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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. mjw

    One would have to agree that our country is supposed to have separation of church and state. Also note that the founding fathers were deists and not all christian. Matter of fact, our countries pledge did not include the words"under God"until somtime in the 50's. So, the issue of gay marriage may well have some religions howling"sin"! However, most interpretations of the bible are probably wrong and so is the interpretation of sin. And by the way, it was man that did the erronious interpretation. At one point in the history of our country , we burned people at the stake, calling them witches. That must have come from an interpretation of the Bible. there is no place for religion in our govt.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
  2. John

    This guy is a joke.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • Miichael

      You're an ass.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
  3. Permutation

    No counterpoint? At least have have the good journalistic sense to allow counterpoints (not that it's going to necessarily change anyone's opinion on this issue). Regardless, if one takes out their personal feelings on these matters, you must admit it is nigh impossible to find an online news source that treats any issue fairly. Fox is a joke, CNN is a joke. Please point me in the direction of a site that offers honest debate.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • 1nd3p3nd3nt

      you got to find one that doesn't make it's money off of attracting viewers.

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

      Give me a little time and I might just have one up.

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

      Go for it, Permutation. That's the beauty of reader commentary. Don't agree with something the author says? Jump on it...

      May 15, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
  4. Benthoven

    I don't understand why we even care what the bible says. The book was written two thousand years ago by desert dwellers and barely literate men who had absolutely no idea how the world functioned. What matters is what we know now and what science has taught us.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • Joe

      Ashkenazi Jews must have taught you that.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
    • 1nd3p3nd3nt

      this is refreshing for a change, i get to defend the bible : )
      i would argue that bible, regardless of being the word of god or some such, is a historical examination of the human condition, or as i prefer, the human problem. It speaks to ways of living one's life so as to minimize friction and problems, and focus on teamwork and societal contribution.

      I like to think there's a bunch of wisdom in the bible, old school wisdom which is the foundation of many of our social values today. Some of it is bs, of course, but some of it is usable. The concept of original sin, for example, i think is very important: i believe all humans are fallible, not just we are capable of making mistakes, but that we WILL make mistakes. Humility is what leads to true confidence : )

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

      You poor lost soul. You don't even understand where you came from or the special love and purpose behind your creation. But the devil doesn't want you to.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
  5. 1nd3p3nd3nt

    if the tree of knowledge was so forbidden to eat from, why didn't god put up a fence?

    May 15, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
  6. Wayne

    Pray for Obama. In truth l& none denial of God. Elections can still be won. If God gave the president the power he has do you think in truth he would lose. But in denial of God – That is sad. Mr. President you are a good man but please stand for God because he loves you/stood for you

    May 15, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • sybaris

      The President stands for equality. Religion stands for division.

      Grow up

      May 15, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
  7. God is Love

    This man is twisting God's Word – oh my.....

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

      Actually, no, you can read, word for word from the examples he gave in your Bible that he is quoting the Bible exactly....you humans are the ones that pervert the word of God to make it your own. THOU SHALT HAVE NO IDOL BEFORE ME....this includes yourselves!

      May 15, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
    • sybaris

      Prove it was ever any gods word.

      You can't

      May 15, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
  8. Rob

    A book written by people who thought the world was flat....perfect, I am using this

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

      They knew it was round:
      "He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
      and its people are like grasshoppers.
      He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
      and spreads them out like a tent to live in." Isaiah 40:22

      May 15, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
    • Rob

      Circles are one dimensional mr. Genius

      May 15, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
    • Jimmy

      I believe you mean two dimensional.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
    • Rob

      Yes

      May 15, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
    • Rob

      And flat

      May 15, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
    • Scruples

      I've never seen this before. Kudos to the both of you for helping each other out.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
    • Jimmy

      It depends on how you look at it. A circle is flat if you look at it from above, but if you look at it on it's edge it is round. If you spin the circle on its diameter you get a sphere. Given that the people writing the old testament lived on the Mediterranean sea it is unlikely they thought the world was flat. They could watch ships disappear over the horizon and then watch them return without having fallen off the edge of the world.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
  9. Joe

    This is a terrible article written by a confused man who needs to find God before it's too late.

