My Take: What the Bible really says about homosexuality
The author argues that the meaning of the Bible's passages on homosexuality have been lost in translation.
May 15th, 2012
05:39 PM ET

My Take: What the Bible really says about homosexuality

Editor's note: Daniel A. Helminiak, who was ordained a priest in Rome, is a theologian, psychotherapist and author of “What the Bible Really Says about homosexuality" and books on contemporary spirituality. He is a professor of psychology at the University of West Georgia.

By Daniel A. Helminiak, Special to CNN

President Barack Obama’s support of same-sex marriage, like blood in the water, has conservative sharks circling for a kill. In a nation that touts separation of religion and government, religious-based arguments command this battle. Lurking beneath anti-gay forays, you inevitably find religion and, above all, the Bible.

We now face religious jingoism, the imposition of personal beliefs on the whole pluralistic society. Worse still, these beliefs are irrational, just a fiction of blind conviction. Nowhere does the Bible actually oppose homosexuality.

In the past 60 years, we have learned more about sex, by far, than in preceding millennia. Is it likely that an ancient people, who thought the male was the basic biological model and the world flat, understood homosexuality as we do today? Could they have even addressed the questions about homosexuality that we grapple with today? Of course not.

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Hard evidence supports this commonsensical expectation. Taken on its own terms, read in the original languages, placed back into its historical context, the Bible is ho-hum on homosexuality, unless – as with heterosexuality – injustice and abuse are involved.

That, in fact, was the case among the Sodomites (Genesis 19), whose experience is frequently cited by modern anti-gay critics. The Sodomites wanted to rape the visitors whom Lot, the one just man in the city, welcomed in hospitality for the night.

The Bible itself is lucid on the sin of Sodom: pride, lack of concern for the poor and needy (Ezekiel 16:48-49); hatred of strangers and cruelty to guests (Wisdom 19:13); arrogance (Sirach/Ecclesiaticus 16:8); evildoing, injustice, oppression of the widow and orphan (Isaiah 1:17); adultery (in those days, the use of another man’s property), and lying (Jeremiah 23:12).

But nowhere are same-sex acts named as the sin of Sodom. That intended gang rape only expressed the greater sin, condemned in the Bible from cover to cover: hatred, injustice, cruelty, lack of concern for others. Hence, Jesus says “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:19; Mark 12:31); and “By this will they know you are my disciples” (John 13:35).

How inverted these values have become! In the name of Jesus, evangelicals and Catholic bishops make sex the Christian litmus test and are willing to sacrifice the social safety net in return.

The longest biblical passage on male-male sex is Romans 1:26-27: "Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another."

The Greek term para physin has been translated unnatural; it should read atypical or unusual. In the technical sense, yes, the Stoic philosophers did use para physin to mean unnatural, but this term also had a widespread popular meaning. It is this latter meaning that informs Paul's writing. It carries no ethical condemnation.

Compare the passage on male-male sex to Romans 11:24. There, Paul applies the term para physin to God. God grafted the Gentiles into the Jewish people, a wild branch into a cultivated vine. Not your standard practice! An unusual thing to do — atypical, nothing more. The anti-gay "unnatural" hullabaloo rests on a mistranslation.

Besides, Paul used two other words to describe male-male sex: dishonorable (1:24, 26) and unseemly (1:27). But for Paul, neither carried ethical weight. In 2 Corinthians 6:8 and 11:21, Paul says that even he was held in dishonor — for preaching Christ. Clearly, these words merely indicate social disrepute, not truly unethical behavior.

In this passage Paul is referring to the ancient Jewish Law: Leviticus 18:22, the “abomination” of a man’s lying with another man. Paul sees male-male sex as an impurity, a taboo, uncleanness — in other words, “abomination.” Introducing this discussion in 1:24, he says so outright: "God gave them up … to impurity."

But Jesus taught lucidly that Jewish requirements for purity — varied cultural traditions — do not matter before God. What matters is purity of heart.

“It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles,” reads Matthew 15. “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”

Or again, Jesus taught, “Everyone who looks at a women with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Jesus rejected the purity requirements of the Jewish Law.

