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. mary

    God is the reason that all of you exist. He/She is the reason you have words. He is every breath you take. There is no way our human minds can rationalize or explain God. We are limited and yet, God exists. Go outside today. See, feel, and touch Her Gifts!

    March 27, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
  2. mary

    I have no choice. I know the truth in the very fabric of my being. The mind is limited but God is limitless.

    March 27, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
  3. mary

    Οὕτως γὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ Θεὸς τὸν κόσμον, ὥστε τὸν Υἱὸν τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν, ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς Αὐτὸν μὴ ἀπόληται ἀλλ᾽ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον.
    For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16

    March 27, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
  4. mary

    "I am the way, the truth, and the light". JC

    March 27, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
  5. Spirit of Steve

    Just say no to religion but say yes to love, acceptance and forgiveness. I do believe in Jesus, I just do not believe what the bible thumpers or any other dogma has to say. If you really want to know the truth you can find it in within yourself, we are all one and all are of the lord, all will be loved in the end and the use of the good lord to separate us is the true evil

    March 27, 2011 at 10:53 am |
  6. Mom of Three

    I don't run my life according to Grimm's Fairy Tales, and it was written a whole lot later than the Bible. I don't believe in Santa or the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy. So who cares what this book says about anything? I would not willingly give over my logic or control of my life to some book. It is just a book. Written by men. With motives.

    March 27, 2011 at 1:27 am |
  7. Stephanie Woodall

    It is really sad to see the world so full of hate. Each one of us could be given one text and there would be so many interpretations of it because we are all different and have different views but that shouldn't make us resent one another because we don't believe the exact same way. I could tell you numerous times GOD answered my prayers and changed my life but there are those of you who would believe and those who would not, I would not judge any of the ones who didn't believe because its not my place. It amazed me how many different religions we actually have in this world, the beliefs people have in them and it is confusing for alot of people. But we all have faith in something no matter what religion you are and who are we to say which one is right. I believe in GOD for reasons he and I know, my personal relationship, things I've encountered in my life and the things I haven't encountered because I was suppose to. I do wish everyone could say the same but unfortunately that is not the case.

    March 26, 2011 at 9:19 am |
  8. Christine

    Thank you to the author for your courage to take a stand based on logic and fact- one that so many are afraid to take!

    March 26, 2011 at 4:05 am |
  9. Stefan

    This guy is a professor of the new testament? The bible is a story book folks. You can live a clean, healthy, moral life without help from story books. I have for almost 50 years.

    March 25, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
  10. J

    Galatians 5:14
    For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

    Romans 13:10
    Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

    1 Corinthians 13:4-7
    Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

    March 25, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
  11. alpotheprairemessiah

    please read the holy Quran

    please read the Holy Quran and The Book of Morman for more info

    March 25, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
  12. Mark McKee

    Dr. Gagnon actually gets paid to do this. I'm going to remember it the next time someone complains about how wrong it is for entertainers to so much money. Because, we all know God wrote the Bible, and no one has ever changed it to advance their own political & monetary agendas....

    March 25, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  13. Steve From NH

    Who cares what the bible says? It also says that some 800 year old guy took two of every animal on the planet and put them on a boat and floated around while God drowned everyone and everything else in a flood that covered the earth. I just realized, did Noah have to take all the plants, too?
    Anyway, the bible is a crock, mostly. Discrimination, on the other hand, is discrimination, plain and simple.

    March 25, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
  14. Matt V

    To the idiot who claimed there are no contradictions in the Bible....


    March 25, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  15. 3T

    In this world there will always be controversy, contradiction, conflict and corruption and doubt. Unfortunately religion is not exempt. It's not about religion anyway, it's about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Until one accepts his gift of salvation with forgiveness and enters into a purposeful, personal relationship... nurturing it through, scripture, prayer, serving and worship one can never fully understand or comprehend why anyone believes or what makes their faith real for them. I made the decision 30 years ago to believe and because of that, today he is real to me. Christ was born, he taught, he was persecuted and he died but HE IS RISEN. This pattern continues today for Christians everywhere.... just read all the comments. It's all about relationship people, without that it's just religion. There will be a day, at the end of life, when the truth will be revealed as we stand before the father of Jesus Christ. Think about this... life on this earth is temporary. Eternity beyond this life with either Christ in Heaven or Satan in Hell is forever. FOREVER !!! The decision is completely yours. Amen to Proverbs 3:5

    March 25, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • Ali-A

      3T – you sort of hit the nail on the head. Until someone has a personal encounter with the risen Christ, and experiences that for himself, he won't understand what you or any of us are about, why we cling to our faith despite the harsh words and put downs – because He that is in us is greater than he that is in the world. They don't understand why no amount of hate or attempt to shame us has any effect toward changing our minds or changing our stand, and never will. It is because what we experience from it, what we benefit from it, that "peace that passes understanding", the clarity with which we are free to live our lives, is something we wouldn't trade for all of their admiration and accolades, for any amount of riches or recognition. I wish that life-changing experience for everybody out there. In the meantime, we were commanded to be salt and light in this world and we will continue to do so to the best of our ability until we get to Heaven.

