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. IM OK

    Go back to the founding of this nation and you will find that its principles were based on the Bible. The founding fathers didn't believe in freedom "from" religion; they believed in freedom "of" religion. That means I have the right to believe in my religion and to practice it freely without ridicule. I haven't read a single comment that disputes Mr. Gagnon's claims or his rebuttal to a previous article. There is only ridicule and put downs. There are MANY well-educated, balanced,and loving people who call themselves Christians, whether liberal or conservative. As a whole, we are not crazy and we are not out to kill non-believers any more than the expectation that all Muslims are radicals out to destroy the world. Religion is not a curse to man, man's pride and greed are the curse. If you read the fine print CNN has put at the bottom of this section, It says "courteous discussion". Making fun of people's beliefs is NOT courteous.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • mb2010a

      Put down your Bible and read some history books and you'll find that the majority of the founding fathers were not Christians at all, but Deists.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
  2. jps

    I like how he assumes he knows what Jesus "meant." Oh, well, that's why it's an opinion piece.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  3. Red

    Remember how terrible Hannah Barbara's bible adventures were? Gosh...I never liked Scooby-Doo either.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  4. hanks

    Each of us will get answers on your individual judgement day, a.k.a physical death. When you stand before Him in your death you can ask Him all about it.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • SHRIKE

      Odin will judge those worthy of entering Valhalla. All others shall languish in the cold pit of Hel's domain

      March 3, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  5. Jonathan

    ....and the Bible is important in what way?!?!?

    The Bible has nothing to do with God or spirituality, it is a man made, corrupted, error filled and forged book. Anyone with any knowledge of Christianity and the formation of the Bible knows this. God created gay people to be gay.......your children are born gay.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  6. Colton

    To sum up Mr. Gagnon... God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • Buns Mccallister

      So hes jealous?

      March 3, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • Mark

      Yeah, but only David & Jonathan really know what went on and they're not talking.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
    • PAUL

      AMEN TO THAT!!!

      March 3, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • no

      wow, you are so clever! did you come up with that on your own?

      March 3, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • Tracy

      Great example of the brainwashing by Christians. Thanks for proving everyone's point!

      March 3, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
  7. Ravak

    Glad to see that someone besides just me saw that the last chick's article was way out of whack.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  8. lance corporal

    REPRESSION BREEDS PERVERSION, why do you think so many priests and republicans end up in public restrooms with a wide stance???

    March 3, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  9. Shane

    "The fool has said in his heart there is no God." Please open your hearts and minds to the truths of the bible, and stop with ignorant comments of things you know nothing of...God is real, the bible is real, and you will be greatly blessed (spiritually speaking) to know him and have a relationship with him.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • SHRIKE

      When the zombie apocalypse comes rest assured I will take you out first.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • EnjaySea

      You make the fantastic claim that "God is real, the bible is real". I assume by saying the bible is real that you believe it was authored or guide by the hand of god.

      Do you expect that those of us who doubt these assertions will believe them just because you type them as true? Sorry, but critical thinkers require a bit more than that. Provide some evidence, and we can talk.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
  10. fastrack

    The bible is fiction, maybe based on fact, but who knows? Every time there is a translation, the original (anything, book, music, etc.) is diminished, so don't think you've got the absoulte facts from something that went thru sanscrit, hebrew, latin, greek, and all the modern languages before some expert pontificated about X or Y or XY. This guy professes to be an expert, take it with a grain of salt, it's how he supports his family...there are worse professions.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  11. Patricia

    A terrible economy, gas prices, starving and homeless men, women and children, dead soldiers, and on and on and on.. Do we really care about what people are doing in their personal lives... God is the only one that should be judging! The "Bible" states to love one another and let him worry about "Judgement Day" I would prefer to worry about my childs education, making sure I have a job to feed her, and prayer for peace of mind and world peace. Corny, yes! But simple and true

    March 3, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  12. Mark

    Lot's daughters had an incestual relationship with their dad right after Sodom & Gomorrah were toast, but I don't recall anything bad happening to them. I guess it just goes to show, it's who you know.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  13. lance corporal

    any "god" that would make inane s e x rules is an idiot, why do christians think god is an idiot? really? your eternal salvation depends on how you choose to feel good? really? seems idiotic to me! shouldn't we be reaching for a higher understanding of "god"?? because if this hyper focus on s e x is what god is about, then god is a repressed old fool

