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. Noah

    Maybe this jerk should reconsider saying things which might get people hurt.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  2. RealistCDA

    Well Thank You! for that clarification.
    I just remembered that my wife was not a virgin when we married 2 years ago.
    I checked the bible, and happily report that I should now go take her back to her parents who shall have her stoned to death.
    The bible says I must, so it must be right and righteous!!! (Deuteronomy 22:13-21)
    (PS now I can go find myself a nice new virgin 🙂 Yay! – anyone know of any?)

    March 3, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  3. Andrea62075

    I was raised to believe in god, to love him, respect him, but not to fear him! He gave us free will so we can make our own choices. So worry about yourselfs and not everyone else......

    March 3, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  4. SBY

    What is this nonsense of quoting the Bible in the original modern English version? Perhaps they should go back to the original Latin version, or the original Greek version? How about going back to the language it was originally written in – Hebrew. Then, argue.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  5. theist7

    Ro 1:20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. – Theist7 – You Tube

    March 3, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  6. sockeyerama

    Over 2400 posts at this point: Christians imploring nonbelievers that if they would only read the Bible "correctly" they would find faith; and Christians arguing with other Christians as to the "correct" interpretation of the Bible.

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

      Heck no..faith comes before opening the Bible. The Bible serves only as a tool to expound on that faith.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
  7. kablooie

    Heb 9:27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:

    March 3, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
  8. Ben M

    How is this news exactly?

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

      You do realize what "opinion" means right?

      March 3, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
  9. Brad

    Fortunately, it doesn't matter what the Bible said.

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

      At the moment it doesn't matter to you. One day you may think differently.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
  10. Concerned

    How dare you CNN, your no better than westboro baptist church

    March 3, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
  11. theist7

    But God demonstrates His love toward us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us!! Romans 5:8 Theist7 – You Tube

    March 3, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
  12. c hustle

    im fairly sure that the wo is a typo and everyone has been doing it wrong for a while now

    March 3, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
  13. Usarnaem

    truth talker: There's no geological evidence of a great flood, it is absolutely impossible the Earths rotation to completely stop and then start up again on command, dinosaurs aren't mentioned in the bible, and evolution directly contradicts the Creation story.

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

      Sir... truth is... ur comment is fake and gay.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
    • theist7

      Dinosaur like creatures are mentioned in the book of Job and found in historical drawings in caves, etc...molecules to man evolution requires the adding of genetic information which has not been demonstrated to occur (handful of controversial cases), God can stop the earth as the Ruler and Creator of all nature, the thick layers spread out over thousands upon thousands of square miles is proof of a global flood as well as rapidly buried fossils. And, yes, we all know that we are more than matter...to believe you are just a robot is to suppress the truth. Where will your spirit go? Theist7 – You Tube

      March 3, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
    • crucified

      Reread Job Dinosaurs are in there. Leviathan, Boheman..those were dinosaurs. and there is geographical evidence of a great flood.. If you choose to look for it. By the way there is no water on the moon but the whole moon shows eveidence of mass amounts of water.. because we have water cycle, climate and processes that shift does not mean the evidence is not there.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
    • Paco


      March 3, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
    • Nate

      Very illogical comment, of course it is impossible for the earth to stop and start rotating upon command, unless the Creator of the earth commands it! It is one thing to deny God's existence and another to argue his limitations if He does exists. You are starting in the wrong place logically. Furthermore the geological evidence for catastrophic occurrences (like the flood) are widely disputed. Dinosaurs are mentioned Scripture, checkout the Leviathan and the Behemoth (neither taken literally, fit the profile of existing animals). But that is only to cite another logical fallacy you've made, Why would Scriptures refer to "dinosaurs" when the word itself was coined centuries later?!?!?!? and why would there be a distinction between dinos. and regular animals? You may very well chose to disbelieve in God, but it is insulting to try and sound convincing making such logical flaws.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
  14. Andrea M

    First of all, why anybody would think a god of any form would condemn love of any form is beyond me. Second, why anybody would debate over a book of fables is even more beyond me. Third, if God doesn't love gays, then I have a real hard time loving him cause I am extremely protective of my gays.

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

      God loves all his creation! But hates Sin...Because Sin seperates him from his Creation..He is a Holy God and will not be defiles by Sin.. Gays do not love God at all..because they choose to Love their sin more than God (Rebellion) If they Loved God they would choose not to Sin. Obediance and sacrifice are the first signs of true love to a Father.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
    • mS

      you rock andrea

      March 3, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
    • Kendall

      @Andrea- First, God does not condemn "love"...God condemns that which is unnatural. Second, you care technically debating over a book you consider "fables. Are you beyond you? Third, God detests sin...not his creation.

      One problem ppl has is this idea that your opinion counteracts God's law. You are not a contemporary of God..you are not his equal at any level. God is the creator and we are just part of that creation. We are not our own.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
  15. John

    I was born into Catholicism but after I began to study religions (which is humanities idea of God's mind) I found Buddhism to be a wonderful philosophy of man's place in our environment. It made sense when you see our universe evolving across time with the cycle of birth and rebirth. I find that eternity is a concept that doesn't serve a purpose, but reincarnation allows the "self" to reach towards true enlightenment. Biblical texts of the three faiths related through the Middle East are written by humans, not a supernatural deity, just because it appears in a book doesn't make it so. How many times has the Church been wrong, and they've killed for it time and again. It simply doesn't make sense because no one questions it. Foolish.

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

      May you be englighted someday, Rick, and not critisize others beliefs

      March 3, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
    • bblack

      hello john

      I agree with your view of religion, but christianity is not a religion. Having also been raised in the Catholic "religion" i also once
      believed that i was a christian, although, I questioned too much for the churches liking. I can never blindly follow orders. But now having been born again by the Spirit i know for sure without question that Christianity by religion is evil but Christianity by the Spirit is a blessing.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
  16. Halycyon

    Here we go again.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
  17. David

    I guess you never studied the bible in the first place, IN Gen.. it was God, not Jesus.. second, and you KNOW that you will die.. now it is freewill, which one will you decide for Heaven or Hell? it is your choice by this author, CNN, or the media.. but you know we are in the last days,, look at the bible says, and world is doing .. it all in the scriptures ..

    March 3, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
  18. Andrea62075

    I have an idea how about everyone act like the adult they are and respect everyone for who they are and what they believe and move on... I have faith in god if you don't thats fine I'm not asking you too So don't tell me I'm wrong for having faith. NO ONE really knows what comes after death, but I have my Faith and I respect your choice to believe or not too.

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

      Yea...try that in Pakistan..let me know what happens

      March 3, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
  19. sinnersavedbygrace

    All you so called readers of the Bible, re-read 1 Corinthians 1:21-25 and re-read Romans 10:3-10 and Re-Read Romans 8:5-8 and re-read Romans 12:1-2.

    Luke 23:34 is my prayer for all of you.

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

    If the author is right, and one is gay, simply ignore the Christian faith. It's not like you have to be Christian to be a good person. Quite the opposite judging by the "Christian" right – see Westboro.

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

      Yep. And we can't use the Bible to determine law. It's a book of fiction.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
    • Hay Jay


      If you're going to judge all Christians by the Westboro baptist church, are you also judging all Muslims by their extremists?

      March 3, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
    • Kendall

      Of course being "good" does not equate to being one of God's ppl.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
    • Jpage

      I am a Christian and westborrow is the work of The Devil. NOT God. Read the bible for yourself and decide. Besides, we all die alone. Don't take others word for anything. Find it out for yourself.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:02 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.