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. jma58

    So what. The bible is just a collection of myths and other make believe.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • LookAndSEE

      Why are you here ? The meaning of life is a question can can not be explained by science!

      March 3, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
  2. Eugenia

    Romans 1:27 (King James Version)

    27And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

    Romans 1:27 (New International Version, ©2011)

    27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

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

      Exodus 21:20-21 "And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money."

      Deuteronomy 20:14 "But the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself"

      What's your point????????????????????????????????????????

      March 3, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
    • Michelle D


      March 3, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
  3. Total nonsense

    Religion is wrong on every single level. Religion was crated to control idiots, the mentally disabled and the extremly simple minded PERIOD. The way religion will be removed as a right will the day the human race wil finaly evolve.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
  4. Michael S

    This is the second major new item on CNN tonight? I guess the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have wrapped up and that whole Libya mess is over and the budget crisis is resolved................................

    This article is nothing but one delusional man's interpretation of a piece of literature written by men and not supreme beings.

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

      Yes – the 2nd most important story!!!! How it wasn't the most importnat is beyond me! Actually I was stunned when I started reading the article – I only started to read it given its high exposure on the web – I assumed it was some earth shattering nrevalations !!! But it ws just more dribble about dribble. Oh well – CNN must have new priority – CNN – Christian News Network?

      March 3, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
  5. Maria

    The Bible is not divisive, but belief in separate religions and the differences between them is the cause of more war and death than imaginable. John Lennon asked that we imagine a world without religion. We would be better off without it.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
  6. Mike R.

    I don't understand the point of this article. We've been arguing over the Bible and its meaning for thousands of years. Is this supposed to help stop the endless bickering?

    March 3, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
  7. Derick

    Here we go. Robert Gagnon, dedicated follower of a dead delusional desert witch interpreting an ancient and irrelevant collection of maniacal rants about said dead witch. Burn all bibles, torahs and korans. Send all three of these poisons back to the desert they came from.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
  8. Bill

    Your using religion as an excuse for hate.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
  9. Chris

    All the more reason to ban the Bible.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
  10. Rob

    I'm soooo tired of the human race being dragged down by all of those who actually believe and live by the inane writings of those who were completely ignorant of the universe in which they lived. Pathetic people, simplty pathetic. The bible is nothing more than a comic book without the pictures – that my friends is the reality. If I went around saying I belived in Superman becasuse of the writings of his life appear in a book they would (and should) put me away. Please people start to think about what you believe and question that belief. Really! Mankind grow up please. And those of you who can't I really feel sorry for you. Thanks for letting me vent!

    March 3, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
  11. John

    I am very pleased the CNN actually has allow this learned man to express his views, and has placed it in a rather prominent place on the web page, and I hope they don't pull it off quickly. There are hundreds of Bible School and Seminaries in this country, full of learned men with PHD's, who believe and teach the Bible with true scholarship the way the author of this article does. They do not teach with a political agenda, but teach what is there based on the understanding of Greek and history. I just hope CNN will be more careful of what they post, since what Knust wrote is not the all the way the most learned scholars view this issue. May CNN give people whose views are based on real scholarship, reviewed and judged the way most professional articles are before they are published, a voice on their medium.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • So...

      @John But CNN is for NEWS. NEEEEEWWWWSSSSSSSS. Not opinions!

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

    I seriously laughed my way through this article. Not happy laughter. It saddens me that a grown man and self-proclaimed "scholar" would spend time researching and interpreting something so hateful from a book that has been proven time and time again to be nothing but our predecessors control over their people. Shame on him and shame on the people who buy into his words. Very little historical fact resides within the bible and yet people blindly follow it. And it continues to assist in the hate and intolerance, such as this article, that is keeping mankind in an archaic standstill.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
  13. Wow!

    You can get a PhD in Completely Useless Stupidity?

    March 3, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
  14. Barnacle Bill

    Just look at this guy. If he isn't a closet h0m0...

    March 3, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
  15. TP


    March 3, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • Sonia

      Is it just me or is it becoming iirseacnngly harder to know what is legal and what isn’t? You can barely walk out your front door now without breaking some stupid law. What does the Government want from us all? You can't do this and you can't do that, can't, can't, can't they're all a bunch of cant's!Read recently at a forum somewhere

      July 30, 2012 at 12:59 am |
  16. bill davis

    I do not care what the bible says, medically speaking it causes cancer, and people die from it,

    Maybe it is just god enforcing his laws.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
  17. Dewy987

    I applaud any being that wishes to promote peace and acceptance, but I still feel the world would be a much safer and enlightened place if all religions were abolished.

    i believe religions were bred from ignorance. not stupidity, but uncertainly. man needs reasoning for that which he does not understand, and thus 'belief' was born.

    the conflicts of our world and the radicals within are a prime example that religion and science cannot coexist. until humanity accepts ONLY that which can be proven, we will forever be doomed to an existance of turmoil and bloodshed... until we do not exist at all

    March 3, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • lkinva

      I'm with you. With so many religions how can just one be "true".

      March 3, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • Michelle D

      so true..how is any religion that promotes hatred for anyone the right religion...my god is a loving god who loves all (his/her) creatures...understand that though they may not all be what society believes is pure...(he/she) understands that they created this world and like any true loving parent loves and accepts (his/her) children.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
  18. ken

    Jesus is the way, the truth and the life!

    March 3, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • Jonesey

      Yes... for fear, and intolerance.

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

      Amen to that Jonesey!

      March 3, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • Gomer

      No Jonesey, I believe that would be Allah.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
    • Chandler02

      People can believe in Jesus all they want, but they can't make the Bible the basis of our laws. Some people claim that the Ten Commandments are a part of our legal structure, but Envy, Greed, etc., are not illegal. I don't care if your beliefs don't allow for gay marriage, religious beliefs do not dictate the law. There is no legal basis to deny the rights of gay citizens.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • Total nonsense

      Jesus, god, what ever you want to name IT is a FICTIONAL CHARACTER AND DOES NOT EXIST. no matter how hard you beleive in magic.... you should seek medical attention NOW, as you have a serious case of morronite that neek to be fix. Religion need to be BAN planet wide PERIOD. Religious peoples should not even be considered human at all.

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

      If your IQ and shoe size are one in the same.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
  19. Gomer

    Some of my best friends are gay.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
    • Michelle D

      mine too..move to canada most of us couldnt care less what the other is doing let alone what hole they prefer more *LOL*

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

      Jesus loves the sinner, He hates the sin. This goes for a thief, murderer,liar etc.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
  20. Timbo

    Well, this settles it, it doesn't take much to get a "Ph.D" in Theology. From the article, it's apparent a "Ph.D" in Theology is on par with an EdD. LOL 2 joke degrees.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:50 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.