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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 • Homosexuality • Opinion • Sex

soundoff (4,235 Responses)
  1. Andy M

    Nice try – but Leviticus 18:22 is still there last time I looked. Sure, if you cherry pick the parts of the bible you want you can make it say anything. Tha awesome book also tells you how to keep slaves and what you should kill your wife for.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
    • ???

      I agree. Clinging to one passage is no way to be interpreting an entire religion.

      February 9, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • Marc

      ....agree Andy...let us justify killing our wifes....

      February 9, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
    • s

      I interpret Leviticus 18:22 to mean simply mean no cuddling after, god could be saying
      " Be a player"

      February 9, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • blkgko

      hmmmm. not sure what you are getting at...so cherrypicking is bad. but if you cherrypick the handful of verses daming gay love then what? and so are you saying we fall the other verses regulating slavery?

      February 9, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • WoW

      @AndyM: I believe you just cherry picked there yourself. Therefore you are making the bible sway into your ignorant favor. Your God also tells you not to judge other men/women. "Do not judge, or you too will be judged." Matthew 7:1. Why don't you just live your life and let other real Christians do the talking for you. It's people like you that make the rest of us look bad, with all of this he said she said crap. Christianity is about love not hate, figure it out.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  2. Bob

    Like it or not, the bible seems pretty clear on this subject – no matter how some try to rationalize it.

    Romans 1:26-27(NASB) says: " (26) For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, (27) and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error."

    February 9, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
    • Yum for Men

      The bible is no more real than Harry Potter

      February 9, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      "Clear?" It reads like a Nostradamus quatrain.

      February 9, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
  3. crc

    This woman received her divinity degree from the leading school of liberal christianity...so what else would you expect form people who presume to know better than God.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
    • JT

      So now we have "better" and "worse" types of Christianity? Is it really this important to you to feel like you are better than someone? Really?

      February 9, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
  4. tommas

    No way, a couple thousand year old mythology open to multiple interpretations.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
  5. nonsense

    She interpret the bible the way they like to hear it. She can call herself a scholar. It doesn't mean anything. God loves everybody. That's right!!! God doesn't bring punishment either. That's what they think. He brings justice...Yeah!!! The nature will revolt.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
  6. Bowerbird

    The last angel I spoke with told me he was gay. Therefore I conclude that God oblitered the city of Sodom becuase men were mixing with angels. BTW, don't gays often refer to themselves as angels? And I'm happy to say, some of them really are. Nice try, Jennifer.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
    • ScottK

      I believe the term is Fairies, not Angels...

      February 9, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
    • W247

      sorry that made me laugh..

      February 10, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
  7. Keith Norris

    This is twisting scripture to produce a politically correct load of crap.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
    • JT

      One could say the same of most "Christian" politicians.

      February 9, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
  8. Frerot

    Very well written.
    Thank you

    February 9, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
  9. Ricky Bobby

    Hilarious to read the comments from the indignant x-tians.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
  10. Renfield

    Or, we could just admit that the whole Bible is a bunch of fairy tales and stop caring about what it says at all.

    Just sayin...

    February 9, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
  11. Jangocat

    Now if you would only rethink your ridiculous belief in bronze age supernatural mythology...

    February 9, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
  12. maria

    I am sure the next step from you,Jennifer (jennifer-lucifer...curious) genius of darkness, is to demonstrate that pedophilia is also blessed by God after your exhaustive studies on the bible

    February 9, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
    • JT

      So now everyone named Jennifer is evil? Maybe cut your dose a few milligrams. Wow.

      February 9, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • Derek

      Maria... of course that's your name *rolls eyes*

      Jennifer-Lucifer? Huh? What are you, 13? Are you gonna call her smelly-pants, too?

      Pedophilia involves children who are helpless and cannot make informed adult decisions. It's a crime because there is a victim. Consensual love between grown adults is just that, consensual love between grown adults. I know this concept is hard for people like you to wrap your heads around, so here's a little helpful trick to remember: consensual = no victim.

      It's actually pretty easy once you memorize it.

      February 9, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • ScottK

      I'm pretty sure its your so-called Christian priests who try and "demonstrate that pedophilia is also blessed by God".

      February 9, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
  13. john

    I have to hand it to you and other revisionists, first the one in chains is satan, not just a bunch of angels. Must have gone to DTS for your education, you probably believe in the rapture too, the popes sunday. All non biblical... get a life....

    February 9, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
  14. Carl

    If God is God. And is Unchangeable, Omniscent, Omnipotent, and Sovereign why would he make a mistake with the first man? And if he is not Unchangeable, Omniscent, Omnipotent, and Sovereign why is he God? I think the heresy was committed within the first 3 paragraphs.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
  15. Frank

    Do people even read the bible anymore? – I guess it is a nice story. Completely fictional, but I guess some people take it seriously.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
  16. Kate

    Her arguments have great merit. The bible was bred of opinion and should thus be open to varying interpretations of such opinion.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Kate, read the verse again….

      I grieve for thee, my brother Jonathan: exceeding beautiful, and amiable to me above the love of women. As the mother loveth her only son, so did I love thee.’

      Notice how the author of the article left off the last sentence which states….’As the mother loveth her only son, so did I love thee.’ How does a mother loveth her only son?….with a love that is not s3xual…above a lustful attraction.

      He loved with the same kind of love that Mary, the Mother of God, loved her only Son, Jesus.

