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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. M Galishoff

    2 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. 3 And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

    The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (2 Pe 2:1–3). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

    August 4, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • Carolyn Andrews

      Excellent reply post; most applicable verse!

      August 4, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
    • Rufus T. Firefly

      Agreed. And surely those who are using Jesus to argue against equal rights and in favor of judging others are False Prophets, no? How can those who are clearly in opposition to both "do unto others" and "the greatest of these is love" be representing Christianity well?

      August 4, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  2. Bob

    Gay mindset is a abomination to God ,He created them man and woman. The command was go multiply and populate the earth. He created Eve out of Adams rib to be a help mate and said they shall become one flesh. There are so many commands of God that the gay relationship doesn't fulfill. It also doesn't fulfill any of the spiritual requirements for a relationship and is contrary to How God set things up to be. That is why we see so much hate on the sides of the atheists and gays because they cannot conform to Gods plans and know it. I am kind of interested in when we see that in these two passages the spiritual implications of copulation with someone I wonder how God will view gays as one flesh or maybe that your bodies are the members of Christ when we know that God and Christ are holy. So how can the gay relationship be holy when its not how God established a relationship to be? These passages are for a ho-oker but we see a pattern that in a relationship that there is copulation that we join ourselves to that person no matter how long we are with that person. We create a spiritual tie with that person so how is it that the gays think that this will be ok by God. A Holy and awesome God that no sin will enter His presence and only by the blood of Jesus can we go into the very throne room. That in the Old Testament priests had to tie a rope on there leg in case God found sin in their lives and they died offering worship to Him. How far off in this light is the poster of this article and the gays here.
    1Co_6:15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a ho–oker? May it never be!
    1Co_6:16 Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a ho-oker is one body with her? For He says, "THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH."
    NO one can do what they want contrary to Gods laws and desires that put their stamp of approval on it and say that God will accept it. Its not only because God thinks that the gay act not gays are a abomination but it is contrary to how God set this world to function. Love is great love outside of the norms and commands that God has set up is wrong. So all the distortions only address maybe one sentence when you start to get the big picture of how God really set this world up you understand that what God has made man can distort but it will never be acceptable to those with a heart after God.

    August 4, 2012 at 10:20 am |
  3. John

    The guy's a "priest" and never read Leviticus?!

    Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is an abomination. (Leviticus 18:22 KJV)

    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. (Leviticus 20:13 KJV)

    The quote from Ezekiel was within the context of Ezekiel 16 referring to Israel & Samaria as types of Sodom. Read Ezekiel 16:46. Ezekiel 16 does not point to Sodom & Gomorrah but refer to only to Israel.

    August 4, 2012 at 10:04 am |
    • zippogeek

      On behalf of God-fearing Catholics everywhere...I apologize for the ignorance and blasphemy of this so-called "priest." He is an excommunicant and an abomination in every sense of the word. The Catholic Church has a GAY problem, and this pervert is all the proof we need. May God have mercy on our Church and redeem us before it's too late...

      August 4, 2012 at 10:10 am |
  4. Bill

    Daniel, you sure distorted and took out of context what the bible said to push your agenda.

    August 4, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • zippogeek

      A very creative exegesis from a defrocked priest. Perversion is perversion, and St. Paul knew it when he saw it...

      August 4, 2012 at 10:06 am |
    • Ray

      Regardless of education level or economic status of the individual, it is clear to me by reading Daniel's blog that fools come in many varieties. Nuff said!

      August 4, 2012 at 10:07 am |
  5. fortruth47

    This article is so False. Its so hard to comprehend how folks can take the simple truth of God and twist it to such falsehood. The only way you can understand that is from Gods word.
    Ro 1:18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness,
    Ro 1:25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator– who is forever praised. Amen.
    Ro 2:8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.

    August 4, 2012 at 9:13 am |
    • zippogeek

      AMEN!

      August 4, 2012 at 10:12 am |
    • Dave In Southern California

      Paul's writings should be excised from the Bible. He never knew Jesus, and he perverted what Jesus said. Follow the Gospels and the disciples.

      August 4, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
  6. Adam Willison

    Daniel's quote of Romans 1:26-27 is incorrect, he left out the most important part. Verse 26 actually starts out with "For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women..." What exactly is the reason that God did that, well that is found in the verses before 26 and 27, Romans 1:18-25.

    August 4, 2012 at 8:47 am |
  7. GigEm1979

    "Though your sins be as scarlet. Let us come together, they will be white as snow." - This is another great example of how we will pervert the word of God to justify our own ends.

    August 4, 2012 at 8:44 am |
  8. Rob F.

