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. Oleg

    🙂 I think this subject has generated the most comments I have ever read after the article post. Maybe this is because atheists are still seeking Jesus but because of their insecurity blur out nonsense. And those who are saved Christians continue to put effort into spreading the good news of the gospel through their posts so atheists might have maybe even a last chance to think twice about what happens and I mean what really happens after they die. HELL or HEAVEN because they both exist
    Just a taught

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

      It's ok, man. The Bible is a complete hoax! It's all imaginary. Just for our mutual endearment, God killed over 2 million people, and Satan killed 10. Hypocrisy is the real answer, here, buddy. It's an illusion, the concept of it all. Stick your head int he sand, science and death are all there is. Your smart phone, car, and Viagra ARE HERE BECAUSE OF SCIENCE, not because of Gee Oh Dee. Allah Ackbar! God is great? God is fake, finito!

      March 3, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
  2. camperman1

    Isn't it amazing that so many comments about God's word, the Bible, draws so much attention. For those who don't take the Bible as a lesson in life, then God save your souls. For those who don't heed the messages that God has given all of us, then God save your souls. Who made you? Who made the Universe and this world? Not humans, that's for sure. Belief is the strongest form of life saving calm that you can experience, and belief in our maker, God, and believe that he sent his son, Jesus, to give you that choice of heaven or doom in a firey hell, is all we have to hold onto. Why is it that so many people who have struggles and disasters happen to them, call out "Oh, God!!" "God help me." "God save me!!". Think about it you people of little faith, and start believing before it's too late!!!

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

      But that is your god....
      There are 7 billion people on the little ball of dust. Your god doesn't love everyone unless they love him. What gives.
      Do you know your god is the right one.?
      The arrogance of the xians, jews and islam kill me.
      Who knows who god is and could we ever really understand him?

      I myself go to the forest and sit on a log and look around...that is god.....not the bull that you and your bible try to force on me.
      I see god when I witness nature with out these humans running around.
      Birds, trees. deer. and other aniimals....
      I dont need your book or your laws.....I need nature.....so go away>>>>>

      March 3, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
    • Veritas

      Historically...the dude name Jesus never existed......
      Why didn't he right anything or leave something behind...
      My god...if he was truely the son of god give us something.....
      Nope not even a sticky note...myth...myth....

      March 3, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
  3. Mike B

    Congratulations CNN. I wonder how many young gay people will be taunted with your front page story tomorrow? Just what the bullies needed, CNN to back them up with religious nonsense. Again I say congratulations.

    There is not a single thing in the bible that doesn't prove that it was written by men who only knew what men could know at the time. It gets many things wrong. Like CNN is wrong for giving a forum to this religious gay bashing. Shame on you.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
  4. Really??

    Front page news!!! Really??? This is world news that I need to know at this moment? Come on!!

    March 3, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
  5. Roger

    Your bible is a fairy tale and your opinion is asinine at best.

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

      Tell that to all the Haitians who still love God in their troubled times!

      March 3, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
  6. lefty avenger

    Why should someone have to live up to a book of Fiction?

    March 3, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
  7. ewell

    My profession is marketing for a living and I have always said that God is the greatest marketer in the world...today over 2000 years after the death of Christ we are still debating...he put just enough mystery and contradiction to get both Christians and Atheists going for centuries...this blog is just a small example...

    March 3, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
  8. loljustlol

    lol @ "no examples of contradictions in the Bible"...

    March 3, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
  9. Jake

    Why do we still care what is written in a 2000 year-old book by people who for the most part did not actually witness any of the events that are described? And even if individual people care (of course we all have that choice), why do we allow what is written in it (again, in a society 2000 years ago) to justify decisions made now? Many of the passages and parables contained within it do carry potentially valuable messages, but outside of the context of the times they often don't make sense...

    March 3, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
  10. Veritas

    Has anyone really, really, really heard from god lately.....?
    Why doesn't he speak up for him self instead of this so called book he left behind?
    All I hear are humans >>>>
    Hello...God are you there....Hello>>>>> by the name of holy scriptures I call your name.....hello...hello...
    knock knock....please....help me....I am in need...where are you.....
    Wow...nothing....he doesn't love me....??????

    March 3, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
    • Christopher Bingham

      He's busy killing kittens and other lovable things. He really, really likes killing kittens and then puppies.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
    • Do you really want an answer? Dare to investigate.

      Has anyone heard from God? I know some will roll their eyes at this, but I personally know at least three people who have heard His voice externally. Two were gently reprimanded and the other was asked what he really wanted to do with his life. I have never heard God externally but I know these people and a psychiatrist would not call them crazy regardless of what anyone who doesn't know them would say. I have heard God in other ways and I have witnessed and heard from others who have witnessed things that can not happen "by chance" although people would try to say they did. It’s a stretch to say that a group of missionaries could feed a whole village of malnourished people in a 3rd-world country with 12 sandwiches and still have food left over (true story) “just by chance”. Here's an idea: Objectively look at the different sides of the issue (it's not usually a good idea to choose/reject anything blindly) if you're daring, but many people who have set out to prove "once and for all" that God isn't there have become Christians because they couldn't do it. The question is, "Do you really want to know if God exists?"

