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. IamGOD

    all holy TEXTS were written by MEN who had an agenda... control, fear, money...etc...

    March 3, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • Dee

      Whatever it takes to convince yourself . . . Sounds like you want to convert everyone to your religion or you wouldn't be on here.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
  2. 74Jer

    Great article, that will hopefully enlighten some folks as to the complexities of biblical interpretation. In reading the average comments here, I see an almost universal ignorance of scholarly biblical hermeneutics and exegesis. Many reveal an elementary understanding of Judeo-Christian thought, unworthy of discussion in this glib type of forum.

    For starters, the Bible is a collection of sixty-six distinct "books", including history, poetry, proverbs, and letters written over centuries, by authors of various backgrounds. Thus, in no way can a blanket form of literary criticism be applied to the entirety of the Bible. The genre, place, background and time of each "book" must be carefully extrapolated before broad statements about apparent Biblical contradictions and inconsistencies be accepted. There are a plethora of scholarly materials available to help one begin their quest into an adult study of the texts. I hope some do seek them out.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
  3. Elijah

    I only trust books with thorough bibliographies....so I guess I'll keep on being gay

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

      Wow, you'll miss a lot of good stuff with that narrow philosophy!

      March 3, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
  4. LivinginVA

    My uncle is a minister and Biblical scholar. He has read many versions of the Bible in several languages (and languages closer to the "original text" than most of the planet). He says that you can find an edition of a translation of a version of the Bible that interprets many things however you want them to be interpreted. The only constant is Christ's love.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
    • Dee

      I come from a family of Biblical scholars. My Greek Uncle reads the NT in the original Greek. He recommends the NIV or New King James. He says that there are other translations that are too literal or omit information. We have so many resources available to us, yet very few people actually study the Bible.

      I'm amazed at the crazy things I see on these threads from people who assume much from 'something they've heard.' When I challenge people to read the Bible, they invent all kinds of excuses (and I'm talking about Christians mostly). That said, nonbelievers shouldn't let their prejudices about other people be an excuse for keeping them from God.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • Sharon

      "I come from a family of Biblical scholars. My Greek Uncle reads the NT in the original Greek. He recommends the NIV or New King James. He says that there are other translations that are too literal or omit information. We have so many resources available to us, yet very few people actually study the Bible."

      So, you learned from osmosis or did you actually study it yourself. Probably not, you are spewing prejudice views handed down from generation to generation, how typical.

      When you know yourself then you will be known and will understand that you are children of the living father. So gays now know they are created this way and they too can have a oneness with God.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
    • Sharon

      That was directed at Dee.

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

    It still amazes me that people think the Bible is word. It was written how long ago? People, culture, environment, beliefs, practices have all changed and for the better (I hope) for the most part since the Bible came out. It was written by MAN/MEN. Take it with a grain of salt.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
  6. undo

    The bible approves of slavery. Does that mean it's okay or do we just get to pick and choose what's okay?

    March 3, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
  7. EngineerBoy

    Why is this drivel on CNN?

    March 3, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
    • HUH

      Thank you!

      March 3, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • Dee

      Yea, thanks CNN. It's a refreshing change from the same old, same old!

      March 3, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
  8. NavVet_Vietnam

    Even if the Bible isn't the inspired Word of God, if everyone followed all the Do's written in it, this world would be a much better place to live. By doing the Do's, we wouldn't have much time doing the Don't"s.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
  9. Irony

    Is it just me, or isn't it kind of funny that if you click on the link above and pull up Mr. Gagnon's personal web site bio, the first thing you see are the colors of the rainbow flag right under his picture?

    March 3, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
  10. Estevan

    Forgive and educate the Christian and stop believing in the christ.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  11. tooclose2detroit

    the Torah says clearly that a man that lies with a man gets stoned-I am not saying if its right or wrong, but why did he use such an ambiguous verse when he could have used one that was so much more direct?

    March 3, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
    • More Informed

      And why doesn't is also condemn women laying with women? Is lesbianism OK then? I don't see anything condemning it.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
    • stoned

      Stoned? Sweet! Sign me up, man.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
  12. aida

    Man wrote the bible...God did not personally write what's written...The word is to love “ALL” man kind. Man has the power to change to his convenience.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
  13. Jason

    What a bunch of bs!

