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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. VoiceOfTruth

    The good Mr. Allen should consider another truth in the Bible before he tries to put words in God's mouth.

    "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap." Galatians 6:7

    December 20, 2013 at 4:57 pm |
    • ParmaJeff

      Chapter and verse where Jesus spoke about gays. I'll wait. And wait. And wait.

      December 20, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
      • moment of faith

        The entire bible was written by the holy spirit through man. The Father, Son, Holy Spirit are one

        December 20, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
  2. Calcommuter

    Show of hands. How many people think this guy actually reads the bible? Or did he just see the passage on the back of a box of Screaming Yellow Zonkers?

    December 20, 2013 at 4:57 pm |
    • The Clothing-Optional Zombie Resurrection of Anna Nicole Smith

      I am having trouble showing my hands here, but Ithink he is more likely to have gotten his opinions from the North Louisiana White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, his local branch.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
    • moment of faith

      If you watched the show then you would know

      December 20, 2013 at 5:21 pm |
  3. Steve

    Years ago we were punished for saying something good about gays. Today, we are punished for saying something bad about them. What aver happened to free speech and the right to choose? Cripes, it used to be a moral sin if a man and woman lived together that weren't married or for a woman to have a child without being married. This guy has a right to his opinion, or does he?

    December 20, 2013 at 4:57 pm |
    • moment of faith

      Great Comment

      December 20, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
  4. slim jim

    Exodus 23:4
    If thou meet thine enemy's ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again.

    Proverbs 25:21
    If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink:

    Matthew 5:44
    Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.

    Luke 6:35
    But love ye your enemies, and do good.

    SO Christian of you all ....... SICK

    December 20, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
    • moment of faith

      What if he's hooking up with your wife ? or daughter ? what about your son ?

      December 20, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
  5. Bob

    "get the bible wrong"?? Discussing whether someone got a make-believe story wrong – a story that has undoubtedly morphed to something unrecognizable from what was originally written, and which its proponents regularly twist and spin to fit their agenda – is like having a serious discussion about whether Dopey or Sneezy is truly the seventh dwarf.

    December 20, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
    • Stephen

      That's where you are wrong. I'm not even a Christian, I'm a high school history teacher, but let me tell you the bible is as close to the original writings as we can get. The bible was copied word for word by talented copiers, if they got more than three mistakes they had to start over completely. The bible is historically acurate as well. In ways such as locations and events. Jewish and roman scriptures record many of the events in the bible as well, and they weren't supporters of it. Please please please do not comment on here and try to pass something off as fact that is in fact not true.

      December 20, 2013 at 5:07 pm |
      • moment of faith

        Great Work .. Great Comment

        December 20, 2013 at 5:18 pm |
      • truthprevails1

        Just because you're a history teacher does not make you an expert on the bible and you show that by claiming it is historically accurate.

        December 20, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
  6. moment of faith

    Mary was 14 years old when she had Jesus. I don't believe anyone was concerned with age it was the ACT.

    December 20, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
  7. Jim

    I love the success stories, it makes me HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY, the Robertsons will go from millioniars to multi millionares after all of this and it's deserved, Merry Christmas everyone.

    December 20, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
    • The Clothing-Optional Zombie Resurrection of Anna Nicole Smith

      Everyone is happy that his is the face of Christianity.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
    • Free Holiday Nuts

      And a Merry Christmas to you too, Jim!

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=erKO60SdZ1A&w=640&h=360]

      December 20, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
  8. skytag

    "nor slanderers... will inherit the kingdom of God."

    Apparently a lot of Christian conservatives miss the part about slanderers given how often they misrepresent what other people do and believe.

    December 20, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
  9. Lee

    I find it comical that A&E has distanced themselves by saying Phil does not reflect their ideas, yet Phil himself said many times in the interview, and I quote: ""THAT'S JUST ME"".

    December 20, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
  10. GEEKASAUR

    Yep, pretty much what my bible says..a man must not lie with a man as with a woman.

    December 20, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
    • The Clothing-Optional Zombie Resurrection of Anna Nicole Smith

      Do you obey the other parts of Leviticus too?

      December 20, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
    • Observer

      Yep. And it says people turn into salt.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
    • Jackson

      The bible also says if a child talks back to its parents, it should be put to death.

      Lie and tell me you believe that.

      December 20, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
  11. Clayton

    The qu33rs don't like it because what he said is true.

    December 20, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      How so??? He is a bigoted, hateful fool...using his belief to justify hate...pathetic and unjust.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
    • skytag

      Actually, the truthfulness of his comments is irrelevant. The problem with such comments is that they fuel discrimination and persecution.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
    • VANN

      yup very true they know they are liveing a lie and experts say Phil Robertson misinterprets a key Bible verse lol are these guys like 7 years old dang you know what he was saying no matter how it came out being gay goes against god. its like all the convicts in prison they all say there not Guilty .same way with the gay population none of them think they are Guilty

      December 20, 2013 at 5:11 pm |
  12. Fish

    He looks like Charlie Manson, has anyone checked Charlie's cell lately???

