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. So There

    Wow, never thought CNN.com would actually have the guts to post this as a main article. I like it and hope you continue to give voice to both sides of any argument. Keep up the great work.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
    • TheJessieSimone

      I absolutely agree with that. I was really surprised as well. But then again, as long as it doesn't quote anything from the New Testament media empires like CNN and others that are run by individuals of the same faith won't have a problem with it.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
    • charlieblu

      Agree. I usually go to HP, for some insight on this topic. I'm pleasantly surprised to find this article on CNN. Keep it up, please.
      After reading many of the comments here, and finding unfortunately; much spiritual arrogance. It remains me of the following quote...
      " I like your Christ, but not your Christians"
      M. Gandhi.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
  2. Newyorker

    Only complete morons believe in the Bible, or any other religious book.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
    • Nathan

      I wonder if you have ever said this to someone's face

      March 3, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
  3. longreach777

    The world is doomed. 7,000 years of history proves that man can't govern with truth and justice. That's why, like it or not, God will intervene, and the Lord Jesus will be King of kings and Lord of lords.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
  4. westofmpls

    Once again, another case of religion showing its judgmental and divisive agenda. Think of the millions of people who have been persecuted and oppressed by religious nut jobs that felt they had the right to dictate how the rest of us should live.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
  5. Richard, Chattanooga

    No comment

    March 3, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
  6. David

    What a dopey article to include on CNN.com, let alone the main page.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
  7. L Hoyt

    I feel making this a lead headline is an example of media is dragging up social issues to distract from the real issues in the world that require thought, compromise and sound decisions. What about real reporting on the economy, jobs an the way congress is handing government issues? Come on. Stick with what matters.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
  8. Omaha

    Who really cares? If you want to believe in the Bible and live your life by it then, by all means, do so and do so happily. However, don't feel that your choice somehow transfers to how others are required to live their lives. No religion – Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Taoism, etc. – has any place in the application or creation of state or federal law.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
  9. Dwight

    That you actually went out and pursued a PhD focusing on a book with so many factual errors (both in the text and subsequent versions due to editing and poor translations) and use it as the basis for morality is, in itself, a fine example of a colossal waste of time.

    Funny thing: guy who painted the Sistine Chapel's ceiling was gay, but the Vatican didn't condemn him. (No word on how they felt about Da Vinci yet.) Point is, the book is dated, and most of it is bunk–edited by a few men who were searching for a message they wanted to convey. Depending on it for interpretation of God and the universe, and you miss out on the fact that you know more about the universe than the people who wrote it.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
    • Nathan

      These 'few men' you are referring to span 3 continents and 1,500 years. They were able to conspire together and "convey" their message? Amazing. I bet you follow UFO's and believe the moon landing was faked too. Actually the story they write, in over 60 different texts or books, makes God's message to us very clear.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
  10. Paul Hogue

    Is it just me or did a liberal give him a wedgie when he was younger? I think so. I also think the more people like him justify their positions, the more others realize they just made it all up.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
  11. Dan

    As works of fiction go, the Bible isn't anywhere close to the top of the ten-best list.

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

      With billions of people on this planet, Dan, there will be billions of opinions on what's the best fiction or nonfiction. What makes you so special, Dan?

      March 3, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
  12. another view

    The Bible also says that women are unclean when they are menstruating. "Leviticus 15:19 "'When a woman has her regular flow of blood, the impurity of her monthly period will last seven days, and anyone who touches her will be unclean till evening." If we followed that rule, we'd have an unstable workforce. Women out fo their h=jobs 7 days a month? Imagine the cost! So we ignore that rule because it is inconvenient – no – make that absurd, like much of Leviticus!

