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. Bill

    As you judge others, so will you be judged, the measure of mercy you show.. will be the measure you receive.

    Read that somewhere or another.....

    March 3, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
  2. Dee

    "does the Left read significant works that disagree with pro-gay interpretations of Scripture and choose to simply ignore them?" Apparently, the right reads the Bible and only selects the passages that seem to support their interpretation. How many wives did the old kings have? Why are the other passages of Leviticus seem not to be important to modern day fundies when one somehow is? You can't cherry pick folks... every one who cherry picks their "sins" (cutting hair, eating shellfish, etc.) is guilty of hypocrisy.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
  3. Upperhand

    Say what, what!!! Liberal CNN allowing an opposing view.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
  4. Yoster

    Here's an idea, lets just all get along, not be judgmental, and accept the people around you who dont do anything to bother you. The only way this world is going to get anywhere is if we stop the pointless hate and prejudice, and get something done.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
  5. dpljlb

    YES....we get it! Born Again Christians HATE gay people. They use the Bible as the foundation for their hatred. They hide behind the nonsense "Love the sinner, hate the sin" when in fact they HATE gay people. What a STUPID story. The only purpose of ridiculous stories like this are to rile up the Born Again Christians so they can spew their hatred and feel justified about how the HATE other people when Jesus commands them NOT TO JUDGE and TO LOVE. Two basic tenets that they seem to conveniently forget.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • Tim

      That's funny, I always thing these stories are meant to rile up the non-believers. And, in fact, that's exactly what it has done. Even in your case.

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

    Amazed..why don't we simply move on and forget these ridiculous attempts at justifying every single human action through a book that only a rather small portion of humanity cares about ? Or would all of these other people become automatically damned ? Please, Christians, Atheists, grow up...

    March 3, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
  7. Scot

    I don't mean to be disrespectful to anyone at all, but I personally believe the Bible was written by man and is mostly a work of fiction. I'm no scholar of it, it's just how I feel. I was taught that Jesus believed in peace and love. That's something that makes perfect sense to me. But having grown up with friends who are gay and seeing that the way they love is no different than the way other good people love, I just can't believe that Jesus would care if people were gay or straight as long as they did their best to be good people. Gay people have the same feelings as straight people but arguably have had a much rougher time growing up because of preconceived notions we were all taught as children. Notions that we should fear and hate them. And I just can't see anyone whose primary motivation is love and peace caring about gays or what someone's race is or even someone's religion, as long as their primary motivation is love and peace. I wish all of the people reading this a peaceful life, surrounded by their family and friends, and most of all surrounded by love. Bless all of you and love one another.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
  8. Yoga2010

    Interesting and well thought out article. Hard to refute such logic, so there can be only one possible conclusion: the bible is clearly not the word of god.

    I'm glad the author finally proved that.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
  9. JeB5

    Left, Right...who cares? Where is the SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE?????

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

    I will fight for your right to worship any way you want as long as you don't try to force me to believe what you believe. I am happy to live in a country where I am not required to practice any certain religion.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
  11. Porchiaknows

    If you believe in the bible... you should join the Westboro Baptist Church...

    People think muslim extremists are bad, all religious extremists are the same no matter what "they believe in"

    March 3, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
    • Boiled Down

      And religious moderates lend legitimacy to the fundamentals and radicals. Until all the few remaining religions denounce the mythology that they are based on, they are all part of the problem.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
    • Matt from CA

      Whoah there. Thats radical itself. Not everyone that votes is a radical, but they go to the polls and have to pick a side. But that doesn't make them radical. Most voters are rather middle of the road. Just having religious beliefs does not make you radical.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
  12. Boiled Down

    So basically this guy is saying to the previous author "my interpretation of a heavily edited bronze-age text is more accurate than your (laughable) interpretation because I have written more books than you." what a joke.

