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My Take: The Bible’s surprisingly mixed messages on sexuality
February 9th, 2011
10:31 AM ET

My Take: The Bible’s surprisingly mixed messages on sexuality

Editor's Note: Jennifer Wright Knust is author of Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions about Sex and Desire.

By Jennifer Wright Knust, Special to CNN

We often hears that Christians have no choice but to regard homosexuality as a sin - that Scripture simply demands it.

As a Bible scholar and pastor myself, I say that Scripture does no such thing.

"I love gay people, but the Bible forces me to condemn them" is a poor excuse that attempts to avoid accountability by wrapping a very particular and narrow interpretation of a few biblical passages in a cloak of divinely inspired respectability.

Truth is, Scripture can be interpreted in any number of ways. And biblical writers held a much more complicated view of human sexuality than contemporary debates have acknowledged.

In Genesis, for example, it would seem that God’s original intention for humanity was androgyny, not sexual differentiation and heterosexuality.

Genesis includes two versions of the story of God’s creation of the human person. First, God creates humanity male and female and then God forms the human person again, this time in the Garden of Eden. The second human person is given the name Adam and the female is formed from his rib.

Ancient Christians and Jews explained this two-step creation by imagining that the first human person possessed the genitalia of both sexes. Then, when the androgynous, dually-sexed person was placed in the garden, s/he was divided in two.

According to this account, the man “clings to the woman” in an attempt to regain half his flesh, which God took from him once he was placed in Eden. As third century Rabbi Samuel bar Nahman explained, when God created the first man, God created him with two faces. “Then he split the androgyne and made two bodies, one on each side, and turned them about.”

When the apostle Paul envisioned the bodies that would be given to humanity at the end of time, he imagined that they would be androgynous, “not male and female.” The third-century non-canonical Gospel of Philip, meanwhile, lamented that sexual difference had been created at all: “If the female had not separated from the male, she and the male would not die. That being’s separation became the source of death.”

From these perspectives, God’s original plan was sexual unity in one body, not two. The Genesis creation stories can support the notion that sexual intercourse is designed to reunite male and female into one body, but they can also suggest that God’s blessing was first placed on an undifferentiated body that didn’t have sex at all.

Heterosexual sex was therefore an afterthought designed to give back the man what he had lost.

Despite common misperceptions, biblical writers could also imagine same-sex intimacy as a source of blessing. For example, the seemingly intimate relationship between the Old Testament's David and Jonathan, in which Jonathan loved David more than he loved women, may have been intended to justify David’s rise as king.

Jonathan, not David, was a king’s son. David was only a shepherd. Yet by becoming David’s “woman,” Jonathan voluntarily gave up his place for his beloved friend.

Thus, Jonathan “took great delight in David,” foiling King Saul’s attempts to arrange for David’s death (1 Samuel 19:1). Choosing David over his father, Jonathan makes a formal covenant with his friend, asking David to remain faithful to him and his descendants.

Sealing the covenant, David swears his devotion to Jonathan, “for he loved him as he loved his own life” (1 Samuel 20:17). When Jonathan is killed, King David composes a eulogy for him, praising his devotion: “greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women” (2 Samuel 1:26).

Confident claims about the forms of sex rejected by God are also called into question by early Christian interpretations of the story of Sodom. From the perspective of the New Testament, it was the near rape of angels - not sex between men - that led to the demise of the city.

Linking a strange story in Genesis about “sons of God” who lust after “daughters of men” to the story of the angels who visit Abraham’s nephew Lot, New Testament writers concluded that the mingling of human and divine flesh is an intolerable sin.

As the New Testament letter Jude puts it:

And the angels who did not keep their own position, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgment of the great day. Likewise, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities which, in the same manner as they, indulged in sexual immorality and went after strange flesh, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire (Jude 6-7).

The first time angels dared to mix with humans, God flooded the earth, saving only Noah, his family, and the animals. In the case of Sodom, as soon as men attempted to engage in sexual activity with angels, God obliterated the city with fire, delivering only Lot and his family. Sex with angels was regarded as the most dangerous and offensive sex of all.

