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. Don W.

    Jennifer Wright Knust is just another self-professed egotistical interpretor of the Bible and has absolutely no basis for disstorting the truth for her own pride.

    February 11, 2011 at 1:33 am |
  2. Sun Dancer

    To Jennifer Wright Knust: Leviticus 18:22 Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.
    Leviticus 18:26 Ye shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations; neither any of your own nation, nor any stranger that sojourneth among you:
    Leviticus 20:13 If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination:

    Romans 1:17-27 For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.

    For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

    And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

    Romans 1:28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;

    Romans 1:29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,

    Romans 1:30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,

    Romans 1:31 Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:

    Romans 1:32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
    Today you are called before God to confess your sins and turn from your evil way. My God have mercy on you.

    February 11, 2011 at 1:25 am |
  3. narek

    how stupid you have to be to say that god is OK to gays. I am disgusted to be Christian when i read these people. If you are gay you cannot enter heaven never, never, never.

    February 11, 2011 at 1:09 am |
  4. Timie

    So when God said we should be fruitful and multiply was he talking about cloning or what?

    February 11, 2011 at 1:02 am |
  5. ade

    the purpose of marriage is not to return what man lost but to ensure his salvation in jesus christ. mans body is subject to the law of this world but his soul is eternal. the most important point that is missing is that if you are not born again, you can never understand the things of the spirit and the soul. that is your foundation. seek the abundant mercy of jesus christ and all will be made manifest and you will have your answer on this

    February 11, 2011 at 12:53 am |
    • jim

      Reincarnation, in other words. What now? The unending cycle of rebirth. Sounds like you're finding one religion remarkably similar to another!

      February 11, 2011 at 1:46 am |
  6. Mercy

    God have mercy on you, Ms. Knust, and on us all.

    To be ignorant is one thing, but to spread lies and confusion is something else entirely. You misrepresent the Bible, and individuals who have no personal knowledge of scripture may be taken in by your obsfucations.

    Think of the impact your words may have on a soul.

    We are all responsible for the information (and misinformation) we give to others about God. To knowingly contort the teachings of the Bible and to attempt to lead individuals away from the Truth is a terrible, wicked practice.

    Please take time to reflect on the evil you have produced in this essay and ask God to enlighten your soul through the grace of Jesus Christ and the intercession of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary so that you will come to relize the harm you have done and make reparations.

    February 11, 2011 at 12:49 am |
  7. inerrantword

    Hence why women should not be teachers or pastors. This was rubbish. It is filth and essentially blasphemy. Biblical Christianity gets better respect from athiests than people like this.

    February 11, 2011 at 12:40 am |
  8. ensign76

    Hate sin, not the sinner! This is where the line must be divided... And somehow, I find Ms Jennifer Wright Knust's perception of the Bible is a fulfillment of the prophecy, 2 Timothy 4:3, "For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear", thus ushering the Great Apostasy, then the end will come!

    February 11, 2011 at 12:38 am |
    • sad man

      I believe that it is upon us my friend. Hold tight to our faith. It won't be long now.

      February 11, 2011 at 1:43 am |
    • ensign76

      ...And with all these wars and rumors of wars... creation's birth pangs of biblical proportions from manila to rio... I couldn't agree with you more, my friend!

      February 11, 2011 at 2:56 am |
  9. NL

    Steve the real one-
    The Dead Sea Scrolls illustrate that what was considered scripture even after Jesus' time was not standard. There is some variation in text and preference in books before around 100 A.D. when the OT became more-or-less canonized. That's 100AD, well past any attempt that you can make to claim that anything in the New Testament is guaranteed to be solidly grounded in what we now know as the Old Testament. Jesus and Paul may not have been reading the exact same scripture (Jewish) that you do now. Interesting, eh?

    February 11, 2011 at 12:34 am |
  10. Adrianm

    For someone who claims to be a Bible SCHOLAR and PASTOR, you display a remarkable lack of understanding of the Bible, Jennifer Wright Knust. It never fails to amaze me how one can take a straightforward, uncomplicated Bible principle, and turn it into a complicated, twisted, and inaccurate private interpretation! Is it simply too starightforward that we believe it has to be more complicated than than it actually is and thus feel the need to completely re-invent its obvious meaning? Apparently so!

