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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. Jacob D

    This article is eye opening and sad. Couldn't be more wrong.

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

      A concluded mind is beyond growth.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • juraman123

      What is wrong? The explanation given by the author?

      If that is what you're saying (it's not clear from your sentence), please explain how it is wrong, using logical exegesis.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  2. Shame_On_CNN

    Why is an opinion posted as a leading story on cnn.com? iIt's as if CNN is implying that this opinion should be considered a factual, leading story.

    CNN, shame on you. Stop posting opinions as headlines. It's misleading and unprofessional.

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

    What about the Mormons that believe in mormon magical underwear that protects them from evil.Or they revere Joesoph Smith as their messiah when he was a con artist,molester,rapist,theif.Or what about Mormons believe god lives on planet kolob lol.I am a conservative christian repub and cannot vote for a cult bishop like Romney,Dont sell your sould supporting a cult bishop who believes this garbage lol.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
  4. Rev. James T.

    All this hullabaloo from the right-wing is just more holier-than-thouism which is definitely NOT Christian. Let s/he without sin, cast the first stone, no?

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

      So right after you throw the stone of "not really christian" you don't want anyone throwing any other stones?? Got it.

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

      and thou shalt not have no other God than me ... Or we'll destroy you! Nonsense stuff, Christianity is just as controlling and evil as the rest of the religions...

      May 15, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  5. ken

    another example of poor exegesis. typical liberal bias when attempting to condone a desired behavior. the bias comes as a result of first discounting the bible, then when that effort fails, trying to manipulate the book to what you want it to say. wow! btw- the ancients understood that the earth was round. just look it up

    May 15, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • truthspeaks

      You got that right! twisting the truth to make his wrong right

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

      Can you actually refute any of his arguments?

      May 15, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
  6. nyumbu

    The main sentiment of the Bible is to love and help the poor, but you`ll never hear these politicians making laws about it.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • CSMinDC

      The main sentiment of the Bible is reconciliation of fallen man to God. Helping widows, orphans, poor, etc., is required of believers in Christ.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
  7. spooledup

    This author is gay you can tell by looking at his effeminate a$$. Stop trying to destroy traditional marriage with your secular rants. CNN is garbage and it's ratings are dropping every day.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • momoya

      Then why don't you stop being a fvcking bigot who demands that everybody follow YOUR morality.. Fvck your morality.. You don't get to tell other people what's right or wrong or what they can or can't do.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • Sean Miller

      and I thought CNN was the pusher of the nullification of all Catholic Priests as pedophiles, and here they are quoting them... and if there was ever a priest that looked like one, he does! Hahahhaaha! How relevant things become when they fit your agenda.

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

      When I marry my gay husband your not invited lol :pppp

      May 15, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • Sean Miller

      momoya... are you "telling us to NOT do something" in your comment??? Wow, kettle calling the pot black. I bet you think all religious people are hypocrites don't you, you hypocrite.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • Large Marge

      Or just call it Gay marriage instead of Marriage by itself, would that solve the problem? The real question is after several translations how much of the original intended meaning is actually there? Even from a non-christian standpoint it would be interesting to know what the sense of morality was "back then".

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

      I know I'm a hypocrite; the christians don't know it and their arrogance is astounding.. I'm not a bigot, however.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • LynneSki

      And yet you feel the need to check out CNN's web site, read their articles and comment....hmmmm??????

      May 15, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • Sean Miller

      Momoya... yet again displays his hypocrisy. Look up the definition of bigotry. You will see that you just displayed bigoted behavior towards those who practice Christianity.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
  8. board3rboy713

    to the person named ".". I wish your father would have put you into some creepy guys "schmazola" where you belonged. Its because of anti gay beliefs that he even put you in your mother in the first place. trust me, the world would be much better off without your biased and uneducated opinions and even worse your strange grammer, "schmazola"? REALLY?

    May 15, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
  9. Sam Mandel

    Please try not to spill your se men on the ground, straight people. God might condemn the gays to hell, but he will sure as hell drop a straight guy on the spot for doing such a thing (with his deceased brother's wife, of course).

    May 15, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
  10. iqueue120

    If you choose the appropriate letters in the Sermon of the Mount, and you put them in the appropriate order, Jesus actually recommends smoking weed.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
  11. David

    The books of the Old Testament are not arranged in an accurate historical chronological order. If they were, then one would notice a constantly developing point of view. From seeing God as only a tribal god that approved of slavey and ethnic cleansing we see, in the end, a universal god emerge – a god that favors mercy and justice. If the Bible has any value at all it is that it reveals religion to be merely human perception and a perception that is constantly adapting to the reality on the ground. That a so-called perfect god would reveal him/her self in such an imperfect and and ever-changing fashion makes no sense at all. If we read the Bible at all it should be to learn about ourselves. As a "revelation" of God the Bible is beyond redemption. It amazes me that scholars even try.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
  12. Sean Miller

    blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah .... perverts perverting the truth. Secular, left wing news, promoting their agenda and find a dweeb from under a rock to push their agenda. For real!! Get a grip.

