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. lloyd roberts

    Why, in the beginning of the third paragraph does this writer have to use the word, "The Left"? Why do other writers have to use the opposite, "The Right". Aren't there any topics or discussions in this country that don't get watered down into the two BS political groups, left and right. Is there always this rivalry in almost everything we discuss today. This writer is a professor, to me a professor of BS, i.e., religion. But non the less, even this educated man fell into this trap and has identified the team he is on thereby discrediting everything he just wrote. I didn't even finish his article once I saw his true agenda with that comment. We in America are in deep doodoo because we are so divided. We are easy prey

    March 3, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • JohnR

      Good point. I describe my politics as "more libertarian than not" and am therefore for sure no leftist. And I support gay rights, as do most libertarians. (I wish I could say all – I OUGHT to be able to!!!) And I've noticed that quite a few gays a lesbians are in many ways a lot more culturally conservative than one might expect. My best friend is a lesbian and one of her dearest friends is an older lesbian who waxes eloquent about her appreciation of the armed forces and screeches in horror at modern attempts to "jazz up" the national anthem. She disapproves of gay/lesbian public displays of affection because she disapproves of ALL such displays. If cultural conservatives ever bothered to get to know real gay and lesbian people, they would no doubt find many, many points of commonality. I myself am nowhere near as culturally conservative as this particular woman and her partner are. But I also have no time for many segments of the radical left and have had no problem at all finding gay and lesbian friends who share quite a few of my displeasures with both left AND right. But even when we do disagree, we can still be friends!

      March 3, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  2. Adam

    So what if it does? Biology does not ban it and neither should the legal system of the US or any other country.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
  3. David Johnson

    It is still not clear to what extent ho_mo$exuality in humans or other animals is genetic rather than, say, due to hormonal extremes during embryonic development.
    http://www.newscientist.com/.../dn13674-evolution-myths-natural-selection-cannot -explain-ho_mo$exuality.html

    But what studies are not finding, is that being gay is a choice.

    A study done by scientists at the Karolinska Inst_itute in Sweden found that the brain development of gay men more closely resembled the brain structure of straight women, and the brain structure of gay women more closely resembled the brain structure of straight men. Source: http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1815538,00.html

    When gays are asked, they say that being gay is not a choice.
    Believers choose not to believe them, since it would be hard to blame a person who suffers from a birth defect.


    March 3, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  4. Wow...

    Ok, let's see this "smart" man is right and the bible does ban gays...what does that matter? It's a book, a story written a long time ago that people are still falling for today. The bible has NO bearing on anything but people's opinions. Usually pretty ignorant people at that...

    March 3, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  5. E

    P.S....Jesus doesn't judge!

    March 3, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • LB Colorado


      March 3, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • larryb

      funny how in life jesus was about love, understanding and forgiveness but now he is a hateful judge?????????

      March 3, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • John

      JC is whatever Colorado wan't him to be at any instant in any argument.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  6. LB Colorado

    Laws of Nature (God), if you can't multiply then something must be wrong. A no brainer for all of non-believers. Good Luck with that.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @LB Colorado

      You said: "Laws of Nature (God), if you can't multiply then something must be wrong. A no brainer for all of non-believers. Good Luck with that."

      Gay people are less likely to reproduce than hetero$exuals. So, if being gay is caused by genetic factors, it should have been eliminated from the gene pool already.

      But, the mothers of the gays may be passing on the gene(s). And in a very fruitful way!
      Another study is finding that the $exual orientation my be influenced by antibodies produced by the mother's immune system during pregnancy.

      Bottom line, gays themselves don't need to breed to keep the gay line going. Mom will do it!

      Isn't it a hoot that that science is drowning your god in a sea of discovery. I don't know how much longer He can tread water...

      Italian geneticists discovered that women tend to have more children when they inherit the same – as yet unidentified – genetic factors linked to ho_mo$exuality in men. This fertility boost more than compensates for the lack of offspring fathered by gay men, and keeps the "gay" genetic factors in circulation.
      "This is the first time that a model fits all our empirical data," said Andrea Camperio-Ciani, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Padova in Italy who led the study. "These genes work in a $exually antagonistic way — that means that when they're represented in a female, they increase fecundity , and when they're represented in a male, they decrease fecundity. It's a trait that benefits one $ex at the cost of the other."


      Ray Blanchard, a researcher at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, who studies the effect of birth order in predicting whether a male will be born ho_mo$exual. "My personal view is that there is probably more than one biological mechanism contributing toward ho_mo$exuality. I think it's also safe to say that there is at least one non-genetic influence."
      Blanchard found that with each older brother in a family, the odds increase by about a third that a boy born later will be gay. This effect is not thought to be caused by genetics, but rather by antibodies produced by the mother's immune system during pregnancy. Source: LIVE SCIENCE "Why Gays Don’t Go Extinct" Clara Moskowitz Date: 17 June 2008 http://www.livescience.com/2623-gays-dont-extinct.html

      Time will tell!


      March 3, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  7. cartec

    I fail to understand why anyone should care how two people express their love for each other. It's no one's business but the two people in love or lust. It's child molestation, murder, child murder, or the enslavement of one human being by another. We should be more concerned by these things than what is going on in anyone's bedroom. Just let it be.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
  8. ezra

    The Bible is fiction so it really doesn't matter what it says. Not only that, it is poorly written fiction.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • Wow...

