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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. my reply

    Americans have freedom of speech. We need to respect that and extend it to all Americans

    December 20, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
    • What Now

      Agreed. Yet freedom of speech does not mean free from repercussions of your speech. What you say does have consequences. That is precisely why we teach our young manners and what it means to hurt anothers feelings.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
  2. ingrafted

    Honestly, this is some of the most acrobatically obtuse exegesis of Biblical interpretation I have ever laid eyes on. Do what ever you must to justify your "un-natural" lusts; there is no gray with God.

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

      Yep. God supports slavery.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
      • travis

        Source or its not true.

        December 20, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
        • Doc Vestibule

          Leviticus 25:44-46, Exodus 21:2-6, Exodus 21:7-11, Exodus 21:20-21 , Ephesians 6:5, 1 Timothy 6:1-2

          December 20, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
        • Observer

          travis,

          Please read a Bible someday.

          Lev. 25:44-46) “Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.”

          December 20, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
    • ParmaJeff

      If your going to proclaim yourself a follower of Christ, act like him. To wit: Jesus never said ONE WORD ABOUT GAY PEOPLE.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
      • AE

        Jesus says his command to love our neighbor trumps everything in the OT and everything that will follow him (like certain translations of Paul's words).

        December 20, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
    • Madtown

      I guess the animal kingdom lusts unnaturally as well?

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

      Twisting the scriptures to justify sinful behavior, the scripture is clear. Please don't twist God's word to make it seem less than is.this is just sick.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
      • What Now

        That is your interpretation and there are many just as there are many, many religious faiths and churches.

        December 20, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
    • mg

      agreed, ingrafted. you can twist scripture to make it say whatever you want, that does not make it TRUTH. Each of us will stand before Him.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
  3. Blake

    Jesus weeping & Satan rejoicing at the "Christian gay rights" activist..... The Bible is clear... I'd hate to have to answer for confusing those who may not know much about it.... #readyourBibledaily

    December 20, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
    • Observer

      Blake,

      lol.

      Please tell us EVERYTHING that Jesus said about gays. Ever hear of the Golden Rule?

      December 20, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
      • Tom

        Ever hear of "Go forth and sin no more?"

        December 20, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
    • AE

      What did Jesus say about gays?

      What did Jesus say about rich men like Phil Robertson?

      What verses do you use to oppose equal rights to gay people? There are about 9 verses (out of how many?) that people use to oppose gay rights. And all have been proven wrong. The Bible is not clear on the matter.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
    • Michael G

      Your Bible is a work of fiction put together by Emperor Constantine and the Council of Nicaea for political purposes. It is riddled with errors, contradictions, and pagan myths. It is not the work of whoever or whatever created the universe. It is the work of man.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
      • David Moore

        All of what you stated is according to a man so therefore not true.

        December 20, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
    • QS

      Jesus can't weep as he isn't real
      Satan can't rejoice as he isn't real
      The bible is as clear as an alcoholic after a night of binge drinking trying to recite the Declaration of Independence

      You hate many things as a believer, confusing others with your child-like beliefs is not one of those things.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
  4. Extremely Moderate

    While I don't agree with his views, I don't know why anyone would find them offensive. Does the existence of other opinions offend people?

    The man said he doesn't believe hom.se.uality is morally acceptable and lost his job because of it. Should every person who shares his opinion also lose their jobs?

    He said he did not see any African Americans mistreated. He did not deny that at some point and place they were. I interpreted that to mean he was fortunate enough to grow up in a place where integration was already happening.

    I respect the opinions of everyone who disagrees with this man. I respect the opinions of all who do.

    I think its cruelly Ironic that these groups that crusade for their own rights to be protected, would call for the violation of a mans right to voice an opinion that they do not share.

    I suppose we either die or live long enough to see ourselves become the monster eh? Disappointing.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
    • D.D.

      How many gay people lose their jobs for discriminating against Christians with opposing views??? Your post is very true and this man has clearly been discriminated against.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
      • Kadog

        Well said EM...I grew up in the deep South and hold very similiar views. I am a Christian, grew up poor, raised right along side african americans, worked in the same fields with them, played on the same teams with them, and learn to respect God's word and from that learned to respect others...while i consider myself a simple man, i am now an educated man with multiple advanced degrees and have earned a better than most salary to provide for my family, but i still have those humble beginings, just like this man...and i can so relate to his foundation and belief...it's unfortunate that he must be ridiculed by those who may never understand the peace we get from knowing our Lord and Saviour...

        December 20, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
  5. Me

    Lesson for the day and its evident on this board:

    Proverbs 10:12
    Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs.

