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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. john perkins

    This idiot clearly likes to take it in the ass, just look at him!

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

      LOL

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

      Most Catholic priests are in fact gay or were abused by other men/boys when they were little.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • ug

      How true...just like all perverts and liberals.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • Paula

      So what is it your business what this man does in the privacy of his bedroom?

      May 15, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
    • Crubeaujolais

      Please remove john perkins comment.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
    • Solar

      Let me guess- You are all Republicans and you all follow Fox News.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
    • Bet

      What a nice Christian comment. Clearly you don't practice what you preach.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
  2. TODAY

    WHAT BYBLE SAYS ABOUT GAYS?....IS THIS 16TH OR 21ST CENTURY?

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

      Doesn't matter what year it is...a perverts is a pervert.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
  3. Tonita

    I wish people would stop quoting the bible on this issue. If we are all supposed to live by the bible then let's start cracking down on women who grind out kid after kid out of wedlock, divorce, extra marital affairs and clean shaven men. I don't know why it is anyone's business what two adults do with their lives. It harms no one. Leave the bible out of it.

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

      One thousand internets to you!

      May 15, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
    • Bet

      The bible also says that masturbation is wrong, but you don't see anyone mentioning that.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:12 pm |
  4. Bob

    It doesn't matter what the Bible says about marriage; it only matters that it is a sacrament for many and therefore is out of bounds for government to define, deny, or sanction. If the people see a need for a domestic partnership to be legally recognized by the government for purposes of estate rights then a simple contract can be supplied – free-of-charge (downloaded or whatever) to avoid attorney's fees. But please abolish all mention of marriage by any government.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
  5. Josh Maxus

    Interesting God made One Male and One Female.

    Interesting God said go forth and multiply. Two women or two men can do that i suppose?

    Interesting the bible talks in Romans 1: 27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

    Helminiak please just shut up.

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

      God does not exist. Humans evolved through a process of natural selection. Welcome to the 21st century, zero AD is long gone. Read some modern science books, bible is too old to be given any consideration at all.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • Gayone

      Interesting, can you actually prove that your "god" exists? hmm, didn't think so...

      May 15, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • Ellen Wong

      Interesting how it says some female dog named Paul and a sphinx named John wrote those. I'm sorry but God didn't say nothing, your all being lied to. The bible isn't real- a bunch of idiots made it up to gain control over the population and almost 2000 years later it's still working. Let's rename the bible Mein Kampf cause all it does is promote hate an cause young ones to be depressed and kill themselves.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • Madre Praise Cafe

      Right on – good response.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
    • Bet

      Interesting that Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Interesting that David sent the husband of a woman he wanted to have secks with into the front lines of battle knowing he would be killed. Interesting that Abraham had a wife AND a concubine. All that seemed just fine with your god.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
  6. Read His Speech

    All of you also need to read about Matthew Vines' truly great speech at matthewvines.tumblr.com/ He really told them how it is and to this day I bet they have not forgotten!

    May 15, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
  7. Mando

    Religion is for the people who do not have enough courage to think and live for themselves.

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

      AND FOR THE PRIESTS CAUSE THAT'S HOW THEY MAKE DOUGH

      May 15, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
  8. Leigh2

    The only real enemy people better be aware of is the one they least suspect, and one they probably deny even more so than God. That would be something beyond your own comprehension of what comprises evil. That would be none other than Satan. If you remember nothing else, remember this.

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

      LOLOLOL Leigh2 believes in "Satan!" hahaha

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

      I will end up in Hell with Satan.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • Bet

      I think we should beware of the Easter Bunny. That rabbit is a creep.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
  9. M

    Too bad people can't take themselves and the world around them as seriously as they do the bible.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
  10. MoHoney

    OK had!!! to share this post on same subject from another website!!!! We shouldn't take things out of context to suit our own agendas. The Bible "clearly" states many things. Help me out on the following:

    1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine says that applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?
    2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?
    3. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrafice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Lev 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?
    4. I have a neighbor who insist on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 31:14 clearly states that he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police do it?
    5. Lev. 21:20 says that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?
    6. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev 19:27. How should they die?
    7. I know from Lev 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?
    8. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary to go through all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them (Lev 24: 10-16)? Couldnt we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws (Lev 20:14)?

    Just asking. My personal favorites are:

    "“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you."

    John 15:12 ESV

    "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you."

    Ephesians 4:32 ESV

    But who needs those anymore, right?

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

      SO Poignant !!

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

      These were laws that were written to the Nation Israel. References to slavery were there because people sinned and were indentured to others. The Bible was used as the reason to abolish slavery during the Civil War.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
    • Jew

      These laws were intended for those in Israel who had a covenant relationship with God. They don't apply to heathens like you. In fact the Bible is not written to non-believers.

      P.S. God will not be mocked. You will pay for your sarcasm.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • PON

      I am sure you've been told this many times, but it bears repeating, You are an idiot! You are an idiot for posting someone elses diatribe without probably even reading it. Also, you have done no research whatsoever to try and find out the relevance of your quotes that you stole from some other idiot!

      May 15, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • MoHoney

      Some of you thinking you understand God so well and judge others will find out your not as right as you think you are with God till the end.. My God is a loving God...

