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. Lin


    March 24, 2011 at 8:16 am |
  2. Joan

    Evolution has nothing to support anything. there finding more mistakes with different bones there trying to make fit only to find it was from a walrus or something and they have never witnessed anything turning into anything only that ,that is from its own species. Even when the dinasaur bones, when found and they say millions of years and all that, they found that an event of weather instantly killed them and lately a while back were found a recent one living . look up Science in the 21st century , it makes evolution look very foolish and stuburn man will believe anything , rather than turn to there creator i guess. On Darwins death bed , he was known to say he believed in Jesus Christ and wished he had not had this go this far . you can look that up.

    March 24, 2011 at 3:54 am |
  3. Fundamentalist Atheism

    The Bible also condones eating SHELL FISH. That means everyone who has ever eaten at Captain D's and Red Lobster is condemned to eternal damnation!

    SHELL FISH IS THE NEW GAY! You can want to TASTE the shellfish but if you act on your inpulses and eat shellfish you go straight to HELL! GOD HATES SHELLFISH!

    March 23, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • C

      *Condemns. condones means allows

      March 23, 2011 at 12:44 pm |

    The biggest problem with the bibile is its yours and not mine, I do not live by this bible i live by my own wisedom so I say burn the bible it is no use to me no one shall force me to live by such a man made book the bible is a total disgrace to human kind look at the trouble it has caused

    March 23, 2011 at 12:00 am |
  5. Dave

    Excellent article. I thought Knusts article was one of the most bizarre twistings of the Bible I have ever see.

    March 22, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
  6. Steve

    I think I would like to see the article as written by the BMW driving, armani suit and rolex wearing evangelists. I am sure we can trust their word probably just as much.

    March 22, 2011 at 11:06 am |
  7. Steve

    The bible also states to kill people under certain onerous conditions, including disrespecting god, killing your children FOR god ("dash them upon the rocks"), that loving anything or anyone more than god sends you straight to hell, as if you do not forsake all for the love of god then you do not truly love god.

    This and many many many more examples of why we should be killing each other in very large numbers is also in the bible...so is this a pick and choose kind of thing? Is it only the parts of the bible that you like are the ones that you follow? Which commandments do you feel dont apply to you simply because you dont beleive they do?

    These are the reasons organized religion is a joke. Hypocrisy and self-service are the orders of the day.

    March 22, 2011 at 10:48 am |
  8. Travis

    Dearest POSEIDON! Please protect us from great floods!

    March 21, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • C

      This is fantastic.

      March 23, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
  9. DenverGrl

    If you're going to take the Bible literally, then please explain to me how it is that you choose one story of human creation over the other in Genesis? Read Genesis 5. The second story of creation is in the first couple of verses. The Bible is a text that has been pieced together over the years, not something that was created instantly. How can you possibly say that God's code for the world is in this book when it doesn't even contain half the information available at the time that it was codified?

    March 21, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
    • Nate

      Ms DenverGrl, if you will recheck your Bible, Chapter 5 vs 1-2 references the chapter 1:26-28. You will see that "the account" in chapter 5 is the beginning of a genealogy. There is only one origins story in the Bible.

      March 21, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
  10. Tim

    This article has just a few scriptural references. The first one doesn't have any apparent bearing on the topic, as it only addresses life in heaven. People will continue to agree or disagree with the position taken by the author based on their own predispositions and interpretation of the meaning of the bible.

    The article accuses a 'liberal' author of ignoring biblical evidence against her claims. I would propose that the nature of the bible lends itself to such use. I would propose that this author has treated the bible in the same way. I find it interesting that one can interpret the bible as being informed and authoritative to define the relationship between man and woman, while ignoring Genesis 2:18-22 where (according to the bible) all of the existing animals were created and evaluated as Adam's potential helpers prior to the creation of Eve for the same purpose.

    The god of the bible considered "all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air" as possibilities prior to creating Eve. Our current viewpoint is considerably different.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:13 am |
  11. Ben Johnson

    Why is there a CNN article discussing (however incorrectly) what the BIBLE says about a given subject? Where are the articles about what the Torah, the Book of Morman, or the Quran say about it? Is conservative Christianity worthy of my news feed when other religions are not? CNN, on what are you basing the decision to publish this idolatry?

    March 19, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
  12. blf83

    The author makes numerous leaps of logic to substantiate his views to even a greater degree than the author whose arguments he tries to disprove.

    March 19, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • Christine Tung

      What/where are these "leaps of logic"?

