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. lysander

    The bible is full of ridiculous crap, so let's get the Author to point out line by line which crap he believes and which crap he overlooks for his own agenda. Like, this gem (EXODUS 21:20-21) that says it's perfectly acceptable to beat your servant as long as they don't die or the one where they talk about eating their boiled children (2 KINGS 6:29) or my personal favorite, where if two men fight in the country and one of these men's wives intervenes and grabs the man by the groin, her hand should be cut off (DEUTERONOMY 25:11-12).

    March 3, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
  2. Mel

    Well then it's a good thing that we separate the Bible from LAW in this country. When will people like Robert Gagnon stop trying to force bibilcal mores on the entire population? Believe what you want to believe, and so will I; but we don't allow a book of fiction to determine what is legal or not legal in the United States of America.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • JJ

      He was refuting poor hermeneutics or did you skip the article and assume he was just bashing non Christians?

      March 3, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  3. Nick

    Thank you, Dr. Gagnon. Knust's article was an insult to her reader's intelligence.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
  4. Jordan

    I like all these Christians being complete jerks to the atheists and non-religious. Aren't you supposed to love everyone? Turn the other cheek (most people misinterpret what that scripture actually meant, so I'll go with the common misconception)? Bite the bullet? Swallow your pride (cause that's of the Devil). You guys didn't even wait for the non-believers to start entering their comments before you started jumping all over them. You "Christians" are the reason I completely lost my faith in not only Christianity, but Religion in general. You're nothing but hypocritical, dogmatic tyrants that enjoy believing that you're better than everyone, and not only do you just BELIEVE that you're better...you freakin' BOAST it. Jesus would NOT be accepting of his "followers" today. Do you know what the word "Christian" means? It means Christ-like...well...I guess you've gone ahead and become God-like since you know, without a doubt, that you're 100% correct in your beliefs (what is that word I've been seeing in reference to the Bible; truth? How do you even know? Because your parents told you it's the Truth? Because your preacher told you it's the Truth? Friends? You don't know, so don't pretend like you do. No one, except the dead and God (yes, I do believe in God, but not the bi-polar one portrayed in the Bible), knows the Ultimate Truth. You believe God gave you a brain, correct? Please, use it.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • JJ

      How is it loving to inform people that their sin is acceptable and that they don't have to be accountable to God?

      March 3, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • lysander

      JJ – Because you assume anyone cares what your religion says about their lifestyle.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  5. Brad


    March 3, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
  6. The Truth

    When in doubt ask, seek and search for the Truth. Jesus, peace upon him, is best described and understood in the Quran. God said “Verily, the likeness of 'Îsa (Jesus) before Allah (God) is the likeness of Adam. He created him from dust, then (He) said to him: "Be!" – and he was. (Chapter #3, Verse #59).
    Jesus (PUH) was described and mentioned more than 33 times in the Quran. Also, Miriam (May God be please with her) was described in Quran close to 40 times and there is one Chapter that is called” Miriam”
    Here are additional verses;
    "And indeed, We gave Musa (Moses) the Book and followed him up with a succession of Messengers. And We gave 'Îsa (jesus), the son of Maryam (Mary), clear signs and supported him with Ruh-ul-Qudus (Gabriel) .Is it that whenever there came to you a Messenger with what you yourselves desired not, you grew arrogant? Some you disbelieved and some you killed.
    ( Al-Baqara, Chapter #2, Verse #87)

    (Remember) when the angels said: "O Maryam (Mary)! Verily, Allah gives you the glad tidings of a Word ["Be!" – and he was! i.e. 'Îsa (jesus) the son of Maryam (Mary)] from Him, his name will be the Messiah 'Îsa (jesus), the son of Maryam (Mary), held in honour in this world and in the Hereafter, and will be one of those who are near to Allah."
    ( Aal-e-Imran, Chapter #3, Verse #45)

    And will make him [('Îsa (jesus)] a Messenger to the Children of Israel (saying): "I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, that I design for you out of clay, a figure like that of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by Allah's Leave; and I heal him who was born blind, and the leper, and I bring the dead to life by Allah's Leave. And I inform you of what you eat, and what you store in your houses. Surely, therein is a sign for you, if you believe.
    ( , Aal-e-Imran, Chapter #3, Verse #49)
    O people of the Scripture (Christians)! Do not exceed the limits in your religion, nor say of Allah aught but the truth. The Messiah 'Îsa (jesus), son of Maryam (Mary), was (no more than) a Messenger of Allah and His Word, ("Be!" – and he was) which He bestowed on Maryam (Mary) and a spirit (Ruh ) created by Him; so believe in Allah and His Messengers. Say not: "Three (trinity)!" Cease! (it is) better for you. For Allah is (the only) One Ilah (God), glory be to Him (Far Exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. And Allah is All-Sufficient as a Disposer of affairs.
    ( سورة النساء , An-Nisa, Chapter #4, Verse #171)

    March 3, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • JJ

      Jesus is God.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • Wow...

      JJ, Jesus is a character in a book, a very long, boring book that has duped quite a few people.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • lysander

      Good for you for finding Christianity. However, why does that mean everyone has to live by your religion? It's just as much your right to believe what you wish as it is my right to believe I don't care what your religion makes you feel guilt about.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  7. Ray

    This god you keep harping on, is the worst, the absolute worst thing that man has ever invented. So much pain and suffering over a myth. Argue over a fairytale. This book is pure FICTION, nothing less. Let people live their lives the way they want them to as long as they harm no others. Just don't jump up on a rock and say "my way is the only way."

