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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. keith

    This is about a man expressing personal opinions that don't hurt anyone. Hurt feelings are not newsworthy.

    December 20, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
    • Elliott Carlin

      the gay-lobby is VERY drama oriented. So yes, their feelings do matter. And if you don't thtop your narrow minded ways, you'll get a man-purse full right in the kisser.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
      • Observer

        Elliott,

        Fortunately, education is slowly eradicating ignorance and bigotry.

        December 20, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
        • What Now

          Sadly, not fast enough,

          December 20, 2013 at 2:59 pm |
        • Elliott Carlin

          and hopefully it will have an effect on yourself, to the point you'll actually tolerate and accept someone who believes in God. No go ahead and make a comment that you are already an open-minded person and lovable and all that nonsense. LOL

          December 20, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
    • tallulah13

      This is about a man who is employed by a network. This network has the right to protect it's product.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:56 pm |
      • Elliott Carlin

        and protect it for 2% of Americans who don't even watch the program. Check back this time next year; A&E, if they are interested in making money, will most likely regret their decision. But your are correct, it's their decision. I won't stop you from cutting your finger off.

        December 20, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
  2. rose

    Sodom and gomorrah. =/

    December 20, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
    • Bernadette

      If I saw someone raping a little girl, I'd try to stop it. That's the difference between me and your god.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
      • Elliott Carlin

        Thanks Bernadette. You obviously feel much better about yourself.
        How about abortion? How about the starving children in Africa.
        What exactly are you doing other than being worried about what others believe?

        December 20, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
        • Observer

          The Bible NEVER mentioned abortion. God killed every fetus on the face of the earth at one time.

          December 20, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
        • Bernadette

          Wouldn't you like to know, Elliott. Now how about you get back to the subject that I replied to.

          December 20, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
        • Elliott Carlin

          Bernie, isn't that why the anonymity of the internet is so appealing to your types. You can allude to all of those wonderful things you are doing without anything to back it up.

          December 20, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
        • Bernadette

          Wow – Elliott fancies himself a mind-reader.

          December 20, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
    • Observer

      rose,

      The sin of Sodom was GREED. Please read a Bible someday.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
    • Andy

      Yet another fairy tale.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
    • WellThen

      Timothy 2:12... your God commands you!

      December 20, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
  3. Phillip Bunn

    Quoting the Bible, as an authoritative text on "anything," is misleading and prejudicial whether you are a born-again Christian or an alien snerf herder. The book is simply not a clear representation of "any" universal law; it "is" a text for a specific, man-made religion, based on the biased – applied and perceived – rules of "that" religion, and even then, not clearly defined. Standing behind the Bible, as a judgment, in any opinionated assignment, is similar, in nature, to standing beneath a plate glass skylight for protection from asteroids.

    December 20, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
    • Jeffica

      Alien snerf herder? Best allegory of the day.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
  4. What Now

    The bible is just another tool that some people use to beat others over the head in an attempt to feel self-righteous.

    December 20, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
  5. Mega

    Does CNN flog a dead horse into eternity? Does it have problems choosing a single message board?

    December 20, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
  6. Lawguy

    Ignorant, yes. But what gives A&E the right to punish this guy for a statement he made on his own time while not representing the network? It's time we demand that companies, networks, sports leagues, etc. stop trying to be the freaking thought police and punishing people for exercising their 1st Amendment rights to self expression! No one would suggest that he be prosecuted for making offensive statements like this. The same theory should apply to A&E. Someone says something that your organization doesn't agree with, too bad, you can't retaliate it's his right to free speech.

    December 20, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
    • PVS1

      he made the statement on a highly publicized forum, so lets stop pretending that he was persecuted for stating an opinion among his peers. he has a right to say what he will just as his employer has a right to fire him if he proves a threat to their revenue. you conservatives need to decide once and for all whether or not you want government interfering with a company's right to choose their own employers. i bet you never once raised a stink at the news of someone being fired for being gay.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
    • sly

      American laws providing the right to enter into a contract. Actually goes back thousands of years. It's called freedom – you don't have to pay someone who makes your company look like a fool.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
    • InFomred

      For someone who has the name 'lawguy' you certainly are light on the understanding of what basic free speech means! Freedom of speech applies to public speech. A company can do what it wants, except discriminate (A company cannot refuse to serve a white person because he is white for example).

