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. sly

    Anyone who ever has a single sip of wine or beer is not going to heaven.


    That's what Duck says. Boy, I sure wouldn't want to go to heaven then.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
    • David

      You're an idiot. Wine drinking isn't forbidden in the bible. Drunkenness is foolishness according to scripture. And truthfully, how can we dispute that.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
  2. Family Doctor

    Bob Bobson,
    Obviously you have watched a few episodes of the West Wing and now think yourself a Biblical scholar with an equal amount of wit.

    The Bible is a complex literary work of antiquity that still gives guidance to milions of people to this day. There are so many details of the scriptures that could be debated to the end of time.

    The real crux of the matter is, what do you do with Jesus?

    What do you do with the part of your heart that you are ashamed of and want no one to know about?
    I am not saying that I am better than you. I have those shameful parts of my heart as well.

    But at this moment, I want to focus on you. What do you do about the part of your life that doesn't measure up to even your own version of moral standards? What do you do with the part of your self which remains empty regardless of how many good works you do or how much knowledge you acquire?

    What do you do with a man named Jesus , who without a doubt, lived and died.
    He should have faded into obscurity as any peasant would, especially when condemned to death with criminals...and yet, our whole history bears witness to his existence.

    What do you do with such a man who claimed to die for you...and me?

    What would you do with such a man and his claims?

    Perhaps, mock him him. Spit on hiim. Maybe even nail him to a cross.

    Truth is, I already did that to him...so has everyone.

    Regardless, he still stretches out his arms to love you and accept you.
    Bob, or whatever you real name may be,.....Jesus knows that shameful part of you heart that I was talking about. He knows the worst parts of you. And yet, he still loves you. Give him a chance. Test him out. Put down your pride and cynicism for a brief moment and be willing to be loved.

    "This is the gospel; that we are more wretched and miserable than we ever imagined...yet more loved and cherished that we ever hoped"- Pastor Timothy Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, NYC

    December 20, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
    • Joel

      Well said. Thank you.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
    • Michael G

      Jesus is a myth. There were several historical writers during the supposed time of Jesus. They wrote detailed histories of the reign of Herod, the Sanhedrin court, and the Roman empire. And in all those volumes, not one ever mentions Jesus. If he caused such a fuss, why did no one write about him? The answer is simple – he is a myth. The most likely source of the myth is the story of a man known as Yeishua ha Notzri, who came before the Sanhedrin in 80 BC, on very similar charges to those attributed to your mythical Jesus.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
      • Michael T.

        Name me a single scholar who has published work supporting your theory.with a terminal degree in a relevant field of study, who holds a professorship at any accredited school. I'll answer this for you – there are really only two people, out of thousands, who even have a doctorate in the relevant field who "might" support your view, Robert Price, and Richard Carrier. Neither one of them holds a professorship at an accredited school, nor do they have any peer reviewed work defending your theory.

        December 20, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
  3. TonyInNYC

    How big is the Robertson family? I'm sure there is someone in it who is gay. Maybe if he or she joined the cast it would enhance the show.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
    • Mike again

      You meant enhance perverted sin

      December 20, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
    • Recovering Ex-Christian

      I agree. They need some decorating tips for sure!

      December 20, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
  4. Perplexed commentor

    When God blesses, he blesses through that which is fertile as a means of showing his blessing. eg. Harvest, children, milk and honey. Gay union is not fertile. A child cannot be born of such a union. God doesn't want us to rely on science to reproduce, but on ourselves in the way he created us, man and woman. There is no hatred in these remarks, only a desire for understanding and civil debate over the issue. Wouldn't you think God would want the seed of his likeness to be deposited in a place where it would result in a fertile place that leads to life rather than a heap of dung? Hate to be graphic, but that's the reality!

    December 20, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
    • tallulah13

      I don't know if you were aware of this, but gay couples can find ways to have children, through surrogates or adoption. Lesbians can bear their own children with the help of sperm donors. Gays are not sterile and studies show that they are actually good and loving parents and their children grow up happy and well-adjusted. Perhaps this doesn't answer your question. I don't know. But maybe when we talk about love and family, we should look at real life and not the bible.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:44 pm |
    • mikehosley

      Jesus didn't say anything about being gay, and like anything else a person does the best answer I've heard is get 'em into the church and let the Holy Spirit figure it out from there, right? Even the Pope now says who am I to judge? If the Catholics can be tolerant then that's progress, right? I mean, if a person was high on drugs or drunk, would you kick them out for that as well? I guess you'd get them into a non judgemental fellowship of some sort, wouldn't you? We are talking about swamp people here. They can say and do whatever they want to like anyone else, but therein lies the issue when you collide with the public on TV.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
  5. Who Knows what?

    The Church of Christ, in which Phil is a member and elder:
    What kind of music is used in the worship?

