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. Cameron

    Christian mythology should have no bearing on modern morality save us staring back it at and going, "Damn those people were barbaric!"

    March 3, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
  2. Zipper666

    Gagnon's whole argument collapses when The Bible is accepted as a bunch of primitive tribal stories passed orally for hundreds of years and eventually written down in Greek, then translated to Latin and eventually to English.
    Try using an online translator like Babelfish and use a paragraph in English to French then to German and finally to Italian, then back to English – those few changes turn the whole thing into garbage.

    Anyone living their life by "Bible standards" is not a realist.

    February 4, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
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    January 30, 2012 at 5:04 am |
    • Zipper666

      You could be right, but who am I to say?

      February 4, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
  4. JulieMS

    It's apparent that she DOES NOT know or understand the scriptures. And to truly understand the scriptures you must accept Christ and receive the Holy Spirit in order to receive the wisdom to understand them. Those who try to interpret them as Jennifer Wright Knust, are deceived, believe a lie, and do not know what they are doing.

    January 15, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • Ok'ydok'y

      It's called putting it into historical context to get the true meaning, when you do that no where does the bible condemn the saved loving partnership of gay people as we know and understand it today.

      February 6, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
  5. tokencode

    Who cares what a 3,000 year old collection of stories from sheepherders says?

    January 14, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • JSMAN

      The 3000 year old shepard.

      January 26, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • boysuva

      Who cares what a bunch of abnormal cross-genders have to say!

      March 1, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  6. Just Saying

    what I get from this piece is that Knust made some very superficial and logically tortured arguments to support her position and then Gagnon made some highly superficial and logically tortured arguments to refute her and support his position.

    could it be that neither of these people has anything meaningful to say on this issue and that we should look elsewhere for answers?

    January 13, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • Tom B

      You could not have said it better. Spewing their assumptions without backing them up with facts is a huge mistake.

      January 15, 2012 at 9:18 am |
  7. ncjd

    Marriage is a legal status. It is also a social status within the framework of religion.

    There is nothing wrong with allowing gays to engage in the legal status of marriage.

    If your church is too bigoted to allow gays to marry, then fine. I don't think gays are looking for religious affirmation of their unions; instead, they want legal status for a variety of very practical reasons. There is not good legal reason to disallow that status. The opposition to it comes from bigots who find "support" for their personal hatred of gays in the Bible and in articles like this one.

    It is just another strike against Christianity, the religiion of selfishness and hatred.

    January 11, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • Sophia

      YES!!! There is no reason we cannot embrace a Civil Marriage and a Religious Marriage. There is already precedent. why can't we have Civil marriage for the Civil and Religious marriage for the Religious? If you want tax breaks you have both, if you have no church you just have the Civil ceremony. Seems ridiculously easy.

      February 6, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  8. Joshua

    Using the Old Testament and creation to discount something such as polygamy sounds out of the ordinary seeing as how Jacob had two wives and two concubines. I'm pretty certain other people in the Old Testament had numerous wives as well. Are they not discrediting and bashing on the Old Saints with such comments? Why would people such as this man believe they know more about what God intended at creation than the people who lived back then?

    January 8, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  9. Joshua

    If Paul pushed for equal worth for men and women before God, why was their ever a struggle for women's rights? Why did the Church originally intend to make women submissive to their husbands? Shouldn't the Church started by Jesus have followed his beliefs from its very beginning?

    January 8, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
  10. Brian

    God created me. And, he created me as a gay man. So, I find it difficult to believe he would create someone to be hated and despised. God loves me.

    January 8, 2012 at 9:58 am |
    • Joshua

      Right on brother. And I think Jesus said that when he returns he will go after the self-righteous first. So if you see people like the writer of this article getting his rear kicked by a man in a robe and sandals with long hair it's time to repent of any other sins you might be worried about.

      January 8, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • JSMAN

      I realize this article is out of date, but I really feel I should respond to your message. Of Course God loves you! If you read anything from the Bible, read John 3:16. That said, let me ask you a question: if you were standing in the path of an oncoming train, how would you prefer that I show love to you? Should I tell you to get out of the way, or would you rather that I lovingly tell you that I approve of where you stand?

      January 26, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • Ok'yDok'y

      "That said, let me ask you a question: if you were standing in the path of an oncoming train, how would you prefer that I show love to you? Should I tell you to get out of the way, or would you rather that I lovingly tell you that I approve of where you stand?"

      The experts throughout the world disagree with you, they have shown that being gay is NOT a choice, it's NOT a mental illness and it can't be voluntarily changed. The men that wrote the bible did NOT have that understanding. Nowhere in your Bible does your God condemn the saved loving partnership of a gay couple.

      January 26, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • Peter

      God made me. He loves me. But he did not make all of my desires. I often desire to be selfish, hateful, lustful, greedy, rebellious, discontent, and lazy. God made me, but I often have to deny my sinful desires.

      February 3, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
  11. Matt

    I don't literally believe mankind started with Adam & Eve. If that were true and mankind started on Earth from just those 2 people, then we would all be related genetically. So where did Africa-Americans come from? Where did Redheads come from? What about Orientals or Eskimos or Indians. You get the idea.

