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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. Matt

    Bible, Kuran and other regligous books are belong to 2000 years ago. You can NOT find all staff there, Lets do NOT kid ourself. Also , many people has re-written those religous books and intepreted differently.

    One example of is Pat Robinson that he look at Bible and express everything about nothing.

    We must stop this book follow up and focus what is right and what is wrong and what make sense.

    So, I do NOT follow any books, but a common sense to fellow human being. I am not saying I am supporting Gay marriage, but simple I do NOT follow any religous book to get advise.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
  2. Daph18

    My take on this is that is you read the book "Tom Sawyer" too much, you will start to believe anything you want to believe to suit your style.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
  3. ConcernedPhysician

    In God We Trust. Why don't we let God sort out the "sinners," then.
    It seems to me we have a lot of sinner's casting stones and further demoralizing their fellow man (and woman) by denying them basic legal rights. The laws of the United States are to be just and keep those from hatred and injustice, not act as a barrier to prevent love between two consenting adults. Such barriers are an abomination, frankly.
    Let God sort out the "sinners" upon judgment. In the meantime, we need to stop pretending that by publically lambasting the the "sinner" (supposed) we are somehow better Christians and better people. Shame on us!

    May 15, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
  4. Buck

    Just think. If your mom and dad were gay you would not be here as you are now. You would be raised by gay people and probably be gay yourself. Imagine the whole world gay, how would we have kids. I know, we would go to a procreation center and give samples to be implanted. How sick can this world get.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      i have a gay friend with 2 children. so you're wrong.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • Drew

      Just think, If your mom and dad were sterile, you would not be here now. The human race would go extinct if everyone were sterile, and that's why being sterile is immoral. *sarcasm off. (****ing idiot)

      May 15, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • Buck

      Bootyfunk....Then he is not gay. He will go both ways. eeeewwww

      May 15, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • Buck

      Drew.... If they were sterile they would not be my parents. STUPID

      May 15, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  5. millmaster

    It comes down to people either believing in the promises of America and letting each person worry about their own soul, or in people deciding to throw out the concepts of equality, liberty, justice and religious freedom and instead seek to use the force of law to legislate behavior they believe their God wants.

    Why are they not making laws to ban the other things the bible condemns?

    May 15, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
  6. MK

    Wow. I always find it interesting to see how so many mock "Fox News"...Nice to know that I can always bounce over to "CNN" and get a completely polar point of view. Bottom line- both news sources are WORTHLESS...

    May 15, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
  7. Hank M

    Stop is with the quack theology.

    You can make a reasoned logical case for dismissing the Bible. Thats fine and its you business.

    But the Bible clearly says over and over that its wrong to do "gay" stuff.
    Dont distort the Bible – that is dishonest. Just reject it if you want.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • Drew

      I'd like to see you refute any of his arguments. i doubt you have the knowledge. The fact is, people like you will always find an excuse to hate. Jesus would be very disappointed

      May 15, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • tomnikoly

      He's certainly not dismissing the bible but quoting it vigorously. A few examples about the "gay stuff" you mention in the bible might reinforce your rather weak dissent.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
      • SwissArmy Knife

        I'll be happy to refute the orthodoxy of his scriptural proof texts if anyone is truly interested, but let's simply look at one statement. He says when Paul uses the term unclean, paul doesn't mean in a condemning sense. However, that simply isn't true. In Eph 5 Paul links uncleanness with condemnation very strongly. This guy appears to be trying to find loopholes.

        November 1, 2013 at 12:08 am |
        • Doris

          How many words are involved in each case? I think you should show your cards if you have them. Not that I really think it matters in the long run, since for Christianity this issue is quickly turning into a "Galileo" issue. That is, they had better stop ignoring science or fade into obscurity.

          November 1, 2013 at 12:31 am |
    • david

      Jesus had a boy friend his name was Peter and they probably got it on more than once.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
  8. sxj016

    Jeebus hats gaas!

    May 15, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
  9. JOE

    SHOW ME THE MONEY

    May 15, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
  10. Dan

    Maybe we should also analyze what the Quaran says about non-believers. Who cares? It's pointless.

