Does Phil Robertson get the Bible wrong?
Phil Robertson of A&E's "Duck Dynasty" has been suspended for his comments on homosexuality.
December 20th, 2013
11:23 AM ET

Does Phil Robertson get the Bible wrong?

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
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(CNN) - The Robertson family of "Duck Dynasty" fame has rallied around its patriarch, saying his controversial comments on homosexuality are "grounded in the teachings of the Bible." But Scripture is fiercely contested ground, and some experts say Phil Robertson misinterprets a key Bible verse.

A&E, the network that broadcasts the hugely popular "Duck Dynasty" show, suspended Robertson for a now infamous interview with GQ magazine. In the article, Robertson, who became a born-again Christian in the 1970s after a prodigal youth, is asked to define "sin."

Here's what Robertson says: “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men."

Robertson, 67, then paraphrases a Bible passage from the New Testament: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers - they won’t inherit the kingdom of God.”

That's a pretty close citation of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, which is a letter from Paul, often called the father of Christianity theology, to a fledgling Christian community in Corinth, Greece.

Here's what Paul's passage says, as rendered in the New International Version, by far the most popular translation among evangelicals and conservative Christians such as Robertson:

"Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."

Evangelicals, who make up about a quarter of the U.S. population, tend to take that passage at face value. The Robertson family pastor, for instance, told CNN on Thursday that "the verse explains itself."

Robertson himself is no religious neophyte. He's an elder in the White's Ferry Road Church of Christ and offers spiritual counseling, charity and Bible studies to many in his hometown of West Monroe, Louisiana, the family pastor, Mike Kellett told CNN.

The "Duck Dynasty" star also preaches around the country to conservatives that flock to hear his blend of woodsy, plainspoken Christianity.

Many conservatives backed Robertson's views on Scripture and homosexuality this week, if not the "crude" way he argued his point to GQ.

My Take: The Bible really does condemn homosexuality

But other Bible experts said the Scripture Robertson cited isn't quite clear about homosexuality.

"A lot of people misread this text because it's so complicated," said O. Wesley Allen Jr., an associate professor at Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky.

First, scholars say, we have to look at the context surrounding Paul's letter.

The Christian leader is trying to get the quarreling Corinthians to stop taking each other to civil courts and being judgmental. "The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already," Paul says.

Things were supposed to be different after they became Christian believers, Paul continues; they were supposed to stop their sinful ways.

Then Paul lists some of their sins of the past, including greed, drinking too much, worshipping idols and sexual immorality. "That is what some of you were," Paul says. "But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."

The list of sins is likely based on rumors that Paul heard about Corinth, says Warren Throckmorton, a psychology professor at Grove City College in Pennsylvania who has studied the Bible's teachings on homosexuality. Bible scholars call it a "vice list," and it appears several times in Scripture.

So what does Paul's "vice list" say about homosexuality? That's the tricky part.

The first word Paul uses is "malakoi," which means "soft" in Greek, according to Allen. By analogy, the word came to mean "effeminate," which is how the King James Version of the Bible translates it.

"In the ancient world, it would refer to a boy in a relationship with an older man," Allen said. "It was pederasty, not homosexuality as we think of it today."

The other relevant word on Paul's "vice list" is "arsenokotai," which means "male sex." It refers to the other half in the man-boy relationship, common in Greece at the time, Allen said, the older male having sex with the "soft one."

"It isn't anything to do with what we would see today in an intimate, mutual relationship between gay adults," said Allen, who is co-authoring an upcoming book on homosexuality and heterosexuality in the church.

My Take: The Bible’s surprisingly mixed messages on sexuality

Even so, scholars such as Allen acknowledge there are no Bible passages that support same-sex relationships, and at least seven that appear to condemn gay sex.

"There's no way around the fact that those passages take a negative view of homosexuality, and nowhere in the Bible is a positive view offered," Allen said. "So conservatives and liberals continue to debate."

Liberals say that some parts of the Bible offered particular truths for a specific times and places but those times and places, as well as human understanding of sexuality, have progressed dramatically.

"The Bible may be divinely inspired, but its authors were human and saw, as St. Paul puts it, through a glass darkly," said Jim Naughton, a Christian gay rights activist and communications consultant. "On the subject of homosexuality, the Bible doesn’t mean what Phil Robertson thinks it means."

Conservatives such as Robertson, on the other hand, argue that the Bible is the bedrock of their faith, unchanging and unalterable. "We want you to know that first and foremost we are a family rooted in our faith in God and our belief that the Bible is His word," the Robertson family said Thursday.

For decades, the gulf between the two sides has divided denominations, churches and families. To paraphrase Lincoln, both sides read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and both invoke his aid to argue against each other. Which is why our contemporary debate over homosexuality is so fierce, and so seemingly unending.

