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. Ed Gauthier

    The bible is pure crap. It has always been merely a clumsily cobbled-together collection of old stories, hastily placed under one published roof. Most of the stories, parables, cautionary tales etc., within it had already appeared long before the supposed lifetime of Jesus, including the Dead Sea Scrolls. As a result, what may or may not be interpreted in any such book as being "anti-gay" or "pro-gay" is totally irrelevant. Gay-hater Bob Gagnon can go gag on it.

    March 10, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
  2. satan augustine

    So was Jesus gay or not? And why should I care?

    March 9, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
  3. The Reverend Canon Susan Russell

    Gagnon falls into the rhetorical trap frequently deployed by those who presume to have the power to set the context for the dialouge with his "serious" question:

    "... does the Left read significant works that disagree with pro-gay interpretations of Scripture and choose to simply ignore them?"

    He leaves out a critical third option: We read your works and disagree with their conclusions. Not because we don't understand your birlliant exgesis. Not because we are so blinded by our "pro-gay" agenda that we fail to see the "Absolute Truth" of your arguments.

    We've read them. Marked them, inwardly digested them ... and disagreed with them.

    And if you'd like to have THAT conversation, you know where to find us.

    The Reverend Canon Susan Russell
    All Saints Church, Pasadena CA

    March 9, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
    • The Reverend Canon Susan Russell

      (apologies for the typos ... typing on my phone!)

      March 9, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • FormCritic

      There's a fourth option: Lazy scholarship on your part. You manage to read the text and understand it to say exactly the opposite of what it does say.

      If you don't like what the Bible says, that's fine. Failure to read the plain language of the text....well....that's another matter.

      March 9, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
  4. Deptdog4

    Don't know if this has been said or not but the best way to read the Bible is with a Dispensational perspective. The Bible was written at different times for different people. Understanding who is writing and who they are writing to allows all the pieces to fall into place. Most importantly understand this, when Jesus died on the cross, for ALL our sins, it changed EVERYTHING! The rules, Mosiac Law, that once were in place had been satified by the only one that could live up to them. this is the message that Paul spread, even from prison, out of love. And, that is the core of the issue when it comes to God...He loves us all. Even if you don't believe in Him.

    March 8, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • Christine

      Exactly right.

      March 8, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
  5. Gerri

    To each his/her own needs! How wonderful that in this day and age and country we are free people to believe or not have to accept what others believe. We are all going to be surprised after we die.

    March 8, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
  6. predictus

    predictus says, "if though doesn't like the bible passage then one will just explain it away."

    March 8, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  7. LetoAtreides

    Well stated Dr. Gagnon! Thank you.

    March 8, 2011 at 8:35 am |
  8. Curious

    If life is discovered in outer space, and it is older, more intelligent, more peaceful, more advanced, and more spiritual than humankind, how might that impact your viewpoint of the Bible and religion?

    March 8, 2011 at 12:24 am |
    • Juan

      It would show that those aliens trusted in God much more than humans did.

      March 8, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • Carlo Caraluzzo

      If so Christians and Muslims would first tell them how stupid they are and try to convert them. If that didnt work they would attack them.

      March 10, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  9. lokii

    Great another article to kick off a blog war. For those that believe, follow the rules laid down for you and spread the good word, that's all that is required of you. Slandering and verbal beat downs don't win followers for the faith. Those that do not believe, I hope you change, but I will not hold my breath, only you can choose if your path leads to or away from god. If you are one of the people that tries to make the bible fit your views and not vice versa your faith is insincere. As far as the topic goes, it's written all over the book. It does not get more direct that 1 Corinthians 6: 9. To sum it up, good Christians should accept anyone regardless of their backgroud, but the rest should not confuse acceptance with condoning ones actions or way of life.

    March 7, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
    • AC

      acceptance is all you have to give. just plain tolerance. i'm not religious and i don't plan on being so but well said. you are what a christian should be: a person with no hate and who doesn't discriminate, just loves.

      March 9, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
  10. chris

    who's DNA did jesus have?

    March 7, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
    • ashmine

      Read Matthew chapter 1 and Luke chapter 3.

      March 8, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
    • JLC

      Yes, that always made me smile when I read the myth of the immaculate conception. Jesus would only have half the required genetic material. So silly

      March 8, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
    • FormCritic

      Yes, that sounds real clever. I can't possibly think of an answer because it's just so clever. You must be a genius. I can't imagine how clever it must make you feel. Wow.

      March 9, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  11. overwhelmed by mercy

    I absolutely do not believe in flying pigs so much that I refuse to raise an argument with those who do. I find it very telling that the loudest opponents to a Divine Creator with divine laws are so fanatical about their UNbelief. God's mercy does overwhelm our lack of mercy for each other. It's almost like I can hear Abel's blood calling out today in the voices of each other's disdain for one another.

    March 7, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  12. Joe from CT, not Lieberman

    The Bible also directs men to grow their hair long on the sides of their heads, to avoid shellfish and pork, and also directs anyone who disrespects their parents to be put to death. Martin Luther thought that by making the Bible available to the people, it would help break Rome's grip on thought. Near the end of his life, he realized those Catechisms that the people used instead of the Bible were probably a good thing, as too many people suddenly thought they were theologians as they had read the Bible themselves!

