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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. JulieMS

    It's apparent that you DO NOT know or understand the scriptures. And to truly understand the scriptures you must accept Christ and receive the Holy Spirit in order to receive the wisdom to understand them. Those who try to interpret them as Jennifer Wright Knust, are deceived, believe a lie, and do not know what they are doing.

    January 15, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
  2. Oakspar

    I wonder why Mrs/Miss? Knust would call herself a "Bible scholar" and yet lack some basics of scholarship, most clearly the logical concept of Occams Razor (paraphrased as, "All other things being equal, the simplist explination is usually the best.").

    After an entire article of pin-the-tail on the semantic donkey based on the ficalness of word gender (different from actual gender, as I have never yet met a boat that was truely a "she"), the potentiality of a close friendship being more (when one of them went on to have several wives and children, one relationship so driven by lust for a woman that he took her from another man and tried to have her husband killed – so clearly not just marriages of social conformity), and a false analgy to slavery's restrictions in the Bible.

    Clear to any Biblical scholar is the truth that if it takes work an arguement to come to one position, but a hundered literate eight year olds can read the book and come to the opposite arguement, then your arguement is contrived, false, and not true to the text. Leviticus is pretty clear, as it says that "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination. (18:22)" That is sandwitched after the rules against incest, sleeping with an unclean (menstrating) woman, sleeping with your neighbor's wife, and before having relations with animals. All of those rules together, by the way, are given later in the chapter as the main reasons why God was punishing, pushing out, and destroying the previous peoples of the Holy Land. That means they are the reason for those always distressing passages where God instructs the Jews to kill every living man, woman, child, and (sometimes) animal of many of the places they conquor.

    Seems to me that is pretty clear condemnation. A good deal more clear than weak semantics, conjecture, or one's personal agenda.

    January 13, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
  3. fred

    "As a Bible scholar and pastor myself, I say "
    What has the world come to when a CNN reporter can be a pastor and a Bible scholar. To be accepted by CNN she must attack the foundation of the Bible which she did, she must be a woman in a traditional male position which she is, she must be cute which she is. I have only one thing against her, why isn't she blond. CNN your slipping.

    October 31, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
  4. 12345

    This article, and the line of "logic" you used to make your case, are completely absurd.

    July 22, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
    • Absurd!

      Why? I think it's absurd that someone decided being gay was wrong, put it in a book and now you think it's wrong because someone told you it's wrong...because someone put it in a book. Oh and said God told them it was so... Hello, absurd much?

      August 30, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • fred

      absurd
      It is absurd becasue it is a CNN hit job to drive advertising click throughs. She has twisted the truth of the Bible so bad you must throw every bible in the U.S. in the trash if what she said is right.
      In case you have not noticed the goal of the materialist corporate wall street greed machine is to get rid of the bible. Once that is done the 92% of the people who believe in God will begin to spend their money on bling bling bling sending stocks through the roof.

      October 31, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
    • ummm

      "She has twisted the truth of the Bible so bad you must throw every bible in the U.S. in the trash if what she said is right."

      The fact that different interpretations can be made is why christians like you are so dangerous for society, my version of the truth is the right one not yours. Why don't you go join the WBC since you have the mentality like they do. Your interpretation is wrong and the truth sting, which is why you’re posting on such an old story, hoping no one, will notice.

      October 31, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
    • fred

      ummm
      That is the goal to have everyone think as you do. Once we get principled religious people and the source of truth discredited there is no limit to what man can do. That will be just what Iran now has its government the only difference is it will be totaly anti God anti truth totally "secular". Yeah, you can all everything you fnd truth which basically is what the media tells you is truth.
      Either form of government Iran style or total secular spells the end to your freedom. It is christians that protected you and your rights so you could act like the Greeks if you want

      October 31, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • ummmm

      "Yeah, you can all everything you fnd truth which basically is what the media tells you is truth."

      LOL! That is what you are trying to do by a book that was written thousands of years ago by various men who gave you their version of the truth, doesn't make it the ABSOLUTE truth and since we can debate it today and show different interpretations means YOU don't know the actual truth anymore than the next guy. Kettle meet pot, pot meet Kettle.

