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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. Chas

    Read Luke 17:34 scripted to support this thought

    May 15, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
  2. JOhn Holmes

    Don't care about phags. Do care about destroyed economy. Quit trying to deflect CNN.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • seriously john

      Dude...you're in the religion section of the CNN site. If you want to read about economic issues, click some buttons and go elsewhere, it's not that hard.

      May 30, 2012 at 1:19 am |
  3. Kumnipa

    The Bible says 'For this reason, a man will leave his parents and join with his wife, and the two shall be one". This is the definition of mrriage given in the Bible.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • CULT

      Marriage is a legal contract issued by, recognized by, and enforced by the government. Get over it.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • Chuck

      Exactly

      May 15, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • Chuck

      This scripture clearly defines marriage as ine man and one woman. We all should obey gods scriptural commandments

      May 15, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • Zeppelin

      Too bad there are billions of people around the world that don't give a crap about how your religion defines marriage.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • Believer

      You have said the truth. Don't pay attention to our persecutors. This is the time that was predicted long ago. The sin will cover the earth and it is happening now.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
  4. Adam B. Embry

    This is absurd, but I really don't expect anything less from CNN. Do you know how many "theologians" come out of the University of West Georgia? That's right, none, unless you consider a professor of psychology a respected and well-known theologian. If you want a historical, linguistic, and logical non-evangelical opinion that actually disagrees with liberal interpretations, see Robert Gagnon's website, http://www.robrertgagnon.net.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • Zeppelin

      Stop being a hater, bro, and come out of the closet already. All that hate is going to burn you up.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
      • Adam B. Embry

        It's a non-sequetur that because I disagree with the author that I therefore hate him and others.

        May 15, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • The Soup

      The authur was ordained a priest in Rome and is a theologian, because these are not his current occupation does not disqualify his credentials.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:07 am |
  5. ton

    Man does CNN want gay marriage or what.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • didgodwrite

      Man does not just CNN,,, Man is going to get it so they can leave the woman for the man.

      May 21, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
  6. DrewNumberTwo

    For an all powerful being God sure has a hard time explaining simple ideas.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • Nobland

      Yeah, I've been very impressed by the fact that the creator of all things is such a poor communicator. He could write it out in the sky in all the languages of man, he could tattoo it on our foreheads... if he had a message he could deliver it himself. In all the other works of creation the creator is clear as a bell. Perhaps the sun does not revolve around the earth and perhaps we were not created in God's image (a real ego issue that one), perhaps we are not the center of the universe (all astonomy seems to think so).

      May 15, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
  7. blake

    Leftist theology and leftist politics, both equally flawed. Never heard such ridiculous rationalizations. CNN stop your relentless promotion of this garbage.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
  8. Clear and Present Thinker

    All sin is theft including theft of equal protection under the law.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
  9. terrible_ted

    One person writes a blog and says its so, and the sheep say it must be so. I'm going to start a blog...lots of people with no beliefs apparently.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • Moe Smith

      what about rewriting, interpreting, rewording, influencing... RAPING a religious over hundreds and hundreds of years just to mold it into that which suits your personal needs, goals and agendas and call it truth? Oh wait, that's the Bible. sorry.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • Nobland

      Moe, It's already been done – thoroughly.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • Zeppelin

      I believe you might be an idiot. Does that help?

      May 15, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • Bet

      One person preaches the bible and says it is so, and the sheep say it must be so.

      May 16, 2012 at 12:25 am |
  10. aaronavtr

    For those who KNOW the bible...know the TRUTH.

    AT THE END OF THE DAY, GOD WILL HAVE THE FINAL SAY. END OF STORY

    May 15, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • Drew

      bull****. people have been predicting the end of the world since the beginning of time. The early Christians were convinced Christ would return in their lifetime. It's all garbage

      May 15, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • big Spender

      Amen

      August 3, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
  11. Joseph

    STOP! WWJD? Thats what I tought.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
  12. John Smith

    what the bible has to say about it doesnt matter. whatever is written there is interpreted differently by people and by the time they live in.
    it was never written for white american straight men, yet they think the religion itself belongs to them and that anything that is a minority is impure and blasphemous towards the bible itself.

    something something, d3 just came back up.. bai

    May 15, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
  13. Claudette

    I believe in God and Jesus Christ without a doubt but the Bible to me is a little bit of a different story- in my optain we shouldn't base our etire believeon it but note the word entire- there are somethings we just have to judge ourselfes and LGBT are something we must judge for ourself. Mankind was younger back then and we are much older now (mankind at least) and we've gain at least some wisdom not only that but serpation of church and state. We are having relious based agruements. Guess which side already won

    May 15, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
  14. Adam

    Option 1: Human Rights
    Option 2: The Bible

    Choose one.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Chuck

      I choose option two. There is no such thing as human rights. Since we are God's creation our only 'right' is the right to choose whether or not to obey His laws. Everyone has the right to make that choice and we will all be held accountable for our choices.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • lynne

      OPTION 1

      May 15, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
    • Adam

      You are on the wrong side of Truth, and the wrong side of Goodness, Chuck. You are my enemy. That you presume to know that which you cannot know betrays your unreason. The march of civilization–provided it is not first vaporized altogether by one of your religious ilk–will brush and your thinking to the margins of history.

      May 16, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
  15. me

    Gay is the new Norm

    May 15, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
  16. guaraya

    Funny how one post-modern, self-described "theologian" comes along, poo-poos the wisdom of the ages in the face, and claims to have some weird new insight into what the Bible (God) really meant. Yes, it would be funny if it weren't so tragic, misleading and deceptive.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
  17. christian

    I wouldn't put to much stock in Lev. it also says that four legged birds are to be considered damned.
    You can see that this is a big problem.
    It also assess monetary value for humans with women being about half...
    It also states any child less than a month has no monetary value...
    There are certainly better books in the bible....

    May 15, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
  18. WhatUp

    He kind of left a few things out of Romans. 1:22-25 "Professing to be wise they became fools. and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man-and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves." ANd verse 26 states they were given over to vile passions in that the women exchanged their natural use and verse 27 states that men did too and states it was shameful and verse 28 states they were given over to a debased mind. The Bible is very clear. I do not have anything against those that are gay but according to the Bible it is a sin and unnatural.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Chris

      I like how he specifically left out those verses but mentions the verses directly after it. He has no idea what he is talking about.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
  19. Mau

    Jesus loves everybody including gays. Jesus even loves stupid haters.
    What the bible says or not is BS**

    May 15, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      jesus supported slavery. but i'm sure he loved them too.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • andy

      By including the word "stupid" you've proven you are also a hater.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • Chuck

      Jesus preached his message in a world where slavery was the norm. He did not 'support' slavery. You obviously dont know what youre talking about or just spouting out some garbled misinterpretation you heard from someone who is misinformed. Jesus preached love for all and obedience to one master God.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • Ishu

      We all love gays; it's anal intercourse that's condemned. And properly so.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
  20. Zeppelin

    THANK YOU

    May 15, 2012 at 6:26 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.