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. Benjamin

    This constant analysis and derivation of morality from the Bible is no different than fanatical Star Wars fans trying to decrypt the hidden meanings in the prequels, when really it's just a poorly written work of fiction who's sole goal was profit.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  2. J B

    Timothy 2:11 – "I permit no woman to teach or have authority over men; she is to keep silent."

    Let's agree that the Bible is a little out of date and that a lot of it shouldn't be adhered to literally.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
    • ProperVillain

      Amen brother...

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

      Paul was talking about a specific church situation to Timothy. Nowhere does he state that this is a SIN. You are right to believe it is 'out of date,' but that isn't exactly the terms that I would use. 2 John says, "To the elect lady and her children," then he finishes, "The children of your elect sister greet you." I believe he is talking about spiritual children, meaning that women were active in ministry. Why else would he call the house church of Pricilla and Aquilla by the wife's name first!

      March 3, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
    • J B

      Dee, I agree with you for the most part. The thing is that there are many different versions of the Bible, in Old English, in American English, etc, and they've been translated and re-translated for over a thousand years.

      I'm just saying we shouldn't take most things from the Bible literally, though I'd hope there's no argument with the 5th or 6th (depending on what sect of Christianity you follow) Commandment (Thou shall not commit murder).

      March 3, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
  3. Jared

    I would be so nice if there was someone with divine authority to speak for God who could just settle this one way or the other. Why were there prophets in the past and not now?

    March 3, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  4. Diggity

    The Bible also says to stone the adulterer on the outskirts of town.....good luck with that one, 90% of us are finished (if we really believed that old Jewish text).....uhhh, but nobody REALLY does, do they? Come on, believers, what are you clinging to? You get one shot, make the best of it and quit being so dramatic every time something occurs.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  5. wimsy

    What snotty, self-aggrandizing, sanctimonious tripe! This pettifogging twit belongs in the Sanhedrin that found Jesus guilty.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
  6. ObammaAlabamaSlamma

    Was Philemon a Pokemon or a Digimon? Discuss.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
  7. So What?

    Problem is, if U. S. law ever states that gay marriage is legal, that ends the debate. Our laws are not taken from the religious teachings of an individual religion.

    That has been true here since the earliest colonial days when the first American Christians demanded a separation between the personal choice of religious belief and civil code (try Tolerance Laws in your search engine).

    So the author's absurd and egocentric beliefs are irrelevant. He is free to have those beliefs, but not free to act on them. An important distinction.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
  8. leonid7

    Personally, i'm not trying to prove atheism. Atheism is just a default lack of belief when there is no reliable evidence for a god. People who don't believe in Santa aren't called into question or given a label or required to prove their point. There simply isn't evidence for Santa, so people just go along with the idea of Santa as fiction.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
  9. John

    Wish we had a prophet like Moses, then we could just go ask what exactly was ment by these scriptures. Seams as though God stoped speaking after the death of the apostles and left us to argue over what they said

    March 3, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
    • MK

      The apostles didn't even write their bits, some unidentified student of the apostle in question is responsible for the actual writing. Third hand knowledge, cherry picked at that.

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

      We do, the only thing is, they are all lock up in the loony-bin. Probably because “God” is talking to them. Think about it.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
  10. JC

    The bible in the hands of an open minded intellectual is a history textbook with some grand sentiments and confusing passages. The bible in the hands of a person passionately seeking to know God is the gateway to an incredible spiritual journey that can only be realized by humbling youself before God prior to reading and setting aside preconceived ideas from the finite mind – relying instead on the touch of God upon his heart and soul. "For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding."

    March 3, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
    • MK

      In other words, brainwash yourself before you pick up this book...

      March 3, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
    • Colorado

      Very well said.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
  11. ElectricGrendel

    Let me be as succinct as possible: don't care.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
    • vick

      Alas I don't believe you. You cared enough to write.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
  12. Brent

    Well, I'm sure the members of the Westboro Baptist Church will love this confirmation of their beliefs.

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

      Those people are a cult. Stop pretending they are Christians. They are 40 people or so (not sure, but I thought). The media loves giving them time. Maybe we should blame the media for elevating this group internationally.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  13. Mike

    Amen Dr. Gagnon! Finally, a real Bible scholar who knows the Bible and what it says. As one earlier post said, if you don't like the Message, take it up with the Author. It always amazes me when people don't like the Truth they hear, they take their ball and go home i.e., claim the Bible false or claim to be an Atheist. The Bible IS the Word of God and I sincerely pray for all those who reject it. It would be tragic to die and find out you were wrong about all your misconceptions. Jesus saves!

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

      I'd be happy to take it up with the authors, if only you could identify them for me (sorry, God doesn't count)

      March 3, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
  14. Justin

    I love how many atheists go on the belief section just to make people feel bad for believing in something...

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

      I love how Christians want to use my tax money to support their ridiculous beliefs.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
    • Scott

      I gives them something to talk about.