      October 31, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
    • fred

      If the truth can be anything you want it to be then there is no truth, no right no wrong. What a bunch of nonsense. That means Jesus is wrong and UMMM is right because somehow what UMMM thinks is equal to Jesus. Well UMMM given that Jesus has enfluenced the entire Western world for 2,000 years you mus be some great god in your own right. Stop
      and think before you declare yourself equal to God. Since you do and claim Jesus was a fraud, baby killer and a nut to boot this is what you compare yourself to? See you cannot have it both ways. Even you need to decide if Jesus is who He says He was. He cannot be a baby killer to you and my savior at the same time.
      Truth matters

      October 31, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
    • ummmm

      ". Stop
      and think before you declare yourself equal to God"

      Wow are you an idiot. No where in my post did I state that, but thanks for proving me correct that YOUR interpretation of the words are NOT correct. That was the point being made and your post just proved me correct. 😉

      October 31, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
    • fred

      There is truth and there is right and wrong. The Western world we live in has never experienced a world that was not covered by the thought God created the heavens and the earth. Now you and others that want to taste what is UMMM UMMM good to you and make sure every knee bows to your taste buds. That would be exciting for you until the next taste sensesion arrives and you just happen to be last months flavor.
      Which of Gods laws no longer taste good to you this month...........don't kill,steal, covet, lie...........yeah God's truths are not UMMM UMMM Good anymore. UMMM and community of UMMMites will now apply their 10 commands that Christians must bow down to.

      October 31, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
    • fred

      Ummm
      You say I am an idiot but in a world where truth is relative that is meaningless. My tuth is I am below average. Once again we cannot both be right. So choose today if Jesus is who He says He is. It is not a matter of opinion it is a matter of truth or nut job.

      October 31, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
    • ummmm

      "Now you and others that want to taste what is UMMM UMMM good to you and make sure every knee bows to your taste buds."

      Ummm lying is a sin according to your religion yet you have no problem spewing them here. Nice job and keep showing the world I am correct...again your interpretations of words are bias and full of lies ! 😉

      October 31, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
    • fred

      ummmm
      What sin would that be? I did not lie I am below average

      October 31, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • Ummm

      “That means Jesus is wrong and UMMM is right because somehow what UMMM thinks is equal to Jesus.” – That is a lie.

      “Stop and think before you declare yourself equal to God.” – that is a lie.

      “Since you do and claim Jesus was a fraud, baby killer and a nut to boot this is what you compare yourself to?” – That is a lie.

      “He cannot be a baby killer to you” – That is a lie

      “UMMM good to you and make sure every knee bows to your taste buds” – That is a lie

      “UMMM and community of UMMMites will now apply their 10 commands that Christians must bow down to” – That Is a lie.

      November 1, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  5. Nash

    @Annah, So I guess the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and 1 Timothy 1:10 is also irrelevant today. Am I right or am I right? I need to become an expert on Exegesis? I read the Bible everyday Annah. IF there's another meaning behind these verses, please tell me how you interpret these passages, because right now, I'm perplexed that people misquote and justify specific literal passages in the Bible as being metaphorical.

    June 27, 2011 at 3:04 am |
  6. Nash

    1 Corinthians 6:9; Leviticus 18:22-23; Romans 1:26-27. This is a Bible scholar??? I'm laughing right now.

    June 15, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • Annah

      Nash, I would be careful about laughing at someone when you yourself has very little biblical interpretation of the scriptures you are posting down.

      What you are doing is what every conservative Christian has done for decades. They think it's a clobbering verse against gay people but all it takes is a marginal education in Biblical Exegesis to understand the verses you so eloquently listed with such immaturity means something other than what you are thinking.

      It's actually really sad the poor level of "self proclaimed" scholars we have in the peanut gallery.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • Tyler

      Annah, You claim that he doesn't interpret those right. Show how they should be interpreted. (and don't give that "it's old covenant" because 2 of those 3 verses are in the New Testament.) Otherwise I'm inclined that after 2 years in school being trained to do exegesis, that it pretty much means what it says. Should we hate gays? No. They deserve to be loved like everyone else. Does that mean I am ok with their lifestyle? No. However, that is their choice. So I love them as a friend and if they ever ask I will tell them I do not approve, but it's their choice.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
  7. Jinx McHue`

    This is one of the stupidest things I've ever read and it goes a long way in proving why Paul said that women should not preach in the church.

