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. suzanne dwillies

    Wow,Jennifer! this is so refreshing ! an actual learned person and academic and pastor actually knowing what she is talking about! thankyou!!! I do have faith but I do put human smarts and logic/reasoning over most christian sheep these days!

    February 9, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • Jim Massey

      I totally agree with you. Before someone criticize her, please look at her qualification. She is more qualified to discuss the subject than any of your semi-gods, namely Pat Robertson, Rush Limbaugh etc.

      See her qualification at:
      http://www.bu.edu/sth/academics/faculty/jennifer-wright-knust/

      February 9, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • jerry

      hi suzanne, yeah isn't that awesome? If she says what you think it's gotta be true.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • draculardw

      Then take your own advice and apply it to this person who wrote this deceiving article for man to read

      February 9, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Jim Massey

      Hi Jerry,

      Where did you learn about Christainity? Rush Limbugh radio program, Benny Hinn, Ted Haggard or Eddie Long?

      February 9, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • jerry

      Hi Jim,

      It might do you well to check my response to Ryan just a few posts below. It applies to you as well.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • Chris

      I have to agree with Jim here. She is well credentialed and more credible than any commentator here.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  2. arapaxhad

    Interesting thought. But I wonder how would Ms. Knust analyze the very verse that starts it all, Leviticus 18:22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. Should this very verse be eliminated from Tanakh because it is not politically correct, in the same way a certain word, some say ought to be "censored" from some writings of Mark Twain?

    February 9, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • ???

      How do you interpret the verse that calls for those who wear cloth of two different threads to be put to death?

      February 9, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • Brotherboy

      Of course not. Just remember that Twain's work were fiction. As is the bible?

      February 9, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • God

      The testaments' histories are full of editing for political purposes. King James Bible, anyone?

      February 9, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  3. John

    Unfortunately, you don't back up much of this article with sources so your argument is pretty thin. Your main and only source should be the Bible. All the answers to your questions are there.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • God

      John,

      She actually used the Bible as a source. How does that make the argument thin?

      February 9, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
  4. CRR

    There are a few fundamental misunderstandings in this article that are inconsistent with biblical literature. The primary one is the concept of multiple creation story. This is inconsistent with scripture and the style of writing of the old testament. My suggestion is a need for additional research and not a clear mis-characterization of the biblical text.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  5. Edwin

    CNN – STOP letting people like Jennifer Wright Knust have a spot light by publishing this crap

    February 9, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • R. Diane

      AMEN!!

      February 9, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • W247

      AMEN AMEN!

      February 9, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
  6. drcook

    I am a believer but this article is unbelievable..

    February 9, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  7. Truth

    Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
    [27] And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  8. Andrea

    People pick and choose which parts of the Bible to follow & which to ignore. It was a book written by men to suit their own purposes & is still used that way today. Judge not, that ye be not judged.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
  9. Alley

    @ Cat, no they weren't, they were written MUCH later than. Take a history lesson on Christianity, or look for impartial HIstorians who are not writing from a purely Christian stand point to get a more accurate timeline. There is much historical evidence showing that most of what has come to form "the Bible" was written 400-600 years after death. I am not saying that you have to abandon your beliefs but you should research your evidence before you argue with it.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  10. The truth

    Jennifer Wright Knust's artilcle proves that any idoit can graduate from seminary school!

    February 9, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • God

      Yeah, well, when you have a limited pool of applicants, best not to weed out 99% of them from too-high a standard.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
  11. Born-again Christian

    Mark from Canada....where did I interpret the Bible or scripture? Those verses are clear cut with no need for interpretation, but since you're spiritually blind, you know nothing of the things of God. Two verses I'll leave with you...Matthew 7:6 "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you." . Since you're spiritually blind, you won't understand it. Again, no need to interpret it, it's plain as day to God's people and second and most importantly, which you won't hear another word from me after this...Proverbs 26:4 "Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him." You are the fool in this case.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • drcook

      Amen!!!!!!!!

