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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. shane

    Being a dick with comments make our country stronger. Talking about YOUR Bible, and not your COUNTRYS LAWS is was leads to religious wars. Christianity is not the main religion of the world; America being where you can practice freedom of religion and personal happiness writes Christianity INTO LAW!!! NOW THATS LAW ENFORCEMENT!

    May 15, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
  2. francis

    Most of the gay people I've known are professional, moral, kind people. If they're going to hell, then I must be going to the MegaHell

    May 15, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
  3. ReligionIs4Dolts

    Opinion: What Do Tea Leaves or the Line on My Palms or Runes or Dice or Tarot Cards Etc. Say About Being G@Y?

    May 15, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
  4. Shadowcandy

    <– Christian here: Let the gays marry.
    1. We are not called by Jesus to condem anyone, thats big daddy's job.
    2. Love thy neighbor as thyself (speaks for itself)
    3. Letting them marry won't have any affect on our lives whatsoever!
    4. Do unto others as you would have done unto you. One day, I'm sure, we'll want some right and we'll probally turn to Gays for support (karma works like that)
    Let them marry, love them because they are human even though we don't agree with them, and live our lives as Americans!
    God day and God bless you all.

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

      amen.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
    • New Mexico

      That is an excellent response. Intelligent and sensible. I agree 100%.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
  5. John

    Why are all Christian opinion articles on CNN from very liberal theologians?

    May 15, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
    • Oneforall777

      Liberal? I don't see this man as a man of Faith as we know it to be. He has formed his own Faith, not Faith from Christ. Massive deception, twisting the Bible, typical of the adversary.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
    • Common Sense

      They are not. You are being a drama queen.

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

      because you can hear the fanatics at church

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

      Why do you and others like you so ready to label something "LIBERAL" like it's a bad thing. This man's views are just another point of view..one which you christians REFUSE to even consider. It is all in the interpretation of these ancient scripts that were written my 'men' who clearly had no idea what the Lord actually felt about loving eveyone as you would love yourself. It's the religous fanatics who've put the evil in anything/anyone who disagrees with them. Shame on you for your narrow-minded intolerance.

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

      Narrow minded intolerance? I didn't realize I had expressed an opinion on anything, other than my perception of the articles on the site.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
  6. Quid Malmborg in Plano TX

    "Thou shalt not suffer a snitch to live."

    ~ ~ ~ G. Gordon Liddy

    May 15, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
  7. RASAK

    Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

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

      Thou shalt be fed feet first into a wood chipper. Thus sayeth the lord of mercy!

      May 15, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
    • Quid Malmborg in Plano TX

      Rasak: IRON MASK Let their beards grow out over a period of years within the confines of that mask. Don't forget to lock them away in a dungeon somewhere. HTH!!!

      May 15, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
  8. ReligionIs4Dolts

    Opinion: What Do Robert Heinlein Books Have to Say About Being G@y?

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

      Who cares? Harry Potter is all that matters when it comes to my opinion on Teh Gays.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
  9. nate

    There are billions and billions of people acting on emotion with little or no thought. It seems to be the norm for our species.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
  10. aksdad

    Helminiak, like so many today, confuse the compassion Jesus had for people with endorsement of any behavior. When Jesus dismissed the woman taken in adultery he said two things: I don't condemn you, and don't do it again. The appropriate way to deal with people who stumble because of personal failings is to have compassion (we all stumble) and encourage them to overcome the failing.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
    • 311mortimer

      Aksdad you are exactly right. Well said.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
  11. RASAK

    When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord – Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

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

      Don't burn the bull unless you obtain a burn permit from your city of residence. Otherwise Elijah might show up and stomp on your altar.

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

      What, they don't like steak?

      May 15, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
    • Oneforall777

      No. You are on this planet to serve God, not yourself, not your neighbor, not your family, but God, your Creator.

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

      The statement you refer was spoken Metaphorically, he was blessing the act of repentance.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
  12. Jarsbait

    The biggest problem with this article is that it doesn't matter what the Bible says about this – the Bible is not the inerrant code of our national law, nor SHOULD it be.

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

      Our laws are derived from English common law which was derived from–guess what?–the law in the Bible.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
    • manbearpig

      Really, aksdad? So we should have religious law? Sounds kinda like Sharia...

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

      Great point, probably lost on many.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
  13. david esmay

    My take, don't base your life on a book of fiction. Science is the antidote for the poison of religion.

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

      And you turn so many people off science by juxtaposing it with religion. Perhaps if people like you didn't make them sound so counter to one another, more people would be open to the ideas of science. Baby steps, man. Human kind needs baby steps.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • 311mortimer

      Wow David, you hit it right on the head just like Lenin.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
  14. sck

    Why the heck would it matter what the Bible says about anything?

    May 15, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
  15. ricky

    if there were a God i'm sure he would get rid of all of you. you are IMPOSING your religion over everything. so pathetic and what s even more pathetic are these governments who are letting you do that. you wanna believe in fairies? that's ok with me but do not impose that on me.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • 311mortimer

      Ricky do not impose your irreligion on me.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
  16. RASAK

    I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

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

      Depends. How is she at heavy lifting?

      May 15, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
    • BamaDaniel

      What she look like

      May 15, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • robert

      well, that depend on weather shes hot or not!!!

      May 15, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
  17. Todd Lowe

    Thank you for posting a common sense article. The points laid out in it are very clear and, well, are right on. Well said.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
  18. RASAK

    Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians? or Mexicans? I mean they are both our neighbors.

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

      Law of the land not natures law

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

      Ok, so the old testament supports slavery but I have you know that the bible also mentions ethics on a Slave and Master relationtionship. So, according to the bible, there are ethics involved in slavery. Don't just pick and choose a few berries from the bush, but cut the whole bush and take it with you.

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

      But Rasak, remember that you're their neighbor too. Want to be a slave to a Mexican or a Canadian? Which one, or both?

      May 15, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
    • RASAK

      and so, that makes it okay because there is an "ethical" way to own slaves?

      May 15, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
    • Shadowcandy

      No! I'm JUST SAYING IF YOU'RE GOING TO QUOTE SOMETHING FROM THE BIBLE, QUOTE EVERYTHING IN ITS CONTEXT! Don't berry pick.

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

      your friend is wrong dude, you may own either! & do with them what you wish! enjoy !!!!

      May 15, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
    • robert

      the one with the most guns get to be the owner

      May 15, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
  19. vulpecula

    I've met more than one person that had been born and raised christian, only to go to college and study theology, and end up becoming an nontheist. When the Bible is put in context, It's meaning sometimes is so very different from modern interpretations. Some peoples faith can be very rattled by that.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
    • 311mortimer

      Haha let me guess your friend went to a solid Christian college correct? Not one of those left leaning universities that disdain people of faith?

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

      that is correct, they were studying to become priests. In fact there have been articals recently about priests that are atheists, but contenue to run there churches.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
    • vulpecula

      let me try that again. :P

      That is correct, they were studying to become priests. In fact there have been articles recently about priests that have become atheists, but continue to run their churches.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
  20. Ben

    H o m o s e x u a l i t y is a reproductive disorder.

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

      What does the Bible say about lying? You should check it out.

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

      so are some infertile straight men and women but we don't discriminate and we let them marry anyway! you are so ignorant!

      May 15, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
    • larryb

      how is your R E P R O D U C T I O N ben?

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

      No, you are.

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

      What kind of reproductive disorder? There are many

      May 15, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
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