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. Smitty

    It hurts my heart to hear so many of my fellow Americans so quickly dismissing the word of God. As if our ever evolving culture has somehow become about believing in whatever I want to believe in. Like my little pee brain that I only use 10% of knows what is best and what really is out there. That it is so hard to believe that our Bible, while being written, edited, canonized, etc by man is somehow not able to be inspired by God. Jesus was about love. He came so the violence and oppression of the Old Testament would be done away with and and new way of living based on love and non-judgment would be the new standard. But I can't tell you about it....nor can you read about it in the Bible without opening your heart with faith. If that doesn't happen, you will read it and be turned away. I assume that is what has happened to so many of the people commenting here.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
    • Brian

      No, Smitty it's really simple. Rather than believing anyone's mythology or allowing them to shove it down our throats, we choose a simple moral code that we are absolutely certain of: DO NO HARM. Perhaps you would be more familiar with it if I say it this way: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." or it's corollary "Do NOT do unto others as you would NOT have them do unto you."? There are many belief systems in this world and I am certain that you don't someone else's forced upon you.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • Smitty

      You are absolutely correct to say that beliefs should not be forced upon anyone. I will tell you what I believe and let you decide for yourself. But don't get defensive if I lay down a challenge. The challenge is to read Jesus' words and then actually pray about what they mean to you. Simply be honest with yourself. Meditate on if for a couple days. If you don't believe in God try it anyway. If nothing happens, nothing changes. But what if something does change in you?

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

      Not really Smitty....It's the smug, self rightous so called christians that are so eager to condemn anyone that has a different belief. Oh and by the way, Catholics are christians. Once again, the Bible is a book created by man, for man, to control man.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
    • Smitty

      Yes John you are right that many of the "smug, self rightous so called christians" resemble so closed the Pharisees that Jesus opposed who are "so eager to condemn anyone that has a different belief." It's hard for me to tell anyone that is a non-believer that I am a Christian simply for that perspective alone. I have to say I am a Christ Follower. I tend to break away from the judgment of Christians, Catholics with their traditions, and anything other than what Jesus talked about. He was all about love. Anything else you are correct to question. Like what man has done to Christianity and the Church since the time of Jesus' death.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
  2. David

    Thank You so much! Thanks CNN for also addressing the other side.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
  3. Mark in Omaha


    March 3, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
  4. Terry

    Hey Atheist's.......JESUS is Still ALIVE!!! The Bible is GOD's Breath! It is all about FAITH and ACTION to be a follower of JESUS the CHRIST! That's what it takes to be a christian, not a Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist, Jehovah Witness, Mormon.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
  5. Jen

    It is obvious to me that the CNN Editors needed to run this article to please the outraged readers of "John Dominic Crossan's 'blasphemous' portrait of Jesus." Can't risk the loss of those readers.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
  6. crucified

    all the athiest seem really bored, they have been on the post for at least 4 hours, look at some of the times of the post.. I guess they are really worried about where they are going.....Ashes to Ashes. Dust to Dust.. I just say.. You did not get a ticket.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
  7. A Believer

    As soon as someone suggests sure and true knowledge of the intent of God in written scripture then at that moment they are incorrect.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
  8. HeIsGod


    March 3, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
    • Sharon

      Brainwashed B.S.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
    • John

      The only brainwashed individual is you. Get a life and start thinking for yourself instead of the pompous boob who stands in front of you on Sunday mornings. Better yet get out and see the world and take off your rose colored glasses. Get an education in life!

      March 3, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
    • John

      Not you sharon...HelsGod

      March 3, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
  9. Boris

    Ugh, my post got swallowed up AGAIN in a whole different time slot -

    My point was this: I'm okay with civil unions. Why do gays and lesbians insist on the marriage thing when all of the major religions prohibit it?

    Why not start their own religion then?

    March 3, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
  10. Silver Superman

    Ummmm.......... you guys are just figuring this out now???

