Gender, Sexuality, & Scripture – Some Useful Resources

a stack of books on theology, gender, and sexualityThe number of books, articles, and blog posts dealing with issues of gender and sexuality within the Church has become impossible to manage. On the one hand, it’s great that we’re having the conversation.  On the other, it is very hard to sort out the useful information from the garbage. That’s where this post comes in…

My own engagement with these texts began nearly 30 years ago. In that time, I’ve moved through several stages.

As a good Southern Baptist youth, I looked at things from a sola scriptura perspective. My primary emphasis was on proof-texting, words studies (using Strong’s Concordance), and looking at the “plain sense” of scripture. I was completely unaware that this “plain sense” reading brought its own set of assumptions and cultural baggage through which I was trying to read the texts.

At this stage I also started to read everything I could get my hands on. I was in no place to evaluate the arguments that I was reading, but I wanted desperately to take the fangs out of six passages that had become a threat to my understanding of myself as a Christian.

When I was in seminary, my Old Testament/Hebrew Bible professor, Julia O’Brien, challenged me to go deeper. She pointed out to me that though I’d learned a number of historical critical tools and the basics of reading against the grain to identify embedded cultural and ideological assumptions, I wasn’t really applying these skills to the texts. I spent the next several years working through what she meant by this.  (Shout out: Julia is the editor of The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Gender Studies.)

My studies have ranged more broadly now, from conceptions of gender and sexuality in ancient societies, to the analysis of rhetorical devices used within the biblical texts, to the language of sexism and heterosexism that I used to just take as “the way things are.” Thanks to the mimetic anthropology of René Girard (and my friends Michael Hardin and James Alison who have helped me to navigate it), I’ve also been alerted to the role of scapegoating within texts that paint a certain group of people as depraved, violators of taboos, or enemies who must be destroyed.

This last stage of my thinking takes me very far from the flat readings of scripture that I had when I was growing up. It acknowledges that there are multiple voices in the bible, and some of the arguments that are presented are mutually exclusive. Some of the voices speak words that are not Good News, and it is our job, within the community of the Church, to work through these arguments and discern passages that embody the voice of God’s inclusive “yes” from those that participate in the mechanisms of scapegoating, exclusion, and death.

The list below includes both books that I have worked through and a few extras that I’m currently working on. The latter were suggested by my seminary New Testament professor, Greg Carey.  You can scroll through some of his contributions to the Huffing Post to see things he’s written on related topics.

General Biblical & Early Christian Studies

Knust, Jennifer Wright. Abandoned to Lust: Sexual Slander and Ancient Christianity. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.

Includes a chapter titled “Paul, the Slaves of Desire, and the Saints of God” that looks at the rhetoric of sexual slurs against (among others) the Canaanites, and the first chapter of Romans.

Knust, Jennifer Wright. Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire. New York: HarperOne, 2011.

Includes a chapter titled “God’s Wife, Cursing the Canaanites, and Biblical Sex Crimes” that looks at the rhetoric of sexual slurs against the Canaanites, Roman Corinth, and Gentiles.

Nissinen, Martti. Homoeroticism in the Biblical World: A Historical Perspective. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998.

Nissinen explores understandings sex of Ancient Mesopotamia and the Greco-Roman period. The book then goes on to explore each of the biblical passages traditionally associated with debates over homosexuality.


Hebrew Bible/Old Testament

Coming as I can get to them…


New Testament

General Studies

Loader, William R. G. Sexuality in the New Testament: Understanding the Key Texts. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010.

Includes a chapter titled “‘With a Man as with a Woman'” that discusses ancient understandings of gender roles and sexual acts. While we generally look to validate their pre-existing hermeneutical stance, Loader suggests that what is most important is to attempt to understand the texts “in their own terms and context” (8). His exploration begins with passages in Leviticus and moves through the New Testament.

Romans 1

Brownson, James V. Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate On Same-sex Relationships. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2013.

Ruden, Sarah. “No Closet, No Monsters? Paul and Homosexuality.” Paul Among the People: The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined in His Own Time. New York: Image Books, 2010.

While scholarly articles and books hint at the sexual climate of the period, Ruden quotes a number of literary sources to spell out (in sometimes graphic detail) exactly what it meant to be a slave or an unprotected boy in Greco-Roman society. She provides a much-needed context for reading sexual condemnations in the Pauline corpus.

And while we’re on Romans 1, the essay I wrote on the rhetoric of “against nature” as used in the extended argument of Romans isn’t bad…  “Of Olive Trees and Unnatural Acts”

1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:8-9

Ivarson, Fredrik. “Vice Lists and Deviant Masculinity: The Rhetorical Function of 1 Corinthians 5:10-11 and 6:9-10.” Mapping Gender in Ancient Religious Discourses. Leiden: Brill, 2007. 163-184.

Martin, Dale B. “Arsenokoitês and Malakos: Meanings and Consequences.” Sex and the Single Savior: Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006.

Petersen, William Lawrence. “Can Arsenokoitai be Translated by ‘Homosexuals’ (1 Cor. 6.9; 1 Tim. 1.10).” Vigiliae Christianae 40, no. 2 (1986): 187-91.



Gushee, David P. Changing Our Mind: A Call from America’s Leading Evangelical Ethics Scholar for Full Acceptance of LGBT Christians in the Church. Canton: David Crum Media, LLC, 2015.

Lee, Justin. Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate. New York: Hachette Book Group, 2013.

Wilson, Ken. A Letter to My Congregation: An Evangelical Pastor’s Path to Embracing People who are Gay, Lesbian and Transgender into the Company of Jesus. Canton: David Crum Media, LLC, 2014.


General Studies in Gender & Sexuality

The works in this section are not overtly theological, though I do believe that they can be used fruitfully for theological reflection. They draw primarily from gender theory and queer theory.

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge, 1990.

Some highlights from Butler’s thought.

Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality: An Introduction. Translated by Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage Books, 1990.

Here are some highlights.

Halperin, David M. How to do the History of Homosexuality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.

Halperin, David M. One Hundred Years of Homosexuality: And Other Essays on Greek Love. New York: Routledge, 1990.

Here are some reflections that pull from both of these works.