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Belief • Bible • Christianity • Church • Culture wars • Discrimination • Ethics • evangelicals • Faith • Gay marriage • Gay rights • gender issues • Prejudice • Same-sex marriage • Sexuality

soundoff (5,719 Responses)
  1. Mike again

    Christian Gay Rights Activist?....that's like saying something is Horrifyingly Beautiful

    December 20, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
  2. WhatWhat

    How about instead of quoting the Bible, letting it run your life, and discriminating against others according to your stories....you just live your life with good morals and leave others alone. It's really not hard to do. Just respect all people and let them live their lives. Let gays be gay and let woman make decisions about their own bodies. You want to be religious and follow a fairytale book...fine...do it but keep it out of people's bedrooms and certainly out of my uterus.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
  3. Chris Matthews

    Obamacare or Affordable Care Act, which one do you libtards prefer?

    December 20, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
    • lamby

      It's more a preference for less idiotic, irrelevant, ignorance-based comments.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
      • skalaballa

        Depends on if it's 2010 or 2013. Now that it's not working they are trying to remove Obama's name.

        December 20, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
  4. Bill Smells

    And the liberal gay mafia mouthpiece tries to save face by claiming Phil got his Bible wrong.

    Maybe we should focus on the hate speech coming out of Mr. Cruz's mouth from GLAAD. All of Mr/ Cruz's words are founded in hate and advocate for people to hate Phil. It's really said that they want GLAAD's message to be one of hate. So much for community, inclusion and tolerance. GLAAD are a bunch of bullies, and they need to fix that.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
  5. Bill

    Sounds like the PC Police have been interpreting the bible again. What part of "A man shall not lie with a man like he lies with a woman" do they not understand?

    December 20, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
    • Shelley

      What part about "The bible is a crock of bullshit." do you not understand?

      December 20, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
      • Scott

        I pray that God will reveal himself to you before it is too late. May peace find you heart.

        December 20, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
        • Lucifer's Evil Twin

          LOL... We'll all hold our collective breath for your god to 'reveal' himself...

          December 20, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
    • Julia

      They will find out when they die!

      December 20, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
      • Shelley

        Google Pascal's Wager, stupid.

        December 20, 2013 at 1:03 pm |
    • Natas nico


      December 20, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
  6. ewang0326

    Leviticus 20:13

    December 20, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
    • Atheist Deity

      Is that from the Buy-Bull?

      December 20, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
  7. AC

    Jesus was afterall a poorly-educated carpenter with NO tools whatsoever wandering in the sand in sandals. What wisdom could he possibly impart.
    Religion is an outdated hoax on modern man.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
    • Angel

      You should probably check out his words before you condemn them. You may be surprised.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
      • Real Angel

        Hey, weren't you cast out about a million years ago? What gives with showing up on CNN?

        December 20, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
    • Chahrles Riley

      Where do you get this wealth and store of knowledge from?

      December 20, 2013 at 1:03 pm |
    • modernman

      THis predates Jesus you imbecile.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:03 pm |
      • Bollucks

        Says a person who believes in the buybull.

        December 20, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
    • Ray

      Socrates was a simple mason and his contributions to the fields of logic, ethics, and epistemology are the foundation of Western thought. The Socratic Method is still used in universities today.

      A lot of the history's best thinkers came from humble backgrounds. An education only guarantees critical thinking skills and a systematic understanding of a particular natural phenomenon. It does not guarantee a virtuous life, something Jesus taught extensively on.

      I'm not a Christian, but Jesus certainly had a lot of insight into human conflict and his teachings are very pragmatic.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
  8. Natas nico

    Please without even reading this I can say read Romans 1&2 AND about sodom and Gomorrah the bible has been proven to be historically true and accurate to history.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
    • Gawd

      I've got a bridge I'd like to sell you - being that you're gullible and all.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
      • Natas nico

        Uh no, but hey don't take my word for it we all know Assyria in the bible is now modern day Iraq but whatever that can be true it's in the bible...we see Medo-Persia and it's fall prophesied about years before it happened. yes I'm gullible if that means I believe what I learned in history and the bible...prove that one attribute of the bible is not true STUDY and get back with me...you can't disprove something you have never read and studied at length with the intent to learn.

        December 20, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
  9. gxm17

    What I want to know is why a pharmacist can refuse to fill my prescription because of his beliefs but this guy runs his mouth off about his beliefs and *that* gets him fired. All he did was run his mouth, he didn't actually force his beliefs on someone else. Seems to me that the freedom of speech/religion exception is not fairly applied.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
    • semo

      Here is what is weird. They sue if a bakery will not bake a cake for a gay couple or if someone is fired for being gay. Phil was fired for being a Christian and talking about his beliefs while not on the job and he was fired. He should sue and put A&E out of business.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
      • lamby

        So you're saying you have a fundamental misunderstanding about the difference between
        'being' and 'doing'. Noted.

