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. Michael McKenzie

    We either embrace Jesus Christ or we reject Him. Jesus' teaching is clear, manipulate His teaching how you wish. But in the end if you do not believe in Jesus then His sacrifice will not cover you and you and those you mislead to not believe will go to hell according to Jesus' teaching. It is Jesus' sacrifice that gives us eternal life in heaven, not us trying to be perfect. But it is crucial that His followers confess their sin, repent, and turn to Christ. What Phil addressed is people who are not willing to confess and repent of their sin. Such is rejecting Jesus' teaching and thus His free gift of salvation. Phil loves these people living in sin by sharing this. He wouldn't love them if he didn't share. This shouldn't be a fight between Christians and those living in sin, it's a plea to those living in sin to stop rejecting Christ but to turn towards Christ and embrace Him as Lord.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:34 pm |
    • tony

      Or Zeus, or Mithras, or. Thor, or . . . .

      December 20, 2013 at 1:38 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      LET's Religiosity Law #1 – If Jesus came back today he would be shot in the head. That's what you do to put down zombies; otherwise they eat your brains.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
    • alaskan1st

      Jesus said nothing about gays. Jesus was as liberal as they come. Jesus said judge not. Jesus was a black man. Phil believes none of this.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
  2. Sam Bo

    I think I am great!

    December 20, 2013 at 1:34 pm |
  3. nepawoods

    Misinterpreting the Bible? I thought everyone was in universal agreement about what it says.

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

      The only universal agreement about any religion, is that none are true.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
      • IKnowWhatI'mTalkingAbout

        I'll take my chance and say you are wrong. 🙂

        December 20, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
        • Lucifer's Evil Twin

          P.T. Barnum would have liked you...

          December 20, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
  4. tony

    The Holy Truth:

    The hunter crouches in his blind
    'Neath camouflage of every kind
    And conjures up a quacking noise
    To lend allure to his decoys
    This grown-up man, with pluck and luck
    is hoping to outwit a duck.

    Ogden Nash, USA

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

      Elmer Fudd and Daffy Duck comes to mind ......

      December 20, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
  5. Simon

    This is all very well but in the end this is a secular country with freedom of religion and whether or not a holy book says this or that, it is irrelevant to law. Freedom of Speech is not freedom from all consequence. Private companies and individuals are free to associate or not associate with those who hold strong opinions that offend them or their customers, whether those opinions are sourced in "holy" books or not.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
  6. 270to256

    I have a question about lesbians.... if that is where a woman is only attracted to women, then why, almost always you see one of them dressing like a man, changing their physical looks to look more like a man, and acting more manly? And as a secondary question, does that make the one that is attracted to THAT, somewhat LESS lesbian, since they are attracted to a female that looks male?

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

      Cut the crap. People are attracted to people for a variety of reasons. Are you pist because nobody wants you??

      December 20, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
    • areyoumymoms

      As a lesbian, I'm happy to answer your question, 270to256. My wife of 11+ years is someone you'd describe as "dressing like a man," but she is very much a woman. I am someone you'd describe as a "girlier girls." Just like there are different kinds of straight women (some wear makeup, some don't; some want children, some don't; some play sports, some don't), there are different kinds of gay women, too. Many of us are attracted to less traditionally feminine women, but that doesn't mean we're attracted to men. It means we're attracted to women who tend toward the less traditionally feminine ideal. When the clothes come off, we're all looking for a woman, not a man.

      Some straight men are attracted to women who play sports, use power tools, and are otherwise less traditionally feminine, too. And some women are attracted to men who do less traditionally "manly" things like pay attention to fashion, cook, clean, or take on a role as a stay-at-home dad. It's just about who you love.

      If this was a legitimate question, bravo for posing it; I'll assume that was the intent, and hope my answer helps. If, on the other hand, you were just trying to make a generalization for the sake of intolerance, shame on you. Phil has done enough this week to marginalize our community...

      December 20, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
  7. Sam Bo

    I vote for DM Murdock, she's a scholar!

    December 20, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
  8. duts

    Too many gays running around now, we wont have anymore tax payers soon i.e. reproductions efforts halted.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
  9. YeahItsMe72

    The Bible endures because, much like a Rorschach test people see in it what they want to see in it. Those in power use it to justify their advantages and station in life. Those oppressed use it as proof that they will be vindicated in the end.

    A life based on that book is a wasted life.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
    • Sam Bo

      Like u.

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

      What should it be based on? Your interpretation of what life should be? Lol

      December 20, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
  10. Bob Thomas

    I wonder how many members of the Robertson family are gay?

    December 20, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
  11. johnny

    You know i'm married and i see lots of pretty women that I fantasize about (shouldn't)but something keeps me from sleeping around – maybe its my old southern upbringing thank GOD- you see alot of these gay people and adulters tend to sleep around then we wonder why we have all these diseases.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
    • Michael G

      Most of the gays I know are more faithful than most of the Christian straight people I know...

      December 20, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
    • tallulah13

      It's very easy to make up things about people you don't know, Johnny. Just remember, lying is a sin, and sinning will send you to hell with all the atheists and gays.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
    • Angela

      Umm..Jesus said in Matthew 5:27-28 " You have heard that it was said, Do not commmit adultery. But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Just so you know..

