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. Kelly

    Thank you sir for doing what few are willing to do. Thank you for truth as painful as it may be for others to hear. You cannot take God's word and take from it or add to it. Simply said you do it at your own peril and those whom you have the risk of wrongly teaching it. Well said and thank you!

    March 3, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
  2. LookAndSEE

    It's clear to see that most comments are from people who little or nothing the Bible. If your going to criticize something, at least get to know what your criticizing. Learn about ancient Middle East history. The only other reference you can use is Archaeology, which backs up the Bible. You can say all u want, but u can not undo His-tory. The prophecies of Dan. & Rev are are beeing fulfilled and will climax at the return of Jesus. Remember, Jesus said it would be like Sodom & Gomorrah.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
    • Todd

      GOD HATES SHRIMP! and I didn't know that the bible mentioned carbon dating.

      Please tell me that passage.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
    • kkramer

      Hey sport, give me one finding in "Archaeology" that "backs up the Bible." Just one. Come on, just one.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
  3. Jdonaldson

    USA: Pakistan, but with crappier food.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
  4. Bootsie

    Is there so little going on in the world that an op-ed piece like this warrants major real estate on CNN.com? (Didn't read the article, I don't really care about this other than it's taking up space that should be reserved for, y'know, news).

    March 3, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
    • Todd

      Iran and Egypt has been solved, the republicans have decided on a presidential candidate, and Congress has agreed to an annual budget, and the Wisconsin government is resolved.

      So nope, no other news whatsoever.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
  5. bblack

    For all who is mocking, that is your right and choice, but just not believing does not make it untrue.
    Reading the bible cover to cover doesn't or wouldn't make one a believer. The understanding is by the Spirit.
    The Spirit is the Gift given to any person chosen , not because of merit or work, or "holiness" but for the simple fact that
    The Creator is Sovereign, and as such, can do as He pleases.
    It is more beneficial to seek understanding than to seek knowledge.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
    • PeterVN

      bblack, better cut down on your "spirit" consumption. It's not helping you get to an understanding.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
    • Todd

      Just dont eat shrimp, and kill your kids if they talk back to you. That is in the bible, too.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
  6. jimmy

    This is a troll article, but I'll bite.

    The laws of this country are not (thanksfully) based on the bible so it doesn't matter what it says. This is America, not Iran.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
  7. J

    I agree, but what else does the bible say is sin?

    March 3, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
  8. Moncho

    As if any of these "arguments" are going to persuade someone who believes the opposite. It's all just keyboard masturbation.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
    • wingnut650

      Well said.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
  9. Mammon

    Hey dufess didn't you know the Bible was written by Satan himself to confuse you all and let you fight it out amongst yourselves however you choose. He knows all you followers of that book will end up down where he lives when you all show up to the Pearly gates and Gawd himself rules judgement upon you. That is one book that will never be seen in my home, EVER!

    March 3, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
  10. Dr. Mama

    My imaginary friend can beat up your imaginary friend.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
    • Todd

      My god is the Flying Spaghetti Monster. All hail his great noodleness.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
  11. GMG

    Is this what passes for a credible argument in this day and age!? I thought we had improved our methods of thinking a little bit since the middle ages.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
  12. bryce

    ...or I'd like to quote from one of my favorite "sinner" movies, Pricilla Queen of the Desert..."Mary, get off the cross, someone needs the wood" lol

    March 3, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
  13. ldsmom02

    The bible is correct insofar as it is translated correctly. God's ways are not man's ways and it is useless to argue about whether or not there is a God. If you don't believe in Him, no amount of arguing will change your mind. Those who do believe in Him, are perfectly happy to do so. And that's OK. You can argue all day about what God would or wouldn't do, but in the end, you don't know. And, it is ridiculous to think that man can determine what is or is not OK with God. Without faith there is nothing. So, you have nothing. And, I have something. I like it better my way.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
    • SFTor

      The bible is not "correct." It is opinion, two thousand year old opinion at that.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
  14. I love glen Beck

    Three words....saddam and gomorrah. look that up in the bible and it will tell you why they where destroyed.

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

      Too much shrimp?

      March 3, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
    • bryce

      no, bad beef

      March 3, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
    • Jeff

      Because they loved Glen Beck?

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

      yes, bad shrip + bad beff + the love for Glen Beck= demise

      March 3, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
    • Tom G.

      Would that be Saddam Hussein?

      March 3, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  15. Give me a Break

    The second this guy used "the Left" he lost all credibility.

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

      So true. Excellent point.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
  16. DonKwon

    The bible's word should not be used to segregate or discriminate against people. The only thing you should take away from it is to love others and forgive people for their faults. Interpreting the bible any other way makes it completely useless if all it is used for is to divide us. Plenty of atrocious things happen and are condoned in the bible that make absolutely no sense for our times anyhow. As long as someone's lifestyle does not cause anyone harm but themselves, then you should not care.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
  17. linda

    Ugh. Stop making this an issue...I can go on and on about how the Bible is wrongly interpreted from it's original meaning...including these scriptures. Jesus would be ashamed of this article.

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

      You could go on and on just like I could go on and on about how your on and on is the only basis you have. Seriously, that old hat is so boring, bring some real proof & something more original to the table. Isaiah 5:20 says "WOE TO THOSE WHO CALL GOOD EVIL AND EVIL GOOD". Be careful before you put words in to Jesus mouth he never said.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
  18. isu

    I think all religions and all wise people forbid it

    March 3, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
  19. Alex

    How Dare you CNN, even post stuff like this.
    stop putting this nonsense up, so people feel worse about themselves.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
    • Big Nate

      You do see that it is an opinion article right?

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

      If you don't like what he has to say that's fine but respect that this is a thoughtful, well researched & accurate presentation. You are the intolerant one for saying how dare CNN. This is America with freedom of speech so I guess it's ok for me to say How dare you? Your lack of argument is very junior high. FYI: Putting a bunch of CAPITAL letters does NOT make your case more compelling.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
  20. Chip

    I long for the day when the robots take over and put an end to all of this stupidity.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
    • Leslie

      Wow, good comeback. Please read a book.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
    • Chips Ahoy

      Why should we base our lives on a fairy tale book written eons ago? I just don't get it

      March 3, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
    • bryce

      Excellent! Oh, and I read books like Chip does, now waiting for you to criticize what books we read....lol

      March 3, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
    • Jdonaldson

      Of course, it will be the Chinese who build and program the robots...USA will have transformed itself into Taliban America and burned all technical manuals as works of The Satan Witch, or Harry Potter whoever it is they fear...who do the Chinese have an irrational hatred towards?

      March 3, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
    • Kandy Korn

      I've read the Bible. I enjoyed it. It is a great piece of literature that I recommend everyone to read. Alot of you are saying things like "the Bible is false", etc. but you have yet to give a valid reason on why you think it is false... You just blindly say that they are fairy tales. I am glad that I won't be in hell with you!

      March 3, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86
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.