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. jim

    We are all sinners. We sin in thought, word and deed. By what we have done and by what we have not done. Using the Bible as a justification for going after one kind of sinner is ridiculous. The Bible also says that there can be no divorce for any reason other than the death of a spouse (New Testament). Should we go after everyone who has been divorced because they are sinners? Stop being hypcocrits. Stop the judging. Look at yourself first before looking at others (you know, remove the plank from your eye before trying to remove the splinter from anothers).

    March 4, 2011 at 6:49 am |
    • Dave

      Why is it when someone mearly supports biblical truths they are "going after" someone. My bet is that Dr Gagon would tell you he loves his fellow man no matter what their sin yet he still dislikes the sin.

      March 4, 2011 at 7:13 am |
    • mike mcglynn

      not me----my mother and father were perfect; my sibblings were perfect----there for i am perfect.– i find your bible imperfect because there are 142 conterdictions in it.--unless of course if you consider that god couldn't rember what he said.-–a human quality to a human created god.--get informed-–this is the twenty first centuray, not the 1600's

      March 4, 2011 at 7:41 am |
    • Jaime

      actually, you can't get divorced if your spouse has died....and the Bible actually does give one valid reason for divorce, and that is infidelity (Matt 5:32)

      March 4, 2011 at 8:12 am |
    • MarylandBill

      There is also the Pauline exemption. If your spouse is a pagan, you are also allowed to divorce and remarry. Most people forget that one; probably because for most of the last 1500 years it hasn't been relevant - Now though....

      March 4, 2011 at 8:30 am |
  2. LeRoy

    Any "holy" book is 70% fiction, 30% non-fiction. You can read into it anything you want.

    March 4, 2011 at 6:36 am |
    • Ben Dover

      More accurately 100% fiction and utter BS. Total fabrication. Evolution is a theory AND a FACT. The earth is approximately 4.5 BILLION years old. Dinosaurs existed and DIDN'T walk with man. There was no "great flood" or Noah's Ark. How can anyone believe in an all-powerful, mysterious bearded man in the sky? sheeeshhhh.

      March 4, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  3. wendy5

    funny preists dont seem to think its a problem

    March 4, 2011 at 5:44 am |
  4. edwinhrydberg

    Detailed analysis of the bible is a lot like spending a life studying the mating habits of elves in Lord of the Rings. Pointless. They're both well-written books that are largely fiction or, at best, grossly embellished historical tidbits. Sure you can find moral truths in both, if you look with one eye, but you can also find horrors too.

    March 4, 2011 at 4:09 am |
  5. aselfishpoet


    March 4, 2011 at 2:50 am |
  6. William

    The only one certain way we will all know what the truth of the Bible is is when God comes down to earth is his fiery chariot or flying saucer or what ever mode of transport he chooses and explains it to our living generation. God;s first hand knowledge – his words and no one else interpretation. But I think we all know that isn't about to happen in our life time.

    March 4, 2011 at 2:24 am |
    • William

      As a footnote to my post: I think if God did come directly to earth we would all be blown to kingdom come by his presence because God is the sum total of the universe! That is why he sends messengers.

      March 4, 2011 at 2:46 am |
  7. evedyahu

    Very well said. Frankly, I am surprised that CNN allowed such a well reasoned article.

    March 4, 2011 at 2:20 am |
  8. Daryn

    Which version of the Bible? There is no master Bible, no first bible, it has always been a smattering of versions. So which version are we supposed to pretend is important? You would be better off using Lord of the Rings instead of the bible, at least it's consistent.

    March 4, 2011 at 2:11 am |
  9. Brad

    The books of the Bible say a lot of stuff. Everyone picks and chooses from this vast library. So choose wisely.

    Best advice I've ever gotten: "In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets."

    For me, this trumps all else. My best friends who are gay are the most loving and grace-filled Christians I know. I freakin' wish I could be half as holy as they are.

    March 4, 2011 at 1:47 am |
  10. truth2power

    "Christianity. That well meaning religion with all those rules and regulations that simply don't work out in the real world."
    -Homer Simpson

    March 4, 2011 at 1:43 am |
  11. Timoteus

    If rational arguments worked on religious folk, there would be no religion.

    You can't get anyone to see the real truth of their religion if they cannot face anything that threatens their belief system.

    Brainwashing is a real thing that is done to real people every day. Not all of it is religious in nature.

    Be skeptical or suffer the consequences of other people manipulating your mind.

