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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 (8,832 Responses)
  1. spockmonster

    Marriage has been around much longer than the bible. Religion is a mental disease that draws in the sociopathic violent haters. Christians and Muslims are the worst people on the planet.

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

      I know some pretty great Xtians, but as this board reveals there are some pretty sh**y ones as well

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

      How about we rephrase that to radical Christians, Muslims (as well as those of all other religions) are the worst people on earth? That I can agree with.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
  2. scott

    all i got to say is those that doubt god's word....you better be wrong. you all are betting like in vegas. I'd rather not lose money in vegas. All I'll say is I don't want to get up there and i can live a very good life without violating things in the bible. H#ll i can drink, sleep with women, and do all kinds of stuff but not cheat on a spouse and just a few things to save my soul up waiting to talk to the guard at the gate. I would hate him to say "hey you know those rules...we weren't kidding, goodbye" I am not an avid church goer but it does make sense. Just like being an alcoholic or drug addict will destroy your life. there has to be some rules. you can't go without moral rules or you have...chaos.

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

      bible believers are delusional:

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFkeKKszXTw&w=640&h=390]

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

      That's called Paschal's wager.
      I prefer Epicurious' riddle.

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

      In some sense, you are correct. We ought to live moral lives, however, there is only one thing that will gain us admittance into heaven and one thing only. Whether or not we know the Lord as our personal Savior. Our works are as filthy rags- that's God's words... not mine. We can't get to heaven by our works... by what we did or didn't do.

      Sure, we ought not do the things you mentioned. Of course. But that won't get us into heaven. Simply asking Him to forgive us and live within us is all that is required and the only thing that is going to cut it.

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

      Believe it or not I'm not religious and yet somehow I can manage not to steal, cheat on my husband, kill people, etc. And if there is a god, I doubt he would mind that I questioned his existence (studies show that more intelligent people are agnostic/atheist). I doubt god is sending all the smart people to h ell.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
    • ianmike

      but two humans who absolutely love one another are wrong?!? we are talking about the same book that encouraged slavery and abusing disobidient children... The book is ludicrous = D

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

      Are you gambling that Go-d's true word isn't Islam, or Mormonism, or Scientology? It's not possible to follow all paths to Go-d so you have to pick one. Personally I think a real Go-d would be more welcoming of those that treat others with respect and tolerance than those that attend Church every Sunday but otherwise are filled with hatred for anyone who differs from them.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
    • Dave

      Morality does not have to come from religion. If it did, every religions person would be moral. I'm not religious, and I am frequently complimented on the way I live my life, respect my wife of 17 years, and raise my children to be polite, well rounded kids. I did not need relgion to teach me how to do these things.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
  3. +downwittheking1

    Indeed you are so wrong to say that the Bible speaks nothing about gays in Sodom. Also speaks of them in Romans 1.

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

      Many people don't realize that there is more to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah if they care to look deeper. They know only what they were told it meant.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
  4. Three3

    Was Leviticus really a real person, or is 'he' just a bunch of guys who would get together for a few beers after work and put together their list of things they hate–which somehow found its way into publication?

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

      Neither. Not all books of the Bible are named after a guy. In this case, Leviticus is one of the Pentateuch, the first five books (Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) are the others, which were supposedly written down by Moses. The books weren't actually named for a long time, but then the Greeks translated them into Ancient Greek (something like 2nd century BC, IIRC), and named them after the first word in each once the translation was done. I think "leviticus" means "law-book" or something like that. I know "genesis" means "beginning," and "exodus" meant what it means in English: "journey away" Because the Greek word for "Numbers" is so prosaic, it's the only one of those five that actually got translated.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
  5. Dan

    Regardless of what you "think" is right or wrong, there will come a day when EVERY knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord...

    A glorious day that will be, when Jesus my Savior I see.

    The Bible is hardly outdated. Matter of fact, the Bible prophesied Israel would one day become a nation state again. Guess what happened in the 40's.

    It really doesn't matter what you think of God's Word, how it came to be, and what you think of me and my belief. What does matter is what your relationship with Him is and if your name is written in the Lamb's Book of Life on the day He returns.

    NOTHING else will matter.

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

      Regardless of what you think, that's just a steaming pile of sh!t.. There's no god and the bible's not his word.. If there was and it was, it would have been demonstrated by now..

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

      And people have been saying exactly that and waiting for 2000 years for that to happen . We only have one hundred or less .

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

      I could dig that

      May 15, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
    • +downwittheking1

      Amen brother. Some of these comments on here are outrageous. Really opens my eyes to how many people really dont believe in Jesus. smh

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

      Regardless of what you think, the bible can be interpreted as written in the article and you cannot say it's wrong, unless of course GOD talks only to you.. okay thought so ..

      May 15, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
    • cornholeio

      do you believe in santa claus as well?

