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. mark

    loved it. Great read and well thought out. most will not get it. Good work Robert!

    -Evan Gelical

    March 3, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
  2. Ken

    many thanks to cnn for giving the opposite side of the arguement. they are showing that they can be fair and balanced

    March 3, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
  3. Ken Rubenstein

    I am shocked, shocked I tell you.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
  4. DB

    The Bible is an attempt by ancient people to interpret God. As such, it has some lessons that are still relevant to us today, but other aspects of the Bible reflect the writers' primitive understanding of the world. It's pointless to argue this with someone who believes the Bible is "the inerrant word of God." They simply won't listen. But those of us with a reality-based 21st century understanding of the world can appreciate its valuable lessons and let go of the ancient, irrelevant ones. As for the New Testament, it's well-established that the first gospel was written at least 70 years after Jesus' death. None of the Gospel writers ever heard Jesus speak in person. The stories about him were passed down verbally for 7 decades before they were finally written down. So we can't rely too heavily on "what Jesus said" simply because it's in the Bible. But again, those who don't want to acknowledge this simply can't discuss it.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
  5. JaredW

    Unbelievable that (1) people use the bible as a moral compass and (2) CNN publishes this crap. Bible accuracy: men, try counting your ribs, the authors of the 1500 year old scribblings did not even get that right. Basing morality on this rubbish is regressive... don't apply bronze age thinking to modern civilizations..... people who do are true cancers (e.g. westboro baptists).

    March 3, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
  6. Rich

    The only reason we are arguing about this is that the Bible is full of moral confusion. In any case, the argument presented in the article is unconvincing. He seems to want to use precedent to argue against the arguement against precedent.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
  7. neil kuhns

    nice interpretation of the fairy tale to condone the religion's intolerance and hatred, it would seem more important to stop employing pedophiles

    March 3, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
  8. L.J. Landis

    What the Bible says is ok, or not ok, is of no importance and should have no bearing on how we live our lives.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
  9. Shannon

    Wow...CNN, I'm disappointed that you gave this guy so much space on your page. Can I have the same space in which to tell the world how I feel about any given thing? And "Dr." Gagnon, enjoy your opinion as it disappearing among the masses as quickly as the glaciers are melting (though, perhaps you don't believe they are). The Bible is great literature...so is "God is Not Great" and "Their Eyes Were Watching God." One of the three is a true story, but the Bible isn't it.
    Your facts are reaching and ridiculous, and your pitiful attempts at backing up your claims with evidence is embarrassing.
    Maybe put the Bible down (and all your "scholarship" about it) for a little while and read something based in fact, or even read some other works of fiction.
    Go ahead and come out of the closet for a day and get comfy in your skin. Don't worry, lightning won't strike.


    March 3, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
    • Justin

      What a great retort! My thoughts exactly.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
  10. Jason B.

    So Mr. PhD, explain this to me. You tout very highly scripture from Genesis for much of your "evidence". But as I recall, there weren't exactly any scholars there recording events. So who knows what supposedly happened then. In fact, much of the Bible was written long after the people involved were long dead. Who's to say that any of it actually happened? Or was even interpreted correctly? Beyond that, someone had to edit the Bible and choose what stories got in and what didn't. And those writers and editors may have created the Bible according to their beliefs.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
  11. lou50

    guess that will have to be fixed just like the laws of the land. who would have thunk the Lord would have designed people and over looked stool pushers.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
  12. Jdonaldson

    And in more breaking news, hate-filled religious kooks spread more hate.

    (Jesus was totally gay, btw)

    March 3, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
    • Shilohgl

      Sounds like you are the one spreading the hate...kooks? Jesus was gay? Good job getting *your* point across, turbo.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
  13. Vernon

    Mao Zedong said one thing that I agree with..."Religion is poison."

    March 3, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
    • Shilohgl

      Man that shows what you know and believe...you agree with a man that in less than 30 years killed 40-70 MILLION people? Not someone I would align myself with. Way to go turbo.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
  14. Shilohgl

    Who cares if you have read the bible 6x, the point still remains...gay is not the way. It is wrong in the eyesight of God, plain and simple.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
    • Calvin

      and is devastating to health. Gay people live too short of lives.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
  15. DP

    Why is an op-ed on the front page of CNN? Slow news day??

