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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. iqueue120

    Why can't gays leave other people's sacred things alone? Instead of redefining "marriage", just call your pervert juncture "pirripipirripi" We will grant you and your "pirripipirripi-other" all the "rights" that you want. We even promise we will never get involved in "pirripipirripi". You can write your own sacred book, call it, for instance, "Pirripipirripible", and make it teach how awesome is "pirripipirripi". We promise we will not try to twist it's teachings, and that we will pretend to ignore it's even existence. Get "pirripipirripied" by your religion "pirripipirripriest" and be merry. All we ask in exchange is that you leave "marriage" and "Holy Bible" as they are.

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

      You do realize that marriage predates the bible by at least a thousand years, right?

      May 15, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • iqueue120

      The only one that predate here are the gays.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
    • joe

      I completely agree! Just let us be. You can do as you please, but don't try to change our minds on what we believe. We are who we are, let us believe what we believe, and you can believe what you believe. Besides, for all of those who are tempted to believe what this guy is saying, well...he doesn't quite tell the whole passage. Romans 1:26-27 is actually Romans 1:22-32.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
    • Married

      Hey all you people who debunked this article and are all worried that gay marriage is going to be destroy your hetero marriage – get OVER IT. Its done. In 10 years- maybe sooner, you'll hear your kids say "what was the big deal?" It's embarrassing that so many Americans, people who say they believe in freedom and equality, have spent so much time and energy trying to justify being anti gay marriage - with false arguments from the Bible (as thought that should be the only source of their decisions). Please, get educated, wake up and look around you. The sky is not falling because other people live their lives differently from you and have joined their lives in marriage... Spend your time, energy and emotions on a topic that really matters - like world hunger, the pursuit of justice in the world, violence against women, natural disaster relief - these are issues that need your attention..

      May 15, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
    • joe

      Wow somebody is getting a bit upset hahaha... Like I said, just believe what you want, we'll believe what we want and soon He will have the last word ;)

      May 15, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
  2. Mormon magical underwear

    Mormons are cultist wackjobs!!!

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

      Mormonism isn't any wackier than the rest.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
  3. exegete

    If it takes that much eisegesis (trying to explain away a text's most natural meaning) of as many verses as this author "interprets"... then your interpretation is probably wrong.

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

      It hardly matters if the bible does not provide a method whereby one interpretation can be proven more correct than another.. It doesn't.. That's why you have ultra liberal and ultra conservative denominations.. Ya'll can't ever be sure your interpretation is correct.

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

      There are plenty of rules that provide for sound interpretation. 1) Interpret the whole Bible in the light of the whole Bible. 2) Always give preference to a passage's natural meaning when possible; only accept a symbolic meaning when the natural meaning is impossible. 3) Always favor a verse's immediate context over passages farther away, working in concentric circles. 4) Take into account the cultural, historic and linguistic contexts as well.
      These are the same rules as for interpreting any book, religious or otherwise. And they work!

      May 15, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  4. John Doe

    1 Corinthians 6:9!

    May 15, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
  5. Babs

    If Christians had a 0% divorce rate and really demonstrated marriage as it was meant to be the world might not see us as so hypocritical.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • Jim Jones

      If H0M0s would just get back in the closet!

      May 15, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • Sam Mandel

      If Jim Jones would just stay dead!

      May 15, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
  6. Plain Truth

    Leviticus 20:13

    If a man also lies 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.

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

      Leviticus also lets me have slaves and sell my daughter into slavery.. You sure you really want to quote from that book?

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

      Right On!

      May 15, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • Plain Truth

      Lol ... It's funny how people want to omit parts of the Bible to cater to what they want to do.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • jim

      Amen Momoya.That's just a small part of the evil that vile book condones.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
    • greg

      plain truth,even though i am an atheist,in this case,i will pray for you...

      May 16, 2012 at 8:50 am |
  7. Jim Jones

    The bible says, No pipi in the poopoo.

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

      Darn it you are funny!!!!!!!! hahahahah!

      May 15, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  8. Texadillo

    Where in all of this does it mention that this "theologian" is a self professed gay?

    You would think that a non-Fox news outlet might mention that.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
  9. wwwFBCAKEcom

    There is an old saying. Keep mouth closed and people will only think your a fool, but open your mouth and people will know your a fool.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
  10. Terri

    Leviticus 20:13
    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.

    This says it all!!!!!!!

    May 15, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • Sam Mandel

      You forgot about these verses:

      If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear. - Deuteronomy 21:18-21

      He that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death. - Exodus 21:15

      He that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death. - Exodus 21:17

      The eye that mocketh at his father, and despiseth to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young eagles shall eat it. - Proverbs 30:17

      May 15, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • Big Al

      Whether bein qu33r is not permitted in the bible should be beside the point. But, yes, your quote is what the bible says. P00fs of the world can spin whatever they want from scripture. But it is against the bible. For right or for wrong, it just is.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
    • Steven Landers

      Leviticus also says that women should sacrifice two pigeons in front of the tent of meeting after their period.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
    • jim

      Yeah Sam,some pretty harsh punishment for trashtalkin yo mama,,,,but if the bible says so,let's gather some rocks,,

      May 15, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
  11. maltytasker

    Wow, those Sins of Sodom sound like the GOP. 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).

