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. Jon

    Colossians 2:8 – Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.

    February 9, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • Raymond H. Burgoon-Clark

      Jon, did you even READ the article?

      February 9, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • Ben Dover

      Tell you what. You take your book of myths and I'll take my reality and evolution, thank you very much. LOL

      February 9, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • Jon

      No, I just decided to randomly post a quote from the Bible on a CNN article by chance.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:44 pm |

      You do not have the right to change the Word of God. Sin seperates us from God1 Read the book of Romans ..all waite you got your own view what do you need the Word of God for. I mean you got it all figured out dont you ? You know how God thanks . You know his ways dont you ....well all I can say is this one word ....... REPENT For the Kingdom of God is at hand !

      February 9, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • Matt

      Nothing personal Ben, but you would rather believe that once upon a time there was a BIG BANG in all of the sky (oops, was sky there yet??)? And from the BIG BANG came forth light and all living things... and us too, to eventually understand that there was a BIG BANG that created us (oops, sorry) I meant created our ancestors, the monkeys, of which we very carefully evolved into bloggers... 😉 Scientists trying to make sense of something they don't understand..

      The verse Jon posted simply says that what Knust states isn't truth and that her philosophy and empty deceit, according to the basic principles of the world, are not according to Christ.

      The reason the angels were in Sodom TO BEGIN WITH was to destroy the cities per God's judgement. The angels were actually there to try and find JUST 10 righteous people and God would spare the city. The men of the city wanted the angels once they saw them. Read Genesis chapters 18 and 19 if you want to know the biblical truth.

      By the way, we are ALL SINNERS and come short of the glory of God. Thank God we are saved if we believe in Him and accept that he sent his Son to die for us.

      February 9, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  2. Tom R

    Why would anyone believe this ludicrus book? The proof that its fiction is in Genesis. Your going to tell me that a senior citizen built an ark and rounded up 2 of every (clean) creature. And that the arc was only 300 cubits* (450 feet, or 135 meters) long, 50 cubits (75 feet, or 22.5 meters) wide, and 30 cubits (45 feet, or 13.5 meters) tall. You couldnt fit the food all those animals would need for 40 days in that space le alone all the animals. Zoologists have recorded about 1,100,000 species on earth excluding fish and they estimate there are at least 1,000,000 undiscovered species. On top of that there are countless numbers of species that have gone extinct since the supposed time of Noah. So noahs arc whould have to hold a minimum of 2.2 million but probably closer to 5 milllion animals in a space that is only 1,518,750 cubic feet. Thats between 1.45 animals and 6.6 animals per cubic feet.

    *A cubit is the length of a mans arm from fingertip to elbow.

    February 9, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • Thomas in Vancouver

      In defense of the story of Noah, elephants were a lot smaller back in those days. No bigger than a poodle, actually.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • Shawn

      yes I soo agree! Why cant the Bible people get this point?

      February 9, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • Matt

      How do you know that all of the animals that exist today were created at that time? Maybe some were created after the flood. The number I choose to believe is closer to 16,000 animals at that time. The Bible didn't speak of all "species" but instead "sort" of animals, and he only had to load land vertabrates that could not survive a flood. And, that the animals came to Noah, "two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive" (Genesis 6:19-20)

      I guess you do believe that there was a large flood at one time?

      There are things I don't understand in the Bible but I do know that God is real and He is there to save us from our own destruction. I'm not sure that we are meant to understand God, or even have the capability to understand fully. He expects faith to lead us.

      Why do you try to discourage another person's faith and beliefs?

      February 9, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • Tom R

      MATT - You CHOOSE to believe that there were only 18,000 animals. Just like you Choose to beleive that the planet is only 7 or 8,000 years old or that evolution is a myth both of which are proven scientific facts. Its also a scientific fact that there were more than 18,000 animals during the time that you claim that Noah built his arc. You have chosen to be wrong.

      Why do you try to discourage another persons FACTS?

      February 9, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • Tom R

      "Thomas in Vancouver

      In defense of the story of Noah, elephants were a lot smaller back in those days. No bigger than a poodle, actually."

      Actually the smallest "elephant" ever recorded was the size of a calf or a large pig. Quite a bit larger than a poodle. They were a prehistoric species that lived on the island of Crete during the Pleistocene epoch. They werent exactly elephants but an evolutionary cousin. There were also many mammals of the same time period which were a great deal larger than todays elephants such as the Wooly Mammoth.

      February 9, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • Matt

      Tom, Yes. My choice is to believe.

      So, what exactly are your facts? 18,000 animals? More than 18,000? Millions? Were all animals created at that point? Big elephants? Little elephants? Big Bang? What started this Big Bang and what material went boom and where did that come from and where did that happen? And the Big Bang created single cells? And single cells became monkeys? And you evolved from an ape? Really? You have those facts?

      The last I heard Big Bang is a theory and evolution is over-rated. These are very old topics that lead to much bigger arguments. Animals may adapt but I CHOOSE to believe much greater things have occurred and are to come.

      Are we talking about the FACTS taught in our schools. Not sure those are facts. We've been mislead before...

      And the flood? I have seen evidence of that. You?

      Tom, I respect what you believe. You should respect what others believe as well.

      February 9, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
  3. boromir50

    Religion and philosophy are two forms of fantastic literature.

    February 9, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  4. Pastor Evans

    This tread shows how Spiritually and Biblically ignorant people are. The only people who can know God, Jesus Christ, and the Bible are those who have recieved revelation by the Holy Spirit. The things of God cannot be understood by a canally minded person. Many people in America think they are so smart, but they prove to themselves every day how ignorant and unwise they are by talking on threads like this logically within their own small little peanut brains trying to explain and interpret God? IMPOSSIBLE!!! Only a fool says in there heart (SOUL) that there is no God. While you can make a your own god out of anybody or anything, there is only one true and living God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ!!!

