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. TheRationale

    You're basically illiterate if you think the Bible doesn't condemn ho-mose-xuality. By death.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
  2. will

    Again it matters not. If you choice for yourself to believe the Bible has something to say about this issue good for you. Just shut the hell up when it comes to how others choice to live their lives. It's that simple really. Now go and have a nice day.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • MEA

      Will Have a Ghey Day!

      March 3, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  3. Marty in MA

    Enough with the Bible already. Can't we move on to reality?

    March 3, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • come on man

      what is reality?

      March 3, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
  4. reason

    Why do people believe/guide their lifes on a book written almost 2,000 years ago?

    March 3, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • come on man

      I think the real question is why they believe it to be a guide to their lives.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  5. yanni

    BUt, that doesn't mean that God hates the person or that we should hate the person or treat them badly.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  6. Realist

    What's the purpose of this book in modern times? All it brings to this world is arguments from other religions, from non religious people and even from within the religion that follows it as this article shows. People are blind to the fact that the Bible really is nothing more than a fairy tale with a few real world events included in the story and some decent quotes that may or may not help you make decisions in life. Jesus probably existed, but not as the super human back from the dead magician he's said to be in the bible. He was probably just a arguably good person, like the millions doing good in this world today. In this crazy world people are and always have been desperate for comfort, and believing somebody is always watching over you makes people feel protected.

    If a random person walked up to you and said they were sent by God to help us all and blah blah blah, he or she would have their mental stability questioned. If a person hears voices they are mentally ill, but if you say you hear God or Jesus speaking to you it hardly gets questioned. The truth is people want comfort and a feeling of meaning in this crazy world and religion makes them feel like they have it in some way, it's a safety blanket for most. If you look at the bible or most other religious writings from a realistic unbiased point of view you'll see most are factually inaccurate in many ways yet people still live their life by them. To me all religion does is separate people into groups and causes many more problems than it can fix. So again, Whats the purpose of this book in modern times?

    March 3, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • Realist

      And excuse me for repeating myself in that rant, lol.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • Servant of God

      God Bless You!...for you know not what you are saying!

      March 3, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • Realist

      Teach me something then. Prove this book or religion helps human kind in any way shape or form that couldn't be done without it. You bible warriors hardly know what it means to be taught something, as you were never taught about what's in the bible. You were told, and told not to question, but you never actually learned. TELLING someone 10 divided by 2 equals five means very little if you're not TAUGHT how to do the math. You've been Told by your religion, not Taught.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • MEA

      Realoser you do not speak the truth.Next question

      March 3, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • Realist

      Like I said, Explain. You can say "No thats not true, because it goes against what I was told" all you want. All I'm asking for is some form of proof outside of your opinion that shows something other than what I've said.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  7. yep

    The issue here is not if God exists, the Bible is true (I believe both are true), etc. etc. The issue is whether the author of the first article used the Bible properly as evidence in her argument. This author helpfully demonstrates that no, she did not.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  8. Gregg

    He writes as though he knew Jesus and had one on on conversations with him. As in most "interpretations" of the bible, they are just that, "interpretations", not facts. The reason for so many different even Christian interpretations is both the beauty and the curse of Biblical text. If you choose to apply the text literally you come to a very different conclusion then if you attempt to understand the symbolism, parables, and intent. Again, it all comes down ti interpretations, belief, and faith. If you go into the Bible with preconceived notion of what you will find there, both positive and negative then you can find verses and words to support your perspective. I am a straight, Caucasian male and choose to believe in a inclusive God. I have yet to meet a Christian who has not sinned and continues to sin today. If you choose to believe then you also need to believe in forgiveness, tolerance, and protection of the flawed (if you believe it to be a flaw).

    March 3, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • come on man

      Can I read your post and come up with my own interpretation or do you expect me to try to understand what you meant?

      March 3, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • MEA

      I may believe in the forgiveness, yet you will still be judged for what you've done, and that may lead to something bad

      March 3, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  9. Jim

    I agree with Tom R. Who cares what the bible said. Its extremely outdated.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  10. Tee

    As soon as any Bible believer FOLLOWS ALL the RULES. All of them...and doesnt pick and choose the ones they like for themselves, and the ones they wish to use against others...is when any Believer, or scholar can comment on matters of PERSONAL CHOICE.

    The bible is nothing but a tool and regretfully all too often a tool used to disparage and hurt others.

    Xtandom has never shown – individually or en masse that it can live up to its HYPE.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  11. bill

    Well written article. Glad to see someone approach the Bible with some intellect, valid reasoning and equity.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • Jim

      No one should ever approach the bible.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • truthfulness

      well written? ugh

      March 3, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  12. Jesse

    Someday (I hope!) humanity will look back on the bible just as we view the ancient greek and roman religions... MYTHOLOGY!

