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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. Ted

    same old, a bible thumper will quote from the bible if it serves his interest, if the bible says something he or she does not agree , it was a misunderstanding on translation, or the latest i see the people who wrote the bible were human and may have misinterpreted god's word, the bible may have some good advice, but god's word it is not, silly so called christians

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

      I feel bad for you anger. I pray that God might reveal himself to you!

      December 20, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
    • Dr Jackson

      In other word's....you really don't believe the Bible anyway!!!

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

    "Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'I tell you the truth, it is hard for a gay man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a gay man to enter the kingdom of God.'"

    -Matthew 19:23-24

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

      Whoops! That should have been RICH not GAY man.

      Jesus never said anything about a gay man.

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

        Uh oh, isn't Phil Robertson rich?

        December 20, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
        • Scott

          But you are directly judging him in this satire. He never judged a person. He answered a question regarding sin. I'm sorry you have such anger and hostility toward others.

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

          Isn't it hypocritical for a rich man to condemn a gay man? Especially when Jesus said a lot about rich men. And nothing about gay men?

          December 20, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
        • G to the T

          "He never judged a person. He answered a question regarding sin." That only works if you can actual separate the person from the sin. Since being gay isn't a choice, judging one is pretty much the same as judging the other.

          "I think being black's a sin, but I don't hate black people" – see how ridiculous that sounds?

          December 20, 2013 at 10:42 pm |
    • PushingBack

      Misquoting the Bible on purpose? You must be desperate!

      December 20, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
      • RVB

        It's called satire ...

        December 20, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
  3. me agian

    look what this world is coming to every day someone somewhere is trying to either rewrite the bible to fit their lifestyle, prove it wrong or put down someone who pulled themselves out of the gates of hell and did something with his life and is giving more back then he is taking FREEDOM OF SPEECH??????? I hope the Robertson will do with the show what the do with ducks they have for dinner.

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

      Maybe ask yourself why an omnipotent being would need a book to get its message out. Your "god" can't even produce a modern website or do a tweet, because it doesn't exist, stupid.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
  4. Mike again

    GayGews own CNN, the mass media and Hollywood so what do you expect. it's Laughable how they try and defend their filth.

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

      Actually, Mike, your posts are pretty much the most backward and bigoted posts on here.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
  5. harleybird

    Hate is a sin. Jesus likened haters to murderers. BTW we are no longer under the old covenant. The new covenant says to love everyone including those persecuting you. The scripture after the one quoted in 1 Cor says "and that is what some of you were." God wants us all to repent and change our lives. This type hate will not change anyone's heart.

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

      The new testament is also loaded with hate and bigotry and murder. Get over your sick, backward religion already.

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

        You just don't understand it. It's okay. I'm not going to change your mind.

        December 20, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
    • G to the T

      So you quote the words of Paul (who never met Jesus) over the words of people who were supposedly eye witnesses to Jesus? Interesting...

      December 20, 2013 at 10:43 pm |
      • harleybird

        I'm not sure what you mean or where you are going? So my answer is so what?

        December 20, 2013 at 11:30 pm |
      • bowldsbrendonbboi7581

        All of Paul's translations, are to say the least, the most debatable translations in the bible when trying to translate to our language we use today. Not to mention, the context of when this happened, is very much so, important to understanding what he truly may have meant.

        December 20, 2013 at 11:39 pm |
  6. Ninja

    Faith is defined in many ways, but if your Christian it is grounded in the Bible. If you don't follow Christianity that is your choice.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
    • Dippy's Assistant

      "you're", not "your", dimwit.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
      • Dippy's Assistant

        for your first usage of "your".

        December 20, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
  7. Robby Robb

    Holly cow you can justify anything if you try hard enough, I haven't read such garbage In a long time.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
  8. Gloria

    According to the bible – all of these are sins: round haircut styles, football, fortune telling, pulling out during intercourse, tattoos, wearing polyester, or any other fabric blends, divorce, letting people into church to pray who do not have testicles (or they are damaged etc.), wearing gold, eating shellfish.

    http://www.11points.com/Books/11_Things_The_Bible_Bans,_But_You_Do_Anyway

    December 20, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
    • Mr. Berzerk

      Squabaling of semantics. If this is what CNN needs to dig as 'proof' that he is wrong, they really are sinking low.
      A Christian gay rights activists is all they had to say to show what illogical trype this is.
      A Christian gay rights activists = oxymoron

      December 20, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
    • Mr. Berzerk

      11 things that show you never read the bible.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
  9. edwardst35

    Why even discuss this? A gay has his gay friend, man or woman, and this guy has his ducks! Personal preference! He was brought up in the bible belt and the bible was hammered into his head from childhood and that is why he is like he is. Not a fault...he was trained! Some gays want to be gay and some not. It is either a choice or a chromosome problem! I have friends who are gay and I am straight and we get along fine. A lot of gay people make fine parents! A lot of religious ministers are child molesters! Live and let live! This guy can say what he wants because he has an opinion and opinions are like noses. Everyone has a nose! Also, his boss has the right to fire him for inciting and causing a problem for the network. So.......lets just forget about this issue and CNN should just shut the heck up and do the news and not religious issues!

    December 20, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
    • Freedom from Religion

      Well said. Bravo !

