Does Phil Robertson get the Bible wrong?
Phil Robertson of A&E's "Duck Dynasty" has been suspended for his comments on homosexuality.
December 20th, 2013
11:23 AM ET

Does Phil Robertson get the Bible wrong?

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
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(CNN) - The Robertson family of "Duck Dynasty" fame has rallied around its patriarch, saying his controversial comments on homosexuality are "grounded in the teachings of the Bible." But Scripture is fiercely contested ground, and some experts say Phil Robertson misinterprets a key Bible verse.

A&E, the network that broadcasts the hugely popular "Duck Dynasty" show, suspended Robertson for a now infamous interview with GQ magazine. In the article, Robertson, who became a born-again Christian in the 1970s after a prodigal youth, is asked to define "sin."

Here's what Robertson says: “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men."

Robertson, 67, then paraphrases a Bible passage from the New Testament: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers - they won’t inherit the kingdom of God.”

That's a pretty close citation of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, which is a letter from Paul, often called the father of Christianity theology, to a fledgling Christian community in Corinth, Greece.

Here's what Paul's passage says, as rendered in the New International Version, by far the most popular translation among evangelicals and conservative Christians such as Robertson:

"Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."

Evangelicals, who make up about a quarter of the U.S. population, tend to take that passage at face value. The Robertson family pastor, for instance, told CNN on Thursday that "the verse explains itself."

Robertson himself is no religious neophyte. He's an elder in the White's Ferry Road Church of Christ and offers spiritual counseling, charity and Bible studies to many in his hometown of West Monroe, Louisiana, the family pastor, Mike Kellett told CNN.

The "Duck Dynasty" star also preaches around the country to conservatives that flock to hear his blend of woodsy, plainspoken Christianity.

Many conservatives backed Robertson's views on Scripture and homosexuality this week, if not the "crude" way he argued his point to GQ.

My Take: The Bible really does condemn homosexuality

But other Bible experts said the Scripture Robertson cited isn't quite clear about homosexuality.

"A lot of people misread this text because it's so complicated," said O. Wesley Allen Jr., an associate professor at Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky.

First, scholars say, we have to look at the context surrounding Paul's letter.

The Christian leader is trying to get the quarreling Corinthians to stop taking each other to civil courts and being judgmental. "The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already," Paul says.

Things were supposed to be different after they became Christian believers, Paul continues; they were supposed to stop their sinful ways.

Then Paul lists some of their sins of the past, including greed, drinking too much, worshipping idols and sexual immorality. "That is what some of you were," Paul says. "But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."

The list of sins is likely based on rumors that Paul heard about Corinth, says Warren Throckmorton, a psychology professor at Grove City College in Pennsylvania who has studied the Bible's teachings on homosexuality. Bible scholars call it a "vice list," and it appears several times in Scripture.

So what does Paul's "vice list" say about homosexuality? That's the tricky part.

The first word Paul uses is "malakoi," which means "soft" in Greek, according to Allen. By analogy, the word came to mean "effeminate," which is how the King James Version of the Bible translates it.

"In the ancient world, it would refer to a boy in a relationship with an older man," Allen said. "It was pederasty, not homosexuality as we think of it today."

The other relevant word on Paul's "vice list" is "arsenokotai," which means "male sex." It refers to the other half in the man-boy relationship, common in Greece at the time, Allen said, the older male having sex with the "soft one."

"It isn't anything to do with what we would see today in an intimate, mutual relationship between gay adults," said Allen, who is co-authoring an upcoming book on homosexuality and heterosexuality in the church.

My Take: The Bible’s surprisingly mixed messages on sexuality

Even so, scholars such as Allen acknowledge there are no Bible passages that support same-sex relationships, and at least seven that appear to condemn gay sex.

"There's no way around the fact that those passages take a negative view of homosexuality, and nowhere in the Bible is a positive view offered," Allen said. "So conservatives and liberals continue to debate."

Liberals say that some parts of the Bible offered particular truths for a specific times and places but those times and places, as well as human understanding of sexuality, have progressed dramatically.

"The Bible may be divinely inspired, but its authors were human and saw, as St. Paul puts it, through a glass darkly," said Jim Naughton, a Christian gay rights activist and communications consultant. "On the subject of homosexuality, the Bible doesn’t mean what Phil Robertson thinks it means."

