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. Dan

    You cannot rewrite the Bible to suit your own beliefs. It is a whole not to be bargained with.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • Saboth

      Where's the re-writing? You do know the Bible was translated and groups of men and governments were involved in determining its final version, right? Just because certain people agreed on a bigoted stance on certain elements to suit their own prejudices doesn't mean that's the actual meaning in the Bible.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
    • Danny

      No one is rewriting the bible. It is said clearly in the bible in the story about Jesus and the lawyer. The lawyer pretty much asks Jesus how to understand the scriptures since there are so many laws which are at time conflicting against each other. Jesus' answer is one must interpret the bible under the light of love – love God and love your neighbors – literally. Interpreting any verse of the bible in a way that justifies your hatred against a group of people is clearly and literally against this teaching.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
    • Fred Zeppelin

      Do you hold the sabbath ?
      The sabbath is on Saturday.

      You are not to worship false idols.
      Yet millions of people flock to the vatican each year and kneel at the feet of the pope.

      This man has not re-written the bible
      he is just interpeting it as it should be understood.

      Too bad you cannot listen.

      May 16, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
  2. Yma Sumac

    I also know that the Bible says, famously: "Judge not, lest ye be judged." And: "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." What would Jesus do? In my opinion He would condemn those who profess to speak the word of God but in actuality are peverting it to deny human rights and social dignity to a specific class of people.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • 311mortimer

      Yma, "let he who is without sin cast the first stone" – how funny that this is the favorite bible verse of those who don't read the bible. The story doesn't end there, it ends with "Go and sin no more". In other words, knock it off.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
    • CNN Is Clown News Network

      What would Jesus do? In my opinion He would condemn those who profess to speak the word of God but in actuality are peverting it to promote their perversions. In other words, do what he did in the Temple..... use a whip to beat the snot out of the sinners..... just like you and this Podunk College "scholar" that CNN is trying to peddle off as a "scholar".

      May 15, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
    • Scott

      Okay. Don't judge. Hmm. I won't tell you that stepping in front of a car going at 70 miles an hour will kill you. Would that be love? You mistake judgement for not loving. We don't judge you, the person. We don't even judge ourselves (go read the word). We do however spread the truth of how we should live and make it clear that living in certain ways is death. Love is indeed telling the truth to a dying world regardless of the cost. We will be hated, but we will not stop speaking the truth in love. Father, would that all your children would learn to speak truth in love and not judgement.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
  3. Ushuaia

    What you do in the bedroom is your problem, but to build a bridge you need nuts and bolts, only nuts or only bolts will not support the bridge. Note: I am not referring to nuts in the colloquial sense of the word.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
    • momoya

      What a stupid analogy.. Bolts and nuts don't have feeling.. If bolts could get a pleasurable sensation from rubbing on stuff, then they'd be rubbing on stuff.. What are you, six years old?

      May 15, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
    • Ushuaia

      Colloquial is seldom in the vocabulary of a six year old. Rubbing? Yes. Regardless of your belief, going against natural order has consequences.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
    • Do Not Disassemble

      Talk about NUTS !

      May 16, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
  4. Jason G

    The Bible isn't the boss of me and isn't the boss of this country.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
    • matt houston

      Indeed, and it also isn't the center of the universe as much as Christians wish it to be so.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      Thank you @ Jason

      May 15, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
  5. Mike

    The key point that is missing to the biblical debate is that the Bible states that only God can judge.

    Who are all these people who think they have reached some kind of holy level to judge other people as only God can do?

    If you are one of the many people twisting the words around to fit your own personal agenda then I hope you are ready for your own judgement. It is not uncommon for the ones who tell other people to do as they say are not following their own "righteous" advice.

    Hypocrisy takes many forms. Such as many comments to this article describing the beatings and death of "hunting" gay people.
    Clearly these people have twisted the words around to justify their own sins.

    At the core, it is very arrogant to assume you know the truth while someone else with a different opinion does not.
    Who do you think you are? God? There is a punishment waiting for you one day with that mindset as well.

    "Do not judge, or you too will be judged" Matthew 7:1

    "For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." Matthew 7:2-5

    "Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction." 2 Timothy 4:2

    May 15, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
    • boodiggly

      The bible was written by the same people who thought the earth was flat and that evey species of animal existed within walking distance of Noah's ark...

      May 15, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
    • wade

      I love it wehn people say, who do they think they are to judge me! I don't know you, but you are human, I'm sure and the simple fact is that ALL HUMANS JUDGE. Your are an idiot right from the start. Do you condemn pedofiles? WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE!!! Do you condemn drug users or dealers? WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE. All humans have a right to judge, because we're all in this together and we'll develop opinions and if we have breath in our bodies, I'm sure you're going to be judged, just as you do, hypocrite!

      May 15, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
  6. the warrioress

    What a reach! Laughable, really, but it's not funny in the least.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
    • momoya

      I hope he feels the same way about your perspective.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
  7. el rob o

    Just another freaking example of CNN doing EVERYTHING possible to protect freaking obama. CNN is like a loyal lap dog to obama. Anyone else seeing though this????