    May 15, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  12. Nii

    The problem with this interpretation of "love thy neighbor as thyself" to mean accept everything makes me sad. Someone who loves his neighbor is conscious to do that which is ethical. The human isnt naturally gay. Yes the bible doesnt recognise lesbianism n masturbation as sins. Gay s.ex is a sin!

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

      Or, we could invent a God who would say, "Sure, son, do absolutely whatever you choose. I love you too much to ever tell you not to do something, even if the world is full of dangerous and harmful 'somethings'."
      Great parenting technique, no?

      May 15, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
  13. Alfred

    d

    May 15, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  14. reader10

    I wish they stop this BS.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  15. Chris

    "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination."

    Leviticus 18:22

    It's really that simple.

    What is comical is the author of this article is trying to quote the bible at all. Next week he will be denouncing the bible's contents as many misguided fools on this site.

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

      What a christian comment.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • Christians Are Fools

      The word in Hebrew that is commonly translated as "abomination" is also used to describe the eating of pork and shellfish and the wearing of more than one type of fabric. "Thou shalt not eat bacon or wear cotton-poly blend; it is abomination". Ridiculous, isn't it?

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

      If it's so simple, then how about Proverbs 6:16-19:

      These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, an heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, a false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.

      Why are you only focused on 1 passage when you're obviously sowing discord here, have likely given a proud look, have lied, have had wicked imaginations occasionally...it's really that simple.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • jim

      That "graven image" commandment is a fav of mine. It's a sin to take pitchers? You're nooo fun, god.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
  16. adooadoo

    First of all, this guy looks like Gilligan. Secondly, his comments are about as legit as was life on an uncharted deserted island.....quack!

    May 15, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  17. Martijn

    I wonder what Winnie the Pooh says about gay marriage!

    May 15, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • Leigh2

      Go ask Bert and Ernie. Supposedly they know more.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
    • jim

      What would Scooby do?

      May 15, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
  18. Pete

    Leave it to CNN to go out and find a morally-challenged liberal pundit to defend their spiritually-challenged President.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • Drew

      I bet you can't refute a single one of his arguments, you ignorant POS

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

      "I can't refute so I claim bias!"

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

      If the best you can do in response is to attack the speaker, choosing to ignore the ideas being expressed altogether, then how do you expect non-believers to every consider believing as you do? I feel that it is exactly this type of communication that is really making things difficult for the Christian church these days.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
    • Tony in Charlotte

      CNN STOP FEEDING THE PUBLIC GAY ACCEPTANCE BS!! ONLY A MAN AND A WOMAN CAN GET MARRIED PERIOD

      May 15, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  19. ExPAVic

    Come Now

    Who gives a chubby bunny's butt. The "Bible" was written by a bunch of hermit priests sitting locked away in some monastery high on herbs, mushrooms, and/or opium writing down what the crooked Popes in Rome wanted them to write.

    Only morons guide their lives solely from these meanderings of mind-warped old men.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  20. kola

    Bible has clearly said it in Romans 1;28 that" as they did not like to retain God in their Knowledge, God gave them to reprobate mind to do those things which are not convenient"
    People are given excuses why gay should be legalized and why God should be disobeyed. No one is standing and preach why God's words should be regarded , you know why the mind of men is blind to the truths of God ? we are on the last days. We are making God's word and laws to be irrelevant in our daily affairs. This is the sign of the end.
    Unrighteousness like gay and lesb' are becoming righteous and becoming more like normal life. we need to really cry for the spiritual situation of America.
    Well, my advice for the standing saints, PLEASE KEEP STANDING , AND KEEP TRUSTING THE LORD. BIBLE ALSO SAID IN MATTHEW 714 THAT STRAIT IS THE GATE AND NARROW IS THE WAY WHICH LEADETH UNTO LIFE, AND FEW THERE BE THAT FIND IT". No matter which way people justify their unrighteous acts, God's judgement stands.
    I will also encourage us that We should be praying for Obama that God should have compassion on him, because he is ignorant of God's righteousness. Christ will come to his hearth and his family members. and He will save them. They really need to be saved, and i pray that God will visit them soonest.
    God bless you, Christ is the Lord.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • mary

      Thank you for speaking the truth in love.at least one person who left a comment has read the bible

      May 15, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • kra

      People like you make me sick to my stomach. Twisting God's words to preach hate and inequality. The most important "God-like" rule is to treat others the way you would want to be treated... with kindness, love, and compassion. If your not going to do that, then you are honestly just a waste of space on this planet. And believe me, if there IS a hell, its people like you who will be first in line.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • jim

      @Mart So you're ok with slavery since the bible condones it? After all you've uh "read" it.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:48 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.