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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. Larry

    Theologians don't know nothing about my soul

    May 15, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
  2. Alcohologram

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

    explain that to your political representative.

    May 15, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
  3. Peter

    Who cares what the Bible says? There's a book that people squeeze whatever juice they want from it.

    May 15, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
  4. Randy

    The idiot that wrote this article is WAY off base. Liberal theology has no place in Christianity.

    May 15, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      agreed! how dare he suggest christians come into the 21st century!

      May 15, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
    • Hellbound

      I wana ra pe your mouth with a broken bottle.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
    • David in Tampa

      mmmmm Ya might wanna run that by Jesus....He doesn't seem to conservative to me....

      May 15, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
    • Jacob

      Christianity has no place in reality.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
    • Larry

      Jesus was a hippie. And a commie.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
    • Jacob

      And likely gay.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
    • Spinner49

      Hilarious! Jesus himself was a liberal theologian! Why do you think the establishment gave him such a hard time? He was challenging the status quo. Now theology surrounding him has become so atrophied I doubt he would recognize his own teachings if they were explained to him.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
  5. Mike Hammer

    Bravo! I have read alot of the comments posted an the free discussion and exprssion of opion is what makes this country great. Lets get back to reality now. With wars in two countries(an I am a vet)an people out of work when ONE man gets a 23 million dollar check for screwing up at is job occurs.. we.have we become a nation of retards to care about what defines "love" and marriage? In my understanding Polygamy was practiced in the bible. Wasn't it said the wisest king in the bible(Solomon) had 300 wives and 700 concubines? or now do we play the "that was the old testament this is the new testament game" I like the line from War of the Roses..we came from mud and at our core thats who/what we are.dirt. embrace it,love it and live your life as you wish.

    May 15, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
  6. tjbliss

    This article, more than any I've read in a long time, provides a striking example of the great need for apostles and prophets in our day. This "priest" is not only mingling philosophy with scripture, but is providing interpretations of the Bible that are radical even for a scholar. Then again, I suppose he can't be blamed. Thousands before him have likewise struggled to understand enigmatic and misinterpreted Biblical passages. How thankful I am that God has indeed called prophets and apostles in our day who receive revelation and inspiration like the prophets of old! Learn more about modern prophets at http://bit.ly/KrN4gm or read their words at gc.lds.org.

    May 15, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
    • Scott

      LDS isn't any better than this charlatan buddy. Elephants in North American when there never were any here? Isrealites supposed bearing steel weapons before they had access to them? Sorry but the book of mormon has lots of errors in it...at least the Bible has actual archeology to back it up.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
  7. sybaris

    Why are christians so fixated on what consenting adults do with their genitalia in the privacy of their own home?

    May 15, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      religion is all about control.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
    • BamaDaniel

      They parade it

      May 15, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
    • Hellbound

      The same way your parade your laughable "faith"

      May 15, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
    • Russ

      @ sybaris: help me follow your logic here, sybaris.
      so, if you believed something was evil, as long as people kept it quiet & private & among consenting adults, that makes it ok?
      are you for legalizing all drugs? what about the private sale of automatic weapons?

      May 15, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
    • Larry

      'cause they aren't getting it enough at home so they have to worry about what others are doing.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
    • sybaris

      Oh Russ, your only reference for whatever being evil is a collection of myths and fairy tales written by ignorant people 2000 years ago and cobbled together by superst.itious and again, ignorant people centuries later.

      Regardless, your examples are of things that are illegal, inanimate and can be used in criminal activity. What consenting adults do with their bodies in their own homes or who they love is none of your perverted business.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
    • Russ

      @ Sybaris: you've changed your objection. your argument was based on privacy & individual rights. when I pointed out that you do not hold that position uniformly, you changed your argument to "Christianity is stupid."

      you don't have to agree with Christians to recognize that you use the same logic based on *your* convictions.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
    • sybaris

      Russ, your English teacher should be fired for not teaching you proper comprehension.

      I asked a question, didn't pose an objection.

      You're mixing apples and oranges. Human rights vs legal rights. See the difference? Obviously not.

      Regardless, my convictions are based on a legal docu.ment that says something about equal rights for all, not some book that would not stand under it's own contradictions, is used to incite prejudice and control of a population.

      BTW, I didn't say xtianity is stupid but now that you mention it, yeah it is.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
    • Russ

      @ sybaris: a rhetorical question is an objection.

      I'm not mixing legal vs. human rights. G.ay marriage was very much illegal until very recently. why? this is an ethical debate based on metaphysical convictions. note: you are appealing to a doc.ument which itself sites that our inalienable rights are derived from a Creator (pretty much just like those you are mocking).

      criticizing others for doing the exact same thing you are doing is self-refuting.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
  8. mike

    Strange that this article cites translations from the greek, and not the more authoritative Hebrew. I don't know how you manage to ignore the very clear statement in Levitucs 18:22: this is the Hebrew: וְאֶת-זָכָר–לֹא תִשְׁכַּב, מִשְׁכְּבֵי אִשָּׁה: תּוֹעֵבָה, הִוא. And the Zakar – the man – isolated by the definite article "et" "lo-tishkav" you shall not lie, or sleep with "Mishkavei Isha" "as you would lie with a woman". Toevah Hu – it is an abomination. Could it be anymore explicit?