      People will never be smart enough to realize that. They'd rather believe something ridiculous that gives them a right to feel superior than face the facts...

      March 3, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
  9. goat

    What about these bible verses? Exodus 21:1-11, Judges 11:29-40, Isaiah 13:16, Hosea 13:16, Psalms 137:9, and Deuteronomy 3:1-7, deuteronomy 21:11-14. Does this make slavery and murder okay then?

    March 3, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • ezra

      Yes, there are GOP/tea party bills in the works to legalize slavery and murder.

      March 3, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  10. Shawn

    That section of the bible also condemns wearing cotton blend socks... so there ya go

    March 3, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
  11. Iridius Izzarne

    For a bible scholar, your article is poorly written. Perhaps you should have majored in English first. Besides that, I take no stock in fictional works. I believe in neither god nor Xemu. Or Xenu, if you prefer.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  12. antonwilliams

    So the bible gives us everyone a right to discriminate? Don't forget God created everyone equal. Take a look at the author's photo; that should tell you why he intreprets the bible "his way".

    March 3, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  13. bh

    hey guys, don't feed the trolls.

    if you agree with the author. awesome...so do i.
    if you don't agree with the author...that's your choice to make, and i'm going to leave it at that. you are allowed to have your opinion.
    if you agree with freedom of speech, then don't just try to beat down everyone that sings a different song than you do.
    preaching tolerance by force is never going to go over well...just a helpful hint.

    and again, don't feed the trolls. they always roar at the sunlight...

    March 3, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • drinky

      can't wait till you get to your pearly gates and jesus bends you over...

      March 3, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • Wow...

      Funny, you believe in God, yet you still think it's ok to refer to people as "trolls"...glad I'm no longer Christian.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • Crazy Pete

      Um… you need to bone up on your slang. A ‘troll’ does not refer to the mythical ugly creature, but rather one who ‘trolls’ (like trolling for fish with a lure) in that they are posting inflammatory comments not because they believe them, but just to get the response.

      I am also fully aware that you yourself may know this and may be a troll, and you are now triumphant in that you wasted my precious time replying to your post.

      Well, the jokes on you. My time is not precious at all.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • Anola

      bh-ignore the fools. great post. They can't find anything left to say except define "troll."

      March 3, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  14. beth

    Your argument only holds water if you trust that the bible in its form as we know it today truly contains the words of Jesus. The Council of Nicea made many decisions, mostly political, about what would be considered sacred and heretical from that time forward. It was not a Council called for purposes of divining religious truth but for establishing an othodoxy from which the Empire could be ruled (and hopefully, not split).

    I don't believe that Jesus was immortal or that even half of what was written about him was true. Too much has been found in the last century in "heretical" surviving manuscripts that prove there were a mulitplicity of ideas about your savior.

    Where did your PhD come from anyway? I had to work hard for mine; logic and reasoning were prized in my profession.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • effelbee

      Bravo! Your comment is spot on.

      March 3, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • Mikey

      Very well written. The perfect response – unfortunately most evangelicals refuse to acknowledge the history of their religion. They care only for the "Word of God".

      March 3, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  15. Dylan

    Good thing nobody cares about the bible.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  16. mjbell8

    Thanks for a great post and a fair-handed response!

    March 3, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  17. oldboy

    I think this guy might be gay. Isn't he trying way too hard here?

    March 3, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • larryb

      duh...look at his photo

      March 3, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  18. MJK

    AMEN, Awesome Article!

    March 3, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • drinky

      Remember your quote when you get to the pearly gates and Jesus bends you over...

      March 3, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
  19. JPC

    And my book of made up nonsense says being super gay is super awesome. So, I guess we'll call it even.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  20. ???

    The Bible bans lots of things but for some reason Christians mostly want to enforce this one.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • Ron

      Boy, isn't that the truth!

      March 3, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • larryb

      not to mention that one has to accept that the bible is more than an often repeated, copied and edited story written by men

      March 3, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • SurelyUjest

      I see it as this mankind throughout history has a habit of singling out minority groups and exiling them or worse. If the Bible thumpers could just realize that they are excersizing an "Earthly Trait" in their wanton persecution/demotion/dehumanizing of Gays, Women or Slaves throughout Christian history. Instead of living a "Godly life" they choose a life of sin by ignoring that someone like Jennifer Knust could be right on the money with her focus on Biblical meaning. In resepect to this author I found his article wordy, disenfranchising in it's attempt to be very intellectual in delivery and frankly his facts IMO did not refute 100% any thing that Jennifer Knust stated in her article. My reveiw would be

      Stop Hating Blacks, Stop Hating the left, Stop hating Gays, Stop hating Muslims, Stop Hating period !!! that is NOT what the Bible is about and Jennifer Knust sold a much better picture of the Christian view of Love and understanding.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • LB Colorado

      The ban is that no fruit can be produced. That has to tell you SOMETHING. You can do whatever it is you want, but no matter who or what you do – consequences are always a part of the choice just as rewards are. I believe God – evidence is overwhelming. Look into the eyes of a man/woman, they are the door way to the soul.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • JimF

      So LB Colorado you say "The ban is that no fruit can be produced." Does that mean if a woman is unable to get pregnant, for whatever reason, then its a sin to sleep with her?

      March 3, 2011 at 3:15 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.