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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. WASP

    it's truly doesn't surprise me to see how quickly the extreme christians have come out attacking this guys point of view, where he unlike them put the terms used into context of the time period they were written. if i was to go back 200 years in american history there are many terms used now that wouldn't mean the same thing back then........reason we have american english and queens english.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
  2. Sebastian

    To the person that wrote about leviticous: the whole book of leviticous is meant for clergymen in other words priests and nuns and such. The Bible was written by man and man alone and the translations will change through time as the people see it fit. Every since the bible was written people have found excuses to hate others. I wish people were more open mind it and not believe everything they hear in church or read in the bible.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
  3. Jane Giraldo

    If Helminiak is truly a theologian, he must be deliberately distorting the Greek word "pais." His premise has no value whatsoever beyond illustrating his bias.

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

      Says the desert of the grain of sand....

      May 15, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
  4. logical centrist

    Only one sentence for the author, and I'm no bible thumper: dude get a lot of sunscreen.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
  5. Michael

    I love how the Right cherry picks the Bible.
    the old testament states we should stone adulterers.
    Last time I checked Newt Gingrich still hadn't been stoned.

    Until the Christian Right starts stoning adulterers in the middle of the town center then I'll listen to you.

    Otherwise shut the hell up and stay out of our bedrooms.

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

      Dontcha know the christian motto? "Rules are meant for others"

      May 15, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
    • Dave R.

      I totally agree. I am sick and tired of the Right craming their beliefs down every one else's throats.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
  6. Red

    There are more variations in the thousands of early Bible manuscripts than there are words in the Bible. The manuscripts on which the King James Bible were based were also some of the worst. How is anyone to know what God's actual word is when all we have are copies of copies of copies of copies of the original text with countless variations?

    Check out anything by Bart Ehrman to find out more about the Bible's origins.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
    • JohnW

      You are totally correct. The choice of which manuscripts were to be included in the bible and which rejected was the decision of a group of highly political members of the early church. (And not all that early.)

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

      having studied ancient near eastern texts for years, i can assure you that you are misinformed. Some texts of the bible can be shown to have been copied for a 1000 years, with only minor textual variants (things we would understand as accent marks, notes in margins, or a spelling error). The idea that there are multiple manuscripts that are vastly different and no one can know which text is correct is absurd and uninformed. When one studied the ancient texts and their copies, its a marvel to see how little variances there are, and never in cases of theology or philosophy (example: wow, one text says moses did NOT part the red sea!)

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

      @sammy, Sorry buddy, but it's pretty clear that you have little or no training outside what your pastor has told you. I assure you that no credible scholar takes Bible literalism seriously.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
  7. createdtofit

    It's so unfortunate that people just refuse to hear even when truth is presented to them. I read this book years ago, The Divine Revelation of Hell by K. Baxter. It's her personal story of the Lord Jesus taking her to hell and then to heaven. Her told her to write about it so people will know that hell and heaven is real. She did it in this book. She writes about what she saw – which is unimaginable. It's a true story of her encounter with the Lord. Read it and you will be convinced that the bible is real, Jesus is real and hell is real.

    http://spiritlessons.com/mary_k_baxter_a_divine_revelation_of_hell.htm

    May 15, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
    • WASP

      @fit: yeah i've read her nightmare. i've had some doosies as well after a night of hard drinking of pot smoking......hell i've had freaky nightmares while doing almost nothing to induce them, so big woop she had a scary dream and made it to be more than just a dream. last time i checked dreams and nightmares are just visual effects of the mind nothing more.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
  8. Dooder

    Here's my question... when it comes to government, laws that affect ALL of us, and public policy... should the Bible have any influence? I'm pretty sure the founding fathers made it very clear.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
  9. JonathanMichaelBrouillette

    "People hate the truth for the sake of whatever it is they love more than the truth. They love the truth when it shines warmly on them, and hate it when it rebukes them."

    - St. Augustine

    May 15, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
    • robert

      AMEN!

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

      excellent quote–completely appropriate to this discussion. Works for both sides of the argument.

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

      So true. People can and will rationalize their understanding to suit their purposes.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
  10. Derrick

    Accept nonsense or you're going to hell, bout sums up the Christian religion.

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

      Actually, that about sums up all religions.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
  11. robert

    CNN YOU ARE BAD AT CHOOSING THEOLOGIANS!!!!! Clearly this is bad hermeneutics and a bunch of crap that is conforming to what is not absolute truth. You look for that one guy that is so liberalistic in his theology accept it as a representation of the correct reading in Hebrew and Greek. Why don't you ask someone from Dallas Seminar, Master's College, or Westminster Seminary to write a hermeneutic on that scriptures. Also don't just google for someone or some ideals, your horrible at researching then.

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

      Because clearly, anyone who disagrees with you and your narrow world view *must* be wrong...

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

      Yes, because clearly someone from Texas or the South has the "BatPhone to God" and gets all the translations firmed up.....

      May 15, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • toydrum

      So because he doesn't agree with what you already believe, he must be wrong? The famous words of Oliver Cromwell could just as well apply those religious you have put your faith in.

      "I am persuaded that divers of you, who lead the People, have laboured to build yourselves in these things; wherein you have censured others, and established yourselves "upon the Word of God." Is it therefore infallibly agreeable to the Word of God, all that you say? I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken."

      If you truly believe in Christianity, you need to go back to the teachings of Christ. Those teachings are about love and acceptance, not about separation, disdain or judging others.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
  12. 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!!! GET THERAPY!

