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. ap

    All gays should be shot!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    March 31, 2011 at 4:41 am |
  2. Paul

    Reading the bible regularly and listening to Bozos like this guy are what made me a very strong atheist. What a load of crap.

    March 30, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
  3. RinMaine

    Then you are a pompous, arrogant idiot in thinking that you have the authority to speak for God and to condemn any individuals according to your own screwed-up ways of thinking. Your inaccurate and self-serving translations have no real basis. You are not superior to anyone; you are evil and unworthy of respect.

    March 30, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
  4. Caliban

    Belief in any kind of super-being overlord without proof is for the weak minded. But then most were brainwashed as children, a high percentage of religious people follow the same religion their parent did. So many devout are assured that upon their death they will be rewarded, just like terrorists.

    March 30, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • hi

      My mother was atheist. I understand that view, but it is as bigoted as saying all blacks are criminals. When I was a child I cried out for help in fear in the dark one night. This was one of those 'something is about to harm me that I cant see coming until it gets me' moments. I hadnt heard of god yet. A warm, cradling feeling came over me and a woman's voice said in my ear, 'dont fear, there is nothing there', referring to the darkness in the hallway. If that wasnt my guardian angel, then what? I knew my moms voice, it was not youthful and clear as bell like this one since she smoked since she was 10. I never told my mom or friends later in life. The only person, besides you guys reading this, that knows is my guy. I was never afraid of the dark again, whereas before that every night was a self induced horror where I dared not even hang my hand over the side of the bed lest some horrible monster grab me and drag me under the bed where it could eat me or tear me apart. God is there and I have felt him there many times. Ask a question of Him and the answer will immediately be apparent to you, even if its not the answer you want. Ask Him if Hes real, then listen to the immediate answer you get in your heart and in your 'small' voice in your head.

      March 31, 2011 at 1:57 am |
  5. really???

    the Bible “is inspired of God.” (2 Timothy 3:16) In what way? The Bible itself answers: “Men spoke from God as they were borne along by holy spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21) To illustrate: A businessman might have a secretary write a letter. That letter contains the businessman’s thoughts and instructions. Hence, it is really his letter, not the secretary’s. In a similar way, the Bible contains God’s message, not that of the men who wrote it down. Thus, the entire Bible truthfully is “the word of God.”—1 Thessalonians 2:13.

    March 30, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • hi

      When a secretary doesnt like burritos and changes what her boss said to make the function be held at a steakhouse instead of 'Uncle Julio's Cocina', she did wrong. This is what people do to the word of god. They turn 'uncle julio's' into 'applebees'. I DONT think that is limited to today. It has clearly been happening for a very long time. Wouldnt it be interesting to find out that there was an omnipotent being that created us and has our souls join back with his, but that he never actually spoke to any of us, never sanctioned a book, and never wanted worship? His presence helped inspire writings, but when people claim its the 'word of god' maybe it was really the 'word of god, as interpreted by man' or even 'the word of man'. The bible is alive for me, and the third best communication I have with the lord, after actually speaking with him and mass social communication. When I was a teen, and all those witch movies came out and all my classmates were claiming to be witches, I already had a solid background in mind over matter, external power tapping, studies on chi, telekinesis, lucid and travel dreaming, healing through touch etc. I went to youth church for the first time in years, and the power generated by the group of people in the room when they sung and prayed together was palpable. I tried an absorption trick to try to tap that, but was blocked even though it was all around me and flowing out of the room in a gushing ocean of power. The only way to be a part of it is to contribute to it. I would have thought that it only came from the group, but theres no way I could have been blocked by people who didnt know what they were producing. Next time you are driving by a church, you will feel it whether its sunday or not. Those places have a feel about them even when no one is there.

      March 31, 2011 at 1:40 am |
  6. JustSoYaKnow

    I'm sure it's been said, and I'm sure no one will notice this post. But I gotta' say:

    1. So d om and Gom or rah were not about hom os ex uality. There's no rational way to interpret it as such. Knust is not applying a false dichotomy, she's using common sense. The issue in S&G is very obviously that the people of the city are trying to r @p e the new comers.

    2. Je $ u s' conversation with the Eu n och gives plenty of room to argue that he would be okay with hom os e x ual relationships.

    3. "Confusion" over the David and Jonathan relationship is a particularly pat h e tic cop out. People can argue all they'd like that they were 'just friends', but there is no definitive proof in the B ! b l e that such is the case, and PLENTY of ho yay to imply that they were more ('removing loins' and 'knitting spirits' is a pretty graphic way of saying they were good friends).

    4. I generally agree that the sl @v e ry a r g u ment isn't a very good analogy for 'the B ! b l e is okay with g ay people'. It IS a good analgy for, "the B ! b l e's been used to incorrectly justify immoral practices before".

