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. Grouchy

    How about this? Stop reading the book of fairy tales and go outside and face the real world for once. The problem of the entire world is people believing in this garbage and it does nothing but hold us back from being the marvelous human race we can be!

    March 3, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
  2. Joe

    What a wacko this guy is.. As if a woman was made from the rib of a man... Get a grip.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
  3. vp

    All I know is YOU Pledged Allegiance to the FLAG, not to the Bible.

    You follow OUR laws and we'll be good.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
  4. Byrd

    It's extremely difficult to take part in the conversation when you comment is endlessly awaiting moderation. No profanity whatsoever, yet I'm being censored. Go figure.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
  5. mountainmamajo

    If you don't believe in gay s*x, don't do it. If you don't believe in gay marriage, don't do it. But please stop trying to find ways to justify sticking your nose in everyone else's business.
    I'm a happily married woman. I don't believe that marriage should be sanctioned by the state. Outlaw ALL marriages. Make all civil unions equal under the law and marriage's the purview of religion.
    Why is CNN engaging in this kind of biased, stilted crap?

    March 3, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
  6. Raji the Green Witch

    Crazy Christians!!! It is easier to be RIGHT than it is to be compassionate towards your fellow humans. That is where the Evangelical Fundamentalists FAIL and fall flat on their faces. They have to be right BEFORE they will be wiling to love their neighbor. Any Religious ideology that does not promote love and compassion towards your neighbor as it's PRIMARY core truth is FAILING that test of Faith in its entirety. The default interpretation in ANY reading of scripture MUST be one which leads to love and acceptance of other beliefs and feelings. Any interpretation to the otherwise is under the influence of evil, and there is NO other way around it. Until People of Faith understand that, there will NEVER be any peace, love and righteousness on the Earth.

    How come everyone of every other Faith can understand that principle yet, those followers of the God of Abraham seem to have so much trouble with it?

    March 3, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
  7. Steve

    The bible is a piece of literature like any other. It's open to interpretation. So is Dr. Seuss.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
  8. Bryan

    Reading some of the responses to this article it's a small wonder that our country has difficulty engaging in any sort of intelligent dialogue. If you don't agree with someone, insult their intelligence. Fantastic.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
  9. Slider33

    I see a lot of people here seem to be trying to justify the slavery in the bible.

    Not a very strong position to defend rationally and morally.

    A moral person might argue that it is simply wrong to own another human being, no matter the concept. The god of the Old Testament cares very much if you pick up sticks on the Sabbath, but doesn't care so much if you beat your slave within an inch of his life:

    What's the moral context that defends this passage?

    (Exodus 21:20-21 NAB) When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod so hard that the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property.

    So according to gods law, it's okay to beat your slave but not okay to kill him. Such great moral teachings the bible has!

    March 3, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
  10. maverik

    THANK YOU! I read the "other" article and found it to be a bit of a stretch.

    You can convince yourself of anything. . . but is God convinced.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  11. JamieinMN

    Soooooooo. what if we don't follow the bible??? WHO Fu**ING CARES!!!!! People need to pipe down and mind their own dang business.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  12. Nubby

    Thia is like a bunch of amateur musicians telling Mozart how to write music. You know nothing. The more you think you know the less you actually do know. The arguments here are something you heard someone else say and you are just imitating them. If you want to know the truth then God will reveal it to you. The bible will make sense when you actually know truth. You don't want to know the truth because it will crimp your sinful lifestyle. Read the bible but first ask God to show you what is true and what is not. If you ask with a pure heart you will find there is a lot in the bible that makes sense that you could never understand before. But if you are bitter or angry or hate God and love sin then don't. You will be wasting His and your time.

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

      HAHAHA um how do you know?

