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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. nonameowns

    Guess what? Religions are for retards. Beliefs that made utter no sense are dated far ago

    Snap yourself out of it, Jesus ain't saving your ass.

    February 10, 2011 at 7:45 am |
    • eferg

      Athiesm is for retards, your ancestors were monkeys, what do you know.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:54 am |
    • Cathy

      Ah...but Jesus died to save us all.......

      February 10, 2011 at 8:01 am |
  2. Aaron

    The fact that the author is an ordained pastor (1 Timothy 3:1-7, 1 Timothy 2:12 KJV ) should give everyone a clue as to the her propensity to skew, oh I mean "interpret", scripture.

    February 10, 2011 at 7:43 am |
  3. ME

    It is obvious that you dont beleive the BIBLE to be the WORD OF GOD!!!!!!!

    February 10, 2011 at 7:43 am |
    • A Believer

      Amen! People who try to twist it fit today's lifestyle (AKA the author) don't truly believe God is unable to lie, unchanging or all powerful. If they did, they would know God's truths are the same yesterday and tomorrow and that what He said 2,000 years ago, He knew would need to be applied today! Is He not powerful enough to keep His Word pure and true throughout the years?

      February 10, 2011 at 8:09 am |
  4. CES

    Thank you Ms. Knust for further misleading people from God.

    If you believe the bible is the word of God, Accept that. If not, then you go trusting on you own understanding...

    Proverbs 3: 5-7
    5 – Trust in Jehovah with all your heart and do not lean upon your own understanding. 6- In all your ways take notice of him, and he himself will make your paths straight. 7- Do not become wise in your own eyes. Fear Jehovah and turn away from bad. 8 – May it become a healing to your navel and a refreshment to your bones.

    2 Timothy 3:1-7

    1 – But know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. 2 – For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, self-assuming, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, 3 – having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, 4 – betrayers, headstrong, puffed up [with pride], lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, 5 – having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power; and from these turn away. 6 – For from these arise those men who slyly work their way into households and lead as their captives weak women loaded down with sins, led by various desires, 7 – always learning and yet never able to come to an accurate knowledge of truth.

    Matthew 19:3-9
    3 – And Pharisees came up to him, intent on tempting him and saying: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife on every sort of ground?” 4 – In reply he said: “Did YOU not read that he who created them from [the] beginning made them male and female 5 – and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and will stick to his wife, and the two will be one flesh’? 6 – So that they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has yoked together let no man put apart.” 7 – They said to him: “Why, then, did Moses prescribe giving a certificate of dismissal and divorcing her?” 8 – He said to them: “Moses, out of regard for YOUR hardheartedness, made the concession to YOU of divorcing YOUR wives, but such has not been the case from [the] beginning. 9 – I say to YOU that whoever divorces his wife, except on the ground of fornication, and marries another commits adultery.”

    Leviticus 18:22
    22 – “‘And you must not lie down with a male the same as you lie down with a woman. It is a detestable thing.

    ARE THESE INSTRUCTIONS NOT CLEAR ENOUGH FOR YOU?

    February 10, 2011 at 7:41 am |
    • zeckad

      Very well said CES. The way you used God's Word which is the final authority. If some wish to spin it to suit their "lifestyle" then so be it. For others who have written how old the Bible is, written by men, and irrelevant for this 21 century, they are doing what Satan wants, they are in a sense blind and most likely will remain in such state. More and more we're seeing just how he has blinded the eyes of the nonbelievers to the point where simple reasoning won't remove that Vail from their eyes.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:52 am |
  5. Jesus

    In the end, you're all just over-glorified monkeys with keyboards in an infinitely expanding universe with no beginning or end adding meaning to that which requires none. Love all with grace, humans.

    February 10, 2011 at 7:40 am |
  6. Josh Mueller

    Knust is a child and can only write as a child.
    We love the person, not the sin.
    There is God and the Adversary. One is original and the other is counterfeit.
    Man with woman is the original plan, can you guess what the counterfeit would be?

    February 10, 2011 at 7:38 am |
  7. Erik

    The Bible is just a book. When will people grow up and dump these moronic Bronze Age beliefs?

    February 10, 2011 at 7:36 am |
    • eferg

      When will unbelievers get a brain?

      February 10, 2011 at 7:52 am |
  8. zeckad

    Very well said Randy in quoting Lev. How can ANYONE misapply such SIMPLY words? As I recall it also states about lying with a woman at that time of month and lying with animals too. So to say that it wasn't really referring to men lying with men, then to some it must be okay to lie with animals too, correct? How disgusting!!! All of those prohibitions were disgusting in Gods eyes thus he wanted to protect His people from the same practices the nations around them were engaging in. I noticed in the article how the writer glossed over Paul's words in 1st. or 2nd Corr. about those who would not inherit God's kingdom, men who lie with men. Again very SIMPLE plan words which leaves NOTHING to be read into.

    February 10, 2011 at 7:35 am |
  9. Jay

    Wow! This woman is sadly confused and mistaken.