    As a result of the distinctive plea of the church – a return to New Testament Faith and practice – acappella singing is the only music used in the worship. This singing, unaccompanied by mechanical instruments of music, conforms to the music used in the apostolic church and for several centuries thereafter (Ephesians 5:19). It is felt that there is no authority for engaging in acts of worship not found in the New Testament. This principle eliminates the use of instrumental music, along with the use of candles, incense, and other similar elements.

    If you go to their services and ask about this, they will compare using instrumental music in worship services to old testament teaching of offering up unauthorized incense to God and being struck down dead.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
  6. SuZieCoyote

    I grew up Christian. I am disgusted what passes for Christianity today. The modern Christian worships the dollar and their religion is the market. I have yet to find a church that is interested in Jesus's words on social justice, which are the bulk of his teachings. How does that fill the offering plate? Far more exciting to go to rock and rolll mega-churches, trance out, praises Jesus and sip the inhouse lattes, while bashing gays and single mothers (though Jesus's own mom was technically one of these.) Today's Christian equates God with the so-called magical hand of the free market. This is called "Worshiping the Golden Calf. Rich people, in their minds, are beloved of God (or they wouldn't be rich), and poor people are despised (or they wouldn't be poor.) To feed the poor is to simply encourage them to breed. Feeling and acting morally superior to gay people and the poor – well that's an added feature.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
    • tony

      Golly. A believer with common sense and an ability to read ALL the bible.

      You are heading away from religion to goodness instead.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
  7. Doris Lomack

    So where does it say that it's alright to hate your brother because of their race, (i.e.) blacks? discrimation; Night riding; kept from education; restaurants- the mainstream of society; forbidden to partake in the American Dream because you are black.
    What about that? No Gays are left out of the mainstream of society unless they are black, and they should not mock the Civil Rights movement and equate it with their own agenda. Remember the 144,000? just about everybody is doomed!! for heaven

    December 20, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
    • Guest

      Doris– Playing the race card are you? Really?

      December 20, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
  8. isobareng

    Just keep kidding yourselves as it is your freewill choice in this life to do, but in the end God will not be mocked

    December 20, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
    • tony

      But he is jealous. So something must be worrying him.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
  9. remy730

    he got his bosses that hang out at the bohemian grove wrong, is what he did. He has no idea what he's up against.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
  10. oldtoys1961

    Gay goes against all of nature not whats just in the bible.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
    • QS

      Religion is unnatural.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Did you know that 90% of giraffe se.xual activity is with the same gender?
      Stupid, unnatural giraffes. Satan must have designed them.

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

        Thats one reincarnation path to look forward...

        December 20, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
    • Some Antics

      I think nature would laugh in your face for trying to divide up what it calls "life" into "gay" and "straight". Life finds a way.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
    • mikehosley

      No, it does not. It exists in Nature everywhere.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
  11. Josh

    Modern Day Liberals- "You can't believe the bible because it is changed depending on whatever cultures particular bias is... So change your beliefs on what is says based on our bias."

    Modern Day Apologist Christians- "Oh if what we believe offends someone then it must not be what God wants..." Even though Jesus stated 'They will hate you because of me' and the disciples were all killed for sharing the gospel... Yeah, offending people isn't part of the Good News...

    The Author of this Article- "Well the Bible says I can't do something I want to do... So it must be wrong." Even though there are a lot of things that I think may be fun but don't partake in because of Biblical Teaching. Don't see me trying to change the bible.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
    • tony

      So why in Genesis have the tower of babel before the giving of the ten commandments in Exodus. Everyone but the jews couldn't read them.

      So being able to obey the bible would not be possible.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
    • Some Antics

      Which things would you like to partake in that you don't because of the bible? Do you not r a p e children because of the bible? Do you not murder because of the bible? Do you not steal because of the bible?

      If that is the case then we do need the bible to keep these child r a p i n g theiving murderous conservative Christians from killing us all. The rest of us find empathy, humanity and love to be the reasons we don't take those horrid actions, without any threat of eternal torment or promise of cookies in heaven to make us do it.

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

      Modern day Christian extremist: "Nobody can tell us what to do because we believe in the bible which dictates all of our thoughts, actions and beliefs. Anybody who misinterprets the bible according to how we say it should be interpreted is not a true believer. Those who have done no wrong but still choose to not believe in our god will still be punished...because we say so."

      December 20, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
  12. Lee

    Luckily, we have a modern ecclesiastical statement on gender relationships and marriages,
    which gives absolute clarity on this subject, for duck hunters and CEOs 🙂
    see: http://www.lds.org/topics/family-proclamation

    December 20, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Are gay men allowed "spirit husbands" ?

      December 20, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
      • Lee

        Yes. There is indeed according God's love and mercy a perfect heaven will be provided for everyone. We decide which by the law we choose to obey. For those who choose to be a law unto themselves, a spiritual home for perfecting that.
        Course, it may be hell getting there 😉

        December 20, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
  13. john mraz

    In the bible god conducts the first GAY marriage... its right in BIBLE.

