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. Greg

    First, there is no "the" Bible. There's dozens of versions for as many splintered sects.
    Second, it's all B/S and lies anyway, so I could care less what a Christian Bible condemns or advocates.
    During the American Civil War, people who wanted to abolish slavery were quoting their Bibles to prop up their anti-slavery position, and guess what book the other side, the slave owners, were quoting from? Yep, same Bible.
    You can find something in that work of fiction to justify ANY position, action or inaction that you want to.
    Christianity has a long and continuing history of essentially telling the world what to believe, what to think, how to act and what to say and not say...failure to comply means burning in Hell. Sorry, doesn't work on everyone – myself included.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
  2. bp

    The Bible is used on a daily basis to justify bigotry and intolerance, that matters far more than if it is quoted accurately or not. Religion is nothing more than the systematic organization of hatreds towards the acculumation of power, using divine sanction as the excuse.

    "It is necessary for salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff." – Pope Boniface VII

    March 3, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
  3. Mdizzle

    read the bible when i was like 12 and was smart enough to see the condradictions...over all of the years since that time, not one Christian has been able to respond in a logical fashion to any of my questions...therefore, i remain an atheist because i am unable to convince myself that ridiculous made up things are true

    March 3, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
  4. Josh R

    The bible is also about 2000 years old and written at a time when human beings didn't have a complete understanding of who we really are. We're modern people who still stick to stone age beliefs. If everything about us has evolved shouldn't our logic and reasoning too? I believe in people's right to practice religion as long as they're not infringing on other people's personal beliefs in the same respective manner. Christianity just doesn't seem to hold it's weight anymore in this world.

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

    I love it when these morons pick and choose what they want to believe:
    "If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, 19 his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. 20 They shall say to the elders, "This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard." 21 Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death."

    March 3, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
  6. qofe

    The bible is not a reference manual on anything. It is complete mythology. Using the creation myth to support any rational point of view is probably the most outrageous thing I have ever read anywhere. That something like this is written and posited as some sort of news article is abhorrent. CNN has lost all credibility.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
  7. buddy andrews

    All you blasphemers, heretics and aethiests will be on CNN praying for forgiveness during the tribulation on earth in the near future. I feel sorry for all of you.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
    • Greg

      Your condescending pity is neither sought nor accepted.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
    • Bob the Builder

      I feel sorry for you. You must be living a hell of a life thinking that everyday.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
    • Sir Craig

      No, you don't. Just from your words it is clear you are anything BUT sympathetic. You are one of those self-righteous types who think he's going to sitting at some god's right hand, looking down on all those evil sinners burning in Hell. Your hypocrisy is overwhelming – isn't that one of those sins worthy of Hell? This is one reason (of many) why I am an atheist: Because of people like you.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
  8. Canuk_eh!

    I prefer John Grisham for my choice in fiction.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
    • Justen

      Amy T. – Hey, Hey, the comment oictesn works again. I love this image! The colors, the bride and groom, the attendants, the joy, it all just works. Great job!

      March 3, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
  9. Kent Atwood

    The bible also tells us to sacrifice small animals on horned alters and stone disobedient children to death.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
  10. Michael A Haase

    Why are we even discussing Christian mythology, or any other for that matter, on a secular news website at all?

    March 3, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
    • Bob the Builder

      You're right, why don't they talk about Zeus or Ra?

      March 3, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  11. anon

    thoughtful debate, but completely irrelevant to civil policy.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
  12. AlpineJohnny

    How strange it is to me that what appears to be an otherwise intelligent, educated man has wasted his entire career on evaluating the minutiae of a collection of fictional books, attempting to find moral commands within rather than through his own self-obvious humanity. I'd just as quickly find a winning lottery ticket in a garbage bin.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
  13. G

    Who gave this bigot an article?
    Slavery was also considered God's wish. Now we know it's disgusting. So is repressing people's love.

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

      Can you post your source?

      March 3, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
    • Greg

      Chris – his source is the same work of fiction we're all talking about – the "Bible".

      March 3, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
    • Wow

      Actually, the Bible does not support your claim. In fact, the entire book of Exodus talks about the deliverance of God's people from the hands of their Egyptian masters.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
  14. Hunter

    One of you asked how there is ever justice if there is no judgement day. I would say there's karma, and karma brings justice instantly and over time, over many lifetimes.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
    • Bob the Builder

      There is no heave nor a hell, so let's make justice ourselves

      March 3, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
  15. Epitope

    The author looks kind of gay.

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

      Epitome: OK–that's hilarious. Thank you for making me laugh!

