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. FedUpInSeattle

    Even though I am conservative in my voting, I do support 100% gay partners to have hospital visits, decision making rights regarding life and health issues of their partners and all the other legal benefits of married couples. While I'm not very religious and was brought up Catholic, I do not fault those who believe Religious based marriage is between a man and a woman. I personally would like to see any non-religious couples gay or straight have a legal binding option for partnership. If liberal leaning religious people what to create a religion in which it’s teaching reflect their beliefs, then do that. Even though I am not a practicing Catholic, I don't believe they should be made to change their views on this issue. What I would ask in return is that the Catholics don't demonize others that don't share their beliefs. I know the comment of creating your own religion seems a silly suggestion but look how many different religions there are, why, because each had a different take on what God is and what those beliefs should be. The only criticism of this article is not against the author but of the MSM media which, as I mentioned being conservative, is having someone on the left side of the isle always being given the podium to define what is Main Stream is supposed to be. It’s sort of like having someone who believes baseball should have 4 out-fielders defining the rules of MLB.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
    • Piranha Soup

      You just compared my right to have a life with my partner
      to a baseball game ?
      Wow !

      May 16, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
  2. John in Olympia

    Listening to all this bickering, I really think we need to bring back a form of segregation in this country.

    All those that are strongly religious and intolerant of other beliefs should move to the SE corner of their state. Those that are somewhat religious but tolerant of other beliefs should move to the NE. The non-religious should occupy the western part of the state. There would be a DMZ in the middle where parents can meet up with their children. Each sector should have control over the media and internet to ensure that only their viewpoint gets promoted.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
  3. Ron

    I am in no way a biblical scholar so I will take the author at his word. If this bit from the article is true, then every individual who leans right politically is guilty of "the sin of Sodom." You cannot describe the DNA of the Bush / Romney voter and apologist any better than this:

    "... 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)."

    May 15, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • Leigh2

      God knows Christians hearts better than you do. Just saying.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
  4. Chris Iweha

    CNN is becoming the devil's ready tool for propagation of anti God ideologies. Please do a similar write up on the Koran and see what will happen.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • momoya

      1. LOL, you still believe in "the devil."
      2. What's your point about the Koran?. Are you wanting atheists to be happy that christianity doesn't k.i.ll them like Islam would? Because if so, that's a pretty fvcked up arguemnt.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • Bet

      Maybe they can do a story on what the Wizard of Oz says too, while they're reporting on fairy tales.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
    • HurtfulTruth

      Nice try....but just like the TYPICAL CONSERVATIVE who can't refute the truth that opposes what they want to believe, you change the focus of the discussion!!

      THIS IS NOT ABOUT THE QU'RAN("Koran"...THAT should speak for YOU on it's own!). If you have NO rebuttal, take it up with the person you listen to intently on Sundays....I'm sure HE....and it's ALWAYS a HE, right??!!....will be MORE than happy to show you how LITTLE he REALLY knows about this subject as well!!

      May 15, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
    • Piranha Soup

      The best tool the devil has is making you think that
      God is good, and the Devil is bad.
      Are you shure you are not worshipping the wrong side ?
      Its all there in your bible.
      How do you really know that it wasnt God that was cast out of heaven ?
      How do you know that the devil didnt write the bible ?

      Oh yeah, because the bible says.

      Do you believe there will be an anti-christ ?
      If so, wouldnt the best place on earth to put the anti-christ
      be at the head of the catholic church ?

      Its all in your bible.
      Like switching babys at birth.
      You just may be worshipping the wrong baby.

      Its in your bible.

      May 16, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
  5. Leigh2

    There are lots of New Testament scripture the article's author failed to include. Read for yourself, then judge for yourself. There's really no room for misinterpretation. Like it or not, that's just the way it is.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • Humanist11

      Yes, I agree. There is a lot of contradiction in the bible. It is all so confusing.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
    • Bet

      If that's true, then why are there so many different denominations? The bible is far from clear on anything. It's been rewritten many times to suit the ruler of the day for his own purposes. It's also been translated from Hebrew and Greek, leaving much to the translator's skill and/or motives. How do you know that the Hebrew has been accurately translated? You don't, that's why there's this version and that version.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
    • Piranha Soup

      When a Christian has no answers as to why his God allows bad things to happen,
      God works in mysterious ways........
      Covers everything.

