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. GeorgeBos95

    You don't have to be a "hater" to point out the Bible isn't an absoulte set of rules, the rules themselves are often inconsistent, and it's really just a book of fables.

    But feel free to follow it, if you choose. But don't you dare tell ANYONE else how to live their lives based on your personal belief system. Oh yes, and claiming your belief system requires you to inform and preach to others about their "sins", well that's just a pile of self-righteous crap. We can all play that game.

    December 29, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
  2. Patrick

    Mr. Gagnon fails to even mention Matthew 19:12 and therefore his arguments fall flat. He simply reinforces the "Roman religion's" notion of celibacy as a worthy practice.

    December 29, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
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    September 28, 2011 at 7:41 am |
  7. NCW

    Any time I read something as asinine as: "Jesus’ point was that", I can completely disregard what the author is writing. How can you really believe that you can ever TRULY know what Jesus' point would be about anything that he was saying? Get over yourself. Don't try to tell me that you know what Jesus' point was, you only know your own interpretation.

    August 29, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
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    August 15, 2011 at 6:27 am |
  10. 12345

    Thank you for your well-reasoned response, Dr. Gagnon. I was hoping some sound logic could be found in this debate.

    July 22, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
  11. INsight

    Thank you Dr. Gagnon, for a reasoned response. All the real haters below show their nescient responses.

    July 21, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
  12. Alice~Eira

    Ok, I tried to hear both sides of this article and I read this one second. I really tried to even make it all the way through but I only made it to this quote: “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).

    I am sorry, but that is too much of a stretch to propose as fact a one sentance paraphrase of two different chapters in two different books. There are so many words in the bible that to extend this method, I can prove whatever I choose by simply eliminating the parts that I do not like. Beware, quotes like these are a very dangerous model to follow.

    June 8, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • Torrey B.

      @Alice~Eira: Actually, he's not joining two different quotes from Mark and Matthew. The ellipsis is only marking that he excluded the phrase "will leave his father and mother" because it wasn't pertinent to the conversation. The reason he lists two references is because the quote is found in both places.

      Overall, I'd have to agree with this article as opposed to the first. She took way too many liberties and ignored too many arguments and facts against her position. She gives liberal Christians and women pastors a bad name.

      June 9, 2011 at 2:06 am |
  13. chinwuba

    Thank you Robert A. J. Gagnon for speaking the truth, no holds bared. Those who live bad lives often justify their actions, and as you rightly say, the left read and ignore the points that contradict their beliefs. For why in thier calamities do they complain of Christianity, unless because they desire to enjoy license unrestrained, and to lead an abandoned life without the interruption of any uneasiness. For certainly their desire for peace, and prosperity, and plenty is not prompted by any desire of using these honestly, that is to say, with moderation; for your purpose rather is to run riot in an endless variety of sottish pleasures, and thus to generate from your prosperity a moral pestilence which will prove a thousandfold more disastrous than the fiercest enemies.... well done

    June 8, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • Absurd

      The only "uneasiness" we feel is watching gay teenagers kill themselves because they aren't accepted by people like you and the constant state of fear that some live with (yes even in your beloved churches) because they fear your judgement (which of course you are commanded not to do, but then again only liberals pick and choose the bible). We are uneasy that because of your statements justifying intolerance, that some are emboldened to the point that feel it's ok to hurt gays. Besides, if your comment is any indication, you are just as sinfull as those you clearly condemn, considering no one sin is greater than any other. This is why people like you are a joke to "liberals" you are a living contradiction and it's pitiful.

      August 30, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
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  15. Achilles 56

    Dr. Gagnon,
    Thank you for speaking out on this topic. As a academic you have steeped yourself in knowledge that the rest of us may only intuit or know in part, as St. Paul says. Many Christian friends embrace the current trend, accepting this behavior because it is more and more a part of our culture; it seems our mainline churches need to "feel" relevant and yet they are rejecting the very Christ whose bride they are. Peace to you from Him who knows His own.

