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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. Questions

    How does being gay even make sense? Does not evolution teach survival of the fittest? Is there a Gay gene we can observe? Wouldn't that have fizzled out millions of years ago considering Gay's cannot reproduce?

    May 15, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • Brett

      Please hold the IV bottle up a little higher before posting. Gays have been reproducing since the start of time. They were forced into loveless marriages by bigots. It isn't difficult to achieve an erection. For most men, a gust of wind is enough..

      May 15, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • nodoubtrocks

      I love straight people. They keep producing gay babies!

      May 15, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • Simon Says

      A civilized, educated human species does not have to live
      with the law of the jungle.
      Or should we just go back to our caves ?

      May 16, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
  2. truthspeaks

    I think gays look weird and it has to do with their gayness!! they look pale and sucked out of life. hmm maybe the lifestyle is slowly killing them!

    May 15, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • nodoubtrocks

      You sure have a preconceived stereotype of what gays look like. Nobody knows I'm gay until I have to shoo the women off of me and tell them that I'm gay.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
    • bill.eskdale@gmail.com

      One doesn't really have to reply to this comment it is so pathetically self-damning. I'll bet this dude or gal has been in a shower or a lockeroom with a gay or two at one time or another and never even thought about it because they looked "normal." Quick where is some Iron Pyrite, I wanna make this person think he/she's a millionaire....

      May 15, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
    • Sarcasmo

      I agree.

      http://static.flickr.com/67/177452444_7042b4174d.jpg

      May 15, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
    • Simon Says

      Pull your finger out of your nose,
      wipe the snot off the keyboard, and turn off the vampire movie.
      You will feel better.

      May 16, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
  3. zippy51

    This issues is history, live and let live, othing to see here, move along, move along...

    May 15, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
  4. Peter

    Theologian....smowjan.

    What does he know?

    Better to take your religious guidance from Sean Hannity.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • Cheryl

      If you desire no population growth, this is your answer! End of human kind, who cares as long as we protect your right to enjoyment. Seek history, Caligula and ancient Rome a great example. Is this the End you desire?

      May 15, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • CSParish

      Cheryl – Settle down! You would have had a good time at the papal courts in the Middle Ages. I hear the popes regularly kept mistresses and acknowledged their illegitimate children. So, drop the end of the world BS and running around like Chicken Little. Keep history in context.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • Sarcasmo

      I seek no population growth. Look at what it has produced thus far. Your post!

      May 15, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
  5. Paul lytle

    CNN you have done! You have a habit of not being able to report the truth! You find these nit wits to make a commentary so you can push your leftist views. Your not a news reporting station, your a puppet for the Obama and leftist administration. It will give me great pleasure that by Gods hand you cease to exist!

    May 15, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • CSParish

      Yes, I suppose we should all turn to FOX news, because they are so neutral.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • K93

      All media is biased.Just because you don't agree to something does not mean it is wrong. FYI I am presuming your a conservative...soo yea Fox is not all so great at all. Everything they spew is full of bs.

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

      Please! If anything, CNN leans toward the right now, in its zeal to catch up with Fox News, which doles out pure propaganda and thus has hgher ratings. (Whether conservative or liberal, you will always opt for the news that supports your point of view.)

      May 15, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
    • American

      It is time to put CNN out of its misery. This is a call for all people of faith to boycott and denounce CNN from this day forward. Our country was founded on a covenant with God and it will not be denied by the uninformed. The left has done enough damage and its time to reclaim America in the name of God

      May 15, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • Woolhouse

      I've got to think that saying, "It will give me great pleasure that by Gods hand you cease to exist!" is a sin of some sort, Paul. Wrath (one of the 7 deadly sins) perhaps? If not, I'm sure you've lost a few points with your repeated-incorrect use of "your." Frankly, the author of this piece has more votes in his favor then any of the commentators, until a commentator here can prove that he/she speaks/reads ancient Greek/Latin like this gentleman.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • CSParish

      K93 – I'm the furthest you can get from a conservative. I think FOX news is the biggest spewer of BS in the world. Just for the record.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
    • Simon Says

      *** It will give me great pleasure that by Gods hand you cease to exist!

      Spoken like a true Christian.

      May 16, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
  6. Shaun

    Amazing how people can twist words to justify anything – Leviticus 18:2 clearly states, 'Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable" Now you can argue that it's not the government's job to stop gays from getting married and maybe you're right, but there is NO question it is not biblical

    May 15, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • nodoubtrocks

      Silly Shaun. You must of not read all the other Leviticus laws. You can just read one and not the rest. Here is a few for you:

      Don't let cattle graze with other kinds of Cattle (Leviticus 19:19)

      Don't have a variety of crops on the same field. (Leviticus 19:19)

      Don't wear clothes made of more than one fabric (Leviticus 19:19)

      Don't cut your hair nor shave. (Leviticus 19:27)

      Any person who curseth his mother or father, must be killed. (Leviticus 20:9) Have you ever done that?

