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. Paul

    The marry an animal argument is the argument of a complete and utter moron or an absolute crazy person. Hopefully, you don't actually believe that. And I highly doubt if god existed that he would permit a person comparing an actual human being (the gay persons) to a chicken. That, I believe, he would call an abomination. You sir, are an abomination.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
    • Pyotr Zumwalt

      Do not dismiss your opponents as complete morons and crazy people. They are surely these things, but that does not mean they aren't dangerous. It actually makes them more dangerous. When you are still trying to understand how morons can win, they'll be drinking your blood and destroying your world!

      May 16, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
  2. Brian Rivers

    It STILL comes down to Barack only changing a so-called conviction to suit the popular opinion...for election purposes. Does Barack think we'd originally said about his so-called conviction in the first place. There are simply some things one shouldn't pull a costume change midstream. His changing teams on core convictions is indeed another indication of what a real piece of dog end this guy really is. As for this author of this article. Just another 21st century theologian who wants to rewrite a more "acceptable" version of Gods word...to suit the masses!

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

      He absolutely should use it for political gain. That way, he can win and actually try to influence faster change. Supporters know and appreciate the game.

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

      What do care? How does gay marriage effect you? Not one bit. Mind your own business.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
  3. Emet

    The wheat shall He gather into his granary and the tares shall He burn.

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

      What are you blathering about?

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

      I refer to the parable of the wheat and the tares.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
  4. ron

    The flying spaghetti monster supports gay marriage. And he is more real than the bronze age sky man

    May 15, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
    • Brain Hertz

      Ramen, brother

      May 15, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
  5. Rebel4Christ

    1 Corinthians 2-14 "The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit."

    Atheists your always talking about how foolish the Bible sounds but look at this verse. Of course it's going to sound foolish to you because You do not have God!!! The Bible also says in Psalms that The fool says in his heart there is no God.

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

      Most myth books have some verse like that to keep the believers from questioning why their beliefs are so fvcking stupid.

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

      you sir are an idiot.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • Pyotr Zumwalt

      Rebel4Christ: unfortunately, you are just an ACTUAL fool. But that's not all. You also are a follower of the False Prophet. Sure wouldn't want ot be YOU when you die! Good luck dragging all that bile, hatred, and False Pride into the afterlife. Guess which direction it will drag you!

      May 16, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  6. NowYoureReaching

    This reminds me of when Nancy Grace hires some yahoo to support one of her angles.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
  7. DT

    I feel sorry for the author, having ordained as a priest and yet have learnt nothing from the book of Life.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • Alex

      Ok, because you know the TRUE interpretation correct?

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

      Can you debate this man? Do you have a degree in ancient Greek?? Anyone who takes as gospel thousands of years of translations and, moreover, has the gall to judge someone who has studied the ancient texts, exhibits an incredible amount of ignorance. This is a fundamental problem in the US, that the uneducated feel expert enough to pass judgement on things they no nothing about. You are no different that the folks who believed the earth was flat, or Galileo was lying about the earth orbiting the sun, and not vice versa, or about the earth warming due to anthropogenic causes. The sheer fact that people can deny scientific authority when their beliefs are challenged indicates who unevolved the human race remains.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
  8. vinobianco

    it does not matter what the bible says about gays. what matter's is what's right.

    it. does. not. matter.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • JWT


      May 15, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • Jack Splat

      But who decides what is right? You? Me? Everyone individually? What happens when our ideas of what is right are contradictory? Are we not left with 'might makes right', and the capitalist golden rule – 'the one with the gold, makes the rule'?

      May 15, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
    • Pyotr Zumwalt

      No, Jack. Reason and good faith arguments lead us to what is right. It is NOT all relative. There are people who lie, who produce arguments using falsified reasoning and purposeful decpetion. All arguments do NOT have the same merit. Some people are, for want of a better word, EVIL and many of these evil people use religion to carry out their evil work. The idea that every side has merit and that everything is relative was INVENTED by evil people to cloud the reason of their opponents in service of efforts to deceive, dominate, and destroy. There's a WHOLE LOT OF PREACHERS that answer to this description. Such preachers are not worried about complaints from dead parishoners who find their afterlife to be somewhat more fiery than expected!

      May 16, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
  9. spockmonster

    "We are a people of different faiths, but we are one. Which faith conquers the other is not the question; rather, the question is whether Christianity stands or falls.... We tolerate no one in our ranks who attacks the ideas of Christianity... in fact our movement is Christian."