    June 2, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
  16. Dante

    BS. I'm openly-gay and I'm dating a guy, and I don't think the bible cares wheter or not you have "relations" with an man or woman. I think, people rely too much on the bible. Some of the sins, that are talk about in the bible are flat out odd and to be honest...weird. I don't read or study the bible ( I have no religion at all) ,because I don't know who wrote it. I HOPE God or jesus wrote it, but I don't know. A little kid or a peasant could of had wrote it...we will never know

    April 14, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
    • Matt

      Actually we pretty much already know who wrote it, especially the NT. Hence the names of the books, these are the Authors.

      The Bible is God breathed, or God Inspired. He didn't just blast the book straight to earth but had his chosen apostles write it as a source of truth.

      June 9, 2011 at 3:55 am |
    • Soluman

      In fact the names of the books of the new testament have little to do with the names of their authors. For instance none of the Gospels claims to have been written anyone in particular, and certainly not the authors that we ascribe to them. These names are derived from an early period of history when texts needed to have an apostolic origin in order to be considered canonical.

      Likewise, a good portion of the letters attributed to Paul are also not thought to have been written by him. This is due to a proliferation of forgeries written in the early church in the name of Paul. This is particularly the case with the pastoral epistles of first and second timothy, which refer to bishops and deacons and positions which were not present in the early charismatic churches of Paul's day.

      July 31, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • Lenny Pincus

      There have been many books that councils of men have deemed worthy or not worthy of being in God's Bible. To say everything that is in the Bible is there because of a decision by God is ludicrous. I'll take Maccabees for $100, Alex.

      December 29, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
  17. Unikraken

    Grow up. There is no god, let alone the sky-monster you've envisioned.

    April 2, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • chinwuba


      June 8, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  18. Joe

    I don't need a Bible to tell me it is not natural for a man to have intercourse with a man. It is not natural for a man to try to take on the characteristics of a woman when clearly you are a male. All gay males left on an island together would die off. Its not natural..Women and women also.

    April 1, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • Josh


      And yet, oh how human sin kills us so well...

      April 1, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
    • Landrix

      Would die off? Seriously?

      How do you think gay people come into being?

      Simple answer: straight people have made each and every one.

      April 2, 2011 at 12:10 am |
    • vulvalover

      OK, I can understand the man and man part, but woman and woman? what's wrong with that? Don't you love the vulva?

      April 16, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • chinwuba

      Gays are not second-class citizens but a gay man certainly makes a second-class mother. Two lesbian women may be model citizens, but neither of them can be a Dad to a little boy. The most serious objection to gay marriage is that it means gay parenting, and gay parenting means depriving a child of either his mother or his father. The gay marriage debate, at its heart, is not about the rights and needs of the adults, but of the child

      June 8, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • civiloutside

      Quite a bold claim. I'm sure you have and will provide links for the studies that support you claim. But for the counter...


      June 8, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • Lenny Pincus

      Like straight moms and dads have such a great history of fine parenting.

      December 29, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • WWW&W

      how about all the IGNORANT on an island? the plus is the rest of us would have to stop and respond to stupid remarks like this.

      February 12, 2012 at 12:50 am |
  19. jeffRI

    yet another brainless fool that is a closet case – that's fine honey – you believe in your CRAP all the way to the dust bin of nothingness that you will undoubtedly inherit based on your own philosophy – you enjoy casting a lot of STONES – perhaps you should stand in the path of the trajectory and do us all a HUGE FAVOR instead of spewing your overt ignorance and bigotry just to make yourself feel better in your own hypocritical skin.

    April 1, 2011 at 9:53 am |
  20. mike

    to try to give rational explanations about a book written more than 2000 years ago is just retarded.
    just let people be the way the are.

    March 31, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • merr7242

      Short and sweet Mike and 100% correct.

      April 1, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
    • Chris

      Apparently you know what your talking about...ehm.

      July 8, 2011 at 7:59 am |
    • LOL

      short and sour. 100% incorrect.

      July 21, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • LOL

      Bogus LOL is trying to be insulting and failing miserably. LOL!

      July 21, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
    • LMFAO

      Bogus LOL: you are unoriginal and probably 10. Man, I hope you're 10 otherwise you should be living in a home somewhere with padded walls so you don't injure your soft brain.

      August 30, 2011 at 3:00 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.