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. crucified

    I fear some in this article have commited the unpardonable Sin in Matthew. therefore, they are blind to the Truth..and do not have a ticket..what a sad state to be in..

    March 3, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
  2. Nate

    Well, what is the alternative to this outlandish, radical, foreign text that speaks of crazy traditions and a God who is actually in control of his designed creation, furthermore teaching that He is worthy of Praise, that people refer to as the Bible?

    March 3, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
  3. Wallace Tailgater

    Wow when did Rupert Murdoch buy out CNN? Guess we wont get the chance to see a gay clergy counter on the top spot of the page......

    March 3, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
  4. ttfn

    Really CNN? This is your biggest story of the nite? With all that is going on in the world, THIS is what your editors put forth as the most important news piece of the evening? Well, I don't think that CNN will be getting any more of my clicks to add to its stats for advertising. Folks, don't put up with this. You think the press is liberal? This now tells you otherwise.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
  5. theist7

    How does an atheist account for free will??? He cannot. From this view, we are mere robots dancing to our DNA. In that view, we are simply rocks bouncing off of our environment. But as for me, I know that I can think for myself...as for me, by God's grace I can go against my genetic makeup – mind over matter...spirit over body. It is foolish to see oneself as merely material. God is...and Christ is risen. What love for us to feast on!! ...Theist7 – You Tube...

    March 3, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
  6. JD

    My Take: who cares?

    March 3, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
  7. Austin

    The bible also condemns women to be silent. Clearly it is an updated piece of literature.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
  8. Dan

    Who cares, all the bible is is a nice fairytale anyway.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
  9. Jake

    Really, CNN? This is front page center material?

    March 3, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
    • John Doe

      Yeah, really Front Page? Had CNN existed 60 years ago would it have read "Bible may not condone inter-racial marriages" or 160 years ago "Bible may not condemn Slavery." The opinion is weak anyway, he makes a lot of assumptions and doesn't show much reference "What Jesus meant was..." "What God said was..." how psychic he is, no? I thrive on controversy, but come on CNN give me someone who knows what they're talking about!

      March 3, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
  10. Emmitt Langley

    With regard to the several comments that state something to the effect that the Bible is the greatest recruiting tool for atheism my question is, is this why only a small minority of people in this world claim to be atheists? Yet the Bible continues to be the #1 best selling book of all time?

    The facts don't seem to support your boast...

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

      Truth is not determined by majority rule. God's existence is not determined by the number of believers.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
  11. Deborah

    "No man can come to me, except the Father which has sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:44)
    So God draws man: he shows him his wants – he shows the Savior whom he has provided for him: the man feels himself a lost sinner; and, through the desire which he finds to escape hell, and get to heaven, he comes unto Christ, that he may be justified by his blood. Unless God thus draw, no man will ever come to Christ; because none could, without this drawing, ever feel the need of a Savior.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
  12. Ttata

    They should have fired all the gay priests and the Pope conspirator

    March 3, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
  13. markiejoe

    So what? The Bible is a flawed book, written by male human beings in another age, that is full of stuff and nonsense. So who cares how someone interprets what it says?

    March 3, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
  14. Hardrock

    Pretty weak reasoning. Thin on references. Makes a lot of unfounded assumptions. Identifies himself as a conservative right away with prejudiced conclusions.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
  15. theist7

    How does an atheist account for free will??? He cannot. From this view, we are mere robots dancing to our DNA. In that view, we are simply rocks bouncing off of our environment. But as for me, I know that I can think for myself...as for me, by God's grace I can go against my genetic makeup – mind over matter...spirit over body. It is foolish to see oneself as merely material. God is...and Christ is risen. What love for us to feast on!! ...Theist7 – You Tube...

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

      So, God creates everything including humans and grants them free will. And then He tells these free-willing people that if they don't do precisely what He wants (i.e. believe in Jesus) then they're condemned to Hell and everlasting punishment. Yeah, sound like a real nice God. I'd gladly give up my free will if it meant not going to Hell.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • L.T.

