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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. Joseph

    Like CNN is now an authority on the Bible? That's like saying the devil is a trustworthy, eye-witness authority on heaven when he's not only the father of all lies, but he'll never seen heaven. So it is with CNN and the Bible.

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

      Like CNN is now an authority on the Bible?

      Well Joseph....since the bible is fiction...anyone can be an authority on it.....you should check the REAL ORIGIN of where the bible came from....it's pure political fiction put together by the Bishop of Rome....to REWRITE THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD to what he wanted to work for him and the CONTROLLING CHURCH...great idea to put god in the sky where he would be SAFE from prying eyes and disbeliever so they could not DISPROVE HIM...to this day i might add...since now that we fly and space has been explored....THEY KEEP MOVING HIS HOUSE~....LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL. ...to another UNIVERSE???

      December 20, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
    • Just me

      Satan saw Heaven before he was kicked out of it. He tried to become more powerful than God and he got some angels on his side so he and the other angels were kicked out. He won't see it again but he probably knows what it looks like. He wouldn't tell the truth about it though... that part you got right

      December 20, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
  2. Basic

    I didn't find anything offensive in what was said. I never thought I would agree with Palin and Jindal lolo. This man response was genuine leave him alone.

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

      genuinely h.omophobic.
      no, don't leave him alone.
      let him know his brand of prejudice and ignorance has no place in the modern world.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Actions have consequences. When you say something that offends a number of your employers clients, you run the risk of losing your job.

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

      did you read the article where he said that the nazis didn't have jesus so thats where the hate came from. Except the Nazis were christians. robertsons view of history is a little flawed and slightly scary.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
  3. Dave Sears

    OK...........does anybody realize this isn't really a debate? They took a REDNECK FROM THE SWAMPS OF LOUISIANA AND EXPECTED HIM TO THINK HIS RELIGION WOULD BE OK WITH MAN ON MAN ACTION? Yeah, thanks to CNN for making this Breaking News though. In other CNN "News" LOCAL MICHIGAN MAN ASTONISHED THAT SNOW FELL IN FREEZING TEMPERATURES LAST NIGHT".

    December 20, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
    • Chris Matthews

      How about this breaking news, "Brian Boitano is gay!"

      December 20, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
      • G to the T

        Nooooooooooooo!

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

      sounds like you're blaming CNN. robertson is the one that voluntarily gave the interview. and it was to GQ, not CNN. CNN didn't make him go to GQ and spout that ignorance.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
  4. Chris Matthews

    Too bad Phil Robertson isn't from Benghazi. Maybe then we'd know what happened there.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
    • Jerry

      You're no better than the HATE MONGERS that talk about how bad Mr
      Robinsoin is..
      You spew hate only you think k it is for a good cause.. NOT!!!

      December 20, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
      • Chris Matthews

        Did the point of my comment escape you?

        December 20, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
    • lunacy

      We DO know what happened there and on 9/11. it is the endless stream of conspiracies from the right wing that cloud the facts.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
  5. bibledoctor

    your a basic stewbum if you don t follow the bible.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
    • Rob

      you're (not your) illiterate if you do. Don't ever burn your stew.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
  6. UriNation

    There is nothing complicated about the biblical reading. People twist the writing to rationalize their perverted lifestyle.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
    • Ryan

      No it wasn't..the bible was written for a specific purpose..and made intentionally to not be misinterpreted. Men misinterpret to suit their own agenda a corrupt the Bible

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

      The bible was also written by HUMANS, not God Himself, so perhaps those HUMANS got it all wrong! After all, do we believe everything we read in the newspaper? Do we believe everything we see on the news? Did we believe the lunatic pastor 2 years ago that predicted the rapture and even spent millions on advertising it?

      December 20, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
  7. 66Biker

    So what if he's a redneck racist who isn't exactly the sharpest knife if the drawer? If that was illegal, it would be illegal to be a Republicon. And the last I heard, that's not illegal.

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

      What statement did he make that you think makes him a racist??

      December 20, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
      • fred mertz

        Well, he may have PLAYED with those black kids out in the fields but he sure as H E L L wasn't going to school with them back then (cf segregation).

        December 20, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
    • Glennis

      He's sharp enough to have a multi-million dollar business.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
  8. GeeWizz

    The difficulty here is obvious, the bible was written based on interpretations upon interpretations of people's personal perceptions of a religion based on blind faith, in language that has been translated by scholars in their perception of what it means in English. At one point an individual who wants to follow christianity is effectively making it up as they go along....based on their own personal perception and how they want the bible to support their beliefs. It's shifting sands depending on where the wind blows.

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

      No it wasn't..the bible was written for a specific purpose..and made intentionally to not be misinterpreted. Men misinterpret to suit their own agenda a corrupt the Bible

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

        That basically is what I'm saying. But you have to except that the bible was written by a council men to suit their perception of what they wanted in the religion. The bible was not written by divine intervention.

        December 20, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
      • robbie357

        That's an OLD falicy.

        December 20, 2013 at 3:08 pm |
      • G to the T

        "No it wasn't..the bible was written for a specific purpose"
        Which version in which language would that be? Let me guess – are the initials KJV?

        December 20, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
  9. RDM1401

    Why do Christians think that they have some kind of right to impose their particular interpretation of statements in a religious book on other people through force of law? That is neither Christian nor American. Believe what you want, just keep your fantasies out of my face please.

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

      Then get the hell out of the blog

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

      Robertson qualified his statements as his personal beliefs several times in the interview excerpt. He never opined that his personal beliefs should be made law nor that others were bound to believe as he does.

