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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. jeff

    What kind of god would create a doctrine of content (the bible) that is so open to interpretation? Exactly, no god. Just a group of human men making crap up; that's what the bible is.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
    • Dan G

      Yes Jeff and even you have a right to your Liberal Progressive anti Christian/Conservative views.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
    • Ryan

      No its a bunch of blind men mis interpreting the word of God.. God didn't leave anything open to interpretation other than what is clearly written.. literally

      December 20, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
      • lunacy

        clearly written in which bible version, by which generation of writers, following which single man's directives?

        December 20, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
      • G to the T

        "God didn't leave anything open to interpretation other than what is clearly written.. literally" 40K demoninations prove you wrong. The comments by christians in these blogs prove you wrong. The history of the various branches of christianity proves you wrong.

        Let me guess... "KJV"?

        December 20, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
    • Ole Olay

      Thank you for your opinion.

      December 20, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
  2. norhetoricforme

    why does anybody care about what a disgraced former part time governor, a right wing nut whacko talk show host both still begging for some way to be relevant today or this over hyped under talented "reality" show personality have to say anyway.. His right to free speech has never been challenged. In the corporate world in which we live if you say something that offends customers you could lose your job.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
    • lunacy

      Exactly. Case in point, Martin Bashir is out of a job, too.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
  3. California

    Some people (liberals) HATE the 1st amendment.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
    • lunacy

      Liberals do not hate the First Amendment. We respect your right to say stupid, pointless things all you want. What we don't respect is trying to make US believe you.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
    • tallulah13

      The First Amendment has nothing to do with this. This is about private business. This situation is caused by capitalism. The A&E network is protecting its product and profits. You'd think conservatives would be cheering for the network.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
    • Joseph

      Who enforces the first amendment? Would you say its a law? So that would mean the government enforces that law correct? So explain to me how his right to free speech has been infringed upon? Sounds like he should follow the conservative go to motto, "Find a better job!". Am i right? Since he will say whatever he wants because he is protected under the 1st amendment, he needs to find a job where they wont fire him when he exercises his rights. Or you have trouble discerning getting fired and getting arrested? Clowns jeez.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
  4. Mike again

    Phil Robertson for President

    December 20, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
    • CenterLeft

      Funny

      December 20, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
  5. Jim

    When I read some of the comments on these blogs it really make me scared to walk the streets next to these people.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
  6. Lamanz

    It's a thousands year old book written by men. At best you can argue it was the interpretation of God's word by the men who wrote it at the time. You cannot actually call it the actual word of God, for he didn't directly put the words to paper. Live how you see fit and what feels right to you and you'll probably be ok.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
    • Ryan

      It is God Breathed written by selected men so its God's words not mans

      December 20, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
      • Joshua

        Not historically or religiously correct sir.

        December 20, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
      • G to the T

        Which version in which language was "god breathed" exactly?

        December 20, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
    • RuShure?

      Hhmmm, I think its okay to take a bunch of drugs then go out and kill puppies and kitties. Followed up by raping innocents of any age. Seems okay to me?

      Attn: Of course this behavior is not right, would anyone agree? Why isn't it right? God's way tells us so and it's written on our hearts. The world would call it conscious.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
      • Lamanz

        But you don't think it's OK to do those things. Call it God. Call it whatever you like, but you didn't refute my point.

        December 20, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
    • Lynn

      I think all people everywhere wish and hope your belief system is correct. Christians cannot, because we believe Hebrews 9:26-28, that Jesus came to be the Savior from sin, and that sin has consequences both in the life we now live and after this life is over. I think you probably agree with the first part of my statement about the consequences of sin, otherwise you wouldn't be advocating for people to live a good life. Where we diverge is probably about the judgment when life is over, and I guess we'll only know the truth of that when we come to the end of our own. So difficult, however, to always know and do the right thing to make sure we live a "good" life. . .which, to me, is why we need a Savior.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:12 pm |
      • G to the T

        I don't worry about "sin" as it only happens to cross into what I would call moral or "good" on rare occassions.

        How do I determine "good" – by looking at each instance and doing the best I can. In other words, it is a completely subjective process, though I have decided on few "goal posts" common to many in my culture.

        December 20, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
  7. CNN HAS NO CREDIBILITY

    Highly moderated comments as usual. CNN does not report the real news or have any remaining credibility. Government media just like msn etc.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
    • G to the T

      Yeah.. no wait... what?

      December 20, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
  8. Kyle

    When Eminem insults gays it's called free speech and everyone supports it... but if it's a person who believes in the Bible expressing their beliefs they are called radicals and bigots and they are dropped from Network television. Why was our country founded again?

    December 20, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
    • Jackson

      How many conservatives supported what Bashir said?

      Hypocrisy much?

