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. fullreport

    Why the hate? Aren't we supposed to loathe censorship, celebrate diversity and tolerate the opinions of others? Unless of course all of that is disingenuous jargon only for the advantage of liberal thinking.

    December 20, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
    • Jeb Bush

      He lost his job. Not his right to free speech.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
    • LivinginVA

      Liberal commentators have gotten fired from MSNBC for comments as well. Employers are allowed to fire employees for acting in a way that the employer feels reflects negatively on them.

      Also, it's not censorship – if it were censorship, we'd never know what he said.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:17 pm |
    • Pfft

      Both sides are disingenuous. Stop being a kool-aid drinking, blind, naive, parrot.

      Someday, hopefully, people will realize that we are all stuck on the same raft floating in the middle of the ocean. Either we can figure out a way to work together, or we can continue to allow ourselves to be manipulated in to this "us v. them" mentality. I can't help but think that some of you would rather have something to hate/complain/wet yourselves about. The gay/Christain/Atheist/straight boogeyman is NOT under your bed. Grow some balls and grow up.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
    • Jazzy J

      We all have the right to say what we want when we want; however, the difference is that we can't do this to hurt others. Just because we don't agree doesn't mean that we have to hate or even dislike one another.

      I'd rather live my life as if there is a God, die and find out He doesn't exist then to live my life as though there is no God, die and find out He does exist! It's our individual choice to believe or not believe and just because someone doesn't agree doesn't mean that there should be name calling.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
  2. vtguy

    Here is one more up your ally....Coming soon to A&E... a new reality show RAT DYNASTY: 2 bois in a rat infested one room loft in some roach infest rent controlled building, in some god forsaken bankrupt city, who will be making the world's best rat traps and hunting the rats in their building. Guest appearances include Obambam, Michelle, Sen. Reed, and Pelosi.... star studded event of the season!

    December 20, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
    • Observer

      How about a reality show called The Bush Men who start a $2,000,000,000,000 war for FALSE REASONS?

      December 20, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
      • ColoRN

        ...ok, fruitcake. Your stale, ignorant,non reality based comment is as irrelavent as YOU!
        go back to inhaling your can of SNOW spray, for your tree..

        December 20, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
        • sly

          heh heh heh ... dude kinda got your panties in a bun now didn't he?

          "Snow spray"? Is that what gays use to lubricate their behinds in Colorado? No wonder so many of y'all are shooting each other up there.

          December 20, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
  3. America

    This article author , Admittedly gay, s like all liberals..They take an issue then try to divert the focus from the bigger issue.. Does not matter if it is right or wrong just that there is a slight misinterpretation...Time for the moral majority to re-ignite.

    December 20, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
    • Billy

      Huh? Try reading that back to yourself.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
  4. pointyView

    Scripturally we are all estranged from God. It is pointless to call some "sins" bigger than others. We dwell in a layer of universe that is different from the other "layers" out there... and science is beginning to explore the possibility of other dimensions in space. Scriptures reference this as well. A powerful sentient being is responsible for creating the initial cataclysmic bang that started our layer of universe expanding. It has been predicted that this layer of universe will fall apart... atoms disassembling into an eternal nuclear fire. A doorway has been prepared to pass through that eventual fire and into a new layer (dimension) of universe. The doorway is spiritual... by faith that the sentient being responsible for the creation of this universe is true to his word that he visited us in human form and was executed on a cross by the religious minded people we share our world with. Long story short... no one is righteous. Even religion has proven it would sooner crucify God than accept him. It is pointless to make one "sin" bigger and badder than any other. Enter a relationship with this sentient being... see if its a hoax or if its true (all he said he was as written in the book of John and the prophets of the old and new testaments). The reason for this season... the messiah, Yeshua, Esho, Jesus.

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

      Too long.. too boring.. to much BS...

      December 20, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
    • Bob

      Funny that your god can't do better than some highly questionable, self-contradictory old "scripture" re-translated n times, and on paper. Why can't your god produce a website, or push some tweets out?

      Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement.
      Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
  5. gwedo

    When you put religious zealots on TV (Duck Dynasty, Sister Wives, Gold Rush) you should expect religious zealotry (if that is a word). I'm not surprised or actually offended for that matter. This is why I don't live my life by crazy religious nonsense. I don't read or believe any word of god written by men.

