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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. The Bottom Line

    2 Timothy 4:4 Amplified And will turn aside from hearing the truth and wander off into myths and man-made fictions

    May 16, 2012 at 7:33 am |
  2. Mike

    One thing is missing. Has the good Father been ex-communicated yet? If he hasn't, he should be. 'Nuff said.

    May 16, 2012 at 7:33 am |
    • Texadillo

      No they don't mention that he's gay. His website says so.

      May 16, 2012 at 7:38 am |
  3. Joxer the Mighty

    If you did any research on the subject, you would realize that h0mos3xuality is a natural process. Just because we don't understand it's purpose or why certain people are born g@y doesn't mean it isn't natural.

    May 16, 2012 at 7:31 am |
    • Joxer the Mighty

      This was supposed to be a reply to "Truth" who posted a while back.

      May 16, 2012 at 7:34 am |
    • Teeph

      Cannibalism is a fairly common "natural" occurance too. Heck, chimps LOVE that stuff. What's your point?

      You're saying that "natural" equals "moral," or "good," right?

      How about violence against women and/or children? That's a pretty "natural" thing. Where are you going with this line of "reasoning?"

      May 16, 2012 at 7:44 am |
    • Josef Bleaux

      People are indeed born that way. There has been at least one study that shows that the brains of gay men are wired more like female brains (there are several differences). I'm not saying that makes it a good thing, I'm just saying that it's not a "choice". Who in there right mind would make that choice? Most gay people will tell you they knew from a very early age that they were gay, it's something you're born with.

      May 16, 2012 at 7:54 am |
  4. MASSIVE BALLS

    Techie, you're a mongrel idiot.

    http://atheism.about.com/od/atheistfamiliesmarriage/a/AtheistsDivorce.htm

    May 16, 2012 at 7:31 am |
    • MASSIVE BALLS

      The highest divorce rates are in the Bible Belt: "Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama and Oklahoma round out the Top Five in frequency of divorce...the divorce rates in these conservative states are roughly 50 percent above the national average" of 4.2/1000 people. Nine states in the Northeast (Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Maryland) have the lowest divorce rates, averaging just 3.5/1000 people.

      May 16, 2012 at 7:33 am |
  5. jdun

    Interesting article. The problem the author has is that people who have ideas that do not come from reason will not accept analysis that comes from reason. Believing the Bible literally is not reasonable.

    May 16, 2012 at 7:29 am |
    • Joe

      That's why it's called "Faith".

      May 16, 2012 at 7:46 am |
  6. The Bottom Line

    Jude 1:7 Amplified [The wicked are sentenced to suffer] just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the adjacent towns–which likewise gave themselves over to impurity and indulged in unnatural vice and sensual perversity–are laid out [in plain sight] as an exhibit of perpetual punishment [to warn] of everlasting fire

    May 16, 2012 at 7:29 am |
  7. Adam

    Crazy how the Bible is contorted to a man's view. Read all of Romans chapter 1 and the context is extremely clear. The bible as a whole clearly indicates Gods intention and creation of man and woman for each other and due to the "fall" sin entered the world. According the bible, I think it is clear what God's stance is on this subject and man can look at it and twist it to however he wants but I did not find the same meaning when I read it. I had to really strain to even figure out how this was put together. Sad that man tries to dictate what God says in his word.

    May 16, 2012 at 7:28 am |
    • BamaDaniel

      Thank you the fallen has brought us great misery

      May 16, 2012 at 7:31 am |
    • Joe

      Why do you find it crazy that the Bible is "contorted into mans view", when it was written by men???
      It onlt makes sense that translating a book from one language to another, and then to another, and then to another, would distort or at the very least, skew the meanings as words and phrases that can not be directly translated are put into words that have the closest meaning, and those translations are left up to the translator.

      May 16, 2012 at 7:38 am |
    • Phyl

      Yes..i agree...people try to twist the scriptures to suit their own need.....GOD will have HIS day...and say !!!

      May 16, 2012 at 7:38 am |
    • Cheerup6

      No words to express my anger on this writing. What is this guy talking about. Where are we heading??

      May 16, 2012 at 7:41 am |
  8. rphi

    Lev.18,22 Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind; it is abomination.

    May 16, 2012 at 7:28 am |
    • Gaunt

      leviticus 20:19 For everychild that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death

      May 16, 2012 at 7:34 am |
    • Gregg

      So is eating pork and shellfish, among many other rules. You're probably one of those who quotes Leviticus, while completely disregarding all the other rules. What makes this passage on gays so important, while the other rules in Leviticus (and there are a lot of them) are something you likely ignore?

