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. scott greene

    All over the show coming on the big o network. Either you believe or u don't but you can't change the Bible to fit if life. You chAnge to fit

    March 3, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
    • scott greene

      Oh yea the bible is a history book by the way. Research that.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
    • jedo

      In the strangest of times, I have to applaud the author's courage to stand up for the truth. Yesterday I read a couple in England was kept from adopting because they believed the Bible to be true. The anti-Christians are paving the way to making it a crime to be a Christian. They want to take away our freedoms. Many, based on what I have read, would be happy to lock us up and throw away the key... for believing the true religion of peace, brought to us by the Prince of Peace. As they attack us and take away our rights, I hope they will remember:

      First they came for the communists,
      and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

      Then they came for the trade unionists,
      and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

      Then they came for the Jews,
      and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

      Then they came for me
      and there was no one left to speak out for me.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
  2. Ed

    I hear there's a new broadway show coming out called The Lion Queen..... a musical comedy about a gay drag queen that devours uptight Christians....

    March 3, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
  3. Cambob

    Religion is a drug for people who can't handle reality.

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

      Never had a problem with reality.
      I really did love being a sinner, was very happy. Still am, and nothing is missing in my life.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
    • Lee

      Well put.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:53 pm |
    • cleareye1


      March 3, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
    • adventist1962

      Pro 23:9 Speak not in the ears of a fool: for he will despise the wisdom of thy words.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
    • LittleLamb

      So my love of Christ is now a drug? Thats just wrong. The problem is people have such a hard time believing in a God that simply loves

      March 3, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
  4. biblescholar

    someone google Revelation 22:18

    March 3, 2011 at 9:42 pm |
    • JOregon

      What is your point?

      March 3, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
  5. cleareye1

    Simple solution- stop believing what the Bible says as though it were fact. It's a collection of some nice, and not so nice, stories told among sheepherders for entertainment 2000 plus years ago.
    Think for yourself! And why should anyone care who "marries" who?

    March 3, 2011 at 9:42 pm |
    • JOregon

      Yes but it is amazing how those stories are in complete harmony with each other. How water is used to represent the gospel, how a Stone represents Christ. Amazing harmony yet written over such a huge time frame by so many different people.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
  6. Willy

    Jesus came to save sinners,which we all are. He not only offers us salvation even though we don't deserve it, he also offers us deliverence from our sinful natures. It's not a question of which desires we yield to, the question is shoud we be yielding to them. If you are convicted in your heart for your actions, the Bible offers a solution. The price has already been paid.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
    • longreach777

      John 3:16 For God so loved the world. God loves the sinner, that's why Jesus died for us, to save humanity from eternal separation from God. Easy to understand, right?

      March 3, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
  7. Brandon

    People, guess what!! God made man and woman. why? so this =====> could go into this () so figure out guys.
    if he supported gays he would of made man and man so yeah l2comprehend kids.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
  8. Realist24

    Voldemort said that being a mudblood is wrong too, and we all know that Voldemort is more real than "god".

    March 3, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
  9. SF

    Even if you choose not to believe it, Christ said 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.' All I ask is that before you dismiss Christ, look at the world around you. Where did it all come from? By chance over millions of years? I don't think so.......

    March 3, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
    • Edwin

      SF, I *HAVE* thought long and hard about it. Here are my conclusions:

      1) I cannot prove Christianity is wrong. By the same token, I cannot disprove Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, nor a host of other religions. There are inherent flaws in each of them, but we can dismiss them as irrelevant.

      2) I therefore see NOTHING to compel me that Christianity is the right choice. The only strong evidence is the books of the Bible, which believers claim are inspired by THEIR God. They can offer no proof of this, however, but they DO try to sell it pretty hard. When they come to you they act like used car salesmen, trying to figure out what doubts you might have that they can prey upon. I find this tactic repulsive, and the whole idea ludicrous.

      3) I *DO* understand the concept of 14 billion years. It is an unimaginably long time. Based on what I have seen of time, statistics, numbers, and biological processes, it seems entirely reasonable to me that all of biology and the universe *COULD* have been created by a large-scale quantum level event (the Big Bang). I find compelling evidence, though of course no proof, that this method of creation is valid.

      4) I personally find it disgusting that the Christian God would condemn people for being ignorant of a truth. If we are born imperfect, it seems disturbing that a so-called God would punish us for that flaw.

      I grant you that my primary reasons AGAINST Christianity are mostly emotional, though also I find the logical story hard to swallow. But the primary reasons FOR Christianity are even weaker. The arguments for a scientific Creation story are VASTLY more believable.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
  10. Catharine

    There's a lot of thing stated in the Bible because it was a religious code written about 3,000 years ago. If you are referring to Leviticus 18 or 20 than you must understand that later stated in the same book it states that one must not wear garments of mixed fabrics (SINNER), one must not eat pork or shellfish, one must not get their fortune told (goodbye astrology!), haircuts and tattoos are also forbidden, oh and let's not forget the best one, do no play with pig's skin (bye bye football).Being sent to a Catholic school all my life you learn to accept the guilt on which the church brings you. Just accept that because you are wearing that mixed fabric shirt, you're going to hell. Along with everyone that plays football.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
  11. Theology Grad

    I'm surprised to find this opinion piece on the FRONT PAGE of CNN.com since it's the same kind of biased and bigoted reading of the biblical texts without taking a look at context. Must be a slow news day.