      December 20, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
      • johnny

        Didn't you read that I said I shouldn't.

        December 20, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
  12. Dano

    Does selling bobble heads count as idolatry?

    December 20, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
  13. Michael G

    Study the life of Paul sometime, and you'll realize he had a deep dark secret – a self loathing over something he did not like about himself, that he felt would keep him from the "kingdom of God". Study all he has to say, and there is only one explanation that fits all the evidence. Paul was gay.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
    • IKnowWhatI'mTalkingAbout

      For giggles, let's say he was. What difference does that make? Does it make it less of a sin?
      Paul was a murderer and David was an adulterer. Should murder and adultery be accepted as normal behavior? Again...Sin is sin.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
  14. jeffery

    I dont believe in the bible never will, the religion values should be left in your own home and what you bible thumpers call a church which is just another building just like your home or a store. Their has never been a person that created this planet or the animals or Adam and Eve all fictional and another money grubbing thieves.

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

      There, not their.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
    • IKnowWhatI'mTalkingAbout

      The church is not a building, it is the followers and I'll take my chances that you are wrong.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
    • jeffrey

      There not Their

      December 20, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
    • Don

      .......he that believeth not is condemned already.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
  15. Tom

    yeah, because I look to CNN to interpret the BIBLE FOR ME...

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

      If only less people felt a forced obligation to "interpret" that book in the first place.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:34 pm |
      • Sam Bo

        Like u!

        December 20, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
  16. Mike again

    Ban Gays from adopting Americas innocent Children

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

      Ban the grammatically-challenged from posting hateful nonsense on the Internet...

      December 20, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
  17. lwagner1998

    Col 2:6

    December 20, 2013 at 1:30 pm |
  18. Katie

    It's a sad state of affairs that some people set themselves up as the "scholars" and try to explain sin away to appease the masses. It's also sad that in a country that was founded on religious freedoms, one man can't state his religious views without A & E coming unglued. The scripture speaks for itself and obviously addresses multiple sins that will prevent us from inheriting the Kingdom of God. From my perspective, one sin is no worse than another. Phil would probably agree that we all have sins that need to be forgiven. But those who deny their sins will be judged by God at the end times. Phil was stating his views; A & E was stating theirs when they fired him; I'm stating mine when A & E is blocked from my list of stations to watch!

    December 20, 2013 at 1:30 pm |
    • Michael G

      Katie, do you obey ALL the laws in the Bible? There is a verse in Leviticus that says any child who talks back to his parents must be stoned. How do you feel about that? And what about the verses that say you shouldn't wear clothes made of two different kinds of fabric? Do you obey that one? Or are you a cherry picker who just obeys the laws that support your bigotry?

      December 20, 2013 at 1:38 pm |
    • Dee

      Well stated, Katie.

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

      But doesn't the Bible also support the fact that Jesus died for our sins? So that sin may be forgiven? My understanding of the Bible is that 1) It is not for us to judge one another, but to love one another as Jesus loves us. Unconditionally. and 2) That all a person has to do is believe that Jesus died for our sins and repent those sins so that they may be forgiven. Remember – we are humans and by design we are flawed. There are none among us who have not and do not continue to sin.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
    • jimi

      how are you going to watch the show since A&E owns it.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
  19. Earl

    Your so called Bible experts don't know `didly. Why don't you quote the actual scripture so that all can judge for themselves without the distractions of your `experts' and anti-christian bias? Be a news reporter instead of a news distorter.

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

      Stop talking about Jesus and his family the family wants the book, the ark, and the tribes. You go your way we go our way.
      Israel all those who oppose Israel Jesus sister will perish. We did nothing to you we want to leave now. We do not know you all that I know is someone has my families book and they think that they know my family. You have embrassed your selves you where only to get an Angel and remember the 10 commandments. If you cannot read the 10 commandments how will you ever understand Jesus. Please give us the book back we are leaving I do not know your family.

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


      December 20, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
  20. peick

    Leviticus 18:22

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

      Leviticus 19:19
      "'Keep my decrees. "'Do not mate different kinds of animals. "'Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. "'Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.

      Do you wear clothing wove of two kinds of material? If so, then you don't really believe in Leviticus, do you?

      December 20, 2013 at 1:34 pm |
      • learnusa

        clearly you have never been a Christian or you would know that only Jews and Muslims follow the OLD TESTAMENT LAWS. Jesus gave us new laws and ways to live our lives and showed how to worship his Father.

        December 20, 2013 at 1:43 pm |
        • Tom A

          learnusa: Yes, Jesus gave us two laws . . . . Love the Lord your God with your whole heart, mind and soul. Love your neighbor as yourself. He also said . . . . Judge not least you be judged. However, so many Christians feel that those are so much more minor than Paul's list of sins. They believe that since they claim to have a "Personal relationship with Jesus Christ" they can set the rules for everybody else.

          December 20, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
      • Dee

        You are taking this literally. I believe these are analogies, just like in many other places in the Bible.

        December 20, 2013 at 1:44 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.