The Bible and Sex

This is an article I just read about sex and the Bible. Isn’t it amazing that the SAME EXACT questions are being raised about the Bible as reformists (and this blog) have been raising about the Qur’an?  It’s crazy how the issues are exactly the same!

The poem describes two young lovers aching with desire. The obsession is mutual, carnal, complete. The man lingers over his lover’s eyes and hair, on her teeth, lips, temples, neck, and breasts, until he arrives at “the mount of myrrh.” He rhapsodizes. “All of you is beautiful, my love,” he says. “There is no flaw in you.”

The girl returns his lust with lust. “My lover thrust his hand through the hole,” she says, “and my insides groaned because of him.”

This ode to sexual consummation can be found in-of all places-the Bible. It is the Song of Solomon, a poem whose origins likely reach back to the pagan love songs of Egypt more than 1,200 years before the birth of Jesus. Biblical interpreters have endeavored through the millennia to temper its heat by arguing that it means more than it appears to mean. It’s about God’s love for Israel, they have said; or, it’s about Jesus’ love for the church. But whatever other layers it may contain, the Song is on its face an ancient piece of erotica, a celebration of the fulfillment of sexual desire.

These battles over the “right” interpretation are, of course, as old as the Bible itself.  In the Bible, “traditional marriage” doesn’t exist. Abraham fathers children with Sarah and his servant Hagar. Jacob marries Rachel and her sister Leah, as well as their servants Bilhah and Zilpah. Jesus was celibate, as was Paul.

Husbands, in essence, owned their wives, and fathers owned their daughters, too. A girl’s virginity was her father’s to protect-and to relinquish at any whim. Thus Lot offers his two virgin daughters to the angry mob that surrounds his house in Sodom. Deuteronomy proposes death for female adulterers, and Paul suggests “women should be silent in churches” (a rationale among some conservative denominations for barring women from the pulpit).

The Bible contains a “pervasive patriarchal bias,” Coogan writes. Better to elide the specifics and read the Bible for its teachings on love, compassion, and forgiveness. Taken as a whole, “the Bible can be understood as the record of the beginning of a continuous movement toward the goal of full freedom and equality for all persons.”


A person alone on her couch with Scripture can also come to some dangerous conclusions: the Bible has, at certain times in history, been read to support slavery, wife-beating, kidnapping, child abuse, racism, and polygamy. That’s why Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, that citadel of Christian conservatism, concludes that one’s Bible reading must be overseen by the proper authorities. Just because everyone should read the Bible “doesn’t mean that everyone’s equally qualified to read it, and it doesn’t mean that the text is just to be used as a mirror for ourselves,” he says. “All kinds of heresies come from people who read the Bible and recklessly believe that they’ve understood it correctly.” As the word of God, he adds, the Bible isn’t open to the same level of interpretation as The Odyssey or The Iliad.

Yet in a democracy, even those who speak “heresies” are allowed a voice. And whether readers accept Coogan’s and Knust’s interpretations, the authors are justified in their insistence that a population so divided over questions of sex and sexual morality cannot-should not-cede the field without exploring first what the Bible actually says. The eminent Bible historian Elaine Pagels agrees. To read the Bible and reflect on it “is to realize that we have not a series of answers, but a lot of questions.”




11 thoughts on “The Bible and Sex

  1. Interesting post. Do remember when reading that the bible and its books including psalms and ecclesiastes (which home many of the hymns) are infact commentarys of their time. The bible is quite different to the Quran in the fact that it is’nt just divine revelation. and even the books in the Pentateuch were later edited and redacted in order to fulfill the theological imagination of one or another person (see the documentary hypothesis) and this redaction has been the read bible since around 621 BCE which indicates the obvious issues with hermeneutics of the text.

    • “The bible is quite different to the Quran in the fact that it is’nt just divine revelation.”
      I think this makes the Bible much easier to reinterpret in ways that is easier and more comfortable with our modern values. When the Quran talks about women, sex, and polygamy (or anything else), it is problematic, if not impossible, to reject the content based soley on modern values if you believe the text is indeed the unadulterated word of God for all times.
      Albert Mohler, “doesn’t mean that everyone’s equally qualified to read it, and it doesn’t mean that the text is just to be used as a mirror for ourselves,”..”All kinds of heresies come from people who read the Bible and recklessly believe that they’ve understood it correctly.”
      It is interesting that the conservative Christian authority sounds much like the Muslim authorities when it comes to reading the text for ourselves.

