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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. PLEASE FIX IT CNN

    johnnyleen

    "My comment got separated from who I was answering"

    Yep, looks like the "Reply" function is sprung - again.

    It makes these forums nearly useless for discussion.

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

      Thank you for a common sense story!
      my best friend ,she just has announced her wedding with a millionaire young man Ronald who is the CEO of a MNC !they date via --Affluent'Love. ℃'○M– ..it is the largest and best club for wealthy people and their admirers to chat online. …you don’t have to be rich there ,but you can meet one ,maybe you wanna check it out or tell your friends !
      –@@

      February 9, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • Dot44

      Here some news that isn't a myth....Putting your penis in someone's anus is disgusting, unsanitary, and repulsive. It is a psychological disorder. Forget the Bible. Talk to a MEDICAL DOCTOR.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • Jeff B.

      I find it rather..."interesting" that, of all the quotes Ms. (Rev. ?) Knust takes from the Bible, the ONE she omits, is the ONLY one which is unambiguous. Levitcus 16/22: "You shall not lie with a man as one lies with a woman". No doubt she opines that "lie" refers to "untruth".
      And, before you haters come back at me, let me say that I take NO position on the issue – I'm just saying that she obviously has an agenda, and that agenda cant be harmonized with the above Levitcus section, so she omits it.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • Jman

      Wow. Who chooses the "scholars" for such nonsense? On so many levels, historical, biblical, theological, this is just nonsense. Christians have always affirmed apostolic authority; it's not our place to wag the finger at Paul, telling him to sit up and take notice. What hubris. What drivel!

      February 9, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • Jeff B.

      Hey, DOT-
      Let me take a "crack" at changing your mind – whatcha doing Sat. night ?

      February 9, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • Dot44

      Jeff B. I'm going to pass on your generous offer. I like may ass keeping all it's grip.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • Jeff B.

      awww, DOT....
      Are you sure ? Truth be told, I'm not gifted in that area, so, the pain should be minimal.
      If you change your mind, let me know "ass"- soon as possible.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
    • Dot44

      My ass says it needs a mint first. Bad breath.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  2. James

    Jennifer, sorry to break the news to you but you are not a bible scholar, or a pastor for that matter.

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

      Apparently
      Boston University (Assistant Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins),
      College of the Holy Cross (taught Religious Studies for five years),
      Union Theological Seminary (M.Div.), and
      Columbia University (Ph.d of Religion)
      would disagree with you about the scholar part.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • Jerry

      Amen!!

      February 9, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • Flatland Sage

      ...and your credentials, sir?

      February 9, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
  3. Nick

    This article is an excellent example of the dangers inherent in personal interpretation of Sacred Scripture. The Bible is only the Bible when it is taken in context of the teaching of the Holy Catholic Church. Jennifer Wright Knust needs our prayers, as does any reader who is misled by this nonsense.

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

      In other words:

      Don't think!
      Trust us!
      -RCC

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

      Not at all, certainly think, but constrain your thoughts within the bounds of the Catholic Church's teaching (which is guided directly by the Holy Spirit). As for the "Trust us" comment, it would be no more than trusting in God to do what He said He would, through his Son, in guiding his church. So yes, by all means, Trust!

      February 9, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • Lauren

      Do you follow every word the bible says to a "t"? Then you can't pick and choose the stories you live by. Read, consider, then act. God is great! Gays are great! Let's all just finally like eachother already!
      And don't pray for me and this pastor... we'll be just fine. Don't need you "enlightened" folks' prayers, I'm too busy actually loving and helping out my fellow man to care. Take that pray time and go do something nice for someone.
      Have a great day!

      February 9, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  4. bo

    there was only two made in the beginning, the other is the generations of the earth in cp2 telling what happen when he made the two and all the rest. the law of god is what all nation base thier law on. read romans cp1 vr 22 thru 32.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
  5. Rev

    You are one closed minded individual.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
  6. ob

    Read Romans 1: 16-32

    February 9, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
  7. Drew

    I must go stone my unruly daughter... brb.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • Ari159

      LOL.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
  8. VMA

    If it wasn't for slavery, some ethnic groups would't be where they are now. Such as having a black president.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • palmtree429

      Wow. Really? Did you really just write that?

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

      Whah? Really? This post is so rediculous I don't know where to start.

