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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. SisterOf LitlleLamb

    Show me where in the bible is a contradiction ?
    Theres a song I listen to a lot that has a message for you all"
    Where are the people that accused me?
    The ones who beat me down and bruised me
    They hide just out of sight, can?t face me in the light
    They?ll return but I?ll be stronger"

    March 3, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
  2. NKJ

    Why do people still believe in the Bible if it is a book of lies? What examples are there of lies? All other religions holy books are contradictory and many of their scientific statements(ie the universe reincarnates) have been proven wrong, but not the Bible. Why is the lie of evolution still believed in, even if it has very faulty evidence, and other evidence that proves against it, like molecular biology? How many "intermediate links" are there?

    March 3, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
    • Newyorker

      So, science has to disprove the Bible in order for you stop believing it. How about finding any evidence that shows that anything in the Bible is true? A scientific theory such as evolution, that has so much evidence supporting it, still cannot be said to be proven scientifically. However, the Bible, which has zero evidence of being factual can apparently be taken as 100% accurate by Christians. The bottom line is there is a mountain of scientific evidence for evolution, and there is no evidence for God, or the Bible, except what is contained in the Bible (the Bible says that the Bible is the word of God, and therefore it must be the word of God – notice any flaws in this logic? Hint: You can't, because you are a moron).

      March 3, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
  3. longreach777

    AIDS is the cure for gay conduct.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
  4. Nick P.

    WOW, CNN. You have managed to no longer be my home page now! Why make this story your top headline when so many other important world events are going on? It's also very dangerous to throw this one man's opinion out there without running the other side's opinion.

    Looks like you have joined the ranks of Fox. MSNBC will now have to replace you.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
  5. GB

    Anyone who reads the bible and truely reads it... actually knowing the true origin of the word then you cannot contradict it. If you call reading that a man swallowed by a fish in Jonah, or a man walking on water in the new testament and claim fairytale.... You Missed it. Jesus Loves you..... Stop Looking at man for the reason behind Christianity.... The bible states not every man claiming to know me will enter the gates..... Stop looking for hard evidence to convince you that there is or isn't a God. Not even a hundred years ago the science man clings too knew very little about science and made claims of" this is the way it is", and were disclaiming the bible then, come to find out they were wrong with what they even believed. As a follower of Jesus, I understand why atheists fall away because of Christians and there sorry actions... but to all who actually are not sure of what to believe..... Focus on Jesus... not man.... If you can find fault in the writings of his teachings than Loving your neighbor as yourself must be out of line.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
  6. frank

    he also does not address Lilith, nor the giants that the book of genesis refers to,

    March 3, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
  7. Inyourdreams

    This is awesome and of course it makes sense. It's is only the delusional human being, thinking s/he is totally independent of God, that does not feel a need to subject himself to the rules of the maker. Like it or not, there are rules to follow. God's rules. Pretend that He doesn't exist and ignore your dependence on Him and you'll have about 70 years of life to enjoy because He is patient and gracious, wishing you to eventually see the light. But 70 years goes by really fast.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
  8. Brian

    What the Bible says does not matter, it is your religion, don't inflict it on others. Who people choose to love and spend their lives with is their business, and it has nothing to do with you, or your god. Your welcome to believe what you will, just leave everyone else out of it.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
    • rinaldo

      I can't let you burn in hell bro

      March 3, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
  9. adventist1962

    Mat 24:37 But as the days of Noah were, so shall be the coming of the Son of Man.
    Mat 24:38 For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered into the ark.
    Mat 24:39 And they did not know until the flood came and took them all away. So also will be the coming of the Son of Man.

    You have been forewarned. Let him that has an ear listen!

    March 3, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
    • sassypants

      Amen!! Those who know your name oh Lord will trust in you for you have never forsaken those who seek your face!!

      March 3, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
  10. Bill

    Thank you for rebutting Jennifer Wright Knust's article!! Thanks for articulating this perspective, and taking a stand, no matter how unpopular it may be. Funny thing... few want to play to an audience of One anymore. I wonder why??

