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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 (8,831 Responses)
  1. MikeB

    "~ and are willing to sacrifice the social safety net in return."
    Politically Biased?

    May 15, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
  2. Phil

    Interesting read

    May 15, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
  3. Bootyfunk

    having a degree in theology is just like having no degree at all.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  4. l

    You would think that either CNN or Helminiak would point out the fact that he is gay.

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

      Why? The other side of the argument is probably made by a bunch of straight people, so I guess they are excluded also?

      May 15, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  5. Nii

    Typically the Xtian has no axe to grind with a gay person. Just that to twist the Bible to support being gay is the strangest thing to do! I don't think adulterers have an advantage over being gay in the Bible. Even having gay thoughts isn't sin but gay s.ex is! Its not by force to agree.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  6. KRHODES

    I wouldn't believe anything this guys says..he is obviously lying to support his position. It is your eternal soul that is at stake. This individual knows the truth just as well as i do, he just does not want to be held accountable for his actions so he is trying to spin this in his favor. Make no mistake...the bible is not "hohum" about the lifestyle or any other sin for that matter.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • usastillgr8t

      Very well said. Christians do not hate gay people. That is the garbage that the media spews. Christians love all people and want them to experiece God's love and forgiveness as they have.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • Emerald Laughter

      Don't move anything on the Sabbath, or we'll have you stoned.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  7. Jeremy

    The bible was written by primitive, desert dwelling humans who wrote these stories over 1500 years before mankind discovered what we now know to be modern science. The fact that our species (some of us anyways) is still holding on to this non-sense is sad enough, but to use it as allegory this modern day is even sadder.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  8. KT

    No doubt all of you superior, righteous Bible literalists are fine with polygamy, slavery, stoning, the subjugation of women...etc. – because it's in the Bible. Funny how conservatives use the Bible (certain passages) to suit their needs, yet ignore other parts of it (hmm, like caring for the poor?). Makes me wonder if you are a follower of CHRIST or of a book. God (and faith) doesn't require us to check or brains at the door, and not think, question, or debate.

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

      KT, it IS interesting, isn't it? Of course, some Christian sects (or cults, whichever) DO, in fact, cite those very passages to justify the subjugation of their women.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
  9. Bruce J.

    Arizona Yankee, I hope everyone else in Arizona is not as as myopic, judgemental and closed-minded as you seem to be.
    You certainly have a right to your opinion about everything from gay marriage to anything else that you deem "sinful", or otherwise, but why do you feel the need to assume that everyone who shares this articles' opinion is a liberal Obama-loving Democrat? And why do you automatically condemn the article as full of lies? Did you research the same material as the author (who is a cleric, by the way) before making that obtuse declaration? Sad, indeed.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • Sam Mandel

      Oh they are...just see SB 1070 and good old Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
  10. Tink

    Seriously People, time to grow up and grow out of the thought that we are here to judge and tell other people how to live. You live your life the way you want to and let others do the same. When is the human race going to stop being predujice against anyone that does something out of the norm of your own everyday life. WE SHOULD NOT IMPOSE OUR OWN VIEWS ON OTHERS! PERIOD!!! Who are we as individuals to tell people how to live their lives?? This is why the human race will not survive, not due to people not procreating, it will be that we will destroy ourselves with our own selfishness and hate toward our own people.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  11. Moi

    get over it 'christians'. the passages aren't there. you're just twisting it to serve your own paranoia. live and let live for goodness sake!

    May 15, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  12. justin

    Hmm well considering the bibles fake as is jesus doesnt matter

    May 15, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  13. puckles

    The Poop Chute was not designed for the Peeper.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  14. Varun

    Bible is a POS, just like Qoran, Tanach and Gita.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  15. Libs are dumb

    Do you Libtards even know how ridiculous you sound? Gays need rights! The earth is warming! Osama Hussein is a great President! Bunch of loons!!!

    May 15, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
    • Sam Mandel

      ...said the loving, caring Evangelical.

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

      Thank you for your convincing, thoughtful and considerate remarks.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • matty bones

      That comment is so undercover gay.

