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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

(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. Jeff

    The current liberal politics want the normal society to adopt the gay communicate as if they are another race, equal in all other avenues and because of past discriminates of race in the past, guilt in normal crowd has fallen victim to much tolerance. It is time to stand up and stop this extreme liberal points of view and realize the gay communicate is not another race, but in reality people with much need of social guidance and help.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Sorry that society is moving beyond senseless bigotry, Jeff. I guess you'll have to find someone else to pick on.

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

        depends on who is defining bigotry. Looks to me like the term bigot, racist, and a few others have been sorely diluted by those who roll it out every time they don't like what a person says as opposed to when a person actually performs bigoted or racist acts.

        December 20, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
    • Jeb Bush

      Gayest post of the day folks.

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

      Wow.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
    • tony

      Sounds like the reforming the bible to appreciate women.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
    • Jackson

      Social guidance and help? You mean like those conservatives who champion family values, while they wait for their mistresses to call? You mean like those pedophile priests?

      December 20, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
  2. Brandon

    Pretty much sums it up

    http://christianity.about.com/od/biblestorysummaries/a/Sodom-And-Gomorrah.htm

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

      "Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy."

      Ezekiel 16:49

      December 20, 2013 at 1:56 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.

      Wear clothing woven from two kinds of materials? Funny how that section of the bible you just gloss right over, you cherry picking hypocrite.

      That's why people like you are never taken seriously. You cannot cherry pick the bible. All or nothing, pal.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
  3. Carol

    As a person who was born in the south and left it this is one of the reasons! I watched this train wreck show one to see RED NECK stereotypes who unfortunately have ugly view of minorities , women and gays backed up by their parents and hidden in their religiosity. CANCEL THE SHOW. Martin Bashir had the class to resign from MSNBC for his comments.

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

      Martin Bashir hung on for weeks until forced out. You don't make a case by lying. (See Obama, Obamacare)

      December 20, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
      • moonraker

        Actually, Palin was very vocal about Bashir but I don't recall her once talking about "free speech". She's talking about it in this case. Typical conservative hypocrisy. What about when she complained when Letterman talked about her kids? Once again she complained but said nothing about free speech. It's interesting that she only cries free speech when a conservative is saying something hateful.

        December 20, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
      • Truth

        First, Martin came back for just 3 shows before he resigned after making a full mea culpa apology for simply stating that Palin wouldn't be comparing Obamacare to slavery if she had some edcation at the end of a slavers lash, and he was right.

        Second, you will never see an apology like that from any Fox commentator even though they spill racist, ho mophobic and chauvinist statements nearly every day.

        Third, Martin Bashir has more class in his left pinky than the entire lineup from Fox news and Duck Dynasty and every other silly ignorant fluff piece of supposedly conservative values on TV. He should never have had to step down and I saw no reason he should have after pointing out the truth about Palin. Comparing the affordable care act to slavery is the insensative and abhorant racist comment but no disgusting pig racists get upset until someone maligns a white woman.

        December 20, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
  4. JIM286099

    Of course a gay consultant is going to say that everyone reads it wrong. Do you really think he is fooling anyone by giving his view on the subject?

    December 20, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
  5. peppercorn

    i hate philippinoes

    December 20, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
  6. Ole Olay

    Why is it ok to have pro – gay opinions but not base on Bible??? Who the heck is going to tell me what I have to believe in??? LOL

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

      Right back at ya, zealot!

      December 20, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
  7. Alban Saunders

    Words are words. God spoke to us in His word in simple to understand terms. The only reason some want to argue against these simple words is to try to excuse their own sin.

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

      Words are words, and not a single word of the bible came from anything divine or holy, it came from humans. Every single word in the bible is mans word and there is not a single person on the planet who can prove otherwise. That means there are a bunch of people around the world who have adopted other ancient authors bigotry and hate and practice it daily to the detriment of humanity. It's just that simple.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
      • moonraker

        Perfectly stated, Truth!

