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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. John

    This article makes me laugh. Especially as a "fanatical" catholic. One minute cnn defames the catholic church pointing at the priest pedofiles crying loudly that the heretical hierarchy should all be burned at the stake. Next they use some priest who is obviously out of his churches teaching and is likely gay himself needing to justify his own beliefs and they hold him up as their savior. LOL way to be consistent. Catholics, the evil saviors of the world... we love you... we hate you.... oh whatever.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
  2. colredfive

    Lev 20:13 If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
    • momoya

      By the same book I can own slaves and sell my daughters into slaver.. Cool, huh.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
    • ben

      hate the shrimp, don't hate the shrimp eater!

      May 15, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
    • Gordyb

      If you believe this is a sin don't do it. However this country is made up of many belief systems which do not agree and one relegion should not try to dominate politically. Because of this , freedom of relegion works in the USA.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • George65

      You left a lot out of what a "slave" meant to the Jewish people. Slaves were suppose to be treated well and justly. Slavery lasted for a max period of time of 7 years.... and the "slave" left with property and provisions.

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

      Amen! "Slaves" where not forced slaves in Israel, but more like servants. Free to go at any time. It was a method of repaying debts. They had food, water, housing, etc. It is like a welfare system. Cool! Praise the Lord!

      May 15, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
    • Jen

      Love the 'but it is ethical slavery' argument. The bible also says that women must submit to men. There's no question women are considered lesser then men. That will be the day that I ever submit to my husband.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • Sasquatch

      *** Amen! "Slaves" where not forced slaves in Israel, but more like servants. Free to go at any time. It was a method of repaying debts.

      What debts ?
      The fact that the rich stole thier land and they had to work to eat
      the very food they grow ?

      May 16, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
  3. Duaine Morphis

    Considering, the Bible was written in many dead languages and translated be many other dead languages, how can we be sure if there is any truth to what is written.
    There is one quote from the bible that makes sense, " ye, who are without sin may cast the first stone "

    May 15, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
  4. Gordyb

    Don't mix relegion with politics. The founders wanted separation of church and state. Gays are citizens and should have equal rights, a civil union at minimum.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
  5. Alan

    Here comes the liberal spin on the bible. We need only to remember one thing:

    Leviticus 18:22, the “abomination” of a man’s lying with another man.

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

      Let's also remember that the same book allows for slavery and selling of daughters into slavery.. Wanna try again?

      May 15, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
    • Lol

      do you follow every rule set in the book of levi..?? think carefully before answering

      May 15, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • Saboth

      Are you able to read? Above...he explains that abomination doesn't mean what most people translate it to mean. The bible used "abomination" very liberally. It said planting 2 seeds in the same hole was an "abomination".

      May 15, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
    • Bob

      Yep. More oysters?

      May 15, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
    • Dan Buzdugan

      The only problem is Leviticus was writing a code of conduct for priests. Also don't forget, in those days they were also practicing ritual sacrifice. Yeah, a real bunch of holy men... If it was anything like today's catholic church I wonder what was going on behind closed doors.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
  6. George65

    I also see the logical comments refuting these statements being removed! Nice!

    May 15, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
  7. Josh

    Unless you can read and understand Ancient Greek and Biblical Hebrew, you don't know what the Bible says. You only know what someone translated through the lens of their own interpretation. Probably want to think of that before "coming out" as an idiot.

    Also, if you are truly interested in taking Christianity to the next level of complexity and openness, I suggest you google "Integral Christianity", and read some of that material.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
    • Joseph Smith

      Are you Mormon? The Bible is the most studied book in history...

      May 15, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
    • Josh

      Nope, I'm not even Christian. But I can read and understand Biblical Hebrew and some Ancient Greek, so that puts me quite a bit ahead in being able to know what the durned thing says.

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

      *** Joseph Smith

      Are you Mormon? The Bible is the most studied book in history...

      And the most un-read book in history.

