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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. Ghandi

    This dude is a quack. If you look hard enough you always find someone to say anything you meed them to say. Just look at all the expert witnesses in courts across the country. It says in the Bible it is a sin for man to lie down with man. Thats pretty much sums it up for me.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • Stephen

      It also says eating shrimp is an abomination. You gotta draw the line somewhere.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
    • Steve

      Draw the line.. where?

      Pedophilia? Brother-sister progeny? Mother-son? Father-daughter ? What about beastiality?

      Where is your line?

      May 15, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • Len

      You are right of course, but be ready for the attacks which will surely come from those who will say that you are hateful. The object of this movement is to ensure that all opposition is obliterated and the world embraces their agenda. All who oppose are being targeted as bigots or worse. Stand firm. Don't waver. Even if there are issues in your personal life that you struggle with, look to God for help, but never become a part of this trend where right is called wrong and wrong right. God bless.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • JWT

      It sums it up for your personal actions – the bible's contents do not mean anything to others.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • eric

      @Len

      You ARE being hateful...if you truly believe, let GOD deal with the HORRIBLE gays. You just worry about your own hateful soul.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • 311mortimer

      Stephen are you serious about the shrimp question? Atheists seem to love saying that.
      Clearly they never got to acts 10

      May 15, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
    • Fearless Freep

      *** Steve

      Draw the line.. where?

      Pedophilia? Brother-sister progeny? Mother-son? Father-daughter ? What about beastiality?

      Where is your line?

      You forgot goats and puppies.
      Moron.

      May 16, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
  2. Socrates

    The bible was written thousands years ago and has no clue about the today reality. Don't you think that there are some differences in the way we live now compared with the times that book was written? As an agnostic I have no interest to know much about this book.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • Born again.

      Have you ever read "the book?" It predicted what was going to happen and what is going to happen over 4000 years ago. I am a born again Christian and I wouldn't have it any other way. We don't hate or dislike gay people. We dislike the sin. Just like lying, theft, adultry. We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. The price of sin is death. Not just a literal death but a spiritual death. The great news is though that Jesus paid our sins by dying on the cross for us individually. By grace we have been saved thru faith not of our own works, so noone can say look at me, look what I did to get into Heaven. Jesus is standanding at the door waiting for you to answer so that he can come in and dine with you. Anyone who has believed has been given the right to be called the children of God. That is the quickest way of explaining the gospel to you. You can't have an argument or disagreement with someone if you have never read the Bible so I hope this is just something to get your interest going. Are you scared to read it? Are you afraid you will be "turned" into one of us? Trust me it is not a bad place to be. This is His love letter to us but to see it you have to have faith that God is real. I will pray that you, and every unbelieving person" will one day have the Holy Spirit open your eyes and show you what it is all about. This "book" was got breathed. He used humans to pen the words but it all came from Him and is perfect. You can try to rip it apart but that won't happen because the word is stronger than any two edged sword.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
    • Dave A

      Im with you, Soc... plus all the translations

      May 16, 2012 at 12:06 am |
    • Fearless Freep

      The price of sin is death. Not just a literal death but a spiritual death.

      Get back to me about gays, when you do something about divorce.
      Just like cherry pickers, you want to have it both ways.
      All sin is equal, but you treat the "gay" sin as the worst.
      Christians are pathetic.
      I am agnostic.
      You should try education instead of blind obedience

      May 16, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "We don't hate or dislike gay people. We dislike the sin. Just like lying, theft, adultry. We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. "

      That is still not a valid excuse to block a persons civil rights, that's the point. So based on your poor logic we should deny all the adulterers the ability to get remarried because that is a real sin in your bible. Yet the Christian community does no such thing, you don't even see them condemning it like they do the gay community! The reason you continue to block gays their civil rights is because of personal prejudice and bigotry. The experts have shown that being gay is not a choice, it's not a mental illness and it can't be voluntarily changed.

      May 16, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
  3. Andrea

    Leave it to CNN (a.k. Obama Campaign HQ) to find a liberal ex-priest turned "Psychotherapist" to be their expert commentator on this subject! This guy probably studied psychotherapy to deal with his very own gay issues.