    February 10, 2011 at 7:34 am |
    • eferg

      absolutely in agreement.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:51 am |
  10. gupsphoo

    Jesus loved having 12 grown men following him around and sleeping with him.

    February 10, 2011 at 7:33 am |
    • eferg

      Do you liars have proof?

      February 10, 2011 at 7:51 am |
  11. Religious sects

    Religion is psychological self medicating. That in itself isn't bad, it's the junkies that scare me.

    February 10, 2011 at 7:29 am |
  12. richunix

    You can simplify the whole argument by removing religion period. Man’s continue belief in deities that were made-up over 2000 years ago, but what really saddens, is we refuse to believe we are wrong.
    The Bible scholars and or pastors continue to say god loves you. Question is which God? We have so many to choose from. To start with, the word GOD is 6th century of Germanic origins. So what names was used: Well you have multiple choice, Hasheim, Yahweh and of course the ever loving Jehovah. No different than Zeus, Hera or Hades. Take away the word GOD and he is more mystical than the Gods of old.
    I have little tolerance for Biblical Scholars, tying to prove that an unknown deities exist and it can’t even pass the basic litmus test of proof. Sorry but the Bible is no more that a collection of stories, written in a time when man believed in so many Gods. Bible Scholars claim “argumentum ad vercundiam” with the Bible, knowing full well that one passage is consider in errant, then the whole text becomes in question. Take a modern stance on a claim: If I said GOD came to me in a dream, people would seriously question my sanity, but the same is true with the Bible. Revelation was created by a vision/dream according one man. In the intervening 2000 years since Christianity we have not seen ANY activity from any deity, but the confuse would have you belief so. Love the argument: The absent of God, proves he exist, as in “Begging the Question”. Also like have you stop beating your wife. Bottom line is the Bible is nothing more than mans attempt to maintain control, it is a series stories that have been re-written, changed and passed down through the ages with no truth other than what was made-up and believed then.

    This is about life and mankind, I do not fear death that I have to believe that I will continue once I die, I’m not so vain. For death is very much a part of life and I know I will die. Sorry Bible Scholars NO ONE HAS EVER RETURN FROM GRAVE 3 DAYS so as to ascend to heaven, nice myth though. It’s been use by every religion since religion was formed, just different names were used (not very original) But I do know that mankind will continue and I see it every day in our future…The children.

    February 10, 2011 at 7:29 am |
  13. Dianne

    Paul had short-guy syndrome

    February 10, 2011 at 7:28 am |
    • Cathy

      And you are just trying to be funny?????

      February 10, 2011 at 7:54 am |
  14. Eric G.

    The Abrahamic religions of the world have lost their socal relevance. The proof is that believers find it necessary to interpret meaning from their holy texts. The believers understand that these texts, when read literally, do not apply to the issues humanity faces today. You cannot claim truth to any statement that begins with "what the Bible means to say is...". No level of appologetics can bridge this logical gap. Any belief system that requires dishonesty for it's relevance is dying. My hope is that they can die peacefully.

    February 10, 2011 at 7:23 am |
    • eferg

      Atheism and bigotry killed more people than any other in man's history.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:50 am |
    • Eric G.

      @eferg: I will agree on bigotry justified by religious belief. Please give examples of how atheism has caused deaths. Believers kill in their gods name. How can atheism be responsible for killing?

      February 10, 2011 at 8:18 am |
  15. nepawoods

    I'm not religious, but have to say this article amazes me at how boldly it tries to spin what the Bible says. Is it real? Is it serious? Almost seems tongue-in-cheek humor.

    February 10, 2011 at 7:22 am |
    • wyciwyg

      what's truly astounding is. ALL christian versions-sects scour the Bible, selecting the passages that most closely conform to their particular bias-predjudice-belief ... and if they cant find a verbatim verse, they twist an ambiguity to suit them.!!

      the bible is a collection of stories and letters inspired by a Belief in God.. and then written, amended, translated for 2000 years. seems to me things get lost or perverted along the way. IMHO, Best idea is to embrace compassion, mercy and do-no-harm to others when no harm is being done to or by them.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:55 am |
    • MP

      @wyciwyg. This is the most intelligent thing said on this entire forum. Bravo!

      February 10, 2011 at 8:40 am |
  16. jsalters

    Jennifer, you are no authority on the bible and gays that I know don't have a full deck. DADT POLICY SHOULD STAY IN PLACE.AMEN.

    February 10, 2011 at 7:21 am |
    • eferg

      Amen to that too.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:47 am |
    • MP

      Stop that. Keep your religious beliefs out of American policy. SEPARATION, PEOPLE!!!!

