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My Take: What the Bible really says about homosexuality
The author argues that the meaning of the Bible's passages on homosexuality have been lost in translation.
May 15th, 2012
05:39 PM ET

My Take: What the Bible really says about homosexuality

Editor's note: Daniel A. Helminiak, who was ordained a priest in Rome, is a theologian, psychotherapist and author of “What the Bible Really Says about homosexuality" and books on contemporary spirituality. He is a professor of psychology at the University of West Georgia.

By Daniel A. Helminiak, Special to CNN

President Barack Obama’s support of same-sex marriage, like blood in the water, has conservative sharks circling for a kill. In a nation that touts separation of religion and government, religious-based arguments command this battle. Lurking beneath anti-gay forays, you inevitably find religion and, above all, the Bible.

We now face religious jingoism, the imposition of personal beliefs on the whole pluralistic society. Worse still, these beliefs are irrational, just a fiction of blind conviction. Nowhere does the Bible actually oppose homosexuality.

In the past 60 years, we have learned more about sex, by far, than in preceding millennia. Is it likely that an ancient people, who thought the male was the basic biological model and the world flat, understood homosexuality as we do today? Could they have even addressed the questions about homosexuality that we grapple with today? Of course not.

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Hard evidence supports this commonsensical expectation. Taken on its own terms, read in the original languages, placed back into its historical context, the Bible is ho-hum on homosexuality, unless – as with heterosexuality – injustice and abuse are involved.

That, in fact, was the case among the Sodomites (Genesis 19), whose experience is frequently cited by modern anti-gay critics. The Sodomites wanted to rape the visitors whom Lot, the one just man in the city, welcomed in hospitality for the night.

The Bible itself is lucid on the sin of Sodom: pride, lack of concern for the poor and needy (Ezekiel 16:48-49); hatred of strangers and cruelty to guests (Wisdom 19:13); arrogance (Sirach/Ecclesiaticus 16:8); evildoing, injustice, oppression of the widow and orphan (Isaiah 1:17); adultery (in those days, the use of another man’s property), and lying (Jeremiah 23:12).

But nowhere are same-sex acts named as the sin of Sodom. That intended gang rape only expressed the greater sin, condemned in the Bible from cover to cover: hatred, injustice, cruelty, lack of concern for others. Hence, Jesus says “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:19; Mark 12:31); and “By this will they know you are my disciples” (John 13:35).

How inverted these values have become! In the name of Jesus, evangelicals and Catholic bishops make sex the Christian litmus test and are willing to sacrifice the social safety net in return.

The longest biblical passage on male-male sex is Romans 1:26-27: "Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another."

The Greek term para physin has been translated unnatural; it should read atypical or unusual. In the technical sense, yes, the Stoic philosophers did use para physin to mean unnatural, but this term also had a widespread popular meaning. It is this latter meaning that informs Paul's writing. It carries no ethical condemnation.

Compare the passage on male-male sex to Romans 11:24. There, Paul applies the term para physin to God. God grafted the Gentiles into the Jewish people, a wild branch into a cultivated vine. Not your standard practice! An unusual thing to do — atypical, nothing more. The anti-gay "unnatural" hullabaloo rests on a mistranslation.

Besides, Paul used two other words to describe male-male sex: dishonorable (1:24, 26) and unseemly (1:27). But for Paul, neither carried ethical weight. In 2 Corinthians 6:8 and 11:21, Paul says that even he was held in dishonor — for preaching Christ. Clearly, these words merely indicate social disrepute, not truly unethical behavior.

In this passage Paul is referring to the ancient Jewish Law: Leviticus 18:22, the “abomination” of a man’s lying with another man. Paul sees male-male sex as an impurity, a taboo, uncleanness — in other words, “abomination.” Introducing this discussion in 1:24, he says so outright: "God gave them up … to impurity."

But Jesus taught lucidly that Jewish requirements for purity — varied cultural traditions — do not matter before God. What matters is purity of heart.

“It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles,” reads Matthew 15. “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”

Or again, Jesus taught, “Everyone who looks at a women with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Jesus rejected the purity requirements of the Jewish Law.

In calling it unclean, Paul was not condemning male-male sex. He had terms to express condemnation. Before and after his section on sex, he used truly condemnatory terms: godless, evil, wicked or unjust, not to be done. But he never used ethical terms around that issue of sex.