    February 9, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • Dreyfus

      Have you hear any time the word fanatism or bigotry?

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

      Did you receive these revelations while fondling a young boys undeveloped nads perchance or did that enlightenment come after they were developed?

      February 9, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • boromir50

      if your proof is a paper book, you can't prove anything but play with words.....

      February 9, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • Thomas in Vancouver

      Kindly p!ss off.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • Shawn

      Yawn! Is that all you have Mr Pastor. That your hooked up with the Holy Spirit and know the truth of spiritual salvation?? You know how many "Pastors" are claiming the same thing right now? So who is the "One" who knows the answer to it all? We will now pass the basket as the choir sings "I know what god wants, and you dont"

      February 9, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  5. joe1957

    Please drop the scholar and pastor act. You are neither and please read scripture more carefully you might learn something.

    February 9, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • GW

      ok Master, we'll defer to you then as the ultimate bible scholar. i'm sure you know way more, probably never having even read it, than she does, who studied it for years.

      February 9, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
  6. Greg

    Wow, Faith is difficult, Faith is fragile, Faith is challenged, Faith is many things. We all have faith. The difference comes in what/who we put our faith in. Some trust Jesus, Some trust Mohammad, Some trust Darwin, ect. I choose to trust Jesus and his promises(Bible). Why? Because Jesus is the only one who can offer eternal hope. If those of you who choose to put your faith in someone or something else should die today, you will find out if you were right or wrong. If you are right you will never be able to prove it anyway, but if you are wrong the eternal punishment will haunt you forever. What a gamble!

    February 9, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • Elf

      I don't trust Darwin. We don't trust in things that are in science. We study, think, ask, refuse, work, experiment. Come up with something and still interrogate it. That is how we think. I don't have a faith in science. If I did, I would have to go to a doctor for bloodletting. It changes. It is beautiful.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • Elf

      And I do my best to be a good person. Not because I am scared. But because it is the right thing to do. If there is this loney guy who is up there, looks at me, all my good deeds and still sends me to hell, well... So be it. Maybe the world is created by a kind of selfish father who is not that different than Satan.

      If I am wrong, your all loving god will forgive me. Because I really work hard every day to be good. And if there is no god like I suspect, nothing is lost. It is okay for me that you believe in fairies. It is only a problem when you vote according to a fairy tale book.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
  7. kso

    I love it that christians think they own the sole share of the market in morality because of Jesus and the bible.

    February 9, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  8. Qbert

    Who knows what reality is? Try some Quantum Mechanics with your Bible.

    February 9, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  9. jackson

    Pastor of you own interpretations

    February 9, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  10. Ethan

    Mr. Jim Massey

    I learned Christianity living it. Not from sitting around in a library hoping I would earn a piece of paper I could hang on my wall showing I know the Bible better than you.

    "He that doeth the will of the Father."

    February 9, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  11. WOW

    God made Adam and Eve, Not Adam and Steve.

    February 9, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • darp

      Great point, really really good point... nothing like a little bumper sticker wisdom to illuminate the masses. She's just a person who has studied the Bible in detail for years and years... what does she know about the Bible?

      February 9, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • Israel

      "what does she know about the Bible?"

      she knows it has words, and phrases, and concepts, and that depending on your perspective (ie one's "imagin"ation), that that which is called abominable/destable can actually instead be considered a "blessing."

      February 9, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
  12. Elf

    Heat stroke and bad water. Common problems around the Middle East in those times. That is why all these religions came from there. :o)

    February 9, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  13. kynsie

    I wonder if you read any of these comments?
    You are so wrong and way off base on so so many things, no wonder the churches are so bad nowadays.
    You aren't even quoting true scripture!!
    I'm sorry there are people who listen and believe what you say.

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

    I love that all the "christians" are quick to point out how wrong she is. Perhaps all of you are wrong, that would be fun. And please do not go to the old stand-by of "the bible says so" its just some old book of stories used to govern the weak willed mases of days long past, but still used today to govern those same weak willed today. so sad.

    February 9, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  15. Butt Plunger

    Does anyone want to sodom my gororrah?

    February 9, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  16. Israel

    Jennifer, you wrote:

    "Moreover, as Americans we should have learned by now that such a simplistic approach to the Bible will lead us astray."

    And your "complicated" approach to the Bible will bring us back on track?

    February 9, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  17. what?

    We are supposed to love our neighbors but not condone sin. Those two are easy to accomplish if you really able to love the sinner. Agency is a great gift from God and we can't force people to be the same as us but we can't expect everyone to agree with our ideals either.
    This "pastor" only was published because her views are unusual so it is not surprising that no one is agreeing with her. CNN is into sensationalism as much as FOX network.

    February 9, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
  18. John Hinds

    I can't believe Jennifer is a pastor or Biblical Scholar. The information in this article seem to be similar to what is taught in mystery religions. It's not Biblical at all. There are all sorts of non-canonical text that say al sorts of things. Sounds very Gnostic to me.

    February 9, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
  19. Tyler

    This woman has a terrible understanding of the Bible. She uses as bases of her arguments the philosophies of "early Christians," which I feel bears no weight as they were not the prophets who understood and wrote the holy scripture. Furthermore she takes out of context many passages of scripture in order create slanted arguments. What she does is tries to justifies man's philosophies and immoral behaviors by manipulating God's truths.... I am truly dismayed that she would call herself a Bible scholar due to her poor understanding of the scriptures.

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


      February 9, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
  20. dan

    Leviticus 18:22 It says it in the Bible. She is wrong

    February 9, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • Thomas in Vancouver

      A later verse in the same book directs the faithful to kill their children if they dare to get "mouthy".

      February 9, 2011 at 3:45 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.