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. AlephNull37

    Interpret this verse:

    If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.

    Deuteronomy 21:18-21

    December 20, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
    • AC


      December 20, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      Fat drunks deserve to be stoned to death? Well, I guess that's one way to get rid of the population of Alabama and Mississippi...

      My but your god and book are stupid...

      December 20, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
      • cleareye1

        Your comment is a silly as the one you comment about.

        December 20, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
        • Lucifer's Evil Twin

          No it's not

          December 20, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
    • Lee M. Robinson

      You no not your Gospels, the passage of the old testament you quote was the law for the early Hebrew people . If you read the Gospels you will find out that when Jesus came he set the Christian on a path that stopped stoning people but to forgive them when they repent from their sinful ways. God bless you for trying and I hope someday he open your eyes to the truth of his word.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
      • AlephNull37

        It is easier for Heaven and Earth to pass away than for the smallest part of the letter of the law to become invalid.

        Luke 16:17

        December 20, 2013 at 1:44 pm |
      • AlephNull37

        Sorry, I just found this one too –

        Whoever curses father or mother shall die

        – Jesus
        Mark 7:10

        December 20, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
        • AlephNull37

          For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.

          December 20, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
    • fred mertz

      I'm still in jail after following this verse. The cops and judge didn't seem to agree with my interpretation...

      December 20, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
  2. mcovey

    Most practicing Christians profess their sins before God in church or in private as they see fit. Once they do that, there beliefs tell them to spread the word of God. The Bible is pretty clear on what a sin is and telling others (non-believers) is part of spreading the word!

    What amazes me is how those whom profess to be tolerant of others are the least tolerant of all of us. They have no idea how to turn their cheeks to something the do not agree with!!!

    December 20, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
    • G to the T

      Some of us aren't so instructed by our beliefs. You are more than welcome to preach "the word" and I am more than welcome to call you out on anything that I don't believe.

      December 21, 2013 at 9:35 am |
  3. Adoptee_NOTW

    1 Corinthians 1:18-31

    The Wisdom of God

    18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who [m]are perishing, but to us who [n]are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

    “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
    And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.”

    20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the [o]message preached to save those who believe. 22 For indeed Jews ask for [p]signs and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach [q]Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

    26 For [r]consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to [s]the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no [t]man may boast before God. 30 But [u]by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, [v]and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

    December 20, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      Blah blah blah

      LET's Religiosity Law #3 – If you habitually spout off verses from your "holy" book to make whatever inane point you're trying to make, and not once does it occur to you to question whether your book is accurate in the first place, then you are definitely mentally retarded. (See Law #4 & #5)

      December 20, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
    • G to the T

      "The Wisdom of God" If you think so. I'm more inclined to believe those are the words of Paul, not god.

      December 21, 2013 at 9:36 am |
  4. Julia

    Leviticus 20:13 ESV / 18 helpful votes

    If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.

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

      good example of the disgusting cruelty offered by the bible.

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

        Bootyfunk- Ok I get that you dont like the bible- What did phil say that was offensive to you or to the gay community??

        December 20, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
        • G to the T

          You mean comparing them to bestiality and pedophilia? I'd say that's pretty offensive...

          December 21, 2013 at 9:37 am |
      • habitant

        Somewhat ironically, the Bible is a book not easily understood by people who spend most of there time watching reality T.V.

        December 20, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
        • *


          December 20, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
    • AE

      In that same chapter it says don't eat raw meat, where 2 different kinds of fabric or plant 2 different kinds of seed in a field.

      Do you oppose sushi restaurants? 99.99999% of the people that wear clothes? Little old ladies and their gardens?

      December 20, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
      • Dr Jackson

        Honestly...find a really good Bible believing church and go learn the DIFFERENCE between the OLD covenant/testament and the NEW covenant/testament. GOD BLESS YOU!

        December 20, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
        • G to the T

          So you need a church to tell you what the bible means? I thought it was supposed to be self-evident?

