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. Greg

    The Bible also prolifically and repeatedly discusses false teachers as well. We should pray that Mr. Jim Naughton and other highlighted supportive false teachers will repent, including the author of this article and CNN editors who allow it to be falsely published, contradicting God’s repeating guidance written in the Bible.

    December 20, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
    • belle

      I was thinking the same thing, regarding false prophets

      December 20, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
  2. RB

    From a Christian perspective all humans are sinners. If a sinner has been saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, they gain forgiveness and a new t.itle, saint. These saints are still capable of sin the same as any human, it just simply means that they are forgiven. An unsaved sinner is lost.
    Phil was asked what he thought was sinful, he responded. You will notice there wasn’t a lot of controversy about him naming adultery as sinful. He didn’t express any ill will toward sinners, he just stated what he thought was sinful. Christians are called to love their neighbors as themselves. He was expressing his love for sinners by letting them know the danger they are in.
    Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost. A sinner won’t accept they are one until the Holy Spirit begins to convict their heart. So, when anyone hears someone calling for them to repent and turn to the Lord, they are doing it out of concern for you. They are loving their neighbor.
    Merry Christmas!

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


      Please tell us EVERYTHING Jesus said about gays.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      such an infantile, fairy tale explanation of the world.

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

      If Jesus never overturned the OT laws, did you get circ_umcised, and are you eating kosher and following ALL the rest of the LAW?

      December 20, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
    • Madtown

      Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost.
      If I never hear of Jesus, through no fault of my own, will I still remain lost?

      December 20, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
    • Tracy Hayes

      Wow, what a nut job!

      December 20, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
    • Cheryl H.

      You betta preach"

      December 20, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
  3. Chris

    How about everybody, Christian or otherwise, stop condemning other people over something that's none of their business? SO WHAT if some hairy dude on a TV show doesn't like gays? If he's such a wonderful follower of Christ, then he needs to learn some tolerance and keep his nose and his opinion out of things that don't concern him.

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

      He didn't say he didn't like gays. He said he thought the act was sinful.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
      • GeorgeH

        That's like saying that being left-handed is OK, but writing with your left hand is wrong.

        December 20, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
    • Truth

      You are right, no one should care what this person thinks or says. In fact, I don't care what the vast majority of the world thinks or says, i've seen the polls on what the average person knows and they are, on average, idiots. It is simply amazing to me that anyone takes Fox news seriously. I watched for a few hours the other day and couldn't stop laughing, I mean, they had to be joking right? The Megan Kelly apology for White Santa was hillarious, some of the best comedy on TV... and have you ever seen their "Red Eye" late night comedy show? As long as they keep putting those coked up drunkards on the air making jokes at the expense of the poor, minorities and women they will keep their core viewers...

      December 20, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
    • Jeerry

      GQ asked the question making it his business.... so he gave an answer from his beliefs like them or not....

      December 20, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
  4. sixthromeo

    Corinthians is not gospel. Inclusions of the same writing that insisted that Gentiles must first become Jews negates a vast majority of words in the non-gospel sections of the New Testament. Stick to gospel, not writing to convince pagans and Jews to become Christians by including teachings comfortable with them.

    December 20, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
  5. Sherman

    To all of us, not just the Christians, but non-Christians (Jewish, Buddhist, Hindus, Islamic, atheists, and non denominational) we need to STOP focusing on the differences between people, as not one is better or worse than the other. Rather we MUST start focusing on our similarities, heart, soul, feelings, health, the inalienable right to pursue happiness, etc.. As long as one actions don't cause physical harm to others, then who are we to Judge. If you are a true believer and practice any given faith, then not one of us (humans) are worthy to pass judgment, and by doing so you believe you are omnipotent (if you don't know what it means, use a dictionary) or an equal of a god. Why can't we accept one another for who we are, PEOPLE! Each and everyone of us has differences and to say one is better than the other shows how immature as a whole our species is, and therefore, none of us are worthy of any afterlife, heaven, kingdom of God. Open your hearts, let people in, and truly feel the warmth of GOD, ALA, Buda etc. as they truly intended us to do.

    December 20, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
    • Wronger

      My imaginary friends created your imaginary friend. Your eternal kingdom is only one room in my God's palace and your eternity is only a few minutes. But I will live forever.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
      • Topher

        Christ followers get a balcony in Heaven where they can relax in their peace and love and happiness and joy with their god and look down at all the very very nice people who did good works in life but thought Jesus was a tad silly so are relegated to a fiery inferno torture pit where they will be writhing in pain for trillions of years...

        Does your God give you a balcony?

        I don't know about most folks but if I was an overweight loser in this real life who still read my little book of lies everyday and met with "the group" each Sunday, and had relations with my wife in only the one correct position, thereby doing everything correct to award me an eternity of "heaven".... well, I would certainly want a balcony to peer down at the torture pit. I mean....WHY DOESN'T EVERY RELIGION HAVE ONE OF THEM THINGIES!!

