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. george t hibs

    I hear profits are up at Chick-A-Fila since they have started serving gay chicken patties.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
  2. Ole Olay

    Since when it is NOT ok to have an opinion???? You might not agree with it but I believe we still live in a country with free speech. Dont like it – dont listen. Otherwise shut up.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
  3. DerpaDerp

    I really can't wait until these old school bible thumpers are all in the ground or in their phony "kingdom" they've created to make them feel less scared about dying one day. I bet that god loves gay people more than vile hateful weirdos who want to push their beliefs on everybody. Humanity is outgrowing the Bible!

    December 20, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
    • semo

      You seem very much to be the hater.

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

      You will regret the words you spoke on judgement day. Mark my words.

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

        Why do you believe there will be a judgement day? Could you be wrong? Are you pretending to know things you do not?

        December 20, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
        • moonraker

          The bible is a series of morality "tales" written 2000 years ago to keep the masses in line. It is pure fiction, Cindy. I don't know why I waste my time arguing with a dope.

          December 20, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
        • sam stone

          Isn't that what christians do? Pretend to KNOW things?

          December 20, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
      • sam stone

        we have already marked your words as coming from a delusional blog chrisitian, cindy

        pull the crucifix out of your nether regions, your threats are empty

        December 20, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
    • Ole Olay

      This country has one of the biggest Christian population in the world. So you want all of them to die??? How nice of you.

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

        We are all going to die.

        December 20, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
    • IKnowWhatI'mTalkingAbout

      You know what...us too!!! It's will be a great day to be in Heaven with our Creator. I pray for you that you will one day see the light and be in Heaven with us. Read The Case for Christ sometime...it may just open your eyes.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
    • R. West

      People were saying that 200 to 300 years ago too.

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

      Arguing with thesis doesn't do any good. This is because belief in god is an unfalsifiable hypothesis. Which just leads to ad hominem attacks from both sides.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
  4. Bullspit

    The bible also says to stone your non-obedient children and that women should be silent when men are speaking. ENOUGH ALREADY!

    December 20, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
    • Phil Kim

      I am sure you don't tell you kids to go away when they interrupt adult conversation.. man, woman, no matter interrupting conversation isn't cool.....

      December 20, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
  5. Danny Boy

    Between a right wing dictatorship and a left wing dictatorship, the fomer is the lesser of two evils.
    It's unnatural that gays can have so much political power that they can intimidate people into silence.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
    • Ole Olay

      Totally agree.

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


      A man would rather live under Hitler's rule than Stalin's. Never mind that, despite their political systems, they were both same.

      You are a pure-D whack-a-doodle.

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

      Yeah, it should go back to the way it was, when religious bigots controlled society and those who weren't born normal were ostracized or even killed so that the herd could remain 'uncorrupted'.

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

      So do you believe a god impregnating a virgin is "natural"?

      December 20, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
  6. Alias

    The bible can be interpreted more than one way.
    AS I have said before, 2013 was the year legalization of gay marriage and pot and both became a majority opinion.
    Leviticus 20:13 says that if a man should lay with another man, he should be stoned.
    You just have to read it right.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
  7. Sam Bo

    Athies go ballistic whenever they go off rx

    December 20, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
  8. Doc Vestibule

    "A wise man's heart is at his right hand; but a fool's heart at his left."
    – Ecclesiastes 10:2
    "The right hand of the lord doeth valiantly, the right hand of the lord is exalted."
    – Psalm 118 vv15,16

    Southpaws have a choice not to act on their wicked left-handedness and live a godly life, but those who persists in their sin will burn for all eternity in the Lake of Fire (TM)

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

      Depends on what the right or left hand is being used for. Personally I prefer the left.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
  9. QS

    My greatest wish, is that people stopped following a belief system that dictates to them that they should actively discriminate against others....while, of course, claiming to be loving and respectful to all of humanity.

    And to top it off, not only do religious people fall into this trap of feeling forced to hate certain others, typically their indoctrination is so successful and complete that they are actually convinced that they are good people for doing it.

    How can so many people in this world be so blind to the manipulation they willingly subject themselves to, all in the futile attempt to live forever?

    December 20, 2013 at 1:38 pm |
    • Sam Bo

      None is true, moron! Lol

      December 20, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
      • QS

        Again, in non-moronic English this time please. LOL!

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

      try to read the Bible even you're not a believer. It's the best book even written.

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

        Eesh. Not even close. And yes, I know this because I've read it. Good story, but nothing more than a story. But best book ever written? LOL!

        December 20, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
      • Lucifer's Evil Twin

        What an idiotic remark... People typically become atheists BECAUSE they read your stupid book, not from a lack of reading it...

        December 20, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
        • Ole Olay


          December 20, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
  10. galatians22021

    I think these guys missed a verse:

    "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination." ~Leviticus 18:22

    Try and say I missinterpreted that one, mr Bible Scholar.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:38 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      "Abomination" means ritually unclean.
      Of the sixty-five occurrences of the word in the Old Testament, five refer to something as being an abomination to another people, 13 restrictions, Seventeen refer to improper animal sacrifice... so on and so forth.
      A woman who wears pants is an abomination too.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:43 pm |
      • Doc Vestibule

        Sorry – 13 are dietary restrictions.
        Cheeseburgers are abominations.