      If a man cheats on his wife, or vise versa, both the man and the woman must die. (Leviticus 20:10)

      May 15, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
    • ohsnap

      What I find interesting is that he quotes from books that are Apocryphal (Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus, which is not the same as Ecclesiastes) and are recognized as not being part of the original scriptures by many scholars. Otherwise I won't comment because people will say anything and twist anything to fit their particular beliefs, no matter what they are.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • Chris R

      Both of those book are part of the Catholic Bible. They are found between the Song of Songs and Isiah.

      May 16, 2012 at 9:33 am |
  7. Kyle

    You so called "intellects" that are so quick to discredit the Bible yet don't even know what it actually says are the ignorant ones.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      And yet, you're so quick to discredit science but have never read a science book or information that pertains to the real world and not 2000 years ago. Too lazy to think for yourself?

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

      Oh I am so sorry, did I write an article discrediting science? My bad... I should pay better attention and not be so quick to judge. You know us Christians...

      May 15, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
    • Naysayer

      I do know you Christians. You think the greatest story on Earth has credit thousands of years later.

      Times change.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • Kyle

      You're are absolutely correct in both statements.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
  8. CSParish

    Too much death & cruelty associated with organized religion. Men took over the religious authority from women and it became a bloodbath historically. They subjugated women, and everyone else that wasn't their color or part of the imposed belief system. I have a personal belief in a greater power, but all the rest seems to be a way to control the masses and get into their pocketbook.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
    • francisco

      It was Eve that got us into trouble, not Adam. And remember that Christianity is not religion, it is relationship with the true and the living God.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • bill.eskdale@gmail.com

      To Francisco below, Eve was created only to subjugate women, Adam's first wife was Lillith, she was not made from him and certainlywas not subservient. The creators of the religion decided to suppress Lillith and create Eve, Adam's second wife. Did you also know that Judaism used to have a female God equal to the male–she was suppressed too. Just another example of how the Bible is nothing more than a work of men....

      May 15, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • CSParish

      And the cow jumped over the moon.....

      May 15, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • CSParish

      The nursery rhyme was for francisco's benefit. Ever heard of a literary device? A story designed to illustrate an idea or premise? I don't think you do if you think the Garden of Eden really happen. It's a METAPHOR!!

      May 15, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
  9. Mandor

    Or we could, I don't know, stop looking at a collection of 2000+ year old mythology as the answer to all our problems.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
    • francisco

      This mythology will someday judge you. Why don't you read it and see what will happen.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
  10. Honestly?

    CNN needs to quit being a tool for obama and stop the insane attempts to justify his actions.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
    • CSParish

      Oh, get real! Everything isn't about the upcoming election!

      May 15, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • Peter

      What of this man's credentials?

      Can you dismiss his thoughts so easily?

      May 15, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
  11. Sean

    Glad to see that the westboro baptist church was able to comment on this article

    May 15, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
  12. JOHN JOHN

    what does it say on divorce . Thous must not divorce unless evidence of adultery. Jesus said that. Are there a conservative divorcees

    May 15, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
  13. npg

    So, by calling it "unclean", what do you think Paul was doing, remaining neutral???

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

      Wow! if you are really answering that question, I can see that you dont understand ANYTHING that you just read.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
  14. nodoubtrocks

    May all sentient beings be free from suffering and achieve perfect enlightenment. Buddhism is true love in its purest form. Acceptance for all.

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

      I thought you were quoting Optimus Prime :\

      May 15, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • francisco

      Buddhism is a one way ticket to hell. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life..." not Buddha. Buddha is dean and rotten in the grave. The Lord Jesus is risen. Yes, He is risen indeed. Examine the facts and any intelligent mind will agree. The reason you refuse to agree is because you want to be independent of God. If you continue on this track, someday you will get your wish. Hell is void of God.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • Sarcasmo

      I didn't see Jesus rise from anywhere. Did you?

      May 15, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
  15. Jim

    The first miracle performed by Jesus was when he turned water into wine. That occurred at a wedding. Back then, as now (for the time being) a wedding was the religious union between a man and a woman. Perhaps that first miracle at a wedding was intended to declare the sacredness of marriage–between man and woman.

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

      It sounds like it was intended to start a party!

