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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. Curieux De Connaitre

    We are seeking all sorts of excuses to veil our atrocity, cruelty and now sodomy as it was predicted in the ancient time. It is certainly not surprising that nowadays people are being mislead, even by those whom they will turn to, for healing and bible exhortation. At least, please if anyone chooses to practice these things, It would have been best for society as a whole if they keep it private to themselves( after all, everyone will be held accountable solely for their own deeds). We don't have to make it a national debate as it would appear in one of the world most respected and watched televisions on the planet. I would want to believe that we, as Americcans, have better things to debate on, in lieu of these shameful themes. Is that what we want to project to the world? How do you think other people in the world view us? For how long can we seclude ourselves. The world never stops watching us, what happen to our core values?

    February 9, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • Heather King

      Agreed.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
    • Susie Dalponte

      In Jesus time there were also so-called biblical/religious experts. The saducees, for instance, did not believe in the resurrection and taught such anti-biblical belief to their followers. If one does not believe in the resurrection, the Bible would be pretty useless to our faith, right? Goes to show, though, that just because some "experts" speak for the Bible telling us what to believe its message is, does DEFINITELY not mean that they are right. Jesus foretold, among many things, that false prophets would abound. It is our personal responsibility to search for the Truth.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • Judge and Jury

      Curieux De Connaitre – you're ignorant. Keep your ideas and feelings to yourself and see how that feels. Maybe if this country stopped spreading Christian hate we'd all be able to love our neighbors a bit more.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
  2. Bioartchick

    http://www.project-reason.org/gallery3/image/105/

    February 9, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  3. Andrew B

    There is a great difference between being religious and being part of a religion. Those who embrace "God" who is the creator of all ,like any parent "God" should/must love and nuture their children equally and accept that not all will follow their path but find there own.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  4. ChooseLove

    Be honest with yourself, some of you commenters. You are really just full of fear and hatred, and use a single sentence in The Bible, taken out of context, to justify your ugliness and give yourself permission to act, say, and believe something that puts you on some pedestal. Gay people are born that way, and have been around forever. They are children of God, just like you. You are judging them, not God. You will be the one judged for your hatred and bigotry when you review your life after departing earth, not them. It is your own nose you bite, it is you who feels awful. It is you that has no love. Love is God. This article shows how you pick and choose sentences here and there to justify your belief. You ignore your own contradictions, as well as the Bible's. You can't escape karma, and someday you will have to experience the same persecution that you are dealing out. Choose love. Do it before it is too late.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  5. Billy

    Judge not lest ye be judged; however, it is clear man should not lay with man as with woman. We have free will to do as we please but that doesn't make all of our actions pleasing in the eyes of God. I understand when people twist facts for political gain. It bothers me when they try to twist the Scriptures. Fortunately, the majority of Christians won't call for the heads of those who smear the Bible. We will, individually, answer for our transgressions on Judgement Day.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  6. steveo

    "and they can be interpreted in any number of ways."

    Imagine that!

    February 9, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
  7. MeInBham

    I have asked this question several times on related topics and NO ONE has given an answer!

    I have read all of the New Testament and I didn't find anywhere were Jesus Christ (the guy Christians worship) condemened folks in a same-gender loving committed relationship. Will someone PLEASE give me the Book, Chapter and Verse (you know those words in RED) where Jesus specifically condemned gays!

    Blessings!
    I

    February 9, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
  8. biblesforbabies

    There is no such thing as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, Frankenstein, the Wolfman or Satan.

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

    Mankind has a Sin Nature...WE ALL SIN! Anger, Fear, Self-Righteousness, Worry, Guilt, Anxiety, Slander, Gossip, Lying, and MANY MANY MORE! It shows us that GOD IS PERFECT, and CANNOT have ANYTHING to with sin. If GOD lets some sins slide HE immediately loses HIS sovereignty and righteousness, and that just makes him like you and me, which isn't God-like at all. God is also just. HE MUST condemn sin so His chracter isn't compromised.

