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. who cares

    The bible also says I should stone my wife on her father's doorstep if she isnt a virgin on our wedding night. Where's the political action committee to make that public policy! Oh wait, that is right, we don't have enough rocks.

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

      Because of the sacrifice of JESUS, we are now under a covenant of grace (God's unmerited favor) and not the Old Testament law-even though stoning is what is deserved. Remember that Jesus Himself told a group of Pharisees who were about to stone an adultress-"ye who is without sin cast the first stone"-one of their sins being that they only brought the woman and not the man involved. He forgave her of her sins there. Thank you JESUS for your ultimate sacrifice!

      March 3, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
    • Patrick Doheny

      Fortunately religion is slowly becoming extinct. Unfortunately not quickly enough.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
    • Nathan

      You're not being truthful. The Bible doesn't teach YOU to do that. Don't hide behind the strict laws and punishments that the Jewish people had to fail to live up to thousands of years ago. The Bible teaches you to do only 2 things–love God and love your neighbor like you love yourself.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
    • Michael

      The bible isc an overedited compilation by the hands of man. It's also a handbook for desert dwellers poor at cooking pork and washing privates

      The good professor doth protest too much on this subject. Perhaps the view from his closet limits him?.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
  2. Banks

    With the world going to hell in a handbasket this is what you put on the front page? Is CNN attempting to become more FOX News like?

    I'm so disappointed in you CNN.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
  3. Layne

    Regardless of what you do, or don't, believe in, the God of the Bible says He is the judge. While a Christian's role is to show the same love Jesus died for, Christians must also remember their responsibility to love at all costs, and let God handle the rest.

    Sadly, most "Christians" don't understand that, but those of us that try to follow that are shot down so quickly, and called idiots for believing a God exists.

    I may be called a blasphemer by many, but I know that Jesus cared for and provided for those who were looked down upon; my role is to follow suit.

    I will never look at someone's beliefs and insult them the way many of the comments have. I also don't expect most of the modern world to respect my beliefs. I do know, however, that if I love and serve others I'm serving a purpose in my own life, and, becoming more aware of the God who commissioned me to do that.

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

      if it is not the gospel in which paul preached as well as all the rest of the prophets in the bible it is to be shot down...you suppose to stand on gods word and shoot down any and everything that don't resembles it....what type of christian are you......How can you not defend the gospel you are suppose to be believing in.....don't give me that stuff about...let God do all the judging ...we know that GOD IS THE ULTIMATE JUDGE...BUT WHEN YOU SPEAK THE WORD OF GOD IT IS NOT YOU IT IS HIM SO JUDGEMENT CAN'T HELP BUT COME

      March 3, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
  4. John Smart

    Who cares what the bible says? It is just a book.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
  5. foresee

    Looks like CNN and most of it's readers are against the Christian faith and Jesus Christ, go figure.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
  6. Rick

    Amazing at all the comments from people. All I know is that the Bible tells us about who Jesus is and that He died for us because of God's love. He even mentioned in the Bible a couple of times that some things would be hard to understand, but to listen to Him and trust Him. I know it is not easy, but it really is important to consider who He is because He came in love in the midst of this messed up world. He understands this because He lived in this world – especially in the time of the Roman empire when they were very hard and dominant on people.

    Anyway, please just don't discount the Bible or its stories because the word contains life and meaning and a victory over death and the fear of death. Well, that is my little 2 cents worth.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
    • thompson

      the best two cents i have heard so far!!!!!!!!!!!!

      March 3, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
  7. John

    I think the problem is that they have their "Belief Blog" probably cuz they are based in Georgia. Hey CNN, I mean really – be a news organization, do journalism. (or be like FOX and in that case, you are intelligent people, I think you can figure out where to stick it.)

    March 3, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
  8. Drew

    What, exactly, about this is news worthy of front page presentation on CNN?
    What's next – questioning evolution?
    We are not men – We are Devo!

