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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 • My Take • Opinion

soundoff (8,829 Responses)
  1. sharplogger

    really, people, where did this nut cake come from? I guess that he has not read his Bible real well at all! To start, God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. From the beginning, God had made marriage to be between one man and one woman. Period, stop. What about the passage in Leviticus where God is giving Israel some of his law. God is quite graphic here and you can get mad all you want but he says, "Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable" Leviticus 18:22 NIV. IS THAT NOT CLEAR? Going even further, Paul in Romans says, "Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their woman exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflames with lust for one another." Romans 1:26 and 27a NIV Obviously, this is NOT a 'new' thing as this author made it out to be. It has been around 2000+ years! Why doesn't CNN write interview someone that actually has some sense?

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

      Yah, what the hell does a respected theologian know?

      I get all my biblical direction from Sean Hannity.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
  2. Alfred

    Theologian AND psychotherapist, huh? Looks like he's a jack of all trades and master of none.

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

      Gosh, 'cause no one's ever heard for Christian therapists before.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • aleickwort

      Gosh, 'cause no one's ever heard of Christian therapists before.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • Stephen

      Sure, because doing two things with your life is IMPOSSIBLE. No one has ever been able to get two different degrees from a university :/

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

      Did you know he's gay too? I guess he is master of one.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
  3. Heaven Help Us

    With so many "interpretations" of what God's prophets said long ago, maybe we should listen to what his prophet is saying today. Seek and you shall find...

    May 15, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
  4. aleickwort

    Billions of people who have walked this earth throughout time have believed that they knew the truth. They prayed, they fasted, and God (or gods) put conviction in their hearts. Everyone else was deceived. Funny how these people have all believed different things. It is sad that some people have so much hubris as to believe they know the truth when others who believe equally in another truth are wrong. The only truth is that no one on this earth can every know the truth. No one knows anything until we die.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • Heaven Help Us

      That's a rather pessimistic claim – I hope I know a few things at least. :)

      May 15, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
  5. lk

    that's right christy. keep telling yourself that...

    May 15, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
  6. Alfred

    f

    May 15, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
  7. Beam

    Didn't even have to read the article...just read the comments and know the article twisted scripture...:/ Not surprised. Typical of CNN articles on Christianity.

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

      Um...the guy's an ordained priest. Pretty sure he doesn't have the anti-Christian agenda you accuse him of.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • D.L. Kisting

      Normally, I ignore CNN. They are biased and totally twisted. I do go to the site, to check the weather and the stock market.
      That's about it.

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

      OK, so this respected theologian does not know what he is talking about and "twisted" scripture.

      So, who is YOUR expert here?

      May 15, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • Stephen

      Until you can read all of the Old Testament in Hebrew and New Testament in Greek you have no authority to tell anyone what is or is not twisted scripture. You are arguing semantics based on the third draft translation done by English speakers with their own agenda. You can't honestly believe that the bible you read was a true translation because if that was the case there wouldn't be 10 different versions at every book store! But who am I kidding, of course you believe that, you believe in God in the first place, so you are obviously susceptible to suggestion.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • Adam

      Um, sorry to break it to you Dave, but the guy is gay too. Does that change things for you? He may have a little bias in his writing. You think?

      May 15, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
  8. sarah

    Pure garbage.

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

      I know his credentials.

      What are yours?

      May 15, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • Adam

      Really Peter? You know his credentials? Is being gay among them? Because guess what, he is. You sure you know his credentials? Do they include bias? You bet they do.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
  9. Civil War

    Oh no! CNN is going to comment on what the Bible says about something? I'm not even going to read it because I know it's going to be a convoluted mess twisted to serve the purposes of the ultra-liberal media elite and their fat-cat CEO's.

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

      Agreed!

      May 15, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
    • aleickwort

      Actually, the average Christian is vastly misinformed about what's in the Bible. It's the scholars (Christian and otherwise) who actually understand the original languages and what has happened to the manuscripts throughout time. They almost universally agree, since there is little to argue about. Few ministers, priests or pastors share this truth with their congregation, however. I guess they suppose your minds cannot handle it without you losing your faith.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • pop

      Just another lost soul trying to justify sinful behavior with misleading and false comments.

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

      Civil War: Yes, let's not read article before we comment on it.

      Brilliant.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  10. Alex

    DID EVERYONE ONE FORGET THE SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE PART OF THE FOUNDING OF THIS COUNTRY!!!! IF YOUR REASON IS RELIGION MOVE TO CANADA

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

      As a Canadian I would like everybody to just pretend that Alex never suggested this. Please dont move here, you probably wont like it. Chances are, if religion is you political motivator, you belong to the Conservative party or are at least right leaning, and maybe from the South. It's cold here. Brrrr. Who likes that? Plus we pay way more taxes and healthcare is universal. Chances are you oppose that. Just stay where you are. Public schools are actually public and the bible isnt mention in our parliament all that often. You really wouldnt be well represented here at all. In short, I like my country the way it is, and I dont think an ultra right wing bible nut with a grade 9 education who doesnt read ancient greek but thinks he knows more about the bible than an ordained priest and theologian will like Canada all that much.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
  11. Robert Figueroa

    This is not the first time someone takes the bible and makes it sound into something they want it to say. Unless you are led by the spirt of God (The Holy Spirt by taking Jesus Christ into your heart as Lord and Saviour) you are left to Humanism thinking. Man is saved by faith in Jesus Christ as all have sinned and have fell short of salvation. It is a gift from God Himself. Beware of false teachers (The Jesus Busines Folks) who will trip you and keep you from the truth. Sin is Sin plain and simple. That is why we confess are failings to Jesus and he forgives us so we can dust ourselves off and start to be like him again. Put your faith in Jesus Christ and not in any man and your will be ok. BTW I am an X Catholic because of the sickos that are a part of Priests and Nuns who should have been thrown in jail and kicked out of the Church. Then you have this PHD dude who wrote this article. Sir you are a lost soul. You are full of head Knowledge and lack any hint of the Holy Spirt. You cannot get to heaven building a tower of Bable. Obama You are an idiot just like this dude who wrote this article.

