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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. Robert

    Jason, he did mention Leviticus. There are laws in Leviticus that are not followed to this day. Mixed fabrics, shellfish and other silly things. At any rate this is a country where you have the right to believe what you want but just do not push your agenda on someone else.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
  2. Vinny G

    This article that purports to prove there are no references in the Bible to gây sëx being an abomination or impure, tries to imply Jesus got rid of or said the old laws don't count. Not so.

    Matthew 5:17

    King James Version: "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill."
    Aramaic Version: "Do not think that I have come to revoke The Written Law or The Prophets; I am not come to revoke but to fulfill."
    New Living Version: ""Don't misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose."

    And as Leviticus says....

    Leviticus 18:22 – "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination."

    Leviticus 20:13 "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"

    .....The language varies slightly in different translations but, that's the gist of it. So...if you as an adult choose to take it in the bum, Judaism or Christianity is not for you.

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

      Leviticus was mistranslated. What part of that do you not understand?

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

      Read Romans chapter 1. The whole chapter....

      May 15, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • Bee

      Leviticus is not the law of Moses or a prophecy.

      May 16, 2012 at 12:13 am |
  3. samsart

    The Bible is a story book. Tales told by many different people. Sort of a collection of written passages from the childrens' game 'telephone'. In the 21st century those that have the public's ear are obsessed with hashing and rehashing issues that are not issues. Anything to divert attention from the real problems the country, and world, face. The paranoia that grips so many , causing them to seek to crush anyone who does not believe as they do is choking this country to death. When will the original tenets of freedom of choice, couched in 'first , do no harm' to each other take hold? Harm means physical injury, or destruction of personal property- not a non adherence to one's personal beliefs. The effort that is expended in segregating, isolating, and discriminating large segments of the population would be better spent dealing with things like decent education, housing and medical care for ALL. Take 'religion' out of the common vocabulary.

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

      Fortunately, vocabulary adjustments have no effect on truth......

      May 15, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
  4. Totah Sam

    Jason – apparently you didn't read the article. You just skimmed through it for the purpose of condemnation. Read it again. Leviticus is listed. Open your eyes and close your mouth. That is the key to wisdom.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
  5. rev.phillip

    The temptation for most is to immediately focus on the issues of morality: "Is it right or wrong, OK or not". However, regardless of the claim you make it is impossible to ignore the fact that religion makes an enormous contribution to this political topic. Anyone who practices freedom of religion and separation of church and state cannot impose their religion upon politics without being heretical. Authors, such as Helminiak, are forced to approach the biblical text because separation of church and sate is being violated in a violent manner.

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

      You mean, kind of like it's wrong to impose traffic laws on people, and it's wrong to make it against the law to murder other people, and it's wrong to beat people up? How could civilized people dare to attempt to impose their views on others???

      May 15, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
  6. terri

    Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. What rock did this guy crawl out from under? What isn't funny is the fact that there will be many who, being unfamiliar with what the Bible says, will believe this drivel. When it comes to religion, each person must study the Bible for himself/herself in order to have the correct basis to determine who is and who isn't a follower of Christ.

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

      Based on your derisive laughter, it's clear that actually translating passages from the Bible doesn't matter. All that matters is what YOU think the Bible says. Hmm...

      May 15, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • Bad Religion

      he's was ordained a minister in Rome and you think this man doesn't know what he is talking about??? Wow, the mental jumping jacks you fundies put yourselves through knows no limits. At what point do you realize your basis of faith is wrong?? is it when you start sending those who don't believe the same as you to concentration camps????

      May 15, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • Sagian

      Actually, anyone who really studies the Bible: It's origins, context, history, etc... would agree with him.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • Bee

      You have such a closed mind. Too bad for you!

      May 15, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • terri

      Sometimes when you open your mind too far, your brain falls out.....If you read Romans chapter 1, you will find that men who don't follow God develop darkened minds, and they become fools. But like an alcoholic, doesn't sense what is happening until it is too late.....

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

      I was not suggesting that you open your mind "too far," just enough to recognize that there are valid differences when it comes to interpreting the Bible. The Bible is not meant to be taken literally. Just as we do not practice medicine as it was practiced in the first few centuries A.D., we have to practice Christianity in the context of modern knowledge and science. The two are not necessarily contradictory, but you have to see the metaphorical (non-literal) aspect of the Bible to make any sense of its contents today. Rules and laws given in the Old Testament were set aside by the New Covenant. If you want to live your life according to the old covenant, that's up to you; but don't impose it on everyone else.