      March 22, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
  13. Andi

    People get so wrapped up in the details and it does always make for an interesting read BUT...love and honor God, be a good person, treat others with respect, make the world a better place in your own way and the rest will come. I truly believe we will all be welcome into the afterlife if we live our lives with compassion and grace no matter what we call the creator... Jesus, Allah, or Krishna, Adonai, Mother Earth, etc. Even gays!

    March 16, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
    • Kevin

      Even gays? How about "even farmers who grow two crops in one field" or "even those who eat shrimp."

      March 16, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
  14. Az Zaqqum

    Hmm.....seems not everyone reads ALL the words. the gods were against lust-not love, as that is the word most often used–lust.
    Incest? Lutt slept with his daughters, suposedly too drunk to know who he was sleeping with...as if. One baby was named Moab. Utah has a city they named after this incestous act and we've all heard of the acts of some Mormons.
    Adam, Gen 1 says man and woman were created equal. Gen 2 has adam alone and complaining. God sends him into critter world to find a 'helpmeet'. When he couldn't-then the god took from Adam a rib and made it woman. The woman was not afraid of talking snakes, adam or the gods. She wanted knowledge. She ate the fruit but was NOT tossed out of the yard. She left on her own accord. The gods did not desert them. God gave Eve a son who killed her son (with adam)
    It's a completely different story than what 'we've' been told.
    Read ALL the words.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:06 am |
  15. Stormy

    Well written. What amazes me is that when facts are presented as clearly and eloquently as they are in this article, there are still so many people who will turn their heads away and refuse to see the facts.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • Christine

      Religion is seperated from state. Who cares? Here, I'm gay, let me touch you cause I must have hatred and Aids all through my body. If people are so ignorant, why not catch the aids from people like us since we spread the masses of gay, hate, and aids.

      March 17, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • Josh

      Who cares what "the facts" are, when they only come from your magic book about your invisible friend? You may just as well argue "the facts" from the Enuma Elish or the Q'ran, or the Cronicles of Narnia, and they will have just as much application to the real world as "the facts" found from the bible.

      March 18, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  16. Charlene

    sincerely, I cannot but praise the work of Robert A. J. Gagnon. I actually read the article by ms Knust and felt very outraged and irritated but apart from leaving a comment, i simply did nothing! and that is a problem for believers [in Christ] today, we read and hear so much crap/un-truths and plain garbage 'bout our faith especially in the media and we do nothing. Mr. Gagnon has not only researched and presently his point concisely as a response to the prior article, but he has done it Well. Kudos sir. God bless!

    March 16, 2011 at 7:34 am |
  17. erna

    Thank-you for writing this article. I had previously read Knust's article and had been thoroughly confused by her argument. I'm saddened to see the staggering amount of angry and negative responses to your article. As a believer in Christ, it really is a disturbing reflection of the field day the enemy must be having in keeping so many away from believing. What Christ meant for our good, has been twisted, contorted, slandered and misconstrued. Thank-you for letting me see that we have to continue to press on and press in despite and overwhelming mockery and criticisms.

    March 16, 2011 at 2:09 am |
    • Bjcjewels5

      I agree with you 110% it is very sad what people have done and continue to do.

      March 21, 2011 at 1:18 am |
    • Steve

      I agree completely as well...what the church has done to the word of Jesus is ridiculous and self serving as can be. If there were any people less concerned with god and the bible, its the church

      March 22, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  18. Just Plain Bill

    When man lying with man (and we must assume also to mean woman with woman) was seen as an "abomination" back in the Old Testament the infant mortality rate must have been something like 99.9. Nowadays with the planet sagging under a population hovering at 7 billion there are a number of denominations rightly accepting the practice as equally appropriate in its own time.

    March 15, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
  19. alwaysamazed

    Wow...do not we not have better things to focus on? It is hard to believe that over 2,000 years later...people still believe. I wonder how many Christians realize that Krishna and Jesus as the same story. Born to a virgin, the 3 wise men, etc, etc. It's as if it was plagiarism from a story that was written 1200 B.C. However, I am sure they close their eyes to that too. Who knows...maybe Krishna was reincarnated into Jesus. But they same exact story? C'mon people...use your minds!!

    March 15, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
    • Erin

      Ummm. Not at all the same story. Your facts about Krishna are completely wrong. Besides, the Old Testament was written between 1400 and 400 BC and foretold the the birth of Jesus Christ through prophecies.

      March 16, 2011 at 8:26 am |
    • M

      I agree with Erin... even a little bit of research into Krishna shows that he was the eighth son of married parents. I'm not the kind of Christian who will blindly defend my faith and not even consider other people's point of views, but... when people say things like, "come on, people, use your minds!" I would hope that they would be using theirs, too.

