Robert Gagnon’s Unorthodox Approach to Doctrine

Timothy Kincaid

June 24th, 2008

gagnon.jpgRobert Gagnon is an anti-gay hero. He is the leading theologian in the camp of those who believe that homosexuality is the worst of all possible sins. Look in the footnotes of any homophobic rant and you’ll find that their anti-gay interpretation of Scripture was likely provided by Dr. Gagnon.

Today the Christian Post reports that Gagnon continues on his crusade.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) places importance on the Heidelberg Catechism, a series of questions and answers used for teaching Reformed doctrine. Approved in 1563, it’s been translated a number of times and into many languages. The PC(USA) uses the Miller-Osterhaven translation from 1962 in its Book of Confessions.

However the 1962 translation included language that was not present in the original version. Specifically, it condemned “homosexual perversion”, a concept that was absent from the Heidelberg Catechism in 1563. Thirty-two members from the denomination’s ten seminaries signed a petition calling for a better translation.

Robert Gagnon disagrees.

In support of the current version, Dr. Robert A. J. Gagnon of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary argues that the original German text alludes to the Scripture passage 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 which, in the New English Bible translation, lists “homosexual perversion.”

“The spirit of the text of the Catechism is clear enough. It is the exact opposite of the attempt now being made to make the Confessions open to homosexual practice,” Gagnon said in a written argument last week. “The attempt at retranslation is not about history and honesty but ideology and a homosexualist agenda.”

I agree that this debate is about ideology. But I would suggest that it is his own that causes Gagnon to insist that the Catechism be translated to state the words that should be on the page rather than the ones that are there.

This is hardly the first time that Gagnon has decided that homophobia trumps written witness.

Most Christians will be familiar with the story of the Roman Centurian whose servant was healed by Jesus. This story is found in Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10 and goes like this:

A Roman Centurian came to Jesus about his servant who was paralyzed and suffering. Jesus offered to go heal him.

The Centurian countered that he was a man of authority and his servants did his command and that surely Jesus was a man of authority and could just say the word and the healing would be done. Jesus commended his faith and told him to go home and that his servant was healed.

Jesus commented on how this Roman, a Gentile, had more faith than was found in all of Israel.

Traditionally, this story has been understood to be the historical reporting of a miracle of Christ and one which demonstrated God’s intent to spread the Gospel to Gentiles. Few questioned the authenticity of the story or read much else into it.

But then some scholars began to look into the peculiar usage of language in the story and came to believe that considering the language and the culture in which it was written, it made most sense that the servant who was healed would have been better translated as “same-sex love slave” or what we might today refer to as a “boy-toy”.

Gagnon is, characteristically, dismissive. Insulting, one might say. But he takes a response that, I think, is playing with fire.

In essence he says that the authors of the books of Matthew and Luke made a mistake and told the story incorrectly. God’s divine inspiration got it wrong.

He argues that really the Roman was not Roman but a Jew, that the servant was not a servant but a son, and that the part about Jesus finding faith in Gentiles was just made up and not something Christ had ever said.

I think that Gagnon is taking steps that ultimately will not prove to be beneficial to those who seek to use him as an anti-gay source. His desire to read what isn’t there and to ignore what is present will not sit well with those who insist on a literalist interpretation of Scripture.

And those who are looking for a less word-for-word approach to doctrine are already capable of finding within the message of Christ an extravagant welcome that includes gay and lesbian Christians.

See also:
Gagnon Rants On And On
My Very Favorite Gagnonism
Robert Gagnon and the Grand Box Turtle Whirl of Immorality
Gagnon Revisited
Clarifying Robert Gagnon’s Tortured Logic
Gagnon Employs Tortured Logic
Robert Gagnon’s Unorthodox Approach to Doctrine

Emily K

June 24th, 2008

Is this parable really something gay Christians should take pride in? You could say the Roman soldier was gay and that his servant was gay, and Jesus blessing a gay man is a leap forward. But really the story is saying that the gay Centurion was preoccupied with sex and that the gay slave was a just as preoccupied with sex, as he was a prostitute. If I were a Christian, I wouldn’t want to claim this supposedly “queer-positive” story to my cause.

Timothy Kincaid

June 24th, 2008


I don’t claim that the Centurian or his servant were gay. I really don’t know.

