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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. David Johnson

    @Jon

    Dude, you creep me out. What proof do you have that god even exists? You are delusional. The bible is filled with Bronze Age ideas and morals. It was written by men. No god had a hand in it.

    Cheers!

    February 9, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • Ikaika

      What proof do you have that God doesn't exist? Have you read the whole Bible?

      February 9, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
    • upnorth55

      You are so right David. Some of us are quite delusional. There for a moment, I was delusional and thought that you actually had a brain.
      See how our thinking is warped! Good thing you pointed that out.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
  2. HELLO

    Lady with all due respect you are a LIAR! The Bible states that Jonathan loved David as he loved HIMSELF not women...what an idiot you are!

    February 9, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • Yum for Men

      The bible was written by men....men who were probably getting it on with each other

      February 9, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  3. Shamrock6

    Does anyone really care anymore what the bible says or doesn't say? You can interpret it or not or do whatever you want with it. It's not the word of god. It was written by a bunch of people seeking to control other people. Nothing more, nothing less. If you live your life according to a 2000 year old book that is mostly fiction then you are missing the point of being human. Have at it....religous kooks.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
  4. Reality

    And continuing to assist Pastor Knust in her quest for truth:

    From that famous passage: In 1 Corinthians 15 St. Paul reasoned, "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."

    "Heaven is a Spirit state" as per JPII and Aquinas i.e. there can be no bodies. i.e. there was and never will be any physical resurrection/ascension of human bodies."

    And is it not ironical that JPII along with Aquinas are the ones who put meaning to the words "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is useless."

    February 9, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
  5. melinda

    the bible says; " if you lay down with one of your kind, you shall lose your soul" However, I do believe Our
    Lord is the last judge.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • Brent

      In preschool they made us lay on the floor with each other to nap, did I lose my soul then?

      February 9, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  6. AT

    You do realize you are all arguing over a text that originating in the bronze age, right? And that was written by people, right? About an invisible guy that lives up in the sky somewhere and couldn't get over his petty human emotion of jealousy so he made a human out of himself an called that dude his son then had to kill that dude (yes, himself) in order to be able to forgive all of the other dudes their sins...because he couldn't forgive people of their sins unless he made himself human and then arranged for his own death. But THEN the story gets even better....THEN...just for dramatic effect, he comes BACK to life. But not right away, that would be too obvious. He gives it about 3 days. And then in with great fanfare...his body just floats up into the sky..then I presume into outer space somewhere, which I guess his body must still be floating around today?

    That's the book you guys are arguing over? Yes...if I were you, I would do EXACTLY what this text tells you to do...as it is such a logical and believable story...not to mention scientifically possible. I think there is a PS at the end that everyone forgot to read. You will find it on the last page in really small print....but it says:

    PS: – You've been punked!!!
    Love, god.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
  7. Tevii

    How about we stop looking to that glorified comic book as a reason to be good. Keep looking for the answers from a piece of fiction and you will never get the correct answers

    February 9, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
  8. Marty

    She's trying to sell her book – needs the ridiculous publicity.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
    • Andy M

      I think we can remove all the other post but this one! It says it all.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • JT

      You'd think she was Sarah Palin.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • genius

      andy m asked me to sleep with him last night – i'm a dude andy

      February 9, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  9. Saro

    Bobby, you're right on target in my view. You've covered all the bases. I sometimes prefer not to call myself a "Christian" or "Godly" person because they tend to be some of the meanest people you ever want to meet and I don't want to align myself with that. I am so sick of this religious nonsense, I like you, though I am not gay, just want to be judged for who I am as a person.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
  10. audreytrull@yahoo.com

    Very interesting.After thousands of years ,we have the true interpretation of the bible,something many bibical scholars throghout the ages have entirely missed.How could we all have been so disillusioned by our own beleifs that we missed this? Oh my! LOL

    February 9, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
  11. Dave

    Honest question: I know this question may seem like it's got an agenda behind it, but that's not its purpose, I'm just trying to get some honest feedback and thoughts.

