O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith

Sex and the Bible

If you’ve read the Bible beyond the Gospels and some of the safe, greeting-card-quote-ready psalms,
you’re no doubt aware that there’s some stuff in it you don’t
especially want your kids reading without parental supervision. Tons of violence.
Some really disturbing stories. And plenty of sex.

Oh, boy, is there a
lot of sex. (Hint: when Ruth uncovers Boaz’s “feet,” that’s not really
his foot. And when the lover in Song of Solomon enters his beloved’s “garden,” um, that’s not exactly her garden. Those are saucy Hebrew metaphors, kids.)

That kind of sexually explicit writing — and the sexually explicit behavior of many of the Bible’s heroes — leaves informed readers scratching their heads when conservative Christians point to the Bible as prescriptive of things like traditional marriage and family values. For every family-friendly instruction about sexual morality, there’s something else — a story, a law, an ideal — you either have to explain away or completely ignore.   


Jennifer Wright Knust seems to be fed up with that kind of thinking. She has a new book releasing this month called Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire. A religion professor at Boston University and an ordained American Baptist pastor, Dr. Knust appears to have written the book as an attempt to steer the discussion of biblical sexuality away from religious conservatives and toward a less sugar-coated perspective on the text. 

I haven’t read the book, but it’s getting some attention this week, presumably because 1) it’s about sex (period, full stop). And 2) it’s about sex in the Bible. Also, Unprotected Texts is the best title ever.


Today at “On Faith,” the Washington Post’s online religion section, Dr. Knust takes a few carefully aimed shots at those who point to the Bible as a guide to sexual morality.

Highlights from her post:  

The Bible is simply too complicated and too contradictory to serve as a
guide to sexual morals. Treating the Bible as a rulebook impoverishes
the biblical witness and short-circuits our ability to speak honestly
about sex. Since the Bible never offers anything like a straightforward
set of teachings about marriage, desire, or God’s perspective on the
human body, the only way to pretend that it does is to refuse to read


If one book forbids marriage between foreigners and Israelites, the next
depicts such marriages as a source of blessing, not only to Israel but
to all of humankind. If one insists that women are saved by
childbearing, the next recommends that women avoid childbearing
altogether in order to devote themselves more fully to God. If one
suggests that sex with a relative, the wife of another man, or with a
male lover will certainly lead to the nation’s downfall, the next
depicts heroic kings engaging in precisely these forms of sex.

Biblical books never speak to marriage as currently practiced in the US and what they do say is totally contradictory.


What are your thoughts on Knust’s book, her post, or the topic of sex and the Bible? Are we over-reaching when we look to the Bible as a guide for 21st century sexual morality? And how old should kids be before we turn them loose with the Old Testament?

Comments read comments(16)
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Not Me

posted February 8, 2011 at 5:12 pm

Sex is natural, sex is fun. Sex is best when it’s one on one.

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posted February 8, 2011 at 5:17 pm

I’m interested to read this book.

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posted February 8, 2011 at 5:18 pm

What about…
I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
that you not stir up or awaken love
until it pleases.
(Song of Solomon 8:4 ESV)

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posted February 8, 2011 at 6:03 pm

This is nothing new and honestly a poor attempt to have an actual ‘dialogue’ and ‘investigation’ to these topics. I’m glad she’s trying to shed light where many churches completly ignore. However, many churches are tackling these issues however, if only she would not paint such a broad brush across the church in America.
And they are doing so with epistemological and hermeneutical vigor, which can hardly be said of this author,pastor and professor. Her accusations using narrative and descriptive literature is utterly ridiculous.
It would be like picking up a newspaper that only describes (not editorializes) a murder and then accuse the journalist and newspaper of supporting homicide. Using David’s sins and saying that is a contradiction that the Bible affirms and/or is silent on is beyond ‘short-sighted'; especially since Nathan confronts David’s adultery and murder and rebukes him.
If anyone actually wants a good discussion into admittedly “difficult texts” they would be better off looking almost anywhere else. Here title is great, but thats about it concerning her critique of the Bible’s stance on sexuality.
Again, nothing new.

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posted February 8, 2011 at 9:02 pm

^dan is the man
pretty much what I was going to say

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posted February 8, 2011 at 10:51 pm

@ Dan
Kind of harsh criticism, a welcomed challenge, but hardly reasonable. I’m interested in learning more about your argument. Are there any references to follow up your argument? Anything that anyone can refer to, so that another voice can be heard. I am not a religious scholar, by no means, but am interested in non-secular arguments. However I do believe that any argument or view deserves a more honorific response, other than saying “it’s nothing new”.

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Charlie Chang

posted February 9, 2011 at 7:59 am

//Treating the Bible as a rulebook impoverishes the biblical witness and short-circuits our ability to speak honestly about sex.//
Hmm. Wow, I never thought of it like that. We could probably even not limit this to sex but about other things as well.

