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. tdcherry

    just because a lot of people do stuff does not mean it is the right thing to do. it is not normal to step in doo doo, much less...

    May 19, 2012 at 5:54 am |
    • Bet

      But even if you like to step in doo doo, you still have basic human rights.

      May 20, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
  2. tdcherry

    conversations like this that try to establish some middle-ground will all be moot when it will all someday be the islamofacists versus the latino gangs.

    May 19, 2012 at 5:47 am |
  3. Do this world a favor

    Ban gay marriage, pass a law based on Leviticus 20:13 instead.

    May 19, 2012 at 3:57 am |
    • YeahRight

      "Ban gay marriage, pass a law based on Leviticus 20:13 instead."

      DUH – you don't follow Leviticus anymore it's part of the holiness code. So based on your poor logic you should force women to marry their rapists since that is in that part of that scriptures. LMAO! Oh...I forgot Christians like you don't really know your bible and only cherry pick it to justify your prejudice and bigotry that isn't based on the REAL facts of today.

      May 22, 2012 at 11:24 am |
  4. enoch vull

    This is just terrible theological work.

    May 18, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • Cq

      We've heard that a lot, but nobody has been able to explain why. Just a baseless opinion, I suppose?

      May 19, 2012 at 12:23 am |
    • fred

      He lost all credibility with one line: David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, and Daniel and the palace master were probably lovers.
      Why would any Jewish sect at time have allowed it or record their names in a Holy Book. These were a Holy People with strict laws.

      May 19, 2012 at 12:29 am |
    • Cq

      You're reading YOUR conservative interpretation of what God's Law is into the book, which is why you don't see the possible true nature of these relationships. This is the point of the article, isn't it? YOUR idea of what a "Holy Person" would do may not match what the text actually says.

      Now, can you pull out some scholarly work that successfully refutes the author's conclusions about the text, or is it just your personal opinion that he cannot be right because that would mean that you are wrong, which is all that the other critics are basically doing?

      May 19, 2012 at 9:16 am |
  5. Barry G.


    What do you do with Scriptures like those found in the first chapter of Paul's New Testament epistle to the Romans?

    See: Romans 1:18-32.

    What do you do with Ephesians 5:3?

    What about Mark 7:20-23?

    May 18, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "See: Romans 1:18-32."

      Same stupid argument different poster. You left out 23 – they were worshiping a pagan god using sex. It has NOTHING to do with what we now know and understand about gays today.

      "Ephesians 5:3?"

      Has nothing to do with what we now know about gays today the experts have shown that being gay is normal and not a mental illness, therefore they are NOT immoral. Duh!

      "Mark 7:20-23"

      Again this has nothing to do with what we now know about gays today the experts have shown that being gay is normal and not a mental illness, therefore they are NOT immoral. Duh!

      Only prejudice bigots read that into those texts. Part of reading comprehension 101 is putting the scriptures into historical context.

      May 18, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • J.W

      Mark 7:21-23 says s3xual immorality, but how do we know that that includes hom0s3xuality?

      May 18, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  6. why are humans so obsessed with it

    really? a man and a man and woman and a woman, there is something missing in this equation!

    May 18, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
    • Celestial

      2 woman? yikes that is GROSS

      May 18, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "really? a man and a man and woman and a woman, there is something missing in this equation!"

      The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American School Counselor Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Association of SocialWorkers, together representing more than 480,000 mental health professionals, have all taken the position that homosexuality is not a mental disorder and thus is not something that needs to or can be “cured."

      So there is NOTHING missing in that equation.

      May 18, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • Answer this

      What is the purpose of sex???
      How can 2 women or 2 men have sex


      May 18, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • J.W

      It apparently isn't that impossible. Millions of people do it.

      May 18, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "What is the purpose of sex???
      How can 2 women or 2 men have sex


      LMAO – the purpose of sex really? LOL! Straights have the same kind of sex dude or are you not that creative? LOL! Seriously what man doesn't love a good B J? LOL! What woman doesn't love it when you go down on her? LOL! Plus both straights and gays have anal sex. LOL!

      May 18, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
  7. martin

    Jewish law says to kill gays and was supported by "Jesus" character in Matthew 10: 34-36 People who say bible is not gay hating can't read.

    May 18, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
  8. martin

    No, duplicate detector, I haven't said this. Article shows priests don't read the bible. Jesus supported Jewish law for gays and owning slaves. Matthew 10:34-36 Eighty percent of the "bible" is discusting, abusive, sicko, genocidal garbage.