      May 16, 2012 at 12:04 am |
  7. tevii

    How about we get over what this ancient comic book says altogether? Take it for the bit of fiction it is and move on as the human race should.
    Who cares if people are attracted to or in love with one another even if they are the same gender. If anyone goes out of their way to keep them happy because of that, then they are the ones with the issues. Wise up and get past this religious garbage

    May 15, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
  8. An Israelite indeed of the tribe of Judah

    This entire piece reeks of wrong understanding, but what else do you expect from the prince of the air.

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

      and of course – YOU are the expert that knows everything .......... DUMB A$$ loser!

      May 15, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • Bad Religion

      i thought this piece was well written and it even came with citations!!! your problem with it is that it does not conform to your warped sense of christianity. this man is an actual priest and scholar and yet you think you know more? i dare you to justify your beliefs as well as this man did here b/c i bet you can't.

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

      To Bad Religion,

      The issue is not with how the article is written. The issue is that it completely misquotes the Bible. Therefore, it should never have been put into print.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • Bee

      To terri (again), so now you are for censorship! You sound like a Nazi underneath your pronouncements about "truth." There are many truths, not just yours.

      May 16, 2012 at 12:20 am |
  9. Sean Miller

    Hahahahah! This blog is so monitored and filtered.

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

    If you believe that Adam and Eve really existed, you're Re to the tarded.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
  11. Wayne

    It never ceases to amaze me the convoluted arguments an academic with a preconceived notion about a social issue will go to advance his point of view. This article is full of thin postulates that should make any serious scholar vomit. Spare me please.

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

      And beyond the gagging and name-calling, your counter-argument is... ??

      May 15, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • pflatman

      Wayne, show us your scholarly, um, stuff, okay?

      May 15, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • Bad Religion

      small words from someone who can't conjure up a better argument due to their own lack of knowledge on the bible's subject material.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • terri

      I agree with you completely Wayne...

      May 15, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • Wayne

      Counterarguments to this kind of garbage? I am not even amused.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • Which God?

      @Vomiting wayne. Cite your academic credentials, and then back up your statments with facts. Bet you can't.

      May 16, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  12. Guest

    Wow I have never seen a person deliberately change the meaning of the word of God just for their own means. Lol. He just single highhandedly inferred that Gods word is not true. I am pretty sure also that Paul did put the word unseemly in there on purpose. Yet again it proves what the Bible has always said, saying that people will try to change to word and use it wrongly. He is like picking verses that deal with different topics and using it to validate a sinful practice.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
  13. Michael

    Marriage is between a man and a woman. This is the way God designed. Man are sinful, and they will try to distort truth and justify their actions. This article is a good example of this.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • rick jolie

      and you know exactly what god designed and how and why? did he tell you?

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

      Religion has manipulated mankind for hundreds of generations.

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

      To Rick Jolie,

      Yes He did. It's called the Bible....

      May 15, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • terri

      Correction: Man has manipulated mankind......

      May 15, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
    • Corwin7

      Hate to be the one to break this too you but god didn't "design" marriage...man did...god doesn't need a way to manage and transfer "property".

      May 15, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
  14. Pan3

    The bible is a book of fiction, not fact. Facts can be proven, which is science.

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

      So the HISTORY of the Jewish culture and Roman history is fiction? None of those people in the bible existed? That's what FICTION is: Harry Potter is FICTION! The long and amazing story of the Jewish faith is TRUE! The Roman Empire existed – that is not fiction.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • nut

      Precisely why Evolution is more of a religion than science. Still not proven, not a single transitional species...are you kidding me...and people pretend its fact?

      May 15, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • An Israelite indeed of the tribe of Judah

      Prove there was an explosion that created life as we know it. Prove man truly evolved from apes and if you can, why haven't the rest of the apes evolved? Prove your birth certificate is actually accurate and has not been tampered with from the time of your birth.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • terri

      Science has been proven wrong many, many times. But no one has ever been able to prove the Bible wrong even once.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
    • Corwin7

      First of all...Man did not "evolve" from apes...no one EVER suggested they did except nutjob frightened clergy seeing their stranglehold on the general populace evaporate. I find it hilarious that your dismissive of a theory your not even smart enough to understand and articulate. LOL

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

      To terri (again) - the Bible is "wrong" about almost everything that can be considered a fact. For example, the world was not created in 7 days. You have to take the word "day" metaphorically to mean millions of years. You will get yourself all wrapped around the axle if you try to take Biblical statements as fact. Where did the fossil record come from if the universe was created in seven days? The Bible is literature, and it is "true" in the sense that all literature is true, at a spiritual and emotional level. But it makes many misstatements of fact, such as Herod killing the innocents. It has been shown that nothing like that ever happened. Much of the chronology (time lines) given in the Bible are incorrect as well.

      May 16, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
  15. aaronavtr

    GOD LOVES EVERYONE!!!! BUT HE HATES SIN!!!!

