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. Mark from Middle River

    Gas prices is going off the scale. American military soldiers killed in Germany....and CNN you feel the top story is a guy saying that his interpretation of the Bible says what he wants it to. Is this really news..... suggestion, this is why FoxNews is winning guys.

    I figure it must have a toss up of this guy or Charlie Sheen.

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

      It might not be important to you when a majority decides to discriminate due to their religious beliefs. It might not be important to you when such decisions cause a domino effect of discrimination in advertisements, media and the entire American Culture, but it does to me. It means a heck of a lot. Not to mention the amount of money pouring into political arenas from religious mega-churches and televangelists only to push an agenda of discrimination.

      As for the military, they get a paycheck and dozens of benefits including discounts, housing assistance, preferential treatment on private job applications . . . and the list goes on and on and on. I am thankful for a military that protects. I am not thankful for a military that excludes as has been the case for far too long. So, to discount a story regarding a cultural issue of discrimination because of varied priorities would not be justified in a so-called free country. CNN isn't here for you alone, nor the military. It is here to report the news on a wide range of topics.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
  2. Andrew

    The Bible also condemns the eating of shellfish (lobster, shrimp) and the handling of pieces of dead pigs (footballs). Why does the so-called Christian Coalition not have a problem with Red Lobster chain or the NFL?

    March 3, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
  3. Mark

    For a world full of Christians, Jews and Muslims their sure is much suffering in this world. So please tell me why I should believe or follow anything Christians, Jews and Muslims say or do. Their is much hatred within these tribes against each other and for the "others" that do not belong. It is difficult for me to understand the word of God when those that say they do do not share the 45 trillion dollars of wealth to prevent the death of millions of children every years.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
    • JOregon

      The idea of focusing on individual sins was never the message of Christ.
      The Good News (Gospel) was deliverance from sin. Both the penalty of eternal death and the grip of sin in life.
      The bible does define hom-ose-xuality as a sin. The bible also says we come out of the womb sinning (Psalms 58:3). In other words some are born with that nature.
      The bible also defines adultery as a sin to be punished by death.
      The bible says if you look upon a woman with lust you have committed adultery (Matthew 5:28). I am guilty many times over.
      Few Christians, that oppose hom-ose-xuality, will call marrying someone that is divorced a sin. Many of the pastors protesting hom-os-exuality are themselves remarried or perform marriage ceremonies for previously divorced people. Supposedly putting Gods blessing on their union.
      Mark 10:11 And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her.
      Mark 10:12 And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.

      It is the focusing on individual sins instead of the salvation from sin in general that has lead the church of today away from Christ. These churches that focus on hom-os-exuality are very much antichrist (against Christ).

      March 3, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
  4. Sara

    So...we are basing prejudice off of a storybook that can be deciphered in hundreds of different ways?

    March 3, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
  5. nativendn57

    Not being a zealot by any means, I do read the Bible. At times I get slapped around because of the instructions the Word gives me, like it or not. If a person really truly knows the Spirit and reads His word, it will condem whatever wrong you are doing, and at the same time encourage you in the right that is being done. We people make it way harder than it needs to be. No one can fully understand an infinite being with a finite view.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
  6. MBJ

    The author chastises his opponents for interpreting (i.e., reading into) passages in the bible to fit their social and cultural framework and yet does exactly the same to support his position. We cannot know what the authors of the bible truly meant, because we can't ask them. It is, however, a fair assumption that their writings reflect the social and cultural framework of their times, just as our interpretations by definition reflect our individual context.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
    • Murray

      THANK YOU. Exactly what I was thinking as I read it. So let's see ... two people, two interpretations. Extrapolate that one out about 2 billion times. Does that tell us anything?

      March 3, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
  7. Tursiops

    Last time I looked at the Bible for moral advice was...mmm...well, shoot, I guess never. It must be the fact that I've made it exclusionary criteria on my "moral inspiration" list any book that has been used as a justification for killing billions of people in human history. Keep your privileged insights into the hermeneutics of the Bible Bobby Gagnon... you do get the interpretation right . What is wrong is the book itself and people like you that can't think outside of it. Any book with that much blood on its pages claiming to be the moral repository of humanity should have spontaneously combusted by now...