    May 15, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
    • SteveFromOhio

      Nope. Explain it again, please...

      May 15, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      No. We don't take kindly to people who talk like that.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • Tom

      Yup. By the time I hit the second paragraph I realized that CNN had found a liberal theologian who would swear that the Bible doesn't mean what it says, and that only "enlightened" 21st century citizens can understand how to interpret it. Interesting that the Bible also warns about people like him.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
    • Grand Duke

      CNN is a lap dog for Obama like Fixed News is for Mitten!!

      May 15, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • momoya

      LOL, Tom, you're acting like there's some objective method to determine which translation is more correct!! Hasn't anyone told you, yet?? It's all just "feelings.". You feel like the holey spearmint backs up your interp and the other guy feels the same way with a completely different interp.. LOL!

      May 15, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      The Bible is a delusion, Tom. What it says means absolutely nothing since it's all a delusion.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
    • Jomoma

      So one whole opinion piece is evidence of a massive conspiracy against right-wing America? Maybe it's just evidence that you folks need to chill out and respect everyone elses' right to have an opinion. This is what all those Americans who get all angry every time you start talking about REAL AMERICAN VALUES are getting angry about. Silencing and shouting down the people with whom you disagree isn't American, it's fascistic.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • Do Not Disassemble


      Liberal / A person who wants to move forward.
      Conservative / A person who wants things to stay the same.

      The Universe is not going to sit around and wait for you to catch up.

      May 16, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
  8. Marcio Pelegrini

    I wanna know how much LGBT and CNN staff (lgbt CNN staff); PAID for this "article"...

    they didn't even bother to flat lie and make stuff up...

    this must be a JOKE ahahahahah

    May 15, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
  9. swohio

    I've had enough of this nonsense. It's getting REALLY old reading about this same subject all the time and I'm about ready to completely cross CNN off my list of regularly visited websites for news.

    Helminiak has been refuted in the past. For anyone interested in reading that refutation, simply do an internet search for "A Reformed Response to Daniel Helminiak's Gay Theology".

    May 15, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
    • stanton


      May 15, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
  10. Joshua

    Ya'll Christians think cuz your dumb religion has been around all these years it's a safe haven for you. You think, "safety in numbers" will save ya. The only reason you bunch together is the same reason fish school together.... but the big bad wolfs commin, and he's gunna huff and puff and blow your house of lies down.....

    May 15, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
    • Scott

      No actually, we're going to live or die as he wills. You on the other hand are dead while you yet live. But the way is still open for you. You're mixing internet bravado with truth, and they can cost you.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
    • swohio

      I would say "Keep dreaming, Joshua"....but I actually hope you wake up to the truth someday soon.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
    • Jomoma

      The really lame thing about Christianity is that they'll never realize the truth. American Christianists will go around the nation hating on the poor and sick, and judging everyone who has a pulse in a complete inversion of actual biblical values, then die with a smile on their faces thinking they're going to heaven, but never knowing any better as they just die and stay dead like the rest of us who are too smart to fall for their snake oil. Meanwhile, we get to agonize about our impending demise even if we live our lives in an ethical way, while they condemn us for every petty and ancient infraction while burning the Earth for their own greed and personal satisfaction. If there's truly any evidence that there is no god, it is how perverse this world really is!

      May 15, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
  11. stanton


    May 15, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
    • Tom

      If you actually knew anything about Christianity, you would realize that your first mistake is in judging Christianity by the behavior of its followers instead of the one for whom it is named.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
  12. Liz

    I have no problem with people being gay..just put them on a island and let them be...eventually there will not be anyone left...PERFECT!

    May 15, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
    • SteveFromOhio

      But you have to go with them, Liz...

      May 15, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      We feel the same about your religious bigotry.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • ???

      Are you serious? You do realize that to have a baby it takes sperm and egg, which is what created a baby. A gay baby, a straight baby. You take all the gays and put them on an island, sure.. they won't create babies but they will know what true love is. Did you ever think that when you go back to your "perfect" lil straight mainland, more gay babies will be born? Stop hating, because we are born from straight people. Also, ever think that there is gay people everywhere? also have been, always will be.. in every civilization, in every time-period, we have been there. We will keep being born. You want us all dead? Sure, kill us all but tomorrow another one will be born. Ever think god created us to keep the population down? Because straight people keep over populating the world. Ever see how many kids are in foster care? Because straight people keep having them and turning their backs on their own children.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
    • DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

      I feel the same way about B.I.B.L.E T.H.U.M.P.E.R.S

      Put all the people who are in organized religious on their own islands and leave this great land to the rest who have the free will to know the REAL TRUTH.

      Organized religion is the true enemy.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
    • Do Not Disassemble

      Sorry Liz,
      All gay children come from straight parents.
      If you want to get rid of gay people you will have to
      kill all of the breeders.

      May 16, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
  13. WhatWhatWhat?

    The question is actually, "What the Bible really says about the state of your mental delusions", because, seriously, that's what a belief in the Bible is, a delusion. We should care about that nonsense as much as someone who says the Earth is flat.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
  14. Thief in the Night

    "Hath God really said?" said the snake to Eve.

