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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. Curt

    I disagree with her stance on the beginning of Genesis. I do agree with one point though.

    "They do have a choice and should be held accountable for the ones they are making."

    True. Everyone will be held accountable for the decisions that they make regardless of what they believe, and on that day won't we all be surprised?

    February 9, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • Its a Book

      It's a book written by HUMANS, just like every other single book in existence. If I took the Lord of the Rings as gospel you would consider me crazy, but you take the bible as if it were actually real when it is a book written by human beings. God hasn't spoken to anyone in over 2000 years, except for Joseph Smith who found some tablets in Pennsylvania... Anyway it is your choice to believe a book or not, enjoy it. Besides the Christians killed several million innocent people during the Crusades and you still take them seriously.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • Tom

      In a few words my friend, you have explained it all. Namaste.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
  2. dog

    wacked out.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
  3. heather

    What kind of Bible is she reading? The first humans created WERE Adam and Eve. Or maybe she was smoking something when she read it and misunderstood. Did she really waste her education studying the Bible and still doesn't get it? If she accepted Jesus into her heart, the Holy Spirit would annoint her and help her to understand the Bible. All of her words will be accounted for on judgment day when God asks her why she misconstrued his words to the world.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • biblesforbabies

      Sorry Heather, the first humans created were Australopithecines.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • heather

      Well, then we can agree to disagree. I believe in God's word and know it only as truth. And God loves all people, but made woman for man – not man for man. Read 1 Timothy 1:9-11

      February 9, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      In which creation story heather? the first or the second?

      February 9, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • Normon

      Perhaps she did accept "Jesus into her heart" and the Holy Spirit did "annoint her and help her to understand the Bible." Perhaps, it is you who have misunderstood.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
  4. k5150

    I think this lady is one of those false prophets the Bible warns us about.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • heather

      Exactly!

      February 9, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
  5. Leon

    I have never heard such a spin on the truth. Can anyone just speak out without proof???

    February 9, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • Brooke

      lol unfortunately yes, they're called Christians....they continually speak out with no proof whatsoever. She's just doing what you all do best

      February 14, 2011 at 2:12 am |
  6. Tanner Thompson

    This woman's credentials as a biblical scholar are a joke (Check em out) This article is proof that she doesn't know anything about the scriptures. She simply tried to craft an article supporting the gay agenda using biblical passages. ha ha and she did a very poor job. Anyone with a brain can tell that this article is crap.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • Human

      so... ummm when are you going to come out of the closet Tanner? Your friends will still love you...

      February 9, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
  7. Hector Rules NJ

    I really aprreciate this article, so tired of these religious fanatics being so..."simple" minded. God knows what these wonderful Christian's will reply with but either way, what goes on in my bedroom in no one else's business but MY OWN. My entire life is MY BUSINESS, no one else's and if all you do is worry about the things that go on other people's bedrooms you may want to see how fulfilled your life really is...not just saying it's great but actually mean it. So many religious fanatics are just miserable, hateful people who are very sad with their own lives so they feel they have to spread that misery and then place the stamp of GOD and the bible on it. GOD BLESS ALL OF YOU.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • Tanner Thompson

      Ha ha ha typical justification speech. You express appreciation for the article not because you thought it was informative or presented a good point. You like the article cause in a small way helps you to justify your perversion. If you had half a brain you could see this article is based on nothing scholarly or Biblical. But put the bible aside, you probably don't even believe in the bible. This fact makes it all the more incriminating that you would applaud the author. Even thought you don't believe in the bible you commend the article because it make you feel better about "what goes on in your bedroom."

      February 9, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • Kristin

      Well said Hector 🙂

      February 9, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  8. Chritopehr Smith

    Amen, this lady is a false prophet and she happens to leave out the Sodom and Gamora story conveniently...........why pray tell was the city destroyed????

    February 9, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      I would say its explained in that section of the article that talks about sodom and gomorrah.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
  9. Truth

    Unfortunately for her, God isn't big on what our opinions of the Bible are.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • Ian

      yet he demands us to read it.. funny.

      When it comes to a target audience you generally want to CONNECT with them.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • SensibleAmerican

      @Lies.. rather "Truth" as you presumptuously call yourself.. Unfortunately for you, your interpretation of the Bible is just that: your own personal interpretation. You do not define a religious text for an entire people. Unless you're of infinite wisdom and insight, but I'm sorry to say, you just aren't qualified to make that judgment call.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  10. Gamato

    What difference does it make? The Bible is a collection of folk tales and myths edited by "religious leaders" to exclude the "gospels" that didn't support their need for propaganda to control people. NOT the word of "God." NOT the final authority on anything.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
  11. Brock

    "...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."

    Thank you for just describing Christianity, lets paste this into the dictionary next.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
  12. Michael

    She makes perfect sense. I was born gay. I have always wanted to suck d*** and get f***ed since I was six years old.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • Human

      And that folks is what we call a straight shooter...