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

      You're a moron.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
    • Loren Davidson

      Who says that you have any clearer understanding of what God is than the author does?

      May 15, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
    • sybaris

      Why would your god be hiding?

      Shouldn't your god know what it would take for any man to believe in it?

      I think your god is very passive-aggressive.

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

    I don't have anything against gays. I know gay people and they are wonderful hard working people but marriage should be between a man and a woman. What is going to be next? I am going to marry my dog...

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

      Trynot being so ludicrous.

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

      So you have an opinion but can't back it up in any logical way what-so-ever.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • Rob

      When your dog becomes a legally consenting tax payer we can discuss

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

      Lilly seems to misunderstand the meaning of "consent" and "adult."

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

      Rewind a few years, the same argument was used against interracial marriage.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
    • Loren Davidson

      Can your dog understand and execute a signed, legal contract?

      No? Well, in that case, your straw man argument has no clothes. To mix a metaphor.

      Also, you're attempting to mix religious and civil law. In the US, you can't do that. First Amendment.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
    • 311mortimer

      So is that the requirement – legally consenting taxpayer? how many of these legally consenting taxpayers can form a domestic arrangement and call it marriage? 3, a dozen? A grandmother and her 3 taxpaying grandchildren? what if you don't make enough many to get taxed? guess you're out of luck then.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
    • 311mortimer

      many, money = typo

      May 15, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
    • Emerald Laughter

      Your dog was repulsed by the idea, he likes younger more attractive women.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
    • Emerald Laughter

      Hey, Lily, the Bible also says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.” (1 Timothy 2:12) So according to the Bible, you should just sit down and shut up. Right?

      May 15, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
    • Rob

      You can't consent to incest legally

      May 15, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
    • Animal lover

      I am gona merry my dog to next year ;)

      May 15, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
    • 1nd3p3nd3nt

      really 311? you have to acknowledge the ridiculousness of the 'next we'll be able to marry our dogs.'
      but you think the argument against gay marriage is that multiple people will marry, that we'll have plural marriages, that a grandma can marry her grand kids?

      and you don't see this as being equally ridiculous? incest, really? you realize being able to marry multiple people has absolutely nothing to do with being gay, right? : (

      May 15, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
  11. Marcio Pelegrini

    ahahahahah
    is this guy serious?? I know, I get it...very likely he is gay and hate the DSM-IV ooops no, The Bible!

    is this a JOKE or what?

    May 15, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
  12. Brandon

    Claiming that marriage was created by God since the story of Adam and Eve is the proof-text. Advocates of this position should note, that Adam and Eve would still need to purchase a civil marriage license if they sought to get married today.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
    • 1nd3p3nd3nt

      ha! that's not even half of it!

      what about lilith?

      May 15, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
  13. Milo Falon

    Jesus said "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus didn't say that people will know you are my disciples by your sinless life, self righteousness or your voter ID card. So let's see a little more love or no one will recognize you.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
  14. John

    I am a Christian, I do believe in God. This being said the bible is just a book of peoples stories and ideas of how god wants us to live. People take this and depending on how their brain works interpret it in a way that works for them. We all think differently and that’s ok. I am the father of a gay son. It wasn’t his choice to be gay it’s just the way it is. Through me and my wife God made my son the way he is. He is a great son and believes in God. Does this make him bad? NO WAY!

    May 15, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
    • Common Sense

      It sounds like your son has a smart dad.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
    • K. Murry Johnson

      Nice comments! Way to go!

