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. Robert

    One quick though to address the comments about why the Bible even matters in this discussion. The Bible only matters if you believe it has any moral authority. Therefore, I suspect this article, and the Knust article, are both written more specifically to those who believe in it and have questions, rather than to try and convince someone who doesn't believe it in the first place. Being angry at people who believe and wish to live by a religious text that you disagree with is similar to arguing the rules of a sport you don't play. If you don't play it, then why does it matter to you what it's rules are.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • Matt

      Very good analogy!

      March 3, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • sealchan

      Yes, there are many believers and non-believers forum shopping...

      What frustrates me is that I wrote a long and considered reply and tried to bypass the censoring with the use of hyphens but have given up after three tries. The word ho-mose-xual was covered, but still...

      March 3, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • NL

      "Being angry at people who believe and wish to live by a religious text that you disagree with is similar to arguing the rules of a sport you don't play. If you don't play it, then why does it matter to you what it's rules are."
      Problem is that some of the 'players' don't respect the boundaries of the playing field, and hit their balls through other people's windows without any care whatsoever of the damage they cause. All we want if for them to keep their balls out of our yard. Is that so much to ask?

      March 3, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  2. Romans 1:26-27

    For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men leaving the natureal use of the women burned in their own lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

    Even so some , Lord Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen

    March 3, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • Rich

      Amen! I pray that America will experience revival and that the people would turn to God and away from there wicked ways!

      March 3, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  3. fortworthsteeler

    AMEN-nough said

    March 3, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
  4. ScottyJ

    Are you kidding me?? You can get a PhD in a relgion?!?

    March 3, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
  5. Brett

    and the bible was interpreted by men. well my interpretation is that I really don't care about what the bible says, only my spiritual connection to the higher powers. In my world i have less people telling me how to live or how. I look to god myself on those questions and so far, he/she hasn't said anything bad about being gay.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • sandman

      too bad your god is not the one and only God that will judge you some day. 🙁

      March 3, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  6. sandman

    Mr. Gagnon simply is stating that Knust's arguments for the bible sending mixed messages is fallacious. He is not stating that we should believe the Bible. It is sad to see so many people on here are full of hate, and can't have a discussion on issues. I can't understand why liberals are so full of hate. It must suck to be one of you.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
  7. mouse

    Who cares what a fairy tale book written hundreds of years ago to a specialized people, each NT book written to specific churches, to help teach them says. We've evolved, in more ways than one, from what the bible tells us becuase it is NOT all knowing. Why does it approve of slavery but we now understand its wrong? To name one.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
  8. CW

    To all,

    Love it....All the hatred to the word of God....its plain as day. All the shelfish and sla-'very..comments...read the book of Hebrews...before you try to disclaim it.

    The word of God is Truth...Love the article....Thank you

    March 3, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • Ron

      it's all there about the shellfish, mixed fibers, etc. It's a part of your bible. So do you accept it or do you ignore this fact?
      I'm Wiccan so the bible is not authoritative to me at all. What I object to is people taking their bible and expecting that everyone else should abide by their interpreted rules. What the bible says or does not say has no refection on my personal beliefs. The fact that one chooses to believe in it is not proof that it is divine or written by your god. You choose to believe this, which does not make it a fact.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
  9. michael

    The bible was never intended to be taken literally.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
  10. toxictown

    Religious arguments are up there in relevancy with who had the best military, Klingons or Romulans.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  11. Eric

    And of course the direct scriptures saying a man who lays with another male is to be sentenced to death....or those who use there bodies for unnatural use, etc. Obviously you'd be gay and be a christian, it's black and white folks.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
  12. Faith - luck or Lord?

    Ask yourself this, what made the earth? Where did the materials initially come from? Where oh where?

    Explosion – ok where did they materials come from to do that? ?? you will come to a realization that no one can explain with any facts – just faith. In the end that's all you have, what do you place your faith in?

    March 3, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • ezra

      Not sure where the material came from, but it was all manufactured in China.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • dschavone

      Why can't you just say "I don't know"? Why, in the absence of a verifiable explanation, do you need to make something up or believe in something wholly unverifiable?

      March 3, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • Adam

      There is an insane amount of science and history behind the evolutionary process, even the big bang. But, even putting that aside, you are the fool who explains away a complicated natural process by claiming an even more complex invisible sky man simply existed (somehow) to create everything. If you can't imagine that simple matter came "from nowhere" (again, that is more your ignorance speaking than the truth) then how do you suggest your g-d came from nowhere? What g-d created g-d?

      March 3, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • --

      Faith is not anything to be proud of. Anyone who says they have it are simply admitting their ignorance and gullibility. You can, for hecks sake, count tree rings back further than 'biblical literalists' think the WHOLE UNIVERSE existed.

      PS: Why do you think we no longer need faith that the sun and moon will come across the sky in the following day? It is because science has modeled the reality of it and gave a reasonable expectation that it will continue.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
  13. lysander

    The bible also says slavery is perfectly acceptable as well. So, I suppose the author is in full support of that then as well?

    March 3, 2011 at 2:55 pm |

    The only people that don't like what the bible says are non believers. Know one made up the Word of God, he says it is wrong so it is. Hate the sin not the sinner. I am not going to question the one who is in charge of my next heart beat!

    March 3, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • Stinky

      "Know one wrote...."
      Gosh. You can't even type correct english. Learn how to type and maybe I'll pay attention to your blinded faith rantings....