      December 20, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
      • Joshua

        "Phil" did not suggest a violent act against anyone.....Martin certainly did.

        December 20, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
  9. Nino

    Religions=intolerance=evil. Stoop reading the Jew fairy tales book!!!

    December 20, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
  10. Alias

    I have no problem with what he said about s e x.
    I have a big problem with what he said about black people, and I'm white.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
    • Jason

      Big problem?? lol and why is that? He was just saying what he witnessed with his own eyes. That was it. Why are you reading into it more then that?

      December 20, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
    • G to the T

      Well then you're halfway there. Once you realize why you disagree with what he said about blacks and the fact that gays have as much choice in matter as blacks, you might be able to get the rest of the way.

      December 20, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
  11. me agian

    look what this world is coming to every day someone somewhere is trying to either rewrite the bible to fit their lifestyle, prove it wrong or put down someone who pulled themselves out of the gates of hell and did something with his life and is giving more back then he is taking FREEDOM OF SPEECH or is this a COMMUNIST country. I hope the Robertson will do with the show what the do with ducks they have for dinner.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
  12. ArthurP

    It has always puzzled me why people would want to be associated with a genocidal mass murdering terrorist:

    "And it came to pass, that at midnight the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle. And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead." (Exodus 12:29-30)

    Just imagine, possibly Mom, Dad along with the oldest sibling lying dead in the house and starting to bloat in the heat as the other children, now orphans, look on. How can Christians justify that?

    (terrorism – killing those with no political power to force political change by those with political power)

    But that is not even the best part which is that God rigged it so that the Pharaoh would not free Moses's people in the first place.

    “And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he hearkened not unto them; as the Lord had spoken unto Moses.” – Exidus 9:12

    So all that killing God did was just an object lesson for Moses. Now that is an example of pure unadulterated evil if ever there was one.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
    • oscar

      We no longer live by the old testament that is why Jesus came and died for our sins. Question is is how can a person still continue to willing sin but yet they say they love Christ Jesus for one to keep willing sinning one is still nailing Christ to the cross.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
      • awasis

        Really? Then why do you always quote from it?

        December 20, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
        • oscar

          Because Jesus told us which parts of the old testament we are still to live by while others we do not.

          December 20, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
        • awasis

          Did he tell you to live by the gay bashing part? If he did, please tell me where that may be.

          December 20, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
        • oscar

          For instance we do not have to go out and slaughter a lamb anymore without blemish to please God to wash away our sins because Jesus was the last lamb, the lamb of God to be slaughtered for our sins.

          December 20, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
        • oscar

          Show me someone gay bashing, anyone and I will show you a sinner.

          December 20, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
        • Alias

          wrong.
          jesus said to fillow every bit of the old testament.

          December 20, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
        • awasis

          OK, well what about the part about gays? I'm still waiting for a passage from Jesus saying that you still have to follow the Old Testament in regards to gays.

          December 20, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
      • oscar

        I should also add that for anyone that believes in the Jesus that will throw his arms around you and forgive you as you continue to sin is spending way to much time in the movie theater. When Jesus returns his words alone will be that of a double edge sword. But don't take my word for it. Read the Holy Bible.

        December 20, 2013 at 12:30 pm |
      • ArthurP

        So God made a mistake and the New Testament is the correction?

        December 20, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
        • oscar

          It is impossible for God to make a mistake. I don't have the answers why God has done what He is doing but neither will I question Him for He knows better as any father should know better when their children are heading down a road that will hurt themselves. Take divorce for example God condones it unless of fornication which God also condones. How many people do you know can say their divorce was a happy time.

          December 20, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
      • awasis

        What does Jesus actually say about gays, your lord and Savior? All of those others verses are by others, not Jesus. Since gays are so important to God, what does Jesus say? After all he is God and was here on Earth and had a perfect opportunity to tell us how he really feels about gays.

        December 20, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
      • oscar

        Let me get this right. Are you suggesting that if a person quotes from the Holy Bible they are bashing another person? For if by chance that is the fact then you just bashed that person and God.

        December 20, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
        • Joey

          It depends on what part of the bible they are quoting.

          December 20, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
      • Dave

        Then why is the old testament still part of the bible? If what you say is true, then it shouldn't be in the book at all. BTW, the books of the NT were written some 40 to 100 years AFTER Jesus was executed. There were no eyewitness accounts. Not to mention the fact the oldest surviving texts are 3rd century.

        December 20, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
      • G to the T

        "Because Jesus told us which parts of the old testament we are still to live by while others we do not." LOL!

        Sorry but I think you may be thinking of Paul. He was the one that thought the OT was moot, Jesus was a jew and preached for the jews (gentiles were dogs remember?).

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

      Life is hard, but it's really hard when you are stupid.