  2. Hey stephanie,

    Interesting view point and I can see where your coming from. Where as the bible is the sacred text for christianity, the quran is for islam however our commentaries such as hadeeth is left as a seperate supliment to our worship. I often thought that the bible was quite modern which is why I used the book of ecclesiastes as my example, being that I find it to be similar to the ramblings of a pubesent teenager and psalms being the moral epithets that we often here (from which ever culture) from the moral nursery rhymes and so on. That was until I embarked on my degree of theology which is essentially that of bible history. Its completely opened my eyes to the structuring and re-working of the bible and has given me an added all round appreciation for the importance of learning the language of the text. For me that’s where I’m saddened with the kings and bishops of christian history. When the bible was translated from its traditional hebrew into koine greek hundreds of inserts were made as well as a lot of knowledge that was emitted and its all pointed out in the earlier versions, not to mention the pre-editions of the oral traditions before it was documented into written literature. And of course the creed of nicea and re-workings of that give rise to a christianity that christ was un-aware of. With that all being said, for me, its what makes it sooooo interesting. The struggle that the big defining theologians had within themselves against a socially pagan geography and the early old testament salvation theocracies and the struggle to understanding yahwehs saving identity. However, I would have to disagree when it comes to sex and gender representations throughout both scriptures as christianity has a very non-sexual view of gender and veers as much as possible from sex and in the endeavour to understand why god created both genders, sex is never once mentioned. Where as within islam sex is very much encouraged and in fact a married couple receive good deeds in plerasing of their spouses. As well as this muslims are encouraged to use the pastoral services of our religious figure heads in matters such as sex and a woman may ask for a divorce if she is not being sufficiently satisfied in this marital area.

  3. Passages such as Songs of Solomon have been used to show how sex within marriage is a good thing and pleasurable, etc. I grew up in a Christian household and never was taught sex was only for procreation. I think maybe that was a Roman Catholic teaching that doesn’t hold from the Bible.

  4. As usual….religous books can ONLY be interpreted by the elite few who are the only ones able to tell us what god REALLY means. Same ole same ole.

    Let people read it and come to their own conclusions…cant be any worse then the “bonafide” ones. Just my opinion.

    • LOL, yeah there are some pretty messed up crazy misogynistic readings coming from the “bonafide” authorities.
      I find it strange that when questioning the book or at least traditional interpretations of it, you’re wrong because you’re not qualified to understand it. In the same vein, why would you profess belief in a book you can’t possibly understand?
      But, I digress.

    • When people read and come to their own conclusions, you’ll get suicide bombers blowing themselves up in the name of the religion. We need to understand the context in which each verse was revealed. Perhaps refer to hadeeth regarding the revelation of that particular verse, and while you’re at it, the validity of such hadeeth – whether it’s weak or strong. You have to cross-reference it with other verses in the Quran in order to truly understand it’s meaning.

      But how much time can we devote ourselves to understanding the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet? Alhamdulillah, there were individuals in the past who had the luxury to study it without having to be distracted by television, music, the internet and the likes. These “elites”. Lets read their countless books before we come to our own conclusions…

      It’s been a while since I commented on this blog, Cairo. But Ive been reading posts as it appears in my inbox. Over the years, I find that everyone here seem to spend so much time questioning why God does things the way he does. Too many personal opinions, in my opinion.

      May Allah guide all of us, and make us those who accept the truth, and those who strive to please Him rather than our own desires.

      • And if people don’t read it for themselves you get fatwas by people like bin baz who believed the earth was flat and the sun rotates around it (based on Quranic verses) or Qaradawi who does not reject suicide bombings.

  5. If god didnt want me to forumulate a personal opinion…he wouldnt have given me a brain in which to accomplish it. Just saying.

    You make it sound as if god prefers autobots who do as they are told and never ever have to think. Good for some…not for me.

  6. It was pretty interesting for me when I first read the Bible as to how explicit it was both in terms of describing various sexual relations and also genocides, wars etc. It also goes down to details at many places. The part about Prophet Lot being seduced by his daughters was disturbing.

    PS. I now have another blog here.

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