    March 3, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
  8. Sarge

    The written word is a form of communication, like all of the responses I have read. People like to conversate...its human. Read the Bible again, but this time engage in conversation...speak and listen. One day you will "come to yourself" and find out earth is not your home. When you get to where the dead is now, remember your words...your written words...your spoken words. You will have to give an account for them.

    May grace and peace abound to you alway.


    March 3, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
  9. Kritz

    This article demonstrates the sad silliness of trying to establish social policy based on religious dogma. The author's arguments are so similar to "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin" that it's hard to take him seriously - except one knows that people will take him seriously, and that's a problem for the rest of us.

    Here is the basic logical leap that Christian moralists make and which society need feel no compunction to follow: just because a holy book (the content of which is disputed, which has been translated and retranslated to the point of being unrecognisable to its original authors, and which has been deliberately bent to the preferences of authorities throughout its existence) says that male-female relationships are preferable, it does not follow that such arrangements are mandatory - even under Christianity! Preference is not dictate.

    Secondly, the slavery issue with the bible is far from the only bronze age throwback found there. Prohibitions against touching pigskin, wearing mixed fabrics, planting different crops in the same field - the list is endless - only highlight that the bible is unqualified as a guide to behavior or policy. It also means that Christians themselves have a responsibility to interpret and not blindly believe the contents of the bible, lest they be correctly accused of thoughtlessness.

    Thirdly, it may be your holy book, buddy, but I use my copy to prop up a wobbly table. The notion that it's divinely inspired is hardly worth arguing. Happily, we live in a secular society and this supernatural stuff you find so important is just so much piffle to the rest of us - Until you try using it to deny people their civil and human rights. Then you've stepped over the line and have earned condemnation from the entire community.

    I realize that the author was supposedly addressing another Christian whose interpretation he trashed, but the message was clearly broadcast to the community as a whole: he's moral and we're not. I beg to differ.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
  10. Jake Mata

    Most evangelical Christians in America cherry-pick what passages and verses they will cling to, and which they will ignore or explain away via time and culture arguments. For the writer to ask if gay people have read those with opposing arguments–of course most have–they have been forced on us our entire life, combined with messages of hate. When Christians can't win the argument by living a life of peace, grace, and love as Christ taught, they sink to unfortunate lows. Not just on this issue, but in so many areas of life, the Christian Church is losing too many battles simply because we fail to live the greatest commandment in a way that shows respect and keeps the lines of communication open.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
  11. can't you people read???

    if you don't look for it you won't find it. there's plenty of references. now go do your homework!

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

    Some one tell me please. What do you actually have to lose.
    seems to me no one can answer that.... 🙂

    March 3, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
    • MattK

      by having faith?

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


      March 3, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
  13. vr

    The reason so many of you "atheists" feel the bible is worthless, untrue and to be discarded is because the Word of God is spiritual. You cannot understand it with your mind. The Word is revealed to those who seek God. To those of you who have other motives other than humbling yourself before your maker, it is foolishness.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
    • Kris

      I choose to believe in fact, not fiction.

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

      If the word of God is spiritual, how can you take it literally? Isn't each person's soul supposed to connect with the meaning of the stories and thus bring about a better, kinder soul in that person?

      If you demand that the Bible be interpreted any certain way, you're not only ignoring the vast reinterpretations of the texts but you're missing the very point of the whole book.

      And trust me, if you believe in a heaven and a hell, and a bunch of ignorant rednecks drag a gay peer to death behind a truck, it's pretty simple math that the hellbound were in the truck, not behind it.

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

      You don't have to put quotes around the term "atheists." Most of us are neither modest about our lack of belief nor particularly conflicted about not hearing the "Word of God."