      March 3, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
  11. John

    I stopped reading when I got to "Left". There is no need to politicize this argument. Not all Republicans are god-fearing saints and not all Democrats are atheists. The author joins the ever growing list of people who are simply doing a disservice to humankind by pushing arguments that are bent of dividing us and labeling us. I'm sick of it and hope there will soon be a backlash against all this nonsense.

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

      I agree!

      March 3, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
  12. Rush L.

    Does this mean I'm outed?

    March 3, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
  13. Jim

    Suppose you deny the premise – that we need to read the Bible literally.

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

      Jim, that would have been a measured, rational response; CNN can't have that, or real news, or quality content, apparently.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:07 pm |
  14. Joe

    ROMANS 28: The Bible read it

     28And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;

    March 3, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
  15. Wau

    Why is this on the front page of CNN's site? This is most certainly NOT news of any sort- it belongs on the editorial/ opinion page, if even there. Someone needs to fire the person who puts this crud up as news. An editor needs to be gone.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • Jeff

      I'll tell you why my friend. It's a business, also known as info-tainment. The people at CNN know that certain subjects are hot buttons – the Bible, relgion, Sarah Palin, abortion, racial incidents – and will draw reaction and comments on the website. The more people they drive to the website the more ads they can sell and for a higher price. Remember, it's a business.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
  16. whatever

    Hey I just want to include a secular ipinion in here before this chat is closed.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
  17. brucemo

    This gets so tiring to deal with. The Bible was written a long time ago. The Bible reflects the human world as it existed when it was written, and perceptions of the universe held by those people. Since it was written, much has changed. Some changes are a result of better understanding of the way the universe works, and some other changes are a result of better ideas about how people should relate to each other. Some of these changes contradict what is accepted and encouraged by the Bible. In the face of this, it makes most sense to say, great, this is progress, but there is a large segment of people who have to either fight changes directly in order to try to roll things back to Biblical times, or who have to try to use language to try to make it justify modern beliefs and practices that they like, and condemn modern beliefs and practices that they don't like. Doesn't this give all of you a headache to do? How do you make sense out of such a huge mass of archaism, contradiction, inaccuracy, and inhumanity, much less argue that it is *perfect*? Why bother? We all know that slavery is wrong. There's no need to try to prove that the very clear statements about slavery in the Bible do not say what they obviously do say, or try to argue that slavery really wasn't slavery then, or argue that the kind of slavery described in the Bible built character in the slaves, that it was a kind of social program for the poor, or that only certain kind of people could be enslaved along with their descendants, or any other kind of nonsense that people use to try to excuse the Bible's crystal clear advocacy of *slavery*, something modern people would not just agree is wrong, but that it is *evil*.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • zazster

      well said!

      March 3, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
    • Lisisme

      Thank you for saying what I was thinking!

      March 3, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
  18. Tony Justin

    When do the stonings begin? After I submit this comment, I will remove CNN.COM from my bookmarks. Bye-bye.

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

      What will removing cnn.com from your favorites accomplish?

      Nothing at all.

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

      I'm with you. CNN will no longer be in my links. NOT because of what this fool says... but because they publish drivel from kooks instead of news. @CNN – bye bye

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

      It's ok, man. The Bible is a complete hoax! It's all imaginary. Just for our mutual endearment, God killed over 2 million people, and Satan killed 10. Hypocrisy is the real answer, here, buddy. It's an illusion, the belief of it all. Your smart phone, car, and Viagra ARE HERE BECAUSE OF SCIENCE, not because of Gee Oh Dee. Allah Ackbar! God is great? God is fake, finito! America is just behind the Taliban in religious fundamentalism.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
    • Bev

      Hey- I don't agree with it either, but it's justifiable to present both arguments. They published the first article and this is just a response.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
  19. sockeyerama

    @sinnersavedbygrace: 3.157. And if ye are slain, or die, in the way of Allah, forgiveness and mercy from Allah are far better than all they could amass.
    Has a nice ring. What do you think?

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

      It's ok, man. The Bible is a complete hoax! It's all imaginary. Just for our mutual endearment, God killed over 2 million people, and Satan killed 10. Hypocrisy is the real answer, here, buddy. It's an illusion, the concept of it all. Your smart phone, car, and Viagra ARE HERE BECAUSE OF SCIENCE, not because of Gee Oh Dee. Allah Ackbar! God is great? God is fake, finito!

      March 3, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
    • sinnersavedbygrace

      I think you should read 1 Corinthians 1:21-25 and Romans 10:3-10 and Romans 8:5-8 and Romans 12:1-2.

      Luke 23:34 is my prayer for you.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:28 pm |

    Thanks to Mr. Gagnon for providing a coherent argument about this important issue.

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

      You meant "incoherent." See how easy that is? I can take anything you write and make it mean whatever I want it to! That's why the Bible is so fun... you don't really have to go by what is SAYS, you can simply INTERPRET it as you please. It's kind of like AdLibs 🙂

      March 3, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
    • Minister

      If you think it's a sin to be gay then don't be gay. If you think it's not a sin to be Gay then be gay and be happy. Everyone else mind their business..

      God does not hate anybody.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
    • Denial ain't just a river

      Marvivs_Marvivs: see above, Gay folks don't bother me because I KNOW I am straight. Just like my buds who are into skinny women don't threaten my desire for cury women... why should someone else's preference for men threaten your "desire" for women? If you are that uncertain in your own orientation, maybe back off everyone else.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:15 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.