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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. tdelwalk1970

    Nothing new in this article. Just plain willful blindness.

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

      You're talking about yourself right?

      May 15, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
  2. ruth

    This is his interprtation ,not mine.....gay or lesbian whatever you want to call it ,it is one man ,one woman....and no, I would rather stand in front of God knowing I lived by the 10 commandments ....gays getting married >>>>>>NO

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

      Oh Ruth....you obviously need to get laid.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
  3. AZ Wildcat

    Just further proof that the evil that is organized religion needs to be eradicated from the face of the Earth.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
    • tdelwalk1970

      You can experience that in some parts of the world. North Korea, for example.

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

      "'If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads." Leviticus 20:13 (NIV)

      You will notice that this theologian does not mention this bible verse. You do not need a theologian to interpret the bible for you all you need is the Bible and God. Jesus' death on the cross enabled us to go directly to Him. So many theologians twist the word of the Lord for self gain because it makes non-beleivers feel better about themselves.

      "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves." Matthew 7:15 (NIV)

      Also, religion explains why we exist and how to live our lives. All we must do is accept Him and we may live for eternity as evident through John 3:16

      For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
  4. Malasada

    Oh Quit it, CNN.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
  5. david

    stupid answer

    May 15, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
  6. Stephen

    When it comes to scripture, it's always important to view the full context to of the whole Bible to gain clarity on any specific passage. This article is a classic example of proof-texting - finding a verse and force-fitting it to support a twisted meaning.

    1 Corinthians 3:19: For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight. As it is written: 'He catches the wise in their craftiness..'"

    May 15, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • Kassy

      I agree with the cropping of a passage, the Bible is very open to interpretation, read it for yourself and give your thoughts. This article is reaching and does not show the entirety of what the Bible states.

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

      What a hypocrite you are! Listen to any "christian" sermon, and you'll hear nothing but words and scriptures used out of context. You right-wing-nuts do it all the time!

      May 15, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
  7. Les

    The ignorance of Americans (especially Evangelical Xtian Americans) is always amazing. Here we have an expert who has studied both theology and ancient Greek who lays it out that the KJ and other translations are inherently wrong on this (and most likely other issues) point. Suddenly the best of the ignorant presume to think they know more than an educated and thoughtful scholar. Until the evangelical segment of society is once and for all silenced, true Xtians will never have a chance to share the message of love and conciliation that stems from accurate translations of biblical texts.

    The alarming number of evangelicals that live together as man and wife without getting married is where their energy should be directed. As well as, the unmarried men and women among them that think about rolling in the hay that are unmarried. The Bible is very clear that those two activities are actual sin and evil in whatever translation is used.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
  8. lroy

    I agree the story is based on his personal interpretation, rather than the Church's teaching. Not all priests are good Catholics.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
  9. 1nd3p3nd3nt

    it also says christian women should cover their heads or have their hair shorn off.
    i don't see all these christians against gays running around enforcing women to cover their heads.
    i wonder what god thinks about cherry picking his bible?

    May 15, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • Les

      I agree with you completely! They are forbidden to teach men and must stay silent in the churches also.Many people use the term "interpretation" to mean "translation". They are very different things. But, as usual, the uneducated and the ignorant have neither the ability nor the desire to aim for accuracy when it concerns religious text. They totally reject the actual message of their Jehovah (a minor storm god) , Christ (a god of love) and Sophia (a goddess of wisdom). The world will be a far better place when the entire Xtian church fades into oblivian as so many have throughout the ages.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
  10. TombStoneJim

    The Bible is pretty clear in this matter – it is the interpretations of man that confuse him.

    Leviticus – "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."

    May 15, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • momoya

      leviticus also makes it okay to own slaves as long as I don't beat them to death and to sell my daughter into slavery.. You really want to use that book as an authority?? LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL

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

      It is amazing how they can leave this scripture out! It grieves me greatly that so many are haters of God and his word. We are in the very last days! Everything happening in the world today is prophetic! 2 Timothy 3:1-9 But mark this; There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love (mothers killing their own children) unforgiving, slanderous, without self control, brutal, not lovers of good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God-having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these MEN OPPOSE the TRUTH -MEN OF DEPRAVED MINDS, who as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone. ~ GOD help these people.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
    • Les

      King James said what you posted. The King James bible is riddled with mistranslations and inaccuracies. In fact the author of the article clearly said what the proper translation is. Yet you apparently failed to notice that the passage you quoted was one of the mistranslated verses. Get a little education and you would do far better in spreading the Xtian message as pathetic as it is..

      May 15, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
  11. bob

    This guy forgot to mention Leviticus 20:13.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
  12. Shad Majeed

    I am not surprised, The Bible as it is today is NOT the Word of God.
    I say no more.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • KMS

      Thank you for not saying anymore because you truly need to know Christ first. Once you experience Him, HIS word will come alive to you and it will be for you TODAY!