    June 10, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • William

      Jinx, that's one of the very first things I thought.... "Where's her husband?". haha. A lot of this article is one stretched interpretation after another and it's just ridiculous. And I don't feel bad for condemning the woman who wrote this, because she's proclaiming herself to be a pastor and a bible scholar, so she has no excuse to not know the truth.

      July 11, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  8. Nadin

    I like to complement Jennifer Wright for her remarkable presentation and share my response to her interesting article. The Bible teaches that God is spirit and does not have a physical body. When God created man, He made him in his own image, a spirit being without a gender with both male and female attributes or characteristics. God's plan for man was for him to multiply and rule the earth (Genesis 1:26, 27), and in order for man to function on earth, God created a physical body from the elements of the earth. God's plan for man has not changed since then. He Himself has put on an earthly body and lived like us in the person of Christ Jesus. The good news is that He can identify with us and we can get to know Him personally not with information in our mind, but with knowledge in our hearts. He longs to come into our lives and make a difference for the better. If you do not know Him, it is never late, you can experience Him today. He is love, ask Him into your heart.

    June 10, 2011 at 12:13 am |
  9. alfred

    2 Timothy chapter three says it all for those who are born again and those who would judge scripture according to their own interpretation. God is not a man that should repent of these words. As a Christian leader I encourage you to seek wisdom and not be a follower of foolishness.

    June 5, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
  10. zahner953820417

    The bible is NOT the WORD OF GOD -- The Bible is only ABOUT GOD – NOTHING ELSE!!

    April 23, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
    • Wes

      nice 1, idk y people are always sayn its the WORD of GOD. SUre it quotes him, but the bilbe is nothing more than a story to help us understand the human condition. id say at least, but then again im not a biblical scholar haha

      October 31, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
  11. Keri Minnick

    Great analysis. I hope people really read the whole slavery paragraph enough to understand it. We cannot just take random lines in the Bible and use them to hurt people. When in doubt, we should choose the love and accept any creation of God, including those who happen to be gay.

    April 12, 2011 at 12:13 am |
  12. Larry

    Well I guess if you want to read the bible and then make out of it what you want it to mean, that is ok but you need to remember that it also says ( Love thy neighbor ) and I see nothing after that, that states thy nieghbor has to be str8. So please if you read the bible, then use common sense in the meaning of it. I mean if I read that thou shall not covent another mans wife, does this mean it's ok for a women to sleep with another womens husband and not be condemed.

    April 3, 2011 at 10:30 am |
  13. weallgotone

    "As a Bible scholar and pastor myself..."

    You forgot to include false prophet. lol

    March 23, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
    • Ihoppancakes

      I presume then that you are the supreme arbiter of truth?

      April 5, 2011 at 1:46 am |
  14. SomeoneforgottoreadthierBible

    Leviticus 20:13
    If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them.

    March 20, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
    • Larry B

      Well reading it and interpret it the way it means is really the key.
      Well I guess if you want to read the bible and then make out of it what you want it to mean, that is ok but you need to remember that it also says ( Love thy neighbor ) and I see nothing after that, that states thy nieghbor has to be str8. So please if you read the bible, then use common sense in the meaning of it. I mean if I read that thou shall not covent another mans wife, does this mean it's ok for a women to sleep with another womens husband and not be condemed.

      April 3, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • Annah

      "For everyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death. He has cursed his father or his mother. His blood shall be upon him." (Leviticus 20:9) . You back talk your parents you your parents can kill you.

      "If a man lies with a woman during her sickness and uncovers her nakedness, he has discovered her flow, and she has uncovered the flow of her blood. Both of them shall be cut off from her people." (Leviticus 20:18) I hope you ask her if she's on her period first!!

      "Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard." (Leviticus 19:27) I hope you dont shave!

