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. Wes

    Mute point. The Bible itself is flawed, so ANY justification based on it is flawed. You only need compare the two differing lists of Jesus' paternal lineage in the gospels to prove that it contains errors. Also, if you're going to rely on the Bible for moral guidence, you're going to have to start cutting off your wife's hand whenever she touches the hand of another man that you've argued with, and you're going to have to bury your poop in a hole in the desert with a stick. The bible is very very specific on those points (Deuteronomy), so you better find a good stick and start looking for a good spot to do your business. Also, watch out for dudes with crushed testicles, missing penis', and also dwarfs, hunchbacks, and people with eye defects. Per the Bible they're all pretty much cursed.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
    • Sarto

      Well, that is sound advice on that last part. Eye patches really tweak me out.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
  2. Sheila

    Well, glad we settlled that!!! And I put such stock in fairy tales.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  3. Jennifer

    Romans 1 - read to the end.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
  4. Bobby

    My thanks to the author of the article for a well reasoned presentation of what the Bible actually says on the subject. I am even motivated to look for your books.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
  5. SamC

    Just a thought...
    Which makes more sense?

    Nothing creating everything or God creating everything.

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

      Neither is true, one is oversimplified and one is mythology.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
  6. red

    Oh. Well I'm going to make sure that all the Gay people I know read this article immediately, and turn straight tonight. In other news, the Pope said today that Jews were NOT responsible for the killing of Christ. Good for Jews. In still OTHER news, the Bible is pure, unadulterated fiction.You're welcome.

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

    Did Rupert Murdock buy CNN? Lawdy, what a farce this site has become.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
  8. andersod

    Why does CNN even give hate-mongers like this author a platform from which to spew their garbage. The sooner we ignore people like him, the better off we'll all be.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • W247

      This was a response to an opinionated intolerant, blasphemous author who DID write a great fiction article.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
  9. STEVE


    March 3, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
  10. AJW

    Kind of like arguing whether eating green eggs and ham is socially acceptable based on careful review of Dr. Seuss's collected works. WHO CARES.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • Sam-I-Am

      I do not like green eggs and ham.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
  11. nik green

    Never has any book been interpreted in such a duplicitous, self serving fashion, as the Bible.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
  12. Jon S.

    The bible is a font of bigotry. If you use it to guide your life, you are using a flawed instrument that will lead to your ruin. This man's twisted words only prove this, only too clearly.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
    • len stanley

      What do you mean 'lead to our ruin'. Western civilization has been built on judeo-christian principals. Please explain.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
  13. InMyOpinion

    Wow! So many sinners and non-believers! I love my savior, Jesus Christ our Lord....not only that I believe in the holy trinity without doubt. Praying that you aethiests will come around and turn away for you ignorance. May God have mercy on your souls and bless you all.

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

      and we'll be hoping you decide to exercise critical thought and reason and live your life according to what you know as opposed to what you believe in without a shred of proof.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
  14. Roy

    Some say here "the Bible is just a book." Well then, I suppose we could also say "the Mona Lisa is just a painting." The difference though is the Bible is divinely inspired. If this is a bit much to swallow, start with the person of Jesus Christ. Is He who he really says He is. Note the present tense. Christians believe(me included) from the Bible that Christ rose from the dead. Think now- if this is true, it changes everything. Jesus Christ loves you. Give Him a chance. If you do, you will see the face of God.

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

      I've never understood what's so special about the Mona Lisa. There are lots of better paintings.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
    • Babs

      The Mona Lisa IS a masterpiece. The Bible IS a wonderful and timeless book. The statement that the Bible is divinely inspired IS your opinion.

      I wish "Christians" would stop talking about the Bible as if we all have to follow what YOU think it says.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
  15. Jim

    Once again, someone interpreting the bible for followers. Read the bible for yourselves and make your own decisions. Why do you need an opinion of anyone to interpret what's in the bible? I read it and it turned me into an Atheist, but it was my decision based on critical thinking.

