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. Jason

    He doesn't actually answer her charges. For a more in depth discuss I suggest picking up John Boswell's book on this subject, which despite having been in print for longer than I ahve been alive is a necessary starting point for this discussion.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  2. tom

    I agree with the author.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  3. Mythought

    Alot of people will twist what the Bible says to make it seem like they are living right. Everyone has a choice to live the moral or immoral way..what ever you choose is up to you, but don't pick a fight with the Bible or those who believe in it. You will find out after your life ends, if you lived right or not! I pick the word of god, and that is my choice to live by!

    March 3, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • Shadyjade

      Um, no you don't, you pick the word of man. Your God did not sit down and write a book, some MEN did to keep you in line

      March 3, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  4. Eli

    The bible also spoke of a man only having one living wife. That eventhough you get a divorce you are not to marry again. I think divorce was for one reason if it was allowed in the bible. These days with so many people being divorced and remarried we are all sinning. You either take the whole Bible are nothing at all, the way I see it. So lets stop divorces and start poking out eyes and cutting off hands, actually anything that offends your neighbor should be sopped or cut off.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
  5. quietlyshoutq

    I can't marry my partner, but I can marry a kitchen condiment, some strange woman I dont know, I could marry a child I produce, my sister, etc.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
  6. Pat

    Using a historical book for citation purposes is a great way to offer proof as a defense for your argument, however, the problem here is that the author is making assumptions that the Bible is not only fact (not what I want to debate), but more importantly, that the true meaning of all of the passages and quotations in the Bible can be fully understood in the context of the present, regardless of the countless translations, and re-translations of the Bible during different time periods throughout history.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
  7. Rev. Wallace Ryan

    I wish people would stop using the Bible to justify their petty prejudices and bigotries.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  8. Mark

    I forgive God's people, for they know not what they do.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  9. No Name

    Seriously CNN? Seriously? I give you props for having an actual scholar write this but where's the counter argument? Why is this on your front page? Are you trying to dry up what's left of your ratings?

    Ridiculous fear mongering that some fictional character will rain flaming puppies down on us unless we stop the gay from spreading! You're not doing anything to help someone learn about diversity, you're just trying to shore up their arguments. I get a kick out of these Christians who want to pass laws banning Shariah (Muslim law) but want to pass laws that dictate how I live my life based on their own Christian "law". I've tried to understand their viewpoint, I was a Christian for a long time myself, but my life didn't get better until I finally stopped believing in some mysterious hand guiding me and instead started to rely on myself.

    No truly gay person chooses to be so. There is no moment when you wake up and say "I want to be made fun of, spit on, put down, demeaned, and viewed as a second-class citizen" just so I can spite everyone I know and the faith I'm brought up in. Why in a supposedly secular country do we even give a moment's notice of what any religion says? Would we be so passive aggressive if this was Islam? Doubtful, we'd use it as a sign of their intolerance!

    Get with it people, there is no choice involved and religion is a private matter. Your beliefs do nothing for me, just as mine do nothing for you.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  10. Heathen

    One major problem, a mythlogical fantasy story can not be used to explain reality. Get real dude!

    March 3, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  11. Brian

    Well said Robert Gagnon. I recognize that 95 of 100 people won't agree with you on this, but I'll stand with you as one of the five. Thank you for rendering for us what the creator has communicated to us rather than offering up humanity's opinion.

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

      Oh... so you five are the reason that gay marriage still isn't legal.. makes perfect sense.

      Please stop acting like the persecuted minority.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  12. Tim

    Finally, CNN allows someone who as actually read the Bible to discuss the Bible.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • Maggie

      Thank you!!!!!! it doesn't take an intellectual person to figure out what the bible says, just read it, its plain clear

      March 3, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
  13. Sam

    I'd like to thank CNN for posting this. It's nice to see some truly divergent views. It seemed like CNN just kept posting things here by authors that were decidedly not on the Conservative/Evangelical take. Great to hear their views but good to see others.

    A lot of people here don't seem to understand that the NT has a new covenant. The best example of this is when Paul is told by God to eat food usually considered unclean. It shows that a lot of the strictures of the OT have passed and God has a new covenant for all people and a new relationship with them.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • Sirena

      If god is perfect why would he need to "re-create" the rules? Was the first set of rules a mistake?

      March 3, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
  14. Dan Brown

    I don't need the scribblings of dead prophets to tell me what is right and what is wrong. Christ had a simple message: love one another. Period. He didn't say "unless they're gay, muslim, single parents, whatever" he said "Love each other." If there is a mandate from God, that's all there is. The rest we'll just have to figure out on our own.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
  15. foolish74

    i'm amazed cnn allowed the commentary. i am a born again christian and i believe Jesus does love everyone of us on this planet that God the father created, however, He does not accept how we live our lives without his guidance. The Bible is my guidance. He does love gay people but doesnt accept their way of life. No we dont shun them, we love them also. Its His desire that we accept him as our Lord and Savior, hard to accept someone that is invisable but i know when my time is up i wont be going to hell,

    March 3, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
  16. Eric

    The author of "do not lay with a man as with a woman" incorrectly assumes everyone is hetro. For if a gay man lays with a woman he is not excited but with a man he is, thus fulfilling the Biblical command.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
  17. Jimmy60

    Your magic book is wrong.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
  18. nena

    God is God and His word is true, and that doesn't depends on your opinion, in you liking it or not, or in what you think is best. It's amazing how narrow minded and how intoleran atheist and sceptic people can be! and you talk about respect! please!

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

      Intolerant. LOL. Right!

      March 3, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • Gyzmo

      Have you ever heard of spell check??

      March 3, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • doubt it

      And yet.. You seem to be implying that you agree with this article. Because only atheists and the ignorant are the intolerant ones right? Even though this article is supporting intolerance and prejudice.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • gasdf

      oh jeez nena, its amazing how you eat up your religion as if it were true word. i'm no atheist but i'm neither religious but i've dealt with both and both sides are intolerable and both sides want to be correct. Well hate to break the news but both atheist and religious are wrong in their beliefs. No one is getting punished by any deity but by man. Look how hypocritical you must seem when the Judicial court has man swear by oath to a holy bible, yet the person sentence is given by man.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  19. Mark

    And all of this is irrelevant, since god is a man-made invention to sooth the thought of suddenly becoming nothing and later to keep the masses in line. Might as well look to another ancient text (funny, we now have science) like the Illiad to attain "enlightenment." I will say this, the Illiad is a better read at least!

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

      Actually, the reason that it's irrelevant is because we are not required in this country to be Christian, and we have freedom of, and from, religion, so what "God" or "Jesus" thinks has no bearing on what US law should be.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
  20. no name required

    you can give him a call if you like, his phone number is written at the bottom of his website:

    at robgagnon.net/

    March 3, 2011 at 3:58 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.