    March 3, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  14. Kate

    The earliest interpreters? So the man is admitting he is taking his rules from humans who are interpreting the book, rather than straight from a god.

    Which invalidates the whole thing.

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

      Good point Kate! Who wrote the Bible?? How many years was it written AFTER the stories were told? Think about how the telephone tree would work as kids....not so great for accuracy!

      March 3, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • Henne

      Kate, he was implying the earliest interpreters... of the bible. Not the earliest interpreters who were writing the bible

      March 3, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
    • Ivo

      The claim of the Bible is that it was inspired by God. Those who interpret it must have His Spirit.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
  15. Matthew R. St. John

    Brilliantly wriiten both in substance and tone.

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

      Really – explain one concept of his story that even makes sense!

      March 3, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  16. Michael

    A bigot is a bigot, no matter how many higher ed degrees are attached to his name or how "scholarly" he purports to be. I can only guess that CNN has chosen to print his transparently self-serving words here (not one of which relies on secondary sources, or can be either proven or disproven) in order to expose the laughably archaic mindset of a learned Troglodyte who conveniently backs up his claims about the Bible with quotations from–wait for it–the Bible.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
  17. daisy

    Romans 1:27 (King James Version)

    27And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

    if you don't like the message.. i suggest you take it up with the Author.

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

      um... and who might that be exactly?

      March 3, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • 1trueGod


      March 3, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
    • More Informed

      What about women lusting after women? The Book is strangly silent on this point.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • Scott H

      The author of Romans is Paul. (Not God, not Jesus, not even someone who met Jesus)

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

      I like how you specify that it's the "King James Version." I think a lot of people don't realize how many versions of the bible are out there and how these versions differ from the original texts, especially by removal of passages that whatever conquerer won the last war decided he didn't like.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
    • daisy

      for 'more informed'... actually it isn't silent on the subject..
      Romans 1:26 (King James Version)

      26For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

      for Scott H...2nd Timothy 3:16

      All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

      March 3, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
    • Brandon

      @Scott H: Paul met Jesus in Acts 9, causing Paul to be blinded. In his letters, the Holy Spirit was teaching through Paul, who Paul received in Acts 9. Prior to that encounter, in John 14, Jesus gives the Holy Spirit authority to teach man God's truth: "26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you."

      March 3, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
    • Ed

      First, can someone translate that into modern English, or at least quote a version that wasn't written 400 years ago? We don't speak that way anymore ... hello?

      As far as taking it up with the Author, the authors are all long dead. The Bible is a compilation of ancient mythology, a history of the ancient Jewish history, a narrative of the life of Jesus, and some theological and philosophical editorials. The people who wrote its various pieces all died two thousand or more years ago. Since then, its books have been translated, altered, edited, censored, embellished, and modified in many ways. It's just a book!

      Man created God to fulfill our human quest to find answers to the world around us. As human knowledge expands and we understand more and more about the natural world, the concept of God becomes more and more irrelevant. I had that one figured out when I was 11, when nobody could prove to me that God existed. God is as real as Yoda.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
  18. Linus

    Fascinating work of fiction....

    March 3, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
    • Chitown Jason

      It's funny how atheists come out of the woodwork to comment on articles pertaining to faith, to bash something that is of no significane or even existence to them, or at least so they say. Very similar to American football fans that come into soccer articles to bash the sport. Both have valid arguments, but neither have a reason to be there.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  19. Peter

    Oh, please... Give me a break. The bible also says that you have to kill your neighbor if he works on Saturdays. Get a life.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
    • 1trueGod

      no it doesnt. read your Bible.

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

      While the Sabbath was once a requirement, and for good reasons, today genuine Christians are not required to keep the Sabbath. This is in accordance with Rom. 10:4: “Christ is the end of the [Mosaic] Law...” (Sabbath keeping was a part of that Law. God used Christ to bring that Law to its end. Our having a righteous standing with God depends on faith in Christ, not on keeping a weekly sabbath.) (Also see Galatians 4:9-11; Ephesians 2:13-16). Religions that promote the Sabbath are part of Christendom – and are guilty of perpetuating lies!!