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

      If you think this, that is perfectly fine. But why are so many Christians trying to get their beliefs to be law? What if people don't mind going to "hell"? Shouldn't people have the right to make their own choices?? What is confusing about separation of church and state?

      May 15, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
    • Dave

      It's funny how people like you are so adamant that everybody believe exactly what you believe in order to believe the right thing. Is it simply your conviction that makes you right? If that's the case, prisons are filled with the same level of conviction that God told them to murder their families, and other various horrible things. If conviction level is the same, how do you know who is right? You're both pointing to the same book...

      May 15, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
    • Jake

      Dan, How will HE judge YOU for not trying harder to love your neighbor? (On Judgement Day)

      May 16, 2012 at 12:00 am |
  6. ianmike

    The Bible was writen by man. When will Humanity realize that. The God the Bible describes has all the characteristics as that of a greedy, low self esteem, angry, incompetent, poor human being. if that is god... I've divorced "him" as my father.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
    • mendacitysux

      But He loves you, and needs money

      May 15, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
  7. Woody

    The bible is a book of man mad stories . Thats all !

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

      So you mean that all the hard facts (history and science) found in the Bible long before we "discovered it" is all fiction? Book of Job talks about the moon controlling our tides.... Bible states the earth is round, all the history in the Bible is easily backed up by "modern" discoveries of ancient civilization. It was long thought the temples of King Solomon were a "myth". Guess what we found not so long ago right where the Bible said they were.

      So it's all made up, eh?

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

      Yes, it's all made-up myth, Dan.. Do some research on the matter..

      May 15, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
    • Drew

      Dan, much of that is probably taken from the Ancient Greeks... they knew some pretty miraculous things and even performed brain surgery

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

      So the earth is flat, gravity doesn't exist, the wind doesn't blow, the moon doesn't control our tides, and all the archeological digs are a fraud then? Because it's all there in the Bible... written a couple thousand years before we "discovered" it.

      I'd like to know what you think about those exact points.

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

      Well first the ancient greeks knew probably all of those things. Of course the bible is accurate on some historical facts, but wildly inaccurate on others. Do you believe the earth is only 6,000 years old?

      May 15, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
  8. Lee Bennet

    CNN Is putrid mass of cancerous liberalism.

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

      You mean "the positive growth of liberalism." Liberalism is a good thing, in case you didn't know.. Oh wait, are you a rich, middle-aged white dude? Yikes, I guess it would suck for you.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
    • Seriously

      .

      May 15, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
    • JWCK

      Then why are you on the site

      May 15, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
  9. Bruce

    All I know is I need a nice strong man.

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

    I'm a born again Christian who find it very difficult to go to church anymore. Church folks can be so hypocritical til it becomes blinding to true edification. A long time theory is that the anti-christ will be one of the most prominent religious figures there is and based on 95% of these posts and how easily people can be swayed with regards to religion, the anti-christ's infiltration will be the most transparent/stealth action ever made in history.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
  11. Mike

    There's no way God is speaking to this gay man. His lifestyle offends the Holy Spirit. How could anyone trust his interpretation of God's holy word?

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

      Wow, with that level of arrogance, you must be a christian.

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

      It's obviously easier to defame him than to refute him

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

      You must be a Catholic school boy.

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

      and how can anyone trust your interpretation? That's the point.

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

      Agreed. And actually, under the Terms and Service of this discussion board, section (B) Guidelines to discussion:

      "• You agree not to upload, post or otherwise transmit any User Content that violates or infringes in any way upon the rights of others, including any statements which may defame, harass, stalk or threaten others; "

      If Christ is love, what is your comment?

      May 15, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
    • caleb

      @Mike..sin seperates us from the presence of God not His love. God loves us no matter what we do or have done! an example of that love is Jesus Christ dying on that cross caryying our sins so we could be forgiven and have eternal life in and through the acceptance of Christ

      May 15, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
    • Jake

      Or so YOU say.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • Jake

      Mike, And WHY pray tell, should anyone trust YOUR interpretation of "His Holy Word"? I do remember God's Son commanding us to love one another though. It would be hard to obey that commandment I suppose when, perhaps, your power mad pharasee of a minister/pastor is telling you otherwise. So much for the spreading of God's True Word.

      May 16, 2012 at 12:27 am |
  12. cornholeio

    who cares what a bronze age fairy tale book says about anything. What a bunch of incoherent babel. No thinking person can believe that nonsense.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
    • Jesus is Lord

      Tell that to Jesus on judgement day!

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

      I was going to write the samething, it's incredible that so many people still believe in this fairy tales book.

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

      Judgement day doesn't exist
      God doesn't exist
      Free will doesn't exist

      May 15, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
    • Cristina

      Jesus is the word of God in the new covenant. He died to send back the Holy Ghost. This is how He wrties His laws in our hearts and minds by God\'s Spirit.King James 6/1566, 6th of Scotland, aurhorized 66 books to keep us under the curse of the law.THE BIBLE IS THE MARK OF THE BEAST.