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Ken Grant

posted February 9, 2011 at 8:24 am

What’s that old saying about the bible being the best selling and least read book in history?
I applaud any effort to get us beyond slogans and into the actual text – here’s an interesting observation – there is not one single comprehensive example of good, healthy family relationships in the bible – no good husband-wife relationship, parent-child relationship – nothing.
Let me expand on that – yes, we have a few instructional verses (husbands, love your wives, etc.), we see passing references to relationships we can assume were good (Priscilla and Aquilla), and we have some poetry describing an idealized relationship (Proverbs 31 – Song of Songs), we even see examples of great friendship (David and Jonathan), but nowhere do we find a “this family did it right” kind of example.
If I want examples of military leadership, community leadership, political leadership, or just about any other real life example, then it’s all right there – from Abraham to Moses to Ezra to Nehemiah to the Apostles’ work in organizing the church. BUT, there are NO comprehensive examples of good family relationships anywhere in scripture.
Kind of makes the whole “Biblical Family Values” thing fall apart.

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posted February 9, 2011 at 11:32 am

Would just like to point out that Mary and Joseph may be a good example of a healthy family relationship. At least I’m willing to accept them as a good example.

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Matt @ The Church of No People

posted February 9, 2011 at 3:12 pm

I’m featuring this book on my blog later this month, and it’s…controversial. In a time when our sexual ethics seem to be breaking down, she’s saying our one source of sexual ethics isn’t necessarily to be trusted as a guidebook.

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Ken Grant

posted February 9, 2011 at 5:17 pm

@Carolyn the only thing is, we don’t know what the relationship between Mary and Joseph was like – I mean, all we know is that they were engaged, Mary became pregnant, Joseph struggled with that news (understandable), is told by an angel to go through with everything, which he does. We don’t get any more information about what the marriage was like (yes, we can theorize) but no real information.
Again, compare that to getting detailed information about the administration style of Moses or the military strategy of Joshua or David – there just isn’t anything to grab on to when it comes to examples of good husbands/wives/parents/etc.

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posted February 9, 2011 at 10:45 pm

Hmm… i don’t understand why people want to say, “hey, look! so and so in the Bible had an affair and they were considered a HERO so… we can have affairs, right?”
so much of the story (or history) portions of the Bible are meant to be DESCRIPTIVE and not PRESCRIPTIVE. just because a character who is noble in some respects does something that contradicts laws or commandments, doesn’t mean that suddenly that thing is ok and the Bible is contradicting itself. in fact, i think a lot of the time when those stories appear, it’s a narrative of what you SHOULDN’T do, b/c often not only are we seeing the person’s poor choices, but the unfortunate results of those choices. (David sending Bathsheba’s husband to be killed in battle comes to mind…)

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posted February 10, 2011 at 11:35 am

Don’t get me wrong, I agree that some things in the Bible pertaining to sex can be contradictory or hard to understand. I mean, with Solomon and his multiple wives and concubines, the main thrust of his downfall was not said to be because of his multiple wives and concubines, but that they led him toward worshiping other gods. I really don’t get that and haven’t heard a good explanation of it. However, to say, “Since the Bible never offers anything like a straightforward set of teachings about marriage, desire, or God’s perspective on the human body, the only way to pretend that it does is to refuse to read it,” is a quite a stretch. Although, yes, some parts of the passages that DO talk about marriage and family life are a little vague. But, that’s the beauty of Christ’s love..That we don’t just have a set of rules in the family, but it is governed by the love that we show because we’re trying to be like Him. Ephesians 5 tells husbands that we should love our wives like Christ loved the church. Imagine if we actually followed that like we should. The extra patience and lack of infidelity among men would be worth noting. So, because a few men in the Bible failed to honor what God set forth, we should right that off as contradictory and useless? We see rich and powerful people get out of criminal punishment all the time because of who they are and the power they have. Does that mean that we go and commit the same crimes like they aren’t criminal offenses? I don’t know why God made some men exceptions, but it can’t be said that He didn’t at least make it known what was expected.

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Hilary Chaney

posted February 10, 2011 at 5:16 pm

The contradictions in the bible are innumerable. It cannot be our guide. But the problems don’t start and end with Christianity…see what else I have to say about Hinduism at If you read more you will see what it feels like to meet God, to become God, to graduate from the Christian God and enter the kingdom. It’s as easy as could be and we could all do it. We will all walk in heaven on earth very soon. Hang in there, it is coming….

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posted February 25, 2011 at 12:57 pm

People here who are trying to defend the bible have no facts.
The fact is that no family in the bible had anything resembling a modern relationship. Women were bartered, they had no civil rights, were totally subservient to their husbands — and none of the writers of the bible would have considered that there was anything wrong with any of those things.
Adultery was bad because it damaged a man’s right to marry (and therefore obtain) an unspoiled piece of property. The fact is that there is nothing in any of the books condemning polygamy.
To say that the bible is only describing events and not endorsing them is both willful blindness and besides the point. The writings reflect society as it was back then, and none of the books challenges the way society constructed male-female relationships.

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posted March 18, 2011 at 2:24 am

I think something people are forgetting here is that these people in the bible were just that- people. There is sinning throughout the bible and really without sin, greed, adultery, etc. etc. the death of Christ would be a bit anti-climactic don’t you think? When studying the bible myself I just remember that it was written by human beings and that most of the “characters” in it are plain old human beings.

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