    Doing the right thing has nothing to do with what someone wrote in a book.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
  11. Seriously?

    I only thought spin-doctors were in D.C.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  12. Harry

    F*** the Bible. Grimms Fairy Tales has about as much truth to it as the Bible.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • Seriously?

      Could you please list them? It's not fair to just say it without substance....or is substance really what you seek?

      May 15, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • Dan

      AF***ingMEN!

      May 15, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • Tom in San Diego

      Guess we won't have to worry about you if your wrong, LoL...

      May 15, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • david

      IN Grimms Fairy Tales is the story of Hansel and Gretal. Their wood chooper (poor) father takes them into the woods. In early times in Europe very poor people who could not any longer afford to feed/house/clothe their kids would abandon them in a woods. A theme of truth in the story.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
  13. Wholly Mary

    Who cares what a old book of fiction says about anyone? I believe what I know, not what someone else tells me.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • Tom in San Diego

      You and Obama have a lot in common...He is one of those kinda do it my way, right or wrong kinda guys....Lets hear it for 20 trillion in debi....

      May 15, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • Mikey

      and you learned what you know by what you've been told and/or read. fact.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • Wholly Mary

      Kenny boy-unlike you who knows NOTHING!

      May 15, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • Wholly Mary

      Sorry Mikey- I know what I have experienced, not what I read or was told, FACT.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  14. MarkG

    I guess CNN and the rest of the liberal media are going to continue on with this course until November 6 passes, the distraction from the real issues in our lives. We have a president that cares not about the gay issue. What he cares about is everyone talking about the gay issue and not about his abysmal performance.

    If he can just get those of the weak and thoughtless minds to concentrate on gay people and not on his distorted unemployment statistics, pay-offs to his union buddies, economy collapsing debt, bullying of the American businessman/woman, ever-lavish spending wife (our money, not theirs), and a debacle of a healthcare plan, then maybe, maybe he might just get elected again so that he can do even more damage than he has already wrought.

    The liberal mind is a curious thing. It can't be reasoned with. It can't be corrected. And it's biggest offense, it doesn't know how to solve any problems. It just wants to be pacified into submission.

    Well my friends. I've overstayed my welcome. I shall remain vigilant until that fateful day in November arrives when we can all finally say, "free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are all free at last." Goodnight America.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      "The liberal mind is a curious thing. It can't be reasoned with. It can't be corrected. And it's biggest offense, it doesn't know how to solve any problems. It just wants to be pacified into submission. "

      hilarious. can't be reasoned with? all you have to do is show evidence. i know the word "evidence" means nothing to you religious knuckleheads. it very very easy to reason with us - just prove your point.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • Betty

      Ditto.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • Greg

      What conservatives call, "flip flopping", liberals call, "reasoning." You're wrong on every point you made.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • mfmaine

      The conservative mind is a curious thing. It can't be reasoned with. It can't be corrected. And it's biggest offense, it doesn't know how to solve any problems. It just wants to be pacified into submission.

      There. FTFY

      May 15, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • Bryan

      I agree with our more conservative friends in these postings. Things such as gay mariage, birth control, and womens reproductive rights are very distracting to the economic debates that they are so eager to have. My solution, PLEASE stop encouraging your elected officials from trying to make policies that force us to keep bringing up these issues. Stop trying to take a women's right to choose away, stop trying to defund every social program that works to prevent unwanted pregnancies, and stop putting forth referendums about gay marriage. Stop making social issues your cornerstones and we will stop arguing with you about them. We will ALL BE FREE to go about our lives in a healthier manor.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
  15. Joe Smoe

    What a bunch of crap that guy is spouting..

    May 15, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
  16. Woody

    The bible was written by people as it is a book . Gods law was on stone tablets . One law being love thy neighbor .

    May 15, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • MikeyZ

      Are you saying they didn't have hammers and chisels in Biblical times?

      May 15, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • tio

      Which stone is "love thy neighbor" on?