      May 16, 2012 at 7:43 am |
    • madcelt

      If you are going to quote Levitcus – you had better grow a bear, not eat shellfish, and you are permtted to hold slaves and oh yes, stone female adulterers to death. You had better realize that you can not pick and choose.

      May 16, 2012 at 7:48 am |
    • madcelt

      That was grow a beard – I don't think they had a lot of bears in the Middle East back then.

      May 16, 2012 at 7:49 am |
  9. correct100

    Satan has utterly warped this guys mind. We are clearly told that Satan is a Liar and the Father of Lies, and that he will deceive many.

    May 16, 2012 at 7:27 am |
    • Phyl

      Yup...you hit the nail right ont he head !!!! Satan is trying REAL hard to get as many people to follow him right straight to hell...wake up people!!!!!

      May 16, 2012 at 7:35 am |
    • Gaunt

      So, to be clear: the guy in this article trying to preach tolerance and understanding and equality and non-judgementalism is under the influence of 'satan', while you bible thumpers who are judging and hating based on your own personal bigotries and intolerance are influenced by 'god'.

      Riiiiiiight.

      May 16, 2012 at 7:40 am |
    • Mirosal

      If only "satan" were real, but, alas, it isn't.

      May 16, 2012 at 7:41 am |
  10. Phyl

    I think this fellow needs to do a Greek word study !!!

    May 16, 2012 at 7:26 am |
  11. Jimmy

    The fall of America is at hand! It is even at our door steps!! Repent!!! Repent!!!! Repent!!!!!

    May 16, 2012 at 7:25 am |
    • Phyl

      Yes i agree w/you. we are going to suffer for the sins of this nation....there is a lack of Reverence for God and sin has taken over big time...this man told me that he has been trying to get 2 male electrical connections put together . IT DOESN'T WORK>>> it is not natural!!!!!!

      May 16, 2012 at 7:31 am |
    • MASSIVE BALLS

      Phyl, if you sandwich something with two holes between them, it does work. It's called a threesome.

      May 16, 2012 at 7:35 am |
  12. joesmith

    never sieces to amaze me, how the media uses its out there status to stir up trouble..still haven't heard a word from this media on the sale of US Banks to the chinese..question; whats to hide..

    May 16, 2012 at 7:25 am |
    • Nienista

      Do you even know what an op-ed is?

      May 16, 2012 at 7:39 am |
    • Joe

      The word is "ceases". It is hard to take someone seriously when you can't find the time to use spell check or at least look up the correct spelling of a word.
      I'm just saying...

      May 16, 2012 at 7:41 am |
  13. BamaDaniel

    Religion no religion it's unnatural and I still say name the species proven to be born gay

    May 16, 2012 at 7:23 am |
    • JD Nelson

      http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/07/0722_040722_gayanimal.html

      Now what?

      May 16, 2012 at 7:38 am |
  14. Kevin

    Someone asked, "How come no animal has evolved in the last 3,000 years?" Three THOUSAND years? Are you kidding me? Palm to face. SIGH!

    May 16, 2012 at 7:19 am |
    • Gaunt

      While in principle you are correct kevin, in fact animals have evolved in the last 3000 years. Read up on the methuselah fly experiments, or antibiotic resistant bacteria, or DDT resistant mosquitoes. All proof of evolution in action.

      May 16, 2012 at 7:22 am |
    • denise

      3000 yrs should be enough to se SOME kind of a hint of a change-Yet nothing!!! If we're still here in another couple thousand, someone will still be asking the same question and getting the same response

      May 16, 2012 at 7:24 am |
    • BamaDaniel

      They were still flies not birds or goats

      May 16, 2012 at 7:29 am |
    • Gaunt

      yes, insects and bacteria, which have a much shorter generation span than say, goats or people. Thus evolution is actually visible and recordable. You can squirm all you like, this is evolution, in action, proven.

      May 16, 2012 at 7:35 am |
    • Nienista

      I actually think he was saying that the fly did not come from or turn in to a goat... Just another example of a failed school system. Or possibly home schooling.

      May 16, 2012 at 7:46 am |
  15. Artanis

    I just wanted to point out that no one ever actually believed that the world was flat. At least not as far back as we have written record, and certaintly not the Jews during the time period those passages were written.

    May 16, 2012 at 7:18 am |
    • tunaman

      True, this is a ploy by the left to try to portray those on the right as anti-science. Once I read that statement it told me everything I needed to know about this "professor".

      May 16, 2012 at 7:33 am |
  16. The Bottom Line

    Leviticus 18:22 Amplified You shall not lie with a man as with a woman;it is an abomination

    May 16, 2012 at 7:17 am |
    • Gaunt

      Leviticus 20: 19: For everychild that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death

      May 16, 2012 at 7:20 am |
    • rphi

      Indeed!