    I'm not saying the author of the article is wrong. Just that I disagree with his logic and beliefs.

    March 29, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  7. George

    It is sad that the Bible is so often used to point out the faults of others and to gain superiority over them. Religion is not an evil thing but an aspiration of humanity to become better than we are and to see the good as exemplified by GOD. The message of the Bible is consistently that we are not perfect beings but require guidance and prodding to become better indiividuals and to treat eachother with respect and kindness. For me the Bible allows me to measure myself again some standards other than myself. I don't agree with all that the Bible reports but it still serves as guidance, be it historically and culturally tinted. The resounding message of the Bible is that we are lovable and that we ought not judge one another. There is nothing wrong with that message. If you believe in GOD, he will judge us on how successful we have been in the quest to become better people. My confidence is that He will be more understanding and forgiving that we are of eachother.

    March 29, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
  8. DavidM

    God is perfect. He does not make mistakes. Gays and Lesbians exist because God made them the way they are. Let them be happy – without your stupid Christian guilt.

    March 29, 2011 at 10:52 am |
    • PaddingtonPooh

      Well said DavidM. Who's to say that the scribes who copied religious texts over and over didn't make a mistake or inject their own prejudices in there? Ooh, maybe they even thought it was a fantasy or sci-fi novel and added the burning bush, talking snake, boat that could hold two of each of the millions of species on Earth, etc. =P The Earth, which only happens to be 6,500(?) years old according to some of them...

      March 29, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
    • Patty Biller

      He did not make them like that!

      March 30, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • Sophia

      Yes he did it's a proven fact now. Look it up at APA.

      March 30, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  9. Shea

    Sigh. So? This is really just picking out the parts of the Bible that you agree with and ignoring the yucky parts (sacrificing children, stoning people). Which is it? I've never yet met someone who can provide a coherent message out of that book. Either some of it is to be taken metaphorically and other parts not, or it's ALL must be true (Noah? really?), or it's ALL allegorical, etc. etc etc.
    You cannot use these texts as any kind of coherent response to an issue.

    March 29, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • hi

      You dont believe noah? Noah's world consisted of the lands around the Mediterranean. His world WAS under water for quite some time, due to seemingly endless rain. This is corroborated by secular and egyptian writings. Not many survived. That he somehow gained the foresight to get his family out of the way is amazing. HE says that foresight came from god. Who am I to doubt him when so many died that year as clearly recorded by others?

      March 31, 2011 at 1:03 am |
  10. Scott

    And even in the time of the coming, even still there will be men that deny Him even unto death and even though there are signs. They're unfaithful souls will be lost forever, never ascending to the father who resides in heaven. Woe be to the unfaithful for they are lost.

    March 29, 2011 at 9:38 am |
  11. CM

    My take? First, if you don't believe in God, then justifying your opinion on what the Bible says by saying God doesn't exist isn't a very good argument.

    However, as far as I recall, God is supposed to be LOVE – and to me, that means he is tolerant, and loving, and fair. I really don't believe he would have burned innocent women and men by naming them "witches", nor excluded gay people just because they don't fit in with what society thinks is right – even if that was God's opinion.

    Most of those religion debates are really pointless. Religion should inspire and help people, not be a fight about who is right and who isn't.

    March 29, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • Patty Biller

      He hates the sin, but loves the sinner

      March 30, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • Sophia

      Really where in the bible does it say that?

      March 30, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
  12. Isaac

    "The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds,there is none who does good."
    Psalm 14:1

    March 29, 2011 at 8:47 am |
  13. Bruce Webb, Everett WA.

    The Bible also condemns lobster, and pepperoni pizza, and by some readings double cheeseburgers. And lets not even get started on bacon double cheeseburgers.

    Christians of most sects seem awfully selective about the parts of Leviticus they choose to believe were and were not subject to the dispensation of Jesus. And for that matter the whole dispensation piece is fairly iffy. Exactly when did the precepts of Mosaic Law become a cafeteria plan? I mean you can argue the milk and meat piece, but the pork and lobster seem pretty much open and shut, at least they were to my Seventh Adventist grandmother.

    I just find the "Well God REALLY meant this part" argument to be intellectually dishonest. "But surely He didn't mean to bar me from my pulled pork sandwich!" Plus most strikingly God seemed to have left the "Thy shall hate TEH Gay" out of his top ten list, even as He left the adultery piece in. I mean why is Newt confident his adultery is no bar to heaven but implicitly claiming his openly lesbian sister Candace is going to hell. I mean the whole Loving God piece seems missing here.

    March 29, 2011 at 12:07 am |
    • logikflux

      Amen brother Bruce!

