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. LJR

    http://lds.org/scriptures/nt/2-tim/3.1?lang=eng#primary

    February 9, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  2. Ben Dover

    For atheists like me, it's always funny how worked up ignorant people get over a book, written by people trying to profit from, control and manipulate people in the 4th century AD. LOL

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

      I know!!! LOL!

      February 9, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • Thomas in Vancouver

      Shhhhhhhh. You'll make them cranky. You know how they get when they're cranky.

      February 9, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
  3. SeanNJ

    Watching the true believers have an epic meltdown is immensely entertaining. It's like watching Dustin Hoffman bang his head against the door jamb while the smoke alarm is going off.

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

      And she's still pretty cute.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  4. blf83

    Amen! and Awomen!

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

    The Bible was written by MEN, not God or Jesus or any other prophet. So why do we continue to read and believe everything it proclaims? It is a beautifully written piece of literature that man has contributed. I agree that the new testament offers some good guidelines on how to live your life (loving your neighbor, etc., etc.) but everything should be taken with a grain of salt.

    February 9, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • Abd al-Latif

      "Love your neighbor" was in the Hebrew Bible, and was later reiterated by Jesus to remind the Jews of the most part of their own scripture.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • lmfreels

      like I said, it is in the new testament. what is your point?

      February 9, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • Thomas in Vancouver

      BINGO! You've hit the nail on the head, with the exception of the "beautifully written piece of literature" part. For example, God created the world and everything in it; then created mankind and provided a paradise to live in with just one taboo that must not be violated. Then the first man and woman were cast out of paradise for breaking the taboo, raised two sons to adulthood, at which point one became so jealous of the other that he killed his brother. ALL of what I just described took place in the first TWO PAGES of Genesis, meaning that MY account of it here is virtually the same as what appears in any bible.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
  6. Wes G

    Me personally, this whole article, and comments left behind are more than anything a scary thought. Yes as human kind we were given free will and with that are able to make our own choices. People say things like, anyone who believes in the bible is stupid, because it is changed to fit the current terms of society. While I will agree that people do sometimes interpret the bible as they see fit, that doesn't mean the bible has changed. It wasn't meant to be read and then say well I think that it means this, or that. If you follow it has it is written then it hasn't changed much at all. I know some passages are hard to understand and therefore that opens the mindset of "I just think it means this". We should allow people to believe whatever they want, all we can do is tell someone what we believe, if they choose not to listen well that will be on their shoulders. That doesn't mean I put down what they believe I just believe something different than they do.
    We all have things we believe that others do not, wether its God or no God, or Chevy or Ford, or Coke or Pepsi....and so on. We have come to believe that if people don't believe what we believe than they are stupid and wrong.
    Personally in the book of Leviticus I don't remember it starting off saying this is strictly for the Israelites and everyone can pass over this book as the Ms. Knust has stated. But again to each their own. I am never one to judge, I have many gay friends and they will always be my friends. I just don't believe what they are doing is right and that it is a sin. Not because someone told me to, but because I read it for myself in the bible so thats my belief.

    February 9, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • Raymond H. Burgoon-Clark

      Some biblical scholars (including Jewish ones) believe that the Code of Leviticus was intended to apply ONLY to worshippers going up to Jerusalem, and priests and levites going up to the Temple to perform their yearly duties, something similar to the old Roman Catholic communion fast.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
  7. That guy

    What a beautifully constructed pile of manure! This woman has virtually no understanding of scripture. Instead, she relies on fringe writings (Gospel of Phillip?) to provide self-serving interpretations of out-of-context passages of scripture. Let the reader beware!

    February 9, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • blf83

      She happens to have a much better grasp of scripture than any blindly-believing puppet. She, ay least, does her research and puts texts in context.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • St3ite

      Totally agree. If you're going to publish an educated and supported view point, don't use blasphemy as your compass. Try adding a citation here and there.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  8. Chip Lusko

    What is more disturbing is this distorted treatment of scripture. Warped and self-serving.

