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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. Time-less

    What utter non-sense, to suggest that those who lived 2000 years ago, or even 10,000 years ago did not understand the basic functions of the male and female organs is ridiculous.. The author may rationalize this behavior, but there is a biological truth that cannot be denied.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • momoya

      What biological truth is that, exactly? that certain patches of skin with certain cells have certain routes to the brain? Because really, there's no biological need for anything going in anyone's mouth, is there? Do you work at being a dumbazz or does it come naturally to you?

      May 15, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
    • david

      momoya. After your reply, do you have even the slightest notion of the irony in you calling someone a "dumbazz"?

      May 15, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
    • i love jesus

      Momoya. I seriously will be praying for you. You need it. I hope you see the light. Id hate for you to spend eternity in the wrong place. to me your salvation is just as importantas mine. May God bless you.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
  2. ReligionIs4Dolts

    Being g@y can't be all that bad if the pope has now started allowing condom use for butt s&x since it helps prevent disease.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
  3. Kanston

    It is very interesting that we have strayed a way from GOD and allow our passionate desires to take over judgement. A man and a man or woman and a woman cannot be used by GOD to bring life into the earth. Please read the entire Bible and not just pick out what seems good to your ear.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • Anie

      SO you're telling me that old folks can't marry, and neither can the impotent? Because marriage is only about popping out the brats, right?

      May 15, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
    • i love jesus

      Kanston,,you are very right! and Anie, Im sorry you think those things. you really should try reading the bible and actually try living your life with God. I garentee youll see changes in your life for the BETTER!!! : ) JESUS LOVES YOU and ill be praying for both of you.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
  4. i love jesus

    you all twist the word of God to your liking. You take out words and add new ones to create a completly diffrent meaning. God does NOT HATE gays. He still loves you jus as you earthly father your heavenly father loves you even more then that. Sure they say that being gey is a chemical imbalance in the brain but God can heal that! You do have a choice. Yes we all sin. were human but thats why Jesus died on the cross so we canrepent our sins. Im not trying to preach to you or anger any one I just want my voice to beherd as all of yours have. Jesus does love you. God Loves you. So I do too as a brother or sister, an I pray god touches your heart and opens your blinded eyes. "As in the days of Noah, What a fool, they say,To build a boat on sand,What a fool, they say. Its never rained before..
    As in the days of Noah,So it will be in the coming of the Son of Man,And what a fool, they say, To fast and pray,And what a fool, they say, C’mon it’s been two thousand years, Do you really think He’s coming? C’mon and just get real.And remember this verse,“.. many, many scoffers will come”…And when the rain starts falling,It’s too late
    Jus remember that....

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

      IF your god is a mass murderer for the reasons you say then I don't think how I feel about him is going to change much of his hateful and ridiculous plan.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
    • i love jesus

      Its your choice. You wont be murdered.? really? that was cute an immature,but seriously. hell is the death YOU choose. GOD LOVES YOU AND WANTS YOU TO BE WITH HIM IN A WONDERFUL AND BEAUTIFUL PARADICE!. Ill pray for you : ) Jus remember its you making the choice to spend eternity in hell. Im not sayingyour aa bad person I jus think your not making the best of choices. Im sorry we disagree. I hope you have a wonderful day!!! : ) JESUS LOVES YOU

      May 15, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
  5. Smarter than you are

    The Bible is a nice book. Nothing but nice stories and other borrowed myths and legends. Nice book, though. Read it a few times. Glad I did not actually believe a word of it. But it IS a nice book.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • Leigh2

      Too bad, you mock what you haven't even read.

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

      Good book not all myth google science and bible

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

      I mock the bible and I read it continually even though I've read it about a dozen times, now.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
  6. bible scholar?

    God created Adam and Eve. Not Adam and Steve!

    May 15, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
  7. M

    Buffy 3:12 "And lo, they came to us, tho they were in our image, of our kind: they reached around our wretched bodies from behind, and did for us that which would later be done upon them, hopefully."

    May 15, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
  8. Steve

    CNN and its followers-pushing the liberal media and its agenda. God will show us all someday.

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

      Well, god can forgive his enemies like he wants us to do or he can fvck off.. Any god who would create an eternal torture chamber isn't worthy of your worship.. Stop being a coward and do a little research into your bible.. It's a book of revised myths.. Stop being so scared of it already.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • JesusChrist Son of God Son of Mary Brother to the Holy Ghost

      Yea, what day is that? You mindless religious sheep are blind to the truth.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
    • i love jesus

      God created adam and eve to worship him, they lived an innocent life. there was only ONE rule they had,dont eat from the tree of good and evil.eve was tempted an ate from it as well as adam after eve had sinned. God didnt create a "tourture chamber" for us. it was intened for his fallen angles,,satan or ludicris,the devil. but if you choose to follow satan you will be punished with him. Also Hell is a complete abscence of God. Which whiether you want to believe or not is the worst thing ever. Im sorry you veiw God an the bible the way you do. but jus as a remoinder he does love you. an he has given you a choice to follow him and spend eternity in heaven or if you choose to follow satan,hell. again, ill be praying for you and your salvation.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
  9. ReligionIs4Dolts

    What does the bible say about reckless driving? NOTHING! But that didn't stop the pope from delcaring reckless driving is now a sin! HA HA HA HA!

