The Gospel on Homosexuality: What Was God's Original Design When He Made Adam & Eve?Friday, February 11, 2011
On CNN's recent Belief Blog, pastor and scholar, Jennifer Wright Knust, wrote her "Take" entitled, "The Bible's Surprisingly Mixed Messages on Sexuality." Her thoughts, while delivered with amicable spirit, do expose at least one of the issues I pointed out in yesterday's post, namely dealing with the historicity, integrity, and trajectory of the Bble. And consequently, it repeats the call I also made then to see this issue of homosexuality and the Church as one of THE significant issues to be dealt with in this generation.
Knust begins her piece with this conclusion:
"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."
This opening statement is what needs to be briefly addressed in this post, because when read as any other book, without the cultural-interpretive layers placed over the subject of sexuality, the Bible seems pretty clear about the issues. Knust has conclusively determined that the Bible sends mixed messages about sexuality, but the arguments she makes do not arise from the very texts she tries to use to make those arguments. Let me demonstrate a few helpful examples which emphasize the need for Christians to not just know their Bibles, but also to be able rightly interpret it.
Originally, as I reflected on the experience Knust must have as a pastor and scholar, I began by assuming that the twenty-year-plus church leader in me, as well as the eight-year-plus theological training I've had will equip me to deal adequately with the subject. But then as I began reflecting on the texts, I'm not so sure it was my training that necessarily helped me as much as simple observation. I say this to bring the issue off the top shelf, which is where it almost always tends to be placed, and put it at eye-level, where you can see it and reach for it with little trouble. It is my presupposition that the most of the Bible is intended to be read normally, as we read pretty much anything else, and therefore can be interpreted with some ease, though there are some pretty deep issues out there.
The whole issue is birthed in the very first book of the Bible. It is Genesis where Knust, and others as well, believe that, "for example, it would seem that God’s original intention for humanity was androgyny, not sexual differentiation and heterosexuality." She rightly sees that there are in fact two creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2, but subsequently concludes the following.
"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."
She unnecessarily bifurcates the stories by arguing that,
"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."
Are you familiar with the two stories of creation? You will have to be in order to handle this issue of sexuality correctly. However, if you are shyly dismayed by your ignorance of her "androgyny" interpretation, don't be. A simple reading of the two passages she refers to clearly do not argue for her interpretation. At the risk of being sarcastic, it is fits in line with the hermeneutical jingle, "what wonderful things in God's word that we see...things put there by you and by me."
The first account is found in Genesis 1. I am using the NET Bible as my primary translation.
1:26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth.”
1:27 God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them."
Androgyny could certainly be a legitimate consideration of sexuality in this text...if it weren't for the rest of the text, that is. To be sure, making man after "Our image" would have to, in some sense, leave room for the possibility of androgyny since God is an asexual being, as well as the angels. God is a spirit, which means He is invisible and without a body, and therefore without sex organs. While we have no text explicitly stating that fact, we do have Jesus discussing the sexuality of angels, something Knust alludes to in her article. Dealing a trick question on marriage from a Pharisee, Jesus answered them by referring to what life will be like after the resurrection, that is, after the new heavens and the new earth.
"Jesus said to them, 'Aren't you deceived for this reason, because you don’t know the scriptures or the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven'" (Mark 12:24-25; see also Matthew 22:29-30).
That doesn't sound like androgyny however, does it? It sounds like asexuality, that is, no sexual distinction. Angels have no sexual organs, and neither does God, evidently. "Let us make man in our image" can't refer to androgyny then, since the "our" doing the making are asexual beings. So if Knust, and others in this line of interpretation, appeal to heaven as the source of an androgynous understanding of God's original intention for sexuality, they look in vain at this text to find it, though one can see how this text could at least give rise to the issue to begin with.
But as I stated before, it is a really a simple failure to look at the rest of the context in Genesis 1, which Knust points to, that incorrectly leads one to make her conclusion. Simply continuing the reading of the first creation account reveals God's plan for man and woman, which could not have included androgyny.
1:28 "God blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth and subdue it!'"
It becomes immediately clear to any ordinary reading then, that God's intention and purpose and even mission for the first two human beings involved making babies...procreating...requiring sex...and lots of it since they were responsible for getting it all off to a good start! Adrogynous people can't have sex, obviously. The fact that God told essentially told them to have lots of sex in order to make lots of children, necessarily means they were creatd with sex organs and not, as Knust interpreted, possessing "the genitalia of both sexes."
