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. romanash

    Biblical scholar? I think not! Daniel Helminiak may think he understands the word of God, but he does not. Neither does he have a right view of who God is. Daniel is completely unaware at best, or has chosen to ignore, at worst, God's attributes. He has conveniently dismissed the bible as the whole counsel of God and with such writings and postings will be personally responsible for leading many astray and into sin. You have allowed your personal feelings cloud and diminish your understanding of the Lord, Daniel.

    May 16, 2012 at 10:13 am |
    • Jay

      Right on the money, I wish people can see this is getting division going not understanding what we need to talk about.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:16 am |
    • J

      The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
      slow to anger, abounding in love.
      9 He will not always accuse,
      nor will he harbor his anger forever;
      10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
      or repay us according to our iniquities.
      11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
      so great is his love for those who fear him;
      12 as far as the east is from the west,
      so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

      13 As a father has compassion on his children,
      so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
      14 for he knows how we are formed,
      he remembers that we are dust.
      15 The life of mortals is like grass,
      they flourish like a flower of the field;
      16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
      and its place remembers it no more.
      17 But from everlasting to everlasting
      the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
      and his righteousness with their children’s children —
      18 with those who keep his covenant
      and remember to obey his precepts.
      19 The Lord has established his throne in heaven,
      and his kingdom rules over all.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:18 am |
    • VoxVerum

      ...and thus the "true believers" set themselves as the authority on God, the Bible and morality. You'd better get busy removing that plank from your own eye buddy.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:18 am |
    • Jacques Strappe, World Famous French Ball Juggler

      So, just because he doesn't agree with your opinion of what the Bible says, he is dead wrong? Maybe you should be teaching all the world your true understanding of the Bible, since you know so much.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • mandarax

      Therein lies the ignoble beauty of the Bible, it is va.gue enough so that anyone regardless of their perspective can use it to deni.grate their enemies, to claim that anyone who disagrees with them is not a "real" Christian.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • Madtown

      may think he understands the word of God, but he does not
      Right! We need an internet-dufus such as yourself to set him straight!

      May 16, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • Cq

      So, instead of criticizing the man's scholarly findings with your own knowledge of ancient Greek usage you conclude that he must be wrong because he doesn't agree with what you were taught by your pastor and parents. Is that about right?

      May 16, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • Non Sequitur

      The worst part is not even how he takes things out of context or pretends to know how to translate (a little knowledge is a dangerous thing), it's that he takes Jesus' teaching that we need to live a higher law (not governed by lists of rules) and manipulates that to mean that we don't have to live any law. Because Jesus made the Law of Moses obsolete does not mean that adultery or gay acts are now ok. Regardless of beliefs, this is embarrassing logic.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:28 am |
    • sosofresh

      How can you be so full of pride so as to consider yourself qualified to tell others what God actually meant, romanash? Anyone who ever takes it upon themselves to "inform" others of God's true meaning/intentions, is truly the worst kind of person. You might think certain things, but you certainly cannot proclaim to "know" them. You don't know. Sorry. You don't know.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:29 am |
  2. Edward

    Jesus, save me from your followers. All of them.

    May 16, 2012 at 10:13 am |
    • VoxVerum

      I am a follower of Jesus, pro-gay-marriage, liberal, pro-choice, tolerant. Please don't lump us all together. Bigotry is ugly, no matter which direction it comes from.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:16 am |
  3. Wow

    "With the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the law set in place was fulfilled. As believer's in Jesus Christ we are allowed to choose to eat whatever we wish. However, we must understand that not everything we choose to eat would be beneficial to our bodies. As believer's in Jesus Christ, we are allowed to choose whatever we want to do in life or not do. However, once again, we need to understand that certain activities or the lack of activity is not beneficial to our existence."

