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. Lauren

    Great article! However, even without this excellent analysis, I stil know truth when I see it.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
  2. georgea

    Very good article!! Jennifer Knust's article was so inappropriate and distorted!
    The bible is the Truth and it is INSPIRED by GOD!
    God hates sin, not the sinner!

    March 3, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
  3. crucified

    why do all the athiest jump onto these articles? if they do not believe they should ignore....Athiest if you believe when you die you turn to dust..I feel sorry for you..but the very effort and energy you put in to respond to the passionate people of Jesus Christ proves you are fearful of the end... and you should be.. It's not to late..

    March 3, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • FNORDY

      Maybe people like me are tired of hearing about how "bad" we are or how we'll end up in hell. Especially when we live our lives as good people, loving and excepting of all our brothers and sisters. kinda like what Jesus said.

      Christains should spend more time actually following the teachings of Jesus, it would do your religion some good.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • crucified

      @Fnordy, Judging all of Christianity over a few you feel do not fit the mold or walk the walk.. Is unfair and further proves the irrational extremism of the Athiest against Christians. You are judging all Christians no matter what level of their walk they are on.. Baby Christians being equal to Ninja Christians. Irrational! but expected.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • FNORDY

      I was simply giving you a reason why non christians get fed up. you painted just as broad stroke in your original post.
      Athiests are against anybody, just fed up with being judged.

      anyways, not into gays? follow your own advice and ignore.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
  4. Ken Kundis

    Let's take a tally of everything the bible condemns. There is eating pork, there is getting tattoos, there is a woman in charge of a man (she is supposed to be silent). These are just three of literally hundreds of things that man is not 'supposed' to do but that is not followed in contemporary society. That book was written more than 2000 years ago. It's not surprising it doesn't provide a specific path for man to live any more. This person, like so many before him, is cherry picking this issue out of the Bible for his own personal agenda.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
  5. LouWho

    Did someone make a movie of this book ? Is it available on DVD/Netflix yrt ?

    March 3, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
  6. birdwoman

    Mr T., up there on March 3 at 5:00 PM has got it right.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:07 pm |

    If there is a creator, I wonder who will enter the kingdom of heaven? will it be someone like me who attempts to treat others with dignity and respect, or someone who treats others with disrespect becuase of thier differences?

    If we're all Gods children, that includes all the gays, muslims, athiests, and liberals.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
  8. Wow!

    I see here a man reasonably defending his religious belief in God and the Bible, using the text to explain how he came to those conclusions. I also see about 50 people spitting hate, blame, accusation and venom back at him (calling him hateful?). Disagree, but do so without the persecution!

    I blame the relativist Friedrich Nietzsche for popularizing the old idea that there is no truth, only personal preference, or that anything a person believes is okay. Of course, Nietzsche went on to say that those who didn't agree with him were "sheep" and "lower-types". (Kind of ironic in my opinion.) We are hearing both these ideas (1. anything you want to believe is okay, and 2. if you don't believe my way, you are an idiot and hateful) repeated time after time here in this comment section. Can there really be no real truth? Does anyone know for a fact, with proof, that God does not exist? If he doesn't exist, how would society and history be different (seriously, think about it realistically in terms of human nature)? And if he does exist, does he really change with the times? (Everyone keeps saying "in this modern age" as if God tries to keep up with the latest trends and free thinking neighbors.) Is there really no God, because we, as an advanced society, have outgrown the idea of God (another parroting of Neitzsche's doctrine)? We are still free to worship God, and to worship him as we believe in the United States of America. It is not hate to believe in God and that God has set moral standards. It is not hate to believe his words are the same now as they were 50, 100, or 1000 years ago. It is not hate to vote to uphold what you believe–after all, that's what all voting is–casting your lot for the idea or person you best believe in. It is also okay to speak about these belief, and I applaud Mr. Gagnon for his courage to do so.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
  9. Pete

    I think once Dr. Gagnon finally decides to COME OUT he will feel a freedom that out weighs anything a novel written by men couldever give him. Love yourself Dr. Gagnon and COME OUT COME OUT WHEREVER YOU ARE. We all welcome you with loving arms and without judgment of who you want to love.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
  10. deadhorse

    beating on a dead horse!

    March 3, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
  11. Jonathan

    This article is written by someone with a very childish, primitive, and ignorant view of spirituality and God. I was born gay and I thank God for that.

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

      I don't believe in God, but I thank Goodness for your comment, it made me smile today.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
  12. LBCSongbird

    Levitcus 18:22 is very clear. Yet arguing with people who are lost and are denying Christ is "casting pearls before swine". They will trample over you with no regard to truth. I commend the author on his very intelligent rebuttal. You have planted the seed.

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

      Who says you have to be a Christian to follow the teachings of Jesus?

      March 3, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
  13. Jeff

    Why did you capitalize "the Left?" I guess everything looks like a nail when the only tool you have is a hammer.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
  14. Gaucho420

    Religion is for losers. Why anyone would choose to beleive something, simply because its written somewhere, is beyond me. Its funny that people want Obama to provide a birth certificate, yet most of these so called truth seekers eat up some book, written by regular folks from 2,000 years ago, as fact for everything in life. You truly need to ask yourself in what other part of your life are you ever so gullible and just simply "beleive". I'm sure the Greeks with Zeus and Egyptians with Ra simply "beleived" as well, as do Hindus, Muslims and Jews, yet you all hate each other and all beleive your god is correct.

