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Sex and the Bible

June 18th, 2012

I’m a Conservative Christian. If that strikes you as odd, because I’m writing on a sex blog and I write D/s erotica (among other genres), you’re not alone. How in the name of God can a Conservative Christian (CC) write erotica? Aren’t CCs the ones who are opposed to gay rights, gay marriage, sex outside of marriage and sex education that is anything other than abstinence pushing? Yeah, that’s what the visible leadership pushes. So just where am I coming from, and just what makes me a CC?

Let me tackle the second question first. I think of myself as a CC because I am a Christian who believes that the bible should be taken seriously. Notice that I didn’t say literally. Every time someone says they take the bible literally, someone else throws one of the many figures of speech out as an example of the stupidity (like the sword of his mouth). What I’m trying to say is that I’ve made a point of being familiar with what the bible says and trying to do what it tells me to do. Unfortunately, many CCs don’t take the time to be familiar with their own holy book and rely on the teachings of church leaders. Others that do learn the bible, make careless mistakes (that I’ll describe as we go).

So, why do I have such a different perspective from what most CCs do? What I want to do to answer this question, is take you through a mini-bible study. The first thing that needs to be understood is that the bible approves of sex. The Song of Solomon is a tribute to an active sexual life between two lovers. Husbands and wives are encouraged, even commanded, to be sexually active. I’ll be the first to admit, however, that there are plenty of places in the bible where it condemns some types of sexual activity. There are also places where it seems to give a blessing to not so upstanding sexual activity. That’s what I want to look at.

Leviticus

The richest source of sexual prohibitions in the bible is in Leviticus, especially chapters 18 and 20 (you could splice them to create the crime and punishment chapter). Just what is condemned in those chapters and what punishments are prescribed? The first five verses are statements that the people were to follow all the statutes God laid down because He is their Lord. There follows 13 commandments against various types of incest, including in-law incest, 1 command to not have sex with a woman who is unclean from menstruation, 1 command against adultery, 1 command to not make your children pass through the fire to Molech (this will be important), 1 command against homosexual sex, 1 command against bestiality. The remaining 7 verses are reminders to avoid these “abominations” that the previous inhabitants of the lands committed.

In Chapter 20, the same offences are recounted with the penalties they incur. There are three different penalties listed for the various sins; being put to death, being cut off from their people, and “bearing their iniquity”. Interestingly, there are two added commandments here that earn the death penalty; witchcraft (and the assorted evidences, such as familiars) and cursing one’s parents. But for the chapter 18 commandments, the death penalty is assigned to sacrificing one’s children to Molech, non-incest adultery, sex with one’s parent, sex with a direct in-law (spouse of your parent or child), homosexual sex, and bestiality. Sex with your siblings of siblings in-law results in being cut off from their people and bearing their iniquity. Sex with other close relatives (aunts, uncles, etc.) results in bearing their iniquity. Finally, sex during menstruation results in being cut off.

One thing to keep in mind is that being cut off was a ritual cleanliness thing, and was not permanent. If one reads in other parts of the Old Testament, a woman was unclean for sex from the start of her period for two weeks; which just happens to mean that anyone following this rule only has sex with the woman when she is at her most fertile. Also, “bearing their iniquity” seems to simply means that they must be held accountable for their actions, but with no specifically prescribed punishment. It may well mean that the results of the sin will naturally fall on the sinners.

So, that was interesting, but what does it mean. The key here is to understand the history leading up to the writing of Leviticus. The Israelites had left Egypt, escaped the armies of Pharaoh, and had successfully built the tabernacle and already received the Ten Commandments. These people were the descendants of a single family that had emigrated to Egypt during a famine hundreds of years earlier and went from friends of Pharaoh (vis-à-vis Joseph), to slaves. They were preparing to take possession of a land already inhabited by, in God’s eyes, some of the most detestable people practicing the most abominable acts as a matter of course. God wanted to assure three things; that they multiplied their numbers greatly, that they would not take up the practices of the peoples that currently occupied the land, and that they would be healthy both in bodies and hearts.

