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. doc

    The highlighted text in the bible? Starts with " The Man" not God. I rest my case.

    March 3, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
    • aselfishpoet


      March 3, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
    • zzzzzz


      March 3, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
  2. surebe

    To everyone that chooses not to believe.... All because you choose to not believe, does not make it not real. It's only that you choose to not believe. Your right! You have that choice.

    March 3, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
    • T-party

      wrong I believe one plus one equals two. I can verify it and it makes sense. I do not know if the bible which was written by men not a God has any truth to it or not. As an agnostic it is not my choice. It is my conclusion

      March 3, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
  3. libertarian

    For the folks who believe that the concept of "free will" proves religion/God/etc., please do the following: 1) Define "free will" (make sure it is something that only humans can do, according to your own requirements) 2) Explain how chemical and/or biological processes could NOT explain this phenomenon. I am perplexed as to how this concept can be used to prove anything and have yet to find someone who can accurately perform the 2 tasks I described.

    March 3, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
  4. zeburritoName

    God made Adam and Eve ,not Adam and Steve,but some Adam's love sausage,and some Eve's love roast beef,so,be it.

    March 3, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
  5. AnotherDave

    "When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." Luke 21:28 Turn on the TV and watch the news. Israel in the middle of everything (regardless of your perspective), a one world government/economic system on the way controlling all trade... heads-up people, Jesus is knocking... you might want to open the door and let Him in. He came in the name of a God that loves you soooo much, he accepted responsibility for this mess and died for ALL his creation. wow. what other "god" has taken that step? LOVE – let's not loose the focus. Read the Book all the way through. Do not quote just a few old testament passages – there is a VERY BIG picture there – VERY BIG. Much love and respect to all. peace.

    March 3, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
  6. Jimcracky

    I think Dr. Gagnon makes an excellent argument for why we should no longer heed the teachings of a desert tribe from 2,000 to 4,000 years or their musings on the likes and dislikes of their ancient sky god. A lot of us have sort of moved on from that. Catch up.

    March 3, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
    • Kendall

      You don't know much about the ppl that were early Christians do you? What does the desert have to do with anything? It would be like not wanting to listen to Plato because he was one of those rocky city-state ppl.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
    • Viva FSM!

      Kendall, no one uses Plato to justify treating another person like crap. Your analogy just doesn't work. Faith shouldn't be a "get out of jail free" card for mistreating others or a weapon. That this article was about was an example of how religion is misused.

      March 4, 2011 at 2:46 am |
    • Kendall

      @Viva FSM- I'm sorry....did anyone say it was ok to hurt others in this? And you miss the point...it's not a comparisson of intent but of the source. There are those on here critical of the Bible because they see it as from ancient tribesman from a desert. As if that's a good reason. I merely pointed out that those same ppl wouldn't do that to a person from a rocky little ancient area like Greece. But if you don't care for Plato....I am sure you could find an ancient rocky land living Greek that advocated discrimination based on law....take the Spartans.

      March 4, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  7. Leonard

    .....now I know what killed off the dinosaurs..........those who interpret the bible.

    March 3, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
  8. Upperhand

    As I'm sitting here reading this article and munching on some planters almonds w/ grove sea salt & olive oil I can't help but notice all the ignorance coming from the God hating atheists and God hating liberals....pretty funny considering they also use "faith" to "believe" no God exists.

    March 3, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
  9. M T

    Wait, why would any rational minded person care what some bronze age mythology like the Bible has to say about it?

    March 3, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
    • Kendall

      Umm...one, it's not Bronze Age if ppl still worship it..it's never stopped at the Bronze age. Oh....you might want to check your ages anyway. I belive the Iron Age might be more correct in what limited way you meant your comment. Duh. Two, it's not mythology..it's a religion.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
  10. paul

    here is the penultimate proof that the bible is all BS!
    any religion that george w bush is allowed to become a member of is fake and baloney!

    March 3, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
    • Kendall

      Great....a goof that wants to bring in their politics to a religious debate.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
  11. Ray in MA

    This does not impact me because I do not believe that his Bible has anything to do with my life, even tho it oppresses my every day existence.

    March 3, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
    • Kendall

      Oh please...will you grow up. How exactly does the Bible oppress you?

      March 3, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
  12. Alex

    The bible also says that disobedient children should be stoned. I wouldn't take too much seriously from that ancient tome.

    March 3, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
    • Kendall

      I guess you do not understand what true justice is or the compassion God wants us to have. "Do ut des".

      March 3, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
  13. Dewy987

    three words:


    March 3, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
    • Dan

      Yeah, 70 nutjobs define all two billion Chistians in the world. Your intellect is staggering.

      March 3, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
  14. goandseek

    The bible as you call it is nothing but rubbish. Brain washing rubbish. It will rot your brain from the inside out. If you have on burn it trusts me you will better off.

    March 3, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
    • Kendall

      Do you speak from expereince or are you just another ignorant person that probably never even opened a Bible but decide to judge it and the followers of Judaism and Christianity?

      March 3, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
  15. Jamie

    Though there are many statements on both sides I take issue with here, I wanted to briefly interject in order to refute one misconception of those defending atheist doctrine by which I have long been dismayed. Christianity isn't some static, inane set of rules that everyone has just blindly accepted and barely challenged. Most, if not all, Christians go through intense periods of doubt and reconciling. Moreover, there are many, many intelligent, extraordinary philosophers and theologians that have dug deep into Christianity itself. Some of the classics: Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Merton, and my personal favorite, Kierkegaard. This list is probably the most paltry one you'll ever find. Also note that many authors take their inspiration and spirit from a Christian faith. A list would again be futile, but in this realm you can find intensely personal, profound, and diverse views and appearances of Christianity. I find an intense Christian basis in Hesse, but seek in many of the authors that form the Western canon and there lie Christian themes in ways you might never imagine them. Composers too, like Beethoven, found their music to be a more lucid expression of God. In any genre of art you will find this same phenomenon. Scientists, too, have sought the heavens and the microscopic level with their faith as impetus, and looking to strengthen it in the process with greater and more complex revelation of God.