    But God is also Love. B/c of this love He sent His son to earth for one reason...to die for OUR sins....EVERYONE! Now God's condemnation for us has been satisfied through Christ's work on the cross. The barrier between man and God has been destroyed, and to be saved, all you have to do is believe...that's it

    Eph 2.8 "For it is by GRACE you have been saved through Faith, and it is not from yourselves, it is the GIFT of GOD"

    You can't earn, all you have to do is receive it, B/c God LOVES you...it's that easy!

    February 9, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
  10. GodTookNoPart

    The only god that exists is the god we have created in our minds. The only beings watching over us are extraterrestrials monitoring our nuclear warheads because they know how moronic the majority of we humans are.

    " What can be asserted without proof, can be dismissed without proof." – C. Hitchens

    February 9, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
  11. Jameson

    Look at your disagreeable selves’ people!
    I've never read a more vicious group of degrading posts! These posts are a fine example of "Today's Christian Fundamentalist Terrorist" posts – proudly written by self-appointed “holier than thou” Christians – who can’t disagree without a venomous bite. And you wonder why some people put bumper stickers on their car that read:
    "My Prayer: Please God, save me from your followers!"
    Unless you are a Credentialed Biblical Scholar yourself – shut up. Think for a moment – if you can. Why not just try reading and thinking about a different perspective – the author does make several good and interesting points. Who are you to say that you are right and she is wrong? Which of you has been chosen to speak for God almighty?
    Ignorance always displays itself in a self-righteous, mouth-foaming, loud protest (or post). Christ seems to be so wisely gentle, loving, kind, and nonjudgmental – but many of his “self proclaimed” followers seem to be the opposite. I find it very interesting – and sad.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
  12. mahdee

    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.

    This says to me that what God took was the woman from the man. A man clinging to a woman is just desire of a man to "complete" himself by cleaving to a woman.

    These analogies, interpretations are just that, what someone else thinks about what was written or transcribed. It is about as lame as translating an epic poem and putting your own spin on it. So spin away with your interpretations. I have mine, you have yours. Just follow the big 10 and do unto others...

    February 9, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
  13. times3

    Psychologist James Hollis accurately describes the fundamentalist mindset as an "anxiety management system." How well this psychological truth is borne out as you read the desperate comments of those who demand literal interpretations of the certain Biblical texts on this one issue when they have long given up the same type of literal interpretations on other issues (slavery, for example). A person with critical faculties is not threatened to realize that we must continually interpret and repinterpret our lives and the world and accepts that what we believe today may not be believed a decade hence, much less a hundred years or a thousand years from now. We see this lack of critical thinking in other fundamentalist cultures (such as societies that stone adulterors) and are appalled at people stuck in that mindset which so often leads to oppression and violence.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  14. Religions are a scam

    the bible is a POS!

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

      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.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
  15. Daniel

    From what I read in the NT, Jesus appears to be gay. Follow me and I will make you fisher of MEN. Jesus hung out with 12 men daily, they slept together, eat together and once John is laying on Jesus' lap. For example, during the Last Supper before Jesus' execution, he describes how the "beloved" disciple laid himself on Jesus' inner tunic - his undergarment. See John 13:25 and 21:20. So if Jesus wasn't married and hung around men and children what does that say about him?

    Not a very good man.

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

      So, who the HELL are you to say he wasn't a good man if he WAS gay? Personally, I don't give a damn because I'm an atheist. However, YOU have a lot of nerve saying someone isn't a "good man" just because he is GAY!

      February 9, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
  16. thanksforthelaughs

    I want to thank everyone for some of the funniest posts i've read today. Nothing better than people interpreting a book made up 2000 years ago containing nothing but inconsistencies and contradictions...i'm right...no, i'm right...too funny.

