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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. Joseph Jerrymiller

    “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.

    Interpretation: swallow and your safe..

    May 15, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
  2. Marky Merlot

    All I see from the posts of the "Devout" here (insert the religion of your choice) , are that there is more hatred amongst them, than the less devout/non-religious, who seem to have much more open/understanding minds.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
  3. spockmonster

    beliefs are the vestige of the weak minded.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
  4. maryla

    Agree with you Dennis. Who cares!! . How about Mormons and that stupid show "sisters wives"? Enough with religion and God. I didn't know we are such a christian nation ? – suddenly!!

    May 15, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
  5. byangel61

    Lv 20, 13 "The man who has intercourse with a man in the same way as with a woman: they have done a hateful thing together; they will be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
    Anyone can tell lies, but the truth shines, they can act as women, but they can never be women if they are men, no matter how hard headed, no matter how through an operation. Sorry to you all, but you remain what you are.

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

      Christians aren't obligated to follow the jewish purity laws found in leviticus and other OT texts

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

      This from the same 'god' that commanded angels to slay innocent children. That killed off a whole planet except for one family and billions of innocent children, adults, animals, insects and plants. Yeah . . . let's follow this guy.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
    • A Serpent's Thought

      byangel61

      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 9:25 pm |
    • David Myers

      In the minds of bigots like yourself only. This is a secular nation and your distortion and persversion of the teachings of Jesus condemns you to your own hatred and evil perversion. Look in the mirror bigot, you and those who follow your hate mongering are the perversion of true Christianity.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
    • Jake

      byangl61, "Thou salt not stuff 67 tennis balls into thy working toilet!"

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

    I'm so sick of all these gays who want to do whatever they want and spit in God's face.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • the geighest est bash

      they dont want to spit in gods face, but really just use spit as a naturally occuring lubricant to make sodomy more pleasurable.

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

      And I'm so sick of these 'Christians' who act like they've never read a word Jesus said.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • momoya

      If you could show me god I would spit in its face.. What kind of god allows the sort of confusions about himself as are evident on this planet and in our species?!!?

      May 15, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • Anie

      It's called free will. According to your old man in the heavens he gave it to us. Who are you to judge, let alone take it away? If it is his 'gift' to his 'creations' then bug off and mind your own gift, leave the rest of us alone!

      May 15, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • billybsea

      And I'm so sick of those people who believe that some supposed creator of a 13 billion year old and 13 billion light years large would have a face.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
    • Jeremy

      I really hate these Christians that don't follow Christ and spit in his face by judging their neighbor and spreading hate.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
  7. obseesion1950

    It's a sad day when a former priest will ttwist what the bible says to justify what is probably his own abnormal behavior with being normal

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

      Even sadder when self-called Christians use one or two parts of the Bible to justify their need to discriminate and hate, clearly ignoring what Jesus preached.

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

      Yeah, like all those 'straight and pious' priests who follow god's calling by raping little boys.

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

      I though God supported abnormal people. He loves all his children, and to be abnormal is not to sin.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
  8. the geighest est bash

    Christianity is going to die just like Greek Mythology did.

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

      Christianity will take a long time to die. What other religion lets you sin as much as you please including murder? But before you die just be sure to confess to a Priest and get a free ticket to Heaven.

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

      Thank you – I couldn't agree more. That is why Christians are so angry – they are a dying breed and they are flailing every which way they can because they know they are doomed.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
  9. heron

    People are working VERY hard to make gay okay, does the bible REALLY have to spell it out for you??!! Oops, I guess it does!! Look, if gay was really okay then everyone must understand that there is a strong possibility that "Women" would not be a part of the human factor on earth. God would have fixed it where "Men" could bear children... HMMM!! Interesting Thought! I'm "NOT" saying the only reason women are on earth is to have children, their value to the human experience is much more than that, but they are the only ones who "can" bear children. A gay couple can not reproduce, natural that is, so how can it be okay? "Bible does say to multiply"

    May 15, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
    • momoya

      We've multiplied enough.. We're now squandering our resources and soon there might be billions starving instead of just millions.. For the good of the planet, it'd be better if we were all gay for about 50 years or so.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
    • Anie

      The bible also says you can kill your child for misbehavior, you are sinning if you wear clothing made of 2 different kinds of fabric, blah, blah, blah. How closely are YOU following it's rules? Or is it just what you think applies to you? Hey, what about 'judge not, lest ye be judged?" Follow that one much?

      May 15, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
    • billybsea

      Really, who cares what your book of mythology says? It is no more relevant than the Book of Mormon or the Koran. All written by human beings with an agenda.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
    • Corydoras

      There are 7 billion + people on the planet, with about 350,000 born every day. I think we got that whole multiply thing down, don't you?
      And, flying in an air plane, lasic surgery, chemotherapy and playing angry birds are all unnatural. Are those condenmed too?

      May 15, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
    • riser234

      ya, and I guess all women that cant "mulitply" are an "abomination" to "god" ;) have a blessed day

      May 15, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
    • Jake

      heron, If you stick around long enough and keep your eyes and ears open, you can actually see and hear religions getting INVENTED.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
  10. some info

    Just as I do not open the Holy Bible to read the late breaking news stories each day, I do not turn to CNN or its commentaries for spiritual guidance or scripture interpretations.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
  11. Woody

    No God ever wrote a book as only people with pencil and paper can .

