his whole life was a scam...and focuses on humanity instead of ghosts and spirits.

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

      good one, friend

      March 3, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
    • Nikomas

      True, the gospels were written later (not 200 years as you claim), but the letters of Paul were written less than two decades after Jesus. Other historians also mention him, including a Jewish historian for Rome. If there was no historical Jesus how do you explain thousands of devout Jews (who considered Jesus' claims as blasphemy) converting from Judaism to Christianity in such a short amount of time? That's a pretty big obstacle to overcome for those who believe Jesus to be a myth. Maybe one or two jews would convert because of a myth...but not thousands in such a short amount of time, especially when it stands opposed to their basic understanding of God.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • ashmine

      You are rather ignorant. All modern scholars know and agree that Jesus existed, beginning with Josephus, 200 years after Jesus' death, to our scholars of today.

      March 8, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
  20. Buns Mccallister

    If you want to know how the world was made, Id sooner turn to Wikapedia than the Bible. Wikapedia is updated every minute.

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

      If the God who created the entire universe and everything in it takes the time write a book through His prophets, I would think we should read and study it. And dare I say beliieve it. What human who ever lived can do what He/Jesus has done?

      Respectfully,

      March 3, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • Michael

      Of course Wiki is updated every minute....that is how often it is proven wrong. The Bible on the other hand doesn't have need of those updates

      March 3, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • derp

      "The Bible on the other hand doesn't have need of those updates"

      Because you can't prove fiction wrong.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:00 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.