      May 16, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
  6. Light

    Read Romans chapter 1

    May 15, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • Piranha Soup

      Why ?
      You lose the argument over leviticus ?
      Your bible instructs you that you are not to interpit it, just to follow it.
      Until you follow everything in leviticus,
      you have no right to pick and choose what you will use against someone else.

      You see, you are NOT following your bible.
      The message is clear.

      May 16, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
  7. Joshua Walker

    1 Corinthians 6:9-11
    9What! Do YOU not know that unrighteous persons will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be misled. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men kept for unnatural purposes, nor men who lie with men, 10nor thieves, nor greedy persons, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit God’s kingdom. 11And yet that is what some of YOU were. But YOU have been washed clean, but YOU have been sanctified, but YOU have been declared righteous in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the spirit of our God.

    Here it says it in black in white. Now it dont say to hate gay people but that it is wrong and you will not be in gods kingdom if you practice it. It also says that what some people where and that you can turn around and repent for your wrongdoing and God will forgive you and that you can be in God's kingdom.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • Baa Weet

      good thing its just a story book written by men

      May 15, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
  8. Creationism1

    If god created man in his own image, and a certain percentage of every generation is and has been gay, then god must be a little bit gay himself...

    May 15, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
  9. A

    This is what I believe. I feel that the Bible is used by certain individuals to bash groups of people that they don't like. There are so many things in the bible that these "Christians" forget to make a mess about. Love is so important – even if being gay was a sin, is it the BIGGEST sin? No, it isn't. There are really terrible things out there. Focus on that. Not what people do in the bedroom. Doesn't God want us to love one another?

    May 15, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • Ati

      Very good critique on a sad denpeolmevt. American Christians must be more active in thinking through a post-9/11 theology that is freed of patriotic idolatry. I believe this is the most dangerous heresy facing our churches (and the most pervasive, by far). Any time I venture close to this issue with my church folks, wow, you find out pretty quickly how deeply this treads. Thanks again. Very well stated.

      November 8, 2012 at 6:58 am |
  10. Tim

    Daniel is simply manipualting scripture, and I believe he is doing so intentionally. He that adds to the Bible, the Lord shall add unto him the plagues that are written therin; and whosever shall take away from the things that are written therein, the Lord shall take away his name from the Book of Life.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • momoya

      I think he's as certain of his interpretation as you are of your own.. You do realize that there's no way to ever prove one interpretation is "correct" and another "incorrect," don't you?

      May 15, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • Bambam

      Wow...I think you've committed about 3 sins in your ridiculous comment. Is it not more likely that people like you are much more likely to twist the translated words in the bible to support your ignorant beliefs?

      May 15, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
  11. dellis1

    Don't real care!!! Being in Iraq for 8 years, truly this earth is paradise. But, We the human race is screwing it up, slowly.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  12. MCR

    Gay marriage is a modern, legal construct designed to deal with issues such as hospital visitation rights, insurance and inheritance. It is a rights issue that is in the realm of government, not religion.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  13. Michael

    “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”

    In other words, swallow. Don't spit.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • Mick

      You just said what everyone else was thinking.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
  14. Lucas1

    For the ones that say we should'nt be concerned about adhearing to something that was written 2000 yrs ago. It was a lesson plan for your life today. Kinda like air was given to us millions of yreas ago and it still works, try it , It still works.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • momoya

      Lucas, do try and get to the library to check out a text on "Critical Reasoning.". You can't possibly think that what you said was an "argument."

      May 15, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • Humanist11

      Even the part where you get to r_ ape the women who have slept with men and kill all the male babies and keep all the vid_gins for yourself?

      May 15, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • Bet

      Well, I'll go right out and get me a goat to sacrifice on an altar then.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
    • Piranha Soup

      It was a lesson plan for life 2000 years ago.
      The air, a million years ago was so toxic it would have killed you instantly.
      Education is your friend, try it.

