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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. CNN Is Clown News Network

    "This is exactly the article Romney and the far right need to read, written by an ordained priest, psychotherapist, and theologian!"

    Another nut who thinks that merely writing a book and being a college professor in psychology at Podunk College makes the person a "theologian". What next moron...... demanding that you be called a physician because you enjoy getting your temperature taken rectally?

    May 15, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • Put The Gun Down

      Romney is to busy talking to his masters on Kolob.
      You know, the planet he is going to rule, when he dies.

      May 16, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
  2. usastillgr8t

    Isn't it odd how some people say that the Bible is not true! Jesus quoted from the old testament. But, I guess then that Jesus quotes fiction? I do not think so!

    May 15, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • Put The Gun Down

      I can quote a line from Journey To The Center Of The Earth.
      I guess that means it must have happened.

      May 16, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
  3. Pope_Inquisitor

    The bible is SO meaningless! God is pretend. Bible was written by primitives in a primitive land 2000 yrs ago. Then changed for centuries by corrupt popes. Its says you can't get into heaven with bruised nuts, (Deut 23:1), slaves are OK, kill kids, don't touch women on their period, etc. It's all bull pucky nonsense

    May 15, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • Reason & Logic

      There is enough fact to show that most of the stories of the Bible were of extraterrestrial origin. There is a creator it's just that he did not interact with us as the Bible describes. The Bible is really a preparatory manual for the return visit of the alien race who put us on this Earth.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
    • ryan

      If the bible is fake why did you take the time to read and respond to the article?? Wouldn't that be a total waste of your time or do you like to read "bull pucky"?

      May 15, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
  4. Joshua

    If Christians are going to heaven I'd rather to go hell.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • CNN Is Clown News Network

      You can count on it.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
    • ryan

      Whether you go to Heaven or Hell is up to you by accepting the fact that Jesus died as a punishment for our sins. Would like to converse with you more since I used to think the same exact thing as you..I can relate to what you said about Christians going to Heaven! Jesus called many people hypocrites – including those that claimed to "follow" Him.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
  5. wade

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_D5Oa5n1nY&w=640&h=390]

    May 15, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
    • David

      Slowley the truth about the bible comes out.
      Thank you Wade.
      Cant wait for the rebuke from the thumpers.

      May 16, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
    • Sockness Monster

      Noticed that there is only one response to this video.
      Any Christians out there dont have the balls to watch and respond ?
      Maybe its because its true, and you dont like the truth ?
      Might just take you out of your comfort zone.
      How sad.
      You bible experts dont know crap.
      Keep on spouting scripture.

      May 16, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
  6. Mark

    Not even going to read the story.
    The bible says forgive violations of Gods word, and mind your own business and let God be the judge.

    Topic over, bye bye now..

    What, you challenge?
    Sinner!
    I forgive you.

    See how easy that was?

    May 15, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
    • Reason & Logic

      Not read the story? You're just like the trillions of religious followers who have ever lived who interpreted their religion as they saw fit which is what caused the endless religious wars and persecutions that have plagued this Earth.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
    • trav

      umm ...thats not bible bud

      May 15, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
  7. Mark

    This article is ridiculous, his interpretation of the bible is ABSURD

    May 15, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
    • tom

      And you interpretation is better? I'm sure you have as much schooling as this guy, and I'm sure you are an ordained priest.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
    • Motrek

      Mark, you're right. The man obviously has an agenda besides telling the truth.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
    • Susan

      Yet you won't prove that will you bigot.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
    • Sockness Monster

      Actually he is right on the mark.

      May 16, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
  8. jemas

    a

    May 15, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
  9. Al

    ATTENTION ATTENTION – This is a Public Service Announcement: "Do not be swayed by this CNN bull manure. It will have you headed to Hell wearing gasoline drawers!"

    May 15, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
    • fred phelps

      there is no hell, its all made up

      May 15, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
    • Mark

      I agree

      May 15, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
    • Al

      You are both crazy.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
    • JOE

      Dear Al, Prove that this guy is wrong with evidence.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
  10. fred

    Who cares what the bible says (its fake by the way). WE ARE NOT A THEOCRACY!!

    If you want to live in a theocracy then go to Saudi Arabia or Iran. Also, I thought these so called conservatives wanted small government?? Having the government, even state governments tell you who you can love sounds like HUGE GOVERNMENT to me.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
  11. Reason & Logic

    "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)."