    May 18, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
  9. martin

    Article shows priests don't read the bible. Jesus supported Jewish law for gays and owning slaves. Matthew 10:34-36 Eighty percent of the "bible" is discusting, abusive, sicko, genocidal garbage.

    May 18, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
  10. woe

    You only need to look at his face in the picture... it tells you "I'm desperate... My life has no meaning... I wish I was dead... Can someone resque me, please?... God, I know I'm lost, but please don't torture me for too long... "
    Isn't he worthy of our pitty?

    May 18, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
    • GodPot

      sounds like someone forgot to take their meds again this morning.

      May 18, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
  11. Heather

    Daniel Helminiak, the author, is gay. Not comfortable as a Priest, he left to become a Psychotherapist. It's no wonder he's twisting the language and meaning of the Bible to meet his desires,

    May 18, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • sam stone

      heather: how many christian churches are there? seems like lots of people are twisting words

      May 18, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • danielwalldammit

      Today's ad hominem argument brought to you by...

      May 18, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
  12. woe

    Since that person above thinks prayer does not work, it should not buther him/her that I'm going to pray that God strikes him/her with understanding so that he/she may finally realize that salvation comes from believing in Him who died for all of us sinners. But don't worry, at the beginning you will be embarrassed by your friends, you hold on to Jesus, and he will exalt you above all.

    May 18, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • danielwalldammit

      Because expressions of malice are only objectionable if they are backed by mythical powers, right?

      May 18, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
  13. MennoKnight

    One of the biggest mistakes that this author makes is he equates the word love with s ex.
    David Loved Jonathan – as a brother
    Ruth Loved Naomi – as a mother and daughter
    Daniel Loved his king – as one man supremely respects his boss, and this case his master.

    But then again some people seem to always have their mind on s ex even when there is nothing se xu al there.

    May 18, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • NotBuyingIt

      How do you know? Were you there with them?

      This seems to be a popular argument that ignorant people use on things that undergo scientific investigation and are backed up by empirical evidence. It works a lot better when used against a book which is pretty much just a glorified game of telephone played over several thousand years in a variety of different languages by people from vastly different cultures. Believe what you want to believe, but understand that your interpretation of scripture is no more valid than anyone else's.

      May 18, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • MennoKnight

      If you simply study linguistics, the word that we translate love has multiple words in both Hebrew and Greek.

      The word for erotic love is not used in these stories. If they wanted to use the word for erotic love then they would have.

      May 18, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • NotBuyingIt

      The two interpretations need not be mutually exclusive just because one word was chosen instead of another. The author himself didn't actually say that the original writings used the erotic word for love. What he suggested was that culturally, it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to imagine that these very close relationships might have had some romantic aspects to them.

      May 18, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
  14. Roallin

    The bible is just a story tale anyways. How cares.

    May 18, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • danielwalldammit

      A lot of people. Whether or not they should is another question,

      May 18, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
  15. Really?

    This article is ridiculous.

    May 18, 2012 at 11:02 am |
    • Cq


      May 18, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • enoch vull

      I totally agree. Let's boycott this slanted e-rag.

      May 18, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
  16. interpretation

    The dog ran away from his owner at 4 o'clock

    How did you interpret that sentence? Did the dog run away and never come back? Did the dog run away at 4 but came back at 5? did the dog run 10 feet away at 4 o'clock.

    People can understand and interpret every written and spoken word in many different ways. I

    Isn't it interesting that a country founded to allow freedom from religous persecution is now using religion to persecute freedoms?"

    May 18, 2012 at 10:24 am |
    • Cedric

      "The dog ran away from his owner at 4 o'clock"

      One thing that we CAN interpret from this sentence is that the dog was NOT with his owner at 4 o'clock. In addition, no one uses the term "ran away" for a dog if he only going to distance himself by 10 feet. The scriptures can be understood if one desires to understand them.

      May 18, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • Bet

      "Ran away" means the dog ran some distance from the owner. It could be that the dog ran 2 feet or 2 miles. You can't say that "no one" would say the dog ran away if it ran 10 feet, that's your interpretation. Running away doesn't necessarily mean out of sight and lost.

      My cat was on my lap and ran away from me to the window to look at a bird. By definition, he was running away from me because he was putting distance between us. He isn't lost, he's four feet away and I can see him.

