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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 (8,831 Responses)
  1. Never Debate

    Somebody earlier mentioned that we need to rewrite the Bible. I have already started on my version. The introduction is done; I am currently working on the first chapter. My English is not good specially the grammar and therefore I need volunteers to help me write the Bible. We will share the profit. Remember religion is big business; just learn how to exploit it without the masses knowing that you are exploiting them. Long live religion and capitalism, a win-win situation.

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

      The Good Book: A Humanist Bible

      May 15, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
    • anel

      Yup.... religion is disgusting. Thank God we can have a personal relationship with him instead.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
  2. Solitairedog

    Sahari, you are a beautiful soul. You are completely right.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
  3. Jem4016

    Check out this guys web site. He is anti religon and he is gay. Of course he is going to spin it. Hebrews 10:26-27

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

      Thou shalt love one another....something you seem bent on destroying with your hatred jem4016....

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

      Yea no doubt. They always try to find a way to excuse their sinful lifestyle....

      May 15, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
  4. Wizard

    Over the centuries, the various Christian faiths have twisted the messages of the Bible and Christ to bolster whatever position they fancy at the time. Sadly, the greatest message Christ gave us seems to lost. LOVE! Instead many Christians promote hate. Hatred of anyone and anything that is not exactly like themselves. In this way many so called Christian groups are more like Mens Clubs and not true followers of Christ.

    Mathew 5:43-48 You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

    John: 13:34-35 A new commandment I give unto you, That you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another.

    May Gods True Spirit fill your being. Give up hate and embrace love

    May 15, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
  5. scoobypoo

    This was a silly and fruitless exercise.
    The bible is hogwash and nothing in it should ever be taken literally or be used as the basis for any law.
    To argue over translations and semantics is to give credence and validity to this fictional tome, and it merits neither.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
  6. anel

    talk about a bunch of twisted BS – he also needs to study anatomy to know what is supposed to go where.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
    • M

      Our bits fit in lots of places, pal.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
  7. Billy

    He complete ignores Jesus. You know, the guy who founded Christianity. He defined marriage as a life long union between a man and a woman. Mark 10: 1-12. He was asked about divorce. He said divorce was a sin because man and woman were joined together by God. He didn't say man-man, or man-woman-woman, and man-woman are joined by God. If someone defines marriage as a life long union between and man and a woman, what do you think his thoughts on marriage would be? Also, Jesus did speak out against ritual sin. However, a man lusting after a man is not a ritual sin. It comes from the heart. It comes from the inside of the body. Nothing from the outside of the body can make it unclean. However, what comes from the inside can. Mark 7:14-23.

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

      Hey, if you christians would outlaw divorce and stop having them, maybe you'd have a little say so in gay marriage.. As it is, you've lost the right to tell other people how to live.. You live that way, if you feel it's the right thing for you; don't tell others how to live; it's rude.

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

      So why do we allow people to get divorced?

      May 15, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
  8. Aaron

    Paul had no revelations from God nor did he learn directly from Jesus. A person who takes what Paul says about the word of God or about the revelations or Gospel of Jesus is being misguided.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
    • We know the truth...

      " A person who takes what Paul says about the word of God or about the revelations or Gospel of Jesus is being misguided."

      Anyone who thinks the bible is the word of god is misguided...

      May 15, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
    • Mike P

      Then listen to Jesus, for heaven's sake! "Have you not read that in the beginning, God 'made man male and female' and 'for this reason a man leaves father and mother and cleaves to his wife, and the two become one flesh'?" (Matt 19:4-5) Jesus Himself defined marriage as between a man and a woman only, and since we know that only relations within marriage are justified before God, there is no way gay relations are ever justified. Hence the Apostle Paul, whom you are so quick to dismiss, wrote, "To avoid fornication, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband." (1 Cor 7:2) All relations outside of one-man, one-woman marriage are fornication.

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

      The Bible is not the word of God, but the Torah is valid because the books were written by prophets of God. The New Testament was a result of Pauls "Mystical" visions which have no authority; were not direct teaching from Gods profits but of a normal man.

