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. Tolerance, Really?

    When those who do not believe in God claim that Christians are not tolerant... I am reminded that they aren't either as evidenced by the hateful things they say in these forums. I'll simply say this; unless one chooses to believe... there will come a day that God will say, I do not know you.

    March 15, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • Joan

      AMEN, If people would just check the Bible out for them selves and not be so conditioned to keeping in pace with the world and take time to see for themselves before they think there authority on it and Christians , they think Christians are some weak empty headed people , i believe that, that is what i was , before i knew Christ.

      March 24, 2011 at 4:01 am |
  2. Ron vanbeek

    None is excluded that does not exclude himself. I cry for so many who will not bow to King Jesus. Soul lost and all is lost.
    He is altogether Lovely. His head is as fine gold. He has doves eyes and the kisses of His lips are sweeter than wine. Please, please, please harden not your heart when He calls sweetly every day to you. Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and forever. He is not a hard master, but a loving friend.

    March 15, 2011 at 11:52 am |
  3. thack

    People get a grip on reality. It's time to put your bible on the fire, and allow humankind to go forward.

    March 15, 2011 at 5:29 am |
  4. RB

    The bible also commands you to kill your children and your neighbors if they do not believe in him! Do you see anyone doing that in this country?????

    March 15, 2011 at 12:46 am |
  5. Truthseeker

    I d'be much more interested in whether the koran encourages killing of gays, apostates, adulterers etc and what it says about women's rights and anti-semitism. Interestingly, CNN doesn't write about that kind of stuff, probably because they don't want to offend muslims while it's perfectly OK to offend Christians. Hypocrites.

    March 15, 2011 at 12:20 am |
    • CissyP

      THANK YOU. I'm glad somebody said it!!!! I respect EVERYONE'S right to believe as they want, regardless of whether or not I agree. However, all this Christian belief-bashing is tiresome. I think that the problem is that no one wants to offend the unfamiliar, which simply means that the public is being manipulated by the anti-Christian media. Ignorance is bliss.

      March 15, 2011 at 10:12 am |
  6. Andrew

    Just goes to show, you make make scripture mean whatever you want it too. Weak argument really. Why not follow the real precept of the Christ, and begin to practice non-jugement. I mean – who are you judge and opin anyway. Do you have a job? Or probably some cushy professorial seat that elevates your ego, and allows you to opin and judge due to some degree........DUH!!

    March 14, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
  7. CW

    Once again,

    This behavior is a sin. There are six passages in the Bible that condemn....NOT condone this behavior. Can't get more plainer than that.

    March 14, 2011 at 9:28 am |
  8. JustAThought

    The good Dr. Gagnon has an interesting approach. He tells us repeatedly where Ms. Knust has misinterpreted, etc., then graciously enlightens us with the correct interpretations. (And aren't we fortunate to have such among us!) Interesting to note, though, that just like the author he criticizes, he fails to support any of his 'conclusions' with references, just plucks 'em out of thin air. When he calls upon "the earliest interpreters," he sounds a lot like "we've always done it this way." If the entire race operated on this principle, we wouldn't have electricity. Or pottery.

    Notice that many religions recognize that their gods are symbols. The Hindu, for example, has his Lord Ganesh, although he knows there exists no creature with the body of a man and the head of an elephant. Yet in Christianity, the sense of metaphor has been lost — instead of taking the bible as a collection of tales pointing to deeper truths, we're supposed to buy it as fact: hook, line and sinker.

    Which position seems more tenable?

    March 13, 2011 at 12:39 am |
  9. ENDIF

    The bible also condemns eating shellfish, wearing blended fabrics, and a whole host of other bronze-age absurdities.

    Yet this is the one you pick to keep?

    March 12, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
    • penquin

      Totally agree. Slaveholders used the Bible to justify owning other human beings, too.

      Remember the Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That means everyone, not just those you agree with

      March 14, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  10. Geoff

    And the bible allows infanticide, slavery, and all kinds of violent and intolerant acts so whats your point?

    March 11, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
    • bellus

      The bible does not "allow" these things. You must read all of it to understand it.