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

      Don't forget the other parts of Leviticus 20:

      9 For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him.

      10 And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.

      So, when are we going to put all these people to death?

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

        The death it is referring to, is what is referred to as "the second death". That is the lake of fire. It is a torturous domain for sinners, the non-believers and the deniers of the Christ Jesus, and of God. There is also coming a great tribulation where the world will be taken over by the anti-christ leader of the world. I hope to be taken in the rapture and not be here for that. Hopefully, we all will come to our senses and not be here. It will not be a good time, or a bad time. It will be a horrendous, tortuous and painful time.

        December 20, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
        • Doc Vestibule

          Sorry, but Jewish people (for whom the OT was written) don't believe in Hell.
          For them, it isn't a fiery place of eternal torment. It is called “Gehinnom" and is the place where you soul is cleansed of impurities.

          December 20, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
    • bowldsbrendonbboi7581

      It's while he is with a woman

      December 20, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
    • BCS2006

      That same book of the bible you are quoting says you should kill those people too. Whats that? You've never killed someone for being gay? If you dont take the killing part literally, then why take the other part. You are cherry picking just like everyone else. Believe all of it, believe none of it, or be a hypocrite.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:00 pm |
  11. Sam Bo

    DM Murdock is gawd. Me 2

    December 20, 2013 at 1:38 pm |
  12. Roman

    John Mraz,

    It's clear that you don't know what the word "covenant" means. The word covers ALL binding promises and agreements with God and doesn't just mean marriages.

    Therefore, the idea that "gay marriage is in the Bible" is a real stretch on credibility at best.

    Heck, even *I* know this and I am a Zen Buddhist.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:38 pm |
  13. Sam Bo

    Jesus ain't religion unless u r an athie

    December 20, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
  14. george t hibs

    Personally, I liked Robertson's beastiality remark, people should take these things with a grain of salt and not be so thin skinned let alone so quick to be offended. I am offended by the far left's war on Christmas but I would never abridge their right to state their mind or their right to challenge the legality of a display of religious beliefs on government property. People need to lighten up a bit, get along better. It would seem to me that only an insecure person would have a problem with remarks contrary to their personal views. Merry Christmas everyone!

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

      Try running for office as an vocal Atheist and see who's really waging war on who.

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

      War on Christmas? What war? We New England Puritans refused to celebrate Christmas, it was the Lord's day, a day of prayer and worship. Not a day for gifts, caroling and family feasts. You on the right are warring on Christmas with your WalMart specials, Black Friday, and celebratory enthusiasm. Get back to the REAL Christmas. Bah Humbug I say!

      December 20, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
    • areyoumymoms

      Exactly what grain of salt should I use that would make it ok for him to compare my love for my wife with someone's love for a dog? We're not thin-skinned. Take a minute and think about how it would make you feel to have someone compare you or your spouse (and the love you share) to an animal, and see how you like it. Reducing people to sub-human form is never ok.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
  15. tony

    A real god doesn't need to wait for a bible to be translated, nor need mere mortals to variously interpret it, nor for missionaries to communicate it a coupla thousand years too late.

    Sounds like there actually isn't a god if you have even minmal brain power.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
  16. Gberger

    I just can't believe idiots like this get so much coverage in the "news".

    December 20, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
  17. Sam Bo

    Athies hate everything!

    December 20, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      Liar... I love pizza

      December 20, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
      • Doc Vestibule

        Pepperoni pizza is an abomination!

        December 20, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
        • Lucifer's Evil Twin

          Sausage and mushrooms all the way my friend.... pepperoni gives me reflux

          December 20, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
      • BCS2006

        I too love pizza

        December 20, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
    • Bullspit

      Wrong. We love smart people. Sorry.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
  18. Jackson

    It's laughable how many hypocrites supported Chik-fil-A's right, but won't support A&E's.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      Chik-fil-A is over-rated... crappy chicken on soggy bread... with a good helping of sanctimoniousness

      December 20, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
  19. IpseCogita

    That's the cool thing about the bible, no one gets it wrong. You can find things in it to justify anything you want.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
  20. seriously?

    Just because a person interprets the bible one way, how does that make him wrong? I bet you could find a 1,000 priests/pastors/sermon givers, give them a passage to speak on, and you would get multiple interpretations. Isn't that what the bible is supposed to be, exactly what that person needs from it to get through their life/day? And what if all these "experts" are wrong, and NO ONE understands the passage as it was originally written 1,500 yrs ago? Does that mean everyone today is wrong?

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

      What if no-one gets it right?

      December 20, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
    • alaskan1st

      The bible was written like the game of telegraph is played. Too many interpreters. It's been translated into nonsensical.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:55 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.