    March 3, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • MEA


      Someday you will stand in front of God to account for your statement....boy how I wish I could see your face then! You see, I know I will be judged for my sins, and it will be no surprise to me what my judgement is.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  13. Rob

    By gernalizing Jordan, you have done no better than anyone else here. I am a Christian and I don't believe any of my comments were abusive, being a jerk or otherwise. You comments have put me in a group. I agree with you that all Christans should be Christ-like. All are human and there is not escaping that.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
  14. cob3

    Dissecting the bible for scientific truth is rather like examining hitchhiker's guide for space travel tips. Why this is on CNN's front page I do not know. The only relevant bit in this entire article is the author's hatred of liberals, which if you actually read the bible are actually far more christian in practice than the right winged hate mongers.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      You seem like a frood who really knows where his towel is.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  15. Brandon

    Isn't it amazing how people always manage to find backing in the Bible for whatever the hell they wanted to believe in the first place? If you're bigoted against gay people, just say so; no need to hide behind religious texts.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • Betty

      Seriously. It's almost like the book, and believing in that book as having been written by some supernatural being, allows them free license. It's like it takes away their guilt. "Oh, I have a right to hate you because the magic book tells me I can."

      March 3, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  16. Elizabeth

    If you don't have the common sense to figure out right from wrong without looking to an ancient text, you have a problem. "I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them." – Galileo

    March 3, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
  17. Jacob

    I am gay.
    I go to church every Sunday.
    I love God, and Jesus, and Mary just as much as the next person.
    I go to confession regularly.
    I believe that God loves everyone and you will never be able to change that.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • Superchik

      He does, Jacob. And that's all that matters. 🙂

      March 3, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • CW

      @ Jacob,

      Glad you Love God....one thing though...in order to have true repentance you stop sinning. Your lifestyle is a sin...have your ever read Romans 1 or 1 Corithians 6:9? I hope this helps to improve your walk...turn from you lifestyle...Choose to follow what the Bible states.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • come on man

      well how do you know he loves you, why do you believe that?

      March 3, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • MEA

      You will also be judge for the sin of being gay, like I will be judged for my sins. If gays are OK in stating that fact, the move forward in your declaration, and also be prepared to reap the judgement.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • G.Lopez

      my sibling is gay – i love him to pieces and he has GOD in his heart. You know what he said to me when he was 18 or 19 "i know i'm sinning" ... it broke my heart. But i had to be strong for him and explain "brother, Jesus LOVES you!!!.. no matter what you hear from conservatives, no matter what u hear from the Catholic priest.. you are a child of God.. and He is looking out for YOU!" Knowing & loving a person who is gay brings clarity to the matter.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
  18. trueness


    March 3, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • Frank

      For those of you who believe that, fair enough. Just understand not everyone buys into that same concept.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • Betty


      March 3, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • truthfulness


      March 3, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • mckillio

      Apparently Jesus is working on a different clock than the rest of us.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
  19. Tom R

    It doesnt matter what the bible says. Its 90% fiction and theres plenty of proof of that too.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • come on man

      what proof are you talking about.......I would like to know!

      March 3, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • TP

      to "come on man"
      How old is the earth? Do you really believe that the first woman was made from Adam's rib? Genesis?!?
      The whole thing is a farce.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  20. G. Christopher

    You should stop hating us so much and get to know us. Don't worry, we're more than capable
    of keeping our gay hands to ourselves. I am always amused by the 'ego' of straight men who
    think THEY are God's gift to gays and that we will jump you. Don't worry, you are in no way

    March 3, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • JohnR

      Indeed. I've had quite a few gay male friends over the years since college and can count the number who have "made a move" on me on zero fingers. Zero as in zilch, nada, not a one, ever. I HAVE had two gay male non-acquaintances make moves on me and that was unpleasant, but given my size and strength, I was no doubt less bothered by them than untold zillions of women have been by untold zillions of straight male creeps.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • MEA

      I have also come across gay ment during my walk on earth, and they ALL usually try at some point to put there hands on me. They make there pass(awkwardlly) I might add, as if I were a pet. Very poor choices in my experience

      March 3, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • JohnR

      @MEA Are you sure you aren't projecting? and what does "all usually" mean?

      March 3, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • G.Lopez

      Well penned brother! That's all there is to it.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • runswithbeer

      I am a Texas straight as an arrow Redneck and I believe this: "Love your neighbor" and this:"that all men (people) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." If you interfere another person's freedom, you can come talk to me personally.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:06 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.