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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. Rimmy

    I don't believe in the bible and I don't believe in duck dynasty. the show scripted crap. let the old geezer say whatever he wants to. nobody takes him seriously anyway.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
    • QS

      Unfortunately I have to disagree – far too many people take people like him seriously simply because he makes claims of being a believer in the same thing they believe.

      Religious is infectious and is why I consider even speech such as his dangerous.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
      • omeany

        I see your point but I don't think he would actually win any new converts. Rather, he would only give a "justification" for ignorance and most people who are inclined to think this way don't need much in the way of justification.

        I think he could serve as a bad example (especially to children) of something we as a society want to move beyond.

        I think sometimes rather than repressing bad behavior you should shine the world's brightest spotlight on it and then you have a much better chance of getting rid of it. So Lights, Camera, Action and let the kids watch and explain to them that this is the kind of thinking you want them to avoid.

        December 20, 2013 at 4:28 pm |
  2. mark

    So the Quack Kingdom wants to defend ignorance, Oh the humanity!

    December 20, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      LOL

      December 20, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
  3. Wiseman

    Christian Gay Activist interpreting the Bible is the same as having Satan interpret the Bible

    December 20, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
  4. 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 3:48 pm |
    • spfx

      I work in this industry and you are correct, it's all about ratings and money. What was said in the interview may or may not have been planned, but the vested interests are making the most out of it. This is not news, but here it is on CNN front page, what a joke. People getting all excited about what a reality TV star thinks, haha the joke's on all of us.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:06 pm |
    • Charlie

      The real sin in America today? Coveting. When the Bible thumpers go there, I'll listen.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
  5. omeany

    I find most people can look at the bible and find justification for any belief they may hold.

    What a lot of folks have difficulty grasping is the bible did not drop from the sky complete. It was compiled over many centuries with it's earliest text being written 40-80 years after the death of Jesus and was usually slanted toward whatever the ruling political influence was at the time of writing.

    Also it is important to know that the Emperor Constantine was responsible for the the direction the book would take. For example, there was a vote of about 288 Bishops that actually voted on the diety of Jesus (stating he was God in human form)...Those Bishops that voted against were booted out of the kingdom.

    My point is the composition of the bible had less to do with the truth about God and more with uniting a kingdom under one political/religious banner and controlling mass groups of diverse people.

    The bible is a great way to see how mankind has tried to understand God and there are many good things we can take away from it (love thy neighbor, pay taxes, help the poor etc...) but it is not a literal interpretation of an almighty God and that's where we often get into trouble. Wars have been fought over one groups understanding differing from anothers.

    Until we move beyond this silliness we will continue to hurt our fellow human beings by using this compilation of our limited understanding of the Almighty to justify our ever prejudice and hatred.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
    • Live4Him

      correction :

      it's earliest <New Testament text being written 40-80 years after

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

        Fair enough, I was in a hurry!

        December 20, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
    • NKBL

      Beautiful explanation.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
  6. slim jim

    Religion,

    ONE WOMAN'S LIE ABOUT ADULTERY THAT GOT SERIOUSLY OUT OF HAND !

    December 20, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
  7. Vaughnadrian

    Do we still live in the USA

    December 20, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
  8. JiminNM

    Regardless, every kneel shall bow, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, and the truth will be shouted from the rooftop for all to hear. Main question is whether or not a person wants to know the truth and then live according to the truth.

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

      It's my opinion that your opinion about truth is dead wrong. Your words have been heard and summarily dismissed.
      Have a nice day.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
    • A traveler

      Yeah and MY baloney has a first name. Yours?

      December 20, 2013 at 4:00 pm |
    • omeany

      Here's my thought. We have fossils that clearly show that man was/is an evolving creature. We were not created perfect as the premise of the creation story suggests. If we were not created perfect, we did not fall from grace. If there was no fall there is no need for a saviour. No need for a savior then the reason for the crucifiction of Jesus was because the Romans viewed him as a rebel to their authority.

      Jesus was an awesome teacher and there is much we can learn from him but he was not our savior and he has been used as a rallying point for some of the most horrible acts in history and it's time to stop the nonsense.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:01 pm |
      • Charlie

        So, in the Lewis Trilemma (Liar, Lunatic or Lord), put you down for Liar?

