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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. Livebythewholebible

    If Robertson’s is going to quote and “live” by the Bible (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) then live by the whole Bible. A vast majority of Christians pick out what suits them and disregard the rest. According to the Bible it states, “1 Corinthians 11:7 every man who prays or prophesies with long hair dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with no covering of hair dishonors her head—she is just like one of the “shorn women.” 6 If a woman has no covering, let her be for now with short hair; but since it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair shorn or shaved, she should grow it again. 7 A man ought not to have long hair. So how does he justify turning a blind eye to passage above?

    December 22, 2013 at 7:37 pm |
    • Ron

      exactly right.

      December 22, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
  2. Teresa

    my people perish for a lack of knowledge. Hosea 4:6

    December 22, 2013 at 6:54 pm |
    • roger

      It gets displaced by too much superst-ition.

      December 22, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
    • Wow

      can your knowledge tell me who cain had s..e..x with to make the next person?

      December 22, 2013 at 7:32 pm |
  3. J+-ANIYA

    To Be Honest Everybody Knows That Duck Dynasty really makes people look at a&e and beyond scared straight was not like it used to be then its was funny and real but now its lame and boring And when duck dynasty came i can say EVERYBODY WAS WATCHING IT ON A WEDNESDAY NIGHT WITH HER TEA lol , For Them To Remove Him Iss really wack , He Really Made The Show , Kids , Mom, Dads Grandpas Grandpa Cousins EVERYBODY use to watch it and now its gone , A&E Is Another Fail

    December 22, 2013 at 6:47 pm |
    • Maddy

      I didn't watch it. I never have, and I likely never will.
      DD will not go anywhere. So much ado about nothing.

      December 22, 2013 at 7:07 pm |
  4. liann

    Moses was a SERIAL KILLER AND MASS MURDERER. Saul of Tarsus (Not "saint" Paul to me) was a SERIAL KILLER. Neither one is fit to give me spiritual advice. Paul said BEWARE of evil coming as an Angel of Light, got his "conversion" from a ball of light, then went on to contradict "Jesus" over and over and over again.

    I don't take my spiritual guidance from SERIAL KILLERS or their fanboys.

    December 22, 2013 at 6:06 pm |
  5. Wow

    If Adam and Eve had Cain. who did Cain have s..e..x with to make the next person?

    December 22, 2013 at 6:04 pm |
    • OBD

      It sure was Steve

      December 22, 2013 at 8:02 pm |
  6. shawbrooke

    Mr Allen might recognize that people can agree to disagree and as on many other issues, let people say what they want and be what they want. But no. Some insist that everyone agree with them, and that's just not possible without giving up our freedoms. Apparently a lot of people understand that, which is why the show was popular in the first place and why A and E is afraid of a boycott. Gay rights would gain immeasurable respect if they could let A and E off the hook and stand up for the freedom that they themselves used for their cause. Don't hold your breath.

    December 22, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
  7. Scholar

    Willie Robertson net worth: Willie Robertson is an American entrepreneur, reality TV star and CEO who has a net worth of $20 million. Willie Robertson is the son of Phil Robertson who founded the hunting-accessories company "Duck Commander". Duck Commander was founded in 1972 and today has grown into multi-million dollar business specializing in the manufacture of a variety of popular hunting related products such as duck decoys, duck calls, cooking DVDs and apparel. Willie and his family received a huge boost in exposure thanks to their extremely popular A&E reality TV show "Duck Dynasty".

    December 22, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
  8. Emmanuel

    Dear Jesus:
    I admit that I am a sinner and need to be saved. I realize that You alone can save me from my sins, I ask right now for Your forgiveness and salvation. I believe that You died for my sins and that You rose from the grave. I am sorry for my sins and ask that You come into my heart and take control of my life. I ask Your Holy Spirit to lead me and guide me so that I may live for You as my Savior and Lord. In Your Name. Amen.,.

    December 22, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
  9. brother keith

    GOD Created man and woman to multiply the earth so there was two men in no women how would multiply the earth two animals know that so keep it simple simple

    December 22, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Your god is an invention of people who depended on children to maintain their existence. No surprise that they thought that child-bearing was important.

      But homosexuality has been shown to be determined in the womb and has existed for most, if not all, of recorded history. It has been exhibited by many different animals in nature. It appears that nature trumps the bible and will do as it will, regardless of what your religion wishes.

      December 22, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
    • Free Holiday Nuts

      what??

      December 22, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
    • sam stone

      brother keith: what makes you think that "god" did not create gays as a method of keeping the population at bay?

      aren't the religious folks always saying that god works in mysterious ways?

      perhaps gays are part of it

      December 22, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
    • Scholar

      JUST a really logical conclusion: if God created Adam and Eve and all came from only them, then there was a whole lot of incestual interbreeding going on. That could explain why we are how we are today, right?

      December 22, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
  10. Sherron Teal

    Atheism is stupid?? That's laughable . Most of you Christians are hypocrites in one way or another. You pray to something you can't see and their is no proof of. How do you explain things that were here millions and millions of years ago BC? You can't because you live in denial. No one knows how we got here, no one. But I would certainly trust science before a fairy tale!

    December 22, 2013 at 5:14 pm |
  11. DM

    First of all, Mr. Robertson does not represent Christianity. That was Jesus of Nazareth who was a better person than Mr. Robertson or I will ever be. To say that he represents millennia of Christianity is crazy.