    March 3, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
  16. becca

    would jesus really want us to not be with person we love?

    March 3, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
    • Calvin

      Becca – is all about what you want. Jesus said things like take up and bear your cross. No, Jesus never gave in to our whims and rebellion.

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

      The person you love shouldnt have the same equipment you have. If you think that is love then you are sadly mistaken. Thats not love, it might be lust or confusing but its not love. Sure lots of people believe they know love when they see or feel it, but if that was true, there wouldnt be any atheists, John 3:16 speaks of the ULTIMATE love..."For God so LOVED the world that He gave His only son, that whoever shall believe in Him, shall not perish but have enternal life." THATS LOVE.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
  17. ryan

    The bible has zero moral authority or credibility. Its a huge pile of garbage, with little if any literary value. It is an embarrassment to mankind, a complete waste of time.

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

      @Ryan it seems like YOU are the embarrassment to mankind and a waste of DNA and time. More than 33% of the world population is Christian. That is alot of bible readers so I dont see how so many people wasting all that time, like you said, anything gets done...

      March 3, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
    • Chris

      I wouldn't say it's a complete waste of time. It is an invaluable tool (one of a few) for exploring why there is so much hate in the world, and where that hate is coming from. It is the perfect tool for the hateful, as it gives them their ultimate weapon. Imagine the sheer perfection of it...a book that says that your way is unquestioningly the right way....a book that justifies (and concurrently is the very source of) all your prejudice and intolerance. A book that has variously, throughout our modern history, been responsible for the oppression of every single minority (or perceived inferiority in the case of women.) Though it is true that the bible contains many universal truths, these truths have been concluded by all the goodly religions (Buddhism, Wicca, Taoism all believe in loving others as you would yourself, just as one example.) Unfortunately, the idea that not a single word in the bible must ever be questioned or changed to evolve with our civilization dooms it to irrelevance. Buddhism (and any religion that doesn't have such an "eternal" book) are constantly evolving so as not to be contradictory to undeniable truths that have been discovered (evolution, the formation of the Solar System, quantum physics, etc.) Christianity has found itself at odds with the new understanding and evolution of our species, and rather than changing itself to fit the universe, it demands that the universe (at least our perception of it) change to suit what people 2 millenia ago believed (people who actually thought that diseases were demons, and that the world was actually 4,000 years old at the time.) Thank God for Christians who understand these things, and evolve...and I do feel genuinely sorry for anyone who would allow the hateful, ignorant talking monkeys of Pre-Dark Ages Europe continue to do all their thinking for them.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
  18. Jim

    The main thing that has always bothered me about the bible thumpers is as follows. It was verbalized down from generation to generation until put into a writing of foreign language(s). It was not written by God or Jesus themselves. If I tell someone something and it is passed down through statement.a thousand people when it gets back to me there will be a variation at the very least if not a totally whole different unrecognizable Therefore there is some history in it but a lot of personal views of what they thought they heard and were told.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
  19. blake

    High control moderator on this article. They have deleted two of most posts. The first politely stated my opinion (which apparently differed from theirs). The second drew attention to the deletion of my first post. I wonder of this one will survive long?

    CNN you need to stop doing this.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
  20. Josh

    Who cares? How can people be so dumb and go out their way to post such an ignorant comment. There is a lot of people WHO CARE. If you don't care just don't read it and take your 'hater' comment to a redneck meeting. It is the people who care that help the country progress. The ones who don't, just slow it down. I'm not saying that should should belive in what this article says, you can agree, disagree or simply don't care. But speak for yourself.

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

      Do keep in mind, the bible also condemns planting certain crops too close together and even crop rotation, wearing clothes of mixed threads, mixing meat and dairy in the same meal, eating certain foods like pork and shellfish, worshiping a different god or gods, etc. Also the bible is confused on whether the earth is flat, or if it's part of a geocentric cosmological model (both are wrong), and that bats are birds, rabbits chew their cuds (when in fact they eat their own poo), and that insects walk on four legs.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:18 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.