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. Mark

    I'm glad we finally found someone who has all of the answers. So if the Bible has nothing of consequence in it why has she spent so much time studying it. . . obviously she has nothing else to do? Also, I'm relieved to finally have found someone with NO agenda and who only desires to clear things up in our minds. She doesn't have the answers but the Bible does. She will find out the truth someday as will all unbelievers. That's what the Bible says, not me.

    February 9, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
  2. Dr. Corndog

    This woman may be a good Bible scholar, but she's a terrible logician.

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

      She is not a good Bible scholar and her logic is terrible. She has a following only because there are those who believe in God but don't want to believe what God says about how they should conduct their lives.

      February 9, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
    • Mark

      you are obviously mislead if you believe this woman to be a Bible scholar. Don't you find it surprising in the least that only she has "found" this new revelation and is "clearing" things up. The Bible isn't as confusing as people make it out to be. If they were to actually read it, they would see that.

      February 9, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
  3. Joe Allen

    I agree with the article, but it's written like a freshman Philosophy major. It's only going to bring out the close minded bible thumpers, but start any serious debate of any worth.

    February 9, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • Steve B

      Joe, I consider close minded to be those who take something like scripture and shut the door on its truth. Those same people refuse to believe these Truths face value. Be careful when assuming that you are the open minded one.

      February 9, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • Mark

      because clearly the "bible thumpers" are the ones reading this to answer their questions right?

      February 9, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
  4. EDizzle

    Lets think for a minute together. Everyone who believes gay is evil and everyone who believes Jesus is fiction take a few minutes and breathe. Maybe gay is evil and maybe Jesus is fake. Maybe gay is the devine way to be and Jesus was born at 0. Does it really matter to you what I think? Who I am? Instead of throwing yourselves into a spiral of despair and debate, let each other have an opinion and let it go. Talk about it, take your view, and stay out of each others business. Don't push your faith at me and I wont spew my atheist ideals in your direction. Simple as that. State your case and stop crying over who is right and who is wrong. Make an intelligent decision for yourself and respect the opinions of others – even if you dont agree. Or are we all too far gone for that?

    February 9, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
  5. Daughter

    You know i will pray for u and everyone else who believes this garbage, that's all I'm going to say about this. Dios los Bendiga a todos.

    February 9, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • Joe Allen

      I'll pray for your spelling and grammar skills.

      February 9, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
  6. Andy O

    To all you who dismiss Jesus as imaginary and the Bible as mythology, I offer you a single question: can you accept the consequences if you're wrong?

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

      So then faith should be driven by fear? I'd think both nonbelievers and the deeply faithful would find this disturbing.

      February 9, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • Don

      Andy, I respectfully disagree with this approach. I call it selling hell insurance. Jesus told us that he who seeks to save his life will lose it. Becoming a Christian simply to avoid the risk of hell is not the basis of a relationship with God.
      As Christians, we need to offer the love of God that we have experienced first and foremost. In my opinion, a person should become a Christian not because of the prospects of heaven or hell, but because of the chance to experience a relationship with Jesus here and now. Anything else is simply trying buy off God.

      February 9, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
  7. Lioncouer

    Bunch of fools, keep believing the same old folks tales, the same story keeps coming since sumarian times, there is not an original passage in the bible, new testament, koran etc, they just keep repeating and adjusting the story to their convinience.
    Do a little research, you might as well sign up for scientology, or the Harry Potter school and Disney school of philosophy.
    Give me a break, I can't believe people still debating this as it had any merit, go get a shot of science and study a little ancient history and stop listening to the pulpit loving idiots preaching hate and taking your money.

    February 9, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  8. Jack

    This woman is obviously a lesbian who is trying to convince herself and others that she is right. The problem with this is that she is not right and many people will be harmed by what she is "preaching."

    February 9, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  9. Dan

    Sure the Bible can say anything you want it to say if you add whatever you want to it. This article is the worst ad-libbing I have even seen done to the Bible.

    February 9, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  10. pplr

    I'm pretty sure God is a God of justice-and that the Bible says so (my apologies for not remembering chapter and verse).

    Her's is an interesting perspective and while I'm not sure if I agree with it or not I have to admit that the way our society/legal system currently treats gay people doesn't strike me as just.

    February 9, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
  11. mi17mtp

    With over 800,000 words to pick from in the bible, you can interpret many ways..

    February 9, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
  12. Fred

    She is wrong on many levels. Relying on non-canonical writings and her own flawed opinions are grave errors.
    She's a pastor? That tells you right there she does not follow the Bible's teachings.
    She has "a form of godliness but denying the power thereof."
    She is just another poor deluded person who has been influenced by evil.

    February 9, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
  13. firebrand

    Here's one rather glaring error in your argument about "mingling of human and divine flesh": angels are pure spirits, so there is no flesh to mingle. Angels cannot be mated with (despite what popular horror flicks might have you imagine). If you look at the same passage where St. Paul talks about people being "androgynous", he makes a direct comparison – "like the angels" – which implies that angels don't mate at all either. So your argument is entirely contrived and contradictory.