    March 7, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • Carlo Caraluzzo

      Martin Luther also never intended to split from the church. The De Medici popes had been selling Papel favors for cash and he wanted THIS practice stopped. But, just like the chrisitan church hi jacked Jesuses teachings and pieced it together to create a contrast to Judiasm, "protestants" hi j acked Luthers words and created a new chrisitanity.
      The funny thing is, and christians are the worst at this, is taking ONLY the ideas in the bible that suit thier own neurosis´.
      People learn from the people they grow up with. If your parents believed gays are somehow horribly wrong, chances are you will too. This early learning is so powerful that many people go to extreme lengths (including delusional or violent behavior) to keep these beliefs intact.

      March 10, 2011 at 9:58 am |
  13. big j

    The Word of God also says that just because you read the words in the holy book, does not mean you will gain wisdom And knowledge ...on the contrary, if a man without the spirit does not accept the things that come from God, the Word will seem like foolishness to him, and he wont understand it.

    So for those of you who read the Bible 3 times and turned atheist....what's your point? You have only proved what you yourself are lacking.

    March 7, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • Andres

      No, you proved yourself that you recognize fiction from true. Legends, myths, and ignorance from history and facts. If God REALLY influenced in the writing of the Bible, why was he/she/it more clear on its meaning?

      March 8, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • Q

      Read your verse again. It says if a man does not have the spirit it will seem like foolishness. In other words, if you don't blindly believe whats in the Bible it will not make sense. This is hilarious. The Bible is actually telling people to just believe what it says without thinking, and what do people do. They just believe...cause the Bible tells me so...hahaha

      March 10, 2011 at 10:15 am |
  14. big j

    Lol. People these days.
    100 different versions of the Bible...that made me laugh. You all are not very wise...talking to the folk who say things like, `"the Bible is man's opinions" or "the Bible is imaginary" or "I've read the Bible 3 times front to back & blah blah blah."
    There are very few words to describe that kind of ignorance.

    March 7, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
  15. Nadine

    Why, oh why, are there so many different interpretations of the bible and why do people blow up some obscure passages to make a point but not others. If only there was a list of the most important things we should and should not do. Maybe a top ten list. Let me think....
    Ah yes, the ten commandments. Why don't we start there instead of arguing about differences that just don't matter very much.

    March 7, 2011 at 9:45 am |
    • fred

      Nadine, you may not be aware of this but the 10 commandments have changed over time. The original version is very different from what you think they are. Just do a google search. Broaden your understanding of your religion.

      March 9, 2011 at 7:12 am |
    • Robert P

      Jesus is reported to have said that the greatest command was to love God unconditionally, and then your neighbor as much as yourself.

      March 10, 2011 at 1:41 am |
  16. Stubbycat

    Because "the Bible" is a collection of some sixty ancient texts, all of which express the various views, insights and opinions of their authors and editors, it truly can not be said that "the Bible" gives one view on a specific subject. For example, in some sections of the canon, animal sacrifice is lauded as a vehicle for worshipping Elohim, but in other sections such sacrificial ceremonies are denominated as useless and unrequired by "the Lord." "What does the Lord require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy GOD." The Divine Principle which rules the universe is not the author of mortal books. Humans are the composers who express their written inspirations differently and for various purposes from age to age.

    March 7, 2011 at 2:43 am |
  17. jojo

    A flaw in that is that it's by no means "obvious he wasn't a lunatic." Quite the contrary, actually.

    March 6, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
  18. jojo


    March 6, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
  19. jojo

    The only flaw in that (and it's a major flaw) is that it's by no means "obvious" that he wasn't a lunatic. Quite the contrary.

    March 6, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
  20. jacobTThompson

    "'If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads."
    Lev. 20:13


    Would you idiots grow up and let these people live their lives. The book of fairy tales doesn;t have the answer....it's an abstract work of art that can be interpreted anyway you like.

    March 6, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • Mykelb

      Levbiticus is directed at JEWISH RABBIs as their moral code. Not Gentiles or gays. Please read the entire book before pulling out one sentence and using it to condemn 10% of the population.

      March 7, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • Teresa Smith

      If you so believe in the bible then you have to believe God makes no mistakes. So he made them that way for a reason. Could that be that God is judging you on how you treat people. If so your in deep do do. Do onto others, why not follow that rule. You are not to judge God does. So what are you hiding by going after others. Just as you want to bring that baby in the world but then you would let it starve to death rather then help it. You would not let Mary in your door, let alone Jesus if he show up there because he is a different race. So look deep before you speak for God.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
    • DavidMichael

      Eating shellfish is called "an abomination" in the O.T. but I haven't ever seen a Christian picket the Red Lobster.

      March 9, 2011 at 8:21 am |
    • ralph

      Hey, Jacob is making FUN of the Bible. He thinks you should let people live their lives the way they are. Don't attack him unless you can read English and understand it.

      March 9, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • FormCritic

      Dude – Read more carefully. You read one passage in the Old Testament and that somehow passes as clever. You need to read the New Testament as well.

      March 9, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • Let Christians Beleive!

      Why would you kill a retarded child's belief in Santa Claus?

      March 10, 2011 at 2:08 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.