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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. jz

    11:41 And every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth shall be an abomination; it shall not be eaten.

    11:42 Whatsoever goeth upon the belly, and whatsoever goeth upon all four, or whatsoever hath more feet among all creeping things that creep upon the earth, them ye shall not eat; for they are an abomination.

    20:9 For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him.

    20:10 And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.

    tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Luke 17:34-35

    ...oh Jesus!

    May 19, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  2. Al Sorensen

    What a FOOL!!!

    May 19, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • Bet

      Stop looking in the mirror and you'll feel better.

      May 20, 2012 at 11:30 am |
  3. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things *

    May 19, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • Phos Phorus

      Agreed. It lowers IQ points.

      May 19, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • Jesus

      *Prayer doesn’t not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!*!

      May 21, 2012 at 10:55 am |
  4. Charles S.

    Ecc. 11;13,14 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter; Fear God, and keep his commandments;for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall being every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be evil.

    May 19, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • Bet

      Isaiah 13:15-18

      15 Everyone who is found will be thrust through,
      And everyone who is captured will fall by the sword.
      16 Their children also will be dashed to pieces before their eyes;
      Their houses will be plundered
      And their wives ravished.

      May 20, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  5. Sean

    20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

    24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

    26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.

    28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; 32 and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.

    May 19, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
  6. JoJo

    We are doomed to the fires of damnation and the living life of hell on earth. God has forsaken us and the evil empire has started. We need Luke Skywalker to elimenate all the foes of justice.

    What the hell.....who cares. !!!!

    May 19, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
  7. Fernando

    LIBERAL MEDIA TRYING TO CHANGE MIND SET, DON'T BLAME THEM THEY COME FROM LIBERAL IDEOLOGY WORLD , ESPECIALLY A PROFESSOR, THEY LIVE IN A DIFFERENT WORLD.

    May 19, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • JoJo

      I know, we need and desire the repressive right ideology on Gods earth now.

      May 19, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • Phos Phorus

      All hail the Christian Dominion! Willful ignorance is an extolled virtue and seekers of knowledge shall find the sword! All hail the Christian Dominion!

      May 19, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • Bet

      Equal rights for all people is not a liberal vs. conservative issue. It's a human rights issue.

      May 20, 2012 at 11:34 am |
  8. mat

    The word the bible uses is an abomination. It is stated clearlty and definitively. LIAR.

    May 19, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • George65

      100 % AGREE!

      May 19, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • Bet

      Your book of fairy tales is full of contradictions. Your god is supposedly a god of love, but tells you to hate and kill anyone who doesn't think, look and act just like you.

      May 20, 2012 at 11:39 am |
  9. Salero21

    That's his take Not the take of the Bible!

    May 19, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • Phos Phorus

      The Bible must be full of germs, because everyone that reads it and starts to believe in it ends up sick!

      May 19, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  10. sigzero

    So many bad arguments in so little space. He should be defrocked.

    May 19, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
  11. USEZUMA

    All those ungodly act happening nw,happens to fulfil God's prophecy. But sorry to whom who fall into temptation

    May 19, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
  12. Gods Answer

    For those who want to be fooled by this article check this:

    Leviticus 18:22-25 KJV

    Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination. Neither shalt thou lie with any beast to defile thyself therewith: neither shall any woman stand before a beast to lie down thereto: it is confusion. Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you: And the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants.

    May 19, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • Fab

      Psalm 137, verse 9:
      Happy is the one who seizes your infants
      and dashes them against the rocks.

      Mind if I take your child, and bash him against a rock?

      May 19, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • Phos Phorus

      Leviticus has no power and no authority. It is as impotent as the deity it describes.

      May 19, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • Fran Morton

      I agree 100% Leviticus 18:22-25 KJV

      Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination. Neither shalt thou lie with any beast to defile thyself therewith: neither shall any woman stand before a beast to lie down thereto: it is confusion. Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you: And the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants.

      May 19, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
    • Bet

      2 Kings 2:23-24
      King James Version (KJV)

      23 And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.

      24 And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.

      So if you tease a bald man, you should be killed, according to your bible. Especially if you are a child.

      May 20, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
  13. MalcolmXcrement

    He must be reading some wacky version of the Bible that the rest of us haven't seen.

    Call me crazy, but I seem to recall the word "abomination" being used. That's a pretty unambiguous term...

    May 19, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • jmax8200

      Did you even bother to read the freaking article before you posted your ignorant comment?

      May 19, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  14. VICTORIA EVANS

    WE ARE NOT SUPPOSE TO JUDGE ANYONE. GOD ALREADY DID. MAN LYING WITH MAN LIKE A WOMEN IS WRONG.WHAT HAPPEN TO OUR VOTES WHEN WE ALL STOOD FOR MARRIAGE BETWEEN A MAN AND A WOMEN? I DON'T KNOW WHO I WILL VOTE FOR BUT I KNOW WHO I'M NOT VOTING FOR.WE ARE IN THE LAST AND EVIL DAYS. WE ARE GOING TO HAVE TO STAND UP OR SHUT UP. WE ARE EITHER FOR GOD OR WE'ER NOT. NO STRADDLING THE FENCE. YOUR EITHER HOT OR COLD. YES OR NO. GET RIGHT OR GET LEFT.

    May 19, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • Phos Phorus

      Here's an idea. Try throwing out your collection of Bronze Age and Dark Age philosophy and grow a spine. Ho.mose.xuality is found in hundreds of animal species all over the world, and some animals actually go back and forth between being male and female. If anything should burn for eternity, it is the Bible. It caused more segregation, separation, and prejudice than anything else in our country. It is a virus, a disease, a pathogen, a blight...it is a malignant literary work and I proudly stand for any group that is in opposition to the foul garbage spewed by the Bible.

