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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 • My Take • Opinion

soundoff (8,829 Responses)
  1. Citizentobe

    Pityful

    May 15, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • momoya

      Only one word and you got it wrong..

      May 15, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
  2. ReligionIs4Dolts

    What's it going to be like in the year 10000? Will there still be religious freaks blindly following what a book written 12 to16 thousand years ago said? Probably, unfortunately.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
  3. John V

    one pyscho get his ten second.......err... 4 seconds of fame on a biased new media. big whoop.

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

      .. and your definition of unbiased news service is christian news channel?

      May 15, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
  4. 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.

    ABSOLUTELY A CHOICE IN BOTH CASES!!!

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

      Reasons puckles is a stupid bigot:

      1. Head injury
      2. Fetal alcohol syndrome
      3. Crack ho momma.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • M

      Totally unfounded and not true.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
    • Just saying

      That's why you think people are gay!!!! Your really are ignorant. Why would you think people would openly choose a life that other people discriminate against them.

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

      You're unbelievably ignorant!

      May 15, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
    • jungleboo

      Ridiculous!

      May 15, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • HeartFullOfLove

      Not true at all. Most of the gays I know have no history of abuse, physical or mental.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • Toothless Bob

      Eye am gladd yoo doant uze anee science stuff wenn yoo talk.

      Science iz confuzing. We are the saim yoo and eye.

      Brothr.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • Eli Friday

      And what are your sources for that? You have no right to say the reasoning behind why someone is gay. It can be both choice, or a genetic trait. You're an ignorant fiend for even considering that what you said is just.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • rick

      your full of it. that means i could choose to be gay so could you. i love women end of story , i couldnt just choose to say oh ya iam going to choose a man now.and i would be grossed out to see some gay feminine man forcing himself to choose a woman And granted i know there are cases with moelstation and eary life experiences. but i cant choose to be gay. i had a crush on a girl in first grade. its just a built in feeling. leave gay people alone. you cant choose who your attracted to. Quit judging people. The one thing Jesus asked us not to do and we all end up judging. we all should be ashamed of ourselves as a society.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
    • Calm Down a Bit

      Clueless, dyed-in-the-wool, delusional lemming!

      May 15, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
    • ANGEL

      Being gay is not a choice – but being an idiot is !!!
      VOTE OBAMA 2012 !!!

      May 15, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
    • Gregg

      People think being gay is a choice. If it is, big deal, we have anti-discrimination laws that protect people from discrimination based on their own choice. Religion is a choice, yet that's protected. This even includes "wrong" religions defined as the ones you yourself personally don't believe in, which is also condemned in the bible.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
  5. DJL

    Everyone has the right to believe what they want. However, no one has the right (ethically, morally or legally) to enforce their beliefs on anyone else.

    If you think something is "immoral," then don't do it.

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

      Great, I think gay marriage is immoral so I'm not going to endorse it by allowing society to give a collective stamp of approval, which gays want gay marriage, not just civil unions.

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

      But you don't get to tell society what to do; society gets to tell you what to do.. In the past twenty years society has gone from fearing and balking at h.o.m.o se xuality to openly accepting it.. When society tells you that gays are going to get married (as it will, very soon) you'll sit there and take it like a good little boy because you won't be able to do a thing about it.. Shove it up your tail pipe, bigot.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
  6. .

    If your father was gay you would've wound up in some guy's inflamed bung hole immersed in a pile of crap instead of safe and warm in your mother's womb like mother nature intended.

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

      Who cares?? All the billions and billions and billions of your daddy's sp.erm died except for the one little guy that made it.. Do you care about them.. Do they care about anything at all?? How stupid are you?

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

      Imagining these things in your heart says more about you than it says about men who love one another. Plus, your science is all wrong. Do not pass GO.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
  7. Jason

    Have fun trading reality for the afterlife Christians. If heavens what you're waiting on, why not just speed it up so you don't have to bother thinking rational people with illogical closed-minded nonsense and back it with, "well the bible says... blah blah blah"

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

      I totally agree!!

