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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. luker6401

    CNN belief blog is an absolute joke. They should rename it Moral Relativism blog. any idea you can come up with is right in our eyes except evangelical Christianity.

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

      Moral relativism is awesome. We are starting to realize that even the laws of science are relative, so why not morality too?

      May 15, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
    • rick52

      "moral relativism" is just a synonym for Christianity, as far as I can tell. How else do Christians justify the abominable sins they have inflicted on the world throughout history – from Crusades to Inquisitions to slavery to genocide to wars with no purpose ...

      May 15, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
    • T-Max73

      Thanks, Rick52, for pointing out the obvious.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
  2. A tad too far....

    I think I could find someone to support the Gay lifestyle in every walk of life – just look at Dick Cheney.

    My basic view comes down to the notion that for all its faults, there ought to be room in society to perserve the traditions of male-felmale relationships. To the Gay community, please create you traditions under some form of civil union. You have asked us to create space for you, we have complied. Please leave some space for us.

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

      Marriage doesn't belong to you, and it's a lot older than your religion

      May 15, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
    • T-Max73

      So what you're saying is perpetuating the divisiveness of religious ideoligies; "us" and "them" are embraced and celebrated whilst the idea that human solidarity has any inherent value to mankind is left to rot on the wayside. So, which of the 30,000 Christian sects/denominations do you represent?

      May 15, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
  3. Christian

    Just as when he walked on this earth, Jesus continues to love every sinner in this world. But he did not love sin because that is what seperates us from God. We are commissioned to love everyone and spread His word, not to be the judge. Only God is the judge and regardless what anyone thinks we all will find out the truth one day.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
  4. Trevor

    I think it's interesting how many people automatically accept or reject this article. I think we all need to be a little more educated. I just looked up the word "pais" that the author used. His definition is one interpretation but other scholars say different things. I don't see how this is any type of final word. I suppose that's why when I clicked on the article to read it, it said, "Opinion: What Bible says about gays". It's just an opinion, no matter how "educated" the person is.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
  5. Leigh2

    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. Wait, and watch, and see. . .

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

      think you should check up your a s s. think there is some evil sh it in there.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
    • Surviving the World

      you do understand the utter hypocrisy of the satan character right?

      A fallen angel that controls the "bad place" and is at war with god. Even though god is supposedly omnipotent, satan still has enough power to battle god and actually win battles.....doesn't that seem strange?

      Let's go a little further. Satan punishes sinners right? Now, why would Satan punish sinners? If someone decided to go against god, wouldn't that make Satan happy? Why punish people who do Satans will? Also, what does the punishment achieve? If Satan is punishing the people who didn't do as god told them, then isn't he working FOR god instead of against him? Doing gods dirty work and all that?

      I mean, ignore the fact that god is punishing people for using the free will he gave them in the first place, and ignore the fact that an ever-loving god with infinite patience and forgiveness would send souls to be eternally tortured with no chance of being forgiven, do you not see the utter hypocrisy and plane craziness that is the character of Satan?

      No, nevermind, you're crazy.

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

      Leigh, I want what you are smoking...

      May 15, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
  6. Oyaboshoti

    I'm speaking in tongues on this matter: kida bishota de la basoya...God told me you're all idiots for wasting your time reading the bible. oya boshoti ho ho li naka...God just told me you all should pray for me to win the lottery..please....please god wants you to help me....oogalotta....see how ridiculous this all is? Uh ohhhh im burning and shaking....burning for blasphemy...oh no it hurts so bad!! What a joke all this crap is...please respond with all criticism as harshly as you can...I enjoy laughing at all of you who talk to the air and ask for things and thank people that aren't real...

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

      You don't have to worry about what we're saying or what the bible says, you will only get what you asked for when your time comes.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
  7. kate

    When Fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in a flag and caring a cross.
    Sinclair Lewis

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

      The driver of the wagon swaying through forest and swamp of the Ohio wilderness was a ragged girl of fourteen.
      – Arrowsmith

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

      Dude looks like a lady
      – Aerosmith

      May 15, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
  8. John

    The first person to post (Dan) nailed it. It's amazing how some Catholics like Daniel Helminiak can be so blind.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
    • 311mortimer

      Helminak is as catholic as Obama is Christian. CNN can always smoke out the disenchanted "theologian" to serve as a mouthpiece for their beliefs.

