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. Bob

    Some of you people that are spewing hate and judgement should re-read your bible. You're all so wrapped up in proving YOUR interpretation is right, condemning anyone who disagrees, and trying to spread hate. Dont you realize you are driving people away from God by doing this? I mean, why would anyone want to believe in such a religion that is filled with so much hate? Honestly

    May 15, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • momoya

      Bob, quit fooling yourself.. There's no proof of your god and you know full well that the bible is just rehashed myths from the cultures around the writers at the time.. You're better than this.. If you'd been born in a different part of the world or in a different time period you'd believe what that culture taught you just like you currently believe the dominant myth of your own culture.. Leave it.. You're better without it.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
    • CounterwwDavid

      Actually momoya you need to reconsider and find out WHO. Jesus Christ is before making such statements.. It's not myth but God incarnate coming to earth to love YOU.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
    • Lee Gerrietts

      Momoya, whether you acknowledge it or not, God exists and is the supreme judge. Without God you would not be able to account for knowledge, existing or ethics. We know all things because the God of scripture reveals them to us. He is Lord and He is Sovereign over all things.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
    • AaaaCccc

      to momoya
      actually, its the other way around. the myths are in numerous cultures because things like the flood happened. the large percentage of Christians posting dont seem to realize what is in the Bible as Bob says, like its about Love.
      You cannot prove Love exists, yet it does.
      too complex to go into here, but I have scrapped all my preconceptions and if you go investigate in detail all the arguments against the BIble, they fall apart with close examination. they seem good in countering the false Bible most "Christians " spout to the world though.

      May 17, 2012 at 9:22 am |
  2. Klaas Jan

    This is one of the stupidest articles I have ever read. The bible is pretty clear that gays should be put to death.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • momoya

      Yes, and that we can own slaves so long as we don't beat them to death.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
    • Lee Gerrietts

      You obviously don't understand ancient slavery in comparison to modern slavery. The Bible clearly makes rules about slavery and its purpose. Much of it provides an opportunity to pay of debts. In fact a slave could own money and property and buy themselves out of their situation.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
    • AaaaCccc

      really? exactly where did Jesus say that?

      you want to follow OT law which was for the Hebrews? then why not reinstutute animal sacrifice? oops, can't- no Temple.

      May 17, 2012 at 10:27 am |
  3. Wagner Antunes

    This article is very poorly interpreted, and the original greek words definitions are choose to the writers own advantage and liking to support his argument. Those are NOT the right definition of the greek words. As many know, greek and latin words sometimes can be translated into many different meanings. may I say as a disciple of Jesus myself, the bible can not be interpreted by our own mind, but by the holy spirit. Like these great men that wrote these epistles/letters of the new testament, they were Divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit to write such things. Now, we have to be Divinely Orientated by the Holy Spirit to interpret these Devine words.
    Anyone can read a verse and translate it to what ever they desire. the bible is not simply a book to read and try to interpret it your own way, but to read and let the holy spirit of God interpret it for you.

    We have to accept that there are Gay men and women out there. and our job is not to hate them or to try to convert them to Christianity or what ever religion it may be, but our job is to LOVE THEM UNCONDITIONALLY AS GOD LOVES US! and through our undiscriminating, love we can show them that we are servants of God and we are all equal no matter our views.
    Yes, gay marriage should be allowed, Yes, it is against Christianity. Yes, i am an Evangelical Christian, but my view is that we can not force Gods laws on anyone, we can only show them the truth. Jesus said, "not by force or violence but by my sprite"

    Christians Need to Learn To LOVE! and FORGET EVERYTHING ELS!

    May 15, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • Tyler

      I don't like sprite I prefer Canada Dry

      May 15, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
    • Jackie

      Wagner, thank you for your thoughts. It's refreshing to see an evangelical that's NOT trying to stuff their religion down the rest of the country's throats. Peace be with you!

