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. ThePenIsMightier

    Religion had it's day when it was used to help build societies and set moral guidelines but now its quickly becoming irrelevant. The modern world needs new myths that people of today can relate to. Religion has failed to evolve with the times and that's people will continue to abandon it. We know enough about the universe we live not to need silly children's stories to ease our minds from the unknowns.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
  2. LiberateUs

    I'm Catholic. Deal with it, CNN.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
  3. Tallgrass

    The larger point is, who cares what a book written by 66 authors over a span of 1,000+ year and compiled by Iron Age men says?

    March 3, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
  4. cayrbear

    Interesting related reading, A.J. Jacobs' "The Year of Living Biblically". I read this a while ago. If you are interested in the topics discussed here, you might enjoy the book. The author lives for one year following each and every rule in the bible.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
  5. Sevastian Winters

    Doesn't really matter because the notion that an ever present God would defer his authority to a book that no one could read/have access to for 90% of Christendom is absurd. It's just a book, and I suspect that God hates that book.

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

    It also bans alot of things. Keep looking..

    March 3, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
  7. Andrew Steven Canty

    Think about it, guys.
    We couldn't have evolved from monkeys, apes, etc.
    How come we have a conscience? Hm?
    It couldn't have just "happened"! God made us. Jesus resurrected.

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

      You're the one who needs to "think about it."

      March 3, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
    • James

      Um. Yeah. Because magic is a so much more solid explanation than scientific evidence supported by the facts. Really, the only way any of this could have happened is if some invisible sky god just spoke a few magic words, and *poof* everything just happened. I mean, what does evidence prove anyway?

      March 3, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
    • 16 year old Prophet

      Look the thing is, there is no one way to decide who is completely right. It could be a combination of any number of ideas and philosophies, like maybe God created the big bang, but creatures evolved after that. Its not all set in stone as correct or not. The point of religions is to provide us for some reference to live our lives, and the main part of Christianity is to accept and love thy neighbor. Its hypocritical of Christianity as a whole to not accept another group of people So who cares if one book (written by people) has one single line that says that we should not accept another group of people, we need to make our own decisions on what we feel is right, not define it only on what is written in a book. Please, Fundamentalists, do not give the rest of us a bad name.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
    • Healer


      When the time comes and you're an old man, and you've made your peace with god and your eyes close for the last time, there will be nothing. When you die there is no other form of consciousness. Think about this. The next time you go to sleep and wake up without dreaming, that seemingly instantaneous changeover from night to day where your brain has closed for the evening and you remember nothing but the the moment before you fell asleep. That my friend is truly heaven. That nothingness is where we will be when we move on. Nothing else. The rules of the Bible are not all bad things. There are some good messages in there. It's not about who is following the book the right way or who has it right or wrong. Its about the reality of your belief system being based upon supernatural events. Do you believe in the supernatural?

      March 4, 2011 at 12:26 am |
  8. Teresa Ferrin

    Shame on the writer of this article. Teenage suicides are at an all time high. Shame shame shame!!!!

    March 3, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
  9. Michael W

    aaaahh "The Bible" – the greatest work of fiction of ever sold. I wonder if 2,000 years down the road, scholars will be debating the teachings of Dumbledore to Harry Potter and his kooky band of disciples.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
  10. Nikan Ansari

    So this is news? This is an opinion and doesn't belong on the front page. I wouldn't mind it in a seperate section but not the damn front page. Morons.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
  11. Jeff

    I am thankful I do not live under the penalty of the Law of the Old Testament. I am a Christian that loves the entire bible and its stories that direct me to my savior. Jesus is a loving and forgiving. He could even forgive those who deny him.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
  12. Rob

    Why spend so much time interpreting a book written by a bunch of random people? What If I wrote a book and said that everyone must commit suicide at the turn of 50 years old. Would people listen? Nope.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
    • Jerry

      If you write it, someone will follow... do the names Joseph Smith or L. Ron Hubbard ring any bells?

      March 3, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
  13. Cindy

    That's gay.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
  14. Richard T Rodriguez

    There are many things in the Bible that are not to be imitated: stoning; disrespect for women; bashing the heads of babies against the stones, etc. etc. As peoples grow in their understanding of the Law of Love taught by Jesus, we change and our behavior improves.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
  15. vincent

    Knust must be g** or les****. Its in writting. I told you its a mental disorder and we have medicine for this problem.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  16. cgoregon

    Seriously? who gives a crap what' the bible says or doesn't say? This is for bubble heads to debate in church on Sunday of they want, not news, doesn't belong here in the real world.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  17. Jeff

    Who cares? This is not a Christian nation. We have NO official religion, just like our founding fathers wanted. I don't believe in the Bible, Koran or Talmud. I believe in HUMAN rights. It is HUMANE to allow two people who love each other to marry. LOVE is not property of any God.

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

      I agree with Jeff. I think the main reason why niether the author, or the author with whom he is referring to cannot find the answer, is because the bible is open to an individuals interpretation.

      And BTW, CNN, Why are you even wasting your time with such a shallow subject. Let all people live their own lives and don't add to the hype of the narrow minded few.

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

    One man's interpretation is, well, another man's interpretation. My point, Gagnon is no more or less informed than any other "interpreter" (what he calls himself).

    March 3, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  19. Al Bluengreenenbrownenburger

    When I look at the author's picture, my gaydar goes off.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  20. Drew

    Who cares....

    March 3, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
    • Coach P

      We all will...when we stand before Almighty God to be judged...each one alone. Read 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
    • Patricia

      Indeed, it seems to me that the matter has to be decided by one's individual conscience. Personally, I am not guided by the ideas of sheep-herders from 3000 years ago.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
    • bigfatnerd

      exactly. who cares? there is no god.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
    • Sam

      The Bible is loaded with ancient hogwash. Like for instance women who are not virgins on their wedding night are to be stoned. That might eliminate the majority of women on earth. I always try to remember that those who put the bible together were also the ones who declared the world to be flat. Get over it Christians. You're out of order, out of time, and out of your minds.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
    • Flip

      Patricia, it seems as though you ARE guided by those ideals. Everything you do that is generally considered "good" or "right" was taught to you by someone. and the same goes for that person. Point is, the snippet of you that chooses to do good is proof that God exists

      March 3, 2011 at 8:33 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.