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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. daniel barea

    Romans Chapter one. Read it. Done deal.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
    • Billy

      ah yes, Paul, the Joseph Smith of his day...

      December 20, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
      • Dyslexic doG

        nice!

        December 20, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
  2. HoustonLisa

    I am totally against what he says but I do think he has the right to believe anything he wants and say it. I don't have to like it. Neither does anyone else. Isn't that why we live in America? Freedom to believe in what you want? Freedom of speech? Shouldn't we protect those rights, even if we don't agree?

    December 20, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
    • Is you stoopid

      Who jailed him for his speech?

      December 20, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
  3. w5cdt

    Any news story that further polarizes America. Don't take the bait folks. This dust-up is no accident.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
  4. vinster76

    I guess you can interpret it any way you choose today, especially if you are searching for justification for deviant behavior

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

      Being hom0s_xual is as "deviant" as is being left-handed.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
    • Observer

      vinster76,

      Do you believe and support EVERYTHING in the Bible or are you just another HYPOCRITE who picks and chooses?

      December 20, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
      • vinster76

        if it makes you happy, please say whatever crosses your little 'ol heart about me. It is usually that way among you "tolerant" folk....."say whatever you want, just make sure you agree with ME".....sorry, I am not playing the game......live with yourself.......take that any way you wish.....

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

      Chapter and verse where Jesus said anything about gay people. This should be easy for you, if you proclaim yourself to be a follower of Christ.
      When did you decide to be hetero? What? You were born that way? Exactly.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
    • Live4Him

      It's okay to commit adultery, because the gays accept open relationships.! It is still a loving relationship. Not according to scripture – its a destructive lifestyle.

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

        According to who?

        December 20, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
    • tallulah13

      The bible has been interpreted by christians to protect all sorts of nasty behaviors. But you seem to ignore that little fact easily enough.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
  5. sybaris

    Quoting the bible is like an 8 year old stabbing at you with their pretend Star Wars light saber............. cute and ineffective

    December 20, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
  6. FeFe

    To get a balanced view of the Bible research is needed. You will find in several places acts and behaviors that were prohibited in order to serve God in the proper way. Leviticus chap. 18, Galatians 5:19-21 to name a few. If you go forward with what Mr. Duck Dynasty quoted, at 1 Corinthians... "that was what some of you were... meaning that those practicing those things had "stopped" practicing them. Those things were mentioned in one context, and not listed as sins of different degrees. Likewise we all are falling short. But also the Bible teaches us on many aspects to " love" or show kindness to person of all sorts.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
  7. joel

    now A&E can join the list of organizations which used gay issues to increase their profits. Oh this outrage. I can't believe chic filet and duck dynasty are frequented by bigots who need a rallying call. It is such a shock.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
    • Live4Him

      Yes, all the progressives who are so intolerant of other people's beliefs!

      December 20, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
  8. Hmmmmmm

    That guy is the perfect symbol of Christianity.

    And he would win a Charles Manson look-alike contest any day!

    December 20, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
    • jbar

      He simply expressed his personal beliefs. Get over yourself.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
  9. Zabilde

    So a "Christian" Gay Rights activist who has every reason to try to deny that the bible he claims to believe as the word of God condemns his lifestyle claims the verse is misinterpreted? Oh yea that's got a ton of credence. NOT. Yet again the Left Stream Media will do anything and leap to any outrageous conclusions to protect their view of the world. Or at least how they think it should exist.

    You don't have to agree with Phil to see that he was simply stating his beliefs according to his faith. He paraphrased the scripture correctly. Don't agree with his view point, well he respects your right to an opinion, do you respect his right to an opinion? Or is the Thoughtcrime of Orwell's 1984 finally here in full?

    December 20, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
    • QS

      I respect his right to have that opinion....doesn't mean I have to show one shred of respect for the ignorant opinion itself.

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

        O Yeah, I get it "It's all about you!"

        December 20, 2013 at 3:57 pm |
    • James 1:27 Family

      That's what I was thinking!

