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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. Rylee F

    I find it comical that Christianity only became popular due to the lack of requirements for sacrifice. Basically, you don't have to "pay" anything, and therefore Christianity took root in ancient Rome/Greece. Before that everyone prayed to many Gods.

    I just find it ironic that it's only popular today because it's free....otherwise it might not ever have a large following.

    December 20, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
  2. Selmers

    I'd say A&E got America wrong.

    December 20, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
    • Billy

      Generalize much?

      December 20, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
  3. Dyslexic doG

    how can you possibly speak about "what jesus said"?!?!

    The King James version of the new testament was completed in 1611 by 8 members of the church of England. There were (and still are) NO original texts to translate. The oldest manuscripts we have were written down 100's of years after the last apostle died. There are over 8,000 of these old manuscripts with no two alike. The king james translators used none of these anyway. Instead they edited previous translations to create a version their king and parliament would approve. So.... 21st century christians believe the "word of god" is a book edited in the 17th century from the 16th century translations of 8,000 contradictory copies of 4th century scrolls that claim to be copies of lost letters written in the 1st century.

    So we don't even know if the jesus character existed, much less what he may or may not have said.

    Seriously?! Claiming that jesus said certain phrases is utter mind numbing nonsense, and yet you seem to base your belief on this! Your belief has more holes in it than swiss cheese! It would be laughable if it wasn't so tragic.

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

      Now, see, we both know that Jesus said NOTHING about gay people...and that is where their whole argument falls apart.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:09 pm |
      • travis

        Matt 19:1-8

        December 20, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
    • travis

      The dead sea scrolls are original text.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:09 pm |
      • daksimba

        Umm, no they are not. Research is hard. Plus, 30% of the biblical text found are not even in the bible.

        December 20, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
    • mucklucky

      You question this man's faith. Have you ever read the Bible? You should ask for faith to believe, then read it... slowly... studying it... then you will have a different viewpoint.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:12 pm |
    • PMZanetti

      It is indeed horribly tragic that people allow themselves to believe the unbelievable. Religion is probably the single worst creation in the history of humanity. It serves as an excuse for believing in fairy tales, and taking actions in the name of it. Honestly, a rational person can conclude that any and all serious religious beliefs (based on what they are based on) is downright insane, and of serious concern.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
      • tad

        yup and you come from a monkey and a pig mating ( thats what your sciensists came up with). Now sorry to hurt your feeling but your the one who believes in fairy tales. if you need proof of God do me a favor and go look at yourself in the mirror and be open minded just look at yourself and tell me if you werent intelligently designed. If you say no you werent you have isseues to check up on.

        December 20, 2013 at 4:35 pm |
    • voiceoftruthusa

      Nah, but nice try though. The Bible is perfectly fine. Stop relying on anti-Christian historians to tell you about Christian works. At least consider BOTH sides before coming to such conclusions.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
  4. Brian Seguin

    Silly f@ggot$, dick$ are 4 Chick$, God made Adam and Eve NOT Adam and Steve. The "Ducks" are bigger than your cause will ever be so move on and get on with life. Phil, you are #1 along with your family. Stand your ground and your religion till the end. Thanks Duck family for standing together and I support you all 100%, Brian S.

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

      Wow. Big talker. Should I give you a green star today, Brian? But wait – how did you find out those things, Brian?

      December 20, 2013 at 4:09 pm |
    • somethingstellar

      Considering the creation myth completely contradicts itself, its very likely that "God" didn't make Adam and Eve either.
      Where exactly did Cain's wife come from in a time where there were no women on earth besides Eve?
      Because Eve didn't have any daughters until after Cain was already banished to the desert with this family that appeared out of nowhere. Oh let me guess, she formed herself from some dust or something and just showed up lol.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:12 pm |
  5. QS

    Every person who insists we simply ignore these discriminatory beliefs that lead to discriminatory actions should have a right taken away from them that they take for granted.

    Maybe then people would start to understand why so many of us are fed up with religious beliefs being given a free pass!

    The perpetuation of religious intolerance is only allowed to be perpetuated because too many of us don't speak out when religion oversteps....which is far too often.

    December 20, 2013 at 4:06 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      America is turning into a theocracy thanks to the christian taliban

      December 20, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
    • Brian Seguin

      Go live a healthy life and straighten yourself out. A butt is an "EXIT" point only to get rid of garbage in your body. It wan never meant to be an "Entry" point for anyone or anything for that matter. The bible can help you understand right from wrong and you should read it. Maybe you will understand the difference between a "man" and a "woman" and what the work "marriage" really means for the rest of us.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:12 pm |
      • Billy Bobber

        Take a hike Brian.

