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. Pastor M

    There are an awful lot of you that are taking the time to both read and post about something you consider so contrived! You may not agree with his stance, however, is there not a constructive and educated dialogue to engage in? It is important from my persepective to note that within the context of this discussion there is no real mention of the Christian sense of true grace and forgiveness. "All have sinned and fall short of God". Calling something wrong does nto have to necessarily translate into hate...people should know a Chrsitian by their LOVE.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • joe

      You should make that last bit into a song.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  2. kEL

    Does it really matter? Does the bible even specify the difference between good and evil anyay? And why does anyone put so much faith in this book? Is this healthy anymore, aren't we, as a species, fight about everything else having to do with unproven religious theory? Can we move on already?

    March 3, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  3. MB

    Of course, there's the premise that we're all flawed and part of that has to do with not following what the Bible says, rather reading meaning into it to fit the lives we live. There's only one way any of us will know for sure and at that point, we really won't be around to tell what happens. I guess we all have to ponder the meaning of life on our own terms and if the Bible is central to any of it. After that, we're just hoping we were right.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  4. Rob001

    Thank you so much Robert Gagnon for writing this article against Jennifer Knust's earlier article. I can not emphasize how much I appreciate you writing this. When I read Jennifer Knust's article I felt sick to my stomach that someone could twist the Word of God so badly. Thank you for taking the time to respond to her and ensure that the Word of God is upheld. Thank you!

    March 3, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • Shadyjade

      You mean word of man, right? Do you really think a fiction of your imagination sat down and wrote a book? How sad

      March 3, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • steven harnack

      I can't tell if this is satire or not. Works as satire for me.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • LogicalSense

      I dont consider myself a religous man but I believe in the concept of God. I would say im agnostic. Rob, I know this is hard for you to hear but the bible isnt the word of God, it is the word of men. Men who didnt live with Jesus and men who couldnt even agree with each other. Many competing books of the bible are not in our modern version because they were thrown out in the council of Nicaea. These are facts that have been proven by science so please join the modern world and logic and realize that this isnt the word of God.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  5. Leroy Jackson

    the bible is racist – it encourages slavery, however, the israelites are not to enslave their own but the non-israelites. The NT condones it – i do not get the statement that slavery was condoned by the bible to prevent starvation? Are you serious? Your god is the deimurge – I hate him – arrogant fool.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
  6. GuestColin

    lol @ anyone who reads the bible in 2011 and perceives it as a truth.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
  7. Greg Lippert

    See even my post has to be moderated – where is the 1st amendment for that CNN? Damn hypocrites. I can't say what is on my mind but these Westboro baptist terrorists can? Freedom my ass!!!! Typical USA. Double standards and do as I say not as I do!!!! GO USA most corrupt country in the world

    March 3, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • steven harnack

      CNN is not the government. FOX wants to be the government but they aren't. It is the government that can't limit your free speech. Civics 101!

      March 3, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
  8. V

    Here's my thing: Who cares what the Bible says– or rather how this or that HUMAN interprets it. WHO wrote the Bible? It is clear to me after years of research and observation and years of life– that the Bible was written by PEOPLE who may have been Divinely Inspired, but they were HUMAN and had their own thoughts, feelings and opinions that were interjected into what they wrote. AND then, there have been years and years of HOLIER THAN THOU HUMANS editing it.

    So for me– I do not care what the Bible "says"– or how anyone else INTERPETS it. For me, the question is: what does my HEART say? Where is the LOVING? To me– that was Christ's whole message– from our Father God– and I am sure Mother God/Goddess too!

    March 3, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
  9. Bob

    Great. Honestly I couldn't care less, though, as I'm not a Christian.

    I am an American, though, and I'd appreciate it if people would stop acting like Christian morals should dictate the laws of this country. Believe what you want to in church – not the legislature.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
  10. Teri

    To all of those who can't believe that anyone would believe a 2000 year old book I say...

    The truth does not change, wear out, become obsolete or need a periodic refresh. I'd rather place my trust in a God that has does not change his truth based on current world view.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • Leroy Jackson

      I personally follow the Vedas they are much older than the bible – truth does not change!!!! LOL!!!

      March 3, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • Adam

      Leroy speaks the truth. The Vedas are much older....but you probably don't know anything about that.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
  11. steve

    The Bible says it's OK to own slaves so shouldn't we go back to that as well?

