Friday, March 4, 2011

The Bible, Sex and CNN

Last week CNN posted a controversial essay: “The Bible’s surprisingly mixed messages on sexuality,” by Jennifer Wright Knust." Kudos for posting a conservative response by Robert Gagnon.

Robert Gagnon is a NT scholar and an expert on what the Bible says about homosexuality. It's cliche but he wrote the book on what the Biblical texts actually say about homosexuality. On his website, he has resources, debates and essay responses.

His CNN blog post hits at a number of responses.

1. The Biblical vision is not androgyny. That's actually the pagan religion and gnostic vision.
Knust's lead argument is that sexual differentiation in Genesis, Jesus and Paul is nothing more than an "afterthought" because "God's original intention for humanity was androgyny."
It’s true that Genesis presents the first human (Hebrew adam, from adamah, ground: “earthling”) as originally sexually undifferentiated. But what Knust misses is that once something is “taken from” the human to form a woman, the human, now differentiated as a man, finds his sexual other half in that missing element, a woman.
That’s why Genesis speaks of the woman as a “counterpart” or “complement,” using a Hebrew expression neged, which means both “corresponding to” and “opposite.” She is similar as regards humanity but different in terms of gender. If sexual relations are to be had, they are to be had with a sexual counterpart or complement.

2. Sex is the not the ultimate end of man. In a culture obsessed with sex and sexual perversion this is a great reminder. One type of obsession with sex is the type that leads us into all types of sin (sex outside of marriage, pornography, etc.). A second less mentioned type of obsession with sex is more subtle: it is entirely possible to be obsessed with the right use of sex within your marriage. Look: the Bible has a healthy vision of sexual intimacy but sexual intimacy with your wife is not your ultimate end: enjoying God is. Gagnon writes:
According to Jesus, “when (people) rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels” (Mark 12:25). Sexual relations and differentiation had only penultimate significance. The unmediated access to God that resurrection bodies bring would make sex look dull by comparison.
At the same time Jesus regarded the male-female paradigm as essential if sexual relations were to be had in this present age. (emphasis mine)

3. He refutes the notion that because Jesus said nothing directly about homosexuality, he would have endorsed it. This is (a) a logical fallacy and (b) more importantly misses how and why Jesus says what he says.
Jesus’ point was that God’s limiting of persons in a sexual union to two is evident in his creation of two (and only two) primary sexes: male and female, man and woman. The union of male and female completes the sexual spectrum, rendering a third partner both unnecessary and undesirable.
The sectarian Jewish group known as the Essenes similarly rejected polygamy on the grounds that God made us “male and female,” two sexual complements designed for a union consisting only of two.
Knust insinuates that Jesus wouldn’t have opposed homosexual relationships. Yet Jesus’ interpretation of Genesis demonstrates that he regarded a male-female prerequisite for marriage as the foundation on which other sexual standards could be predicated, including monogamy. Obviously the foundation is more important than anything predicated on it. 
Jesus developed a principle of interpretation that Knust ignores: God’s “from the beginning” creation of “male and female” trumps some sexual behaviors permitted in the Old Testament. So there’s nothing unorthodox about recognizing change in Scripture’s sexual ethics. But note the direction of the change: toward less sexual license and greater conformity to the logic of the male-female requirement in Genesis.
4. Gagnon rightly rejects to comparison between overturning slavery and overturning prohibitions of homosexuality. This is a common rhetorical tactic: you compare the Bible on slavery to the Bible on homosexuality and then say well if you want to follow it's position on the latter than you must endorse slavery.
How much does the Bible’s treatment of slavery resemble its treatment of homosexual practice? Very little.
Scripture shows no vested interest in preserving the institution of slavery but it does show a strong vested interest from Genesis to Revelation in preserving a male-female prerequisite. Unlike its treatment of the institution of slavery, Scripture treats a male-female prerequisite for sex as a pre-Fall structure.
The Bible accommodates to social systems where sometimes the only alternative to starvation is enslavement. But it clearly shows a critical edge by specifying mandatory release dates and the right of kinship buyback; requiring that Israelites not be treated as slaves; and reminding Israelites that God had redeemed them from slavery in Egypt.


Finally, you have to just love truthful snark like this:
As a scholar who has written books and articles on the Bible and homosexual practice, I can say that the reality is the opposite of her claim. It’s shocking that in her editorial and even her book, "Unprotected Texts," Knust ignores a mountain of evidence against her positions.
It raises a serious question: does the Left read significant works that disagree with pro-gay interpretations of Scripture and choose to simply ignore them?

The whole essay is worth reading, even if it is a brief introduction to the issues. Gagnon while giving an introduction walks through the issues and refutes Knust's essay.

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