      May 15, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
    • A Serpent's Thought

      @ Jason

      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 8:37 pm |
    • jungleboo

      @serpent. Your post is the product of brainwashing.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
    • jungleboo

      This article is a breath of fresh air. It is a shame that Johann Gutenberg chose to print the copies of the Bible first. Had he chosen Aristotle or Plato's philosophy, we would living in quite a different society now. But there was no chance of that, because the Greek philosophers were suppressed by the Church, and the Bible was offered as the only link to Middle Eastern antiquity and all its brilliant accomplishments (battles, slayings, slave taking, widow service, etc) We know better now. That book is rife with stories that should have been forgotten long ago. But – thanks to the author of the article for shedding some light on the origin of hate.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
  8. LMB

    This guy's Bible interpretation is ridiculous. He has his head so far up his a$$ that he can't even see reality. A perfect example of those who in the last days "would call good – evil, and evil – good".

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

      > This guy's Bible interpretation is ridiculous.

      And yours isn't? By what standard are you judging?

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

      It cracks me up when people bring up the Bible as a tool of offense/defense and then say that other people's sense of reality is messed up.

      Seriously? Hello?

      May 15, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • J

      You're absolutely correct!

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

      The bible spends more time lambasting "false beliefs" and "False doctrins." as well as any beliefs in what it calls "false gods." etc. Duterotomy has a lot of passages which involve genocidal acts, committed in the name of God. Yet, we have the First Amendment. For those Christians upset with gays gaining legal recognition, well, we've already slipped down the "dark" path when it became the law of the land that the nation has to accept religious diversity.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
  9. Joe

    The author is gay. Of course he has an agenda.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
    • J

      You're right. He's one of the false prophets.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
  10. jethro

    WOW! This guy is a heretic !! He just twisted every verse he used to justify gay marriage. LIAR

    May 15, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
    • J

      I agree! You're absolutely right. Obama just handed the Presidency to Romney on a gold platter.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
  11. 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.

    ABSOLUTELY A CHOICE IN BOTH CASES!!

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

      Which one are you, puckles? Otherwise you have no way to know.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • Calm Down a Bit

      Seriously! You're clearly misinformed and completely out of touch with truth. If you're not gay you have no clue. If you're not black you have no right to comment on "being black". If you're not a woman, you have no right to comment on the trials of being a woman. Get it? I didn't think so... Utter "hater" without a cause.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
    • Solar

      Your statement is based on false assumptions with no basis in fact.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
  12. BillDKatt

    Here's the deal on the verses in Leviticus: For the Christian, the Law has been fulfilled. The requirements of the Law are NOT binding on the Christian. It says that over and over in the New Testament. Also it says that ANY violation of ANY part of the law makes the person guilty of the whole thing. That includes eating shellfish, wearing blended clothing, and mixing meat and milk on the same plate.

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

      "...mixing meat and milk on the same plate."

      Dammit, I just spilled my milk! ;)

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

      This is nonsensical. I suggest you attend some Christian services to understand why the laws were enacted at the time. Once upon a time, pork was banned because it was filled with parasites. That is usually not the case today. Still it doesn't hurt to follow the old time laws. Some are mandatory. Gay people are of the devil, unclean, and are on the way to hell. Read what the Jews, Muslims, and orthodox Christians have to say about it.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
  13. transcient

    CNN website weenies: why try to pass this guy off as a priest? He resigned in '95 when he announced he was gay. Why not just come out with it?

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

      totally agree, they should have referenced that in their article

      May 15, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
  14. Ariel Gonzalez

    How pityful is the author trying to justify this real and anti-natural abomination with his senless babbling.

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

      If you're going to judge, please learn to spell. "pitiful" "unnatural" and "senseless"

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

      CNN using a gay activist to interpret the Bible. Figures Wake up America and do your own homework

      May 15, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
  15. jemas

    Bible can only be understood with guidance of the Holy Spirit. Why is this topic suddenly focused? This is the start of persecution of true Christians. This is to separate the Christians from the world. The end times is prophesised and recorded in the Holy Bible. Love God and Jesus with all your heart and with all your soul and prepare for the returning of Jesus Christ, our lord. God bless you.

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

      You have been brainwashed by your elders to despise this life, and to yearn for "The End", so that you can get on with the business of being really special on some other planet. This is unfortunate for you, but it's better that you don't realize how unfortunate it is.

      Our lives here on Earth are spectacular and wonderful all by themselves, and are not in need of embellishment "after death". Live fully in the Creative Spirit every single day, and you will realize that THAT is enough.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
  16. 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.

