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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. Scholar

    For teachings from the Bible that are frankly illegal today, go see Genesis 19:34 and following.

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

      New Testament...Ever thought about what that ment...no, because thinking causes you trouble doesnt it? You feel depressed and guilty when the drugs or the drinking stops? There is a reason for that....

      May 15, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
  2. larryb

    the writer understands latin and probably greek and can actually read older unaltered versions of the bible and knows much more about what was written than some evangeical that can only "read" the bible

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

      he's changing it to suit his views. the bible is very clear about killing g.ays.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
    • El Lobo

      your hate filled translation of the bible is clear. Have you read the untranslated books?

      May 15, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
    • Autocross

      Why stop at gays? Why don't we go back to killing all non-believers? And those who eat pig? and those who don't pray 6 times a day facing Mecca? Ah, sorry, I got you confused with the other whackjobs.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
  3. Elwyn

    As a conservative Christian, I can say to the author of this article: WELL SAID!

    May 15, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
    • adkerj

      Your not a christian

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

      you are no Christian if you agree with this article or Obama's stance...

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

      Is that for you two to decide?

      May 15, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
    • Autocross

      Oh you fool. You are exposing yourself to the wrath of your brethren here – others have been stoned/decapitated/excomunicated/lynched for lesser sins... all in the name of god's love, of course.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
  4. Bootyfunk

    is it April Fool's or something? this has got to be a joke article.

    May 15, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
  5. Scholar

    Marriage is first a legal contract where a license to marry is obtained by a couple from the civil authority and the oaths of marriage are administered by someone who is authorized by the civil authority to take oaths.

    A religious rite is not necessary for the marriage contract.

    Religious bodies have no voice before courts where cases of marriage equality are argued. The role of amici curiae has been denied to religious bodies in courts of law in cases regarding marriage equality.

    Including religious arguments in cases of marriage equality is misleading and serves only to foster discrimination.

    May 15, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
  6. nopark

    So funny that the world who hates CHRIST and every body that wants to walk after him ,will always try to fit his words around their own sin to make people believe that their sinful lifestyles is what GOD loves and ordained...Give me a break world...Its OK if you don't want Christ...Its OK if you feel that HOLINESS is not what you want...its OK...Cause nobody goes to the father but by the spirit that pulls him there...If your not being pulled than i guess God thinks your up at the same level as HIM...Maybe you don't need to be pulled...Maybe you are Gods...Hmmm...just a point to say that i can make the bible say anything i want if i wanted to be corrupt...Unfortunately your wisdom is foolishness and a sign to the believer that the TRUE GOD of Abraham,Isaac and Jacob still reigns...!! And every knee will eventually bow and say that he is Christ!!!

    May 15, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
    • M

      Pot, meet kettle.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      jesus supported slavery. fact.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
    • Really

      Couldn't agree more... people without the spirit think that they can interpret/understand the bible... as a result we get articles like this trash...

      May 15, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
    • daneste613

      no park, I think a big, big bug has parked on your brain. Your christ is who?? I have no idea. You are so doomed into mythology that you cannot distinguish reality any longer.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:12 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      "people without the spirit" = "non cult members"

      May 15, 2012 at 10:12 pm |
    • El Lobo

      Historical works of fiction and they fall hook, line, and sinker! Do you think the authors knew the monster they would create? People don't even trust facts anymore if they are contradicted in some bible verse. Humanity is doomed because of these man made belief systems that are used to terrorize and enslave while monopolizing power and profit.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
    • nopark

      To M:: Where all kettles (including YOU and ME)...daneste613:: Mythology? What do you know about Mythology that you can teach me;;;Go ahead with your ignorance and assume that you know it all...I have only question to anyone that is serious about searching for the Christ....Show me resources proving me the existence of the body of Christ's dead body and ill be glad to show you resources that DO prove the existence of the Resurrection of the body...The KEY component to start the wheels turning in ones so called brain....

      May 15, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
    • Really

      It's funny... people think by calling the bible false and calling people ignorant who believe the bible to be the Word of God – they think the bible is obsolete and full of lies/stories/old fashion .... if they would do just a little studying themselves – they will find how true and accurate the Bible is... people have been trying to destroy and disprove the bible for hundreds and hundreds of years... these lame arguments against the bible have been all heard before – with no success... how about try to prove the bible wrong and seek the truth for yourself...

      May 15, 2012 at 10:38 pm |
    • El Lobo

      You think that Noah put all 10 billion species in a boat? Are you seriously going to make us bring up all the others?

      May 15, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
  7. Cooperate

    Why are religious fanatics to hate filled and intolerant... If there was really a god... I doubt he'd encourage such unfriendly behavior... (I thought he was all forgiving...)

    May 15, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      you obviously haven't read the bible. says to kill g.ays.