    If being gay is a statistical anomaly with respect to the population as a whole, if the biological impacts of being gay (i.e. lack of desire to reproduce) are generally negative, and if, as often suggested, gayness is genetic in nature, then would gayness be considered a genetic disorder?

    Obvious counter-arguments are of course that the "effects" of being gay are not negative (though if an entire population was gay, that population would cease to exist), and that various genetic traits are statistical anomalies, but not considered disorders (like being a redhead). I'm looking to get beyond the obvious and get some well thought out responses. Thanks in advance!

    February 9, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • Andy M

      A statistic anomoly? Don't ask a dumb question and ask for well thought out answers.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • ScottK

      1. It hard to track the total number of people with a pre-disposition to same gender relationships, so to base a statistic based on flawed data is not reliable.
      2. If somehow proven to be a genetic disorder, wouldn't that mean its as offensive to tease, hate or discriminate against them as it would be someone with Down Syndrome or Autism?

      Your comment is really just trying to say in an offhanded way that G ays are Abby Normals, which is also a slap in the face for anyone not born in your supremacist image.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
  12. Alex

    Jesus is teh Lord and he is gay running around with the boys
    Praise jesus

    February 9, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
  13. Jason

    God never had and never will have an "afterthought". Give me a break!!

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

      I think if God wants to have an afterthought, He's allowed. And I suspect He won't come to you for permission.

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

      6 The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. 7 So the LORD said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.”

      I'd call that an afterthought...

      February 9, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
  14. adron

    They are trying to convince me that an omniscient God had an “after thought”, lol this is too much.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • jenn

      The Bible was written by men... thus, afterthoughts are inconsistencies are totally possible

      February 9, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • Alice

      Yeah, he did have an afterthought. God: "Well. I made a world of humans and animals and stuff. BUT IT SUCKS. HERE COMES A FLOOD LOL" God CTRL+Z'd and tried again.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
    • ScottK

      Gen 6:6 "The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. 7 So the LORD said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.”

      Is regret possible for an omniscient being?

      February 9, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  15. Missy

    It's funny how riled up you see people get when you start chipping away at their reason for indiscriminately hating someone. The effort to summon such outraged clamor regarding something that has absolutely nothing to do with them is a good indicator of what really is in their hearts. Provided an opening that may allow them to embrace their brothers and sisters who were born slightly different they instead scramble for justification to retain prejudice. Sad and low. Very low.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
  16. Tommy

    I enjoy the irony found in the majority of these comments. The overarching point to this article is found in the final passages and that is not to read the bible simplistically. Yet, comments here are bellowing that this article defies the word of God. Wake up people and realize that you are fulfilling the observation the author warns about.

    Understand that the writings of the bible are interpretation to begin with. They are not the actual word of God but instead the writings are of God speaking through a prophet or an undisclosed author recounting past events. This also doesn't take into account the different translations, versions, and councils that have all input their own edits. I, personally, don't believe in God (which, of course, just discredited this comment as nothing more than hateful Atheist rants) but those that do need to acknowledge the history behind the cornerstone of their beliefs, especially when what they believe ends up dictating their interactions with others.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
  17. BW

    In response to "Pastor" Knust's comments, perhaps this is why God gave us 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 because she's obviously taking liberties with her interpretations and not even providing citations for the rest.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
  18. jayh

    No surprise the unintelligent don't understand the article. However, I still feel there is no need for any of this discussion since the bible is 2000 years old...

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

      why do you think she wrote this?

      February 9, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • Paul Bishop

      What's wrong with old? We stand on the shoulders of those before us. The pythagorean theorem is over 2,000 years old since it's discovery. You use something built with what the ancient Mathmetician Pythagorus discovered every day. The book of Leviticus dating 1200 BCE correctly says that blood gives life to body tissues and has hygiene regulations and principles used by modern medicine today. May it be right about other things, especially when we consider there might be a God out there with a purpose who revealed Himself to his creation? And this book claims to be that revelation? This is a very discussion-worthy topic.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
  19. Mortalc01l

    The level of misguided insanity among the religious nuts is amazing to me! Here we have people who are supposedly Christians, pouring vitriol and hatred on a Woman who dares to use logic and sense to make a point and just because her well argued opinion contradicts your personal interpretation of the Bible, you blow your collective tops!!!.