      March 12, 2011 at 9:16 am |
    • PRISM 1234

      This is the classic way satan attempts to discredit God, by accusing Him, and throwing mud at His character, because he knows if he can succeed in convincing man of it, that God is evil, he's got him(man) separated from His Creator, and the only hope there is for him, in Jesus Christ , whom He sent to redeem him... And so many swallow the bait, hook, line and sinker!

      March 12, 2011 at 9:34 am |
    • Sergio Roa

      God let the humanity take his own desitions. That society was in charge, not God

      March 14, 2011 at 9:03 am |
  11. BummChum


    March 11, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  12. follower of the Way

    The King stands at the door, and he may come in at any moment. Will you bow down and humbly receive him, or do you want him to destroy you in his wrath? Those who have ears to hear have heard all there is to hear.

    March 11, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  13. MechaStewart

    So the author an "associate professor of New Testament"?

    What the hell is that? If I can be a professor of any book, it's gotta be "Cat in the Hat" all the way.

    Hmmm...."Associate Professor of Cat in the Hat."


    March 11, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  14. Proud2bsaved

    With all that has been said, it comes down to this. NO ONE KNOW THAT MIND OF GOD. The bible was written by man hand, but INSPIRED BY GOD. Are we suppose to judge one another? Yes, for those who KNOW the word somewhat know that when we get to HEAVEN we will judge angles. So if we see a brother or sister doing wrong (with love) were are to correct them. The key is WITH LOVE. Cause GOD will hold you accountable. WE ARE OUR BROTHERS KEEPER. PEOPLE, we have to STOP trying to guess or predict what GOD was trying to say in scriptures. Read it meditate on it, and ask GOD for the wisdom and knowledge to understand. I AM A PROUD CHRISTIAN MAN, and I am bold with my faith and belief. I don't force it on ANYONE, but I believe EVERY word in the Bible and NOTHING anyone can say will change that. I have a peace that is AMAZING. Knowing that when my time on this earth is over....I have a BETTER place waiting with my GOD. The sad part is knowing what I know and seeing so many people who are risking their salvation by trying to figure GOD out. It is going to be a HORRIFIC time when judgement day comes and those of you who did not believe or give your life to CHRIST find out that all that you have been denying is TRUE. At that time is will be TOO LATE, and GOD help you all. But there is still time. Confess your sins and give your life to CHRIST and you SHALL have eternal life. Some might se this as preaching, some judging, but it is my calling as a Christian to pass on the GOOD News. And in this world there is NO BETTER NEWS then the comming of Jesus Christ. GOD Bless all who took the time to read this, as well as those who didn't give it a second thought. This might have been your ONLY chance to get your life right with GOD.

    March 11, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
    • Just Curious

      Thats COOL and everything BUT you don't have TO USE CAPS so often. It MAKES WHAT YOU HAVE TO SAY annoying to READ.

      March 12, 2011 at 2:28 am |
    • ex-biker

      If you read the bible, the worlds people didn't believe Noah, they rebuked him, made fun of him, yet, when the floods came, it was too late. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah did not believe in God. Yet, they all perished when God destroyed the cities.
      Pharoah didn't believe in Mose's God either but, he too was destroyed. These great leaders and great societies didn't believe in God yet, they were destroyed in the end. God's word is still true. I would rather live the beliefs of a Christian, die and, find out they were not true than I would live the life of an Agnostic or and Atheist, die and then find out they were true.

      March 15, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
  15. A Higher Power

    The bible is not worth the paper it is written on since it has been translated MANY times and slanted for personal agendas.
    I think it says that white men with beards and glasses named Robert are also very sinful.

    March 11, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • objecttothis

      Wow, perhaps you should do your research before mindlessly regurgitating some poorly thought out apologetic. The English Bible read today has been translated *once* from Hebrew/Greek to English from thousands of manuscripts which are available now. When those manuscripts are compared, there is effectively no difference between them. It baffles me that people sometimes insist on spouting out the most inane of arguments that sound great but have no backing.

      March 12, 2011 at 8:42 am |
  16. Charles M. Barnard

    "Faith must trample under foot all reason, sense, and understanding." – Martin Luther

    Believe whatever you want, it gives you no right to interfere in another person's life.

