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. StoneyG

    What most people may have forgotten is that the Bible was written by men...not God. The bible is the best selling fictional book ever written by dozens of men and a King (James). We can thank the modern version of the bible to the Catholic church during its most corrupt times, which also promoted the supremacy of men over women. If anything, the "good book" should only be used for inspiration for this life, not a roadmap to salvation in the afterlife. No one has ever came back from the afterlife to tell us anything about it.

    March 6, 2011 at 8:30 am |
  2. kristina

    Why can't we just get along with each other? All we do is fight. Point the finger at each other when we hear something that we don't agree with. Life "really" is too short for all this nonsense.

    March 6, 2011 at 4:17 am |
  3. Terry P


    March 6, 2011 at 2:47 am |
  4. macguysea

    If you're not gay, then you have no idea what its like to be gay. Who would really choose to be gay?... and in the process be demonized?!.. WHO WOULD CHOOSE THIS!?... I did not choose to be gay.. I am who I am, and if you don't like it then you can go screw yourself.

    March 6, 2011 at 1:12 am |
  5. macguysea


    March 6, 2011 at 1:11 am |
  6. cb

    She says the bible is flawed?! She just lost any and all credibility.

    March 6, 2011 at 12:48 am |
    • Carmem

      Praise God for your precious new gift! Issac is so hamnosde! It is soooooooooo wonderful to see all your pictures and read all your news. What a good-looking family and Karissa is growing into such a beautiful young lady! Thanks for sharing your lives!Love and hugs and kisses to all,Great Aunt Sarah

      July 31, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
  7. Amy

    Wow. I'm sorry, but I'm really unimpressed with a lot of these comments. I'm a Christian, and a lot of what I'm seeing in these comments are things like "The Bible is a lot like Aesop's Fables," and "the Bible was edited," and "the Bible isn't the ultimate source of truth."
    Please, for the sake of the appearance of intelligence, look at how little the Bible has changed over time. In comparison, the Book of Mormon has changed central doctrines relatively recently, and it's not 2000 years old.
    If you think the Bible is like a load of fairy tales, that's odd. Jesus, the star of the story, was not born in a castle and died the most humiliating death possible. As well, even the best (godliest) people in the stories all have some failures (sin). What kind of a fairytale is this?Also, there is archeological evidence, so it's not just a load of BS. Look it up.
    If you don't think the Bible is the ultimate source of truth, then what's the problem? This article was written to those who DO believe that. For those of us that DO believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, we should thank the author of this article for trying to clarify an issue that many Christians have questions about.
    Basically, please stop getting mad over something that should have no effect on you if you aren't a Christian.

    March 5, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
  8. Scott

    It astounds me how miss informed everyone is about the bible. 66 "books" written by 40 authors and yet when throughly looked at has no conflicts... who today could hand out 66 chapters of a book to 40 diffferent individuals and get anything close to agreeing.... Tim 3:16 ALL scripture is inspired of god........ think of it this way... God chose 40 differnet office assistants to write his "Books" much like a CEO dictates a letter to their office assisitants who write their letters... who wrote the letter the CEO or the office assistant?

    also consider this... when everyone thought the world was flat the bible clearly stated thousands of years earlier it was round and hanging on nothing....

    And as mankind continues to dig and look back in time we only continue to verify the correctness and accuracy of the bible.

    I for one went way to many years relying on the "Priests' of christianity to teach me and then found out that they don't teach the bible... they teach religous doctrine (Man's teachings... not Gods).

    My salvation was found in a simple bible study and having everything verified by researching the answers in the bible iteself. John tells us we must test the word of God so as to know who the false prophets are...

    May I suggest the next time a Jehovah's Witness comes to your door... don't slam it on them, but instead pull out your bible and ask them to show you in black and white and they will gladly answer all your questions by showing you the actual bible passages and they will try to help you reason from those passages.

    May you also find the true God Jehovah and his son whom he sent forth Jesus Christ

    March 5, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
  9. Daniel

    It concerns me that Gagnon made such disparaging statements about those who interpret the Bible from a slightly different perspective. All Knust did was to present some different options for interpretation. Gagnon disparaged her character, and that of all liberal interpreters in general. This tells me that much more is at stake for Gagnon than merely a different interpretation of some ancient writings.