    March 4, 2011 at 1:26 am |
  12. Larry Boy

    Isn't it hilarious how someone was "once a Christian" and then "read the Bible" and "became an Atheist" ?? My question is "What makes a person a Christian" and "What makes a person an Atheist". If I can figure that one out then, maybe I could figure out how a person "goes" from being a Christian to being an Atheist ? I have met very few "Christians" in my life, but the few that I have all seem the same to me and define themselves as one who lives for the glory of Jesus Christ 24/ 7 in everything they think, say, and do and they base their "love relationship" with Jesus on the specific words and priniciples of the Bible. None of them seem to focus much of their time (or message) on Heaven or Hell, (as that would be just a more moral form of selfishness) but only on bringing glory to Jesus Christ and letting Him take care of their present lives and their "eternity". I have a hard time believing that the few Christians I have met would "convert" to Athehism after reading the Bible, as they claim they have read it many many times and live it's principles out 24 / 7 based on a loving passion to bring glory to Jesus Christ.

    Again to get back to my initial question, what would it take for the few Christians I have met to convert to Atheism or is that possible ? Is Christianity defined by a "personal relationship" with Jesus Christ (as the few Christians I have met tell me) or is it just a creed or "rule system" that one can believe for a time and then discard at one's leisure to become an Atheist ?

    March 4, 2011 at 1:15 am |
    • Timoteus

      It depends on how schizophrenic you are. Sorry.

      March 4, 2011 at 1:20 am |
    • Mao

      That's a complicated issue because there is no 1 story that causes people to become or leave Christianity. For me, I almost left Christianity because of the physical way of scientific thinking. It is totally possible to look at the whole world only through physical eyes and not see the spiritual. I remained a Christian because of the specific prayers that God had answered recently (which a friend inadvertently reminded me).
      What makes a Christian is not specifically that they live their lives 24/7 for the glory of God because we all fail at that. Rather that is the Christian's goal and they pursue that. Christians are on a journey to becoming like Jesus and we'll only be that way fully when we enter into Heaven. So inherent in this is that they believe Jesus died and rose again for their sins (which they confess to God), and that they are becoming more holy in the way they live.

      There is a spiritual component to all this but considering most people just want physical scientific evidence I will hold back except to say that the Holy Spirit comes in and works in a person to accomplish this.

      March 4, 2011 at 9:05 am |
  13. surebe

    I have read all the comments and I have come to the conclusion that for the christian life, it is simple when it comes to God. Because, if you have truly felt his spirit. It (The word)should not have to be debated.

    To the atheists, I will take God over Man's thoughts any day!

    You see, all because you believe something is not real. Does not make it not real. We read books about great people in our history books(on the secular side) and we choose to believe in these men or women. But, when you throw "God" in the conversation "WOW" it get's crazy.

    Man has always tried the to find a way too god, through some religious attributes and this has produced Wars and all kinds of hatreds. This is only men and women's attempt to get to "God".
    Let me assure you. I don't hate anybody. I may get angry.....You can't get to "God" through RELIGION. It is Man Made!

    That's why it takes a personal experience and relationship. You etheir see or you don't see....You hear or you don't hear....You feel or you don't feel....You smell or you don't smell (not literal) LOL...You taste or you don't taste.... These are the 5 senses but, regardless of who or what you believe they came from! You have these senses and you cannot change it unless you lose 1 or all of them!

    So, let's just simply say you choose not to believe based on not being able to use these senses (in a spiritual way). To the full ipotential, with Vision, being the most used in everyday life...Don't worry we as christians haven't yet hit our full potential ethier.

    So, I believe because in know and have felt him.............I know, I'm delusional....but I will keep the faith

    Peace be with you, I love you all. Good nite!

    March 4, 2011 at 12:51 am |
  14. JBM

    This guy is so gay.

    March 4, 2011 at 12:33 am |
    • Brad

      *laughs to himself upon reading this comment; feels a little guilty*

      March 4, 2011 at 1:34 am |
  15. Mariospants

    *yawn* Mr. Gagnon's "argument' is hilarity masquerading as serious thought. It's the 21st Century, can't we please finally get rid of religion?

    March 3, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
  16. Dave

    David.we all do wrong we need Jesus b/c we all have sinned. He payed the price for us with his death. So that if we believe in him and repent he'll forgive us. Even if its a hundred small sins or one big sin Jesus will forgive us if we turn away from our sins in believe. And we as true Christian forgive because the Lord frist forgave us.

    March 3, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
  17. Marc F.

    So Gagnon, where is your argument condemning those who divorce, commit adultery, allow a menstruating woman into their bed, or eat shellfish and pork. The Bible prohibits these practices as well yet most Christians tend to gloss over these subjects. Let's just pick and chose.

    March 3, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
    • Jack

      Indeed, following Gagnon's logic, these prohibitions are only briefly listed and not generally discussed – thereby making them somehow more important to observe.