        December 20, 2013 at 4:33 pm |
  6. somethingstellar

    "Does Phil Robertson get the Bible wrong?"

    Its not even just him though. Its a big problem with most so-called Christians of today. The true Christians who actually understand Jesus' teachings are a great minority it seems, and that's too bad. I mean if you're going to refer to a fairy tail for facts, at least understand the fairy tail.

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

      aw im sorry, i think you dont believe bacause maybe your heart was broken when you found out santa wasnt real?

      December 20, 2013 at 4:09 pm |
      • somethingstellar

        Bahahaha shows you know nothing 😉
        I believe in God honey. Just not YOUR faux-god.

        December 20, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
  7. Live4Him

    Lev 18:22 [The Law says] Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.

    Matt 5:17 [Jesus said] “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

    December 20, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
    • Observer

      Live4Him,

      Yes. Jesus NEVER mentioned gays. He did say how important the Golden rule is.

      Just PICK and CHOOSE whatever you like.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
      • Live4Him

        I see that you like to pick and choose as you like.

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

      “‘Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed.

      “‘Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.

      27 “‘Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.

      28 “‘Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.

      9 “‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death. Because they have cursed their father or mother, their blood will be on their own head.

      10 “‘If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.

      27 “‘A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them; their blood will be on their own heads.’”

      44 “‘Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. 45 You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. 46 You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.

      OK, FOLLOW THEM.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
      • daksimba

        BTW, have fun in prison when you go to kill that fortune teller down the road.

        December 20, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
    • kate

      Read the entire chapter of Leviticus and tell me how many of the laws of God you actually follow. When was the last time you sacrificed a lamb for God, for example? Eat any forbidden animals lately? When was the last time you know of anyone going to a priest to have a skin problem analyzed? I can't recall the last time i heard of anyone taking two turtledoves into church to announce the end of her menses. Since its a buffet religion, why not opt out of the stuff on gays just like we do the turtledoves.

      On that note, it could be argued that being a Christian in itself violates God's law. Jesus was born, lived and died as a Jew and God's laws are of the Jewish tradition. I don't recall anything in the new Testament about Jesus wanting people to create a new religion in his name, so who is to say Christianity itself does not offend God?

      December 20, 2013 at 4:43 pm |
    • 22444

      Leviticus also outlaws eating shrimp and disobeying your parents. But you don't see the preacher types upset about Popeyes. They're too fixated on men's anuses to care.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
  8. bassmaster22

    You can't get wrong the most subjective text ever written. Ask ten so called experts what something means and you will get ten different answers all insisting that they are correct.
    It's very much like the second ammendment in that way.
    Those words about as worthless as the ink its printed with. There's my interpretation.

    December 20, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
    • somethingstellar

      Aaah but they think that as long as you can't prove them false, that makes them true somehow.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
  9. misleading headline

    Nice headline, CNN ... when after reading this tripe, we learn that Robertson does indeed know his Bible - regardless of how you might want to interpret that passage. That's why gays leave the church - they can't reconcile their sin with the Bible, so they can't be part of it. We all have our faults and sins, but when we stop allowing God to change us and start demanding that He change his suggested way of living, that's when it all falls apart.

    December 20, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
  10. michael snyder

    how does someone catch the gay?

    December 20, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
  11. bluemalak

    I'm not anti-gay, but I have read the bible, and what he said was pretty darn accurate to the biblical scripture..

    December 20, 2013 at 4:04 pm |
  12. It just gets funnier and funnier

    When Phil Robertson is your hero . . . wow!

    December 20, 2013 at 4:04 pm |
  13. Lynndel

    Duck gives his views. Now we get media interpretations. Call a quack a duck.

    December 20, 2013 at 4:04 pm |
  14. Anne Winters

    I am in full support of gay rights. I'm sorry he believes the way he does, but that is his right. This is what our nation was founded on; free speech. I may not agree with his beliefs, but he has every right under our laws to have them.
    About the Bible; a collection of interesting myths, most culled from pre-existing pagan beliefs. Take the many good things the Bble has to say, and try to remember that it was written by people. Fallible as are we all.

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

      The issue isn't whether or not the bible is myth/fiction or truth. The issue is whether he believes it is a sin based on the bible and his religion. If we dismiss his beliefs as invalid then we have to say that we are no longer a nation of religious freedom and all religious rights are out the window.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
    • somethingstellar

      Yep. But we also have every right to react to his use of freedom of speech and he has every right to deal with the consequences, like the rest of us do when we do or say something stupid.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
  15. JJ

    Never get in the middle of a bunch of Christians who differ on Bible passages.

