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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. Kevin

    I think this "professor" needs to go back to kindergarten and learn how to read.
    This article reminds me of this verse:
    "Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen."
    And it does not take very much common sense to understand this verse in the New Testament (and I have read it in Ancient Greek etc...) There is no changing the meaning of the verse. You can change it in your mind if you like, but you will still be judge by God's word, not your own...
    "And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet."; "Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them."

    May 15, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
    • 1nd3p3nd3nt

      glad you can quote a book.
      is there anyone on the planet NOT worthy of death?
      do some of us live forever?
      or is that only jesus' mom, who was raised up into the clouds where we know heaven is not?

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

      1nd3p3nd3nt such a cowardly name. Actually I hold a Ph.D in Biblical studies so yes I can quote the word, even in Paleo Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic, if there was a need on a CNN website.
      And yourself? How would you argue? By googling? We should not give another demonstration of an atheist getting their butt handed to them in a debate should we? You know they are to scared to even debate creationists in Universities anymore, don't you?
      Evolution has holes all in it's bucket so to speak :) The Word stands the test of time, even long after you and I are gone. Though your evolutionary textbook will be revised 10,000 times, to keep trying to fill all the holes... :)
      But no matter how you believe, we all will be judged. Of course everyone is worthy of death, but through Christ only is man's salvation. There is no other way. And to do that, you must not be an habitual sinner and live in the Spirit. Being married to sin is, yep, you got it, an habitual sinner.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
    • Piranha Soup

      Do you know that every time you say "amen"
      you are actually worshipping a-men Ra,
      the sun god ?

      You people who take the bible word for word, as the truth
      dont even understand it.
      But thats how you have been raised.
      Brainwashed.

      May 16, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
  2. Juan

    So amazed that so many intelligent people can be so hateful and ignorant. Religion was made up at the dawn of man to control the masses. Men wrote the bible not "God".

    May 15, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
  3. Mack

    He makes Sodom sound like an adorable Republican enclave.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
  4. ditch digger

    anyone for a bible burning see this is the issue not everyone lives by the old book and so they should not be forced too just as I would never force anyone to marry me. Remember it took a horrible war to end slavery what will it take to end put an end to this one so we can move on with our already short lives

    May 15, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
  5. Steve

    A Rebuttal to "A Reformed Response to Daniel Helminiak's Gay Theology"
    by Daniel A. Helminiak

    May 15, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
  6. iqueue120

    Your honor, let me show the jury the exhibit A, a literal quote from this guy's website:
    "Unpredictable turns in my life have led me into a lion’s den of global, spiritual turmoil. Here I stand unperturbed, secure in the convictions of my heart and mind, prepared by a charmed life to address the big questions that challenge our world.
    I welcome you to my website. I invite you to share a spiritual quest with me. Here you can glimpse the vision of spirituality that I have developed, and you can also have some insight into me. I offer what I have to give: visions of Daniel."
    I rest my case.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • 1nd3p3nd3nt

      wow, he almost sounds like he was trained by priests, oh wait...

      May 15, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • Piranha Soup

      *** Unpredictable turns in my life have led me into a lion’s den of global, spiritual turmoil.

      I would be in spiritual turmoil if i found out that
      every thing they told me was a lie.

      May 16, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
  7. Mark

    Christian people. Even if you fully believe in the bronze-age collection of Hebrew myths and folklore and that the Hebrew Joshua was in fact an incarnation of a deity... Stop referencing Paul to excuse your BS desires to ruin someone else's life based on your "religion"!

    Paul was Saul of Tarsus, a lame fanboy of Jesus who never actually met the man, but wrote the equivalent of misogynistic fanfic and somehow got it into the canon when Rome was rebranding its empire to the center of the Christian world. The bible doesn't matter to the rest of us, but Paul shouldn't matter to ANYONE!

    May 15, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  8. Larinda

    You cannot plug a lamp into another lamp. Enough said.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • JWT

      You can plug a lamp into another lamp it is easily doable. Just check the lamp stores.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • Ok whatever

      I think somebody has an old rusty socket no one wants.

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

      Right because people are just like lamps in every way... How did you even manage to turn on the computer?