    March 5, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
  10. Mr. Sniffles

    When I look at Gagnon's picture, my gaydar goes off in a big way. He has that Roy Cohn charm about him.

    March 5, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
  11. David

    Ph.D. of what? Bigotry? He needs to study some more, methinks.

    March 5, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
  12. David

    The man is right. Trust in Jesus as if your soul depends on it because IT DOES! Jesus is coming back soon baby!

    March 5, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  13. RightTurnClyde

    Well first of all there is no reason (no purpose) for anyone to be celibate. It does not make you better (more worthy) and it is not natural. It has created a we/they hierarchy (that was monetarily exploited) in the RC church. Secondly it seems to cause misbehaviors. Thirdly it sets up man as judge of who are "we " and "they." It creates a false notion of goodness and not good. It has almost destroyed the Christian faith. (also churches in general destroy faith). Any kind of scriptural quoting (other than for edification and discussion) sets up a "bashing" relationship (because we are error prone). Hence, celibacy is an unneeded after thought (never did that stop the RC church - or fundamentalists or Calvinists)(did I leave anyone out?) .. we do not need new doctrine (Mark 8) .. (and Paul was a Pharisee ..)

    March 5, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  14. chris

    Well the bible isn't god it is, Neither is the Koran??? and its not even the world of god or else every living thing would inherently agree with it, and wouldn't be able to deny it. Wait oh ya... the bible, was written by man, and its at best a handy guide line.... BUT IT STILL ISN'T GOD. You find God hiding behind the face of your children, you find god hiding behind the face of your enemies, you find god hiding behind the face of the gays you so self righteously condemn. What does the so called word of god say about GOD... GOD is everything, and is in every one.

    March 5, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • RightTurnClyde

      That is so true .. BUT centuries have been devoted to making the bible a god (just like the RC church created gods .. so did the Reformationists). You can be a Christian and never learn to read. Probably 95% of the world is illiterate. In Europe Roman Catholic peasants were generally illiterate and depended on priests (Irish, Polish, Italian, Spanish, Balkan .. few of the peasants could read). In the U.S. high school was not common until after 1940. Many in the U.S. did not finish 8th grade. College was not common until the 1960's. In the 19th century bare literacy was hard to acquire outside of the tidewater east. Lincoln struggled to acquire literacy. (It was worth the struggle). Christian missionaries taught (in schools they set up and ran) but hand fulls .. not masses. If you cannot read .. you can still believe in Jesus Christ and be baptized.

      March 5, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • Amy

      To both of you guys:
      Unlike other religions that are out there, Christianity does not hold to pantheism (i.e. that God is in everything and everyone). To be sure, we believe that God is everywhere, but NOT everything. If you don't like that teaching, then you don't like the God of Christianity.
      As to the "guideline" argument, we believe that while the Bible itself is not God, it is the true words of God. When God had the scriptures written down, he made sure that there was no error in them. He allowed the men who wrote them down to use their own writing styles, but God did NOT let them be written down inaccurately.
      And, since we believe the scriptures to be without error, it is safest for us to follow the scriptures. God didn't write down his rules to make us miserable. Just like you'd tell your kid that they needed to stay out of the road so they wouldn't get hurt, God gave us the Bible to show us how to live lives closer to Him.
      No, the book in my room with a cross on it is not God, but yes, God speaks to me through it. He is full of grace.

      March 5, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
  15. Kip' Chelashaw

    Fantastic piece by Dr Gagnon and well done to the CNN for publishing it – may the truth reign.


    March 5, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
  16. marvin

    Why is this here? This is a discussion worthy of the Trinity Broadcast Network, not one that is worthy of Cable News Network. How does this apply to the millions of Americans that really don't care what one religion or another thinks of the topic? Why should we, in a secular nation, with separation of church and state enshrined in the first amendment, give such valuable real estate on the website of "the most trusted name in news" to what is nothing more than an internal debate among members of one religion?