    ABSOLUTELY A CHOICE IN BOTH CASES.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
    • We know the truth...

      Reasons people embrace Christianity:

      1. They were brainwashed by their parents
      2. They're lost in life and need help to make even the most basic decisions
      3. They have serious mental problems and cannot determine fantasy from reality

      May 15, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
    • 1nd3p3nd3nt

      spam troll alert!
      arooooga!
      arooooga!

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

      Whether you agree or not, this is true.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • WASP

      @puckles: wrong and wrong. abused females have those acts carried out by a MALE. they tend to hate and fear males after such an act. male children that are violated by either gender tend to become violent and extreme macho personalities. gay is a genetic anomoly; the same thing causes hermaphodites. it's a mix up during the gestation of the embryo.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • Brenda

      1) You're a liar
      2) You're not very funny

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

      I would agree with WASP.

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

      People do not choose to whom they are attracted, unfortunately. Do you? Heartaches would be a thing of the past.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
    • lynne

      You obviously have NO biology background. People are not gay because of "events" – they are gay because that is what they have been "dealt by nature" that has nothing to to do with free will or choice.

      REALLY, do you honestly think that individuals would "choose" to be shunned?!! They are born that way , just as you have been born the way you are. If you don't understand it be smart not stupid and LEARN!!...

      Tolerance and acceptance... none of us are "perfect". If you think you are "perfect " or better than another all I can say is take a really (REALLY) good look in the mirror.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
    • Gregg

      Keep in mind, a lot of these people believe we were all just created as is, some 6,000 years ago. Such people would not have any real biology backgrounds.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
  17. Wim Wenders

    Forget for at least this space of time the bustle and concerns of everyday life.
    Be like an angel,
    filled only with thoughts of God
    and of serving Him.
    After all, He is present now, and is blessing you.

    Hieromartyr Seraphim Bishop of Dmitrov (1883-c.1937)

    May 15, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
  18. J193

    You better take a look at Leviticus 20:13. It seems pretty clear to me. "And if a man lie with mankind, as with womankind, both of them have committed abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them."

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

      Well there Are lots and have not been put to death

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

      You hit the nail on the head!

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

      That's the King James English translation. Read much? How's your Ancient Hebrew and Attic Greek?

      May 15, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
    • lynne

      I am amused and saddened by those who quote specific passages.

      OBVIOUSLY they have never read or understood the entire passages in the bible or any other religious "resource".

      The bible was not written by "GOD", nor was it written within the framework of an ongoing "committee"

      It is a wonderful source of stories and parables for us to read and reflect upon – PERIOD.

      ....those without sin... cast the first stone...

      May 15, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
    • Gregg

      Do you still eat pork chops, shellfish, etc.? Eating such foods is also condemned in Leviticus as well, that, and wearing clothing of mixed threads. Oh, and insects walk on all fours according to Leviticus, and bats are a type of bird. Also, hares and rabbits chew their cuds, rather than eating their own stools.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
  19. Bri

    Nah, Conservatives believe the Bible tells them to hate whatever they want to hate when it is convenient.

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

      Sad, but true.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • Bob

      I am conservative, but I don't hate gays, nor do I abuse them. However, do I not condone their actions. They are contrary to God's will period & cannot be justified by man's feeble reasoning.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
    • Angela

      Hey Bob,

      I am gay, but I don't hate conservatives, nor do I abuse them. However, I don't condone their actions. They are contrary to God's will period and their actions cannot be justified by their feeble reasoning.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
    • Fred

      Agreed. Hatred and ignorance are very popular. Funny, the Bible has dozens of proscriptions against greed and pride. Yet nobody is denying the greedy and proud their equal rights. Nobody's rallying against the rich. And of course, nobody is loving their neighbor. What a bunch of hateful hypocrites!

      May 15, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
  20. whutevr

    The biggest perversion of God and the Bible are those that are using it to justify their discrimination toward others. The more we think we evolve as a society, the more the Bible-thumpers fall further and further behind. So much in the Bible is questionable when taken in historical context and anyone who ignores that shouldn't be taken seriously.

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

      sadly, thats most of the population of this country.. unfortunate!

      May 15, 2012 at 8:34 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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.