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. Moira 'Momo'

    Regardless of what the Bible says, I still think the Bible should have nothing to do with who in America has rights and who doesn't. I don't care if it says women need to wear polka-dotted track suits every third Wednesday during months that have even-numbered letters. Our country was founded on the basis that everyone was equal...or supposed to be. NO we weren't Christians in the beginning. The Founding Fathers were mainly deists and freemasons. The Bible may say this over that, but don't use it as an excuse to discriminate towards fellow human beings.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  2. Tom

    Sodom & Gomoorah....enough said

    March 3, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  3. Carol

    Read the late Rev. Peter Gomes book, The Good Book. Reading the Bible With Mind and Heart. He was Preacher to Harvard University, and gave the message at two Presidents inugurations, one of them H.W. Bushes. He'll explalin the meaning of this passage that that Gagnon believes to be true.

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

      Hi MikeThanks again for the fabulous portentasien yesterday in Calgary. Hope the rest of the day went fine and you continue to have success on your trip! Sorry I had to leave early had to pick up my husband.That was an incredibly GREAT use of $150 ever!

      March 3, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
  4. kro

    "He who has no sin, cast the first stone." Charlie Sheen yells, "I have no sins."

    March 3, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
  5. Terry

    Mark 3:29, reads....but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit (GOD) will never be forgiven; they are guilty of eternal sin.

    Case Closed!

    March 3, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • 1trueGod

      um actually that verse say "in danger of eternal damnation" and it's talking about personal salvation. If there was something that you had to not do you order to keep your salvation then JESUS would not had paid the full price for your sins on the CROSS. JESUS IS GOD and i think He did the FULL COMPLETE job. Just believing that will bring salvation that is ETERNAL

      March 3, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  6. AstraNavigo

    He got a 'degree' in the study of his favorite Imaginary Friend. Might as well have studied Superman.

    The 'Bible' is the favorite trash-novel of a group of Bronze-Age goat-herders.

    Please, someone – tell me why we're even having this discussion? How and why can any of this have any possible relevance to 21st-century life?

    March 3, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
  7. Ken Kundis

    Sirina -

    I've also read the bible through several times (as well as the Kuran and the Talmid) and it also put me off and also many other people I know. So please stop engaging in unchecked, incorrect notions to support your delusion.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
  8. marc

    meh, screw the bible

    March 3, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • John Do

      Same with "meh".

      March 3, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
  9. lynn

    Guess I should just give up on CNN. You don't really want sensible opinions, just nasty fights.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • Tracy

      It's not CNN it's the filters. You have to look at all the words such as docu-ment will be blocked because it contains the word c u m – At-itude will get blocked because it contains the work t-it. Get the picture? Reword it.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
  10. Crazy Pete

    If the authors’ point was that one may have to submit to slavery in order to feed yourself, then fine, but it is a red herring. I don’t think anyone has suggested in these arguments that submitting to slavery is in itself morally wrong.

    He talks later in the paragraph about the bible specifying the proper parameters of slavery. If the bible gives rules to govern conduct, then I would assume (barring any other specific edicts) that the conduct is, if not condoned, at least approved of. Example: If you tell your child not that drinking alcohol is OK, but that you can only drink after 5 pm, that is tactic approval of drinking.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
  11. PeterVN

    David Brenchley, your belief in your sky fairy "spirit", without a shred of evidence, show that your statement about yourself being "reasonably intelligent" is false. You are merely a deluded fool.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • John Do

      No more than your lack of proof that He doesn't exist....and you would be an even greater fool.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  12. Robert

    Well, this information is only important to people who actually put stock in what the bible says. It should have no bearing on the laws of the land, as many of us do not accept the bible's teachings, do not believe in god or the divinity of Jesus, and are not obligated to live in accordance with scripture.

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

    I condemn the Bible. See how easy that is?

    March 3, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
  14. Wayshower

    Thing about these "interpretations" of the Bible is that they have many different outcomes that can come about. While I follow the teaching of Jesus as my spiritual template, after reading the whole bible, my mind opened up a bit to the underlying messages that it and even other spiritual beliefs tried to teach. I believe that the Adam and Eve story is a "metaphor" of our souls being "SPLIT" into twi parts, after our fall from the spiritual higher realms (Heaven, 5th Dimension) to the material world of heavier, denser matter(3rd Dimension) In our true form, we are one being, but in the material world, we are split, not in physical means, but spiritually from our "Twin Flame". I believe that the journey of a human is to reunite with his/her spiritual other half. But not as an external partner rather I believe the other side is buried deep within each person. This may be what is considered the "Holy Ghost" indwelling. But like I said this is just my belief.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
  15. Thatguy371