    Second, Jesus went out of his way to draw closer to all sorts of people, including the outcast, disenfranchised, and the hypocrites - regardless what labels were given. I think it's likely that we all fall into each of those categories at times in our lives.

    Third, please don't forget this Christmas that Jesus was born to a young woman who was pregnant out of wedlock and a minority (Aramaic) member, whose family, after Jesus' birth, went immediately into exile as refugees to Egypt, where they were likely illegal aliens by today's standards. Then his father is no longer present by adolescence and Mary, his mother, becomes a single mom. To me, nothing about Christianity is so simple that Bible verses can be taken out of greater context and used as weapons. I feel certain that this type of behavior is exactly what Jesus wanted to straighten out. Please don't blame Jesus for remarks that seem contrary to the Gospel.

    December 22, 2013 at 5:10 pm |
    • lloyd trawick

      You might read the article before you decide what is taken out of context.

      December 23, 2013 at 8:44 am |
  12. brother keith

    READ THE BOOK

    December 22, 2013 at 5:10 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Over 30,000 denominations of the same religion have come from reading the same book. I doubt "reading the book" would do much good. It hasn't so far.

      December 22, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
    • sam stone

      pull the book out of your backside, brother keith

      December 22, 2013 at 5:47 pm |
  13. goodness13

    Wow- now CNN is interpreting the Bible.

    December 22, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
  14. Marty in MA

    How about when the Bible that says you can keep slaves (Lev. 25:44) and stone people for working on the sabbath (Exodus 35:2 )?????????

    Let's discuss this craziness.....

    December 22, 2013 at 5:06 pm |
  15. igaftr

    well I got me a duck call,
    got me a rifle,
    suns comin up I got ducks on the griddle,
    God will hate you if you don't watch who ya' diddle
    ...thank god I'm redneck boy.

    December 22, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magic Underwear

      THAT is just perfect!! Thanks for the laughs!

      December 22, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
    • Hmmmmmmmm

      I hate to break it to you, but Phil himself is way funnier. There is a film of him talking to a church where the first three minutes is pure looney-toons bigotry, then he abruptly quacks for about six minutes, then says he never owned a watch, then brags about knowing Terry Bradshaw. Or at least I think it was something about Terry Brdshaw, because his speech can be pretty jumbled.

      December 22, 2013 at 4:58 pm |
    • igaftr

      Well that came to me when I looked at the picture...didn't really think about it much....remember to tip your waitress, that's my time folks.

      December 22, 2013 at 5:01 pm |
  16. Luke

    It just so happens I have a NIV version of the Bible and this article leaves out key sentences, specifically ones that would discredit this article.

    December 22, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
  17. jryan3045

    Thank god I'm an atheist.

    December 22, 2013 at 4:35 pm |
  18. jryan3045

    Some one please explain how quoting a book of fiction can be construed as "getting" it wrong.

    December 22, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
    • tallulah13

      It's like when fanboys get all upset when the movies made about their superheroes don't follow the comic book canon of their choice. It's just a big fuss about protecting their favorite interpretation.

      December 22, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
  19. Misty Murray

    MSN posted a question: Should A&E Have Suspended Phil? At 11:00 pm on 12.19.13, there were 753,866 responses and 84% said NO.

    ABC posted the question and received 11,783 responses and 87% said NO.

    TMZ poll had 82?% saying the suspension was outrageous (128,884 votes)

    BIZ Review had 96% responses that he should not have been suspended. (10,479 votes)

    Hotair.com had 98% responses that he should not have been suspended (11,533 votes)

    A&E might have to eat duck for their Christmas meal.

    December 22, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
    • Free Holiday Nuts

      And now we return to our regularly-scheduled topic:

      "Does Phil Robertson get the Bible wrong?"

      December 22, 2013 at 4:28 pm |
    • Not impressed

      Oh they always were going to bring him back. And when they do, A&E will make even more money on him as the dingbats think they are the ones who are winning. It was a no-lose move by them.

      Who do you think would bother responding to those polls? Yeah, it would be overwhelmingly his viewers and very very little from people who don't give a damn about Duck Dynasty. Not exactly a reliable result if you know anything about polling.

      But who cares anyway? The people who already have formed opinions won't change, so who might and why? For Robertson to attract people, they would have to find what he said appealing. So I'm thinking that in the arena of public opinion, he lost for his side. I just can't imagine that his comments would attract undecideds, because the bigots have already chosen his side.

      December 22, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
      • lloyd trawick

        I am certainly glad to see a man who deliberates when presented with contrary information, but don't assume that everyone is brain dead like you. Of course, I know you are one of the enlightened souls who has all the answers and have decided what you believe is the last word. It must be nice to have such supreme confidence. Maybe you can explain how 13.7 billion years ago ( or whatever) there was an second explosion and the universe was created in a supposed vacuum, and hydrogen became matter. I have never seen anything like that. What am I to believe?

        December 23, 2013 at 8:55 am |
    • tallulah13

      So less than a million people actually cared to respond to the question (and the ones who did care probably responded on multiple sites). From that response, I would gather that the real majority is indifferent.

      If A&E wants to suspend this guy, it's their business. I didn't watch the show, anyway.

      December 22, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
      • igaftr

        yeah Tallulah...if I need to know how to outsmart a duck, maybe I'd watch, but so far that hasn't been an issue.

        December 22, 2013 at 4:55 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.