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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. Chris

    With all due respect this debate, and other theological debates are a waste of brainpower, brainpower that could be used in more useful ways.

    Adam took a rib from his body and made a women McGuyver style. Surely we can move on from such ludicrous ideas. I went to a religious high-school and was taught that these stories were mainly metaphorical, and that we can embrace science for as far as it takes us, and that it should not conflict with religion. Still makes sense to me.

    February 10, 2011 at 3:54 am |
  2. Josh

    I don't think I've ever read such crap in my life. Every time I read a story like this online I am shocked by the masses living in deception.

    February 10, 2011 at 3:53 am |
  3. HinduBrother

    This woman is playing God by putting words in mouth of God in her lame attempt to interpret what God meant. God has given us everything through the scriptures, we do not need to listen to some fallible mortal. We have God, His Scriptures and His Saints. Not some woman on payroll of a liberal university system pretending to be a pastor. Does she really think people are dumb. Manipulation in an attempt to degrade the human society further.

    Hind Brother

    February 10, 2011 at 3:52 am |
  4. dave

    Bible scholar, huh?

    February 10, 2011 at 3:47 am |
  5. Jason

    Have we forgotten the significance of our creation...not an easy task considering man has yet to hold a candle to the creation and giving of life of anything on this planet. If u are a believer in God and that he created us how can u deny his desire and plan for procreation between a man and a woman, and as God has done many times in the bible to properly govern this law he gave us a commandment to follow. He is not a God of confusion. This article is pure nonsense.

    February 10, 2011 at 3:46 am |
  6. HinduBrother

    My christian brothers, please save your religion from "so-called" pastors as this woman. She is working with vested interests to wipe out God from American society.

    Your Hindu Brother

    February 10, 2011 at 3:46 am |
  7. BOB HITE

    i guess we are lucky are parents were not gay or we would not all be here reading this the book allso says free will and ten comanments to live by its not up to us humans to judge when we all die we will know what we did right and what was wrong until then do what you do best to help keep the devil from taking over remember the devil and god have the same powers but only god can give you peace and love bottom line what or who you sleep with is your choice but don't keep rubbing my nose in it do your job and keep the rest to yourself

    February 10, 2011 at 3:44 am |
  8. scienceman

    Maybe we should be rethinking the Bible in general.... Ma be we should just be thinking more.

    February 10, 2011 at 3:43 am |
  9. Brad Althouse

    Well said Jennifer. You bring about some very thought provoking, and acurate facts from our all-so-often misquoted scripture.

    Those of you still clinging to the Lev. verse, you should know it says in the same breath to "cut off a woman's hands and show her no mercy" if she touches a man's genitals. Guess that means no foreplay for a lot of you married men out there.

    February 10, 2011 at 3:22 am |
  10. Allen

    So my biggest gripe about people who are Chrstians is that they believe everyone is supposed to be one. I get upset because I don't believe in Christian religion. It upsets christian so much that I don't believe in there god. But more importantly we as Americans need to get past our diffrences. We can still live in harmony and have mutual respect and understanding that not everyone believes the same as you do. America has freedom of religion which means any religion. I am a non christian gay man living in america and I am happy and proud to be an american. I pay my taxes and support my local charties. I'm happy and content with my personal relationship with god which is bewteen me and all that is.

    February 10, 2011 at 3:21 am |
  11. Pedro Braga

    Go on start your own cult but i would die to defend the word of God if i have too, the reason you people get mad and offended is because GOd judges such mockery ! He loves the sinner ! but he hates your sins ! I know what you people and its to mock what is good and just ! Repent for there is stilll hope till you breath the last breath.

    February 10, 2011 at 3:20 am |
  12. John Olsen

    She is a false prophet if there ever was one. Tendentious interpretations, twisting things like a corkscrew.

    I am an Orthodox Christian. In our faith, we follow what is called "Holy Tradition." Among other things, it means you don't interpret scripture however you like to. You turn to the Church, to the Holy Fathers of the Church who were inspired by the Holy Spirit, to find the proper interpretation.