      "But all in the seas or in the rivers that do not have fins and scales, all that move in the water or any living thing which is in the water, they are an abomination to you." (Leviticus 11:10) I hope you don't eat crabs or shrimp or lobster!!!

      You see how silly it is when you quote a verse that appeals to you but leave out the others? Hmm

      June 21, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
    • starfish

      someoneforgottousespellcheck.

      July 21, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
    • Wes

      Annah:
      that was a perfect example. Good job!

      October 31, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  15. Mark Smith

    I am gay and I even think this rationale (in her article) is silly. There is so much silliness here I dont where to begin. Yes I think Christians feel they have to hate and condemn gay people – they miss the whole point of "forgiveness." God's point is – see this is what it means to be perfect. Can you do it? Only those that answer NO can take the next step, which is "OK, now forgive yourself and EVERYONE Else for being a loser" and thank God for offering you forgiveness through the act that Christ did, yada yada. Share this good news – that salvation doesnt rest on you being perfect.

    instead, christians spend so much time pointing their fingers at people that are not as pure as they are – you just don't get the point. (nor does the author of this article).

    March 13, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
  16. The Reverend Canon Susan Russell

    Thanks so much for this. It's going in my "bookmarks" of links to send the folks who send the "but the Bible says..." emails. Well done! Have a Blessed Lent and Joyous Easter!

    March 8, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
  17. ryan

    romans 1:26-27

    March 7, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
  18. Anon

    All Christians are participating in a telephone game gone horribly wrong.

    March 4, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • kat

      not all of us are I don't take much of it literally because most of it has gone through a telephone game-esk process (the new testament is more legit then the old).

      March 30, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • Spencer

      You do realize the story of Jesus was taken from the Persian Sun God Mithra.

      March 30, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  19. Crazyhorse

    Ms. Knust – You have spun a nice web of 'out of context' scripture to support your claim. Unfortunately, many of us are not so naive. Please use your incredible gift to reconsider such an important aspect of our humanity. That much of scripture is based on a wedding feast, bride groom, bride and love is so important, I wish you would look deeper. Peace!

    March 3, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
    • Rodrigo Couto

      lol

      March 19, 2011 at 12:41 am |
    • J

      Very true!

      April 15, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  20. EpicurianLogic

    I find it interesting that the broader argument for Christianity hasn't change among the average christian individual. It is usually arguments like these.

    Argument from fear- If you don't believe in god, it's your choice, but understand the consequences(only christian god apparently) of hell.
    Argument from numbers- So many people believe in god, can they all be wrong?
    Argument from emotional blackmail- Christ died for you, how can you be so heartless and not believe in him?
    Argument from ignorance- Evolution can't be true since that would mean that I am not special in the cosmic sense. But I am special, because I am a christian. Moreover, to accept the truth of evolution would cause me to be uncomfortable.
    Argument from scripture- The bible says god is real. And since the bible is the word of that very god, how can you not believe it?
    Argument from divinity- There are many other religions out there besides Christianity. This is just what Satan intended.
    Argument from American evangelism- Saying god is real makes me filthy rich.
    Argument from Gods work- A plane crashed killing 120 passengers on board but 1 baby survived with only 3rd degree burns.

    Therefore, god exists.

    BRAVO CHRISTIANS. Bravo!

    March 3, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
    • Crazyhorse

      You cannot prove God exist, because by definition, God is supernatural.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
    • EpicurianLogic

      You missed the point of the original post. I am not here to prove or disprove god as it is impossible to do either for that which has no real evidence to begin with. So logically, I don't believe in any such god.

      Argument from beauty- You see that flower? Only god could have made it so beautiful. Therefore, god exists.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
    • Crazyhorse

      I think I got your point, but maybe you missed mine. Like you repeated, God is impossible to prove with nature (flowers or whatever). That you have elected to not believe is no different than those that choose to believe. The sobering fact is, one of us is right and the other is wrong.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
    • kat

      My theory is that something must have put that first cell there, and create the universe or multiverse. Also I think that whatever did that must be God I think that there is an afterlife because if whatever made this wanted to make it they would have made a place for eternal life.
      A female feminist evolutionist Christian's take on religion

      March 30, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
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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.