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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. kz

    it's ok – according to the bible, this author is not to be trusted on issues regarding the lord... because he wears glasses. it clearly states that any man (for no woman is to be trusted) who professes to know the truth of god and also requires corrective lenses clearly does not know his place (which is somewhere outside of god's loving realm):

    Lev. 21:16-23 "The Lord said to Moses ' Say to Aaron: For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God. No person who has any defect may come near: no one who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; no one who has a crippled foot or hand, or who is hunchbacked or dwarfed, or who has any eye defect or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles."

    Leviticus also specifies that any incest other than father-daughter is not good in god's eyes. Nobody tell Fritzl.

    March 3, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
    • endure

      Dude, totally took that verse out of context. Classic blunder.

      March 4, 2011 at 3:33 am |
  2. Johndoe

    to mr. kendall and saxus, what part of these scriptures that you don't understand? do I have to teach you how to read?

    Jesus said:
    I and my Father are one. John 10:30

    The Jews answered him [Jesus], saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God. John 10:33

    When many were about to stone Jesus for blasphemy (John 10:30-39), He said to them that said he blasphemed "because I said, I am the Son of God?" (John 10:36).

    If you never read the Bible, please don't post a stupid comment.

    March 3, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
  3. Johndoe

    mr. Kendall and saxus, what part of this scriptures that you don't understand. Do I have to teach you how to read?

    Jesus said:
    I and my Father are one. John 10:30

    The Jews answered him [Jesus], saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God. John 10:33

    When many were about to stone Jesus for blasphemy (John 10:30-39), He said to them that said he blasphemed "because I said, I am the Son of God?" (John 10:36).

    If you haven't read the Bible, please don't make a stupid comment.

    March 3, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
    • Kendall

      @JohnDoe- I forgive your ignorance of the Bible. Jesus never said he was the Son of God. I am right and you shown it by not providing anything that shows him saying it. Let's start with what I believe and it is that Jesus was the Son of God...ok, but I am still right that Jesus never declared himself as such. The ppl of God have been described as his children many times and God as their father or even husband (look it up in the prophets).

      The other two verses you cite are out of context. The Jews said the first part and not Jesus. And what Jesus was saying was a question....he was questioning them if he ever called himself the Son of God. Guess what?? They couldn't ever say he did. Ain't that a kick in the butt.

      March 4, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  4. Rebecca

    Thank you for a well structured argument in response to Knust's previous article. I appreciate your wholistic reading of the Bible, understanding God's entire plan for humanity from Creation until Redemption, instead of picking and choosing Bible verses to support one's own theological view.

    March 3, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
    • Observer

      Of course he picked the verses that supported his view. Everyone does. That's why he fluffed over the Bible's take on slavery.

      March 3, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
  5. Thomas Fullstop

    Awesome article! The previous article that this is responding to, made me sick. Her logic was absurd and virtually everything she mentioned about the Bible was wrong and totally skewed! I am a seminary student, I have a bachelors degree in Religious Studies, and I am so thankful that there was a thorough intelligent response to that fool who wrote the previous article! It makes me sad that just because people don't like what the Bible says, they're dishonest about it. I can accept that you don't agree with the Bible... just don't lie about it, to make it say what you want. If by some random chance the author reads this, thank you so much for your great response! Don't be discouraged by all of the negative responses, because as we know, " the message of the gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing! " keep up the great work!

    March 3, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
  6. Dan

    Kendall, if you're still around, I'd like to say that you make an excellent point: All of those who say they would never read a two thousand year old book from the bronze age, but then quote the ancient Greek philosphers like Plato, really are not thinking about what they're saying.

    March 3, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
    • Kendall

      TY

      March 4, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  7. Reality

    "Abrahamics" believe that their god created all of us and of course that includes the g-ay members of the human race. Also, those who have studied ho-mo-se-xuality have determined that there is no choice involved therefore ga-ys are ga-y because god made them that way.