    February 11, 2011 at 12:28 am |
  11. NL

    "You on the other hand, since you do not believe in the bible, you have no share in what is being dicussed."
    Sure we do. Christians base their decision making on the bible. We atheists question the wisdom of doing that, especially since you vote and act politically in other ways that affects us all. Don't take it personally. Generally we are skeptical of astrology, I Ching, and the magic 8 ball too.

    February 11, 2011 at 12:19 am |
    • Ian

      Nicely said – everyone should have an opinion on this, Christian or not.

      February 11, 2011 at 2:15 am |
  12. Mjose

    I can't believe this person can call herself a Bible scholar and Pastor. Everything is in the epistle to the Romans, chapter 2. If anyone wants to ignore the scripture and twist it, Please leave your demon inspired interpretations to yourself. Thank you, and God have mercy on you!

    February 11, 2011 at 12:04 am |
  13. John

    Ms. Knust, You have presented a twisted and incomplete interpertation of God's word. Shame on you.

    February 10, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
  14. Tony Boomer

    So, let me get this straight, so to speak, 1 Cor 6:9,10 say that men lying with men will not inherit God´s Kingdom, and what about Romans 1:26-30, it is a joke?.
    The bible don´t teach to hate the gays, or to hate the thieves, or the lesbians, or the adulterers, but to hate such actions, the problem in our society it is that the people think that they must follow their perv feelings, that they have no chance, no choice.
    Well the Bible teach that anyone can do God´s will, if he or she really want to.

    February 10, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
  15. WileyinCA

    I am so very glad that I am not "Christian" and that I view the Bible as just a nice set of fables. Perhaps the greatest novel ever written. Not that one can't learn valuable lessons from fables. Just ask Mr. Aesop. However, most of the world's ills from the very beginning have been the result of "men" believing that their way was the only way. Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, you name it....all religions have foisted atrocities on humanity in the name of their own gods. There are no exceptions. And using the "word of God" as a way to justify evil behavior is just abdication of personal responsibility. The only solution is for our entire society to develop a social code of conduct and set of values that transcends the petty squabbling over whose "book" is right. And being able to make that choice, my friends, is the real gift from God.

    February 10, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
  16. David

    First off, her interpretation of creation is utterly false and has not been held as viable by any established form of the church. The language in Genesis 1-2 is poetic. God did not create man twice, He created man once. This is retarded.

    February 10, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
    • Timie

      It's good to see not everybody's buying this Heresy. What a shame.

      February 11, 2011 at 12:41 am |
  17. Sparks

    Thank you for the education, Jennifer. And lighten UP people!

    February 10, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
  18. Snowfox

    Where do people get their Bibles again? Oh yeah! They generally buy them...at the store. For a moment I almost thought that God himself knocks on the front door and hands over his journal collection. I don't want to miss it! I love God. I trust God. I believe in Gods word. I don't however trust the interpretation of Gods word as provided to us by any human. Makes me no difference whether they lived in that time period or if they're making a profit selling the Book, or if they were hired to translate a past language, or update the words for todays youth. They're are too many variables for me to wholly believe those are the exact words, in the exact order with the exact implications that God intended. If you trust God and you have developed a personal relationship with him...then do you really need anyone elses interpretation?

    February 10, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
  19. Roy Adams

    God's loves people, it is their ungodly orunscriptural practices that he hates.

    February 10, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
    • Nana


      February 13, 2011 at 12:42 am |
  20. Roy Adams

    It appears you have read the Bible, it is time you now study it. Start at Romans 1:24-27.

    February 10, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
    • astonished

      amen, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and this is just pluralism, humanism, and twisted.

      February 10, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
    • Fritz Bernardo

      Very well said, Mr.Adams... and shame on you Jennifer Wright Knust. Anyone who twist the Bible is worst than a pagan.

      February 10, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
    • Dawn of the dead

      I can't believe people worship zombies by dressing up as bunnies and hiding eggs. Ha ha!

      February 11, 2011 at 12:44 am |
    • Jennifer L.

      It appears she addressed that passage already by acknowledging Paul's bias (Romans would be Paul's letter to the Romans).

      February 11, 2011 at 1:14 am |
    • sad man

      More and more the media outlet has taken to attacking Christianity. This so called "pastor" needs to stop trying to bend the bible to fit the world. There is only one way to interpret the bible, and thats God's Way.

      February 11, 2011 at 1:35 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.