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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. Ruben C.

    How do you explain away Jude 7? You can't........

    May 15, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
    • We know the truth...

      Simple... It was a Beatles song... Next?

      May 15, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
    • blr2981

      Also, look at 2 peter 2:6

      May 15, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
  2. Trudy

    This guy says IT is HIS opion.... He is a NUTT!!! and Im sure he is GAY!!!! They Bible does speak very plain about this... The Bible says it is an ABONINATION AGAINST HIM..... People have just gone mad makes me sad for our Nation... but, does let me KNOW that JESUS is COMING BACK JUST LIKE HE SAID!!!!!

    May 15, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
    • 1nd3p3nd3nt

      how many thousands of years do you think jesus is going to wait until he returns?

      May 15, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • We know the truth...

      Shouldn't you be out on a ledge somewhere??

      May 15, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • cleareye1

      Try reading the Bible occasionally and you would be prepared to argue the man's point.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
    • Scott

      He's God. He'll come back when he's ready.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
    • .

      They'd only crucify him again if he came back.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
    • david

      Boy will he be moldy and smell. No wait a minute the maggots will have finished their job No wait again, he took a nap in a cave the levitated to??? Or was a political story to further a belief system?

      May 15, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
    • Derka Derka

      Well he was in the grave for three days, and the bible likes to have things correlate, so he should return in three God days from his death, so a thousand years as a day means we have just 960 years or so to go...

      May 15, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
  3. Big Man

    And why do we care what the bible says – it is just a compilation of various myths and fables. Has no relevance to our time nor our culture – unless of course one's ancestry is from the levant. Sorry to enlighten many of you.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
  4. dontdow

    Wow this guy is stupid. He obviously knows nothing of the the Bible but plenty of bs. He is a professor os psychology and the majority of them are religious hating morons. This article is just another liberal sized piece of crap.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
  5. gregg

    What u mean Santorum got that one wrong?..gosh darn it all to heck! :-)

    May 15, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
  6. Kathryn Harlan

    I did not vote for Obamas daughters to determine this countries values!!! If that is how makes my nations social agenda I am so over this clown of a President!!

    May 15, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
  7. Eric

    I'm still waiting for Christians to all stand up one day and just admit they were trolling us all the whole time. Would be epic.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
    • .

      We WERE trolling you.

      And you took the bait.

      Fool.

      Now THAT'S epic.

      Whatever that means.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
  8. Larry David Sandwich

    What does the Bible say about stealing people's earned income and using it to buy votes from shiftless layabouts?

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

      I think you mean "Book of Mormon.'

      May 15, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
  9. Darn

    Damned i've committed adultery too many times by just lusting over other women.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
  10. allen

    "The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Daniel A. Helminiak."

    Are you kidding. CNN has made it clear that it has an agenda when it comes to traditional values like marriage. And it is not to defend them.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
  11. SteveTheAtheist

    What the bible says means as much as what Harry Potter says

    May 15, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
    • Itai Adi

      LOL <3

      May 15, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
    • blr2981

      And Harry Potter is more popular in atheism because something inside the soul believes in powers greater than gravity and evolution.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
  12. cleareye1

    Imagine if all of the energy expended studying the Bible had been put to better use developing modern cultures. We would have colonized the stars by now.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
  13. Me

    I will believe what Billy Graham says over this guy any day of the week..

    May 15, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
    • .

      Yeah, yeah...dat Billy Graham... he sho' know what he talkin' bout, dat Billy Graham!

      Yowza yowza yowza!

      May 15, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
  14. jemas

    Why doesn't this allow me to post...

    May 15, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
  15. Ryan Meeks

    Games Liberals play: believe the theologian who is Rome-trained when he sides with your viewpoint, but ignore the considerable body of priests who shatter your viewpoint to overly sentimental pieces.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
    • 1nd3p3nd3nt

      sure, because rome protecting child molester priests shows they have the moral high ground : (

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

      I like the reach around you snuck in there about Catholics.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
  16. 1nd3p3nd3nt

    The bible is the word of god!

    whoever wrote the epic of gilgamesh has a copyright suit against god!
    which is quite substantial considering how many copies of the bible there are out there : (

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

      um... epic of gilgamesh is circa 18th centry BC. so, probably not copying the bible.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
    • moonster

      It still amazes me how ignorant you atheists are.