    Whether you are believer or not, you cannot refute this truth.. Good day.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
  6. atheist85306

    Does it really matter if you "get wrong" the things written in a book of mythology? The bible is a book of mythology. What in the world does it have to do with anything in reality? Why do people confuse reality with mythology?

    December 20, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
    • travis

      The wars, battles, people, and places were real. You can pick and choose what is mythical and what is not?

      December 20, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
    • Me

      Actually Mythology is as stated.. myth.. whats in the bible has been verified time and time again in outside historical accounts outside the bible and even through arhchaeological finds today.. everything has been found and back what was written in scripture.. im sorry but history has even validated what was written in the Jewish Torah and the New tetstament. Dig a little bit deeper before you look like a fool. Just looking out for your so called intellect.. good day

      December 20, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
    • asieg33

      Does being an atheist give super intellect? Just wondering as you place yourself in opposition to Darwin and the fathers of the America who acknowledge a creator. Einstein and Pascal likewise. Isaac Newton left 3,000,000 words of notes on the Torah (first 5 books of the bible).
      one would assume, that as an intelligent and thoughtful atheist you spent years studying what you call myths and I, after years of non denominational study called truths that are inconvenient to the morally or intellectually weak

      December 20, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
  7. sybaris

    Did he get the Bible wrong.......... most Christians get the Bible wrong but if you want to live your life according to myths and the laws of mysognisitc iron age goat herders knock yourself out.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
  8. David

    here's an idea...stop basing morality on a book of fiction.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
    • Billy

      Bingo

      December 20, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
    • Me

      Do your reseach dude.. fictin.. i think not.. whats in the bible has been verified time and time again in outside historical accounts outside the bible and even through arhchaeological finds today.. everything has been found and back what was written in scripture.. im sorry but history has even validated what was written in the Jewish Torah and the New tetstament. Dig a little bit deeper before you look like a fool. Just looking out for your so called intellect.. good day

      December 20, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
      • Me

        fiction*

        December 20, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
  9. Dapple

    The bible is so old no one knows what any of it means anymore. Its been so long its not even in its original text(lots of stuff are missing, have been took out or changed). If anyone ever says, "That's one way of interpreting it," slap em in the face because that's where the mess begins. It wouldn't be so bad if the bible wasn't set up to confuse 85% of the people and have 15% think they know and get the other 85% to go along with them because they don't know any better.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
    • Live4Him

      Many people today can read the original language text much like we can read King James' English. The Greek may have changed some, but it is still the spoken language in a place called Greece! Likewise, the Hebrew language is spoken in a place called Israel.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
    • Jeff Bolton

      why doesn't my reply appear?

      December 20, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
  10. johnny

    I tend to go along and believe Paschal Wager if there is a GOD of which I believe as a believer and follow his beliefs I stand a pretty good chance now if there isn't (of which I disagree) I lose nothing – those are pretty good odds I must say. And to think I barely graduated from highschool and make a very good 7 figure salary- GOD is good.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
    • sybaris

      The flaw in Pascals Wager however is that you would have to worship every god............just in case.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
      • Live4Him

        You obviously don't understand Pascal's Wager – you can only place ONE bet, not many.

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

          Really?

          How so?

          Do you believe in a generic god?

          December 20, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
      • johnny

        I don't think so just my GOD -the GOD of the JEWS first then the gentiles and you know why I know because the more money I give the more he gives me back and thats the honest truth and thats because I don't expect it or want it and I know I can't take it with me. Like I said before GOD is good.

        December 20, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
    • asieg33

      Well said. Blaise Pascal the greatest mathematician of his day came to the same idea based on probability. It is known as "Pascal's Wager". But, to Paraphrase Jesus; leave the fools to foolish things for, as fools, they will never learn the ways of the wise"
      apologies. I put a bit of the book of Ecclesiastes in my rather broad paraphrase. and to reply to another poster: attic Greek and Ancient Hebrew have absolutely likeness to the modern languages called by the same names.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
  11. lagergeld

    Misinterpreting a key verse? Can you LIE just a little more? The Bible is FULL of verses condeming sodomy. Do you really think putting the entire BIble through an ideological rinse and spin cycle is going to make it go away and make the gay people happy?

    Be honest about the Bible or let it alone.

    Too much to ask? Probably so on this liberal rag.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
    • Observer

      lagergeld,

      Skip the HYPOCRISY. There's virtually ZERO chance that you believe and support EVERYTHING in the Bible.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
    • QS

      Okay, let's be honest about the bible – why should this particular "sin" be so important to people today, but other "sins" are quite easily dismissed as being silly and from a time before we knew certain things?

      The bible and its followers have a pre-existing prejudice against gay people that religion gives them a platform to give voice to without having to think they are being bigots, nothing more.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
      • bild

        Just because people condemn certain sins and turn a blind eye to other sins, doesn't mean that God does. The day of judgment is coming with God there is no respect of persons.