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

      @Mike I believe in the teachings of Jesus, and Gods revelations to man in the Quran. Whether you follow Christianity, Judaism, or Islam; you know that God did not make Adam and Steve. If men were intended to be with other men then God would have allowed man and man to reproduce but that is not the case. Misguided men will continue to defy what God has ordained for us, and they will continue to deceive themselves in rebellion and defiance. Defiance of God leads to misery, and that is obvious in the periodic revelations that our creator reveals to us when we go against his laws. Ultimately everyone can travel the road of their choosing, but in the end we will all adhere to a day of judgement.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
  9. Mike P

    "Nowhere does the Bible actually oppose [gay behavior]."

    Pure rubbish. Even if you discount everything else in the Bible, the New Testament standard for what is acceptable human intimate behavior is crystal clear: Marriage is between one man and one woman, and only relations within marriage are acceptable before God. Everything outside of this strict standard is forbidden, even as the Apostle Paul wrote: "To avoid fornication, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband." (1 Cor 7:2) Even if you do not oppose gay relations simply because it is aberrant behavior, you must, if you are a Christian, oppose gay relations because there is no place for them in God's design for human pairings.

    "Is it likely that an ancient people, who thought the male was the basic biological model and the world flat, understood [gayness] as we do today?"

    Does it matter? It's the behavior that was prohibited, not the cause of it. To argue that gay behavior is acceptable because some people are born gay presupposes the argument that were gay behavior not found to have a biological cause, it would be okay to oppose it because it's just something sick and disturbing. But if, absent a biological cause, banning gay behavior is okay because it's something sick and disturbing, what does it matter if there's a biological cause? Does it somehow become less sick and disturbing behavior because someone's genes push that person toward it? Do violent, rude outbursts suddenly become permissable should a person's DNA turn out to be "bad-tempered"? Some things are just wrong, no matter why we may want to do them.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
    • Mike P

      "But nowhere are [gay] acts named as the sin of Sodom."

      Oh, yes, they are, in the book of Jude, for there the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah is called "going after strange flesh." (Jude 1:7) And, seriously, look what Lot offers up as a more acceptable act for the men of Sodom to engage in: ganging up on his daughters! If Lot offered up the option of ganging up on his daughters as a solution in place of these men's ganging up on his male guests, chances are it was the guy-on-guy action that offended Lot's sensibilities most, not the ganging-up aspect.

      "Hence, Jesus says 'Love your neighbor as yourself' (Matthew 19:19; Mark 12:31)."

      Maybe that explains why "Love your neighbor as yourself" is originally found in Leviticus 19, which is located right between the prohibitions on gay relations in Leviticus 18 and Leviticus 20: There is no conflict between loving your neighbor as yourself and preventing your neighbor from doing things that are offensive to God.

      "The longest biblical passage on male-male [relations] is Romans 1:26-27....It carries no ethical condemnation."

      Did this guy not even read to the end of the verse, in which Paul concluded that men who do such things are "receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet," or to the end of the chapter where Paul says that these men know "the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death"? What a cherry-picker!

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

      Thank you, Mike!

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

      Then it's simple, Mike.. Don't be gay.. But you don't get to tell other people how to live or how to interpret their bible.. It's rude.. Stop it.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
  10. puckles

    Reasons people are gay:

    Females

    1. They were molested when they were young.
    2. They had abusive mothers and crave the love of a female.

    Males:

    1.They were molested when they were young
    2. They had an abusive/absent father and crave a father figure.

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

      Exactly.......well said.

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

      well, or they just want to try something different because the culture has moved so far from a biblical basis. But these are definitely big contributors, i agree.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
    • 1nd3p3nd3nt

      how do you explain the gay bonobos?

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

      And which one are you to know?

      May 15, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
    • chimei01

      wow...that is truly ignorant.

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

      Reasons why puckles is a stupid bigot

      1. He was dropped on his head.
      2. Fetal alcohol syndrome.
      3. His mom was a crack addict.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
    • 1nd3p3nd3nt

      watching a dog hump a pillow must keep you up at night : (

      May 15, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
    • AuggieDoggy

      Truth hurts. Simplicity makes for little argument. They'll never achieve happiness, because they'll never be complete unless they deceive the 90% of us that we have to believe.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
  11. ROLLIE

    I read this article and more importantly the comments under it and think of one thing. We make Sodom and Gomorrah look like Disneyland during Cub Scout Week. Its just a matter of time. And WE ALL will have the answer. This life or the next. We will know.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • sam stone

      or not

      May 15, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
    • 1nd3p3nd3nt

      as far as colorado is concerned, we don't go around raping tourists, so we're nothing like sodom and gomorrah.
      not sure what state you live in. I'm guessing florida or arizona :)

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

      Every knee will bow to Zeus. I'm sorry for all you people who refuse to believe.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
  12. Jesus

    And fanatical christian heads blow left and right.....

