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. Terry

    I can prove God exists! Read the Bible!

    March 3, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
  2. abdul

    Robert Gagnon has p u b i c hair on his face. He likes men!

    March 3, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
  3. Jose

    save your religion for those who are drugged and consumed by it. True Liberty is being free from the cancer of religion!

    March 3, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
    • Dee

      Wow, I hope you're not an American. We're seriously failing in our History courses if you are!

      March 3, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
  4. abdul

    The Bible and Go, Dog, Go can be interchanged for life lessons.

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

    Who cares about the Bible anyway? Religion was what people used to explain the unknown, prior to science. Your not special, and there is no god who cares about you.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
  6. Jury is still out...

    There are approximately 20 different religions with 1 million or more members. We should probably get a consensus among the different gods before we jump to any conclusions here, people.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
  7. Matthew in Las Vegas

    I find it hysterical that so many people are so consumed with arguing over their old story book and they can't seem to agree on the rules set forth in an ancient society on the other side of the globe. Such a ridiculous waste of time. I know, let's argue about the hierarchy in caveman society and then say that our society is doomed if we don't follow it. Makes just about as much sense.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
    • Dee

      Cavemen, really? Do realize how deeply you and scores of other people are influenced by the fantasy of evolution?

      March 3, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
    • Total believer

      Touche' Dee. The evolutionists have no idea that they are being led like sheep to slaughter. What a waste of perfectly good minds....

      March 3, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
  8. Contexter

    I stand by scripture (1st Cor.) ... "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and (Gentiles) look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength."

    Be rebellious if you will, but be warned that the eternal price is steep.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
    • rhobere

      that being said, the steepness of your punishment and my lack of fear for said consequences just demonstrates how weak your argument is.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
  9. Scott

    I have religious family members who actually believe that men have one less rib than women because the bible says it. They can't be swayed by an obvious REALITY that men and women have the same number of ribs. Who cares what a 2,000 year old irrelevant book has to say anyway?

    March 3, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
    • Total believer

      @ Scott – the BIble doesn't say that men have one less rib then women. It says God made Eve from the rib of Adam....

      March 3, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
  10. Meshehl

    Read Leviticus 20...It spells it out. Also...you might this an interesting read.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
  11. J


    March 3, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
  12. Gilbert

    Only one can judge. Take this as one persons perspective. When u meat your higher power then may he OR she show you what is right.

    Gay, straight, bi, transgender, or whatever you are – We were all created by someone for a purpose.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
  13. Steven

    Your bible doesn't belong in common laws – abolish all discriminitive laws NOW! Equality for gays!

    March 3, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
    • Total believer

      @Steven – your comment on the Bible not belonging to common law is hilarious. Practically every law in our society today is predicated on a law pronounced in the old testiment. IF you threw away all the BIble's laws there would be chaos. Check out Leviticus...

      March 3, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
  14. Cami

    do you guys remember the movie "Legion" 2010?

    The good guys (Angels) are depicted as monsters,

    the truth is that the religious people are monsters, just like in the movie, and the people with free thoughts are what we would consider angels, although in the biblical text it would be otherwise, but i believe religious people are a dangerous force, and we free thinkers are some other force, the case is, we and them, the two forces will never understand each other, and will always be at war, like a ying yang, forever and ever, and you will never have a golden age as long as both exist at the same time, in order for a golden age of some kind you have to annihilate the other.

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

      i completely agree with you religious people need to know that their opinion isnt every one elses

      March 3, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
  15. Alex

    To Mr. Gagnon,

    Romans 2:1-3

    "Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? "

    March 3, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
  16. JC

    The bible in the hands of an open minded intellectual is a history textbook with some grand sentiments and confusing passages – an opportunity to debate. 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 6:23 pm |
  17. LolaS

    Gotta love the religious opinion conversations. Great proof that opinions don't have to be based on facts. Here, we have a super old book of fables mixed with historical records that were passed along for centuries. Judging by our history books and the way certain societies like to "tweek" the stories to make them more relevant. using The Bible as a guide to 21st century society is laughable. To continue to push The Bible on everyone else as a way to live our lives is narcissistic and completely outrageous. One moment they expect us to take the lessons metaphorically and the next they want us to take them literally. Even the "experts" can't agree on which ones are literal and which are fables. When are we going to stop expecting EVERYONE to follow The Bible as a way to live our lives?
    Oh, and a word to the unwise..........Christians aren't the only one who read The Bible so quit expecting everyone to see the "Christian" point of view. Most of you haven't a clue what it means to be a real Christian.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
    • yeshua1

      Ah, gotta love atheists. I do believe. Look how many more words you use talking about God, and you don't believe. I use less words because I am fulfilled concerning my love for God. You are not, and can't stop talking about Him.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
  18. Nick

    Luckily, Christianity is entirely irrelevant to my life and quickly losing relevance to my generation. Eventually the Bible will join the rest of the fiction section in the library, next to Mother Goose and the Cat in the Hat. It astounds me in this age of information and reason that this insidious text still sways people. Enlighten yourself, ignorance is no excuse.

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

      Amen to that!

      March 3, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
  19. dougo

    The bible is NOT FACTUALLY CORRECT...people who interpret the Bible as Gods word are Fools it was written by MORTALS

    March 3, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
    • lord avie

      You are correct but you are ignorant. The Bible, for us believers, is the inspired word of God. Evidently you do not believe so go on in your ignorant way and hope you are rigt so that when you die, t here is nothing. But what a surprise when you find out there is something more.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
  20. Chris

    But god used man to make women so......Mull over that one 🙂
    Either way im tired of hearing about these religious nut jobs.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:18 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.