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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. Mr. Bo

    Any one can state their views and beliefs. Does no make them true for all. Try living by the golden rule rather than made up stories by men

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

      The "golden rule" is actually from the Bible.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
      • SgtRock101

        It is common in many non Christian religions of Africa and the far east. It is NOT exclusive to the Christian bible.

        December 20, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
        • Mr. Berzerk

          State your references from their holy books?

          December 20, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
      • GMAB

        Gwen,

        The "Golden Rule" dates back much further than The Bible... to ancient Babylon and China (and who knows when before things were written down):

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Rule#Antiquity

        December 20, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
    • John J

      Mr. Bo, apparently you are in need a history lesson. Do you know where the "golden rule" comes from? You guessed it....the Bible...straight from the Man himself....Jesus.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
  2. bob

    Ya, CNN giving their liberal slant with their dose of misinformation and propaganda as usual, thanks CNN.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
  3. solidsnakeater

    so he says that the bible condemns men for sleeping with boys but not men sleeping with men. this must be how conspiracy theory people feel. they have to take every little word or line and try to put it in their favor to make them feel good about themselves

    December 20, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
  4. jed clampett

    Blind Obedience! My dog is a saint. 🙂

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

      mine is a saint too, but still a sinner. He is sneaky.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
    • Iowan

      Not only CNN. This non-story is all over the place. It is just awful how senstive people are on this when their far more important things to worry about.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
  5. Mike again

    God committed a Hate Crime when he destroyed Sodom&Gomorrah and all theGays

    December 20, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
  6. Jim M

    Phil Robertson next step is to glorify the 'Good Ole Days' of down home southern lynchings, and the tradition of wholesome family gatherings around a burning cross!

    December 20, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
  7. Grumpster

    Derp Dynasty...when you ask a redneck to say something, expect some pretty moronic things to come out of his mouth.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
  8. Los

    THE NIV version of the Bible has been water down to remove many key passages. Please read the KJV and this matter is closed.

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

      Please read the history of the King James Bible. There is a reason it has lost favor. It is considered one of the least reliable translations around. Sounds pretty, but really, a translation from the 1600s? Our understanding of ancient language is far more advanced today than it was then...but then again, this is the problem with the "word of God"...which word? Whose word?

      December 20, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
      • RandyM

        'Actually, the KJ version is still considered the best translation by many bible scholars. But you can look the words up yourself it is quite easy. Get a strong concordance it has every Hebrew word and its definition.

        December 20, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
  9. dwight

    Rom. 1:26-27 "For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due."

    Even if you discount I Cor.6 the above is pretty clear in meaning and God in the OT condemned it. It was never accepted by God in any form.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
    • 1Love

      2 consenting adults entering into a monogamous and loving relationship is not sinful.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
      • RandyM

        Your statement is simply not true. Can a mother and son enter into this type of relationsip or broter and sister or grandfather and granddaughter. No and neither can two men or two women.

        December 20, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
  10. Schep

    Really, all this over the relatively meaningless opinions of a Louisiana redneck who apparently gained fame for making duck calls? Really?

    December 20, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
  11. Phil

    LOL...Gay Christians...What a small,silent, meaningless demographic that must be.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
    • 1Love

      Gay Christians. Rich Christians. All 1 under Christ.

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

      Gay Christian, Pedophile Christian, Murderous Christian... Must be oxymoron day at CNN. Wonder how long it too them to find one Christian to support their agenda.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
    • RandyM

      The actual number of real Christians who are also practicing a gay lifestyle is zero. If they don't believe God's word or refuse to obey its rules then they are not Christian by definition.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:44 pm |
  12. redneck

    The front runner for the GOP presidential candidate, Chris Christy, thinks gay people were born that way.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
    • misterbilll

      no he doesn't.....but he knows the gaybots would attack him mercilessly if he said otherwise.....the gaybots should be deported to some island with zero contact with the outside world allowed and they can push all the poop they want without telling anybody about it.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
      • Iowan

        If he is, then he shouldn't hold office. Anyone that bows to the convictions of another is not to be trusted.

        December 20, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
        • RandyM

          Amen preach it.

          December 20, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
  13. Ed VanderWoude

    But other Bible experts aren't so sure the Bible text Robertson cited to GQ is as clear as he may think. Editor's note: the third word in this sentence (experts) should be in quotation marks!

    December 20, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
  14. Garry

    Who really cares about this moron..college educated or not, he is a nut case...the show sucks the big one and once a r all..look at the contracts before you sign them and UNDERSTAND what they mean...

    December 20, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
  15. palintwit

    Do the "duckers" wear size 34 floppy clown shoes like the tea party patriots?

    December 20, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
  16. Kenny

    The best argument would be to argue that the Bible is contaminated with original sin. Nothing is impervious to the corrupting influence of Man, not even the word of God.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
  17. Rc

    Who cares what this person thinks. Maybe cnn and other news media should question the reality tv industry, networks and producers about their morality. Perhaps the kardashias and rednecks of the world shouldn't be public figures. At the end of the day, money talks and crap sells.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
  18. Michael G

    So called Christians have been cherry picking the Bible to support their bigoted views for as long as the Bible has been around. It's been used to justify the abuse of children and spouses, slavery, racism, and now h o m o p h o b i a. What else is new?