        PEACE OUT Y'ALL 🙂

        December 20, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
  6. noitall

    ***So-o-oo-o-o President Obama is a devout Christian of 25 years and a spiritual leader in the USA, right ?

    Yet – So many "God haters" here voted for Obama – and at the same time they believe intelligence is inversely related to one's belief in religion and Christianity....plus..the president has said he'd rather spend time with the Duck Dynasty family ("fun group of people") than with Kanye and Kim...Oh KA-a-a-AY !

    Haters voting for Duck lovin' unitelligent Christian B-Rock – Does the non-believer's hypocrisy make ANY sense to anyone 😉 LOL !?!

    December 20, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
    • BCS2006

      Since when is the president a spiritual leader. I must have missed that in government class

      December 20, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
    • lunchbreaker

      And yet so many Christians voted for a Mormon. Try agian.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
  7. lunchbreaker

    So the Bible was written by men, which the Bible says are imperfect, i.e. can make mistakes. Yet the only reason to believe the Bible was acurately transcribed from divine revelation is because an imperfect being wrote that into the Bible.

    December 20, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
    • Jeb Bush


      And on this basis, millions of people actual believe the B S in the Bible.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
  8. Jeff

    The abnormal of society want to be removed from the stigma of being called and treated abnormal, no matter how odd from society they choose to be. Kind makes you curious of what will come after this, marriage to animals, sheep or goats? That would be so baaaaaaaa-ed, lol!

    This whole thing is such a major FACE PALM!

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


      Try hard to stay on topic. Avoid your fantasies.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
      • Jeff

        Perhaps my joke inspired your fantasy, and decided to miss the LOL at the end.

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

      I suppose marriage to animals could be considered when animals could actually consent to do so.

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

        Are you suggesting proposals have been made and a person is in 'waiting' for the response? rofl.

        December 20, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
    • sly

      Texans already spend a lot of time "helping the sheep get over the fence".

      Animals can be fun.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
    • BCS2006

      I think a bunch of guys used this same argument against interracial marriage like a hundred years ago

      December 20, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
  9. poseidon

    "... said Jim Naughton, a Christian gay rights activist "

    Well, that sounds like an unbiased opinion. It MUST be correct, right? LOL

    December 20, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
  10. GI Joe

    What burns my butt is that they all jump all over everyone for chastising him for quoting his version of the bible verses and stating free speech, etc., but when Martin Bashir read a page from the history of a slave owner's diary about how they treated slaves, they got him fired. Two faced is too mild a word.

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

      Martin made offensive comments and so did Phil.

      They both lost their job over it.

      Where's the inconsistency in that?

      December 20, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
  11. Warhammer

    People (both Straights or Gays) can debate all they want, spin the words in the Bible all they want, but it won't change anything in how humans behave. The debate will continue, and the words of the Bible will continue to be twisted to suit thier needs. Gays WILL ultimatley get what they want: marriage, equal rights, etc.

    And let's be honest here. If there was an indivdiual that had a 100% full understanding of the Bible, and provided their interpretations based on their expertise, it would be shot down, condemed, etc because it contradicted the beliefs of the Gay community. So we'd be back to square one and the debate will continue. There are too many opinions, too many uneducated individuals weighing in, and no consistency in managing the debate.

    So whatever...people will continue to do what they want to do, will continue to try to push their beliefs on others, and try to convince others their actions are justified. Regardless of what happens here on Earth, everybody will ultimately find out the ramifications of their life decisions in the end.

    December 20, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
    • Wrong

      Actually, non theists tend to hold the belief that "we won't find out in the end".

      The death of a paramecium, or an elephant, or a Human, or an elm tree, all probably end in the same manner. Biological death is real. Dreaming of another dimension that you will ascend to because you are so "good" and your imaginary friend "loves you" doesn't change the nature of the Universe (or create Human-centric, ego-driven belief systems)

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

        So in the end, our endless debates doesn't really matter does it? You believe what you believe, and I believe what I believe. In the end, we'll find out if there is a heaven or literally nothing. Regardless, we'll find out one way or another.

        December 21, 2013 at 12:29 am |
    • Damon

      Well said.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
  12. DJ3745

    CNN – ask the Pope and Billy Graham for an interpretation. I'll take them as the ultimate experts over Jim Naughton, and go by whatever they say is the true meaning.

    December 20, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
  13. JLKH

    Maybe the bible is just wrong! The bible is totally cool with slavery and yet as a society we all seem to get that is wrong now. The bible defines marriage in several ways, including a slave owner and his slaves, a rapist and his victim, polygamy.... But most of us all agree those are wrong now too. There is a lot of good in the bible and a lot of bad. I think we could grow a lot if we would stop thinking this book is infallible. It was written by man and we are NOT perfect all knowing beings.