      May 16, 2012 at 7:33 am |
  17. Thenextstep

    And ABOVE ALL – Don't take anything said on the internet as the truth........ People's opinions/comments are not the underlying truth....

    May 16, 2012 at 7:17 am |
  18. Techie

    The Christians are right to defend marriage, just not necessarily from gay people. The liberal view of marriage, something trendy and fashionable to do, to be ended when you are bored with it, does not help society. Many statistical studies have shown that marriage creates a strong foundation for society and provides children a stable environment to grow up in. Abused children are more likely to come from step-parents...not saying all step-parents are bad, just statistical true. Single parent homes are more likely to fall into poverty as well. The Christians are correct to elevate marriage beyond "liberal convenience". Gay people don't help themselves either with magazine articles like the one in "the advocate" saying a strong gay community depends on how many leatherman contest winners there are and if it has nude yoga. You have but to walk through an OWS "protest" to see how warped the moral values of the "progressive" liberals are. But having said all that not all gay people are permiscious. There are several gay people who are pillars of the community and provide for it's strong foundation. Some have strong moral fiber and deserve the right to be treated as such.

    May 16, 2012 at 7:16 am |
    • MASSIVE BALLS

      Blah blah blah blah....

      Do you think anyone is actually going to take the time to read this shit?

      May 16, 2012 at 7:19 am |
    • Gaunt

      The divorce rates in the red Bible-belt states are higher than in the traditional blue 'liberal' states.

      In other words, you fail.

      May 16, 2012 at 7:21 am |
    • Techie

      One wrong answer Gaunt, when you breakdown who got the divorce, not by state but by affliation, Liberals divorce at much higher rates. Good try though.

      May 16, 2012 at 7:22 am |
    • MASSIVE BALLS

      EAT SHIT TECHIE.

      http://atheism.about.com/od/atheistfamiliesmarriage/a/AtheistsDivorce.htm

      The highest divorce rates are in the Bible Belt: "Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama and Oklahoma round out the Top Five in frequency of divorce...the divorce rates in these conservative states are roughly 50 percent above the national average" of 4.2/1000 people. Nine states in the Northeast (Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Maryland) have the lowest divorce rates, averaging just 3.5/1000 people.

      May 16, 2012 at 7:32 am |
    • Gaunt

      techie: i dont mind that you are an irrational bible thunper. I do mind that you are a liar.

      By every measurable statistic, severely religious have higehr divorce rates and higher teen pregnancy rates than liberals.
      You lose.

      May 16, 2012 at 7:37 am |
    • Techie

      I'm not a bible thumper at all, I believe gays should have the right to get married. I just agree with the Conservatives that marriage needs to be protected from turning into a convenience. I don't want to see it turn into something fashionable. There are huge negative consequences to having America turn into a giant OWS protest.

      The statistics are biased for a few reasons. One is that Christians "accept the sinners'; so people who have been permiscious, children out of wedlock, etc, been through troubled times and found Jesus can join the ranks. This will skew their numbers. So in fact you are dumping many of the liberals who found morality latter, into the Christian numbers.

      May 16, 2012 at 7:49 am |
    • Gaunt

      techie, what a steaming load of bullshlt. Firstly, the divorce rates are gathered at the time of the marriage and divorce, so even if your silly made-up lie about flocks of divorced liberals later fleeing to god, it would STILL be wrong.

      Secondly, even if we ignore that your lie is totally unevidenced AND impossible as I just demonstrated, it still does not explain why the divorce rate is consistently higher in Bible belt states.

      Your posts would be a lot more credible if you didnt keep just making stuff up as you type kid.

      May 16, 2012 at 7:54 am |
    • Techie

      The statistic are not based off of when their were married or what their affliation was. Don't just surf the web for statistics that fit your arguement. But let's move on...we won't agree here at all. I notice you don't argue the reverse about statistics on more abused chidren from step parents or single parents home more likely to fall into poverty. So for me it's a national issue of having a strong socieity but for you it's just about bashing conservatives but ultimatly is meaningless beyond just arguement.

      May 16, 2012 at 8:03 am |
    • Techie

      I'll give you the last word, then I am off to work.

      May 16, 2012 at 8:03 am |
  19. sharon perkins

    @sam stone

    If I'll become a President. I would impose Blasphemy Law.

    Let's just see.

    May 16, 2012 at 7:15 am |
    • Mark

      Then you must want to live in the Middle East. So go, and live there, if you want a blasphemy law.

      May 16, 2012 at 7:33 am |
  20. Thenextstep

    And ABOVE ALL – Don't take ANYTHING

    May 16, 2012 at 7:15 am |
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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.