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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. Scott

    Max, Isaiah didn't get the Messiah's name wrong ... Emmanuel is a description, not a name.

    December 21, 2013 at 10:30 pm |
    • Max

      Immanuel. Sure. That's how they got around Isaiah being wrong in his prediction.

      December 21, 2013 at 10:36 pm |
  2. jmcondreay

    Agree with what he said, or not, I say we should respect the man for stating what he believes. It is unfortunate that our society is so quick to label him a bigot and a person who sells hate. Sad really that groups label others as bigots, when they themselves are just as bigoted.

    December 21, 2013 at 10:27 pm |
  3. Pnizle

    ok, so try to explain Sodom and Gomora.....

    December 21, 2013 at 10:25 pm |
    • Max

      Wasn't S&G destroyed because of the sin of greed? And inhospitality? Yes. Yes it was.

      December 21, 2013 at 10:38 pm |
  4. nike

    Why do atheists troll the Belief section so heavily? CNN needs a Disbelief dept for all you atheists to hate at. You all must be a real hoot at dinner parties, "I don't believe we've met before... but then again, I don't believe it'll matter much in the end anyway... let see if we can find some meaning in tonights affair – oh, there is none... good evening!"

    December 21, 2013 at 10:21 pm |
    • Max

      This was explained to you the last couple of times you posted this same thing under different names. Why do you keep asking it?

      December 21, 2013 at 10:40 pm |
    • Lex

      I'm guessing it's for the same reason right wing tea baggers like to troll on Huffington post, just because they can.

      December 22, 2013 at 7:31 pm |
  5. mickinmd

    "Conservatives such as Robertson, on the other hand, argue that the Bible is the bedrock of their faith, unchanging and unalterable."

    So then why doesn't Robertson support the restoration of rule by a monarch since the Bible clearly states to "Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar's" and nowhere supports a democracy: to this day it doesn't exist in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

    December 21, 2013 at 10:18 pm |
    • 666

      A house devided, shall not stand

      December 21, 2013 at 10:35 pm |
    • Scott

      So when Jesus tells people he's not there for a political revolution but a spiritual one, that means every government that follows must be in monarchy form?

      December 22, 2013 at 7:29 am |
  6. t-Mac

    I cannot understand how a man of strong Christian faith can kill ducks for pleasure and fun. I am not against hunting for food but are you really supposed to enjoy killing that much?

    December 21, 2013 at 10:03 pm |
    • sam

      Well, sure. The bible tells you animals were put on earth for man's purpose. Plus the god of the bible loves killing! Stone adulterers, nonbelievers, naughty kids; etc. And he drowned a whole planet because he felt like starting over! What a guy!

      December 21, 2013 at 10:06 pm |
      • Pnizle

        Yea he "drowned" the whole earth because us humans didnt listen to him and were ruining it.and the ones who did where saved. how about this, lets stop locking up/executing the Murderers, the pedefials, the rapists, serial killers and all of those good folk and see what happens......

        December 21, 2013 at 10:23 pm |
    • Robert Constant

      The poet Blake said, "Everything that lives is holy. Life delights in life." People who kill for food cannot be criticized by anyone who is not a vegetarian. That is just common sense. People who kill for sport, for the joy of killing, are another thing again. There is something cruel and twisted in their nature.

      December 21, 2013 at 10:26 pm |
  7. eric

    what does "the bible" say, a book religious scholars call a 'fairy tale'? why does anyone care?

    what you should be concerned about is why you have imaginary friends in your head.

    better get your bible totin' papa to skin your behind for such silliness!

    .

    .

    .

    December 21, 2013 at 9:57 pm |
    • PPJr

      "what bible says" is so last century! nowdays it is "what google says".

      December 21, 2013 at 10:10 pm |
    • nike

      Never too late to get help Eric.

      December 21, 2013 at 10:23 pm |
  8. newmediapublishingbh

    So is this supposed to work? Christians wait for everyone else to stop sinning, and then they stop sinning?

