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. Jen

    And then we pick and chose to alienate more people from our religion that is supposed to open with loving arms. (I am a Christian and sick of these judgements we place on EVERYONE.)

    Leviticus 19:27 reads “You shall not round off the side-growth of your heads nor harm the edges of your beard.” Gagnon you are a sinner according to this...

    Genesis 38:9-10: “Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so when he went in to his brother’s wife, he wasted his seed on the ground in order not to give offspring to his brother. But what he did was displeasing in the sight of the Lord; so He took his life also.” I hope you have never used the pull out method or a condom. You're going downtown with the gays if so..

    Leviticus 19:28 reads, “You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the Lord.” I'm sure you don't have tattoo's you're not the type.

    Mark 10:18 don't get divorced. (I don't care about your love life, just like you shouldn't care about others)

    Timothy 2:9 “Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments.” (I'm sure your wife has never worn jewelry)

    Anyway...don't go out when you are on your period either ladies or eat shelfish. Serious Gagnon? Your article is a bunch of double speak...just like all the old text. Love the Lord and take the good to the world... Not the judgement. It's not your place to place to place the wrath...it's God's.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
    • Chris

      Your ignorance is on display by quoting these verses the way you. It shows you do not recognize the Biblical distinctions between civil, ceremonial and the moral law. Pathetic.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
    • Steve

      Hey, you do know that the Bible wasn't originally written in chapter/verse style, right? Well, maybe Psalms and Proverbs to some degree. The rest are accounts of history. Sins occurred in the Bible . You can't take one verse out of a story or account and claim that is a commandment for all Christains to follow. That is how extremists are made. There are 50 "chapters" in Genesis, I believe. Chapter 38 doesn't have any commandments that I am aware of.

      For everyone who claims to have read the Bible from cover to cover 3 times or more and still don't believe, get real! Assuming you're not lying, you probably read it like an extremist and not like the authors wrote it. You have to read each book and get the complete thoughts out of them. If you're picking snip-its (ie. verses) and saying that's why you hate Christianity, that's silly. I could go through just about any book out there, find one sentence (or verse, if you will) and say, "See? All you secular people believe this and you're commanded to".

      By the way, Genesis 38 is pretty cool when you see that the bloodline of Jesus comes from a woman in Chapter 38 who tricked her father-in-law into sleeping with her. It shows how great things can come even from someone like her. But then again, I'm sure all you people who have read the Bible through 15 times have already connected all the dots throughout the Bible.

      I'm just saying an extremist can read Chp 38 and come up with a half dozen "thou shall nots" because you're reading each verse like they were meant to stand alone. I assure you when the authors of each book and letter sat down and wrote, they didn't say, "Time to write....Chapter 1 Verse 1 ..." They just wrote. We put in the verses later for some reason....maybe just to make it easier to read...who knows?

      By the way, have you ever noticed that critics who have "read the Bible a half dozen times from cover to cover" will quote verses, but probably couldn't tell you the story behind any of them? Every verse in the Bible isn't a commandment. Also, why do all you non-Christain Bible Scholars (not that Christains haven't done the same) insist on quoting the Old Testament? There are good things to be learned in the Old Testament, but Christains (ie. those wanting to be Christ-like) follow His teachings which are found in the New Testament.

      Be careful quoting single verses from the New Testament. There are parables in there. I would hate for you to start quoting those as though they were literal. It would probably make for some good reading though.

      Final thought: I find many people don't want to be Christians because they "know" Christians and they don't want to be like them. Hmmm. I have some similar thought on millionaires, but I wouldn't turn down an offer of 2 million dollars. I'd accept it and then live like I think a millionaire really should live. Christianity is about being like Christ. It's not about being like other Christians.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
  2. Minister

    There is so much hate in our country that this just makes it worse. Wake up America!!!

    March 3, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
  3. Alex

    Well Rob, you got one thing right. (The bible) "is too flawed to serve as a moral guide."

    March 3, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
  4. votarus4

    Errors in this article and he wants us to listen to his educated opinion?
    I congratulate and respect those who spend their time studying the Bible. Those who say it says THIS or THAT, do not impress me. God speaks to each of us. He loves us all. He Made us all.
    This man knows the words of the Bible, but I think he's missing out on God.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
    • trevor

      thanks votarus4,this man knows the truth. like the divel dose, but can no speak it bcos he his the father of all lies.and want to use the word of truth in a negative way to harden the heart of men. i think he need a spiritual doctor.like gospel singer don more to help him out of the state he his.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
  5. Whit

    Keep in mind, this article has no bearing on law. If you vote something derived from the Bible into law, then you are forcing all citizens to participate in your religion. And if that's ok, let's take a vote..... what religion is the U.S.? 51% Catholic? Guess we're all going to Mass now.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
  6. Bruce Webb *

    The Bible condemns Lobster

    I don't see a lot of demands to Keep Red Lobster from defiling Ezells Chicken down at the Food Court.

