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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. KSWilhoit

    Thank you CNN for having the courage to post this article! Bravo!

    March 3, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
    • Chuck Anaheim, Ca

      Do you have the courage to admit that Jesus was a flaming liberal and a socialist?

      March 3, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
    • CML

      It's amazing that you believe your own words. Such little knowledge of the word of God and yet so willing to
      condemn it. You should study first so that at least when you say the reasons you don't believe they have some substance.
      Just because you don't believe in God, doesn't mean He doesn't exist! Think about that.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
    • MattK

      Just because you do, it certainly does not, either. And one of us is making some awfully lofty claims without a single shred of evidence. ever.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
    • JustReading

      I ALSO WANT TO THANK CNN FOR POSTING THIS. Well said, Mr. Gagnon. I would only add to the reader-comments that God still loves each of us as sinners....He loves us too much to leave us chained to our sin, which is why he commands us to turn away from it and turn to Him instead. Hate towards people – any person – is never the answer.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
    • Darren Sisco

      I agree with KSWilhoit. Bravo CNN, Bravo. You other unfaithful people, only Hell awaits you. We all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The wages of sin is death and death in the bible term is Hell (Romans 6:23). But God loves even the sinners, in so much he let his own son die on the cross (Romans 5:8). Whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord for salvation SHALL be saved (Romans 10:13). True faith is more than just believing and trusting in God, its spiritual insurance for the afterlife. I've seen too many unbelievers on deaths bed come crying out for salvation after a life of intolerance and bigotry. They are indeed saved right there!

      March 3, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
    • Kevin Ross

      Hear! Hear! It is refreshing to hear someone give an honest exposition of biblical truth for public consumption. And I commend CNN for recognizing that it is worthy of public discussion.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
    • JustReading

      I hear your point, MattK. Someone's gotta be wrong. But actually, there is evidence...strong evidence worth looking into. I'd recommend reading "The Case for Christ" by Lee Stroebel. He is a journalist that hated God and Christ and setout to prove the Bible false. Good read...can't hurt.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
    • JW

      Yes, thanks CNN for giving us an opposing view to consider.

      March 3, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
  2. Frankly

    Yeah it is totally wrong, I agree...except for the hot chicks engaging in it.

    March 3, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
  3. godsman

    there IS a day when athiests will rise up and stop this religous stuff. It is predicted where? IN THE BIBLE!!! You are fulfilling prophecy and you don't even realize it!!! That is truly funny! (one world gov't, one world currency, one world religion. its all coming at us right now)

    March 3, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
  4. Lorena

    True, that's what the Bible says. However, given that the Bible is nothing but a collection of ancient Jewish myths, discriminating against gays is saying that 6,000-year-old morality is correct in this day and age, when women vote and go out in public with their period and slavery has long been abolished.

    March 3, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
  5. Alert Citizen

    Who cares?

    March 3, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
  6. surebe

    Just remeber you can never inject truth into a person, with a needle or a pill. A person must come to realize truth for themselves. It's easy! My position has always been "Think of it like this". A person must journey into truth by the direct stimulas of the creator himself, and then determine the truth for him or herself.

    Anyone who takes the position that there is "No Wrong or there is No Right" view. Has slipped into a view base on Secular Humanism!

    March 3, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
  7. safe from the likes of you

    Who gives a rat's bottom what the bible says? The most important words in that book are almost always ignored "ACCORDING TO"

    March 3, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
  8. Soporifix

    Scripture says that people who wear two different types of thread int heir clothes must be killed. Same for people who plant two different crops in one field, or disrespect their parents, or are witches. Killed.

    So I have to ask, who gives a flying f&ck what the Bible says about anything?