    May 15, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
    • BamaDaniel

      Thanks mike

      May 15, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
    • Observer

      Mike,

      Leviticus (20:9) also says “If there is anyone who curses his father or his mother, he shall surely be put to death”

      So what was your point?

      May 15, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
    • David in Tampa

      Love thy Neighbor as thy self..... What you do unto the lowest of you, you also do unto me....... Judge ye not lest YE be judged..... No Sir you are correct it could not be more explicit.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
  9. David in Tampa

    The USA is the chosen land, one nation under God......Really????? The lovers of war, violence, guns, blasphemy, ignorers' of the Commandments, hater of the poor an the sick.

    We are the home of the "Born Again" smirk. Those pious people who walk around with the stupid smile of one who believes that they are going to be raptured so THEY will not have to die. I would not mind being around when Arch Angel Micheal Shows up to clean up our mess.

    May 15, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
  10. BamaDaniel

    Non Bible books Cleary state the fallen created gays and other abominations

    May 15, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
    • Hellbound

      Your an abomination

      May 15, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      too bad those writings are just as ridiculous as the bible.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
    • Autocross

      Oh yes, very much so. Also wintergreen flavored gum, the Chevy Chevette and Southern rednecks.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:38 pm |
    • Observer

      BamaDaniel,

      Please tell all the ignorant Christians who claim God created everything.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:38 pm |
    • sybaris

      According to your book of mythology eating shellfish and wearing blended fabrics is an abomination as well.

      Kill all lobster eating cheap suit wearers!!!

      May 15, 2012 at 11:08 pm |
  11. Genie

    Absolutely fantastic article. It won't change a single mind, of course, because haters love to hate–but maybe it will plant some seeds of logic, sense, and tolerance. I hope so, anyway.

    May 15, 2012 at 10:34 pm |
  12. Fields

    Even you devil-worshipping, aetheist, evolution-believers should see that gay = unnatural and wrong.

    Natural selection tends not to favor organisms that don't feel the need to procreate.

    May 15, 2012 at 10:34 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 10:36 pm |
    • Observer

      Fields,

      Not too bright a comment. The ONLY people who believe in the devil are Christians and other believers.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      I too agree @ Autocross

      May 15, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      "devil-worshipping, aetheist"

      LOL. we worship the devil AND we're atheists? LOL.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:38 pm |
    • momoya

      Then why don't you want them to marry.. Lemme break it down for you.. Ho.mos that marry each other won't be pretending and marrying the opposite s3x and making more babies that are ho.mos.. You should be for gay marriage.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
  13. El Lobo

    Zombie novels were so much more peaceful thousands of years ago. What happened?

    May 15, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
  14. austin

    Citing non canon books of the bible..wisdom, sirach, ecclesiactuis? twisting the word of God to fit his beliefs, but im not surprised the Catholic church has been in error for ever. This article couldnt get anymore liberal and unture either

    May 15, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
    • Guy guyerson

      You fool; every one that preaches from the bible gives their own interpretation. Unless of course they speak ancient Greek or Aramaic

      May 15, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
    • El Lobo

      Who decidedthe books to be used? What were his motives? Do some research and try not to question your belief system.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
    • Jason

      Guy, Sumerian (or eme-ĝir) actually.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
  15. Jason

    Look on the bright side, atleast gay couples aren't contributing to mass consumption and over population of our planet. Keep adopting the unwanted christian orphans. .

    May 15, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
    • Fields

      Yes. Things will be much better when we're overrun with Muslims- who have ten children per family and behead gays in the city square.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
    • BamaDaniel

      Behead is good

      May 15, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
    • Leigh2

      There won't be overpopulation. Not with millions of abortions and with that said, perhaps we're overdue for another dread plague to wipe out a lot of folks. The last major pandemic which killed millions was the Spanish Flu of 1918.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
    • Jason

      Yes of course, blame it on the muslims, its an over population race to see who's going to consume the most resources (sarcasm). Freedom of religion as long as muslims don't have more kids than us? Go adopt an army of christian babies (there's plenty looking for a good home), you'll be completely safe and broke to boot.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
    • Jason

      There's not millions of abortions in the US (maybe in the world, but I'm talking about the states), 1.21 million last I checked, the lowest its been since the 70's.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
  16. Dan

    I respect the bible but I know it is man made and therefore has faults. God tells us everything we need to know if we're just willing to listen and its amazing to me that all these men of God are ignoring the fact that people who are Gay are born this way. So if God made them this way who is anyone to say they should not exist. God has a voice and does not need the voice of man period.