      March 3, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
  16. Oliver

    "..When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours." -Stephen Roberts

    March 3, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
  17. Matt

    Why was this on the front page? This can neither be considered news or journalism. I tire at your attempts to gain hits through sensationalism and idiotic articles like this. In other words, after 5 years of visiting your site for news, I well, am done. Quite trying to be fox news and try to be the news instead.

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

      Ditto – well said. Sensationalistic garbage meant to evoke strong reactions.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • Allen

      Very much the way I felt when I saw this as the lead story. Really, CNN? I would love to log into a news site and at least once in a very great period of time see that a 'slow news day' led to a small page load.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
    • Nat Q

      I can, however, be considered pandering. And with FoxNews getting better ratings, CNN has really started highlighting their "Faith" section to reach that lowest common denominator demographic.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
  18. len stanley

    Thank You CNN for posting this. Too often media only presents one side whether left or right. Appreciate honest debate in an of 'tolerance'. Too often we will only dialogue and debate with those we agree with.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
    • Bob the Builder

      This is not a left vs right, is reality versus fantasy. Believe in the bible is like believing in Jedi knights (which are way cooler than Jesus).

      March 3, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • Jesus is BS

      Debates with faith? Is reasoning involved? Let's not fool ourselves! 🙂

      March 3, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
  19. Jeff

    I would like to thank Prof. Gagnon for confirming my belief that religion is stupid.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
    • Yep...


      March 3, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
    • Jesus is BS

      So are all theologists - they existed way before the Sun "Ra" god! 🙂

      March 3, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
    • M

      Jeff – You are brilliant, cheers!

      March 3, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • SFTor

      Religion is an atavistic impulse that can be resisted.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
    • Karl D

      I know. Sad to dedicate so much time to something so silly and non-existent.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
  20. Rich

    All I know is the Lord Jesus is coming back soon and all of you mockers have little time to repent, but there's still time. Don't hesitate. Accept Jesus as you savior quickly. Eternity is forever and hell is reserved for non believers.

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

      I'll send you a post card then.

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


      March 3, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
    • Jason

      Rich, when Jesus talked about the rapture, he said it was going to be soon. That was 2000 years ago. Jesus went on to say that his followers would still be alive when it happened. Um, all his followers are dead now. So, either the rapture isn't coming or he lied about the fact that his followers would still be alive...either way it's all low grade bologna.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
    • Bob the Builder

      Jesus will come to work tomorrow with Juan and Jose, but they never mentioned anything like that!

      March 3, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
    • StanleyRW

      Will someone just bury all the Christians already???

      Seriously. GO AWAY!!!

      March 3, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
    • Ellen Churner

      Your Lord Jesus can eat my balls. The day we start running this country by the word of the ancient Invisible Sky Wizard is the day I pee in Mother Mary's butt and tell your entire system to snort my nuts.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • Allen

      If your god gives me the ability to be thoughtful and then banishes me to hell because I find no evidence to convince me of his existence, he is certainly not a being I would wish to spend eternity with. In fact, hell seems like a fantastic place from which to build the epic uprising against your god.

      I'm kinda looking forward to it...

      March 3, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • JBHedgehog

      And how do you know this? Because the bible told you so...riggggghhhht.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
    • Justina

      Rich, amen. We mankind all deserve hell, but God provided us salvation through the divine Savior Jesus. It only takes faith in Him to be saved, and the faith makes us live out the God-intended new life wherever we are.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • Greg

      Rich – please do not reproduce.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
    • Wow

      The Bible explicitly states that a man shall not lie with a man as a man lies with a woman. I wish that people (not just the gay community) would stop twisting the Word to fit their agenda. I've never been one to shun others because of their lifestyle. God loves everyone: gay, straight, criminals, non-criminals, etc. We tend to use that as an excuse to do whatever we want to do. Many gay people don't want to accept that their lifestyle is detestable before God because it is how they want to live a peaceful and enjoyable life. To the world, that is an issue that they will have to address before God, not us. By the way, judgement is what has led mankind into some detestable situations, as well.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
    • Wow

      Wow, such bitter comments. I would like to know why most of you are so against the Christian religion. We have had a horrible history with many of our followers shoving Bibles and our beliefs down the throats of others. We've had a history of annihilating groups of people in the name of Jesus. I am a believer in and a follower of Christ and I find these actions disgusting. To the person who said that Jesus lied about the rapture because it hasn't happened soon, our time is not His. Even scientists will agree about the space-time continuum. We are not in the same dimension as God and cannot interpret his time. Quoted from a scientific journal: The terms three-dimensional, fourth-dimensional, and any other references to dimension in regards to "beings" means only that the being can directly perceive that many dimensions. A three-dimensional being cannot directly perceive the fourth dimension; the three-dimensional being can only infer its existence. The fourth dimensional being can directly perceive the fourth dimension. However, almost all objects exist in all dimensions.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:02 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.