      March 3, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
    • Kevin

      The LORD then gave these further instructions to Moses: 'Tell the people of Israel to keep my Sabbath day, for the Sabbath is a sign of the covenant between me and you forever. It helps you to remember that I am the LORD, who makes you holy. Yes, keep the Sabbath day, for it is holy. Anyone who desecrates it must die; anyone who works on that day will be cut off from the community. Work six days only, but the seventh day must be a day of total rest. I repeat: Because the LORD considers it a holy day, anyone who works on the Sabbath must be put to death.' (Exodus 31:12-15 NLT)

      March 3, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • Brian

      What a krazy book, that Bible is.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • IamGOD

      "no it doesnt. read your Bible." .. yes it does.. read your bible..

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

      It all comes down to one thing... Can believers prove that their GOD exists? NO... since they can't , then we can place their beliefs on the same shelf with the big foot, fairies, monsters in the closets...etc...

      March 3, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
    • Bernard

      @ 1trueGod

      "I will destroy from among his people anyone who does any work on that day." Lev 23:30 NIV (referring to those who work on saturday)

      In other words "no u (read your bible)".

      March 3, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • Bernard

      @ AC, you are wrong as well, somewhat.

      Read Luke, Jesus specifically says he did not come to annul past laws but to add to them.

      Essentially the Bible has been corrupted throughout the ages and to take of the modern bible as if it was the true word of God is stupid. It's not having faith in God, it's having faith in thousands upon thousands of men in the past.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
    • David

      I always love when religious people accuse Atheist of not reading the bible. Trust me most Atheists know the bible better than your own Priest. That is why we are Atheist!!!

      Numbers 15
      32 While the Israelites were in the desert, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. 33 Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, 34 and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. 35 Then the LORD said to Moses, "The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp." 36 So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the LORD commanded Moses.

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

      You obviously have never read the bible.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • Randy

      aargh!! Why is it that some things are so aptly revised and accepted (sabbath) and others conveniently not?
      I agree most atheist have read the bible.
      Alas, we digress in to pointless dialogue, as neither camps will see eye to eye. (perhaps because the Bible told us to pluck it out)

      March 3, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
  20. Matt

    The author of this article makes some great points here, which illustrate exactly why human civilization should leave this childish drivel known as religion behind completely. There is no need to believe in an invisible sky-fairy that guides your life! I wonder, how much further along we'd be if all of the time and effort that people such as the author put towards debating ancient texts about what the sky-daddy wants us to do had been used to do something useful for humanity?

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


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

      LOL! Excellent way to put it. I never understood why so many people come to realize that Santa Claus doesn't exist as they mature yet continue to believe in another bearded man who lives in the sky. Well, guess what? We've been to the sky and there is not bearded man up there–probably sucked up by now by one of our airplane engines. And guess what else? We've been in space. No sky daddy there, either. Let me guess? He's invisible right? Like the tooth fairy. So, now that we're discovering that there are billions of planets out in the universe and it's only a matter of time before we find life out there, does that mean that there's a Jesus on each one of them? Grow up.

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


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

      LOL..Peter...That is what did it for me. No Easter Bunny strike 1, no Santa strike 2...imaginary bearded man in the sky... come on mom you are going to have to do better than that.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • undo

      The bible also approves of slavery; maybe Mr. Gagnon will write a piece on why slavery is a good thing.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • dc4sense

      Well said!

      March 3, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • NyteShayde

      You know never in my life did I ever think that there would be another creature who annoyed me more than the wool-blinded bah'ing Religionist.

      I was wrong. Atheists are far worse.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
    • Ivo

      No need?? If you believe you are here for no purpose you may say so.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
    • Michael

      The "sky fairy" view of a bearded old man who lives in the clouds sounds more like the Zeus from Greek mythology than the living God experienced by believers across the world throughout different religions. This and other pop-culture depictions of Christianity have come from the Christianization of ancient pagan myths and legends. I would suggest that anyone who thinks that God is just some "sky fairy" read the Bible (and why not, read the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, etc). Then I believe, that person would at least see that God that religious people worship is far deeper and transcendant than some magic friend in the sky (whether or not it causes you to believe in Him).

      March 3, 2011 at 6:39 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.