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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. LarryP

    I'm neither gay nor christan, looking at this guys picture and reading this article....I'd say he's probably both!

    March 3, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • Jonathan

      Don't insult gays by comparing them to this man.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
  2. Jack

    LOL – and all this nonsense rooted in a talking burning bush.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  3. Brock

    Who cares?

    March 3, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  4. jarrod rager

    i think a stronger appeal and response to either article is found through the various schools of critical theory and hermeneutics. Certainly the space for op-ed pieces is limited and it would be unfair for either author to really give a full account of their theory and reasoning in limited space. However, even quick articles as these should contain basic philosophical disclaimers. my perception of both authors would be clearer if they provided their hermeneutical context and preferred school of theory. without these i find myself asking many questions: Did either of them consider Roland Barthes' perspective of authorship? Did they consult Eve Ensler's ideas of gender? How about Derrida's structuralism or Paul de Man's deconstructionism? A few sentences qualifying their perspective and chosen narratives would go a long way in reducing speculation.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
  5. Steve Jobs

    So we should base our rules of the world today on a book written by people who thought that world was flat.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
  6. John

    Secular Americans make up 30% of the populace, that is the largest minority in the country. To think that our national values and moral codes are derived from an antiquated religious text is ridiculous in modern society. To think that some obscure sentence in the bible should dictate the rights and fair treatment of gays is asinine. The question of whether or not Jesus would be alright with gay people pales in contrast to the question of what Jesus would have thought about American corporate economics. How does such a nation of fervent believers recompense the astounding hypocrisy of Christianity and Capitalism? Answer me that.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
  7. David Johnson

    t is still not clear to what extent ho_mo$exuality in humans or other animals is genetic rather than, say, due to hormonal extremes during embryonic development.
    http://www.newscientist.com/.../dn13674-evolution-myths-natural-selection-cannot -explain-ho_mo$exuality.html

    But what studies are not finding, is that being gay is a choice.

    A study done by scientists at the Karolinska Inst_itute in Sweden found that the brain development of gay men more closely resembled the brain structure of straight women, and the brain structure of gay women more closely resembled the brain structure of straight men. Source: http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1815538,00.html

    When gays are asked, they say that being gay is not a choice.
    Believers choose not to believe them, since it would be hard to blame a person who suffers from a birth defect.

    Cheers!

    March 3, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • David

      Mr. Johnson? Are these same studies run by the folks who did the climate change studies? Sounds like of similar. The Word of God has been around for centuries, not minutes and there is a very strong TRUTH that comes through its WORD. A blip of our "smart" generation does not erase these centuries of basic TRUTH. Many generations have attempted to destroy this TRUTH, but remarkably God's Word stands faithful and truth and correct.

      March 3, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • Joe

      Yes David because goat herders from 2,000 years ago have a better understanding of the world than modern scientist. grow up adults shouldn't need imaginary friends.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • angela

      For every Ph D there is an equal and opposite Ph D. Hiding behind "research" is no excuse for being a hateful, bigoted, pig of a human being.

      Get a real job.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @David

      You said: "Many generations have attempted to destroy this TRUTH, but remarkably God's Word stands faithful and truth and correct."

      And your evidence that this god actually exist is?

      Curious in Arizona – The most racist state in the Union

      March 3, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
  8. Anthronesia

    Associate Professor of the New Testament??? What kind of credential is that?

    March 3, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
  9. JR

    Wouldn't it be the man that's coming out of the woman?

    And it is unfortunate that a book is interpreted so closely. It's a book of stories, many of which can be found in other religious texts (of course different names, but the same themes/events). And how many books of the Bible are there? So many different people contributed, it's no wonder that contradictions occur. The four Gospels contradict each other many times, and apparently they're all the same story. Believe in the religion if you want; just don't force your beliefs on others or interpret the book so closely.

    I used the words interpret and contradict too much.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
  10. Dave

    That guy looks pretty gay to me

    March 3, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  11. Jeremy

    This guy actually sounds like he knows what he's talking about, but really he's just a good talker... a little dillusional, your basis for knocking Knusts storey don't make sense... You talk as if you know God better, I hope you realize that God wants to save all people of all relgions, what matters is if you have a good heart and the do the right thing by people, thats all that matters. Just remember you are no judge and speaking out on a topic which is clearly not that clear as you are suggesting is a joke and an embarrassment to what Christianity stands for...

    March 3, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  12. buckfigben

    Why do we get to pick and choose as to what to exercise from the bible?

    March 3, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • JR

      Because that's how things are.

      Yeah, that.

      March 3, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • mb2010a

      Because that's the way history works concerning the Bible. In the 1400's Pope Gregory and the heads of several of the religions back then deleted over 500 books from the then Bible as being unworthy and unnecessary. They also rewrote the entire Bible to their liking into what we have today. Google "missing books of the bible" sometime...

      March 3, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  13. B-Right

    Quick choice => more fictional literary work: The bible or My Teacher is an Alien?

