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. Jack

    And Corinthians II bans divorce. Outlaw that and we'll talk.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
    • mary

      Totally true.. And look at the mess created when we decided we could marry and divorce at our whims.. With no regard to the lives the children would live when we do that..
      Yeah... Each time we decide the bible can't tell us how to live.. We screw things up..

      March 3, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
  2. Tom

    Not in our lifetime, but eventually the bible will be viewed in the same light as a flat-earth, bloodletting and a geocentric universe. As a mistake made by our ancestors.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • mary

      Maybe...~! For a little while.. Until he decides man has been arrogant and self serving long enough..

      March 3, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  3. Julie Labrouste

    Opinion: The bible has so many parts that are nothing but 100% pure BIGOTRY that the whole mess can go get stuffed, as can the censorship of free speech, like the "moderation" of these comments.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • Julie Labrouste

      So "get stuffed" is okay is it? How terribly gracious of you CNN moderators. How about this? Is this "okay" with YOU?

      “What has Anarchism to say to all this, this bankruptcy of republicanism; this modern empire that has grown up on the ruins of our early freedom? We say this, that the sin our fathers sinned was that they did not trust liberty wholly. They thought it possible to compromise between liberty and government, believing the latter to be ‘a necessary evil,’ and the moment the compromise was made, the whole misbegotten monster of our present tyranny began to grow. Instruments which are set up to safeguard rights become the very whip with which the free are struck.

      Anarchism says, Make no laws whatever concerning speech, and speech will be free; so soon as you make a declaration on paper that speech shall be free, you will have a hundred lawyers proving that ‘freedom does not mean abuse, nor liberty license’; and they will define and define freedom out of existence. Let the guarantee of free speech be in every man's determination to use it, and we shall have no need of paper declarations. On the other hand, so long as the people do not care to exercise their freedom, those who wish to tyrannize will do so; for tyrants are active and ardent, and will devote themselves in the name of any number of gods, religious and otherwise, to put shackles upon sleeping men.”

      – Voltairine de Cleyre

      March 3, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • Julie Labrouste

      PIGS...are used to make bacon.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  4. pjones

    ok then, so.......

    1 Timothy 2:11-12

    11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
  5. ShaneCo.

    "The bible says a lot of things. Shove her!!!" – Chief Wiggum

    March 3, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
  6. Ruck

    This whole article makes me laugh. Who cares? Why does anyone care what consenting adults do in private?

    March 3, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  7. Cowboy

    Its amazing to me to think that there are people out there who are so afraid of what they don’t understand that they use the Bible as their source to excuse their own prejudice. I am a Christian and I am also Gay, God made me this way and he expects me to live my life with honesty and integrity.
    As a Christian I also acknowledge the bible and understand its meaning, but at the same time I also understand that this was a book written by man for men, it is the interpretation of Gods will by men who had an agenda for the church. Its main purpose is to be a guide in which to live our lives as loving and caring individuals, its not an excuse to hate or judge others.
    The bible plainly says " Do not judge unless thy be judge thyself"
    If you choose to take the bible literally then that is your choice, but remember you cant force someone else to believe as you do, and according to Gods word you don’t have the right to hate or judge on something you do not understand.
    I believe that everyone has to the right to celebrate God and have faith in God as each person see's fit, we are just human and because of that we are imperfect souls and God understands this. Do not mock someone’s faith because you are not in a position to say what is the right or wrong faith, the only thing you can do is state what is right for you and your own faith.
    If someone chooses not to believe that is their choice, I don’t hate them or judge for that, it’s not up to me. I feel everyone has some kind of faith, something to believe which is bigger then ourselves, and I believe what God looks for in someone is the ability to have faith. That is what being human is all about and that is why God loves us for who we are.
    As someone who is Christian I am appalled and embarrassed at the spewing hate I see people commit everyday in the name of God and it makes me very sad, because I know that this is not what God would want from us.
    So for those of you who call yourselves Christians you need to take the time to think about the true meaning behind Gods words, and when you find yourself using the bible as an excuse for your own small mindedness and prejudice you need to ask yourself one question... What would Jesus say about your actions and your words towards others?

    March 3, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • 1trueGod

      Its good that your honest BUT your living is sin, JUST like many of us. that doesnt make it right but God paid for all your sin and all you have to do is believe that to go to Heaven. Jesus paid for all sin

      March 3, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • So...

      1TrueGod – Spend some time worrying about YOUR sin, and lead by example, instead of calling out other people for their 'sins'. See ya' gotta go burn an ox 'cause God likes the smell.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
  8. Eric

    I vote for the LoTR religion... because Tolkien was ok with gays (ie, Sam and Frodo).

    "David –
    Wow, it is amazing how people continue to reject Christ's teachings and replace their own carnal desire for truth."
    -Wow, it's amazing that someone who accepts Jesus' teachings, simplly chooses to ignore what he feels he can. you believe that what you are told is truth, but calls out those who have searched for truth and found it.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • ???

      Sam and Frodo were not gay. That's really reading something into it. Sam's whole desire, beyond helping rid the world of evil, was to return to the shire and marry his hobbit girl.

      March 4, 2011 at 12:35 am |
  9. Cindy

    The bible also recommends that you stone unruly children to death. Let's move on already.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • Michael

      And where does it say that specifically?

      I believe Jesus said he who is without sin may cast the first stone (and He didn't.)