    February 10, 2011 at 3:18 am |
  13. Pedro Braga

    The word of God is immaculate regardless if you like to change it or not. The bible condenms such perversion because it is outside of Gods law. ROMAS 2 talks about it. And also God burned down Sodom and Gomorrah because of such perversion. Satan has crept his way inside the mind of that woman. God Created men and women. That is it. You try to change but Revelation 22 says, punishment awaits those who try to change the words written in the good book, you will pay for such act agiant the Holy Spirit, you mock what is holy and laugh at what is true. Turn away from you evil way!
    THose of you who are firm in the Savior, pray and keep praying because this is a perfect example of what the ending days are like. The prophecies are coming true,
    God will punish you for pushing people deeper into hell.

    February 10, 2011 at 3:16 am |
    • libertarian

      judge not lest ye be judged.

      February 10, 2011 at 3:47 am |
  14. Mark from Middle River

    To be fair, folks both inside and outside of Faith pick facts and statements that more or less support their views. You rarely if ever hear someone say ...."here is something I believe to be fact but goes against everything I believe in. "

    Now what you do hear are persons dumbfounded that folks that have different opinions than theirs won't admit that they are wrong. That's why I love forums like this, its pure entertainment sometimes. Everyone quoting what they feel is the ultimate fact or statement that no one who has a differing view could ever stand up to. Then when that ultimate fact fails to change anothers opinion or worst ...causes another fact to be launched.

    It is fun. Personally I think the writer of this article ...well I thought that guy Stephen Partho.... whatever ... I thought he had issues with tradional religion.... him and this lady must have been birthed from the same womb.

    Its getting so when the Belief Blog post a thread and says... "my take", its always has the same arrogant ring to it. Someone who states they are a person of faith but then spends the entire article attacking traditional types of church beliefs.

    February 10, 2011 at 3:15 am |
  15. Jeremy

    This is all ludicrous–the opinion piece AND the whole debate regarding it. How can you all be so obtuse!

    There were once prophets on the earth. Where are they now? Do they exist again, or has God left us completely to our own devices? I say, God would not do that to His children. He didn't leave us alone for millenia–He wouldn't do it now that we need him most.

    Paul said we'd heap upon ourselves teachers, having itching ears–a desire to hear what we want to hear. There's one truth–not a thousand different ones. Find the prophets for our day and stick with them.

    Hint: they do exist. Look for evidences. Just like the prophets of old, including Jesus, originally provided evidences (but NOT "a sign"). Then test those evidences just as people were required to anciently. And for goodness sakes, quit listening to pastors and priests who are PAID to ply their craft! A higher conflict of interest I cannot imagine...

    February 10, 2011 at 3:14 am |
  16. Eric

    There are a few questions I'd like her to answer...
    1. What do you mean by "Scholar"? I ask because your research is lacking...
    2. Where are you a "Pastor"? I ask, because I'd have to ask a Pastor of what?
    3. If you went to seminary, did you get a degree? I ask, because again, based on your research it seems unlikely.
    ... These are things you need to clarify if you're going to be spouting off about religious/historical/philosophical texts...
    Just a common academic courtesy...

    February 10, 2011 at 3:12 am |
    • entropy

      http://www.bu.edu/sth/academics/faculty/jennifer-wright-knust/

      Seriously, in the time it took you to slam her credentials you could have just done a google search.

      February 10, 2011 at 3:24 am |
    • Brian

      My friend there is a link at the top of the article....I will help you out.
      http://www.harpercollins.com/author/microsite/About.aspx?authorid=35045

      February 10, 2011 at 3:34 am |
  17. Fullbag

    'According to this account, the man “clings to the woman” in an attempt to regain half his flesh'

    This is the first of many spurious comments in this article. The writer supposes that Adam was trying to regain half his flesh. This does not even make sense. There is nothing in the Bible that states Adam was somehow in want of half his flesh (or, even better, just one rib), that he might sustain himself.

    I personally 'cling' to my wife out of desire and necessity, something that followed after our marriage vows. This allegiance to each other is MOST likely what the quoted scripture is alluding to...not some inexplainable need to absorb Eve's flesh back into Adam's body.

    February 10, 2011 at 3:03 am |
  18. Wisdom4u2

    And we're suppose to give Jennifer Wright Knust's interpretation of the Scriptures credence because…..??
    NOT!!!

    February 10, 2011 at 2:53 am |
    • fool4jesus

      Right on!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      February 10, 2011 at 3:24 am |
    • Magic

      And we're supposed to give Moses (and the rest of the storytellers/writers) credence because???