    May 15, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
  13. skripples

    I like this article, but I wish it went more in depth. Hopefully it will open people's minds and curiousity and they will do some research on the actuall meaning of some of the words in the bible. I have been for years. It is amazing what the actual intentions of most of the passages actually were, and how much they have been changed over the past 2,000+ years.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
  14. Scott

    Another person starting with an agenda using scripture to justify it. Read a bunch, there are many scriptures very clear on this.

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

      Examples? Your words are weightless without proof.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
  15. Duce

    Who gives a poo what it says? Not I say the intelligent.

    When dogma is placed above reason, self reliance is unattainable.

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

      Is that a Zen Koan? It's impenetrable.

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

      Negative Steve. It is psychological analysis of history. Mostly from work consolidated by Eric Hoffer in his book "Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements."

      May 15, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
    • lindsey reese

      " and making themselves out to be wise, they show themselves as fools"

      May 15, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
    • JeramieH

      In other words, we're supposed to intentionally stay stupid.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
  16. nbgb

    If you want to believe the bible it is your right to practice what it tells you however you interpret it. You DO NOT have the right to impose the bible or your thoughts on other people. This is the freedom of religion and how it affects the separation of church and state.

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

      Yet you have the right to impose yourself on us and how we raise our children. Hypocrite.

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

      @Scott – Work on your reading comprehension brother, he made no mention of imposing his beliefs on you. If two men or women are married, this in no way infringes on your parenting.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
    • sam stone

      scott: how is this imposing on you or how you raise your children?

      May 15, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
    • spockmonster

      @Scott, stopping your discrimination is in now way an imposition on you and your children. You raise your children how you want to, but you are not allowed to stick your nose is other peoples' business, and we do not want you infiltrating our grammar-school textbooks with your religion.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
  17. Steve

    Written by men, translated by men, compiled into a book by men, preached by men. And God is laughing.

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

      Or more likely shake His head at our stupidity.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
  18. Semru

    Fascinating interpretation of the quoted Bible passages by Mr. Helminiak. It does not matter what interpretation you proffer, the Bible's plain & simple justification of such actions is "abomination", (Leviticus 18:22). (Leviticus 20:13) suggests the death penalty. Mankind will always interpret the Bible to his/her convenience.

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

      I can also buy and beat slaves according to Leviticus.. Do you even care about your stupid logic?

      May 15, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • chimei01

      @semru – sinful according to the bible: eating shellfish, cutting the hair on your temples, not burning the furniture your wife sits on when she's got her period, beating your slave to death

      not sinful according to the bible: stoning your children if they are disrespectful, beating your slaves as long as they don't die, having several wives, having even more mistresses (and then condeming infidelity?), killing those who don't believe in your god

      when i read the bible, i'm confused as can be...there is little clarity in the text because it was written by countless men over centuries, then edited, reworked, manipulated, voted upon, and then translated over and over...leaving the only clarity a subjective one...it means only what the reader wants it to mean.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
  19. BrianSoFla

    Easy way to solve these and the world's problems, ABOLISH RELIGION! It cannot be proven, it is not science and is based upon faith not fact. Enough of these debates. Neither side will budge PERIOD! It will be decided by the courts and ultimately the Supreme Court. It will be the only way to SHUT EVERYONE UP once and for all. UGH!

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

      you a very dumb and close-minded person.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
  20. ButterSquash

    Well, Leviticus 19:19 states "Don't wear clothes made of more than one fabric". I don't see many protesters with that sign standing outside of Walmart or J.C. Penny... maybe we should start!

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

      Leviticus also says that anyone working on the Sabbath shall be put to death. Any evangelical out there want to start a campaign to kill police officers, firefighters, doctors, ... even priests/ministers working on Sunday?

      May 15, 2012 at 8:40 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.