        December 20, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
  12. Hypocrisy, thy name is Christian

    Rules Christians constantly break as they condemn the breaking of rules:

    "Judge not, lest thou be judged."

    "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."

    "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you."

    Ah that Christian finger is always pointed away from themselves! I wonder why they expect others to obey the obscure rules when they themselves break the big ones.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
    • lagergeld

      Typical angry lib attacks Christians with the Bible and doesn't read it himself, thus copying others of his ideological vein who quote a few snippets out of context and hurl it like balls of feces at the hated target. A small Bible lesson for those of you too lazy to read it. The Bible doesn't say not to judge, it says to just righteously. Read Romans 2:1-3.

      If you cannot judge anything, how do you tell right from wrong?

      Check your hostility and think.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
    • Harry

      You obviously never read the bible. God doesn;t have a big sin versus little sin. God said all sins are the same in his eyes. Killing someone is just as bad as lieing to someone.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
    • bild

      There is true and there is false, don't be confused by the false into rejecting the true. Jesus Christ taught that : God is a Spirit and they that worship him, must worship him in Spirit and in truth. And that the Father seeketh such to worship him. And the epistles teach: Let everyone that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. This means all iniquity, not just the sins that one finds personally repugnant.

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

      1 John 4:1-3
      Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.

      Some judgement is required, but the vast majority of it is reserved to God.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
  13. Live4Him

    How about them hypocrites! A&E is willing to profit off a Christian family, but they abhor that Christian family speaking out on those Christian values! A&E are bigoted hypocrites!

    December 20, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
    • ParmaJeff

      Wrong. But you know that.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
    • tallulah13

      And this "christian" family was willing to sell their lives to the highest bidder. The were not advertised as a "christian family". As employees of the A&E network, they are subject to the rules of their employer (just like every other employee in every other job). An employer has the right to protect their product. There is nothing hypocritical about an employer suspending or firing an employee who has acted in a way that reflects negatively upon the employer.

      It is hypocritical, however, to pretend that your personal belief puts you above consequences for your actions. Hypocritical and childish.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
  14. Richard

    An oxymoron. a Christian gay rights activist

    December 20, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
  15. Jeff

    Phil describe certain actions of individuals he did not approve of. He did not describe discontent to the individual. He made his free speech and since A&E apparent approves of these acts, sack Phil. Seems A&E is guility of discriminating the individual and not his acts.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
    • ParmaJeff

      A&E doesn't have to approve of gays to hold a big mouth accountable to his contract.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
      • Jeff

        Phil voice his opinion not on A&E and Phil was just giving his honest opinion. By the way, the show Phil is on, is a reality show and when the reality his A&E of something they do not approve, they close that reality. This makes the show hypocritical of what it represents.

        December 20, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
  16. RobertTT

    I am an atheist.

    I support "gay rights" ...or more appropriate I do not support laws that work against anyone's personal life choices.

    I think this guy is a back-water hick you really needs to get into the 20th century ... let alone 21st.

    .... and, I think he is free to say whatever he personally feels. Do I agree with him? No. Did it come across in a "hateful" way ... not really. Are his views different from mine .... yes on so many levels. But, free speech is free speech. If he incited violence against gays, that would change everything, but he did not.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
    • QS

      I don't understand how people can interpret somebody comparing peoples' se.xual orientation to bestiality as not being hateful.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
      • Extremely Moderate

        He also compared het.rose.ual acts of immorality to beas.iality. Why did you stop readying? Dont let insecurity stop you from reading the whole sentence and gleaning the point.

        Why are people in such a rush to be offended? Since when is it a crime for people to have a different opinion?

        Should every person who shares his believe also lose their jobs?

        December 20, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
    • Jeff Bolton

      I have never understood what the relevance of what century it is there have been centuries that in fact were not necessarily better than the previous century.

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

      wow something you actually believe in.. guess your not an atheist anymore.. Hypocrite!

      December 20, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
  17. Fletcher

    No I think he bascially covered everyone who is performing any sort of intercourse that is not married as a sinner.

    What he should have followed up with is how to repent.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
  18. Gwats1957

    What he forgot is that celebrity is not a free pass to say what is on your mind. Many celebs forget that, so cut the old guy some slack..... This time.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
  19. Rob

    As a serial adulterer, I was offended by Phil's polycoitalphobic slur.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
    • Extremely Moderate

      ^ This guy gets it!

      Props to you for reading the whole sentence and not just the parts that are convenient to you!

      December 20, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
  20. Mike in NYC

    Really? A Christian gay rights activist disagrees with what Phil believes the Bible says? I'm stunned!

    December 20, 2013 at 3:11 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.