But I think your changing the servant into a prostitute is not present in my above discussion. If you wish a better understanding of the story and its relevance to Christianity, click the link above.

Emily K

June 24th, 2008

If you mean this link,, They’re saying the Centurion/Slave was actually a gay couple. I don’t understand how calling a centurion with a sex-slave a “gay couple” is a step forward.

Erica B.

June 24th, 2008

Y’know, I never liked extremely literal, word-by-word readings of the Bible. I might have to change that. Go Jesus! :D

Timothy Kincaid

June 24th, 2008

I think you need to consider context, Emily. To get bogged down in the “sex slave” aspect of this is like reading Hosea and never getting beyond the fact that Gomer was a prostitute. There’s a bigger story here.

To a Christian, the question is not whether both halves of the relationship were free men. Indeed, there were probably no relationships of equal partners; women were to a great extent the property of their husbands.

(In fact, Christians are instructed not to place importance on whether someone was free or a slave.)

The question, rather, is what was Jesus’ reaction to this couple (assuming they could be categorized as such). The scripture makes clear that the Centurian greatly prized the pais and the scripture makes clear that Christ did not condemn either the Centurian or his pais but instead praised him for his faith.

If it were to be accepted that this was a same-sex couple, this would be evidence of Christ’s implicit blessing of a same-sex couple which could revolutionize the way that Christains view gay couples.

Frankly, I don’t know if that interpretation is correct. But I do know that Gagnon has to leap in circles to avoid that interpretation.


June 24th, 2008

Well, Emily, it’s a bit more complex than that. In that passage, as with so many Biblical studies, there are words used that don’t quite translate the way we hear them today. One of these is the particular relationship between Centurion and “slave.” Timothy is right to suggest that, culturally, we have to get beyond the idea of slave and free, because, in fact, this sort of relationship could actually be quite tender. This also explains why the Centurion was so emotionally distraught…doesn’t sound like a “slave-owner,” as we conceive of the term. A relevant verse might be when Paul writes that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor “male and female.” I put that in quotes for a reason: usually that part of the verse is mistranslated in the same grammatical way as the first two combinations, but the original text contains a grammatical idiosyncracy, which is usually overlooked. What’s interesting, though, is that the terms together “male and female” echo back to Genesis where it says that God created them “male and female.” This is interesting, as it relates to Gagnon, since the bulk of his beliefs are founded on these very verses in Genesis that, he claims, make homosexuality one of the greatest sins because it supposedly interferes with God’s natural order of “male and female.” But yet we find, if we stay true to the text, that, in Christ there IS NO “male and female.” He didn’t differentiate like Mr. Gagnon does.

Sidenote: Timothy, doesn’t Teh Peter always run around claiming that “homosexualist activists are afraid to even debate Rob Gagnon” or something?

I always thought that sounded like more of Peter’s crap.

And Erica, extremely literal readings of the Bible are FASCINATING, but you have to be willing to really dive into context and culture with eyes wide open. It’s extremely surprising the things that show up in there.


June 24th, 2008

For future reference, do you have the citation for where Gagnon argues the Roman Centurion was really a Jew? I don’t recall that in his “The Bible and Homosexual Practice”, but perhaps I just missed it. Thanks.


June 25th, 2008

This is why I am not religious.

Timothy Kincaid

June 25th, 2008


The link (also above) is here.

(b) The petitioner was originally a Jew. In addition, my own reconstruction of the earliest recoverable version of the story suggests that the meeting involved a non-descript Capernaum official who was probably neither a military officer nor a Gentile but a Galilean Jew in the employ of Herod Antipas.


June 25th, 2008

Thanks Timothy – my apologies for not noting the link the first time.

Since reading his first book I’ve been a fan of Gagnon’s consistent circular reasoning and logical fallacies. He does it again in brilliant fashion:

1) Because sex with male servants was not a universal phenomenon, this one obviously did not do it.

2) Because rape was sometimes involved in master-slave relationships, we must assume that was the case here, even though the text said the Centurion dearly loved his servant.

3) Gagnon argues that Jesus’ silence should not be interpreted as condoning. But Gagnon has argued that Jesus’ silence should be interpreted as condemning – even if he interacted with homosexuals and remained silent.