    March 5, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • Graham Bates

      Marvin, it's called "BELIEF Blog." The website is RELIGION.blogs.cnn.com. Are you that cynical? I believe you should enshrine a separation of you and this blog for everyone's else's sake. Just because our government is secular doesn't mean the people must be, too.

      March 5, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
    • RightTurnClyde

      You probably do not realize it but celibacy and Calvinism have done more to destroy the Christian faith (notice3 I do not use the word "church" as most of them are non-Christian in doctrine). You have a wide network of Catholic and Protestant universities and teaching resources teaching NON-Christian doctrine. Did you know that? Oh they think it IS Christian. Calvinism teaches narcissism as Christianity (if God loves you He blesses you with wealth - hence the poor are unloved and unworthy ). Celibacy and Calvinism accounts for 90%+ of the "churches" who say they are Christian in faith. Trinity is a Calvinist network. It teaches Calvinism. The RC teaches we/they (that is necessarily false doctrine). Jesus did not teach we/they. (well re-think .. it is not too late)

      March 5, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • Amy

      Just because people misuse some things from the Bible and make false statements doesn't mean that Calvinism is entirely wrong, and celibacy is the right choice for some people. As well, the "health-wealth gospel" IS wrong. Jesus said, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me." Anybody who says that you will automatically be a wealthy, healthy person because you are a Christian is distorting the Bible. Does that make the Bible (or some of the larger denominations) wrong because there are people within them that misuse the Bible?
      I would say no.
      And, in general, I'd say that a Christian church would actually try to stick to Christian doctrine. I have no idea where you get the idea that Christian churches try to dilute their doctrine with non-Christian beliefs. If you have any specific "examples" of this, I'd be interested to hear them.

      March 5, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
    • RightTurnClyde

      to Amy .. well it's kind of like describing the ocean as wet. Calvinism supposes that it predicates T-U-L-I-P (which in it self is doctrinal shift away from what Jesus taught. But in practice Calvinists despise the poor, the "unwashed ones," the unblessed ones and respect the Ken & Barby ones (trophy house, trophy wife, ostentatious spending, donated pews and stained glass windows, the rancher, the business owner, the well to do (that is true of practically EVERY Christian church in the U.S. - good fortune = God loves you). If you cannot see we/they in ordained vs. laity you are blind. Yes these do not reconcile at all with "give up your belongings and follow me" or "blessed are the poor" (or the lowly, etc.). It does not reconcile with the teachings of Jesus (correct-a-mundo). So the denominations are false, but they are successful and powerful). Might makes right and ends justify means. Read Tennessee Williams (illustrates Calvinism) (Big Daddy, airplane, power, might makes right). Many screen plays, books, texts about American Calvinism. But you can look the other way and say "they mean well"

      March 6, 2011 at 1:05 am |
    • Peggy

      Well apparently ANYONE can order the Anointed Faith tool & Miracle Spring Water from that TV preacher Popoff. Cheques will start arriving in mail and good fortune for all! So I don't his church is just for the Ken & Barbie types, he'll take anyones credit card over the phone.

      March 6, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  17. Luther Butler

    The story of a Naval pilot who went down to not be heard of again for ten years. The woman in the attic window watched for his return. The cruel sea doesn't often give up the missing
    About the Author
    The author heard part of this story from an older brother who served on an aircraft carrier.


    March 5, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  18. ineeda

    wow, 80 pgs of comments on a work of fiction.....face it people, we are nothing more than an accidental deposit of intergalactic PARASITIC material, with no natural limiting factor in this environment called "earth".

    March 5, 2011 at 10:55 am |
  19. Trish

    In the world, I can choose to do one of two things: condemn someone for what they do and write them off (hate them, however you want to look at it), or I can be all-inclusive and accept what they do as okay. Jesus commands a third option: see the actions a person does as wrong and love that person regardless. Jesus commands us to love our neighbor (and the parable of the "good Samaritan" shows that everyone is our neighbor) and to love our enemies. I think that covers everyone.

    And there's the rub, to disagree with the actions of a person, and love the person anyway. Being that loving and respectful is really hard for humans to do (as evidenced by the comments here, not to mention every war ever thought). Being a Christian doesn't make you any better at doing this; it just means you are bound to try.

