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. Chase H.

    CNN, when a gay teenager reads this and commits suicide because you posted dehumanizing slander, their blood will be on your hands. Sleep with that on your conscious.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
  2. Mike

    This article would be more credible if the author included references for his claims

    March 3, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
  3. Level headed

    I am not trying to offend anyone, but I do not understand why so many people believe there is such a thing as the Bible. And if there were and is a God, why would he object to two people, any people, sharing love for each other?

    March 3, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
  4. Bill

    Your using your religion as an excuse for bigotry and hate.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
  5. dr.whizgig

    Who cares? It also says magical snakes and people who turn into salt piles existed... not really a source of logic. Not really something I would use in an argument. Believe what you want. Some people believe in lizard people. We call those people crazy. Not really sure why we don't think of Christians and Muslims as crazy.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
  6. Deborah

    What is truth? Why was Jesus born? Jesus answers these questions in
    John 18:37, as Pilate is questioning Him, Jesus answered, "you are right in saying I am a King. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the trutth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me."

    Is anyone listening to Jesus? His very existence was to testify to the truth. To testify is a term used in court. There is two things opposed to one another. Truth vs. Lies. Jesus left us the Spirit of truth and the words from His mouth to teach us the truth. Spend the time to listen to Jesus.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
    • Creationist

      And that's the problem with most people on here: they read the Bible but lack comprehension. It's easy to read, but it takes more cognitive energy to understand.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
  7. jim

    CNN ran out idea for an article?!?!?

    March 3, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
  8. geo reeves

    to hell with Christianity, all it does is promote war and hatred

    March 3, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
  9. tj

    What does "the left" have to do with Christianity and the bible? I wa brought up Catholic and we were not allowed to read the bible. It required someone who was "educated and would tell us what it said". A priest. Are all those on "the right" somehow all bible reading Christians? And which bible? Have you all determined which one is the right interpretation? And above ALL what does this have to do with politics?

    March 3, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
    • maggie

      bingo. I am a recovering Catholic and can vouch for what you said. As for that priest, well, gee whiz, seems he had other ideas anyway.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
  10. Drew

    The Bible also says menstruating women are "unclean" and forbidden from going to church.

    Are we now considering laws to forbid menstruating women from participating in public life? Hmm....

    March 3, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
    • I love glen Beck

      Tell me where it says that in the bible?

      March 3, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
  11. The Captain

    The main problem here is no matter what anyone believes their bible says about any subject, they do not get to force anyone else to follow their religious practices. So even if the bible does say it's wrong, you can't force people not to do it without a secular reason. To do so is just using the force of law to mandate others practice your religion!

    March 3, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
    • maggie

      Point well made.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
  12. xnay

    95% of Americans believe in a Supreme Being. All right I made that up but it is probably close. The other 5% work for the MSLM.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
  13. geo reeves

    Who gives a sh!t what the bible says, Jesus was just a man anyway.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • Andrew Steven Canty

      All of you non-Christians will(or might) pay, BIG time!
      Go ahead! Spread what I said! -Andrew Steven Canty

      March 3, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
  14. st

    The author of this editorial seems not to understand that the vast majority of the contemporary developed world is secular and doesn't but any credence in religious texts. Many could not care what the bible says one way or the other, not only do non-believers find it to be highly amusing but even believers with any historical knowledge must understand that the vast majority of the bible was written by men who did not even live during the same century as jesus. My point being it seems like such a sad waste of time and energy to study religious scripture. To each their own I guess.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
  15. Funny

    It's funny, but for a scripture-based argument, this argument didn't really have all the much scripture in it. It's almost as though the message given by the Bible is somewhat opaque and open to different interpretation...

    March 3, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
  16. billsmith

    There is no god, no afterlife, no savior, no toothfair or santa claus. Sin is a joke. All religion is mental masturbation for the masses. Go ahead, get your kicks off of the idea of jesus, buddha, mohammad, etc. You can't be saved because you will never escape yourself.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
    • Creationist

      You sound like a lively person to meet.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
    • billsmith

      Religion poisons the mind. All places of "worship" should have warning labels posted on the entrances. Utter nonsense.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
    • LiberateUs

      Glad Im not a bitter person like you

      March 3, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
    • Creationist

      Is this also the same as saying that pop culture and music corrupt kids today?