      May 18, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • Bobby

      The key to interpretation lies in whether you loved the dog, or hated it. 🙂

      May 18, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • carlossantana

      This would serve as an example only to people reading the bible in its original, untranslated form. Once you translate it, the translator is interpreting the text to find appropriate wording so that the meaning of the original can carry through to the translation, to the best of his or her knowledge. By the time you get the translation, you are interpreting an interpretation. Translation is not as simple as "this word in x language = this word in y language." Words have nuanced meanings and there are often not exact matches for words across different languages. On top of this, then you have the problem of people having different interpretations of the same words in the same language.

      May 18, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
  17. Reality


    Because of basic biology differences, said monogamous ventures should always be called same-se-x unions not same-se-x marriages.

    To wit:

    From below, on top, backwards, forwards, from this side of the Moon and from the other side too, ga-y s-exual activity is still mutual mas-turbation caused by one or more complex s-exual differences. Some differences are visually obvious in for example the complex maleness of DeGeneres, Billy Jean King and Rosie O'Donnell.

    Yes, heteros-exuals practice many of the same "moves" but there is never a doubt who is the female and who is the male.

    May 18, 2012 at 10:18 am |
    • Bet

      I think you mean half wit.

      May 18, 2012 at 11:15 am |
  18. pervert alert

    The world would be a better place without qu-eers.

    May 18, 2012 at 8:02 am |
    • Cq

      And I think that the world would be a better place without bigots. Which one of our opinions sounds more "Christian" to you?

      May 18, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • pervert alert

      Fact : Qu-eers gave AIDS to the world

      May 18, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • Bet

      HIV came from chimpanzees and crossed over to humans, most likely when infected chimpanzee meat was eaten. The first known instance of HIV infection is from a plasma sample taken in 1959 from an adult male living in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

      Sickle cell anemia is predominantly an African American disease. Shall we say the world would be better off without them? Should we deny them human rights?

      Epstein-Barr disease occurs primarily in Jewish people. Shall we eliminate all Jews or deny them basic human rights because of this?

      You argument is simply trolling, and has no intelligence behind it.

      May 18, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • Bobby

      pervert alert
      We could eliminate all the employees of Big Tobacco and end most lung cancer too, by your logic. That would save a lot more people.

      May 18, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • pervert alert

      Bull sh it.
      A lot of chimp eating going on in San Francisco by qu-eers is there?

      May 18, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      "pervert alert – @bet – Bull sh it. – A lot of chimp eating going on in San Francisco by qu-eers is there?"

      but that isnt where AIDS started, seriously dude you need to grow up,

      May 18, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • pervert alert

      AIDS ground zero = ho mo se xual from Montreal, Canada with hundreds of unnatural acts and partners.

      May 18, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • Bet

      Wrong. A Canadian airline steward named Gaëtan Dugas was referred to as "Patient 0" in an early AIDS study by Dr. William Darrow of the Centers for Disease Control. Because of this, many people had considered Dugas to be responsible for bringing HIV to North America. This is inaccurate however, as HIV had spread long before Dugas began his career.

      There were deaths that have been conclusively prevent to be due to AIDS as early as 1969. One of the first was a Norwegian family consisting of father, a sailor, mother, and 9 year old daughter. The sailor had first presented symptoms in 1969, eight years after he first spent time in ports along the West African coastline. An STD proved he was s e x u a lly active at that time. Tissue samples from the sailor and his wife were tested in 1988 and found to contain HIV-1 (Group O).

      May 19, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • Bet

      "proved to be" not "prevent to be".

      May 19, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
  19. LearningaboutJesus

    Some of you may not remember him, but he captured my thoughts exactly:
    "Everyday, people are straying away from The Church and going back to God."–Lenny Bruce

    May 18, 2012 at 8:01 am |
  20. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer really changes things

    May 18, 2012 at 6:40 am |
    • Mark

      Yikes you really are a co-dependent.

      May 18, 2012 at 8:02 am |
    • Jesus

      Prayer doesn’t not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!

      May 18, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • Bet

      Prayer changes nothing. Action changes things.

      May 18, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • kgb24peeps

      "atheism" and "jesus..." : this is copy and past from another board b/w the two of you....stop cluttering all the boards.

      May 18, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • Cq

      Actually, it's evolution that changes things, and there's plenty of evidence to support it. 😉

      Evolution even changes Christianity. Branches that adapt by allowing gay marriage will survive, and even flourish, whereas those that do not will be in danger of extinction. Only the fittest branches of Christianity will survive. This has been the way since the beginning.

      May 18, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      like rain dances change the weather .

      May 18, 2012 at 5:24 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.