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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. riceman

    What God thinks about gays is about as relevant as what Thor thinks about the color pink. No matter what the answer, it isn't going to affect the every day natural world that goes on around us at all times. Quite wasting your time. Move on.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
  2. Seth

    I'm just happy to live in a county where I don't have to follow the 3000 year old rules of desert goat-herders. Tell me if I'm wrong, but I think our culture has progressed a bit since then. I know, I know, for the worse, right? Please. Time to grow up.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • ashmine

      Very few of them were sheperds and non were goatherders. One way or the other, you follow the bible when you do good. plain and simple. if you do not want to follow any of God's laws, then have no morals and trully do as you please, even if you get the death penalty.

      March 8, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
  3. Buns Mccallister

    Is the author on the list for child mole sters. He looks a bit creepy.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  4. Buns Mccallister

    I think we can all agree the Bible makes a great fly swatter.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
  5. Joeg

    According to the image above, it also said that woman was taken out of a man, which pretty much places doubt into the validity of anything else that it says, further more, I would like to have my separation of church and state given back to me please.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • mdleton

      Me too! It's the year 2011, why are we still stuck in the Dark Ages?

      March 3, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  6. steven harnack

    There is also evidence that "Jesus" was in fact a composite of various holy men wandering through Asia at that time.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  7. scubafreak3

    Would the human race remain if no man loved a woman or no woman loved a man? NO!!!!!!! With that said who are we to try and play God, just as Dan Brown stated God commands that we love each other no matter what and from that it is our choice on how we live our lives. Based on how we live our lives only God will judge where we go and how we spend enternity.

    And for those of you that sit back and pretend to believe there is no God or creator who do you think you are fooling? I spent 9.5 years in the military as a Corpsman (medic) with Marines and every person that I was around that tried to pretend that there is no God quickly changed there mind when they were facing certain death. Even athiest believe in God when their life is in danger.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  8. OkieLee

    Amen, and thank you for coming forward with a blessed, intelligent, fact based response to this radical woman. The non-believers can try to justify their comments to God when they appear before Him.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • riceman

      I have a simple answer to God should I meet him. It will be, "you made me this way".

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

      The bible is not fact. I can prove it too Matthew 4:8 "Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor."
      This would only be possible if the earth was flat. The earth is not flat therefore the bible is not fact.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • derp

      "I have a simple answer to God should I meet him. It will be, "you made me this way"."

      I'm going to punch him in the face, tell him his plan sucks, and toss him out. After I take the joint over, I'm writing a new book where people don't hate each other so much.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • Rob

      @Sirena Very poor argument. With televisions we can see all over the world at a time, and yet you can not figure out how an infinite being and his specially created "angels" might have some ability to do this outside of the human experience.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
    • FNORDY

      argument based on facts? where were the facts again?
      prove the existance of God, then we'll worry about the "facts" in the Bible.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • Sirena

      @Rob
      Matthew 12:40 "For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights."
      So Hell is the center of the earth then? I think that has also being proven false....

      March 3, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • Dan

      Prove God doesn't exist.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
  9. Herb

    Lets face it. The Bible was written by humans and thus it is their opinion!

    March 3, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • mdleton

      Sad that this painfully obvious fact is lost on so many people.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  10. Pete the Ninja

    Nice article. Nice to have a well thought out argument based on good interpretation and logic.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  11. Squito

    How can this be considered scholarly? I mean, it is based on the BIBLE!!! The f$#*ing bible. I mean, c'mon. How can you be a "scholar" if you are talking about the bible? Does anybody agree with me?

    March 3, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  12. USA401

    Who cares what the bible says and doesnt say. Its not the LAW and religion is not always moraly correct.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • barbara

      reall? so you think the bible is not law huh? well where do you think each and every one of our laws was based off of? are you allowed to steal, kill, you commit adultery and your spouse can't use that as grounds for divorce? etc....

      March 3, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • riceman

      There is no law that says one has to "honor" their parents. There is no law that says one has to worship "only one god" or "don't make in graven images". On the flip side, the Bilble mentions nothing about the right to a assemble, due process, bear arms, house troops... nothing. Your notion that our laws are from the bible simply because a few of them overlap simply isn't true.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  13. Wow

    Wow... alot of people here sure seem to credible judges.....

    March 3, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  14. OMG

    Why do those like the author always assume that everyone accepts the bible as an authority on anything and everything? I was taught that God loves all his children. Gays, too, are God's children; He therefore loves em. He created them. And if He finds them so unacceptable AS HE CREATED them, why does He continue to produce so many of them? Why would he create an entire subset of his children when his sole intent is to condemn them to Hell for being who He intended them to be? Makes absolutely no sense to me!