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

      We don't sound as ridculous as you do.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • Interested48

      Spoken like a true clueless hate-filled Republican't "Christian."

      May 15, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
  16. Mike

    "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you." – Matthew 7:1-2

    "Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven" – Luke 6:37

    "Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?" – James 4:11–12

    Why do Christians just conveniently forget these passages in their fervor to condemn others with whom they don't agree?

    May 15, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
    • iqueue120

      "Sin no more"

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

      iqueue – The Bible clearly states that God is the Judge, not you. Even if it is a sin, you have no right under his law to judge them.

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

      Christians who are Christians do not judge... You and I both will answer to God Himself. Christians are instructed to
      judge one another.... not those outside of the Church.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  17. matty bones

    The Koran says that most of you Christians are going to hell for worshiping a man. They have almost as many followers as you people. Hope the people on here that are telling others that you are going to hell realize that maybe you are going to hell. Just because you believe it's right doesn't mean it is.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
    • The Deist

      Well, Matty, when they stop venerating Mohammad they may have a leg to stand on. Next?

      May 15, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
  18. usastillgr8t

    Jude verse 7-7 Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.

    It cannot get any clearer of what the Bible was speaking of except to those who want to do it or condone it. Everyone of us will answer to God for what we have done.

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

      The bible wasn't written in English genius, what you posted is a translation of it.

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

      whatever

      May 15, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • usastillgr8t

      For what he had done or she had done and that includes me. I challenge folks who really want to know the truth, to start fervently praying for God to show them if it is wrong. You will get your answer.

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

      Already got an answer, God doesn't want man judging man. Clearly says so in the Bible, doesn't it?

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

      I guess actually reading the article was too hard for you, then.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • The Deist

      The Bible has been misinterpreted and mistranslated so many times, it's unrecognizable from any original it may have come from. King James, being known to be insane and paranoid, had no reason or right to "rewrite" the Bible. Are you aware that the passage of Exodus 22:18 "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" was originally, in the Hebrew text" "Thou shalt not suffer a poisoner of wells to live". Of course translators and crazies would NEVER misinterpret the Bible would they? Those with an alternative agenda would NEVER do that, would they?

      May 15, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
  19. Nick

    sigh

    May 15, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
  20. Tom

    Screw the damn bible! That damn book is responsible for millions upon millions of murder!

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

      amen! (no pun intended)

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

      Are you talking about Das Kapital or Mein Kampf or Mao's little Red Book? Those books were inspired by Atheists and have inspired more hatred and killing than all the religious wars combined. The Bible preaches love for one's enemies, forgiveness, having all things equal. It also talks about people calling good evil and evil good. Precisely what you have done.

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

      @MormonChristian: ...and the Bible is also responsible for all of the Crusades, the Inquisition, the persecution of Je ws in Europe (and everywhere else), the birth of Isla m, Northern Ireland, many of the wars between England and France, and much of the current religious strife in the world. How handy of you to forget about that. So, umm, what was that about your fallacious assertion that, as a percentage of population, those "atheist" books were responsible for more deaths?

      May 15, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • Tom

      Having all things equal? Ha! Please!!! That's the point of this entire article, equality! I'm not saying there are other books out there that spew hatred I'm just saying this damn book it at the top.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • The Deist

      Amen...(Translation: The End)

      May 15, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • The Deist

      @ MormonChristian: Wrong. Religion has been the known leading cause of wars, war crimes, atrocities, genocide, and literal witch hunts for centuries. I'm sorry, but you are very very incorrect and you need to look at your history. Crusades, slavery, the oppression of races and genders, executions, inquisitions, wars, genocidal murder, and innumerable atrocities have been validated and justified by perpetrators with the use of Biblical passage. The most recent was the genocide of Muslims in Bosnia. Muslims now are using their own tome to justify OUR murders and I have news for you, the Koran has few exceptional differences. Try again.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • Matthew

      Reading the posts on this blog reminds me that you guys are CNN viewers and are mostly a faithless and prideful bunch. It is so reassuring that CNN's ratings absolutely suck only to be outdone by MSNBC. Proof that there is hope for this weakened nation.

      May 16, 2012 at 1:07 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.