      May 15, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
  4. metb

    I bet that guy was one of those pedophile priests (Daniel A. Helminiak.)
    Forgive him Lord for he knows not what he says !!!!!!!

    May 15, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
  5. Mark

    Any God who sends people to eternal hell for what they did or didn't believe about completely unverifiable religious claims is a monster at best. Good luck with your hopelessly out-of-date bronze-age tribal worldview. Most of the rest of the developed world has moved on.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
  6. enoch100


    May 15, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
  7. indyreader

    Of course, all this Bible-bean-counting and ivory-tower, reality-blinkered hand-wringing is simply irrelevant. The first amendment (plus, explicitly the Lemon test) make it clear that the federal government does not recognize any religion over any other, and that a religious reason alone is not a sufficient justification for a discriminatory CIVIL law.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
    • AaaaCccc

      well said!

      the whole problem with ancient Israel/Judah was they wanted a civil authority to run their lives and be the moral authority. it led to their downfall by looking to government to solve moral issues. Bad path- the entire lesson of approx 1/3 the Bible

      May 17, 2012 at 9:11 am |
  8. Jason Glugla

    Gee, if you read 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. All those Sins of Sodom sound like the main goals of the Republican Party.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
  9. Leigh2


    LOLOLOL Leigh2 believes in "Satan!" hahaha


    No, more like he believes in you. Just saying.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
    • momoya

      What mark said above "Any God who sends people to eternal hell for what they did or didn't believe about completely unverifiable religious claims is a monster at best. Good luck with your hopelessly out-of-date bronze-age tribal worldview. Most of the rest of the developed world has moved on."

      May 15, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
  10. Mike

    God loves you so much that he will send you to eternal hell if you don't do what he says.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
  11. momoya


    May 15, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
  12. Marty in MA

    Forget about the bible. There is no heaven, no hell. It's all myth.
    Asking invisible wizards to grant your wishes sounds as silly as it really is.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
  13. Thomas

    When you don't like what the bible says, just cut what doesn't fit. Romans 1:26 starts off with, "For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections....." Look if you don't believe in God or the bible that is your prerogative. But don't start quoting scripture while cutting out the parts you don't like.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
  14. PON

    OK, So just how GAY is this supposed theologian??? This impostor has written a bunch of outright lies and fantasies about what the Bible really says. Maybe he wishes these things were true, but they are not, in fact what he has written is a blatantly shameful LIE. Please dont call someone a theologian who is going to distort the truth in such a horrific manner. Why in the world would CNN publish such garbage on this page??? Dont they realize there are impressionable people out there that might actually believe this trash? And for what he says about Jesus, wow he better start repenting now if he wants to stay out of Hell. Now there is some Truth for you!

    May 15, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
    • ChicagoAnthro

      I think you need to look up the definition of theologian.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • PON

      Actually, I happen to know that definition because I am one. Western Seminary, Holland, Mi, class of 2006

      May 15, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
    • ChicagoAnthro

      oh, so there its taken as "someone who regurgitates other theologian's opinions" not "those who critically study the bible"...ooops, you probably need to go look up critically so you don't get the wrong idea. And, if you actually graduated, which is essentially a PhD. I would think you would express yourself better and with more distinction considering the history of your discipline. Liar.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • anonymous11111

      You sound like a typical Christian bigot.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • AaaaCccc

      if they are that impressionable, they likely are not reading the Bible. I would stop worrying about articles like this and do as the Good Book says: worry about your own place before God. worry about the things God cares about, like injustice, caring for the poor and helpless and maybe there will be less time to argue with people. And maybe people will see Christians as they once were with courage and a shining example that was hard to miss.
      God was hard on Israel/Judah for a specific purpose. Now that purpose has been realized in Jesus.