    It is amazing how Conservative Christians take Leviticus as a buffet instead of a full course meal.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
  7. joe

    Why is this "Belief blog" always listed as a CNN headline story? Did I accidentally go to Fox news?

    March 3, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
  8. olorinstaff

    Well, you know what they say about opinions.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
  9. Lyn

    Bravo...an article well written!!!

    March 3, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
  10. William Christopher Jordan

    Good lord, people! When are people going to realize that the Bible is not a complete scripture and many parts of it have been mistranslated, so who is to say that any particular phrase is any more accurate than the next. Jesus Christ (if he truly existed: watch the online movie, Zeitgeist) came to promote one simple message: Unconditional Love. Anyone who doesn't understand this has a dark spot in their soul, full of prejudice and hatred. How can anyone living in today's time say in complete confidence that they know for sure the complete teachings of a book that was written so long ago. Come down from your pedastal. Get real! Stop the prejudice and the divisiveness. Teach LOVE!

    March 3, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
  11. HC

    Why does CNN seem like its been slowly turning into Fox News? Really, an OPINION page about a fictional storybook and its dead authors opinion is the lead story on the front page?! Is there anything else going on with the world? Or maybe we could learn about something REAL?

    March 3, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
  12. Ed

    It is sad that CNN has designated this close-minded "opinion" as a headline cover story....Is this NEWS? No. It is one person's opinion about their beliefs. I don't personally believe in the bible and as a gay person, I don't care about christian fundamentalist rhetoric. Christians who like to condemn others should pray to God for guidance. God would enlighten them to worry less about whether something that someone else is doing is morally right or wrong. He would lead them towards kindess, tolerance, acceptance, and humility. By the way, I'm Canadian and I am SO glad that I'm not American and that I don't live in the United States. You people are so far behind on gay issues it is pathetic. We have laws in Canada that protect all people including gay people against harrassment and hatred. I thank GOD every day that I am CANADIAN! Thank you JESUS...(if you're real.....)

    March 3, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
    • trevor

      JESUS is real. i like ur comment, no one has right to comdem anyone. but u just need to know this good GOD, and turn from the sprit of gayhesizm

      March 3, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
  13. Interesting

    I always thought CNN's viewers were mostly lefties and godless. Now I know I was right!

    March 3, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
  14. me

    Claiming that there is no god is just as radical as claiming there is one. And Jesus' death wasnt "theatre" It was him proving that he he able to defeat death and that through him we can too.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
  15. John

    Who the heck cares about this pandering when there is so much going on in the world? CNN you should be ashamed of yourself. Christian News Network?

    March 3, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
    • Real News plx

      here here

      March 3, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
  16. CW

    When I was seven my parents needed to tell me about the Easter Bunny, when I was nine that needed to tell me about Santa Clause...oh dear I'm ten now and they say they need to speak to me about Jesus..... 😀

    March 3, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
  17. ZacharyFrank

    "does the Left read significant works that disagree with pro-gay interpretations of Scripture and choose to simply ignore them?"

    does the right read insignificant works that agree with anti-gay interpretations of Scripture and choose to simply believe in them ?

    March 3, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
  18. Tony

    A well research article that is presented clearly and fairly. Good job of presenting both sides of an important debate that is going on today. The Bible says what it says and means what it says whether we agree with it or not. We should not twist it to mean anything else.

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

      The translation of the version of the Bible that he subscribes to. It means whatever the translators decided it meant. My uncle has read the Bible in several languages far closer to original than most other people on the planet. He says that you can find a version and translation of the Bible that you can quote to back up almost anything you believe. The only constant is Love.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
  19. Gumby

    That's right CNN. Use a dusty old book of fairy tales to encourage hatred against gays. CNN is the new Westboro Baptist Church.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
  20. LitlleLamb

    Just because he knew he was going to heaven doesn't make it better. He had done nothing WRONG! HE died for you. I welcome anyone asking why I would want to be in Paradise. LIke I said before, what do we have to lose?

    March 3, 2011 at 9:11 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.