      February 9, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • JB

      You call the writer a "fool," which violates Matthew 5:22, and you quote the proverb against "answer[ing] a fool" in your _answer_ to the person whom you deem foolish. Doesn't sound like you're in much of a position to be criticizing anyone for their adherence to the Bible!

      February 9, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • GW

      Absolute rubbish and how holier than thou of you. You quote the bible "answer not a fool" as part of your answer to Mark from Canada. So take your own advice then, fool. Who are you to say anyone who doesn't think like you is spiritually blind?
      There's more to spirituality than believing in the mythology of the bible or jesus.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • Born-again Christian

      JB...from what I gather, you are not a believer because you don't undertsand scripture except to pick and choose a piece of scripture and base it on what fits your need. You totally misinterpreted was Jesus was saying in Matthew 5:22 because if saying so, God violated His own rule in Luke 12:20 "But God said unto him, [Thou] fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? You, as well as Mark from Canada are spirtually blind because you don't know scripture. What Jesus was referring to in Matthew 5:22 in exclaiming "you fool" was confrontational; informing a person that he is acting like a fool, or that he is foolishly laboring under false perceptions, in the process of instructing him. Why don't you start with Trusting Christ as your Savior and repent because that's the only way you'll know scripture. I can sit here and send you scripture after scripture on what God says, but because of the hardness of your heart, you'll just wind up getting mad and typing hate. No where in these emails have I typed hate, but God's truth, not mine.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
  12. vicarkatz

    The author's interpretation of scripture is embarrassing, quite a stretch of the imagination. shame on CNN for even publishing it. I had higher opinions of intelectual vetting process. Don't get me wrong. I support the gay community. what I think is a shame is that this article, purported to be scholarly, is anything but that. I am also a pastor, so feel somewhat qualified to comment.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  13. Edwin

    Judging from this, I wouldn't call you a scholar or a pastor. You look more like a wolf in sheep's clothing. Those who accept this thinking are those that would have already have accepted this line of thought. Another thing, It's the sin that is being condemned by the church, not the person. Yes you have freaks that take thing too far, but the general stance is you condemn the sin. What people want is to sin and have the church say it's ok. That's where people like Jennifer Wright Knust comes in. She twist the text to say what they want to hear.

    "For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths" (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

    February 9, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • Born-again Christian

      Very well said Edwin. After looking at many of the posts, we are in the minority in regard to what is righteous and holy, according to what God says, Jesus said it correctly in Matthew 7:13...."Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide [is] the gate, and broad [is] the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat." If I were to take a guess, and this is just a guess, I would say out of the 311,000,000 people in the US, maybe 40-50 million are born-again, blood bought, believers in Christ. Those, who at one point of their lives accepted Christ as their personal Savior and put their faith and trust in Him for what He did on the cross. Then there will be those who will say "Lord, Lord....those who went to church on Sunday to fill an obligation and then lived like the devil the rest of the six and half days. We, as blood-bought believers need to set the example as Christ did and love people and lead them to Christ and leave the results up to God. That's all we can do.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • Born-again Christian

      GW...holier than thou? Again, you and JB are not believers, so what do you know about God? From just your responses....I'm guessing nothing. if following God's and Jesus's examples and how to live make me "holier than thou", than that's what I am. If trying to lead someone to Christ is "holier than thou", than I am. One day, you and JB will stand before God and will give an account for each of your lives, whether you believe it or not. Why is that people who have no spiritual knowledge of God, except to use His name in vain, and spout off to born-again Christians with hatred? I don't hate you or JB like most people on this forum. I'm just trying to get you to understand from this whole message that you can't pick and choose things out of the Bible to justify your sin and say it's ok.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  14. pharristorm

    2 Timothy 4:3-4 Sums up my entire thought about this article.

    3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • Kevin

      Good job 'pharristorm'... very good.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • God

      I cannot think of a better passage to capture the sheep-like nature of those willing to believe in something simply because it is in one of our planet's religious texts or because someone told them they should.