    March 3, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
  11. tj

    Mr. Gagnon,

    I am have difficulty understanding how easily and often you are able to quote Jesus directly and to be party to his words. I do not believe any part of the bible is directly from Christ. Revisionist history perhaps. But, if you are speaking directly with Jesus. I think most of us would have one or two questions for him.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
  12. yves

    Thank you for a well reasoned and scripturally based argument. It seems like many Christians are trying their best to be "tolerant" instead of being faithful to God's word. It's shameful that ministers, or so called minsters, distort God's word. Either we believe the full counsel of God or we don't. We can't be luke warm.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
  13. Michelle

    I totally agree with this article. Thank you Mr. Gagnon!

    March 3, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
  14. Thomas

    The author is making things up. He interprets a single word and then fleshes-out detailed conclusions from thin air. So typical of Christians. So full of themselves. So self-righteous. So judgmental. So irrational. So condescending. So self-serving. So hypocritical. So wrong.

    His lies will plummet him into hell. That is MY interpretation. And I know it is right because I had a vision and God appeared to me and said that all words that I henceforth write on CNN SoundOff shall be guided by the hand of God. Listen up all you sinners! God speaks to you through MY posts on CNN.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
  15. Joe B.

    The problem with basing your value system on the Bible is that it's a work of fiction. I would rather base my values on Oh, The Places You'll Go.

    It's a scam, people. Or do you really think Benny Hinn heals people. You do, don't you. I'm sad for you.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
    • JOregon

      Benny Hinn is a scam artist the bible is true.
      Now Evolution, that one is a fantasy.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
    • Ted

      Amazing isn't it? People argue over a book of fairy tales.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
  16. Carlos

    What does it matter what the Bible says. It is just a stupid book of mythology.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
    • Truth can set You free

      Ignorance can be bless to some, however, Myth huh? explain how the bible knew before science discovered 20 yrs ago that there is a fresh running river in the Ocean, or it was aware of spreading germs (before germs were even discovered, or how it knew particular nations would become empires of the world prior to their existence (fyi there is one more empire yet to come)
      It might do you well to actually find out for yourself the wealth of information thats far from being mythical

      March 3, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
  17. Phil The Engineer

    Of course, all of our decisions should be based on those of neolithic camel merchants.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
  18. thunder

    Gays are condemned in the Bible because they violate a fictional union of two? Laughable. The Apostles likely all had multiple wives, and Jesus specifically mentions eunuchs, who were accepted as not marrying women.

    Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.
    The disciples said to him, "If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.
    Jesus replied, "Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it. (NIV)

    March 3, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
  19. Scott Schutte

    Did not know that CNN published articles that give others amunition for hatred. We all have an opinion and we all interpret the bible in different ways. The true meaning of the bible is that my God loves us all, that there is something after our bodies have given out. When you have a book that is written by a men and influenced by other over time. It will be flawed in its teachings. That is a fact, and no matter how much you disagree with me, that is my opinion. Which just proved my point....

    March 3, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
  20. tony

    The Bible also says that a person can have slaves... just sayin', where do you draw the line?

    March 3, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
    • Rick

      What Bible have YOU read that says its ok to have slaves???

      March 3, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
    • Collin

      That's the Old Testament though. It was a different time. Jesus never claimed any of that.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
    • Alex

      To Rick – the same Bible YOU obviously haven't read. There are numerous passages supporting slavery.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
    • Eitan

      The Bible very clearly talks about the right to own slaves in Leviticus! Their are guidelines and rules though. For instance, a man could give himself up to slavery in exchange for a home to live in and food to eat. This doesn't sound so bad when you think of all the homeless people out there asking for the exact same thing

      March 3, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
    • Truth can set You free

      As usual people quote items that are taken out of context. Yes the bible speaks about owning slaves, it talks about murder, it talks about the Jews at one time sacrificing their children to the god of Moleck too, However NO where will you read where it says that God approved of such things.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:05 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.