    Funny how right=Christian, left= heathens. Where did that concept come from? Certainly not from reality. As for the Bible vs. gays, yes I get the message of being against them in there, but the reality is people will do what they want to do by and large. Right or wrong, the reality is eventually there will be gay marriage in the U.S. in every state. I'd rather it be civil unions with the same rights as marrieds, but the gays don't want that. They want it all. Zero compromise. Whatever.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • Qban1029

      That's right! By separating our union under a different name you are implying that our union is somehow not equivalent to yours and as Brown vs Board of Education stated, separate establishments (marriage vs. civil unions) are INHERENTLY unequal. We refuse to accept any less.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
  16. lynn

    Why is it going to moderation? I see so many nasty comments and I just post a common sense post about being realistic and get sent to moderation. It's not the first time. Why?

    March 3, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
  17. Red

    If God DID create man, he'd probably have a good idea of how smart and reasonable we are. We obviously have these discussions often. If God came straight forward every day and was like, "sup yo, love me cuz I'm God"...it might not really be love that we're expressing, it might just be a conditional feeling.

    Wouldn't it be MORE reasonable and God-like for everything to be convoluted as it actually is? I mean...why would an infinite God make everything so straight forward in ONE book for ALL generations? Convolution is a path to belief or disbelief, and it's our clarity of dignity in the end, isn't it? I would not expect the convolution to become anything less than what it is and the madness that makes up our awesomely intelligent and reasonable human race intertwined around a crooked religion that makes me believe in God more. "I am the vine..." Vines don't grow straight, babe...not in the jungle and not at Wrigley.

    Bible whatever, what is everyone afraid of?

    March 3, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
  18. Ric

    The penalty of sin is death or nonexistence. nobody, even God cannot change this law. like the constant law that 'God cannot sin'. since we all sinned, God send His Son to pay that penalty so we will not die and disappear forever. He wants us to exist for all eternity. God cannot just erase that penalty. somebody has to pay that death or else He is a lawbreaker.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
  19. Rusty Freedom

    The bible also says to take disobedient children to the edge of town and stone them to death. Maybe the author proposes legalizing infanticide 'in God's name'. Heaven forbid we try to use a literal intrepretation of the bible as an ethical guide...

    March 3, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • Dan

      It's easy to criticize the Bible when you take things out of context. First you should read the complete events of what took place, the culture and tradition of the time.

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

      By this comment, you just showed how you either (1) have not read the Bible in its entirety or (2) have been reading it incorrectly.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
  20. nom

    The Bible also condones slavery. How shall we have it? The Bible as literal truth ignoring the parts that we don't like.

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

      I agree completely. Let's also add how could the words of Jesus possibly be exact given the fact the New Testament was written one to two hundred years after his life.

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

      More than 1000 responses here. Who cares? What does the bible say about recycling, Darwin's finches, and the aurora borealis?

      March 3, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • 1trueGod

      yes but take in the context of that time. everybody had slaves

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

      You are correct in your assumption. Unfortunately, mankind, being born corrupt, reads the Bible then takes portions of passages and assumes they're right or wrong. There are many times I've had to show a person what the entire passage says before they understand it fully.

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

      1) did you even READ this? He talks about the slavery question. The bible does not CONDONE slavery – that's a fallacy that many not versed in the Bible love to repeat, but it is not true. Read Paul Copan's "Is God A Moral Monster?" if you REALLY want to learn about what theologians say about slavery in the bible. Of course, if you'd just read this article, he briefly discusses this too.

      2) The words of Jesus were not written one to two hundred years after the fact. Again, another fallacy people that don't know what they are talking about (other than what they read on the "internets"). Some of Pauls letters were written about 20 years after Jesus' death (which was around 30 AD). The Gospels (that's the first four books of the New Testament) were written a fews years later – possibly no later than 70 AD.

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

      The Bible does not condone slavery in any sense of what you think of as slavery. Society was very different. Servants lived in your house. They were no different than your house cleaner or local baker. Family groups were large and functioned as a social group. There were clear rules how this could function. At best it was something God tolerated while leading people to a better plan. And no, I don't need the Bible to tell me what to do anything more than a child needs a parent. It just works better that way. But the Bible needs to be read as an organic whole, without negative prejudice, and it becomes a marvelous book. Please, don't judge the book by the misuse of some who want to call fire down from heaven in their own name. God is Love, and so will be anyone worthy of who He is.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:33 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.