    December 20, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
  13. slim jim

    1 Timothy 2:3-4
    God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved.

    Proverbs 16:4
    The Lord hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.

    sounds OK to be GAY then ...

    December 20, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
  14. no

    No, he got it right, all religious people hate gay people. Sad isn't it?

    December 20, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
    • Mr. Berzerk

      Don't hate them, I work with them, hang out on occassion, I just don't let them tell me I can't believe it is a sin.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
    • Lee

      You must have a reading comprehension problem. Who said religious people hate gay people?

      December 20, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
    • Doris

      The ELCA I believe is the largest Lutheran sect in the U.S. and they marry gays as I understand.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:58 pm |
  15. John G

    In the Bible there is Adam and Eve.. Period. and if you want to challenge that then pay for it in the End at the gate.
    Don't like it don't watch the show. A&E are spineless jellyfish for doing this.

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

      John,

      In the Bible there is also support for slavery and beating children.

      What was your point, if any?

      December 20, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
      • Mr. Berzerk

        State your sources so that they may be inteligently refuted.

        December 20, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
        • Observer

          (Lev. 25:44-46) “Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. 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. 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.”

          (Prov. 13:24) “He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him promptly.”

          December 20, 2013 at 4:58 pm |
  16. spazzo

    Its not just bible. It's man's nature to be repulsed by gays who behave and talk like women. Even if you discard religion men find h0m0s3xuality disgusting.

    December 20, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
    • Larry

      Duck off.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
    • Doris

      speaking for all men, are you? i'm afraid I can't give you a red star today, spaz

      December 20, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
  17. Laure

    The Bible is pretty clear. Gays choose to believe what they want, even blaming God for making them that way. But think about that...why would God condemn the behavior, then make people that way? clearly, their argument doesn't make sense, therefore is not true. It comes down to this... you either believe the word of God, or you don't. If you don't, it's your choice... Although God does not want anyone to perish, He does not force His Will and Way on anyone. Ultimately the gay fight is not with Phil Robertson, who quotes The Word of God, or other Christians, it is with God Almighty Himself.

    December 20, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
    • Observer

      Laure,

      The word of God includes support for slavery and discriminations against women, gays and the handicapped.

      No one so many people don't follow it.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
      • Observer

        typo: "one" = "wonder"

        December 20, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
        • The Eternal Satyr

          That's more than a typo.

          December 20, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
      • Mr. Berzerk

        State your proof.

        December 20, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
      • ACE

        False, the Bible does not support the mistreatment of women. The Bible tells stories of events and behavior of sinful humans which includes of course the mistreatment of women and slavery but the COMMANDS of GOD and his STATUTES do not support what you are saying. It does the total contrary, it demands that men treat women with honor as delicate. Regarding slavery, it was not commanded by God and it was not practiced in an abusive manner as the slavery we know of today, at least not by the Hebrews. God commanded them to treat them well with honor and respect. People need to stop piggy backing on what they hear and not do their own research.

        December 20, 2013 at 5:03 pm |
      • John G

        The bible can be read and understood many ways. but be careful if you try to conform it to how you want to...period

        To first understand the bible you must also learn the heart of GOD and his son JESUS.

        December 20, 2013 at 6:47 pm |
    • Jim in San Diego

      Laure;

      The real problem with the Gospel is that it is a gospel of "affirmation" to those who are dead and a Gospel of Transformation for those who are living. When Jesus spontaneously forgave the woman caught in adultery, he also told her "go and sin no more." Modern, Progressive Christianity is all about affirming everyone's personal viewpoint. Everyone is right- everyone is correct- God accepts all viewpoints. The Cross of Christ proclaims very loudly just how worthless and filthy every human viewpoint is. Every man and woman is called to repent- to be transformed- and to accept with humility into our lives God's one and only viewpoint and the only one He will hear: The person of Jesus Christ who is the fullness of The Godhead and God incarnate. The Gospel isn't about affirmation- it is about transformation. Those not transformed are outside of the Kingdom of God- their presuppositions and erroneous beliefs notwithstanding.

      December 20, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
  18. Jason

    Thank you CNN and mainstream media!!!!!

    Gladd's facebook page: 1,462 likes
    Phil Robertson's support page: 1.9 MILLION likes

    Reminds me of the outcome of the Chick-FIl-A controversy: Record profits and growth!!!!

    December 20, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
    • The Clothing-Optional Zombie Resurrection of Anna Nicole Smith

      Yes, and Rush Limbaugh's and FOX's strong numbers kept the Democrats from winning.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
    • cw

      I love that you're more excited about "victory" than you are about human rights, Jason. Gives your beliefs that warm fuzzy feeling.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
    • skytag

      Popularity is no indication of correctness.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
      • Jason

        Case in point: Obama got elected

        December 20, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
  19. Duck Call

    Quack..!

    December 20, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
  20. John Tighe

    The real story is that Phil Robertson is just acting, and doesn't believe anything the character that's been scripted for him to play says.

    December 20, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
    • Mr. Berzerk

      Where did you gleam that nugget?

      December 20, 2013 at 4:52 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.