      May 16, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
  8. john

    If you really believe this crap, you might as well throw your Bible away

    May 15, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
    • Sam Mandel

      please recycle it- better for the environ.

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

      Already did, but thanks for the suggestion.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
    • Common Sense

      John, I agree. And I DID throw away (recycle) my Bibles. And I got the hell out of the christian church. I woke up to the fact I'd been lied to my christian church for 50+ years. I'm spiritual but no longer religious. Amen!

      Brian Duplantier

      May 15, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
    • Weapons Of Mass Distortion

      I keep mine around, so when people quote stupid things
      i can tell them they are full of..............scripture.

      May 16, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
  9. wr

    "Jesus taught lucidly that Jewish requirements for purity — varied cultural traditions — do not matter before God."

    Well nice to know we Jews don't count.

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

      You don't count, you subhuman rat. You rejected Christ, and you're going to pay because of it. Perhaps first you should apologize for the suffering you have perpetrated on millions of good people throughout history. For example – WW2, which your tribe instigated in order to destroy the sovereign country of Germany. Shame on you......Oh well, your punishment will more than make up for the evil you have committed here on earth :)

      May 15, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • Weapons Of Mass Distortion

      NUT CASE ALERT !!!!!!!!
      WARNING !!!!!!!

      Mick

      You don't count, you subhuman rat. You rejected Christ, and you're going to pay because of it. Perhaps first you should apologize for the suffering you have perpetrated on millions of good people throughout history. For example – WW2, which your tribe instigated in order to destroy the sovereign country of Germany. Shame on you......Oh well, your punishment will more than make up for the evil you have committed here on

      May 16, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  10. Sandra

    I find it funny that the same ones who pick and choose what parts of the 'buy bull' they want to use to justify their hate, bigotry and oppression tend to ignore other parts. I wonder how many bronze age book followers could be stoned to death for wearing cotton/wool blend shirts? Or how many put to death for working on Sundays? How many more for eating shrimp or lobster? That bronze age book is a compilation of fables stolen from even older cultures (Epic of Gilgamesh, for one). Why anyone who uses electricity chooses to follow it as a guideline for life (of course they only use the parts that can be used to promote their bigotry)

    May 15, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
    • Humanist11

      Sandra.....Well said. Your post encompasses everything that I believe.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
    • New Mexico

      Well written! I agree, too, about your observations about the "bronze age book." So true.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
    • Jay

      "Buy Bull"? Nice, I guess you've exposed your own bigotry about the christian FAITH; perhaps you feel your moral standards are more appropriate? And even those, most likely, are a haphazard redaction of all those things you feel should have no boundaries, limits, or restraints. I can only imagine where we'd be if we all meandered through life with that sort of moral compass – or lack thereof.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
  11. Harris Barkley

    Please share: If gay marriage is and abortion is .... How did we perpetuate to get beyond? Mmmmmm. Just a think'n.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
  12. Roy

    Everybody, Look yourself in the mirror.
    Is there anybody perfect? Some people god created like that. Accept it. If you don't like it. Tough luck. Everybody has equal privilege and freedom to exists as they are. Who are you judge? God will judge ! Don't play polictics?

    By the way, paul was gay, he still followed jesus. Nobody has any problem at that time.

    Somebody different from you doesn't mean that they are immoral or wrong.

    Leave them alone. Do something that help another human being.

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

      I honestly do not understand the gay/lesbian "fear" that seems to deeply rooted in our society.

      Let consenting adults alone – really, would you want the government "digging" into your personal realationships?

      I have found that most who "quote the bible" have never actually read all versions, and only have a limited reference source.

      The bible is not the written word of "god". Nor are any other texts the writtings of "THE SUPREME BEING"

      Their purpose is to guide us and make us reflect on who we are and what we do – PERIOD.

      STOP and reflect on your own life – be a better person and maybe, just maybe more will follow...

      and the world will be a better place.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
  13. amadeo122

    The bible, just a book written by a Palestinian Jew followed by millions of white american morons.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
    • Sam Mandel

      Hey it got the Americans to support Israel didn't it? I'd say it's pretty successful.