Conservatives such as Robertson, on the other hand, argue that the Bible is the bedrock of their faith, unchanging and unalterable. "We want you to know that first and foremost we are a family rooted in our faith in God and our belief that the Bible is His word," the Robertson family said Thursday.

For decades, the gulf between the two sides has divided denominations, churches and families. To paraphrase Lincoln, both sides read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and both invoke his aid to argue against each other. Which is why our contemporary debate over homosexuality is so fierce, and so seemingly unending.

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Belief • Bible • Christianity • Church • Culture wars • Discrimination • Ethics • evangelicals • Faith • Gay marriage • Gay rights • gender issues • Prejudice • Same-sex marriage • Sexuality

soundoff (5,719 Responses)
  1. pbernasc

    I didn't know a stool could matter

    December 20, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
  2. nc1965

    Headline: Does 'Duck' star get Bible wrong?

    Red-necks, especially glorified ones, get most everything wrong because they feel that their beliefs applies to everyone.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
  3. slim jim

    In the bible god conducts the first GAY marriage... its right in BIBLE.

    Jonathan has a secret meeting with David in the forest. David will be king, he says, and he will be right beside him. "And they two made a covenant before the LORD." 23:16-18

    "The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul ... And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his garments ... and his girdle.”

    (19:2) "Jonathan ... delighted much in David.”

    (20:16) "And Jonathan caused David to swear again, because he loved him: for he loved him as he loved his own soul.”

    20:41) "They kissed one another ... until David exceeded."
    David and Jonathan "kissed one another, and wept with one another" when they parted for what they though might be the last time.

    the only reason the bible writers hated gays was because there hero MOSES got drunk and flashed his you no what at his kids ?. that's not gay that's pedophilia . Moses gets all embarrassed in the morning and blames the kids for his drunkenness after he invents wine .

    total nuts that book is

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

      I brought that up yesterday. David and Jonathan are clearly gay.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
  4. alkihawksfan

    Why do Christians worship Christ, when it is quite clear that Christ, time and time again, told us to believe in, love, and pray to God, the Father? Hebrews 11:1 states that "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things NOT SEEN." Christ was seen, heard, and even touched.
    In John 12:44 it says that "Jesus cried and said, he that believes in me, believes not in me, but in him that sent me."
    In John 14:6, right after Christ ever so rightly proclaims himself as "The Way, The Truth, and The Life", Christ said "No man comes to THE FATHER but by me."
    In becoming the Lamb of God, which takes away the sins of the world", Christ became the Sacrifice, God, the Father being the GIVER of the Sacrifice. In ancient Jewish tradition, on the day of atonement, the head of the household would bring a sacrifice for the High Priest to offer as atonement for the sins of the household of the giver of the sacrifice.
    Paul wrote in II Corinthians that "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself."
    Remember this Christmas that the Angel of the Lord brought "Good tidings of great joy FOR ALL PEOPLE."
    Whether you know it or not, like it or not, or believe it or not, God is already dwelling inside of you.
    "We are spiritual beings having a human experience."

    December 20, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
    • The Metatron

      Well if you want the answer to that...You need to read the first two commandments......You see by worshipping Christ as God...or Christ as a conduit to God...or the Crucifix...Satan has tricked Christians into violating the most basic commandment...and thus doomed them all.....It's why we Jews and Our Muslims friends are constantly amused 😛

      December 20, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
  5. jeff

    Are we actually debating wether or not a redneck duck hunter interpreted a line in the bible correctly?

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

      Some are – I usually just try to debate why religion is necessary anymore at all.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
      • A traveler

        Maybe once upon a time (interesting: that's how most fairy tales begin).

        December 20, 2013 at 3:46 pm |
    • Jeff

      Your right! Why should I pay attention to you. You offer no creditials. You make no duck calls. I shall not pay the least attention to you. LoL

      December 20, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
    • PevanB

      So zippy do you think you know anything about the bible? I would put more stock in what he says then you. I have heard his testimony what is yours? You were saved from a life of manhood your momma?

