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. Yolie

    Exactly. Agree with you have read the Bible in it entirety twice.

    February 9, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  2. LJR

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

    February 9, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  3. Mike 97227

    I think everyone on here is nuts. I think religion is the root of all the worlds wars and destruction. I think that mans curious and creative mind has brought about all this.

    We are all doomed if you people cannot live and let live. All you are doing is destroying man.

    February 9, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  4. PDXSerric

    My God.... most of the comments here are more frightening than the article itself.

    February 9, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  5. Aset

    Reading all these replies just proves what my history teacher says, "Man will always be passionate not logical." She pressents a point of view, she is not asking you to believe it. To all those who call this woman a 'false prophet', at one point in time even Jesus was called a false prophet. So sit down, shut up, read, and think it's not illegal yet.

    February 9, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  6. njbowhunter

    If god made straight people , he must have made gay people.Or maybe there is no god and gay people are Mother Nature's way of controlling the population.If you believe in god , then love thy neighbor whether he/she is gay,black, mexican , muslim, or anything else you might not agree with.There's an awful lot of hatred among people who preach love and forgiveness.Practice what you preach.

    February 9, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
    • Weston Bright

      You're an idiots idiot...congratulations!

      February 9, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
  7. NoFool

    All of this Bible nonsense was written thousands of years ago by a host of different people who did not have a clue how to explain the physical world. There was no understanding of biology, the age of the earth, science or evolution, chemistry, etc. Some mystical magician in the sky instantly creating one perfect human and then another (from his rib no less) is as good a story as anyone could come up with back then. To actually have adult conversations that nitpick what actually occurred in the so called Garden of Eden is totally insane. It never happened. Those that believe it happened believe it because "its written in the Bible." This whole thing becomes a silly perpetual motion machine of human nonsense...

    February 9, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  8. Crucified

    She is reading the wrong bible... she needs to read King James Version. eliminates all confusion. and also, keeps people from tiptoeing around issue by using more liberal versions. for example NIV eliminate 17 versus from KJV ex. Matthew 17:21;18:11;23:14;..... etc AMG is way off base.. Be safe read KJV or you may invent a new Salvation,Trinity, and Jesus.

    February 9, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • Vince

      Wrong, read *at least* the Vulgate, and ideally the Greek version. KJV is a translation of another bible.

      February 9, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • Crucified

      I did not want people to have to learn a new language like Latin.. but Yes the Vulgate would be better.

      February 9, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  9. HumanistinNY

    Gospel of Matthew: Written 150 years after Christ; author NOT AN EYEWITNESS OF CHRIST.

    Gospel of Mark: First gospel written of the canonical four, by a "Mark", follower of PETER, NOT AN EYEWITNESS OF CHRIST. ********It is widely held that the other 3 gospel writers based their writings off of this one.**********

    Gospel of Luke: Believed to be written between 60 to 90 years after the death of Christ; NOT AN EYEWITNESS OF CHRIST.

    Gospel of John: Written by a disciple of an apostle, NOT AN EYEWITNESS OF CHRIST.

    I have no problems with those who are religious, only those who CLAIM they are religious and go about spewing drivel and assumptions from their mouths without having actually thoroughly studied their religious texts. CAT, I mean YOU, among other posters here who show a genuine distaste for *gasp* actually reading and learning and exploring the teachings of your faith... Which, btw, is contrary to the spirit of faith, which is a search of divine TRUTH.

    February 9, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • Crucified

      you are wrong buddy.. #1 if they were written after mention of the fall of the temple would of been in them, the jewish rebellion, and may other occurances that happed in 70 AD there fore written before as the bible plainly states on the intro of most sections. also the copy of Isaiah found in the dead sea scrolls was dated to 100 BC. The book written over 500 years before Christ birth predicts with perfect accuracy Christ isaisah 52,53:2-12

      February 9, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • IGNORANCE

      WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR INFORMATION???

      February 9, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • Crucified

      Cristian Apologetics.. Josh Mcdowell Books, dave sterrett, Chuck Missler, Mainly The Holy Bible..King James Version!