    March 3, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
  9. JM

    I don't understand why atheists think it's OK to use perjorative phrases like "religious nonsense", "fairy tales", "myths", etc. yet I'm quite sure they would take umbrage if I called their positions "nonsense", etc. Atheists cannot establish the rules of debate, declaring that anything that is outside their observable experience is impossible. They don't have to believe in God but to state that God is logically impossible is simply false. Also, many people make all sorts of claims about "contradictions in the Bible" but when examined, these supposed contradictions can be easily resolved. Statements made about Bible versions often are born out of ignorance. There are over 5,000 full and partial original-language manuscripts and portions of the Bible that are known to us. Scholars have painstakingly compared these to each other and even where there was some divergence, no central tenet of Christianity has ever been overturned by what has been found. In other words, most of the differences consist of word order, spelling and the like. The Bible is complex and like any complex subject, you can't just read it without discernment. There are reasons why certain rules applied in the Old Testament that no longer apply in the New Testament, for example, and it might help to read a good commentary along with the Bible to aid in your understanding. Yet for all it's complexity, the gospel message is clear – God made the world good, man fell into sin, no amount of good works can erase the damage of sin, yet God's Son, Jesus, was alone able to live perfectly and was willing to die, paying for our sins, so that by placing our faith in Him as our Savior, we might receive forgiveness and the assurance of eternal life. Yes, I freely admit that message requires faith and I hope that perhaps before rejecting it because of "perceived errors" in the Bible or Christians who haven't lived up to all they should be, many will stop to sincerely consider it.

    March 3, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
  10. LittleLamb

    It doesn't matter what any of you negative people say. My God, the Lord of all creation, King of Kings, has already won this battle. The
    Lord will return on Judgement Day, and NO ONE can stop Him. THis battle, though you still may say things against Him and me, has beenWon by Him.

    March 3, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
  11. DoodleSheep

    Anyone who puts any faith (no pun intended) into that book (along with pretty much every "holy" book) should be sent to the funny farm. They're all re-writings of earlier mythologies.

    March 3, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
  12. Tom

    Reading the comments here.....so much faith in man's knowlege, so much certainty of man's superiority, his all-seeing knowledge, his all-knowing grasp of the big picture. So many people so willing to place themselves on a pedestal as the ultimate fount of all knowledge. Poster children for pride and arrogance. How does one reason with those whose minds are closed and locked? "Behold, I stand at the door and knock." Only YOU can open the door. Do you grasp the signifiance of what you're messing with? Do you grasp the meaning of eternity?

    March 3, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
  13. Jim

    The bible also says we are to stone people for working on the Sabbath, disrespecting their parents, and so on and so forth. Moreover, who cares what the bible says with regard to legal status in this country. This is still a secular country, and while religious teachings may guide or sway some lawmakers when they attempt to be fair or just, religious doctrine should never dictate law or legal status in this country. If we were to take the bible literally, most of us would be dead from stoning and almost all of us would be going to hell... this certainly includes most of the morally superior Religious right.

    March 3, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
    • The truth hurts

      Your last two comments are probably and very sadly correct

      He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
      Jhn 8:12

      March 3, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
  14. The truth hurts

    There are many things in the Bible that go against my grain. I can't change it. Me believing it or not doesn’t make it more or less the truth.

    He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
    Jhn 8:12

    March 3, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
  15. Mike

    Since this is CNN, I was prepared for anything (I expected to read something like what Ms. Knust wrote the other day - and just as mistaken), so I was quite surprised grateful to read your article, Mr. Gagnon. I thank you.

    I think you did a terrific job of making clear what the Bible says and exposing the fallacies of Ms. Knust's arguments.

    It is depressing to read the comments, though. So many lost people, and all of the them thinking they know the truth. It wasn't for nothing Jesus said "wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it."

    March 3, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
    • Jim

      Without physical evidence, you do not know the "truth" any more that any of the rest of us. You may feel something very strongly that you can't explain, but that is not the same thing as "knowing" the "truth." You may be able to point to anything as evidence of something, but just because something exists does not mean that you have divine truth. Facts supported with evidence equals truth. Ancient text written by people with limited scientific understanding of the natural world and a strong feeling on your part does not equal the truth. Moreover, just because we do not understand something does not mean that God did it or made it. The only way you will have the absolute and final truth with regard to the supernatural is the same way the rest of us will... When you die. Unfortunately that is the catch 22... if you are right and actually had the truth all along, you can't come back and tell anyone. If you are wrong and I am right, I can't come back and tell anyone either. In any case, just because you really really believe it does not make it true. And even if there is a God, why in the world would he/she/it care if someone is gay? Come to think of it, if anyone is not gay, why would they care if someone else is? I think the better idea would be to worry about your own behavior and spend less time judging someone else's. Most of the religious people trying to force their beliefs on everyone else might start with bigotry.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
  16. Dennis