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

          In order to believe Jesus was a liar, I would have to believe that he actually said he was the Messiah and I don't know that he did. I suspect a lot of the stories we have heard about Jesus have been passed down from generation to generation and have grown with time or have been shaped to fit a particular dogma that was practical to the leadership in power at that time.

          So put me down for NONE!

          December 20, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
  9. tom LI

    The reality is this – there is what many versions of what the Bible (of which there is no one standard copy) say – and then there is WHAT the Sects say the Bible says...and of course what all the self-appointed Experts say the Bible says. Its worse than the old adage; there are 3 sides to every story – because with the Bible – there are as many versions as there are Sects and Preachers.

    And IF Xtians could just come to grasp these realities there might not be so much enmity among the Sects, and individuals and maybe the Whole of Xtian-dom and every place Xtianity has touched in some way...

    Life Lesson # 83; No ONE group or person OWNS the Bible or what it might mean. (same applies to all Religious texts) Its always the ones trying to force their POV of the Bible and on others that has been at the heart of so much grief in the world.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:47 pm |
  10. slim jim

    If it was left to the bible teaching, PAULA DEAN could still own a black man as a slave. But we the normal people of the world don't live in that bible world. Sorry She had to go so does HE.

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

      Were the slaves better off having been brought to America or should they have been left in Africa?

      December 20, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
    • travis

      The bible never condones slavery.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
      • Observer

        travis,

        Either you are CLUELESS or you didn't look at the verses you already were given.

        Tell the truth next time;

        December 20, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
      • Dyslexic doG

        LIAR

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

          Where are your qualifications to know what is in the Bible verbatim?

          December 20, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
      • visitor

        Of course it does. Seriously what Bible do you read?

        December 20, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
      • slim jim

        (45:5) "Five and twenty thousand of length, and the ten thousand of breadth shall also the Levites, the ministers of the house, have for themselves, for a possession for twenty chambers."

        December 20, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
  11. Wiseman

    Gays are looking at the long barrel on Phil's shotgun and are jealous

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

      me thinks ye are not so wise

      December 20, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
  12. Dyslexic doG

    If you could reason with religious people, there would be no religious people!

    – House

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

      If you could reason with nonreligious people, there would be no nonreligious people!- front door 🙂

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

      Peace be with you.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
    • Crushinator

      please do not continue to confuse the observable universe with "reality".... Use logic and reason to determine there is more out there in the universe than you can see in the small sliver of light called the visible spectrum, and the tiny percentage of sound waves we call audible sound. Simply because you are limited in your perceptions, try to understand there is a lot out there in reality you will never see and never hear, but which has a profound impact on your daily life.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
      • Dyslexic doG

        no, you have to use your imagination for that stuff.

        December 20, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
  13. Gary

    I don't know if Phil is being truthful because I'm sure I saw him in "Deliverance"....

    December 20, 2013 at 3:46 pm |
  14. Live4Him

    Why don't progressives object to A&E's bigotry. A&E were willing to profit from the Christian family, but don't want that Christian family discussing their Biblical views! Yet, the Progressives are quite accepting of this hypocritical behavior.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Nonsense.

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

      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 3:47 pm |
      • Live4Him

        @Dyslexic doG : Preventing you from forcing others into following your deluded rules is not persecution.

        You seem confused. How can an interview with GQ force another into following Phil's views?

        December 20, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
        • Dyslexic doG

          LIE4him

          you seem confused. my post was toward your continual whining persecution complex on this blog. it was not toward a duck's GQ article.

          December 20, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
    • sly

      Corporations in a capitalist society are generally for profit. That is how most of us have jobs and get fed. When their employees do things that they feel will reduce profit, they make changes. Football teams fire their coaches.

      That's America – I think most progressives have worked hard to ensure corporations abide by the law. Without progressives there would be no worker protection.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
    • tom LI

      the profits might be there, but the reality is more people laugh at these types of Reality Characters then do idolize them! Kudos for the familty making so much money off a silly "invention" and then a TV show, but the reality is they are a breed of Americans that do not have the well-being of the whole of society at heart – but rather their own self-aggrandizement. Which is very much NOT what Jesus taught!

      These men and women, and all those like them are as far from Jesus as Porky Pig is from a real pig!

      December 20, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
    • ParmaJeff

      Corporations are people....GOTP.
      Until one of them does something that Live doesn't like. Then they're hypocrites.

