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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. Jennifer Bucker

    The person that wrote this article needs to read the bible over and over and over again and pray for the Holy Spirit to guide her. Many of her points are incorrect. I am ashamed that she call herself a pastor.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:24 am |
  2. Baptist Friend

    Is everyone clear on this now?

    February 10, 2011 at 6:22 am |
    • Steve J

      That most religions' 'bibles' have similar anecdotal stories in them to try to teach lessons and that some have been twisted in more modern translations to say things they didn't say before?

      February 10, 2011 at 6:51 am |
  3. Kevin

    56 pages of response for a God that doesn't exist and a book designed to keep you all in check. Keep on dreamin' the dream, dreamers.

    The rest of us here in sanity-ville get to lay back and get our fingers all greasy with popcorn.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:21 am |
  4. Baptist Friend

    "If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination." (Leviticus 20:13). "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination. Nor shall you mate with any animal, to defile yourself with it. Nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it. It is perversion. ‘Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you." (Leviticus 18:22-24).

    February 10, 2011 at 6:20 am |
  5. Jimp

    Yeah, I know, these days everyone is right. There is no right or wrong. God forbid.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:18 am |
  6. the devil's gotcha

    @Not Found In Nature: I love you. Thanks. You have just proven my point...

    February 10, 2011 at 6:17 am |
  7. Corey

    This is not christian; this is modern day Gnosticism.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:10 am |
  8. Ben

    It's very sad for this lady that she has the view she does. Her claim to being a scholar and a pastor and using that proclaimed expertise to twist scripture will only serve to lead people astray. I'm not certain where she has studied or what views she has that bias her against the accepted interpretation of biblical scriptures, but she has misinterpreted the creation story and seems to lack the language background in Hebrew and Greek to truly appreciate the original meanings of the biclical texts. Do not be swayed by this article, but seek out a true biblical scholar, teacher, or pastor to help you sort out this misleading article.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:08 am |
  9. Winnie Skinner

    I want to believe in god. I want to believe there is a higher power. And I have seen things only someone like god could possibly be responsible for. However; we are torn. If anyone can answer this question I would appreciate it a lot. We've asked ministers and got no response. If there is a god; and I do think it is possible, but if there is why is there no mention of dinosaurs and caveman (for lack of a better word) mentioned in the bible? If it is creation and not evolution why are they not mentioned? They are historic and physical fact. Fossils galore. Adam and Eve of course are mentioned but it is obvious that cavemen were not even as evolved as them. Can someone please explain theirs and dinosaurs exsistence or even the animals of the ice age? How they fit into the creation theory?

    February 10, 2011 at 6:02 am |
    • Terrance

      I believe there were probably dinosaurs, and I do believe the bible mentions something about a fire breathing animal in the old testament. I only imagine that after so many years, many other animals became extinct after the dinosaurs as well. Perhaps in another 500 years people will look back and wonder what an eagle was like in real life if they too become extinct. The bible doesn't go into detail about every animal that existed. However, there is more true evidence of creation, than there is of evolution. Evolution is based on a concept, not a truth. The bible is based on a truth, that people often turn into a concept. That's what humans do all too often. That is why it is important to have faith like a child. However, I also believe that if one were a super scientist and could go back in time, they would be astonished on how everything would make sense (everything from Noah's Ark and the flood, dinosaurs, and Jesus performing miracles, and YES rising from the dead ). Keep on searching for truth, but remember to pray and ask God for help. Let God, who is the ultimate truth be your guide. When you feel lost, remember that is a feeling, not a truth. When you find truth, hang onto it, and don't let anyone mislead you.

      February 10, 2011 at 6:23 am |
  10. John

    I don't know, nor do I care if it is a sin. I'm not going to participate.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:02 am |
  11. bruce

    the truth can not be interpreted in many ways ,the holy spirit reveals the truth to us. and last we are to hate the sin not the man.

    February 10, 2011 at 6:01 am |
  12. Not Found In Nature

    EVER...EVER...EVER...EVER: What are you, 12? And who cares! As if your declination should be a signal for the modern world. Get over yourself. You are simply not that important.

    February 10, 2011 at 5:55 am |
  13. peter

    If only there were additional scripture – even modern revelation through present day prophets to clarify the matter.
    -See mormon.org

    February 10, 2011 at 5:53 am |
    • jimmyv

      I doubt that if and when Jesus returns to earth he will come to Utah, and not his promised land of Israel.