The key to understanding these two chapters is in noticing the two commandments that are out of place. Here is a whole list of sexual prohibitions, or taboos, and amongst them are a command to not sacrifice your children in the fire, and to not practice witchcraft. What gives here? That’s because most of the prohibitions in these chapters are religious prohibitions. You see, many of the pagan religions practiced by the original inhabitants of the land were fertility cults that used a wide variety of sexual practices to increase fertility. Chief on that list of practices was that of sacrificing one’s child to Molech by means of putting it in the white hot hands of a bronze statue of the god heated in a fire to bring fertility to one’s life. Most of the death penalty sexual practices were forms of pagan worship, and banned for that reason (homosexual sex was seen as a ritualistic offering of oneself to Molech himself).

The exception to this is adultery. Anyone who has been burned by a partner cheating on them can attest to the deep emotional pain involved in this. In many cases, there is no recovery and lives are shattered, sometimes forever. God wants His people emotionally healthy, and thus the harsh penalty for this sin. How do I know God wants his people healthy? From the numerous, seemingly insignificant commands given; from instructions on digging a hole to crap in away from camp, to the bible being the first place where hand washing is more than ritual. In most cases, unclean foods are those that the technology of the day could not reliably cook safely.

What these understandings mean to us, today, is that all those sinful sexual activities need to be looked at in light of what was meant at the time they were handed down. Lets take incest, for example. The incest sins that draw the death penalty are all worded in such a way as to make them also a type of adultery. The rest turn out to be either potentially emotionally damaging (e.g. sister in-law sex), or genetically dangerous. The last thing a people all descended from a single family needs is inbreeding. As for homosexuality, I know of nowhere in the Old Testament where female homosexuality is even mentioned. It’s all a prohibition on male homosexuality, and as has been seen, this was a religious problem, primarily (as was bestiality).

But, let’s not overlook the health issues in either of these as well. Old Testament times had no safe sex. Sanitation, frankly, sucked. The problem of sexually transmitted diseases would have been bad enough with rampant non-monogamous heterosexual sex. Add bestiality and homosexuality into the mix and my imagination is far too vivid on the subject. And before someone goes off on me, it’s a medical fact that unprotected anal sex is more likely to pass on diseases than unprotected vaginal sex. When looked at from a health standpoint, it almost looks like the pagan practices of the day were designed to be unhealthy.

Sodom and Gomorrah

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19) is often pulled out as an indictment of homosexuality. The story is familiar enough, or so we think. Two angels went to Sodom and were greeted by Lot and shown hospitality in his house. The men of Sodom came and demanded that the two men (biblical angels always appear to be male) be sent out so they could have sex with them. Lot refuses and the Sodomites try to attack him, only to be struck blind by the angels and left to wander the streets. Lot is told to leave and fire and brimstone rain down on the two cities.

So what really happened? First, those two angels had just been with Abraham and were sent to Sodom to destroy the city; though Abraham argued with God that He shouldn’t if even a mere 10 righteous could be found there. Second, Lot had to implore upon the angels to accept his hospitality; they intended to stay the night on the streets (no doubt to look for those 10 righteous). Yes, the men did come and demand that the two men Lot had invited be sent out so they could have sex with them. Notice, they didn’t ask and were rebuked for their homosexuality, they demanded the visitors service them sexually. In other words, they wanted to rape them. Keep in kind that Lot offered his two virgin daughters to the mob in the visitors’ place. I can’t imagine a father offering his daughters to a sex crazed mob simply to avoid his guests engaging in gay sex, but I can see offering nominally willing daughters (one assumes their willingness based on their actions with their father later in the chapter), to avoid his guests being raped.

So from my perspective, the sin of Sodom was attempted rape (and the violence they were willing to engage in to get it). Think about it; what would you do with an entire city of would-be (and likely actual) rapists.