      December 20, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
  10. larrymarvinslc

    I don't care what the Bible says as It is not the law of the land. The man who made these statements is an ass and if the network wishes to suspend him, that is their prerogative.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
    • edwardst35

      You are absolutely correct! Right on target!

      December 20, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
  11. Iowan

    The only thing this useless article has done is to reaffirm that Phil Robertson knows his Bible verse. Sure, he paraphrased a bit, but the meaning came across.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
  12. GODZILLA1

    Yeah and also he says they wear those beards because of the Scriptures – TOTAL BS – they do it because it is their gimmick, or, as they say in showbiz, their schtick.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
    • Jerry

      You poor misguided IDIOT!!!

      December 20, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
  13. Rc

    God spells dog backwards. This topic is meaningless. Let's concern ourselves with humanity issues.

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

      RC spelled backwards is idiot!

      December 20, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
    • edwardst35

      Yes and RC spelled backward is CR which stands for CRUD RESPONDER.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
      • lunacy

        It could also stand for Christian Redneck

        December 20, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
  14. mike b

    If they're so steeped in the Bible , what about all the Testaments that were left out or misinterpreted , like this one . What about all the admonishments that are now conveniently ignored but are still part of the Bible . What about Jesus ? Isn't Christianity supposed to be about Christ but we ignore so many of his teachings . They had it all wrong in the old days , too . The established religion hierarchy had him killed because he was a threat . What in Christs name would happen to him today ?

    December 20, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
  15. That's just crazy talk

    I just love how CNN milks stories like this for everything it has then wrings it dry to ad-nauseam.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
    • Oh, stop

      This is a story that is bring widely reported. Fox has made it almost a cottage industry...

      December 20, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
  16. dwight

    Hey these rednecks own and run a multi-million dollar company. Do you?

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

      Stupidity is popular and sells. What is your point?

      December 20, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
  17. KB

    In the first 3 or so chapters of Romans, Paul goes off on everyone who will not be able to get into heaven. He covers the entire gambit: those living in sin, those who think they are good, the religious elite who think they know all the rules... everyone. Then he's switches gears - only through the acceptance of the gift of grace from God will anyone get into heaven. It is very easy to cherry pick the first portions of a text like this, take it at its face value, and use it to condemn whatever group you want to.

    While I am sure Phil and I would disagree on some biblical issues, I think the point of this is that he is not out there pushing this agenda. If he were, this would have come up well before now. He was asked a question, and he gave an answer (in his own, very direct way). He believes that lifestyle is a sin, but he is not placing himself into the position of God as final judgement. He's not likely to win over any converts with his presentation of that answer, but heand his family's lifestyle - the way they actually treat people on a day to day basis might.

    If this answer indicates a bias in the way he (or they) conduct themselves, then I'm sure there will be people coming out of the woodwork that can testify to how they were mistreated by the family. If not, then I think that their lifestyle would point more to how they interpret what the bible means to them than one (very direct) answer to a question asked of Phil does.

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

      Robertson is a bigoted, backward jerk. No need to align yourself with him, unless you want to be viewed that way too.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
  18. Just The Facts

    Religion aside, sodomy is, in my opinion, an unsanitary and deviant behavior. Without getting graphic, those 'wash your hands' signs posted in every bathroom are there for a reason folks. Your bedroom is private, hey, cover yourself in crisco and put on a party hat, but don't try to convince me this is normal behavior.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
    • Lord Chesterfield

      "S,ex: the pleasure is momentary, the position ridiculous, and the expense damnable."

      Actually, all s.exual conduct could be considered icky. What kind of god would design a playground adjacent to the sewer?!

      December 20, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
  19. palintwit

    Sarah Palin's collection of battery operated adult toys is said to be worth millions. These objects will be put on public display at museums all over the world. The dynasty duckers are already lining up to buy tickets in advance.

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

    Why is it that we conservative Christians have to walk on egg-shells but those who believe different have the right to express the way they feel.? Anyone who has watched duck – dynasty knows the familys beliefs. With that being said why is A&E and the rest of the world so shocked by what Phil has said. This country (America) hates anything that has to do with somebody having faith. In the bible it teaches love the sinner hate the sin. Nobody has the right to judge somebodys fate thats in gods hands but as far as this article goes... Leviticus 20:13 If a man lies with a male as with a women, both of them have commited an abomination.

    Abomination: Something horrible; Something shameful etc.

    you get the idea. I dont think anyone should need to "translate" .

    December 20, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
    • Mr. Bo

      but they can trespass and steal frogs and go to heaven

      December 20, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
    • Dave

      It also tells you to sell your daughters into slavery and stone to death those who leave the faith. Yeah, great message there.

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

      I agree with you 100%. CNN (as a liberal biased group) would love to convince people that he got the bible wrong. You know, to this I say READ IT YOURSELF. Phil got it right.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
    • Doris

      yeah – eating shell fish was considered an abomination also.. Bible thumpers in the U.S. are only hastening their own demise by ignoring current knowledge.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
      • Mr. Berzerk

        Which you are doing with the whole shellfish thing. Try reading the rest of it. (A little conversation with Peter about food)

        December 20, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
    • SgtRock101

      Because their child molesting, debauchery is so hypocritical, that's why.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:56 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.