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. Jay

    Everyone interprets scripture differently, which is why in every era of time, God has provided a prophet to show the correct interpretation and to provide new scripture timely for that era. (The Bible, after all, is a collection of the word of prophets from various eras.) I believe God has again called a prophet to guide His children in our day, which began with Joseph Smith in 1820 and now continues with Thomas S. Monson. Learn more at lds.org.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • StanCartmanKyleKenny

      Dumb da dumb dumb da dumb dumb. Dumb dumb. Dumb dumb dumb.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  2. Shannon

    this article is just as poorly written as the conflicting article.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • MEA

      This article was a total slam of Knutty the nut. Well done

      March 3, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  3. Jough

    I love Leviticus Joe from an earlier post. As a Catholic school teacher, I make people read that book first beforeattempting to interpret anything else. The bible is a advise period,and one of the specific teachings in Chritianity is that we do not force our beliefs on one another(1/2 of what Jesus life was about), but we show others the goodness and peace in our life in hopes that they use their FREE WILL to choose our path. Any other action or "Legistlation" would and is in fact a sin!!!!!

    March 3, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • MarkSamuels

      I agree. The Sunday Blue laws are a great example of forced views. Come on, it was inherited from paganism, SUN worship.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  4. B-Dog

    The Bible is a great book, but I think my favorite fairy tale would be Goldilocks and the 3 bears, or Hanzel and Grettle.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • JohnR

      That's Hansel and Gretel. You will be punished for this blasphemy!

      March 3, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  5. Marie

    NOT EVERYONE IS A CHRISTIAN OR SUBSCRIBE TO CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE!!!!!!!!!!!! So what the bible says, doesn't apply to everyone if they don't believe it. You christians may think everyone is subjected to the wrath or rule of YOUR god, but they aren't! Stop trying to force everyone to believe as you do! Would make this world a hell of a lot easier to live in if Christians weren't trying to convert and spread their poison! BACK OFF

    March 3, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • MEA

      Nah Marie...you just get to burm for your gay sins.....Have fun and dont forget the sun screen

      March 3, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  6. Mr. Chimp

    So does this mean that all the Bonobos are going to hell lol? Religion survives and continues to obscure sanity because we are all afraid of death and what happens thereafter. If we can just come to grips with the fact that we all die and return to the earth like every other living species on this planet, we would all be better for it and would finally be able to release the strangle hold religion has on every aspect of life all across the world.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • derp

      Are you patently dismissing the possibility of a Bonobo heaven?

      March 3, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
  7. Gary

    The Bible is what keeps poor people from killing rich people...

    March 3, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
    • derp

      And quite often it is what keeps poor people poor and rich people rich.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
  8. Gamovr

    There's a very simple "Christ-like" solution to all of these arguments, but for some reason people are incapable of following it. If you want to believe in a strict fundamental view of the Bible, God bless you, and if you want to believe in a more liberal view, God bless you. We will each answer for ourselves before the final judgment seat and not for anybody else. So allow everyone their own belief and if you disagree, be nice about it! We don't have to fight; we can still be respectful in disagreement.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
  9. purety

    God or no god, women do not belong with women, men do not belong with men. The more we say it is OK, the more it will go on. We have grade school kids saying they are gay, – come on!!

    March 3, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Observer

      Please tell us what psychic ability you have to know that they are lying.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • Marie

      Says you though! You should not have the right nor should anyone, to tell someone who they can or cannot love??? Gay marriage JUST LIKE abortion is a RIGHT TO PRIVACY issue! PERIOD! We are not all the same! What is wrong with people like you??????

      March 3, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • Tracy

      A panel of experts have proven that being gay is not a mental disorder, it's not a choice and can't be voluntarily changed. It has also been proven that the reports and writings about this subject in the past were done by prejudice and bigoted people. You can bet that in the past that was fueled by religious nuts.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • Realist

      Why does it really matter if somebody is Gay in 2011? Reproduction isn't really a priority to sustain us as a species any more. What does it harm?

      March 3, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • Was Buf., Now Was.

      And the next thing you know, those grade schoolers will want to marry livestock! Where are our pitchforks?!

      March 3, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  10. mattifolks

    Using the bible to justify discrimination against or enslavement of a group of people is just plain wrong. How can these people not see that? Even if god and jesus said these things and meant them in the context you are claiming, then their message should be universally rejected, not blindly followed. Your ideology fails the test, leave it behind.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • MEA

      It will be funny when you meet God.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  11. Marie

    Regardless of whether this is true,

    March 3, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
  12. David

    Doesn't the bible also mention one shouldn't eat shellfish? I certainly see no shortage of Xtians in line at Red Lobster. Doesn't it also mention something about not wearing clothes of mixed fabric? So what does that mean for people wearing Polyester or Rayon? Xtianity is all about picking and choosing ... the commandment du jour, so to speak. Funny how Xristianity seems to mirror it's followers own prejudices.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Ken

      You confuse ritual law, fulfilled by Christ with moral law. The majority of posts here quoting minute trivia from the old testament are doing the same. Christ's perfect fulfillment of the law frees Christians from those silly external rituals.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • StanCartmanKyleKenny

      How nice for you, Ken. I think that was exactly the point.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
  13. Nowthat'salady

    It's so sad and never ceases to perplex me how the right chooses to focus on a few cryptic passages as justification to deny others rights and seem to miss the much bigger message of the bible, that of love and acceptance. It certainly begs the question, WWJD?

    March 3, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  14. Observer

    No one believes every word of the Bible. They just pick and choose whatever agrees with their preferences. That's how the first author did it and that's the same for this author. Unfortunately, a large number of Christians won't face that reality.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • Pastor Evans

      How can you make such a statement, you're not God...I believe everyone word of the Bible, so who or what authorizes you to say nobody believes all of the Bible?