      May 15, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • Alex

      That analogy would work if ppl were lamps

      May 15, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • Voxovreeson

      She didn't turn it on. She doesn't turn anything on. It was just there, working, inspired to work by God's love.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • Piranha Soup

      You can squeeze juice from a lemon.

      May 16, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
  9. Bilbo

    The obvious deception by another so-called self proclaimed expert who desperately tries to explain away obvious passages then leaves out the most obvious of them all...1 Corinthians 6:9...speaks VOLUMES.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  10. Alicia

    Come on, we all know the bible was written by a bunch of constipated, impotent old farts who hate women and gays

    May 15, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  11. Michael

    People that use this collection of "fairy tales" for their own agenda – range from harmless to war criminals.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  12. scoobster

    ummm....then why can't two gay men create a baby naturally?

    May 15, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • Ok whatever

      Sometime it is about love not babies. You must be a gem of a husband...

      May 15, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • Voxovreeson

      What the hell does that have to do with anything?

      May 15, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
    • Jake

      what if I was impotent? does that mean I don't have the right to marry because I can't have kids naturally?

      May 15, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
    • Kristen

      Wow. I mean....wow. Is that the totality of your argument?

      May 15, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
    • Piranha Soup

      Why would we want to ?

      May 16, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
  13. Tim

    Purely eisegetical diatribe! This article wouldn't hold water in a middle school debate. Where does CNN find these fringers anyway??

    May 15, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • Epinoia

      You can't argue against his logic, so you use middle school ad hominems with not a shred of a rebuttal.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  14. bpsf

    Why is it so hard to believe that God loves us all, and remember judge not.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  15. MLB

    Well, it should come as no shock that CNN picked a priest who is openly gay to write about what the bible says or doesn't say about being gay (you can read about him on his link and website). Why wasnt that posted as one of his "credentials" for writing this piece? It must be that CNN forgot to mention that

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

      Good thing you're an expert on the subject and can rationally and reasonable respond to his piece!

      May 15, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • 1nd3p3nd3nt

      he's definitely biased. Just like all the straight people hating on the gays are biased.
      i wonder if we can find a hermaphrodite so we can get an objective opinion.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • Piranha Soup

      You are right, i wouldnt pick a mechanic to fix a broken car.

      May 16, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  16. smeeker

    CNN needs to post only news and get rid of all the religious articles. The nastiest people are religious folks. That is why I no longer believe.

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

      If you rejected everything in life out of general hypocrisy you'd likely be alone & starving.

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

      Agree, but we read them don't we?

      May 15, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
  17. Shari

    I find it interesting that "Christians" express the most vitriol. If they believe what Jesus taught, that should not be the case. What about "judge not lest you be judged" or "love your neighbor as yourself". The problem with some Christians is that they feel they have the right to force their personal translation of the Bible on everyone else – right or wrong.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
  18. shut_up

    once again twist the bible for it to suit you.
    too many people spend more time using scriptures against the bible instead of for it. catholics like yourself believe anything, drink and play bingo. the worst pedofiles are priest like yourself and then justify it by the bible. the bible is very clear, your like a stone wall. so shut up. you and i will be judged...

    May 15, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • 1nd3p3nd3nt

      i'm sure it's the people wanting equal rights that are 'using' the bible for their own purposes.
      I'm sure it's not the people living in mansions, wearing nice suits and driving fancy cars all bought by donations from their congregations on tv : (

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

      You're an idiot.

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

      that was intended for shut up, not for the guy who's for equal rights.

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

      I'm sorry

      May 15, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
  19. christfollower1965

    Whatever....amazing how folks try to twist things around by being "academic"! Lived it myself, now happily married...convicted by the Holy Spirit...cant get anymore real than that.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • D Rufus Onfyre

      good luck with that.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
    • Kristen

      I don't get what you're saying. You're married, congratulations. So before....????

      May 15, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
    • Piranha Soup

      My sympathies to your wife.

      May 16, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
  20. Lucas1

    That live and let live stuff is exactly what your enemy would love to have you believe. Helping people to see where we all are in our lives is a very hard matter. And for the ones that think we should let people die are fall into trouble and you have the ability to stop them and dont do it is exactly the reason you missed the point in the first place, We are our brothers keeper. Thats found in the second chapter of Genesis if you'd read it. So sad that we can't help each other without someone getting upset.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:28 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.