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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. Broskii

    I find it funny, all these "Christians" being judgmental against gays. Really, the Bible says that all sins are equal to God, and that we should not judge, lest we be judged by our own hand. Let the one without sin throw the first stone. Really, take the log out of your own eye before you point out the speck in others.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • listenclose

      the bible has lists of many sins that are punishable by death some that are punishable by exile and some that are punishable by tribunal and taking of property when the bible refers to all sins being the same it is they are all an abomination to the lord not a reference to how serious a sin they are do you really believe that murdering a 2 year old with acid is the same kind of sin as calling in sick to work when your not!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! OMG it is unbelievable how ignorant you all are and how you think you can turn the bible on itself a true Christian that has read thoroughly and has no agenda like ms cnn here does knows the difference

      February 9, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • Broskii

      Well God can forgive both of them equally, the question is if they will repent. Either way, you have no right to judge them. I'm a Christian and I'm one of the few that stand up for them in our Church. You would have guessed by their actions that the Bible was teaching a message of hate, not of love.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  2. Antwoine

    This is the problem with "interpretations" and opinions... because interpretations and opinions are like dirty socks.... everybody has them and they all stink. The first and most glaring assumption that "scholarly" people often make is that somehow their opinion is always the right one which begins a "philosophical" debate rather than actual "Theological" discussion, especially when it comes to matters of religion and biblical facts. The fact remains that what one person may read and understood about the doctrine of the Holy Scriptures is not what someone else may read and understood.
    I find this authors thesis on this subject to be without any actual scriptural references to collaborate her findings. Furthermore; it seems that the author has put more time and effort into trying to disprove what the Bible actually says than she put into applying the teachings within it. But that’s just my “opinion”.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
  3. follower

    1 timothy 2:11 and 12 says clearly, it could not be interpreted incorrectly, ..."women are not to teach in the church." To the writer, Please do not preach falsely. For it would be better if you had never known the truth than to lead people through the use of false doctrine.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
  4. WHATINTHEWORLD

    This chick is a nut...hello can anyone grad the extra straight jacket off the shelf please

    February 9, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  5. Skeet

    They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  6. HeIsGod

    Poor woman! She is clearly twisting the very Word of God to fulfill the lust of others as well as herself. She has a strongly has misintrepetated the relationship that David and Jonathan had. Later, I will post information about her lies. I am currently at work and not able to at this time.

    God bless!

    February 9, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  7. GOD LOVER

    I have been brought up right... PEERIOD! I have two wonderful children and a family that loves me PERIOD! I have been in private school from 1st thru 12th and the one thing i learned from the all this is that GOD doesnt want us (humans) to judge! I asked GOD to help me find someone who is for me and HE sent me my my wife and I have been sooooooooo blessed and wouldnt change a thing. If you eat burger and it makes you sick you more than likely you wont want to eat it again. You dont get on a soap box and yell and judge the world for eating a hamburger JUST BECAUSE YOU DONT LIKE IT OR IT DOESNT LIKE YOU. I
    I played the game... got married .... I tried honestly did.. but i am gay and that is how GOD MADE ME! The Bible ... ya well it tells you to love one another and not to judge... There is NOTHING wrong with loving a person totally Live your lif and STOP JUDGING EACH OTHER! LIFEE IS TOOO SHORT

    February 9, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
  8. RJ

    I just dont understand. Where in the bible does it read: one shall judge and condemn your neighbor for their "sins?" Ultimately, the only one that can pass any rightful judgment is God himself. And for those of you who have nothing to be judged upon yourselves, then go ahead, keep throwing the first stone. That should sound somewhat familiar.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
  9. God

    Jennifer,

    Thank you for your courage. It has been a struggle of Eons to fight the extraneous liturgies that get attached to my words. I am hopeful that your message will be carried forth and lead my flock into the light of tolerance and love of all my creatures and the world they create.

    – Mr. Yahweh, Esq.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
  10. Jharis

    I thought the account of the rib being taken from the man was a hebrew term to symbolize that women are to be equals, or side by side with man.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
  11. Just asking

    Wow. Pretty stretchy. If you have to work that hard at it ,Why even bother? Must be pretty important to some gays to recieve approval from Christains to put forth the effort that believing this crap requires.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
  12. Khue

    At least, this dog believes in himself and stands on his own feet.
    You are the same as this dog and insults your race that your God did not teach you to curse! 🙂

    February 9, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
  13. Rick

    Ever wonder why Jesus liked to "hang out" with 12 dudes all the time?