    Boy, if this doesn't describe conservatism in the United States today, I don't know what does! The religious right may be correct that a Spiritual Correction is coming, they're just too ignorant to believe they may be the target.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
  12. Ace

    Who cares what the bible says about it! The men that wrote the bible had NO scientific knowledge whatsoever – we NOW know the earth is 4.5 billion years old; and life is a result of continual evolution; and that being gay is a born in trait, a result of genetic evolution which is STILL EVOLVING! There is no plan, or overseer – just spontaneous creation of the ever expanding universe!

    May 15, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
    • trav

      wrong jack! open your eyes and come out of your foolish thinking

      May 15, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
    • ryan

      I am a geneticist Ph.D and being gay is not a genetic event. Get a clue.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
    • ryan

      What?? Your statements are crazier than the article! You're out there.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
  13. Jim Weix

    Seriously...who cares what any church or Bible says?
    Religion, like government, was created by those few that wanted power and wealth. Both are the enemy of all of us.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
  14. CNN Is a Cellar Dwelle|

    "He is a professor of psychology at the University of West Georgia."

    That makes him a "theologian"? I bet CNN considers my MA in Economics to be enough to make me a cardiologist too.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
    • Reason & Logic

      Duh, maybe because he was an ordained priest! Double DUH!

      May 15, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
    • Mark

      I actually am a cardiologist, and I agree with you. His interpretation of the bible is way out there

      May 15, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
    • SteveFromOhio

      But I actually have a degree in theology and I think he gives a fairly good exposition of the Bible.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
    • DaveMan

      Professor of psychology means he's educated. Ordained priest means he is probably well-versed in theology, more specifically, Christian theology...Make sure you read the entire article, including his credentials before you make an ill-informed comment.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
  15. ted parker

    Link?

    May 15, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
  16. 1nd3p3nd3nt

    new rule:

    if the religious want to attack and persecute a segment of the population based on nothing other than their religious dogma, then they no longer get a free pass when pressed on their religion.

    that's right, no more hiding behind 'that's my faith.' When we make policy in this country, we use reason and rationale. Why do we use drones to attack our military targets? it's not because 'that's my faith.'

    no longer can you hide behind your faith and lack of understanding!
    i'm calling you out, i'm calling you all out!

    some religious people actually put time and thought into what they believe, they are not simply brainwashed into regurgitating what they were told when they were younger. Not all religious people are ignorant, in other words. But you who are, be prepared, your time is come!

    May 15, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
  17. Ryan K

    1 Timothy 1:9-11

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

      Deut 23:1

      May 15, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
    • Sockness Monster

      Pappa smurf mounts smurfette.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
  18. RawOnions

    Reasoning in support of this topic has become woefully redundant. It has been said if you claim something repeatedly, eventually people will believe it. Creating a new reality from misconceptions or fallacies is as bad as following ancient misconceptions and fallacies. Agenda vs. Nature, which should succeed?

    May 15, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • Sockness Monster

      Nature.
      Its the one constant in the universe.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
  19. Rebel4Christ

    The Bible also says that sin will be justified in the end days!

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

      So, all that divorce and cheating going on with "straight marriage"... truly a harbinger of the end of days. Oh, WAIT. You mean marriage equality and gays being given the same rights will lead to the end of days?!?! My bad. So straight sins are cool, it's all good. But two guys or girls marrying = The Apocalypse. Those arguments are so tiresome and hold less and less weight with most rationale people, including most rationale Christians.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • Dance This Mess Around

      Sins of Christians that have not understood the true meaning of the word.
      Checkmate.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
  20. They Need To Read

    This is exactly the article Romney and the far right need to read, written by an ordained priest, psychotherapist, and theologian! How's that for Professional Biblical Discourse on this subject matter! Obviously this gentleman is a learned scholar and many Republicans can learn what the Bible truly Does Not say about Gays and Lesbians.

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

      I thank God everyday for the many blessings that have been given to my family and this country. I thank God for the blessing given through the cross. I am one who studies the Bible and questions my faith so as to understand both.

      If you want to read more from the author of this article you can buy his book. He was an ordained priest but now has an agenda to attach the church. His current views do not reflect the views he held when he was ordained.

      I have personal views on this subject but know they are not relevant to the readers. What I would like to say is that we each need to step back and seek to show the other respect as we would like to be respected for our views. The attacks in these posts are reflective of the political reason for this subject to be brought out now.

      We need leadership in this country that will help heal and rebuild a united country. The politics of yes or no (choice between one or the other rather than compromise and reason) needs to end. The hatred is not good for any of us. I ask both sides to take a more civil approach on this and all the issues facing us today.

      I can handle the abuse I will receive for posting this but promise I will not return any abuse but seek to understand.

      God Bless.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
    • Dance This Mess Around

      *** This is exactly the article Romney and the far right need to read
      to understand why they will never reach the white house.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:05 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.