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

      Sounds like your beef is with Leviticus, not the entire message or 'big picture' that the bible is showing us. Don't take things out of context to confuse people. You know you are.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
  13. qmcs

    the bible is a load and you know it

    March 3, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
  14. Nathan

    Many users here want to state that the Bible is not the word of God. Are they saying that it is possible that one holy book IS the word of God, but the Bible is not it??? Probably not. In fact, they wouldn't accept the true word of God no matter what text is it b/c they don't want to face making the decision that would have to follow. But think about this: If God is who He is, wouldn't he have the ability to get a text into our hands that stated what He wanted us to know?? So this argument that the Bible was written by men so can't be reliable, blah blah, just doesn't make sense. You are one that wouldn't accept the truth nor are you looking. So go read some other article and stop spewing hate here.

    You know what's the saddest thing about being an atheist? Even your label must refer to God 'theo'. haha

    March 3, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
    • John Richardson

      If god is god, he'd have the ability to appear at center field of the next world cup final and state in all languages simultaneously exactly which, if any, of the extant religions bear the truth. To reach people through a heavily redacted jumble of ancient texts from one and onloy part of the world is just plain stupid. You calling god stupid?

      March 3, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
    • cory

      Hey Nathan, stay in school and learn how to complete a sentence.

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

      @John. I guess he could if he wanted to. But why would he? Again you are telling us how you would do things if you were God.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
    • Nathan

      @Cory, so I made a typing mistake–God fell off the throne and you are no longer required to bow. Whew! Close one. Send me a thank you card.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
  15. Barbara

    Well, the people want to listen to what they want to listen,the people want to see what they want to see,but when the real thing is the anwser of your problem you don't want to listen and you don't want to see!THE BIBLE HAS THE ANWSERS WETHER WE LIKE OR NOT!!!!THE REAL THING IS THE REAL THING!:):)

    March 3, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
    • Fred

      And the real thing is what, exactly? The angry storm god of an ancient desert tribe that used to drag said storm god around said desert in a freaking box?


      March 3, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
    • John Richardson

      I though Coca Cola was the real thing. I've been misled!

      March 3, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
    • cory

      To those who say the Bible is "The Real Thing", read Gilgamesh, the bible is just plagiarism.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
  16. Chris

    Can we just take all the crazy religious zealots from all religions and all parts of the world and put them in one country to fight it out. We could tape it and air it as a reality show on Fox.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Send them to Antarctica. No reason to impose them onto any inhabited part of the earth. And, as we all know, God WILL provide. So Antarctica's climate won't slow them down a bit. They'll love it! And it's ultimately for their own good, eh? A real win – win!

      March 3, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
    • Lvermont

      Ha ha ha ha–right on!

      March 3, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
  17. BattleTapes

    Amazing how people still turn to myths from the bronze age to reconcile their intolerance...

    March 3, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
  18. kahuna224

    In your face Knust!

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

    The bible is a book written by MEN, who believed mistakenly they were speaking with (a) God. They were wrong....and so were the authors of all the other "books" professed to have been written by (a) God.
    They were written by men with agendas.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
    • not a hard concept

      your on the money

      March 3, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
    • Ali

      HeHe Im awesome!!!!

      March 3, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
    • Inyourdreams

      was the book of Ruth written by a man?

      March 3, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
    • Inyourdreams

      By the way did God tell you this or is this just your opinion?

      March 3, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
    • John

      Well, as a religious studies major, all of the books WERE indeed written by men, however, the only one untouched til this day is the Quran, unless we find the original Bible. According to Islamic beliefs, the Quran is untouched since the day man received it form God. Funny how some stupid "infidels" use a sentence or two out of 300 pages to justify their ridiculous actions, but that also happens with the Bible and even Torah sometimes.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
    • Daryn

      Of course it's written by men, it's not a delicious turkey dinner.

      March 4, 2011 at 2:08 am |
  20. JEROME

    If you were to start a religion, would you promote unions with no chance of reproduction in you original writings? You wouldn't. You'd want your followers to have as many children as possible, raised within the precepts of your beliefs. Doing otherwise would just be bad business. I can't imagine why any religion would be pro-gay. It wouldn't serve their interests well. Oh, except for the priests and nuns factor, obviously.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:19 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.