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. Tim

    Because most do not understand the Bible nor have access to a source that can give an explanation, these mock or deride the Bible. Jesus said succinctly in prayer to his Father: "I publicly praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intellectual ones and have revealed them to babes."(Matt 11:25)

    Thus, only a person who is likened to a "babe" or teachable and humble one, will have the Bible's deep meaning unveiled to them, and leaving out those who, by the world's standards are "wise and intellectual", for many of these are arrogant and haughty, or unteachable to appreciate God's laws and moral standards.

    Jesus used a Greek word – sy·ni´e·mi – meaning literally "to put the pieces together", five times in Matthew 13 regarding understanding God's kingdom. He said that most would "look in vain, and hearing, they hear in vain, neither do they get the sense of it ("sense of it" Greek sy·ni´e·mi ); and toward them the prophecy of Isaiah is having fulfillment, which says, ‘By hearing, you will hear but by no means get the sense of it; and, looking, you will look but by no means see."(Matt 13:13, 14)

    The churches are the biggest offenders of distorting Bible truths, having corrupted the Bible's pure teachings and spreading falsehoods. As a result, many are now either agnostic or atheistic.

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

      There is actually no reason to believe Jesus spoke Greek, in fact, it's not likely.

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

      CNN: This is a top story???? Ridiculous. This is not news it is religious bias. Please give us real news.

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

      Very well stated Tim. To God be the glory.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
  2. jim

    Do you guys heard Judgement day begins May 21 2011? It has spread from internet and youtube.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
  3. John, USA

    Does the bible say anything about catholic priests which are pedophiles and the popes which shelter them from justice ?

    March 3, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
  4. Jay

    I cannot believe that CNN would run such a horrible article. Why don't you run one that explains why African-Americans are only 3/5ths of a person next? Or perhaps one that explains why asians are better at math? I now have a reason to never, ever visit CNN.com, or tune into any CNN cable stations. This is the 21st century, CNN, and you should be ashamed of yourselves for this article.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
    • kent

      Why, are you gay?

      March 3, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
  5. Paul

    The bible wasn't written to increase our knowledge, but to change our lives.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
  6. Dawes

    The Bible is just a STORY. Written by old guys, two thousand odd years ago. Who cares what they thought back then ! Get a life !!

    March 3, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
  7. Dave

    Why the **** is this headline news? Dear CNN: I read your site to find out what's happening around the world, not to hear some idiot "professor" opine to me about this crap. Any article that begins with "Opinion" has NO place front and center of one of the biggest news sites in the world.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
    • sara

      Your parents really should have decided on an abortion.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
  8. Morgan

    Excellent! Let's find even more justifications for hating people, shall we? Like there aren't enough already out there, we need even more. Perhaps you could actually work on finding a reason for tolerance? A reason for people to respect each others' beliefs a bit?

    Guess that's not the way you roll. Pity.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
  9. Brice Truitt

    The Bible: it's just a dang book, folks. It is no more Truth than a L.L. Bean catalog. You get out of it what you want: things that make you feel good or things that validate your hate and ignorance.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
  10. Standing Firm

    If you don't believe in the Bible then why does it matter to you? I've read a lot of passionate anti-Bible comments about this article and wonder why you take the time and energy to publicly dismiss something you don't believe. Do you also post feverishly on a Santa Claus blog telling everyone that he isn't real? Why is it so important for you to try to degrade the Bible here? Let us "fools" believe what we believe and take your negative comments elsewhere. Perhaps, this topic is important to you because deep down you are not sure the Bible isn't true...

    I am impressed that CNN actually published Dr. Gagnon's response. I read the original article and was appalled at the illogic. It's your choice to say that the Bible isn't true and you don't find it relevent. However, don't try to twist it around and make it say something that it doesn't. Take it or leave it. Don't re-write it.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
  11. Brohammer

    Who cares what the bible says! It's a book of fairy tales...like Aesop's fables, and about as historically accurate as Glenn Beck's American history lessons.....Organized religion is a sham and is responsible for the vast majority of the problems humanity faces today....a mighty "GOD" is a living man people!

    March 3, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
  12. 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 your own business...


    March 3, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
    • Funkymonkey


      March 3, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
    • tj

      The Bible is NOT A WEAPON!!! GOD TEACHES LOVE FOR OUR NEIGHBORS. Not run like a bunch of hypocrites who we all know are usually condemning with one hand and acting with the other. PS. CNN you only put this up to get an atheist vs. christian fight grow up and SHOW THE NEWS!!!!

      March 3, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
  13. Hitman

    too funny....and no need to log back into this.....god's not real...and the bible is bs......sorry you had to hear it like this...bye

    March 3, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
    • john

      r u gay??

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

    Anyone see the news story on CNN about that man that was swallowed by a whale and rescued a couple days later ?

    😀 LMFAO

    March 3, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
  15. marli

    What a bunch of b.s. This is the same sort of mentality that led to the crusades, the witch trials and the KKK....oh, and self flagellation which this guy probably subscribes to. Most people I've met who are extreme like this are hypocrites in one way or another.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
  16. jason sumner

    god is fiction. Just like Bugs Bunny, Santa Claus and Jesus. NOT REAL PEOPLE!

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

    I am a Christian, in Gods word it wrong !

    March 3, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
  18. Enlightened

    The bible also condemns the eating of pork, working on the sabbath (there goes Sunday football), and a host of other acts that seem to have been conveniently forgotten over the millenia since this text was "written." Didn't Jesus hang around with the local riff-raff for most of his public life? This story is pointless.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
  19. Joe V

    CNN, you used to be a trusted and intelligent source of news. Please stop with these ridiculous articles. You are quickly becoming a joke. Is your goal to compete with Perez Hilton ? I realize you make more advertising money with "news" like this but you will ultimately drive yourself into non-existence.

    Anyone of intelligence realizes that the bible was written a couple of thousand years ago by men who wanted justification to abuse women, have slaves, and control those around them. It has no bearing on our lives today.

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

      I couldn't say it better, Joe! Well done!

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

      john, r u gay?

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

      I'm not anti-christian... but I agree. I hate fanaticals. Thank You for the food for thought.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
  20. CB

    I especially enjoy Bible math. Christian's will tell you with a straight face that 3=1. I like to pray to the father in the morning, the son at lunch, and the holy ghost at bedtime. Sometimes, I pray to the father for sunny weather, then turn around and pray to the son for rain. What are they to do ? 🙂

    March 3, 2011 at 9:02 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.