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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. christiangal

    If you're gonna quote the bible then do not cherry pick! The Bible is VERY clear on unnatural desires. Read Romans 1:31 and 1 Corinthians 6:9.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • momoya

      The bible is very clear: we can own slaves as long as we don't beat them to death.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
    • bob

      EXACTLY. Deuteronomy 22:20-21 hope you are a virgin on your wedding night...

      May 15, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
    • Tom

      Speaking of the bible, I have a 10 year old daughter and I was considering selling her into slavery as noted in the bible. What do you think the going rate is these days? She's healthy and smart.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
    • jemzinthekop

      The bible is also very clear on its stance on talking snakes and boats that held all 300 000 species of beetle (as you don't believe in evolution) along with the polar bears, emus, cheetahs, koalas, but NO dinosaurs

      May 15, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • jorgath

      Okay, you better not eat shellfish then. Leviticus, about two verses away from where it tells men not to lie with other men (calls it an abomination) also says not to eat things that crawl on the bottom of the sea, because that's an abomination. Same word. Hope you haven't eaten lobster lately.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
    • Leigh2

      There are several billion people at this very moment wandering in the concealed darkness with Satan, though on the surface there seems to be no evidence of him. He's very good at keeping a low profile. Doesn't mean he isn't moving and snaking his way among humanity. He's here and is hard at work trying to convince you he doesn't exist, and that his lies to you don't exist. You are just unable to detect it because your spirituality is gravely lacking. Right now his primary focus is on Mexico, with all the death and bloodshed and mutilations. But he will eventually move with greater ambitions to the U.S. Soon.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
  2. Wagner A

    This article is very poorly interpreted, and the original greek words definitions are choose to the writers own advantage and liking to support his argument. Those are NOT the right definition of the greek words. As many know, greek and latin words sometimes can be translated into many different meanings. may I say as a disciple of Jesus myself, the bible can not be interpreted by our own mind, but by the holy spirit. Like these great men that wrote these epistles/letters of the new testament, they were Divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit to write such things. Now, we have to be Divinely Orientated by the Holy Spirit to interpret these Devine words.
    Anyone can read a verse and translate it to what ever they desire. the bible is not simply a book to read and try to interpret it your own way, but to read and let the holy spirit of God interpret it for you.

    We have to accept that there are Gay men and women out there. and our job is not to hate them or to try to convert them to Christianity or what ever religion it may be, but our job is to LOVE THEM UNCONDITIONALLY AS GOD LOVES US! and through our undiscriminating, love we can show them that we are servants of God and we are all equal no matter our views.
    Yes, gay marriage should be allowed, Yes, it is against Christianity. Yes, i am an Evangelical Christian, but my view is that we can not force Gods laws on anyone, we can only show them the truth. Jesus said, "not by force or violence but by my sprite"

    Christians Need to Learn To LOVE! and FORGET EVERYTHING ELS!

    May 15, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • jorgath

      I believe you just succeeded at Christianity.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
    • hullabaloo

      If you can read this, God loves you! The Bible provides a road map for a pretty good life. Christians do not need to fight against anything except their personal desires to leave the road map.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
  3. Ageecee

    Theres no problem with gay marriage . We should also allow human and animal marriage because everybody's right should be respected. amen

    May 15, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • momoya

      "Consenting" "Adults" <–Look up these terms in your dictionary.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
    • Miss Trixie

      For the love of God–stop these insipid, redundant, gay stories. No one cares–be gay and GO AWAY. So sick of your "in your face agenda". Please stop reporting on this moronic issue.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
    • bob

      when a cow can open a bank account. hold a job and sign a legally binding contract – then you will have a point.

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

      When horses pay taxes your point will be valid. The USA is a secular nation, it is the religion invading the politics that is the disease.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
  4. Dan

    Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • jemzinthekop

      Get on your knees, accept his body in your mouth and he will come quickly

      May 15, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
  5. db

    CNN should stop Obama propoganda, Time magazone declare that Obama is first Gay president and civil union is always beteen man and woman so people will decide this fall on the issue.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • F.U.

      It was Newsweek. Time had the mother breastfeeding her child. Just stating the facts.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
    • jemzinthekop

      You should read what people said about Abraham Lincoln when he dared tell the people of the US of A that black people should not be owned by anyone.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
  6. bob

    it's funny we call laces like iran backwards societies stuck in the middle ages, when so many in this nation give a hoot for what some made up book written 2000 years ago by an imaginary man in the sky says...

    May 15, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
  7. Woody

    The bible is little more than a book of stories from people that did not even know the world was round or what a shooting star was . Today it is a book that puts fear into peoples hearts and cash in the hands of those who use fear to make a living .