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

      Justin, they are spiritually convicted, otherwise they wouldn't be interested enough to comment. The hostility and disrespect for Christians is understood by those of us who know that these people don't even know they are being influenced by a side that hates God. So it's easier for them to pretend atheism and hope none of it's true. Only problem is that they can't stop lashing out and they don't even question why they are so deeply troubled.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
    • Sharon

      Dee you are making so many assumptions about others it's scary. You are not a Christians with hate filled speech like that.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • Randy

      I don't think anyone is trying to make religious folk feel bad, or inferior- It's a back lash of religion imposing itself via it's believers on others. It's that fanatical imposition on how to live a life that gets the non believers voicing their opinions.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
  15. Sari in Vegas

    Why can't we all treat religious beliefs like s-e-x lives? I don't tell you how I maintain my favorite chartreuse vibe, you don't tell me about your imaginary friend who tells you to do things. – reposted with anti-mod hyphenation

    March 3, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
  16. Ed Bermeo

    the bible also says the earth is 6000 yrs old.......ready ......the bible is bull

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

      My question is why you would believe a fairly new theory like evolution as factual? How would you know the age of the earth since carbon dating has been proven to be largely faulty? Just because someone says a lie over and over doesn't make it true, but it makes enough people think so.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
  17. Byrd

    Like most Christians, the author cherry-picks the laws he personally prefers but presumably ignores others, unless he actually does go out on Saturday nights looking for witches to kill.. .

    Best advice: Throw that nasty black book in the trash where it belongs and learn to think for yourselves.

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

      Man has tried to the throw the bible in the trash for nearly two thousand years to no avail. Fighting the bible equates to fighting God himself, which no man can win.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  18. Eric B

    And therein lies the danger of following a stupid book written by a bunch of nobodies thousands of years ago. Follow your own moral code. Don't rely on a stupid book. There is nothing wrong with gay marriage or working on the weekend. Sorry but a book will never run my life.

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

      I'd like to offer you an invitation (also to anyone who believes the Bible is hokey); Pick up a good book on Christian Apologetics (proof the Bible is true) such as 'Evidence Demands A Verdict" by Josh McDowell or Type in Ravi Zacharias (a very intellectual University Lecturer) on Google; Give it an honest look. Hope to meet you someday.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
    • Elijah

      It's not "a book" you resent and refuse to live by. It's God you have a problem with.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
    • Lanfear

      Short, sweet, and true.

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

      I picture Elijah shaking his fist as he shouts this from a dusty porch somewhere. YOU HATE GOD!! whatever...

      March 3, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
  19. Smith

    Hey Christians, try reading the Bible with someone who doesn't believe it. Hey non-Christians, try reading the Bible with someone who does believe it. I think you'll both find it much more beneficial and interesting. The paradigm you read it (or anything for that matter) changes the message you receive from it.

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

      If we all did this (Christians and non-christians alike) it would be a much better world. I agree with you 100%. One of the best things I think I ever did as a practicing Christian was to walk away from the church for a while. It gave me a better perspective on life and stripped away the "us vs them" mentality that so permeates most churches. Doing what you suggest would only further everyone's understanding of each other.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
    • Chitown Jason

      Excellent post and idea.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
  20. Catherine

    Oh my goodness... How many times was this book re-written? How much did King James have omitted to fit his needs? Who changed what about Mary Magdalene so she it wouldn't appear that a female was involved with Jesus? We can't even have five people see a car accident and get a valid police report! So, two thousand years later, after dozens of re-writes, we're supposed to believe that every word in that book is correct? Take it all with a grain of salt! Treat people how you would like to be treated, love your neighbor, pay it forward, and live as though you hope there is some form of an afterlife. But for goodness sake, stop trying to find justification for vile, hateful meanness in the sayings of people long gone!

    March 3, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • Bob U

      This marvelous work of fiction is directly responsible for the most evil acts of mankind.

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

      Nicely said. Let it go people. Or at the very least practice what you preach!

      March 3, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
    • William

      I'm with you.

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

      who cares it is all a made up fantasy book anyway

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

      Just a quick question? Wasn't it Lot's wIfe who "Took It" with a grain of salt?

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

      yes actually we believe that the words change but God Jesus speaks through the holy spirit to teach us. Mary M. was the first to see Jesus alive, that is pretty important and nothing happens by chance. Also if I tell a child "not to play in the street because a car will hit you" who is being mean. God tells us things so we are protected.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:31 pm |

      Do you understand why the bible is a famous as it is. Yes it has been translated untolds amount of times in untold amounts of languages but what makes it so crazy is that they keep finding older versions of it and when translated from those texts the are vertually unchanged. IE dead sea scrolls. Which are much older than King James. They have always judged books on there accuracy with the oldest known version of the text and if you look it up the bible is the most accurate and it is being judged from a copies extremely old. Look it up!!!!! King james changed it. come on

      March 3, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
    • crucified

      If you do not like what Christians believe....Don't worry you didn't get a ticket!

      March 3, 2011 at 8:28 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.