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. Bill

    Welp, it's a good thing I don't care about what the Bible says.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
  2. Ralph

    Why?... because Jesus said so! Thank God for Jesus... now we don't have to take on the incredible task of thinking for ourselves... all we have to do is read a book written about (not by) Jesus that dictates what we believe. Free your minds!

    March 3, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
  3. maine liberal

    Galatians 3:28
    There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
  4. keith

    I love how the guy who wrote this article has degrees from Harvard, Dartmouth and a phd from princeton. Yet the backwater atheists call the Bible and ignorant book for stupid people. Yet more cases of atheists retorting to name calling and bashing to get their points across...I guess it works better than their pseudo-science and emotionally driven illogical rationale.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • staci

      So true...

      March 3, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
    • JohnR

      So he's an idiot yahoo with Ivy League degrees. Not the first. Won't be the last.

      March 3, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • JJ

      @ Keith.
      Backwater atheists? For your information, atheists have been shown to have more knowledge of the bible than most believers (google it if you like). That being said, the author of the article is no doubt an intellectual, and has studied the book with a magnifying glass and fine tooth comb. It is a great work of LITERATURE, that deserves rigorous academic scrutiny.

      However, I think you miss the point. Atheists are not questioning the credentials or even what the author has written. We question the bible itself. It has been shown time and time again that the bible is inconsistent and wrong about basic knowledge. How can it be ultimate truth, or the word of god if it is incorrect?

      March 3, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • derp

      Geaorge W Bush had two Ivy League degrees. I think that easily disproves any assertion that an Ivy League degree means you are smart.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • to derp

      Yeah George Bush.. And yet he was smart enough to be president for 8 years... Say what you can or what you want but if your god Obamo got elected too then I guess he is either just as smart or just as dumb...

      March 3, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
  5. AndyJ

    So who cares if the bible is anti-gay. The bible is a made up book and most "Christians" use it only to justify things like being anti-gay or racist. At least a "Star Wars" religion would be more fun. Oh wait, Scientolgy already exist. Religious people are all idiot sheep.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
  6. johninmemphis

    Much ado about nothing...

    March 3, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
  7. runswithbeer

    From MY Scriptures:" We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. "

    March 3, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
  8. Fred Garvin

    Great article, if you're stupid enough to believe in god and hate gays.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • xusmcvet

      You took the words right out of my mouth! LOL!

      March 3, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • seriously

      You can believe in whatever you wish, But I will say this far greater and intelligent people believed in a G@d! People that you cant even hold a candle to. I have an infinite list of scientist, researchers, leaders, etc. What do you atheist have? But your all simply content to discount someones intellect due to their belief and preach the atheistic verbiage that if there was no religion the world would be a peaceful utopia. ridiculous, peace and tranquility is contrary to humanity with or without religion.

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

      @Seriously My all simply content? What's an "all simply content." I don't believe demise of religion would make the world more peaceful, just more intelligent.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • joe

      @ Seriously I notice your list of lists only includes "scientist" and not "scientists." That number is probably about right.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • hank

      you sound pretty gay to me fred

      March 3, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
  9. Steve

    While I appreciate the points made by both scholars, I feel one fact has yet to be addressed. What exactly is meant by male and female? Does the mere possession or absence of a penis qualify one as male or female? And as mentioned above, what about hemaphrodites?

    If a person possesses a penis but on the inside he feels and acts and "is" a woman in everything but outside form, do we tell him that he is wrong? Who are we to decide what "man" or "woman" is or is not? Does the Bible define men as "having penises" and women as "not having penises" or by the totality of our creation?

    I enjoy a good debate and honest communication but I find both sides lacking in any interest in really addressing the issues. Instead they play to their strengths and ignore their weaknesses in an attempt to make their points. If you want to truly be debate, address ALL the issues, not just the ones you find comfortable or easy to talk about.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
    • Nicholas


      I don't think male v. female has to do with genetalia with the confusing case of hermaphrodidic peoples. Male and female can be more concretely described as having 22 X chromosomes and 1 Y chromosome for a male and 23 X chromosomes for a female. So a hermaphrodite will have the mutation of an extra set of genetalia, but will genetically be male or female based on the chromosomes in their DNA.