      March 25, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
  16. Azrael

    So why is it that I'm seeing posts accepted days after my post but my original post which contained nothing inappropriate is still marked as awaiting moderation. Censorship or laziness?

    March 25, 2011 at 10:30 am |
  17. David

    This "mental giant" is bemoaning liberal intellectuals abilities? He is little more than a Phelpsian hate monger with a bigger vocabulary, but an equal lack of understanding.

    His stellar reasoning is essentially that Jesus went to a wedding and didn't disavow traditional interpretations so he must agree with them. (to say nothing of the assumption that Gagnon is rightly apprehending the traditional view with which he rather ciruculary concludes Jesus agreed.) And he layers the wishful thinking as though one wish makes the other more likely. The idea that Polygyny is fundamentally proscribed since the time of creation is the most astonishing of revisions, and that he uses that as a central pin of his argument is telling.

    If one wants clarity from scripture read what it has to say to the rich about how the poor are treated.

    March 25, 2011 at 9:24 am |
  18. B

    This column is to be appreciated. What Knust attempts is intellectually dishonest.

    March 24, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
  19. Kristin Sturdevant

    Have you ever read the Bible the way it was written – in Aramaic. Give it a try. Far more mercy, far less judgment.

    March 24, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • Hildegaard

      Kristin writes: "Have you ever read the Bible the way it was written – in Aramaic. Give it a try. Far more mercy, far less judgment."

      Kristin, with respect, this assertion is sheer fantasy. It's almost tantamount to, say, "Have you ever read Shakespeare they way he was written - in Sinhalese. Far more apple sauce, far less plaid." Very little (about 1 per cent) of the Bible contains Aramaic text, although some "Aramaisms" can be inferred a little bit of the New Testament's Greek, notably in some of Jesus' sayings. And there is nothing in the Aramaic to suggest what you imagine as a "less judgmental" tone than the text as we have it. Where did you get this notion?

      March 25, 2011 at 9:12 am |
    • Epstein's Mother

      That's some major pwnage, Hildegaard! (Since Kristin only knows Aramaic, I'm guessing she's not really sure what the original Greek and Hebrew says.)

      March 27, 2011 at 1:13 am |
    • JMan

      Unfortunately, you're mistaken, Kristin. The Bible was written in Hebrew (OT) and Ancient Greek (NT)...with SOME Aramaic phrasing used occasionally. And yes, I HAVE read it in the Greek and the Hebrew (to a much lesser extent). You're point about it being less about judgment and more about mercy assumes that God's mercy and judgment are mutually exclusive and/or diametrically opposed to one another. They are neither. God's mercy and His judgment are two very true elements of God's character and nature.

      As for those on here who deride those of us who choose to believe in a God who would have a vested interest in making sure that the billions of people throughout history who would rely upon the Bible (both old and new testaments) would have a reliable source for His Word, I say: who cares? that's your choice not to believe. You believe in other things, which I believe to be far less reliable than God's Word. You're inability to contain your disdain speaks volumes about your character. I, for one, would hold up the standards of morality commanded by God in Bible against anything humanity has come up with over time. Time and again God's standards have proven to be far better for humanity that has man's standards.

      March 27, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
  20. Nicole

    This is so ridiculous. Why do people look to the bible for proof of anything? There's not even a bibliography. The book has NO credentials, so we can't assume that ANYTHING in it is true, especially the old testament. We don't even know who wrote the book of Genesis, so how can anyone be so stupid as to take it for fact? This is just one more example of Christians ignoring plain facts and logic to suit their own views. Gagnon's argument is worthless.

    March 24, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • prince

      There is this popular phrase that says "ignorance is bliss". Even if d bible was written by men wit credentials, we will still faults their claims and term it "personal opinion".

      If u don't believe in d bible then why believe in d history it brings that are evident today. Why believe in Jerusalem, Babylon(Iraq), Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, red sea and Nile. We are talkin about a thousand years of history brought forward and sustained in our generation. Our laws today was first laid down from d bible. So if u don't believe in d bible, then thieves, murderers, incest, adultery should be allowed in our society. U can have intercourse wit yr children, nephews, and nieces. Afterall there is no credibility in whoever said its terrible.

      We perish for lack of knowledge. Don't fight d bible, its just a guide for those called Christians whose intent is to make heaven.

      May God see us through, Amen.

      March 24, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
    • bilbobagsac


      March 25, 2011 at 9:48 am |
    • Phil

      There is a precommitment on the part of Christians as to the reliability of the Bible. You can't separate the faith from the views. This is the 'belief blog.' To argue that it's impossible to prove the Bible's reliability from an objective standpoint, ergo Christians should not trust it, is to misunderstand how Christianity works.

      March 25, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • Nickell

      Anyone who has a question about the bible should watch the story Penn & Teller did about it on their show "Bullsh!t"" Its on youtube.

      March 26, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • Meg

      Hi Nicole,

      May I recommend that you pick up any simple book about the history of the Bible, such as "Why Trust the Bible" by Rose publishing or "How Do We Know The Bible Is True?" by Ankerberg & Burroughs. You (or anyone) can't make such bogus accusations about the Bible unless you're ignorant of history, so happy searching.


      March 27, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
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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.