Sex and the New Testament

Although it has been seriously misused and misunderstood, it can be argued that for Christians, the laws of the Old Testament are a moot point. Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross and redemption of us in the resurrection were intended to free us from the hopeless task of perfect obedience to the law. But what about the New Testament? 

Romans chapter 1 is a favorite condemnation stop; specifically, verses 26 and 27, usually quotes as “for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.” This ends up as one of the most egregious cases of lifting a passage out of context I’ve seen. Part of verse 26 is missing, and the rest of the verses before and after this passage give an entirely different light on them. The missing part, preceding the above, says, “For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections:

You see, this entire section (verses 16-32) is about those who willingly reject the truth of God as evidenced in the very world around them. The people being talked about here saw the truth for what it was, but rejected it and consciously turned away from that truth. They’re not lost, uninformed, confused, bitter from betrayals; they walked away in prideful glee. As a result, God turned them over to all manner of sin: unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful; as well as homosexual lusts.

And that’s they key here. They were given up to unnatural lusts. This isn’t a loving relationship between two women or men; this is a burning lust that drives one to acts of utter degradation. These poor souls aren’t experiencing love or romance in any way, they just need to fill their lusts, both sexual and otherwise. Based on the language used, I suspect these people never felt like they were getting what they wanted out of what they did, even when they got it; like craving chocolate but never being able to enjoy eating it.

In 1 Corinthians chapter 5, there is a passage on the subject of church discipline (I’ll skip those details) that refers to fornication, or sexual immorality in some translations. It is generally agreed that fornication is a blanket term meaning all sexual activity condemned in the Old Testament. Curiously, the church in Corinth is instructed not to shun fornicators among the unsaved, but only to shut the unrepentant ones in the church. Again, looking at the society the letter was written in, Roman worship often had a sexual context (including temple prostitutes and homosexual practices); so, as in Old Testament times, these warnings can be seen as a way to keep separate from idolatrous religious practices. This is reinforced by recalling that one of the four requirements put on Gentile converts was to abstain from meat sacrificed at temples. It was a common practice for the pagan temples, who received the best cuts of meat as offerings, to then sell the meat to make money for the temple. Buying from the temple was seen as a form of worship at the temple, thus a form of idolatry. Imagine being told that buying a porterhouse, t-bone or prime rib is worshipping an idol.

How can that be good?

There are places in the bible where there seems to be approval of things that people in general see as abhorrent. Frequently, these are trotted out as examples of why the bible is backwards in matters of sexuality and justice. This is dangerous, however, because these passages are not what they seem. 

Let’s take a look at one of the seemingly most egregious found in Deuteronomy chapter 22, verses 28-29. If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days. On the face of it, it seems like God is commanding that a woman who is raped must marry her rapist. In reality, the woman is being protected.

We must remember just what the society of the day was like. This is a bronzed age, patriarchal society. Woman had absolutely no rights of any kind. They are property in every society that existed at the time. They could not own property, could not enter professions of honor such as the priesthood or the military, they belonged to their fathers, and later their husbands. The only security a woman had in old age was to have a family of her own that would take care of her; because things we take for granted like health insurance, social security, and public assistance did not exist.

Furthermore, the patriarchal society of the day put heavy emphasis on knowing who the father of a child was. In the days before genetic testing, the only way a man could be certain he didn’t get stuck raising someone else’s child was to make sure his bride was a virgin when he married. A woman who wasn’t a virgin was worthless as a wife. That she lost her virginity to rape was unimportant. In many societies, rape was a crime against the father for stealing the value of the future dowry for his daughter.

So when we look at this passage, we look what is being changed from the societal expectations of the day. The preceding verses deal with the tricky situation of adultery vs. rape. In adultery, both the man and woman are killed, as opposed to many bronze age societies that only punished the woman. Second, it was only adultery if there was no attempt to cry out against the sex (women were expected to fight against a rapist, seeing as how that rapist was literally condemning them to a life of poverty and misery). Furthermore, if the sex occurred somewhere where no cry could be expected to be heard, the presumption was in favor of the woman.