        December 20, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Words so simple, in fact, that there are over 30,000 denominations of christianity and that wars have been fought and tens of thousands killed over the interpretation of those words. Yep. Simple.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
    • chris

      If God wrote the Bible who are all those other people who's names mark the chapters?

      December 20, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
  8. sly

    Newsflash to southern bigots: Don't say ignorant things when you make millions, since your boss may fire you.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Ding ding ding! We have a winner!

      December 20, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
  9. el_incr

    Phil didn't get the Bible wrong at all. Read it for yourself.
    Romans 1: 21-32
    22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,

    23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

    24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:

    25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

    26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

    27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

    28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;

    29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,

    30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,

    31 Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:

    32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
  10. michael

    So happy to see that we are still living in the stone age. I mean, who would have thought that some book written thousands of years ago at a time when most believed the world was flat would still be relevant today. Religion is the greatest con ever perpetuated on mankind for nothing other than hate, control and power.

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

      Agreed!

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

      Right. Look at how well Atheistic societies have done. Mao – 55 million dead. Stalin – 30 million dead. Hitler – 10 million murdered. Khmer Rouge – 3 million killed.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
      • chris

        How is that any better than Christian or Muslim societies have done? How many wars in the name of one God or another?

        December 20, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
      • louderthebett

        True, now let's talk about the crusades (all of them), the Spanish Inquisition, Western slavery...all constructs originating in Christian doctrine. Point is humans are the flaw, not whether they believe in religion.

        December 20, 2013 at 2:00 pm |
      • Sidewinder

        Hitler wasn't really an atheist. Just look at the fact that all their marriages were in churches with appropriate fan fare and religious bunting. German Army belt buckles say "Gott mitt uns" which means God with us. Look the wording of the Hitler oath it begins with ""I swear by God this sacred oath..." So an atheist? No. Crazy little hater with delusions of granduer? You bet.

        December 20, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
    • JP

      FYI the Bible actually makes reference to the fact that the earth is round (long before we learned it wasn't flat). Psalms.... Google it.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
  11. Brandon

    http://christianity.about.com/od/biblestorysummaries/a/Sodom-And-Gomorrah.htm

    December 20, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
  12. RP Harris

    The bible is not up for interpretation or misinterpretation, it says what it says. I believe God wanted His Word to be simple and clear, not to be complicated! Even before the Corinthians passage, in the Old Testament in Leviticus I think it says "Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman, it is detestable" I think Mr. Robertson is right. And the Bible, God's Holy Word, is clear.

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

      Exactly. God is not a god of confusion, chaos, or trickery but of peace, calm and clarity. Period. Nothing confusing about it.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
    • chris

      What about touching a pigs skin or getting a bowel haircut? (both those are also banned in Leviticus).
      Iti snot as simple as "it says what it says". I'm not sure if you have ever had to get anything translated into other languages, but for most words there can be 15 + options that can alter the meaning drastically.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
  13. Jeff Wit

    CNN are you kidding me!!! "Some" experts say he misinterpreted a key verse. There expert is anything but one. The overwhelming majority of scholars interpret it the way Phil has. If you look long and hard enough you will find someone with a rogue view. What I have to wonder is what is the agenda of CNN to give such press to such a infinitesimal group with this opinion. This interpretation is easily dismissed by those with even the smallest of biblical knowledge. Editor – buy the logos program and do some honest research before printing such abstract and rarely held opinions!!

    December 20, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
    • 1Twolf7

      Amen Brother!

      December 20, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
  14. louenglish

    I come to CNN for all my bible interpretation needs. Their creative moral relativism frees me up to do most anything I want to do and not feel a hint of guilty about it.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
  15. rafael

    Not clear why one should bother arguing about interpretations of fairy tales.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
  16. Amber

    A&E IS WRONG!!!! Those of us that are conservative have liberal stuff thrown at us all of the time. Who cares.... everyone is different and we all have differing views, different religions, different everything. It's called America. A&E should be boycotted and I won't be watching anything until they fix this.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
    • bowldsbrendonbboi7581

      Seriously, it is there network and anyone who speaks differently from their own beliefs, they should be allowed to be taken off the air. What liberal crab? Non-discriminating, if you haven't looked, you still run the world with your discriminating beliefs. In many states, in this country, it is still legal to fire people for being gay. So no one cares if someone misinterprets the bible to express their hate about others is taken off the air. He will find another network who still will allow his hateful comments and you all can get together in your own miseries expressing all your hate for people different from you.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
  17. robbie357

    WOW....how some people can dance themselves into BLINDNESS! Interpret the bible as you will. I cannot change that, but His people cannot deny the Bible. To deny the Bible is to deny Jesus.