It’s true that same-sex intimacy is condemned in a few biblical passages. But these passages, which I can count on one hand, are addressed to specific sex acts and specific persons, not to all humanity forever, and they can be interpreted in any number of ways.

The book of Leviticus, for example, is directed at Israelite men, offering instructions regarding legitimate sexual partners so long as they are living in Israel. Biblical patriarchs and kings violate nearly every one of these commandments.

Paul’s letters urge followers of Christ to remain celibate and blame all Gentiles in general for their poor sexual standards. Jesus, meanwhile, says nothing at all about same-sex pairing, and when he discusses marriage, he discourages it.

So why are we pretending that the Bible is dictating our sexual morals? It isn’t.

Moreover, as Americans we should have learned by now that such a simplistic approach to the Bible will lead us astray.

Only a little more than a century ago, many of the very same passages now being invoked to argue that the scriptures label homosexuality a sin or that God cannot countenance gay marriage were used to justify not “biblical marriage” but slavery.

Yes, the apostle Paul selected same-sex pairings as one among many possible examples of human sin, but he also assumed that slavery was acceptable and then did nothing to protect slaves from sexual use by their masters, a common practice at the time. Letters attributed to him go so far as to command slaves to obey their masters and women to obey their husbands as if they were obeying Christ.

These passages served as fundamental proof texts to those who were arguing that slavery was God’s will and accusing abolitionists of failing to obey biblical mandates.

It is therefore disturbing to hear some Christian leaders today claim that they have no choice but to regard homosexuality as a sin. They do have a choice and should be held accountable for the ones they are making.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jennifer Wright Knust.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Bible • Faith Now • Homosexuality • Opinion • Sex

soundoff (4,234 Responses)
  1. jeshuagal

    It is labeled (My Take) meaning her own interpretation after all. And a professing (bible) scholar. I bloody doubt it by the performance of what is written here she leaned to her own understanding and indeed mentally twisted the substance.

    January 20, 2014 at 3:53 pm |
    • jeshuagal

      I notice she gives no real resources for her claims. Books, authors, ya know something but it is her opinion!

      January 20, 2014 at 4:01 pm |
      • CF

        2 Timothy 4:3-5 (PHILLIPS) | In Context | Whole Chapter
        3-5 For the time is coming when men will not tolerate wholesome teaching. They will want something to tickle their own fancies, and they will collect teachers who will pander to their own desires. They will no longer listen to the truth, but will wander off after man-made fictions. For yourself, stand fast in all that you are doing, meeting whatever suffering this may involve. Go on steadily preaching the Gospel and carry out to the full the commission that God gave you.

        January 20, 2014 at 4:37 pm |
  2. C F

    http://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/2%20Timothy%204%3A3

    December 22, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
  3. Russell

    This article is going on 3 years old and there has been a grammatical mistake in the third word for all that time and no one can bother to correct it? As for the article, when it comes to religious conservatives, the ones who need to read this and think critically about these things, she might as well be preaching to a brick wall. They are closed minded and proud of it. Despite the massive changes in religious though over the centuries – much of which, I admit, they are blissfully unaware of in their extreme ignorance – they figure THEY HAVE IT ALL FIGURED OUT NOW! And since they have it ALL figured out, they can play God and do play God all the time. There are no areas of or shades gray for them. It's all black and white and written down in the BIBLE! They have no concept of the hypocrisy and stupidity of a closed minded approach. They (supposedly) read about people of Christ's day standing in front of him and still not being able to see the Truth – prime, unavoidable examples of closed mindedness – and yet they can't see how that closed mindset leads to mistakes, sins, denials of the truth, etc. And, again, this is because THEY HAVE IT ALL FIGURED OUT NOW! They CAN'T be wrong, they CAN'T misinterpret because they are BIBLE BELIEVING CONSERVATIVE CHRISTIANS! We really don't need God when we have them. Let's all bow down and pray to them. Yes, GLORY TO THE CONSERVATIVE CHRISTIANS! Sorry, God, you're not really needed anymore.

    December 20, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
  4. hillplus

    Excellent job straining at that gnat. Drivel, all of it.

    December 20, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
  5. HJC

    Wow, logical gymnastics are fun!

    Now I need someone to explain the explanation you gave.