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

      WOW.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  9. LPF

    I have to agree Ms. Kunst. You can't possibly believe every item in the bible is right and just. How do you slice and dice what is appropriate? I'm always reminded of the open letter to Dr. Laura where the writer asks if he should follow Exodus 35:2 saying "I have a neighbor who insists are working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?" or "My Uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field as does his wife by wearing garmets made of two different kinds of thread..., is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? (Lev 24:10-16). Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)". I am not sure how those that cite passages as the absolute supreme law can overlook those that would require us to kill most citizens of our country?

    February 9, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • Nick

      The bible is extremely confusing without context. For instance, it's impossible to answer your questions if you don't have the knowledge that Christ's sacrifice on the cross created a new covenant between God and man. We are no longer subject to the laws of the Old Testament, so plant whatever crops you want 🙂

      We gain this context through the Catholic Church, who assembled the Bible and has the authority and guarantee of the Holy Spirit (given by Christ himself) to interpret the moral teachings of the Bible. Don't let this pastor Knust confuse you, she has no such guarantee.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
  10. kwidmayer

    Lady you have some serious misconceptions about the Bible and God. There are so many misconceptions in what you have written to go into in this forum. Tell me what church are you a paster at so I can be sure not to go there.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
  11. ivan

    I am surprised how she mixes up and shows no real knowledge of the Bible. Shame on such "pastor" .

    February 9, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
  12. jeff Samuelson

    Jesus did say "don't cast pearls to before the swine". Psalms 2 reads "Let us break his bands asunder". He who sits in the heavens shall laugh as He shall have them in derision.

    So to my brothers and sisters that know the truth. Leave it alone.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
  13. Ollie

    What Bible has she been reading? If it were normal for men to be with men and women to be with women, then how did we get here?

    February 9, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
  14. rindy nong

    God will comdem any human/person who interprit the Bible to fit his or her life style.

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

      where in the Bbible does it say that????

      February 9, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  15. pat

    How many of you are divorced and have a 'living husband or wife'? oops...don't think about marriage ..its a sin. (That covers 70 to 80 % of citizens.) The Bible is meant to be read over the periods of our life. For each change in our life it is there to comfort us if we search for an answer. No other book in the world can do that! It's my personal book for me, not to lay judgement on another. It is meant to be contradictary.. because our lives are complicated.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
  16. Flatland Sage

    I am always amazed at how "un-Christian" some professed Christians behave in their speech, actions, and deeds...it is truly frightening the hatred they exhibit...

    February 9, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
  17. CarlD

    I stopped reading in the first two paragraphs because this "bible scholar and pastor" is an idiot.

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

      CarlD, I agree with you 100%. She does not understand God's Word. Jennifer is trying to come across as someone with God's knowledge and inside information that other people don't understand. She is WRONG..... The Bible is a Holy book that only his Saints understand.

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

      WHAT??? Do you hear yourself? You have read 10% of what she had to say and called her an idiot, that level ignorance makes you the idiot.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • Seattle

      WOW there a plenty of people blogging today who clearly came from the funny farm. I love how if anything ever makes some people question their faith (which is a healthy thing by the way) they just get all bent out of shape and start name calling and hate mongering. It is amazing how some "christians" are the least christ-like examples EVER. jeesh i see atheists act with more humility, compassion, and understanding then some zealots. i guess will be seeing ALL of you in hell then............ if there even is one.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
  18. Myrddin

    "Those that have ears, let them hear"
    I thought it was love and not intolerance that was taught by he whom you call savior.

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

    Ms. Knust- I don't know what bible you read but you are absolutely wrong. You stated in one of your examples the Bible forces you to condemn gay individuals. That is an outright lie because the Bible and God will not force you to do anything.

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

      ummm, WRONG again!!!. Either you follow the book of fairy tales to the letter or you DON'T! Take your choice. If you happen to be one of those thumpers who consider themselves a "Christian" then you cannot have it both ways! Either you follow it OR YOU DON'Tl

      And for what it's worth, I'm an ATHEIST!

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

      You completely misunderstood this article, and the point she was making.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
    • mb2010a

      I think you need to go back and reread your Old Testament...

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

      She was quoting statements she's heard. She actually agrees with your statement that you are not forced to do anything. In fact, that's her whole point.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
    • Capt Stubing

      She is not saying that. She is saying that is the excuse that many people use.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
  20. mike hunt

    This artical made me LOL

    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.