      March 3, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
    • Bad Kid

      Deuteronomy 21:18-21 – If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
  10. PETER


    March 3, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
  11. Joe

    unless your a PRIEST

    March 3, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
  12. Atticus

    The article is exceptionally well written and thoughtful. That does not mean I agree with it. It's a shame that so many are unable to appreciate a well argued position because it treads upon cherished opinion.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
  13. Earthling

    Bronze age fairy tales are not relevant in today's world.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
  14. real american

    the bible says a lot of stuff. so what? everyone in america isn't a practicing christian. go to "the vatican" or whatever to live a biblical life. keep it to your churches and out of my daily life.

    be kind to one another. that's what matters. judge not lest ye be judged. right?

    March 3, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  15. Caral From SoCal

    I am thankful to see this opinion piece given equal presence with the original. As a Bible scholar for several decades now, I was mortified by the original piece and its misuse of Scripture. I frankly did not think CNN would print an opposing point of view, however well articulated, and I certainly did not think they would give it the same "homepage" prominence. I apologize, CNN. Thank you for being willing to present both sides fairly.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • Hilo, HI

      "it's misuse of scripture".....(re the previous article) And You know all the correct interpretations? What an arrogant thing to write.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  16. Michael, Chapel Hill

    At last some fresh air on a hot issue. Thanks Robert>

    March 3, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • Tracy

      Fresh air that supports prejudice, that fuels hatred and bigotry in our society. A panel of experts have shown that being gay is not a mental disorder, it's not a choice and it can't be voluntarily changed but Christians ignore these facts. They also proved that all the past reports on the subject were done by prejudice and bigoted people.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • choochoo

      Just because you are christian doesn't mean you have to follow the bible's every word. I myself am Buddhist, but I sympathize with other religions or beliefs such as atheism. Honestly, it saddens me when an individual flaunts the bible while seeking to bash christianity. They flap the bible around and say things such a "Have /you/ read the bible? /I've/ read the bible and clearly your religion is all wrong". Understanding and religion can coexist. Science and religion can coexist – it can. You can love a god and the laws of physics at the same time.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • Hilo, HI

      Tracy, not all Christians. I try daily to live Jesus message of LOVE, that includes compassion, acceptance and tolerance, even of people I may not understand. These bigots are haters using whatever tools they can, in this case some college degrees and the Bible. I may be in a minority, or maybe they're just the loudest and most damaging, but they do not speak for all Christians.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  17. Terry

    An Atheist was walking thru a forest when suddenly he spotted trees and brush moving around. Jumps out behind the trees was a big bear. The Aitheist jumped to his knees begging the bear not to eat him. The bear got to his knees and started to pray.
    "Thank You Lord for this food, you blessed me with, Amen!"

    March 3, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • Jay

      So, we're past talking snakes and we're on to bears now?

      March 3, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • Hilo, HI

      Jay -that one made me laugh out loud

      March 3, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
  18. gary duits

    Favorite saying of an etheist,,,,,, O God!

    March 3, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
  19. Jon

    Funny, I've never seen a man and woman become one flesh. Can you please give an example of this happening?

    March 3, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
    • 1trueGod

      the unity candle

      March 3, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
    • Tom Bako

      The Two become one flesh during the act of intercourse you idiot

      March 3, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • John Eakin

      when a baby is born, thats what the verse is referring to.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • mary

      When they create another life...??
      It is meant as two coming together to care for each other as they do themselves..Thinking of themselves as one ...
      And for the sake of their children that carry their DNA from each..It seems very reasonable and understandable ..Very good for children to have mother and father.. Both there loving and caring for them.. Good for the parents to share this hard job with the same concern for their offspring..
      Some thing that biological parents feel to a much deeper intensity.. Over all..

      March 3, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • mike

      a child produced by a man and a woman becomes one flesh. read with understanding.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • Somesense

      It's figurative language. Like C.S. Lewis stated, "if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them."

      March 3, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
    • AIC

      One becomes one when a baby is conceive thus making one flesh from two. Also did you know when a man ejaculate, his manhood actually sucks in. Therefore taking in DNA from the woman. This is a medical fact. So you can see the implication. Also when people kiss and swap DNA, (and If you never kiss again), it is said that the DNA stays in the wall of the mouth for years and years.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  20. Randy

    All this from a book that casually talks about ressurection (“when (people) rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels”) as it were as common as births.
    What nonsense

    March 3, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • Jim

      In these modern times, what better way to direct our lives than to listen to the gospel of 2000 year-old decrepit white men in the business of staying in business for their own personal gain! Makes perfect sense.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • Elijah's Rain

      Just because you can't explain certain things doesnt make it nonsense. Our world around us is made up of both invicible and visible laws that we've only been able to scratch the surface off. There are still so much that we do not know and yet we have to leave the rest on theory without actual proof. What's pretty incredible is a book written by different writers, generations apart all saying and pointing to the same theme of God. Where as our very best theories on science might be debunked years from now but the bible has endured.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • Randy

      What's incredible is that any credibility is given to a book written by several generations of men, several languages, several years, several interpretations. Did anyone miss the 3rd grade experiment, when the class sat in a circle, the teacher whispered a phrase or statement and asked the student to whisper the content to the person on the left until the circle was complete?! The phrase or statement resembled nothing of the original content, now apply the above hurdles to the circle and draw a conclusion. You are correct however, in that there is an enormous amount of items we don't understand.
      Recommended reading " The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins

      March 3, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86
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.