    March 3, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
  9. So what

    The Bible also allows slavery and concubines. We don't change the law to be consistent with that either. This is irrelevant.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
    • thompson

      So What...what you just said is irrelevant....get an understand of the old and new covenant as well as the reason for things that occured in the old testament before making such a comment

      March 3, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
  10. rob m

    I see the author making many claims, however, I only see 3 references to the primary source. I think that a Ph.D. should know better. Every claim (if he truely knows the Bible) should be backed up with a reference so that we (those who know that we do not know the Bible that well) can see if the comments truely match the source.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
    • thompson

      God is the source....why don't you ask him yourself...and quit trying to question the truth....ask him right now and i guarantee you that you will have an answer shortly

      March 3, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
  11. R

    Religion is the frozen thought of man out of which they build temples.
    –Jiddu Krishnamurti

    My person quote, "Religion is sickness of human. Religious people are like zombies who try to bite others to convert them like themselves."

    March 3, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
    • thompson

      R....serving the true God and being a true Christian...has absolutely nothing to do with religion...it is a lifestlye a relationship....much like husband and wife......it is as natural as the skin on your back when you choose to run on his side....it is not about going to church or walking around like we are all holier than thou....it is an acceptance of a savior who died for a wretch like me

      March 3, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
  12. Watnen

    I thought CNN.com was a news website?

    March 3, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
  13. hich101

    a book which had degraded prophets of God also full of contradictions,fornication,adultery,incest and scientific errors. how is it that many say it's the word of God. surely it's blind faith not logic. the death of jesus is the biggest dupe on christianity. i cant wait to see the looks on the faces of christians on hid 2nd coming. christians 2day are really paulinians, true followers of christ were nazarians

    March 3, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
  14. dgmgdm

    stop trolling people with this newish. it reads over the heads of bigots and becomes a justification for their views and inflames the the other at the same time. its intellectual sport and profit in its lowest form. attention grabbing and convoluted hatspeech for profit..also hid picture makes him look like an old lesbian...

    March 3, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
  15. Daniel

    Both sides don't have a clue. To get an accurate interpretation of EXACTLY what the bible said and meant you would need a copy of each original book written in its original language. You can't look at what it says in English and expect that to have any bearing whatsoever on what was meant. Everything there has been translated at least twice before English. Not even translated from the same language families, from Semetic to Latin to Germanic language groups makes an accurate translation near impossible. The true meaning of everything in that book was lost a long time ago.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
    • thompson

      no you don't.....God has his people hear on earth who he reveals things to.....he speak to his servants in many ways to confirm what he want or how his scriptures are to be interpeted....his sheep knows his voice....i know when something is from the lord....you spend enough time with him you will get to know him and all who speak on his behalf...

      March 3, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
  16. Bob

    Wow. Two wars, revolution in the Middle East and corporate corruption, and CNN puts this on the front page. I'm deleting the CNN app from my phone. AlJazeera English is my new news outlet. Because they cover, you know, news.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
  17. Jpage

    Westborrow is the work of the devil! NOT God! Read the bible for yourself, then decide. Don't believe others words about it. We all die alone...so don't trust others to lead you to the truth of God. Search out your own salvation. Ask God to know the truth and He will show you. He's cool like that.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
  18. Cameron

    I believe what the bible says is true because I witness its words in my daily life

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

      LOL... You're funny.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
  19. Rob

    Who cares? If you want to believe the Bible then do so – but if you are in for a penny be in for a pound. If want to run our society based on the Bible – well – what about everything else – you can't pick and choose my friends 🙂

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

      the scriptures tells me that hell has enlarged itself....in other words there is plenty of room....but God takes no pleasure in sending none of us there....plz...cry out to him and find him before you draw your last breath

      March 3, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
  20. mark

    GREAT read. very good presentation of facts. Unfortunately most will not get this. but great job Robert

    Evan Gelical

    March 3, 2011 at 9:16 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.