In calling it unclean, Paul was not condemning male-male sex. He had terms to express condemnation. Before and after his section on sex, he used truly condemnatory terms: godless, evil, wicked or unjust, not to be done. But he never used ethical terms around that issue of sex.

As for marriage, again, the Bible is more liberal than we hear today. The Jewish patriarchs had many wives and concubines. David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, and Daniel and the palace master were probably lovers.

The Bible’s Song of Songs is a paean to romantic love with no mention of children or a married couple. Jesus never mentioned same-sex behaviors, although he did heal the “servant” — pais, a Greek term for male lover — of the Roman Centurion.

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Paul discouraged marriage because he believed the world would soon end. Still, he encouraged people with sexual needs to marry, and he never linked sex and procreation.

Were God-given reason to prevail, rather than knee-jerk religion, we would not be having a heated debate over gay marriage. “Liberty and justice for all,” marvel at the diversity of creation, welcome for one another: these, alas, are true biblical values.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Daniel A. Helminiak.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Bible • Christianity • Gay marriage • Opinion

soundoff (8,832 Responses)
  1. hee

    The bible has been used to justify indulgences, racism, genocide, and torture. You so called Christians need to have an open mind. A few centuries ago Christians all over America swore that slavery was completely OK in the eyes of God, today the church vehemently denies it.

    True Christians shouldn't assume they understand God's will perfectly. You are instructed to spread God's love, not hate. Even if God truly does find Gays shameful, it is not the place of humans to take on God's role in condemning them.

    If you truly disagree with this writer's logic, actually post a legit counterargument instead of "PFFFFT!!! SHUT UP CRAZY LEFT WING LIBERALS!!!!111"

    May 15, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • robert frost

      Amen! You ARE a true christian (no sarcasm here)

      May 15, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
    • Bad Religion

      thank you, hee.... right on.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • Jack Sprat

      Amen, let God judge, not man.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • beezers

      Galatians 1:12 "For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ." That is why I opposed same-gender marriage.

      2 Timothy 2:24-26 "And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will." This is why we teach what we believe. Obviously there are those who do so in a less-than-Christian manner. I believe in being respectful of others who disagree with me, but the Spirit of God inspires me to defend his first commandment, that a man and woman shall be one flesh, and be fruitful, multiply, and replenish the earth.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
  2. brainsplus

    for a start the entire article is self contradictory. It first affirms it's own premise and in the end disaffirms it. As a professor of psychology, Daniel A. Helminiak uses his wits to purport the unnatural is actually natural and he does not end there. Secondly, as a priest ordained in Rome where he knows that the Basilica would be totally against his assertion, he uses euphemisms to cloud the mind of a reader thinking quoting wrong scriptures with the intent to seduce would suffice – his own roots denounce his deeds and/or beliefs but he axiomatically wants to hold both the roots and wings to no avail, read the book and the truth shall set you free ... I rest my case

    May 15, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  3. robert frost

    WHO the heck wrote these bibles anyway? Just because it's in print doesn't mean it's true.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  4. Joseph

    If you haven't cut off your right hand,or plucked out one of your eyes.You're not a true christian.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  5. Ann

    When we want to do what we want do do, we find any means to justify it – paraphrasing Jesus' words in Luke 16:14

    May 15, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  6. Reilleyfam

    Who cares = make up your own mind. You are just as smart as a dead Jew.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  7. Bad Religion

    This line write here, taken from the bible, is a perfect example of how christians are nothing like christ:

    "It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles,” : Matthew 15

    Look at all the so called "believer" postings and just look at the hypocracy.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • Texadillo

      Maybe CNN and Daniel should mention he is gay.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • MikeB

      And somehow that is to justify what comes from the mouths of the 'Non-Believers'.
      Another instance of one being justified because Bubba down the street does it.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • brainsplus