    March 11, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  17. JoeMichigan

    Stories repeated over decades and centuries after an event can surely be rewritten to bring drama to any story. Living your life based on possible fiction and and accepting it to be accurate is very foolhardy. If it pleases you that life may continue after death so be it. One must always wonder why no one has ever been able to verify, relay this experience, and have any such knowledge. If a supreme creator exists, would it not be surprising to expect more than an occasional 2 or 3 thousand year span in his/her communication to that which he created?

    March 11, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • ChristianityIsDying?

      You're paying attention to other than the instructions that have been provided for all to experience for ones' self. Dwell in the upper room and ask for wisdom. Ask and you will receive the knowledge as opposed to asking on the internet. You're the director of your own life's experiences. According to your beliefs...be it unto you. If you want to learn more, then go within and ask.

      March 12, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
  18. GregHouse

    Bummer. Guess this is the beginning of the end for Christianity.

    March 11, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • akgirl

      Have you no fear for the words and thoughts you have towards God and His children? One day you will stand before Him, regretting the words you speak.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
    • myheadtalks2u

      I beg to differ. In America, Christianity is falling because of A) Science and the" theory" of evolution are now blatantly looked upon as unanimous fact. B)Hopelessness is preached instead of Hope through mainstream media. C)We put money and material possession before faith. D) We have "carved thyself a false image", in other words, we follow the lifestyles of those who are rich and famous in hopes to achieve what they have. E) and for my personal favorite, we tend to live in Hypocrisy: Use the word of God to condemn others, and then do exactly the opposite of what we preach.
      And yet we wonder why Christians are so condemned in America, yet in other countries, where people are oppressed by governments and live in poverty or have to live minimalistic lifestyles to support themselves/their families, they look to faith for guidance through trying times. If they didn't, no on is stopping them from an all out mass suicide.

      March 11, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
    • objecttothis

      #myheads you preluded to part of the problem with the view in partially addressing Christians outside of America. The myopic view is that Christianity is dying because in America and the West some people don't like it's message. This is a *very* shortsighted view since this is not the case in the rest of the world. Nonetheless, I say you guys should take the same view the Jewish priest took after questioning Jesus' cohorts – If Christianity is real and YHWH is behind it then you can't stop it and it will prove itself true. Then again, I wouldn't want to take that risk. As you've requested: to each his own.

      March 12, 2011 at 8:51 am |
    • VulvaLover

      Hey everybody, satan here. Can you people try to have a mindless dialogue about your ridiculous bible without bringing me in to your mindless discussions. I'm getting sick and tire of hearing people say "it must be satan that is doing this or that". Stop it. I really don't get involved with you clowns. I got better things to do than to get mixed up with your moronic discussions.

      This is satan saying Ciao everybody.

      March 12, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • HDS

      VulvaLover: With a name and comment like that and you are calling other people morons? Stroll by a mirror sometime my friend.

      March 12, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
    • dougdoma

      Let's see ... HDS doesn't has something against someone who would call him/herself VulvaLover. We can take this to mean that HDS isn't much in favor of vulva loving. If HDS is male, then....

      March 13, 2011 at 12:09 am |
  19. flbrnt

    Religion=something you believe in despite all evidence to the contrary.

    March 11, 2011 at 9:42 am |
    • BummChum

      Amen sister!

      March 11, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
    • HMichaelH

      All you need to "Believe" in the existence of Santa Clause, The Easter Bunny, The Tooth Fairy, Leprechauns, God, ghosts, Faith Healers, Fortune Tellers, Snake Oil Salesmen, and a wide variety of other mysterious beings, is Faith! It's the same for all of them. And the faith of a child works the best, since a child has no information or intellectual capacity to question the nonsense of mystical belief!

      Christopher Hitchens has it correct when he says, "God Is Not Great."

      March 12, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • HDS

      To HMichaelH: Ignorance is audible and you are proof of that.

      March 12, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
  20. CaptObvious

    it's amazing to me that so much energy can be expended trying to untangle the writings in the bible. It's akin to a long-winded academic exercise examining the outcome of a battle between Batman and The Flash (clearly Batman comes out on top). Can you imagine if all that energy went into something useful?

    March 10, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • BummChum

      Amen brother.

      March 11, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
    • w j quinn

      ANY demonstration of thought is a positive use of energy.

      March 12, 2011 at 4:31 am |
    • Tripp

      There's no way Batman could beat the Flash.

      March 13, 2011 at 2:09 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.