    May 16, 2012 at 10:12 am |
  4. N.Shapiro

    Leviticus 18:22 is not properly translated as "abomination" [King James Version],
    it is "abhorence".
    See the Jewish Publication Society's "The Tanach", [the correct, Hebrew name for the Hebrew Bble.]
    "Abhorence" is not complimentary, but is much less a condemnation than "abomination"

    May 16, 2012 at 10:12 am |
  5. scrap

    nothing about common sense. i think hit the nail on the head.
    peace, scrap

    May 16, 2012 at 10:12 am |
  6. mr m

    cluless,mindless discourse...probally stems from listening to cnns' 24 hr propaganda machine

    May 16, 2012 at 10:12 am |
  7. Johnny 5

    You are what you are. Don't let an outdated fable tell who to like and dislike in life.

    May 16, 2012 at 10:12 am |
  8. AcctsPd

    This article is exactly as I believe. I am a happily married woman, and I have a male gay friend. His heart is pure, and he is a loving, honorable person. I feel honored to have him in my life.
    @1word – Regarding hiding...my guess would be because of society, and unfairness that is in this world today. I can just imagine the feeling as a small boy, because I have red hair. How does this pertain? I was the only one in my class as a little girl, and was made fun of daily. As I got older, those same girls dyed their hair red when it was more "socially acceptable". If I could have hid when I was being made fun of I certainly would have. When the time is right...the time is right.

    May 16, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • Wow

      Persecution, be it with gay, red head child, black, Jewish the list goes on, is nothing new to this world. Why does so many people act like it is such a new thing? Christians have been persecuted and still are just as any other group but Christians are blessed when we are persecuted for our kingdom is with our Lord and savior; hence, everytime a posting is made persecuting our faith you are actually blessing us. No one likes to be persecuted, not even I, but there is a reason for persecution and for Christians it is a blessing. For what other belief can say that?

      Matthew 5:
      Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
      for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
      11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:27 am |
  9. palintwit

    And what does the bible say about teabaggers, birthers and other assorted trailer trash?

    May 16, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • James PDX

      Well, it says that incest is a-OK, as Noah's family can attest to, is that the same thing?

      May 16, 2012 at 10:14 am |
    • preacherman

      "Blessed are the sleazemakers..."

      May 16, 2012 at 10:15 am |
  10. Liz

    Before we debate this topic, we need to look at the reason God created Adam and Eve in the first place. Genesis 1:28 states God commanded the couple to be fruitful and multiply. God said in Leviticus 18.22 that a man should not lie with a man as with a woman and vise versa because this act negate His command and purpose.

    The whole purpose of man is to acknowledge God Holiness and keep His commandments for it is the whole duty of man, as per the wise man Solomon. Ecclesiastes. 12:13

    Moreover, since the creation of Adam and Eve, children are being born on this earth, however only 1/3 of them will be saved, according to Zechariah 13:9 "I will bring the one–third through the fire,Will refine them as silver is refined, And test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, And I will answer them: I will say it is my people: and they shall say, The Lord is my God."

    And who are these? Revelation 14:12 "Here is the patience of the saints: Here are they that keep the commandments of God and have the faith of Jesus. This statement transcends all religions and opinions.

    The Lord is the same yesterday, today and always; He change not.

    May 16, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • Satan

      Your right. He has never existed, only in the minds of gullible.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • Jacques Strappe, World Famous French Ball Juggler

      What do you mean he doesn't change? Didn't Paul (claiming divine directino) abolish the Mosaic Law? The laws that were so important for Jews to follow that they mean death? Suddenly, they aren't so important. God was all anger, jealousy and vengenance in the OT and all of the sudden he is deemed loving and peaceful in the NT. Read both and tell me that isn't a different God in the OT and NT.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • James PDX

      Actually, there was no word for multiply in the original language. It was incorrectly translated and likely meant to say to go forth and be prosperous.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:16 am |
    • Jacques Strappe, World Famous French Ball Juggler

      Also, do you eat shellfish? If God is unchanging, you better not do that. You better not do any sort of work on the Sabbath. You better not wear any clothes woven of two materials. Otherwise, you will feel God's wrath!

