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. john mraz

    David was gay and made a covenant in front of the lord, first gay marriage. Its in the bible .
    Gay is OK. he even tucked the 2 boys in a tent .

    Jonathan has a secret meeting with David in the forest. David will be king, he says, and he will be right beside him. "And they two made a covenant before the LORD." 23:16-18

    "The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul ... And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his garments ... and his girdle.”

    (19:2) "Jonathan ... delighted much in David.”

    (20:16) "And Jonathan caused David to swear again, because he loved him: for he loved him as he loved his own soul.”

    20:41) "They kissed one another ... until David exceeded."
    David and Jonathan "kissed one another, and wept with one another" when they parted for what they though might be the last time.

    pretty G if you ask me honey hum hum, God loves the GAYS !!!

    December 20, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
    • j

      David was not gay. David and Jonathan were friends. Take a bible class. I don't think he would have hooked up with Bathsheba if that was the case.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
      • john mraz

        Go look up making a (covenant) then come back and tell me that ? GAY

        December 20, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
    • Natas nico

      So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, Let the Lord even require it at the hand of David's enemies. And Jonathan caused David to swear again, because he loved him: for he loved him as he loved his own soul. Then Jonathan said to David, To morrow is the new moon: and thou shalt be missed, because thy seat will be empty. And when thou hast stayed three days, then thou shalt go down quickly, and come to the place where thou didst hide thyself when the business was in hand, and shalt remain by the stone Ezel. (1 Samuel 20:16-19 KJV)

      Plz get your story straight EVERYONE greeted with a kiss Paul tells the church he wrote to greet them with a kiss...get real they were friends Jonathan knew David was annointed to be king and did what he could to help get him away from his crazy father...plz Hun try reading the whole KJV bible from Genesis to Revelation translated from the ORIGINAL Greek and Hebrew until then your statement is unfounded and made in ignorance

      December 20, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
    • midwest oracle

      John Mraz have you really read the Bible? Making as you are way off base.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
  2. Susan

    Anyone who uses the Bible for anything is going to be getting it wrong by what we know today. And if you don't want to accept the realities and science of today but prefer espousing 2000-year-old hearsay and magical thinking then you do your part in destroying our future. Thanks a lot!

    December 20, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
    • Geoff

      Wow Susan are you in for a big surprise one day soon. Hope you like it hot!

      December 20, 2013 at 1:30 pm |
    • Tad

      Im sorry to hurt your feelings hun, but if people followed the bible we wouldnt have the problems we have today and if your going to say thats not true lets put it this way. Imagine a world where people kept the 10 commandments, what a loving and happy world we would have. Also that 2000 year old teaching is thousands of times better then the teachings today. As for science go ahead and believe your scientsists, people claim the bible was written by men so it must be wrong, isnt your science books written by men too? You wanna believe in scientists who say that humans came from a pig and a monkey mating thats ypur choice. Btw not all scientists are dumb but most are

      December 20, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
    • Eddie

      Here's what some scientists are saying about the possibilities of the creation of the universe:

      December 20, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
  3. Bob Bobson


    Leviticus 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight.

    I have to admit that I wear reading glasses.

    Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle- room here?

    December 20, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
    • Natas nico

      Well if you're going to be repugnant about it yes. It means to come to God without deceit, malice, or bitterness of any sort. To someone who has never heard of it and never tried it seem stupid and ridiculous but to me it tells me there is hope forgetting temporal issues that may arise..

      December 20, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
  4. BillatLeap

    A "christian" gay-rights advocate? Next up, the talking unicorn.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
    • Ashley

      To BillatLeap-You are even more ignorant than you think if you don't understand how a "Christian" gay rights advocate is possible. This is why the article is being debated you idiot SMDH...too much to say on that topic

      December 20, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
  5. I'm right

    ....Gather around religious children......SPOILER ALERT.......there is no santa....no easter rabbit....and no god.......silly humans......grow up.....stop being so juvenile......the world is also not flat......dancing around a fire can not make it rain.......and prayer....well.......don't get me started. You religious, self important fools........ Do any of you have the slightest idea how old and how vast this universe is? How young our planet is at approx. 4 billion years old? I do not want to get into a science discussion with a religious person....take too long... Humans are not that important.....they are very insignificant....... religious people like to think they are important.......they need a reward system to do the RIGHT thing.....(heaven/hell)......the meanest and most hurtful comments posted on news articles and youtube videos come from RELIGIOUS people......humans are dangerous animals......they are not able to understand why we exist and need to make up a reason....... Humans have existed for a very small amount of time on this planet........at best guess.....if Earth's start to present was compared to 12 hours.......12pm to 12am.....humans have only existed a few seconds to midnight..........what a minute amount of time to exist, being as special as we are.....humans will cease to exist someday, and other species will continue.......i do NOT need a god and a reward system to know the difference between right and wrong.....REMEMBER! god LOVES you.......but if you do not worship and praise him he will send you to everlasting pain and suffering!!!

