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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. iqueue120

    Let me guess... Helminiak is gay.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
  2. JT

    DEAR BOOTYFUNK, READ YOUR BIBLE, THERE ARE 2 COVENANTS OLD AND NEW,THE LAWS IN THE OLD TESTAMENT,WERE GIVEN TO THE JEWS,IN THE NEW, JESUS SAID TO FULL FILL THE LAW THAT WE WERE TO LOVE OUR NEIGHBOR AS ARE SELVES,THIS IS THE FULLFILMENT OF THE LAW, WE ONLY TWIST TRUTH WHEN IT DOES NOT FIT OUR NEEDS, JUST BECAUSE WE DONT PRACTICE THE TRUTH DOES NOT INVALIDATE IT. STICKING ANYTHING WHERE HUMAN WAST HAS BEEN ,IS SICK. I CANNOT EVEN TEACH MY CHILDREN MY VALUES WITHOUT THE THREAT OF A HATE CRIME,THIS GAY THING IS VERY ONE SIDED. SO QUIT ARGUING ABOUT IT, DO WHAT YOU WANT TO DO AND LEAVE THE TRUTH ALONE.

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

      JT, pls don't use caps. it's like screaming for those reading it.

      jesus himself says the OT is not to be discarded. you don't get to just follow the NT because you're not a jew. christians are bound to the OT and NT. follow the 10 commandments? cause that's in the OT, not the NT. sorry, you don't get out of all the ridiculousness of the OT by saying it doesn't pertain to you.

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

      sticking anything where human waste has been is sick? lol, are you 14?

      for your information, v.aginas and p.enises produce waste material called urine. you should buy a basic biology book.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
  3. Bootyfunk

    hmmm... jesus never married, never got with any woman, hung around with 12 dudes...

    gaydar alert!

    May 15, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • robert frost

      Gays weren't allow to marry back then!

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

      rumor is jesus did some g.ay p.orn in his teens. but he was young and needed the money.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
  4. Mike

    Wow ! This writer is completely dishonest and fraudulent in his arguments and his refusal to mention the very clear prohibitions explicit in the Bible. Why not just say he doesn't accept the Bible as authority ? Why lie and make completely false arguments that are transparent ? Shame on him for being a fraud and a hack.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • Drew

      No, he mentioned leviticus.

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

      yeah, he just didn't mention all of it:
      13 If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

      very very dishonest article.

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

      Right, but his reason why the other passage from leviticus need not be regarded also applies here

      May 15, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      that's the thing, his reasons are terrible. he's translating dogma to suit his own societal views. he's saying nothing bad about h.omos.exuals, but i just showed you a passage where christians are told to kill g.ays - see how that makes his argument pretty ridiculous?

      May 15, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • Drew

      Wait, but I thought you said the passage you quoted was from leviticus, which is OT and hence need not be followed by Xtians, just like the dietary restrictions of Leviticus

      May 15, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      jesus himself says the OT must still be followed. sowwy.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • Drew

      No, because his coming "fulfilled" the law. That's why Xtians are allowed to eat shellfish, and wear clothing made from different types of thread. sorry

      May 15, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • Which God?

      'He likes it, Hey Mikey!' Cite facts.

      May 16, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  5. abbccddee

    Does anybody here even know who wrote the bible? Books have to have authors, right? The bible didn't just drop from the heavens, people. You dedicate your life to following the bible, condemning what is "a sin," yet you don't even know where the Bible came from?

    For your information, the first bible was written 200 years AFTER Jesus died.

    If you choose to mold your life around the opinions of some old, creative men in the past, you are only hurting yourself.

    Instead of following the Bible, think for yourself. What is right?

    May 15, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      "Circ.umvent your intelligence."
      - Kirk Cameron

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

      You have a serious misunderstanding both of the Old Testament and of history. To suggest it was written 200 years after Jesus is to betray your own ignorance.

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

      The New Testament wasn't even "written" by one person; the early church fathers compiled it centuries after Christ, deciding what would be included and what would be left out. Do you really trust a roomful of powerful men to tell you how to live your life?

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

      actually, mike, all of the NT was written 70-300 years after jesus' death. OT is pre-jesus. i think YOU are the one that needs to do some research.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • abbccddee

      Well Mike, who wrote the Bible? How do they know what God thought?