      February 9, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • IGNORANCE

      THE BOOK OF MATTHEW WAS WRITTEN BY MATTHEW THE TAX COLLECTOR WHICH JESUS HIMSELF CALLED OUT TO FOLLOW HIM.
      THE BOOK OF MARK WAS WRITTEN BY MARK A DISCIPLE OF PETER WHO WAS ACTUALLY ONE OF THE CLOSEST DISCIPLES TO JESUS.
      THE BOOK OF LUKE WAS WRITTEN BY LUKE A PHYSICIAN WHO ALSO WAS A DISCIPLE PAUL- THE MAN THAT IN THE BOOK OF ACTS SHARE THE ACCOUNT WHERE JESUS APPEARS TO HIM- NOT ONLY THAT IN THE OPENING OF THE BOOK, LUKE HIMSELF TELLS THEOPHILUS THAT HE TOOK HIS TIME TO INVESTIGATE THE THINGS THAT TOOK PLACE.
      THE BOOK OF JOHN WAS WRITTEN BY JOHN BELIEVED TO BE ONE OF THE YOUNGEST DISCIPLES TO FOLLOW JESUS ALSO THE LAST DISCIPLE TO DIE. HE IS MENTIONED TO BE THE LOVED ONE BY JESUS.

      February 9, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • TSloan

      Your knowledge on this subject proves just how stupid you are. Even the most liberal of biblical historians (Take Bart D. Ehrman for example) hold to the position that JOHN was the last gospel written– the date that is widely give to this is c90-100CE after the fall of the Second Temple. Yet you give Matthew a date of 180CE? That is not only wrong, its stupid.
      Another completely incorrect notion you bring forth is Markian Priority. Anyone who has taken a Canonical history course can tell you that what you are trying to refer to is that later of the 3 synoptic gospels were based off the writings of sayings know as Q as well as Mark. However there is strong evidence to repudiate this claim (Such as a reference to Matthew being the first writings found in the works of Irenaeus). On the other hand, almost ALL actual scholars agree that John was based on neither Q nor Mark.

      The point is, you are literally the exact opposite of those who you claim "spew drivel." You would like for people to think you know what you were talking about. But it is obvious to anyone who actually reads your posts that you have simply read one or two books (more likely, websites) in order to find ammunition for your crusade against those crazy Christians. You're are wrong, you have based your knowledge on erroneous sources. You claim to be a humanist, yet you are as far from good ole Erasmus that it isn't even funny. I'm sorry for waking you up for delusion. Please actual know what youre taking about before responding next time. Mk?

      Sincerely,
      An actual Religion student at an actual University (A liberal one none the less!)

      February 9, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
  10. Cyle Clayton

    Ok, the author's hermeneutic is insane. Whatever you think about this topic, the way she reads, interprets, and applies Scripture is nuts.

    February 9, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • Joe

      THANK YOU. The article is pure insanity.

      February 9, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
  11. Coptic Orthodox

    being a pastor, she is responsible now not only for herself but for everyone that she mislead (and is misleading) our lord mentions what that is like and it's not easy. the twisted view of this author is beyond logical critique.. I only pray that the God that she so ignorantly disrespects and misinterpret have mercy on her and save her from where she is heading and give us all wisdom not to stumble and fall like her.

    February 9, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • luigixiv

      You do realize that many of the books of the bible were selected in Italy long after Christ's execution and over a great deal of debate(with Bishops from differing parts of the Empire disputing which books should be included and which deemed heresies), to squash the so-called Alexandrine heresies, who advocated for books that were not included. So it seems as though people have used the bible for quite some time to advance their poltical position.

      February 9, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  12. Carter

    Also for all these folks talking about "Jesus never talked about marriage"....he never talked about bestiality either so what's the point? He didn't talk about "doggy" style or "missionary" style. Didn't talk about multiple wives either – to say that Jesus didn't talk about subject X is NO justification for subject X.

    February 9, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • Jeff

      Actually, Jesus did discuss polygamy. Jewish teachers asked him the question about the 7 brothers; the oldest was married and died. His next brother married his wife as was customary and so on and so on. Then Jesus replied to this. Read the book from cover to cover before you offer an authoratative comment.

      February 9, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  13. C Wood

    Yes, most books of fairy tales have mixed messages.

