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. MikeBell

    A Bible Scholar?
    What a wild derivation is presented here.
    Context was thrown out the window for this article.
    Just goes to show that we shouldn't take the word of anyone claiming to be a scholar. They have their own agenda to justify.
    By the way all people are the divine creations and each are loved by their creator. That is why it is not for the individual to judge. Some are born special because they willing agreed with God to be instruments in keeping the rest of us humble.

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

      Everyone has an agenda, even you.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • Ryan

      "We shouldn't take the word of anyone claiming to be a scholar"?? Are you insane? So formal education and training mean nothing?

      People like you are why this country is lagging behind the rest of the world in every educational metric. When America comes crashing down, I will blame you.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  2. draculardw

    "As a Bible scholar and pastor" you are neither and that is very sad.

    February 9, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • Chris

      Boy, try doing a little work draculardw. She is far better qualified to comment than you are.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
  3. SteveO

    The Bible should not be used to prove anything. While I believe in God, the Bible was made by men interpreting what they thought God expected – at their time in history and as they understood the world. That's why all religion is false. God exists but no man can know the mind of God – thus, all man-made religions are false.

    February 9, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • draculardw

      You do not know God or the Bible to make a statement like that

      February 9, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • AnhTuan

      This is how the bible is written and is a proof that the bible and all the words in it are from God:

      Jeremiah 36:2 "Take thee a roll of a book, and thou shalt write in it all the words that I have spoken to thee against Israel and Juda, and against all the nations from the day that I spoke to thee, from the days of Josias even to this day. "

      February 9, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  4. John

    “Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” Jesus replied. “They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.And he said, ‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one" ~ Genises 1&2

    February 9, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
  5. Autumn

    Love how she just completely throws out Leviticus 18:22. Another liberal trying to make us feel bad for actually having morals.

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

      You should read "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism" by Max Weber. As you will see, anyone living in a capitalist society has thrown out their morals long ago. You are blind to argue otherwise.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • Robin

      Since when are hatred and intolerance morals?

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

      Not mention arrogance?

      February 9, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • jerry

      Robin, what did Autumn say that was so hateful? I read their response over and over again and couldn't find any hate.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • jerry


      Check out an article by a Harvard scholar, Contini or something like that who found that Protestanism had no effect on the economy. He tested it over a few hundred years on cities in Germany.

      February 9, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
  6. Jesus of Nazareth

    The bible is more of a Rorschach test, people see in it what they choose to see in it.

    I personally find scripture useful in detecting people with an agenda that benefits themselves. When they start quoting scripture, it immediately identifies them as a Charlatan looking to personally gain from you.

    February 9, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
  7. rick

    cant anyone with neurons between their ears see how stupid religion is. It was only started by man so he can drink beer in the after life. Citation "how beer saved the world" discovery channel. beside that which i would totally go for it is for the weak minded

    February 9, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
  8. hillbilleter

    Why doesn't this woman just get a spine and say that she disagrees with the Bible where it says that men who lay with other men as if they were women should be stoned to death. Good grief, have your own opinion, but don't rewrite other folks' writings and say that's the one you agree with. These texts were written long ago and to rewrite them every time social morals change would keep an entire monastery continually busy.

    February 9, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  9. Yolo


    February 9, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • draculardw

      Yeah, I mean since we are really nothing more than walking, talking piles of dirt, right?

      February 9, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
    • everpeg

      What if you're wrong? You won't find out until it's too late. Are you willing to take that chance? Wouldn't you like to search it out? Try picking up a bible (try one you can understand 1st) & study what's in there for yourself. You seem like the intellectual type. Study it like you do your secular study books. Compare the diff versions. I'm going to pray that God will reveal His truth & remove the blinders from your eyes because the stakes are very high!

      February 9, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
  10. Pastor Jack

    The first real problem here is that Jennifer Wright Knust thinks God had an afterthought. Apparently it never occurred to Miss Knust that nothing ever occurred to God. When one starts with a skewed premise every thought and all reasoning that follows will be skewed also. Oh, by the way...there is only one interpretation to Scripture. Many applications, yes; but only one interpretation. The Holy Spirit is not capricious whereby you can determine for yourself what truth is. God is sovereign and his holiness determines what is sin; not some rabbi, or some philosopher, or me, and not Jennifer wright Knust. Therefore, Knust's article is deemed capricious.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • To Jack


      February 9, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • Ryan

      Again, you forgot to preface your argument with "I believe..."