    Luckily though it doesn't matter. Our laws do not come from the bible or q'ran or torrah. This is just more of the violent death throes of religion.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
  13. fastball

    What we call a Bible is a text interpreted and re-interpreted hundreds of times, by hundreds of different people, each with their own interpretation and agenda, in the last 1000-odd years.
    It's like the telephone game played by children, where one person whispers a line into another child's ear, and so on....and we see what that original line ends up being after going through multiple ears. And mostly, it bears little or no resemblance to the original. What if the word in the Bible was "celebrate"....and it was misspelled into "celibate". That sorta puts a whole new spin on the priesthood, now doesn't it??

    March 3, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
    • Thinker

      The Bible was not written in English. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
    • Tim

      I like how the author makes educated arguments and you simply reply with your opinion on the matter as if that is enough to make your point. You know nothing of ancient scribes or that we have texts dating back a thousand years which exactly match the texts we read from today. Disagree all you want, but at least make an educated argument.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
  14. Chris

    The first and bigger question is why worry about what it says in the bible? Most people on this planet don't really care.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • Just Askin

      Then why did you bother reading the article? Just to pick fights?

      March 3, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  15. Porchiaknows

    Well, Guess what? I condemned the bible... the bible is stupid... written by some drunken nomads...

    March 3, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
  16. nope

    Solid hermeneutics, a breath of fresh air!

    March 3, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
  17. Pam

    It really doesn't matter if anyone interprets intolerance from the Bible. It's a piece of literature written thousands of years ago by men with a very narrow life experience. That people still think it should tell them how to live their lives is sad. Life your heads up, follow the brains God gave you. Maybe he gave us progress, empathy and love. Maybe he's shaking his head at all the people who don't realize how many other texts they should be reading as times change.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
  18. Bill

    What do you suppose the odds are that this author will eventually join the growing ranks of anti-gay crusaders that get caught with another guy and turn out to have been secretly gay? It happens so often that it's not even a surprise anymore.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • Moderate Mom

      I'd say the odds are staggering that he hits the glory holes on a regular basis now.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
    • Benjamin P. Glaser


      With all do respect Bill I know Dr. Gagnon personally. His personal ethics are beyond reproach.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
  19. Aylah95

    While I have appreciation for your article and agree with you I must protest your assumption all Democrats, or 'the Left,' as you say, are pro-gay. It seems as if you have bought into the brainwashing that Democrats don't have morals.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • Boiled Down

      That's right! just because you are liberal doesn't mean you can't hate!

      March 3, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
    • LJ

      I agree with you, my poilitical views have nothing to do with my faith or belief in God's word.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
    • Gbolahan Faluade

      I am so ashamed but honest enough to agree with you. IT HAS HAPPENED TOOOOOOO OFTEN!

      March 3, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
  20. Richard

    The Holy Bible was written by men, not by God? Think about it!

    March 3, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
    • Mike, formerly from Syracuse

      God dictated.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
    • psguy

      And 300 years after Christ died.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • Moderate Mom

      Bible = B. S. in Bound Leather Edition

      March 3, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
    • Smitty

      Could man's writings be inspired by God? I don't think you can say no with absolute certainty.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • sabby

      You are absolutely right!

      March 3, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
    • James

      Seriously, why do hard core Christians act liek the Bible was handed down from a white magical cloud. The books choosen to be in the bible were assembled by men. which books were left out? The entire story of mary was perverted. Perhaps the Devil himself was there as the book was asssembled. i know one thing. We need to let our spirituality grow by dumping religions. Please evolve and face your fear of death with out pushing jesus stories on everyone. ARG!

      March 3, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • Upperhand

      Christians don't expect God hating atheists with the faith to believe God doesn't exist to get any Christian facts right....must be those rose colored glasses you're wearing!

      "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. – 2 Peter 1:20-21

      March 3, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
    • Boiled Down

      @ Upperhand
      I don't hate what does not exist. And it takes no faith to not believe in ancient mythology. Do you need faith to say that Zeus, Odin or Apollo don't exist? How about the thousands of nameless gods that humans have invented over the millennia?

      March 3, 2011 at 8:38 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.