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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. Michele

    America was founded on a group of pilgrims fleeing the oppression of the Church of England. Thomas Jefferson intended us to think for ourselves and must be turning over in his grave to see the way Christians are assuming they can govern OUR Country with THEIR priorities. Google "Jefferson Bible" to see exactly how progressive he was about having your own ideas about Christ.... He intended ALL citizens of our free nation to have the right to LIFE, LIBERTY and the PURSUIT of HAPPINESS. If one chooses to practice their religion, then they have that right, but must also respect the rights of others to do so as they choose, or NOT to at all! We were supposed to be FREE from the persecution of the Church. 'll never understand how a group of "Christ loving" individuals have turned out to be so hateful and exclusionary. Mob rule, indeed. Sad.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
    • larryb

      yes, american christians have forgotten the teachings of christ

      May 15, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
    • bkhowell

      What a sad bunch of willfully ignorant individuals...read 1 Corinthians 6:9 then tell me about man on man love and the consequences

      May 15, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
  2. Mark

    Who cares, who cares, WHO CARES??? We aren't a Theocracy, it doesn't damn matter what the Bible says about it.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
    • Anie

      Mark, unfortunately these nut jobs are working their damndest to make our society a theocracy. Care, very much. And fight the idiocy!

      May 15, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
    • Helloo??

      Actually, its becoming a dictatorship!!!!!!

      May 15, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
  3. montyross

    JEsus himself said "for this reason a man will leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife" but today as in the city of Ninaveh years ago nobody knows their right hand from their left, just great trolling by CNN......

    May 15, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
    • Observer

      montyross,

      The rest of the quote says that what God has joined man should not separate.

      So it doesn't matter if your spouse even beats you, NO DIVORCE unless they cheat.

      Ooops.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
  4. Spike

    Come on CNN. Really? You could at least use an unbiased source for your propaganda!

    May 15, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
  5. anthonykovic

    CNN: Take this bible crap off your front page, and you will improve the demographic quality of your subscribers.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
    • Joe Leo

      Please don't push your beliefs off on others. You live your life and we will live ours.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
    • bkhowell

      What a sad bunch of willfully ignorant individuals...read 1 Corinthians 6:9 then tell me about man on man love and the consequences........Geee...

      May 15, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
    • bkhowell

      someday soon you will know the truth anthony........I hope you come to know Jesus as your savior before its too late....what happened 2012 years ago that reset the calander and established a new time keeping method? It was Jesus birthday......Do some research............

      May 15, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
  6. Pope Benedict

    Because CNN needs to create crazy stories that keep people confused so they spend more time on the web site and look at more ads?

    May 15, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
  7. butch

    what a bunch of crap !!!! just a bunch of people that think they know it all cuz you read the bible. who cares who maries who . afterr they marry today your life will still be the same tomarow so who cares . if it doesnt affect your life and family then who cares !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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

      youre right God deals with the individual now, not the country as a whole, as he did in ancient times, thanks to JESUS B.C.-A.D.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
    • Spike

      To Butch: do you read as well as you spell and type?

      May 15, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
    • Joe Leo

      Well put Butch. Thanks. I think the world is moving in this direction but it is really going to take some time.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
  8. Anie

    TAX RELIGION! Make them follow the laws of society if they want us to follow the laws of their fairy-tale deity.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
  9. Leigh2

    ghost

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

    +++++++++++++
    You first.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
  10. Lisa

    I find it ironic that those who support the gay life style will condemn the bible, now all of a sudden someone gives his opinion that the bible is misinterrepted. and how ironic that now, of all time this guy writes this article. Why didn't he tell us this correct interruptation last week, or last year or 5 years ago, seems very well timed, doesn't it.

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

      Wow. Just because this is the first time you have heard of this, does not mean it is the first time it has been interpreted this way. I was raised traditional catholic, and upon trying to learn more about my religion found out about the stuff in this article 5-10 years ago. This information has existed long before that. CNN may be trying to make money by pushing out a "controversial" opinion to people who have never heard of it because it is a hot issue now, but it doesn't mean it is not true and has not been there long before.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
  11. John Stults

    How do you explain 1 Corinthians 6:9 then?

