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. Scott Fillmer

    Finally, someone over there actually looked at the text for what it says, about time...

    March 3, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
  2. Chaiah

    I am trying to figure out why this is newsworthy. CNN – you are turning into the National Enquirer of news – right alongside every other supposed "news" organization. I miss real reporters and real news.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
  3. Jason Martanel

    Shame on CNN for putting this as the top story. I have a new home page.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
  4. Felix

    Huh, that's an interesting take on the subject.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
  5. john

    "Thy word is truth"

    March 3, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
  6. madcorbin

    Believe what you want and base it one whatever book you want. I'll continue to believe that that is outright bigotry, even if you dress it up as religious freedom. It's ridiculous to use the words "evidence" and "Bible" in the same sentence, as if that book is filled with anything other than fantasies.

    But hey, I won't ever say you have no right to believe it. You just don't have the right to run other people's lives because of it.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
  7. Cosmos42

    You mean looking to Bronze-age texts for moral guidance in the 21st century is ridculous? No freaking way.

    Seriously people, there may be a god or there may not, but if you need to believe in a god to do the right thing, you are a sociopath, so don't presume that other people need to believe in god too. It really is just you.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
  8. Truthseeker

    Alright, finally people are going to listen to what the Bible says! Or is it just weirdly selective listening?

    March 3, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
  9. LittleLamb

    Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. Those were the words of Jesus as he was dying for our pathetic lives. As a teen, I know that it is this time in life that we are often most turned off by God. I have had my own struggles, but the negativity in the article's comments show me the need for God's love in the world, AND I WILL NEVER STOP PRAYING AND WORKING FOR THE LORD, EVEN IF I MUST GIVE UP MY LIFE!!!!!I know there is a mansion waiting for me, and everyone else for that matter. I leave you with this. I'd rather live as if there is a God, and find out in the end there's not, than to live as if there isn't a God and find out there is. What do you have to lose?

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


      March 3, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
  10. amoxy

    because we dont believe it, and we have that right. its as simple as that.

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

      You are correct and have free will. You can believe in whatever you like. However, there is a "way that seems right to a man but in the end it leads to death." This is not a physical death, but death in the spiritual sense. (Proverbs 14:12).

      Just because it is your "right" to do or believe something doesn't make it "right". For it is written, the "man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them" (1Corinthians 2:14). It is also written that the "world cannot accept him (Messiah), because it neither sees him nor knows him" (John 15:12). Only those with the Spirit know God and understand.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
  11. oneforGod

    How sad is it that there are more people that are slanderous towards the bible than there are Christians standing up to fight for it. The Bible is THE truth.

    With that said, God has granted us freewill when he created us. He gave us this choice to choose whether or not we believe in Him. Ultimately though, when life here on earth ends... judgment day will come. The Bible is not the prettiest fluffiest most kind hearted book. In fact, it is so truthful that it hurts sometimes, and that can be scary. Which could easily be why so many of you who read it were "Turned off"

    As for those that had gone through dealings with Christians that were judgmental and hateful. I am sorry for what you had to go through. Their actions directly turned you off, and I wish they hadn't shown those actions, because that is not what God is about. God teaches us to love God, love others, and follow His word. No one is perfect, that means us Christians have our mistakes. The difference is, as Christians we SHOULD be looking to better ourselves, and strive to lead a life that more closely resembles the life that Jesus lived. (In terms of living a life without sin)

    Jesus is my personal Lord and Savior, and He is available to all of you out there. He doesn't shove the Bible or His commands down your throats. He waits patiently for you to say "Here I am, I need you." Unlike us who tends to want share rather harshly the things we believe. He is a loving savior, regardless of what you may say, you'll never know the kind of love that God has for us until you come to Him.

    Our sins stem from selfish desires, and being the selfish creatures we are, we don't like the truth hitting us in the head, and we want to keep doing what we want to do. The hardest thing anyone can go through is coming face to face with the consequences of our actions, and humbly beg for forgiveness for the temptations that we have given in to.

    I couldn't just sit here and read your comments and realize that more people show more hate towards this article then ones that applaud it. I love God, and I love Him with all my heart. I look forward to the day that death comes to my door, because then it means that I will be meeting my Savior and be able to fully worship Him in ways that I couldn't even fathom. Life is so much more than our time here on earth, and to those that don't believe. I hope one day that you will be able to find the truth that will set you free from the sins that drive us further away from the one that created us.