      May 15, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
    • bretwk

      My wedding was not a religious ceremony. It was a celebration of my love for my wife and her's for me. Also, there was paper work required by the state in order for us to get certain rights. Why is it that those rights cannot be extended to everyone equally. You are welcome to have a religious ceremony around your wedding but assuming that others MUST is a pretty self-centered world view.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • love thy neighbor

      Jim, maybe that was simply the first of many things Jesus did and the environment under which it occurred wasn't important. You keep seeing only what you want to see. Love thy neighbor and judge not lest thee be judged thyself. Your views are intolerant and very unloving and not at all what Jesus tried to teach. I don't believe in God but save that detail, I would make a better Christian than you would. Think about that.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • BRichmond

      The Bible doesn't say whose wedding Jesus was attending when he turned the water into wine, so who can truly say it wasn't a gay wedding?

      May 15, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • Dance This Mess Around

      Jesus was the groom.
      Mary Magdalene was the bride.
      Peter and Simon having drank too much wine spent the night together in the stable.
      True love conquerors all.

      May 16, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "That occurred at a wedding. Back then, as now (for the time being) a wedding was the religious union between a man and a woman"

      Here in the US we have the separation of church and state. The Supreme Court has already ruled that marriage is a civil right. It's why the experts have shown that being gay is not a mental illness, it's not a choice and it can't be voluntarily changed. Gay couples deserve the same civil rights as straights.

      May 16, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
  16. truthspeaks

    okay, this guy is so gay, he is spending his entire life justifying his gayness by trying to discredit the bible so he can lie with his gay guy at night with a clean conscience. emm what does the bible say about this man, ROmans 1:23 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
    • love thy neighbor

      Well "truthspeaks", you have just slandered, hated and judged the author. What does the Bible say about those activities? What does that say about you? Stop focusing on the splinter in your neighbor's eye while you ignore the log in your own.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
    • Piranha Soup

      You can come out of the closet now.
      You sound like Rick Santorum, getting all frothy.

      May 16, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "ROmans 1:23"

      Funny how you left out the part where they were "And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.." –they were worshiping a pagan god using sex. DUH! It has nothing to do with gays as we know and understand it today.

      May 16, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
  17. twill

    READ LEVITICUS 20:13. ANY MORE QUESTIONS ABOUT GAYS AFTER THIS? WE SHOULD BE ASHAMED THAT THE LEADER OF OUR NATION HAS SOLD OUT GOD ON THIS ISSUE. OH THAT'S RIGHT HE IS MUSLIM SO IT DOES NOT MATTER TO HIM ANYWAY...

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

      Read verse 1:13 of shut the hell up.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • Brett

      Get real, Twill! If you're going to start quoting the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 21:18-21 says disobedient children should be stoned to death. Eating shellfish is an abomination, as is working on Sunday. And while we're at it, according to the Gospel of Matthew - tne New Testament, Jesus said men who lust after women to whom they're not married are adulterers. (Matthew 5:28) Let's making ogling and the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition illegal, too.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • Kevin Wilson

      You just knew that this article would uncover a lot of bigotry and ignorance – I can't make you see that you are being bigoted so I'll speak to your ignorance. 1) Obama is not Muslim. He went to a Muslim school for a while as a child and has not practiced Islam as an adult. 2) If Obama was a practicing Muslim then he would likely be against gay marriage as Islam has the same god as Christianity and its adherents are typically more conservative.

      I know this makes no difference because your hatred against 'others' (Gays, Muslims, Liberals, etc) is what is leading your argument.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      twill: Obama has to uphold the consti.tution regardless of how you may feel about that and he is christian, not muslim.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • chris

      Read the beginning of the declaration of independence instead, the pinrciples in it are what the entire country is founded upon: don't know it here is ,We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • JD

      The problem with that scripture is it was talking about a man forced to be with another man. Read Deu 22:25

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

      So now Obama is a Muslim.

      A gay one at that.

      What next from you whack jobs?

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

      True, Twill, but if you believe that, you'd have to believe that Noah was 500 years old and had roughly 98 years to build a huge ass boat. Which we both know isn't true, either.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • Voxovreeson

      Good job of establishing your credibility as someone we all should listen to...

      May 15, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • Piranha Soup

      You still waiting for dat BIRF certificate ?

      May 16, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
  18. moderateray

    @ Inrerested48 – Many of us who DO "believe in these fairytales" agree that we "need to make sure that religion is kept out of our government."

    May 15, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
  19. Bill

    When Paul called it an abomination, he really meant it in the nicest possible way...riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight

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

      Why do you people who claim to worship Joshua as a demigod constantly reference some Roman fanboy of his who never even met him, but wrote the equivalent of lame, misogynistic fanfic?

      May 15, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • truthspeaks

      to mark! and why do you keep separating the bible just because it does not agree with you? Demons ran away from paul! so he was no ordinary guy, he was believer of Christ just like me!! and every one who has accepted jesus as their Lord and savior! the end is coming and judgment is near! choose this day who you will serve!!

      May 15, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
  20. Billy

    Helminiak was an ordained Priest in Rome! Makes me wonder how many boy he molested?

    May 15, 2012 at 7:22 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.