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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. Terry

    This is the most ridiculous twisting of biblical text I have seen publically printed. I can't imagine how one can read the bible and make such outlandish claims. To reach this far in the interest of political correctness is blasphemy of the Word. One has to wonder if Romans 1 was left out of her bible.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • Bad interpretations of the bible..

      You are right Terry, it's very, very sad....I cannot believe that CNN let this article be released, makes me puke.

      February 9, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • jdnzero

      The Bible is by nature a ridiculous twist. It represents the designs and desires of MEN. I wish Christians would grow up and wake up.

      February 9, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • ???

      Yeah only you know what God really intended unlike all those other people who think they really know what God intended.

      February 9, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • Jesse Wagenaar

      I agree with you Terry. All to often, "pretenders of the word" twist God's direct breath into something of controversy and debate. Our God is not a God that brings about confusion, but direct purpose and love for us. For instance, when He designed the world, it wasn't designed in about six days, where the seventh day was kind of, sort of, a day of rest, rather it was created in six specific days, with the seventh day to rest. There is no room in the Christian faith to copy and paste and then add our own interpretations and thoughts. This was a very challenging article for me to read because she claims to be a "believer" -hit a bit of a nerve.

      February 9, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • DP

      Then you must not watch the History Channel. They make twisting things this badly seem like the norm among scholars. Once they claimed Jesus must have been born at home, not Bethlehem, because almost everyone in Ancient times was born at home. Another time they claimed the stone couldn't have "rolled" away because 90% of the tomb caps found were square. All this presented in a "everyone thinks they know, but they don't know squat...'cuz we da scholars..." tone.

      I really wanted to gain another perspective on this, but this article just had nothing sensible to offer on the subject.

      February 9, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
    • Dennis

      No! Don't make me think! Don't make me love! Don't make me think critically. Don't force me to examine and challenge my excuse for hatred and bigotry! I'm comfortable in my morally arrogant cave and you can't make me come out!

      February 9, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • W247

      Dennis, so judgmental to others. Where is the love and tolerance that is unconditionally given to you?

      February 10, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
  2. wow

    Boy. Regardless of how you feel about her viewpoint, she's not a very good "scholar", as she calls herself. Again, regardless of whether you agree with her or not, her agruments and knowledge of the texts she quotes are flimsy at best.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • russpro

      By not citing specific examples of how or why her arguments and/or knowledge are "wrong," your rebuttal is less-than-flimsy at best.

      February 9, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • johnnyleen

      She's a professor in the theology department at Boston University. That probably makes her more of a "scholar" than you are.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • geekgirl42

      It's no flimsier than condemning an entire group of people based on a few specific word choices in the English translation of the Bible. There are many scholars who contend that handful of scriptures used to condemn gay people are mistranslated and never meant what we take them to mean now. You can't take a book that has been re-translated for centuries by men with varying agendas and beliefs of their own and make broad judgment based on a word here and there. It has to be taken in context and as a whole.

      February 24, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
  3. fireman48430

    If one believes another is committing a sin, pray for them. Do not condemn them. For that in praying we express love whereas in condemning we express judgement, which should be reserved only for God.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • Dan

      I think we need to do both. We cannot remain silent when "pastors" are teaching that evil is good.

      February 9, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • sealchan

      How many of us pray for those whom we have still passed judgement on and so have phrased our prayers accordingly? To pray without judgement is impossible. To pray for someone who is GLBT for that reason alone is already a judgement.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
  4. billf

    why does it matter what we do here. god is infinitely merciful right? even if you know what you are doing is bad, god will forgive you. when you are slapped, turn the other cheek, right? so if you are an 'abomination' to god, as some would say, no worries, god will take it on the cheek and let you keep on keeping on, with no worries!

    these people who talk about sins and all that fail to realize, or choose to ignore this IMPORTANT fact about christianity, because it NEGATES all their anger and hatred towards others, and that would not make them HAPPY.

    when you think about it, its all about the chemicals in your brain. no more, no less.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      billf,

      That is exactly how Martin Luther believed! Read about it in the…. New Catholic Encyclopedia ….. scroll down through the L’s to Luther.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
  5. michael scourby

    The Christianity practiced by most so called Christians would be viewed by Christ himself as a cause for concern. Love they neighbor as one would love himself.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
  6. Danny Denton

    I wish that I could get God to change what he thinks about the sins that I too often stumble into. He does not change. What was sin thousands of years ago is still sin today. No matter how we try to pervert the truth. The truth remains the truth, whether we like it or not. The only way that any of us can be justified is through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • Elle

      You live in fear, my friend.

      February 9, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
    • johnnyleen

      "If within the city a man comes upon a maiden who is betrothed, and has relations with her, you shall bring them both out of the gate of the city and there stone them to death: the girl because she did not cry out for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbors wife." Deuteronomy 22:23-24. So if your neighbors don't hear you crying out, you should be stoned.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
    • sealchan

      And when the townspeople took Mary out to stone her who stood up and said, "Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone!" Are the laws and rules written in the Bible "closer" to the Truth or are the Words of Jesus closer?

