My Take: The Bible really does condemn homosexuality
March 3rd, 2011
01:25 PM ET

My Take: The Bible really does condemn homosexuality

By Robert A. J. Gagnon, Special to CNN

Editor’s Note: Robert A. J. Gagnon, Ph.D., is associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics and (with Dan Via) Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views.

In her recent CNN Belief Blog post “The Bible’s surprisingly mixed messages on sexuality,” Jennifer Wright Knust claims that Christians can’t appeal to the Bible to justify opposition to homosexual practice because the Bible provides no clear witness on the subject and is too flawed to serve as a moral guide.

As a scholar who has written books and articles on the Bible and homosexual practice, I can say that the reality is the opposite of her claim. It’s shocking that in her editorial and even her book, "Unprotected Texts," Knust ignores a mountain of evidence against her positions.

It raises a serious question: does the Left read significant works that disagree with pro-gay interpretations of Scripture and choose to simply ignore them?

Owing to space limitations I will focus on her two key arguments: the ideal of gender-neutral humanity and slavery arguments.

Knust's lead argument is that sexual differentiation in Genesis, Jesus and Paul is nothing more than an "afterthought" because "God's original intention for humanity was androgyny."

It’s true that Genesis presents the first human (Hebrew adam, from adamah, ground: “earthling”) as originally sexually undifferentiated. But what Knust misses is that once something is “taken from” the human to form a woman, the human, now differentiated as a man, finds his sexual other half in that missing element, a woman.

That’s why Genesis speaks of the woman as a “counterpart” or “complement,” using a Hebrew expression neged, which means both “corresponding to” and “opposite.” She is similar as regards humanity but different in terms of gender. If sexual relations are to be had, they are to be had with a sexual counterpart or complement.

Knust cites the apostle Paul’s remark about “no ‘male and female’” in Galatians. Yet Paul applies this dictum to establishing the equal worth of men and women before God, not to eliminating a male-female prerequisite for sex.

Applied to sexual relations, the phrase means “no sex,” not “acceptance of homosexual practice,” as is evident both from the consensus of the earliest interpreters of this phrase and from Jesus' own sayings about marriage in this age and the next.

All the earliest interpreters agreed that "no 'male and female,'" applied to sexual relations, meant "no sex."

That included Paul and the ascetic believers at Corinth in the mid-first century; and the church fathers and gnostics of the second to fourth centuries. Where they disagreed is over whether to postpone mandatory celibacy until the resurrection (the orthodox view) or to begin insisting on it now (the heretical view).

Jesus’ view

According to Jesus, “when (people) rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels” (Mark 12:25). Sexual relations and differentiation had only penultimate significance. The unmediated access to God that resurrection bodies bring would make sex look dull by comparison.

At the same time Jesus regarded the male-female paradigm as essential if sexual relations were to be had in this present age.

In rejecting a revolving door of divorce-and-remarriage and, implicitly, polygamy Jesus cited Genesis: “From the beginning of creation, ‘male and female he made them.’ ‘For this reason a man …will be joined to his woman and the two shall become one flesh’” (Mark 10:2-12; Matthew 19:3-12).

Jesus’ point was that God’s limiting of persons in a sexual union to two is evident in his creation of two (and only two) primary sexes: male and female, man and woman. The union of male and female completes the sexual spectrum, rendering a third partner both unnecessary and undesirable.

The sectarian Jewish group known as the Essenes similarly rejected polygamy on the grounds that God made us “male and female,” two sexual complements designed for a union consisting only of two.

Knust insinuates that Jesus wouldn’t have opposed homosexual relationships. Yet Jesus’ interpretation of Genesis demonstrates that he regarded a male-female prerequisite for marriage as the foundation on which other sexual standards could be predicated, including monogamy. Obviously the foundation is more important than anything predicated on it.

Jesus developed a principle of interpretation that Knust ignores: God’s “from the beginning” creation of “male and female” trumps some sexual behaviors permitted in the Old Testament. So there’s nothing unorthodox about recognizing change in Scripture’s sexual ethics. But note the direction of the change: toward less sexual license and greater conformity to the logic of the male-female requirement in Genesis. Knust is traveling in the opposite direction.

Knust’s slavery analogy and avoidance of closer analogies

Knust argues that an appeal to the Bible for opposing homosexual practice is as morally unjustifiable as pre-Civil War appeals to the Bible for supporting slavery. The analogy is a bad one.

The best analogy will be the comparison that shares the most points of substantive correspondence with the item being compared. How much does the Bible’s treatment of slavery resemble its treatment of homosexual practice? Very little.

Scripture shows no vested interest in preserving the institution of slavery but it does show a strong vested interest from Genesis to Revelation in preserving a male-female prerequisite. Unlike its treatment of the institution of slavery, Scripture treats a male-female prerequisite for sex as a pre-Fall structure.

The Bible accommodates to social systems where sometimes the only alternative to starvation is enslavement. But it clearly shows a critical edge by specifying mandatory release dates and the right of kinship buyback; requiring that Israelites not be treated as slaves; and reminding Israelites that God had redeemed them from slavery in Egypt.