      March 3, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • Open Your Eyes

      We can make these comments, because GOD DOES NOT EXIST, so it does not matter that we are not god. Get it?

      March 3, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @Pastor Evans
      Do you believe MK 16:17-18?
      If so, I challenge you to take a cyanide pill while handling a cobra and see what happens.
      Do you believe that Solomon's temple was only about ninety feet long by thirty feet wide, yet:
      1KI 5:15-16 153,300 persons were employed to build it.
      1KI 6:38 It took seven years to build.
      1CH 22:14 ~7,500,000 lbs. of gold and ~75,000,000 lbs. of silver were used.
      1CH 23:4 24,000 supervisors and 6,000 officials and judges were employed to manage it.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  15. Normalbeast

    The writer is not much of a bible scholar – he could have made his point concerning anything written by Ms. Knust much more succinctly:

    Timothy 2:12 – "Do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent."

    The bible has all the answers! You just have to take everything literally.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  16. What is wrong with these people?

    It is amazing how far people will go to justify hating someone who isn't like them.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  17. The Scripture Dude

    For all of you guys who think the Bible is a riciculous book, may I remind you that it says the Earth is round (Isaiah 40:22), that it hangs alone in space (Job 27), describes the water cycle acccurately (Ecclesiastes 1), correctly states the order in which things were created, with the universe wxisting first, then the Sun, earth and moon, then life beginning in the oceans, spreading to the sky then the land after vegetqation came about (Genesis 1). Pretty impressive.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • Ron

      It only has meaning to you because you choose to believe it. That does not make it a fact.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • Jim

      May I remind you that the authors of the bible didn't come up with the idea that the earth is round. Also, the earth doesn't hang alone in space, it doesnt take a genius to figure out the water cycle, and no one knows exactly how everything came to be. Science is pretty impressive.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • Realist

      A man walked on water and turned bread into fish and water into wine. A man was also swallowed by a whale and came out alive a while later. And somebody actually split the red sea, isn't that cool? That's all according to the bible of course. Seems factually accurate to me........... LOL

      March 3, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • DKolo

      I'd like to point out that a list of things the Bible got wrong would exceed the maximum character limit on these comment boxes. Also, Isaiah 40:22 states that the earth is a circle, which theologians tended to interpret as a disc shape for most of Christianity's history.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • DoubltSalmon

      well it also says that the earth stands on pillars (Samuel 2), that there are such a thing as witches and wizards (Exodus 22 and Leviticus 20 respectively), and that the earth doesn't move (Chronicles 1), so, swings and roundabouts

      March 3, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • mattifolks

      @ "DUDE" – The Sumerians knew these things thousands of years before the bible was written, so the authors were just repeating common knowledge, which is not an impressive feat in the least. It is, in fact, plagiarism at the worst, or a simple retelling of an oral tradition at the best. The bible also states that the earth was created in seven days, which we all know is false...the universe came together over millions of years. Jesus was a peacenik in his day, fighting a corrupt system of government. He was labeled a terrorist and killed for it. THE END. It's the biggest pyramid scheme ever conceived and sold to the weak minded among us...and yes, it takes a strong mind to ignore all the brainwashing thrown our way every day and reject the false promise of life everlasting in order to live a life of reality, peace, and love of our fellow man, here on earth during out short time here...

      March 3, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • paranevil

      Umm, I don't know what version of the bible you're reading, but you might want to go back and read it again. Your views are extremely skewed and false. In short, everything you said here and with your interpretations are wrong.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  18. Patrick Lewis

    That's nice. Unfortunately, us humans have to deal with everyone and we've decided not to hate our sons and daughters because they don't fit well with your book.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
    • MarkSamuels

      Yea, we know, if we disagree with the PR0G@y movement, we are haters. Playbook rule #1
      Nobody h@ates them, just their actions, which are described as an a-b-omination.
      Come on Patrick, you don't h-a-te me because I believe in God's word...

      March 3, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Lamentably, many religionists DO decide to hate their sons and daughters.
      A 2009 study, "Family Rejection as a Predictor of Negative Health Outcomes" determined that gay teens are almost 10 times as likely to attempt suicide as hetero teens.
      Folks like the Westboro Baptists are likely to drive their qu.eer children into the grave.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • MEA


      March 3, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • LexCrow

      @Patrick Lewis- Kudos to you. I'm proud to be considered part of the human race because of fantastic people like you.

      @MarkSamuels- I really don't understand the whole 'hate the sin, love the sinner' line, because honestly, I've only ever seen it used as a justification for bigotry and hatred

      @MEA- I cannot wait for your judgment day. I hope for your sake that He has a heck of a lot of grace in store to forgive a mean little person such as you. You and your spiteful comments make me ashamed to be part of the human race.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
    • LexCrow

      @Patrick Lewis- Kudos to you. I'm proud to be considered part of the human race because of fantastic people like you.

      @MarkSamuels- I really don't understand the whole 'hate the sin, love the sinner' line, because honestly, I've only ever seen it used as a justification for bigotry and hatred

      @MEA- I cannot wait for your judgment day. I hope for your sake that He has a heck of a lot of grace in store to forgive a mean little person such as you. You and your spiteful comments make me ashamed to be part of the human race. You have more than your cap locks fetish to apologize for.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
  19. MarkSamuels

    I can't believe CNN actually posted something worth reading.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
    • derp

      Can you lwet me where, so I can read it too?

      March 3, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  20. logan

    why on earth would i care whatsoever whats written in this pile of garbage?

    March 3, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
    • MattinDC

      Why? Because apparenty you read ans felt the NEED to post that sentence.
      That's W H Y.

      March 3, 2011 at 3:30 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.