    This is pure unadulterated blather. God is not mocked.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
    • blr2981

      That is the worst distortion of biblical truth that I have heard in a long time. If you don't like what the Bible says, you apparently just discount the meaning of the words, twist the truth, and as Peter said wrest the "scriptures, unto [your] own destruction" (2 Peter 3:16). Wow! I guess we all get to choose between the wisdom of God and the wisdom of man.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
  15. Snow

    All the people quoting Leviticus, what say you about this rule?

    All who curse their father or mother must be put to death. They are guilty of a capital offense. (Leviticus 20:9 NLT)

    May 15, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
    • George65

      I say that the child who cursed his mother and father would be brought to "court" and the child would be taken away from the parents that wanted to "kill" him or her! Really how it worked!

      May 15, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
    • glubad55

      Then don't do it. Christians would fight legislation that promoted cursing your parents, too. We're not killing the offenders; we're just stopping the promotion of the offense. Same story.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
  16. derriquestuckey

    Okay, if you're going to quote from the Bible, it's pretty much black and white: Sodom and Gomorrah. Even an atheist knows that part.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
    • Do Not Disassemble

      Sodom was not a gay story.
      Your comprehension sucks.

      May 16, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
  17. Jimbob

    Uh. maybe use correct books of the bible when referring to the bible.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
  18. Dave

    What a laughable article. Your analysis of Romans 1:26-27 is so misguided and slanted. The worst is that you completely forget to mention the context of the paragraph. It is dealing with the wrath of God and the Lord's condemnation of evil sins. People will go to any length to defend this sin and you are obviously one of them.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
    • alex

      Dave, your delusional buddy.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
    • Put The Gun Down

      There is no sin.

      May 16, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
  19. wade


    May 15, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
    • Shannon

      This whole article was written because the definition of marriage is on the table – in the political arena.This battle will affect all of North America....and all of our futures. In the beginning God created a man and a woman – in the New Testament when Jesus spoke of marriage – He did not even mention a man with a man – He only spoke of a man with a woman. God loves every soul on this earth – but He has not changed His original intention for the human race and for marriage. I do not hate anyone – nor does any christian that I know. But we are talking about laws changing here that will open a can of worms that will slowly destroy this great nation. This film is deceptive and twisted on so many counts – hardly know where to begin.....do you have any idea how children have been molested by gay priests....? Clearly we are in the time where good is callled evil and evil is callled good....

      May 15, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
    • Put The Gun Down

      Thanks for posting wade.
      Jesus would be proud.

      May 16, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
    • Miana

      I have Daily Bible (NIV) on my Droid phone. HOWEVER, I need to drop my internet on the phone as I need the money. WHY is there not a vesroin for my p.c. which will read it just like the phone app??? I am almost half way through and can’t finish now. PLEASE do a P.C. VERSION..NOT A PDF FILE VERSION..but one just like we can get on our phones! PLEASE~ Thank you for your help and for helping to reach SO many people with this site! God Bless~

      September 9, 2012 at 1:02 am |
  20. Mr Howdy 2 u

    Here is the key word....INTERPRETATION.....some will read this guy's interpretation and say he's wrong because THEIR INTERPRETATION IS RIGHT.... in the end the Bible says a lot of things are right and a lot wrong...at one time or another...there are also countless contradictions throughout the whole book that have been explained away countless times throughout the centuries...end result is that its all open to INTERPRETATION and that's a personal act of faith almost by definition(since you are referring to an interpretation of faith and not rocket science...which you can test time and again.) The reality is that we cannot cannot "decide" this one way or the other...ITS NOT ROCKET SCIENCE...its a book of faith that contains countless contradictions within it, and some assertions that can never be proven, or disproved. Its left up to you to decide how you want to believe...but ABSOLUTELY NO ONE HAS PRECEDENCE...its up to you, the individual which INTERPRETATION YOU WANT TO LIVE WITH and with whom you want to pray with!!! These are just THE HARD FACTS OF ANY FAITH. And this is why Democracy is so great.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
    • Rob

      Totally agree Mr Howdy, its people like you that bring a light of intelligence to this world of confusion.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
    • Rob

      Your statement that the interpretation of scripture is key is correct. But, there is one more point to be made, and that is that there is a correct understanding of what the scriptures say. Peter says in 2 Peter 2:19-21 that he has a more sure word of prophecy that we do well to take heed to and that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation, but that scripture comes when holy men of God speak as they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost. Peter had the keys of the kingdom given him by Christ, and Paul made it quite clear that God gives us prophets and apostles like Peter and the other apostles as the foundation of the Church of Christ (Ephesians 2:19-22) until we all come into the unity of the faith and the perfect knoweldge of Christ and his doctrine. The key then is not accepting this false idea that there are many interpretations of the scriptures, but finding the apostles and prophets who have the keys of authority and through whom God will give us his word. God has called and given authority to men today just as he did in the past with men like Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Peter, James, John and Paul. See http://www.lds.org/study/prophets-speak-today?lang=eng.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:34 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.