      March 3, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
    • billsmith


      Your kidding, right? Come up for air for a second. Your underwater, mate.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • Creationist

      Well, I was really aiming for a straight answer rather than reading metaphors behind your actual meaning.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
    • Halycyon


      You make a valid point about pop culture and music, but I would say that religion does in a way negatively affect people. In lieu of this however, my kids have started to act differently ever since I allowed them to listen to pop, hip-hop, etc. Perhaps it was more than the music that changed them. I blame religion, bad music, and yes, bad parenting as well.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
  17. Patty Soffer

    The Bible is a work of fiction that, if written today, would be on the NYTimes Bestseller list and perhaps, in a slow year, might become a made-for-tv movie on Lifetime.

    Courtesy of the Human Genome Project, my family has been traced back 65,000 years, along with the rest of the human race. That anyone in their right mind can believe this whole par-tay started 2010 years ago with an exchange of ribs is bizarre.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
    • Creationist

      And assuming that humans evolved from apes is not?

      March 3, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
    • Norse

      Humans didn't evoolve from apes, humans just share a common anscestor.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
    • Justine

      2,010 years ago (or so) Jesus was born. That's not how old or young creationists think the world is. And not all Christians are creationists anyway. Try to get your facts straight and show a little respect.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
    • MattRobVan

      It's actually 5000 years ago. Hope that helps change your mind.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
    • Creationist

      There are two theories for creation on the evolution side: (1) humans evolve from apes and (2) the line between humans and apes split. Assuming that you're a supporter of evolution, which theory do you think is plausible?

      March 3, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • Jackie

      What never ceases to amaze me when it comes to Christian debates is the irony that people have in their arguments. You say that you can date back your ancestry for over 65,000 years or whatever, but what about the BILLIONS of Christians who have lived the past mere 2010 years. You're telling me that every single one of them are wrong? Billions of people have died for their beliefs of Christianity, over their belief in Jesus, and you're saying they died for nothing........ I'll pray for you.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
    • hemyola

      Nicely said, Patty. And yes, they died for nothing. They dies for what millions have died: beliefs, thoughts, and being right about ones ideas. If you are born Muslim you die for Islam, if you are born Christian you die for Christianity etc. People just defend what they have been brainwashed with.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
    • Creationist

      And when you are nothing you die for nothing?

      March 3, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
  18. Al Bluengreenenbrownenburger

    Faith: Fervently believing in the obviously untrue.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
    • Creationist

      Hope: pretty much the secular term for faith.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
    • hemyola

      Here Here. Well said.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
  19. Creationist

    I wish people would use proper grammar; it would make their argument and assumption more meaningful.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
  20. Sigh

    The analogy of the Bible's stance on slavery vs the Bible's stance on male-female relationships is fairly apt. While it's true, that as the author states, the Bible never comes out and says "Slavery is not immoral, you may own slaves" - it clearly takes it for granted that people do own slaves and never suggests that this is in any way wrong.

    This is very similar to the arguments made by the author here that the Bible clearly takes for granted the fact that a marriage requires a man and a woman without necessarily explicitly stating this fact - aside from Leviticus. And it's worth noting that many Biblical scholars take the view that the injunctions in Leviticus were expressly intended only for the Israelites to whom those mandates were given.

    There are many restrictions given in Leviticus and we follow almost none of them today. We do not stone people to death for working on the sabbath anymore than we should condemn gay people for being gay. The Israelites were given this restriction because they were on the verge of extinction and desperately needed to procreate more often. There's no reason to assume it is meant to apply to us today.

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

      Did you actually read Gagnon's article before you responded? His arguments weren't based on Leviticus. They were based on Genesis and on Jesus's affirmation of those Genesis teachings. That's exactly where Knust and other "progressives" usually fall short. Her "surprising" take on the Bible is really very old and boring news.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • LiberateUs

      Slavery vs. Indentured Servitude:

      Slavery: making a person work against their will without pay until that person dies.

      Indentured Servitude: making a person work against their will without pay until that person repays their debts. They must work for the person they owe, so to speak.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • maggie

      Awesome post; thank you. My view about this issue is the same as it is on the question of a woman's right to choose. If you don't believe in it because of the bible or whatever your religion or conscience may dictate, then don't do it. Simple. Irrespective of your religious persuasion, one man does not have the right to stand in judgment of another in this way. Ultimately, it is between me and my maker.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:58 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.