    December 20, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
  6. Michael G

    The Bible is clear on ho mo se xu al ity – and just like Phil, the writers of the Bible were narrow minded bigots, which means the creator of the universe had nothing to do with the rise of Christianity or the Bible. Those are the work of man.

    December 20, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
    • Michael T.

      Why can't God be a bigot, at least insofar as you define the word?

      December 20, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
  7. Doris

    God of the gaps. It's an expression to denote what theists use to "fill in the void" for the unknown.

    As astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson explains in his talk The Perimeter of Ignorance, throughout history many of the great minds give virtually no mention to any god for their discoveries and explanations. (Ptolemy, Isaac Newton, Laplace, Huygens, Galileo.) That is, until they reach the problem they feel they cannot and will never fully tackle.

    Perhaps that is all God has ever been – a placeholder for discomfort or frustration over the unknown; an excuse of last resort when, for one reason or another, one gives up investigation. It is at that point of discomfort over the unknown when one should remember what humanity has already witnessed: that today's scientific explanations were often yesterday's gods.

    What is the effect when man relies solely on his gap-filling gods? Consider this:

    Two-thirds of star names have Arabic names. They came from Islam's fertile period (AD 800-1100.) During that time Baghdad was the intellectual center of the world, open to people of all or no faiths. During that time were some of the greatest advances known to mankind: engineering, biology, medicine, mathematics, celestial navigation; this is the time and place that gave us numerals we use, terms like algebra and algorithm.

    Enter Imam Hamid al-Ghazali in the 12th century. The fundamentally religious period of Islam begins, and so begins the steady decline of free intellectual expression in that area of the world. Some would argue that it has since never recovered.

    Of course the effects of such reliance touches us today – even in the U.S. We see some who refuse medical care for their children for instance.

    "[If] the nature of... government [were] a subordination of the civil to the ecclesiastical power, I [would] consider it as desperate for long years to come. Their steady habits [will] exclude the advances of information, and they [will] seem exactly where they [have always been]. And there [the] clergy will always keep them if they can. [They] will follow the bark of liberty only by the help of a tow-rope." –Thomas Jefferson

    December 20, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
  8. doogie

    Come on, now we're on the subject of how people interpret the Bible. No one realizes the main problem here. GQ should have never asked the questions AND should have never published that interview. They MUST have known the reaction from the public. They had to. So, they are at fault. Si shouldn't be to blame for his beliefs or how he was raised. Si should sue GQ for causing all this.

    December 20, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
  9. eddie hurley

    the bible says it is abomination in the sight of God for a man to lay with a man and
    it says that in the last days that men would leave the natural affection for a woman
    and cleve to one another does that really need and interpatation

    December 20, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
    • Observer

      The bible also supports slavery.

      What was your point, if any?

      December 20, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
    • Billy

      Also, the Aztecs had it right with their calendar showing a crowned face with tongue hanging out. Clearly a foretelling of the zombie apocalypse of 2012, briefly eclipsed of course by the queen's diamond jubilee.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
    • BCS2006

      Yet god created man with sinful flaw then punishes him for the flaw he was made with.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
  10. Danny Boy

    There is always an expectation of punishment whenever someone says something that the dictatorial gays do not like. Punishment is usually in the form of a loss of income.

    December 20, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
  11. teapartysamurai

    Oh so the Bible has been misunderstood for thousands of years until gay activists read it? Do they really expect us to take them seriously?

    December 20, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
    • Jeffica

      You don't have to. Just stay out if the way, and stop trying to crush equal rights.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
  12. AverageJoe76

    People's different interpretations of the Bible.... makes me sick. Why? Because when given divine instructions from an infallable being....... y'know – the kind where your eternal soul is at stake....... there's no room for MISinterpretation. So how can something mean THIS and to someone else mean THAT? Because the instructions are confusing. And if they're confusing, they aren't good instructions. GOOD instructions are clear. GOOD instructions are understood by the vast majority without misinterpretations. I gotta an example:

    "Thou shalt not kill" – pretty simple right?

    Then, later on, I get confused:

    Deuteronomy 21: 18-21
    "If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear"

    Oye. What's a "devout Christian/ Father of a spolied, disobedient brat" to do?

