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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
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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. jazzgrrl58

    I think Robertson is gonna be in for a rude awakening when he stands at the pearly gates.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
    • DR45

      yea he is when God says "well done my good and faithful servant" PERIOD!

      December 20, 2013 at 4:13 pm |
  2. KeninTexas

    I find it hilarious that so called experts come out of the woodwork to pile on. I suspect these so called experts are most likely card carrying members of GLADD too. Pitiful. Typical of a CNN hatchet job.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
  3. Bruce

    Read Romans 1. All of it. Pick a version of the Bible to read. It talks of the spiraling down of moral values and how those who are falling down in sin want to deceive others that their life choices are ok. What a statement of what has happened in our country for the last 50 years. Things that were considered immoral, deviant or just wrong are accepted. But God loves us all.

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

      Bruce,

      Romans (12:20) also says “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.”

      Do you believe and practice EVERYTHING that Romans says or just pick-and-choose?

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

        It's about living the sinner, not the sin.

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

          travis,

          Do you believe and practice EVERYTHING that Romans says or just pick-and-choose?

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

          Hom0s_xuality can't be a sin, because it's not a choice.

          December 20, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
      • Bruce

        Love the sinner hate the sin. I try to live a life that Paul talked about in Romans. Also the other letters he wrote. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I try to live a life worthy of attempting to make Him Lord in my life. But I confess to you I fall short. But it is my attempt to keep my eyes on the prize of eternal life with Him. Life is too short to be dragging people into sin. We should be encouraging one another. And we can't do it on our strength but on the strength of Jesus living in us. Have a blessed Christmas.

        December 20, 2013 at 4:27 pm |
    • Gol

      Why the last 50 years? Why not the last 60 or 80...maybe the last hundred years?

      The nation is better off in many ways morally than it was a half century ago. Offer the chance to any African-American or any woman with dreams of working in the corporate world and offer them a time travel trip back to 1963 and see who would agree to go and stay there.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
      • Trrosen

        But Phil says they were happier then.

        December 20, 2013 at 4:13 pm |
    • omeany

      The issue I take with this kind of thinking is, it is based on thinking of a patriarchal society who were the ones who where selecting what doctrines were going into the bible. These were mostly good men with good intentions but their judgements were based on their culture and understanding of God at the time.

      As a society, we now know much more about science and have a better concept of the world than they did. As our understanding about our world grows our understanding of God needs to grow as well. The world for the most part acknowledges the accomplishment of women as well as men. Most of the world understands that being gay is not a choice any more than being straight is.

      The only real thing holding us back as a society is this petty bickering over what "tribal god" we use to judge the actions of other human beings. The bottom line is...If you do not like something it can be called a sin and then all you have to do is say god hates the act and that allows you to justify the hatred of not just the act but the person who commits the act you think is sinful.

      We have fossils that show man is an evolving creature. He was not created perfect and then fell from grace. He was never perfect to begin with. There is no "sin" to be "saved" from only the disapproval of society who judges what they themselves believe is right or wrong and then use "god" to justify their actions.

      Once we realize our relationship with God is truly unconditional and we stop trying to climb over our self made barriers we will be a much more humane and enlightened society.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
  4. Jeff

    Surprise A&E, you do not own PHIL and never will...... dumb #sses.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
  5. Crushinator

    Atheists continue their close minded approach of disbelieving anything that is not existing in the very limited range of human perception. It is unfortunate, because the foundation of much of their religion, which they call science, is based on inferences made without possibility of observation years before we garnered the technology to test and disprove many of those theories. Just look at the insanity of what was considered indisputable scientific fact a century ago...

    December 20, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      Oh but it's open-minded to accept everything on faith?

      December 20, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
    • Guest1

      So much nonsense in such a short paragraph. Bravo!

      December 20, 2013 at 4:00 pm |
    • Mike J

      In my opinion, it is close minded to have to create manmade fantasies, like religion, instead of observing the divine nature of life as it exists.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:00 pm |
  6. Observer

    Jesus NEVER mentioned gays.

    He did talk about how the Golden Rule is extremely important.

    Look at all the Christian HYPOCRITES who don't follow what Jesus said.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
    • Live4Him

      Nor did he change the law condemning the gay lifestyle.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
      • truthprevails1

        No but science showed that the primitive man who wrote the bible were wrong and in the 21st century that is what matters.

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

        My lord and savior- the Holy Flying Spaghetti Monster puts his noodley appendage in orrifices of boys and gurls alike- may sauce be upon him R'Amen

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

      Jesus was a Jewish Rabbi dude. Leviticus says no butt focking be offended- get a life

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

      Dishonesty 101. You should teach it. Firstly, the Bible is more than just what Jesus said. Secondly, nowhere does Jesus rescind OT law that sodomy was a sin.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
  7. Borealbob

    Get over it folks- if you indeed believe the buy-bull Leviticus states- UNEQUIVOCALLY that a man screwing a mad is sodomy punishable by death by stoning. This is not up to interpretation. I for one could not give a rats A$$ what anyone does- but Duck Dude is absolutely correct if he believes this crap. Live with it- be offended- could not care less.

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

      The NT says they're deserving of death. Apparently you need to jackhammer it into these peoples' foreheads before they'll admit the Bible doesn't say what they want it to.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:33 pm |
  8. Jolat

    Go announce your gayness in a Muslim country and see what happens.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
  9. Cindy

    Way Too Much Ado About Nothing"...................Enough already between the media and A & E........

    December 20, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
  10. Charles Manson

    Hey! He stole my look!

