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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. Kyle Smith

    I'm running off on a tangent here, but I noticed many comments discussed the reality of God and the "right" religion. I'd like to voice that all formed religions such as Catholicism, Islam, or etc. should be taken as guides to develop a correct conscience and your own personal relationship with God. I'm not supporting relativism - there are better religions - but many religions will end, if followed correctly, with a valuable relationship with God.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
    • PallasAthene

      Which god? Whose god is the right one?

      March 3, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
    • Kimberley Larson

      I totally agree with the scope of this article. The author is to be commended for his thoroughness. You can't change god's word just because something has changed with society. God says the word of god is the same yesterday, today and forever.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
  2. Lion

    It really makes me sad that people have no faith in God. God is real. God loves everyone regardless of our choices even if you don't beleive in him. We will all see when judgement day is here. All I know is that I don't want to be left behind.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
  3. Prophet

    Was Jesus gay or did he just love them all ?

    March 3, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
  4. Sean

    I'm curious how the talking donkey from Numbers 22 weighs in on this important issue?

    March 3, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
  5. Kevin

    Hallelujah. May the living Word of God humble us. It is useless to argue with God, he created us!! By the power of His Holy Spirit, may many throw off their sinful natures and clothe themselves in His presence.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
  6. Anthony

    I am sad that such a good book is distorted by strict interpretation that ignores the context in which it was written. The Genesis passage is about how two people can complement each other to build something greater together. And the passage from Mark is about how what two people can do is dwarfed by the whole universe working in harmony. Of course it was written as man and woman, in a time when there was no other conception of a family unit. Today, the same message applies regardless of gender. Why is it difficult to understand, both that context is everything, and that the Bible holds an important message?

    March 3, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
  7. Steve

    The bible is as good a text to quote and live your life by as is any Dr. Seuss book. Guess what, the world isnt flat either! Idiots.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
  8. Satan

    Do you suppose this squirt got paid for this rot?

    March 3, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
  9. Theo

    I guess it doesn't matter than the author has his own agenda; it's amazing what people can find when they're looking for it

    March 3, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
  10. StationaryDave

    All this legalistic arguing is silly and makes me want to run like hell from you bible thumpers and fundamentalist atheists as well.
    Listen: It's about fruits, not roots. I don't care whether wisdom that can make my life better comes from the fourth translation of a book written by men 2,000 years ago or from Grimm's Fairy Tales. The source is not important to me. But will its wisdom make me a better person? That is the question. If it's in the Koran and it makes me a better person, then that's great. If it's in the Koran and I find it hateful and exclusivist, then I reject it. Same for the bible or any other hold book.
    I'm an agnostic-leaning naturalistic theist and this is what I believe: This life is our only shot. What matters to me is the legacy of love I leave behind. That is my purpose in life.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
  11. Sanity

    The bible is mythology, just like Norse mythology, Greek mythology, Roman mythology,Aztec mythology, and all the other mythologies down though the ages. So who cares what it says.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
  12. Guy

    Dr. Gagnon, THANKS Great word. Here is the additional truth: "EVERYBODY CAN'T GO TO HEAVEN!"

    March 3, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • StationaryDave

      All dogs go to heaven.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
    • Tim Truth

      Everybody can't go "there" because there isn't any "there" for them to go to. When you're dead, you're dead. Deal.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:07 pm |
  13. bu

    Religion is a disease of the Mind! Be part of the cure, not the problem!

    Help cure the religion disease!

    March 3, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
  14. 44down

    why is this the top news on cnn?

    March 3, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
  15. Chuck

    Move articles like this to a mythology page. They do not belong on the front page of the CNN site.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
  16. Jill Kennedy

    Tween Jesus n Me and Manka Faith is getting quick a drubbing on YouTube for their pro-Christian music. Especially Pagan Atheist. Things are getting insane with the polarization of religions and races.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • CL2011

      When Christianity and right conservative politics union, 50% of the US population became marginalized from their God and it was no wonder that some few turned their backs on it all together. When saying the government should take care of the poor means you are not a "right" christian, what do you expect. I was lucky enough to retain my faith in God by my church, who believes in leaving that which is to Caesar to Caesar and that which is to God to God. Secularism.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
  17. Tom from NC

    Can't you folks read? This person is a "scholar", and he has written books. He says so right at the outset of what he is about to say. Does not that show that everything he says is accurate and true? I am a scholar too, so you can depend on my remarks. He is full of bull. How's that for getting to the truth of the matter.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
  18. John, USA

    And who can prove the bible is nothing more than an old wives tale ? We know it was not written by jesus. Who in their right mind would declare "the chosen people" sparking a 2,000 year war ?

    March 3, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
    • ShawnNC

      Good question. I had the same. Do what I did. Read Matthew for yourself and see if this is not a man you want to believe in. Then read the book "Evidence that Demands a Verdict" by Josh McDowell. It was written to answer this exact question. Its a big book but if your willing to ask the question – be willing to read a response!

      March 3, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
  19. DavidUK

    I'm gay. I know that God loves me and all he wants from me is that I love him.

    I believe that the bible does in fact condemn my lifestyle.

    The Bible says & condemns a lot of other things in the New Testament, but let's not write about such things.

    CNN thank you for posting this. I will continue to read CNN.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
    • Guy

      An I to am a sinner who is forgiven for my daily sins, that are no bigger or smaller than lifestyle. Your relationship with God will (you finish the sentence)

      March 3, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
    • Amy

      That's a powerful testimony, David. We are all sinners, and all sins are equal in God's view. We are called to love each other, not judge.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
    • Respect

      Well said; I am str8, and that fact shouldn't matter any more than the fact that you are not should matter. Love is Love is Love, and I choose not to h8 that. True love that is, (mind us)..... lust is lust is lust; as well. ~1A~

      March 3, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
    • ShawnNC

      God says "All things are permissible but not all things are profitable for those who believe in Jesus Christ". God forgives past, present and future sins when you come to believe. Have faith and do not be discouraged. Read and believe.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
  20. Karen Curious

    The Bible condemns a lot of things... like women thinking for themselves. Jesus is the only cool thing about the Bible.
    Th Bible is a free pass for men to continue to rule the world and have women indebted to them... I love the highlighted photo at the top here how women were created from men...
    God is an alien. The human race is genetically engineered by the Nibiruans. We've all been duped and the Men in Power want to keep it that way. Religion was made to control the masses to NOT THINK FOR THEMSELVES. Think for yourself. Whoever your God is, understands and loves and accepts you for exactly who you are. Hopefully that God is of the light otherwise that God is of the dark.... it is about good and evil here... Our planet is a free will zone. deep inside all of you, you know something hasn't felt right about what you have been taught. Time to wake up and take control of your own life, your own destiny and quit letting The Others tell you how to live your life. Peace to all.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
    • Polly

      Amen!

      March 3, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
    • Hermi

      I agree with you fully in your statement. The Bible was once full of wisdom and knowledge of everyday living, but like everything else it was tinted with mans manipulation to rule over man. We forget that knowledge was fleeting back then and only the super rich had access to teachers of that time. So questions about life and death, were answered by plain ordinary people who happen to be naturally smart but still not correct in the true knowledge. They were able to make up story's that sounded right to the ears of ignorant and Galibi people of that time. I say nothing has change from that time and now. other then the division of people fighting for the right to be political correct. Let's face it we as humans are so imperfect we will never be able to convenience each other one is right the other is wrong thinking. Only by letting others live there lives according to there morals and conscious, can we expect to excel to the grand design God has unfold us in...

      March 3, 2011 at 9:29 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.