    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.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
  14. Jennifer

    As a Christian, he makes the mistake of preaching from the Old Testament – before the time of Christ. Christians follow the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament, not the fire and brimstone stuff of the Old Testament.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
    • Howaboutthat

      Sorry, Jennifer. I have to completely disagree with you. Even with the advent of Christ, the NT doesn't "trump" or negate the OT. In fact, the OT points the way to the NT; hence why there are so many prophesies about the Messiah from Isaiah during this Christmas season. And the NT affirms what is taught in the OT. Despite what others might claim: Scripture do not contradict itself.

      While Christ's sacrificial death on the cross in our place forever dealt with the penalty of sin for those who put their faith and trust in Christ as their Savior, God's word doesn't contradict itself. We don't have to follow the sacrificial system found in the Law because Christ became the ultimate and perfect "unblemished" lamb that "took away the sin of the world". Understanding that from the OT helps us to see and understand that this was God's plan all along because no amount of sacrifices could wipe away sin; it could only cover it.

      2 Corinthians 5:21 puts it well, "He made Him Who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."

      The OT offers us understanding and lessons about faith (see Hebrews 11) that very much tie into what Paul and others teach in the NT. If not – why are there then so many OT references in the NT?

      December 20, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
  15. chem

    For the fundamentalist Christian the Bible interprets itself. We read the Bible and we adjust to what it tells us, not the other way around. "Experts" can say whatever they want but ultimately we are the ones that have to adjust to what is written.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
    • john mraz

      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.

      gay as F

      December 20, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
    • mcpierceaim

      OR, you could be a rational, intelligent human being and realize that, when truth differs from your bible, truth wins out. The bible was written by people based on a very limited understanding of the world. If it was written by a god (at that one that supposedly created the universe) then it's an example of that god's being inept and not understanding its own work.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
    • Tom A

      chem: If that's the case then why don't even theY agree on topics shuch as the requiirements for salvation, whether you can lose your salavation, the role of baptism in salvation, the certified form of baptism, if there is a rapture, when the rapture will occur, if drinking wine and dancing is a sin, whether we should own modern conveniences (I would lump the Amish into the fundamentalist group)?

      December 20, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
  16. J

    Maybe they should have that South African guy sign language it and see how it plays then

    December 20, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      I chuckled... thanks

      December 20, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
  17. rosethornne

    If the magic book were really divine then it would magically appear in each person's hands, clearly and unambiguously translated into that person's native language.

    However, it is merely mythological literature sorted, chosen, and collected out of a vast body of mythological literature, poorly translated, printed on ordinary tree pulp, and sold for profit.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
  18. palintwit

    How about a moment of silence in remembrance of Al Goldstein, founder of Screw Magazine ?

    December 20, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
  19. Jeff

    With Phil’s bluntness in speaking and comments towards what he believes is right; I can’t help but remember this quote.

    The Knight’s Oath (Kingdom of Heaven):
    “Be without fear in the face of your enemies.
    Be brave and upright that God may love thee.
    Speak the truth always, even if it leads to your death.
    Safeguard the helpless and do no wrong – that is your oath.”

    I applaud Phil's free speech. I applaud his openness to stand up against what ‘actions’ of others are wrong. I applaud he against the ‘action of the sin’, and he does not hate the individual.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
  20. Bob Bobson


    My uncle has a farm. He violates Leviticus 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend).

    He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot.

    Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Leviticus 24:10-16.

    Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Leviticus 20:14)

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

      This is halarious! Even more so becuase you have no idea that that only applied to the Israelites that were on the way to the promise land! Nice try though

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

        Even funnier that we should feel obligated to adhere to an obsolete belief that only certain "others" are to be treated as such.

        December 20, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
        • Me

          obligated? by who? right

          December 20, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
      • Lucifer's Evil Twin

        What's hilarious is that you think the bible is anything more than poor fiction

        December 20, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
        • Me

          Did Lucifer your evil twin tell you that? He's a liar you know, it's in the Bible. Oh wait! It's not real right?

          December 20, 2013 at 1:43 pm |
    • reader

      And while we're at it, let's stone to death all the paramedics, ER personnel, police officers, firemen, walmart employees, etc., etc., who have the audacity to violate God's wishes by working on the Sabbath. Or anyone who mows his lawn on Sunday. Unless one were to totally ignore the Old Testament (or, no pun intended, be a Cafeteria Christian), God is the most narcissistic, demanding, unreasonable, genocidal, murderous, serial killer (who also would have to be #1 on PETA's hit list) in the history of mankind. Oh, don't forget to stone to death anybody who has a mickey mouse figurine sittin' on their mantlepiece either. Etc., etc., etc.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:45 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.