    December 20, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
    • midwest oracle

      Hello I'm right..... Have you ever read the Bible all the way through? With an open mind? Have you read it a second, or third time? Before you dismiss what it has to say, you should take the time to try to understand what it has to say as it may change your live. Or it may not, but you must read it before you can knowledgeably argue against it, don't you think?

      December 20, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
  6. spudnik56

    Wow...this yutz is just pitiful...

    December 20, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
  7. Bohn

    one of my favorite writers on cnn....great job Mr Burke!

    December 20, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
  8. Jim Schroeder

    Everyone has their own interpretation of the bible, mainly to fit their own needs, and wants.

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

    John MRaz,

    I still don't understand your argument. Please clarify the "lie".
    Thanks in advance.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
  10. Budster

    Christians believe that God is the author of the Bible and He means what He says. Since liberals interpret the word "won't" in a different way. That means that they believe in God and that they will inherit the "Kingdom of God". That doesn't make sense. Isn't that playing with fire?

    December 20, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
  11. Bob Bobson

    My Friends

    I have a neighbour who insists on working on the Sabbath.Exodus 35:2.

    Clearly states he should be put to death.

    Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

    December 20, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
    • lwagner1998

      Bob you have to account for the New Covenant...thanks

      December 20, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
  12. just wondering

    religion, woman and greed... the three deadliest things

    December 20, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
  13. Pat

    Gays exist, it's a fact. So does god want gays or is he a perpetual failure, unable to prevent them from being born? Gay lover or failure, take your pick you idiot Christians!

    December 20, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
    • habitant

      maybe he just wants them in closets?

      December 20, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
    • lwagner1998

      Please re-read you post. You assume gays are born. Are they born or is it choice ?

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

      God gave people free will – we get to choose our paths. He didn't create gays, but if a person chooses to be gay (It IS a choice) then so be it. Let them all burn in hell!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      December 20, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
  14. Apollo

    If it is this unclear A&E is even more guilty. They have themselves misinterpreted the Duck Dynasty star! He may bave been referencing a different context the bible explores than the one A&E is referencing....In any event, no more A&E for me...

    December 20, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
    • tallulah13

      So basically you think that the rights of the worker are greater than the rights of the employer. What a good communist you are!

      December 20, 2013 at 1:20 pm |

    If people would keep their mouth shut no one really cares what you mix with. It is forcing your will on someone else that draws the line.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
  16. Jon

    Nope, Phil has it right, don't even need to read this heresy simple as that!

    December 20, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
  17. just wondering

    as with many reformed alcoholics and drug users who have found religion.... it seems they have a very hardline view....

    December 20, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
    • Bonnie

      Once anyone embraces the word of God with all their heart, they are rock solid in their commitment to Him and His Son, Jesus Christ.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
      • Pat

        I feel the same way towards Mother Goose!

        December 20, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
      • Bonnie

        Please also read Romans chapter 1, verses 18-32. A real eye opener.

        December 20, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
        • Pat

          Please learn the proper use of your brain.

          December 20, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
    • Pat

      That's because they have not changed their behavior one bit, they simply traded one escape from reality for another.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
  18. Al

    Jesus was essentially killed for money, his growing popularity threatened the power of the wealthy Jewish leadership . All people were required to pay tax to enter the temple to pray, Jesus hated this, when Jesus turned over the tax payers tables in the temple in anger, that was the last straw; and they knew at that point Jesus had to be stopped.

    Fast forward 2000+ years., Who feels threatened ? If A&E didn't quell Phil all the advertisers on Duck Dynasty would face the wrath of protesters they and A&E would loose both money and a diminished public perspective. The irony here is they will lose more money with the decision they made.

    Jesus spoke extensively about money and people worshiping it like an idol. Money caused people in Jesus time to make horrible choices just as it does now, this issue from my view point is more about money than it is about any one particular lifestyle.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:13 pm |
  19. Jim

    Who cares! Every Sunday on TV there are lots of people giving their interpretation of what they read. Unbelievable how much of an issue this has become. Can't open your mouth without some group coming out of the woods and crying about being disrespected.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:13 pm |
    • Toast

      Strange that the same people who say this now, also crawl out of the woodwork and scream about being disrespected if someone says "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas".

      December 20, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
    • lwagner1998

      That is why God wants us to read His world himself

      December 20, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
    • Ken in MO

      Ok Jim..so according to you the slaves should not have complained. Afterall, they were employed full time and taking away jobs from white people.

      Try being discriminated against for something that you are and then say that statement...I bet you would see things differently.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
  20. habitant

    I think we need opinions from Honey Boo Boo and Chumlee to get this resolved.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:13 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.