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. Concr3t3

    Is it 2012, yet? This sh!t is getting old. We Humans will never learn because we're too egotistical. Perhaps it's better to pull the plug and if there is a God, he/she/it will probably say "Wow! What train wreck that was! Let's try again...Destory Erase Improve!"

    March 3, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  2. marc

    Christ said, "Love one another." His only commandment didn't come with caveats.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  3. Rob

    These types of articles make me more and more happy that I wasn't brainwashed into religion. Religious blind faith takes away any ability for reason and common sense. What nonsense.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
  4. tomorrowstruth

    ...and the earth is at the center of the universe.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
  5. james

    For me, the Bible is a collection of texts that illustrate how ancient Hebrews understood God. The miracle of Jesus (incarnation of perfect love, more powerful than death) to me is the most beautiful thing in all of human history.

    Who cares about individuals' $€X lives?

    March 3, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
  6. BackSlider

    Glad that we don't eat shellfish, crabs, scallops, clams, lobsters, any web toed animal such as chicken, turkey, or anything of swine, ham, pork, bacon or else we'd all be in a heap of trouble. Did you know that certain colored people aren't going to see the kingdom of god? Yep its all there, right in the Bible. Oh but we don't read those parts of the Bible in church, do we? On no, that would cause the church to be burned down, instantly.

    We only read parts that are offensive to little kids growing up knowing that they are gay.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • hmm...

      Yeah...you're going to have to quote where the Bible says colored people won't go to heaven. The Bible doesn't say God created white men in his image.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
  7. Joe

    So what? So the bible said so. Big deal. Are we so diluted as to truly believe this book written hundreds of years after christ from the views of those who wrote it, then taken apart and arranged and edited so many times over the centuries is the true word of God? Really?! What about all those other religions? What about the fact that things are they way they are for a reason? Perhaps just as God intended them. Is it for us to second-guess nature and God's plan? By discounting and dismissing something simply because our interpretation tells us to makes us no better than those who hung Jesus on the cross. Instead of looking for fault and cursing all those who don't hold up to certain ideals of certain social groups, perhaps we should start looking in the mirror and taking a good long look at ourselves!

    March 3, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  8. Mooney

    The New World Translation of the Bible states at 1 Cor 6:9,10 , that What! Do you not know that unrightous persons will inherit Gods Kingdom? Do not be misled. Neither fornicators,nor odolaters, nor adulterers,nor men kept for unnatural purposes,nor men who lie with men. It is so obvious of their outcome.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • Mooney

      Jesus Christ is the Judge, Jehovah God is the Lawgiver, you decide.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  9. e

    Thank you, Robert. As I read, Knust’s article I saw holes in her arguments as well, but didn't have the voice or the background to express myself as well as you did.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  10. sarah

    have to say read both articles and this one was way less entertaining. And ummm if marriage was so great why did Jesus not marry?

    March 3, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  11. Red

    I'm definitely confused...where do mandals fit into all of this?

    March 3, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  12. Phil

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    This very legalistic view of the bilbe is part of the whole problem. Like most who posted here I believe (and have read in the Gospels) that the Message of Jesus was forgiveness, mercy, justice and compassion. And not just HIM but telling others to "Do as I do"

    So are we to look at the percieved speck in our hom ose xuals neighbor's eye while ignoring the log of sins in our own? Are we to judge so we can be judged. In Matthew on the last judgement it does not mention hom ose xuality it mentions (again) compassion, kindness, forgiveness.

    "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" – The law therefore was made for man not man for the law.

    In nature there is hom ose xual behavior (ask any Veteranarian). So if it is indeed "natural" and if Hom ose xuality is something you are born with then you have to wonder why it can be called "unnatural" and how you can oppose two people of the same gender wishing to have a loving relationship that is blessed by both man and God.

    I am on the side of Love. If I have to choose between Church and love – Love wins! If I have to choose between what you say is rightious and Love – Love wins

    "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."