      December 20, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
  10. Dyslexic doG

    for all you poooor Christians claiming persecution ...

    Preventing you from forcing others into following your deluded rules is not persecution. Preventing you from making religious laws, is not persecution. Preventing you from injecting your fantasies into public schools, is not persecution. You have churches on every street corner in America. You have 100% representation in government. You have your motto imprinted on every dollar bill and uttered at every baseball game. You are the persecutor, not the persecuted. You confuse "not being in charge" with persecution.

    - SP

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

      Very good post.. But wait... 3.2.1... Here comes the Christians.... "the only way to get to H........"

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

      Very well said. Couldn't agree more. Let people do what they wish as long as it doesn't affect anyone else's quality of life. Robertson can believe what he wants and my gay neighbours can continue to be happy because neither case affects anyone's quality of life.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
    • misterflibble1

      Well said! There is no such thing as "War on Religion".

      What I find funny about Christians is they say they believe in Peace and Tolerance but then use an antiquated book to justify War and Bigotry.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
      • DWNWTHVWLS

        There would be no war without religion.

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

      Right we need some good old fashioned communist atheist rulers like the Soviet Union, Easter Europe, China, Cambodia had, and North Korea has now...what a great advancement of civilization that group made in the 20th century.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
      • alaskan1st

        But we don't need to go back to the 18th century like some want.

        December 20, 2013 at 3:47 pm |
  11. Philm

    Read the Bible. Read all of the Bible. Read it with a seeking mind, to find out what the writers believed. And ask God to give you wisdom and understanding as you read.

    Do the same with any religious book that God might lead you to read.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.

      - Isaac Asimov

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

      Or...don't.

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

      Why are Americans so stupid? This is nothing but a money/ratings grab. How much merchandise do you thing their bigot fans bought to show support for this guys "beliefs"? When he comes back to the show how big of a spike do you think the ratings will get? This is nothing more than a show for you mouth breathing American idiots to eat up and spend more money that you don't have on crap you don't need, just like Miley Cyrus. These people are not idiots they know exactly what the need to say and do to get you to fork over money.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:47 pm |
    • r goodfellow

      Which god?

      December 20, 2013 at 4:44 pm |
  12. r goodfellow

    Someday, a very long time from now, archeologist will dig up a copy of "Harry Potter" and be able to decipher just enough of it to think it was some sort of religious tome. A group of con artist will co-opt the work as having been the true word of "Gorg" or "Balway" or some other such nonsense, and morons the world over will start "worshiping" the virgin Hermione, and fearing the devil, 'Moldyvault" The bible is nonsense.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      AMEN!!!

      December 20, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
    • travis

      The difference is the bible is filled with a plethora of historical people, places, wars and battles.

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

        So the authors used real people and places to portray their fantasy that they hoped people would believe...so what?

        December 20, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
        • jbar

          I'm to glad to see you acknowledge, "They were real people!" that's a giant step.

          December 20, 2013 at 4:22 pm |
    • Chris

      Yet it continues to be the best selling book of all time..amazing that so many do not see your viewpoint.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
      • alaskan1st

        But one of the least read. There's one in every hotel room.

        December 20, 2013 at 4:12 pm |
  13. carol anderson

    Why do they think they should not be punished for spreading their ignorance these guys are just plain stupid they actually think back in the day Black people were singing in the cotton fields because they were happy ,how stupid and self serving can you be..Why was Martin Bresher put on a time out for simply insulting Palin he has time off his program just for doing that ,but he is being punished for it so why when they insult gays blacks and so surprised anyone would be upset Inever watched the program because I find them really hard to look at and just plain hillbilly

    December 20, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
    • James 1:27 Family

      What Phil said about blacks is, paraphrasing, that he worked right along side blacks and they never complained about their jobs or their white bosses. That's all he said... and let's not forget that slavery had been abolished before he was born.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
  14. chrism

    Scholars is used 3 times in the article, experts twice. These are all fringe people, associates, who go against the obvious truth that 99% of theological experts and scholars and anyone who can read the bible for themselves can see. Daniele Burke, with your Georgetown and Columbia degrees, you are a fraud.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
    • gay christian

      Truth hurts chrism..

