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. Malaclypse the Younger

    The fact that anyone makes arguments based on the christian Bible, whether for or against anything, and expects them to be relevant in the modern world is just astounding. Imagine buying a brand new car, which comes with an owner's manual. Then imagine that over the course of over 2,000 years, not only is that owner's manual translated, condensed, rewritten, edited, translated again, edited again, had material added and removed, and then was translated again... etc. etc. etc. On top of all that, the language that was spoken when your car was made is no longer spoken, other than by a few obscure scholars, and even they can't agree on exactly what some words mean. Would you still use that owner's manual to try to tune your car up? Of course not.

    The Bible is a collection of allegories and parables; a rollicking good romp of a read in some parts and a snoozer in others. Leading your life by some of the content, like Thou Shalt Not Kill, at least has some societal merit. One thing the Bible is NOT, however, is an owner's manual for your life.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
  2. Yep...

    The bible contradicts itself in the first two chapters of Genesis.

    Genesis 1:26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

    1:27 So God created man in his [own] image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

    Genesis 2:7 And the LORD God formed man [of] the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

    So God created man twice??? What...did "he" mess up the first time? If so, that would make him fallible and making him imperfect.

    But if "he" did not do this twice, then the bible is wrong and so is every bit of information that follows. It's literature and not even that good of a piece.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
    • margot707

      I always wondered – If Adam and Eve were the first, and presumably only, man and woman, where did their son Cain's wife come from?

      March 3, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
  3. carmen

    i rather live my life like there is a God, die and find out that there is no God, than to live my life like there is no God, die and find out that there is a God!!

    March 3, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
    • margot707

      Either way, you don't need a bible to tell you how to live, especially when most of it is obsolete and ignored anyway.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  4. Jay

    God didn't write the bible. He wrote the ten commandments, which, many Americans break on a daily basis. The bible is a book consisting of stories passed on to others over the years. Sort of like Greek mythology. Many of the scriptures were also translated, so we can't be certain it was done accurately. I do believe there is a God, I just don't believe in religion. Many people were killed in the name of religion, yet, noone remembers "Thy Shall Not Kill" from the original set of rules.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
  5. Praise Rationality!

    David – Your logic isn't flawed, you're spot on.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
  6. Finished with CNN "News"

    Matt put it perfectly above. I agree with him–I'm finished with CNN online. (We already stopped our cable service at home two years ago.) You almost had me with the tiresome, navel-gazing Larry King coverage, and especially with the Piers Morgan coverage. But this...given everything going in the world, this is your editorial choice?

    Wandering opinion pieces like, posted above the fold, this aren't the reason I visit a news site. When I'm interested in reading arguments back-and-forth on topics like these (and, sometimes, I am), I'll check into relevant sites.

    Matt wrote:
    "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 8:43 pm |
  7. John


    March 3, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
  8. Doug

    Yes, and I've read a book saying a certain gold ring has magic powers and that if someone wears it too much he won't want to give it back, Someones a book about the supernatural is just that– a book. It's a bunch of paper that reflects the writers' imaginations and perhaps their lust for power.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
  9. cassie

    Having this encoded in a Holy book was one way to ensure that the species was perpetuated.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
  10. nathan

    well the bible also says that slavery is ok even in the new testament and yet it is outlawed. if you need an explanation on why you should allow gays to have rights think of it like this. god give tests to both the individual and the whole this is a test will we treat each other with respect or act like they are less for the love another of their gender.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
  11. Mark

    Why is this junk front page center on CNN?
    I'm getting closer and closer to switching my main news source.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
    • Cristi

      I think the Peter Pan seqeul is out (I think I saw it at the bookstore...). I've heard a little about it (all good), but I don't know much else. I think I put it on my list. I think messing with classics is a hit and miss thing; some classics I don't mind. Others, I do. There's really no sense to it, is there?

      March 1, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
  12. Qoheleth

    May all of you who refer to Christianity and the Bible as myth - have you really read the Bible yourselves? Read the Gospel of John. Take your academic skepticism and actually read some of the Christian apologetic works rather than just believe what you've been told. Every time I read all these wrong conclusions that intelligent people have arrived at through total ignorance of the subject matter, in this case the Bible and Jesus Christ, I pray for them that they would open their minds to the truth. The most hateful, bigoted people showcased in these comment sections are those who hate the Bible and Christianity.

    NOTE: Some are calling this "the Christian Bible." The bulk of it is the Jewish TORAH!

    March 3, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
  13. Sergey

    Bible is a spiritual book for Christian religion and cannot be used for legislative bans and laws. This on front page, that's why I prefer NYTimes.com

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

      Oh, it's not for the Jewish people? Just wait until the Muslims take over then you'll PRAY that Christians were in charge.

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

      James and I were an item back in the day. Ever wonder why we never married?

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

      Thank you for liking the pics! Actually, I am floolwing IAC's page on facebook, so I do get updates about your next March and anything else planned. But, I will store your email id for any information I might need. Thanks a ton!