Paul urged enslaved believers to use an opportunity for freedom to maximize service to God and encouraged a Christian master (Philemon) to free his slave (Onesimus).

How can changing up on the Bible’s male-female prerequisite for sex be analogous to the church’s revision of the slavery issue if the Bible encourages critique of slavery but discourages critique of a male-female paradigm for sex?

Much closer analogies to the Bible’s rejection of homosexual practice are the Bible’s rejection of incest and the New Testament’s rejection of polyamory (polygamy).

Homosexual practice, incest, and polyamory are all (1) forms of sexual behavior (2) able to be conducted as adult-committed relationships but (3) strongly proscribed because (4) they violate creation structures or natural law.

Like same-sex intercourse, incest is sex between persons too much structurally alike, here as regards kinship rather than gender. Polyamory is a violation of the foundational “twoness” of the sexes.

The fact that Knust chooses a distant analogue (slavery) over more proximate analogues (incest, polyamory) shows that her analogical reasoning is driven more by ideological biases than by fair use of analogies.

Knust’s other arguments are riddled with holes.

In claiming that David and Jonathan had a homosexual relationship she confuses kinship affection with erotic love. Her claim that “from the perspective of the New Testament” the Sodom story was about “the near rape of angels, not sex between men” makes an "either-or" out of Jude 7’s "both-and."

Her canard that only a few Bible texts reject homosexual practice overlooks other relevant texts and the fact that infrequent mention is often a sign of significance. It is disturbing to read what passes nowadays for expert “liberal” reflections on what the Bible says about homosexual practice.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Robert A. J. Gagnon.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Bible • Christianity • Homosexuality

soundoff (4,272 Responses)
  1. mitri

    They Bible taken symbolically can be of some use in assisting the inner life of an individual, it being comprised of thoughts and ideas deemed worthy of passing on to future generations. Taken literally however is the hight of foolishness given that its creation was never written to be historically or literally accurate. Prior to the Bibles first printing in the common tongue it was argued that the ability to read the Bible without having the historic and etymological perspective capable of understanding it would lead to fundamentalism. And lo and behold, it did. read the tao te ching or the dhammapada or go and listen to a wise teacher of today and stop trying to support our own ignorance on a book whose veracity is knowingly suspect.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  2. sleepytime

    Yet another reason the Bible is a terrible place to get one's morality from.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • ruemorgue

      Just the *opposite*! It's a great place to get moral absolutes! You selectively choose what *you* like and since it is *the* book, no one can argue with you! It's the source of all knowlege (of importance) and all morality (as seen 2000+ years ago by religious sealots)! Couldnat ask for a better *appeal to authority* authority!

      March 3, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
  3. Jim

    How come the handbook at my job isn't subject to interpretation but the book that represents a huge religion is? That must mean that a lot of people who think they are going to heaven are gonna be REALLY disappointed. 🙂

    March 3, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  4. JDF

    Finally. Someone who knows what they are talking about. I enjoyed the article man but you spend way too much time refuting an argument that is, as you stated, "riddled with holes".

    March 3, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  5. GE

    There is a reason God created Man and Woman

    March 3, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • Observer

      Yes. The Bible says that Eve was created because Adam needed a "helper". Read it.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • Elisabeth

      procreation... the world has enough people... we won't run out of people willing to make more babies (rather they should or not)...

      March 3, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  6. Kevin Carroll

    More convoluted crap from the folks who hate Capurnicus, Galileo, Darwin, Einstein and just about anybody who dares to think for themselves. Did you ever stop to think that the Bible might have been invented to vest power int hose who would be kings and levy taxes?

    March 3, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • ReligionKills

      Good Point! Religion served it's purpose in ancient times. Listen to Penn Jillette's essay on "This I Believe" called "There is No God." Now that we know better we should do better. I am sick and tired of the religious arrogance, bullying and intimidation by all faiths-not just the Bible-based who try to force their beliefs into my government. I only admire the architecture!

      March 3, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • MarkSamuels

      Most everyone on your list read, and believed in the bible.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • Paul Bishop

      This is such an irresponsible statement. Please introduce me to a Christian who hates those fine scientists, I have never met one. I doubt Dr. Gagnon does either.
      And ironically, much of the Bible was written by those who had no power. This is true of the writers of the entire New Testament, who were persecuted by the powers that be, of the Pslams David wrote while fleeing Saul, the Prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, etc. Of course you have political leaders like Moses, Solomon, etc. in there, but I'd venture to say that near half the Bible was written by people with nothing to gain politically – and in fact had everything to lose by writing what they did, like imprisonment, flogging, beatings, being thrown down wells, crucifixion, being sawn in two, speared, and other nasty affairs.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
  7. Mike D

    Hey, what anyone does in their bedroom is their business. Some do nothing. Some do things others find grotesque and morally reprehensible. I don't particularly care as long as you keep the door closed.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • MarkSamuels

      Awesome, then you won't be demanding legislation that forces my children to be taught about the sordid details of your bedroom activity? If you want to marry your d0g, shouldn't that be allowed? Oh that's right, you'd be labled d0g haters then, if you voiced your opposition to that.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • Patrick

      ??? What are you talking about?