      Hope this helps.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • Steve


      I see your point in the actual definition of male and female but I was referring more to the actual mental state of a person. People who were born "male" but spend their whole life feeling like a female on the inside, or those who may feel like a man but find no attraction in women...what are we to say to these people?

      We are so quick to judge but how does God create us in His "image" and then tell some of us that we are not allowed to live our lives as everyone else does, embracing our emotions and loving people naturally?

      March 3, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
  10. SVI

    Blah, blah, blah...it's a much simpler question if you realize the book is fiction and it doesn't matter whether it condemns anything or not. Reading this is worse than listening to geeks argue about Star Trek trivia.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
  11. mike

    And don't forget about those shellfish; God was very specific about that! ops, you already ate one? It's going to be a hot time in the old town for you.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • Mikey

      Good one Mike.....

      March 3, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  12. maine liberal

    John 13:23

    Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • Valerie

      I love my best girlfriend too but that doesn't mean we are sleeping together. Nice try though! LOL!

      March 3, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • derp

      That's too bad, it would be hot.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • derp

      1) Do you rest your head on her bosom?

      2) Can we get pictures?

      March 3, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  13. Roland

    I don't believe the Bible. I am an American. I have the same rights as any other citizen. The end.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • mike

      don't worry about that, the republicans have proved that you only have to talk about Christianity – practicing it is for the suckers.

      March 3, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  14. wow

    What irks me more is that people actually get paid to do obvious studies such as these. This has been known for what, thousands of years now?

    March 3, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
  15. Ken

    Yeah, but you're not taking into account that the whole book is a bunch of BS.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
  16. Charles

    The Bible really does approve of slavery, domestic abuse, and genocide.

    Who cares what the Bible has to say?

    March 3, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • mike

      that's an important point when talking to those folks who want to take every word literally as the "word".

      March 3, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • MartyMcFly

      And so what !!!! if it did approve of slavery, you are a slave yourself..... to your boss, to world trends, to money, to your mate, fashion, your desires, you job. etc. Shall I go on?

      March 3, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
    • hank

      not you because your gay

      March 3, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
  17. Not All Docs Play Golf

    So of what relevance is the Bible on this issue? It is a religious book, one of many in man's history, written, edited, translated and re-written over thousands of years by many generations of fallable human beings. Why is it refered to as the definitive rule book on any current topic? (And don't answer with that stale old "written by man, but inspired by God" cop-out explanation, please).

    March 3, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • mike

      because we have one political party in this counrty that never tires of pandering to 'useful idiots'?

      March 3, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
  18. ys

    The bible is a fairy tale written by man to control society, therefore it should be deemed irrelevant. Unfortunately we need the bible to keep the pea sized brained humans under control. You know, the ones who can't stop and think before they act.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • runswithbeer

      MY Scriptures say thus:" We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. "

      March 3, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • Dreamer

      Oh...my gosh...what I am going to do now? We've all been uncovered as unthinking pea brains...My O my, I don't know if my ego can handle it...

      Why don't you just post "Bush=Hitler" instead? It's just as idiotic a comment, but at least it would be pithy.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • don

      maybe you should be deemed irrelevant

      March 3, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
  19. Pitdownman

    Manipulating scripture is not new in religion. Christians do it, Muslims do it. This is why religion is renewed every day (about 1000 years) so the true meaning can be revealed.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  20. dan

    your perspective is absolute arrogant hogwash.. just so you know, your intellect deceives you and your arrogance blinds you.. people like you are the reason for misery on this earth..

    March 3, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
    • mike

      there are all kinds of folks on this earth determined to turn it into hell. the most unfortunate thing about the bible is that it gives these folks a vision of hell to aim at.

      March 3, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • Dreamer

      You obviously haven't been to the hells on earth created by people who don't read the bible. Like, for example, any totalitarian country in the middle east. What's their excuse?

      March 3, 2011 at 5:29 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.