    This same idea applies to Judaism and Islam. I do not necessarily claim the logic of "Look at how intelligent and innovative these people were! If they were Christian, than you should be too!" In fact, that fallacious proposition would contradict the necessary, uniquely individual basis each faith requires. Rather, know that there are so many sources of Christian inspiration, complexity, and intellect, much more than just the Bible, although it is of course fundamental. Anyone who tries legitimately to take the Bible literally or even semi-historically will unfortunately be stymied. There are logical contradictions and discrepancies within the first two chapters! However, it still will never fail to illustrate the basics of all Judeo-Christian faith and its nuances as a text (which can be intensely studied with some exegesis) are essential.

    As to this article itself, I am not necessarily convinced. There are many societal references that the author tries to shirk away from or deny. I have somewhat more complex rebuttal to his interpretation of Jesus' declaration of man and women, which, I apologize, I am not ready to embark upon it at the moment. Also, I know many gay people who still stay Christian, and even feel vindicated by their faith in Christ.

    March 3, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
    • Chris Divis

      All I can say is if you can't prove the bible and everything in it is 100% true, why does it matter in any discussion. Why hate a group of people that just want to love, whether its same gender or not, its not hurtin anyone.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
  16. paul

    jesus was gay
    the church leaders were child molesting pedophiles...much much much worse than today!
    the bible is for non-thinkers
    bible followers=sheeple

    March 3, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
    • Kendall

      Wow..that was about the most immature cry for attention I've seen yet on here. Congrats.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
  17. DMichael

    Another Biblical "scholar," another reason to ignore that corrupted book, which contains some wisdom and some Corrupt-Pope-Inspired boloney, some designed to further Vatican power, some to satisfy personal biases, some the result of prejudices of the times, some just probably flat-out mistranslated. Problem is, true believers can't seem to sort out the wheat from the moldy chaff, which basically renders the whole collection of multi-translated words irrelevant–follow the Bible and you get Mother Teresa one day, the Westboro Hate Freaks the next. I will go with the "love thy neighbor" part, though. That part seems to make pretty good sense.

    March 3, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
    • FAS

      The Bible doesn't give the Pope any power – Catholics do.

      March 3, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
  18. Iamparker

    The interpretation of the Bible, and many other religious texts, provides a great inisight into those doing the interpreting. People can, and do, read what they want to read and simply ignore the rest. "An eye for an eye" for the hawks among us, "turn the other cheek" for the more pacifist-minded. It is a mass of contradictions. Is it a useful guide for how we should conduct our lives? Not really; not when its meaning can be twisted and distorted to suit the reader's own perceptions of right and wrong. I prefer Spike Lee's take – "Do the Right Thing". And if you don't know what the right thing is, the Bible isn't going to help you.

    March 3, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
    • Dan

      You unwittingly make a good point about the contradictions of the Bible. You fail to see that the Bible operates on two levels, viz. gace and the law. Law demands condemnation for wrong-doing; grace forgives. That is the inherent contradiction in the bnature of God, that he loves us so much that he is willing to save us fom his own sense of justice and need to punish offenders.

      March 3, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
  19. harcamone

    My Take: I *so* don't care what your fairy tale book condemns or doesn't condemn.
    _I_ condemn pious old bints who insist on dictating the conscience of everyone who doesn't agree with them.

    March 3, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
  20. coopity

    If you don't believe in God or the Bible then why do you bother to post a comment?
    Sounds to me like you are still trying to convince yourself by talking about it.
    After all, at one time people thought the world was flat, right?? So it would figure that after 2000 years of believing in an imaginary book and an imaginary Savior that we would have become so smart and realize that it is all fake?
    Atheists shouldn't worry so much about something they don't even believe in.

    March 3, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
    • harcamone

      yah, but Blanche...we don't have the option of worrying or not worrying about it when our lives, families, and those who we love are under an unending barrage of hatred from the religious right in this country.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
    • Kendall

      @harcamone- I would tell your friends and family to grow up. Life isn't for the weak and timid. There are those that don't gays...there are those who don't like whites, blacks, Jews, Catholics, Hindus..etc. If one lives a certain way they need to accept all the consequences of that action...whether they be pleasant or not.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
    • Jimcracky

      @Kendall – an easy statement for you to make since it costs you nothing. Would you like to take over tax payments on the house I couldn't inherit because I couldn't marry my partner due to religious nutwings? Would like to explain why someone dies without the comfort of a loved one to hold their hand because right-wing idiots don't want hospitals to give visitation rights. Tell you what, I'll "grow up"and shut up when you pay up. Until then expect me to advocate for the same rights everyone else gets. Fairness – nothing more, nothing less.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
    • Kendall

      @Jimcracky- I think I am well in my right to say what I said. Now tell me this....when did anyone not got to inherit something due to religious nutjobs? Last I saw, a religious point of view never stopped anyone from inheriting anything in this Nation for many decades.

      March 3, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
    • Dan

      Jim Cracky: Your argument is a silly strawman. There is nothing preventing your lover from leaving his house to you. He can put it in his will, if he likes.

      March 3, 2011 at 11:12 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.