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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. JackBeHumble

    An article is not going to change intrenched minds. I think that the President himself demonstrated how views will change over time... He had a talk with his daughters, who had a different viewpoint than his. When he honestly could no longer defend his old position with thim, he evolved.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  2. Woody

    The bible was written 300 years after Jesus and the first bible was written in Greek and the bible you see today is nothing like the original as it has been revised over time . The fish stories only got fishier . From a former Altar boy .

    May 15, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • Mike

      Sorry to hear your hostility, maybe there is reaso for that. When you look at The Bible and it's origin, the proof is quite dramatic that this is the real deal, moreso than any other book in history! Not enough time to explain but you should do some research.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • perryw

      Wrong. Paul was not 300 years old. Nor was Mathew, Mark, Luke or John. Education is a wonderful thing. Try it sometime.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • Jen

      Do your research. There are 5600 copies of the New Testament, they are dated to the 2nd century A.D., less than 100 years from the death of Christ. There are over 20,000 archeological digs confirming the places and events recorded in scripture, and many more pieces of evidence of the historical accuracy of the Bible.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • Put this in your bible and smoke it

      @Mike Can you provide some specific examples of this "dramatic proof"? No? Didn't think so.

      May 16, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • Bet

      @Jen Archeological digs have also uncovered proof of Mayan temples, so I guess human sacrifice is okay too. The bible was written by man to control other men, and god doesn't exist.

      May 16, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
  3. Linda

    The Bible was written by men inspired by God (picture a secretary taking dictation), and it was meant to be read and understood by all – not to be disected and socially analyzed by phsycho-whatevers who want to interpret it for the "uneducated". Please, read the scripture references for yourself and draw your own conclusions. They are not hard to understand.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • Linda Is A Fool

      So what language did God dictate the Bible in? Sure as heck wasn't English, which didn't exist for hundreds of years after. So when I'm reading the Bible, I'm not reading God's dictation. I'm reading God's dictation that's been translated a half dozen times into languages that don't have the precise phraseology of God's original.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • max

      Soooo... You are basically telling me then that EVERYTHING in the bible is literal? Hmmm? Like the 7 headed beast in revelations, or hell, anything in revelations, its all symbolism and meant to be interpreted. Something that we tend to forget, one of the great things that was allegedly gifted to us as humans is the power to think for ourselves. Live by basic guidelines in being a decent person. Stories are stories, they are meant to be fables where the outcome is the lesson, not the chain of events themselves. Sigh... Its just like believing that Aesop's fables all took place historically, or Grimm's Fairy Tales are all historic events. Get real, and realize that we have a brain, so use it!

      May 16, 2012 at 2:48 am |
  4. Bruce

    I guess you did not like my comment

    May 15, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  5. William dodge

    I'm gay God said to me it's ok my Son .

    May 15, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  6. BRENDA

    @ REASONABLY YOUR AN IDIOT WITH ISSUE GO CRAWL BACK UNDER THE ROCK WHICH YOU CAME FROM .

    May 15, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • Bet

      If you are going to create socks, you may want to turn off your caps so it's not so obvious, Frank.

      May 16, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
  7. sftommy

    The Secret Gospel of Mark, purportedly found in a letter written by Clement of Alexandria:
    Fits between what are verses 34 and 35 of Mark 10:

    "And they come into Bethany. And a certain woman whose brother had died was there. And, coming, she prostrated herself before Jesus and says to him, 'Son of David, have mercy on me.' But the disciples rebuked her. And Jesus, being angered, went off with her into the garden where the tomb was, and straightway a great cry was heard from the tomb. And going near Jesus rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb. And straightway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand and raised him, seizing his hand. But the youth, looking upon him, loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him. And going out of the tomb they came into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after six days Jesus told him what to do and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the kingdom of God. And thence, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan."

    Could be a forgery, could be interpreted as a baptism, could have been kicked out at First Nicaea...

    May 15, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • david

      Or could it be Jesus and the boy were getting it on. You know the old line " I am going to show you heaven"

      May 15, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
  8. Valentina

    Read Romans Ch. 1, verse 20 through the end of the chapter.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • sftommy

      Romans, not written by Jesus, but by Paul who drew upon the Old Testament Wisdom of Solomon, to add a list of of reproaches not voiced by Jesus in His quest to free men from suffering. Hasn't enough Unchristian action has been justified by Paul's epistles already?

      Let liars lie.
      Let sectarians quarrel.
      Let critics malign.
      Let enemies accuse.
      Let the devil do his worst.
      But see to it nothing hinders you from fulfilling with joy the work God has given you.

      He has not commanded you to be admired or esteemed.
      He has never bidden you defend your character.
      He has not set you at work to contradict falsehood
      which Satan’s or God’s servants may start to peddle
      or to track down every rumor that threatens your reputation.
      If you do these things, you will do nothing else.
      You will be at work for yourself and not for the Lord.

      As true for gays & lesbians as the early persecuted Christian martyrs.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
  9. vittoriokiss

    The Bible was a Soap Opera of its time, it was so popular it became a book of god. The people who wrote these stories must be saying, these modern people are dumba$$es

    May 15, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • Patti

      I agree with you vittoriokiss. The bible is THE original "Peyton Place!"