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

      It is quickly becoming out of date on this specific issue. Meanwhile, they really should settle on a number regarding the stalls that Solomon had to outfit...

      December 20, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
  14. jamvee1941

    When one of the actual AUTHORS of the Bible signs on with a comment, I will listen intently.

    Until then, all you supposed "Bible Scholars", who have wasted 2,013 years studying what other "scholars" (just like yourself) postulate that the real authors of the Bible intended, but ACTUALLY DON'T HAVE A CLUE . . . PLEASE SIT DOWN AND SHUT THE -- UP!

    The truth is, your guess is no better than mine!

    December 20, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
    • Billy

      Good point. No one knows for certain who wrote the Gospels. You may as well trust Joseph Smith as much as Paul.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
    • JLKH

      Couldn't agree more! It was written man way after Jesus died. And further more has been edited, translated, reedited, retranslated... every hear of the telephone game?! Or what about good ole King James and his additions!

      In other words... maybe people should take it with a grain of salt and read something else for a change.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
  15. gypsyalso

    why is this news and who cares what this person thinks?

    December 20, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
  16. Jeb Bush

    A&E doesn't want to be associated with hatred, bigotry, and ignorance.

    They did the right thing in firing Phil.

    December 20, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
    • Mike again

      A&E is owned by GayGews as is all the media and Hollywood

      December 20, 2013 at 2:17 pm |
      • Jeb Bush

        Based on what exactly?

        A&E is a business and is being run like one.

        Hatred, bigotry, and ignorance is bad for business unless you're Fox News.

        Look into it.

        December 20, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
        • Just-a-Christian

          Amen, amen, amennn!

          December 20, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
    • packerbacker33

      Only the hottest marketing phenom EVER. Pretty hard to suppress. Kinda like the truth, yeah?

      Congratulations A&E...you've just committed suicide.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
  17. QS

    Aside from the derogatory...oh, sorry..."religious" comments by Robertson about gay people, he probably doesn't even realize that the stuff he said about black people was once also justified, wrongly as well, by white people back then by, yep, using the bible.

    December 20, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
    • cgwatts

      Says a person who obviously either didn't read what he said or, like the rest of the lib tar ds in the MSM are twisting his words to perpetuate their own hatred of the Christian right.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
  18. MikeL

    As usual the "Christians" thump a bible and believe all the crap they are fed and still can't get it right. All they do is perpetuate the lies and fairy tales. The real truth would scare the hell out of them. The Christians are so afraid of dieing they are afraid to live. Tell them to ask their pastors and priests about the birth stories of Horus, Mithra and Krishna. Oh never mind. They can't get their holier than thou noses out of an old dusty book of fairy tales to get some edge-e-ma-ka-tion. You can educate ignorance but you can't cure stupid.

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

      Trying to talk logic and reason to an average religious person about this topic is to watch that person turn from a human being into a brick wall...tossed into a washing machine....stuck on spin cycle.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
    • Steve H

      I feel sorry for you talking so recklessley about God's Holy Word. Ther will be a judgement day and everyone is acccountable for their actions and words. There have been over 20K artifacts which authencate the Bible. If your a tru christian your life will be changed and you will then know for sure this book is no fairy tale,.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
  19. maxmaxwell

    waaaaaaaaaaaa I don't like the bad man waaaaaaaaaaaaaa now I am going to re write 2000 years of religious teaching to cover my gay lifestyle..............................waaaaaaaaaaaaaa

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

      Why do that when you can just come out of the closet?

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

      No need to rewrite it, I have a trash can. Into the round file you go!

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


      You can't rewrite the Bible that supports slavery, discrimination against women and beating helpless children.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
      • Bill Cassara

        Your knowledge of scripture is wrong. The New Testament condemns slavery and, while assigning different roles in marriage and the church to men and women, makes it clear that those roles are equal. I would encourage you to do some research.

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

          I woudl encourage you to go and read your damn book 1 Corinthians 11:3-10 ... suuuuure... "seperate" but "equal", right?

          December 20, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
    • LivinginVA

      Then why can so many folks rewrite the Bible so that working on the Sabbath isn't a major sin?

      December 20, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
    • ts

      i'm sure you're mother is proud. better watch out, or she'll take your computer privileges away!

      December 20, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
    • BCS2006

      Whens the last time you killed a gay person? Pretty sure the bible says thats what you are to do. If you dont take the killing part literally, why take any part literally.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
      • Steve Wilkinson

        Because maybe we've actually read the Bible, and are sophisticated enough in our thinking to take context into account, as well as things like old testament (covenant) theocracy of Israel vs new testament (covenant) of God's victory and reign (and thus, our appropriate behavior) into account.... rather than daftly following goofy Internet memes....

        December 20, 2013 at 4:23 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.