    To wit:

    o The Royal College of Psy-chiatrists stated in 2007:

    “ Despite almost a century of psy-choanalytic and psy-chological speculation, there is no substantive evidence to support the suggestion that the nature of parenting or early childhood experiences play any role in the formation of a person’s fundamental heteros-exual or hom-ose-xual orientation. It would appear that s-exual orientation is biological in nature, determined by a complex interplay of ge-netic factors and the early ut-erine environment. Se-xual orientation is therefore not a choice.[60] "

    "Garcia-Falgueras and Swaab state in the abstract of their 2010 study, "The fe-tal brain develops during the intraut-erine period in the male direction through a direct action of tes-tosterone on the developing nerve cells, or in the female direction through the absence of this hor-mone surge. In this way, our gender identi-ty (the conviction of belonging to the male or female gender) and s-exual orientation are programmed or organized into our brain structures when we are still in the womb. There is no indication that social environment after birth has an effect on gender ident–ity or s-exual orientation."[8

    Of course, those gays who belong to Abrahamic religions abide by the rules of no adu-ltery or for-nication allowed.

    March 3, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
    • Artur

      You get charged for tkaing out money usually about 2 % then you get charged anything from about 13.9% upwards if you do not pay all the money back within the allotted time

      March 2, 2012 at 11:49 am |
  8. William Brown

    Dan; the Children of Israel were commanded to listen to the scriptures as read and interpreted by the Anointed Priest of the Tribe of Levi, and Paul was an apostate after he left orthodox Judaism to spread the good news. And yes I may be appallingly ignorant but then I'm only human, I crave your forgiveness for my stupidity.

    March 3, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
    • Dan

      It is the best way when most people are illiterate, as they were at that time. Scripture reading has always been a big part of Christianity – even in the Middle Ages. Read Bernard of Clairveux (sp?) and Thomas a Kempis. They taught the Bible to rich and poor alike, not because they were "anointed," but because they were passionate about telling people about God's grace.

      March 3, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
  9. E

    The Bible is written and translated by men, it is stories, opinions of men, and nothing else. It has as much relevance as The Flying Spagetti Monster and every bit as much proof of its truths.

    March 3, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
    • Brandan

      you obviously don't know you're history very well. There are a lot of evidence to support many of the Old Testament stories, and the Bible itself. For example, the Dead Sea Scrolls that were found were dated to as early as 150 BC. The only difference between the DSS and what we have today (word wise, at least) are little words, such as: as, am, I, etc. These words, when changed, really don't have any bearing in changing the infallibility of the Bible. Also, a lot of the kings of the Old Testament were also referenced in archeological findings (the Ishtar Gate is the only one that comes to mind). Also, the earliest copies of the New Testament were found 25 years after it was written. No other ancient text can claim that. Since I saw Plato, I will use him as a comparison. the earliest copy was found 1200 years after it was originally written. Yet, no one questions him. Also, a copy of Homer/Illiad was found 500 years after the original manuscript was written. That's the next closest copy of an ancient text in comparison to the Bible, and yet again, it's not questioned (I read it in 9th grade a few years ago)

      March 3, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
  10. Linda

    God hates sin, but loves the sinner. He stands at the door and knocks, he who has an ear, let him hear. When you die it is too late.

    March 3, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
  11. Spencer

    Now, this is more like it! Good Scholarship!

    March 3, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
    • Thomas Fullstop

      agreed!

      March 3, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
  12. amigay

    The one fact that destroys this man's entire argument is the fact that the Bible was written by flawed men. Once you come to grips with the fact it is NOT God's word, everything else falls into place.

    March 3, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
    • Kendall

      And considering that you are a flawed human....your comment falls into place as well.

      March 3, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
  13. hp

    I wish this comment of the end of the article were true.

    The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Robert A. J. Gagnon.

    March 3, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
  14. Ed Galbraith

    Questioning 2,000 year old desert nomads who saw countless "miracles" requires very little... just a conscience.

    March 3, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
    • Kendall

      Why Ed? Should we be listening to a 20-50 year old yuppie like you instead? Tell us why being a nomad makes them wrong? Or when their time frame was......would you be so critical of Plato? He was a ancient rocky city-state dweller.

