home
RSS
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. Ian

    I wonder how many of these people would believe in Jack and the Beanstock to be a scripture had it been pounded in their head in the same fashion the bible had?

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

      As many as believe in the Bible currently, because both stories are equally insane.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • FactNotFiction

      Sane People,

      Thank you for reminding me that not every person in the world is a total bat-sh*-t insane idi-ot. All these morons trumpeting their interpretations and reinterpretations of something which is patently false and a fiction in the first place is as hilarious as it is mind boggling. It is scary to say the least that these people have a say in politics.

      Sincerely,

      FactNotFiction

      February 9, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
  2. dennis

    For all of you who love and accept the bible, do you really accept the whole bible 100%? Slavery, murder, mass murder, dominance of men etc etc,
    Who are you kidding? Your ability to lie about the truth behind what is really written in the bible only shows your evilness which the bible refers to as faracidic.
    Education and compassion is true cristianity not some dumb dumb's opinion about a book.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
  3. Yakov Chernin

    I can say that white wool is red.
    Even I can believe that wool is red.
    And I can argue that wool is red.
    And this will be true. In my opinion.
    One problem.
    If I am colour-blind person, I can persuade only colour-blind persons.

    Where is the biggest problem?

    Grandsons or this ‘Bible scholar and pastor’ will white articles about ‘Thou shalt not kill’ and will say ‘But these passages, which I can count on one hand, are addressed to specific ancient Israel people and specific persons, not to all humanity forever’. Same logic.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
  4. TED

    I AM SO SORRY BUT I HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THE WORD OF GOD . I DID NOT SEE GOD COME HERE AN PUT PEN TO PAPER SO ON THAT NOTE I WOULD SAY THE BIBLE WAS WORDED IN MANS IMAGE OF HIS GOD.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  5. Jameister

    I'm amazed how many "religious" folks assume the role of God by judging others. As Jesus said, he who is without sin, cast the first stone.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  6. Mark

    Many of the oft cited references in the old testament concern sodomy in the context of the raping and pillaging of enemies defeated in battle. A de-humanizing form of psychological warfare. I think those behaviors can be condemned regardless of the genders involved.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
  7. Kyle

    Biblical scholar and pastor huh?

    What version of the Bible are you using? The JWK version? What type of church? Are you the only member? I really do feel sorry for you, your church and your community. We need pastors to stand and preach His word apologetically, not self-perspectively. How can a pastor stand up on CNN and preach that the Bible has contradictions in it...

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

      Because it does have contradictions in it.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • BR

      Because it appears that she's actually paid attention while reading. A truly unique quality for a theist.

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

      Humans contradict themselves all the time. The bible was written by men, not supreme beings, not super divine individuals, just men with visions of divinity and what it was to them at the time it was written. We evolve and change, humans led simpler lives many moons ago. But now you have technology to guide you and don't say you don't let technology guide you, because you my friend are using the internet as part of your daily life. Those Men "apostles" had no vision of what was going to happen in the world. They wanted to guide themselves and others to what they believe was a better life and way to live. So live and let live, be kind to others and share all your love. Because life is but a flicker in time and to hate burns too much energy. Let your light shine longer and brighter by loving all.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
  8. HOORAY!!

    tshup everybody, i jushhht loved thish article! down with the hatersh! free love for everyone!!!

    February 9, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  9. Thomas Philip

    Let us not rewrite the Bible based on the prevailant political conditions in the US or in world in general. Either the Bible is the word of God or is a myth. Make up your mind. I choose to believe that it is the word of God. Let the believers live according to the word of God.

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

      Then you choose to believe that all of the atrocities, including the slavery mentioned in the article, are right because its in the bible. This would likely also imply that you are a young earther...that you believe the Earth was created after what is recognized as the agricultural revolution. Deciding that text written beginning 3000 years ago is infalible is voluntarily turning off your ability to reason. Stagnation and ignorance is the only outcome.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
  10. Adam

    Isn't it silly to argue so passionately over the will of a "god" that not a single one of us can prove exists? It seems pointless. And don't you think and all-powerful,all-knowing god would have created an instructional text that was the unequivocal truth,and left NO room for individual interpretation? The very fact that there are so many different religions, and so many different sects within each religion clearly illustrates that no one knows what they are talking about. Live and Let Live, cause no harm to others, or as John Lennon said, all you need is love!

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

      Some quoted John Lennon saying "all we need is love". Guess what, God is love. My question is how many of you that disagree with Christians have actually read the bible and I don't mean just the parts that people are trying to disagree with. To understand it you need to read all of it yourself before you start to agree with what everyone is saying about it that probably hasn't read the whole thing either. Make your own decision, don't let people make it for you. God is letting us all make our own choices. Look at the choices we are making now, to remove God from everything. See where it is taking us.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      @Jo: I would say most atheists in this country are reformed christians. We've read the bible. We've chosen to reject it as hogwash.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
  11. FactNotFiction

    Read this again for your own good:

    If you are religious, it means you are ignorant of the truth of reality–of what is. Either that or you use religion to conveniently deny reality in order to justify and validate your own ends.