    May 15, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
  10. Peter

    Galatians 6:6-8
    Amplified Bible (AMP)
    6 Let him who receives instruction in the Word [of God] share all good things with his teacher [contributing to his support].
    7 Do not be deceived and deluded and misled; God will not allow Himself to be sneered at (scorned, disdained, or mocked [a]by mere pretensions or professions, or by His precepts being set aside.) [He inevitably deludes himself who attempts to delude God.] For whatever a man sows, that and [b]that only is what he will reap.
    8 For he who sows to his own flesh (lower nature, sensuality) will from the flesh reap decay and ruin and destruction, but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
  11. Just me

    You need to go back to that theology school dude! All they taught you was how to take things out of context.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
  12. JesusChrist Son of God Son of Mary Brother to the Holy Ghost

    I put jesus on a cross because he pi$$ed me off. Next, I'm doing the priest.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
  13. JT

    The problem is people interrupted the Bible to fit their needs.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
  14. Cooperate

    Bible smible... You religious folks are a hoot. Try thinking.... You follow your faith because you happened to be born to parents that blindly followed the "faith" of their parents... Nobody bothers to even pick up a simple history book ... This crap was written by "people" to control "people". There have been many religions throughout history... Just as many of them have come and gone... so to with the batch that is with us now. It's a bunch of fooey... Try thinking ....

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

      Try to Cooperate that with God the day you will die, i have a feeling he won't be too patient with you.

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

      Have you ever read the Bible?

      May 15, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • JesusChrist Son of God Son of Mary Brother to the Holy Ghost

      Cooperate is right. Religion was created to control the mindless sheep that religious people are.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • Leigh2

      You have a distinct lack vision ~ spiritually speaking, that is. History twists and turns and God's hand has moved through all of it ~ and there are examples where it definitely moved. And the advancement was against Satan in the spiritual realm at every point of historical significance. And the final chapter of history is drawing nigh. I suggest you toss off your disbelief and seek God ~ before it's too late for you.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • Jeff Friesen

      Corporate, if your statement were true and consistent with world history, then Christianity would be only a small faith practiced by the physical descendents of the 120 or so Jewish disciples of Jesus. And you are asking others to think?

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

      Back in the day... you folks would have sworn up and down that the earth was flat too.... cuz the church said so... oh brother...

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

      "She", YouRwrong. "She". God's a she. You don't even know that?

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

      CNN creates articles like this to control mindless sheep...

      May 15, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
  15. meaz23

    The bible says republicans should be executed.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
  16. sam

    Leveticus 20:30 says "If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable, they must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads." That shows to me the seriousness of this sin.

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

      Leviticus also says that I can own and trade in slavery.. Be serious.

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

      And kill the child that disobeys its parents. Serious transgression there, too.

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

      sam – what about all the other stuff leviticus says is a sin? Why do you ignore those?

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

      You conveniently forgot the "you shall not lie carnally with your neighbor’s wife, to defile yourself with her." part which is as equal as all the sins mentioned.

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

      Leviticus 20:13 not 20:30.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
  17. SpringBranch

    And once more CNN puts out dribble like this. Keep looking for the fringe Christian views out there to advance your hidden agenda.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
  18. lee s

    Yeayeayea, and your loving god killed every firrst born son of the people HE created and is supposed to love equally at one point? If he is all knowung and wise, why would he create something he knew was going to go against his wishes, unless he isnt A. real, or B. perfect, which in the case of B, there still is no god becasue god is perfect right? Well, except for children born with horrible illnesses to punish there parents for a life of service and worship. Oh derp.

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

      God is perfect, there's no place for imperfections.

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

      For being so perfect, he sure does f.uck a lot of things up...

      May 15, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
  19. Laila

    The writer of this article is g.ay.

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

      Why do you care? Can't handle the truth if he is hetero?

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

      Ahhh. You seem very intelligent. Can you share more of your thoughts? I want to be enlightened.

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

      very christian with your insults...dumb, but christian

      May 15, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
  20. inewt

    moldy old book with no relevance to contemporary life

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

      No joke – The main character in this book was born in the year 0. 1492 years later many thought Columbus would sail off of the flat Earth. In 1616 the Catholic church found Galileo guilty of heresy and spent the rest of his life under house arrest for proving that the Earth was not the center of the Universe, but it was the Sun. Please quit wasting your life on such ideas written at a time when mankind was nothing but primitive, had a life expectency of 35 and thought thunder was God's anger. We've figured it out! Now ya'll can catch up on your rest on Sunday mornings and have a nice breakfast when you get up! The nation needs to decide how they feel about gay marriage without referencing the make belief ancient scrolls.

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

      Actually, no one ever thought Columbus would sail off the edge of the Earth. Every educated person, inside and outside of the church knew the Earth was round. They just thought it was much larger than Colubus' calculations said it was. They were right. He was wrong, and if there hadn't bee the Americas, he would have died of thirst somewhere in the Pacific. Read a book sometime.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
    • Right

      Galileo was put under house arrest not for his scientific views, which he studied under the sponsorship of the church. He was placed under house arrest for writing his theories in a debate style, with an intentionally insulting character as the Pope. So he directly insulted one of the most powerful men in Europe and got house arrest in a luxury villa.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:03 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.