      May 15, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
    • CHARLIE

      great insight

      May 15, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
  15. Jen L

    It's really interesting reading the responses here. The author has made a well-argued point, citing not just Bible Passages but their original wording and how those words were actually used at the time that that the text was written. In response, people have made personal attacks against him instead of countering a single point that was made. Most of those personal attacks are based solely on information that the attacker MADE UP.

    That's called "bearing false witness" and unlike the topic of the article, is actually covered in the Ten Commandments as a sin.

    Not only have the posters broken one of the most obvious laws of their religion, but they do so in lieu of actually making a point and further to justify something that was contrary to the teachings of Jesus. Jesus taught that everyone should be treated with respect and kindness, that even if they are sinners, they should be judged by God, not by man.

    And while these so-called Christians violate the message of Jesus Christ, pretending that Jesus shared their hatred of sinners, they are bearing false witness AGAINST JESUS.

    You are not Christians. You are dogmatic zealots who reject the actual teachings of Christ in favor of your own hatred of something other than yourself. You honestly believe that this guarantees you a spot in Heaven?

    Honestly?

    If you want to make a point, make a point. Back it up with information that supports your point. If you want to counter an argument, do so by presenting information that counters it– not by restating a point that the article already disproved as though the point can simply be ignored. Restating it in all caps doesn't make it true; it only proves that you think that the volume of your voice is a sign that your words are true.

    Jesus was a nice guy. He didn't hate ANYONE. He supported the separation of Church and State. He made a lot of SENSE. If you want to claim to be Christian, you have to follow the teachings of Jesus and start acting like him. Don't hate anyone. Support the separation of Church and State. Make sense. And stop attacking people for making sense where you do not.

    Until you do, you are merely making Jesus look bad to people who would otherwise appreciate his message.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • eric

      Awesomely well said!

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

      Wrong; no one knows what the orignal wording was of the gospels or any of the scriptures because the only thing that exists are copies of copies of copies, etc., which have been translated and mistranlated and retinterpreted for the last thousand years or so. So, this is just another opinion, good or bad.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
    • The Deist

      Interesting point, however I bear no ill will toward the author. I found his article interesting and well written. I merely don't have a use for the Bible. It's isn't God I have a problem with, it's the Creator's illogical, zealous, and completely insane followers that give me serious pause.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
    • Joshl

      My thoughts EXACTLY

      May 15, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
  16. Leeroy

    Sure glad I can read the Bible for myself and don't need this guy's wrong interpretation of the scriptures. ;)

    May 15, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • Peter

      What makes you so sure he's wrong?

      Wanna match credentials with him?

      May 15, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
    • 1nd3p3nd3nt

      what did god mean when he said the 'garden east of eden?' in genesis? i thought it was the garden of eden, was eden a place? is that where god lived? was he the only god or was there a city of gods?

      May 15, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
    • The Deist

      You're an ignoramus. Moving right along.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
    • God is Love

      Best said – read the bible and let the Holy Spirit show you the truth....

      May 15, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
    • Leeroy

      Credentials? Ever heard of feeling The Spirit of the Holy Ghost to confirm truth? That's all the confirmation I need. It's simple as that. Who needs people like this author to try to complicate and confuse? I sure don't. It's crystal clear to discern right from wrong in this matter.

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

      LOL, Leroy goes on "feeling.' haahahahahaha

      May 15, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
    • chimei01

      sadly though, you aren't reading it in its earliest known form. and with his degrees in theology and psychotherapy, i'd take his historically-based analysis of the bible over an armchair evangelist any day. there's a reason so many American ministers and preachers are so quick to attack theologians – because theologians actually study history, and its impact on the peoples of the day, and how their faith was a reflection of that long-gone reality. this gives a far more accurate understanding of biblical text...hence, so many of them make no big deal of this or that while American ministers and preachers flip out over one thing while completely ignoring others.

      theologians will give the same weight to men cutting the hair around their temples as they do to eating shrimp or "being gay". evangelists ignore the first two (to look good and enjoy a fancy meal) and condem the third...all because of a misguided reading of a cultural and time-specific text.