      For a start the entire article is self contradictory. It first affirms it's own premise and in the end disaffirms it. As a professor of psychology, Daniel A. Helminiak uses his wits to purport the unnatural is actually natural and he does not end there. Secondly, as a priest ordained in Rome where he knows that the Basilica would be totally against his assertion, he uses euphemisms to cloud the mind of a reader thinking quoting wrong scriptures with the intent to seduce would suffice – his own roots denounce his deeds and/or beliefs but he axiomatically wants to hold both the roots and wings to no avail, read the book and the truth shall set you free ... This is exactly what happens when a gay priest turned professor what to justify his perverted lifestyle ... I rest my case

      May 15, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • Bad Religion

      We need to have a burn the bible day as a holiday. I can't think of a more evil book. why other books are banned and this one which has done nothing but cause HUGE problems all through out history is still permitted is beyond me.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
  8. Larry Jenkins

    Jude 1:7

    May 15, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
  9. Michael

    People will twist the bible to mean whatever they want. You want to invade and occupy forever a country with the resources you want – killing hundreds of thousands of innocents in the process – you betcha – go right ahead – You want to hate gays – go right ahead – OR NOT – it is all in the good book.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • w5cdt

      Oh man...let's not cross the Bible. (written by humans)

      May 15, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  10. splasher6

    a million pastors say its wrong but leave CNN to find some liberal theologian, to line up the left behind their failing Messiah....

    May 15, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
  11. Jack Sprat

    I love how you have a piece written buy a guy who knows more about what the bible says in and out and in different translations than any poster here, someone who has studied it for years and years, knows its history, and the history of the time it was written, but people still don't believe what he is saying because of what they hear from a preacher on Sunday mornings. Somehow I'm sure that if Jesus was here he would not be supporting condemning a whole section of the population because they would rather have a boyfriend than a girlfriend, and he would definitely not tell them that they were undeserving to worship God. Why do super religious people put such blind faith in other humans to tell them the truth, why can’t they read the bible and its history and make up their own minds instead of having the same thoughts their parents or preachers do? I’m all for blind faith in God, but please don’t take other people’s opinions as true unless you have actually done your research.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • beezers

      I love how some take the words of one supposed "theologian" to another and then tells everyone not to listen to their pastor who has probably had as much experience (if not more) with biblical interpretation than this author.

      You are right, though. We should all seek guidance of the Lord ourselves. He has made it clear to me, by the power of His Spirit, that marriage is between a man and a woman. Fortunately, my pastor preaches what the Spirit has witnessed to him as well.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • beezers

      By the way, I've read the Bible from cover to cover, study it regularly, and believe a lot of others do as well. So suggesting that this guy knows more than "any poster" here is a bit conceited.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • Jack Sprat

      What I meant is that he has actually studied the material, where most Christians haven’t even read it once. What I also said was that people should read the bible and make up their own minds, and that people have no place to judge, that is God and Jesus' right, not yours or your pastors. When I say blindly it is because I know many, many, many religious people that believe what they believe because someone told them to, not because they have studied the material and come to their own conclusions as you have.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
    • Jack Sprat

      sorry, there I go saying most again, how about a lot.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
  12. Bill

    I hope you realize there will not be an athiest in Hell. I guess the writer of this article has never read Romans Worthy of Death. Maybe you think God has changed his mind about who should procreate. I guarentee it is not 2 men or 2 women. But I guess if you want to spend eternity in Hell have at it. I hope everyone of you get your just dues along with the supportive politicians.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • Sam Mandel

      Let's hear it for SB 1070 and Sheriff Joe Arpaio! Fine examples of the product of your worldview!! Woot Woot!

      May 15, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • Jesus Christ

      Being married isn't about procreation.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • Jack Sprat

      That is not a very godly statement there buddy. What happened to turn the other cheek? Somehow I don't think Jesus would want you condeming people to hell in his name and judging for yourself what kind of retribution they desearve.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • Jen L

      I hope that you get YOUR due. You have just borne false witness against another, lied, spoken for God, cast the first stone, judged instead of waiting for God's judgment.

      You're the one who'll be in Hell.