      To be truly human is to QUESTION. If we do not QUESTION, we are only animals.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
    • Greg

      You puked forth: "How does an atheist account for free will??? He cannot."
      Wrong, as in dead flat incorrect. Simply because you and other theistic zealots are mentally STUCK and are unable or unwilling to understand or accept any answer that involves facts, reason, logic or employs the scientific method does not invalidate an explanation devoid of your deity. You blurted out this gem: "From this view, we are mere robots dancing to our DNA. In that view, we are simply rocks bouncing off of our environment."
      What a wonderful demonstration of how mental conditioning can present in an otherwise healthy adult. Thank you!

      "...mind over matter...spirit over body. It is foolish to see oneself as merely material."
      If you TRULY believe that, please entre the spirit realm now. Leave we poor pathetic condemned sinner in peace.
      You are so oblivious, it's nauseating. How many people of differing, CONFLICTING faiths from your Christian mythology can employ their faith as a source of mental strength? A LOT. And guess what, we atheists can do it too. How is that evidence of YOUR imaginary friend being real when you deny all the others that people have just as much faith in as you do in yours? The word is arrogance, by the way. Look in the mirror.

      "God is...and Christ is risen. What love for us to feast on!! "
      Sorry, no sale. No amount of proselytizing, NO level of high-volume shouting or how many times you say it makes it real.
      4+4 does not equal 7. If I say it does, does that make it real? if I say it a million times, does that make it any more possible than it was when I began? You religious zealots seem to think this way, I only wish something could snap you all out of your delusion.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
  16. jk_765@yahoo.com

    I don't care what the bible says about anything. Written by people who know very little. And have imaginary friends.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
  17. disygi

    the bible is a load of bs that attracts people who want to find a reason why life sucks. it just does, get over it and believe in real life instead of make believe nonsense written thousands of years ago

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

    The real questions is: why is this crap on a "news" page in the first place. CNN is going done so fast you can watch the bubbles.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
  19. Name*taray

    Try looking up eunuch and see their purpose. This is a real fact that there were males not interested in females in the bible.

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

      I'd just like to point out, respectfully, that, according to a variety of dictionaries, a eunuch is a man who is castrated. Not the same thing as not attracted to women or attracted to another man.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
  20. amoxy

    i dont understand why some people will not accept that the bible is just an arbitrary book to a large segment of the population....you can quote it all you want, but its just literature to a lot of people and using it as a tool for legislative decision making does not make sense

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

      I don't understand why some people can't accept that the bible is the written word of God.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
    • Greg

      Denise – have you impressed anyone who have passed the 5th grade with that comeback yet?

      March 3, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
    • ashley

      i may not completely agree in everything that the bible says but it doesnt mean that the bible is not true. i think that people want to believe what they want to believe. if they dont agree with something, they automatically think its not true.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
    • James

      There are those who believe that God spoke directly to them and their people, and that all other messages are false. To anyone who falls into that camp, this all makes sense to them. We, as a species, fall into this behavior all the time, whether it be religious or doctrinal in nature (political ideology is not indifferent from religious dogma). To be doctrinal, however, is to be closed-mined. That is not a judgement, but an observation. You either accept a world-view as it s presented to you by an authority figure, or you don't. Some people will get caught in the middle arbitrarily accepting some doctrine and rejecting other parts. This has little impact on those incapable of higher thought, but can have devastating psychalogical impacts on those who have the mental faculties to know that there is hypocracy at the root of their existance, the LEAST harmful of which is a near pathological desire to justify all behaviors with distorted logic. Look at Fred Phelps who lets his daughter teach, even though that prohibition comes from the same OT book that he uses as the source for most of his vitriole.
      We only survived as a species because we adapted to a changing world, an instinct that dogma would destroy.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:59 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.