    You first!

    December 21, 2013 at 9:53 pm |
    • Max

      Yes, they condemn everyone for sinning whilst sinning themselves.

      December 21, 2013 at 9:56 pm |
    • sam

      Exactly.

      December 21, 2013 at 9:57 pm |
  9. MTD

    He's spot on.

    December 21, 2013 at 9:47 pm |
    • sam

      In your opinion.

      December 21, 2013 at 9:57 pm |
  10. Rob McQueary

    Enjoy a unique vantage point... The Gospel According to Phil at http://rethinkxian.com/.../20/the-gospel-according-to-phil/.

    December 21, 2013 at 9:40 pm |
  11. Kenman

    NO, simply NO.

    December 21, 2013 at 9:36 pm |
  12. huff

    No. If you read it you will find it very clear.

    December 21, 2013 at 9:31 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      I have read it...not clear.

      December 21, 2013 at 10:20 pm |
    • GeneSnow

      Paul's opinion in Paul's time.

      December 21, 2013 at 10:35 pm |
  13. S J Bailey

    My Holy Bible tells us to be "be fruitful and increase in number" (Genesis 1:22) and that a women is bound to her husband (Romans 7:2.) Sin is sin and no where have I ever read in my Bible that sin is on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the worse. I glory in Phil Robertson's statement as it has caused many to read the scripture and its one of the few shows that a family can watch with no X-rated language or violence. Phil Robertson loves the Lord, the Lord has blessed he and his family, and I praise him for being bold in his beliefs.

    December 21, 2013 at 9:21 pm |
    • ds

      well said

      December 21, 2013 at 9:44 pm |
    • RobS

      "He who is without sin can cast the first stone." That's what Jesus said about judging others, essentially – 'NONE of you people are in any position to judge anybody about anything, ever'. "Judge not, so that you won't be judged", is another that pops right in there. "These people honor Me with their lips but there hearts are far from Me", is another. God's Heart is about Mercy, Forgiveness, Understanding and most of all – A-t-t-i-t-u-d-e. Can it be possible that Christians make the worst christians?

      December 21, 2013 at 9:58 pm |
      • D

        I think you have these verses saved to try and argue your point, yet however you are just as far the truth. Yes Jesus said those passages, yet YOU think ppl are judging as if they are God. We as Christians are suppose to walk in love to show the grace and kindness of God. But that does not mean to accept the sins of a sinner. If the sinner would rather stay to their sin than turn their heart over to God then that is their loss. It will mean their spirit because they chose their sin than trying to get saved. But once saved you cannot get unsaved by your actions.

        December 22, 2013 at 5:45 am |
    • Robert Constant

      Question to S.J.Bailey. The book of Genesis makes it clear that the Earth is flat and the Earth , and NOT the Sun , is the center of the Solar system . What do you think of that?

      December 21, 2013 at 10:09 pm |
      • jmcondreay

        Genesis makes no such claims. What book are you reading?

        December 21, 2013 at 10:22 pm |
      • cito

        Bible never calls earth flat. Genesis even calls it a globe.

        Flat earth was never believed in history, its an urban legend go read snopes website. From the bible onward the earth has always been a globe

        December 21, 2013 at 10:25 pm |
  14. Name*Dale Ellis

    A&e knew that phil was a god believing and a member of the church of christ. We believe that if the bible talks on a subject. We belive that what is in the bible is god word. If the bible says the gay is wrong then it is wrong and a sin. Phil is right what he read and teaches about the bible. Go to a church of christ and see their beliefs. They are the same as Phil's

    December 21, 2013 at 9:17 pm |
    • sam

      Maybe you could try posting in your native language?

      December 21, 2013 at 10:00 pm |
    • RobS

      "Judge not lest you be judged", sound familiar?