      February 10, 2011 at 3:32 am |
    • Magic

      Oh yeah, NOT!!!

      February 10, 2011 at 3:32 am |
  19. Steve

    This is why women are not suppose to interpret and teach the Bible.

    February 10, 2011 at 2:39 am |
    • Ramon F Herrera

      Ah, we have a bagger in the audience.

      February 10, 2011 at 2:49 am |
    • Davidloc

      Of course not because men wrote the bible. God is always masculine. Women are alway subserviant to men. God always speaks the laguage of the believer no matter what it is. The bible always tends to benefit the highest power levels of society more than the masses. Fear is always used to keep the masses in check no matter how obsurd. Anyone is disposable and may burn in hell as if the book was written to control the masses. It is based on the premise the God created humans and then created rules for them to follow . He them created a son whom he killed so that he could forgive humans for breaking laws that he made in the first place, Wow, I don't think that sounds like a very nice guy , do you ? Women , men , doctors , lawyers, janitors, children and most everyone can "teach" the bible becasue it can and is made up as the teachers go along to suit their own needs. Majorities are neverthe sinful ones in the bible and all sinners must have rocks thrown at then until they are dead, even your own children. This sounds like the love of life to you ???

      February 10, 2011 at 2:57 am |
    • Ben

      We all know that the Bible is a myth, and that it's made up. Trying to interpret it is a pointless waste of time. Get real people.

      February 10, 2011 at 3:28 am |
    • HinduBrother

      I agree.

      February 10, 2011 at 3:48 am |
    • The Truth

      And this is why people like you would have said the same thing about black people 40yrs ago. You're disgusting.

      February 13, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
  20. Lorenzo

    THis pastor is a wolf in sheeps clothing.. But understand this: there will be terrifying times in the last days.
    2
    People will be self-centered and lovers of money, proud, haughty, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, irreligious,
    3
    callous, implacable, slanderous, licentious, brutal, hating what is good,
    4
    traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,
    5
    as they make a pretense of religion but deny its power. Reject them.
    6
    For some of these slip into homes and make captives of women weighed down by sins, led by various desires,
    7
    always trying to learn but never able to reach a knowledge of the truth.
    8
    Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so they also oppose the truth–people of depraved mind, unqualified in the faith.
    9
    But they will not make further progress, for their foolishness will be plain to all, as it was with those two.

    February 10, 2011 at 2:33 am |
    • meh_meh

      and your source for this information is what ?? the bible??

      Maybe there should be a 11th commandment that states "Thou shalt not indulge in circuitous logic" i cant believe the level of ignorance that exists in today's world. You belong in biblical times let us atheists enjoy the last days in peace.

      February 10, 2011 at 3:02 am |
    • Makoto Ohtani

      No, sir. This pastor is a goddess and an angel in a sheep's clothing. Her judgment is correct.

      February 10, 2011 at 3:09 am |
    • Magic

      "Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses,"

      More ravings from Paul of Tarsus...

      So Moses was a better magician than Jannes and Jambres (Moses trained in the 'black arts' in Egypt at Pharaoh's court) and the ignorant, gullible, needy, fearful, superst!tious people of the day fell for it. So what? Once he got their attention, he could say *anything* and they would believe it.

      February 10, 2011 at 3:18 am |
    • richie

      Bible says.. man lays with man or woman lays with woman....he will remove the man or woman. You may not believe and that is ok. No judgment. That is between you and god...atheist or not. "do not stand in the way of sinners(and we are all sinners in some sense)". I don't judge you...do what you will. Regardless I will still be your be your brother or sister, I wish you happiness and love you as god as commanded me. That is what the bible actually teaches...god bless you all regardless.

      February 10, 2011 at 3:20 am |
    • Chris

      With all due respect this debate, and other theological debates are a waste of brainpower, brainpower that could be used in more useful ways.

      Adam took a rib from his body and made a women McGuyver style. Surely we can move on from such ludicrous ideas. I went to a religious high-school and was taught that these stories were mainly metaphorical, and that we can embrace science for as far as it takes us, and that it should not conflict with religion. Still makes sense to me.

      February 10, 2011 at 3:56 am |
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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.