      March 4, 2011 at 12:28 am |
    • Mao

      Something you're not aware of is the MASSIVE difference Jesus makes in the Bible. That is why it's divided up in two main parts, before Jesus came and after. The reason is that Jewish laws were encompassing of everything and in Jeremiah 31:31, God prophecies that this is going to change.
      So how God's laws look should be considered after Jesus came (after God changed everything). For example, ... well this article. Mr. Gagnon talks about the OT laws but then he talks about Jesus.
      The Bible isn't a law book to pick and choose but a history of God bringing his people back to himself and what that looks like.

      March 4, 2011 at 8:57 am |
  18. JuanHames

    Now wait a sec.
    This article is filled of irrational people on BOTH sides.
    While I am an agnostic, no one can just dismiss the Bible.
    If over millions of people believe in Jesus, there must be some truth to the Bible.
    I believe while the existence of "God" is highly debatable, the Bible does teach us moral codes and is worth a read over or two.

    At the same time, as a man of science, I'd wish there would be some kind of conclusive evidence of the existence of Jesus (that's not been modified by Christians). That would clear up a lot of this trouble.

    Finally, the atheists do bring up a point. Why follow the law concerning gay people while ignoring laws preventing consumption of pork and poor women's rights?

    March 3, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
    • Kelly

      "If over millions of people believe in Jesus, there must be some truth to the Bible."

      That's chop logic. Millions of people believed the earth was flat. Remember how that turned out?

      March 4, 2011 at 12:48 am |
    • endure

      "At the same time, as a man of science, I'd wish there would be some kind of conclusive evidence of the existence of Jesus (that's not been modified by Christians). That would clear up a lot of this trouble."

      Why in the world would Christians want to falsify testimonies to keep their religion going? Christians have received intense persecution ever since Jesus died, so, why would they choose to keep a religion going that caused them so much trouble?

      March 4, 2011 at 4:00 am |
    • Mao

      I think JuanHames is referring to Josephus, where Christians took his account of Jesus and added in a few words. Some people, instead of recognizing that only a few words were added and dropping those words out, tend to distrust the whole thing and throw the whole thing out.
      I just don't get why the Bible has to be taken out as proof that an individual existed especially when it contrasts starkly with the fictional tales of religious figures of that time. The Roman tales used fictional people with fictional places, whereas the Bible uses real people with real places. There wasn't a blurring of the two in that day and age.

      March 4, 2011 at 8:51 am |
  19. Linda

    I am Christian, and I don't hate gay people. I feel it is a sin along with millions of other things people, do, say and think. I would just like to say, Those of you that are Christian, please don't say things on this post that would turn non-believers away from God, and to the non-believers, believe what you want, but from the bottom of your heart when you lie down tonight to sleep, Ask God (let's say for fun, humor me) if He really exist. Really, Sincerely. What could it hurt?

    March 3, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
    • Chaiah

      Ok, I just did. All I heard was "The Sound of Silence."

      March 3, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
    • JuanHames

      Unfortunately, many people tend to incline themselves to different sides.
      I try to be neutral, but I still tend to lean to the atheists, sadly.
      And yes, I've read the Bible 3 times. It's a very interesting book.

      March 3, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
    • P

      I have harshly examined every so-called proof of a god's existence, including prayers. Even without the obviously falseness of the writings grouped into the Bible, there is no real-world interaction with me or with other people, therefore no god with those sorts of attributes exists. There is nothing happening in the world that shows any supernatural origin.
      Neither do we find any evidence of supernatural origin in anything. ANYTHING. And we're constantly on the lookout, too!

      The Bible is a complete fabrication from start to finish.
      That should be abundantly clear to anyone with the guts and street smarts to examine the texts objectively.
      These biblical texts were written by the ancient equivalents of con-men. Clear as day to anyone strong enough to face the possibility and then check and test to see if there is any truth to the possibilities.
      Test and examine. Science at it's most basic. Facts and proof that stand up to the highest scrutiny.
      But in a court of law, the bible would LOSE, as there is no supporting or corroborating evidence by which anyone could rely on anything it says as more than just rambling nonsense in book form. God cannot even be proven to exist in a court of law.
      Not if everyone is absolutely honest, that is.

      March 4, 2011 at 12:49 am |
    • endure

      @P, I would encourage you to truly objectively investigate this matter more. If you approach the Bible with a preconceived notion that God doesn't exist, you're far more likely to conflate evidence for your notion. However, if you are truly objectively searching for truth, you will not have a bias either way. Doesn't true objectivity mean a neutral starting point with absolutely no preconceived notions? Also, check out William Lane Craig's Kalam Cosmological Argument.

      March 4, 2011 at 3:48 am |
  20. VIJI




    ( ICE ) ( STEAM)

    March 3, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
    • JuanHames

      ....but Water= H20.
      God does not equal Jesus.

      March 4, 2011 at 12:00 am |
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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.