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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. dalis

    Ok, this is a board about Christianity and ho-mo-se-xua-li-ty, right? Maybe you guys can help me figure this one out. I recently got into an online debate with a Baptist minister about this issue, and he told me it was totally in the bounds of his Christian marriage to have anal intercourse with his wife (ok, he volunteered this info to me, I swear). Yet, he considers it anathema for me to have a chaste (non-se-xu-al) relationship with my girlfriend (I'm a practicing Catholic and a lesbian). And when I tried to tell him that I thought that all activity in a Christian marriage has to be open to procreation, he got mad at me and said he wouldn't be lectured by a "deviant and a papist".

    OK, can someone explain this guy to me? Which one of us is right here?

    February 10, 2011 at 5:36 am |
  2. Quoc Nguyen

    This is horrible interpretation of Scripture. This lady is no bible scholar.

    February 10, 2011 at 5:32 am |
  3. didhedoit

    lets argue about something we cant change, have no idea about, and not to mention the people who wrote these books had no idea, that why they wrote them. If the bible is the true word of God, then we wouldnt have to read it because one person reading should be somewhat enlightened and able to teach it to everyone. We have problems in our world when people seek to teach others what they dont know. Furthermore, 99 percent of people think their own view is correct, which is why 100% of society is false, misled, and to a certain degree mentally unstable. Cmon people, if a person told you that the world is ending and he just saw the devil, you may not take it as literal truth. IT may have some subjective truth in it... a la the bible. It is good and it does answer questions but its not the end all be all. Use your mind, and don't ever accept anything anyone tells you that doesnt agree with what you know is right.

    February 10, 2011 at 5:24 am |
  4. FrankinNJ

    First of all she starts with a bad argument; ""I love gay people, but the Bible forces me to condemn them.' I cry foul, no where in New Testament does it tell man to condemn gay people. The Bible does say God does not like the life style, but it does not tell other Christians to condemn them. Judgement is in the realm of God. I have never read a more convoluted piece trying to 'prove' a view. Also love how she quotes the book of philip which was rejected by Biblical Scholars when gathering the Bible together. Must be a heck of a church she pastors. Today congregation we turn to the Book of Elmo to prove what I don't like about in the Bible.

    February 10, 2011 at 5:07 am |
    • Kyle

      I wouldn't necessarily consider the people who pieced the bible together to be perfect scholars (unless you believe they must have been divinely inspired). They simply had the narrative they thought was best and left out anything that didn't fit their narrative. Kinda like fox news.

      February 10, 2011 at 5:14 am |
  5. Human

    Okay people. 1) this is her opinion so stop hating. 2) she makes a very valid point, and she is absolutely correct about the bible having many different interpretations. 3) the bible wasn't created for your sick campaign against gays, it was made to give mankind hope and peace at heart, so all of you still out there who truly believe that the bible says to condemn gays, you have created your own hell

    February 10, 2011 at 5:06 am |
  6. Praweesh

    This is like the blind leading the blind – The author(so called "Pastor") is certainly BLIND ....

    February 10, 2011 at 4:57 am |
  7. truth

    my biggest issue is this lady (especially when talking about genisis) failed to qoute a single specific text.... factual information is showing where you go your information is key.... list scripture refrences and we'll talk, otherwise you're making your own story up....

    February 10, 2011 at 4:55 am |
    • Kyle

      She did quote some of the scriptures that required quotations, the rest she stated the part and then paraphrased biblical scholar about that section of text.

      February 10, 2011 at 5:11 am |
  8. ib42

    "I love gay people, but the Bible forces me to condemn them".
    No one forces anything. You choose to be a slave to these idiotic beliefs!
    That certainly explains the millions of brainwashed zombies who dare not think independently. Cowards who dare not question the words written by other humans who were probably messed up, too. And so the violence and hate goes on......

    February 10, 2011 at 4:51 am |
    • patsonln

      I Love all people!!!!!! and Gods word condemns, not people.

      February 10, 2011 at 6:25 am |
  9. Tony

    People still believe in the Bible?

    February 10, 2011 at 4:50 am |
    • patsonln

      Yes, Gods people still believe in the Bible. That is our hope!!!!!!!!!!.

      February 10, 2011 at 6:14 am |
  10. Prof.

    Christianity was invented by Jews as a way to control non-Jews. After a while it got out of control and backfired on them. Now they have it under control again and seek to dismantle it asap while using it to spread their divisive and unnatural messages.

    The main message of the Bible was intended to be that Jews are chosen by God to rule us all. And that we should be meek, and sheep like, turning the other cheek while the Zionists shepherd us. Jewish scripture says we are as cattle to them.

    Check this woman's last name, she's probably a crypto-Jew. Probably a lesbian also. CNN is Zionist run!

    February 10, 2011 at 4:46 am |
    • Mac

      Ahhh nothin' gets my day started like a delicious conspiracy theory to entertain the cattle...

      February 10, 2011 at 5:02 am |
  11. shinkle

    Hey look! We are trying for form our made up religions around controversial subjects again!