      May 15, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
  10. Fast Fred

    Who fux*ing cares what the bible say's an who's bible are you reading anyway.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • Mike

      there is only 1 Bible........don't mock what you don't know. I would not call you a name for not believing, why the hatred?

      May 15, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • Bet

      There are many versions of the bible. Which one should we use? The Latin Vulgate, King James, New King James, Good News, New American Standard, New International Version, Common English Bible, Jeffersonian Bible, Aramaic Targums, Tyndale, Textus Receptus?

      May 16, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  11. vancouverron

    What's the bible's stance on the use of blackberries while driving?

    May 15, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      the usual - you burn in hell.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • Mike

      The Bible clearly tells us to follow the laws.......unless the manmade laws are against God's laws. So, don't use cell phines while driving and consider all the other people out there.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • Bet

      The King James says to stone you to death, but the New International Version says to cut off your head.

      May 16, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
  12. heywaitaminit

    Shocking what you find out about the Bible when you take the time to read it rather than thump it.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
  13. Realist

    There are so many things wrong with religious people, it's difficult to know which to find more offensive: 1) How they ignore explicit portions of their precious texts (e.g. sections on slaves, not wearing mixed fabrics, "love thy neighbor") while rallying around other weak (or non-existent) portions to support their own hate; 2) How they believe that god actually exists, and that somehow their favorite text is actually "the word of god"; 3) That they feel the need to wage what effectively is war to assert their own religious beliefs on others, no matter the cost. I believe that if there is a hell, the lowest rungs of it are especially reserved for such people.

    Don't support gay marriage? Then don't have one. Quit meddling in the lives of people who feel and believe differently. What you believe may be right for you, but it's not for me. Deal with it.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • Mike

      Your take on "religious people' is not far off. let me say that there are many fine believers who do not advocate some of the things that are in churches and religions today. I believe there is a God, His Son is Jesus Christ and He did write the Bible through faithful followers. I do not condemn you for not believeing so don't condemn me for believing.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • Bet

      Well, believing in fairy tales is easier than thinking for themselves, I suppose.

      May 16, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
  14. Jenny

    What bothers me most is that this non-issue is going to be the deciding factor for some voters. Whether your gay neighbors get married won't have an impact on whether or not you can pay your health care bills or your morgage. Stay focused people.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • Paula

      I agree. The topic is purely a distraction.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  15. perryw

    I do not agree with Daniel A. Helminiak, but I do not agree with allot of people. Ain't the USA great. Hear other people and don't trash them just because you don't agree with them. Most posters here get their kicks trashing others beliefs. Sad.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      yep, i trash prejudice, h.omophobic, misogynistic morons every chance i get.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • perryw

      Bootyfunk.
      You live a dark life. Someday hate will eat you up.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • david

      Bootyfunk

      That name. Lets see booty is no longer the treasure a pirate may aquire. In common usage it means a persons ass. And funk means nasty, smelly.

      Translation a smelly a..hole

      And I'll bet if you were flipped over (pardon the expression) we would find the type of person you trash.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
  16. Bob Lewis

    Christians, like people of all religions, simply take from the Bible what fits their personal prejudice and use that as a weapon to harm others, with religion as the shield. It's all a huge, flaming bunch of crap anyway.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
  17. Zaggar

    Corinthians condemns what it calls "effeminacy."

    May 15, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • david

      says who....check the translation

      May 15, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
  18. aaronavtr

    ROMANS CHAPTER 1:27-32

    27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

    28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;

    29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,

    30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,

    31 Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:

    32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • Walter

      Booyah! Well noted! Of course, I'm sure that the "unclean desires" that God gives the evil over to are just "cultural" and not REALLY unclean in God's eyes.

      Figures that the author of this piece is a papist. From this to choirboys, all in good time, I'm sure.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • Valentina

      That's exactly what I just cited for this supposed theologian Helminiak to read.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • Christians Are Fools

      And the late John Boswell demonstrated that the two key words in Greek in that passage that supposedly condemn ho – mos-exuality are mistranslated. They best translate as "male prost-itute".

      May 15, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
  19. Jason

    How did the author not mention Leviticus at all? Tell the whole story please.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • StandFast

      It's in the paragraph that begins: "In this passage, Paul is referring ...."

      May 15, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • Valentina

      He is NOT trying to tell the whole story ... it's obviously selective heck job.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • Simon

      Enlighten us.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • Laura

      If you had read the whole article throughly, instead of just taking a blanket position against it, you would have noticed that he did discuss Leviticus

      May 15, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • JackBeHumble

      If we are going to live according to Leviticus, we'd all better get working on our pitching arms. "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." I believe Christ fulfilled the laws of Moses, replacing them with his two laws.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • KV

      Go back and read again, he talks about it quite clearly about halfway through the article.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • John

      He did. Read the whole article please

      May 15, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • Joe

      Jason,

      If you read your Bible like you supposedly read the article then I understand your position. He mentions Leviticus in his article. But I'm sure he didn't save the things you wanted to hear

      May 15, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • Flappy

      Because no one takes Leviticus seriously thats why. If we did we would be stoning disobedient children and sacrificing animals on horned alters. Not to mention we couldn't wear cotton/polyester fabric blends. I'm not saying I necessarily disagree with the last one but I'm just saying.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
  20. Chris

    The bible says we should also stone disobedient children, that a woman on her monthly should not be near men. All the bible is is the most published piece of fiction out there.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:31 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.