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

      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.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • TheTruth72

      Pretty sure you haven't read the Bible, because if you did, you'd know that the Old Testament was written more than 2000 years ago.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
    • Richard

      Yet you or NOONE can prove it's false...I guess Jerusalem and the ruins of the temple it currently stand on is a mirage made up by some virtual reality picture book.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
    • RG

      He who laughs,laughs last! see you at the pearly gates! or not!

      February 9, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
  17. Katie Morris

    The Old Testament is the New Testament CONSEALED, the New Testament is the Old Testament REVEALED. Debating over the "meaning" of everything in the Bible is ridiculous! We are to walk by faith, not by sight, so I choose to believe what my bible tells me. I try to love others the best I can, I try to follow the 10 commandments as best I can and I pray for God's grace everytime I fail. I only know that I won't risk an eternity in damnation over a debate over what God "meant" by something! We're to walk in love and follow Jesus and encourage our fellow man to be the best he can be....and when I stand before God, I KNOW He will say, "Well done. my faithful servant". Jesus died for me and I'm truly thankful for all I have, Praise be to God.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
  18. Ron

    after reading the comments, I find many of them SO amusing. To start, I'm not Christian but rather Wiccan. I left Christianity because of the contradiction and the assumptions that so many have, especially how they speak for 'god'.
    I'm pretty sure that the vast majority of those speaking against Jennifer Wright Knust are the conservative Christian version who 'know it all'. They interpret per their mindset. It is true that the bible can be interpreted many ways. The bible is a set of stories dealing with ancient cultures. This is very true, especially about the New Testament. If one studies the bible in context to it's history and those for whom it was meant at the time, it has little reference to the present. However, for conservative Christians, they take it to be literal and meant for their time while at the same time, ignoring the historical facts related to the New Testament. As far as the Old Testament is concerned, conservative Christians like to re-invent its meaning to support what they 'WANT' it to say. I found that by asking a Rabbi what the interpretation means, it's generally completely different. Christianity essentially usurped the O.T. and put it in their bible and interpret it according to what they want it to say, and add the "god" said so to it to justify their interpretation. I've been on many religious blogs and have seen conservative Christians quote the O.T. per their interpretation and later to be told by Jewish people and Rabbi's that their interpretation is wrong, only to be told by conservative Christians that "they're wrong". Talk about the height of arrogance!

    Lets face it, for conservative Christian preachers, the two biggest money making events for them is SSM/gay rights and abortion. They rake in the cash too, on these items.
    What amazes me with conservative Christians is that they seem to think that the country and it's laws should be governed by their religious beliefs but at the same time, they don't want government interfering with them and should any other religion gain any power, they complain about being taken over. In my experience and opinion, said conservative Christians are the first to persecute and the first to cry persecution when someone or group stands up against them. Sorry, I have no sympathy for them. Most of their problems they complain about have been brought about by their words and actions. Somehow conservative Christians think that their opinion and beliefs are above being criticized by others. Sorry but that's not going to happen. You can claim "god" this and "god" that but in the end it's simply your belief and not a fact.
    Let the whining begin...

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

      your religion is just as stupid as theirs.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • Ron

      That's ok Ian, If you believe this. It doesn't bother me. My beliefs are based off my understanding and experiences that I've had with my Gods. Wicca isn't for everyone. We know this and don't have an issue with this fact. To us, everyone must find their path to the divine or not. I really don't have issue with other religions, except where said religions want to enforce their beliefs on others and make them into laws, claiming it's "gods" will. Whether you have a religion or belief or are don't believe in the divine at all, be the best person you can be and hopefully, make the world a better place for all.

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

      You know what the cool things for you is Ron? If you were a Christian and at one point in life you were saved, you still have your salvation. Even if you turn away from God, He won't turn away from you, b/c He's immutable.

      It sounds like you're more against the whole religious establishment and the ingnorant hypocritical people that run, which I agree is an absolute turn off and it's VERY unfortunate.