      December 20, 2013 at 2:59 pm |
  7. Jeff

    When did 2 viginas make and baby and when did a penis in the poop-shoot become an ok idea? Now a group wants to make this normal?

    December 20, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
    • Observer

      Jeff,

      To avoid being so ignorant, ask some of your hetero male friends about sodomy with their girlfriends. You don't get around much.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
      • Pfft

        Indeed, I think I will go home and take the ol vein train to A-Town with the ol lady tonight to highlight this convenient oversight.

        December 20, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
      • Jeff

        You and your sheep friends may know best, but mmmmm, no, not for me.

        December 20, 2013 at 2:59 pm |
    • Phillip Bunn

      Did you read that statement before you printed it?

      December 20, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
  8. PVS1

    so sick of stupid people attempting to reason based only on their 2000 year old book of dubiously translated magical stories.

    December 20, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
    • robbie357

      Ohhhh.....so they are antequated ideas and laws?

      December 20, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
  9. Wiseman

    Gays deny Jesus Christ and the Bible because they are trying to deny their sin..

    December 20, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Christians cling to their religion because they are terrified of dying and their belief allows them to pretend that they will live forever.

      See how easy it is to make broad statements about people you don't know?

      December 20, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
      • Cora

        As Christians we are promised eternal life. Eternity has two destinations and we all have free will to chose which one we will go. It's not too late for you. The only way to the Father is thru the Son. Accept Jesus now as your personal savior.

        December 20, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
    • sam stone

      ironic screen name, eh?

      pull the bible out of your backside, boy

      join us in the 21st century

      December 20, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
      • Wiseman

        Pull the Penis out of your backside and ask for forgiveness

        December 20, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
    • Conrad Polska

      Jesus was single, wore a robe and sandals, and hung out with 12 dudes. Just saying.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
    • Madtown

      Is idiocy a sin?

      December 20, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
  10. angeson

    Yes the Gays wrote their own bible and pretend they can make it to heaven. How sad for them.

    December 20, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
    • Roger that

      It's sad when someone uses a 3,000 year old book to justify their own prejudices.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
    • sam stone

      how sad that you hold to an translated, edited hearsay written by iron age sheep molestes to determine your morality

      December 20, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
  11. Hard Hat

    Oh who cares...in 1.235 million years the Ants will have won, the planet will be theirs, and we will be subjugated to their ONE TRUE GOD (which happens to look oddly like an aardvark...its a sick universe)

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

      You may have something there

      December 20, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
    • What Now

      Actually, I think it might be roaches.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
    • CatSh

      That reminds me of an old Cerebus the Aardvark tshirt – "He doesn't love you, he just wants your money".
      Any old Cerebus fans out there? (chuckle)

      December 20, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
    • InFomred

      All Hail Aardvark, bringer of everlasting salvation.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:56 pm |
  12. Danny Boy

    Why isn't free speech protected from employers as much as gender, race, disability, etc.?
    Isn't the ability to speak freely without punishment just as important in a democracy?

    December 20, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
    • My Too Senseworth

      The Civil Rights Act covers religion also.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
    • Earl

      As much as you might want to insult and threaten everyone at your place of employment, you can't do that.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
    • PVS1

      the first amendment was not violated, you ignorant tool.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
    • sam stone

      danny boy....if you owned a business, took lots of pride in your product, and one of your employees posts on his facebook page that danny boy's products totally stink.....do you feel that this is free speech that should be protected? in your world, would you not fire him?

      December 20, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
  13. Mr.Grumpy

    It's funny how all the republicans are getting their shirts all puffed up over this issue. The repubs have fought to remove worker's rights and give more rights to companies. Oh, you said something that embarrassed your employer? That employer gave you that job, and they can take it away too. It's all part of that "removing troublesome regulations" on businesses that republicans love so much. All Phil Robertson did was out himself as profoundly ignorant and 'backwoods' as his image. If you can be fired for being gay (in many states you can), then why shouldn't companies be able to fire you for shooting off your mouth?