    January 7, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
    • warbly snorbly

      chances are a red headed white person is more related to one tribe in africa than that tribe is to a tribe on the other side of africa.

      January 8, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • PriestnMatador

      Everyone is descended from the same woman who lived roughly 200,000 years ago. She's called mitochondrial Eve. There's also a Y-chromosome Adam who scientists believe we are all descendants of dating back 60,000-190,000 years ago.

      January 10, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
  12. H. (Bart) Vincelette

    Also, the laws of God claimed by the religious right , threaten punishment for disobedience ....after we die. Hmmmm. If there is a Creator & Giver of life, his laws are found in books called Chemistry, Physics, Biology & Mathematics; to name but a few. The consequences of disobedience to the laws of science can be immediate & lethal. Try defying the laws of gravity by jumping off a building. Not a good idea.

    January 4, 2012 at 8:02 am |
  13. Dan K

    God gave marriage and when He did He gave Adam and Eve. Not Adam and Steve.

    December 31, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
    • anotherGuest

      You realize that if you marry within your faith it will be a same-sect marriage?

      December 31, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
    • Christian

      Its such a good thing that there is no god. Hoorah for Science, Facts, Common Sense....Empirical Reality. ;D All other bs is just that...regardless of how you try to say otherwise.

      January 1, 2012 at 7:12 am |
    • Ok'yDok'y

      Well duh now Dan where'd you learn that stupid line, brainwashed much. According to your bible if your going to base it on Adam and Eve then you should support incest....Oh..that's right, your god had to create other people too. DUH!

      January 6, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • Joshua

      True, but I don't think he created pederast pete either. But the Pope has indicated that their scandal was a holdover from pederasty which would mean they've always done it. It wouldn't make sense for them to pick up an ancient european,non-hebrew practice out of no where. Which would seem to indicate that Christianity is false religion and not an Abrahamic religion contrary to popular belief.

      January 8, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  14. Lucifer's Evil Twin

    Why do ass.hole Christians care if 2 dudes want to pound each other in the rear?

    December 31, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
    • michael

      Obviously it is because they secretly want it in the rear too!!

      January 6, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
  15. Noah

    We should not see the Bible asa flat book, all of equal value for our life today. Rather, the heart of the Bible is to reveal to us God through Jesus first of all; not through the failings of people who were supposed to be his people in history. Jesus is the WORD of God. John 1:1 When we follow him and interpret all of the Bible by how Jesus lived, taught, we are on the safest ground we can be.

    December 31, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
  16. jo

    Mr. Gagnon, there is also opinion that the Bible was passed down orally from generation to generation (apprx. 15-30 generations) before before being written down.
    It has also been proven that man (an imperfect being) has written and edited the Bible.

    Why are we to believe you when the above has been proven?

    Why would a perfect God create people in his image who are gay?

    Signed, Not by choice

    December 30, 2011 at 1:00 am |
  17. TheRationale

    Unless you're illiterate, there's no excuse for saying the Bible does not explicitly condemn ho-mose-xuality, usually by death.

    December 29, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
    • T Rock

      It also says you should stone your children for misbehaving!

      December 29, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
    • Sam I. Am

      And let's not forget that passage in Leviticus about eating stuff without fins & scales... it is abomination! So skip your trip to Red Lobster all you shrimp & crab lovers!

      December 29, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
    • tallulah13

      And if you keep wearing the poly-cotton blend, you're gonna burn in hell!

      December 30, 2011 at 12:42 am |
    • miscreantsall

      TheRationale……...YOU really are an IGNORANT……..aren't you.

      Mr. Gagnon………………my reply to your over written rambling……. " analogical reasoning is driven more by ideological biases than by fair use of analogies."

      December 30, 2011 at 1:19 am |
  18. George

    Mike – Great idea! I just threw out my Bible with the trash tonight. Thanks for the suggestion, I'm sure God will be quite pleased with you.

    December 29, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
    • tim

      George I'm pretty sure thats not the best response!

      December 29, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
    • Lol religion

      George, I'm pretty sure it'll be of no consequence, because God isn't real!

      December 30, 2011 at 12:40 am |
  19. nyniane

    The Bible also advocates genocide and slavery. It is therefore not a book I would like to refer to for moral judgement.

    December 29, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
    • ben

      nyniane clearly didn't read the second half of the article.

      January 4, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  20. Mike

    The Bible is extrememly clear about what's moral and what's not: "To avoid fornication, let each man have his own wife, and let each wife have her own husband." (1 Cor 7:2) Anything outside of marriage is fornication, and therefore wrong, and there is no such thing as gay marriage. You really can't get any clearer than that. Anyone who wants to pretend that extramarital relations are okay and/or gay marriage is okay needs to toss his/her Bible in the trash and stop pretending to be a Bible-believing Christian.

    December 29, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
    • Mike

      I meant to mention that neither straight nor gay extramarital relations are condoned by the Bible.

      December 29, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • Kilgore Trout

      Even fornication inside of marriage was considered a sin, but one that was forgiveable. You really need to find an education.

      December 29, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
    • Jason

      Why is it atheists can get married if marriage is all about religion? Why is it you can get married in a courtroom instead of a church? Gay marriage will be legal in all the USA one day just like interracial marriage became legal.

      January 8, 2012 at 3:51 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.