    March 3, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
  12. zaNe

    There is no god. The bible is dribble. Next stop: progress.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
  13. Liz

    The bible also talks about slavery, sacrifices and poking out one's eye if they lust or sin but we don't do that.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
  14. Drew

    If you're talking "Bible", then you're not talking American Law.

    Since when did CNN become a website for Bible study.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • Teresa

      This is a CNN blog on belief. You might be interested to know that there are more people who attend worship on one given Sunday than appear in professional baseball all season. CNN has plenty to say about sports, so why shouldn't they engage in the subject of faith, since it is a part of so many of our lives?

      March 3, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  15. Darlene

    The bible?
    What the he**ll is that?
    In this day and age you wouldn't think intelligent people would even be reading dusty old books like that, it's drivel.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • Nony Mouse

      No I guess they should be reading about sparkly vampires.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • Matt

      I would imagine you would be reading it then since you clearly aren't intelligent.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
  16. Mark

    "rendering a third partner both unnecessary and undesirable."

    Uhhh..speak for yourself 🙂

    March 3, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • M


      March 3, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
  17. M

    I don't oppose gay unions since just because I believe that behavior is a sin doesn't mean I can force someone not to sin. If they want to do that, so be it. Let them have the real estate and ownership and medical benefits. I hope they will stay in a monogamous relationship and love that person. BUT I do not believe the union should be called marriage. There is one superior relationship in all of humanity- the relationship that can create life. And it deserves a special word since it's not on the same biological scale as a gay relationship.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • Teresa

      I whole heartedly agree with M. Use a different word other than "marriage".

      March 3, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • MW

      Marriage is a legal agreement. Only those who are religious and count it as a religious experience see marriage as a male/female pairing. But the rest of us who make no connection between marriage and religion (e.g., I do not plan to get married in a church and will not be married by a religious figure) don't see it that way.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • MW

      AND I'm straight. What gives me the right to marry someone without any religious connection and still call it a marriage, and not someone who's gay?

      March 3, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • C

      I understand what you are saying but the word you are looking for isn't marriage. there are plenty of people that have procreated without the added bonus of being married. marriage should apply to anyone that is willing to commit to another individual for what is supposed to be the rest of their lives.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • Shinea

      Did you know that the word marriage is derived from a Latin word for male GENDER? It applied to animals as well as other things male.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • joe

      Yes, that "superior relationship" 55 hour marriage of Britney Spears to Jason Alexander certainly deserves it's own "special word."

      March 3, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • stejo

      following your logic, we should also use a different word when the elderly "unite", since they won't be procreating.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  18. citizen

    Really? We are all children of God!

    March 3, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  19. Andy 666

    Ahh so many interpretations, so little time. While you are all studying hard to try and justify injustices and the right to prejudice, I'll be enjoying the sun waiting for young people to grow old enough to vote so we can get equal right for everyone. Who really cares what a 2000 year old book says, I mean seriously, that's so last century.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  20. Tony

    Who gives a crap about what a book of fairy tales has a ban on. Furthermore, when are we going to read the articles about all the other things that it says you shouldn't do. The list is endless and almost all of it ignored except for when it makes a convenient argument that supports hate and discrimination. The same book was used to justify slavery, segregation, and bans on interracial marriage. People even tried to use it to suppress women's voting rights.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • Shadyjade

      My sentiments exactly Tony! Who cares what a book written by MAN has to say about anything. The "word of God" is actually the words of men written down to control the masses. The is no fairytale in the sky, I believe in science, not BS that so called religious leaders spew in the name of some invisable being that does not exist!

      March 3, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • Seriously!

      While I do agree that the bible has been misused, there is physical evidence that the bible is more than a collection of fairy tales.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • joe

      And let's not forget the hypocrisy of ignoring this gem referring to women on their wedding nights: "But if ... evidences of virginity are not found for the young woman, then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones..." (Deuteronomy 22:20,21)

      "does the Right read significant works of scripture calling for women to be put to death by stoning and choose to simply ignore them?" Yes as a matter of fact, like ALL hypocritical bible thumpers, they do.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • Michael

      Well said Tony. The Bible forbids all kinds of things but the main one the religious right gets its knickers in a twist over is the one that has nothing to do with them personally. According to the Bible, we're not supposed to work on the Sabbath (Exodus 35:2), eat shellfish (Lev 11:10), trim your beard or the hair at your temples (Lev 19:27), touch the skin of a dead pig (Lev 11:6-8), etc. Members of the religious right violate those all th time.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:59 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.