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. Trent

    Knust blog is intresting and has caused some stir I see. More backlash, cough, is probably coming.

    Kinda cute but still very limited in her scripture usage. Good points you readers and posters have... got me thinking about myself thow. Self eximanation of ones self is always good.
    Love covers many sins and you all have your own, love and sins I mean.


    March 3, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • Dee

      If I am a true Christian then I am not walking around in my sins. Calvinism twisted theology to maintain that Christians keep a dark side. If you are 'born again,' then you are completely freed from your past sins. Sure, no one is perfect. But there is difference between willful sin and unintended sin. If your child is disobeying you, you can tell if they are flat out defiant. If they accidentally break something, it's another matter.

      Love covers many sins, but God didn't exactly have enabling in mind with that statement. To maintain a sinful lifestyle, you are breaking off your relationship with God unless you repent. To go back to the same sin over and over is specifically warned against in the NT (like a dog going back to its vomit). Bleh!

      March 3, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
  2. DCB

    I was not comfortable with the first article's take on "my" side of things. As a former evangelical Christian, I know what the Bible says. This author has made his point well, as far as it goes.

    The question then becomes, does this sort of literalist interpretation supersede my own inner compass? Should this sort of complexly interwoven argument supersede "God is love"? Love, Jesus said, is that upon which hang all the law and the prophets. So it becomes simple. Ask yourself, as you prepare to type into this box or choose a church or interpret the Bible or speak out on a social issue, "Is this love?" The rest should be easy, if you can accept what your heart tells you.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  3. Jerome

    If you were to start a religion, would you promote unions with no chance of reproduction in you original writings? You wouldn't. You'd want people to have as many children as possible, raised within the precepts of your beliefs. Doing otherwise would just be bad business.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  4. David

    Personally any argument that can't stand on it's own merit and needs authoritative writings/teachings to justify it's existence is subject in my book. Live your own live and stop worrying about your neighbors. There isn't enough love in this world to waste it on imaginary beings.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  5. Mike

    Why is this person quoting a book written by goat herders?

    March 3, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
  6. Christian

    OMG shut up u silly people reading some book written by cave men who did not even know why rain fell down or the sun came up. Ur god is a delusion...the bible has no basis.

    Why do the rest of us have to keep living at the whim of memtal midgets who belive in this silliness...

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

      I think believing in cave men is delusional.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
  7. Peter

    A man took every species of animal and plant, put them in a boat and survived 40 days, so that the earth could be flooded and replenished by his passengers. It is in the Bible! So, I am to believe this?

    March 3, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
  8. Shaneeda

    The bible was written by white people.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • Dee

      There is only one race – The Human Race!
      Did you know that Moses had an Ethiopian wife?

      March 3, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  9. Bill

    Not in a free country. Bring the Bible with you to Topeka or Iran if you want to care about all that.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  10. Jen

    Thank God for Buddhism!

    March 3, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • Jen

      I I couldn't have said it better, and my name's Jen too!

      March 3, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  11. Jim

    Why are we so passionate in arguing about myth, anyway?

    March 3, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • IamGOD

      because unfortunately it has a huge affects on many people... Christians want to run this country with their bibles for example...

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

      why did you bother commiting about something you do not believe.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
  12. Reed Forrester

    Mr. Gagnon constructs a long chain of logic to prove his point, but the fact that he has to use logic at all, instead of an explicit commandment from the Bible, proves that it must not be very high on God's priority list.

    If it was important to God, why didn't it get into the ten commandments? Obviously lying, stealing, and coveting your neighbor's goods or spouse were bigger sins than this in the Old Testament. As for the New Testament, what could be clearer than Jesus' saying that the greatest commandments are to love God and love your neighbor. Not a word about this.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • Dee

      This may seem shocking, but by 'neighbor,' Jesus means people of faith. It does not necessarily extend to others. Paul encourages believers to 'favor one another.' Who do you think were neighbors of the Jews? Other Jews, of course!!!

      March 3, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
    • Sharon

      Wow Dee you are a truly lost you only say that to justify your prejudice trapped in your own ego of self righteousness.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
  13. firebrand

    Bravo. Excellent article. Thank you for supplying an article of real scholarly work. Knust's slipshod article paled in comparison; it's a shame that such poorly done work should be given any credibility or public acclaim.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
  14. bek

    "New Testament’s rejection of polyamory (polygamy)" What? Sorry the NT does not reject polygamy. The restriction of "only one wife" (the only direct "rejection" in the NT), is a revision of the OT admonition to not have many wives. The reason given in the OT fits the New: wives can divert men from God.

    Robert A. J. Gagnon, I find your "analysis" to simply an exercise in eisegesis. You've assumed a NT teaching, read into the passages your meaning, and then said "see, these passages agree with me". Please, please, learn how to interpret writings from outside your time, your place and your language. It's hard work, and not for the lazy. Even if they have "earned" a PhD.