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

    there is only one truth and that is the word of God.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • Jim

      Yup, and I have the 800 number you can call if you want to talk with God directly!

      February 9, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • sealchan

      Is God's creation also true? God said of what He created that it was good.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • W247

      Yes, in the beginning what God created was good, however in our own arrogance, we traded the truth of the Lord for the lie of the world.

      February 10, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  8. SeanNJ

    I think she's hot.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
  9. jb243

    What amazes me is ignorant bigots still think it is a choice. Why would anyone choose to live their life in ridicule? I know some gay people – no question in my mind it is not a choice.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
  10. Bill

    Don't christians ever get tired of "imagining" stuff up?

    February 9, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • russpro

      Don't non-Christians ever get tired of worrying about what Christians believe?

      February 9, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
    • Sally

      I think the better question is don't Christian's ever get tired of judging anyone who doesn't share thier beliefs?

      February 9, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • johnnyleen

      Right on, Sally!

      February 9, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
  11. Elle

    "Walk with those seeking truth... RUN FROM THOSE WHO THINK THEY'VE FOUND IT. "
    -Deepak Chopra

    February 9, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • Jadey

      nice one ...

      February 9, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
    • Kayla

      Don't you ever get tired of seeking though? If you spend all your life seeking then what do you have to stand on? It's like a child seeking their boundries, eventually they have to find them. If they don't, they become dispondent and bitter.

      February 10, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
  12. Megan

    So much venom spitting just from someone putting out something clearly labeled as their opinion. I don't begrudge people their beliefs, but seeing this message board does nothing but make me think how glad I am I'm not religious. At least an argument between me and a theist makes sense, but the anger at people who believe in the same god for interpreting details differently is out of control.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • johnnyleen

      That's why I tend to refer to most Christian churches as "sects" rather than "denominations".

      February 9, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Johnnyleen,

      The Catholic Church is not a sect or denomination….those who split from Her are sects and denominations…as in ‘derivatives’ .

      February 9, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
  13. Jim

    I suspect Jesus was gay. Come on . . he had no wife, he hung around lots of guys, and was overly compassionate. Case closed. He was gay!

    February 9, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • Jadey

      dont go that far now ....

      February 9, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      We don’t know if Jesus was gay or not. But we do know that He was sinless. Gay people can be sinless also…just as straight people can be sinless….we are all called to be saints.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0sILSapUUc

      February 9, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • W247

      CM – hold on a bit here, now you are really pushing the envelope. Are you saying the Jesus was sinful?

      February 10, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
  14. S.

    Actually, when properly read, the Bible does not condem women pastors. Those verses were speaking of particular problems at that point in time. As for this woman though, her theology is off the wall.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      S.,
      As the Father SENT Jesus, so Jesus SENT his Apostles…with His power and authority. Priests stand in persona Christi for Jesus and since Jesus is the Son of God, not the daughter, He chose men to be His representatives and pastors.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • sealchan

      And yet who stood by Jesus when he was on the Cross?

      February 9, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • Chloe Morgan

      Unfortunately, when the men that chose the books that make up the Bible, they chose the ones they wanted and tossed the ones they didn't. That means that we're only getting part of the story. While some of the books left out were saved, many were destroyed so we'll never know what was in them.

      February 9, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • W247

      CM – He also sent His Holy Spirit, His Counselor to live within us so that we can commune with the Lord on our own. We don't need to go through a priest.
      John 14:25
      25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

      February 10, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
  15. John

    Nope. Leviticus 18:22

    February 9, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • Fiz

      Perfect!

      February 9, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
  16. Dawn

    I have always wondered about the two accounts in Genesis of the creation of man. I believe we were created in the image of God...male and female he created us. I don't believe this implies that Adam had two sides or two faces. I think it implies that God created man, as he did plants and animals (day 4 and 5)...with the ability to be fruitful and multiply. He created both of us (man and woman) in his image, with the animals on day 5. I have always felt the second account is more a "man" interpretation, which puts men in the likeness of God, and women as second to them. My references to day 4 and 5 are references to the Bible. I do believe that God created and the universe evolved in his design, but not in 6 days.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • sealchan

      Many people read the Garden of Eden story and assume that what they see as the simplest interpretation is not an interpretation at all but just common sense. As the article author suggests, people from other times have seen possibilities that we would not. The story itself was told first in a time long ago and may have had some quite different implications for that audience. I am only beginning to study these things but find it very enjoyable and rewarding to do so.

      One very interesting place to go is to Bill Moyer's Genesis: A Living Conversation. This is a book and a DVD that presents a variety of perspectives from conservative and liberal "students" of the Bible.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
  17. John

    Jennifer. Repent.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • Rick

      John: Why?

      February 9, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • Picklejuice

      John. Shove it.

      February 28, 2011 at 2:50 am |
  18. James

    To all: I think most will see that the author of this article has a very liberal view of God's Word. Additionally, there is alot of extremely speculative information included and treated as factual support for her view.

    To David Funk: Those are some really bold ideas. My question is this: On what basis can you make such claims? Where do you get the idea that any action less than loving is not of God? How do we determine if something is less than loving? My understanding is that we can only make such claims if there is an authoritative source of such "truth". What do you think?