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

      It took me over 30 years of wrestling with Christianity to come to a similar conclusion. I was raised on the stuff and on little else. I believed I was going to hell because I am gay. I no longer believe in much. I believe there may be a God and that he loves everyone equally. Why would God put someone in eternal damnation just because they do not believe a certain way? The end of my belief began when a Christian told me that Jesus has been through everything that I have been. I said that is bull, Jesus did not have parents who ignored, belittled and physically abused him beginning as a todler. ( God did make Jesus suffer in the end for good, but that was not abuse but part of his plan, if you believe.) Once I stopped reading the Bible, my nightmares diminished.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
    • 13monkees

      I have never understood the temptation of Christ. How was he tempted? He already must have known that he was "God incarnate." How can the devil offer him anything if he "created" it? If he was who he said he was, how could he possibly be tempted?

      March 3, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
  16. Krish

    Read below scriptures from Bible, will understand this detestable thing is moral outrage
    De 23:17, 18; 1Ki 14:24; 1Co 6:9, don’t interpret these Biblical messages using philosophy. Men write Bible but God inspired authors to write, it’s written for normal people and not a mystery as priest/scholars say, need not have PHD to get the wrong impression about the Bible message

    March 3, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
    • 13monkees

      How do you know that God inspired the bible? Because the Bible tells you so? The same book that has contradiction after contradiction? The same book that classifies a bat as a bird or says that rabbits chew cud? If this is the true work of a supreme being, he does shoddy work. Not to mention that why would a supreme being need men to write it for him anyway? A supreme being isn't very supreme if he can't operate a word processor. He should have made sure that the bible was easily translated into other languages. Why hasn't Jesus shown up yet? He said he would be back before that generation passed. Didn't happen. And why did he tell his disciples to steal some guy's horse in Luke breaking one of his own commandments?

      March 3, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
  17. Jesus Saves (in case his PC crashes)

    Trying to explain the Bible to people who have never read it is a lot like trying to explain calculus to a toddler. They'll either look at you funny, or laugh and say you made it all up.

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

      The difference is calculus can be proven and a toddler has an excuse to be confounded by complex math. There is no reason why a grown adult should choose to voluntarily believe such illogical and unproveable conclusion. The great thing about math and science is that they're factual true whether or not you believe in them.

      A more apt analogy would be that trying to explain the Bible to somebody that never read it is like a lunatic trying to convince a sane person that they are the crazy one.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
  18. mt

    This isn't news. Why is this on the front page of cnn.com? There are plenty of other websites where people can read about or debate religious issues if that's what interests them.

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

      Thank you. I tried to read this thinking it was "news" and turns out it's just some slobs opinion. Who cares.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
    • len stanley

      I bugs me that people refuse to dialogue about life issues in an age of 'tolerance'. Secular society tries to act like religious opinion doesn't exist. Or that people who believe in a god have had a lobotomy. Can we not have public debate from all opinions in this age?

      March 3, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
  19. Rocky

    Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,
    That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.
    Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;
    2 Thes 2:1-3

    March 3, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
  20. TS

    Articles such as this do nothing but further alienate a growing secular movement among the youth; Christianity, as the writer of the article knows it, will be a tiny, tiny cult in only a few more generations.

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

      you know about 2000 year ago they said the same thing 😉
      Acts 5:33-39
      Greater is HE who is in me than he who is the world. For I shall not be shaken, for the LORD is at my right hand.

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

      So will be the wicked, maybe sooner than you think. Some have been putting the everythings going to be great for everybody when Jesus returns. But if that is correct what will "And All The Mighty Angels With Him" be doing.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
    • len stanley

      'Christianity will be a tiny cult in a few generations'... I think there were a few others who said the same thing thousands of years ago.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
    • Frank Yang

      Elementary information is all that needed for someone who are ignorant of the reality that this same claim/prediction existed more then 2000 years ago. While you think you are in the majority and very trendy, only tiny fraction of cults of the whole humanity in history are atheists, mostly, the brutal communist and Nazis in the last century.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:34 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.