          December 21, 2013 at 9:38 am |
  5. Dr Jackson

    CNN is compleetly dishonest here by having a psychology professor(?) comment on Biblical Theology! His "interpretation" is completely twisted to imply something that the text PLAINLY STATES! The alledged "vulgarity" in this context is NOT this rather ignorant reality star....it is the general public and media's HATRED FOR THE BIBLE AND WHAT IT TEACHES!!
    At LEAS be honest about it!!!!

    December 20, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
    • G to the T

      "Hate the belief, not the believer" – that's my motto.

      December 21, 2013 at 9:39 am |
  6. slim mraz

    Your the news channel CNN, why don't you start getting the facts and bring it to your readers,

    Instead of making us make the news ? are you a news channel or we need your thoughts channel ?

    December 20, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
  7. tallulah13

    There are thousands of interpretations of the bible - perhaps even an interpretation for every reader. It doesn't matter if Phil Robertson "got the bible wrong". He thinks he's right, just like every other believer thinks that they are right. Wars have been fought over which interpretation is better, thousands of people have died, and still people fight. It's all rather silly and sad.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
  8. Bootyfunk

    religion is a poor excuse for prejudice.
    all excuses are poor.

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

      I have asked someone, anyone to please point out what he said that was offensive?

      December 20, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
      • fred mertz

        >What he said that was offensive?

        Well, he may have played with those black kids in the outback, but he sure as H E L L wasn't going to the same school as they were (segregation) and the black kids sure as hell stepped off the sidewalk onto the street when a white man approached (Jim Crow laws) and black men sure as hell got lynched back then a lot more often than white men. So his assertion about there not being a racial problem in Louisiana during his childhood is selective at best and vile revisionism as worst.

        As to his comments about gay folks, they just show an outdated mindset based on a book or rules made thousands of years ago and his ignorance about being gay: it is NOT, for +99% of gay folks, a "lifestyle choice".

        Does this help?

        December 20, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
    • Mantid

      Bootyfunk- I get that you dont like religion and your comments on your beliefs may offend those that do like it- I am trying to understand what phil said that offended you and or the gay community – can you answer that

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

    Yes, when one is looking for historical biblical interpretations, one should turn to uneducated hillbillies.

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

      except he's not. he has both a bachelor's degree and a master's degree. he was also a teacher for a decade.

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

        Smart guy..marketing his products and promoting a world view held by most of the world's population.

        December 20, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
        • Dan Z.

          A world view that resembles that of the Taliban. What a waste of a mind!

          December 20, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
      • Conrad Polska

        Ted Kacznski–aka the unabomber. B.S. Harvard. PhD University of Michigan. Taught mathematics at UC Berkeley. Moved to a log cabin.

        December 20, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
    • Kettle


      I'm fairly certain that he received a masters degree in education from Louisiana Tech University.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
    • Cheryl Mills

      Are you talking about Phil? Because he holds a Master's degree and is a millionaire, and built that business himself which is featured in the A&E show. If you're looking for an "uneducated hillbilly", Phil is not your guy.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
    • Darren Tebo

      Yes, just like they looked to David to fight Goliath when the Philistines were attacking. Everyone mocked him, but he did quite well with God's help didn't he? God uses the lowly and humble to do his work.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
  10. Austin

    If you look up the lineage of Christ.............Tamar was a great great ....patron, who pros.t.ituted herself to her father in law, Judah.

    This is disgusting, yet a true picture the God is bigger than our ugly details and willing to do the biggest things in the smallest places.

    You are justified through Christ before God.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
    • G to the T

      Which lineage would that be? Joseph wouldn't really count now would he?

      December 21, 2013 at 9:41 am |
  11. Julie MS

    Jim Naughton, a Christian gay rights activist and communications consultant. He does not know what he's talking about, does not know God or his word. He is only a deceiver and liar that has no basis for his "opinion".

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

      you are a potato. get your head out of your anus and welcome to 2014

      December 20, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
  12. chosen one

    really really a CHRISTIAN GAY rights activitist get real cnn, theres no such thing!!!!

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


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

        Why not?

        December 20, 2013 at 1:12 pm |
  13. Conrad Polska

    Religiosity is inversely related to intelligence. Always has been, always will be.