      February 10, 2011 at 6:16 am |
  14. DM

    Jennifer, remember Sodom and Gomorrah and you will certainly change your mind. If not, by taking from the Word of God, he will take away your part as well.

    February 10, 2011 at 5:52 am |
    • Steve J

      ANOTHER 'story' with multiple interpretations can bring clarity of some kind???

      February 10, 2011 at 6:40 am |
  15. CHANCEL WOODS

    THIS PERSON IS WORKING FOR THE DEVIL .

    February 10, 2011 at 5:49 am |
    • Steve J (yes a different one)

      Are you bragging about working for The Devil?

      February 10, 2011 at 6:37 am |
  16. Vince

    This is the most rediculous article I've ever read.

    February 10, 2011 at 5:46 am |
    • Lisa

      I agree with you Vince...it's absurd.

      February 10, 2011 at 6:00 am |
  17. pj

    Religion = Aesop's Fables

    February 10, 2011 at 5:46 am |
    • jimmyv

      pj = moron, ignoramus, disrespectful.

      February 10, 2011 at 6:07 am |
  18. Steve Johnson

    Over the next decade or so, more and more people are going to start agreeing with the view of this article.

    The same thing always happens when a core belief is on the verge of becoming immoral by society's standards. It was the same with slavery, women's rights, animal sacrifices, etc. People revise their interpretation of the text to fit whatever morals they already have.

    In reality, this will be yet more evidence that morality comes from humans, not books, but none of the Christians who undergo this shift will see it that way.

    Suddenly, the bible will have been correct on gays all along!

    February 10, 2011 at 5:41 am |
    • Steve J (yes a different one)

      Righteousness is more patient than ignorance...it just has to wait for the latter to fade away.

      February 10, 2011 at 6:35 am |
  19. Quoc

    Your take is wrong lady.

    February 10, 2011 at 5:39 am |
    • kazz

      Amen 🙂

      February 10, 2011 at 5:57 am |
    • Kricket

      Why? Because it's different than yours?

      February 10, 2011 at 6:24 am |
    • Kricket

      Have you talked to God? Has He Himself told you this lady is wrong? I highly doubt it. Just because you disagree doesn't mean she is wrong.

      February 10, 2011 at 6:27 am |
  20. the devil's gotcha

    it is because of the responses in forums like this that i will NEVER...EVER..EVER...EVER...EVER...EVER... become a christan, muslim, hindu, buddist, morman or any other category used in describing the religous ferver that dominates the world today... 90% of these responses are trying to prove or disprove one woman's take on a religious doctrine... none of you are in this woman's head...so who are you to argue for or against her own opinion... all i see here are people trying to articulate their own arrogance by spewing out what limited knowledge of religious doctrine they have...so busy trying to promote intellectual edificess unto themselves that they have forgotten the simplest principles...how to treat each other with respect and dignity...how to want for the other what we would wish for ourselves... the world is full of innocent people who are dying because...of war...famine...corrupt governence...poverty...it was this way well before this blog was posted...and it will be this way long after the rhetorical and drivel like verbatim is regurgitated on this page...

    February 10, 2011 at 5:38 am |
    • Ron

      Thank you for your thoughtful response. All I see is conservative Christians who are arguing that if you don't believe as they do, you're wrong. There are a lot of Pharisees trying to prove their point and in the same breath condemning anything different.
      Typical & Predictable.
      I would never want to be Christian.

      February 10, 2011 at 6:03 am |
    • cheeto

      Got to say you hit the nail right on the head. Taking the Bible literally is a bad idea when it can be interpreted so many different ways. If we were all taking it literally then we would all own slaves!

      February 10, 2011 at 6:13 am |
    • Jim

      Very good points and I concur with your non-adoption of any religion – one day, maybe, the world will wake up and see all these religions for what they are – egotistical power players in the business of convincing people the "boogyman" is real and by giving them your goods, money, life – "they" will protect you from said boogyman – been going on forever since the first priest figured out that the boogyman was power.

      February 10, 2011 at 6:24 am |
    • Terrance

      Ron, remember, being a Christian means to "Follow Christ". Do you not want to follow Christ? "Christians" are humans who make mistakes, but it's often non-Christians who say "Look at that Christian, trying to be so perfect, and ha ha ha they just said something stupid, or did something non-politically correct". It's really sad to see someone get turned off to being a follower of Christ because of all of us humans out there (who are not Christ because Jesus was perfect in every way). Don't make excuses for not seeking out real truth, and hide behind the dirty wall of society. Seek the truth instead.