      May 16, 2012 at 9:32 am |
  17. .

    Silly phagots. Dix are for chix.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
  18. Sahari

    If everyone spent more time in prayer/meditation/connection in search of how to apply LOVE in their life, these questions would be moot. Why argue about what a book, written by Man about God, MEANT? If you believe God is alive, then BE WI:TH HIM in the NOW - not out of an old, dusty book! He is waiting for us all to wake up and see Him in the room.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • .

      Beautiful, man!

      May 15, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
    • 1nd3p3nd3nt

      i totally agree sahari.

      god does not live in a book : )

      May 15, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
    • Solitairedog

      I hear the ring of truth in your words, Sahari.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
    • Ron

      Consider the Evidence
      So can the Bible be trusted? It is important that you decide correctly on this matter. Why? Because if the Bible does contain communication from God himself, it would be foolish—if not fatal—to ignore it. The extent to which you let it be a real influence in guiding your actions and forming your beliefs will be greatly diminished if you view it simply as the words of men rather than the Word of God.—1 Thessalonians 2:13.
      How can you decide? Well, how do you decide whether to trust people you meet? One thing is sure. It is very difficult to have real trust in anyone about whom you know very little. Only as you get to know people well do you learn over time if they are truly honest and trustworthy. You can get to know the Bible in the same way. Do not accept without question speculative or even prejudiced theories that undermine confidence in the Bible. Take the time to consider the evidence that supports the Bible’s claim to be “inspired of God.”

      May 15, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
    • Thinks2010

      Exactly. It's amazing how many people conduct their lives as if god shared his ideas with a bunch of guys a couple of thousand years ago then nodded off. If they truly believe in divine revelation, they should remain open minded.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
    • Ron

      Attacks From “Friends”
      Do not be put off by the fact that even some who describe themselves as “friends” of the Bible attack its authenticity and reliability. Today, most Bible commentators, although claiming to be Christian, “will only speak of Scripture as a human record,” says the New Dictionary of Theology.
      Many theologians challenge the authorship of the books of the Bible. Some say, for example, that the prophet Isaiah did not write the book of Isaiah. This Bible book, they say, was written long after Isaiah’s time. The Concise Bible Commentary, by Lowther Clarke, contends that it is “the product of many minds and many generations.” But such assertions ignore that Jesus Christ and his disciples repeatedly credit Isaiah with writing this book.—Matthew 3:3; 15:7; Luke 4:17; John 12:38-41; Romans 9:27, 29.
      Even worse, critics of the Bible, such as commentator J. R. Dummelow, say that the prophecies found in the book of Daniel “are really past history thrown by the author into the guise of ancient prediction.” Once again, in saying so, they ignore the testimony of Jesus Christ himself. Jesus warned of what he called “the disgusting thing that causes desolation, as spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in a holy place.” (Matthew 24:15) Is it reasonable for a Christian to believe that Jesus Christ himself would have been party to deception—that he would have supported history disguised as prophecy? Surely not.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
  19. Black Gay Vampire Book

    http://emeraldsandchocolate.com/

    May 15, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
  20. HappyMadison

    What about men who are born with 2 penises? If they are walking and their wieners bump together, are they going to Hell???

    May 15, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • .

      Kinda like being happier than a dog with two tails.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
    • cleareye1

      And if you were born with 5 or 6? Troublemaker.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
    • Tanya Thomas

      I think that you are the only "man" that was born with 2 peinus...

      May 15, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • david

      could you use them all at once? But then again how?

      May 15, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • 311mortimer

      Oh no, absolutely not, happy madison. If a man is born with a congenital heart defect, he won't go to hell either. But it doesn't help him if we all pretend he's perfectly fine the way he is.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
    • HappyMadison

      I heard there is a verse about this in 2nd Peter!!!!

      May 16, 2012 at 7:05 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.