      December 20, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
  6. Jake

    This kind of news just takes away from the real threats that are out there.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
  7. RB

    Matthew 9:
    9 And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him.

    10 And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples.

    11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?

    12 But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.

    13 But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      why quote from a book written by people in the same cult as you? what does that prove?

      December 20, 2013 at 3:46 pm |
  8. Me

    Here is whats happening on alot of message boards tright now: (non-christian): Oh they are talking about something crazy.. (searches google for a passage somwhere to argue back because they have not way of knowing whats acutally interpreted correctly or not according to the bible) Then they post it as if they "know" something about the laws and covenants within the bible... too funny.. too funny..

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

      Actually, the various Christian cults don't even agree with each other on how to interpret their crazy book of fairy tales AKA the bible, with all its self-contradiction and many translations.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:47 pm |
  9. Dyslexic doG


    If I had the power to create the universe I wouldn't have let all those poor innocent men, women and children die in pain and horror.

    I am glad to say that's the difference between me and your god.

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

      We can’t know the big picture; he could have allowed something we consider bad to happen, to achieve some greater good that we are unable to comprehend. It could have been judgment for sin. There are those who would say, if God allows harmful things to happen as judgment of sin, he is malevolent. Some would also insist that an all-powerful God could achieve his greater good without allowing harm.
      We just can’t know and it doesn’t help those affected to speculate. When we start saying we know why something bad happened to someone, especially someone we perceive as good or innocent, we become like Job’s three friends.
      I think what doG didn’t consider is perfect justice and how you achieve it, without consequence to the offender. Also, without the possibility of doing bad things, we wouldn’t really have free will.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
  10. Ryan

    Unfortunately for CNN, they don;t get to define who is an "expert" on the Bible.

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

      "True, leave that to me."

      – Topher

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

      No, but I imagine having an education in the subject matter marks that definition. Going to church and listening to a preacher is hardly a religious education. In fact, I'd argue if you can't speak Latin or decipher Aramaic then you really have no business forming an opinion on the Bible to begin with.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
  11. Dyslexic doG


    If I had the power to create the universe I wouldn't have let all those poor innocent men, women and children die in pain and horror.

    I am glad to say that's the difference between me and your god.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
  12. Spaz

    What's the big deal? The bible, as a work of fantasy, is open to interpretation.

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

      Historically accurate fantasy?

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


        What year did the Great Flood occur?

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

          Observer, if you want that information I'm sure it wouldn't hurt you to search yourself.. go and carbon date the site in Turkey below Mt Ararat where the Ark is.. and tell me you can't refute its legitimacy..

          December 20, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
  13. Dyslexic doG


    If I had the power to create the universe I wouldn't have let all those poor innocent men, women and children die in pain and horror.

    I am glad to say that's the difference between me and your god.

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


      Nor would you have sent your son to die in their place.

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

        Yes. No way I'd let my son die when I could save him. Terribly heartless and cruel to do that to his son.

        December 20, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
  14. daniel barea

    Either you revere the Word of God or you do not. I do. God's word is clear.

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

      But how do you know it's the word of God?

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

        Same way a sports beat writer follows their favorite team or player.. they write about it to bring glory to that.. everyone is inspired at some point.. can you prove its not the Word of God.?

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

          I'm sorry, did you just counter the "prove your theory" argument with "prove that I'm not right?"


          December 20, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
    • Live4Him

      Same here!

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


      Yes. God clearly supports slavery and beating helpless children.

      PICK and CHOOSE whatever you like. All Christians do.

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

        I don't believe God is pleased with slavery or with the abuse of anyone or anything He created. However, He is a God that gave mankind a choice to worship and obey him, or not. That is something the angels can not do. Angels were created to praise, we were created to choose to worship God. The other choice to is to choose to allow Satan to deceive, and follow man's own sinful nature. It is, afterall, something that comes naturally to all. Mankind chose to follow their own hearts, and be deceived. The end result is devastation, all the terrible things happening in the world right now have already been prophesied in the Bible. Please read it for yourself if you don't believe me. I encourage everyone to please read the Bible, you will find it is more than just a fantasy, or fiction.
        Jesus came to bring salvation to a dying world. By that I mean the ultimate penalty for sin is death, and Jesus came to pay that penalty for us all. All who choose to follow Him are promised a life with him in Heaven forever.
        I know there will be some that don't believe, and think following Christ is wrong; so I would ask that you think about this. If I am wrong, and we just die and nothing else, I can say that I have lived my life as close to the Bible that I know how. I have allowed Christ to be my guide and my Shepard, and I can die peacefully. But if I'm not wrong, and YOU die not know Jesus as your Savior. What do you have to look forward to?