    February 9, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
  14. Gary TX

    All I have to say is that is that the people that have an issue with gay people are many among the elderly and very few amoung the young .. get this when you old stupid people died the world will be better .. your message and ways will die with you and you will be nothing more than a lession of regret in our history books .. thank God .. no pun

    February 9, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • Steve B

      Lol Gary, similar percentages have always existed....as we get older....we get WISER! Biblical truths will never die out. Im sorry that you seem to think that they will.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • Randy

      Gays believe only parts of the Bible that they like. You can make the Bible to be anything you want if you ignore some parts are discount the value of the parts that contridict your own desires. God made Men and Women different and a mans part does not fit anything else but a womans part. And the result is life. Many things are simple unless you insert convaluted logic. The article's logic is stretched so thin that no one could possibly believe it. If she cannot make her point any easier than that then you have to think does she really have a point. I don't think she does.

      February 9, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
  15. Todd

    This is why Paul says women should be silent!!!

    February 9, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  16. gallomedia

    Jennifer Wright Knust is a false teacher and the Bible warns about this. Everything she has stated in this article contradicts scripture.

    2 Peter 2:1-3 (ESV) says:

    "But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

    February 9, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • Adellan

      speak the word.......thats so true. God bless

      February 9, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • CovertedAtheist

      Jennifer Wright Knust is false prophet, false teacher indeed. She quoted the wrong bible and out of context too. Just for all of you who claim to believers or agnostics or atheists alike, go the real bible (KJV or NIV or both would be a good start) and compare for yourself what Ms Knust is quoting (I mean read the whole paragraph, and whole chapter and the whole book) ! Then satisfy yourself that Knust is writing her own theology to satisfy the audience and for herself and deceiving you in the process. What a great disservice ! If you miss the "TARGET" by refusing to understand the "real" bible intended to say, and ended up not in Heaven ... Do yourself a favor, and read the "real" bible with a humble spirit. Be careful , and again do yourself and family a great favor, read the real thing!

      February 9, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • Mark

      thank you for finally using a passage correctly according to its context. That's probably the first in this discussion.

      February 9, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
  17. MrsFizzy

    Maybe you Holy Rollers should all concern yourselves with your OWN sins...or not at all!

    February 9, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • Jack

      As I recall the Holy Rollers weren't the ones who started this discussion – it was this disillusioned woman

      February 9, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • Steve B

      Haha, good point! She is very disillusioned!

      February 9, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  18. Doubtful1

    Jesus was the David Koresh of his time.....

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

    Of course, the simpletons are having a hard time with her arguments ... That is why religion needs to be kept SIMPLE, so that it does not taxtoo much the feeble brains of the 'deeply religious' ...

    That is why you have people believing that Jesus was born in the night of December 24 ........

    February 9, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • Steve B

      oh please Sirius...most of us are more educated than she is, but thats not the point. Some of us have attempted to put in real Truth in comments and the moderators won't allow the comment to be posted. I am one of those! I would easily enjoy debating this topic with anyone who take this ridiculous point of view that this lady has written.

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

      No one except children believe Jesus wais born on Dec 25 and no one believes he was born on the 24th. In fact the most likely date based on astrological signs is early Sept. And one date that seems to fit very well is 9/11.

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

      I agree with Steve B – My comments have been taken off too. How can you debate something when it is obvious that CNN is only putting the responses that they agree with on the screen?

      February 9, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • Melissa

      True Christians know that Jesus was not born on Dec 25th. However, it is a time to celebrate the birth. It was chosen because the King wanted to celebrate Christ and it coincided with the pagan holidays, therefore allowing the pagans their parties without causing them to riot – look into Saturnalia if you don't believe me

      February 9, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
  20. Mike

    Did you know that typical people who are agnostic and athiest know far more about the bible and the Christian/Muslim/jewish faiths than the typical believer? Yup, it's true. Why? a few reasons: A: they truely SEARCH and WANT to KNOW the real answers. So they dive much deeper. B: They keep a more open mind looking for ways to prove or disprove. I think everybody here needs some extra educating before voicing there OPINIONS and calling those opinions facts.

    February 9, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • Steve B

      That cant be said about everyone Mike. Some of us were schooled in religious theology very deeply. The thing to take from this is that you either believe its true and infallible or just a bunch of stories that can be interpreted any way we like. I prefer to believe in its truth and infallibility.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • Randy

      There are those that believe what they have been taught since birth and never question anything or are afraid to do that. But many dedicated Christians completely believe the Bible and Jesus teachings. To truely understand them takes lots of study, research and determination to know. I have done the research and the study and I'm convinced of the truth of Jesus's words and you should take them at face value. If you look closely at his words he is actually quite easy to understand. You can choose to not believe he said those things, or you can choose to believe he did. But if you beleive he did then you must act accordingly or the words have done you no good. So believe or don't but don't try to get in the middle you just look foolish

      February 9, 2011 at 4:16 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.