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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. Abe Lincoln

    Gay marriage is a Pandora's box. If gay marriage is allowed, why not any combination of consenting adults? Polygamy? Group marriage? How can we make a judgment and prevent such from occurring? We need to acknowledge that marriage is between a man and a woman. No one should be prevented from having civil rights but marriage is between a man and a woman. No twisting of the Bible will change this.

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

      Dude, America is a pandora's box.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • mendacitysux

      Abe Lincoln – real first gay president

      May 15, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
    • Leigh2

      True.

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

      Oh, I thought that was inter-racial marriage – the bible is against that, too

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

      Abe, the bible seems to allow all sorts of marriage arrangements provided it's only one dude.. Most of the heroic figures had multiple wives and slaves.. Do you really want to go back to that view of marriage, or is this really just about your own bigotry?

      May 15, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • Abe Lincoln

      In my first post, I mentioned marriage should be between one man and one woman. A bigot is one without tolerance for others views. Calling names unnecessary. I have tolerance towards gays but that does not mean I have to agree with their opinion.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
  2. Doobie Doobie Doo

    So says Daniel A. Helminiak. Pope and Bishop of the Universal Church....Ha

    May 15, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
  3. William

    Sam Kinison said it best. "How can a man look at another man's hairy ass and find love?"

    May 15, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
  4. ObjectiveOpinion

    I don't care what the bible says about gays...what does it say about priest that molest young children? The first is anyone's free choice...the second, a crime.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
  5. Foster

    Mr. Daniel A. Helminiak has done some of the worst exegesis, at best, I have seen in a long time. I find his comment, "David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, and Daniel and the palace master were probably lovers." to show very little tact and complete bias. I find his comments as helpful as asking a kkk member about Southern history in the 60's.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
  6. Mm

    So how did,the Catholic priests bibliclally juschild their abuse again?

    May 15, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
  7. ReligionIs4Dolts

    Yahweh is so macho and straight he makes sure to reward the Israelites with the virgin spoils of war:

    Numbers 31:17-18
    17 Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, 18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.

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

      That is the OLD COVENANT MY FRIEND.
      I am the CHIEF of all sinners, saved by the blood of Christ Jesus. With that said, the best illustration I know of over this topic is the Woman at the Well. Jesus didn't condemn her, he gave her HIS Grace, which she so needed. But before she left he said, "NOW GO AND SIN NO MORE". No my words, but HIS. I have gay friends, I love them with all my heart. I sin every day like they do, so I pray that God's judgement will be true and just, for me as it will be for them. That's all I have to say!

      May 15, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
  8. Laila

    God says it is sin, period.

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

      But there is no god...

      May 15, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • momoya

      Then don't do it..

      But you can't tell other people not to do it because you wouldn't want your Muslim neighbors telling you how to live.. It's rude..

      May 15, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • noble

      Except there is no god....so there is that. Besides, "God" has broken every one of the 7 deadly sins....go read the bible.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • El Lobo

      Nothing like a good old man made belief system used to control and enslave mankind while monopolizing power and profit.

      You of the flock should actually learn about the book itself not what is inside of it. Holy cow do humans fall so easily for propaganda and especially if you promise them they will never perish. That book has been used to justify so much hatred and bigotry over the years it is truly shameful.
      If you were going to follow the book than the town elders should be stoning our kids and we should all be ready to invade the Mormons in Salt Lake City. People have picked and chose passages to satisfy whatever evil they wish to commit since they friggin translated the thing. You will never know true freedom living your lives by that book. I am sure some will flag this as abuse but that is because you are scared to face the possibility that you have been used.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
  9. Doctor

    At the end of the day, arguments for or against gay marriage are completely subjective. To legalize gay "marriage" is for the government to pronounce the complete equivalence of straight and gay relationships. If that sounds fine to you then there's nothing anyone can say to convince you otherwise, and the same goes for one who disagrees.

    However, there is an objective side to the issue of same-gender attraction. From an evolutionary standpoint, h o m o s e x u a l i t y could well be characterized as a reproductive disorder, equivalent in effect to sterility or complete lack of libido. The discrimination (think about what the word really means) between gay and straight couples is BUILT INTO NATURE. This is simply indisputable. Now what this has to do with "marriage" is a matter of opinion.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
  10. Leigh2

    I seriously doubt there true believers at CNN, but a few. God sure isn't blessing this network. Then again, maybe news networks aren't even on HIs radar.

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

      I am the CHIEF of all sinners, saved by the blood of Christ Jesus. With that said, the best illustration I know of over this topic is the Woman at the Well. Jesus didn't condemn her, he gave her HIS Grace, which she so needed. But before she left he said, "NOW GO AND SIN NO MORE". No my words, but HIS. I have gay friends, I love them with all my heart. I sin every day like they do, so I pray that God's judgement will be true and just, for me as it will be for them. That's all I have to say!

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

      You're kidding right? Nothing in the bible should be taken seriously. Its a work of fiction. Sure you can take some good points like....well, are there any good points? You dont need god to be good.

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

      Also, if you're a woman, go read Timothy 2:12 and shut the 5uck up.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • icy

      that is so true leigh, do you have a facebook account ? (jennifer here)

      May 15, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
  11. noble

    I am amused at those who are religious beyond reason. On the first day man created God. Those who are religious are the worst kind of violators to their own faiths. They judge others. If you actually read the bible, God himself commits every one of the seven deadly sins himself! Now I am going down to my local Barnes and Noble and putting all of the Bibles, Torahs, and Qur'ans into the fiction section.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
  12. Karen

    A new heretic on CNN. What Bible are you reading, Mr. Helminiak? What do you do with Leviticus 18:22? You are wrong indeed, and with your position as a professor and teacher of young minds, that's a scary place to be at odds with God Almighty.

