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. David Brenchley

    1st .. Dr. Thank You for such a well presented article, thank you CNN for its posting, its nice to see counterpoint ..
    2nd .. If you call yourself a believer, and your one of the individuals on this board "arguing" ... you've missed the whole point of your faith .. such discussions should be made in the Spirit of love, you have no power to move another's heart, only the Spirit can do that, you only alienate others who read this, and you will be held accountable by Him you love.
    3rd .. if your a non believer and want "proof" ... open your eyes .. open your heart .. if your "curious", take a step of faith .. there you will find proof, until you do ... you never will ...

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

      'want "proof" ... open your eyes .. open your heart .. if your "curious", take a step of faith' CLAPTRAP

      March 3, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • David Brenchley

      SHRIKE .. like to consider myself a reasonably intelligent, well educated individual. As such I'm continually amazed at how the intricacies and balance of our universe(s) reveal His very nature and power. I don't find it nonsensical in the least bit.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
  2. Mike R

    I sit here amazed at people that have never studied the bible trying to condemn it. Try reading evidence that demands a verdict and none of these diseases for starters. The bible clearly states that it is a sin for man to lie down with man as with woman. It also condemns bestiality. Do some of you want to defend sleeping with sheep? The massive sales of anti bacterial soaps alone should end this argument. What is the difference between pleasuring yourself with a pile of dung and placing a male bodily part up the evacuation chute for dung of another male. I don't even want to shake hands with someone who engages in this practice for fear of not knowing how thorough he was in washing his hands afterward.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • Slider33

      Doesn't condemn pedophilia though. You'd think "god" wouldn't have overlooked that one.

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

      Try reading the whole Bible. It also says, for instance, that people who divorce and remarry are commiting adultery. Why aren't you trashing the FAR FAR greater number of Christians commiting adultery than there are gays?

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

      why are you prejudiced against sheep love? what did they ever do to you?

      March 3, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
  3. Cynthia

    You either believe there is a God and that the Holy Bible is his word or you don't. I beleive it. Thank you Robert for standing up in a quickly decaying world. One side will find that they are wrong. If I am found to be mistaken nothing lost because I still love thoese whom I beleive are wrong.

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

      ....not to be picky, but billions of people believe in a God and that the bible is not his word. Muslims. Jewish people. Hindus.

      But I do appreciate your point that love is more important and more powerful that hate, no matter your beliefs or religion. The most important thing is that God loves everyone despite themselves.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
  4. Realist

    The only thing more annoying than people who blindly follow religions and the bible are "Atheists" that believe in the Devil. Every time I see people who claim that I just think they're too young or too dumb to know any better.

    And before "what do you know, you're just a stupid christian" – I'm Agnostic leaning slightly towards Atheist.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • steven harnack

      I can only guess but you must be very young and unread. As an atheist I don't believe in the devil because he comes from the same place as god, the human imagination. If you don't believe in god you don't believe in any gods, evil or otherwise.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
    • Realist

      I can only guess you misread what I was saying. I'm Agnostic, I lean towards Atheism in some ways. I agree with you... I wasn't saying Atheists believe in the Devil at all, I was saying some people claim to be Atheist, but come on here with 666 in their user name just to denounce God. But like you said, God and the Devil are in the same boat.

      March 3, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
  5. JK

    Worst. Article. Ever!

    March 3, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  6. Slider33

    Seems to me it takes an AWFUL amount of effort jumping through hoops to even make sense of the bible. It shouldn't take ultra-scholarship to figure out what the bible "really" says. Especially when it was pieced together from old writings during a time when 99% of the people during that time were illiterate.

    One could study a pile of dung and try to find meaning in it, but in the end, it's still dung.

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

      very insightful.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  7. Ben

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

    Those words could not be more apt.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  8. candy

    Thank you for posting the truth." The Truth is the Truth" it does not matter how many people deny it. Men love the darkness more than the light. And God gives them Free will, But that will in no wise change the authority of his Word . Nor will it change the consequence of rebellion and disobedience. the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. and to those who refuse to belive the truth He will give them over to there sin for a season. Does that make Him unkind and unjust ? NO.... He will not force you to Love or obey him ,but there are rules.And He has the right to make them because He created us . And weather we believe htis or not though the evidence is all aroud us,will not change the fact. You and I have rules in our homes and in our own lives and we accept them freely without Question. And We accept Laws and rules in our society and also demand that our rights be not violated. We will even go to court before a judge until justice is brought forth. Shall not the judge of the Earth that He made and formed not as well do the same?