    December 20, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
  16. loki

    it is written in Cornholio 66:6 get bent

    December 20, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
  17. Charles

    Is this what we really need to be wasting our time on? So he messed up a Bible verse. Does that mean we need to burn the man at the steak? Come on people this harassing people over the littlest things over the news is getting very ignorant and ridiculous.

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

      Steak?

      December 20, 2013 at 4:04 pm |
      • Pat

        Don't burn anyone at the steak, just cook it please.

        December 20, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
  18. 270to256

    The truth hurts sometimes. The truth will set you free. Why is it so upsetting to so many for a man like Phil to state his beliefs? He isn't directing it at any person in particular, so why does it bother people? So what if you got a little offended, no one said life was fair.

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

      A&E can employ who they wish. Being a Christian doesn't exempt one from contractual obligations.

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

      " Why is it so upsetting to so many for a man like Phil to state his beliefs? "

      Umm, most of the uproar period is all about him being fired, which A&E had every right to. Most of us wouldn't have expected some backwoods Louisiana duck hunting hick to be a wise sagely man in the first place, I don't think any of us are really surprised at all. Y'all are predictable, we know what to expect. The fact that this is still news is all on the butthurt right wingers who don't know what freedom of speech means or protects you from lol. It certainly doesn't protect you from consequences, even though you all seem to think you should be exempt from consequence.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:30 pm |
  19. Crushinator

    One of the great Atheists once said, If God would have left one scientific fact in the bible, he would believe it. Well, the bible mentions not only that the Earth is round, which it describes as a circle, it also mentions dinosaurs, which it labels "behemoths". The Bible plainly has truth written in it, and continues to stump scientists to this day, who got tired of trying to prove it wrong so just retranslated it and threw it away.

    atheists are so close minded though that you could present them with these truths, and they would laugh, because they believe that reality is only the "observable" completely disregarding all the things we cannot see or hear or feel that already have a profound impact on our lives.

    We have learned how to alter the very DNA of a creature, and if we can do it having only been around a few thousand years as modern man, how unlikely is it that this was not done before in the 4 billion years the earth has been here? I think the fallacy in their logic is just so completely absurd.

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

      Crushinator,

      A circle is FLAT. The earth is a sphere.

      Ooops.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
      • Live4Him

        @Observer : A circle is FLAT. The earth is a sphere.

        The circle describes the line between light and darkness on the surface of the earth. Without the sun in a fixed position, this could ONLY describe a sphere.

        December 20, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
      • tad

        You cant have a monring and night on a flat circle. God gave you the brain to think so sometimes its useful to use it you know

        December 20, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
        • somethingstellar

          Actually you can.
          When you view the moon from our angle, it looks like a circle. The dark parts are it's night, the bright parts are its day.

          My biggest thing is their insistence that there can be a day 1 without the sun, even though its the presence of the sun that dictates what a day is. Day 1 could not begin unless the sun had already been created. Oh, and thinking the whole sky would be split from our comparative tiny seas is also a good knee slapper. Gotta give them credit for imagination though.

          December 20, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
    • Earthling

      Sure it has some truth. But something that is only partly true is, in fact, false.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
      • tad

        what about job 26:7? which states that God “hangs the earth on nothing.” the fact that the earth is unsupported by any other object something quite unnatural for the ancient writers to imagine. Indeed, the earth does float in space. We now have pictures of the earth taken from space that show it floating in the cosmic void. The earth literally hangs on nothing, just as the Bible teaches.

        December 20, 2013 at 4:18 pm |
        • somethingstellar

          LOL so if they were so gifted, why was the world flat for so long, and why was the earth the center of the universe?
          I mean, god would know all these things right? If its the word of god, it'd be in there exactly as it should be. We"d have known these things from the beginning. Not how some pea brained cave people observed things to be and then wrote it down AS the word of god.

          Also, it is NOT unnatural for ancient writers to imagine, because writers from religions older than yours managed to get it right. Not one of them from ancient Sumeria on ever suggested the earth hung from a string or rotated on some pedestal. They had far more ancient knowledge than Christianity could ever claim, and anyone who pretends there's still some question among scientists about the Christian version of things was clearly homeschooled, or in one of those states where creationism is considered a science. Most people would probably turn to the Egyptians or something on the knowledge of the cosmos, not Christianity. It's been a joke as far as scientific endeavor goes, and will be for a long time. Most of your "Christian scientists" from back in the day were just paying lip service to keep from being killed.

          December 20, 2013 at 4:41 pm |
  20. kyzaadrao

    Jesus threw those selling merchandise out of the temple. I can imagine how he feels about "read my book" theology that tries to adapt culture to scripture rather than the other way around.

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

      Actually, the bible uses the word sphere... See the book of Job...

      December 20, 2013 at 4:20 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.