      May 15, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • Travis

      That law was not on stone tablets.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • BB

      Love thy neighbor, does NOT mean SODOMIZE your neighbor! CNN has become the voice of perversion in our nation. It's really sad!

      May 15, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • MikeyZ

      BB, your lips are moving arbitrarily up and down, but all I hear coming out of your mouth is "blah blah blah gays are bad blah blah blah."

      May 15, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • Which God?

      @Woody. Back then they did love the neighbor, his wife, his servant, etc. They gave them the woody alright. Gays are born that way. Some folks, I'm sure like to try different things. Whatever floats their boat. No one has the right to tell someone how to live their life, unless it is harming someone. Keep your religious BS out of politics and out of the bedrooms. Do NOT presume to tell others how to run their lives through a made up book of fables and poorly written at that.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:45 am |
  17. BRENDA

    Amen to that faithful.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
  18. Reasonably

    Our cult is better than your cult – just ask us!

    May 15, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      no no no! my cult is the right one! you and your followers will burn for your blasphemy!

      May 15, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  19. Eman de Riuqer

    Why should anyone care about the lunatic ravings of people who died thousands of years ago and who didn't know what they were talking about THEN?

    How can anyone imagine the rules the deity they made up (that doesn't really exist, obviously) all those aeons ago could possibly apply to today's world? Consider that then, traveling by donkey was considered rapid transit... calculations for most people were limited to counting and maybe addition and subtraction... they thought that when someone got struck by lightning, that it was because he/she had done something wrong (other than walking around out in the open during a thunderstorm... obviously) when these people looked up at the stars at night, they had no clue whatsoever that the lights in the sky were very much like the sun, just much farther away...

    Now we have airplanes and cars and buses and trains, we have advanced mathematics and pocket calculators, we have telescopes and microscopes, etc., we have the tools needed, without anyone to tell us, that the human race, (and all other life) occurred as a consequence of favorable conditions, random chance, and oodles and oodles of TIME. No one created us, so no one has authority to tell us what the "right" way to live is.

    Therefore, only someone stuck in the ignorant mentality of the brain-dead ancestors of thousands of years ago, could possibly care about what "the bible" (like there's only one, right?) has to say about ANY SUBJECT.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • david

      How can anyone imagine the rules the deity they made up (that doesn't really exist, obviously) all those aeons ago could possibly apply to today's world? Eman says.

      No they didn't make him up. That god existed before as the hearth god of Abraham. In those days they had many gods. A god of the woods, a god of the fields, etc and a hearth god meaning of the household.

      The fact that his personal hearth god became the god over all, the one and only god implies Abraham was one serious dude. He was probably mean, cunning, manipulative, tough, one minded guy who conquered or coerced family, friends and or enemies and all around him into submission. He was forming an empire and was successful. Not unlike some politicians today as in Dept of....Bureau of...Harry Anslinger, J. Edgar Hoover et al. Although Abraham probably put a sword thru you if you did not capitulate.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  20. nolimits3333

    Gay people can die for America, but they can't get married.

    That seems wrong, doesn't it?

    May 15, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • Joe Smoe

      Yes, they shouldn't be allowed in the military

      May 15, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • Jt

      just because they shoot a gun doesn't give them the right to have the sacrament of marriage.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • ConcernedPhysician

      Joe Smoe: As a physician in the military, who has deployed for over 12 months in Iraq so you can speak your mind, I am interested in hearing why I shouldn't be in the military.
      PS: I love this country.
      "I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it." -Voltaire.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • millmaster

      Church marriage is a sacrament. State marriage is a system of benefits and laws to promote stability. The State is supposed to treat everyone equally. If you don't like the values of America, please move to a country run by religious zealots and see what joy they have there. Can you name one country ruled by religious leaders that is heaven on earth?

      May 15, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • Jake

      So a crack-head, a drunk can also die for the same reason...so what's your point?

      May 15, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • Diego

      "they" wow! Sounds so Pre-civil rights. They are right gay is the new black, so is mexican ):

      May 15, 2012 at 11:35 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.