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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. Jo

    I'll not say whether or not I am a believer. I congratulate the people who posted for a spirited and (for the most part) thoughtful discussion. Peace to all.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
  2. Brian

    Why is this nonsense put up as news on your homepage... who cares what the bible says... it's just one form of ficticious god literature... it's not real, so who cares and why are you presenting it. Allah, Yehweh, Jesus... all literary characters. I wish someone could speak intelligibly as to how Zeus, Rha, Shiva and Dionysus think.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
  3. SmarterHuman

    They sure use the word "BONE" a lot for heteros...

    March 3, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
  4. Raptor

    The problem isn't with anyones particular beliefs. IT is the strange need to have everyone around you think like you do. What makes one group better then the other. They all claim to have this higher morality yet from all directions all I see is hate and bigotry. I see certain religious groups interfering in politics trying to bend the laws of nation's to reflect what they want. I see Religious groups trying to have a belief taught to our children as facts. I see you killing each other in the name of your gods proclaiming each to be the devil. So I ask WHY ?

    If there is a god of some type I can guarantee that this isn't what he had in mind.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • Jennifer

      I don't see any Christians killing in the name of Jesus Christ.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
  5. RickRam

    The Bible is a piece of absurd nonsense. Anyone who uses it as a life guide is completely out of touch with reality.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
  6. tom

    it always astounds me how religion is embraced in any culture. the fact that it flaunts the fact that it is completely based on untestable and scientifically impossible precepts is an affront to anyone who prescribes to any intellectual endeavor.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
  7. ThePenIsMightier

    Too bad the bible was written by mortal man and has no actual authority expect over people still clinging to the outdated myths of past societies........

    March 3, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
  8. jadon

    What the hell does it matter who loves who and where they put it....... Adults with imaginary friends are STUPID... WTH is wrong with you when you read "don't idolize false gods or statues" and yet idolize a Book! the very book you read it in?!!?... is plain stupidity.... RMFAO

    March 3, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
  9. Lee

    The bible is a guide, not your life's Standard Operating Procedure. Use the word as a guide and you will not have any problems. People keep reading the bible 15 times hoping to find a verse that will support whatever they are doing. Live your Life according to the law of the land and use the biblical teachngs to do well within your domain, without interfering what others think.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
  10. Dan

    "Space limitations"? Sounds more like "laziness" to me. Either that or the inability to address the other arguments. I'm pretty much in the middle of this but if I am going to hear arguments from either side, please be precise. Picking arguments of your choice just dosent get it.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
  11. Healer

    The Bible is a book with characters and stories. Many of them were actual people. They have long since turned to dust. The stories are prose. There are religions of this world much older then Christianity. There are many new religions. Some are founded by science fiction authors. All are designed by man.

    Jesus is real? Ok, sure. He had a great message of altruistic love from a heavenly father. That’s an ok thing to have for people who need that. My grandparents, aunts and uncles many other different people are better for it. I don’t, can’t and won’t say that I personally believe in any of it but I acknowledge God’s existence. God is a man made creation and does a lot of good things for people who need it. But it exists for me in language only, in literature. And I sure don’t buy a lot of what the bible says. Such a very old book and people who are religious fight to hold onto it’s relevance in modern society like many religions using circular reasoning to rationalize their willingness to believe in past (and expect future) supernatural events.

    I have faith. But I don’t practice religion anymore. I have faith in the work I put in everyday. I have faith in my love for my family. God or no God I would have that. So if I attend a wedding or a funeral or if the wife were to decide to just want to go to church, I go understanding it’s a part of my culture. I won’t argue to try and get someone to understand or change to my point of view. Not worth the argument or the hatred that gets spewed. People kill for their religions.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
  12. Ben

    The Bible was written a long time ago. There are many things in it that are antiquated and no longer followed. If you doubt it, when was the last time anyone was stoned for violating the sabbath or a Christian was condemned for eating shellfish?

    March 3, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • W247

      Please research how the old and new testament work within within each other. Some of these "laws" had specific purposes that are explain within the new testament.

      Thank you

      March 3, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
  13. Jay Sosnicki

    ....but....the Bible was written by men, not "God." So what's your point?

    March 3, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
  14. royce

    All religions are just Cults, even the Atheists are a Cult. Cult = a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies. I also think the Bible is FICTION, rewritten by men thousands of years ago whom added and deleted to its original text. Now if we had a copy of the original Bible, if there ever really was one, then we would know black from white!

    March 3, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
  15. db

    The Bible comes down HARDER on wealth, greed and gluttony, yet this is what our country is all about. Try and speak out on wealth, greed & gluttony and a bunch of evangelical conservatives will form a circle of hate around you and start screaming "SOCIALIST!" Since when do Christians follow what the Bible says?

    March 3, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
  16. Barnacle Bill

    It must be bad, because he likes it soooo much.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
  17. blake

    It appears that we have a very narrow, easily offended moderator for this article. Deleting posts that don't align with their personal opinions.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
  18. ric

    I came from a very religious family , went to catholic school and a Catholic Military School ,When I am around My mom & sister, they are the most racist, judgmental, hateful people. It is only when they start to talk about religion do they spout lovey dovey terms. When they aren't talking religion and are just going through their day, its almost as if they forget that they are religious and suddenly I hear them make comments like. "I hate those people, or I can't stand being around ____. , or "That woman dresses like a tramp", etc..They turned me off to religion and when they remind me that I no longer go to church , i tell them that church is for sinners, not me..

    March 3, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
    • PhenPhen

      It's nice to hear that you are so perfect...

      March 3, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • Jennifer

      Ric: You shouldn't let the hypocritical behavior of others turn you away from a deep and eternal relationship with your Creator.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
  19. Mark C

    Who cares?

    March 3, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • Redragon96

      superman hates straights

      March 3, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
    • xstongue

      More worthless news to cover up the most important news....JOBS, COURSE

      March 3, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
  20. jcmusix

    So this is "news" from CNN huh? Opinions from some "theologian," = religious whackjob....who the hell cares? Thanks for your journalistic excellence CNN! Not.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • Sarah in Texas

      Guess what. The Bible also forbids lying, dishonesty, selfishness, lustful thoughts.... I am sick of hearing "Christians" interpret how they feel others should be living their lives. Get off the f-ing gay issue. How about read the book of Matthew and first remove the plank from your own eye? Worry about yourselves, Christians, and let others live in peace.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
    • Redragon96

      mr freeze hates donkeys

      March 3, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
    • D Smith

      First, in general, theologians are not "religious wackjobs." There may be people who claim they are theologians who have no significant academic experience to back up their claim, but people like Dr. Gagnon have had extensive training in philosophy and critical thinking to examine the Bible from an academic perspective. This does not mean he is free from all bias, but the category of theologian he represents deserves more credit than you are giving.
      Second, a probable reason that CNN is reporting this as news has to do with the character of the people involved in the political debate currently raging in America about gay marriage. The side arguing against gay marriage literally has no other basis for their opinions than religion. Though religious views should have no effect on laws created in the United States, we all know they do. Therefore, it is important that each side understand the reason and validity behind the others argument if we ever hope to come to a meaningful discussion about gay marriage.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
    • JBL

      Completely agree. Well, as a Christian, I don't think the guy is a whack job, but this shouldn't be front page news. Make some link to go to the "Belief Blog" on the side bar, but opinion pieces should never be on the front page. CNN does this just because it gets a ton of clicks. And I guess we are not helping by commenting ironically. I guess I'll sign off.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:12 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.