    It is terrible that actual scholarship has left most seminaries. I would have thought Princeton TS would still have reasonable standards. Apparently not.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • Dee

      God NEVER instructed His people to take more than one wife. They just wanted to do what the culture was doing. What a shame that because OT people participated in this practice we assume it was God-directed!

      March 3, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  15. tania

    You have to love the people who are making the argument that everyone around should except their lifestyle. And then turn around and completely trash the Christian lifestyle. Treat people with the same respect you want to be treated with. Bible is not the easiest book to read or understand. It takes time and actually styding it. It's always good to ask questions if something doesn's make sense to you. And show some respect. Just because you are on the internet and not talking to people's faces there is no need to trash people.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
    • Human

      Let me show you some good time, tania.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • ???

      Tania – It is hard not to be critical of a lifestyle which requires criminalization of behavior even for those not living the lifestyle.

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

      @ tania People are frustrated because Christians are using the Bible to block other peoples civil rights so they are not treating people with the respect you are talking about. They ignore the fact that 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. This same panel proved that all the past reports on the subject were done by prejudice and bigoted people.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • David

      As God was suppose to be the inventor of language, why is it that he has such a very difficult time explaining himself or being clear.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • Dee

      I like David's question a lot. David, God intentionally wants to see if you will seek and accept Him. It's very creative to think that an all-powerful being would want you to choose, but then what would life be like if you MADE somebody love you? You would want to know that someone loves you from free choice, not because they HAD to.

      Why should God reveal all His secrets and knowledge immediately? We don't demand that of every relationship we have. I've been a Christian for over 30 years and it's still an amazing trip. Not easily explained, just like I can't tell you in one sitting all the details of my marriage relationship of 20 years.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
  16. Annunaki

    My take...who cares? If you took everything the man-written bible says literally, well, we'd be kiiling all sorts of folks and women would still be subjugated to second class citizens. Let's focus on more important matters at hand and save this dude's opinion for the scholarly journals. Sorry, I have three advance degrees – the fact that someone has a PhD means nothing – his opinion carries as much weight as the next person. And Lord knows, we ALL have opinions.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
    • Dee

      Again, another person who doesn't understand that Jesus brought us into the New Covenant. Please read the New Testament. The way most people breeze through Harry Potter books these days, it shouldn't take more than a few days.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
  17. crucified

    Funny, How great truths cause all the Athiest to Fanatacally post.. Ashes to Ashes Dust to Dust..

    March 3, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
    • IamGOD

      What a smart comment.. lol now matter how hard you try for your fairy tale to be true, it won't happen...

      March 3, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • Chris

      Funny how folks posting what you don't agree with automatically makes you label them Atheists.

      News Flash: disagreeing with Bible texts and with the article does not negate one believing in God. And until Christians who quote the Bible as "proof" that something is wrong/right start following ALL the rules listed in it instead of cherry-picking what's convenient for them, the rest of us are right to call you out on it.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
    • Dee

      If you don't believe it, then why take the time to whine about it incessantly, and even mock people by calling their faith 'fairy tales'? I believe if it really bothers you, then there must be a spiritual/ deeper side to the issue. If it wasn't true, then why the hostility and compulsion to bring believers' down?

      March 3, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
    • mike

      Excellent-Genesis 3:19

      March 3, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
  18. Just

    The bible also states that man should own slaves. Should we take that literal as well? If not then are we just picking and choosing what we take literal and not literal. If that is the case is it the word of God or the word of man displacing it.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • IamGOD

      Christians pick and choose all the time.. They realize that half of the book asks them to do immoral things, yet they are just too afraid to let go of their fairy tale...

      March 3, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • crucified

      Actually, Slaves as you refer to them were different in the bible.. they were spoils of war to an opposing country, which the bible is just refering to history. or they were slaves to debt. they were paying off their debt through Servant slavery. And yes the bible is literal if you understand the history.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • IamGOD

      there goes an excuse about slavery... "they just were different slaves" lol... SLAVE IS A SLAVE...

      March 3, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  19. IamGOD

    It is so obvious who wrote the texts and what was their agenda. Holy books are the only books people read and just disregard black on white because they want it to be TRUE! Anything that looks like a fairy tale or does not match the view they hold about GOD or it does not match their morality they act as if that text does not exist in it. PEOPLE JUST WANT THE FAIRY TALE TO BE TRUE.... but, it isn't...

    March 3, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • crucified

      If you are really agnostic! Than why spend the effort to make a comment... Are you worried about your eternal destination?

      March 3, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • IamGOD

      I'm an atheist... and i love to point out human delusions...

      March 3, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • Mike

      Fairy tales? Really? Like the "Big Bang Fantasy"?

