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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. becky durham

    Love the Robertson's

    December 20, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
  2. jppcasey

    Do Muslim terrorist interpret the Quran wrong? Since when has CNN decided it's OK to question anyone on there religious beliefs. If you didn't do it before you don't get to do it now. Sorry CNN you don't get re-establish credibility overnight, a lesson you will learn once Obama is out of office.

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

      OmGOD, do you NOT get that this story isn't reported just on CNN?? FOX is hysterical over this story...go there.

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

        They don't go to Fox because Fox, in right-wing speech-restricting fashion, eliminated comments.

        December 20, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
        • alaskan1st

          They stopped comments because their base shows everyone what a bunch of moronic bigots really are. Can't blame them. It's hard to run a propaganda machine when your base is crazy and shows it every day.

          December 20, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
    • Kren

      You mean Jewish terrorists who invented terrorism and false flag attacks? Read the dirty Tora its a terrorist's manual

      December 20, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
  3. Jeff

    Phil made his honest opinion not on A&E. Phil plays on a reality show. When the show disapproved of the 'reality' Phil repreented disagreeing with certain 'acts' in life, not individuals, the show removed Phil from the show. This makes the reality show, hypocritical of what they represent.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
    • Live4Him

      They were willing to profit from the Christian family, but don't want that Christian family discussing their Biblical views!

      December 20, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
      • Doc Vestibule

        And other cable channels are willing to profit from Mormon splinter grroups and their plural marriage, but they don't want them citing The Pearl of Great Price....

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

        Chapter and verse where Jesus said anything about gays. I'll wait.

        You mess up your contract, you pay the price. A&E didn't trample on motor mouth's rights. Get over yourself.

        December 20, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
        • joe

          Not only did Jesus say nothing about gays, but he did denounce divorce on more than one occasion. So why aren't the guardians of public morals camped out in front of the divorce courts, wailing and rending their garments?

          December 20, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
      • HadEnough

        As personal accountability dwindles, debauchery rises.

        Freedom from accountability means enslavement to sin.

        December 20, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
    • What Now

      They represent their company and profits. Nothing more. They are a business. It's entertainment, not a university.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
      • Jeff

        YES, GREED is A&E shining light and they had to remove Phil with the possibility of diminish ratings by offending the gay group. They must protect the market, they must protect the profit, they must protect the ALL MIGHTY DOLLAR!

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

          Oh, but the duck man's GREED is fine, right?
          Contracts have consequences if you break them. Too bad Phil didn't read HIS.

          December 20, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
    • Jeff

      A&E likes the rough neck of the individuals on the show, but do not want to display the individual opinions of the individuals is it disagrees with A&E reality, even though the show is a 'reality' show. The is now declared itself hypocritical of what is represents and a FAKE!

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

      Does anyone think that reality shows are supposed to represent reality?

      December 20, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
      • Jeff

        It does not represent yours or mine reality, but it does represent the individuals on it and Phil was just being himself, REAL.

        December 20, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
  4. Wiseman

    I have more respect for myself and the temple of the Holy Spirit than to disgrace my penis with someone's shxt

    December 20, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
  5. jvburrows

    Let get something straight.....CNN is simply trying to back up the liberal bias in all of Hollywood, even with A&E. They want it gray to support there lifestyle choices and want to push it on everyone, even if it means punishing Christians for exercising there free speech rights. This was an interview with a magazine, not a press conference. It was with a liberal magazine that highly supports gays. Want proof? When GQ did an interview with the President, they didn't ask one thing about gay rights. All stupid banter questions that could have been answered by a first grader, which keeps him being looked at in a positive light. Now, with the duck dynasty guy, the hit him with the questions they should have asked someone like the President, but he is a Christian conservative, so they wanted to paint him in a negative light, which they did. Im so tired of this country not having a free press that is completely unbiased and that isn't state controlled (yes, its state controlled when you use the power of money and white house access to control a media outlet).

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

      This is a highly reported story. Go to your beloved Fox. They are having a field day with this. Who cares about your hatred for CNN?

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

        dont have to be all butt hurt about it.. CNN can continue lying to you.. hang in there sunshine

        December 20, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
    • tallulah13

      I'm sorry that you think that your political and religious beliefs make you above silly things like consequences for your actions. People lose their jobs over personal behavior all the time.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
  6. Alex

    I am not an "American" even though I do live on the North American Continent. What surprises me most is that I have heard a hundred times that in America you have the right to speak your opinion. But say something that is going against the current flow to be politically correct and you get stomped on! So I guess it’s a case of you can say what you like as long as you say what all the other lemmings say! Kind of Hypocritical!

    December 20, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
  7. joel

    It is sort of lame when people run to jesus as a safety button after they realize they were just offensive.