      May 19, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • TPN51

      Since MAN (since your caps lock is on) is the only monogamous creature on the planet, kinda blows your theory since all creatures are Gods creatures. And for the record, two women getting it on is an aphrodisiac for the majority of the men on this planet, your husband included. If he denies, he lies.

      May 19, 2012 at 11:37 am |
  15. Ray

    This guy could find reason to say that the sun rises in the west. Depends on where you are standing at the time.

    May 19, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • Bet

      Because the bible doesn't have any contradictions in it, right?

      As I recall, Numbers 22:28 says: And the lord opened the mouth of the ass, and she said to Balaam, What have I done to you, that you have smitten me these three times?

      Pretty much sums up what most christians sound like when they regurgitate the nonsense they hear from the pulpit.

      May 20, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
  16. Lisa

    Wow...if this is the case then there is nothing illegal or impure. If we claim we are saved and think we have a pure heart in our minds then we can do anything and it's ok with God. So I guess this man is saying that we should respect the stance of people who believe they are doing nothing wrong when they molest their children, beat women and children, slavery, etc. God loves these people too and if they are "saved" and doing things then this guy is saying God is ok with that too? We can make anything right in our own minds and use the bible to justify it.

    May 19, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • Phil

      I would agree with you if you actually keep all the other rules which Leviticus and Romans ETC ETC ETC. Don't eat seafood except fish, no pork, don't touch anything made of pig skin, kill birds and fling their blood against the walls inside your house if you have mold, if you are a woman then sleep outside your town during menstruation. Romans puts liars, cheaters, those who repeat gossip, and others in the same passages mistakenly translated/interpreted as anti-gay. If you apply the standards you say you admire, rather than just stuff you personally don't like, then you would prohibit marriage for anyone who ever lied, cheated, or repeated any gossip, or eats shrimp or touches old footballs (pre-vinyl).

      May 19, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
    • Bet

      This is an argument that is commonly used by Christians which completely ignores the concept of consent. Two adult men can each consent to have intimate relations. That is quite different from a man and a seven year old, who cannot consent to intimate relations. Women who are beaten have not given consent to be beaten. Slaves do not consent to be kidnapped and sold like cattle.

      Consent is conveniently ignored by Christians who want to oppress others who do not look, act or think exactly the way they do.

      May 20, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
  17. Jonathan Thomas

    Since there have already been so many informed responses to this post, I just want to add that is not "The Rock" on which the church is built. It is the revelation Peter had about Jesus that is the Rock.

    May 19, 2012 at 8:09 am |
  18. M

    Romans 1: 16-32.

    May 19, 2012 at 7:45 am |
    • Cq

      Which may be mistranslated, yes?

      May 19, 2012 at 9:19 am |
  19. Bill Fitzgerald

    You want references? Lev. 18:22, 20:13, Deut 23:17, Isa 3:9, Rom 1:27, 1 Cor 6:9, 1Tim 1:10, Jude 1:7, And if you would like the ref. in the Book of Mormon, let me know, you can have those too. Scripture indicates it is an abomination.

    May 19, 2012 at 7:32 am |
    • Cq

      The various "abominations" of the Bible all refer to Jewish cleanliness Law that Christians do not follow anyway, right?

      May 19, 2012 at 9:21 am |
    • Lisa

      If we are christians then we are grafted into the jewish heritage (family) not set a part from it. No where in the bible does it say christians do not have to submit to God's wishes on how to live.

      May 19, 2012 at 9:32 am |
    • VICTORIA EVANS

      AMEN

      May 19, 2012 at 10:36 am |
    • Fab

      Ok, so if you all follow this one rule, I imagine none of you get haircuts, and all of you eat Kosher. Am I correct?

      May 19, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • Depends

      If I live amongst those who practice this behavior and my haircuts and love of bacon causes those to fall away from Christ...and if the practice does not compromise my faith and the core doctrine of Christianity, I may consider it. I think people forget that many things in the Bible, such as the laws of Leviticus, highlight the distance between God and us, due to His perfect and holy nature. No man, through his efforts, can be saved. Rather, it is the grace of God and the salvation within Jesus, which bridges this gap. You can tease out one or two verses which describe what you need for your argument and it will be completely out of context of the spirit of what the Bible is trying to accomplish. Yes, Christians believe that the Bible is the Living Word and that it is timeless. It is also a literal, written history of the nation of Israel, which will include many things which seem strange in the modern world. It'll take a lifetime and more to understand it...I believe it takes an afterlife.

      May 19, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
    • Bet

      " It'll take a lifetime and more to understand it...I believe it takes an afterlife."

      That's a cop out.

      If your god is so interested in teaching us right from wrong, he's doing a terrible job. I went to twelve years of parochial school, and I'd ask why god seemed to contradict himself all the time. Whenever I asked a question that they couldn't answer, they'd tell me it was one of god's mysteries and I'd understand it after I died.

      I can't believe in a god who writes a book that's supposed to teach us how to live that we can't understand until after we're dead.

      May 20, 2012 at 11:59 am |
  20. DCU Secular & Sceptic Society

    I have to admit i think this man is way of point. He may be grabbing at straws to keep himself afloat. His points are varied and nonsensical and only those who would blindly want to beileve this would. The bible is clearly anti gay, anti foreigner, anti shell fish etc.

    May 19, 2012 at 6:38 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.