    May 15, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • An Israelite indeed of the tribe of Judah

      If your going to speak of God, speak truth. God does NOT love everyone. (Romans 9:13-14) As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • An Israelite indeed of the tribe of Judah

      Liar! Roman 9:13

      May 15, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
  16. Gramma(r)

    'Scuse me, but weren't Naomi and Ruth mother and daughter? That WOULD be unseemly.

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

      NAOMI WAS RUTHS MOTHER IN LAW.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • Wayne

      Actually, she was a daughter-in-law. Her husband, Naomi's son, had died and Ruth eventually married another guy named Boaz. But don't worry, the author of this silly article (Helminiak) probably thinks that incest is condoned by the bible too!

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

      I am not sure what your point is but Naomi was Ruth's mother-in-law.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
  17. thinquer

    IF you only want half the truth about this subject, this article will do just fine. But if you want the God's view on the subject while still maintaining your neighborly love and respect for people of all inclinations, call your local Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses. This article leaves out important scriptures necessary for coming to the right conclusion.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
  18. Debbie

    The guy clearly needs to read the Bible again. He's twisted what it says. The word sodomy comes from Sodom. Sodom and Gommorah were destroyed by God and gay people existed then. Gays and other sinners were given over to a mind void of understanding. A person is gay by choice and no marriage rights should be given to them. It equals one that says he's going to go get high on drugs, though illegal, does it anyway. Defies the law. Hopefully Obama has somebody reading comments to know where he stands. I'm a white female in NC. I am not voting for him and will not change my mind. He doesn't seem interested in the economy, is never in the White House, has not kept his Hope and Change promises and is using gays and whomever he can to get votes because he's sinking and he's hoping they can't see through his lies. I can't wait to see him out of office. He has reallly let me down.

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

      Your statement: ..."white female in NC"... tells us all we need to know!

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

      You're twisting words. The word DUMB comes from DEBBIE

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

      "The word sodomy comes from Sodom."

      Citing a modern-day lingual contrivance doesn't give your position any more support. In fact, it seriously undermines it by illuminating the fact that the words don't mean what you think they mean.

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

      Thank you, Debbie, for having the courage to speak up for what's right!

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

      You and terri sound like two peas in a pod! You should get together for a pajama party! Who knows what that might lead to!

      May 16, 2012 at 12:25 am |
  19. LouAZ

    Dr Suess makes more sense than this article and the man made (and remade, and remade, and remade . . .) bible.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • An Israelite indeed of the tribe of Judah

      People born gay? LMAO. That means serial killers are born serial killers, child rapist are born attracted to raping children and police officers are born to oppress and abuse authority.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  20. Kristen

    I feel sorry for gay people

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

      They are definitely sick people.

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

      @Debbie: People in glass house...

      May 15, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • Shane Pfannenstiel

      For what, we are good and happy! I feel sorry for you for living in a world full of hate for your fellow man! I'm surprised you are even posting on CNN. Shouldn't you be watching Fox News with the rest of your bigot friends?

      May 15, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • Ross

      I feel sorry for you kristen – probably fat and ugly and needing a big di...........

      May 15, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      I'm sure your bigotry is not something they care about nor something any of us wish to hear about! Read a science book; learn something about these people and why they are gay (hint: it has to do with being born that way)-they are doing nothing wrong.

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

      According to Romans Chapter 1, because gays despised God, He gave them over to desire something that would result in a curse to themselves. There is no need to feel sorry for them, they had an opportunity to accept God but refused. They are already beginning to reap the results of choices made long ago, ironically while believing themselves to be happy. Kind of like people who first take drugs. They feel really happy, until the real truth begins to reveal itself. But then, it's too late to take it back. The best choice is prevention.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • Shane Pfannenstiel

      @ terri, there is no "prevention" silly. Apparently you take what a book says over scientific facts. If you think that what you say is true than you should take a look at your own life, cause apparently it is full of hate. We are happy and we are fighting for our right to roam this Earth freely just as anyone else. BTW.. If there is only one god that states all these things then why are there so many different religions. Ignorance is bliss isn't it! Go back to Fox News while reveling in your own drowning pool of hate!

      May 15, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • terri

      Shane, that is an old argument which has been proven to be untrue. Gays take delight in recruiting new members from the straight community, which would not be possible if gays were "born that way". Further, animals follow their instincts but people have control over their behavior, if they choose to exercise that control.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • Bee

      To Debbie and terri - you are both so mistaken and so close-minded that it is impossible to have a conversation with either one of you. Be honest with yourself: Have you never felt an attraction to another woman? It's OK - it's normal. God made us that way!

      May 16, 2012 at 12:35 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.