    December 20, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
  11. Jaimie

    My friends and I have been and continue to boycott A&E because of their stupidity.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
    • DS

      You mean their stupidity in putting these bigots on TV?

      December 20, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
  12. Essie

    STOP LYING!!!!! THE BIBLE IS CLEAR AND CONCISE!! WHOEVER THIS PASTOR IS WHO TRIED TO CHANGE THE WORD FOR SIN PURPOSES... IS WRONG!!! THAT'S EXACTLY WHY THE ANGELS DESTROYED SODOM AND GOMORRAH! THEY WANTED TO SLEEP WITH THE ANGELS THINKING THEY WERE MEN! -JUDGEMENT DAY IS GOING TO SURPRISE A LOT OF PEOPLE!!!

    December 20, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
    • Live4Him

      And when it comes, they will all claim to be a follower of Christ.

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

        Chapter and verse where Jesus said anything about gays.
        If you're a follower of Him, like your moniker seems to indicate, this should be easy.

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

          Geebis doesn't say anything about his Dad the Holy Flying Spaghetti Monster- that does not mean his Noodleness does not exist- may sauce be upon him R'Amen

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

      What about those who have admitted they made a mistake in life and want to turn it around?

      December 20, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
      • Live4Him

        Even the thief on the cross had sufficient time to 'turn it around', so all are welcome until they die.

        December 20, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
    • Guest1

      You mad, bro?

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

      Essie,

      The sin of Sodom was GREED.

      Please read a Bible SOMEDAY.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
    • And the winner is ...

      And, if you type in all caps you're more believable, and what ever you're saying has to be true.

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

      You stop lying – the bible is anything but clear and concise!

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

      STOP YELLING!

      December 20, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
  13. Sharon

    Men with his views come a dime a dozen in the south. The only difference is, he has a hit t.v. show(don't ask me why) and a little bit of money. Hillbilly watching is apparently the trend these days.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
  14. Christians are pure hypocrites

    What Christians and Rube Robertson are NOT doing:

    "Judge not lest thou be judged"

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

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

    But hey, it's okay for you to break Jesus' direct instructions. It's the other person who is sinning for an obscure part of the Old Testament, which you mostly don't follow either

    December 20, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
    • Live4Him

      Why don't you object to A&E's bigotry. A&E was willing to profit from the Christian family, but didn't want that Christian family discussing their Biblical views!

      December 20, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
      • midwest rail

        The Roberstsons gladly profited from the opportunity A&E gave them.

        December 20, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
    • DR45

      all he is doing is giving it to you stright up.....this is what the Bible says about it. Its wrong, theres no getting around it. Period...

      December 20, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
  15. Theo

    Fighting over a made up story just makes me laugh how gullible people are.

    I got some land to sell you !

    December 20, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
  16. NC-Boy

    These good ole boys just need to go away. A&E almost the right thing. Maybe they will get it right in a few days and cancel the show altogether.

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

      Wow! That's exactly what I was thinking about know-it-all liberals that want to cram their socialistic views down my throat. Just go away.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
      • truthprevails1

        You live in a Secular country, you too are free to leave if you don't like that!

        December 20, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
  17. Jeff

    THOU SHALL NOT HAVE A REAL OPINION COMING FROM A REALITY SHOW REPRESENTIVE! LET IT BE WRITTEN! LET IT BE SO! ~ A&E

    December 20, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
  18. kyzaadrao

    Sorry, all told the scripture paints a clear picture. An expert approach doesn't try to just nitpick a meaning separated from the whole. It tries to put together the whole picture where scripture bears out other scripture. And the whole message is crystal clear, and not at all a symbolic or cultural one.

    There are times when scripture doesn't adapt to cultural trends, this is one of those times.

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

      Clear as mud.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
    • Ollie

      Then there are other times, when scriptures are completely out of sync with current knowledge on a subject.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
    • QS

      Religion and morality are not synonymous.

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

      That women are second class human beings? Yes absolutely, it is crystal clear in the Bible.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:01 pm |
    • I was just thinking..

      yes I agree. it really holds true about women being unclean during the 28 day cycle and the thing about not touching pork skin, so there goes your football. Oh and this is the best one. We should all have slaves. How many do you want?

      December 20, 2013 at 4:28 pm |
  19. me

    They envied him his money and fame, so they asked him a question that would surely undermine his riches.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
  20. mark

    God created adam and eve!!! Not adam and steve !!!

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

      Prove it!

      December 20, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
      • Borealbob

        The buy-bull says it- he doesn't have to prove anything

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

        are we seriously going to play this game? Then you go ahead and prove He did not....

        anyways, Dinosaurs are mentioned in the bible as "behemoth" and it is interesting how scientists try and overlook the cave paintings and pottery depicting living dinosaurs when there should not have been any based on our currently accepted interpretation of the fossil record. google dinosaurs and man, or dinosaur cave painting, or dinosaur pottery, then dinosaurs and the bible, the bible also mentions the earth is round

        December 20, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
        • AtheistSteve

          Yeah...a pizza is round. The earth is a sphere and there are Hebrew words to describe distinctly different shapes. Was the author too lazy to use the proper label? There is so much staggering ignorance in your post it's almost a guarantee that it's the work of a POE. When a rabbit skeleton is discovered in the same strata that has dinosaur remains I'll refrain from calling you an idiot.
          Don't hold your breath.

          December 20, 2013 at 4:39 pm |
      • Pat

        You prove that He didn't!

        December 20, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
    • bob1

      but adam and eve's baby's had tons of incest to make a race of genetically disfigured humans

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

      Amen!

      December 20, 2013 at 3:59 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.