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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. wheels

    The bible is outdated. They should write a new one

    May 15, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • Sam Mandel

      Or at least put a warning label on the old one, and mark it to be sold "as is" rather than "brand new."

      May 15, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • Never Debate

      I have finished writing the introduction and I am half way through the first chapter. Anybody has any ideas about which publisher might accept my book? Anybody knows a good book agent? Thanks in advance.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • Mister Jones

      @Never – Since all it really should say is "Be good to people.", you could save paper and print it on Post-Its. No chapters, no verses, etc. One page, one sentence, one point.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
  2. Ken

    Over-analyze this all you want. Nothing changes the fact that God created Adam and Eve. One hole, one pole. End of story.

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

      hmmm... my wife has 2 holes.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • Sam Mandel

      One hole, one pole, and to hell with birth control? Ain't that right Ken?

      smh.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • Mister Jones

      And then he, allegedly, gave them two male children. But ... then who did Cain impregnate to make more people? i.e. the 7 billion who now inhabit the planet?

      May 15, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • Mister Jones

      @booty – don't you mean three? :)

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

      God did not create man – man created god

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

      And that one hole and one pole created gay people. End of story.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • Never Debate

      I like the rhythm in the poetry.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • Georgia Tee

      Nowhere in the bible does it say adam & eve were married, you just make that assumption on your own..In hebrew ebrew "adam" means "man or mankind"

      May 15, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • Jon

      One hole, One pole? Sory you've never had a decent BJ. Might change your "Hole" perspective!!

      May 15, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • Robert

      Next someone is going to say, "God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve." Funny, overused, cliche....and totally wrong. Because since God created everything, that means he did create Adam and Steve.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
  3. brainsplus

    What an off-the-cuff cavalier priest made adaptation for scriptural truths. Reading through I could actually hear the serpent seducing the Lord Jesus to turn stones into bread after all there was no biblical reference to him sinning if he so did. The author is nothing but a child of perdition using scripture to seduce the unschooled in the deep realms of theology.

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

      lawlz. That's the charming thing about you Xtians: when you disagree with someone, not only are they always wrong, but they are also the devil!

      May 15, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • Sam Mandel

      brainsplus, i think your time would best be spent telling the image of this article on your computer: "the power of Christ compels you! the power of Christ compels you!" until you force it to disappear...

      May 15, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • rickwh

      Your fairy tales (religion) are ruining this planet. Please, for the sake of all of us – take a long walk off of a short pier.

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

      No, you got that wrong, pal ... for a start the entire article is self contradictory. It first affirms it's own premise and in the end disaffirms it. As a professor of psychology, Daniel A. Helminiak uses his wits to purport the unnatural is actually natural and he does not end there. Secondly, as a priest ordained in Rome where he knows that the Basilica would be totally against his assertion, he uses euphemisms to cloud the mind of a reader thinking quoting wrong scriptures with the intent to seduce would suffice – his own roots denounce his deeds and/or beliefs but he axiomatically wants to hold both the roots and wings to no avail, read the book and the truth shall set you free ... I rest my case

      May 15, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
  4. Physiology Trumps All

    You can write all you want about what "natural" and "unnatural" means. However, an objective person sees with clarity where in God's or "nature's" design a penis was intended to be inserted and where it was to be received. Before he "evolved" like Obama into the PC guy he is today, even Howard Stern said placing anything inside crap canal was like jamming it in an ashtray.

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

      Ok, well fortunately I don't live my life according to Howard Stern

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

      Howard Stern is your go to guy! LOL

      May 15, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • Kita

      Are you REALLY going to use Howard Stern to back up your point?

      Because if so I can find any number of passages from the Book of Howard that will give full support to lesbianism.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • Which God?

      Howard Stern likes to screw ashtrays? Knew he was a nutjob.

      May 16, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  5. Bootyfunk

    the bible, the greatest story ever sold, the most unread book found in every household in america. LOL. that book is garbage.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
  6. Howard Feinski

    How do we justify, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone?" So, yeah, the ga ys should die, but there is no one to do it.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
  7. james pfeiffer

    The bible has become the crutch of the feeble minded. Anything they are fearful of, anything they don't understand, anything that they have no logical argument for, anything that makes their little hearts go aflutter, any big words that they can't wrap their heads around...well then, they have their bible to hold up like a little shield to "Obi wan kanobi away" the scary, rational objectivity of science and fact. With the narrow minded, fantasy will always trump common sense, you know...like love thy neighbor as thyself. Instead, let's thet use the bible to promote hate and divisiveness, and to justify living in our safe little fantasy world.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
  8. David

    finally, EXPLAINED! Yes, Jesus loves me, for the bible tells me so =-) now if only you could get this across to the fools in protest of gay marriage!

    May 15, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
  9. googoogaga

    Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, Today, and Forever!!

    May 15, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
  10. R.

    This is a great article. I hope those vehemently opposed to gay marriage read this one, if only to provide a different perspective.