    Don't forget about 1st Corinthians 6:9

    August 4, 2012 at 8:41 am |
  9. Jerry

    The Bible does not specifically condemn killing puppies either. That doesn't prove that it's right, or that God just doesn't care. I bet you can spin abortion, too. Tell us how God doesn't care about the millions of murdered infants in this country since 1973.

    August 4, 2012 at 7:47 am |
  10. Bob

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

    This is the most ridiculous comment in the article. Jesus did not teach that the requirements for purity before God do not. matter. Merely that purity of heart takes precedence.

    August 4, 2012 at 7:07 am |
  11. Full Report

    Hi there, I discovered your site by the use of Google even as looking for a related subject, your web site got here up, it appears great. I've bookmarked to my favourites|added to bookmarks.

    August 4, 2012 at 6:07 am |
  12. Rational Libertarian

    Everybody knows that Jesus was in a s.exual relationship with John the Baptist. They now have an open relationship in hell, in which Jesus is also banging Muhammed, Hitler and Teddy Roosevelt.

    August 4, 2012 at 5:20 am |
    • timbuktu

      r u a communist?

      August 4, 2012 at 8:48 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Do you have any idea what political and economic ideologies are?

      August 4, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • cindy

      You will burn in hell for that statement RL.

      August 4, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      I'd rather be in hell than be in heaven with a bunch of judgemental Christards. Anyway, Satan's my homie. He stood up against your god's tyranny.

      August 4, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • cindy

      You have no idea what are saying RL. satan is nobodies homie. he is out to destroy all that he can and he certainly has a hold on you.

      August 4, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
  13. Shaft

    Daniel, you are so misguided by your interpretation of scripture; you have missed God's message to man so badly until it is hopeless to even counter that stuff. You need spritual understanding and guidance from the Holy Spirit; you have leaned so far into bad doctrine and misunderstanding of contextual scripture until it is parthetic.
    Obviously your objective is to sell books and not the truth of scripture.

    August 4, 2012 at 4:49 am |
    • godless and happy

      Well of course you would say something like that. Whatever is written about the bible, which may be true, happens to not fit your standards. Obviously, you misinterpret the bible like many do to fulfill their needs at the given time. LIke I've said before, this world would fare much better sans religion because some people are too ignorant and fail to comprehend anything, especially their beloved bible. I'm so sick of this!

      August 4, 2012 at 7:11 am |
  14. TJ

    Wow... talk about censorship. I try posting here, with no foul language, nothing offensive, and it won't allow me to post. pathetic.

    August 4, 2012 at 4:43 am |
    • Helpful Hints

      TJ,

      Bad letter combinations / words to avoid if you want to get past the CNN automatic filter:
      Many, if not most, are buried within other words, so use your imagination.
      You can use dashes, spaces, or other characters or some html tricks to modify the "offending" letter combinations.
      ---
      ar-se.....as in ar-senic.
      co-ck.....as in co-ckatiel, co-ckatrice, co-ckleshell, co-ckles, etc.
      co-on.....as in racc-oon, coc-oon, etc.
      cu-m......as in doc-ument, accu-mulate, circu-mnavigate, circu-mstances, cu-mbersome, cuc-umber, etc.
      cu-nt.....as in Scu-nthorpe, a city in the UK famous for having problems with filters...!
      ef-fing...as in ef-fing filter
      ft-w......as in soft-ware, delft-ware, swift-water, drift-wood, etc.
      ho-mo.....as in ho-mo sapiens or ho-mose-xual, ho-mogenous, etc.
      ho-oters…as in sho-oters
      ho-rny....as in tho-rny, etc.
      hu-mp… as in th-ump, th-umper, th-umping
      jacka-ss...yet "ass" is allowed by itself.....
      ja-p......as in j-apanese, ja-pan, j-ape, etc.
      koo-ch....as in koo-chie koo..!
      nip-ple
      o-rgy….as in po-rgy, zo-rgy, etc.
      pi-s......as in pi-stol, lapi-s, pi-ssed, therapi-st, etc.
      p-orn… as in p-ornography
      pr-ick....as in pri-ckling, pri-ckles, etc.
      que-er
      ra-pe.....as in scra-pe, tra-peze, gr-ape, thera-peutic, sara-pe, etc.
      se-x......as in Ess-ex, s-exual, etc.
      sl-ut
      sm-ut…..as in transm-utation
      sn-atch
      sp-ank
      sp-ic.....as in desp-icable, hosp-ice, consp-icuous, susp-icious, sp-icule, sp-ice, etc.
      sp-oon
      sp-ook… as in sp-ooky, sp-ooked
      strip-per
      ti-t......as in const-itution, att-itude, ent-ities, alt-itude, beat-itude, etc.
      tw-at.....as in wristw-atch, nightw-atchman, etc.
      va-g......as in extrava-gant, va-gina, va-grant, va-gue, sava-ge, etc.
      who-re....as in who're you kidding / don't forget to put in that apostrophe!
      wt-f....also!!!!!!!
      There's another phrase that someone found, "wo-nderful us" (have no idea what sets that one off).