    February 9, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
  14. Louis

    Fantastic article But even if Jesus came back and said that it was cool to be gay many folks would STILL be filled with hate and prejudice. If only the majority of X-tians were intelligent enough to look at the bible from the standpoint of historical relevance, the world would be a much better place.

    February 9, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • Joe

      If jesus came back he'd probably get killed again anyways...

      February 9, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • Josh Howeth

      the bible doesn't offer itself simply as a book of historical relevance. that is the category it is least concerned with. so those who read it and believe it are not going to treat it as such. you judge, use and interpret something based upon what it describes itself as.

      February 9, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • fran

      It's CHRISTIANS not X-tians, because without CHRIST it doesn't exist! And just so ya know, CHRISTIANS are among the smartest people in the world because they are listening to GOD! Ya can't get any smarter than that!

      February 9, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  15. Light

    Let GOD will be done thru this blog http://www.lightoftheearth.blogspot.com

    February 9, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  16. teepee

    DON'T WORRY PEOPLE...ONE DAY YOU WILL DIE...BETTER HOPE YOU GOT IT RIGHT WHEN THAT TIME COMES...

    February 9, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  17. teepee

    this nation wants so badly to become sodom and or Gomorrah(excuse the spelling)

    February 9, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • joel

      America is the new babylon. Why would america want to be the new sodom?

      February 9, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  18. MEME

    There is no such thing as a "true agnostic". They are all just in limbo waiting for the right catastrophy to turn their lives upside down, which will help them remember and turn toward God for help. It is a temporary mindset of denial. You can pretend you can fly as you jump off the cliff, but when you start falling you remember to remember.

    February 9, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • Wulf

      That's a pretty narrow view of agnostics. I find that most are people that do not claim to have all the answers.

      February 9, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • Bryan

      Nope. Had my moment of truth. Church, bible, all that stuff was no help. In fact, it was religion that was PART of the problem.

      February 9, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • Kay

      You've confused agnostics with atheists.

      February 9, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • Yep

      I'm agnostic. Simply put: I believe that all theories attempting to explain our existence cannot be proven or disproven in their entirety. The reason that religions refer to 'faith' and 'belief' is because there is no empirical evidence to refer to any one religion as 'fact'. Please don't take that offensively, as it's not meant to be; I just want to convey that, as an agnostic, I can't suddenly just believe in God because I think I'm in danger. Certainly, I would like to, but I think people often misjudge agnostic's in that way, as though we are hypocritical, when really we recognize what Christian's do: that it requires faith to believe in God.

      February 9, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • GodsChild

      Bryan, it's not about religion, it's about relationship. If you were going after some kind of religion then you were being steered the wrong way. Jesus is the way the Truth & the Life not religion.

      February 9, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  19. IGNORANCE

    The Genesis Account in the book of Genesis ch 1and 2 are not two different set of events of creation. God is not man with imperfections to seem DUMP to have made a mistake in order to redo man. Ch. 1 of Genesis is an overview of Creation and as you read ch 2 it goes into detail of HIS creation of man and then women and of the special garden which he created just for them. FROM THE START GOD created a man and a woman with the intention for them to be FRUITFUL in other words produce! We see in nature that two males of any sort are not physically able to produce anything, therefor this unity is useless and of no meaning.
    As we read into the New Testament, Paul writes to the church in Rome in the letter to the Romans ch 1 where he explains how we cannot pretend to believe that there is no God for HE HIMSELF left us clues in nature of his eternal power and divine nature which leaves no room for excuses. Paul continues on saying that even thou we see these things we willingly ignore these clues because we claim to be WISE yet we are fools in wanting to do our own will. For this reason is why GOD ALLOWED humanity to do shameful acts. Romans ch1 verse 24 states that GOD gave them up to the LUST OF THEIR HEARTS TO IMPURITY, TO THE DISHONORING OF THEIR BODIES AMONG THEMSELVES. As you keep reading down to verse 26 it states that GOD GAVE THEM UP TO DISHONORABLE PASSIONS and Paul goes into detail of these dishonorable passions stating that women changed their natural relations for relations that go against nature and that the men likewise gave up their natural relations with the women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameful acts with men. The remainder of this chapter explains the state of morality in which our society finds itself in today, all because it has chosen to leave GOD out of it thinking that they are capable enough with all kinds of knowledge. It's the lust that drives people to dishonorable actions. God is not a God of hatred, but of love and this is seen throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament. The reason why people say that this God killed people and allowed all kinds of things to happen is because they are finding excuses for them not to be accountable for the life they are living. In the Gospel of John there are a few verses that gives light into God's intentions for humanity- John 3:16-21.