    March 5, 2011 at 8:40 am |
    • V

      well said

      March 5, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • Peter

      right on trish the world needs more thinkers like you

      March 5, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • Peter

      right on trish the world needs more thinkers like youhttp://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/.element/img/3.0/1px.gif

      March 5, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • maryellen

      man is God's greatest creation and \he loves us so much. It is important for everyone to seek God's approval for the way they live their life. It is between that person and God. In the end it does not much matter whether you have the whole world's approval for the way you live your life. life is a blink compared to eternity. God is on our side and He wants us to have victory over sin and He will help us when we ask for help. Remember the thief on the cross beside Jesus, he asked for help at the very last before dying.

      March 5, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
    • PeterVN

      Trish, go look up "false dichotomy".

      March 5, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
  20. Christian

    May God forgive this wicked and sinful generation. In the name of Jesus Christ I pray. Amen.

    March 4, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
    • robert

      judge not lest ye be judged

      March 5, 2011 at 3:11 am |
    • Mao

      LOL, right back at ya apparently.

      March 5, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • ineeda

      this generation??? hahahahahahaha how bout your generation?? or every generation of the PARASITE called humanity????

      March 5, 2011 at 10:50 am |
    • Peggy

      He's prolly still busy with the generations before us!

      March 5, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • deathtongue

      Oh well. I guess we should start locking up everyone who eats shellfish, and killing everyone who yells at their parents, and killing all of the women who aren't virgins on their wedding night. After all, the Bible says to. And we really need to stop selling fabric blends like polyester and rayon in stores because, you know, the bible says that's totally uncool. Who else should we kill or lock up according to the bible? It feels like I'm forgetting someone.

      March 5, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • David

      Robert read that whole chapter. You probably heard some atheist quote that. You have no idea of context. Stop enjoying your sinful life and turn to Jesus Christ

      March 5, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • DesertMac

      David, many of us have read the whole chapter. It's very plain and direct. The things Deathtongue mentioned are right there in black and white. The laws of Leviticus are not contextual, they require no deep understanding of the bible. They are what they are. The bible is a collection of myths and fairytales, and not very good ones at that.

      What always gets me is how christians dismiss other religions past and present as mythology, and "quaint" for believing in gods of thunder, magic carpets and talking animals, yet they accept without question virgin birth, burning bushes talking for god, living in a whale's stomach, a great deluge that geologists have proven never happened, an ark that would be impossible, etc... That's pretty arrogant, but then, religious zealots always are.

      March 6, 2011 at 12:13 am |
    • Anonymous

      The Bible is a book of fairy tales that the blind, gullible and fearful are reluctant to admit.

      March 6, 2011 at 8:47 am |
    • loneranger12

      To the people saying stupid stuff like "We don't need to know the context":

      You absolutely do need to know the context. The "stoning" passages were written when Israel was new and hadn't yet established itself. It was vulnerable to chaos and discord, which would doom any fragile society. We don't always realize it, but life in the desert in the pre-Industrial world was quite difficult, and survival from one day to the next couldn't be taken for granted. People who engaged in
      pagan behavior or continually defied authority were threats to the order. But since we live in a safer and stabler society, we don't need to follow them.

      Also, the prohibitions against shellfish and mixed clothing were ceremonial ritual laws. Those have been superseded by Christ's atoning death.

      March 6, 2011 at 10:03 am |
    • Peachy

      @LoneRanger12 – I guess the difficulties of desert life also allowed for the taking of a child as young as 3 years old as a wife (and raping her to make her "yours") if you conquered her parents people via war/invasion? (Numbers 31:17-18, Numbers 31:35-40).
      Was THAT the context you meant??

      March 8, 2011 at 8:30 am |
    • Peachy

      To clarify where the age of three was determined, the Jewish Torah (which was used and active at that time) allowed in the beginning of Sanhedrin 7/55B:
      "Come and take note: A girl three years and one day old is betrothed by intercourse. And if a Levir has had intercourse with her, he has acquired her."

      March 8, 2011 at 8:34 am |
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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.