    It means that you fall back on an ancient evolutionary self-defense mechanism meant to keep you from psychologically damaging yourself due to the constant axiety associated with uncertainty.

    It means you are too weak to face reality, inclusive of all the things that we do not understand yet and may never fully understand.

    It means you are too childish to be okay with not knowing those things.

    It means you'd rather fill in those knowledge gaps with nonsense and fairy tales because it makes you feel better about yourself.

    Essentialy, 95+% of the world's population has not fully matured to take account of reality for what it actually is. This does not bode well for the long term survival of the human species.

    So, come join the non-religious. We're patiently waiting for you in reality.

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

      The bible is often used as a weapon, interpreted at will by master manipulators in order to control those who are desperate or weak of mind and are afraid or feel helpless. Religion can be blind and devoid of logic and thought; but spirituality requires that you dig deep within yourself and THINK, actually THINK about your relationship with God and what it means to do/be good so that your soul can grow and serve our creator. I don't understand why people can't look inside themselves for answers. God is perfect, good and each of us is a part of of God. Since God is perfect and all-knowing, nothing can happen here that God did not intend. We were each built with the ability to know right from wrong. If you do something that is wrong/bad, you are only hurting your own soul and hindering your own spiritual growth (you'll just have to keep trying until you get it right). God is good and God is love... he-she is not wrathful, vengeful or cruel and will never turn his-her back on you. You are here to exprience life for God, as God's hands. Of course, I could be wrong – point being – none of us really know for sure, but the best we can do is stop being sheep and use your our brains; run from the stupid masses and let your soul (which is part of God) guide you.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
  12. MEB

    With all due rspect, the author of this article is wrong and is using her personal views to change the Bible. Instead, she should use the Bible to chnge her personal views.

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

      The Catholic Church probably argued that Martin Luther was doing the same thing.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
  13. Tony C

    One word: Idiot.

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

      I agree Tony but with 2 words.......stupid idiot

      February 9, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
  14. FactNotFiction

    If you are religious, it means you are ignorant of the truth of reality–of what is. Either that or you use religion to conveniently deny reality in order to justify and validate your own ends.

    It means that you fall back on an ancient evolutionary self-defense mechanism meant to keep you from psychologically damaging yourself due to the constant axiety associated with uncertainty.

    It means you are too weak to face reality, inclusive of all the things that we do not understand yet and may never fully understand.

    It means you are too childish to be okay with not knowing those things.

    It means you'd rather fill in those knowledge gaps with nonsense and fairy tales because it makes you feel better about yourself.

    Essentialy, 95+% of the world's population has not fully matured to take account of reality for what it actually is. This does not bode well for the long term survival of the human species.

    So, come join the non-religious. We're patiently waiting for you in reality.

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

      you are so FOS......its not even funny

      February 9, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • uva187

      I assume you are an atheist. I respect your beliefs, and I respect your world view. But I must state then when you deny even the possibility that your beliefs many infact be wrong, you put yourself in the same category of people as the religious fanatics. They consider their religous BELIEFS to be undisputed truth, and you seem to believe that your BELIEF that all religons are phony to be the undisputed truth. If you don't have an open mind, you and they are the exact same–a close-minded person who is incapable of flexible thought.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • becky

      well put

      February 9, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • Chuck

      Remember that overall there are over 20% agnostics and atheist in the world. Also, do not forget that buddhism which reprensents almost a billion people should be counted as atheist as they don't believe in a crappy, god creating, fact denying religion.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • Rev

      I'll take my faith anyday. And thats a fact!

      February 9, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • Chuck

      Of course you are a brainwashed sheep...

      February 9, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
    • HELLO

      If your not Christian you are stating:

      You are prideful and arrogant thinking only of yourself because after all, all you need is you!
      you have convinced yourself that you are good all by yourself...kudos to you, pat yourself on the back
      you will die and turn to dirt
      you will not be reunited with your loved ones and this is all there is about life, there is not rhyme or reason...HMMMM
      you evolved from some little cell into a thinking, walking and reasoning human being all by yourself...HMMMM
      you have no hope of anything..your existence is really nothing
      you can never really know love because you have not experienced love.

      If this is good for you, stay that way! As for me and my house, we will worship the Lord!

      February 9, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
    • jerkface

      Congratulations and making yourself look like the very persona you're speaking against.

      Christians = Holier than thou.
      Atheists = Smarter than thou.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
    • Elisha

      Well said!! ... amen.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
    • CINDY

      i AGREE FACT/FICTION.. U NEED TO STUDY A BIT... SUCH BS THAT U SPEAK... COME BACK TO REALITY? U NEED A REALITY CHECK!!