    -Adolf Hitler, in a speech in Passau, 27 October 1928,

    May 15, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • ron

      Perfect. They defined their version of Christianity and then forced it on the public. Just like our present day "social conservatives". Naziism-the original "social conservative" movement.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
  10. Zippywafflehead

    I think whomever was fact checking this article needs to take another look at it since he has quoted the Bible incorrectly to support his statement. You can leave things out of the Bible to suit your purpose. Just because you want to have everyone agree with your opinion, it does not give you a right to use the Bible incorrectly. When you stand before God, I hope you have the words to tell Him why you said what you did.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • spockmonster

      You are referring to all the misquotes that the christian organizations spews on a daily – nay hourly – basis, right?

      May 15, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
    • DJ Reality

      Okay then please state the text you feel is miss quoted. I feel he was pretty right on the money.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
  11. don in albuquerque

    And lo they saw a star in the east and called it Starship Enterprise. And they fell upon their knees and worshipped William Shatner. What a crock.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
  12. Jake

    If a learned man such as this man cannot convince anybody of how corrupted our beliefs are, then there truly is no hope. Many instead would rather follow the ignorance and hate of others than in the fundemental teachings of Christ. We are not any different then those we call primitive and barbarian. Welcome to the nation of Taliban States of America. See what you are doing to this country. Our forefathers would be deeply ashamed of how twisted it has become.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
  13. spockmonster

    Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity.
    -Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782

    May 15, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
  14. No doubt

    Not even a single doubt in my mind that this guy is a gay himself

    May 15, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • billybsea

      You're an id i ot.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
  15. metb

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

    May 15, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
  16. y2daddy

    Sorry, dude, but nowhere in the New Testament when the word pais is used is there a connotation of a "partner". It's a servant each time. You are as guilty of making the text say what you want as the people you are trying to shout down. Don't be a hater, dude.

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

      How do you know? Can you read ancient Greek? Right.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
  17. Agapatos

    . . . theologian? . . . THEOLOGIAN? . . . Pharisee! ("Strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.")

    May 15, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
  18. steve4arleen

    Why is it automatically assumed that the Bible is THE authoritative word of God? In all it's revisions, interpretations, translations - if is ONE of many books on faith. And the great reality is that most Christians have not read the book in its entirety: out of over 36,000 Christian denominations, most Christians struggle with agreeing on matters of faith and worship....Think people: open hearts; open minds.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • Brian Rivers

      Another pinhead who desires to rewrite Gods word to make things just slightly more acceptable to the 21st century masses? Come on guy.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
  19. One one

    What does it matter what an ancient book of fairy tales says, or the reasons why some people are gay? The bottom line is these are human beings who are hurting no one. So why the intense hatred? If you don't like their life style, don't adopt it as your own. Christians should read their bibles. Like the love, peace, and the golden rule they profess their religion is all about. Go read the comments on gay related stories on foxnews.com. It gives the impression that Christianity is all about hate. In the long run, it will ensure the demise of Christianity and relegate it to a fringe minority of self riotous loonies that few people want to be associated with.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • Ellen Wong

      Agreed, as we get smarter we will abandon Christianity.

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

      Your demise-and mine-will both happen long before Christianity's.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
    • Pyotr Zumwalt

      Treblemaker may be right that we will all be dead before Christianity dissipates. I don't care. What matters is that Christianity will eventually go the way of all the other false religions. It will be replaced by a spirituality based on truth. It will be laughed at by our descendants, and the hateful Christians or our times will be reviled as the deluded barbarians they are. Some Christians, on the other hand–the liberal and enlightened ones, will be remembered fondly for their work–work which will ultimately lead to lifting this burden of illusion from humankind. We will wake up from the centuries of nightmare, eventually. When that day comes, Jesus of Nazareth will be appreciated for the fine moral teacher he was, and he can finally rest free from the torturing perversions that ambitious devils have made of his teaching.

      May 16, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
  20. spockmonster

    We are a people of different faiths, but we are one. ... the question is whether Christianity stands or falls.... We tolerate no one in our ranks who attacks the ideas of Christianity... in fact our movement is Christian.

    -Adolf Hitler, in a speech in Passau, 27 October 1928,

    May 15, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • y2daddy

      Godwin's Law. Invoke Hitler and you lose the argument. Try again.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • spockmonster

      Ya, christianity loses because it ends up being embraced by Nazis Because Catholics helped the Nazis escape war crime trials, and helped them loot incredible treasures from France.

      "Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity."
      -Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782

      May 15, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
    • Pyotr Zumwalt

      A corrolary to Godwin's Law: Nazis and similar trash alway invoke Godwins law.

      May 16, 2012 at 1:48 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.