    May 15, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
    • Marcio Pelegrini

      DSM-IV is calling them...

      but they don't like him...:P

      May 15, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
    • Sarcasmo

      You are so clearly gay it's not even funny. lol

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

      Who is it that established those criterion? They are absolutely incorrect. You obviously don't know any gay people, and you obviously aren't familiar with the complete failure of Christian organization who try to "cure" gays.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      and we have a WINNER

      sit down you are obviously too stupid to realize it!

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

      Reasons puckles is stupid:

      1) He/she follows doctrine without questioning it.
      2) Thinks his/her beliefs are worth sharing
      3) Believes in an imaginary cloud daddy

      May 15, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
  13. Lisa

    CNN is using a gay activist to interpret the Bible. Do your own homework and quit allowing the media to do it for you.

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

      Please feel free to enlighten us by offering your own well-reasoned and intelligent rebuttal to the assertions in the article.

      Otherwise, please just STFU.

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

      Zieroh

      I just said to do your own homework. Problem? CNN is liberal just as Fox is conservative. Enlighten yourself and oh I might say STFU was a very intelligent comment!

      May 15, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • Ronald Regan

      I agree Lisa. He can't even comprehend what you wrote. I think he might have a challege with the research part.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
  14. Tim

    To those who say the Bible is fiction and God is made up – I don't believe in the Bible/God because it sounds like a good idea or deludes me into a false sense of security. I believe it (as far as it's translated correctly) because I've lived the teachings throughout my life and seen the good that comes from that. I'm certainly no Saint but am trying to the best of my ability to follow God's will. Like Christ said "By their fruits ye shall know them". Find a genuine and sincere Christian and you will see the goodness in their lives that has come from living the gospel.

    Those who seriously study the Bible and live its teachings will come to know of its validity as the Spirit of the Lord witnesses it to their hearts....anyone out there can find this witness, they just have to be sincere and open to the witness of the Spirit. God is real and will reward the honest seeker of truth. God bless.

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

      You're wrong.. Look up former pastor Dan Barker, too.. I myself believed and ministered "in the word" for nearly 50 years.. The bible and christianity is bunk.. You're welcome.

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

      Wrong momoya, you're bitter...you probably fell into wickedness and the spirit left you (assuming you ever had it).

      May 15, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
  15. Equality for All Humans

    Respect equal rights. It is just the right thing to do.

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

    In the name of Jesus, I pray Obama will turn away from the devil and return to God.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      He actually is being very Christian. Love the sinner not the sin.

      Keep praying for your miracle.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
  17. jethro

    WOW! This guy is a heretic !! He just twisted every verse in the word of God.

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

      He didn't even quote every verse, org.as.mo.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
  18. Michael

    I thought the GOP was all about less government?

    then get the hell out of our bedrooms you freakin hypocrites.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
  19. gordon motta

    CNN is so in the bag for Obama. They will do anything to make their king look good. Reason for this is because most of their reporters are far left liberals. The other far left liberal papers are USA, New York Times, and the Washington Post.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • Equality for All Humans

      Ironically, CNN catches your attention as a reader. Hmm.

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

      What about Fox–you forgot to mention them. They are far more outspoken in their leanings than any so-called liberal network. They are militantly right wing, and deliberate in their bashing of anyone who doesn't agree with their positions. This is in contrast to CNN and Wash post etc. who lean liberal but do display different viewpoints.

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

      What a ridiculous rant Gordon. Any comments on the article, or is it your norm to just drool from your chin and copy and paste your anti-Liberal/Obama tripe everywhere you go? Despite your political or religious proclivities, didn't you at least find the article interesting, or does the redness in your eyes blind you completely?

      May 15, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
  20. KRMRP

    (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) What! Do YOU not know that unrighteous persons will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be misled. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men kept for unnatural purposes, nor men who lie with men, 10 nor thieves, nor greedy persons, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit God’s kingdom. 11 And yet that is what some of YOU were. But YOU have been washed clean, but YOU have been sanctified, but YOU have been declared righteous in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the spirit of our God. {You can have a desire to do any of these things, "but that is what some of you were, but you have been washed clean" just need to resist the desire until Gods Will is done and his Kingdom rules the Earth}
    (1 Corinthians 7:1-3) Now concerning the things about which YOU wrote, it is well for a man not to touch a woman; 2 yet, because of prevalence of fornication, let each man have his own wife and each woman have her own husband. 3 Let the husband render to [his] wife her due; but let the wife also do likewise to [her] husband.
    (1 Corinthians 7:10, 11) To the married people I give instructions, yet not I but the Lord, that a wife should not depart from her husband; 11 but if she should actually depart, let her remain unmarried or else make up again with her husband; and a husband should not leave his wife.

    (Daniel 2:44) “And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be brought to ruin. And the kingdom itself will not be passed on to any other people. It will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, and it itself will stand to times indefinite;
    (Psalms 37, Rev. 21:3,4)

    May 15, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • Allah is God

      Beware, Allah's wrath is kindled against those who reject his Prophet Mohammed.

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

      Religion Poisons everything !!

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

      Since when did the teachings of Paul become the basis for Christianity? Paul never met Jesus and actually murdered one of his disciples. Go back to the teachings of Jesus - you know "Love one another as I have loved you" and "Love your neighbor as yourself" HIS teachings are not about judging or condemning others.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:45 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.