    February 10, 2011 at 4:40 am |
  12. freewriter

    I think ppl shouldn't judge really cos everyone making a sin now and has been. We all are not perfect gay or straight we all are makin sin life to short to point fingers and I'm sure god is watching over us all and to be having hate like this cos ppl have opinions is childess god will pick, and judge when the time is right. Just enjoy life as he would of wanted there are wars, ppl dining everyday and all yall can think about is what's ok gay or straight? If there gay or straight let them be we are all human and bleed the same color doesn't even matter the gender ? Really? Cos I'm living, breathing, and I see lots of gay and straight ppl all around me I think when ppl point and pass judgements should really take a look at themselves in a mirror see why u hate yourself to have so much hate for others. Well I be praying for you all to find love in self and for others.

    February 10, 2011 at 4:33 am |
  13. erik

    you are letting your heart be deceived.

    February 10, 2011 at 4:28 am |
  14. jon

    It really is not as complicated as this author wants it to be. In fact, we were creates as spirits with a gender (male and female) prior to being born on this earth. To learn more visit mormon.org

    February 10, 2011 at 4:28 am |
    • Mac

      Right, cause Mormonism is clearly where we can always find the truth....sheesh, talk about a tangled monstrosity with more than one head.....

      February 10, 2011 at 4:59 am |
  15. Byrlink

    Trying to explain the Bible again? This is so ridiculous... can there still be hope for humanity after more than two thousand years and hundreds of millions of people trying to interpret such a entangled monstruosity with no spare space in its pages for more contradictions?

    February 10, 2011 at 4:25 am |
  16. James

    The paster is an inclination of Satan. I can not believe someone of such status would attempt to pervert the word of God only yo justify her satanic deeds.

    February 10, 2011 at 4:20 am |
    • Elexsor

      @James: Luke 6:37 "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven." Seems you may have forgotten.

      February 10, 2011 at 5:00 am |
  17. django

    LOL! The Gays out of the Church are forcing the gays in the Church to accept them...

    February 10, 2011 at 4:05 am |
  18. Burt

    Considering the fact that the author is a female 'pastor' (which is forbidden in the Bible) I would disregard what she has to say. She is trying to justify something else that is clearly forbidden to make her own forbidden behaviour more acceptable. Females are in no way 'inferior' to males. We simply have different roles. The world tends to work better and people are happier when we stick to our roles.

    February 10, 2011 at 4:05 am |
    • Male Catholic

      Burt – The bible does not say women can't be pastors. Perhaps the author is better when it comes to biblical scholarship and you should stick to your own area that you're better at, which is something else.

      February 10, 2011 at 4:27 am |
    • jamie

      so we have separate but equal roles? You know, they tried to justify segregation with that same theory.

      February 10, 2011 at 5:00 am |
    • Human

      Lol, burn. Yea Burt go stick ur head back up your ass

      February 10, 2011 at 5:02 am |
    • Kyle

      ahh, biblical induced bigotry at it's finest.

      February 10, 2011 at 5:06 am |
    • LMB

      Thank God someone said it!! You are correct. And for all you female haters out there, I am a woman.

      February 10, 2011 at 5:10 am |
    • JCT

      To the comment that the Bible does not say women can't be pastors...
      1 Timothy 2 (NKJV)
      11 Let a woman learn in silence with all submission.
      12 And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.

      I won't even begin to discuss the author's total misinterpretation of Genesis, but this article is complete nonsense and Biblically inaccurate.

      February 10, 2011 at 5:39 am |
    • Marcio Castro

      And because those roles were determined by the Creator, like a user manual, only the Inventor knows its purpose and how to use it.
      God was very clear in Genesis 2:24 "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh."

      February 10, 2011 at 5:58 am |
  19. alan

    Adam and Eve are genetic twins and god let them have childern. So why not gays?
    My only thought is, what about gays that god sent to hell, now that he changed his mind do they get compensation for wrongfull imprisonment?

    February 10, 2011 at 4:04 am |
    • Duo

      That's awesome! There ought to be some legal ramifications.

      February 10, 2011 at 5:08 am |
    • Steve the real one

      You must have missed the speech on that spermy, eggy thing!

      February 10, 2011 at 11:55 am |
  20. HinduBrother

    CNN, keep off this kind of nonsense article from your sites. You need some quality control here. Your standards are falling.

    February 10, 2011 at 3:57 am |
    • Walter

      My friend, you could not be more right.

      February 10, 2011 at 4:17 am |
    • David

      And please keep your hate to yourself.

      February 10, 2011 at 4:38 am |
    • woman

      I agree with you. She claims to be a "Bible scholar and pastor", but here she is, blaspheming her way and bringing more confusion into an already confused world. She's such a hypocrite. She might be "living in sin" now and this is her way to "justify" herself.

      @CNN: fail!!!!

      February 10, 2011 at 4:47 am |
    • Kyle

      This is a section of CNN specifically designed for these type of opinion pieces. If you don't agree then don't bother reading.

      February 10, 2011 at 5:05 am |
    • Stevo

      Didn't have to read much of this to realize this women must of got her history and theology from a Rice Krispies box. Wow !!

      February 10, 2011 at 5:21 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.