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. phanoflife

    @cnn – I love that you add stories like this for discussion. please don't make it the main post on the front page when we may be on the verge of involvement in yet another overseas war. should the US forces growing closer to Libya not be THE top story until we have answers? even an opinion piece on that seems more relevant. this might be a front page story to run if we weren't possibly facing a third currently occurring war.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
  2. R

    Ahh... arguing about the bible. Kind of like arguing what unicorn poop smells like after the first double rainbow of spring.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
  3. Ryan

    Oh boy, the author stirred up a hornets nest with this article....

    March 3, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
  4. Jameister

    The Bible condemns lying, adultery, and skipping church on Sunday. I don't see the same level of persecution of liars, adulterers, and church no-shows as there is for gays, though. It's a hate issue, pure and simple.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
  5. Jdonaldson

    oooohhhh...an Iron Age fairy tale book says something! Better put it on CNN, stat!

    March 3, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
  6. MS

    For centuries people have used the bible to justify whatever they want. I just wish our society relied less on a book filled with violence, hatred, contradictions, and general stupidity

    March 3, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
  7. Tyler

    Does the Right read even bother to read the text (Bible) at all? Because, if so, they, too, would be ignoring "mountains of evidence" that the human manifestation of their God chose to act mercifully, without violence, in staunch defense of the poor and "morally disfavored."

    March 3, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
  8. DonovanM

    The bible is fiction... There is no such thing as a moderate or extreme Christian. They’re all in the same boat because they can all be justified by the same book.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
  9. Redragon96

    superman hates grandmas

    March 3, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
  10. Warhammer

    Finally, another individual that agrees to what is right. I find it interesting that gay marriage is all over the news and so many gay couples are fighting for the right to marry. Let the gays fight to get what they think is right. However, none of those marriages will ever be seen as legal in the church. Marriage is between a man and a woman and is a sacrament. The sacrament of marriage can't be between a man/man or woman/woman. It's not legal in the church and therefore is not legal in the teachings in the bible. So fight all you want to see your marriage as legal in the public...it won't EVER be legal where it counts the most! TAKE THAT!!! LOL...

    March 3, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
  11. Noah

    Who cares what some stupid book of fiction states? Oh yeah, total morons.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
    • Mark

      A. The Bible has been shown to be one of the most accurate historical books through such measures as not having contradictions in itself, consistencies with other books of history and records, multiple matching copies, etc. It is not in fact a book of fiction.
      B. As the book of life, you should care very much. It has the truth of how to be saved from hell which we all deserve, as well as wisdom, guidance, peace, and praise to the God of all creation.

      John 20:31 (New King James Version)
      31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  12. ronn

    I didn't see any real facts presented just opinion. Of course in the world of reality nothing in the Bible can be positively verified by fact.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
  13. TG

    I've read the bible and felt the shock from some of the raw situations. But when I imagine what it was like to live in the world a few thousand years ago, I realize it was a totally different environment than anywhere now on earth. The still, small voice still speaks when you listen with humility – It's easy to down it out with our own judgmental thoughts.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
  14. Patrick in Chicago

    It's fine to believe in a higher power or something beyond the world we understand, but realize that the Bible was written by men a long time ago, with no understanding of the way our world would be today. There are numerous texts claiming to be divinely inspired, with no way to prove or disprove their assertion. What we can know is that all people need to learn consideration and compassion for their fellow man/woman/environment. Jesus was probably a real guy, and I doubt he would've hated a gay follower. Educate yourselves...

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

      Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Hebrews 13:8

      "Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow." James 1:17

      For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. Malachi 3:6

      "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." Jeremiah 1:5

      For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10

      No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him 1 Corinthians 2:9

      March 3, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
    • ruemorgue

      Well said, P in Chi-town!

      March 3, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
  15. A Winner

    Wow, the author pretty much put her in check and factually discredited her "book". Good stuff.

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

      I agree

      March 3, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
  16. JMiller

    Religion is not scientific and can't ever be proven or disproved. Since it cannot be scientifically proven it is subjected to opinion and interpetation. As a gay man raised catholic, I have my own beliefs on religion, God and everything else. Since they are my personal beliefs I will keep them to myself, as you all should. Stick to thew facts that can be proven until otherwise.

    Perhaps the ongoing studies on the Higgs boson, the so-called God particle will bring us closer to an understanding,

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

      I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. Luke 18:17

      March 3, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
  17. JustPlainJoe

    CNN marketing 101. Any inflammatory headline will do.
    If it is complete nonsense, all the better.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
  18. nexus

    In Genis 5 God created Male and Female and named them adam in the days God created man....
    We must understand that Man is male and female......The Woman is the the second Man on the
    Planet which Male and Female our called the Woman.

    Remember this the original Man is Male and Female= Man
    Remember this Opposite of the Original man is the Wo-Man which is Male and Female=Woman

    Woman doesn't necessary mean a Female

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

      You're an idiot. Stop trying to subvert the language to suit your own view.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
    • ruemorgue

      It's *Genesis*, not *Genis*, or did you have a Freudian sliip and you wanted to say penis?

      March 3, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
  19. ruemorgue

    These two articles are a joke. Let's have an intelligent discussion on how UFOs navigated using the Nazca Lines in South America! Oh, even better! Let's have a scientific discussion of how use the Hubble Telescope to create more accurate horoscopes! Bozos. They're discussing how to interprete a compedium of myths and legends from Mesopotamia so they can preach acceptance or hatred to the rest of us!

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

      Honestly, christians have the truth and I pray you will get it because the Bible is NOT a myth

      March 3, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
    • PeterVN

      @Mary, nice try at a declaration, but your proof that the bible (buy-bull) isn't myth is what, exactly? It doesn't even tell a consistent story, so you are going to have to come up with a pretty twisted proof.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
    • ruemorgue

      I said *compendium of myths*, not *myth*. Here's another thought for you. Have you ever heard that *appeal to authority* is a fallacious argument?

      March 3, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
  20. Starman

    Yes, the bible is very strait forward.

    Exodus 21:20-21 If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property.

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

      Sounds like the Monty Python's Holy Grail. Thou shall beateth thy slave twice, but not thrice, or once since thy slave may dyeth if thy beateth thy slave thrice. Excuse my bad Old English grammar.

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

      Hahaha wow...that is a classic quote, the bible is such a great book...it helps me sleep at night knowing the most powerful leaders in the world draw much of their logic from an ancient story book written as a way to control the masses

      March 3, 2011 at 8:22 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.