      December 20, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
  15. DWNWTHVWLS

    The only thing I took away from this article is how shocking it is that people spend their entire lives and base careers around disputing words written thousands of years ago. Words that no one has proven to be fictional or non-fictional. Robertson isn't oppressing or hurting anyone with his beliefs so he doesn't bother me at all, though I disagree with him. This dissecting and debating of every word in the bible is just pathetic. Believe what you want, just let others live their own lives.

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

      The negative effects of religious beliefs are subtle, but they are there. I can't agree that beliefs such as this, just by having them, doesn't hurt others on some level.

      Religion is all about oppression – of other people, other beliefs, other ideas. Until more people get away from this belief that we should all be obligated to respect religious beliefs for no other reason than they are religious beliefs, we will never get anywhere.

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

        QS, you just contradicted yourself and became the oppressor without even realizing it. Nice.

        December 20, 2013 at 5:02 pm |
  16. sam w

    Thank GOD that Duck Dynastys 15 minutes of fame is up. What a stupid show.one of the most scripted reality shows..Stupid.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
  17. Crushinator

    all the New Agers labeling themselves Christians love to say ok, The verse literally says this, but we have to look at it from the "context" of their specific situation. Doing this allows them to say anything about any verse in the bible they want. Since this is where mainstream Christianity is headed, having adopted the blatant witchcraft notions put forth in the book The Secret and the nonsense Joyce Myers touts, many who believe in Christ and his teachings have given up on mainstream Christianity, and some of us don't even call ourselves Christians anymore.

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

      Good.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
  18. sly

    Happy holidays everyone – these are good times for America.

    Don't y'all worry about redneck Duck – he is rich and I'm sure he is happy. A&E is an American corporation, free to act within our great set of laws. Black people have finally been given the right to work, and are no longer forced to work on the plantations. Gay folks are now free to love whom they want.

    All is well. No story here folks – just Americans being American! We have a good country, and it's working.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
    • Live4Him

      I despise A&E's bigotry. They were willing to profit from the Christian family, but don't want that Christian family discussing their Biblical views!

      December 20, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
      • martiniano

        Do you understand fiduciary responsibility?

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

          You mean that for every dollar we spend, we are ultimately responsible to God for it's use, for who and what we support with our money, and that we should attempt to change outcomes of our investments, if we have ghe power to do so, if we see them to be morally corrupt. We see this concept of responsibility taught in Jesus' parable of the talents (found in scripture), which teaches that all things given to us by God (money, talents such as leadership ability, wisdom, etc) should be used for His glory according to His Word and we will all stand and give an account for all of our actions including A&E and Mr. Phil. Good point Martin, glad you brought this up.

          December 20, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
      • ParmaJeff

        I despise the hypocrisy of people who proclaim to follow JESUS, knowing that Jesus never said one word about gay people.

        December 20, 2013 at 3:35 pm |
        • Live4Him

          Jesus didn't come to change the law and the law condemns it.

          December 20, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
        • allie

          Live4Him, that is a subject of dispute among Christians.

          December 20, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
        • RB

          Luke 19:10
          For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.

          December 20, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
      • Trenton

        If you have not already written to A&E, you should do so and let them know that their decision to suspend Phil is wrong.

        December 20, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
  19. Doc Vestibule

    The best part about citing God as the source for your opinions is that He is never around to correct you.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
    • Live4Him

      Nor correct your mistake.

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

        But how convenient for "god" that his followers are always up to the task of correcting everybody on the planet for him since he's never around.

        December 20, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      LOLOL

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

      alert('LOL'); document.getElementById('HiddenLikeButton').click();

      December 20, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
  20. robert goodbar

    Wow must be a slow REAL NEWS day this is such non news that it is amazing how serious people are taking it leave it alone stop commenting and u will see how it just goes away

    December 20, 2013 at 3:29 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.