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

      drunk with power men trying to control everything around them via fear.

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

    This guy doesn't know His Bible or the true God, he is his own god. And writes his own rules. THere are words for that at the end of the Bilble, those that add to this book or take aware from it have not place in the book of life.

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

      You mean . . . free will? Wasn't that given to us by said god?

      May 15, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
    • Hugo

      Mr. Helminiak cited the Bible. And you did what? (You attacked his person instead of his argument. Is this love for your neighbor?)

      May 15, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
  13. ReligionIs4Dolts

    Ken: "Billions care [about what the bible says] you freak now go back under your rock fool"

    The only reason billions "care" about the Judaism, Christianity and Islam are because there has been so much violence done in the names of these pathetic religions. Lots of money and power behind all that crap!

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

      People don't kill because of religions, they kill because of oil,gold,money and power.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
    • Jesus Christ

      Crusades.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
  14. tingle007

    I don't have to read books. CNN finds people to tell me what they say so I can remain an illiterate dolt.

    want to know what it says? Read it. If it matters to you at all you'd want to learn first hand.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
  15. disatisfied in spring

    but the author admits he is gay on his website. how could we expect anything other than a gay biased article.

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

      So, do you accuse pastors of being biased towards the bible and therefore they're not an authority?

      May 15, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
  16. Larry

    I only hate the gay lifestyle because God hates it!

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

      Amen

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

      And since God exists only in your head the real bigotry is exposed.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
    • Jesus Christ

      How do you know God hates it? God didn't write the Bible.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
    • YouRwrong

      Atheist are the unbelievers mentioned in the bible. There are many places where it says what will happen to those unbelievers, i'm just glad i'm not one of them.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
    • AtheistSteve

      Ah...but only you fools are dumb enough to believe what you read in that wretched book of lies. Happily your threats of hell only affect you poor fools.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • Jesus Christ

      ^Whatever helps you sleep at night, kid.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
    • Jesus Christ

      That was intended for "YouRWrong"

      May 15, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
  17. EdR

    Some of the most shoddy linguistic work ever. Nothing like adopting lexical gymnastics to make yourself sound scholarly.

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

      No kidding...people can make the Bible say whatever they want it to say. I'm very religious, but I still take anyone's interpretation of Biblical text with a grain of salt.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
  18. Cyn

    This is clearly written by a gay man trying to twist the bible to justify his chosen lifestyle so he and his partners feel better about themselves.

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

      As opposed to twisting the bible to justify your personal beliefs. Rigggghhhhhhtttt.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • Jesus Christ

      You clearly are a religious nut looking to impose your will on others, wanted or not. Here's a hint: it's not wanted. Re-evaluate yourself.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
    • steam roller

      Agreed.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
  19. James

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

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

      Do you eat shellfish?

      May 15, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
    • tingle007

      Want the new testament version?
      1 Corinthians 6:9-11 gentiles were exempted from old law under Acts, however some things remained sins even for gentiles.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
    • What Is The Truth

      yo Drew, that's OLD Testament buddy, Old Mosaic Laws were done away with when Christ died, that's why we don't sacrifice animals for our sins anymore ~ really cute, but know the whole story buddy, your logic is pointless because your not knowledgeable of the scriptures, those laws are silly to Christians to because they are not required anymore, read & learn so you can be educated like us, just a baby, you need milk, just a child you are

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

      So . . . what you're saying is god was wrong the first time around? No, wait, if it's in the bible, then god said god was wrong the first time around. Got it.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
    • Mike

      Or shave Drew, not to mention about 20 other things that Leviticus prohibits.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
    • Drew

      That was actually my point, what is the truth.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
    • Hugo

      Tingle, uh huh. Try reading the KJV instead of something like NIV for verses 9 and 10. Did you somehow miss 11?

      May 15, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
  20. Mitchell Moore

    There are a billion fools out there.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:33 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.