    March 3, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  13. Rick

    Seriously, who cares what the bible says? There is a difference between religion and morality although they have many parallels. There are dozens of religions out there and Christianity is just one of them. There are so many fallacies in the Christian position, that they are just as hard to take seriously as Sun worship at times. Christianity bases their arguments on the Bible. Just because their story started before most, doesn't give them any more validity. Our government dictates the rules of our society and we all agree that this is the best way to go. Here are a couple tips: 1) Love one another 2) Don't judge others. In my experience, religious people are the most judgmental and oftentimes hateful of those whom are not judged worthy in their narrow view. Come down off the cross already and look at who your neighbors are. If Jesus were here today, he would liken the religious right to the Pharisees he condemned in his time. Religion is a personal belief. Keep it to yourself.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  14. Dan

    What a joke these people are these days. Stories that were written DECADES after jesus supposedly lived are treated as 100% truth. The reality is the "bible" was a collection of books (19 originally) that were manipulated over and over for 1500 years until kind james put a stop to it. It is no different than any other religious book. They all claim to be the "one" when the reality is none of them are. We are all one species that evolved from other species. That is the truth folks. Stop being afraid that what you have been brainwashed to believe your whole lives isn't the truth. I know its hard to face but all religion does is kill and cause harm to all people.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  15. Gray

    Thank You Dr. Gagnon

    March 3, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • Tracy

      Sad you support spreading more hatred and bigotry in this world. Pitiful

      March 3, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  16. Jackson

    Mr. Gagnon certainly went through a lot of logical contortions to wring out his personal viewpoint from this book. If he wants to believe that, more power to him. If other people want to live their lives based on (parts of) the Bible, fine. But I refuse to allow them to legislate their personal religious views into laws that affect non-believers.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  17. rizzo

    Yep, I'm pretty sure your PHD is fake there buddy. You should probably read the things that Jesus said, it'll help you with your bigotry issues!

    March 3, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  18. CinGuy84

    "The problem with selectively using Bible quotes is that it does not shed a complete light on the topic. If I were to read one page from the Bible and base my complete life view on that page I would surely make errors. That is why it is important to learn about religion and spirituality from someone who has developed the qualities of love, compassion and wisdom and NOT someone who only has a good scriptural knowledge. Citing scripture means very little when it comes down to it. The devil can cite scripture for his own purpose."
    "...If you have just found out that a friend or family member is gay you need to make sure your religious views are not getting in the way of the truth. All men and women deserve respect. All religions teach love and tolerance. If you are a Christian you need to be very careful not to use the Bible to obscure the true message of Jesus – compassion. You do not get to selectively choose which of God’s children you show compassion to."


    March 3, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • Rick

      Right on the money. Thank you for your thoughtful opinion.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • Rob

      Very true, no where does Jesus imply that you may treat anyone badly just because they are a sinner or living a sinful lifestyle. In fact I'd argue that you have to treat them even better, because if you truly believe in Christ, you need to show his character through your actions and words.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • OpenMinded

      Well put CinGuy84! I have plenty of gay friends that worry about "heaven and hell". What i hear from them is "How could God be so cruel?" If being gay is going to determine whether you go to hell, then why has God done this to them.

      I hear Christians talk about their "cross to bear". Is this their cross to bear? I grew up in a Christian house hold, but often found christianity one side. I don't think that God wants us to be one sided the Bible is a book and open to many interpretations.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
  19. Red

    Yeah! Religion starts wars! That's why I don't prescribe to any ideology...I live in America where the only ideology is democracy and America never goes to war for democracy! ...America-fail.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
  20. Cory

    Since when do Christians regard the Bible as law? It's only non-negotiable until it's inconvenient, then it suddenly becomes more of a guideline.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • Matt

      Yes. Exactly. Some Christians obviously pick and choose which parts of the Bible they believe, which parts they must obey. What a joke.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • Concr3t3

      Seriously. For example, when did God say it was ok to eat apples. I was taught that the apple is the forbidden fruit of knowledge, but yet I'm encouraged to eat them once a day to keep the doctor away. I wish these people would get their stories straight.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • tomorrowstruth

      you can not take the bible literally because it was writting in a specific cultural and social context, most of it is lost today.
      So we can not even understand what the bible is talking about properly, we have to interpret it.
      The application of the truth of the bible to our present time – interpretation is necessary.
      No way can any christian or believer in the bible justify inhumane, bigoted or ignorant behavior from the bible.
      To discard the passionate feelings of 10% of the population as pervert because of a text written 2000-4000 years ago in a completely different cultural and social context is dangerous to an enormous degree.
      The bible does not protect YOU from being responsible for your actions.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • tomorrowstruth

      We can not take the bible literally because it was writting in a specific cultural and social context, most of it is lost today.
      So we can not even understand what the bible is talking about properly, we have to interpret it.
      The application of the truth of the bible to our present time – interpretation is necessary.
      To discard the passionate feelings of 10% of the population as pervert because of a text written 2000-4000 years ago in a completely different cultural and social context is dangerous to an enormous degree.
      The bible does not protect YOU from being responsible for your actions.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:02 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.