Now, those preceding passages deal with married or betrothed women. What about verses 28-29, dealing with the unbetrothed woman? Why was the rapist being rewarded? In point of fact, he isn’t. The woman is being rewarded. After having been rendered unmarriable by the rapist, she was being given the protection she would need in her old age by the rapist being required to marry her and being denied the ability to divorce her, ever; unlike men in more traditional marriages. Remember, women didn’t marry who they wanted in that day and age, they married who they were told to by their father, so no choices were being taken away from her. And those 50 shekels were a rather tidy sum for the day. One more thing, there is some debate among scholars, based on the original Hebrew words, as to whether these passages were about rape at all, but consensual affairs between the virgin and the man; which would make this, in essence, the first common law marriage laws in history.

Other places in the bible deal with slavery (true slavery as opposed to the voluntary slavery some of us kinsters enjoy). Why does the bible seem to approve of slavery? It doesn’t, but it does have to deal with the institution that existed in that day. It’s well known that some of the things that are done in the bible were done not because God wanted it that way, but because God knew his people would not except otherwise. An excellent example that Jesus specifically points at is divorce. God allowed the Hebrew people to divorce because their hearts were hard, even though God’s will would have been to have divorce never happen (Matthew 19).

In terms of slavery, if you read those laws concerning slaves, you’ll see laws that are meant to protect slaves from the harshness of slavery of the day. Jewish slaves had to be freed after seven years, unless they pleaded to be kept. Masters are commanded to not be too harsh with slaves. Female slaves are immune to being put to death for adultery (yes, one could be married to one person and a slave to another at the same time). In the New Testament, Paul commands Christian slave owners to treat their slaves as brothers in Christ, something certainly a step up from how Roman slaves were treated (even in the best of circumstances).

Conclusions

So, what do I conclude from all this? I’m not making any conclusions about what is right or wrong, sexually. I am convinced that any form of sex, done in love, is righteous in God’s eyes. There will be many Conservative Christians that will be appalled by this claim, some of them close friends of mine. But the bible is not a book of rules. It’s a guidebook on righteous living. One of the things Paul points out in his letters is that what is righteous, in some cases, for one person is not so much for another. The whole meat sacrificed to idols is an excellent example. He points out, later in that letter, that some, whose faith is strong, know that idols are powerless and meat sacrificed to idols has no effect on them. Others, who are weaker, are affected, and the strong believer should honor the weaker by not flaunting his freedom.

So, what does this mean for sex? Is homosexual sex wrong? It depends. Is there love and respect involved? If so, then it’s not wrong (love and respect can just as easily be present in poly situations). Is sex outside of your marriage (or other committed relationship) wrong? If it’s done openly, by agreement with no one hurt, then, no, it’s not wrong. I’ll even go so far as to say that consensual slavery, the model that drives BDSM, is not wrong, if there’s love and respect; something I’ve seen in every last example that has lasted any length of time (Rayne and Melen, Kaya and S, Toy and DL).

By the same token, sex in a loveless/respectless marriage is wrong. For God, any form of sex that is a form of idolatry is anathema to him. In the 21st century, there doesn’t seem to be religions that use sex as a form of direct idol worship. But sex can be idolatry. In fact, religion can be idolatry. Idolatry is anything that comes before God in the Christian’s heart.

All this is moot, really. You see, the number one job of every Christian, no matter what they believe about sexuality and sin, is to be beacons of Jesus in this world; to draw others to Christ as we were. I’m convinced that we can’t draw others to Christ while we’re yelling how much God hates them. Every time a Christian declares that homosexuals (or some other sexually immoral people) don’t deserve the same rights as anyone else, a few people are driven away from God instead of towards him. The ongoing theme in my Valerie series of stories is that hatred and prejudice hurt everyone. As a Christian, I don’t have the luxury of hating anyone. None of us do.

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  1. June 19th, 2012 at 05:31 | #1

    Rayne: Sex and the Bible: I’m a Conservative Christian. If that strikes you as odd, because I’m writing o… http://t.co/bHRtx9Z0 #slave

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