      March 23, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
  20. waheid

    If more people would put down their bible and turn off their TV and, instead, read any number of excellent books on science, history, geography, etc. we'd have a population that is much better educated and less inclined to write some of the utter nonsense seen here. Education is the enemy of religeon. Religeon thrives on ignorance. The more people understand about the world around them the less need they have of bibles, priests and preachers

    March 15, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
    • Dave

      I would say that without an understanding of the Creator and His purpose for making that creation, you will find yourself floundering around trying to understand it. Even moreso if you refuse to even put the Creator in your equation. Something is missing, and without Him, it always will be.

      March 16, 2011 at 8:59 am |
    • Hannah

      Religion is spelled with an "i." So is "irony."

      March 17, 2011 at 12:24 am |
    • Abraham lincoln

      Dave, there is no "Creator". Therefore, leaving "him" out of the equation is simply logical. Adding "him" in is lunacy.

      March 19, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
    • tony

      @waheid right and thats why all the educated people are geting laid off and losing their homes and their cars and their way off life. and you talk crap about religion maybe you should pick up a bible instead and actually read it instead of basing your opinion on religon off of all the hypocritical child molesting priests and terriorist religous organizations that you see on tv.

      March 21, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
    • Steve

      Wow, Tony, defending an organization that simply uses the bible to siphon funds and faith from a gullible and hypocritical flock. What exactly has the church done for you, or god for that matter? Do you think honestly think that a book riddled with confliction, contradiction, incest, murder, and hate is really the answer?

      You do know that the Crusades had the definition of Christianity down pat. Convert or die, thats the real god speaking. If you havent heard what God actually says in the Bible, and makes you think twice about this "loving god" you so espouse, then you arent treally paying attention to whats in the book, and merely wish to belong to something that makes you feel better about yourself.

      The church has de evolved into nothing more than a get rich quick scheme mixed with a healthy dose of brainwashing. If you dont beleive me, try asking that evangelist driving the $100,000 BMW with the Armani suit and rolex watch.

      March 22, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • Dave

      I totally disagree that "education is the enemy of religion". Truly wise people (like Einstein) recognize and revere the divine and spiritual side of things. The truly educated are some of the most religious. I grew up in a town with the highest per capita of PhDs in the U.S. The myriad of churches there were full and active.

      March 22, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • Ceri

      @steve. Wow, Steve, could you let me know the secret? I'm a member of the clergy and I must be missing something. I took four extra years out of the workforce to get my M.Div as a full time student with full time costs, building up massive student debts. Now I'm ordained, I work about 60 hours a week and just get paid the minimum salary on the fixed scale my national church has established. I can barely afford to pay my mortgage and it will take me at least 10 years to pay off my school loans. Could you please let me in on the secret – how exactly do I get rich quick? Thanks.

      March 22, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • Erin

      @ Ceri

      Start your own TV show and ask those you preach to for money. Jesus said if someone asks give them your tunic. Since some Churches are worth billions of dollars I think Steve's point has some merit.

      March 22, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • Antichrist

      Religion is all just extrapolated from the easiest way to deal with the knowledge of our mortality – denial. Every religion preaches to some afterlife, reincarnation, or nirvana because they are scared to die. Humanity is still a child, and needs to grow up and stop believing in fairy tales. Welcome to the real world.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:51 am |
    • David

      Dave – Education (or lack thereof) does not denote intelligence. Mensa isn't full of doctorates.

      "It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it." (Albert Einstein, 1954)

      March 23, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • TheKid

      Thats right David – Mensa is full of intelligent people like myself with no college degree. And knowing physics, astronomy, and science like I do, and my ability to think (that most so called intelligent PHD's can't actually do), I say there IS a creator. To not believe is sure madness. How did this realm (meaning our known universe and the unknown universes) come into exisitance? big bang? Um sure, sounds open and shut until you try to wrap your head around: WHere did such "gases" come from? where did space come from? Where did the laws of physics come from? GTFOH if you have an answer to any of those. There is NO WAY anyone can prove otherwise that there ISN'T a creator. End of story. GFYS.

      March 23, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
    • Erasmus

      @waheid spot on my friend. You took the words right out of my mouth. I can't understand why so many people attach so much importance to some mythology written thousands of years ago. Who even knows how much resemblance it bears to the original thoughts after having undergone so many translations and transcriptions. It is fascinating literature that gives us insight into the human condition, but to reject modern day science in favor of this ancient mythology is willful ignorance bordering on lunacy. Sure there are things that science can not yet explain, but to explain it by invoking an invisible man is quaint but unhelpful. And surely this begs the question, what created the invisible man?

      March 24, 2011 at 10:40 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.