    Jesus is the easy button for those who can't own up to their true opinions.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
  8. Tyler

    I think people are forgetting that Phil Robertson could give a damn whether he's on this show or not. It's not like he's missing out on a paycheck. And oh yeah, he's a millionaire already so A&E has more to lose on this issue. 'Enough Said'

    December 20, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
    • icowrich

      Does that make Mr. Robertson one of "the Greedy" on St. Paul's list of those who will not reach Heaven?

      December 20, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
  9. mogran

    Every nincompoop in the country wants to tell Phil how to live...m o r o n s

    December 20, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
  10. D.D.

    Every Christian should boycott A&E. Since we are the most employed group of people in the US, lets see how many advertisers want to continue to support them without our collective buying power.

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

      Whoopee Do this country a favor and boycott Walmart. Make your beliefs actually HELP this country, instead of hinder it.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
  11. GAW

    Let's face it he was suspended be cause his opinion would mean sponsors would withdrawal and decline of viewership = less money from the show.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
  12. Bill

    What is it that gays do that miss them gay. Sodomy. They don't believe their rights should be violated, neither do I. I also believe that they should not force their beliefs on those that differ from them. In this case, it is.not a gay group doing that. It is a network doing it and they suspended this guy for expressing himself in a dignified way and not on the job. Nice to know we all live in a communist country now. This guy should get his job back immediately with a sincere apology and retroactive pay. I call on all Americans to protest against the network. I am not gay. I have a few gay friends and even some in my family. I have friends of all cultures and all colors and even a mix in my family. We don't have to agree with each others beliefs, but we do have to respect them and treat them as we would like them to treat us. Our existence as a nation of diversified people demands this from each and every one of us as Americans. Just expressing my belief, hope I don't get fired for expressing my self. God bless everyone and wish all a merry Xmas and Happy New Year.

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

      Not all gays have anal s.ex. Some hetero Christians do have anal s.ex.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
  13. Marc

    http://www.dwspodcast.com/a-turn-of-events/

    Christian blog on what we can learn from all this.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
  14. Okthat'senough

    I am already bored with this. I heard the "Dog Whisperer" is making a comeback by only talking to dogs who are gay by choice.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
  15. chrism

    woe to those who call good evil and evil good

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

      Bill & Ted 134:1 – "Whoa"

      December 20, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
  16. sybaris

    Why are Christians so concerned about what two loving and consenting adults do with their genitalia in the privacy of their own homes?

    December 20, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
    • Michael G

      Because Christians are narrow minded, judgmental, bigoted, sanctimonious hypocrites.

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

        That comment sounded narrow minded, bigoted and judgmental

        December 20, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
        • Wiseman

          They do that all the time

          December 20, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
    • Live4Him

      And all the other bedrooms / partner they visit? They are slowly destroying themselves. There is only one possible outcome when you seek 'open' relationships as the norm – a self image that's in worse shape than a pig in a mud hole.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
      • Doc Vestibule

        If you're trying to imply that gays are incapable of monogamy, you obivously haven't spent a lot of time with lesbians.

        December 20, 2013 at 3:35 pm |
        • areyoumymoms

          HAH! And...guilty.

          December 20, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
    • Madtown

      Because christians can't handle that not everyone in the world is just like them.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
    • chrism

      Why are you pretending that Christians who stand up to the public political activism of GLAAD are knocking on anyone's door?

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

      One only needs look at the cases pertaining to the Establishment Clause to understand that fundy Christians, given the opportunity, would have us be a theocracy – and then undoubtedly, doors would be knocked upon.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
  17. Becky

    Though this is completely ignoring the Old Testament verse Leviticus 18:22 "Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind, it is an abomination."

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

      Be wary of citing the Old Testament.
      Are you willing to follow ALL of the rules in Leviticus?

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

      Leviticus was a rule book given to Levi priests. Who do you know that it can apply to? Pick and choose garbage.

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

      Becky,

      Leviticus also says (Lev. 20:9) "If there is anyone who curses his father or his mother, he shall surely be put to death”.

      So what was your point, if any?

      December 20, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
      • Live4Him

        Phil was just following the teachings of the Bible.

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

      It also prohibits eating raw meat, planting two different kinds of seed in the same field and wearing garments with two different kinds of yarn.

      I hope you don't have a garden or ever wear a bra, underwear, jeans and a sweater.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
  18. David Moore

    As a lover of sheep I am deeply offended by his remarks.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
  19. JohnRJohnson

    NOBODY gets the Bible "right". EVERYBODY twists it to conform to their own prejudices.

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

      Not true. If you ever have any questions about how to interpret the bible, I'm here for you.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
  20. Jeff

    Had Phil made his opiniion on a wrecking ball nude and later twerk it, well then it would of been ok, lol.

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

      ..... by A&E that is.

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

      Yuck. Hardly.

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

      wow! powerful statement, jeff. the things that have become acceptable in our society, there is no shame anymoe

      December 20, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
    • Misty Murray

      Right on! lol... and it appears that A&E will have to eat duck for their Christmas dinner!

      December 20, 2013 at 3:43 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.