    March 3, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
  11. HeIsGod

    **SIGH***, FOOLISH PEOPLE who ALWAYS tries to disprove what saith the Lord and change it around to hide behind their sinful lifestyle. Lord, thank you for giving us your treasure with in the hearts of your chosen people!!!

    March 3, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
  12. th3quorum

    I wonder if Mr. Gagnon would still have written this article if he had known that God is dead.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
  13. Roc

    If I hear another person misuse the scripture about judging I think I'll judge them. This has go to be the most misunderstood verse in the bible. People use it as some kind of excuse or defense for what they do wrong.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
  14. Boris

    Ugh, my post got swallowed up in a whole different time slot -

    My point was this: I'm okay with civil unions. Why do gays and lesbians insist on the marriage thing when all of the major religions prohibit it?

    Why not start their own religion then?

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

      It is what it stands for. Why should a gay person who wants to be with the love of their life, have to call it something else? Even straight individuals who get married in a church have to have it legalized by a marriage certificate by the state in which they live or get married in. Why should gay individuals not have the same rights as a straight person? Why not call it something else for everybody other than marriage. What it comes down to is when two people love each other, they should have the opportunity to define that love by marriage. It is what everyone associates with two people "tying the knot". Not we are "civil unioned". So get over the words and start thinking about the meaning behind the need.

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

      Marriage isn't about religion. It is a legal right. Do you want to negate every male/female marriage performed at a city hall instead of a church? Just because a religion doesn't recognize something doesn't make it wrong.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
  15. JOregon

    I found this to be an excellent reply to Jennifer Wright Knust.
    She was so off base as to be embarras-sing.
    What is not addressed is the biblically misguided people that think their purpose in life is to point out the sins of others.
    The idea of focusing on individual sins was never the message of Christ.
    The Good News (Gospel) was deliverance from sin. Both the penalty of eternal death and the grip of sin in life.
    The bible does define hom-ose-xuality as a sin. The bible also says we come out of the womb sinning (Psalms 58:3). In other words some are born with that nature.
    The bible also defines adultery as a sin to be punished by death.
    The bible says if you look upon a woman with lust you have committed adultery (Matthew 5:28). I am guilty many times over.
    Few Christians, that oppose hom-ose-xuality, will call marrying someone that is divorced a sin. Many of the pastors protesting hom-os-exuality are themselves remarried or perform marriage ceremonies for previously divorced people. Supposedly putting Gods blessing on their union.
    Mark 10:11 And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her.
    Mark 10:12 And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.

    It is the focusing on individual sins instead of the salvation from sin in general that has lead the church of today away from Christ. These churches that focus on hom-os-exuality are very much antichrist (against Christ).

    March 3, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
  16. Western_PA

    Does the Bible really ban murder? Does the Bible really say there is a God? Does the Bible REALLY exist?
    We just can't say for sure. But because we don't want to believe it, we'll pretend that it doesn't really say.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
    • th3quorum

      The answer to all three of your questions is yes. As far as whether God is real, the answer to that is no.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
    • Kevin

      I'm going to be generous and assume that you know 5% of everything there is to know in the Universe. Is it possible that God could exist in the remaining 95%? If so, it would be more accurate to say "I do not believe there is a God" or even "based on the evidence I have seen, I do not believe in God." I certainly respect your belief, but no one can categorically say that there is no God.

      Whether you believe in him or not, God Bless!

      March 3, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
    • th3quorum


      I can't disagree with anything you've said. In fact I'd submit that I know substantially less than 5% of all there is to know in the universe (maybe closer to 0% given the scale of things). A more accurate statement would be that given the size and scope of our universe that you mention, I am fairly certain that there does not exist a God in the sense that any world religion believes. If we want to expand the definition of "God" to include an unknowable and humanly incomprehensible force that exists beyond our ability to understand (and certainly beyond a point where such a being/force would have an opinion on what consenting adults do in the bedroom), then I am increasingly more open to the possibility of the existence of "God."