As for marriage, again, the Bible is more liberal than we hear today. The Jewish patriarchs had many wives and concubines. David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, and Daniel and the palace master were probably lovers.

The Bible’s Song of Songs is a paean to romantic love with no mention of children or a married couple. Jesus never mentioned same-sex behaviors, although he did heal the “servant” — pais, a Greek term for male lover — of the Roman Centurion.

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Paul discouraged marriage because he believed the world would soon end. Still, he encouraged people with sexual needs to marry, and he never linked sex and procreation.

Were God-given reason to prevail, rather than knee-jerk religion, we would not be having a heated debate over gay marriage. “Liberty and justice for all,” marvel at the diversity of creation, welcome for one another: these, alas, are true biblical values.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Daniel A. Helminiak.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Bible • Christianity • Gay marriage • Opinion

soundoff (8,832 Responses)
  1. Tkid

    Bin Laden was also a theologian who tried to convince other Muslims to kill us American

    May 15, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
  2. Andrew

    Jesus himself could come down and proclaim that marriage is for everyone, and all people are equal no matter who they are...and the religious right would disagree with what he has to say.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      they'd think jesus was a hippie communist and run him out of town.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  3. John

    The definition of irony is christian fundamentalists raking Islam through the mud when their religion was started by an Arab in the same part of the world. Jesus wasn't a white american people! And he sure wasn't the son of a god.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • l

      and he sure wasn't Arab.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • John

      Yes, he was an arab.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      jesus was a jew.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • Sean

      Arab is a term referring to those who live in the arab region, primarily located in western asia and northern africa. Muslim is a term that refers to those who practice the islamic religion. A jewish person is someone who practices Judaism. Since Jesus was allegedly born it what is now Israel, that would make him Arabic. He was also Jewish, if he existed and accounts of him are accurate.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
  4. Seminarian

    Jude 1:7, Romans and 1 corithians all speak against.. and the jews would stone people that persued this act... sounds like it was forbidden.. it is interesting that CNN can post a one sided opinion and present as fact without any real contextual support. very agenda based.....The very fact that it was not spoken about directly but put into immorality show that it was beyond even the depraved at the time.. only the greeks and romans had any of these practices and therefore added to their unclean-nature. two men or two women is always unnatural -against the very design. trying to rewrite the scriptures to make yourself feel good abot sin will not save you from the fires of sheol. it is not the act but the rebellion that causes this to happen.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • Sam Mandel

      better hope you have kids with your wife, because if you don't, your organ has been used against nature as well. In fact, this was such an important aspect of early Hebrew culture, that "God" sanctioned quasi-incest, allowing a man to sleep with his deceased brother's childless wife. Poor Onan, found out the "hard" way.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • John

      The part I most agree about the bible is where they say the proper way to whip a slave is such that they survive the beating, even if they die later. If you whip a slave so hard that they die outright, that is wrong. Lessons of the bible to live by.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      that's a great verse, John. my favorite is the part about selling your own daughter into slavery. she was never going to be a useful as a son anyway!

      May 15, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • Seminarian

      actually Philemon gives a strong correction against slave ownership if you understand greek...but you probably did not read that far.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • toddquinn

      One-sided? Yes...I believe that is what the definition of opinion is which is so CLEARLY spelled out numerous times in the article. Fact? Again, clearly stated that this is an opinion. As for the quotes pulled from the bible, maybe they aren't in your version because, you know, there are only a couple thousand translations and everybody wants their own interpretation.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  5. Sam Mandel

    Better tell your wife not to punch a guy in the nuts, and your kids not to make fun of bald people.

    She'll have her hand cut off, and bears will eat your kids.

    MUHAHAHA!

    May 15, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • Seminarian

      at least you have read some of the Old Testament..