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

      Dan, do you know why your god always agrees wtih your opinion? Because that is your god.. It's everyone's god.. You've fallen in love with yourself and are worshiping your own ego.. Get a grip.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
    • God created dumb ppl so we all can have a laugh.

      i was about to comment on your statement, but i'd rather sit bak and laugh at it.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
    • goodNplenty

      All well and good, but you profess that god tells us everything we need if we would only listen.
      Why are you putting the blame on the listener. I think it is gods fault if we don't hear him.
      There are 7 billion people currently on this planet. I have never found 1 who could prove that god talked to him/her.

      Don't you think god's track record should be better than that?

      May 15, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
    • Frank

      Momoya...you are a very sad trouble individual...Why dont you take your advice...mind your own business? Who cares what people think right? isnt that what you think? Then why not leave them alone if they do not like gay people...who are gross...:) just for you

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

      Frank, you're a stupid moron who wants to be commended on saying the most clever thing since Mark Twain sailed the Mississippi, but I'm just to honest to do that.. When you say stupid sh!t I'm going to say that it was stupid.. Deal.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
    • Frank

      It is ok Dan

      May 15, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
    • Frank

      You know, my friend and I have a Masters degree in Biology form a well established university...the one thing that neither of us can shake from all of our combinded research and education is that we really can not prove that we evolved at all. We could just as well been placed here by aliens (which I do not see proof of either) as we could have evolved. Science is twisted...and there has not been one person who can prove that we evolved from lesser beings...so where did we come from? God makes more sense when you actually run the numbers. Just saying. Momoya...you are a sad little man...The same deal applies to you. But since I have a lot to do, I cant coment on every stupid thing you say, which is everything you say. :)

      May 15, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
    • momoya

      Frank, evolution is proven fact.. Sure, the first life may have come from another place, but evolution is how it worked on earth.. And it really doesn't matter if we don't know exactly how life originated; we say "We don't know.". but to just insert god in there is dumb because you haven't exhausted all the other possibilities.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
    • Dan

      Well, unlike some who commented I do respect everyone's oppinion. I commented because I don't understand why you could hate someone you don't even know or tell them that they should be different because you feel uncomfortable with the way they are. You don't have to believe in a god to see that it is wrong to judge someone else but since I am a man of faith, it is wrong to use God's name as a reason for hate.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
  17. Mikey

    Booty funk your name says it all. Talk about Jesus all you want he will forgive you but one day you will have to meet him and be judged by him.

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

      Nope

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

      i talked to jesus last night. i had a dinner party. it was fabulous. jesus made wine (drugs) for everyone. the easter bunny threw up on my lazy boy recliner, that lush. and the tooth fairy was flirting with everyone in sight, that tramp. and santa claus ate all the appetizers, that fattie!

      May 15, 2012 at 10:34 pm |
    • sybaris

      Mikey, you will be judged by Zeus

      May 15, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
  18. Guy guyerson

    amadeo122

    The bible, just a book written by a Palestinian Jew followed by millions of white american morons.

    guy

    Listen muslim, There are hundreds of BLACK Christians, also not only Americans are Christians ever hear of a place called the Vatican in the city of Rome in the country of Italy…… I think it is next to Nebraska mohamed

    May 15, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
  19. n8263

    It is immoral to impose your religious superstition on others.

    You do not believe in religion because you honestly think it is true, you believe in it because you fear mortality or are seeking meaning in your life. It does not take a genius to figure out all religion is man made, so for humanity's sake, please stop lying to yourself.

    Deluding yourself in religion does not change reality. Lying to yourself is probably the worst possible way to try to find meaning.

    May 15, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
    • l&c

      Incorrect assumption. I believe in religion because I know it to be true. I have all sorts of evidence for the existence of God all of which you would dismiss out of hand. It is a very convenient thing to say that something is not evidence by deciding that your definition of evidence will not include historical records, the testimony of millions of people, the order of our solar system or our very existence. I am not lying to myself, I think you may actually be making the best argument against disbelieving God namely that lying to yourself, denying the existence of a supreme being is "probably the worst possible way to try to find meaning."

      May 15, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
    • momoya

      So you're a muslim, then?

      May 15, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
  20. Jeremy

    Love and lust are two different things. The Roman Catholic church is not against two men loving each other, they are against two men who lust for each other.

    May 15, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
    • Observer

      Jesus said every man who lusts after a woman has commited adultery.

      So every hetero male is an adulterer.

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

      If it weren't for lust, most couples would never later be in love.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
    • BamaDaniel

      That's just not right.two men cannot procreate therefore their union can only produce death.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
    • Observer

      BamaDaniel,

      Gays and lesbians can reproduce.

      When the population of the world drops from 7 BILLION down to 2 men, your comment will be relevent.

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

      Bama,
      Their union can only produce death? We all die anyway. How did you come up with this proclamation?

      May 15, 2012 at 10:34 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      trust your lust

      May 15, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      should couples with a man or woman that can't create be killed?

      May 15, 2012 at 10:48 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.