    March 3, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
  14. Mary

    So what? Fortunately America is not a theocracy - yet.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
  15. Mike

    The Bible also damns - on equally harsh terms - all those who eat shellfish.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
  16. gerdbaby

    The author looks a bit like a closet case himself, but I digress...

    This is irrelevant since we do not live in a Theocracy. Thanks for playing, try again..

    March 3, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
  17. Francis

    I don't need the bible to tell me what's right and what's wrong. Love doesn't need to fit into a fictional book of rules and fairy tales. The debate is meaningless- because the bible is a worthless work. So what does it matter who can prove what is says? Gays and Lesbians- please turn away from debates like this- they have no place in your life.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • George

      Don't ever forget your statement that "the Bible is a worthless work". I feel really sorry for you but I can surely tell you that you will someday give an account for that statement and I have a good feeling you are not going to like what you hear! Shame on you. I cannot imagine what it is going to be like for you, a sorry lost soul condemned to eternal damnation.

      March 3, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • Francis

      I left the church when I realized they were trying to convince me that the root of love was fear. Thanks for the heads up though. I'll pack a juice box.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • Jes

      I totally agree with you Francis. Totally worthless. I think it's funny how if anyone speaks what they are thinking about the bible and it's not in a positive light then you are condemned to hell and should be ashamed . Christianity is about corruption, control , power and fear.Not the way I plan on spending my life. I'm glad that it makes some people happy, good for them! But just because someone doesn't agree with you doesn't mean you should tell them they're condemned to eternal damnation , it just makes you look like an idiot and kind of an A- hole.

      March 7, 2011 at 9:51 am |
    • smasheduprr

      George, you are not sorry for the original poster. You are gleeful and ecstatic; the concept of someone burning forever in a place constructed in your imagination because they disagree with you makes you happy. You judge a man as if you were God and in fantasy, you inflict your own punishments upon him as if it was your domain to do so. It is clear the hate that drips from your mouth when you spit false mercy wrapped up in a cry for God to punish those with who you do not agree. You scream scripture and daydream of perdition and you curse the world in the name of God because you fancy yourself to be in some sort of position which gives you such a right but you are not and don't you forget it. No matter how much you disagree with me, you know in your heart that you do not pity those who you believe are lost, but relish in it.

      March 9, 2011 at 12:58 am |
  18. Jim

    The bible can say whatever you want it to say, that's fine I don't care. It's NOT ok to legislate from it. Unless you're the taliban.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • David

      You'd be surprised to know, I take it anyway from the errors of your comment, that the legal system is bases on the Judeo/Christian value system. Take a walk around the government buildings in your community, state and in Washington, DC. They are filled with symbolism of this fact. So, friend, unless you have not noticed; Judeo/Christian values and laws are already a part of our culture and government system. Thanks be to God!!

      March 3, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • Francis

      The "Judeo/Christian" value system is not an original concept... it was stolen- or borrowed if you prefer. So if that value system is your foundation- you can thank humans other than the originals Jews and Christians. (In fact- you would be thanking people you now call heathens!)

      March 3, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • HamsterDancer

      I agree 100% with you!

      March 3, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • Superchik

      Notice that most of the Christian commandments ("Thou shall not commit adultury" or "Thou shall keep the sabbath day holy") are not laws. Why? Because the laws our government have enacted are meant to protect the people's rights:Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Yes, some laws are taken from the bible, ("Thou shall not kill") because it takes aways a persons right to life. Forcing me to marry someone I do not love, and never will love, takes away my right to pursue happiness.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • Lou

      Our system of government is more closely related to that of the Roman Republic. All of the founding fathers were educated in the works of Greek and Roman Scholars and statesmen. It was a time where if you were an educated man then you knew Latin and Greek. There are many influences by Christianity present in our Nation but we should not take that as an indication that the bible was the fundamental text which we chose to form our government around.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • John

      It sure seems anyone can get just about anything they want out of it. And, at the very least, the early church sure did. They voted one night what texts to make it out of!

      March 3, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  19. Formula

    So, basically the bible is bigoted and wrong? Got it.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • Joe

      exactly! thats why it is best used to line a hamster cage.

      March 3, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
  20. Mitch

    Yes and I hope you aren't wearing a garment made with two different types of thread...and I certainly hope you didn't pick up any sticks on Saturday. I suppose you also performed your requisite number of sacrifices, and didn't touch your wife when she was menstruating.

    (When is the human race going to GROW UP?)

    March 3, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • David

      The word, READ and know the interpretation of Scripture. Communal rites and expectations are not the same as intended order from creation. READ....READ...READ, don't bring your biases to a conclusion before you READ! God have mercy on people who confuse cultural decisions over God's intent!!!

      March 3, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • citizentobe

      Mitch: You are so close minded!

      March 3, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • Superchik

      Well said, Mitch!

      March 3, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • Wow...

      I love it! It's so funny how "Christians" pick and choose what to abide by in the bible...so silly in such a pathetic way.

      March 3, 2011 at 2:58 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.