      March 3, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
    • myklds

      OR, would have live and died with Gallileo or pytagoras inside the asylum.

      March 3, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
  15. the bible for dummies

    So according to christians we have a creater that is jealous, petty, and before Jesus was unjust and unforgiving. He doesn't condone your sinful behavior because his other creation, the devil tempted a woman with an apple (this of course creates sin). Though he can see the future and knew this was going to happen (remember he's perfect) he had to fix this. So his first attempt was to drown the whole planet. Well that didn't work so he created a son that had to be tortured painfully to death to show the world his undying love. The story doesn't end there now he's going to allow the apple bringer to have a child that will become king of the world and bring nothing but pain and misery to everybody but the people who praise his son for being tortured painfully to death because they are all going to disappear off the planet. Then after all of that the creater's son, Jesus is going to return to defeat the devil's son and finally create world peace. I know I left out a lot like the part where our almighty creator kills slave owners' first born children because it makes no sense to punish the guilty. Also the part where creator, disguised as a plant on fire gives rules you are supposed to live by but nobody can read because it will kill you to see the tablets the rules were written on.

    March 3, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
    • Kendall

      First off...God is Just and God is forgiving. He has always been so. I suggest you read up on the prophets in the Old Testament. If you want a easy to read understanding of Daath Elohim, the pathos of God and God's justice.....read "The Prophets" by Rabbi Heschel. That is....if you actually want to learn and dare to challenege your own thoughts.

      March 4, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
  16. Dan

    I hope Kendall lives by this too:

    A husband could divorce his wife; women on the other hand could not ask for divorce... the wife called her husband Ba'al or master; she also called him adon or lord; she addressed him, in fact, as a slave addressed his master or subject, his king. The Decalogue includes a man's wife among his possessions... all her life she remains a minor. The wife does not inherit from her husband, nor daughters from their father, except when there is no male heir. A vow made by a girl or married woman needs, to be valid, the consent of the father or husband and if this consent is withheld, the vow is null and void. A man had a right to sell his daughter. Women were excluded from the succession."

    March 3, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
    • Kendall

      And why would I live by that Dan?

      March 3, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
    • Kendall

      Oh..and Dan, I think you are getting the overall laws of the Torah mixed up with a specific ten of them.

      March 3, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
    • Dan

      It seems to me that people just pick and choose parts of the bible to live by. If we are going to live by it we should be stoning people and cutting off hands.

      March 3, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
    • Saxus

      @Dan- You see..this is part of the problem. All you see are laws...you do not see compassion, the pathos of God in his word or his justice. All you see is cold hard laws and ignore the rest.

      March 4, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  17. Allen

    The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Robert A. J. Gagnon. The decision to put this story at the top of the CNN.com homepage was solely that of CNN.

    March 3, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
  18. Bill

    The reason athiests like myself read this tripe and post is that it is at the root of the problem of hate and intolerance in America. Trying to justify bigotry and hatred based on bronze age mythology is not only wrong, it is dangerous. If you believe you will sit by the right hand of god because you have faity, bully for you. When your belief creates suffering for others, you cross a line which we don't have to tolerate and certainly won't respect.

    March 3, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
    • Brandan

      so you fight bigotry with bigotry? Because someone else has beliefs you don't believe with, and because they are against "freedom", you have reason (and when I say you, I mean most atheists that fight against saying "Merry Christmas" and removing any evidence of Christ from society) to completely wipe Christianity off the face of the earth. And by the way, why isn't it that you don't fight the Muslims either? They believe the same thing Christians do, and yet people allow them to put a Mosque next to Ground Zero.

      March 3, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
  19. SisterOfLittleLamb

    Can we skip to the part where we all decide Jesus is Lord and God in Real?! All these commercials are giving me a headache!

    March 3, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
  20. aselfishpoet

    The Bible condemns nothing – humans do that.

    March 3, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
    • mary

      what Bible are you reading ?

      March 3, 2011 at 11:09 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.