      August 4, 2012 at 5:43 am |
  15. Dave

    Can anyone tell me how two men, both have penises, make baby? I am trying to understand how that two " things" that gay men use to make love and think it is natural for them to make love. Does a stork delivers a baby like the one in the movie "Dumbo" that I used to believe as a little kid?? (I still believe it today!)

    August 4, 2012 at 1:05 am |
    • jb

      really? I can't believe there are people in the world like you...

      August 4, 2012 at 1:31 am |
    • Rufus T. Firefly

      Dave, I suspect even a professional therapist would have to think hard about where to even begin addressing those issues.

      August 4, 2012 at 2:05 am |
    • RP

      Jesus knew that two men would become one flesh and that they would have a baby using a surrogate mother.

      August 4, 2012 at 2:27 am |
    • godless and happy

      This is the exact thing that p.i.s.s.e.s me off about you people. Does your perverse mind only allow you to think of gay ppl having se.x? Seriously? There is more to love than just s.ex. Weirdo.

      August 4, 2012 at 7:13 am |
    • timbuktu

      putting privates into manuar results in aid turd babies

      August 4, 2012 at 8:51 am |
  16. jimbocombo

    Leave it to CNN to pull a liberal contemporary to comment on the liberal context of a very certain and precise God. If creation worked the way this guy's take on the bible, gravity would work sometimes, the sun and moon might get their wires crossed and it's likely that time and time-stood-still were probably 'lovers'. Please spare us the perverted context presented here.

    August 4, 2012 at 12:59 am |
    • chef jeff

      'LBERAL' ...'LIBERAL'..'LIBERAL'
      blah blah blah.
      JESUS CHRIST HIMSELF WAS A LIBERAL JEW....

      August 4, 2012 at 1:09 am |
    • chef jeff

      - The Bible –
      an ancient mish-mash of fable and fiction
      recounted by goat herders and quoted by idiots
      who use it today to justify bigotry and hate.

      August 4, 2012 at 1:21 am |
    • Chris

      Cheff Jeff your are the type of person that need a proper education. you don't need to badmouth a religion you are not part of. These people on here that thump their verses around to make the bible say what they want it to say are ignorant. Christians are actually very tolerant. Most don't press their faith on others nor do they attack non-believers. The Bible teaches us to give you the CHANCE to believe, not make you. It really doesn'y affect us whether you believe or not. How could it? Think of it this way, since I'm assuming you are an atheist and utilize scientific strategy to deal with everyday decisions, If we're wrong, nothing happens, if you're wrong...well...I'm sure you get the point. The fact of the matter is that we need understanding of each other. Not animosity. Don't write off Christians because they believe something you don't. Instead try to understand and appreciate the time that they have taken out of their lives to simply inform you of their belief. We aren't going anywhere, at least not yet, so you may want to re-think your stance. Whatever belief you have, I believe you are an American who has that right to believe it. All I ask from you is to show tolerance for religion; since, you are asking us to do the same.

      August 4, 2012 at 1:59 am |
    • godless and happy

      Case in point: This article does not fit your twisted agenda, so damning someone who actually knows something about 'the good book' is the right thing to do.. Sans religion is the only way to go.

      August 4, 2012 at 7:16 am |
  17. Susan

    Thank you Daniel, for an important article. I trust your research. Have you ever researched other behaviors labeled as "sin" in the Old Testament that we disregard today (dancing, wearing purple)?

    August 4, 2012 at 12:39 am |
  18. Timothy

    Huh? Now I understand. It's just like a Stop sign and a Yield sign. Just read into it the way you live. When we all truly know what Stop & Yield mean.

    August 3, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
  19. Dan

    LOL...The ancient Greeks who actually spoke the language understood what Paul was saying and universally acknowledged that he was condemning the act of h o m o s e x u a l i t y. This gentleman comes along 2,000 years later and claims to understand their language better than they did. What drivel.

    August 3, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
    • Dan

      Look to Paul's contemporaries to see what the Greek really means.

      August 3, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
    • DANNY

      That is a horrible twist of scripture!! The author of this article is clearly aint christian!! soo sickening and sad

      August 4, 2012 at 12:05 am |
  20. J

    Wonderful article, thank you. The bible has been thumped to deny rights to women, then blacks, and now gays and lesbians. This too shall pass. As Jesus would have said, Love, and Peace and Light to ALL of you!

    August 3, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
    • godless and happy

      Best response I've seen thus far. Thank you!

      August 4, 2012 at 7:15 am |
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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.