      December 21, 2013 at 10:00 pm |
      • D

        How is that a judgment? You want to keep attaching the sinner with the sin as if they have no choice. Jesus loved the sinners and it was that love and teaching he gave that turned those away from sin. The sins of the flesh are indeed a path to condemnation. Jesus died for the sins of the world yet if one does not honor that deed by living according to Jesus (God's) teachings then you are not born again.

        December 22, 2013 at 5:15 am |
  15. johnny

    libs can try to spin it any way they want to but Phil is correct. You can get upset all you hom@s but he's actually trying to save your soul.

    December 21, 2013 at 9:07 pm |
    • UncleM

      Nope. He's a bigot using religion as an excuse.

      December 21, 2013 at 9:09 pm |
      • johnny

        you still got time to leave the gay lifestyle UM before its to late

        December 21, 2013 at 9:11 pm |
        • HotAirAce

          If you believe gay is a life style choice then you are brain dead in addition to being a mentally ill delusional Babble Humper.

          December 21, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
        • Maddy

          Explain the hetero "lifestyle" and the age you were when you "chose" it.

          December 21, 2013 at 9:37 pm |
        • Dude

          Way to judge others.
          Bet you're a Christian.

          December 21, 2013 at 10:53 pm |
    • Jo

      He can 'mind his own business'!!!

      December 21, 2013 at 9:11 pm |
    • Dan

      I'm not gay or a brain-washed religious nutbag. I win!

      December 21, 2013 at 9:13 pm |
      • johnny

        I don't understand i win explain that one numb nuts.

        December 21, 2013 at 9:21 pm |
        • sam

          You sure do think about gays and nuts a lot. Maybe you need to talk to Michelle Bachmann's hubby about that.

          December 21, 2013 at 10:01 pm |
    • John

      Johnny,

      Are you Jesus or god??? Who gave you the power or right to judge over the human race?? The bible was made up from a bunch of stories created by men to control men, just a fact. Once again who are you to judge anyone?? Worry about your own life.

      December 21, 2013 at 9:24 pm |
    • Max

      Libs? Partisan nerd.

      December 21, 2013 at 9:40 pm |
    • candiroo1

      @ Johnny - you can quote these edicts handed down by god, but you must remember who these rules applied to - the Jews, the chosen people. These rules were to keep the Jews separate from the gentiles.

      December 21, 2013 at 10:39 pm |
  16. Liz the First

    Anyone who uses the Bible to promote bigotry has no clue what it means. what it says, maybe. what it means, nope. the Bible was written by men thousands of years ago to try to explain their world. the divine inspiration is buried deep in the meanings of the stories. we aren't supposed to chain our minds to the level of mankind thousands of years ago. God gave us the intelligence to progress in knowledge. some of us choose to throw that gift back in His face. Duckman is among those. Willful ignorance is inexcusable.

    December 21, 2013 at 8:55 pm |
    • Glenn

      So sorry you can't be excused.

      December 21, 2013 at 9:27 pm |
  17. StuporDave

    I guess I'm just glad that my early religious education doesn't blind me to advances in science and other new information that constantly informs my philosophy of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This wisdom is brought to you by a white, 63 year old, twice divorced, happy (but not gay) male, now loving the bachelor's life, for those who might care.

    December 21, 2013 at 8:53 pm |
    • FloridaTipo

      That was nice. Wishing You continued Happiness....

      December 21, 2013 at 9:41 pm |
  18. srgntyork

    Does this guy eat meat on Friday? Allow his wife to wear pants? Ooops he is going to hell. If you are going to take the bible word for word you better take it all and not just pick the parts that suit you

    December 21, 2013 at 8:52 pm |
    • Reality Stars are silly people

      Like taking the LBGT friendly network money from the start and being OK with it then.

      December 21, 2013 at 8:54 pm |
  19. Reality Stars are silly people

    I come to believe that I am God...
    I've discovered that when I pray I'm always talking to myself!

    December 21, 2013 at 8:51 pm |
  20. dreamersempire

    Yada yada

    December 21, 2013 at 8:49 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.