      May 15, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
  11. Sarcasmo

    Sophlophticus 7:14-16
    And lo a great many simpletons will find articles upon the internet irresistible to their self esteem issues, and will line up to post comments that are both sad and hilarious at the same time. The Lord said "Check out these people and join me for a laugh, for they actually believe more in a really, really, really, really, really, really old book than they do in one another. I owe my brother Jeff 40,000 narnlicks [celestial currency], for he was right that that old tome would cause millenia of chaos with these little monkeys. Oh man, oh man, oh man, humanity was my greatest idea ever."

    Pickle Juice 4:29
    Sigh.

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

      If the world is really 4.5 Billion years old then a 2,000 year old book is nothing.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
  12. Marc

    The Bible should be irrelevant in how we treat people. It is read and referred to by the intellectual inferior who cannot think for themselves. How anyone can follow the teachings of just one book that lacks any evidence to truth is beyond me. Try this, read a bunch of science books that contain facts instead of just one that contains fiction.

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

      Well Marc – after reading your post I sure am glad that God has said the meek shall inherit the earth...because that's me, baby!

      May 15, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
  13. Five Years From Now

    Five years from now people will want to marry their dog and we will see a similar debate.

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

      Then let them! This is all a big waste of time and our tax money!

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

      Nope. Gay marriage has been legal in Canada for years and not one dog/human marriage application. Nice try though.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
    • Really?

      That's so stupid to say. Dogs are NOT consenting human adults. That's such a dumb and immature and thughtless thing to say. A certain group of humans just want to have the same exact rights as the rest of HUMANS in this country. That's it.

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

      I'd rather marry my dog than a hateful zealot.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
    • Gayone

      You're so ignorant, you have no idea

      May 15, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
  14. Realist

    If you believe every word in the bible, then we're all going to Hell, other than Monks and the unborn.

    No hope for us!

    May 15, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
    • A Serpent's Thought

      @ Realist

      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 8:49 pm |
    • Trust

      Trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.

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

      You obviously haven't read the bible. John 3:16

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

      um, 4giveness?

      May 15, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
  15. Tom

    How about this: Who cares what it says about gay marriage?

    May 15, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
  16. 999 Plan

    Huh?

    May 15, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
  17. David

    The article shows ignorance – plain and simple. It is one of the things that the Bible says are an abomination. God has from the begining ordained that marriage should be between one man and one woman ONLY. It is a sign of the times. Another difficult thing to beleive is that having taken that stance, along with others that Obama could get re-elected. The church needs to get on her knees and pray, go vote Biblical principles and pray for mercy! What a disgrace and farce Obama is trying to make America. No matter what comes from the White House, Amercia was founded on Biblical principles!

    May 15, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
    • sam stone

      Thankfully, our secular laws are not based on your bible.

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

      Abraham had at least two wives, so I guess someone should have told him about this "one man, one woman" thing.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • sam stone

      America founded on biblical principles, David? Like slavery?

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

      Oh, really? David had eight wives, Abraham had a wife and a concubine, Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. So there goes your one man, one woman argument.

      Then again, when you believe in fairy tales, you'll believe anything.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
    • tatertot6690

      Amen! Preach!

      May 15, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
    • ug

      To all the i di ot s that say there is a problem with the bible and the men who had more than one wife...keep in mind things were different than today but there was a reason...if they were fooling around like alot were...they were punished...read on my liberal lying fools...

      May 15, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • josefski

      Genesis: 30 vs3 "Then she [Rachel] said, 'Here is Bilhah, my maidservant. Sleep with her so that she can bear children for me and that through her I too can build a family.'"

      Genesis: 25 vs5 "Abraham left everything he owned to Isaac. 6But while he was still living, he gave gifts to the sons of his concubines and sent them away from his son Isaac to the land of the east."

      What are you talking about? From the very first book in the Bible God sanctions what to us look like very, very untraditional marriages. I could go on and on. The bible does not contain any verse stating that marriage is between one man and one woman. Have you actually read the Bible or are you just pretending you have?

      May 15, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
  18. JonathanMichaelBrouillette

    Eusebius of Caesarea

    "[H]aving forbidden all unlawful marriage, and all unseemly practice, and the union of women with women and men with men, he [God] adds: ‘Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for in all these things the nations were defiled, which I will drive out before you. And the land was polluted, and I have recompensed [their] iniquity upon it, and the land is grieved with them that dwell upon it’ [Lev. 18:24–25]" (Proof of the Gospel 4:10 [A.D. 319]).

    May 15, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
    • tatertot6690

      Agree!

      May 15, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • josefski

      You should know better than to quote Leviticus to make your point. There are a lot of interesting things in Leviticus, including the fair price for selling your daughter and stoning adulterous women among other things. It seems to me that you're picking and choosing which verses in the Bible you think we should all be following while ignoring the ones that make you uncomfortable.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
  19. Patricksday

    Those who choose to Hate and violently attack Children of God in the name of their Hateful God are never going to change their view, they hate Gays plain and simple without ever knowing one in real life.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
    • ug

      Wrong again maggot breath! the phaggots are known far and wide and we just hate them because they are all perverts...why should we like them?

      May 15, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
  20. Joe Labriola

    All ye tremble at the 5000+ year old book with unknown authors and thousands of years of perfectly accurate oral translations!

    May 15, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • M

      Yikes!

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

      Sums it up well.

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

      I meant, "Zoiks" !!

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

      They are true and accurate...something the libs can never do...

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

      itz funny til u r standing b4 god. then it isn't really funny anymore.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:53 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.