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

      Agree with u karen

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

      Okay – so are you also following ALL of Leviticus? No shellfish, no clothes with mixed fibers, throwing out chairs that have been sat in by menstruating women?

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

      Amen, Karen

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

      And what are your credentials Karen? And how "Leviticus Approved" are YOU?

      May 15, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
  13. Marisol

    Jesus is coming soon, not to save the world but to judge everyone. He is giving everyone time to repent from their sins, and to receive Him in their hearts as their Savior.

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

      But the neon sign says "Jesus Saves"

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

      Jesus has been coming for years...easy to say he's still coming...I suspect he thinks that you are not worth his time...

      May 15, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
  14. c.brown

    This guy need to READ the BIBLE;

    22 Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination. 23 Neither shalt thou lie with any beast to defile thyself therewith: neither shall any woman stand before a beast to lie down thereto: it is confusion.
    Lev 18:22-23 (KJV)

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

      The same book says that I can own slaves.. Want to reconsider?

      May 15, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
    • Rick Worthington

      Thats right my Brother in christ . He has not the truth in him so all he can speak is Lies because he knows not the truth.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • El Lobo

      He quoted that verse. Maybe you need to read the whole article!

      May 15, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
    • Colorado Matt

      this guy is an ORDAINED PRIEST in ROME. You think he hasn't read the Bible? lol.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • Satros

      And you need to read the article. The author points out that there are terms used in the bible that were poorly translated, and there is currently an ongoing effort to retranslate the bible to meanings closer to what the meanings of the words used were in the past. Did you know that the Greeks had like 20 some different words for 'love', that meant different kinds of love? From parental love to sibling love to love of one's partner, to love of one's work. Yet we simply classify it all now as 'love', despite the intense variation in the meaning.

      Saying the English version of the bible is the end all be all, when different words have different meanings all over the world even today, is ignorant and in need of greater reading and study to learn.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
  15. Jerry Pelletier

    That is the problem with liberals, they are sheep, Obama is Ok with it and the sheep will follow.
    I don't care what Obama thinks about gay's
    I don't care what Romney thinks about gay's
    I don't care what the bible thinks about gay'
    My opinion about gays is all that matters to me!

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

    Who cares?

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

      people who are being denied equal rights care!

      May 15, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
  17. bob572176

    God accepts all people we are all God's Children we are all born in his likeness and most of all those that do not accept the gays are not real christians. Real Christians would accept people for who they are. In my opinion gays are here to see who are real christians and who are so called christians those who accept the gays are the real christians those who don't well wouldn't want to be you on judgement day. Just a test by God to see who His real followers are.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
    • Doobie Doobie Doo

      Nope.

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

      That's what God says about gays in the bible, go back and read the bible again, a real christian will never accepted them as God himself don't either.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      @Bob
      Oh, brother!

      You've swallowed satan's lie – hook, line and sinker!

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

      Are you serious?? LMAO!

      May 15, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • FreeThinker101

      It is so refreshing as an atheist to see a common like this.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
  18. Doobie Doobie Doo

    The Bible and the Church go together. You can't separate the two.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
  19. RASAK

    My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16 .Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

    May 15, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
    • Doobie Doobie Doo

      Context?

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

      Rasak if you're not happy with what God asked us, then wait till the day you die and go ahead and argue with him then, i can't promise you that your behind would be in a safe place after that.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • Right

      You might want to study a bit of church history before trying to sound smart. The Gentile Christians were given waivers on all those Old Testiment nit picking rules about 1,970 years ago.

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

      I agree with the Scoobie Doo guy. I really am glad you took the time to find specific passages from the Bible, but as with any book or movie or narrative, the context is really important. If I only watched the part of the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy dumps water on the Wicked Witch and she melts, I might think Dorothy was really a terrible, merciless person. Fortunately we know the rest of the story and find that she isn't. Leviticus is where God reveals and records the old Jewish law. In doing so he was being merciful. Why should God care if you wear two fabrics together? Truth be told, mankind's rebellion (described vividly in Romans 1) against God means that God owes us nothing–certainly not a roadmap to "making up" with God, which is what the Jewish law is. God has different reasons for the painfully detailed and obscure laws and seemingly harsh punishments, but God had reasons for everything He did. Sometimes he was trying to eradicate customs related to pagan worship like wearing earrings or tattoos. Sometimes he was emphasizing His holiness. At other times he was trying to distinguish Israel as a special case study on his love and grace. Honestly, God didn't and doesn't always offer explanations. As He points out in Job (while mercifully stooping down to Job's level to answer some of Job's questions) why should the unequaled creator of the universe explain ANYTHING if He doesn't choose to. Just some thoughts. Sorry for rambling.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
  20. Bill

    God created Adam and Eve......not Adam and Steve !

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

      How original.

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

      Amen!!

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

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

      and snow-white kissed a frog that turned into a prince.

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

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

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

      ...and a snake that talks...and a devil that burns...and 4 horsemen!! snakes and devils and horsemen oh my!

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

      Steve was the "Adam" of the parallel civilization of Nod.

      Read the Bible. Prove I'm wrong.

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

      Oh gee...how original...never heard that before....idiot.

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

      Really? I thought God created everyone, including Adam and Steve. Just because he didn't create a gay couple first (because then how would they reproduce?) doesn't mean he didn't create gay people, or doesn't like them. I haven't noticed the presence of gay people in the world reducing the population much. So that statement is meaningless.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:52 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.