      May 16, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • TrueBlue

      You hit the nail on the head, Liz! Thank you.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • Missing the big Picture

      Jacques Strappe, Paul did not abolish the OT he said that a believer should continue to follow the commandments because they are good. He just said that through grace you are not condemned with the law. Anyone who was guilty of any part of the law would be guilty of the entire law.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • James PDX

      The wise man Solomon? How wise can a man be who has 700 wives and 300 concubines?

      May 16, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  11. n8263

    @Solus5, you are making my point. You "believe" it not because you think it is true but because you think life would be meaningless without it.

    May 16, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • Jay

      We all wouldn't have meaning or life or a body for that matter if God didn't miraculously make all this stuff the universe is made of. Law of Conservation and Mass. It's true

      May 16, 2012 at 10:14 am |
  12. RoyBatty

    Jesus Christ's focus was always love. The new testiment reinforces so many of the "liberal" ideas like tolerance, patience, kindness to all and love driving all our words and actions. The old testiment is full of angry wrath of God, murder, betrayal, burtn offerings, sacraficing ones children, r a p e, incen st, slavery, and revenge. True christians focus on Jesus and his love. Those who use the bible as a weapon to force their own personal agendas and issues focus on the old testiment and following the doctrine over Jesus message. Perhaps the new term should be "Christian in name only".

    May 16, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • Ric

      thank you

      May 21, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
  13. bernie

    The gov't should not be involved in health care, gun control, gay marriage or abortion. Leave it up to the individual.

    May 16, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • The Jackdaw

      thee cheers for Bernie!

      May 16, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • RoyBatty

      So what you are saying Bernie is if anyone wants to get married that they can and no one should be able to stop them? right?

      May 16, 2012 at 10:14 am |
    • James PDX

      I'm sure bernie assumed you would have the common sense to understand that marriage would still only be for those able to join in a legally binding agreement, which would not include children.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  14. Jay

    Dhuma_bum this is a discussion based on the bible. You want us to talk normal about supernatural things it's like a fish trying to swim out of water. This idea of sin is base on the word. not what man thinks is right or wrong. Hence the 'Golden rule' i'm sure you can agree everyone should follow is Matt 22:39. Oh another scripture.

    May 16, 2012 at 10:08 am |
  15. Non Sequitur

    Did anyone notice how the author completely contradicted himself here? The author admits that gay acts (and adultery) are listed as "an abomination," but then makes a wild leap in logic claiming that because Jesus said that mere rules of purity are not the same as a pure heart that this somehow means that we can disregard all rules of purity?! Jesus said that even looking on a woman with lust was impure, not just the act of adultery itself, in order to point out that simply “following the rules” does not mean you are pure, i.e., he was making a higher law (since listing off a bunch of rules is obviously pointless since we all try to find ways around them), but this author somehow interprets the opposite and concludes that we can now do whatever we want. Regardless of your beliefs, this is embarrassing logic. If God himself appeared and told us which side was right, I think the other side would still be angry and cite reasons why he was wrong.

    May 16, 2012 at 10:08 am |
    • gabe

      Did you even read the article??

      May 16, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • Cq

      The author lists that gay acts were ritually "unclean", but since the gentile Christians were not under the same cleanliness laws that Jews were the OT ban doesn't apply any more than the dietary laws against eating shellfish do.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • Non Sequitur

      Because he fulfilled the Law of Moses certainly does not mean that adultery and gay acts are now ok. And yes I read the article, here's the specific quote where he applies Jesus' teaching to an out-of-context application: "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 s*x 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."

      May 16, 2012 at 10:24 am |
    • James PDX

      Exactly what is the Godd****d point of giving us freewill if we can't do whatever we want? It isn't freewill if you limit what we can do with it. But that's typical biblical hypocrisy.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:38 am |
  16. BY

    Not enough space here to refute all of the inaccuracies and presumptions in tihs opinion. This is probably the worst example of Biblical gymnastics that I have ever read. I've seen more convincing arguments from random internet message boards. How does this nonesense get published?