    February 9, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • russpro

      Yeah, but you can also argue that most English language Bibles have a pretty conservative view of the word of God. Most of them were translated in a time when the church tried to maintain a lot of control over people. AND a lot of the stories were passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth, so who knows how accuarate a lot of it is.

      February 9, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
    • Jade Pearce

      That's where the conscience, and Holy spirit that dwells within us comes in. God often doesn't have to prove to us that things are right. He just gives us that gut feeling. Much like when we decide whether we should do something right or wring.

      February 9, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
    • James

      Jade Pearce: I would just like to say that my "gut feelings" are often misguided. I'm not sure about yours. That's why I'm thankful that God did reveal a whole lot in the Bible. The Spirit speaks to us through God's Word... not just through our conscience. I would say that God's Word is pretty clear and therefore we should check our feelings based on that authoritative source.

      February 9, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
    • Jade

      james: that's true all I'm saying is when we're not fully sure if what we read is true or not, God shows up and gives us that truth;whether it be through our conscience or not.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      James,
      There are three voices we can listen to ….our own [gut feeling], the evil one, and the Holy Spirit.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • W247

      Jade – how does your gut feeling stand up to the attributes of God? That should be the measure of your decisions.

      February 10, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
  19. Jay In Florida

    It is hard to find the "proof" the author claims to offer when the wording includes such words as "imagined", "seemingly"....

    Whatever. Boring stuff in the end.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
  20. Rachel O.

    I encourage anyone reading this article to actually read the Bible instead. Many people claim to know what the Bible says, but they, like this author, actually come with their ideas and agenda and manipulate the Bible to fit. Read the Bible, ask God to show you what it means, and you will be surprised by the truth.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • russpro

      Yeah, except that reading an English-language Bible is just someones interpretation of the original texts. Not to mention a lot of these stories were passed down by word of mouth for generations before they were preserved in writing.

      February 9, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • Elle

      The author is saying just that. Open your mind and heart to the possibility that there are different meanings behind meanings. Maybe God is the benevolent force religion claim he is at the core of their truth.

      February 9, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • Choconet

      Yes!!! Get to know Him and His word for yourself. That's what having a "personal" relationship with God is all about. A man or woman of God are only here to teach you God's word, impart wisdom of God’s word to you. This does not exclude you from doing your part (co-laboring with God) to build a personal relationship with Him. It's only laziness that causes people to hang on a man/woman’s every word rather than searching for the truth yourself. Then when you've been misguided and mislead you blame the man/woman of God for misleading you. Eve blamed the devil in the garden for deceiving her. That didn't stop God's wrath from coming upon mankind. We all have a part in getting to know God, it requires something very precious to us, our time!!!

      February 9, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • jimboe

      Who's truth, your truth?

      February 9, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • Greg

      Ask for God's word and the only voice you'll hear back is your own.

      February 9, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
    • Liam

      You've just proven the point. You have a different interpretation the the person writing the article. No way around it and anyone who disagrees with you must be wrong. Keep in mind that the 'bible' was written by men and not some sort of supreme being. Men with agendas and opinions of their own. Even if they tried to write exactly what they were told to be true they, as all people, would put their particular slant to it. their interpretation, if you will (or even if you won't)

      February 9, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
    • dude

      Why are you right? This is the reason people are turning atheist . You think you know it all and there is no possibility you could be wrong...

      February 9, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
    • Sally

      Unless you've actually spoken with God or Jesus, this pastor's interpretations are just as valid as yours.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Sally,

      This woman is like a ‘false teacher’….taking 2 Samuel and twisting it….here is verse 26 ….’ I grieve for thee, my brother Jonathan: exceeding beautiful, and amiable to me above the love of women. As the mother loveth her only son, so did I love thee.’

      Notice how the author of the article left off the last sentence which states….’As the mother loveth her only son, so did I love thee.’ How does a mother loveth her only son?….with a love that is not s3xual…not like one would love a woman as the first sentence states.

      He loved with the same kind of love that Mary, the Mother of God, loved her only Son, Jesus.

      The Catholic Church is the one who gathered the inspired Books and placed them in the Bible and has been given the authority by Jesus Christ to interpret it. None other has the right to change the meaning. Even the Bible says that Scripture is not a matter of personal interpretation. How do people skip over these crucial verses? It is just heresy upon heresy….

      Also the Church does not condemn people and neither should we. Each person condemns himself if he chooses ‘that Path’. We do need to look at actions and determine if they are actions we should partake of or not on our earthly journey towards Heaven. Any deviation from the right Path can lead us astray [of our own choosing] so we must be vigilant and know the Truth about actions….they are either sinful or they are not…choose correctly by judging the action correctly.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
    • CDMH

      @ russpro: the Gospel books of the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John which describe Jesus' birth, teachings, death and resurrection) were written on the order of 40-80 years after Christ's death and resurrection. That's like someone today writing about the Great Depression, WWII, or the civil rights movement. Eye witnesses from all of those events are still readily available - not so far fetched.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
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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.