Is the Bible Anti-sex?

Albert Joseph Moore, The Shunamite relating the Glories of King Solomon to her Maidens, 1894.

Christianity (as an “organised religion”) has often been against sex. Celibacy has been seen (following especially some hints in Paul’s letters) as better than marriage, which has been seen as a way to make sex all right because, and insofar as, it is aimed at producing children. Does this devaluing of sex reflect the full witness of Scripture, or is it yet another issue where by overstressing a few (often difficult to understand, or at best complex) passages the Bible is misrepresented?

Is the Bible as a whole anti-sex? Hardly. One whole book is full of erotic love poems. The Song of Songs may well represent – though only by analogy – the loving relationship of the soul and God, or Christ and the Church. Generations of celibate priests and religious were not wrong to read it this way, but this analogy is built on the frankly expressed love and desire of king and Shulammite.

To illustrate this it is worth quoting a short portion, 5:2-5, from the KJV:

I sleep, but my heart waketh: 
  the voice of my beloved that knocketh, 
Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled: 
  for my head is filled with dew, my locks with the drops of the night.
I have put off my coat; 
  how shall I put it on? 
I have washed my feet; 
  how shall I defile them? 
My beloved put in his hand by the hole, 
  and my bowels were moved for him. 
I rose up to open to my beloved; 
  and my hands dropped myrrh, 
  and my fingers sweet smelling myrrh, 
    upon the handles of the lock.

A library containing such a book hardly rejects the creator’s design of humans as sexual creatures.

Biblical sense and sensibility

Open Bible has a fascinating on post Applying Sentiment Analysis to the Bible.

Sentiment analysis involves algorithmically determining if a piece of text is positive (“I like cheese”) or negative (“I hate cheese”). Think of it as Kurt Vonnegut’s story shapes backed by quantitative data.

The post started with a plot of the data for the whole Bible, which for anyone interested in the “big picture” of the Bible’s story is fascinating. But the data, calculated using available software on an English translation based on the calculated probability of a verse being positive or negative in sentiment, allows a closer look, and running a five verse running average gives really striking and thought provoking “pictures” of each Bible book.

While Jonah goes from bad to worse ;)

Ruth moves from negative to positive


Which both seem intuitively “right”. However, Esther needs some thought:

Esther: is the beginning really the happiest part?

I’m currently teaching the Song of Songs, and last week was Ecclesiastes, so these are interesting:

They both fit common preconceptions pretty well...


…but is it as simple as that? ;)

Ruth and romance

копия гравюры В. Фаворского. Фронтиспис 3-й главы Книги Руфь. Ксилография. 1924 WikiMedia

This post is stimulated by two things:

  • last night I was interviewed before I preached on the Song of Songs, and was asked the interesting question of how experience crossing cultures (which has been a feature of my life into Congo, then New Zealand and more recently the Karen people in the refugee camp in Thailand) influences how I read the Song
  • Claude’s post on a neat little textual issue in Ruth 3:15 Who Went Back to the City?

It’s not Claude’s text criticism I want to discuss, but things he says, or that I assume he implies, or fear his readers will infer, earlier in introducing the question:

It is phrases like: “The love affair between Ruth and Boaz began…” that I want to investigate. Now, before I start I’d better say I do think Ruth (the book) tells of love between Ruth and Boaz, and Boaz and Ruth. I see signs of it in chapter 2 and stronger signs in ch.3. But read in my cultural context, phrases like the one I have quoted suggest that Ruth (the book) is at least in part (and possibly among other things) a “love story”. We Westerners have been, throughout our history suckers for a good love story.

[Yes, I know, “real men” only watch “chick flicks” because their wives, sisters, girlfriends… give them an excuse to, but facts are facts, and men – at least in our Western culture – are actually more “romantic” than women. So I’ll stick with tarring both genders of Westerner with the same brush.]

However, I do not think the book of Ruth is about love. It’s about חֶסֶד hesed (an amalgam of faithfulness to family or covenant relationships and great kindness). This virtue was a primary family and social value in Ancient Israel. Love was a luxury, but חֶסֶד hesed was what made the world go round.

So, did Boaz “fancy” Ruth? Probably – notice how he assumes that any of the young (and he is not young, so appreciates the value of youth) men of the village would have wanted to marry her (Rt 3:10). Why? She was a foreign (strike one) widow (strike two) who was childless after ten years of marriage (strike three). Boaz has to be imputing his own motives to them ;) Did Ruth “fancy” Boaz? Perhaps – notice how she teases him in the field (Rt 2:10,13)! But that’s not what the story is about, it is about the much more significant issues of חֶסֶד hesed.

There is a love story in the Bible (at least in the Song), but Rutrh is not it, even though it may allow its heroes to experience love as well.

Procrastinating usefully

My daughter (in Glasgow as an exchange student) has been posting recently on Facebook about procrastination (it’s nearly the exam season there, and revision does not beckon like she thinks it should. Shopping, cooking, buying tickets… her list of procrastinatory activities are different from mine. But today I am procrastinating too!

I’m supposed to be polishing (off) a talk for tomorrow night on Song of Songs (I guess since I am the only person many people know who has preached on the Song I deserve the invitation ;) but that experience does not really make preparing to preach on the Song easy – so I procrastinate…

Actually this post is both related to the preparation (since the stimulus was seeing that Dale, who invited me to preach, uses a neat plugin to post from his blog to Facebook) and is actually useful – at least if this post appears in FB as well as on the blog.

Anyway enough procrastination, back to the Song of Songs.