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

      Again with Obama as a Muslim? Really? Seriously??

      May 15, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
  9. Granger

    Why is Gilligan doing an article for CNN.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
  10. VoiceOfReason

    Who cares what the Bible says about ANYTHING? You wouldn't let an accountant from 2000 years ago do your taxes, or a blacksmith from 2000 years ago work on your car, or a doctor from 2000 years ago perform open heart on you, so why would you allow the ideas of that time to influence you today?

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

      Beautifully said :) Who really cares about a 2000 yr. old philosophy. It's been broke for centuries and still remains broke...except when someone tries to implement their own words into it and then say it's..."the word of GOD" Whatever.....

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

      Apparently you haven't read the Bible. Give it a perusal and get back to us. It contains wisdom about the human condition and how to respectfully treat others that is as true and useful now as it was two thousand years ago.

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

      The Wisdom of God is timeless.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
    • Pope Benedict

      Because God works in strange ways!

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

      And I still use sticks and stones to start a campfire...morons

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

      And your point is?

      May 15, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
    • Pope Benedict

      Because you can learn anything from the Bible?

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

      Amen to that, VoiceOfReason. A dusty old book, full of translation mistakes, antiquated concepts, and scare tactics.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
    • Paul Z

      If that is the way you feel, why would you reasonably read these type of articles?
      The only reason I could see would be to express some type of anger, likely brought on by some sort of hurt.
      I will never understand why those who say they have no belief in or give no validity to an idea, would repeatedly read things about the thing they say they have no use for. Not very logical.

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

      @Paul Z... What do you mean, "the way I feel?" If you re-read my post, you may realize that EVERYTHING I said was in the form of a QUESTION. All I did was ASK; I made NO assertions of my own. So how could you determine "the way [I] feel" from my posing a series of questions? Hmm?

      May 15, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • david

      Hey brain surgeon (voice of reason) are you familiar with CALCULUS???

      May 15, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
  11. Hamlet

    It's not a battle to be fought, it should be accepted, loved and forgiven.

    1 Corinthians 4:5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • 311mortimer

      It should be accepted, loved and forgiven. Like pedophilia. After all we should not judge, let's all abdicate the responsibility to discern right from wrong.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
  12. annie

    if man with man, woman with woman could procreate.......produce offspring then being gay would be supported as God's design. The fact they cannot produce children proves not God's plan or design, however,
    Jesus did say "it is better to marry than to burn" (unrestrained passion), so I agree, they who choose alternate lifestyle should be allowed to sanctify THEIR VOWS to one another; perhaps calling it "CIVIL UNIONS" rather than marriage? THE SIN OF SODOM....what led to ITS DESTRUCTION....was clearly men forcing their will....their conduct onto others, thus TAKING AWAY EACH MAN'S FREEWILL.. then there's "THE MAD SCIENTISTS" who've been experimenting on us all, changing our chemical, biological, hormonal makeup.....creating THEIR VERSION of humanity; it's for this reason BEING GAY does not condemn one to HELL but EVIL WORKS.....harming innocent others will. Jesus said "YOU WILL KNOW A TREE (A PERSON) BY IT'S FRUIT (WORKS)" the BOTTOM LINE: being GAY does not make one an evil person just as BEING IN CHURCH EVERYDAY does not make one SINLESS AND PERFECT before A HOLY GOD.

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

      I didn't realize that god's design was so simple that it could be understood by stupid internet commentators like yourself

      May 15, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      the passage you seem to quote is from this Corinthians 7:8-9

      5 Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.

      6 But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment.

      7 For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.

      8 I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I.

      9 But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      basically speaking about widowed or unmarried... Again someone's Cherry-Picking

      May 15, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
    • Michael

      You need to go back and re-read your bible. Jesus never said that. Paul said that, of his own accord and not as a writ from God.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
  13. John Holmes

    Liberal journalism at it's best. And why do they call them gays and lesbians? Gay is gay regardless of gender. Sounds kind of discriminating to me.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
  14. luker6401

    If man was meant to be with man, and women with women, then there would be a means to procreate naturally. There is nothing apart from another person that two gays can do to have a child. There has never been civil rights protection status given to a group of people based on BEHAVIOR. period. We are being so tolerant and foolish as a nation to allow this to go on in our society. THere is a gay agenda. THe last time I checked, they were still parading in San Fransisco trying to force the agenda down everyone elses throat. There is not a group of thieves standing on the steps of Capitol Hill trying to get rights based on their behavior, or liars, or gossipers. etc. God Help this country. We as a society and as a nation are in big trouble. Next the pedophilles will be asking for their rights to be respected and upheld.