      May 15, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
  13. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    The Bible doesn't teach hate, only the devil and if you hate then you worship the devil. I distance myself from those who believe they are "Holyier" than Thou because in the end straight, gays, lesbians, we all die and in most cases laid to rest with people we've never met unless you request to lay next to a non-gay/lesbian corpse and that ain't gonna happen because the truth of the matter, you'll never know.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
  14. David Evan Karasek

    What this refreshing holy man says is what heartfelt people intuitively understand. Either we care or we don't care, are honest or dishonest about how God made us and the world. Does the Bible tell me so?

    May 15, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
  15. Lois in TN

    Tim, you are 100% correct. God have mercy on these people! They can still be saved, but I know a lot of them are deceived to the point they are bound for hell because satan has them believing they are ok!! All we can do is point them to the Holy Bible and pray for their conviction.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
  16. Bilbo

    Better to read it yourselves...

    Romans I

    22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,

    23 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.

    24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:

    25 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.

    26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

    27 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.

    28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;

    May 15, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
    • momoya

      That could apply to any christian/interpretation/denomination.. You guys don't have any way to verify one interpretation is better than another.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
  17. Paul Dietz

    CNN.com was my home page...until now

    May 15, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
    • momoya

      What kind of retarded dipsh!t changes his home page based on one story like this?!? LOL

      May 15, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • Peter

      If a respected theologian is inappropriate to do an op ed piece on this subjcet, then who is?

      Answer me.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • Mike - Dallas

      Bye.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
    • Bambam

      Good riddance!

      May 15, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • sammy

      Respected theologian? The dude is teaching at West Georgia!

      May 15, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
  18. georjetset

    Why are we going by 2000+ year old text to morally direct us on contemporary issues? Doesn't make sense....the world today is unrecognizable to what it was back then!

    May 15, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
    • Brian

      Because God became man 2000 years ago and formed His Church. Fortunately, the Church (for 2000 years) has taught the same TRUTH that whole time. Please don't waste my time pointing out the flaws of men and women within the Church. The Church of Jesus Christ has taught the same faith and morals for all that time. And since TRUTH cannot change, then we go by what the Word of God taught all those years ago.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
  19. Russ

    I notice when someone is deciphering the Bible, if the Bible does not agree with their views, it is a "mistranslation". I guess i could make it say ANYTHING!
    Romans 1 is clear unless you start changing words mate.
    Quote: "The Greek term para physin has been translated unnatural; it should read atypical or unusual."
    The Bible does not need to be retranslated, only re-read.

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

      Perhaps he's as confident of his interpretation as you are of yours.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • 1nd3p3nd3nt

      sorry, i don't speak dead languages. Maybe god should have written a version in every language? Unless he thought we'd all be speaking the same language, oh wait, then why would he have punished us for building the tower of babel?

      hmm, maybe he just wanted us to misunderstand his word?
      that or he didn't write it

      May 15, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • Kristen

      But it's already been translated. Several times, in fact. I'm fine with anyone reading and believing the bible, but being willfully ignorant of the fact that humans have translated and re-translated the bible is frustrating. If you're going to live by a text that is 2,000 years old, then read it in its original form. You are living your life by a translation of an ancient language to greek to english by men in the time of King James (17th century). At that time women were property and the poor were not all that well taken care of. When reading anything translated it's important to understand the translator.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
    • Skeptical

      Unless you consider the fact that the bible has already been re-translated a half dozen times before you were old enough to read. But you are still willing to take the words you have in todays bible as "the word of god" and use it to spread hate around those whom believe differently than you. Sorry but the way I see it, your the pot calling the kettle black..

      May 15, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
  20. Bremen

    It shouldn't matter what the Bible says. I know the bible and Christianity has played and does still play a natural part of this countries evolution. However we need to avoid this. This is a country where all religions are supposed to be accepted so long as laws are not broken. We are far from perfect. However, this isn't about god's word. This nation is supposed to represent fairness and respect for all. So the government telling someone who can and can not marry is absurd. If the church does not want to allow gay marriage, fine, they have the right to turn a couple away. This does not mean the government or states have the right to turn people away.
    Some folks have issues with gay marriage, being historically christian-based and therefore condemning gay rights to marriage. This is understandable, for some I could see this as a intrusion upon religious beliefs. So we simply re-name gay marriage to something else, and it is fixed.

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

      The society is now controlling who can or can not marry, and dictates a person can only only one spouse at a time. so what is the different about this gay marriage issue?

      May 15, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
    • Soe Naing

      Government tells us all the time what we can and cannot do – that is what all governments do. So telling gays that they can't marry is just one of many things.

      As far as religious translation, all major religions have common elements – such as (1) help the poor and weak; (2) honor/respect parents, (3) do not steal, etc... One thing they all have in common is that they all say male/male and female/female relations are not supposed to happen – even though some religions are accepting of others. But again, they all say that this is not supposed to happen. Why is this commonality? Perhaps Helminiak will spin it on CNN also.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:03 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.