    December 20, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
  6. Truebeliever

    I would say this: The twisted, self-serving opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jennifer Wright Knust who adeptly manipulates the interpretation of the Bible to suit her own purpose.

    December 20, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
    • dswartz44

      As do you apparently!

      December 22, 2013 at 11:19 am |
  7. dre

    The logic here is extrodinary and shocking. But i guess we should not be suprised sin at its core calls truth lie and lies truth. Why dont these people just declare Jesus following bible believers illigal and stop with the ridiculous logic and manipulations. Oh wait comunists tried that in the USSR and it did not work in the long run...So a differnet tactic is being employed and to our demise it is largely working.

    December 20, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
    • dswartz44

      The logic used is no more extraordinary or shocking than that which has been in use for centuries to bolster the opposing point of view. Don't you know that for hundreds of years scholars have labored over the Bible's meaning and application, trying to harmonize many passages that are at odds with each other? That this kind of study and conversation should continue is absolutely brilliant and just because it doesn't support your own view does not mean it should be diminished or ridiculed. Shame on you for doing so.

      December 22, 2013 at 11:26 am |
  8. Bob

    Jennifer, you have a bright and promising future as a spinmeister. You can pick your party and whether you want to select TV or written media. But you are one of the best word-twisters I have seen in a while. You have a talent to make anything say (or not say) anything you want. Lots of people try, but few succeed. You have.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
  9. bluedolphin53

    I have never seen such rationalization as I see in this article. Good grief.....

    Better to just say the entire book is fantasy and leave it there. Better than to do mental gymnastics to make something fit your own ideology.

    December 20, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
  10. beaovercomer

    I understand the psycology of rationalizing, and the fact that Satan and his cronies are very willing to help you come up with "alternative" doctrines. That is some immagination! "Know this, that nothing in Scripture is a matter of ones own interpretation." 2Peter 1:20 This is a "doctrine of devils". The translations are very clear when simply read.

    June 30, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
  11. Cricket

    I see why CNN's ratings are in the tank. How in the world did the writer come to such a STUPID conclusion? Just because you say/write it doesn't mean everyone should beleive it!!

    May 5, 2012 at 9:04 am |
  12. itsmesagarblog

    I cherished as much as you'll obtain carried out proper here. The comic strip is attractive, your authored material stylish. however, you command get got an nervousness over that you want be handing over the following. ill surely come more previously again since exactly the similar nearly very steadily inside case you shield this hike.

    April 12, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
  13. Barry Soetoro

    Why don't you people just say it and get it out in the open, speed up the transformation etc., so we can all CHOOSE THIS DAY – WHOM WE WILL SERVE ~ and believe?
    In other words: Please tell the world the Fact, "You Hate God."
    I and MILLIONS OF OTHERS are tired of God haters claiming they know the "truth?"
    It should interest all readers, (those who actually believe in being saved by THE SON OF GOD ~ Jesus Christ ~ for ETERNITY,) that this woman's "truth" is warmly received and acclaimed throughout the atheist and other God haters websites and organizations. Go ahead, search a piece of this TRASH, DEVILISH doctrine of man along with "atheist" and see for yourself who "cherishes her truth.'
    As for those who do want the Son of GOD to REALLY SAVE THEM, pick up a "REAL" Bible and read until you find yourself HUMBLED, BROKEN, STRESSED and RELIEVED, then, CALL ON THE SON OF GOD. Leave this woman and her lies, to ROT in the Stink from which they all came.

    March 2, 2012 at 8:19 am |
    • paulpaul

      Wow, I can really hear the love of Christ in your writing.

      July 8, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
  14. Josiah

    this here is the dullest view I've read. this lady is a complete idiot. using her imaginations, probably built from child fantasies or hollywood influence to speak of things that happened during creation. were you there pastor knust? people like you should never be put in care of a congregation or anyewhere near a body of CHRIST. you need a serious paradigm shift, in fact, a deliverance session.

    February 18, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
    • paulpaul

      It sounds like you are excluding Pastor Knust from the Body of Christ and that is not right. You can't distance yourself from something you are part of.

      July 8, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
  15. Jim Beranis

    wow, this is a stretch.......

    February 2, 2012 at 12:06 am |
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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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.