      March 3, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • NL

      In other words "The only people that don't like what the bible says are the people that don't like what the bible says." because if you didn't like what it says yourself then you wouldn't be a believer either, right?

      March 3, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • Tom

      Plenty of religious didn't / don't like slavery and women's subjugation yet still believed / believe in the bible. Same with cases of gay persecution. If one actually liked the good book, I'd counter-argue that they would not want it abused for political power in the way you want.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  15. Sarah

    should it also be illegal to eat shellfish and pork? because that's banned in the bible too.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:55 pm |

      Dah, if you know it's wrong, than don't do it. No one is your judge on earth, only God the Father can judge you.

      March 3, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • sandman

      Jews are not to eat pork and shellfish, and it was written in the old testament when Jews had a pact with God based on the 10 commandments etc. Christians are not bound by that pact because they are now under grace not a pact. By the way if you are not a Jew, eat all the pork and shellfish you want it doesn't apply to you. and they have a choice they don't have to follow it, but they have consequences for disobeying God's laws. 🙂

      March 3, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • ezra

      Wow, sandman. I didn't know that Christians had collective bargaining rights!

      March 3, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  16. Joe

    You are forgetting winners like

    Leviticus 19:27 reads "You shall not round off the side-growth of your heads"

    Leviticus 11:8 "You shall not eat of their flesh nor touch their carcasses" (when talking about pigs)

    Leviticus 19:28 reads, "You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves"

    Leviticus 19:19 reads, "... nor wear a garment upon you of two kinds of material mixed together."

    So really, what is it? You stop wearing polyester, eating bacon and getting tattoos? Because I mean really taking one line from Leviticus so seriously and ignoring the other parts seems a bit .. wrong

    March 3, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • CW

      @ Joe,

      The issue is with Ho-'mo-s-'e-'xuality. ITS WRONG PER THE BIBLE. You can point to Leviticus....all you want...Please read the book of hebrews before you come ba-'shing. Also Please read Romans chapter 1 and 1 Corithians 6:9 then ask yourself....how is the Bible not plain as day on this?

      March 3, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • ezra

      Very good reasoning , Joe, but unfortuantely to qoute theTV Doctor House:

      " Rational arguments usually do not work on Religious prople, otherwise there would be no religious people"

      March 3, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • CMR

      Joe – those are part of the law given to the OT people of Israel for a specific purpose: so they would stand out as a witness to the Gentile nations . Christians are not under the Mosaic Law but instead are under a New Covenant through the blood of Christ. People often use verses like these from Leviticus to try to discredit the Bible and Christianity, but often times they are ignorant (no offense) about the Bible and how to understand it through objective study (i.e. hermeneutics). It makes a lot more sense when you understand proper hermeneutical principles.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • NL

      Aren't the 10 Commandments also part of that Law? Yet, I don't see many Christians letting that little bit of the Mosaic Law slip from their fingers either, even with Jesus himself giving an alternative in the Golden Rule. It all seems rather ...selective, don't you think?

      March 3, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • Tom

      The best you could quote in the NT is Paul, and even then it seems to be more about fighting the pegan temple / roman stuff than anything else. And, of course, that is coming from a guy (Paul) who thought is a perverse distraction to reproduce / parent.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  17. NaitATX

    Nicely played! I mean, a little biblical literalism never killed anybody. Am I right?

    Wait, what? Oh...

    March 3, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  18. Matt

    "The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Robert A. J. Gagnon." No, no they are not. They are the opinions shared by anyone who believes the Bible to be the Word of God. Yes, we exist. To the person(s) who now want(s) to respond, "Yeah well you're all morons then!" I'll pray for you and I love you... just not that way. 😉

    March 3, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • Adam

      It's not gay's fault that you want to abuse scripture to harm them. It wasn't women's or the slave's faults either.

      March 3, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
  19. gettys

    Just another bigoted religious crazy. It's entertaining to see someone attempt to use the Bible to justify anything, one way or the other. In this day and age, why should we really give a f- what that BS-laden book of trash says?

    March 3, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • DCBuckeye

      I get it . . . You're an atheist. But, what you & the rest of your hating atheist compadres fail to realize is that you commenting on religion is about as relevant as someone from PETA critiquing sausage recipes.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • Tom

      Atheists have the same authority to comment on xians as they do on those who believe in greek mythology, flat earth theories, or santa.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  20. GEORGE

    Enough already, the bible is writen by man and what his feelings are at the time and period. God is with in us all and not in brick and stone or on the pages he had nothing to do with.

    Pass the collection plate please....

    God doesn't won't your money! He wants you to do with it for you and help others as you can with it and just treat one another as equal no matter what.

    We can stand in an open feild keep are money in are pockets and still worship you.

    So gay is wrong now go stone people for there wrongs and all the other bs we don't do that it says we should.

    God bless and just live with peace and love. Life doesn't have to be hard, we are trained to say that it is hard and thus expect it to be that way. Life can be easy if we only treat others as we should and stop all this!!!

    March 3, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • Valerie

      When I read posts like this I conjure up the image of demons in my head.............."sure, you can take and eat that fruit, it will give you KNOWLEDGE"................LMFAO!

      March 3, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • JJ

      Well then – you can be a disciple of Rob Bell. I'll follow Christ and actually be accountable to God for my sin and receive his grace and forgiveness. Not being accountable and being ignorant to God's word doesn't make it go away.

      March 3, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • Serge

      That was very nice George.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
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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.