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

      I'll buy that if you'll buy that Obama is a devout Christian (as he professes), attending church for the last 25 years under Jermiah Wright.

      If so, then he must be VERY DUMB – oh wait...WOW ! Maybe you have a GREAT point LOL ;- ) !?!

      December 20, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
  14. palintwit

    Whenever I think of trailer parks, I think of Sarah Palin. Whenever I think of Sarah Palin, I think of trailer trash. Whenever I think of trailer trash, I think of tea party patriots. Whenever I think of tea party patriots, I think of nascar. Whenever I think of nascar, I think of assault weapons. Whenever I think of assault weapons, I think of trailer parks. Whenever I think of trailer parks, I think of Sarah Palin. Whenever I think of Sarah Palin, I think of trailer trash. Whenever I think of trailer trash, I think of ....

    December 20, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
  15. Ninja

    Understanding of the Bible is not just academic, It is spiritual understanding led by the Holy Spirit that Christ left behind for all of us who except him as Lord and Savior. You can not read the bible without spiritual meaning.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
    • bowldsbrendonbboi7581

      If that was true, it would never have been canonized or interpreted.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
      • G to the T

        Actually it's kind of a good point. Magic really is the only way you could get the bible to make sense...

        December 21, 2013 at 9:43 am |
        • bowldsbrendonbboi7581

          It makes more and more sense the longer its interpreted. It is most likely, taught to the masses, interpreted at least a little incorrectly. However, there are many scholars and theologians who makes a whole lot of sense. However, the same old stories have been taught the same way until society forces a change.

          December 21, 2013 at 9:49 am |
  16. Mike again

    Gays in our Military spells defeat for America...remember Sodom&Gomorrah

    December 20, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
    • tallulah13

      boring troll is boring

      December 20, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
    • G to the T

      There have always been gays in the military and it hasn't been an issue so far. So what you really mean is OPENLY gay people in the military. That sounds more like a personal prejudice than a divine proclamation.

      December 21, 2013 at 9:45 am |
  17. BC

    So liberals demand tolerance but they are the least tolerant.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
    • Conrad Polska

      Being tolerant does NOT mean tolerating intolerance. Understand now?

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

        So misguided...and so wrong...try again !!

        December 20, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
    • tallulah13

      It's not a question of tolerance. I can't imagine that anyone thought that this was the most culturally open family in the world. It's more personal that that. People don't like it when you go out of your way to insult them or their friends, so a backlash is to be expected.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:03 pm |
  18. warren

    What is wrong with this world? When did everybody become an expert and interpreter on everything that does not concern them. Its not whether i agree with Phil or not. Why does the Media look to analyse and dissect everything that a person might says, especially when they don't know how the person thinks or might mean. Not everyone can articulate a message in a way that might appeal to everyone. I just don't get it. Imagine if everyone who is wasting time on this issue would go out and help someone in need, how good would this world be?

    December 20, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
    • G to the T

      He's a known celebrity and this blog has over 2k comments on it. I'd say they know what they're doing all right (not that I have anything against it, way of the world after all).

      December 21, 2013 at 9:47 am |
  19. habitant

    I don't find CNN's shocking new videos to be very shocking, or for that matter, disturbing. I do think TMZ may offer less biased celebrity news.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
    • Oh, stop

      Every media outlet is reporting this. If you hate CNN, go somewhere else.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
  20. Jerry

    Open your ears and don't be fooled – In the beginning the Lord tells his people to go forth and multiply. The Gay world cannot do that unless they take someone else children. Their world will simply end because they cannot multiply. I have many gay friends and I will always love them; however, I'm not going to lie and tell them that what they're doing is safe and ok. The truth is that it's very dangerous.

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

      Wrong. Religion is dangerous. Carrying forward ancient beliefs that are not founding in reality is dangerous. Molesting boys is dangerous.... hmm

      December 20, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
    • G to the T

      " Their world will simply end because they cannot multiply." So the only way someone's "world" can continue is through offspring? I think you have a woefully naive view of the world. Besides, if you ban abortion, who's going to adopt all those unwanted babies?

      December 21, 2013 at 9:49 am |
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About this blog

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.