    March 3, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • mdleton

      good point!

      March 3, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • Nichole

      Right on

      March 3, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • u-r-right

      makes one wonder why humans are even here on earth at all. once we consume this planet and all of its resources, what next? does the planet know to reboot, or does that take place automatically by chance encounter with an asteroid, comet, or by god's hand? hmmm...

      March 3, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • Rex

      You are really mistaken, God hates sins. If you choose to continue in sin, it will destroy you even if he loves you. If you jump from a building, you should expect to get hurt. Natural laws.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  15. toshmaster1

    Spirituality is good. Religion is a Waist of time. Total waste of time. If the religionists didn't hold back technology for 2000 years we would be where we are now 400 yrs ago.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • Digby

      Don't you mean we would be where we are now 2000 years ago?

      March 3, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
  16. chris

    guy fills woman hole = baby.............guy fills other guy's hole = NO baby simple

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

      Not necessarily true. There are plenty of heteros that cant have children.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • lance corporal

      IF your intention is to make a baby, if your intention is to make love there are more options
      the real question is why do YOU care what OTHERS do??

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

      What a very mature post you made.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • Buns Mccallister

      What if you fill a donut hole.. HUH! What then????

      March 3, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • DMills

      haha what if there is a condom involved? or what if the man is impotent or infertile? I'll give you a more accurate version: male and female copulate in order to fulfill socially mediated genetic + environmental impulses. Male and male or female and female copulate in order to fulfill socially mediated genetic + environmental impulses. Simple.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
  17. Steve L.A.

    Hate the fictional book, but love the readers.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  18. tim

    As a gay man I find it sad when I come to CNN for my news and I se stuff like this..... really sad.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • big b

      Considering they usually show only one side of a story,your probably right.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      Don’t worry, Jesus had 12 boys follow him around half his life. You are in good company.

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

      I am smiting a PB&J right now

      March 3, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • lance corporal

      or you can recognize how desperate they are (the authors of these types of stories) and how much good support is given to the LGBT community by the overwhelming majority of responders and how simply and utterly hateful and well.... dumb... the gay bashers are. universal civil rights for all!!!

      March 3, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • Steve

      What you can't just handle another opinion? It should be pointed out that the author is just giving his view on what a book says, he's not promoting the hatred or persuction of gays. Man what is it with you people? What is it about being gay that also gives you low self confidence? I have a mental illness that some people consider to be self created and self medicated. I don't get offended by anyones views because I am comfortable in my believes. Further proof that gays need to justify their chosen lifestyle

      March 3, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • LiveInTheTruth

      Tim.....Im sorry to inform you but "you gays" have found a way to grossly ignore scripture AS IT WAS INTENDED to suit your own needs. The author is right. A gay lifestyle does not please God. God loves everyone but He may not like their lifestyle. Thank you CNN for publishing a true christian position!

      March 3, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • chef dugan

      I'm not gay but I certainly wouldn't be offended by all of these stupid arguments. There are a lot of people, me included, who don't believe the bible is the word of God and, frankly, don't pay any attention to it. A literal interpretation of the bible is only for the benefit of the intectually lazy, the very dumb or for people who really can't think for themselves. Oh, I forgot, for the preachers who are making a very nice living off of their pathetic congregations.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  19. patty

    great article. thank you for writing.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  20. Tim

    The Bible is the "revealed word of God." BUT, there have been at least 23 revisions of the Bible in the 607 or so years; that's an update every 26 years, or so. WHICH ONE is the "revealed word of God"?? You'd think He would have gotten it right the first time. The Bible is a book. It's a good book. But, it's not the ONLY book.

    Gagnon's "logical" argument is as flawed as he claims Knust's is. Just as he goes to make a point, he conveniently skips that little bit of pertinent information that would complete his argument. Let's not forget two things: 1), it's not the smartest people who get PhDs; it's the most persistent; nd 2) PhD really does stand for "Piled Deeper and Higher."

    Cherry-picking which Biblical passages to treat as God's Law is no way to read the Bible. Only the weak, feeble-minded, and lazy do that."Beside's, isn't Jesus' overriding commandment to love one another??? No exceptions.

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

      There are no legitimate revisions of the Bible, just new translations. The number of them doesn't matter. Furthermore, the Bible is only part of the Christian tradition; it is only the Protestants who focus on the Bible as the only source of Christian living. Catholics and Orthodox have their sacred traditions and the teachings of the Bishops as well.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • mdleton

      Bravo!

      March 3, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • Buns Mccallister

      Ovarb! Thats Bravo backwards.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:48 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.