    The bunch of you need a lesson in how to use your brains and in what logic is. You subjugate yourselves and what's left of your intellect to a 2000 year old collection of stories, written by MEN.. Most of these fables were written hundreds of years after the supposed occurrence. They were written by MEN that had no concept of science, no idea of the fact that thunder isn't God telling you he's upset. There was no electricity, no understanding of physics, chemistry, mathematics, biology, aerodynamics etc. They were UTTERLY uneducated desert tribesmen for the most part and their heads were full of ghost stories, fairytales, myths and legends.

    All of this was put together by MEN... It was MAN'S interpretation of the World around him at the time; the only way they could make sense of what was going on, given that they lacked any tools to explain natural phenomena like lightning, or tidal waves, or swarms of locusts, or pandemics. With no way to understand these things, they were attributed to an invisible Man in the sky.

    The Bible, was written by MAN.. specifically, it was written by a team of Scotsmen and Englishmen at the behest of King James the 1st of England (that's why it's called the King James Bible, people!). Those Men needed to translate the Bible in such a way as to not offend the King, or contradict the KIng's beliefs. If they did offend or contradict him, they would have been put to death in one of many gruesome ways. So.. they gave him what HE wanted. It is NOT the word of God, it is the word of many Men and the illogical ideas and beliefs of King James the 1st of England.. beliefs from 1604-1611.

    Living your life based on 2000 year old myths and words written by a committee of 15th Century civil servants is just plain mad.

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

      Amen and amen. The Bible rankes right up there with Aesop's fables. It is nothing more than a collection of half truths,untruths and folklore. Most of it written by egotistical men who rank women only slightly better than animals.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • Andy M

      Yeah – it gets harder and harder to buy each day.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
    • Tinkey

      AMEN to that! My exact thinking. While I don't consider myself an athiest (more agnostic), does no one stop to actually question or ponder who wrote the collection of stories that make up the Bible and their extremely limited grasp on science. The reality is that my 1st grader has a better grasp on scientific principal then grown men in the year 100 A.D. OF COURSE that lack of basic scientific knowledge will sway your view of the world. I find it most interesting that modern day miracles seem to escape us. Why is it that only in "biblical" times people saw visions of God (and heard his comandments)when now days we see it for what it is: Schizophrenia. The occasional appearace of a piece of french toast that looks like Jesus if you squint and hold it sideways does not equal "MIRACLE" in my book. I understand the power of faith and support those who believe even if I don't but why the refusal to apply scientific reality to these collection of stories? Is it fear that they simply won't hold up under scrutinity of modern knowledge – fear makes people do positively crazy things. I've often been rebutted with the phrase "but hundreds of millsion of believers can't be wrong" Really... almost the entire population of the world just KNEW the world was flat 600+ years ago, and gee, they were ALL wrong? I'd never tell anyone their religion was "bunk" as what brings a person peace and joy is up to that individual, but the blind devotion some people practice gives me pause as to their mental stability. Devotion to the point of refusing to allow any fact based knowledge into your religious life is no better then refusing to admit that the world actually is round after all.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
  20. Jason

    Thank you Jennifer for being and acting like a better Christian than those that claim to be but are FULL of hate. Shame on them for staining the memory of Jesus. I love this article. Keep spreading the love!

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

      Ditto!

      February 9, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • Quest for Truth

      See, it's hypocritical of you to judge other Christians. Sure, there are Christians who can't define the line between loving and hating. The bottom line is.. love the person, hate the sin. God said so. That is all.

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

      Agreed. Well said.

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

      Well said Jason! Glad to read a positive comment after all of this drivel.

      And wait, "Quest for Truth", you're saying that it's bad to judge the judging Christians? That it's hypocritical? Hm. I think instead that it's good people wishing that their angry 'counterparts' would stop this insanity of "loving the person, hating the sin." When did God ever tell you it's okay to HATE anything? And it's not possibly to love someone and hate a huge part of who they are–that's part of LOVE, you accept who they are. You can't truly love someone while thinking "they're gay, that's bad. They're going to hell." Nope.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
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