O Me of Little Faith

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?

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