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. mike33

    Genesis 19- Deuteronomy 22:5 Leviticus18:22 Leviticus 20:3 Romans 1:24 Romans1:27 1 Corinthians 6:9 1 Timothy 1:9-10 looks like the days of Sodom and Gomorrah are here again, this is what brings God down, and the time is getting closer and closer, does anyone care, obviously not to many people do, it is written, read with understanding, God bless.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
  2. stillhere

    Atheists are only atheists because they are scared of the consequences of having to believe. once you believe, you have to live life a certain way and too many atheists are satisfied with their current lives. Pretending God does not exist does not make him go away.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
    • m

      Yea. Im afraid I'll have to join the military and go murder innocent people. Darn right I'm afraid.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
    • ric

      You must be psychic to know why all atheist do or believe what they believe..

      March 3, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
  3. NonPCrealist

    OMG who tf cares??????

    The fact that so many people argue so much over material put down in a book written 2k years ago and translated a dozen times from language to language is pathetic.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
  4. inga

    the author of this editorial looks like a gay man

    March 3, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  5. Tdogg

    Hey Robert Gagnon, when are you going to write about that abomination "eating shrimp"? It's also in the Bible, but I really don't hear any Christians going on and on about how eating shrimp will send you straight to hell. While you are at it, could you please write about how men are sinning by being around their wives when they are having their period, about how wearing clothing of two different materials is an abomindation, and please do everything you can to outlaw divorce. I'm so tired of straight Christians divorcing while they whine about how LGBT people are 'ruining marriage' for them. Just curious...

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

      Why do you only look at the old testament which mostly proves nobody can live by the law without breaking some of it? The new testament talks about God sending Jesus to complete the law and then take our punishment so we don't have to live there. Read the book of John. What Jesus did for each of us is amazing.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
    • gah!

      @HolyMon do you even read your own words? Take a step back and think 'Does this make any sense in a rational world?'

      Of course your answer will be 'yes of course it does' which is just amazing to me.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  6. Derkesthai

    Who wrote the bible? Man.
    What did man put in the bible? Stuff he believed in wrong or right.
    How many different versions of the bible are there? More than you can shake a stick at.
    It is amasing how many conservatives seem to write their own by shuffling passages from the old testament and new testament just to make it say what they believe.
    Try reciting a verse and ending with.........In bed. That should get the point across.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
  7. riceman

    Dear Christians... Atheists and Agnostics need not prove that God DOESN'T exist to in order to invalidate your assertions that God DOES exist. Only in religion is this type of intellectual dishonesty tolerated. If I asserted beyond any shadow of a doubt that a giant invisible spider lived on top of the White House, no reasonable person in their right mind would say, "well I don't see an invisible spider on the white house but since I can't prove that there ISN'T an invisible spider on the White House, it must be true". You see, the burden of proof lies upon the person making the assertion of fact, not on the person who questions this unsubstantiated assertion.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
  8. Name*rich

    The left has many arguments filled with holes and a flat out disregard for evidence that doesn't support their view. It's no surprise to me and shouldn't be to anyone who does their homework. Wake up America.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
  9. Boris

    I'm okay with civil unions, but why do gays and lesbians insist on the marriage thing when it's pretty clear the major religions prohibit it?

    Why not create their own religion, then?

    March 3, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
    • pronco

      You know, according to most religions, most religions should not even recognize other religions' marriages as being valid, so I don't see the basis upon which your indignation lies against progressives wanting to help define it.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
    • ric

      Marriage is not a religious thing its a legal thing. It was created to make parents accountable for their children and to make it harder for them to walk away from their spouses and leave your children behind. Hence the term, "the ties that bind"..Marriage because a romantic industry around the 1950's', prior to that a majority of people got married at city hall..Only the rich had big flashy weddings in church. Gays are seeking the same legalities..Does that explain why?

      March 3, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
  10. pronco

    "Does the Left read significant works that disagree with pro-gay interpretations of Scripture and choose to simply ignore them?"

    Yes. In fact, I read significant works that say I should stone adulterers and choose to ignore them, too.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
    • pronco

      Some even tell me that I should keep slaves and burn cattle for the Lord. I ignore them, too.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
    • HolyMon

      Check out what Jesus did when they wanted to do that to a woman. I like his style...

      March 3, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
  11. Nathan McKinney


    March 3, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
    • C Huffman

      Do you also follow the Bible's recommendation of the liberal use of Stoning for various offenses?

      March 3, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
    • Gamato

      Thank you thank you! I always remember this scene when someone starts spouting Bible verse about anything. Brilliant writing expressing truth.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
  12. OnanismO


    March 3, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
  13. f4xtrafn

    I just had a kosher ham sandwich. Am I still OK? Does the Koran forbid Christians from eating pork? This is quite confusing. I know that Muslims and Jews are essentially the same – they like Jeruselem, they have the same characters in thier books, they bang their heads on stone walls, they don't eat pork, they dress funny, they snip off the end of their penises and on and on. But as a pseudo-Christian agnostic, I'm just wondering where the safe safe middle road is – just in case. But then what about Hinduism, Bhudism, Christian scientists (are they actually scientists?), the Pope and the gospel of pedophelia, and ....