    March 3, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • Zach

      You speak foolishness Lance. Be carefull what you say, when you don't have the understanding of the things that you are saying.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
  14. Gaucho420

    Who cares what the bible says? Anyone who bases their life on some ancient texts, written by what now would be considered barbarians and highly uneducated people, truly needs help. I don't need advice based on life 2,000 years ago and beyond. We all evolve and the Bible belongs in the dust bin of history.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • Anglican

      Well I guess you just need to "evolve" Enjoy this life.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  15. Buns Mccallister

    If Jesus smoked dope the Bible would be a lot shorter.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • SHRIKE

      HA! It would probably make more sense too.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  16. EnjaySea

    Good scholarly analysis. However, one must first choose to lend any significance or credence to the opinions of the men who wrote the bible, and I lend neither. Unless a deity really wrote or dictated the bible, which no person has ever established as fact, then what the bible "says" about the subject is entirely irrelevant. What do you feel about gays Robert? What do I feel? These are the only relevant questions.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • Mike


      March 3, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • Zach

      2 Timothy 3:15-17

      March 3, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • EnjaySea

      Ok Zach. So you're saying that I should believe that the bible was written by god because the bible says that the bible was written by god?

      So if I get out a piece of paper and write "This note was written by God. Mars is made of red soup." Should I now believe that Mars is made of red soup because the note says so, and I have to believe the note because it was written by god, and I know that it was written by god because it says so?

      March 3, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  17. PAUL

    GREAT ARTICLE, Well debated. You picked that gal apart with facts and common sense arguements. VERY WELL DONE

    March 3, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  18. Paul

    Another example of finding whatever you want in the Bible and ignoring the rest. For example, the Bible urges the slaughter of men, women, children and cattle when an enemy is conquered, urges slaves to obey their masters, prescribes that a woman who wears a man's clothes should be stoned to death, prescribes that anyone who fails to observe the Sabbath shall be stoned to death, requires that a man is required to marry his brother's widow if they are childless, says that no rich man will ever get into heaven, requires us to return evil with good and to give away all our possessions, etc. etc. If the Bible is literally the word of God we should all be doing all these things instead of rationalizing them away and picking and choosing the prohibitions we like.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • Mark

      Sounds like the stone merchants must have done very well back then.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • Pete

      You see...the problem with your points are that the followers of this book only pick and choose whats right for them and whats on the political agenda. So will will most likely never get any Christian to reply and answer as to why only certain parts of this novel are followed. The book of TImmothy also says woman should be silent (that will never work), woman should not wear their hair in braids or adorn themselves with gold and other jewlery. There are tons of points that seem to be ignored for some reason.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • GTL

      Maybe you should do a little background work on the text before you comment. Yes, God ordered the slaughter of men, women and children. What you fail to understand or even perceive is that there was more a reason behind it than just slaughter. This group of people, the people who lives in the promised land before the Jews, committed horrible acts of Humanity: human sacrifice, worship of idols, etc... Tell me, would you associate yourself with the Mayans or Aztechs when they were performing human sacrifice? Eventually you would be encultured (if that's a word) into their beliefs. Even if you didn't, future generations of your family would adopt their ways. Now, imagine a thounsands of people being encultured within a "human sacrifice society." Do you disagree that those sins are bad? Didn't you listen to what the author of this article said? Paul encouraged slaves to obey their masters to gain freedom, so they could serve God better. Instead of reading the Bible, perceive it when you read.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
  19. Isaac N. Stanton Jr

    Leviticus 18:22 KJV

    March 3, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
    • Yirmiyahu

      Mark 11:12-14 (KJV)

      God hates figs too. But no ones trying to outlaw them.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  20. Mike

    The bible was written by humans. That this guy has dedicated his life to dissecting a quite fallible piece of literature has kind of destroyed this column's credibility. Worry about this article if you truly believe in the bible (or want an excuse to hate gay people for some reason), but its really just garbage housed within an intellectual facade. Read Spinoza and get back to me on what counts as spiritual fodder.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:51 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.