    February 9, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • blf83

      But well-researched and correct!

      February 9, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • St3ite

      "well researched"??? More like throwing mud on a wall and seeing what sticks. Clearly you're preferred method of "researching" as well.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  9. LJR

    http://lds.org/scriptures/nt/2-tim/3.1?lang=eng#primary is an appropriate response...

    February 9, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  10. joe

    1 John 1:8-10 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (9) If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (10) If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

    February 9, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • Raymond H. Burgoon-Clark

      Sin, schmin, sit and spin. Y'all need a hobby, or a new battery-operated "appliance."

      February 9, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  11. Steve

    Lady....you are a fool,,,,,

    February 9, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • blf83

      Re: her being a fool – I think not. As for you – I think so.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
  12. Dikran

    1 Timothy 2:12
    I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.

    This is why a woman is never allowed to be a pastor. She is wrong on all points.

    February 9, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • Thomas in Vancouver

      TIMMEH!!

      February 9, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • blf83

      Therefore ? And you cherry-pick one verse and demand absolute belief while you ignore many more.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  13. Dude

    Lady, you are crazy. here is something for you. Lady please read the following: 1 Timothy 2:11-12 and 1 Timothy 4:1 it says "Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and TEACHINGS OF DEMONS."

    February 9, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • Thomas in Vancouver

      TIMMEH!

      February 9, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
  14. tomtom

    The big man in the sky is gay and does not want to come out of the closet!

    February 9, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  15. ImmaBeliever

    So glad I know the Bible for myself.

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

      Couldnt agree more....wow

      February 9, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • blf83

      Not so sure that you do.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  16. CarolStrick

    I found the interpretation of Sodom & Gomorrah to be interesting. Back when I was a kid and went to church, our pastor (who held a doctorate from Duke) told us that the big sin there was the sin of inhospitality. Up until recently, people were expected to treat visitors very well, for the world in which they traveled was so very harsh. The angels-in-disguise were treated very badly and so the city must be punished severely, since this apparently was the Last Straw. Well, either that or it was a comet hit like what happened at Tunguska.

    February 9, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • Raymond H. Burgoon-Clark

      That is the interpretation accepted by MOST biblical SCHOLARS.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • MrsFizzy

      I remember that too in a college class ...interesting cultural perspective!

      February 9, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • blf83

      Virtually all credible Biblical scholars will agree that is the correct interpretation.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  17. Vicki

    HAHAHAHAHAHA....That has to be the biggest load of crap I have ever read!!

    February 9, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • St3ite

      I totally agree! I read more "could be" and "seems" in that article. Give me a break and provide citations if you're going to quote ancient christian beliefs. Not sure what Bible this lady is reading, but its not the Old or New Testament.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • Schuylermac

      you have obviously never read the bible.Look up 2 Samuel for the mention of Davids love for Jonathon above women, I'd give you the verse but you should probably read the whole thing. Every verse was from the bible except one.

      February 9, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
  18. tomtom

    If there is a God (and I am certain he does exist in all those peoples mind with little self esteem, looking for a leader) than he is either a closed case himself or just a racist freak. I believe he just is a great fictional comic character!

    February 9, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • Abd al-Latif

      On the Day of Judgement, you will hear this comment of yours quoted, just before you are carted off to Hell.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
  19. Reality

    And continuing to assist Pastor Knust in her quest for truth:

    From that famous passage: In 1 Corinthians 15 St. Paul reasoned, "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."

    "Heaven is a Spirit state" as per JPII and Aquinas i.e. there can be no bodies. i.e. there was and never will be any physical resurrection/ascension of human bodies."

    And is it not ironical that JPII along with Aquinas are the ones who put meaning to the words "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is useless."-–

    February 9, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  20. Buutt Plunger

    Does anyone want to sodom my gomorrah?

    February 9, 2011 at 3:36 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.