      "And it came to pass, that at midnight the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle. And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead." (Exodus 12:29-30)

      Just imagine, possibly Mom, Dad along with the oldest sibling lying dead in the house and starting to bloat in the heat as the other children, now orphans, look on. How can Christians justify that?

      There were no Christians then. They didn't come around for until a couple of thousand years later.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
      • ArthurP

        Then why do Christians keep quoiting Leviticus?

        December 20, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
    • oscar

      I don't have my Bible right in front of me but I believe in Mark chapter 10 Jesus states that a man will leave his mother and father and cleave unto his wife meaning woman. For God created man and woman not man and man or woman and woman. --and to clear up another question say that Jesus said we are to follow the old testament you are simply wrong for we no longer have to take our sins to another person like the Catholic church does during their confession room. Now we have Jesus to take our confessions to. And with that my lunch is getting cold. Time to eat.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
      • Rick

        In other words you Christians get to pick and choose what parts of the Bible you have or do not have to follow. Sounds pretty convenient to me.

        December 20, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
      • G to the T

        "Mark chapter 10 Jesus states that a man will leave his mother and father and cleave unto his wife meaning woman. For God created man and woman not man and man or woman and woman. " First half maybe (though it was a metaphor for leaving the old family and starting a new one, me thinks you are the one missing some context), the second half is NOWHERE IN THE BIBLE. Even if you try to put a "For" in the front to make it sound kind of "biblical".

        December 20, 2013 at 3:59 pm |
  13. karl from az

    “. . . . for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.” (Romans 1:26,27)

    What's complicated?

    December 20, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
  14. Annoyed

    Hmmm, seems people tend to translate things into which they fit into so they can say they are just. The writings in the Bible seems pretty straight forward. I would think that if man were meant to lay with man, God would have made a way for them to procreate. Since that isn't possible, it seems God didn't mean for that (you can choose God or nature, regardless, if it isn't natural it can't create more). You can agree/disagree as that's our right but look at the rest of the animals on this planet. There are some animals that practice this act as a matter of displaying dominance but not as their preferred method to reproduce. Even the animals are smart enough to know that isn't how things should be. I believe the Bible says clearly what it means w/o yet another person to translate it to a lifestyle that fits them.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
    • Jackson

      The bible also says not to eat shellfish, not to cut the hair on the side of your head (or trim the ends of your beard) and not to wear clothing from two different fibers.

      So, two questions:

      1) Do you do any of those things?
      2) Do you also preach about those things being against the bible?

      I'm guessing you don't care about any of those issues, you just want to cherry pick what suits your purposes.

      Some "believer" you are!

      December 20, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
    • Rick

      What if a man and a woman can't procreate together? Does your god look at them similarly to the gay couple since they can't procreate either?

      December 20, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
      • Lynn

        No, I don't think so. There are many accounts given in the Bible of long-married women who could not get pregnant (Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, the prophet Samuel's mother, John the Baptist's mother Elizabeth, for example), but God heard their prayers or their husbands' prayers) and, in some cases, entire nations were eventually created from their answered prayers.

        December 20, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
  15. hopefulspam

    and this article is exactly why I rarely visit CNN! Stop defending the liberal agenda and just report the friggin news!!!!

    December 20, 2013 at 12:21 pm |
    • Jackson

      Did FOX support Bashir's comments?

      Hypocrisy much?

      December 20, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
  16. California

    So much for liberal tolerance.

    Hypocrites.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
    • G to the T

      It's an interesting question certainly – should people be tolerant of intolerant behavior in others or is that the exception that proves the rule? I tend to think it is, but I can see where that would be harder to appreciate when you're on the other end of the equation.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:04 pm |
  17. Scott

    It's so sad to see intelligent people like this figure they can drop a few of their personal viewpoints and be immune from judgement. I believe him when he says he treats everyone with respect, but why does he feel it necessary to express his own religious beliefs when he has to know they will offend a significant percentage of the population. These comments illustrate how completely irrelevent he and his family are. This kind of rant sets you up for complete embarrassment when one of your family or close friends whom you picked cotton with as a kid and swam in the duck pond with all those years suddenly comes out of the closet. Get over it you backwoods bible thumpers. It's 2013 and there are far more important things in life to worry about than whats going on in the bedroom. For starters, opening a can of whoopass with the NAACP. The gay community wont beat you up too bad, they have seen this all before, but the black community likely wont be as forgiving, nor should they be.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
  18. Doug

    As long as Kim & Kanye...sorry...Kanye & Kim are on TV, everyone else is golden.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
  19. Michael

    Nope. The athiests at CNN have got the bible wrong.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
  20. Lala

    See what any kind of religious fanatacism gets you?

    December 20, 2013 at 12:20 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.