      March 29, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • JustSoYaKnow

      The problem is that the Levitical Code is not the only scripture utilized to condemn hom os exuality. There are a good eleven or so; all of which can be debated on their own merits. The only one that really can't be fought is Romans. It is very explicit, and is very vehement. Some arguments do point out that while Romans notes the inherent evil of g ay people, it's flawed rhetoric generalizing all g ays as bad, which is obvioulsy a completely untrue statement (let alone it doesn't refer to actual relationships anyways). There is a lot of room for debate. I'm comfortable with people believing g ay people are bad (we can't all agree). But I do think it's somewhat ridiculous that people won't accept that the B ! ble really can be interpreted in many ways, and is genuinely ambiguous. There's no reason they can't be a bit more civil about people reading it a way differently.

      March 29, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • hi

      Yes, adventists dont eat meat and wouldnt touch pork with a million foot pole. Most of them do it to honor god and for their health, not because they think he ordered it. Adventists study the bible in depth and have intelligent discussions about it. When I first visited an adventist church, I asked them where they got the no meat idea. They said Leviticus was not the main reason, rather the story of the soldiers that were captured and made to serve in the egyptian forces. The food they were given was meat and potatoes. They refused to eat it and the pharaoh, instead of sentencing them to death for it, made a deal with their leader where they would eat everyones scraps, which consisted mostly of vegetables. The men on the meat diet did not perform as well as the ones on the veggie diet so he changed what he fed his forces. Even today there are scientific studies going on pertaining to what makes adventists live so much longer than the general population and look so young while doing it. After that, they told me that it IS ok to eat meat if I want. No sin there. They said 'Jesus said its not what goes in your mouth that is important, its what comes out'.

      March 31, 2011 at 12:54 am |
  14. Alfredo Montalvo

    We are always going to look for anything that proof us right. I have visited several different religious congregation and each one has a different way of interpreting some parts of the Bible. The truth that no one should be able to agreed, that is if you are smart is that we can not agreed on everything and that our perception of life is part true and part false. If, we want to find the truth lets begin to by looking at oursel first and clear our mind of all this information given to us. We have been doctriniced Politically,Religiously,Economically. We are looking for answers, but if we seat in a quiet place meditate and look for inner peace, we can begin to realize that the truth is not in condemming and criticizing other, but in us becoming more tolerant, more loving and kinder. We need to stop living in Chaos, just because the minister tells us something or because our parents or friends tells us something it has to be true. Religion tries to put fear of god in us and want us to live in ways that they do not live, to think and act in ways that they do not live or act. I say be the best you can be, respect others do not do to others what you would't want others to do to you and be happy. God wants you to be happy. I say live and let live. I say live your own life and find peace within. The trees live in peace right next to each other, nature is in harmony why can we live in harmony.

    March 28, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
    • Altered States

      You asked why we don't get along like the trees in the forest? It's because we humans are all nuts and the trees are sane. It has to do with something we call vanity.

      March 29, 2011 at 10:20 am |
  15. god is BS

    If you mastur bate, quoting/reading the bible doesn't help improve your morality. Morality is morality, regardless of religion.

    March 28, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  16. sdl

    Basing your social policies on a series of ancient tales concocted over hundreds of years by different people, the first ones illiterate sheep herders passing tales orally, who believed the world was flat, the sun traveled around the earth, and that stoning people was ok, is just asking for trouble.

    March 28, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
    • Marc

      Preach my brother/sister preach!

      March 29, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
  17. god is BS

    Tell me one 'normal' adult Christian that does not mastur bate! S exual dysfunction doesn't count.

    Wake up sheep (w ankers)! There are no ties between religion and morality. Morality is morality, regardless of religion.

    March 28, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
  18. J Fritzl

    Good refutation, though I fear it will be as productive as arguing the proper behavior of a paladin of Bahamut with a player who wishes to be chaotic good and play a paladin. Pretty much pointless.

    March 28, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  19. mike

    The bible also condemns religious tolerance...only to later say to be tolerant and accepting by some Jesus fellow...but only when it applies to what you feel comfortable tolerating. Whatever is most convenient for the country (or town/city/state in the country) to believe is the word of the lord I find.

    March 28, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • god is BS

      Religions are one big pile of dung. Most so-called religious scholars are wolves in sheep's clothing. They beat off as much as the Vatican folks! Wanna bet? 🙂

      March 28, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
    • Patty Biller

      totally untrue. Seek Jesus, and you will find Him

      March 30, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
  20. Richard - Utah

    This and other explanations are good reason to reject the Bible. It is a story like the Odyssey and the Iliad. Trying to interpret it as divine truth is harmful to the believer, his family and others who take it seriously.

    March 27, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
    • Freddo

      Well said...and I'll add that the Bible is a danger to the planet itself. Just listen to how Palin uses the phrase "the God-given right" to continue everything from opposing cap and trade to promoting off shore drilling. If any biblical dragons do exists these days they come in the form of a lipstick-wearing pig.

      March 29, 2011 at 10:36 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.