        December 20, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
    • may40

      I love how the liberals...this "Christian gay rights activists" , well that's an oxymoron, likes to twist the Scripture for their own benefit. Funny, what about what it says in Romans 1? How about the Book of Jude? Leviticus? Revelation? etc, etc, etc. God will one day judge, but rather than twist God's word to fit my agenda, I'd rather stick to what the Good Book says. These people who twist the Word are leading people to hell, one at a time. SAD!

      December 20, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
  15. tony

    Put these hillbillies to rest and bring back hoarders!

    December 20, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
    • Winston Smith

      More of that tolerance, respect and good will liberals are so famous for.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
      • tony

        Yeah cause nobody would consider these guys hillbillies..Get a clue.

        December 20, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
  16. Invicta17

    I want to hear every person bashing Christians on this forum spew the same language about Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Shintos and Pagans beliefs, and then tell us all they are not bigots. In fact, this goes far deeper than bigotry, this is an outright assault on religious freedom.

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

      How rich that you would claim this is an assault on religious freedom. No one is telling them they cannot practice their religion, and no one is making laws against their religion.

      If you want to talk about an assault, how about all those conservative who want to use the bible to legislate laws in the united states, even though this is not a theocracy. How about all of those conservatives who don't respect any other religions in the united states?

      Yeah, you're a big steaming pile of hypocrisy.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:47 pm |
      • Invicta17

        Sir, I am not a conservative. What I am shaming is the outright hatred being spewed towards the Christian religion. You don't have much of a leg to stand on when you are literally behaving as a bigot while shouting "Bigot!" at others. People like you are what is truly wrong with the world.

        December 20, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
    • A traveler

      A fairy tale is a fairy tale and doesn't make any difference which religion (or scientology) it concerns itself with. Fiction or fact? Everyone should decide for them self - just don't blindly listen to the self-proclaimed "men of god". Time after time they eventually are unmasked as just men beating their chests.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
      • Invicta17

        Oh are they? Are Buddhists being exposed as "men beatig their chests?" Are nuns being exposed as "women beating their chests?" You are delusional. And an obvious Atheist bigot with no ability to allow others to think for themselves.

        December 20, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
  17. Jeff

    IF you make your opinion known, but diminish a market, you will get the boot. But if you do it nude on a wrekcing ball and twerk it or just make SHOCK TV, and the ratings go up, well then you may have your opinion and possible a TV servies!

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

      Living in the public eye has consequences. Oh well.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
  18. Mark

    First off show me the original text that the bible is from an we can go from there. Every religion interprets their version of the bible different from everyone else. All religion is full of bigotry which is what Phil is full of. I watch Duck Dynasty regularll, but turn it off at the end when the religion gargabe starts spewing. Here is an interesting thought...if there where no religion there would be no bigotry and no wars. Maybe all you chrisitians should take it down a notch. The pope claims to talk to god regularily, but still he harbers pedophiles and rapists. If there is any justice liars like the pope will be judged.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
  19. Dyslexic doG

    one year since the Newtown massacre.

    If I had the power to create the universe I wouldn't have let all those poor innocent children die in pain and horror.

    I am glad to say that's the difference between me and your god.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
    • Invicta17

      God allowed man to have free will. And you know what man did with it? Chose to obey Satan. That is where you are very wrong. God is not allowing anything. Satan is influencing this world and we are choosing to follow him. It's very simple.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
      • Dyslexic doG

        free will ... what a slimy, con man slide out of responsibility.


        December 20, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
        • Winston Smith

          Without free will, how can you have responsibility?

          December 20, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
  20. Bible Bob

    As A Christian I am glad we have a man who also can win a Charles Manso lookalike contest any day. That's talent.

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

      Have you seen him when he's preaching? The likeness with Manson is even more startling.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:28 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.