      Jesus was a really nice guy. Be like Jesus instead of how you are now. That's what Jesus actually said to do.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  13. Robert

    Helminiak even looks like a deranged nut. He's basically a son of the devil; an exceedingly wicked man. If I were king, he and his ilk would be in jail never to see the light of day again and the country would be far better off. You have to remove the cancer to save the patient.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • TKO

      I do hope others will read what you have said and see what true intolerance and hatred looks like when it is robed in "religious righteousness." I was taught that there were only 2 sins the Spirit could not forgive despair and presumption: presuming to know the mind of God and presuming to judge for him surely is a sin against the Spirit, your sin, and you should perhaps ponder your own salvation, not someone else's.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • Jack Sprat

      Jesus is king Homie, don't pretend to have the wisdom to judge others. Who are you to say someone is the son of the devil, or wicked? Leave the Judging to your lord and be an obedient servant for the good of man.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
  14. DaveinIL

    Anyone want to bet whether this guy is gay or just a liberal or both?

    May 15, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • Robert

      Does it really matter? He's evil and causing tremendous damage whichever way you slice it.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • Sam Mandel

      He's causing "damage" because now you have to explain to your kids what the Bible REALLY teaches about ho mose xu ality and that ga y marriage is bad?

      Why don't you try teaching your kids to come to an honest faith in Christ first, and leave the rest of the world the f vck alone!!

      May 15, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
  15. Not A Christian

    The Bible is a book of fairy tales and stories intended to make people feel better about what they fear and cannot understand because of ignorance. Who cares what the Bible says, it is not a valid reference book.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • Robert

      You just try telling God that when he's telling you, "depart from me you wicked, into everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels." It WILL be the last thing you ever say. Don't believe it you say? It's a high price to pay if you are wrong.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • Sam Mandel

      Robert- the high price you are paying for possibly being wrong is the life you are living. You'd better HOPE there's an afterlife that's worth the sum of the lost opportunities you've had in this life. Good luck to you.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
    • moonster

      WOW – fairy tales. Catch up on archeology. There are many things in that bible that is proven true and just not scientifically. Ancient peoples were smarter and wiser than most secular people give them credit for.

      May 16, 2012 at 9:26 am |
  16. Alex

    also have you realized how much money has been spent on fighting this! the country has so many other problems that are worth fighting for

    May 15, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
  17. Bob

    While the more educated may smirk about such articles, there is a lot of value in helping people analyze and understand the book upon which they place their beliefs, especially when it becomes legislation and policy that affects people outside the religious bubble.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • Alex

      it shouldn't dictate policy the country was founded on a separation of church and state

      May 15, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  18. beezers

    "We now face religious jingoism, the imposition of personal beliefs on the whole pluralistic society." Thank you for proving that with the rest of your ridiculous article, which obviously is an imposition of your own personal beliefs and interpretations of scripture.

    I guess this is why religion can't be based on the Bible. It needs what created the Bible. Revelation from God. To Catholics, that revelatory power is believed to be held by the Pope (who has clearly opposed same-gender marriage). To Mormons, that revelatory power is believed to be held by the Prophet (who has also clearly opposed same-gender marriage). You know, we clearly need modern-day guidance, so when I rest my belief that marriage is a union between one man and one woman, I don't need to bother using the Bible. I follow the spirit of God myself.

    Maybe this once-a-priest-now-a-professor might want to think about searching for spiritual guidance himself rather than arguing over some scholarly interpretation of the Bible.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • Bob

      God tells people to do all kinds of crazy things, I don't think we can trust him.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
  19. Abe Lincoln

    Gays deserve all of the civil rights as every other citizen but marriage is not a civil right. It is a social contract between the government and its citizens. Marriage is between a man and a woman. If we allow other permutations we must allow all permutations between consenting adults. Polygamy? Group marriage? Where does it stop? Obviously if people are allowed to vote we know the result. Wherever gay marriage has been voted on, it has been voted down.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • matty bones

      I am ok with group, polygamy. Everything stops.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • LogicDemandsIt

      Why we must we allow it? If you are allowed to make it arbitrarily between just a man and a woman you can make it arbitrarily between two consenting adults. Unless a 3rd gender arises you are pulling a straw-man.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
  20. Dennis

    He was an Ordained Priest. "WAS" struck the whole article as being typical CNN commentary with an agenda.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:03 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.