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. 7ryq1sz4

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    June 2, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
  2. q3

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    June 2, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
  3. 6wd4y2lc

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    June 2, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
  4. hf7ma

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    June 2, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
  5. rxi5wovj25dxtezshs5

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    June 2, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
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    June 2, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
  7. xtuavicldcz

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    June 2, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
  8. fwrhk176jgw293y

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    June 2, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
  9. q24cdyzq0r4y2dz0q

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    June 2, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
  10. Douglas

    There is no condemnation in celibate gay /lesbian relationships.
    Support GLBTQ folks who are keeping this promise alive.

    May 27, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
    • Terah

      If you believe in universal celibacy for Gay folks, then you are going to have to ask God to stop sending soulmates to so many of us, remove all of the normal human attractions, and make al of us unwilling to form wonderful and loving families.

      So far, He has chosen to do the opposite.

      May 30, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • Jydradi

      That's not the point.

      The USA is supposed to be a country where we are free from the tyranny of other people's religious beliefs.

      Enforcing your version of biblical law is no different than enforcing sharia law. Especially with the growing calls for violence against gays from people calling themselves christian.

      May 31, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
  11. Luu

    You have got to be kidding me.
    In the bible it says clearly. That you're going to hell if you're gay.
    And also that it's an abomination to the lord!.

    May 26, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • Just the facts

      I want the book, the chapter, and the verse or verses where it says, EXACTLY, "You are condemned to Hell if you are gay", or something very VERY close to that. I've been reading the bible a lot lately and have yet to come across any passage that could not be translated or interpreted in another fashion. Since you seem to be well aware of where that particular passage is that so alludes us all, please enlighten poor little ol' me so I may stop living in a world where Jesus loves us ALL and died for ALL our sins so we may go to Heaven.
      Thank you for your time.

      May 30, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • Terah


      It doesn't say that anywhere in the Bible.

      It would be very silly if it did. Who gets sent straight to Hell for a God-given natural trait that harms no one, and doesn't affect one's relationship with God in the slightest?

      May 30, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • Jydradi

      No, it doesn't say that anywhere in the bible.

      It DOES, however, have VERY specific things to say about those who ADD or SUBTRACT from the word...

      If you're concerned about going to hell, you might want to read that there bible of yours.

      May 31, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
  12. romney

    Read the whole passage--Romans !:18-32 , then come to your conclusion.
    hv a great day!

    May 25, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
  13. Forgive All

    Leviticus 20:13 "If a man sleeps with a man as with a woman, they have both committed an abomination"

    Leviticus 18:22 "Your are not to sleep a man as with a woman; it is detestable" (abomination to the Lord)

    May 24, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • Terah

      Quoting Leviticus?

      Can you please provide valid stats on the numbers of Christains who follow ALLl of the laws for the ancient Hebrew priests?

      Really, I have never heard of a single one, but you may know more than I do.

      Unless you are a hypocrit, of course.

      May 30, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
  14. Kindness

    A thought to consider without a typical ego response

    Accept Jesus christ as your lord and saviour. You never know how soon is too late. Transcend the worldly illusion of enslavement.
    The world denounces truth....

    Accepting Jesus Christ (for me) resulted in something like seeng a new colour. You will see it .....but will not be able to clearly explain it to anyone else..... Its meant to be that way to transend any selfism within you.

    Also... much the world arranges "surrounding dark matter into something to be debated" in such a way that protects/inflates the ego.

    The key is be present and transcend our own desire to physically see evidence. We don't know anyways by defending our own perception of dark matter.

    Currently.... most of us are constructing our own path that suits our sin lifestyle. Were all sinners. Knowing that we are is often an issue. But both christians and non are sinners.

    We don't like to Let go and let god. We want control to some degree. This is what Jesus asks us to do. "Let go and let god".
    It's the hardest thing to do... but is done by letting the truth of scripture lead you (redemptive revelation)... as I said .

