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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. Observer

    Quiz for Christians:

    When asked what the MOST IMPORTANT COMMANDMENT was, did Jesus NOT mention:

    (a) s3xual sins by heteros (adultery)
    (b) The Golden Rule
    (c) s3xual sins by gays?

    December 20, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
    • Yup!

      Uh, wasn't it something about which duck call to use as you blasteth duckys in a most loving and holy way?

      December 20, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
    • alaskan1st

      Jesus wasn't alive when the commandments came out. They were written for the Jews BTW.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:33 pm |
    • Jerry Price

      Sin is sin not matter what it is. There is a difference in those that recoginize their sin and ask forgiveness for it and those that continue in their sin and do their best to justify it. Which one are you?

      December 20, 2013 at 4:34 pm |
    • Dan

      Quiz for Christians:

      When asked what the MOST IMPORTANT COMMANDMENT was, did Jesus NOT mention:

      (a) s3xual sins by heteros (adultery)
      (b) The Golden Rule
      (c) s3xual sins by gays?

      Christian Answer:

      (d) The First commandment is this, thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, might and soul.

      Q. What is love toward God?

      A. If you love me, keep my commandments.

      So The first commandment is that we would love God, that we would obey his word, his commandments.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:35 pm |
  2. soiasot

    This should make some ducks spin

    Nature | News
    Sharing

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    Simulations back up theory that Universe is a hologram

    A ten-dimensional theory of gravity makes the same predictions as standard quantum physics in fewer dimensions.

    http://www.nature.com/news/simulations-back-up-theory-that-universe-is-a-hologram-1.14328

    December 20, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
  3. Rick S.

    This story and the upheaval it has caused has less to do with Christian beliefs than it does with people that have grown tired of having minority opinions,lifestyles and agendas thrown in their face on a daily basis by fringe groups,the media and the government. There are laws on the books to protect those that are discriminated against as there should be but that doesn't give anyone the right to force their belief system upon others.

    December 20, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
  4. shocked528

    Why are we looking for deeping understanding of such a simple sentance ? It says it's not ok , period. There is NO DEBATE HERE GAY CHRISTIAN PEOPLE. Like it or not, it says what it says.

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

      And therefore is outdated rubbish. Instead, read last December's Quarterly Review of Biology regarding gene modifcation.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Are you sure?
      Do you understand ancient Greek?

      December 20, 2013 at 4:27 pm |
  5. Steve

    Whether you think it's fair or not or whether you are born with it or not the bible says it's unacceptable. That other people tell you it's OK still doesn't change what the bible says. Twisting the bible's words to make it look OK still doesn't change what the bible says.

    December 20, 2013 at 4:22 pm |
    • venividivici

      Steve is a book-fetishist and only gets erections when he's reading the bible.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
  6. Aimee

    He has a right to say what he wants. I have a right to choose who I give my money to. His employer has the right to fire him if he reflects badly on the company. Freedom of speech does not apply, since I don't see the government putting him in jail for his idiocy (as Russia would with speech they didn't like). I don't know what A&E expected; they should have done their due diligence. How did they miss the 2010 tape? The guy says that gays are evil, hateful, implies that AIDS is their reward (what is this, the early eighties?), and there was something about them fornicating with lizards? He also talks about the happy blacks toiling in the field, smiling and nodding. Oh, puke, not the Jim Crow 'happy darky' crap. He's the guy you watch at 2 am when you're getting really sleepy but he's so ridiculous you don't want to miss him. I do not consider him a representative of Christianity. I consider him a representative of ignorance, and a really unnerving viciousness.

    December 20, 2013 at 4:22 pm |
    • Dan

      I agree with you to a degree but how do you think it would be being played out if a person was being fired for making a pro-gay remark?

      December 20, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
  7. hillplus

    What drivel. The Bible IS clear, you don't have to accept it.

    December 20, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
  8. The HOLY Bible

    Ponder on this: "Yea, when you thirst to know the LORD's will, verily find HIS TRUTH in a prophet who enjoyeth quacking at ducks while clad in silly garments. For truly, he is the LORD's PR guy. That's the kind of guy that the LORD, would choose." Rubes 4:38-12

    December 20, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
    • sharon12345

      Thanks, I wet my pants laughing. I needed that (not the wet pants, the laugh – after reading all the people defending him). The misconceptions people have about gays is so disturbing, especially since this is the 21st century. No-one seems to mention that he said he never saw any mistreatment of black people, that they were on the plantation picking cotton while singing and they were happy. What a stupid remark. The bestiality comment was so disturbing and this man claims to be a Christian. As Ghandi said "I like your Christ. I don't like your Christians." Again, thanks for the laugh..

      December 20, 2013 at 4:37 pm |
  9. paul

    You should all be ashamed of yourselves for saying what you feel! GO DUCKS

    December 20, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
  10. dou44

    Who cares what this guy thinks? The NSA is spying on all of us.

    December 20, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
  11. NONE OF THIS WOULD BE AN ISSUE IF PEOPLE WOULD ACCEPT THE REAL KING!!

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVkoQHCXSK8&w=640&h=360]

    December 20, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
  12. Katherine Aguilar

    Who knew Duck Dynasty could get everyone talking about God in a matter of 24 hours...

    December 20, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
    • Yup!

      And better yet, driving even more people to atheism!

      December 20, 2013 at 4:22 pm |
      • Steve Wilkinson

        Maybe so.... and if that be the case, our job is to try and provide good news and give insight and correction. You can do with it what you will. It will either drive you towards God or towards judgement.

        December 20, 2013 at 4:28 pm |
        • Yup!

          Oooo, threats. Yeah, that really attracts people. Nice thunking, brainiac.