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

      Don't be scared. It's going to be OK. You'll see. And don't let the bible hurt you. It's just an old story.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
    • Chaiah

      So, the next time your eye offends you, make sure you pluck it out.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:53 pm |
    • Chaiah

      Oh, and don't complain about taxes AT ALL because you are to "rend unto Caesar that which is Caesar's."

      March 3, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
  12. Ask

    "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God..." (James 1:5)

    There seems to be a lot of people on here who have little or no faith. I wonder how many of you have asked God if He does exist. When I did, I felt peace in my heart. I knew He was real. I knew that He cares for me. I don't expect anyone to believe in Him because of my experience. But if He answered me, He can answer you. Has anyone else had such an experience? It's difficult for me to take an Atheists word for it when he/she has never truly prayed to know if God lives.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
  13. Luke

    This article has about as much credibility as a movie review. Splitting hairs over the details of a man-made work of fiction is just silly. And CNN vanishes from my list of trusted news sources just like magic.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
  14. Zach

    And the author's point is what, exactly? That because the Bible says it, everybody's got to live with it? Bogus. If I have to choose between supporting full marriage equality and the Bible, I choose equality. Because one other thing the Bible says, if I remember correctly, is that only God can judge.

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

      No–he's saying that one should not psubvert the text Bible in an effort to try to justify one's actions.

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

    Of course, the elephant in the room here is... who gives a CRAP what's in the bible? It's 2000 years old. Who cares? Seriously. Do we not have the capacity in our modern times to weigh what is right and wrong and conduct ourselves accordingly? Are we so intellectually weak that we need to refer to the frigging MANUAL to decide how to act? Come on people! Evolve!

    March 3, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
  16. Hezie Samuels

    Romans 1
    :22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
    :23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
    :24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves
    :25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
    :26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
    :27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

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

      Word of God speaks!!

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

      The Word of truth is CRYSTAL CLEAR on this topic. Amen Hezie

      March 3, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
  17. Just Me

    Okay, people. This is my story and I'm sticking to it. I had (and still do have) the perfect life, a great job, a wonderful marriage, super kids, the whole thing. I'm a reasonably intelligent person, working at a major University. But there was always something missing, you know? Real, deep down "wholeness" or peace with myself always seemed just out of reach. After years and years of over achieving (i.e., searching for those missing things) I asked God to show me the truth and started reading the Bible. Did I understand it all. No way! Did I love every bit of it? Nope. Did it all make sense. No again. In fact, it raised a lot of questions. But something in me said, this is the Truth. I couldn't put the Book down. Yes, I really did read every last word. Some of it was horrifying. (Sounds like life?) Some of it was glorious. Some of it was eye-opening. And some of it heart-wrenching. All of it was life-changing. Essentially, the Old Testament tells it like it WAS (before Jesus) and the New Testament tells it like it is (after Jesus put things right). You've gotta look inside your soul. If you really, honestly like what you see, well, you're rare. But if you look in there and it feels empty or you feel badly about yourself, then seriously, ask God to show you the truth and open up that Bible again. And open your mind and heart at the same time. The more you learn and understand, the more you will see that there are really no contradictions in the Bible at all. Start with John in the New Testament for the best possible summary of what it's all about. Then go to the Psalms and you'll find a prayer/poem about every possible human emotion, even doubts about God. (And I'd suggest the New International Version. It is also a translation from the original Greek but written in modern English so it's easier to understand.) It you're really, truly looking for the truth, you'll find it in the Book. And it you're not, you won't. Simple as that.

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

      A bit long winded, but a good comment.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
    • phildaman

      Excellent post...well said 🙂

      March 3, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
  18. Mike

    Why? WHY? WHY!!!! is this the lad story on CNN??? Do we NOT have more important issues to be focusing on in our country? Honestly.....

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

      Don't you think that the eroding of morals has a lot to do with the problems in the USA? I can't think of many problems in this country that wouldn't be fixed by simply following what the Bible commands. How about a country with no crime (Maybe you have heard "Thou Shall Not Kill, or Thou Shall Not Steal" etc.). Imagine a country and a planet where you did to others as you would have them do unto you and vice-versa. Think about it. Pretty simple isn't it.

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

      What would you recommend putting on the front page?

      March 3, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
  19. Cosign

    Let's worry about real problems / issues in the world like hunger, disease, pestilence, hatred, racism, etc. Not about who we're sleeping with or who / what is sitting on a throne in the clouds.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
  20. jayh

    Front page??? I'm about ready to quit ready this crap web site.

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

      Bye Bye

      March 3, 2011 at 8:55 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.