      You know, I am not Catholic, but people like Mother Theresa never seemed to have time to argue theology

      May 16, 2012 at 10:25 am |
  15. Les

    MikeP :(referring to (Matt 19:4-5) (1 Cor 7:2))

    Neither of these passages mention the word marriage. Neither do they say that the man's "wife" or the woman's "husband" have to be each other. They also, as quoted, are from the King James translation which is about as worthless as t*ts on a boar hog. It even defines the Greek word for "poisoner" as the word "witch". Yepper, a truly amazing worthless piece of crap that would better serve as paper in the outhouse.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
  16. Dylan

    "David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, and Daniel and the palace master were probably lovers."....probably the most ridiculous idea ever, really?

    May 15, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
  17. acbobl

    The bible is the last place I would go for moral instruction. If you've ever read it you know what I mean. Might as well subscribe to the teachings of Hans Christian Anderson or the Brothers Grimm. If humans still exist in the year 4012 perhaps they will be the sacred texts. It won't be the bible.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
    • 311mortimer

      Acbobl you don't have to convince anyone, it is very obvious that you don't take your moral cues from the bible, maybe from MTV.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
  18. Red

    The Bible clearly states that anyone who doesn't agree with my interpretation of the Bible is going to hell!

    May 15, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
  19. lou vac

    Will someone please tell me whose interpertation of holy scripture is correct?

    May 15, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
    • AaaaCccc


      May 15, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • Les

      One that accurately translates the original language with out modern social values added. That would be the closest you can come to an accurate Bible. However, accuracy does not mean it is valid or true in the sense of actual words from the local mountain storm god Jehovah (El, Elohim, Yahwe, etc.), his "son"the Love God (Jesus, Christ, etc.) nor his "spirit" the goddess of wisdom (Sophia, the Holy Spirit, etc.)

      As a Unitarian Universalist, I live my life by 7 humanist principles. I view all religions as equally valid so long as they stick to common sense humanitarian principles. We neither accept nor reject the Bible (or any other holy book) as more than a source of inspiration and guidance.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
  20. Edd

    Article is nonsense. He has quoted scripture out of context to justify what God calls abomination. The scriptures also state that mankind is not to lay with mankind. It appears we are in the days where it will be said "every man did that which was right in his own eyes". If man's logic says it's ok for a man to marry a man or a woman marry a woman then eventually that same logic will be used if a man wants to marry a chicken.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • ron

      Women are part of mankind

      May 15, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
    • sam stone

      Edd: Seriously? That's your argument? Marry a chicken? You can't see the difference between two loving adults and beastiality? Animals cannot consent under our law. Doesn't matter to you, does it? Go ahead and bloviate some more

      May 15, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
    • momoya

      do you understand the terms "consenting" and "adult"?

      May 15, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • jack

      why did the chicken cross the road? to get married.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • ChicagoAnthro

      you need to look up the word 'nonsense' so you better understand its use as well as the meaning of the phrase "pot calling the kettle back".

      May 15, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
    • Spike

      Clearly you don't have purity in your heart. May God bless you.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
    • joe

      You missed the point. Read it again.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
    • Dennis

      Ultimately, who cares, and why should you. You live your life however you see fit, and leave others to their. "Marriage" has had numerous meanings through time, only in the late 19th and 20th centuries has it been majorly used to define love. How insecure you must be to be worried that if two men or two women marry that somehow what you have with your wife has changed for the worse. I'd hate to be married to someone whose love for me was defined only through such flimsy terminology.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
    • JulianAB

      It says that men shouldn't lay with men, but does so in the same way it says not to eat shellfish, or in the same way that a woman menstruating is "unclean". It actually never lists it as a sin. And all that stuff was invalidated by Jesus, Paul, etc. Unless you're Jewish maybe?

      Also, more importantly whatever the Bible says to do or not to do is PERSONAL instruction. It is not about preventing others from doing things. God gave us Free Will as our own test. Maybe being gay is a sin, but God gave everyone the right to choose their way. He did not give us the right to prevent others from doing these things. Are you going to outlaw shellfish too? It makes as much sense as outlawing gay marriage.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
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