      February 9, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • Wes G

      Thank you, couldn't have said it better myself.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • AnhTuan

      Now we all know where our minds are thinking...the sinful thoughts are revealing themselves.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • everpeg

      Amen, Pastor Jack! Thank you! I'm out because there will always be those who will choose to go their own way; regardless of truth. They want to do what they want to do. Our job is to tell them. Then it's up to them to receive it or not & suffer the consequences. I believe that some in this blog will believe; even if it's just one person who is saved from God's wrath & eternal damnation; Praise God!!!!

      February 9, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • Eric

      Pastor Jack...I have heard over and over that the bible is the word of God as if he dictated it directly into the writer's ear and those writers wrote down word for word what God said. Doesn't that negate free will then? That sounds more like possession then. If Man has free will, then Man's fallibility can skew the message. The Roman Catholic church claims the Pope is infallible because he is God's representative on earth and I think history has proven that the Pope is anything but infallible.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
  11. Thugliest

    What difference does the Myths of the Bible make? You may as well read Jacqueline Susann!

    February 9, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  12. Stephen

    "As a Bible scholar and pastor myself, I say that Scripture does no such thing."
    REALLY? Where did you learn hermeneutics? This article is the worst misinterpretation (i.e., false teaching) of these passages that I have ever seen in one place.

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


      February 9, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • AnhTuan

      Modern mind of today's world to interpret the Word of God, not with Holy Spirit, and this is the result...false understanding after their own lusts.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
  13. Howie

    For the sake of Gods Glory and His Name I hope whoever wrote this will be silent from now on. If this happens it will be by God's hand in whatever way he desires.

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

      Here some other stuff the bible says. Do you believe in cannabalism? Because God did, and it is in the bible. # CANNIBALISM AND VAMPIRISM – Ezekiel 39:18 (KJV)
      Ye shall eat the flesh of the mighty, and drink the blood of the princes of the earth, of rams, of lambs, and of goats, of bullocks, all of them fatlings of Bashan.

      # CANNIBALISM AND VAMPIRISM – Isaiah 49:26
      "I [God] will make your oppressors eat their own flesh; they will be drunk on their own blood, as with wine. Then all mankind will know that I, the LORD, am your Savior, your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob."

      And while they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is My body."

      February 9, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • draculardw

      To Dan, you are a blooming idiot, funny -> but absolutely blooming.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • Ryan

      Wait... are you seriously praying for divine intervention to strike the author down? You people are absolutely insane.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  14. Gary Wight

    2 Timothy 4:3-4: For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • Scott in Atlanta

      You beat me to it Gary... Amen!

      February 9, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • Jim Steen

      You're exactly right!

      February 9, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • AnhTuan

      Adding to Gary's response-

      Romans 1:

      21Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

      22Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,

      23And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

      24Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:

      25Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

      26For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

      27And 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.

      28And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;

      29Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,

      30Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,

      31Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:

      32Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

      Prophecy is being fulfilled. (familyradio.com)

      February 9, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
  15. Joyce

    She's nuts.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
  16. Tommy

    CNN just got duped.... there is no way Jennifer Wright Knust is a bible scholar or pastor in any church that follows Christian theology... a typical liberal progressive..... well let me tell you Jennifer.... Jesus wasn't a progressive.

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

      Armchair Scholar Alert!

      Her Credentials:
      Assistant Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at BU School of Theology

      B.S. University of Illinois, Urbana
      M.Div. Union Theological Seminary
      Ph. D. Columbia University

      A Computer.

      I am going to go with the scholar author.

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

      Jesus not a progressive? Are you serious? Please take a look at history, and tell me that Jesus was a conservative. You gotta be kidding me...

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

      Oh come on hcd... You mean Jesus didn't support a flat tax or a private healthcare system? haha

      February 9, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • ncHokie

      Jesus was the ULTIMATE progressive.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • Robb

      umm... I don't know what BIble you read, but Jesus was DEFINITELY a progressive minded person. Looking at what he did, aiding others, educating those of the love of God during the time in which He was alive, were very progressive. You think progressive = left-wing liberal tree-hugging hippie, and NO ONE KNOWS if he was like that or not because none of us were lucky enough to have been around over 2000 years ago.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • outawork

      Maybe she just overlooked these two verses:

      Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is an abomination.(Leviticus 18:22 KJV)

      If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.(Leviticus 20:13 KJV)

      February 9, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • jerry

      Jesus wasn't "right" or "left," He just was. He would have enemies of the right and left if he were physically on earth today.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
    • Robin

      The biblical Jesus Christ was the greatest liberal ever.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • jerry


      oh-oh she's educated, that must means she's right! Let me share something with you Ryan. The writer is probably very intelligent with her degrees and all, but intelligence does not make one immune to errors and fallacies.