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

      Cooperate even if you read the Bible a hundred times over you would never understand it, people who are blind won't understand it, i mean blind at the heart. There is a special place waiting for you and for people like you when your time comes.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
  8. fatJoe

    You are very much deceived. And you are arguing based on your deception. One day you shall know the truth and the Truth will set you free. God is the same today, yesterday and tomorrow. You can make all the laws you want but it will not change the moral standard or laws of God. If anyone can marry whoever they love why don't we allow siblings who love each other to marry. You can stand in a garage and call yourself a car but it will never make you a car. You can buy a car and try and drive in the sea but it will never make the car a boat. He who created man saw that it was not good for man to live alone so he created a woman for him, not another man or buddy for him. The good news is no sin is greater than the blood of the Lord Jesus christ. It is available to those who come to him and believe in Him. He will open your eyes to the TRUTH. You are blinded by the Prince of this world. May you be forgiven by God because you cannot see since you are blind

    May 15, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
    • M

      People understand that like-like couples cannot have children. That's obvious. What you fail to understand is that se xuality is not a philosophical agreement with a deity!

      May 15, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
    • Leigh2

      They aren't believers. They may not know who the 'Prince of the World' is. It's okay to post it, but if you don't care to post him by that name, I will ~Satan~.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
    • daneste613

      Joe, I think you are way too fat.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
    • El Lobo

      Dude listen to yourself! Can't you see the farce in the stories? I cannot believe so many people have given up analytical thinking and just slurpped up these factless, unproven fairy tales. Humanity is so screwed.

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

      But what does everything have to do about having kids? Can't you see that the primary driver of 4,000 years ago (have more kids than the tribe across the river so you can defend your land) does no longer apply today, when 7 billion people are making this earth overcrowded, dirty and dried out? That the world has changed, and that having people love each other without contributing to overpopulation may actually be a GOOD thing for mankind?

      May 15, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
    • Laura

      You know they're nuts when they start sounding like Frothy Santorum.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
  9. 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 as abuse but that is because you are scared to face the facts.

    May 15, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
    • fearfighter

      Nice!! Fear is the only reason why all these so called worshippers and believers do anything at all! You have to make people scared as hell so they will never question the truth! Oh I believe there is a God but the one on this planet is ALL Man made...

      May 15, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
    • mylez mariucci

      obviously u've never actcually read the bible....the fact that u brought up elders and stoning of people is evident of this...this shows that u, like most people, missed the point being made during the bible.....

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

      Just like i previously said to someone else here, if you don't like what God asked us to do then all you have to do is wait for the day you die and tell him that face to face and we'll see what happens to you after.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
    • Autocross

      For once I agree with you, YouRwrong. Why doesn't everyone stop judging others – if you believe in judgment day, let your god do his job, chuckle in the meantime thinking about how all set you will be for all eternity, and how others will really regret it – and leave us the f*** alone in the meantime!

      May 15, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
    • El Lobo

      Deuteronomy:
      21:18 If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them:
      21:19 Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;
      21:20 And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.
      21:21 And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die

      May 15, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
    • El Lobo

      You were saying mylez?

      May 15, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
    • El Lobo

      Autocross.....Who needs to leave who alone? When other rights as human beings are infringed based on a historical book fraught with errors and rife with hatred than somebody had better start to speak up. I would bet the Jesus would be teaching that if he were around today.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
    • Autocross

      El Lobo, you obviously did not get the sarcasm in my answer...

      May 15, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
  10. Really

    CNN owes me 5 minutes of my life back... this was a waste of time of a worthless article.. nonsense...

    May 15, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
  11. cosmicsnoop

    My take: I'm not reading this because I don't really care what a book of mythology says about anything, I'm good.

    May 15, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
  12. Frank

    Except that it is freaking disgusting...nasty...unnatural…it doesn’t produce offspring so obviously we didn’t evolve that way or we weren’t created that way whichever you believe. There is at least some hope since they can’t reproduce naturally and if when socialistic medicine finally takes hold in a few years only a few gay friends will be able to afford invitro, if they find a host or they are lesbians. By the way if you actually go and read those places the article discussed, from an objective perspective, he sounds like a plumber discussing a surgery. That aside…it just isn’t natural or useful…and it is gross…

    May 15, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
    • momoya

      Oh it's gross.. Why didn't you say so.. Are sewer workers immoral in your fantasy world?

      May 15, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
    • ReligionIs4Dolts

      exception to your exceptions.....when it's with women

      May 15, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
    • Autocross

      Making snowballs doesn't produce offspring either. Does it make it gross?

      May 15, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
    • BamaDaniel

      Second that

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

      Thats the best you have...yea it is disgusting...and I have worked with sewer before...but I dont claim to enjoy it as some kind of exciting event....ask anybody who deals with things that are disgusting....they dont enjoy it...wow you guys are really slow....