      September 7, 2012 at 6:13 am |
  13. Rizzo

    “If everyone in the world sat quietly at the same time, closed their eyes and concentrated as hard as they could on peace and goodwill, all the killing and cruelty in the world would continue. And probably increase.”
    ― George Carlin

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

      I disagree, because if everyone was busy thinking no one would have the time to kill

      May 15, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
  14. Nancy Myers

    Yes, we live in "the land of the free" But that does not mean we have to embrace the popular opinion of t he day. The whole on going tirade about giving Gays "marriage" is much over done. One can be happy about gays – like some, dislike others just like everybody else, and still disagree with the concept of "gay marriage, " without a veritable rock slide of negativity falling on one's head. Or can one?

    May 15, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
  15. Religious

    Forget the Bible. Want to know what the Bible says about pride? It's a sin. Number one, actually. Is this taught in American schools?

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

      why would we need to teach this in schools?

      May 15, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
    • Jake

      KB, "Pride cometh bfore the fall." Someone, (schools or whatever) needs to teach the difference between a good and real pride in one's good deeds and the False Pride so promoted by those who are christians in name only.

      May 16, 2012 at 12:38 am |
  16. afffisea

    Heart brokenly sad

    May 15, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
  17. Rozelle

    You can proof text all day long, but the Bible has to be taken in context and as a whole. It's a spiritual thing. Marriage has almost always up until fairly modern times been a financial contract, sealed by the church. There are a lot of couples who should just do the financial contract part because the religious sacrament is meaningless to them. Save the sacrament of marriage for those who choose to take their vows before God and everybody else (man, woman or whatever) enter into civil contracts.

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

      Wrong. Marriage has been around longer than any church.

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

      No thanks. I'm agnostic and I have a husband. I will refer to him as such, and not as 'the guy I'm in a civil union with'.

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

      Married my wife in Vegas, both of us are atheist. But it's still more than a civil contract and had nothing to do with $$. Maybe religious people can have a "Church Marriage" and the rest of us can just have a "Marriage".

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

      More to the point, it was a financial transaction involving the woman who was considered to be property.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
  18. jm

    No matter what side you're on it all comes down to one thing. What matters is what you do with your life and how you live it. When you try to change others you really are avoiding the ultimate goal, yourself. Live how you want to live and let others do the same. Once you start telling others how they must live their lives you lose all moral integrity. It's not your job to police the world. You should have faith (if that's you're way). Faith doesn't make you God's hand. It makes you His follower. He will judge how He pleases. It's not your job. Stop being a control freak. Live your life and let others live theirs. If they want to marry a chair. I'll let God have that talk with them. It's between them and their maker.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
  19. Ralph N

    This is simply another secular article via CNN that is trying to legitimize the gay movement. The more discussion, the more acceptance, the more the appearance of legitimacy. It doesn't matter how good the apple appears on the outside or who writes it or what it's varnished with or who varnishes it to make it look good. If the core is rotten you can make the outside look however you want but it still won't change what's inside.

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

      Oppression always loses. People had your same feelings towards giving women equal rights and people of different races. It may take time but in the end oppressing people because of bigotry always fails. In the end history won't view you very well. You will appear right along the donkeys that opposed the people I mentioned.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
    • Ralph N

      I'm always interested in comments like yours because the truth always cuts a nerve. Thank you.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
    • buckybadger

      No nerve is cut. I am just telling you that your position will lose. It always does and you will look just like the people that oppressed women and black people. You are in the same boat as them. I don't like seeing comments like yours because it shows how intolerant this country can still be.

      This isn't some movement as you like to say. This is just a group of people seeking equal rights. What do even care? You afraid you will have to go marry a dude? Why can't you let other people live their lives?

      May 15, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
    • buckybadger

      Just remember black people where suppose to be rotten to the core as well and considered lesser beings. Again you are not in good company.

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

      Congress shall make no law creating a "national religion", to paraphrase, so, I believe, Ralph N., that your faith tells you to "render unto Caesar..." Please stop trying to impose YOUR definitions of "God's Word" on the rest of your "fellow" citizens, for if they ARE your views, they are not necessarily those of your fellows and your religion should not be dictated to the rest of us. Stop using the Bible to justify your irrational hatred of your contempories while the mega-wealthy strip you blind.. .

      May 15, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
  20. buckybadger

    Who cares what the bible has to say about it? Seriously who cares? Why not see if there is anything in Lord of the Rings as well?

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

      "And Merry's love for Pippin was great, surpassing even the love of women..."

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

      Seeing Gimli lust over the one elf is highly offensive. My religion says that any dwarfs and elves that mate will be sent to the depths of the Great Eye.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:22 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.