    February 9, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • GOD LOVER

      Rick... Right im really

      February 9, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • GOD LOVER

      Rick... Right! i mean really

      February 9, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
  14. Al

    Sam, you have lots of untrue assumptions about the time lag between when events occurred and when the Bible was written. Additionally, there's lot of non-Christian (e.g., Jewish, Roman) historical writings about Jesus at the time that corroborate what the New Testament says. E.g., Jesus was crucified by Pontious Pilot, may have been/claimed to be the Messiah, hundreds of people claimed to see his risen body in the days following, etc. You got a couple of options. You can walk around being subject to what other people say about the Bible (either for or against) or you can read it yourself and make up your own mind. I've read the Bible, parts of the Koran, many other religious writings, etc. I'm making an informed choice about what I believe based upon my first-hand reading. What is the harm in reading it for yourself? Don't worry. If it's not truth, you won't be magically converted some how.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
  15. jag

    im so confused..... *bbm confused face*

    February 9, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
  16. Adam

    There is proof that Jesus was a real person who existed (like Mohammed), but whether you believe he was the son of God is what differentiates Christians from Jews. I always found it strange that Hitler hated the Jews when Jesus was one himself.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
  17. Justice

    People always find a way to justify sin. Why is it in the story that Lot tells the men of Sodom, "Please dont harm these guests, but take my 2 virgin daughters and they refuse?" hahah.. Pardon my thoughts, but why didnt the men want the women instead of the angels who were male? Goes to show how immoral and out of touch with reality they were. Its all about reproducing, only a male and a female can do this. Read Rev 22: 14-15.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • Hockey_fan

      I find it amazing that you are chastizing the men for choosing men over the 2 young daughters that this perv just offered up to them. So.....according to you and you're religion, it is okay for people to just go around offering up their daughters virginity for their own purposes? Do you think they had a say in the matter, DOUBTFUL. Get a grip, you disgust me

      February 21, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
  18. Angelina

    The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.(1 Timothy 4:1,2)...The scripture cannot be interpretted in many ways.....MAAM..There is only one truth......So have faith.....Do Not interpret it the way you want.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • Magic

      Angelina

      "The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.(1 Timothy 4:1,2)...The scripture cannot be interpretted in many ways.....MAAM..There is only one truth......So have faith.....Do Not interpret it the way you want."

      What makes you so sure that you are not being led by 'demons' and 'liars'? You ARE interpreting it the way YOU want...

      February 9, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • Sevinthseal

      That's ironic, coming from someone who's own understanding of the bible is wholly dependent upon the interpretation made by "experts" at the Diet of Worms, since you do not speak a freaking word of Aramaic, never dined with the Essenes and have no first-hand knowledge of anything. In court, they call this hearsay.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
  19. so what.

    ‎It is important to draw wisdom from many different places. If we take it from only one place, it becomes rigid and stale. Understanding others, other beliefs, and other opinions we become whole.
    so i took that quote from a cartoon but it fits into what is being said here today. you can't draw knowledge from one source you have to draw it from many and sometimes seek the answers yourself. everyone has the right to believe what they want to. but i don't believe anyone has the right to pass judgement on others. isn't there a saying? something like "only God can judge me" so to all of you gay bashers out there who spread hate in the name of god think about that. think about when god judges you for the sins you have committed and let him judge others for the sins they have committed. its not up to you to decide who is sinful and who is righteous. i believe that you are supposed to believe that only one being has that power. and it isn't you.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
  20. Satan

    Ha! All is going according to my plans! See you all soon-

    Kisses- Satan

    February 9, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
    • Lee

      Yes, we are all voting Republican, just like you asked sir!

      February 9, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
    • David

      Thank you for giving me the laugh of the day. Perfectly played!

      February 9, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • tkogrady

      I gave you 10 simple rules to follow and you screwed it up. Sheesh

      God

      February 9, 2011 at 4:08 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.