        December 20, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
  10. crakkka

    I'm with Phil.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
    • wendyj

      He didn't single out a group. He included drunkards. Lol. Sheish. Sin is sin is what I got from it.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
      • Bollucks

        Hey – I'm a drunk and I'm offended. Sheesh!

        December 20, 2013 at 1:03 pm |
    • Just4Liberty

      A & E: "His religious views might be wrong, so we must fire him."

      December 20, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
      • Bollucks

        Oh....I get it. If you have an opinion different from a "religious view", then you discard your right to freedom of speech, or the freedom to do what you think is best for your corporation. "christians" are such hypocrites

        December 20, 2013 at 1:12 pm |
  11. Reality # 2

    To all the believers in "Duckdumb":

    The Apostles' Creed 2013: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
    and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    (references used are available upon request)

    December 20, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
  12. PDXDave

    Let the religious believe what they want; let them say what they want. But be prepared for the consequences of publicly disclosure. Your "religious freedom" does not exempt me from voicing an opinion about your beliefs or public speech. If you can't handle the freedom of anyone who is not "christian" or does not believe the buybull, then you should keep your trap shut. A&E has every right to suspend Mr. Robertson if his actions or words do not jive with theirs.

    A short time ago, Martin Bashir voiced an opinion about Sarah Palin. The same "christians" who are trumpeting freedom of speech and religious freedom, were foaming at the mouth trying to get Mr. Bashir censured or fired. So please stop with the hypocritical cause of the day – your actions on these matter speak volumes more than your words.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
    • dsmidiman

      Well said PDXDave... I particularly like the word "buybull" used in place of Bible. How very very true!! I also love the hypocrisy in many of the buybull thumpers judgement of others that you point out. It's that kind of hypocrisy that (sadly) renders a lot of self proclaimed "religious" people and religions to be of no significance. As dumb as most of us are we still recognize hypocrisy when we see it. Like religion, today's Republican Party and it's blatant hypocrisy in their "judgement" of any and all who don't blindly follow the beat of their drum, has rendered them all but insignificant also!!!

      December 20, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
  13. curtis

    You know, if you read the Bible upside down, it doesn't say anything directly bad about stealing or murder. Not that it supports it either. Just throwing that "fact" out there.....

    December 20, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
    • G to the T

      You know if you knew anything about the actual history of the bible you might not be so pithy?

      December 21, 2013 at 11:19 am |
  14. K. Brown

    Hmmm........300,000,000 years of evolution, and he's the latest model?

    December 20, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
  15. Shills

    Yep! The Bible makes very clear sin folks. So, one either believes it or does not believe it.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
    • Doris

      I need to make a vanilla sauce for my cranberry pudding later. What goes in clear sin?

      December 20, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
  16. Tmoney

    Just to be clear I am fiscally conservative but more of a libertarian and definitely not a Conservative Christian by any means.... but also cannot stand the liberal elite. With that said I do believe Phil has the right to believe what he wants and state his feelings just as much as gays and other people can spout their beliefs in the liberal media. Shame on any liberals, conservatives, gays or religious people that try to step on the First Amendment if someone says something they don't agree with. Of course A&E is a business and can do what they want as the public will response will speak to that. My big issue is with all the hypocrits out there that defend free speech as long as they agree with it. I am talking about you liberals.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
    • bowldsbrendonbboi7581

      He's not going to jail, so his first amendment is protected.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
  17. bluedolphin53

    "Experts" abound nowadays and anyone can find one who makes them feel better. I would suggest doing an honesty study and read all sides with an open mind before coming to your conclusion. To the question, IMO, he got it right.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
  18. Jack 2

    Even scholars can't agree so why would their opinions mean anything? Common sense says it's wrong with or without religion involved.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
  19. rla

    Bet if a progressive said this he would be hailed as a hero and "a progressive thinker" PC police are as bad as dictators - they both want control by any means at hand

    December 20, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
  20. chosen one

    really really a CHRISTIAN GAY RIGHTS activist . THERE IS NO SUCH THING!!!!!

    December 20, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
    • hotcupoftruth

      Had the same thought...no such thing. If you are truly a Christian...you don't condone the gay lifestyle.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
    • cleareye1

      Jesus would be one.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
    • Jim

      You are so right. Just goes to show the weak minded that anyone can pin a description or label of themselves and have those who are gay lap it up. A gay Christian is a moronic state of mind and fictional statement.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
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About this blog

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.