          December 20, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
        • Steve Wilkinson

          I didn't make a threat... God did. I'm just letting you know about it. Seems the neighborly thing to do.

          December 20, 2013 at 4:35 pm |
        • Yup!

          It is neighborly to repeat threats. If you like mean-spirited neighbors.

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

        Our Christ did do all of the work on the cross.
        That is not a free pass to "continue" to sin.
        These people will NOT see the kingdom of heaven because of this behaviour.

        December 20, 2013 at 4:28 pm |
        • Yup!

          Nor will you. Look how many rules you are violating right now.

          December 20, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
  13. JSmith

    Oh God, here we go with another interpretation of the bible. The bible says this, the bible says that and I'm right....

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

      Yes but you read the whole thing and took the time to leave a reply.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
  14. Brian

    three things, why is this still front page news, why is this show still on the air and who cares what he says or has to clarify...

    December 20, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
  15. K

    "The Bible may be divinely inspired, but its authors were human and saw, as St. Paul puts it, through a glass darkly," said Naughton. Amazing. The same guys who believe in sola scriptura – the bible as the sole source of knowledge needed for salvation – are now saying that the bible was written opaquely. I think I just got theological whiplash.

    December 20, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
    • Jerry Price

      I think God...being the greatest being that ever was...or ever will be would have no trouble guiding the hand that translates His Word. Afterall...He created everthing. Give Him some credit.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:27 pm |
  16. Lee

    Seems to me, as someone who believes religion is nothing more than business, Phil has a good head on his shoulders. The show is funny, the rednecks on it turned out to be smarter than even A&E thought. If A&E wants to lose MILLIONS in sponsors, by all means, grab Phil's shotgun and shoot yourself in the foot.

    December 20, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
  17. Jay

    Humans have a vested interest in believing that we are a chosen species, created, loved, at times punished by, but otherwise held in special favor by a fate detrmining omnipotent being. What nobody takes into consideration is that while many people believe the bible is the word of god, and I'm not debating whether it is or isn't, it is the word interpreted by men at a time when men were not that smart. To accept what is written by these men as the unquestionable word of god is to believe the authors were infallible. Wouldn't this infallability make them gods as well in and of themselves? The bible is no different than the writings of Joseph Smith, who also claimed to be communicating the word of god.

    And come on, Phil Robertson and his family made a fortune by contracting the manufacture of a device designed to assist in killing a harmless animal. Is that christ like? Are they really worth our time?

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

      Hey Jay, it's called survival and humans just happen to be at the top of the food chain. At least the Robertsons find their feed through nature and use almost every part of the animals they kill. As Phil once said after a pet photographer siad he "loves animals", Phil replied with ""so do I, they're delicious"".

      December 20, 2013 at 4:22 pm |
      • Jay

        The Robertsons are capitalists and nothing more. If saving the life of a duck made them more money, then duck dynasty would be a completely different show. I am not begrudging them their success. I just don't care what they think.

        December 20, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
  18. Jon

    Typical of many so called "Christians" who twist the words to suit them. GOD tells us to love and take care of. Many nutcases like to judge and condemn..

    December 20, 2013 at 4:18 pm |
    • Live4Him

      How much love does someone have for another if they are willing to watch that other person engage in a destructive lifestyle?

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

        load your questions with negative assumptions much L4H?

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

        Loving someone is destructive?

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

          It is never a sin to love someone..... But it isn't love at all to just support someone in sin. You and many others are confusing love with lust.

          December 20, 2013 at 4:29 pm |
        • Jay

          I think it is others who are confusing love and lust. I love my wife, and have strong physical desire for her as well. I don't see that any different whether it is man/woman, man/man or woman/woman. Love is love, and it is made that much more special when desire follows.

          December 20, 2013 at 4:41 pm |
      • Doc Vestibule

        Obesity is destructive.
        Should there be laws in place limiting people's caloric intake?
        Would you visit McDonald's and start condemning people who Super Size their meal?

        December 20, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
        • Purebredmutt

          That is one of the 7 deadly sins.

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

        This just in: God hates cholesterol.

        December 20, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
    • Purebredmutt

      When our Christ comes back, he will be more of a Grisly bear than the cuddly teddy bear that you describe.
      Stop hanging out with "Reverend Cotton Candy" and read the bible. This continued behavior will not be tolerated by G-d and these people will not see the kingdom of heaven because of it.

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

        I look forward to the day "your" christ comes back. Since you seem to have a direct link to him, please give me a call when the time comes.

        December 20, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
    • Don

      He's not twisting the Bible; you're censoring it.

      December 23, 2013 at 9:32 am |
  19. 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 charter members of GLADD too. Typical of a CNN hatchet job.

    December 20, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
    • Billy

      Generalize much Kenin?

      December 20, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
    • midas360

      The people who don't believe in the bible still have the luxury of coming back to it when things go wrong in their lives. The bible has and continues to stand the test of time no matter how many attempts people, scholars, experts, etc try to discredit/disprove it.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
      • somethingstellar

        It continues to stand the test of time huh?
        Oh ok. So thats why the Catholic Church has to have the "Come Home!" campaign.
        And the only reason you pretend it stands the test of time is because everything is conveniently a "test from god". Willfull ignorance does not equate standing the test of time. In fact, its looking more and more like the sun is setting on the Church.

        December 20, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
    • Mike

      faith is all it is, because it is not scientific fact, that's for sure. man's word maybe

      December 20, 2013 at 4:22 pm |
  20. mucklucky

    Thanks A&E and GLAAD. God's Word has been continually in the news and on the internet the past few days. Simple faith confounds the foolish.

    December 20, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
    • Bob Bobson

      Simple fools confound reason.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:17 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.