    Try reading corinthians and see if it makes sense to you. Try it without a pre conceived notion of it being a fairy tale.
    See the truth...
    do we do what it says in todays society... is it relevant... so many have not recently read and only hinge their philosophy on what they have heard from som other person...which may have been full of arogance pride or vanity..

    Look closely at the economy ponzi, look at how society idolizes Lust , greed , envy, sloth, pride of life, desire for knowledge, desire for power, desire for revencge,gluttony with food etc .

    Trancsend the temporal world.

    Just think if you can find any truth you can take with you ....in any of these things. When you die your riches go to someone who will spend away your life..... You will be forgotten.... history will repeat iteslf.... the greatest minds knowledge fade or are eventually plagerzed..... your good deeds will be forgotten and only give you a fleeting temporary reward . your learned teachings are forgotten or mutated..... your gold is transfered back to the rullers that rule you through deception. Your grave will grow over . This is truth .

    Trancsend your egoism and free yourself from this dominion of satan. Understand you are a sinner and part of the collective problem of this worldly matrix... Repent.... Repent means knowing

    Evidence follows faith. Faith does not follow evidence..... Faith above reason in Jesus Christ.

    Faith comes by Reading or Hearing the word of god from the bible . Ask Jesus in faith for dicernment and start reading the new testament... You will be shocked when you lay down your preconceived notions and ....see and hear truth ... see how christ sets an example ... feel the truth....

    Read Ecclesiastes. Read corinthians.

    You cant trancend your own egoism by adapting a world philosophy to suit your needs. Seek the truth in Christ.

    Sell all your cleverness and purchase true bewilderment. You don't get what you want ....you get what you are in christ.

    I promise this has been the truth for me. In Jesus christ .

    Think of what you really have to lose. ...your ego?

    Break the Matrix of illusion that holds your senses captive.

    once you do . you too will have the wisdom of God that comes only through the Holy Spirit. Saved By grace through Faith. Just like seeing a new colour.... can't explain it to a transient caught in the matrix of worldly deception.
    You will also see how the world suppresses this information and distorts it

    Your all smart people . I tell the truth. Its hard to think out of the box when earthly thinking is the box.
    I'ts a personal free experience you can do it free anytime . Don't wait till you are about to die.. START PUTTING YOUR TREASURES WHERE THEY REALLY MATTER >
    Its awsome .

    May 22, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "Your all smart people . I tell the truth."

      LMAO! Your all smart people . I tell the truth. = EGO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      May 22, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • hahaha

      "Your all smart people"

      Unlike you, apparently – should be 'You're all smart people'.

      Sorry – can't take you seriously if you can't spell – you know, the mark of a SMART PERSON....

      May 23, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • dirtusbaggus

      kindness i just wanted to say your response was outstanstanding to me it was gentle and too the point without judging or condemning. when people let go of the me ( the ego ) amazing things happen.

      May 29, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • Terah

      A great many gay Christians have, to their delight, and the delight of their creator.

      None of them turned straight, of course.

      Still gay.

      May 30, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
  15. Lara

    Since you have taken your "ordination in Rome" and thrown it in the sewer, maybe it would be more honest to leave that part out of your "views" on Christianity. I looked at your website, and all I can say is that you come across as a Left-wing, New Age liberal progressive typical nut. You don't have anything whatsoever to do with anything remotely Catholic. I'm sure you can talk yourself blue in the face about being gay and sleeping with men and your "Daniel Visions"–but please leave God out of it. You are a disgrace.

    May 22, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • Bet

      And you're working side by side with your imaginary friend to evaluate the author's credentials, right?

      May 23, 2012 at 12:00 am |
    • Intelligent Catholic

      Typical hate-filled response from a right-wing nut. Obviously, it's too much to expect intelligent discourse and reason from a low-IQ conservative who still lives in the Dark Ages.