    May 15, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
  8. Grim Reaper

    Who cares-WHERE ARE THE JOBS WE WERE PROMISED!!!!!! This is a big White House sucker punch.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
    • Woody

      Heaven is for those that are afraid of the dark .

      May 15, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
  9. Jon

    I will let God sort it out, and the Devil do the rest ;)

    May 15, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
  10. Jay

    The bible says at 1corinthians 6:9. 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. These will not inherit God,s kingdom. It's in black and white. God has not change his purpose for mankind. Info can be found on watchtower.org

    May 15, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
    • jemzinthekop

      The talking snake said it first... when he made the only 2 people on earth eat fruit. Then those 2 people had a family of boys and somehow the human race was spawned. And yes the coolest part was when one son killed the other and the killer was banished and marked to protect him.... from what he needed protecting when there were only his parents on Earth remains a mystery, like how dim witted people interrupt my dinner with their fairy tale religious watchtower nonsense.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
  11. madrep

    What does the Koran say???? That's what is of most interest in our White House these days.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
    • jemzinthekop

      This is a great point.... Christians have no problem with their mythology being spread everywhere, but when it is someone else's invisible man with their tales about how he loves them more than anyone else, that is when feathers get ruffled.

      Secularism is the only answer... keep your myths out of politics and we will all be happy.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
    • dwmanning

      Obama isn't a Muslim. You, however, are most certainy a twit.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
    • Tom

      Get a life loser.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
    • deeperinfo

      As we all examine the position of religions in respect to gay marriage, this is a legitimate and important question.
      But more importantly, what do islam's current religious leaders and scholars say?

      Well, the scholarly discussion of leviticus calling for killing gays turns to a discussion of gays being killed today. Strictly Religious Christians talk about sin and condemn IT, Strictly Religious muslims condemn IT and then kill the sinner.

      Very good question, indeed.

      Hard to make a dent with someone like Daniel H when the real killers are left off the list of religions to be examined.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
  12. Brandon

    You missed the whole other part of romans 1:27... recompense of their error....nice omission

    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.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
    • momoya

      Yes, let's stick with what the bible says on the matter:

      May 15, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
  13. AG

    If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. – Leviticus 20:13
    -–
    I don't think it was just a "purity" issue as Mr. Helminiak states above, but more of a "sin" issue, Jesus did reject the "laws of man" such as the mandatory washing of hands, but Jesus never rejected the direct laws of God given to Moses in Leviticus.

    Jesus came to give grace in exchange for repentance, and he actually paid the "death" part of our sins for us... Jesus didn't justify sinning, He made a way to recieve forgiveness and grace through his own sacrifice.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
    • jorgath

      Look a few verses away and you'll find the one that says that eating animals that crawl on the bottom of the sea rather than swimming in it is "an abomination." I hope you haven't had crab lately.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
  14. arlojones

    The bible? Who the eff cares?

    May 15, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
  15. Peter

    Leviticus 18:22 "Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable." Seems clear to me.... God loves you.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
    • momoya

      Do you also own and beat slaves as the same book allows?

      May 15, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
    • Fro

      Gods loves me?! What kind of sick god tells you that!!!!
      ------
      And to them it was given that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months: and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when he striketh a man. And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them. Revelation 9:5-6

      May 15, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
  16. Head honcho

    You have got to be kidding me. What a bunch of bologna.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
  17. John

    There's a reason why 90 percent of the Bible Belt lives in alochol, meth and myth addled poverty.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
  18. DWalker

    We live in America, the land of the freedom to practice many religions. Do you honestly think certain people should "not" be allowed the same rights as everyone else? The opinion expressed here is my own and not those of my classmates or the US Army.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
  19. mike

    why don't you put a well articulated conservative biblical opinion up? Richard Hays, dean of Duke Divinity School, is a great option. He has a wonderful chapter on the issue in his book "The Moral Vision of the New Testament." You always seem to clearly highlight the progressive perspective but not the conservative opinion as clearly or as much. I find myself wanting balance from CNN.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
  20. BRENDA

    Bunch of sickos online tonight . Nothing will separate me
    from the love of Jesus.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
    • Funkymonkey1

      Nothing but your hatred for your fellow man.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
    • Leigh2

      Not really sickos. They are just owned. And not by God. Some will eventually come around to the 'light'. Others will continue to cling to the 'darkness', unfortunately. Sad, but it's their choice.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • Trudy

      Amen Sister!!!! Jesus is COMING SOON!

      May 15, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • Fro

      That sounds gay...

      May 15, 2012 at 9:14 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.