      Your actions have consequences. A&E was entirely within their rights, as, you know, people and all.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
    • visitor

      A&E MADE that family. They were dressing in polo shirts before they were handed costumes and scripts. The scrips include the God and Gun stuff. They have cue cards and microphones piping in what to say. Do you really think you are watching anything other than a PLAY with some ad lib? Seriously? You do???????

      December 20, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
  15. bryan kennedy

    freedom of speech... I dare you , to tell you wife she's FAT

    December 20, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
    • Misty Murray

      lol... right! I did that once. No, it was twice: my first time and it was my last time.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:46 pm |
  16. Dyslexic doG

    You mean to tell me,
    that a Jewish zombie can make me live forever,
    if I telepathically accept him as my master…
    all because a talking snake convinced a woman created by one rib
    to eat from a magical tree?
    Really???

    - Rainer Braendlein

    December 20, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
  17. Royal

    I don't agree with Phil Robertson's quote. It is true but incomplete. Only because the bible is a personal choice of how I'm to live. Not to condemn nor judge others. Also, as readers and followers of the bible, when I see or hear scripture quoted. I'm to go and read the scriptures before and after the quoted scripture for understanding and truth. I do commend Phil for sharing his faith with others, as he and I continue to struggle and grow in our faith journey. My faith's foundation is Love. Phil, I'll pray for you and please pray for me.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
  18. Wiseman

    God made Eve for Adam not another dude

    December 20, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      for adam and from adam ...

      December 20, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      Except that there is no evidence that god exists nor evidence that Adam and Eve existed, thus it doesn't matter in the real world what you believe your god did.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
    • Theo

      Adam and Eve never existed go back to school

      December 20, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
    • omeany

      I know it's hard to grasp this concept but there are fossils that clearly prove that man evolved and was not made perfect. If man did not fall then there is no need to be "saved" from sin. "Sin" is in the eye of the beholder which is why we have been so violent as a race of beings.

      I believe once we stop using "god" to justify our personal prejudices and start looking for who God is for ourselves )rather than trying to interpret what someone else wrote about their experiences) we will start becoming the loving, humane race we were meant to be but for our own pettiness.

      December 20, 2013 at 5:12 pm |
  19. A traveler

    All this debate and gnashing of teeth over a book many believe is a work of fiction seems silly.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
    • travis

      Historically accurate fiction?

      December 20, 2013 at 3:46 pm |
      • Dyslexic doG

        no, not even historically accurate

        December 20, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
        • travis

          Oh, there is no Egypt? Jews were never held as slaves in egypt? There was no Babylon?

          December 20, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
        • Dyslexic doG

          then about as historically accurate as any book written anywhere.

          look at my book ... it has the name of an animal ... that animal exists so my whole book must be accurate

          look at my book ... it has the name of a place ... that place exists so my whole book must be accurate

          look at my book ... it mentions the moon ... I have seen the moon so my whole book must be accurate

          sheesh!

          December 20, 2013 at 3:57 pm |
      • truthprevails1

        Huh? How is the bible historically accurate?

        December 20, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
      • HotAirAce

        Too bad for Babble Humpers that the Smithsonian has clearly stated The Babble is not a historical doc.ument.

        December 20, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
    • Tired of Silly1

      The crazies take their storybook seriously.

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

      A book which many take as the truly inspired word of God...

      December 20, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
    • tom LI

      Travis – there is zero proof the Jews were enslaved in Egypt! So your argument fails right there...

      Plus getting locations right, even a few characters – in no way proves or provides any support fort the Supernatural claims made in the book! Its like Harry Potter series getting London correct! What does that prove about Harry Potter? Right – zilch!

      December 20, 2013 at 3:57 pm |
    • MAn Of God

      Brother I hope that one day you come to repentance. I can garentee you that you will see God, on what terms good or bad is going to be up to you.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:00 pm |
  20. john

    What is that in Phil's mouth in the picture above? Oh no!

    December 20, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
    • troy

      I feel that although close in comparison, his quote was not that far from what was written. Its just sad when a person exercises their freedom of speach and gets fired. It used to be if you didn't like someone you just don't like them. It's not like he went on national tv, he was asked during an interview.
      What any of this says to me is that celebrities or anyone of higher class don't have the same privaleges as an American as the next American. Bad enough they are held to a higher standard but now this whole thing makes it like they have no rights being a celebrity. No matter what you are or what you do in America, once you are or become one, you are one.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:09 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.