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. Pau

    Robert A. J. Gagnon . Hats off to you.
    Your sir are one of the best troll I read.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
  2. Kim

    Oh, come on. Who cares? I don't care who someone loves. Atleast they love somebody...

    March 3, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
  3. Kathleen

    Jesus' teachings in the Bible are pretty straight forward. When does He ever turn against a person? The only example we see is in Jesus' youth, at the Temple when He becomes angered with the tax collectors for setting up shop in God's house of worship. Otherwise, Jesus shows acceptance of all people who are pure of heart. Read the parables. When does He ever condemn anybody for being a "sinner" in the eyes of civil law? If the whole world, Christian or not, followed the example that peace loving religious leaders like Jesus, Siddhartha, Ghandi and Mother Teresa exemplified in their lives and showed tolerance instead of hurting other people in the name of their false read on religion, what a better world it would be.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
  4. Rick

    The bible is clearly a work of fiction, who cares what it says or doesn't say, it's irrelevant

    March 3, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  5. Joe

     ROMANS 8:
    27And 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 8:51 pm |
  6. Charles Dexter Ward

    Headline: Bible Says Charlie Sheen Is Bi-Winning

    March 3, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  7. Bibico

    I think the "rib" that was taken from Adam was a euphemism for the part that most clearly distinguishes the anatomy of the genders.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  8. sk3ptic

    Jesus Christ seems to have taught that 1) Our perceptions are colored by sin; 2) our interpretations of Scripture are colored by sin; and 3) our conduct is colored by sin. Believing that, I submit that when Christ said "he who is without sin, let him cast the first stone", I think he was also telling us that we should turn not to Scripture for guidance, but to Jesus Christ. And I don't mean 'what would Jesus do', I mean 'ask Jesus what he wants you to do'. He did not ask what you think the Scripture means, or what you think of other people - he asked about you, about your morality; judging the morality of others is reserved for God and only God.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  9. Kevin

    A 2000 year old work of fiction says being gay is bad. The bigger issue is why people still believe in that thing.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  10. Satan

    So, does anyone really give a ratsas.s?

    March 3, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  11. Males didn't know how to interpret genetic variation back then.

    It just means that they saw it thousands of years ago...they just didn't understand what they were looking at. They didn't understand evolution either. doesn't mean anything. just that the men that wrote this stuff down weren't god.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  12. Rob

    Thanks CNN for nothing.. Good bye CNN.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
  13. Joe

      ROMANS 1: The Bible read it
    27And 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 8:50 pm |
  14. crucified

    Jude 1:7

    March 3, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
  15. MP

    this article is so gay

    March 3, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
  16. jellylee2020

    Good bye CNN.com, hello Reuters.com

    March 3, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
  17. Hahaha

    Too bad the bible isn't the word of all of humanity. It is RELIGION and religion should NOT have ANY saying when it comes to the rights of these people. Good for you if you're Christian, you are allowed to believe what you want as long as you aren't shoving your beliefs down other peoples' throats like they're the facts of life. There are other religions out there. There are those who don't even PRACTICE religion. Nobody is any better or any worse off than anybody else just because of who they are or what they believe. And those who judge others based on religion and what they believe are the worst people of all.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
  18. Kane

    It is unfortunate that the focus of religion has been corrupted for so long to promote faith as its primary tenet. Faith is dangerous. Faith makes you blind and subservient. True spirituality should focus on making you a better person, not a better follower.

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

      Well said!!!!

      March 3, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
  19. JWP

    Dr. Gagnon is a world-renowned New Testament scholar and an expert in his field. You would think that people would easily understand his well-reasoned and very clear article and from it, learn the biblical perspective on the topic. And yet I am amazed at the confidence, arrogance, and glee with which people who disagree with him on this issue happily share, in their insipid comments, their absolute and total ignorance. People neither understand or want to understand what the man has to say. Instead, they post ancient cliches and tired-old hatreds. They reveal their lack of knowledge of matters biblical, their intolerance of all people of faith, and their unwillingness to listen to anything but the clamorous Babel of their own puny minds - their own anti-religion prejudice. It's sad to see these written results of a Biblically ignorant society. It's sad to see the posts of people who live only unto themselves. And it's sad to see the "enlightened liberal mind" that, while claiming to be completely tolerant of anybody and anything, remains totally intolerant of people of faith.

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

      Very well stated.

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


      March 3, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
    • Di

      But..........WHO CARES?!?!

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

      The real question is, WHO CARES. I, for one, follow the Gospel of Hogwarts – and Dumbledore is gay.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
    • vr

      I agree with you completely. I am amazed at the anger and hatred that these "intellects" are spewing out. It's very sad really. The writer of this article deserves more respect than he has been given, even if you are an unbelieving atheist. Just to set the fireworks off some more ******
      Goodnight all – Jesus loves you!

      March 3, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
    • tizocg

      did you read the article he is debating? did you read the comments left their by readers? you mention our gleeful tone in disagreeing with this writer, i mention to you the tone of meaness and spite in the comments towards that writer (who is just as qualified as this gentleman). so dont give us this hollier than thou guilt trip.

      March 3, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
  20. Stephen

    Since the Bible is no basis for law or policy anymore than any other piece of ancient literature, it doesn't really matter, and, like a good literary discussion, is meaningful chiefly for people interested in it.

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

      Amen! ...lol

      March 3, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
    • Bill

      Well said. If we could once and for all realize that the Bible is nothing more than a historical artifact not written by any god, and quit wasting so much time discussing its meaning, we could finally start to solve some of societies real problems.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:00 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.