    May 16, 2012 at 10:08 am |
    • Non Sequitur

      The worst part is not even how he takes things out of context or pretends to know how to translate, it's that he takes Jesus' teaching that we need to live a higher law (not governed by lists of rules) and manipulates that to mean that we don't have to live any law. As I say above, regardless of beliefs, this is embarrassing logic.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • Cq

      Oh, give it a try, we've got lots of time. Start with your own scholarly analysis of the words Paul used for starters, and tell us how well the peer review went on your work. You are an expert in this field, right?

      May 16, 2012 at 10:16 am |
    • VoxVerum

      Spoken like someone who can't create a cogent argument.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:23 am |
    • HisStoryPal

      Yep. Not only does he engage in "leaps" and "gymnastics", he is being rather deceptive by conveniently leaving out the more condemning portions of the scriptures he cites. The b part of Rom 1:27 clearly explains the practice as "shameful". Nevertheless, my attempt to practice sincere Christianity makes me focus on the non-judgemental tenets of "never throw the first stone" and "follow the Golden Rule." They really are enough. No need to manipulate the scriptures this way.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:41 am |
  17. The Jackdaw

    Religion is created by man, therefore it reflects the opinions of men. Weather those opinions were intentionally written down in scripture or the nebulous nature of scripture can be interpreted to reflect modern opinions, it does not matter. The intention of religion is good; to be a catalyst of brotherhood and piece. But it is a tool, and like any tool it can be used to either build or destroy. Using religion to spread hate is wrong. No matter what you hate or how you justify it.

    May 16, 2012 at 10:06 am |
  18. Ray

    CNN made us look.

    May 16, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  19. SAFA

    If being gay or lesbian is "normal", then can someone explain to me how come there are so many people in many Christian churches who used to be gay and trans-gender and now they have a normal life? Many of them have presented proof of what they were before and now they are saying that Jesus made them free of that way of life. I mean, I'm just saying, the Bible can't contradict itself.

    May 16, 2012 at 10:05 am |
    • James PDX

      I can't tell if you're being serious or sarcastic. The Bible repeatedly contradicts itself. That is without question.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:08 am |
    • Cq

      They're still gay, but either just deluding themselves, or fooling others into thinking they've changed. It's a very cruel thing to do to someone. Quite like the Christian practice of beating your left-handed kids into pretending to be right-handed. They based that one on the Bible too.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • The Jackdaw

      People can chose to change their lifestyle, but I dont know if you can convince anybody that church eliminated people's urges, whatever they may be. I would be willing to accept that they have found a way to control them, but have not eliminated them. Church is a social network that offers support. That can have a profound effect on people but I doubt it can "cure" this thing that you dont's consider "normal".

      May 16, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • DJP

      To James PDX – It takes no more effort to show the Bible does not contrradict itself than the effort expended in writting this article and trying to find ways around what the bible teaches.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • Cq

      Here's a good list of Bible contradictions:


      May 16, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • tb63

      But the Bible does contradict itself. Aren't there two creation stories?

      May 16, 2012 at 10:12 am |
  20. Godschild

    I have read The Bible over a dozen times and one thing is clear God loves his children and his is merciful and graceful. God wants us to love others as he loves us!!!!!! No oppression No judging No condemnation...LOVE is the core of the bible

    May 16, 2012 at 10:03 am |
    • James PDX

      And here I thought holding the Jews to be superior and mercilessly slaughtering those who opposed them, or who just happened to have prime real estate God wanted them to have, was the core of the Bible.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • Jay

      Don't put anyone or anything before. Take up your cross and deny all.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • Truth7

      Jesus defined the good neighbor to uphold – those who do RIGHT, not those who do wrong.

      Judging & codemnation – "get the speck out of your own eye" first! He also gives you the method to correct someone.

      Churches and their false prophets have lead so many astray from the Truth.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:13 am |
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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.