      May 15, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  6. Lucas1

    Bootyfunk The joke about all of this is that you really don't get it. Man left alone is what got us here in the first place. But on the other hand you probably do get because you're one that will never receive what God had said and is now trying to say to you again, repent. It would be so easy to not say anything to you and let you find out, but thats not our job. Our job is to tell men the truth, and then allow them to either receive or reject it. You have obviously refuse to receive and I or anyone else can't make you believe anything that the bible say. I just hope one day you do.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      you are in a cult. it's called christianity. there is no such thing as god. like all cults, yours claims to be right. when cults are accepted by society, they're called religions. when there are no more cult members worshiping, religions become a mythology.

      cult = religion = mythology

      there is no such thing as god. grow up.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • Richard

      Wow, great to see some people have a direct line to god and know what he wants.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • 311mortimer

      Bootyfunk you are in a cult it's called No Accountability. Good luck with that.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
  7. Just Saying

    I'm not a church going person, but I'm reading through the comments regarding this article and have some questions. What did the bible say about the world being flat? What did the bible say about sailing to a new land and waging a war on innocent people as they moved westward, I've always believed their is something above us/of a greater power. Its crazy to me that so many people take a book so literally from 2000 years ago. Did the bible say anything about molesting alter boys and how these criminals keep getting away with it. Does the bible say anything about who you should love, because I know lots of mixed race couples that are happy, but I'm sure in the bible that's a sin......

    May 15, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • Seminarian

      In isaiah the World is called an orb more correct than a circle...the four corners is a description of the directions of the wind not a reference point.. Learn Greek...it may help....as far as the references to canaanites are such.. that is what happens when people worship idols...or themselves such as this article suggest

      May 15, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  8. ColoradoAtheist

    This guy is an Ordained Roman a theologian and a professor. Sorry thumpers, but i'll take his opinion over your's at all times when it comes to understanding christianity. Funny how you people believe those blow holes on faux, and the idiots of the GOP over someone with credentials like this guy. ignorance is bliss.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      13 If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

      so you believe this guy over what it actually says in the bible? it's very clear about putting g.ays to death.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  9. exc

    MAN CREATED GOD FROM HIS OWN IMAGINATION. MAN WROTE THE BIBLE AND THE MADE UP MYTHS.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
  10. Brian

    Very interesting. Try justifying any of that to a Southern Baptist and see how far you get.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
  11. Chris

    Really don't care what the Bible says. Nor the Quran.

    I simply don't let organized religion tell me what to do. Nor should the US generally – I think one of the best things about this country is the separation of church and state.

    Yeah, a lot of our law, a lot of morallity is based on religious teachings. So too are most people's actions based on what they did and learned as children. That doesn't mean we have to act like children.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
  12. hahahahaha

    This article is pretty gay.... then again, so is religion.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
  13. whatasurprise

    What a surprise, a gay "theologian" thinks the Bible supports his lifestyle. Where do you find these quacks, CNN?

    May 15, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • Mike

      Can you refute the points he made, or are you just going to spout that nonsense and not actually provide factual evidence for what you claim?

      May 15, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
  14. Kimberly Mann

    How may I further tickle your ears?

    May 15, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
  15. DC

    For legal purposes, what the Bible says is irrelevant as we do NOT live in a theocracy.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • HZD

      For legal purposes, the Bible is not at all irrelevant, precisely because it is very relevant to a large number of citizens, and we do in fact live in something that somewhat resembles a democracy.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • Robert

      One man's bible is another man's gun. Save me from all of it.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  16. Mimzi

    There is nothing in the bible to suggest that Ruth and Naomi were lovers. Where did you even come up with that?

    May 15, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
  17. David

    CNN – the forum for Obama. Let's just make this the front page headline until the election is over. Why doesn't CNN run a front page story every day about how bad the economy is?

    May 15, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • GJGVT

      you better switch back to Fox for the real news... yes, the endless stories trying to discredit the people who claimed Romney was a bully at his private prep school.. yep.. the real important news

      May 15, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  18. Dave

    Bah... the bible also says that unruly children and women who don't obey their husbands should be stoned. The bible thumpers ignore those passages just fine, try to justify their bigotry with scripture. Blatant hypocracy.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
  19. tab

    Politics will make the smartest person dumb!!

    May 15, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
  20. Kevin

    The natural way of living is living the way that is created by God. Men and women are made to couple and reporduce and make the world perfect in balance and harmony. Men loving men and women loving women may occur and this should not be punished, if not promoted in public. But I don't feel this is natural, the way the whole world is created and intended for.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • Dave

      Perfect harmony? Do you get out much? How about wife beaters, or adulters, or any number of REAL threats to marriage.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:53 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.