    March 3, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
    • HolyMon

      You're funny. I like your style. A bit un-informed though if you think Jewish people and Muslims are alike. Huge difference. There is no middle ground though. If you want some good reading on where you want to be, get a New International Bible or New King James bible and read the book of John. Jesus is amazing. I could die for someone like that.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
  14. Strykynine

    Who cares, Mr. Gagnon? Get a real job. Stop wasting your time pontificating on "the gays." Get over it. As a straight man, you are dedicating far too much energy and far too many words to a lost cause that you truly know nothing about. Yours is a culture of hatred, Sir. If you're really that concerned, Fred Phelps has a congregation in Kansas that you might be interested in..........

    March 3, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
    • gah!

      yeeah... I'm not so sure about the 'as a straight man' part there...

      March 3, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
  15. imwithstoopid

    In Roger 10:4 it says, "He who believeth in this tis pretty stupid."

    March 3, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
  16. Tdogg

    Questions for God:
    Why are you supposedly perfect enough to make the Bible a clear rule on morality, when written by man and translated by man over centuries of time, but you couldn't create humans to remain perfect?
    Why would you create hell, reported to be worse with each human writing about it – when I haven't found a human yet willing to throw there offspring that they created into it?
    Why would you tell your human creations not to eat shrimp, but even supposedly Bible believeing and following self-righteous "Christians" regularly partake of this delightful food that according to you, is an abomination?
    Why don't you write us a Bible that makes sense to everyone now, rather than having us try to figure how out what was said thousands of years ago is materially relevant to us in the present.
    Are you really going to end the world in May 2011 or is Harold Camping just full of it??

    March 3, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
    • Total believer

      @ Tdogg

      God made man with free choice. He could have made little robots but love freely given is infinately more precious than forced love.

      People throw their children into hell all the time, every day.

      The old testiment restriction on shrimp was for reasons that were relevant at that time. The New Testament says that nothing you put into your mouth can corrupt you – only the stuff that comes out of your heart corrupts you.

      The Bible makes all the sense in the world if you allow God to explain it to you.

      Harold Camping is full of it....

      March 3, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
    • shpp

      Hopefully this will answer some of your questions 🙂
      Humans are not perfect because God gave us free will, perfection awaits in heaven. Its like kids, you cant do everything for them even if you know what is best.

      God did not create Hell, Satan did. God does not WANT people to go to hell, but Satan will do everything he can do get you there. Misery loves company.

      Jews were not supposed to each shellfish, pork, and keep kosher as part of the covenant but like most commandments, it was for their own good. Those foods carried a lot of illness and viruses, and considering they did not have sanitary means we do today...it is a different story.

      The Bible still makes sense, you just have to take the time read it and listen to what God's trying to tell you. Which most people dont do. If God did provide a Bible today, but it still said what people wanted to hear do you think anyone would read it?

      March 3, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
  17. Vasmikey

    Individuals can recognize that a particular conduct is not in agreement with the Bible if they choose, but should not take it upon themselves to campaign or judge others by what they believe. Christians should continue to show love to all as Jesus did and leave it up to the individual to decide what their life should be.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
    • Eduardo

      The reason why Christians preach to others is out of Love! They know Hell is real and want to prevent others from going there.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
    • CMD


      March 3, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
  18. Ou Sooner 1997

    My take: I live my life fr me and not some inbred, snake-kissing bible thumpers and their fairy tale book.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
  19. Jeff

    I find it interesting that so many atheists and agnostics need to justify their beliefs in not believing. Seems to me, you really are seekers and you are looking for a silver bullet to convert you so you DO understand your meager existence. The Bible has a plan and yes, some rules to live by. Some of which have changed with His new covenant with His people with the New Testament. If you truly read the Bible and understand the significance of the prophecies that have come to pass, then you would have a greater faith. It's not here on CNN in the blogs, pretty sure of that. God Bless.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
    • karl clarke

      You are SOOOOOOOOO wrong.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
    • John

      The Bible-Written by man, for man, to control man.

      Thank you.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
    • Child of Christ

      Jeff you are so right. God Bless you and instead of arguing with the people that oppose Jesus on this board...and sadly there are many...we are taught to pray for them. Only God can change them and one day every knee shall bow...either to glorify God or to seek mercy from Him. There is NO way out of it...its either heaven or hell.....the end.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
    • gah!

      @Jeff made a funny!

      March 3, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
  20. lynn

    I wouldn't call anyone a fool for believing what they want. I do believe that nobody really knows. We might know what we read in one book or another, but no one reeeeally knows. What I do believe is that I can't be an absolutist and believe out of hand what someone tells me to believe. I have to find my own truth and I am thankful to live in a country where I am allowed to not believein "The Book" or not. I think some of what christeanity teaches is nice, but I can't be afraid I am going to a very bad place after death if I don't follow like an automoton.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
    • H3ad20n3

      I agree. The bottom line is that all this talk of what's in "the book" is that it was written by men and controlled by the church for years. Who knows what is true in it. There's no definitive truth to it.

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

      Please consider that the Bible does not teaches that people go to Hell for refusing to be automates. According to the Bible, the reason people go to Hell is because sin separates you from God. The Bible teaches how to heal your relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
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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.