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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. LogicNotHuff

    The Holy Bible, as written in the original languages, is precise and perfect and clear; there is no ambiguity. It is up to the person to study, compare Biblical spiritual things with Biblical spiritual things, and ask Jesus Christ to guide in understanding. It does not read like a comic book.

    There's not much time left to do this because Christ is returning May 21, 2011, after which Judgment Day begins. Go see ebiblefellowship dot com.

    May the Lord Jesus bless you in your reading of His Word.

    February 9, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
    • ptknight

      Anyone who says the Scriptures have no ambiguity in the original languages obviously has no knowledge of Aramaic and Greek. Believe me, there's plenty of room for confusion and differing interpretations, and even apparent contradictions. Of course in true inspiration, writers are God's penmen, not His pen; thought inspiration vs. word inspiration. The words came from human language expression and comprehension. And thanks for telling me when the Lord is coming, you're not the first to do so, but who knows, maybe you'll be the first to be correct.

      February 9, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
  2. Dwayne Spies

    The author of this mental gymnastics calls herself a "Bible scholar and pastor"??? Oy! The whole article is nonsense.

    February 9, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
  3. Jim S.

    If I could invent a material that would stretch as far as the author's reasoning and not break, I'd be a rich man.

    February 9, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
    • silver

      kinda like the vatican?

      February 9, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
  4. Rick G.

    All this "debate" will finally (hopefully) end when the Bible is read with the understanding of what is allegory, metaphor, parable, dogma, and history within it's 2 covers. Until then, good luck with that .. er.. Pastor.

    February 9, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
  5. Ty

    Uma,

    There are far to many things in the universe and beyond that you don't understand or know about for you to be able to put life into simple options like that.

    February 9, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
  6. Josh

    hello you all,
    as written in the bible God only create man and woman ...beside that (gay – lesbian) is human creation...take care!!!

    February 9, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
  7. Gary TX

    RobK .."Sorry, but twisting the words of the Bible to fit your world view is not nice. Why not just say that you reject the Bible's teaching and be done with it?" So, that only works if you believe in the Bible as interprited to you and people around you in Church ... hummm I guess the twisting NEVER comes from the other side .. your side Rob .. nope? you are a fool and should have someone think for you because it's just not working out your way . really

    February 9, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
  8. Gary TX

    Okay I'm good now .. If I don't agree with man I'm not going to heaven .. got it .. I'll work on that .. Jesus .. no pun

    February 9, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
  9. R.Moore

    If you do your research and if you use common sense you will understand that most of what you are taught are lies. Timelines don't match and in your heart you wanna believe what your taught. Its like being with someone you know isn't for you..but you know you love them and thats all that matters. LOL its Crap..If you look at what CHRISTMAS represented 200 years ago then I'm sure you'll change your mind. I'm sure once you open your eyes to the obvious..you'll either accept it or continue to believe the words of MAN

    February 9, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
  10. Terrytobe

    if you are serious about your salvation, you will not accept anyone word concerning this matter. You have to search the scriptures and ask God for understanding. This is what I know, God destroyed the world and Sodom&Gomorrah for this issue and more. You decide if you are willing to take a chance on some ramdom news article.

    February 9, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
  11. Terrytobe

    You know, if you are serious about your salvation, you will not accept anyone word concerning this matter. You have to search the scriptures and ask God for understanding. This is what I know, God destroyed the world and Sodom&Gomorrah for this issue and more. You decide if you are willing to take a chance on some ramdom news article.

    February 9, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
  12. cb

    I was really shock at some of the words she had the nerve to say about my GOD.. She is simply trying to help the devil to gather more souls to take with him to hell. God does not make Mistakes.

    February 9, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
    • silver

      so why did he make ignorant people like you?

      February 9, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • Conqui

      You ignorant imposter of a Christian! You obviously have not read Genesis (where God makes several mistakes, admits them, and keeps trying to make a satisfactory companion for Adam), Moses 3 times tells God he made mistakes and God admits it and corrects them, and in Kings and Judges God admits mistakes several times in allowing certain kings to be annointed, so he strikes them down. If God's own words quoted in the Bible about his mistakes are less important than your ignorant bigoted fantasies, guess who's going to Hell?