    March 3, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
  8. Bostonaccent

    I find the comments of these posts laughable. When you have no intelligent response arguing from the material itself, you resort to an ad hominum attack on someone who really knows the subject matter.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • Rich

      picking and choosing which passages you want to believe or condem and legislate is exactly what we are oposed to and are fighting about over seas

      March 3, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  9. E

    How many times does Mr. Gagnon use the work "interpretation"? How many iterations of different languages has the original bible authors' texts been sifted through? Who really knows what was intended. Many religious practices and prohibitions were founded on health concerns not moral concerns.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  10. TM

    No one has ever proven anything in the Bible is wrong. Just ask Lee Strobel as he writes in his book "A case for Christ". Lee was an athiest that tried to prove the Bible was false but instead became a Christian because of his findings.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • Wow...

      No one has proved it right either, what's your point?

      March 3, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      An incontrovertible example of the bible being wrong:
      "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field; which indeed is smaller than all seeds. But when it is grown, it is greater than the herbs, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in its branches."

      – Matthew 13:31–32

      Mustard seeds are not the smallest of all seeds, they do not sprout into trees and birds do not nest in them.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • lysander

      Snakes can't talk.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • Patrick

      Good point. No one has been able to disprove any of the hundreds of religious texts that have come and gone over time.

      If only that meant something.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
  11. Wow...

    Just for the record, the bible doesn't matter. Just because you might believe it's true, doesn't make it true for ANYONE else. Get over yourselves and quit judging people different from you. If your God really does exist, I can only imagine how ashamed you people make him for judging other people like this.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  12. MandoZink

    Growing up, I actually didn't believe gay people existed. I had come to that conclusion based on what bigots had said about them. I include those bigots who found it comfortable to hide behind the naive prejudices expounded in neanderthal mythology texts, such as this ignorant professor.

    When I eventually met real gay people, I found them to generally be very accepting and loving people – amazingly more warm and compassionate than their christian persecutors. I now have a lot of gay friends. I have very few christian friends. Judgmental people with limited understanding of human beings are unpleasant to be near.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  13. Greg C.

    Bravo! Well written and to the point.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  14. TP

    Who really cares what a religous nut says. Should we americans be surprised that as we become a less educated society, that we lean more heavily on religion to guide us? The Bible is a book, that's it. If someone wants to devote their life to a ficticous story from 2000 years ago, so be it. Let them live an ignorant life. But, our government needs to stop making decisions based on faith, and use science and common sense to get us out of this hole we are in. Wake up America, stop electing right wing religious nuts to office!

    March 3, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • RapierPoint

      To TP – You are under the mistaken impression that America is a less-educated society. America, as a whole, is better educated than it was, say 50 or even 100 years ago. So what does it say that, as America becomes more educated, we see more people searching for some religous truth or moral compass, rather than simply relying on science?

      March 3, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • TP

      Hmmm. Anyone else see the correlation with higher IQs being less likely to believe in religion. This is a fact.
      I guess the bible would say that IQ is a bad thing. Let the morons, ie sheep, follow their shepard with no thoughts of their own.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • Patrick


      The reason is obvious: the more educated a society becomes, the more its members reject the faith that is imposed upon them for something more, something intellectually satisfying. Less and less people follow in their parent's footsteps regarding religious practice, and with good reason: Does the fact that your family follows one faith mean you should to, regardless of what it is?
      We are learning, albeit slowly, to think for ourselves.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  15. Not All Docs Play Golf

    To the author: Jesus would have been the "Left" that you assault in paragraph 3. He would have been inclusive, cared about the have-nots, cared about the environment, and not been hawkish in international relations, all positions opposite of your holy "right" wing.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • bluegreen

      mrgup2 I'm sorry but is everyone forgetting how Sodom and Gomorah(sp) were destroyed because there were so many gays. Why is everyone forgeting that fun fact????

      March 3, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • tom reads cnn

      Jesus wasn't left or right.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • lysander

      I think you're confusing the word "Fact" with "Story".

      March 3, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
  16. JPBenn84

    Great post! Very well-written and informative. Keep speaking the truth sir.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  17. georgezeller

    What a waste of time Mr. GAGnon

    March 3, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  18. questionauthority

    That was not an easy read. A little convoluted.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  19. mouse

    OR ask yourself this......Faith – luck or lord? where did god come from. He just was does not answer the question.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • guest

      From where did the matter that set off the big bang come? Saying "it just was" similarly does not help. Let's agree that neither side can actually prove it's theory.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • RapierPoint

      Or to hit another area, just what is the mechanism behind evolution? "It just happens" is not an explanation. We all take various things on faith.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • Phillip

      Evolution can be explained a bit more thoroughly and accurately than God and his thoughts or rules.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • Patrick

      It is a common misconception that the Big Bang Theory involves a starting point in creation. The point of BBT is that there was no beginning and is no ending, just the cycle of the universe as it expands and contracts over eternity.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • hanks

      you will get your answer on judgement day.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
  20. Hmmm

    That's great. Of course, this entire article presupposes that you take the Bible seriously. Might as well analyze Green Eggs & Ham or Aesop's Fables.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • John


      March 3, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • RealityDr

      Amen–sarcasm intended.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • TP

      Awesome analogy.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • Fichts

      And the boyeth cryeth wolf, and all was good.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • JJ

      18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. – 1 Cor 1:18

      March 3, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • RapierPoint

      You may feel that way, but there is much to be learned and considered within the Bible. Also Aesop's fable for that matter. Would you casually dismiss the Torah, the Koran, and other books of moral and religous leanings? In essence, your statement to dismiss the Bible extends to all other religous texts.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • ezra

      I learned all I need to know in life from ' Winnie the Pooh", myself.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86
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.