      On the other end of the spectrum you have scholars who are just as "learned" as she is, who come up with entirely different conclusions. Don't let the rose-colored glasses cloud your thinking - there are other points of view out there.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • Ryan


      Maybe you overlooked this verse:
      "Anything living in the water that does not have fins and scales is to be detestable to you." Leviticus 11:12

      You can't pick and choose what you abide by, or it totally throws the legitimacy of the book out the window.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • Ryan


      I didn't say she was infallible; I am just saying that she is a professional scholar who has dedicated a lot of her time to studying scripture, and therefore I find her arguments a lot more compelling than some anonymous poster on the CNN message board. She has put in a lot more time on this subject than any of us, and her opinion should be respected as such.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • wtexen

      Yes, we could condemn most all human acts, but never the human being. We are never the act, the verb.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • jerry

      Hi Ryan,

      Yes, I understand that and agree - a person hacking away on a computer about issues like this has to be taken with a grain of salt. But if you want to be honest, that goes for both you and I.

      Don't forget that there are lots of other scholars out there who are just as intelligent and educated as her that come to very, very different conclusions. It would be fascinating to have a debate between two such people.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
  17. Jesus Himself

    It's funny how everyone on this discussion board interpret Christianity or any religion for that matter differently. This proves that religions are not made for the human's mind. Either we're just a kingdom of fools and ignorants or we simply are just animals and do what other animals do: to live and to reproduce. Wake up people!

    February 9, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
  18. lance

    This woman has no understanding of hermeneutics. Seriously

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

      It's interesting you say that when hermeneutics is simply the study of interpretation theory which is expressed as either the art of interpretation, or as theory and practice of interpretation. She has clearly taken into consideration modern hermeneutics which deals with communication beyond simple context of text-against-text. She has, in laymen's terms, described her process (applied hermeneutics) of arriving at her conclusions.

      It would appear, Lance, that YOU don't understand what hermeneutics is.

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

      For a Baptist, she seems to have a pretty firm grip.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • dave

      this lady has had no education in proper hermeneutics. she is totally taking passages of scripture out of context.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • Chris

      Lance, at least she put some effort into backing up her opinion. YOU are lazy by comparison. Try citing some basis for your conclusion if you would like to be taken seriously.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  19. Spyder

    The bible is a collection of man-made stories. Jesus may have been an actual person but he was never the son of God. I realize faith is an easy concept for humans to grasp and is a way to rationalize the unexplainable but man's knowledge of the universe has expanded to the point making religion obsolete. Stop drinking the kool-aid people and start using that mass between your ears.

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

      "Jesus may have been an actual person but he was never the son of God"...
      How ya doing, Spider. I somewhat agree, but when it comes to Emmanuel, I say we should see ourselves as "Sons" of God" one and all. The light of awareness is what we are talking about – God, the Light of the world.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
  20. civiloutside

    This "in the last days people wills do evil stuff and deny Jesus," claim strikes me as a brilliant piece of marketing. People have been doing bad stuff to each other for as long as there have been people, and within a breath of the first claim that Jesus was the som of god there were already people denying it. By working that onto these "prophesies," you get people in all periods of history looking around and seeing people being exactly like they've always been, an concluding that they must be in the end times with god's final judgment right around the corner. Good for keeping up the immediacy of fear.

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

      Trust me, not like now. I am 65 yrs old & things are happening now that I never would have thought would ever happen in the USA. But God warned us, it would be so. One thing about God, He's consistent. Everytime it got too bad, He would just wipe out everybody but a few and started over with that remnant! I'm so glad He chose a better way, Jesus Christ, the only bridge to reconciliation with God. So you should be glad too, because you can be assured He's not going to just wipe you unbeliever's out. You can choose to accept God's gift of redemption or you can just go on as you are now (well actually it's going to get much much worse) for a time. Just like they did in Noah's time. If you're interested, you can read the rest of the story in the book you don't believe is true (even tho many prophecies in it have already happened) to see what happens next. Try reading Isaiah. If you see anything in there that you know has actually happened in your lifetime. Maybe it will peak your curiosity to read more or even the whole book.

      February 9, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
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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.