      May 15, 2012 at 10:12 pm |
    • momoya

      Frank, you moron, little kids think kissing and sleeping with a spouse is "gross.". Try growing up.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
    • backatya

      Speaking of gross you must be one of those individuals that I see along with your fat pig wife when I am out and about. I get disgusted thinking about the vile things that the two of you do with your gross bodies.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
    • Frank

      It is ok momoya...I did grow up, little kids do think that, that is interesting that you came up with that. When did you stop thinking that? Yesterday. I know there wasnt anyway you remembered that for any longer than just a day with your intellectual capacity...:)

      May 15, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
    • YouRwrong

      Maybe gay people would to love to works in sewers, i'm sure they can clean the place up pretty good, nice and shiny.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
    • Frank

      Poor little backatya...people always resort to such sad statements when they run out of something interesting to say. It didnt take you long did it? So sorry...

      May 15, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
    • momoya

      Frank, I was guessing before, but now I know: you're a moronic dovchebag.. Don't grow up.. I want to always be able to count on you as the standard stupidity of the average christian dipsh!t.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
  13. Chris

    What a misleading load of bunk! If I had not actually read the Bible, I might fall for this garbage. You have to dig pretty deep and stretch pretty darn far, and be very committed to your false ideology to read yourself into a circle until no means yes and yes means no. I am pretty sure the Bible is not so misleading and difficult to read and understand that the human race needed to wait 2000 years until Mr. Helminiak could properly translate it for the rest of us 1.8 billion Christians. I also think Gnosticism is a thoroughly discredited heresy that doesn't need to be revived in order to promote the gay agenda.

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

    All I ask is that we have thoughts from the traditional Catholic side. I am not condemning Fr. Helminiak's thoughts, but I feel we need to hear both sides of the story to make an informed decision about the issue.

    May 15, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
    • Russ

      Evidently it's too much to ask of CNN to have a scholar from the classic, majority view here.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
    • M

      It's just one article, posted on a very frequently updated portion of their website.

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

      @ M: look again. The last week is on belief blog is this:
      several articles calling out the African American church for so-called "spiritual hypocrisy", a conservative pastor being called out for gay-bashing, calling out a politician for gay-bashing, a fallen televangelist's son who is pro-gay rights, & a few Prothero pro-gay articles. THEN, and only after all that, do you find a single article on Billy Graham's stand against it – and it doesn't explain WHY.

      For a week that even CNN calls 'historic' with Obama's stance, it's a deafeningly one-sided silence.

      May 16, 2012 at 9:03 am |
  15. ReligionIs4Dolts

    Being gay can't be all that terrible since the pope recently started allowing condom use in butt s&x since it prevents disease. HA HA HA!

    May 15, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
  16. adkerj

    Why is CNN a bunch gay people?????

    May 15, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
    • Fields

      They all live here in Midtown Atlanta. We have more gays than San Francisco.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:12 pm |
  17. ur

    gay is so yesterday – fail – fail – fail – get a clue – In Islam it is punishable by death – Love the sinner – rebuke the sin – Jesus forgave "Now go, and sin no more"

    May 15, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
    • Wondering

      Note: go and SIN no more. But what if she really loved the man with whom she was committing adultery. Doesn't that mean that it's ok? Just that now it is pure because she was forgiven? Have to conclude that adultery, just like gay, is sin. And God is ready to forgive the sinner (adulterer, gay, etc), just like he was ready to forgive the thief on the cross. ...go and sin no more...

      May 15, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
  18. daneste613

    Funny how religious folks use the bible like a manual or a code made at once. In fact, the bible from cultural perspective, comprises hundreds of years of different cultures, different people, different religions (jews and christians), and different mythologies. The way it is used is very fake and artificial.

    May 15, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
  19. Ricad

    If God did not create Adam and Steve who did???

    I suppose you think Adam and Eve were real people?

    Also, who did Adam and Eve's children screw and have children with if not their own sisters or brothers?? Think!

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

    Good news for all the g.ays out there – my god, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, LOVES ga.y people. Through divine mandate he is urging his followers to support laws that require ga.y se.x for everyone! Convert now and he will accept you into his noodly appendages and you will be saved!

    May 15, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
    • daneste613

      ush... I hate spghetti, am I an atheist? Am I going to hell??

      May 15, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
    • cosmicsnoop

      Now, can we nibble these appendages? And are they flavored? I'm thinking garlic butter, parm cheese, etc......

      May 15, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
    • El Lobo

      May his noodles strech far and wide and embrace you with his tasty red sauce.

      Pasta be with you brother!

      May 15, 2012 at 10:09 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.