      March 3, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  8. Jerry Bishop

    Leviticus 25:44 states that I ma own slaves, both male and female, provide they are purchased from neighboring nations.Does that mean I can own Mexicans and Canadiens??

    March 3, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • Elisabeth

      that's funny!

      March 3, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • derp

      Why limit it? Cuba and Jamaica are close too

      March 3, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  9. hicupper

    An ambiguous, convoluted interpretation of 2000 year old writings that have been translated from other languages by someone with an agenda. Where does it say "men shouldn't fornicate (or whatever) with other men" or women with women? If the Bible said not to do it it would more than likely be short and sweet like a 10 word commandment, which could be stated directly for anyone who could read the language, not something requiring a 1000 word clarification by "experts".

    March 3, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • JDF

      Leviticus 18:22. Pretty direct I would say.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • knicks1

      Leviticus 18:22. "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination"..15 words...

      March 3, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
  10. Dan Rizzuto

    Dear Professor, Why go through all this trouble of constructing an argument to refute her when you can just cite scripture?

    Timothy 2:12 – "Do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent."

    March 3, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • Sirena

      Best post yet!

      March 3, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • Reynolds

      Tim had a point there.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  11. Paul Bishop

    Kudos to CNN for giving balance and allowing a response to that article. It really is appreciated. Though from reading these comments maybe not by all appreciate it that much...

    March 3, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  12. keeth in cali

    Opinions are not fact, and the Bible is NOT the word of God. The Bible was written by man, and man is inherently fallible, meaning the Bible is as well.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  13. ruemorgue

    So the Bible has multiple interpretations, *truths*, as seen from different points of view. That's a shock. Yawn. Face it, the bible is a compendium of previous and larger stories, legends, and myths borrowed from other, older, cultures. The world-wide flood to punish the sinners is a story from Mesopotamia. The Tower of Babel is from a much older Sumerian story, etc. Yawn. The Right sees what it wants. The Left sees what it wants. Each is *wrong* because the *appeal to authority* argument is fallacious. Ask any logician.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
  14. Matt

    And the point of this is????? The bible condemns a lot of things a lot of people do. WHO CARES!

    March 3, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
  15. KasChap28

    If Eve came of Adam, wouldn't THEY be "to much structurally alike"? They had a couple of sons and daughters...who then slept with eachother. If that's how God made it, wouldn't incest be perfectly natural? I'm not condoning it myself, I'm just saying...you're missing all the contradictions if you're taking it litterally.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
  16. Jinx

    It doesn't matter what the Bible says. Separation of church and state.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
  17. bill

    I thought it was God's role to judge, the clergy's role to teach. It's not our role to condemn.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • MarkSamuels

      Your right, it's your "fruits" that condemn you

      March 3, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
  18. 1842

    So Helper, do you have a repeat button or have you only read one verse of the Bible? It's easy to quote scripture and leave it as is, but there is something called context. Also, it's easy to add these scripture "clauses" in order to legitimize yourself. I'm not saying the Bible is not the word of God, or any other argument. I'm just saying it was written by many people and many different points in history, with motivations known and unknown to us. Also, we evolve as people, therefore holding onto archaic beliefs word for word stunts our growth intellectually and morally.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • Wait a minute

      The Word is written by man.."Inspired" by the Holy Spirit (important factor).

      March 3, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • Tracy

      It is amazing isn't it. Christians totally ignore the panel of experts that have proven that being gay is not a mental disorder, it's not a choice and can't be voluntarily changed. It has also been proven that the reports and writings about this subject in the past were done by prejudice and bigoted people. That's context. LOL!

      March 3, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • JDF

      So by your argument we should also reject the teachings of Buddha and Confucius as well?

      March 3, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  19. Jay

    Whatever. About 20-30 years from now, when nearly all of society accepts gay marriage, religious "conservatives" will be saying they were for it all along. Kind of like "conservatives" do now when they talk about how they were the ones that opposed racial segregation.

    Nobody tells these loons how to practice their Voodoo. Can't they just leave everyone else alone? Or is "live and let live" too complicated a concept?

    March 3, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
  20. eRed

    Regardless of what the Bible says, our counrty was founded on principles of Seperation of Church and State. How about this, we all follow the Bible and relieve all unpaid debt every seven years? Neocons won't like that.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • David

      Look seperation of church and state is great...That doesnt mean you should have seperation from moraliy from church or from state.
      Other wise we are all just holding on to the swirling currents of this porcelin bowl we call civilization.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • StanCartmanKyleKenny

      The swirling currents of this bowl...in your opinion. Others may not hold civilization in the same disregard. That's the whole point of separation ... your opinion should not be forced on anyone else.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:01 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.