      February 10, 2011 at 3:58 am |
  13. Gary TX

    Christian .. "If you doubt God then you are wrong and your going to Hell" translate .. "If you do not agree with me you are wrong and your going to Hell" hummmm makes a person think .. it's okay to open your mind and join us in 2011 .. what could it hurt to think? O .. yuz gowin ta Hell !! that's what you get if you don't believe .. hummmmm

    February 9, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
  14. eastwood1379@gmail.com

    GOOGLE – JIMMY SWAGGART VERSUS AHMED DEEDAT DEBATE- SWAGGART GETS OWNED ON THE BIBLE

    February 9, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
  15. Dan

    Read John chapter 1... that will help explain it and probably bring up more questions. If you seriously want to know, pray and ask God to show himself to you.

    Also, whether you believe that we all descended from Adam and Eve or believe that we all descended from monkeys there was A LOT of incest and inbreeding. No way around that one....

    February 9, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
    • ThereisnoGod

      You really are a moron if you think Evolution is the belief that humans come from monkeys. No sense is trying to educate such an unintelligent person that chooses to believe in magic and invisible beings.

      February 9, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
    • notis

      You are right, Dan. Evolution requires that closely related individuals produce offspring together. No way around the incest thing from a scientific standpoint. At least the Bible and belief in God allow for miracles to take place.

      February 9, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
  16. Curtis Steinhour

    My biggest question is that Adam and Eve had three (3) sons. Cain, Able and steath (sp). If this is true and I know it takes a Male and a Female to produce a child; then where did the rest of us come from?

    February 9, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
    • Heidi

      Immaculate Conception?

      February 9, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
  17. nofoldems

    Bible clearly states in the ten commandments that you cannot have other gods and worship idols. How do you then explain worshipping Jesus, "son" of God, and having his idols in churches?
    Another question: how did we get 6+ billion people from just Adam and Eve? Only explanation I can think of is incestuous inbreeding.

    February 9, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
  18. Bev

    I'm fairly liberal minded and believe compassion is more important than judgement, but I just think this woman's article is a bunch of crap.

    February 9, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • notis

      I'm not a Christian, and I also believe compassion is more important than judgment, and I agree that this article is bullcrap. The Bible says Adam was a man, not a hermaphrodite.

      February 9, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
  19. Yafshoo

    WarhammerTwo

    'If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and remain in his love.'

    'In this way we know that we love God's children, when we love God and keep his commandments.'

    'but I show faithful love to thousands, to those who love me and keep my commandments.'

    There can be no 'loving, caring, committed relationship' in fact there is no love at all in the case of living in contravention/defiance of God's commandments.

    The Catholic Church gave the bible to the world. The Catholic Church possesses the right interpretation of the bible.

    February 9, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
    • Conqui

      The Old Testament of the Bible existed before Jesus. ALL books of the New Testament existed before there was a Catholic Church. It is impossible for Catholics to have a correct interpretation of the Bible when they refuse to translate key passages correctly. Narrow-minded bigots don't care, of course, because their own thoughts are more important than what God actually inspired to be written.

      February 9, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • CHGal

      The Greeks translated the Hebrew OT from the Jews. The Romans were Pagan and late to the party.

      http://www.greatsite.com/timeline-english-bible-history/#timeline

      February 9, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
    • Saint Apropos of Nothing

      Blah. Blah. Blah.

      February 10, 2011 at 12:31 am |
  20. Gary TX

    Face it, the Bible heads out here obviously are and naturally will take offence to this article. Hey with them it's "that's not what I was talk" or "just do not question" well 1) interpretation of the Bible has and all ways put us in harms way 2) you would have a harder time proving God exists than not .. of corse .. Fact Man created God and not the other way around .. sooner or later we will work you guys out of the picture that follow such stupidity .. some day the Bible will be studied for History and not much else

    February 9, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
    • los angeles

      well to begin with the entire bible is MAN made nothing in it is from God. The bible as a whole is based on what he said! it all started out with Paul. and his letters. His letters to the so-called churches of the time were copied by illterate scribes. They copied the writings not understanding what they were writing, thus the many conflicting messages and double meanings and so on. The real Bible know as the Evangels that Christ had is no more and no one knows where it is. It is the Bible and there is no other. All the virsions of the so-called new testement are not true not even the so-called the LORD PRAYER. all were men made none were said by Christ or God. The entire Modern Christian faith is a sham.

      February 9, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • Anonymous

      I am going to pray for you.

      February 9, 2011 at 8:11 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.