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

    I have many issues with the Bible/Jesus (and that is very different then having issues believing in God – like many of the founding fathers of this country you can believe in God and think the Bible and Jesus is smoke and mirrors) is how they deal with slavery.

    Depending on if you go with the traditional (not politically correct version) that SALVERY was OK with it or the middle class American version that just ignored it – that fact that so many words could be spent talking about minor "Evils" and not a word condemning some so evil as slavery show that the bible is just ravings of people who if they were around today we would say must be off their meds.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
  18. manyfaucets

    Who cares! The worst part of this article is that it offers a forum to revisit all the same silly arguments that are no more relevant the the debate as to how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

    If the bible is interpreted to mean that we should kill anyone who isn't christian is that a good thing? Any good ideas, like non-violence, stand on their own without the need to be affirmed by the bible, the koran, the vedas.......

    March 3, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
    • T C

      Where did the good ideas come from? Morality didn't just spring up over night it was typically driven by religuous beliefs that drove the behavior. The behavior has become so imbedded in our culture people have forgotten the source.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
  19. Nathan

    It's amusing how people claim that reading the Bible produces atheists. If that were true, the reader's were being intellectually dishonest. To say that there is no God because one doesn't like what it says? More honest would be to either:
    1.Believe in God, and you disagree with His Word.
    2. View the world with an open mind and determine your belief system that way.
    To say that reading the Bible made you an atheist makes you all seem either dishonest or shallow-thinking.
    By the way, why is nobody refuting the actual argument of the article?

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

      For me, reading the bible alone did not make me an atheist, but the combination of going to various churches, a strict "christian" upbringing, and reading news about how all religions seem to brainwash their congregations made me an atheist.

      The bible does say that adulterers should be killed...yet there is no killing of adulterers...why is this? Because people select different 'rules' to follow. This is OK, but many churches who do this preach that the bible is the literal word of god and every word is true and should be followed.

      Another reason I became atheist is because of charismatic churches. It clearly states in the bible that speaking in tongues should not be done unless there is someone available to translate it. I have attended 3 services in which these churches would do this without a translator...they just said a bunch of gibberish in the middle of their prayer/sermon and it was uncomfortable. A church that my brother in law went to was charismatic and they told him that he was HEALED of his bi-polar illness...so he stopped taking his medication, got all screwed up and then killed himself. How's that for a good religion?

      People...religion is great in itself...the basic rules of the bible are good for people to follow...but organized religion is a scam, a waste of a sunday morning, and a crutch for many people. It's sad to see so many people out there (not just christians) who put on a face on sunday, and then you see them committing the same 'sinful' acts as non religious people the rest of the week.

      So I guess those are my reasons for becoming an atheist.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • Jeremy

      Oh, and this article is too long to read. I really only come to the religion blogs to read the comments ... 😀

      March 3, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
  20. Dan

    The Bible also recommends death for adulterers, so let's really examine the source here.

    Either way, a deity that condemns people to eternal damnation because of the way they were born is nothing more than a cosmic tyrant. It says a great deal about humanity that we seem to need to imagine a God who is just as venal, vengeful and judgmental as we are. Surely divinity should be above our petty prejudices and hatreds.

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

      Actually almost all Gods in human history have been petty, violent, and cruel. Don't forget lustful. We have yet to invent a God worth listening to.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
    • th3quorum

      Key word: invent. Thank you "m" for being reasonable.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
    • WDinDallas

      Dan, read the sequel. It is called the New Testament.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
    • PascalWager

      You need to read the bible all the way through. I see a God that is willing to forgive all wrong doings if you have faith and follow him. That is unlike any other God I have read about.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
    • Philip Hades

      Read revelations, see Jesus kill pigs, curse fig trees, call his friends Satan and much much more, all in The BIBLE II: The New Testament.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • T C

      Eternal damnation is your interpretation, its sin no worse than any other sin. All sin and fall short of the Glory of God, so are we all eternally damned? I don't think so.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:19 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.