      August 1, 2012 at 1:30 am |
  14. bibi

    Thank you sir! You are such a breath of fresh air in an otherwise not so clear world. Reading such a sound apologetic against a completely misguided and erroneous article gives me so much hope. Thank you! As Believers, our job is to tell the truth. I do believe people are listening. Be encouraged. Thanks for a fabulous job! Well done.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
  15. Eric of Reseda

    Who gives a rat's ass what the Bible says?!? OK, you say, "I DO!". Well, the Bible says, "Thou shalt not kill, covet, steal, bear false witness, commit adultery, work six days but absolutely no work on Sunday, no wrongful use of the name of the Lord, make no other idols or Gods, you must honor mom and dad, and some other stuff..." . Now, Christians have been a murderous lot throughout history, even today as this Christian Nation kills by the hundreds of thousands a bunch of camel-jockeys over OIL! And Lord knows, Christians couldn't wait to vote for the likes of Bush and Cheney and their war-mongering ways. In the South, Christians LOVED hanging black guys on Saturday, then went to church on Sunday. AND OH MY GOD, how Christians IDOLIZE money, especially all these crooked televangelists who beg for more and more and live like kings, while fellow Christians can't get enough to eat. Space won't allow, but it's all a bunch of malarkey. God exists, but NOT in the Bible. The only thing you'll find there is an interesting read, or a GREAT means of scarin' the heck out of people to keep 'em in line.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
    • Mike Binder

      Eric- I am not sure what formed your view of what a Christian is, but I ask that you reconsider after you read my message here. I do completely agree with you that so many people today and throughout history have terrorized others and judged them all in the NAME of Christianity. But those people were not true Christians as God intended.

      The Lord's intention was for man to follow the ten commandments. But man, being what he is, is not perfect and will undoubtedly at some point break every one of those commandments. However, the individual who strives to please God will not break all of them, but will break at least one of them at some point. This does not make that person less of a Christian, but rather an imperfect human. A Christian strives to live as God desires, though imperfect man may be.

      God's desires for His children are many. Among them is to treat others as we would like to be treated, not to judge others, seek out those who are less fortunate than ourselves and accept those people on our same level. One of the basic tenets of Christianity is that we believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins and that we accept Christ as our savior. Because of this, a Christian must do all he can to live in such a way that acknowledges the price that Christ paid on our behalf.

      Eric, I hope that you would somehow take an unbiased view and delve into what being a true Christian is all about. By the same token, it would serve everyone well if those who are not truly Christian would examine their behavior and alter it so as to truly follow God's intentions, thus becoming true Christians.


      March 3, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
  16. Gary

    People are going to believe what they think is okay because it is what they want to do or think about doing. If you truly want to know who GOD is and you are reading the Holy Bible then you will see Him. The truth isn't hard to find it is just hard for us to except sometimes. Some people are influenced by family, friends or both to believe certain things but in the end you must decide what is right or wrong. It doesn't matter what I think it's what GOD said that matters but we choose to follow what we see and how we feel. I don't know that much but I do know that one day I will die and I want to be prepare for what comes next. I rather die loving mankind in the way in which the Bible instructs me and doing what it tells me to the best that I can, than to live life anyway I want to live it and die to find out I was wrong!! Eternity is a long time to be on the wrong side of what is right. But that is just how I think. And I think this way also that the only way to keep life going is that a man and a woman come together to make it happen. I know that man can manipulate things to place the Male sperm into the Female egg to help life along but it take both to make this happen. A man will always be a man and a woman will always be a woman. It doesn't matter how you try to cover it up or chance their appearance. I don't hate anyone nor do I understand everything, but when I die I just want to be READY. To GOD be the Glory. (In Jesus name) I can't leave that out.

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

      In case you haven't noticed, the world is in no danger of running out of people – We're nearing 7billion.
      You've got to admit that that is a really really weak argument against GLTBs

      March 3, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
  17. classic

    gods don't kill people, people with gods kill people

    March 3, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  18. Ichi

    The Bible also says for women to be the property of men and always silent. It's not about it being there in the Bible, it's about how conservatives and religious nuts keep nit picking at the Bible's thousands of different and conflicting messages

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

      Nice try play again. You are referring to a letter Paul wrote to the church. In this particular church the women were causing commotion within the church and speaking false doctrine. This did not mean women had no say in church matters or could not speak. These particular women needed to be silenced for spreading false witness. Jesus walked around with women in his midst.

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

      That isn't true. The early Israelites actually gave more rights to women than their other historical counterparts. Also, the scriptures about keeping 'women' silent were not directed to all women generally, but rather to a particular church which had developed a particular culture where the women were using the church as a time to gossip.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
  19. Joe Mirabella

    I expect better editorial choices from CNN. Hate speech like this contributes to the oppression of gay, lesbian, and trans people. Hate speech like this contributes to higher suicide rates for our teens. It has no place on the front page of respectable news websites.

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

      I failed to find any 'hate speech' in this editorial. It was a factual based opinion. It is possible to denounce sin and love the individual. You are failing to distinguish between the two.

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

      I was thinking the same thing – there is literally no hate speech present in the article. He is expressing his opinion about what the bible says – he doesn't even imply that he believes this to be the only right way for a person to live.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • Arush

      interested in Slovakia bible camp. Served last year in Sri Lanka at English Speaking workshop with Pastor Gil Duchow. heard here at LWML covointenn you need help this summer in Slovakia. please let me know if you need help and service. I am at covointenn this weekend listening to Dr Birner and am moved by the Spirit to help.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
  20. Josh

    Get this crap off the front page, CNN.

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

      amen brother!

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

      Wow, that is an intelligent response... I guess if LGBT or CAIR aren't calling the shots, you're not happy.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
    • margot707

      54 pages of comments? Here's one more –

      WHO CARES what it says. The bible has been been mistranslated and politically manipulated so many times over the centuries, it's meaningless to all but the brainwashed.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
    • Religious sects

      That's a big Hallelujah from me too Josh!!

      March 3, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
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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.