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

      Well here is my take on the bible, I am sick of people jamming religion down my throat, I am Catholic and worship how I feel God wants me to. I do not go to church a lot because I have health issues that make walking and sitting or standing for long periods painful , so I see it this way, I try to be the best person I can I give a lot of myself to others especially those less fortunate if i have 2 dollars I will gladly give you one maybe both. I never hurt anyone on purpose and try not to break the law. I pray a lot and read the bible as well. I believe what I feel not what someone tells me the bible means and when I die then I shall know what it's all about. I dont care what some bible thumper thinks and even less from some scholar that thinks they are smarter then I am. Just because you know a lot about a sublect does not make you smarter then me, I am sure there are plenty of subjects about which I know a great deal more than you, so forgive me if I trust my own heart over what some stranger insists is true about a subject that not one person on this earth is sure about, not one.When you die you will know live well be kind and just and you should be okay is what I think.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  13. Scott

    Yeah. It condemns killing, too. "Thou shalt not kill". Soldiers are trained to kill, but they still get equality under the law. So take THAT discrepancy and stick it where the sun won't shine. 🙂

    March 3, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  14. delrose

    This is a hot topic. Was always told by my parents arguing religion and or politics is a lost cause. Tend very much to agree. To many here throwing irratic stones at nothing...

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

      party pooper

      March 3, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
  15. Mr. T

    In a country where only 10% of the population is gay, but 50% of marriages end in divorce ... is this really the most troubling social issue???
    Maybe you should stop trying to justify your flawed morals by bashing people for loving someone of their own gender, and instead think about how "Christian" and bible-conform it is when you say to God (voluntarily, if I may add):
    'Yes, I want her (him). Till death parts us. I swear!'
    and then get divorced (and/or cheat on your spouse). At least there is no need for an "Associate Professor of New Testament" to interpret Mark 10:11-12:
    "And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery."
    So stop trying to dictate other people's lives and clean out your own garbage first!

    March 3, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  16. james

    how come every time I try to type any variation of the word se x in this forum about an article on the same subject, my comment is moderated (ie deleted)? It's like writing an article about cats and barring the word 'cat' from the forum.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  17. canopy

    The bible also condemns wearing clothes of different cloth. I just looked at my shirt and its 30% lycra and 70% spandex. GASP!

    March 3, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  18. CW

    I'm sure these past and present pages of Blog..blog blog..contain a lot of non believers and Atheist. Fact of the matter is this...The bible is plain on this issue.

    We'll all see each other on the last day....if you don't believe and live in a biblical way as best as you can....then you and I will get to see who was right.

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

      Christians need to get off their 'I'm right' kick. WTH does being 'right' have to do with living out the faith? Faith is not an exercise of the intellect. If it were, we'd all fail.

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

      Using a fictional book, full of impossibilities, is not really evidence to why we should deny basic human rights.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • cindy

      Finally! Somebody gets it! Yeah!

      March 3, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • Estevan

      You have it wrong CW...it won't be the lame biblical god judging us.....

      It will be mighty Thor smashing us with his hammer for being unworthy warriors before him!

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

      And the bible is just a book, written by a bunch of different people, from a 2000 year old culture. How, in any way, is it relevant? There are so many passages that most devout Christians ignore from the bible (we don't kill or stone people for idolatry today...well, in America), to pick and choose what you adhere to negates the entire thing. I almost have more respect for the fanatics that believe every word to the letter, at least they're committed. What's your or other Christian's excuse?

      March 3, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • Steve

      See you Saturday.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • Bob

      For humanity to survive, religion must die. We must finally put a nail in the coffin of religion and bury it forever. These people are doing more harm than good. However, I understand the power of prayer for the person that prays in that it does give them confidence and makes it more likely for them to reach their goals than one who doesn't. We atheist must take from religion it's positive points. Prayer can be replaced by meditation. The teaching of Jesus can be replaced by an ethic of supporting all instead of the republican evangelical ethic of supporting only the wealthy. Yes, take the good parts of religion, verified by science, of course, and bury the fairy tales.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
  19. MattGMD

    One jeebus scholar scolding another jeebus scholar for not scolding the gays sufficiently.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  20. Red

    I don't think we can validate what people are thinking or aren't thinking on their deathbed...it's like the Truman show: "You never had a camera in my brain"

    March 3, 2011 at 4:58 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.