      February 10, 2011 at 8:38 am |
  17. Winnie Skinner

    In response to Terrance. Thank you for responding. But I don't believe that dinosaurs ever included a fire breathing type. Having been interested in them all my life. What you described sounds more like a dragon which is folklore and myth. Like a unicorn. You said evolution is based on concept instead of truth but yet there are fossils; which is physical evidence. Since there is physical evidence of them and caveman (and you did not address caveman) as well, how can that be just a concept? I don't understand. Is there physical proof of Noah's ark? Is there physical proof of any of the events in the bible? I am not trying to be disrespectful. I just really want to know. And while there is much to be said for faith; you have to admit blind faith is not healthy. Nor is it necessarily based on accurate truth. Truth is important. Proof or as close to it as possible is not unreasonable to ask for. Truth and proof are the only ways to make a fair and permanent decision. It hopefully leads to peace of mind in most cases. If you were looking for your parents or your child; you would want the truth. The not knowing is worse than finding out they are gone. If you were ill; you would want the truth. If your family member or anyone else was harmed; you would want the truth, etc. Heck; maybe it is possible that evolution and creation both had a hand in creating everything. Is that possible? If so that would explain a lot.

    February 10, 2011 at 7:21 am |
    • lee

      watch the exodus exposed, pretty interesting

      February 10, 2011 at 7:43 am |
  18. fssjr

    Wow – all the bible experts are out on this one! I'll bet 90% of the clowns who posted their agreements with this tripe have never even cracked open the book.
    This is the most warped view of biblical principle I've ever suffered through. You will find that any nut can support their views by 'analyzing' scripture verses and bending them to their preferred belief system.
    When our nation becomes completely Godless, then God will say "OK -I'll leave.", and then hell will come to America like you never imagined.

    February 10, 2011 at 7:20 am |
    • Dianne

      So is he coming or going?

      February 10, 2011 at 7:30 am |
    • MMM

      I find it amazing that she claims to not just be a pastor but to be a Bible Scholar. How could she derive the interpretations she offers is beyond me.The Bible is inspired by God – the writer of the article has decided to take the Word and put her own spin on it. God clearly states – I created Man and Woman – not a nation of hermaphrodites from planet X.....

      February 10, 2011 at 7:35 am |
  19. Bill

    People forget is that the bible is a story book writen by
    persons of limited knowledge and Intellect.
    Following that thought.........
    The same peoples keep sucking it up!

    February 10, 2011 at 7:18 am |
    • eferg

      and people like Bill would rather believe in more hate and lies.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:45 am |
  20. OSFANS

    Leviticus 18:22 – "Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable." – how is this not clear? Splitting hairs does not change it. It is a sin.

    February 10, 2011 at 7:17 am |
    • jsalters

      Your right on.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:22 am |
    • 2 Dads & 3 Kids

      Bible = 2,000 yr old work of fiction written by ancient uneducated men in order to control the masses. How is that NOT clear?

      February 10, 2011 at 7:29 am |
    • Melanie

      You are SO right! Where is this woman getting this drivel?

      February 10, 2011 at 7:30 am |
    • geoffreyf

      Leviticus is only one part of the bible, ultimately the opinion of one group of jewish priests. It is not prophecy in the sense of things written by Moses. The Bible is meant to be read in its entirety, understood and appreciated in full. Simply cherry picking the phrases that support your hate is not really reading the bible.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:33 am |
    • Justin

      Don't let cattle graze with other kinds of Cattle (Leviticus 19:19)

      Don't have a variety of crops on the same field. (Leviticus 19:19)
      Yeah, and how are these not clear:

      Don't wear clothes made of more than one fabric (Leviticus 19:19)

      Don't cut your hair nor shave. (Leviticus 19:27)

      Any person who curseth his mother or father, must be killed. (Leviticus 20:9)

      Are you going to kill yourself to carry out God's will, because it is likely you cursed your parents at least once.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:42 am |
    • Toney

      Jennifer (Writer of the article).........

      YOU ARE AN IDIOT.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:43 am |
    • eferg

      whewww, the writer of this article is screwed up. Where does she get half of this stuff? She is no pastor and would not be one in my Church that preaches truth. Of course CNN had to put this crap on because they probably support anti truth stuff, the reason I stopped watching cnn on TV.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:43 am |
    • Bible Expert

      Based on your logic, what is not clear about this? We need to start enslaving Canadians and Mexicans! Question? What is the best price for a slave from Canada?

      Lev 25:44 [KJV] Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids. [NIV] Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:53 am |
    • Platypus

      It doesn't say it's a lie, it says it is "detestable".

      February 10, 2011 at 7:58 am |
    • carbonunit

      He who loves pleasure will be a poor man; He who loves wine and oil will not be rich.
      Proverbs 21:17

      February 10, 2011 at 7:59 am |
    • A Believer

      Exactly!! And to even hint that David and Jonathan were in a sinful relationship is REALLY reaching for an excuse for their sin! The Bible condemns it, but men hate the thought of God having any claim on their lives, or being able to tell them what they can and cannot do. BUT the Bible also says that EVERY knee will bow, whether here or when they meet Him after death... then it will be too late.

      February 10, 2011 at 8:00 am |
    • bone doctor

      I think God need's to raise the bar one of these days. We've got bigger things to worry about than what people put in their butts.

      February 10, 2011 at 8:56 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.