      the American faithful should spend more time studying theology and less time highlighting their bibles. memorizing something that has no true foundation ni history or reality is a fruitless effort.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
    • Leeroy

      Glad I don't need my Master's degree to know the difference between right and wrong. But you guys are welcomed to laugh and call names. And I'm welcomed to vote my conscience. And it will not be for the one trying to confuse and destroy our country with his incorrect "opinions" on marriage. No one is bashing him for having an opinion without a psych or theology degree. Seems like someone has double standards. ;) The fact is, it's not as complicated as people favoring sin are trying to make it.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • Joshl

      Leeroy practicing "truthiness." Christians believe they can just concentrate really hard and "feel" or "sense" right and wrong... very very very very scary. especially when these people who make decisions this way can vote or affect policy.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
    • Leeroy

      And I find those who think they are smarter then God, the Spirit of the Holy Ghost and religion to be very, very, very scary.

      May 16, 2012 at 5:01 am |
  17. unafy

    Man and woman are created for reproduction, period! every part of our body is created for purpose. think about that Before opening your mouth about God, period! Think twice, big think here!!

    May 15, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • The Deist

      Wrong, wrong and I have beyond thought about it. If you want to live your life in a dark, dank, and miserable hole and not celebrate the life that "God" (for lack of a better word) gave you, feel free. Don't impose that on others.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
    • this is my real name

      tell me what god's plan for the appendix was.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
    • Tony

      So, does that mean we shouldn't be allowed to attend a baseball game, because such an act doesn't create babies?

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

      Then why do so many couples choose not to have children?

      May 15, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
  18. The Deist

    It's all rubbish. The Bible, religion, etc. All of it. It's superfluous rubbish. When you release religion, the Bible, and BS filters you pour everything through, everything becomes much clearer.

    Tsk...keep your passages to yourself. I've read them, I know them better than you do word for word. They're GARBAGE. They have no meaning to me. None.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • God is Love

      The Deist – I will PRAY to God the Almighty I AM for you... And I mean that with love

      May 15, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
    • The Deist

      Thank you, that is very nice of you. I will think well of you as well. Have a good evening.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
  19. Peter

    The man is a respected theologian.

    This fact would be highlighted by those who condemn him if he came out against gay marriage.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • 311mortimer

      Respected by whom? People who promote gay marriage would call Daffy Duck a respected theologian if he endorsed their position.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
  20. Creationism1

    The bible is a good book for people without an education in physics or biology

    May 15, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • The Deist

      The reason we have ignorance and dogma is because of the Bible. I'm going to respectfully disagree. It isn't good for *anyone*

      May 15, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • Marcio Pelegrini

      Except the Bible refers to the earth as "sphere" and the word globe.

      just about..lets see...three thousand years before Galileo! ahahah

      that is talking points of atheists.....LOL

      you resentful creature (you both) will have to answer ofr you rebellion and lies..... wake up while you have time

      May 15, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
    • The Deist

      Marcio, if you had even a spark of intelligence, my name alone would tell you I'm not an atheist. As for the word "world" or "globe", you're incorrect. Their is no word in Hebrew for "globe" before the modern lexicon. How do I know that? I'm quite fluent in Hebrew, I was born a Jew.

      Now, move along, we weren't talking to you.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
    • Sheila

      The intelligence of man is foolishness to God

      May 15, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
    • Dave, Central Illinois

      I have a degree in Computer Science and read biology books because they interest me. I can't help but notice the similarity of genes on or off state to binary code. The genome is a program. Programs do not write themselves. That computer in your mom's basement which you typed your little rant on did not evolve. Make sure to turn off the lights in mommy's basement when your done spewing your dribble....

      May 15, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
    • 311mortimer

      Gregor Mendel – father of genetics – Austrian scientist, Augustinian friar. Sorry creationism1

      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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.