    I would also like to see a response in the comments that is not an ad hominem attack.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
  11. Michael

    The responses here demonstrate just how sick the so-called christians are today.
    The author quotes specific bible passages which clearly show that the bible doesn't support their hatred of others.
    There is no sense arging with these people; they are clearly suffering from a men tal ill ness and they enjoy harming others.
    Jesus would vomit if he met these ha ters.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
  12. Sarcasmo

    Love your neighbor as yourself.

    So many Christians are so proud of their beliefs, and yet so many fail so utterly at understanding them. Not all of them, of course. Maybe not even most of them. But a lot of them. It's quite sad, and truly fascinating. Pardon my borrowing of the famous parable, but the religion that started as a tiny mustard seed of love and compassion has really blossomed into a hideous monstrosity. I'm talking about the followers, mind you, not the teachings of Jesus. His instructions remain the same, but too many have perverted his message and use it to sew chaos and hate for their own gain.

    Luckily I am religion free and base all of my decisions on common sense and the American values of life, liberty, and laissez-faire. Otherwise it would really bother me. It should, however, really bother Christians around the world. Your religion has been hijacked.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • Jimh77

      Nicely stated, I could not have said it better.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
  13. caesarbc

    Living life according to what anonymous people put in a book, is incredibly scary.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
  14. Sam Mandel

    Why even ask what the Bible says about g ays and/or marriage? There are just as many verses where the Bible says that ga y people will go to he ll because they refuse to repent from having ho mo se x ual inter course (1 Cor 6, etc). To really be free, people need to get over their fear and reverence for this mismatch collection of bronze-aged books, and CHOOSE to view God as being greater than the Bible. As long as people continue to fear and revere the Bible as some sort of Holy Book, they will always try to rationalize away how their behavior is aligned WITH the Bible, even though some of the Bible's authors CLEARLY condemn it. Or, if you truly want to believe in and follow the Bible (and the God of it) be prepared to do so at the risk of your free lifestyle choices, and to conform your thoughts and behaviors entirely to it. I fear that the author of this article, while good-intentioned, lacks the courage of his convictions. He needs to either a. accept completely what the Bible says, literally, as truth and dogma, b. reject it entirely as fables, or c. admit it's literal content, while refusing to believe in its inerrancy or that everything written in it applies today. This third option takes a lot of hard work and much more FAITH than the other 2 options, but in my opinion, is well worth it to strive for, rather than a. completely giving up your reason and subjecting it to the limits of the Bible, or b. completely giving up on a faith that you hold and that is an integral part of you.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
  15. ari

    why do people even care about what paul said? as far as i know, christianity does not regard him as a god/prophet/whatever. he was just a preacher. why do his words have so much weight?

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

      Paul was actually ANTI-Christian. He was actually persecuting and killing them. Something happened to him and he did a full 180 and became a believer – and not just a believer but one of the most devout believers of all. I wonder what made him change his thoughts about it completely? There are a lot of anti-Christians today like Paul was but once they figure out why he made his complete life change then maybe they too will understand.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
  16. hhhaa

    It clearly says being gay is a sin. I like how everybody who works for them are gay. Cnn is a massive lying..devil worshiping.. fake news.. government propaganda HUB!

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

      I doubt you have the knowledge to actually refute the author intelligently. I doubt there is very much that you do intelligently

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

      Same reply here as I have whenever anyone else says "The Bible says being gay is a sin".

      Book, chapter, verse. Provide them.

      I shall then point you to Matthew 22:36-40. To paraphrase, treat others the way you would be treated.

      If you don't believe people deserve the same priveleges/rights that you enjoy simply because of who they love, then you don't deserve them either.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • Which God?

      @ hhhaa. Your brains must be mush. hhhaa,ha.

      May 16, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
  17. jim

    "placed back into its historical context" This leaves a LOT of room for (and practically invalidates) personal interpretation.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  18. AndriconBoy

    Really, CNN? More of this!?
    Are you TRYING to bring out the insane hypocritical fascist hate-mongers?

    May 15, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  19. .

    IF your father was gay, you would've wound up in some creepy guy's schmazola covered in poop instead of your mother's womb where you belonged.

    Think about THAT one.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • Sam Mandel

      That is so illogical it's funny. If your father was gay, you'd of necessity end up in your mother's womb! She just wouldn't be his wife or lover... hahaha.

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

      Do you think men shoot babies from their organs? Your argument makes no sense.

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

      And you're an idiot.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
  20. lilbuddah

    Ok, sorry I didn't even read this because it no longer matters. We are just working in circles with this bible talk, it won't accomplish anything. We gays are gonna get our equal rights some day, its only a matter of time and we know it. Perhaps this article is advocating for gays, perhaps its not. Point blank, we no longer care because we are sooooo over it. We are proud of who we are and we don't need a book to tell us how to feel. Thank you for writing, but lets focus the election back to where it needs to be ---> economy.

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

      Well stop trying to get married and using the government as a way to since its impossible because it has to be between a man in a woman. If you just admitted that nobody would care about your type

      May 15, 2012 at 6:40 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.