      And that "humbling yourself before your maker? I'm OK missing that one too. You have a good time, though.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
    • Question everything

      Not so. I get where you are, I was there until the age of reason. Our species is lucky to have such a powerful mechanism on our shoulders, use it! Think for yourself.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
    • myklds

      @vr..you said and I quote, "The reason so many of you "atheists" feel the bible is worthless, untrue and to be discarded is because the Word of God is spiritual." And I would say, you're wrong!

      There the two reason why "Atheists" have been doing everything they could to discredit; to make untrue, worthless and must be discarded or burnt.

      First, It's the foundation of Christian faith. Making it and all had been written a hoax solidarily nullify Christian God.

      Second, It had prophesized their coming. It can be found in the book of Revelations, the apocalypse and the coming of the (anti-Christ)marked beast and his (Atheists)minions.

      March 3, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
    • myklds

      @Kris...but the million dollar question will be, which is which?

      And the most important thing is you truly believe in what you are believing, not just going with the flow.

      March 3, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
  14. Hope

    Hey You,do you know where your going? I know Im going to heaven! I have to say, Im a Christian and God does not like sin but , HE sees every sin the same, BEWARE DEATH KNOCKS THE HEART!!!! DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR GOING?DO YOU KNOW?Heaven or HELL?????

    March 3, 2011 at 9:53 pm |
    • Oh please

      I also have heard that if I don't behave Santa will not bring me toys. I perceive both threats with the same level of concern,

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

      Is that a faint scent of pride I smell??? Mmm... You are coming down with me bud. Don't worry, I'll teach you to play poker. I'm going to clean you out...

      March 3, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
  15. ted linguini

    The Bible says so many stupid things...this is just one of the things it's wrong about. Why would a supposed god create gays and condemn them? Why would he even create the idea? Purely for idiots.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:53 pm |
  16. Jordan

    gay = ok!

    March 3, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
    • longreach777

      Man and woman= life
      Man and man = death

      March 3, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
    • Tursiops

      Wow, longreach777, guys night out with you sounds pretty intense...

      March 3, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
  17. mike

    Its a story people. The burning bush was arson, Eden was a cool little island with talking snakes and some crazy guy built a big boat and filled it with animals, these days he would be jailed for not have the correct permits and be featured on the show Hoarders. Those who take this story at its word need to relax and take it for what it really is.......A STORY. Written by some bigot, who owned slaves, practiced incest and took some potent mushrooms.

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

      Exactly – the Bible is a BOOK. It's a book of legends and myths. It's supposed to be replete with MORALS, not RULES. It's so frustrating that in modern society, thousands of years of quite literally beating this book into human beings has rendered so many of them incapable of seeing it for what is is and should be – to take these words literally is to deny the very power of the words themselves. In fact, if you see only literal truths in the Bible, I would go as far as to say it's an affront to God.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
    • myklds

      So it's Charles's anime you are believing to? A one celled digimon that digivolved into a godzilla who transported to the planet of the apes and camouflaged. And joined the flintstones and ultimately becomes you.

      Latest scientific discoveries: Biologist found out that APES are GAY.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
  18. Duzy

    Thumbs down to this religious gibberish. He references portions of the Bible which were not even written during the time of Jesus, and were written hundreds of years later by people who never even lived during that time. This guy isn't a scholar, he's a dogmatist and hack.

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

      right on!

      March 3, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
    • Upperhand

      Say what, whhhhat!!!

      CNN is allowing an opposing view to its usual liberal slanted stories. Wow, this is a first!!!

      March 3, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
    • Collin

      Hundreds of years later? Not quite. All books in the New Testament are dated to approximately 1st Century AD.

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

      ummm.... Genesis, one of the authors primary text references, was certainly not written after Jesus. That is not dogam, it is history.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
  19. olorinstaff

    To everyone here who has read the bible cover to cover 1, 2, even 3 times. Sheesh, get a life.

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

      You oughta try reading it at least once.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
  20. Nugs

    Cool story, bro.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:50 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.