4) Gagnon argues the Jewish leaders would not have supported the Centurion, even though he was generous to their cause, because they were supposedly fully aware of what he did behind closed doors.

And so on.

Gagnon is nothing if not consistent in his logical fallacies.


June 25th, 2008

All of these anti-gays seem to have logical fallacy and circular reasoning in common, actually.

I don’t know whether it speaks to their own mental acuity or the low regard they have for their intended audiences.

Jonathan Justice

June 26th, 2008

A little context: We are talking about this because the PCUSA General Assembly is meeting in San Jose this week. The relevant Committee has already indicated that it would prefer that the GA go with authentic witness to what the Heidelberg Confession said in 1563. That Gagnon’s name was not on the list of 32 seminary faculty supporting that stance was not a surprise.

Steve Skeete

December 17th, 2008

I hold no brief for Robert Gagnon.

In fact I came across the name on the net only recently as I was reading
responses to the
Newsweek cover story “Mutual Joy”.

You refer to Mr. Gagnon as “an anti-gay hero” since, as you put it, “he is the leading theologian in the camp of those who believe that homosexuality is the worst of all possible sins”.

I don’t know about you, but I think someone ought to be free to disagree with the wording of a catechism if he/she believes that the wording is inaccurate; and calling that person wrong don’t necessarily make them so, while calling them names do not help at all.

It is etremely difficult to have a discussion with someone who insists on calling you names when all that needs to be done is to come forward with the facts and prove them wrong. Like someone said “facts are stubborn things”.

I have read the story of the healing of the Centurion’s servant countless times, and must say that I count myself among those who have not, yet, questioned the authenticity of the story or “read much else into it”.

But then, if I knew who these “some scholars” were and where I could find their writing, I would certainly do some digging on my own, something I enjoy doing, all in the interest of truth and accuracy.

I have learned a number of things in my time concering truth and fact, among these are: never believe everything you hear or read, always try to find as neutral and unbiased a source as possible, and that often, self discovey is the best discovery.

Whe I read Mr. Gagnon’s response to the Newsweek article, I thought, that beyond the fact that he does not endorse homosexuality, which I believe is his right, he did a fair job of pointing out some of the fallacies and flaws in the author’s reasoning and research.

So please help me locate these two statement which you made, the first concerning him:

1. That he believes that “Homosexuality is the worst of all possible sins”.(Did he actually say that, or did you just infer that from something else he said(or did)?

2. That there is within the message of Christ “an extravagant welcome that includes gay and lesbian Christians”. Can you direct me to chapter and verse of this “extravagant welcome”?

Please understand that I am not against anyone. As I said previusly I believe in seeking truth, since as someone rightly said “all truth is God’s truth”.

Timothy Kincaid

December 17th, 2008


Perhaps the following can give you some perspective before you start making accusations about calling names:

Gagnon Rants On And On
My Very Favorite Gagnonism
Robert Gagnon and the Grand Box Turtle Whirl of Immorality
Gagnon Revisited
Clarifying Robert Gagnon’s Tortured Logic
Gagnon Employs Tortured Logic
Robert Gagnon’s Unorthodox Approach to Doctrine

Incidentally, Dr. Gagnon prefaces his response to my criticism by:

The mean-spirited homosexualist website,, is aptly named, for the box turtle is easily confused and frightened by reality (though I don’t attribute meanness to the poor box turtle). A main writer for the site, Timothy Kincaid, underscores his own difficulties with logic, truth, and civil discourse in his multiple caustic postings regarding me…


December 17th, 2008

I read his response to the Newsweek article. I lost count on how many times Gagnon used the pseudo-word “homosexualist”. Me thinks the man doth protest too much.

Timothy Kincaid

December 17th, 2008

Patrick, was that the one that ended:

“Today’s people of God should actively oppose governmental imposition of “gay marriage” and homosexual civil unions (marriage without the name). The alternative is to have government penalize you for speaking out against homosexual practice, hold hostage your children in the school systems to homosexualist propaganda, and coerce businesses to subsidize immorality through mandatory health benefits for same-sex couples and “affirmative action” programs for “sexual orientation minorities”; in short, to have society treat you as the moral equivalent of a virulent racist and attenuate your civil liberties accordingly.

or does he have a less ranting frothing homopobe version out there?

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