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. Juan old man

    So God, in all his mercy, let Man, in all his innocence, believe all sorts of silly, sinful things for thousands of years, when just a few unequivocal messages could have clarified all the things we argue about. Instead we had to rely on 2000 year old often rewritten letters to try to understand His message. And to make it worse our questioning may have all been in vain if the millions of believers in predestination were correct. Like, many are called but few are chosen. So how big is Hell?

    March 3, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
    • Upperhand

      Hell is big enough, how's that for an answer?!?

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

      Tell me when you get there.

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

    The bible is stupid and so are the idiots who still read it. It is boring as hell and would never get published today.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
    • LittleLamb

      That's where you are wrong my friend.......SMILE< GOD LOVES YOU!!! 🙂

      March 3, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
    • JOregon

      Odd, it is still being published today, ...what or who was stupid again?

      March 3, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
    • God Illusion

      Donnie you are right. I could pick any book off the shelf in any book store and find more truth, science, reason and facts than are found in the bible. It is an awfully written, derivative book that only stands the test of time if you are deluded enough to believe that it was written by god. A god with minimal storytelling skills, brutal ethics, dubious morality and madly hypocritical. There is nothing at all in it that suggests divine intervention – not one word describes anything that wasn't known to the ignorant folk who wrote it and all their misconceptions are included. Hint – the world is not flat and the sun does not revolve around us. God would have informed about DNA, cosmology, physics, the fossil record – it is a useless book and to base a life around 2,000 year old myths and dogma is just sad,

      March 3, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
  3. GodSpring

    I would rather stand with God against man than with man against God.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
    • Josh

      Since when does God stand against man?

      March 3, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
  4. Jorge

    Its weird how I hear many people say that they turned Atheist after they went to college. In my case, I became more devoted to my Catholic faith after I was enlightened by my college courses. I think we could all agree that school is good for everyone.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
  5. ginger315

    Leonid7–what errors can you find in the Bible? After you answer that, then show me where the "right" answers are. To date, there is not one historical inaccuracy that can be proven.

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

      Ha! Except the whole theory of two people creating all of humanity... Earth is approximately 6,000 years old... there is no historical evidence of the Jews being imprisoned in Egypt.... etc. You need to study more.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
  6. LittleLamb

    Now, let's get one thing straight. None of us wants to be hated, you know. We want to be liked.
    Jesus warns us. Jesus said, "Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you."

    BUT! I will not stop praying for you, even if you hate me 🙂 May God show you His love in the next few days, weeks, and years.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
  7. Jordan

    If you're religious ... don't be gay.

    If you're religious ... stop hating on gay people.

    Everyone doesn't have to practice what your religion preaches.

    I am SO THANKFUL for separation of church and state. Keep the hatred and sin talk in your pews.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
  8. Sam

    Interpret the bible any way your heart desires and live that way if you so choose. Just don't be telling me how I'm supposed to live. It's not my bible and not my religion.

    (And if you think – really think – about it, do you think a person that doesn't believe in the same God or rules you do is going to believe that you're right about the consequences of ignoring that God or those rules? )

    March 3, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
  9. surebe

    You do have a right to choose and we are suppose to love everybody....But, choose wislely and remember this....What if your wrong.....Remember we will have no excuse!

    March 3, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
  10. Chris

    Jesus was gay. Christians should be more accepting of Jesus and people like him.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
  11. Nancy

    of course it does...but who cares what the bible says?

    March 3, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
  12. righteousness is not right!

    in philosophical debate over the ages, the words of these good books have bee used to support or deny virtually any behavior. From the most brutal acts to the the most loving of acts. If God in fact wants love in the world, righteousness will never get us there whether you be Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Budhist .... whatever ...... do you think that God is worried about how people rub their bodies into ecstacy?

    March 3, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
  13. Goobs

    FAITH is food. Quit telling me how to nourish my soul. This kind of "Christian" is a soul Nazi. I don't believe in an anthropomorphic 'god', but if I did, I would consider betraying the word of god yet another in the long line of human failures. That is the bible in its many forms – a tool of power and control that so many let lead them by the nose. Be gay if you're gay, and be happier for being the truth of yourself, the way 'god' made you.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
  14. Michael

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

    I have but it scares the crap outta them.

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

    Everyone has free will and can choose to do as they please. People make mistakes and all people have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We are humans. Therefore, we are not perfect and I believe God understands that. If He wanted us to all do certain things a certain way, God would have made us robots and He didn't. A person chooses to be Gay/Straight, that is his/her own business. It is not my place to tell another person what he/she should or shouldn't do. It is not our place to judge someone else or to try to justify it either way.....it is only between that person and God. A person chooses to follow God's commands or he/she doesn't.

    Having said that...........................
    There is a "way that seems right to a man but in the end it leads to death" (Proverbs 14:12) A spiritual death. Just because it is your "right" to do or believe something doesn't make it "right". For it is written, the "man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them" (1Corinthians 2:14). It is also written that the "world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him" (John 15:12). Only those with the Spirit know God and understand.

    I have heard so much hatred and filth from comments on here. However, I am not surprised. Jesus said, "If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I (God) have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you " (John 15:13).