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

    I still cannot believe that in the 21st century a book of poems has any reliance. So glad I am an Atheist. so i don't have to read such gibberish.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • Sean Miller

      But... Mark, you just did read the gibberish and are commenting on it. :) There was some of it in the article.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • Jason

      You may be glad (or actually not glad because you are an outsider) today, but the day will come when you will meet your maker. You don't need to believe he exists you will meet him. He will ask you to account for your time on earth and if you have not accepted Christ as your personal savior you will certainly go to hell for eternity. Not saying that to be crewl, it is just a fact.

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

      Hey Jason- guess what? To enter the Pearly Gates one must pass a spelling test, so you'll fail. Is that "crewl"?lol

      May 15, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  14. tobugunow

    Jason.....clearly you did not read the full article as Leviticus is mentioned!!!

    May 15, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
  15. Phillip Anthony Biondo

    I am the rebirth of Jesus Christ. Praise the god of the Universe. Vote Phillip Anthony Biondo for President 2012 of the Fraternity Party! Brandon Gilligan USN for VP. Free College like k-12. Free Healthcare. All safe drugs,as determined by doctors, prescription and illegal will be legal. Invest in Intel and Amg: Superhuman computer making even smarter superhuman computer making fusion spaceship. God of the Universe, colonate the Milky Way. Homeless shelters, Raman noodles, and a multivitamin for the poor. Environmentally intelligent policy, Big Bang in Physics, Evolution in Biology, Strong Military, Technological Singularity in 2045. Alcohol and Tobacco are terrible drugs, go to the psychiatrist they will remain legal use at your own risk. I'm suing the U.S. government for Violation of freedom of Religion for sacred medicine as illegal actually causes depression as a result from being illegal. Cannabis, dmt, peyote, and psilocybin mushrooms do not qualify as schedule 1. No one can use nuclear weapons the world is a zoo. Any intelligent human knows we are Sapiens, a species of Ape closely related to Chimpanzees. If that Sheriff is right that Obama’s birth certificate is a forgery than is he even eligible for reelection? Everyone go Meditate in full lotus. JGA: No one can use nuclear weapons.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • juraman123

      Phillip,

      Please call a psychiatrist iimmediately

      May 15, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
  16. Arizona Yankee

    This writer must be and Obama Democrat. Lying through is teeth. These people will do or say anything to make sure you believe their far left socialist point of view.....Frankly, this guy is full of s c h i t . But, he found the right place to get his propaganda printed...Nice going CNN...

    May 15, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • Rick Simmons

      Go back to discriminating against Mexicans, Yankee trash.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • Ollie

      and you know he is lying . . . how? Because that is what you want to believe – but I bet you LOVE bacon. That, too, is an abomination. sinner.

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

      Your name is an Oxymoron. A Yankee is sombody from the North (and probably East). Arizona is neither. However other than that you are on the mark.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • Sid Airfoil

      Nicely argued. When you have a fact or two to present, let us know.

      Sid

      May 15, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • LynneSki

      OHHHHHH, and don't forget shellfish!!! Eating shellfish is an abomination and will send you to hell to!

      And touching Pigs skin on Sunday....so you know all those football players are just doomed!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      May 15, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
  17. Babs

    Whatever helps you sleep at night brah.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
  18. midogs2

    Everyone has an opinion of what the bible say's, who cares what their opinion is?..................................

    May 15, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • juraman123

      So...who cares what anyone thinks? Well, many conservatives care very much what their preachers/pastors say, and what they read themselves, in plain (translated) English.

      The writer of this article takes the words used in the Bible a little deeper, and explains that what people read when they read it isn't always what was meant in the original language.

      So, whether or not you believe in the bible, it is helpful when someone explains the root meanings of words used therein...

      May 15, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
  19. Nii

    A lot of people think Charitable love or Agape is the same as romance or the other types of love. Read its attributes in 1 Cor 13. I think males have a right to close friendship as a result of filial love or charitable love without being labelled gay. Being gay is a result of romantic love.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
  20. kenkatth

    I found this article very interesting, and I believe what the guy has written here. However, I don't care WHAT the bible says about this or anything else. I don't base my life on something primitive men wrote 2,000 years ago!

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

      Well you have that option if you wanna burn in hell we cant stop you sorry ill pray for you

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

      Right on, kenkatth! I'm in total agreement with you on this.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • derek

      ~kenkatth ... The best part is the Bible stole literature/mystical wonder/teachings from OTHER religions. Jesus born on Dec 25th? – Thank you Horus! ... But the real point here is that people blindly follow something as baseless as a Religion. The only thing good about religion is that it helps teach morals, but these morals are the same as common sense. "Thou shalt not kill' .. Wel DUH !!

      May 15, 2012 at 6:59 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.