      February 9, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
  17. Bob

    Not sure how you define Bible scholar and pastor, but I have a hard time believing Ms. Kunst is either. Romans 1 is as clear about this subject as scripture can get. If you can't discern this truth, its simple. 2nd Corinthians 4:3 states: But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost. Once you receive Christ as Saviour and allow the Holy Spirit help you discern truth, you too will write a different column.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
    • Ricky Bobby

      Perhaps she has and is, and it is you who is still unclear. But please continue to argue opinion as fact. Entertains the rest of us.

      February 9, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
    • Rich

      Thank you Bob. I asked myself the same question about her being a pastor. I looked on the internet and could only find her as an instructor at Boston College. I question her MDiv now. And Romans 1:27 to be exact. Why would Paul specifically state the Roman's "confusion" about intercourse unless it was wrong to begin with. She may believe in scriptural interpretation, but it doesn't change the fact scripture is God breathed (2 Tim 3:16) and those who use it to their own advantage will be accountable to HIm, no one else.

      February 9, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • kate

      @Rich. So because you did a search online and couldn't find her plastered all over the internet selling her church, you now question her "MDiv", whatever that is.

      Wow, you must REALLY be afraid of what she's saying and be looking hard to find reasons to invalidate her logic. Your grasp on the Bible must be getting shaky after reading her well-thought out and well-researched interpretation. "Oh no, maybe I only hate them because they're different than me, now I can't use the Bible as a weapon against 'teh gays'!" You seem to be saying.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  18. John

    I have never read a more blatant misrepresentation of the Bible in all my life. I don't know where to start. Which Bible is she reading??

    February 9, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
    • gangsteroctopus

      The one that you've clearly never bothered to actually read. No one OWNS the Bible, or Jesus, or God. "One man, one faith," to quote Martin Luther.

      February 9, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • ScottK

      Its more likely that you just haven't read all of your bible. The only part of the article she quotes from that is not found in the bible she prefaces with "The third-century non-canonical Gospel of Philip".

      Just because something differs from what you have been taught from a priest or a pastor doesnt mean its not in the bible. The fact that most Christians choose to ignore or downplay any of those topics such as David & Jonathans and even Jesus & John's close relationships just shows their own ho mophobia, not serious study and application of scripture.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      This woman is like a ‘false teacher’….taking 2 Samuel and twisting it….here is verse 26 ….’ I grieve for thee, my brother Jonathan: exceeding beautiful, and amiable to me above the love of women. As the mother loveth her only son, so did I love thee.’

      Notice how the author of the article left off the last sentence which states….’As the mother loveth her only son, so did I love thee.’ How does a mother loveth her only son?….with a love that is not s3xual…above a lustful attraction.

      He loved with the same kind of love that Mary, the Mother of God, loved her only Son, Jesus.

      February 9, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • W247

      CM – so are you saying Mary denies her other sons? Jesus was not her only son.

      February 10, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
  19. noway

    There is only so far you can go where you are pretty much making stuff up and apologising for the bible.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
    • Ricky Bobby

      Good point. That book has gone through so many revisions, edits, and translations over the years, it is amusing anyone thinks they are reading "THE" bible.

      February 9, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Ricky Bobby,
      The Catholic Church is the one who gathered the inspired Books and placed them in the Bible and has been given the authority by Jesus Christ to interpret it. None other has the right to change the meaning. Even the Bible says that Scripture is not a matter of personal interpretation. How do people skip over these crucial verses? It is just heresy upon heresy….
      Get yourself a Catholic Bible and stay way from ones where wording is changed and Books taken out….

      February 9, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • W247

      "get yourself a catholic bible"

      What is considered a "catholic" bible? And how can a sinful man claim to be the only ordained one to speak for the Lord, when he is voted in by other sinful men?

      February 10, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
  20. Mike

    Good job Jenn. I agree with you. The Bible can be interpreted any way you like, and, if you want to do it literally, I believe it would be okay to enslave people and do other nasty stuff to your neighbor. I also believe the Bible says something about not eating shellfish and cloven hove animals (wouldn't sit well in Texas, I'm sure). So, all you cafeteria Christians, get over it and yourselves. If you want to live in a country that is run on religious principles, may I suggest Saudi Arabia or Iran, but keep your religion out of my life and bedroom. I also believe the Bible says something about not judging others, lest ye be judged...hummm.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
    • Jon

      Amen to that!

      February 9, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
    • Crady

      The Bible does not exist to be "interpreted" by Jennifer Wright Knust, Billy Graham, or Jim Jones. If it is indeed God's Word (and I believe with all my soul that it is) then it must be accepted on face value or not at all. Accepting it "as" is" is a leap of faith that Jennifer Wright Knust (sadly) is unwilling to take, but without which diminishes the Bible to just another book. Shame on you, Jennifer! Love the sinner, hate the sin, or look elsewhere, but don't attempt to water-down the Bible to fit your liberal, carnal view of the world. All you've done is blaspheme and promote yourself; both decidedly un-Christian.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • Hector Rules NJ

      Well said buddy.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
    • Bioartchick

      Crady,

      It is impossible to take the Bible as the literal word of God, because it was written by men. This fact alone is enough to blow your argument completely out of the water; in order to understand (or claim to understand) anything in the Bible, one MUST rely on the INTERPRETATION from men. This therefore proves that a literal interpretation of scripture is not only wrong, but IMPOSSIBLE.

      Don't hate just cuz she dont agree witchu.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:22 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.