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. Tom

    I only got 2 paragraphs in before realizing how flawed this guy's argument is. The Bible is written by men to protect their terrain (lording the power of the "spirit" over other men). Add to that the endless interpretations, and you can make it say just about anything you want, including that there is a higher being that created us in his image, but only some of us – the rest, of course, being heinous beings not worthy of life on the planet. Such absurdity is beneath the wit of man.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
  2. Doug

    Unfortunately, what the Bible is has been obscured. The Bible is what it claims to be, a history of God and his intersections with his people. It is made up of different books, of different time periods, of different literary genres, of different human authors, of different focuses.

    There are a lot of claims of individuals who say they have "read" the Bible. Some claims are made by Christians, some by non-Christians. It seems to be disingenuous to be judge, jury and executioner of the Bible for or against if one has not studied it for what it is. Every book of the Bible has its own historical, literary, rhetorical, linguistic, and theological underpinnings. Intellectual honesty and fairness demands further examination than these surface battles that are waged.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
  3. Jaime

    Mr. Robert A. J. Gagnon you are a pig in a cheap suit.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
  4. Tannim

    Well, this guy can spout Biblical nonsense all he wants, but for those of us who have moved beyond that mythical retelling of the Mitharas fable onto more spiritual endeavors, we'll simply reply thus:

    "It's about the love, not the plumbing, stupid!"

    March 3, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
  5. TCollins

    Good thing Thomas Jefferson said we're not a Christian nation, then.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
  6. GReid

    This article, like all the others who support this argument, treat the Bible as Absolute Truth, which of course it is not. Given that there are numerous texts that different groups of people regard in the same way, there is no real way to determine if anything is absolutely true. That fundamental and ingorant assumption is where this argument fails before it even gets off the ground.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
  7. pn

    Great....and how many angels can dance on a pinhead?

    March 3, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
  8. Ronnie Harper

    yeah, the bible also doesn't say that slavery is wrong. so if you think what's written in the bible is more prescient than modern rational explanations of values and morality, well sorry – you're missing out on the fineries of the good life. what is a phd in theology anyway but a massive time sink? this moron isn't any more intelligent than a rock as real knowledge isn't found in supernaturalism. and as nietzsche said, 'all the interesting people are missing from heaven,' i'd recommend some sam harris or daniel dennett over this putz' 2,000 year-old half-empty, rewritten, dusty, hate-filled mysognist manuscripts. the religuious perpetuate patriarchy, so they hold the hand that holds them down. no thanks, i'm on the side of rational behavior and the scientific method.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
    • G Gomez

      You sound so upset about the Bible. I don't know, but it sounds like you are more ready to argue and yell, then you are to sit down and listen. Hopefully, one day, you will find the Truth.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
    • Ronnie Harper

      Only fools claim to own truths. The rest of us use reason to discern possibilities instead.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
  9. Chris

    Superb article; well argued.

    Speak the truth without fear to those that know no shame.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
    • Gary Teal

      To me, the point is not well argued at all. How could you possibly be convinced of anything after reading this article? He is reading way to much into it.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
  10. godsman

    funny......texts from Koran appear here, but texts from Bible "awaiting Moderation"

    Anyone who thinks that there is nothing difinitive in the Bible regarding how we should be conducting ourselves se@ually, please read Leviticus 18 (It is a book in the Bible for those in Rio Lindo)

    March 3, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
  11. Kris Wood

    It's my opinion we should be eating hamsters. I read it in a book somewhere.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
  12. The Italian

    It makes me cry when i read these posts. How people could HATE God soo much? The Bible is not a fairy tale! Many people say the Bible is ALL laws! that is sooo not true! oh ladies cannot wear jewerly or braids that is hogwash! i have my ears pierced and i wear my hair in braids (for western activites). in my church we read the king james Bible and we dont condemn people! i drives me crazy hearing people slam the Bible. people say i have read four versions and it drove me from Christ. well then i bet you never loved God from the start and if you say one of them was the kjv, then i would say you were trying to find something wrong withit. people who are really searching for truth will find it in the Scriptures. Salvation is so simply, ask Jesus to come into your heart and forgive your sins. if you really mean He will do it.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
  13. wayne

    Stupid articles like this is what created the tea party....focus on budget issues and get off the stupid crap....and Chip...you are dead on....the rational robots and/or robotic advanced humans are going to crush 70% of us

    March 3, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
  14. G Gomez

    It's sad to see that so many of you "knowledeable" and "well-educated" people that are leaving comments about the Bible being a "fairy tale" write so many things with so much hatred. To all those that don't believe in the Word, your actions help me believe in it. I know people that are atheists that mock the existence of God, but when I look at their lives, they are sad, lonely and are rarely happy with themselves. This makes me cling closer to the God I know exists, a God of love. I wish one day some of you would stop and just look at the world around you....we, as a nation, are becoming so corrupt and we keep pushing on in our arrogance. We keep knocking on the devil's door, one day he is going to answer. Praying for all of us that this doesn't happen, but it starts with you.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
  15. Barkingkitty

    "Remember, God's original plan was to hang out in a garden with some naked vegetarians."

    March 3, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
  16. Dan

    My church openly welcomes all people, including LGBT persons, because people are created (aka evolved?) in the Image of God.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
  17. Jokie X Wilson

    Even if God dictated the Bible, I have little faith that the humans transcribed it correctly. There is plenty of reason to believe that the scribes also refused to put in print anything God said that they didn't like. 😛

    March 3, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
    • Gary Teal

      I like your point! 🙂

      March 3, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
  18. dewlove

    Yawn....I put more value into the recent editions of Weekly Reader and TV Guide than I do the bible. That is MY belief. Why do the "faithful" seem to think their belief of a all knowing, all seeing, all smelling god is perfectly reasonable, but the rest of us who refuse to think there are cherubs flying above the clouds with some dude in white robes are just plain crazy?

    March 3, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
  19. CAL

    All people know that there is a God but they suppress the truth...all of the mockers know, all of the indifferent know...but man has decided to be the center of his universe. And when he makes a God, he makes one to cater to him and his pride. Oh the love that condescended and came to die for wicked people and oh the wonder of those who spurn it. Amazing to me.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
  20. ...

    Thank goodness for Separation of Church and State! Oh, wait...

    March 3, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
    • Laura Wrzeski


      March 3, 2011 at 8:37 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.