      February 10, 2011 at 6:29 am |
    • Steve J

      "If Jesus came back and saw what's going on in his name, he'd never stop throwing up."

      February 10, 2011 at 6:46 am |
    • Compassionate yet ...read on!

      To all who are feeling overwhelmed & even angry about the article and / or the responses here...I can see why some are leaving a sour taste in your mouth! Remember though, even Jesus was angry about hypocrites! In Matthew 23:28, he even addressed this when he said to the crowds, "On the outside, you appear to people as righteous but on the inside, you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness!"

      I think we have to remember also that Jesus is CONSISTENT! His word stays the SAME! Hebrews 13:8 says, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever!"

      Another word about hypocrites...so often we hear this ..to the point of where I think we have to be careful to not allow that to be our ticket OUT of heaven one day! Think of it this way..Here's a question:: Do you agree with ALL of the rules and regulations of your work place? Is there not even ONE rule or item in the employee contract that maybe you & your fellow comrads disagree with just a little bit? Yet,.....do all of you STILL show up for WORK????? Well? ooops! Doesn't that mean you might be a bit of a hypocrite yourself? No offense but ..just because people belong to a group a certain 'group'...doesn't mean that they are always following things to a 'T'...there are probably things in your employee contract that you're not even aware of!! Just like in the Bible, not all so-called, "Christians" know their Bibles from start to finish to the point of following everything to a 'T'...but that doesn't mean they aren't sincere ...plus, did you just 'hear' how they are supposed to act or something? (side note: who says all you have 'heard' is completely correct anyhow? Did you memorize the Bible overnight?! lol..laugh..it's a joke!) In every line of work out there {occupation wise}, think of it..there are hypocrites! ...Doctors, lawyers, etc...... and though it is our lifestyle belief, Christians are no different...(unfortunately)

      Bottom line? Regardless of what we think a Christian SHOULD be like or whatever we think a 'hypocrite' is or isn't, the following verses will apply at the end of the age and you & I will be judged by God for what we are thinking..the decisions we are making about these 'Christians'..and if in fact we are deciding that we don't want anything to do with Christianity..the fact that anybody is blaming 'THESE PEOPLE' for their reasons to stay away from a decision to become a Christ follower ....it won't matter to God on that day..NOT ONE BIT..read on & by the way? Blessings to you dear brothers and sisters..I WILL be praying for you! God's word says this about it:

      Isaiah 45: 21-24, "I am God. I work out in the open, saying what's right, setting things right. So gather around, come on in, all you refugees and castoffs. They don't seem to know much, do they-those who carry around their no-god blocks of wood, praying for help to a dead stick? So tell me what you think. Look at the evidence. Put your heads together. Make your case. Who told you, and a long time ago, what's going on here? Who made sense of things for you? Wasn't I the one? God? It had to be me. I'm the only God there is-The only God who does things right and knows how to help. So turn to me and be helped-saved!-everyone, whoever and wherever you are. I am GOD, the only God there is, the ONE and ONLY. I promise in my own name. Every word out of my mouth does what it says! I never take back what I say. EVERYONE IS GOING TO END UP KNEELING BEFORE ME. EVERYONE IS GOING TO END UP SAYING OF ME, 'YES! SALVATION AND STRENGTH ARE IN GOD!' All who have raged against Him will be brought before Him, disgraced by their unbelief."

      THOSE VERSES ARE IN THE BIBLE... Let them speak for theirselves.

      To all who don't care to believe because of whatever reason or who are confused because of this article..just remember..The gospel doesn't change (God's word) because of some person who decides to 'rearrange' the ideas or thinks the facts have a 'loophole'..they don't have any other angle than straight on...! NOTHING HAS CHANGED..God didn't come down and say He changed His mind or that there is a "P.S" to His 'love letter' to us (again, the Bible)!! Blessings on all...the ones who agree and the ones who 'agree to disagree!'...after all, the greatest of the commandments is that we love one another,.....did I hear an 'AMEN'??? From a 'compassionate' BELIEVER!

      February 10, 2011 at 7:27 am |
    • True Beliver

      Thank you for making the point that is in my head all the time. Agnostic; that is the best bet.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:30 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.