    December 20, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
    • Jeffica

      Nailed it.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
  14. Roger that

    The Bible is immoral. Who cares what it says?

    December 20, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
    • Hard Hat Harry

      AGREED!

      December 20, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
    • Jeff

      I suppose you for legalizing 'choas'.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
      • Spell Check Police

        You can often spot the thumpers, by their atrocious grammar 🙂

        December 20, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
      • Roger that

        The Bible says ra pe is a-ok. And you think our society can't function without it? Follow the Bible to a T and you'll find yourself locked up.

        December 20, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
  15. Danny Boy

    When has gay relations ever produced another living thing? Never.

    December 20, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
    • Observer

      Danny Boy,

      Gays and lesbians can reproduce.

      Ooops.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
      • Danny Boy

        Not with each other.

        December 20, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
        • Observer

          Neither can two hetero males.

          December 20, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
    • tallulah13

      So you only like women for the purpose of reproduction?

      December 20, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
      • My Too Senseworth

        S E X is for reproduction only. Any other use is wrong.

        December 20, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
    • Truth

      Unless they are sterile, every gay person is capable of producing another living being, just like any straight person.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
    • Jade_Alpha

      And... that would be important why exactly? We don't exactly have an underpopulation problem after all.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
  16. barry

    does nobody believe in freedom of choice anymore? if you agree or disagree it doesnt matter. do what you want with your own body.

    December 20, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
  17. Leftcoastrocky

    Denying equal rights to another group of human beings based on your religious beliefs is still called bigotry.

    December 20, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
    • My Too Senseworth

      That statement also works both ways. I just want to know which bigot is bigger.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
  18. Chuck

    Off course he is wrong. Red neck religion is always wrong.

    December 20, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
    • travis

      That is hateful and bigoted

      December 20, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
      • HotAirAce

        But is it incorrect?

        December 20, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
      • sly

        What is wrong with hating red necks? I hate Nazi's also. And all Tea Billies.

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

          That just opens the door to people saying I hate gays or blacks. All generalized hatred is wrong

          December 20, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
        • My Too Senseworth

          And the key word" hate" translates to bigot.

          December 20, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
  19. longtooth

    Logically, if it's unacceptable to quote the Bible because it offends some people, perhaps the Bible should be banned. Today, it seems that anything that bothers anybody must be kept from the public eye. I don't personally pay much attention to the Old Testament, or the new one. The duck hunter didn't say gays should be prosecuted or persecuted. He just said what he thinks the Bible tells him. And the blacks he knew seemed like happy people. Thus he was banished from the Kingdom of Television.

    December 20, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
  20. mark in IN

    If that is what Phil interpetes from the bible, that is his opinion, everyone has one. Nobody should judge him for it. IT IS CALLED FREEDOM OF SPEECH! AMEN

    December 20, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
    • mattmchugh

      Judging him for what he says is very different from recognizing his right to say it.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
    • tallulah13

      And A&E suspended him because they are his employers and his remarks damaged their product. Actions have consequences.

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

        then why can an employer not fire a gay for ruining their business.

        December 20, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
        • robbie357

          SCORE!!!!

          December 20, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
    • Jeffica

      Sure. And A&E has the same right to continue his employment. Oh, well.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      Freedom of speech doesn't mean you can say anything you like and have no one judge you.

      Freedom of speech is that you can say whatever you like. You can't be put in jail or fined for it.

      But other people have freedom of speech too, to say they find what you say disgusting, and A&E has the right to discontinue employment if they believe an employee is hurting their company.

      December 20, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
      • Mark

        "Freedom of speech doesn't mean you can say anything you like and have no one judge you".

        Unless you're the liberal left. If someone speaks in opposition to gays, then they try every way possible to have you charged with a hate crime. And if that doesn't work, they simply resort to slandering your name, making up stories, twisitng facts, and generally trying to destroy you.

        "...and A&E has the right to discontinue employment if they believe an employee is hurting their company".

        Please....don't make me laugh. "Duck Dynasty" MADE A&E what it is today. The only thing that will "hurt" their company, will be losing the show.

        December 20, 2013 at 3:07 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.