      It sounds cliche, but the Truth is out there. The Bible makes coherent sense and Has a begininng, middle, and end. Don't let others confuse you...it's really right in front of you

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

      @Ron – who is raking in cash because of this? links/proof?

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

      Also – I personally know a man who was a Christian turned Wiccan and turned back Christian. He became wiccan to appease his wife. He turned back to Jesus after he murdered his newborn child in a wiccan ritual.

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

      Josh,
      Wiccan rituals DO NOT require a life for anything. It goes against the Rede. Now, I would hope such a thing didn't happen but who knows. I do know that some people search and decide later that they want to go back to their original religion. Wicca doesn't have issues with that as that is between you and your God(s) and no one else.
      I'd be curious to read about this as most of these cases are people who claimed to be something they're not. Again, who knows. Unfortunately, people who claim religious beliefs do many things in the name of said religion, which still doesn't make it right.

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

      Richard,
      Thanks for the kind words but i'm not concerned about 'salvation' at all. Christianity is a very diverse group of people whose beliefs are as diverse as they are. My opinion is that to claim to be a Christian, one follows Christ and attempts to emulate Christ in ones life, words and actions. Some do and many do not. All religion is a creation by man to understand, define and embrace what they call the divine. I have no regrets in leaving Christianity as I found many things about the religion to be contradictory. The bible was put together by men who wanted to confirm that their religion as the 'only true' religion so they put books together to support this concept. If one reads many of the books not included, they don't necessarily support the religion or suggest that god is much bigger and forgiving than what conservative Christians suggest.
      Anyway, thank you for your kind thoughts. My experiences with my Gods and the relationship that I have is something that I will never leave.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
  19. tony

    This article causes me to think that Satan is testing the world through CNN to see who believes this trash. This person is being used as an agent of the Devil himself. Ms. Jennifer Knust, I beseech you by the mericies of God that you denounce and reject this article. You should repent and go to God and ask for forgivness for spreading this false teaching. May God have mercy on your soul; and to all that embrace this foolishness.

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

      Tony-
      just so you know, "satan" is a creation of Christianity. Christianity took many of the definitions of the O.T., twisted them to support the satan thing and then say the O.T. supports and proves that "satan" exists. It's a circular logic that they use so much to support most of their beliefs but I also understand it's your belief.

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

      This is a perfect example of a religious wack job and hypocrite. Just because she is giving her opinion does not mean you have to believe it. Just because she does not believe as you do, does not mean she is wrong. I bet you are one of those so called christians that judge people also. Thank goddness god did not appoint you as the judge and jury!

      February 9, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • wcb2009

      Your blind faith is alarming... I expect you would have made a brilliant inquisitor

      February 9, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
    • Jonathan

      Tony: There is no such thing as Satan, You are living in a fantasy world that has nothing to do with God. Christianity is a man made myth. You obviously have very little knowledge on the making of the Bible and early Christian history....The Christian story is basically made up folks.........and God bless this woman for trying educate people. It is people like " Tony" that we have to protect our children from.

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

      Who are you to say that your interpretation is more valid than this one, which has been arrived at by someone who has committed her life to this faith? Try some humility, or is that out of fashion among Christians now?

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

      Tony, there are two types of people in this world, those that go to church and shake their head agreement to whatever their pastor, priest, minister, etc. tell them and those that actually study and learn the history of their religion.

      Many times you find that the the history and early teachings have been twisted and manipulated for political reason to what has end up to be mainstream understanding of today's religion.

      I think the last few years taught us that even priest are human and they will sin. Thus, even them will make mistakes.

      As a big believer in Jesus, God and all, I can tell you that when you open your mind to educate yourself, you will discover how Jesus original message, which has been polluted through the centuries, is even more powerful than what many people have been told to believe.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
  20. jason

    Just because you can twist something enough to make it sound as though it supports your beliefs, doesn't make it right.

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

      good point, there has to be some value to the words that were used, otherwise it loses all meaning

      February 9, 2011 at 1:35 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.