    February 9, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • MEME

      amen

      February 9, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • Tammy

      Amen and pass the dar taters!

      February 9, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • GodsChild

      AMEN! In the end God will be the TRUE and ONLY Judge of ALL.

      February 9, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
    • fran

      AMEN! I cannot believe that there are so many ignorant people in this world.

      February 9, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • Intelligence

      Your name is appropriate for your comment. Try reading the bible without rose tinted glasses, as well as read the original text, and you will see it is full of nothing but contradiction, written by men, to control the populace like cattle. It was true then, and sadly it is true even more so today.

      February 9, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • Kay

      You do realize that this is just your opinion of how all those words should be interpreted, don't you? And that you're reading other people's interpretations of what the original words...written in another language...mean? And that no one gave you the power to read God's mind?

      February 9, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • IGNORANCE

      THE ORIGINAL TEXT WHICH WOULD BE HEBREW , GREEK AND ARAMAIC! IT MAKES ME WONDER IF YOU HAVE DONE THAT YOURSELF SO YOU CAN GIVE ME THE APPROPRIATE INTERPRETATION OF THESE SCRIPTURES.

      February 9, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • IGNORANCE

      KAY, ANYONE WITH NO EDUCATION CAN READ ROMANS CHAPTER 1 AND UNDERSTAND IT. I AM READING GOD'S MIND- IT'S CALLED HIS WORD. PLUS USING CONCORDANCES THAT EXPLAIN WHAT EACH WORD IS IN THE GREEK AND ITS COMPLETE MEANING CAN GIVE YOU A CLEAR MESSAGE.

      February 9, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • GodsChild

      The Spirit of Truth reveals ALL things to those who have faith in Jesus. We cannot read His mind, but He can read ours. I'll be praying for the salvation of all you skeptics out there. Not sure what kind of hardships you have had to deal with in this journey called life, but I pray the Lord Almighty reveals Himself to you wherever you may be. God bless!

      February 9, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
  20. rev

    If there were to be a book written by an omnipotent being, if would be right in every way, shape, and form. You wouldn't have to rely on blind faith, interpretation, or context to read it. It could not be argued or found incorrect no matter how much research or scientific method was used. It would not contain the errors and contradictions that only man would create through misunderstanding, mistranslation, ignorance, or greed.

    Unfortunately for us, there is no such book.

    February 9, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • Mainer

      You do realize the practical problems of having a book "written by God" right? First being that God is going to forced into using words in order to convey his thoughts and ideas. Words, by there very nature are open to interpretation and subject to context. He (or she for you cult-members out there) may be an omnipotent being, but he would still be bound by our methods of communication, unless it was done telepathically. I think you were trying to write something that showed that a God isn't possible, but you need to use that thing inside of your cranium. Maybe you aren't completely "evolved."

      February 9, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • thatmikeguy

      But there is. It allows you choice with whatever time you have left, for the time and place that you were placed. While at the same time it warns you of choices and consequences of those choices. The requirement of Faith.

      February 9, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • Kay

      @Mainer...what do you mean "God is going to [be] FORCED" into using anything??? That God "would still be BOUND by our methods of communication"???

      We're talking God here, right? Omnipotent, all-powerful God? God who could, with no effort, make it so that we ALL understand exactly what he means by something he says? God who, with no effort, could have created our method of communication as any darned thing he wanted?

      The fact is that the Bible was written by human beings, not God. (Heck, many of the books of the Bible are named after the people who supposedly wrote them.) You may believe these authors were divinely inspired...but they were still imperfect human beings. So, no, the Bible isn't the Word of God. It's the words of human beings who believed they were writing down the words of God.

      Had God actually written the Bible, @rev is right...it would be perfect because an almighty perfect God would have no need to be "forced" into being imperfect.

      I find it amazing how many people try to make God in the image of man in order to explain inconsistencies.

      February 9, 2011 at 5:33 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.