    December 20, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
    • Btea

      That was in the old testament concerning the Isrealites, and how they should live. Those laws do no apply in the new testament. They were very harsh. When Jesus came into the world, those laws were abolished. The 10 commandments as Jesus taught are the ones to follow.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
      • AverageJoe76

        Jesus did not say, "do not follow the old laws", in fact, he supported them, and added to it. So read up.

        December 20, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
    • Joseph Pressley

      The Hebrew word for kill used there, “רצח (râtsach)” means "murder." That's a bad example of a "contradiction" in the bible.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
      • AverageJoe76

        So it was originally translated from "murder the evil child" to "kill the evil child"?

        Whoa, big contradiction.

        December 20, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
  13. GAIL

    how can you ask someone to apologize for his faith. i agree with him and am happy that his family supports him. it doesn't mean that Christians don't love gay folks....it's just that the Bible speaks against it. I would like everyone to believe like Robertson, but they don't. but let people who do believe have to freedom to speak their beliefs without fear of losing their job, or whatever else may be coming down the pike for the Christian community!

    December 20, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
  14. Valkyrie

    Geez, Phil, come out of the duck blind already!

    December 20, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
  15. Sue

    Not fiercely contested and never questioned until the gay movement wanted their way.

    December 20, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
  16. S Monroe

    No matter how you try to twist the Scripture's to justify a life style...in the end...only God will judge each and every one. The gay community has a right to say they disagree but A&E doesn't have the right to pull Phil off the show. The very reason the show is so very popular is BECAUSE the Robertson's don't adhere to "societies" dictates!

    December 20, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
    • just wondering

      A&E can do as they please. It's their show.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
      • S Monroe

        You obviously missed the point...the Robertson's are their top show and they've always known that Phil is a extremely religious person. He only stated what he believes. He wasn't ranting and raving against them and he didn't make these comments on the show. A&E is violating his freedom of speech and biting the hand that feeds them! IMO

        December 20, 2013 at 7:27 pm |
        • midwest rail

          His 1st amendment rights have not been violated.

          December 20, 2013 at 7:28 pm |
    • BCS2006

      Wrong. Most companies today are "at will" employers. They could fire you for farting loudly in the elevator if they wanted.

      A&E as a private company has every right to do what they did. No one's "rights" were violated by this.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
    • Bob

      S, better ask yourself why your "god" has to use an old book that can be "twisted" like you claim. And why your god can't even do a website page or a tweet. A bit of honest questioning might cure you of your religious delusion, since you don't seem as stupid as Robertson and his ilk.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
      • Tom

        Faith. We have free will and God hopes we use it accordingly and forgives us when we don't.

        December 20, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
      • S Monroe

        HA! HA! I don't pretend to know why He does anything! For sanities sake in a God forsaken world..I would like to believe that there is a Higher Power that we all will have to answer to. It's my personal opinion that A&E was wrong.

        December 20, 2013 at 7:48 pm |
  17. just wondering

    Correct me if I'm wrong....according to Christian belief...we are all sinners. It's the brokenness of being human. God doesn't have a" one sin is worse than another" perspective.Therefore we are all worthy of God's love because God chooses to love us,we are incapable of being perfect. So give up being so damn judgmental and live life as you see fit.

    December 20, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
    • BCS2006

      Actually he does. Atheism is the one unforgivable sin according to that crazy book

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

        But, if you don't believe, then He does not exist.

        Nonbelievers face neither heaven nor hell.

        December 20, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
    • lunchbreaker

      Or being a thiest that believes in the wrong God

      December 20, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
  18. Tom

    So he is being judged for an interpretation which may be just as right or wrong as your interpretation.

    December 20, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
  19. Happysnack

    Really? We are suppose to get our Bible inerpretation from CNN? How about we get our drinking water from Mexico or our education from Afganastan. The day I take theological advice from CNN or any of their minions is the day I poop out a golden monkey.

    December 20, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
    • jeff

      If the bible is supposed to be the word of god, why is written so poorly as to be subject to so many interpretations?

      December 20, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
      • truthbetold1962

        why are you asking the question when you're really not seeking the answer?

        December 20, 2013 at 2:14 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.