      February 9, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
  13. Ray Jackson, MS

    The three arms of the blood god, the christians, muslims and jews are directly responsible for about 90 percent of the wars and violent deaths on this planet. Who cares what their nasty little books say? They all justify the harm these barbarians cause so they should all be outlawed along with all three cults.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • derk

      hahahaha 90%.

      excellent.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • Human

      you sure about that number...? i thought 100% of the blood conflicts were started by the believers? isn't it God's goal for us to wipe each other out in His name? I mean without any Humans... he wouldn't be perstered with our self-serving prayers and he could get back to that game of Galactic Mini-Golf... Isn't that why he wrote the bible, Koran, and Torah...HIMSELF, and magically bestowed the three rings... oops i mean the three books to the world of men...so that we could complete the quest of self-destruction. Yeah Mini-Golf is waaay better than gays.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  14. John S

    The bible is based on myth and promotes things such as murder, racism and slavery to name of few. Its the 21st century and we need to stop following a 2000 year old book of tall tales. We evolved over the past 4.5 billion years and our main goal is survival as a species on this planet. 99% of the species on earth have gone extinct because of lack of adaptation to change.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
  15. Sydney

    This woman has been smoking to much pot. She needs to look up what the bible means in Romans chapter one verses 22 thru 32. It is very easy to understand what is said there and If whe wants to use the bible to prove her point, lets be accurate and not invent something to match her distorted desires and beliefs ???

    February 9, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • Mark

      I agree. Romans 1 is completely straightforward. And it doesn't just speak of those who do the acts, but also those (like this lady) who encourage and approve of those who do them. I only say this in hopes that people with the author and the author herself that claim to be a follower of Christ would consider that I seek to follow the whole Scripture, including II Timothy 3:16-17.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
  16. Crady

    The Bible doesn't exist to be "interpreted" by Jennifer Wright Knust, Jim Jones, or even Billy Graham. It is God's Word and must be accepted on face value or not at all - a leap of faith that Jennifer Wright Knust (sadly) is simply unwilling to take, but without which diminishes the Bible to 'just another book'. 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. Aside from the leading astray of the weak-minded and ill-informed, the only thing Jennifer Wright Knust has accomplished is shameless self-promotion borne on the tortured back of blasphemy; something decidedly un-Christian. Shame on you Jennifer!

    February 9, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • stejo

      to read is to interpret.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      ' but don't attempt to water-down the Bible to fit your liberal, carnal view of the world.'
      quite right. You killed any witches lately? after all the bible says not to let them live.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • Normon

      @Crady,
      "Face value" of which translation?
      Do you accept this at face value:
      "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." Mark 11:24

      February 9, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • Paul Jackson

      I feel badly that I can not have the time back that I took to read this interpretive drivel.......let alone most of the comments. There will come a day when those that read and know the Bible as God's Holy Word will be glad they held to their beliefs and say "Welcome back Jesus"....at the same time there will be the rest that can only realize what has happened and say
      "Ooooops!"

      February 9, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • Ray in Ohio

      Well said both Crady and Paul.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • JSKC

      @ Crady, Paul, and Ray

      So when I go out to buy some slaves, or sell my daughter into slavery, is a slave's life still worth around 30 sheckles of silver? I'm taking the bible at face value. It expressly states that people may be owned as slaves.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
  17. Norm Christofferson

    2 Tim. 4:3 is being fulfilled now more than ever. "For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear." I don't know where this woman was trained, but she is certainly deceived.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • stejo

      or norm, maybe you've been deceived. just saying it could work either way or neither way. It's all open to interpretation.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      lol, being fufilled now more than ever huh?

      February 9, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
  18. Human

    Hey you guys remember that screaming religious lady in Louisianna from that show Trading Spouses... yeah she was a riot. Is she still doing stand-up? I mean her faith bit is awesome... guys let me know when she tours Atlanta... i have to take my Gay friends to see her.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  19. Kristin

    @ Patrick:

    Simply put... to procreate.
    I mean do all of us need to reproduce, no, but some of us do...lol. To keep this wonderful world of ours spinning 🙂

    February 9, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  20. xDELOACHx

    there is no god, and we are his propets

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

      Hello Pastor, it would be nice for you to go to the bible and read it all over again. As a pastor, you need the spirit of God to open your eyes to whatever you read. The letter kills, but the entrance into the words of God gives light and gives understanding to the simple.That is if you could be simple enough to humble yourself and hear what the God whom you prfessed to be a pastor for has to tell you.
      Otherwise, everyone can pick up bible, read it and come up with something. Be sure God speaks to you before you apply your sense to the words of God. Remember, these words are not novels or newspaper. They are spirit and truth. Do not try to confuse people at your outcome. Let the Spirit of God speak to you, not what your mind tells you. If God speaks to you, there will be no contradiction to his words. Always remember that.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
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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.