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

      Thank you Bootyfunk and Drew.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
  6. millmaster

    I'm closing my ears and my eyes! My bible is filled with hate and that's the way I like it. Forget all the stuff Jesus said about loving they neighbor and helping the poor and mistreated.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
  7. Mark in Omaha

    Organized religion divides.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
  8. Bev

    Doodaladoooo, sin is in the world and so people do sinful things, even priests can sinful. This is the reason that Jesus died on the cross. Only by his grace can we be saved. You are right about one thing, people don't come back to life. Those of us who know Jesus will never die. We'll go to sleep here and wake up in heaven. I feel sorry for you that you have no hope past this life. That is so sad. I will pray for you.

    As for the gay issue, I don't hate anyone, but I live by my beliefs. I believe that the Bible is clear that this is sinful. Do I think a gay person is condemned forever. It's not my place to say, but the Lord's. In the meantime, when voting on this issue, I will vote according to my Christian belief.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • abbccddee

      God didn't write the Bible, did he? Books don't just fall from the heavens. The Bible is opinion of man, not God.

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

      Bev, I agree with you. It is a sin against God. I stand by the bible. He surely doesn't know his bible. I feel sorry for him. I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. Who did God create? Adam and Eve... This man is sick. God have mercy on his soul.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
  9. Ryan

    The Bible has been twisted to say things that it doesn't mean for thousands of years. Why stop it now? For example, know that passage from 1st Corinthians that everyone loves to quote at weddings? Love is patient and all that? It means love thy neighbor. The whole thing. So to think that a belief having no basis in the Bible when the passages supporting it are really just taken out of context is going to go away or melt before the power of your contextual analysis is naivety at its finest.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
  10. Rand

    I'd urge everyone who is truly interested in this debate, regardless of which said you are on, to watch this... it is a very thoughtful, respectful, and detailed examination of this topic: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ezQjNJUSraY

    May 15, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
  11. Chris

    i was a Catholic and an alter boy when I was young then, as I grew older and started to Thankfully form some of my own thoughts and opinions I found that I couldn't reconcile the hypocrisy that organized religion preached any longer. I truly believe that you don't have to belong to one form of religion or another to "Go to Heavan" or wherever we go when we die. But I do believe that if you follow only one rule in life you will be fine in the end. Simply stated, treat other people the same way you want to be treated. As for the 2 thousand year old text called the Bible I find it amazing that so many purportedly intelligent individuals will and still do take it quite literally. I don't think that it is Stupidity but maybe ignorance or Fear? I find it so ironic that Religions have caused so much Destruction and Violence through the ages.. the very thing that they are supposed to be against. When will mankind evolve? or Will we evolve?

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

      Men cause war, not religions. And they use the same kind of rationalization as you do to make exceptions for themselves.

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

      Get real bible thumpers, Love is Love. Would yourather we burn the gays??? Please stop taking a 2000 year old text so literally. If you really want to take it literally than maybe you should have paid some livestock to your father in law or chopped of a hand of a theif.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  12. hal9thou

    Zzzzzzzzz. WHat! Oh, "Will & Grace" is on! Gotta watch this one!

    May 15, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
  13. Kevin

    I don't know what translation the author was using but he chopped of the end of Romans 1:27. I couldn't find any that left if off.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
  14. robert frost

    Who cares about the bible! Written by bunch of old men full of contradiction, flaws, and hypocrisy anyway. I'm Buddhist! You guys in joy rationalizing slavery, adultery, murder (death penalty) to suit yourselves. Kristians are full of B*S*, hence separation of church & state!

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

      You are not Buddhist! If you were, you would be a wiser person.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
  15. Newyorker

    “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.”

    Nuff said!

    May 15, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  16. Al

    Got to love it when they say does not EXACTLY say ...... Well that sounds like someone spoke with a lawyer.....

    May 15, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  17. bigflguy

    AMEN!!! End of discussion for all eternity. God loves everyone and humans need to stop judging!

    May 15, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  18. mcfx

    Front page on CNN? Wow! Even gay people are reading this and saying, "this is a stretching". Better to say, "we don't believe what the bible says", and be done with it CNN.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  19. Nii

    Excellent piece! Now explain away what the Bible says about murder using the same terms of reference! Ruth and Naomi were probably lovers? Is there anything that romantic love has not destroyed among you Westerners? Charitable love is stronger than romance and also very moralising. Not all love is!

    May 15, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  20. Ken

    So the Pope and the Magisterium, guided by the Holy Spirit, have used a "knee-jerk" reaction all these hundreds of years?
    This tool is just another renegade priest who is attempting to shape the Church to his own sinful desires. He won't last long...

    May 15, 2012 at 6:37 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.