    Its struly is spectacular at how easy people can be dupped, just for wanting to beleive in something. Free your minds people...free your minds.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
  15. JB

    The bible condemns obesity as well, so I guess the majority of American's are going to hell. I'd also like to add, "WHO CARES!!" Keep your chuch away from my state.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • Jeff S

      Heck, I keep my own religion out of issues of state for myself. Its amazing that there are so many anti-Americans in this country who can't do the same. It is also amazing that there are so many lazies and fats who put so much of their limited energy into condemning gays, or condemning charity for anyone but oil and banking barrons.

      10 commandments:
      1. I'm #1
      2. Don't mess with my good name.
      3. Don't work 7 days a week.
      4. Honor your Parent's
      5. Don't be killin' nobody
      6. No whoring
      7. No gankin
      8. No makin' stuff up to the po-po
      9. Get your own womenses
      10. Don't drool over my stuff
      None of those say: don't be ghey

      March 3, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  16. Eric

    As a boy I grew up in the church. Read the bible, 'from cover to cover'. But unlike most people, I was given the option by my parents (who are both believers), to question and search for my own faith. Here are some truths.

    1. There is no god, allah or high power. Only the willingness of humans to put themselves on the same level with a god, and create heaven/hell, so that they too, can be immortal.
    2. Jesus was a man before his time. He preached love and acceptance. And the majority of his believers ingore his teachings.
    3. The truth hurts... becuase it is not what we hoped it would be.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • Wow!

      Thank you for stating the facts of your faith. You have no more proof that God doesn't exist than someone else has proof that he does. A believer and an atheist are in the same boat–just rowing different directions.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
  17. 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 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. And I'm a happily married woman.

    Why is CNN engaging in this kind of biased, stilted crap?

    March 3, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • John

      In fairness, CNN published basically the opposite viewpoint a few days ago.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • Hilo, HI

      Good Post. I agree. I understand way gay marriage laws are so important to many, but it's a step in the wrong direction, more government interference where it doesn't belong -personal relationships. Property rights, taxes, power of attorney, family court for custody -all have laws to cover them, even though judicial bias often occurs.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • Jeff S

      mountainmamajo – simply genius. And I mean "simply", because why is that so hard for everyone else to figure out?! I'm a Christian, married in the Catholic church, but also an American. I don't believe it is my government's business to have any say in what anyone does with their private lives. The church can refuse to marry gay couples – and another church can refuse to marry straight couples. Another church can choose to only marry caublasian men to sudanese-brazilian women. Who cares!
      The idea of having equal rights to civil union under the law is great. And when someone gets "married" or "hitched" or whatever that particular religious group wants to call it under there system, then that's what it is – under that system. Simultaneously, you're also legally united in the eyes of the state.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  18. Patti

    My Take: The bible says women who aren't virgins on their wedding nights should be stoned (Deuteronomy 22:13-21). So why aren't we we doing that too?

    March 3, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • LBCSongbird

      Because first Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery because she was truly repentant, and second, no one sees that as wrong anymore except TRUE Christians.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
  19. Duke of Ellijay

    I find it simply astonishing that grown people of all races base their lives on a book, written nearly 2000 years ago, by men! There is not one jot of evidence, not one, of the existence of a God, and there never has been. It is stupefying that there is such widespread belief in this crud.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • No fear

      You are absolutely correct!

      March 3, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • Jeff S

      Duke – it has to do with what the Bible (or other religious texts for other religions) does for those people. Nobody really cares whether there's any proof. Even if its ever proven to have been a total fabrication, what matters is the message transmitted and the effect it has on people.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • pauline

      I disagree! There is not one shred of evidence that God does NOT exist. Look around you! God is everywhere.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • Fred

      Hey Duke of Ellijay, prove to me that there is no God? FYI, don't even try to use Darwin. That theory is so riddled with holes the only thing holding it together now is the liberal academic elite. Want an example: um, lack of fossil evidence (we have A and Z but where is the evidence of everything in-between?), new discoveries of the complexity of bacterial structures that darwin's theory can't explain (survival of the fittest). So you say this book is full of lies but I have yet to see a single piece of scientific evidence that disproves this book. All we have is a bunch of hatred spewing back and forth which gets us nowhere.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • Jeff S

      Pauline does have an excellent point. There is far more evidence that God did/does exist than there is that God didn't/doesn't exist.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • CN

      fred–this is a tired argument. no one can prove there is no god. but the burden of proof is on YOU, and this debate embodies that. your ENTIRE authority for commanding people to live alone and celibate for the remainder of their days derives from the existence of god. that's quite a large arrogation of power! before i submit to your command to basically waste the only life i get, i want some proof.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • pauline

      If you are so egotistical to believe that all that exists is only everything you can think of or imagine, then I encourage you to get "out of your head" and start engaging people and the physical world. God is everywhere.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • FNORDY

      it is impossible to prove a negitive. The onus is on the Believer.

      And for those who say "god is everywhere", OK, but it does not mean the Christian god necessarily. Why not Thor or Marduk? Why not Shiva or FSM?

      There is more evidence for ancient astronaut theory, than for the Christain version of God.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  20. Ravak

    God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • mimasetti

      Oh Ravak, now there's one I've never heard. I guess it would only be fair if I met you before I determined you are a waste of a human being.

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

      As far as I read, God created everyone out of love. Not out of spite. That would include Adam & Steve.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • pauline

      Just because someone disagrees with you is no reason to call the person a "human waste".

      March 3, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • ProperVillain

      Ugh, really? People are still saying this?

      March 3, 2011 at 7:48 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.