      May 23, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
  16. J

    I'm pretty sure this writer tries to use his credentials as an ordained priest as the basis for what he believes. Go to his website and you'll find a ton of articles that are to the contrary of Christian beliefs. Just because he was a priest doesn't make him an expert on the subject and in fact he seems very confused and only wants to further his own secular agenda. On his site he reference religion as simple but science as sophisticated and secular. Sorry Daniel but just quoting verses and calling yourself a priest doesn't keep you in line with Catholic beliefs.

    May 22, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • ec

      Don't lump Catholics in with other "christians". Catholics embrace science and learning and they don't take the bible literally. He sounds like a typical Catholic...who, actually, are mostly democrats.

      May 22, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • Bet

      Just like quoting verses and calling yourself a christian doesn't give you the right to deny anyone their civil rights.

      May 23, 2012 at 12:03 am |
    • Intelligent Catholic

      We "typical Catholics" use our brains to make decisions, rather than lowbrow, knee-jerk reactions that are rooted in simple bigotry, hatred and lack of education.

      May 23, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
  17. Primewonk

    We seem to have more theists talking about science not "proving" gays are born gay.

    Yet again they demonstrate their profound ignorance about science in general, and the scientific method in particular. In science we explain things. We don't prove things. Proofs are for maths and ethanol.

    Also, some of us have repeatedly posted dozens and dozens of citations to peer-reviewed scientific research showing the biologial multivariate nature od sèxual orientation. All we have asked in return is for you fundiots to do the same. To post the citations to peer-reviewed science showing gays choose to be gay. After literally tens of thousands of these requests, not a single solitary one of you has ever posted a single solitary citation. Not once. Ever.

    I wonder why you fundiots refuse to do this?

    May 22, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • HA25

      Because, silly – it's a nonsensical request. There's no scientific theory there to test. There's no 'Why' or 'Because'. You need a 'People choose to be gay because....' to do a study.
      Let me use an analogy. Since being gay is still seen with social stigma – I'll use something else in that category.
      Let's say I survey 1000 admitted alcoholics. I ask them "Did you Choose to be an alcoholic?" Exactly how many would answer 'Yes'? And even if a Majority did (Which I bet my RIGHT ARM they wouldn't)... what would it prove? Nothing besides their level of resistance to being labeled by society.

      Fundiot indeed..

      June 1, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  18. Peacemaker

    That's right. Many Christians quote Matthew 19:4-6, "Haven't you read, he replied,'that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female,' and said, 'for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?' So they are no longer two , but one. Therefore what God had joined together, let man not separate.' "

    This verse of the Gospel of Matthew, is about........divorce. Jesus goes onto say, "Moses permitted divorce because your hearts were hard..."

    Christians love to quote Scripture so they can justify their rant against Gays, BUT, in Matthew Jesus talks AGAINST DIVORCE! Which many of these "holier than thou" types have done! Scripture is clear that Jesus did not approve of divorce, unless there was adultery. Yet the Bible Belt folks, have the highest percentage of divorce in our nation!

    Also, Jesus said "it is better for a man to cut out his eye than it is for him to lust" ..... a lot of Christian men and women would be BLIND IF they REALLY LIVED by Jesus' Word!!!

    May 22, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • dave

      Jesus still said man and woman right? Even though he was speaking about divorce which even then came after marriage,HE said man and woman right?

      May 24, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
  19. Rug & Plug

    "I am a victim of genes, therefore I shall munch on my own gender..."

    A and E is totally right

    May 22, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • DeeCee1000

      Well it's better than being born with the low IQ gene the way you have "Rug and Plug". LOL

      May 22, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • Primewonk

      Why is it that folks who purposefully choose to be ignorant about science – like this fundiot – come onto internet message boards and demonstrate that ignorance for all to see?

      May 22, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
    • Bet

      This is what happens when first cousins marry and breed.

      May 23, 2012 at 12:05 am |
  20. DeeCee1000

    "If you ask a scientist to prove something, they will go looking for the proof. Rarely taking in the fact that it may not be true." . . .that makes no sense.

    May 22, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • Joshua the Agnostic

      You can't ask a Christian how scientific process works because they can't apply it to their belief system.

      May 23, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
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