    Have fun with your verbal dances.

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

      ....Jesus didn't wright the bible.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
      • moonraker

        You prove my point – religious people are dumb. I think you meant to say that Jesus didn't "write" the bible (rolling eyes).

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

      The bible does not apply to all people.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
    • Sidewinder

      The bible is like magic. Some people really believe it, just like magic spells. What gets me about bible quoters is that they cherry pick the verses they want to follow and believe in, but others are ignored. So my question is: If parts are optional then where is the relevance? In Exodus 31:14 we read that Sabbath violators were to be stoned to death. Do you believe the same penalty should be enforced today? If not, then what is the point of the bible?

      December 20, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
  18. Tonyb

    it's terrific that these people lead their lives based on the writings of warrior popes from the 13th century. It saves them from having to think for themselves.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
    • robbie357

      ...13th century POPES? Go get an education TonyBoy

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

        Why would anyone follow the teachings of people from the Bronze Age? If you become sick do you go to a doctor practicing modern medicine or do you go to a doctor who uses 2000 year old medical methods?

        December 20, 2013 at 2:00 pm |
  19. Coreena

    I believe in love. I believe that everyone on this planet has the belief in true love and the dream of finding it. If one man finds true love in the heart of a woman, no one questions it. But a love that is just as strong, and just a caring between two men or two women is fussed over. We are all human. The emotion of love is powerful and the same for all of us. Who are we to deny love between two people just because you aren't comfortable with it or because a book says so??? If god is real, and your faith in him is unparalleled, wouldn't god want people to love more than anything else?? Love is real. Love is true. Love is unquestioned. Love is eternal. Don't deny somebody that because of prejudice.

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

      God is love

      December 20, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
      • moonraker

        What does that even mean?

        December 20, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
  20. Athiest

    The problem is religion in general. If these people would wake up and realize there is no higher being, cloud person, or whatever they believe in then maybe, just maybe we would start living as humans and not primitive creatures. I didn't like Duck Dynasty and hoped it did end someday but not this way. Regardless of how ignorant this man is (like most Christians) he has to right to believe what he wants to believe. If there is a lot of people that still like to watch him after his comments and are not offended more power to them. Reality is A&E is a money making business and even though this show brings in tons of money, it is short-lived. The show will run another season or two and its done like all reality shows (with exception of reality game shows). They will looking at the long term and LGBs that watch this network could turn it off plus those supporting the LGB movement. It will be off the best interest of this company to probably can it.

    December 20, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
    • R. West

      Well all the problem are solved. We finally found someone smarter than God. But didn't God tell us in Proverbs that "The fool has said in his heart that there is no God"

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

      Well, Mr. Atheist smarty-pants – The Flying Spaghtti Monster will shower you with bad carbs for that.

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

      Christ is coming back soon..

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

        look busy

        December 20, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
      • moonraker

        donnylone, people have stated this for hundreds of years. I'm betting that this fictional character is not coming back. What if he did, what do you think would happen? You have such a simplistic belief system, in some ways it must be nice.

        December 20, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
    • PJ

      One day in hell you too will wake up... However, it will be too late. Repent now. If Christians are wrong they lose nothing, if athiest are wrong they will losing horror for eternity. You have been warned.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
      • JWT

        Empty threats.

        December 20, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
      • moonraker

        PJ, finish that G.E.D. and actually do something with your life.

        December 20, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
      • Dano

        Christians could definitely lose if they're supposed to be worshiping something else, or not supposed to be worshipping at all!

        December 20, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
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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.