    December 20, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
    • RandyM

      There is no where in the Bible that promotes slavery, racism or abuse of anyone. You are misinformed.

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

        Wow......it's pretty clear that you haven't read the bible. The bible is evil.

        December 20, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
        • RandyM

          I have read it all and studied most of it. I stand by my earlier statement. Most people want to misunderstand the Bible so they can have an excuse to not have God in their life.

          December 20, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
    • Scott

      What is new is now people are using the bible to support sins that are abominations. The bigotted thinking that your views should be forced on others. Mr. Robertson gave an aswer as he saw it to a question. And because he believes something he should be hung. That is the same bigotry that those who appose him scream everytime someone says something that doesn't match their thinking. He never once called out anyone. He spoke of the sinful acts as he sees them.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
    • misterbilll

      your full of poop........Nobody needs you and your gaybot agenda to tell us what the bible means to any or all of us. You gaybots have been cherry picking anything and everything in order to push your POOP PUSHING agenda on the rest of us. I wish you would all get some horrible strain of aids and die with a month....the world would be a better place without you CREATURES in it.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
      • Michael G

        To start with, I am not gay. I just respect people who are. You are a typical hypocrite Christian, wishing death and suffering on others. Jesus would say, "Shame on you".

        December 20, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
        • RandyM

          I agree, if you claim to be Christian and wish destruction or harm on another just because they don't believe in God or Christ then that is hating your brother and the love of God is not in you. But pointing out a problem with someone's lifestyle is not hating or wishing destruction on them. He is not saying he wants destruction he is saying their lifestyle will result in destruction. Just like if you spend more money than you make then your lifestyle will result in bankruptcy.

          December 20, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
      • Wilmadee

        How very Christian of you.

        December 20, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
  19. Brad

    There are people put on this Earth to deceive you & it appears CNN & this Gay Christian activist is one of them. Don't be deceived, Gays will not be in Heaven.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
    • IKnowWhatI'mTalkingAbout

      As a Christian, I will tell you that you do not know that. ONLY God. Sin is sin...and you will also be judged for yours as you are a sinner equally.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
    • Manfred Wallner

      Do you follow the teachings of the bible, Brad? If so, would you cut off a woman's hand – as Deuteronomy 25:11-12 demands – if you see two man fighting and the wife of the one grabs the assailant by his private parts to help her husband? If you say no, you will not go to heaven either for not have followed the bible, but if you say yes, you might end up in jail or in an insane assylum – take your pick, buddy 🙂

      December 20, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
      • IKnowWhatI'mTalkingAbout

        That's not an accurate interpretation Manfred. These were sermons that Moses addressed the people of Israel with, telling them everything God had commanded for them as what to obey on their way to Kadesh Barnea. It was specifically for the Jews at a specific time, not throughout the rest of history.

        December 20, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
      • RandyM

        I cannot let this stand unanswered. Those verses refer to a woman getting into a common fight to help her husband. But it shows a real intent to harm and humiliate the other man. She could help her man by hitting the opponent, pushing, jumping on his back or even pulling his hair. But no this woman chooses to go for the testicles. She intends to render him impotent and that is why the penalty is so severe. But it also has to go before a judge and is not to be decided by just anyone.

        Accouding to Jewish scholars(not Christian) the usual result was a payment in lieu of cutting off the hand. In other words they usually setteled out of court. Yes the punishment was harsh but that was normal for that time. They did not want to be putting up with these type of dastardly deeds so the punishment was harsh enough to curtail the activity. Modern day judges could learn a thing or two about how to give out proper sentences. Think of all the murderers who were in prison for something else and then got out early and then killed someone.

        December 20, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
    • Garry

      Is that your belief or did you get a message from God telling you this..try again bigot

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

      Your statement needs some clarification. Being gay or wanting to be gay is not a sin. But practicing a gay lifestyle is sin. I may want to be rich and want to steal a lot of money but stealing the money is the sin not the desire. Now, you must not feed that desire or you will go down that path. You must learn and study how God wants you to live then the actions of trying and learning what God wants will make it possible to be who God wants you to be.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
  20. bteri60

    "No, he didn't get it wrong. Those who wish to justify their sinful lifestyle get it wrong when they try to make it mean what they want it to mean.".....exactly

    December 20, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
    • kate

      Well, that would be everyone. No Christian follows all the rules in the Bible. I don't know a single Christian who hasn't made some sort of personal decision about "what God really meant" to excuse themselves from some practice they have deemed archaic. Some dismiss the entire old testament at irrelevant, others just portions of it. Others choose the words of Paul over the words of Jesus himself when it suits them.

      If the Bible is to be taken literally as a whole and not as a convenience, the gays burning in hell will certainly have plenty of company with other Christians who don't follow the law in its entirety.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
      • RandyM

        There is a difference between a failure followed by a correction or repentance and someone who just is going to live a lifestyle of sinful behaviour. We are all sinners including professing Christians. But a Christian repents of his sins and goes and sins no more. It is a difficult process that never ends. There is always room for improvement.

        December 20, 2013 at 2:01 pm |
    • Bob Jackson

      It goes both ways. The Bible says what you want it to say, and doesn't say what your opponent wants it to say.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:54 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.