    Bravo CNN – you are consistent, if nothing else.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • Steve

      You nailed it.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • robert frost

      Leave it to the wacko "christians" to discredit anyone trying to shed light on the silly book

      May 15, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
    • eric

      Please read your articles elsewhere and stop posting then...the choice is yours...

      May 15, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • President Obama

      Shucks, you caught us !
      It took months to find this guy and tell him what to say.
      Then we tried to sneak it into CNN, but you was too smart for us.

      May 16, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  4. N&W 1000

    It never ceases to amaze me how CNN manages to dig these people up.

    Open up the book and read it for yourself, it is in plain English.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • John

      precisely, that is the point of the essay, the bible was written in greek and in latin long long before there was even a such thing as a united states of america and when in england (where english the english language comes from) the inhabitants were painting thmeselves blue and worshiping trees.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
    • Simon Says

      Plain gibberish.

      May 16, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "Open up the book and read it for yourself, it is in plain English."

      That's why there are so many different types of bibles and so many denominations of your faith. LOL!

      May 16, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • fred

      No, there are many denominations because people are people. Some butcher the Bible for evil or self indulgence, pride, stubbornness, personal power etc. In the beginning of Christianity for example even the apostle Peter began to incorporate some Hebrew customs into church doctrine. Paul set him straight on important doctrine but, concluded there was no need to fuss over trivial stuff

      May 16, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
  5. Steve

    What good comes of gay "marriage".. is it productive, or is it perverse.. What would be any one's sensible response?

    If man had a choice, should he choose a woman, one that could bear him children.. Look at the commandments.. Be fruitful and multiple. Gay just can't satisfy that commandment, can it?

    and a Woman, can she conceive a child with out the father.. only Mary is said to.

    'nuff said.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • sam

      Please don't breed. Or vote.

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

      Sam, or should I say Samantha?

      May 15, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • JWT

      Nothing wrong will come of gay marriage. And people should love man or woman as their natural born instincts tell them to.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
  6. N&W 1000

    So, I need to depend upon a shrink and a priest in a back slidden, apostate church to tell me what the bible says.

    No.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • robert frost

      Exactly, ignore the silly book completely! Other cultures do fine without it

      May 15, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • Steve

      and a Gay psychiatrist.. would you think they would have issues?

      May 15, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
    • nestor

      this gay like the thief they have the excuse tto lay down with his neighborhood , man and woman are the creations and go multiply , the rainbow party and their new leader are one of the beast of the final days

      May 15, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
  7. Marc

    The so called Bible was written by Satan himself to confuse and entrap the ignorant people. There is no other explanation. No Bible exist in my home and if I stay at any hotel and I find one in a drawer next to the bed I throw it away ASAP.

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

      Destroying hotel property is a crime...

      May 15, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • RUNimaCrazyCHRISTian!!

      @marc

      So you have so much fear of a book you claim to be written by something you dont even believe in that you have to stay away like its burning coals? Doesnt look like faith is the only thing 'without logic'

      May 15, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
  8. DennyK

    Seems Mr. Daniel A. Helminiak could justify just about anything. I'm simply not buying into this article at all...

    May 15, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • robert frost

      Sure, a lot of christians can justify just about anything, including slavery and murder!

      May 15, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • CSParish

      I don't suppose you would, because it doesn't fit your purposes.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  9. eideard

    The Flying Spaghetti Monster is more relevant to the 21st Century.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
  10. Jim

    It's the Elvis factor: there is no reason or logic that will stop a certain percentage of people from believing Elvis is still alive. And, no matter what the issue: there is always a certain percentage of the population that will believe in what appears to most of the rest of us to be pure craziness. (Just look at the "creationists": if the Bible said it was made in 7 days, than the universe was made in 7 days (and the earth is 4000 years old (with all dinosaur bones, etc having been "planted" by God)). You will make better use of your breath talking to a rock than to talk logic to some people.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
  11. Albert

    All I can say is that this is really WEAK. Really, did you read the rest of the Romans passage before you concluded that Paul was just stating a fact not making a judgment of what's right and wrong? Why don't you go back to the scriptures and instead of having the audacity to "reinterpret" them, why don't you just let them interpret you?