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

      There are over 40 authors in the Bible, a book held relevent by 3.8 billion people in the world (more than half). The real question is which half is correct. Somehow I doubt your brilliant mind has finally answered that question.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
    • guy

      Listen muslim, There are hundreds of BLACK Christians, also not only Americans are Christians ever hear of a place called the Vatican in the city of Rome in the country of Italy…… I think it is next to Nebraska mohamed

      May 15, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
  14. A Serpent's Thought

    People of sodomy, the fruits within, are said to be unable to be "normal" and in such abnormalness, sodomites tend to do what is their abnormal desires in abnormally viewed by others Tv eyeing controversialisms! Too much abnormalities can cause the societal constructs' normality rates to become lowered or raised depending upon one's figurative choices and/or flexible stance! Being normal in a societal construct of many abnormalisms will ever have abormality ratios in conjugating performances outside the normal barriers' ever-changing-perceivements! Hate sodomy and try to love the sodomites but in a brotherly/sisterly way! Remember well how the very young want to mimick those who their lives are touched/impressed by!

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

      Are you fvcking high?

      May 15, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
    • A Serpent's Thought

      @ Hellbound

      Are you trying to low-ball me? I am naturally high on the holy spirit, the Nothingness that holds my body together in a never ending jostling back and forth of my atoms that dillie here and dallie there! Love your own body's god and be true to him and his wants for you to have that thing or the other thing maybe as well all thngs made for you to have!

      May 15, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
  15. Al

    Please don't believe this CNN crap. You'll go to Hell backwards.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
  16. Joseph Smith

    The Book of Mormon says that Jesus came to North America...it's true, right? There were Lamanites and Nephites? Right?

    May 15, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
  17. Happy Canadian

    I've said this 100 times! If you're waiting for some miracle to happen in the States (which won't happen until the young generation takes over), then I say move to Canada! Here we have better things to worry about than who's sleeping with who! Not to mention the jolt in tax revenues from the increased wedding ceremonies and hell you can't deny the right to bridal registry to a gay man anyways hahaha!

    May 15, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
    • Joseph Smith

      I'm moving to Canada if Romney becomes POTUS.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
  18. webo

    This article brought to mind Paul's warning to Timothy – "For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths." 2 Timothy 4:3-4

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

      You're pretty arrogant about your interpretation, aren't you.. I hope the author is as arrogant about his.. You're dismissed.

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

      @momoya – And how would you interpret Paul's warning above??

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

      I've had enough of this nonsense. It's getting REALLY old reading about this same subject all the time and I'm about ready to completely cross CNN off my list of regularly visited websites for news.

      Helminiak has been refuted in the past. For anyone interested in reading that refutation, simply do an internet search for "A Reformed Response to Daniel Helminiak's Gay Theology".

      May 15, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
    • One way

      You hit the nail on the head.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
    • swohio

      Sorry, Webo.....I thought I was making a completely new comment. By the way, I agree with you.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
    • manandwoman

      amen amen man + woman-marriage period!!!

      May 15, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
  19. Nick

    Will CNN not rest until their is SODOMY being performed openly and lawfully in the streets? I have yet to see any opposing viewpoint blown up on their website, like they have done with pro-gay commentators. Is this really fair reporting?

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

      You have extremist views. Just because no one else agrees with you doesn't mean they aren't being fair. You're just alone on an island.

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

      you are an idiot

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

      Really? I'm an extremist? Have you read the polls? Half the country is opposed to gay marriage. Where is that voice being represented? It isn't on here.....

      And you call that fair?

      May 15, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
  20. puckles

    Peepers in Poop Chutes is just not right.

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

      What about the hundreds of different species of intestinal worm.. Your god made the poop shoot for them, right? I mean, it's their habitat.. Nice god you got there.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
    • Lol

      and mouth is made for peeper though? or should we consti.tutionally ban b j too?

      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.