      March 3, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • IamGOD

      @crucified, if I had to worry about my destination I would have to take thousands of religions into consideration, since they all have the same amount of evidence behind their claims... which is ZERO...

      March 3, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • crucified

      I think your motives are more sinister than that..however, I also, think this is the girl who surrounds herself with less attractive people to feel better sendrome. I think you want to feel better about your position by tring to cause people to question theirs.. Pure Evil.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • IamGOD

      @Mike, I know physics is a hard subject, you are an intellectually lazy person so don't bother understanding the theory. You don't even understand what a theory is. It is much easier for a simpler man to understand "GOD DID IT" rather then read tons of books and try to understand hard subjects... 🙂

      March 3, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • IamGOD

      @crucified, I'm stating the facts... unlike you religious people.. you want to argue otherwise? please provide me with the evidence for the existence of your god..

      March 3, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
    • crucified

      Proof of my God, well the Dead sea Scroll, in cave 66 they found a complete copy of Isiaih just like it reads in the old testament. dated 100 years before Christ. If you read Isiah there are many scriptures that prove Jesus is the Mesiah through prophecy. but the best proof is that Jesus lived with his deciples for 3 1/2 years and commited no sin. If there was even one sin. they would not of died for him. more over, if they did not see him physically after the resurrection they would not of chosen to be martyred, i say chosen because at anytime they could of gone back to being fishermen and disappeared into obscurity. makes you think when you realize batholemew had his skin removed from his body while he was alive then he was burned alive on a stick. pretty good proof.. The motivations of men.. i doubt an atheist would go through that for their belief.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
    • mike

      wait until you are down and out on your luck and hurting you'll be calling on God to help you, obviously you can't help yourself. same old story with you non believers, nothing new under the sun. read with understanding.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
    • crucified

      I have over 100 other forms of proof.. I thought these would be good for the current time. Zeecriah 12:10 is good 1/4 of the Psalms. all prophecy about Jesus. Jesus himself with exacting accuracy predicted his death. The temple destruction. the martydom of his deciples and much more.. I am convinced.. and Christianity is the ONLY religion that basis its entire belief on the need for a Savior. all other base on your own works. including athiesm. Mister good person.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  20. Roger Cannon

    The Bible also calls for us to take slaves (Lev 25:44), sell our daughters into slavery (Exodus 21:7) and have you ever asked your wife if she's on her monthlies when she's cooking (Lev 15:19-24)? I did and I got hit. It's just that christians are in a big hurry to use the big book as a cudgel against those whom they disagree with, ignoring the biblical demands that they don't happen to agree with.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • Matt

      Very well put. Beat me to it.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • Tommas


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

      Many Christians claim that atheists don't have moral judgment since they don't follow the bible.. lol If they only read the bible they would know how immoral their laws are... but you know.. they always come out with excuses... Old testament does not matter anymore.. lol...

      March 3, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • An Interested Party

      Point well taken. My view as well is: so what? The Bible could say that shellfish is, I don't know, an abomination – but I wouldn't stop eating it. (What? It does say that? Really? Again, who cares!)

      March 3, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • Vidura B

      I was about to say the same thing! Thanks for sharing. This hating other human beings in the name of God has to stop.
      We are in the 21st century! I am deeply spiritual and believe in God, but these ignorant prejudiced Christians are an embarrassment.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • Thomas

      Yes! EXACTLY! While this author holds out HIS interpretations which may or may not be valid the larger question of how relevant the Bible is at all is much more important. Why do Christians and Bible 'believers' adhere to one tenant yet reject others. If you do this even in a basic recipe for a meal it may cause it to fail, yet the 'faithful' are willing to destroy lives because they by omission or commission elect to follow PARTS of the Bible while ignoring others. STRANGE how the ones they ignore are the ones which politically/socially would pretty much destroy their membership. Just coincidence I guess.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • IamGOD

      @An Interested Party, Christians/Jews should care, since they are sinning by eating it... yet they do it all the time, a lot of times claiming that bible does not forbid it... When you point out the verses, they say you are misunderstanding it, or that old laws don't matter anymore because JESUS came and this and that... Then you point out to them that Jesus also stated that the old laws should be kept and obeyed... but then Christians will continue to make excuses.. never ending story...

      March 3, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • Thomas

      Oh and BTW its fascinating to me that this author claims he can tell us, as he does, how important marriage and male/ female relationships are to Jesus since Jesus remained unmarried (claimed). Sorry I do not believe Jesus was a hypocrite ! I think the author is demonstrating that Rorschach tests are very valid.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • Confused

      And isn't incest implicitly condoned in the bible? I mean if Adam and Eve had kids, how exactly did the next generation come into existence if not for incest? (and ditto after the great flood and Noah's arc and all that crap).

      March 3, 2011 at 5:55 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.