    May 15, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
  12. Convinced

    I'm quite sure that Isaac Asimov is no longer an atheist. As for Daniel, well, you will be held to a higher standard since you have placed yourself in the position of 'teacher'...and 'priest'....I suggest you speak carefully....actually, its probably better if you just stop talking. The principles of Hermeneutics, combined with Exegesis, clearly reveal your lack of understanding (Eisogesis)....or deliberate misinterpretation. The Bible is God's Word; He says what He means and He means what He says. Please...please read the Bible again....or to those who proclaim atheism – read the Bible for yourself.

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

      I read the Bible. That has to be the #1 reason I became atheist.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • 1nd3p3nd3nt

      and yet you don't seem to know the history of how the bible was put together.
      what about all the other scripts that were thrown out?
      if the bible is the word of god, why does the christian version remove lilith?

      logic error

      May 15, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • eric

      @Convinced

      Which particular Holy Book would you like us to read? You say the Bible is the word of God, which of the 1500 human-mutated versions of the word of God do you mean. What if I want to read the Torah or *gasp* the Quran? How about the Bahagad Vita, the Upanishads, or the Tao de Ching? By what right do you claim exclusivity to the divine?

      Seriously people, follow the goodness in your heart. Don't impose your ideals on others and according to some Guy named Jesus, do unto others as you'd have them do unto you. And something about casting the first stone or something...

      May 15, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • Simon Says

      *** The Bible is God's Word; He says what He means and He means what He says.

      So you have a signed copy ?
      Must be worth money.

      Hey, ever heard this one.........
      And man wrote and translated the book.
      Then the Vatican got ahold of it and has been altering it
      for hundreds of years.

      May 16, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
  13. RealityCrack

    The Bibile has been translated how many times>? by how many people? And only the version "they" want us to read. The vatican and catholic church is a fraud and if they only let on what they want us to think to be true, If we all knew the real truths of the church, all of the believers would kill themselves because they no longer "would be saved" . Save yourself from hate and blind faith. Think Logically not on what you were raised to believe. Be a good person, not because of a what a book says, but because of what any god should represent, love and equality to all.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • Simon Says

      Jesus said the way to God is through your heart.
      The vatican dont like that because it would keep the money plate empty.
      That is your religion.
      True Jesus would destroy the church.
      The truth must be kept hidden.
      The money must flow.

      May 16, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
  14. spooledup

    the bible says cnn is a garbage news outlet and will go down in flames as everyone sings halleluiah

    May 15, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • j1

      And you read their stories....lol!!!!

      May 15, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  15. Bill

    Argue all you want; just keep religion out of government. Period. And that includes not using religious arguments to justify discrimination. Go along and have whatever kooky beliefs you want to, burn an ox on the altar because the scent is pleasing to the lord (as it says in Leviticus, the same book that says lying with another man is an abomination), but don't inject this religious crap into the government.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
  16. Buzz

    Seriously ! The guy is not even a Phd and to make it worse he is at the university of west georgia.....come on CNN, you can do better this!

    May 15, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
  17. Sam Mandel

    This coming from a book where God talks out of an ASS! Literally! See Numbers 22.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  18. M Connor

    This writer has every legal right to print his argument.... BUT..., the various comments are at times transparently false and even contradictory in their logic, and the comments jump around like a very poorly edited book or movie. Not a good voice for the viewpoint..

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

      Couldn't agree with you more. This is what happens when us human beings try desperately to justify our behavior instead of submitting to God's word.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
    • JWT

      there is no reason for non-believers to submit to your gods word.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • Simon Says

      Hey Len, why would i want to submit to anybody ?
      A God who wants people to submit to him ?
      Thats pretty arrogant.

      May 16, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
  19. Jack

    Wow, I guess if you try hard enough you can rationalize away anything!

    May 15, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  20. Catherine Gray

    Thank you Dennis, Abe Lincoln, beezers and DaveinIL. Nuff said.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:13 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.