      May 16, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
  15. nate

    Everyone on here should to take a step back and consider all of the world religions.
    Now consider why we believe in one or the other. Which one is completely different from the rest? Which one stands out among the others? What reason should be the deciding factor as to which we should follow? The answer is simple but, sadly, most people cannot answer this question.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • aginghippy

      It's a matter of geography, of course. If you're born in the United States, you'll most likely be Christian. Born in Iran: Muslim, etc etc etc

      May 15, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
    • Humanist11

      Choosing none is a valid choice too. For the same reason you do not believe in those other religions I do not believe in yours. If you were born and raised in Saudi Arabia, I can guarantee you would be muslim and believe it with all of your heart. Can't you see the big picture?

      May 15, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
  16. jack

    Of course the better option is to stop using a collection of old mythology as the book that helps decide who to persecute and build a better world with less hatred in it. It's very ridiculous how so many people associate love with the bible, yet it has 10x cruelty.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • Humanist11

      If they made an accurate movie of the bible it would be rated NC-17.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
  17. aginghippy

    This moronic debate will not end until the religious folks admit the simple fact that nobody CHOOSES the "gay lifestyle". They are born gay. If you doubt that, ask yourself if you can remember the moment you decided to be hetero. Could it have gone either way for you? It's no different for the gay man or woman. Once you accept that they are born exactly the way they are, the next logical conclusion is that God created them exactly as they are. To believe that God hates his own creation is absurd.
    I don't share your faith in God, but I have to believe that IF your God exists, he has not designated you as the enforcer of his laws. Make sure YOU aren't sinning, and let others worry about their sins. Unfortunately, I've met few Christians who know how to live and let live. So, again, the only hope is for the good Christian to abandon the ridiculous notion that anyone would CHOOSE to be hated, harassed and often harmed or killed.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • elle

      Please don't group "religious" people together. I believe in live and let live, and I am a Christian. We all face the same fate... taxes and death.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
  18. CJ

    Faith = fact and such is the folly of organized religion.

    The Bible and it's many variations and translations are all subject to interpretation. Opinion naturally follows. It gets dangerous when these opinions are flaunted as facts.

    As much as it pains the zealous Christians here, you must realize that there are very few things in life are certain. "God" and his laws as transcribed by humans no more worthy than you or me, are not a certainty. They're a belief. A faith. A hunch. No more, no less.

    Believe what you want to believe, but believing isn't knowing. Don't confuse the two. That's how wars get started and rights get squashed.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • Santex

      The power of the atom existed before 1942 but few believed it because they hadn't seen it. Who would deny it now? Just because you have not known God does not mean that He doesn't exist.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
  19. William

    Shame on you CNN. This article is not factual. It's not even a good opinion. The author draws his fundamental conclusions based on a weak, controversial suggestion that is rejected by nearly all scholars.

    You need to stop claiming to be "the most trusted name in news" if your political/social agenda is more important than accurately portraying controversial topics and/or doing due-diligence on your content and their authors.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • Patrick from Minnesota

      Truth hurts, doesn't it Will?

      May 15, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • HWB

      Right on. I have never heard such BS in my life. This author is a total, self sniffing shadow of Obama's perverse side and the fact that CNN publishes should BS undoubtedly proves this is not a worthy news organization. Just BS, man this article stinks.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • Don

      Cite a reference or two to back you up.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
    • T

      I agree

      May 15, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
    • eric

      Go back to getting your news from FOX, your mortal soul will feel much better and us rational folks won't have to put up with your crazy rants...

      May 15, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • moonster

      Look what is happening to FOX news – CNN is just as dirty – it is sad that the news cannot be reported without some agenda.

      May 16, 2012 at 9:29 am |
  20. Tim in TN

    There's a way that seems right to a man, but it's end is destruction (Proverbs 14:12) Your are trying to "justify" sin, but the truth is... There will be terrible times in the last days.(A) 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money,(B) boastful, proud,(C) abusive,(D) disobedient to their parents,(E) ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous,(F) rash, conceited,(G) lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness(H) but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.(2 Tim 3:1-5)

    May 15, 2012 at 7:32 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.