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

      Uh, YOU may accept rules in your homes and lives freely and without question, but I don't. I accept rules and laws that make sense, and have a rational argument behind them for why they are necessary. If a rule makes no sense I ignore it, and if a law makes no sense it can be overturned. No one should be so intellectually weak that they never question anyone or anything.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • SHRIKE


      March 3, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • Tracy

      No we don't that is what cause wars and protests. It's why slavery was abolished and women got the right to vote. If we followed blindly like you are suggesting those things would have remained in place! Religious people got it wrong then and they are getting it wrong now.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • steven harnack

      It's funny how all of that parallels Republican trickle down theory, with rich taking the place of god of course. No wonder the religious and the right-wing fit so closely together.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
  9. Nicolae Carpathia

    I welcome all brothers and sisters into my brothel. Do as you will, it is your personal choice and that's what life in the flesh is about.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  10. SHRIKE

    Gagnon is an a**clown. stop suppressing your true nature and come out of the closet already.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  11. Lynn, a thinking person

    Conservatives will always use the Bible to tell us who to hate and Liberals will always use the Bible to tell us who to love......Hmmm, what side do you land on?

    March 3, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • Nicolae Carpathia

      No, more like how to love in the physical sense.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  12. steven harnack

    I was going to comment but Tony has said everything that needs to be said. I'll just add that the author of this article is just one more man trying to use this book to justify his own bias.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  13. sean

    This is ridiculous. The same book you are referring to, tells a story of an octogenarian that built an ark that saved all land based life from extiction, says its ok to sell your daughter into slavery, its ok to have slaves as long as they are from your neighboring country, there is to be no contact with woman during their menstration, no work can be done on the sabbath, sacraficing a bull on an alter creates a pleasing odor for the lord. By the way Leviticus also claims eating shellfish is an abomination (LEV 11:10). Do abominations have degrees ... like is this a LESSER abomination then the abomination of same s*x relationships/love/s*x???

    March 3, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  14. TJ

    Because it is from the guy who created everything you're floating in, GOD. It's the only truth you'll ever find. 2000 years is just the start, it'll last forever. Even the people that don't believe it find they can't escape from it. It defines your existence. It has all the answers, even if they aren't the ones you hoped for. Everyone wants to live their own way and they're offended because there exists a standard that convicts them. But the best part is it provides reconciliation with God through his son. That ones a freeby, but most people would just as soon skip it and live the way they want separate from GOD. Which, sadly enough, is exactly what you get if you reject the offer. 2000 years and its still the hot topic.

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

      Well said!

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

      Lots of other religious texts have been around as long, or longer, and they contradict your buy-bull.

      So why do you think your particular book of fables is true, when in fact it isn't even self-consistent?

      March 3, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • Leroy Jackson

      The mind is not programed to discern what is reality – it does not have a module for crap-detecting. How can you prove that book is the Truth? I bet you have not read the whole thing. It is full of darkness. If the bible is the truth – then i lift my middle finger up to the evil god who inspired it.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • Slider33

      One (major) question though: Prove it. Show your evidence for it. I'll wait.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  15. allanhowls

    A guidebook written by and for 2000-year-old shepherds is irrelevant today.

    Before you get all bent up about gays, make sure you're not eating shellfish or wearing blended fabrics, since those are also banned. Get yourself straightened up first, before you try to make anyone else straight.

    Moronic cherry-picking...

    March 3, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  16. Emilio Dumphuque

    Why would anyone care what Paul said?
    He was sent by the Jewish elders to destroy the new religion from within!
    Disavow all he said or did!

    March 3, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  17. Liz

    Amen, brother.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  18. nwi

    More evidence of the Bible's irrelvance...

    March 3, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  19. Steve T

    The Christian Comic Book strikes again, two thousand years of ignorance and counting.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  20. Jay

    The bible is not our rule of law. You are free to practice any religion, but you are not free to impose it on others.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
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About this blog

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.