    March 3, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
  16. Jaf

    The Bible is not a book of myths and outdated as some choose to believe, which you have the choice to do so. But, it provides counsel that if everyone followed the world would be a better place (Matthew 7:12; 22:36-39; Ephesians 5:21-6:4), its holy spirit-directed writers were honest, unlike many history books you read (Numbers 20:7-13), its scientifically reliable (Job 26:7; Isaiah 40:22), it tells us why there are many brands of Christianity (Matthew 7:13-23; Acts 20:29, 30; 2 Timothy 3:1,5), it warns of the times we're living in (Matthew 24:1-14; 2 Timothy 3:1-5), it provides hope for the future (Psalms 37:10, 11, 29; Revelation 21:3, 4) and most importantly, we learn who God is (Romans 1:20; John 3:16; Psalm 55:22; 1 Peter 5:6, 7; 2 Peter 3:9; Acts 17:26-31; Isaiah 55:11) True happiness and contentment you will find if you are open-minded to its contents

    March 3, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
    • God Illusion

      Using the Bible to try and prove its own veracity is like using a Marvel comic to prove the existence of Superman – childish, silly and pointless.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
    • kant

      I'd like to believe that there is a more superior being. But then every day, almost 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes. I for one cannot believe that god, at least the way he is portrayed by the believers, can let this happen. Also, many who preach have committed such crimes against children that it is apparent that at least these heads of various church themselves do not believe in god. Taking it one step further, if pope in any shape or form is preventing these child molesters from being brought to justice (possibly to safeguard the image of the church), then he too does not believe in god.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
  17. Earl Eakin

    I will never allow the ramblings of long-gone semi-literate nomads rule my life. The old book is junk. Spending a career poring over it is a wasted life. Using it as justification for demonizing people who are different from you is unethical. And no, I don't need that book to tell me what is and is not ethical.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
  18. Rick Turner

    "I would rather live my life as if there is a God and die to find out there isn't, than live my life as if there isn't and die to find out there is."

    It's Not rocket science!

    March 3, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
    • LittleLamb

      Your right. Its quiet simple actually. 🙂

      March 3, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
    • Brian Smith

      What a terrible reason to "believe" in God. That isn't belief at all.

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

      You are assuming that your god or no god are the only options. Simple fallacy in your logic.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
    • God Illusion

      Rick – this old "insurance policy" approach to faith has been countered many times. If this is the basis of you belief then you have no faith at all – zero. This means you get the worst of both worlds – either consigned to hell or oblivion.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
    • LittleLamb

      I am young, yet, I seem to have faith in something I have never seen or touched. "Faith". It's easy to believe nice things like Santa Claus, because you never have to suffer to get what you want. When you have nothing that's holding you back, you can do anything you want and you can have anything you want. Yet in the end you have nothing. I do. Goodnight, I have to go pray and sleep in peace knowing He's holding me . Blessings!

      March 3, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
  19. adam

    This so-called god commands slaves to obey their masters then commands a race of slaves to flee their masters.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
  20. Adam

    The bible was written by man, edited by man and interpreted by man:
    The world is not stationary, nor flat, nor created in a week.
    Prayer does not cure sickness
    Humans were not created 6000 years ago
    Women are not property of man
    I hope there comes a day when atheists rise up and stop allowing this world to be mandated by sheep hopelessly obeying poorly translated scriptures from a dated fairy tale.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
    • Arsio

      And yet your named Adam.....seriously man just shut up!!!!

      March 3, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
    • rinaldo

      "I don't have enough faith to be an atheist". read the book. Don't let your pride blinds you. You know you have soul, save it.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
    • Adam


      March 3, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
    • scott greene

      If you are atheist and don't believe, why do u care

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

      well said and to the point.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
    • God Illusion

      This is exactly the point – who cares what the Bible says or doesn't say? Why do the ill formed, contradictory ramblings of an ancient, Middle Eastern tribe matter one whit to modern man? God no more wrote the Bible than Kermit did, so why do we place any relevance at all on it's bigoted, evil, dusgusting utterances. Consider this – there is not one single piece of information in the Bible that was not known to the people who wrote it. Nothing about cosmology, DNA, evolution, long extinct creatures, the solar system – NOTHING. If God had written it, he would surely have used it to enlighten, educate and inform. With all the astonishing, awesome aspects of the cosmos he would not have resorted to hopeless party tricks like a burning bush! Anyone who studies and revers the Bible as the word of God is delusional and not to be taken seriously in a moral argument.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
    • God Illusion

      Scott – you ask why do we care? Because we care about our society. Religion poisons our society – bigoted views about gays, 911, stopping stem research funding, refusing to advocate condom use in AIDs areas of the world due to idiotic religious dogma. Atheists care because we want the world to be a better place – a world without harmful myths and disgusting dogma is in everyone's interest.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
    • John Rudolph

      Athiests "rising up "and destroying liberty in the name of what? The creation of tolerance?

      It's being done in North Korea right now and the communists have tried it elsewhere too. It's really simple, just start killing Christians. Er.. no, no... that's been tried. Didn't work.

      I'm not American but America is a great country. Your sentiments show no respect for that.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
    • godsman

      there IS a day when athiests will rise up and stop this religous stuff. It is predicted where? IN THE BIBLE!!! You are fulfilling prophecy and you don't even realize it!!! That is truly funny! (one world gov't, one world currency, one world religion. its all coming right now)

      March 3, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
    • LOH

      God help you.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:37 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.