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. desmin


    March 3, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
  2. Tim

    here's my take: Who care what the bible says? think for yourself.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
  3. Jesus of Nazareth

    Is it just me or does hearing people quote scripture make you think of two geeks debating over plot lines from Star Trek by trying to out do each other with all of the dialog they remember.

    Guys. It's not real. It's a work of fiction. Just like Star Trek. It doesn't matter what it says, you can't prove anything with it.

    You should be embarrassed to have an opinion on what the bible tells you to do. It's like getting into a heated argument with friends over what your fortune cookie is saying about your life. It doesn't make you look intelligent, it just let everyone know you're an idiot.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
  4. kapatid

    So sad and frightening to hear those people who disrespect God and his words....Remember you have your choice to do what you want in yourlife but YOU CAN'T CHOOSE what the consequences will be on the day of judgement. May God grace be upon you alll.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
  5. EpicurianLogic

    Religion evolved(ironically) with social times. It will do anything and everything to stay alive and keep any shred of credibility and the masses are dumb enough to fall for it. It's both sad and funny. The biggest difference between science and religion is that, unlike religion, science works. Keep clinching at straws 🙂

    March 3, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
  6. eduful

    this article is nonsense...the writer is lost and though he thinks he understands God and the bible...he doesn't understand a thing. May the spirit of God speak to him so he can repent and be forgiven for leading people astray.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
    • justathought

      Well SHE may not know what SHE'S talking about... but apparently, neither do you because, HER name is Jennifer and there is a picture of a female. Before you get on your high horse and testify, check your facts... it's hard to listen to someone preach about the big things when they can't even get the simple things right.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
  7. Angie

    The Bible says that eating shellfish is an abomination. Where is the protest against Red Lobster? Can we just ignore the word of God to satisfy our own desires?

    March 3, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
  8. MarieC.

    So nice not to care what the Bible says.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
  9. mm

    The slavery in the Bible is not the slavery that was experienced in the African/American slavery. This is one dumb bible scholar who needs to stop frying her brains on drugs. Slavery in the Bible was for a specific time and for a specific period. If someone owes money and could not pay it back they could become someone's slave. Meaning they would work for them for free for a period of time until their debt was paid and then they could go back to their family. It was simply for the means of repaying a debt.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
    • Karen

      Please check your facts. Its sick that you are claiming 'biblical slavery' is good and africian american slavery is bad. You must be white.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
  10. Adam

    It never ceases to amaze that people are amazed by this silly story. Haven't you ever noticed that Luke and Mathew had all this information that the others didn't have decades before them? Once again, Luke and Mathew were written 80 to 120 years after Jesus is said to have lived. It is amazing that they had far more detail of all of the alleged events than did the earlier authors.

    Of course, it is purely coincidental that the story was the same as the pagans and other religions that preceded it. One big 'ol coincidence.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
  11. Me

    Sounds like another gay woman trying to justify her actions...Reap IT!

    March 3, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
  12. Bob

    Why did they change the story? They are just manipulating all of us into visiting CNN so that the billionaires make more money. That is why Google with their push advertisements are so evil and the same with Apple. Unless we pull ourselves away from the internet we will all be brainwashed Christians.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
  13. Adam

    Say, whatever happened to all the dead that were raised by Jesus? Funny how nobody else in history wrote about that. Just think – proof of any one of these "miracles" would go a long way toward making people believers. Couldn't they just run out Lazarus? You'd think that these zombies would have an exciting tale to tell.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
  14. lynn

    ridiculous people with ridiculous ideas. The Bible is true. I would be afraid to blaspheme the Lord as many of you have.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
    • Person with some sense

      Actually what evidence do you have of the fact besides a dillusional assumption. Simply assuming that some book written thousands of years when people believed that everything was made of earth, fire, air, and water; When people believed that people with mental disorders sinned and should condemned, and when people believed that it is all right to enslave people; is a complete joke. How can you assume that the Bible, mainly about how Jesus "died for all of us," is true when Jesus didn't even write the book himself? How can you assume the Bible is true when its based on a revalation, something that can not be proven. Its great to have your own beliefs, but don't shun other ideas because you believe a book is true. It shows true ignorance and a lack of acceptance

      March 3, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
  15. Adam

    It doesn't matter if George Washington existed or not because we are not basing our lives (and forcing others to do so) on his alleged words.

    Better yet, pick up a book that details the history of the bible. It was written 60 to 100+ years after he is said to have lived. And more importantly, none of the people that supposely knew him wrote any of it down. If you saw the son of God wouldn't you write it down? Case closed.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
    • what?!

      @Adam, this is how internet is a curse to facts. This is not true whatsoever that almost all the books in the Bible were written by people who didn't know Christ.....(eg. Apostle Paul, who wrote the most books in the Bible, def new Jesus...)

      March 3, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
  16. kirk

    everyone should read and understand these verses.

    romans 1:24-28.

    24Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:

    25Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

    26For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

    27And 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.

    28And 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;

    March 3, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
    • Mark

      Leviticus 18:22, when God was speaking to Moses, "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination. " IT IS an abomination (for a man to sleep with a man).

      March 3, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
    • dpljlb

      Ah SHUT UP.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
  17. None at this time

    This woman is CRAZY! Anyone who buys her bill of goods is in deep trouble!!!

    March 3, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
  18. Q

    GOD doesn't permit fornication in The Word....hetro or other. He does say man is to marry woman. This is after creation (which is depicted incorrectly here btw). Once human form is achieved we are to multiply. Same genders couldn't do this prior to the fall (since the fall we are subject to sin and the devil...which produces this confusion). We are to love ALL HUMANITY....AND FOLLOW HIS WORD. Don't stand with those that won't repent to there sins, sins we will all commit because of the curse. Be strong family!!!!

    March 3, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
    • Mark

      Leviticus 18:22, KJV, Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination (when God was speaking to Moses)

      March 3, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
    • Michael Rosales

      Gee Jennifer, then maybe you should explain to us all what Paul, the spokesman for Jesus Christ meant in verses 26-32 in the first chapter of Romans.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  19. david

    its a moot point. as the bible is a complete work of fiction, and is totally meaningless in how we live our lives,there is no relevance to be placed on one word of that book.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
    • Brent

      You won't be saying that 2 seconds after you've died I'm sure.

      Who comes up with this crap anyway? Wow.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
    • maria f

      agreed. who cares, one way or another? The bible is a work of fiction, and should have absolutely no impact in governing our laws.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
    • LP

      Yeah, it's fiction, but that's not remotely the point. The point is what is says about the subject and how different passages could be interpreted. Moby Dick is a fictional book as well, but you don't see people freaking out when someone does a critical analysis of it.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
  20. robert

    May 21 2011

    March 3, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • Cman

      This article is garbage. Enough said.

      March 3, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
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About this blog

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.