    Just more psychotic scholarly babble.! The old cliche everyone has an a–hole! Let's see who can out babble their nonsense to supposedly win a flawed debate over the other authority on the meaning of the Bible, Oh my! Like this has not been done over a million times before, for the last 5000 years. Im tired of the charlatan, intellectual midgets, that claim they are such enlightened biblical authorities! Just small minded bullies, pushing their agenda, for God's sake what else is new!

    March 3, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
  17. JD

    great article! Thank you.

    March 3, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
  18. GB

    What I don't get are the people who claim to be atheists yet take the time to get on here and argue... A true atheist would not waste there time because they dont believe. Also another invalid argument is one that states " the world would be fine without all the religious crazy people who believe in a fairytale and go around hatting and killing." The only problem with that statement is that you still have to deal with "Man" Man is the issue not the higher power belief. There are millions of people not believing in a higher power yet are corrupt.... killing, hatting, greedy and adulterous. If you are atheist why post??? it is because something in you is speaking to your heart. We live we die and then Truth reveals Himself to you.... Love yall

    March 3, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
    • joe

      I'm sure you have thoughts on Scientologists, End of the World Cults, etc. For us, it's the same. We're amazed at the massive cults that surround us, and speaking up is all we can do to stave off the insanity of it all.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
    • Bob

      Really? Since when does an atheist not care? You're getting atheism mixed up with nihilsm. But equating atheists with nihilists is at least slightly better than the nazi analogy that's all too common.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
    • teamtrek

      "True" athiests take the time to comment because they are tired of others beliefs, based on a book that has been rewritten over the years to fit the times, being shoved down their throats in the form of discriminatory laws. You mention nonbelievers as killing, hating, and being greedy and adulterous. The first things those words bring to my mind are not atheists, but the Crusades, the Westboro Baptist Church, and Jim Bakker and a host of other televangelists.

      The bible is full of slavery, male dominance over women and more, yet most Christians I have met tend to pick and choose their beliefs from the bible like they're at a buffet.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
  19. james

    They say the devil is in the details. Maybe the Bible is more of a guide book than the end-all-be-all-almighty Word of God. It was written by men after all and men are fallible. Even if God influenced or motivated their writings it was still men that physically wrote it down and they made mistakes. Like a cosmic game of "telephone." Even if God told them specifically what to say doesn't mean they related it exactly. Just because God tells you to do something doesn't mean you have to. Man does have free will, right? So the details might not be perfect, but they don't need to be, the overall message is more important anyway.

    March 3, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
    • Mike

      So you're not familiar with Jonah? God told him to do something and he ran away. In the end I think God got his way.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
    • James Rayment

      And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
      (2 Peter 1:19-21 ESV)

      March 3, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
    • james

      Haha when I wrote that I thought to myself "someone's gonna mention Jonah, what about Jonah?" Details, Mike, details.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
    • james

      James- Using a different part of a book to prove that another part of the same book is true is just stupid. Stop.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
  20. PMSAVVY

    I believe Jesus Christ is the Messiah because... authentic prophecies of divine origin were recorded centuries in advance through recognized prophets who predicted in precise detail of the birth, sufferings and glories of the Messiah, and these were supernaturally fulfilled in Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:10-12 paraphrased

    March 3, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
    • joe

      That's great, because nobody knew Jesus even existed when "supposedly" he was alive. The most important person on earth, and there were no paintings, sketches, words.... nothing about him. Caesar ruled 100 years before, and there's no doubt as to his existence. You know what does exist, though? The Hara Krishna's, who had their character stolen by Christianity.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:06 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.