    May 15, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
    • abaddon

      and people lie

      May 15, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • David Myers

      And willfully misinterpret, mistranslate, and cherry-pick that which they claim to believe from the Bible to support their own bigotry and hate.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
  12. ReligionIs4Dolts

    What's it going to be like in the year 10000? Will there still be religious freaks blindly following what a book written 12 to16 thousand years ago said? Probably, unfortunately.

    "We just KNOW Jeezus is coming back (even though it's been 12000 years, but we just KNOW)"

    May 15, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
  13. Sam

    Did he forget about 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 or just ignore that verse since that tends to be easier.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
  14. loj

    I can't BELIEVE CNN!! The media is so pro-gay!

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

      It might be more accurate to call it anti-intolerance

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

      No. Just very pro gay, pro liberal, anti-bible, anti-christian, anti-hindu, anti-muslim, anti-religion. This guy is so off base in this article.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
    • Drew

      Where do you get anti-religion? He's discussing a freaking religious text

      May 15, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
    • Jake

      loj, CNN is just trying to stop people, (like you?) from clubbing gays like baby seals. Obviously your fear of Jesus will not prevent you from doing so. Keep bathing in your precious hatred.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
  15. Woody

    Its Jesus for money when your life should be free but won't be after you get a marriage license sign it and start paying alimony for three !

    May 15, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
  16. david

    Utter stupidity. And yet, this facade of a theologian probably believes what he has written.

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

      I've yet to see one of you guys actually refute the claims he makes

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

      @Drew. Perhaps you should read the posts a little more carefully?

      May 15, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
    • Drew

      Perhaps you should inform me; how exactly are his claims refuted?

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

      Christianity is the real facade here.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
    • david

      Well Drew, if you had ever taken a course in biblical hermeneutics you would know that in using the historical grammatical method of interpretation, know one in their right mind would come to the interpretive conclusions this man has concocted. His was an interpretation based on life style bias ( i.e. he has an axe to grind).

      May 15, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
    • Drew

      See, you still haven't refuted anything he said. Explain it to me like i'm a three year old

      May 15, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
    • David Myers

      Just as you bigots believe they are actually interpreting the beliefs and words of Jesus, even though it can be proven you are perverting his teachings to back up you own hatred and bigotry.

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

      Drew. Seriously, it's not rocket science. Go read the passages the writer refers too, especially Romans 1. Even a cursory reading will reveal the silliness of his interpretation.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
    • Drew

      What part of "please refute his statement" don't you understand? saying that something is easily refuted is NOT the same as refuting it

      May 15, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
    • david

      Drew. If I thought there was even a slight chance that you were interested in understanding the truth of the passages quoted I would be happy to explain (refute). Unfortunately, I realize that your interest is in argumentation and that of justifying your own position. That being the case, I'm not going to take the time to type lengthy paragraphs in order to properly interpret biblical passages for your. Not a cop out, just reality.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
  17. bryan

    God plainly states its an abomanation. Just like the man in office. That is God's worse Sin. And it will not be allow in Heaven. This man will have to stand before almighty and give an account of himself. I'm glad I don't wear his shoes.

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

      Believe your book of fairy tales.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
    • ReligionIs4Dolts

      You mean some Jews several thousand years ago finally got around to writing down their oral heritage that had been passed down through many generations, which included a "god" they made up who is said to have said that being g@y is an abomination. Get it right.

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

      Amen!

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

      leave it to a guy named Bryan to tell us what the almighty thinks. Jesus (and I'm speaking colloquially here), we've heard and seen it all now. And I thought pride was one of the seven deadly sins. I suppose you could include sloth too though for Bryan the almighty has and incredibly lazy mind as well.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
    • Mitchell Moore

      And so are we.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
    • Jeremy

      I suppose you believe that seafood is an abomination, too? I'm glad to see that we have som orthodox Jews in the conversation as well.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
    • David Myers

      Speak for the shoes you are in and what you will say when and if God stands before you and asks why you violated the Golden Rule and his commandment to Love your Neighbors as you do yourself. Why you judged others and whether or not you were without sin before you cast your stone.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
    • Jake

      And so will you bryan, have to explain to your Maker why you have not "LOVED YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF". Or perhaps you DON'T love yourself so much after all which would make you all grumpy and stuff and hate gays and so on...

      May 15, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
  18. Jonathan Oleson

    Fail

    May 15, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
  19. Saddened

    Leave it to CNN to promote sin and falsehood.

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

      That's why you keep coming back, isn't it?

      May 15, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
    • Fro

      yet you are a part of the sin.
      you are going to be tortured by your god (revelation 9:5-6)

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

      And you believe this why? Because some English version of a collection of writings 2000+ years old, written in dead languages and translated over and over and over, is the infallible word of the creator of an approximately 13 billion year old and 13 billion large universe who singled this speck out for "specialness"? Really? Cling to your mythology.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • Katie

      Is this Bible not the same as your Bible? Do you not use the Bible just as this man does, only to promote your own agenda?

      May 15, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
  20. cornholeio

    Who cares what the bible says? Its a bronze age fairy tale book full of incoherent babel. No thinking person can believe such nonsense. RON PAUL 2012!!! Yea, yea i know he has imaginary friends too

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

      Well said except the Ron Paul part!

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

      Billions care you freak now go back under your rock fool

      May 15, 2012 at 9:26 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.