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

      The world is vastly overpopulated. We do not need more children. However, gay people can certainly adopt and raise the children abandoned by straight Godly people.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      their parades are to put it in your face that they are here and are not going away. So-called "pushing their agenda" is more like "here I am, sorry to say, but I'm not going away. Gays exist!"

      May 15, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      to be a pedophile is ILLEGAL
      to be gay is NOT ILLEGAL

      May 15, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
    • Michael

      So then by your reasoning, people who are infertile or are too old to reproduce serve no purpose under God when they marry and should thus be barred from doing so.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
  15. YouRwrong

    The author of this is lying. Here are the places in the Bible where it mention about gays.

    Leviticus:18:22 Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.

    Corinthians:1:6:9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,

    There's plenty of places where Sodomites are mentioned in the Bible and is an abomination to God. Sodomites is a Greek word to describes sodomy.

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

      Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property." (Leviticus 25:44-45)

      May 15, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
    • 311mortimer

      Alex children are not being abandoned by godly people, godly people are being forced to close down orphanages when they do not hand over the abandoned kids to gay couples.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
    • Reading Comprehension

      Did you actually read the article? The author went into some detail talking about the issues of translation and what words like "abomination" meant in the time period in which they were written. I may or may not agree with him, but I certainly give more weight to someone who can justify what he is saying over someone who just spits out random verses without giving any historical or scholarly justification.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
  16. aksdad

    As interesting as the "Obama endorses gay marriage" meme is to liberals, the rest of us are more worried about the economy, the high unemployment, the torpid recovery that should have been over a year ago, the rapidly increasing federal debt, the weakening dollar and the way it's driving up the cost of living dramatically. We want legislators and a President who understands how to get government out of the way so the economy can flourish again and companies can create jobs. Who seriously cares about what President Obama thinks about gay marriage? Take a poll.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
  17. kentuckyscience.com

    H o m o s e x u a l i t y is an exstacy of self love.

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

      How would you know? Ever tried it? Then shut up.

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

      ...says he who cannot spell 'ecstasy'...

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

      It probably is gay

      May 15, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
  18. Woody

    When you die it is just like a computer on its last leg . We are electrical by nature and as we die our brain begins to short circuit causing the brain to go into dream mode where all is possible . Even wings on people .

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

      Cool, what drugs are you on?

      May 15, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
  19. geo

    Why do you ignore leviticus 20:13 ... please address ... very clear

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

      Why do YOU? You take one line out of Leviticus and ignore everything else.

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

      Why do YOU ignore Leviticus? It says shellfish is an abomination. It says you can sell your kids into slavery. It says you can't wear clothes made out of different fabrics. It says you can't plant multiple types of seeds in your field. Etc, etc, Basically it says a lot of incredibly stupid and bizarre things.

      Why do people like you think you can get away with cherry-picking the parts you "like", because they happen to conform to your personal ideology, and ignore the rest? Silly person.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • Surviving the World

      But he doesn't..... when he quotes the other passage in Leviticus he then explains how since jesus fulfilled the law, and that purity of heart is important, that what it says in leviticus might be social condemnation but as a christ loving christian that's now been fulfilled and shouldn't matter a.k.a. why you also eat pork, where polyester clothing, don't kill you children when they disobey you, etc....

      Get it?

      May 15, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
    • SO5

      If that's what two men or two women want to do, let them. It's not your life or your business. If you don't like it, just don't vote.

      Not that hard.

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

      "But Jesus taught lucidly that Jewish requirements for purity — varied cultural traditions — do not matter before God. What matters is purity of heart."

      As in, the rules about "purity" set forth in the old testament are not relevant.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
  20. Granger

    oh brother...CNN sucks!

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

      thats why i go to foxnews

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

      I bet you go to Fox news as well. Studies have shown that people who go to Fox News are more misinformded than people who listen to no news at all.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
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About this blog

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.