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

      "Unless you are led by the spirt of God (The Holy Spirt by taking Jesus Christ into your heart as Lord and Saviour) you are left to Humanism thinking"

      Humanism thinking is far superior to christian hate. seriously, take a look at Humanistic ethics and compare them to the morals of the bible. Humanism is based on logic, compassion and responsibility. the pillars of christianity are fear, guilt and ignorance.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
    • aleickwort

      No, it's not the first time, Christians do it every day for all sorts of reasons.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • Linda

      I agree wholeheartedly!!!

      May 15, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • Linda

      Don't get me wrong I agree with Robert Figueroa.....most certainly not with that very mistaken author who is trying to mislead people.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
  12. Jeff in San Diego

    Who cares what a fairytale tells us about marriage? How about we just get the government out of people's relationships – gay and straight – all together? It's really none of their business to begin with.

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

      Yeah...Men can marry men, women can marry women, men can marry cats, dogs, any animal he/she wants, brother can marry sister, son can marry mom or even dad, and any man can marry a 4, 5, 6, 12, year old...or even a baby...by this logic????????? Just sayin!

      May 15, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
  13. DG

    this author is a crackpot.....obviously he has spent most of his life searching for answers...and never getting the point. Teaching the philosophies of men mingled with scripture is not God's law....what a joke.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
  14. Loathstheright

    Who cares what the bible says, it is just a compliation of ancient stories told by people who thought the earth was flat.
    And if GOD is supposed to be perfect why did he make them gay in the first place? Christians just don't reason well.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • Kendra Lewis

      All biblical evidence points to the fact that there was an understanding about the nature of the earth and many other topics far beyond the secular understanding of the time. Read it some time, in earnest, if you are interested in the truth. Job is a good one. Genesis too. Actually, try them all. You'll be surprised.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • aleickwort

      Kendra – That is so patently false that it borders on delusional.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • Kendra Lewis

      Also, if you believe that God created them, you must also concede that he warned Adam & Eve not to make certain choices, but gave them freedom to do so, and that the consequences they were warned of have come to fruition for both them and all their progeny, and that sin hurts more than just the sinner, and so our lives (all of us) become increasingly more complex and painful with each new sin introduced, such that the choice to do right is often painful for us, which is not as it should be, nor as God would have it, but as we have made it.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  15. Bad Religion

    Its truly amazing how the religious zealots will reject facts and evidence, by even a person who was ordained a minister in Rome and has studied this religion in far more detail than any lay believer, put before them. I mean right here, you have a man who wrote a very detailed and well crafted article citing actual references from the bible completely contradicting everything the religious zealots say and still they don't relent. I mean how much more plain can you make this??? you religious cray-crays are flat out wrong, here is the evidence, get over it and accept it. Right there the denial of truth is pure arrogance which is something I know jesus preached against.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:57 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."

      here is the evidence that christians are supposed to kill g.ays and this article is cr@p.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • Kendra Lewis

      I would challenge you that he has not, in fact studied more than any lay believer, and that as I posted elsewhere, he quotes from extra-Biblical references, and takes several of the actual Biblical verses out of context. Read the chapters surrounding them, and you can see some of that yourself.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
  16. Charles

    Haha, first off this guy himself is gay. Just an FYI. Also, his position has been refuted by actual Biblical scolars in nearly every century some crackpot tries to use this argument.

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

      @Charles...I couldn't agree more....

      May 15, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • Bad Religion

      I'm sorry but you're not making an argument to counter his, you have no references or citations to back up such a claim and so you revert to attacking this man by calling him gay??? really, you think your the world authority on the bible when then you start casting stones left and right and attacking your fellow man? you're a pathetic excuse for christian.

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

      Charles: Is this your best counter argument to an ordained theologian. "He's gay". What?

      DG: You couldn't agree with WHAT more? That "he's gay"?

      Like presenting evidence to children.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
  17. Jenny

    Seriously, who cares what the bible says about anything? It is 2012 people, move on. There are way too many people in the world to care about what each one is doing. Life your own life.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • Bad Religion

      that's probably the most reasonable and rational thing ever said on these blogs, however clearly more "christians" (i'm laughing at those who call themselves christians) concern themselves more about the lives of others than leading their own moral life.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  18. Kendra Lewis

    In reading this article, I made these observations: quotes from books that are not canonical to the majority of Christians are used as support for what the Bible says, statements are either applied broadly when contextually narrow, or narrowly interpreted through other statements by other people in a very different context, and illogical jumps and assumptions are made. If you are a member of the faith, read 1 Cor 14:33, and question whether God would have his words recorded in such a confusing, disorderly manner, or if, as we are reminded through Occam's razor, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. If you are not, then the debate is not what God truly says about this one topic, but whether you have truly dealt with the idea of your soul, and its' origin, and current condition, and how the words of the Bible apply to that, first and foremost.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  19. matty bones

    Funny. Religious people on here and read this and are like nope wrong. Pride is a sin.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  20. Mike

    The Bible: "Providing cheery picked comments as rationale of anything you want for thousands of years"

    Seriously, people just concoct anything they like from that thing.

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

      the bible has the great writings of the past but we need to leave them in the past and move on

      May 15, 2012 at 7:00 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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.