      February 9, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
  15. g1b

    God does not make any mistakes. He made men and women the way they are for a reason. There is no 'intention'.
    It is what is it.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  16. Greg Simpson

    the "christian right" is often neither

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

      like that makes a lot of sense,.......not

      February 9, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
  17. WDinDallas

    WEAK

    February 9, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  18. hiltz006

    This woman's article is pure opinion only. Her interpretation is an abomination. Just a liberal who will twist anything to fit her own agenda/beliefs. 99% of people are brainwashed sheep. BAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH... A+ job at creating your own religion! Now get in line with the other 10,000 protestant religions who created their own.

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

      How do you know yours is the right one?

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

      Just the fact that you have a religion is proof you have been brainwashed and most likely from childhood therefore you have no right to even mention the words you wrote. For the castration of god freaks....

      February 9, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • Twm

      Everyone has their opinion on how to interpret the morals and parable in the Worlds Oldest Storybook. You all realize the Bible is garbage. Yes Garbage. The stories were passed down generation to generation and guess what Bible Thumpers over time stories get altered and embellished. Fast Forward a few hundred years and then King Constantine took the Bible and had his scholars edit it, removing all the stories about Jesus' young life. According to Jewish law Jesus would have been married, and followed his fathers footsteps. All these points were removed to make Jesus seem like he was greater than a normal man. He was not.
      At least Jesus din't force himself upon young girls like that other foolish near deity Mohammed. That pedofile gets glorified???? the Muslim religion is definitely warped.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
  19. Chuck

    I cannot believe how many god freaks exist in the USA. It's sad. The only solution is to castrate religious people as to prevent them from procreating stupidity and only then will the world be finally free from wars, hate, slavery, and all the horrors religious people are responsible for.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • hiltz006

      Hey Chuck, I don't want to be like you. I don't want you in my church. I am not trying to evangilize everyone. Stop trying to force me to be you. Why can't a country consist of believers and non believers. And just leave each other alone. I won't force my crap on you, and you don't force your crap on me.

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

      The difference is I live in truth and as you say yourself you live in "crap"... Your crap is responsible for 90% of the non natural death in the world and to make it worth it's been responsible for all these death for the past 2100 years. Without your crap, humanity would be at least 1000 years ahead technologically and would be united, free of dictators and an evolved species which is absolutely not possible with religion in the picture. To conclude YOU are responsible for all the hate messages and so is your church. Just having a church where you preach one way makes you enemies to other church. This is complete non-sense. Churches are responsible for all the miseries and should be banned forever.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • hiltz006

      You have been blessed with ignorance Chuck! Maybe you should seek out more affection from mommy and daddy... if you know them. I'll check in with you in 15 years, then we'll see whose offspring is doing better...

      February 9, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • jerkface

      I agree. The removal of religion has worked out tremendously for North Korea.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • Chuck

      I have two children and I promise you they will end up in a better place than yours. After all 85% of the world richest and 95% of the world top scientist are non believers. Just this means that your kids have only 15% chance of becoming rich and 5% chance of being smart. On top of that ignorance is believing in something that does not exist and using a book written to control masses at a time of great sorrow. You are a SHEEP, a fool and an idiot.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • jerkface

      Chuck,
      Newton, Mendeleyev, Hutton, Einstein, Pascal and many others would like to have a word with you. You're statistically correct, but your reasoning is flawed. For example, 70% of England is atheist, yet their international status doesn't indicate the very conclusion you declare.
      There are plenty of believers of various religions that have contributed greatly to society.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
    • hiltz006

      Chuck – Hitler and Stalin were great anti-religious people. Their contributions to humanity were great! You must be proud of them. "Castration"... Hitler and Stalin must be your heroes!

      February 9, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • hiltz006

      Also Chuck, you stole my sheep analogy! Can't you think of your own? I may have been brainwashed by my parents, but you, and your sheep children... will be brainwashed by the television! I hope you are proud of them, they will become what the TV tells them to become, and I'm sure you will be proud of that.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
    • CINDY

      CASTRATE? I MEAN REALLY WHO ARE U.. IF U STOP BELIEVEIN IN THE DEVIL THEN UD SEE... SUCH IGNORANCE

      February 9, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • hiltz006

      Chuck, my good buddy, also, you refer to "richest" pertaining to money. I'm glad money is your God. Even if I didn't believe in God, I would define "rich" as having children who aren't sociopaths, aren't drug addicts and are overall good people. I'm sure with the chip on your shoulder that's what your children/grandchildren will be.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
  20. Elliot N.

    Could there be more fantastic example of reading into the text than this article? This is case study for a 101 Hermeneutics class on errors to avoid when interpreting the Bible. That CNN would even publish this stuff raises serious credibility questions.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80
Advertisement
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.