      Of course, GLAAD wasn't concerned about context; they (and you, by extension) believe that the mere public expression of a belief that is anything shy of an affirmation is to be struck down or suppressed.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
      • robbie357

        AND....I might add....what book or premise or leader does GLAAD, NAMBLA and LGBT base THEIR lives and hearts?

        Was his name Anton L?

        December 20, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
        • G to the T

          Way to group Gays, satanists and pedophiles all in one sentance! It's the hat-trick of ignorance!

          December 20, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
    • Hamsanwich

      RDM– see the problem as you stated "keep fantasies our of your face" but it's ok to have gay pride, gay this and gay that shoved in ours? Even if you don't believe in God then the Holy Bible is at-least a history book not a fairy tale. There has not been 1 thing proven to be false in the bible, but has had many findings to say it is real.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
      • G to the T

        Bats are not birds. There you go, one thing that is definitely wrong in the bible. I know it's a little thing, but it is in there.

        December 20, 2013 at 4:12 pm |
  10. KIRK

    PHIL IS RIGHT

    December 20, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
    • G to the T

      And the banana was DESIGNED to be eaten by humans! Right Kirk?

      December 20, 2013 at 4:13 pm |
  11. KevinG

    CNN logic as to what is news and or logical is so laughable. Are not thousands of Christian religions based off the same book (Bible) and the result of multiple interpretations of the same book/passages. Liberal agenda of this news organization is alive and well.

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

      ya but many cults result because man has his own interpretations of the Bible...it is not open to interpretation and it isn't in code... to understand it however you need to study the word. Literal interpretation is the only option if you want truth

      December 20, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
      • Recovering Ex-Christian

        So, you want slavery back? The sacrificing of children as an offering? etc...IDIOT

        December 20, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
        • Hamsanwich

          Slavery was not Gods way it was mans, please understand some of the bible before you post.

          December 20, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
        • G to the T

          Ham- your understanding is just as much "man's" as anyone else's.

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

        So, Ryan – Please explain why it was interpreted and rewritten for King James?

        December 20, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
  12. aMom

    We all have reasons for the things we do. We can easily justify our actions until we fall into the hands of the Living God. Phil has had that experience and he knows that it is available to all. "If we confess our sin He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Phil is speaking truth. Read the Bible and let the Holy Spirit instruct.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
  13. ACEdude

    It's a value proposition, A&E has sponsors that they do not wish to offend. This isn't about censorship, it's capitalism pure and simple.

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

    DEMOCRATS HATE ANYONE THAT DOESN'T THINK EXACTLY LIKE THEMSELVES.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
    • andy northington

      THE REPUBLICAN PARTY IS THE SAME WAY

      December 20, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
      • California

        Yes but democrats will start calling them names because they can't debate the facts. Names like TERRORISTS and TEA BAGGERS ect... Democrats play little children games like name calling.

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

          names like Libtard?

          December 20, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
    • lunacy

      Republican pot calling the kettle black?

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

      Forget politics. This is not about hate, it is about God's law. Check Genesis 1 and Matthew 19, God made them male and female, to cleave to one another and be married. To follow your own lusts is disobeying God's wishes. Before you scoff at the notion of God, I scoff at the notion of a big bang and all life coming from a primordial soup. All the best.

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

      BS

      December 20, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
    • just wondering

      wrap your self in your own ignorance... it makes you feel better...

      December 20, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
  15. Dave in Houston

    From Paul's instructions to Timothy in 2nd Timothy 4, verse 3:

    For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

    Jesus warned us about false teachers – wolves in sheep's clothing. Some of them are quoted, above.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
  16. dh

    It's all about the Brand....ie: contrived for profit

    December 20, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
  17. Bill the Cat

    Scholars? LMBO!!

    December 20, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
  18. bre2013

    Anyone who follows the Bible, knows we are not to judge others. I don't care who Phil Robertson is, it is not his place to judge, or call anyone out in public. Others would have been punished for that same thing, why should he be immune to consequences? Keep your mouth shut and love everyone.

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

      Are you an idiot?? he wasn't judging just stating facts from the Bible

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

        FACTS?! That is truly laughable. The bible is a book written by man, based on even older stories told around a campfire, to explain how the world works to people who had no way of testing their beliefs. Beliefs are not truths.
        If you say all that is in the bible is truth, then so is what is in Greek and Roman mythology, Native American creation stories, and fantasy novels.

        December 20, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
        • evilroyslade

          Agreed.

          December 20, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
    • Bill the Cat

      John 7:24

      New American Standard Bible (NASB)

      John 7:24 Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”

      If we are not to judge, why did Jesus tell us to judge with righteous judgment?

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

      That wasn't a very loving response.

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

      We have a responsibility to speak the truth. Phil was being interviewed and was asked certain questions. He was responding to an interviewer's question in the most truthful way that he could. In light of what we get from a lying president, I found it refreshing.

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

        Do you always tell your children the complete truth regardless of how it might affect them?

        December 20, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
    • Sophos

      Sorry,you are not correct. The actual passage reads: Matt 7:1-2
      Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
      When read in the actual greek as it was written, it more accurately reads. "Judge so you are not judged. For how you judge, you will be judged.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
  19. Dan G

    I see the Pro Gay/Illegal Immigrant News Network is throwing everything at the wall here to see what will stick. Certainly Liberal Progressives can't be hypocrites since Conservatives and Christians have no rights to such opinions.

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

      You have a right to any and all of your opinions. Liberal Progressives do not like having them pushed on us as the "Gospel Truth", and oxymoron.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
  20. keeth

    David and Jonathan, and Ruth and Naomi.

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

      You're kidding, right?

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

      Are you just nuts? Maybe you should read more carefully.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:33 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.