      If you believe in something beyond the empirical or deductible, you are not worthy of your own trust.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
  15. Jerry

    EmeraldCity, It does not focus on contrdictory writings in the Bible. Go read the story about Sodom and you to will see Jennifer misrepresented the text. She is the only contadiction. Jennifer attemptes to water down the Bible to match her experiences. She needs to mold her thinking to be in line with Biblical teachings, if in fact she is a pastor.

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

      you're suggesting the bible in it's current state is not watered down.....

      BWAHAHAHHAHAHHAHHAHHAHHHA!

      February 9, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
  16. duckbutter

    wow.. i didnt know there were so many pagans......just remember there is only one unforgivable sin..... better be 100% sure..

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

      The word you are looking for is "atheist," not "pagan." Rest assured, however, that regardless of whichever (if any) supreme being is out there, I am 100% sure that it is not the God of the Holy Bible or any other earthly religion.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • Mitchell

      Pretty sure you don't know what pagan means.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • God

      I thought I was 100% sure, then I learned that I was deluding myself. So now I do not trust myself to tell me what is certain, as, being human, I am very adept at convincing myself to believe in things because I want to (or, sometimes, because it's what my parents and friends believe).

      Then I started studying epistemology...

      February 9, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • jimboe

      Not believing in God is NOT A SIN! The only unforgiveable sin is turning your back on God. In which case, you believe in him. Just thought I'd educate you....

      February 9, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
  17. RayBear

    We will never know what Jesus taught until original Christianity is restored. The manuscripts from the school of Carthage or Rome were just a small fraction of the total Christian material in the first few centuries. There was also lots of stuff from the schools of Alexandria, Antioch, Caesarea, Edessa or Nisibis, and Ephesus. The church had much of it destroyed (which should tell you something), but enough survives to get a more complete picture of early Christianity.

    If I throw away 80% of the scripture and cite only the part that I like and give the references, then a thousand years from now people can say "Look, here are all the references. It is all true." See how easy it is to lie in such a way? Obviously, this is what has happened. They painted a false picture. Rome won the war so they decided the history.

    One day Christianity will be restored to what it once was. Today we have multiple versions of the Bible out that have abandoned the "hell' idea as in eternal torment completely.

    http://www.tentmaker.org/articles/Hell_is_Leaving_the_Bible_Forever.html

    The school of Carthage was the only one who taught it back then. What has been lost shall be restored. The last Christians shall believe as the first Christians did. Praise God.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
  18. DLewis

    One thing that is getting lost.. Whatever the Bible means doesn't matter.. I live in the US.. separation of church and state.. remember.. I shouldn't lose my rights based on what some people think the Bible means.. I happen to believe the Bible is the creation of man.. not the divine word of a god that doesn't even exist.. In this country I shouldn't be forced to live according to someones religious dogma..

    February 9, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
    • ohPlease

      Not sure where anything other than that was stated or implied in the article

      February 9, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  19. Nathan Prophet

    The serious flaw in your claims is that the BIble is seriously flawed, and in fact, cannot be taken as authoritative on anything. It is just a collection of myths, shaky history, some poetry, and attempts exclusivity by the Jews (and other ridiculous claims); then it continues in the New Testament with men (Paul, Peter, others) giving their spin on the Old Testament and who Jesus was and what he meant, and so forth. So, no one has to "re-think" the Bible; it doesn't matter and the rethinking is not reliable.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  20. Mark

    Dear Ms. Knust - I cannot believe that CNN actually printed an article which contains glaring inaccuracies (or downright deceptions) in almost every paragraph. I can deduce only two things from this article: Either you know absolutely nothing about theology, or you are deliberately trying to lead people without a theological background into gross errors. Every statement you have made can be easily refuted by a first-year theology student.

    I am sorely disappointed in CNN; what a poor example of scholarship.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • Observer

      The Bible is a great book of morals, but it was compiled by imperfect men so it also contains errors, contradictions, hypocrisy and nonsense.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • drcook

      amen!!!! Amen again! Its the end of the world!

      February 9, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • h20

      Well spoken

      February 9, 2011 at 3:05 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.