Now, if we move to the second creation story in Genesis 2, we actually would find a better argument for androgynous human beings as God's original intention, if it weren't for the pesky sex thing again. Here is how Genesis 2 described the male-female scenario.
2:18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion for him who corresponds to him.” 2:19 The Lord God formed out of the ground every living animal of the field and every bird of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them, and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 2:20 So the man named all the animals, the birds of the air, and the living creatures of the field, but for Adam no companion who corresponded to him was found. 2:21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep, and while he was asleep, he took part of the man’s side and closed up the place with flesh. 2:22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the part he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. 2:23 Then the man said,
“This one at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one will be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”
It becomes pretty evident then that the Genesis 1 account is a summary of God's creating work, and Genesis 2 simply "zooms in" on how it came to pass that Go actually created Adam and Eve. 2:18 says it was not good for man to be alone. Why? Because then he could not fulfill the mission God had in mind for the first two humans, as unveiled in Genesis 1:28. God's purpose in Genesis 2 then, was simply to tell the story of how that mission was put into place. God created a human male first, with male sex organs, since part of the ultimate design was to procreate.
I think it is safe and reasonable to conclude that if God's original design was for Adam and Eve to have sex and reproduce, then God well-endowed Adam with the equipment necessary to accomplish the part of his mission requiring the use of that equipment. Besides that, I would even argue part of the purpose of God in bringing all the animals to Adam to be named was so that Adam would pick up on the basic observation that male animals had female counterparts...and that those male animals whose sex organs could be visibly observed were joined with the sex organs of female animals. So at some point Adam is looking at his equipment and not finding a suitable counterpart as the text explicitly says.
Can you see then how a basic, normal, contextual reading of Genesis 1 and 2 would plainly reveal God's original sexual design for human beings? And can you see how androgyny just cannot arise from the texts at any point. There is no ill-will toward scholars like Knust, but there is the necessity of handling the Bible with the same integrity with which she wants her readers to handle her writings. She wants us to take her seriously, and not try to read our own issues into her articles, nor try to superimpose some sort of reading of her articles that requires abstract, philosophical ideas that are essentially incongruent with her content. Her conclusion just doesn't seem to stand.
"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."
I think that a plain, ordinary reading of the two accounts in light of what they explicitly say, as well as in light of their contexts, reveals exactly the opposite of her second suggestion. God's blessing was placed on a differentiated body that did in fact have sex, since that was part of what he was designed to do in the first place.
I don't want to judgmentally read any wrong motivations into Knust's assertions, if for no other reason that I've never met the woman before. I'd love to meet her and talk to her about this. Knust is influenced like all of us by her culture, milieu, upbringing, and wiring. She necessarily brings everything about her and her background to the table when she handles Genesis 1 and 2, as well as the issue of sexuality. All of this influences how she understands and interprets the Biblical record. But...so do I, right? So what's to mediate between two intelligent people who are inherently flawed from the start? Presumably two things. And here is where the gospel of Jesus comes in to play on two points, in talking with her or with homosexuals.
First, respect for each other must prevail. If Knust and I are both made in the image of God then there is a deep respect we must have for each other. She is a precious creature of God, as are all homosexuals. The entire function of the gospel, as I argued yesterday, was to announced that everything which has marred that original image of God has been dealt with conclusively in the ministry of Jesus, on the cross, and in the empty tomb.
You see, Knust and I both more than likely agree that there is far too much that mars humanity, regardless of our theological presuppositions. And there is our starting point for an intelligent, respectful conversation with each other. Ultimately, however, there can be no doubt that when solutions are presented, mine will necessarily be perceived as fraught with inherent difficulties and perhaps even impossibilities for Knust. Yet my hope would be that the respect that I show her as a precious human being would carry in its DNA the very love of the gospel solution that I am presenting.
Second, the Bible must be allowed to speak on its own. Since Knust and I necessarily bring to the table our own personal and cultural milieus, the only logical mediator seems to be the object we are both trying to understand and interpret. How we look at that object will reveal for us what we think about it.
But even if we both start with the presupposition that it is not a divinely inspired book, it seems logical to at least start by reading it at face value, simply making our first approach with a normal reading of any literature that includes the rule of context. Asking questions like, "what does it actually say?" and "what does the context seem to point to as the purpose of the text?" are two of the buttons to push on a literary-GPS in attempting to navigate this issue of homosexuality with integrity toward the literature we are actually talking about.
So then, our respect for each other, as well as the Bible itself, must be the two hands that attempt to mediate our discussions on the issue of homosexuality. Tomorrow I'll attempt to unpack more of Knust's assertions about the Bible on sexuality, and then apply more gospel to the matter.