    Sure, this guy teaches at a seminary and has written some books, but there are a great deal of (I would think) better biblical scholars, who would take issue with slant this piece gives the material.

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

      Ya but few stories get such a huge response.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
  12. Maris

    Everyone here who claims to be Christian but hates: gay people, Jews, Muslims, people of color, Hispanics, people who speak a different native tongue, liberals, Barack Obama, the Kennedys, ad infinitum, please remember one thing Jesus said:

    Love one another as I have loved you.

    If you live your life according to that one biblical quote, you cannot go wrong. Jesus wants you to tolerate, no, LOVE, all of mankind.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
    • adventist1962

      Don't confuse loving the sinner with loving the sin.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
    • Edwin

      Jesus did not believe in hate, but his followers do. They just think it is *reasonable* to hate people who are not like themselves.,,

      March 3, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
    • a diffferent mom

      Yes, but love does not mean to accept sin. True love speaks the truth about sin because sin has eternal consequences. Jesus also said, "Go and sin no more." He loved but never tolerated continued, intentional sin.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
  13. Ray Shonal

    The fact that modern society is forming public policy based on how we will be thought of by magical, imaginary superheroes who live in the sky is appalling. Grow up, folks.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
    • Aidan

      Absolutely the best comment here – well said.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
  14. adventist1962

    Lev 18:22 Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.

    Sounds pretty clear to me!

    March 3, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
    • Edwin

      The Old Testament also has some very clear passages about murdering children of infidels and the like. I suppose you agree with *those* passages, too - or do you just pick and choose which parts of the Bible you take as the 'Word of God'?

      March 3, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
    • adventist1962

      Cite a verse and I will be happy to discuss it with you.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
    • Atreju

      Leviticus 11:9-12 It is also an abomination to eat shellfish – mentioned more than once in the old testament (also in Deuteronomy 14:9-10) Why aren't the religious right casting out those that eat shellfish?

      These shall ye eat of all that are in the waters: whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them shall ye eat. And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you: They shall be even an abomination unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcases in abomination. Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
    • cleareye1

      The term "lie" has many meanings. Are you familiar with Aramaic or Greek?

      March 3, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
    • adventist1962

      Just so you know, I do follow the Levitical diet and do not eat the unclean animals of which you refer.

      Many mainstream religions justify eating unclean animals by distorting words of Paul.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
  15. charlie huey

    To believe in God. First you must believe that He is real. Many people read the Bible and dont believe in God. Jesus created the world through the Father, Man sinned in the garden, and God gave the law to Moses, but it could'nt save man. So God sent the only Son (Jesus) that was able to die for sin. God the Father raised up Jesus from the dead and Jesus went to heaven, and God sent the Holy Ghost to those who would believe in this. Many people don't care to hear this but thats ok. One day, all will stand before the Son and give an accoutablity of all that has been done in this life, I and every person will confess that He is Lord over all. Ask God to open your eyes thtat you may understand this. All who continue in sin will recieve the there just due, and that is death, but to all that believe in Christ and turn from sin shall recieve eternal Life. John 3:16 For God so loved the world he gave his only begotten Son and whosoever belives in him shall not perish, but have eternal life. Be Blessed

    March 3, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
    • cleareye1

      Try thinking for yourself and you will find true freedom.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
  16. Dale W

    I believe the Bible is sacred and gives people hope and comfort. But, I do not believe any human being can tell me they know exactly what the Bible means since there are so many contradicting passages. People can intrepret it any way they like, and we will each have our own repercussions on how we lived our life and treated others.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
    • JOregon

      When I have found passages that I thought were contradictory I spent time studying them. I can't think of a one that didn't turn out to not be contradictory after all.
      Usually if something seems contradictory it is because we have missed something.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
    • dragon102

      Dale W, you start interpreting the Bible by reading it, re-reading it, finding questions for what its telling you and then find a reputable person or group of people who can help you answer those questions, then move on. Its a constant work and accomplishment and even very seasoned pastors are not finished doing this.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
  17. Arthur

    Yeah the author of that article doens't look gay AT ALL!

    March 3, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
    • zzzzzz

      i knew, at the beginning of the article, that someone would make this comment.


      March 3, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
    • Paul Marbach


      March 3, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
  18. Reasonable707

    There are nearly 7 billion on this planet. Do you think there unanimity on anything?

    March 3, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
  19. Tom

    Thank-you, Mr. Gagnon, for your cogent and timely reply to Knust's nonsense. It is most refreshing to see clear-headed logic and interpretation dismantle what Knust has the audacity to present as scholarly work. Knust's tortured ramblings were a clear attempt to both twist some facts and ignore others as she attempted to justify her preconceived notions.

    This article read like a breath of fresh air. I'm surprised CNN published it.

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

    Please don't force your tolerance on me, teach my kids that it is ok to be Gay and so on...those who preach tolerance are normally not tolerant of others who disbelieve in their ideology (religion). Each person is responsible for their own actions and if they want to be gay, be gay that's their business. I personally think it its wrong and that is my right and its their right to live their lives how they want and and it is nobody's business but theirs. And for you other religious zealots preaching tolerance and all of your other beliefs down everyone else's throats you are no better than what you are complaining about.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:37 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.