Dr. Grant C. Richison
Sexual temptation is blatant in the twenty-first century, a fact so patent that the point need not be established. What is not as apparent is that sexual temptation was blatant in biblical times as well.
Some think that people of biblical days did not face the enticements we do in our day. Some Christians carry the illusion that we live in a unique era because we have the Internet and other sources for immediately available sexual gratification—an illusion used as rationalization for unbiblical sexual activity. The truth is that people of biblical times faced the same stark temptation as we do today, and maybe even more. It is true that we must grapple with both actual and virtual temptation, but biblical people confronted an overwhelmingly explicit sexual culture.
In this book, I hope to show that sexual enticement was an everyday temptation in biblical times. Because the Bible is eternal, it is perpetually relevant to sexual issues. I will show both the temptation of the times and the biblical principles for dealing with that temptation—applicable now as then. Any view holding that we live in a unique age the Bible does not address is a viewpoint contrary to the very nature of Scripture.
Our generation has seen a change in the attitudes about sex held by the previous generation. Western civilization in the first half of the twentieth century carried consensus in its perspective on sexuality. This does not deny that norms of that period were regularly broken. However, that period agreed on monogamous marriage and the evil of adultery, bestiality, incest, and homosexuality. Those attitudes began to erode in the middle of the twentieth century with the belief in value-free sexuality. Culture eventually shifted to the point that divine absolutes in this field were considered passé. Media became more and more permissive because opinions about sexuality came from a personal perspective. North American society lost its norming norm.
This philosophical shift became the catalyst for the current explosion of pornography and many shapes of sexual expression. In 2003 Playboy Magazine, with its hedonistic philosophy (individual happiness as the ultimate norm), celebrated its fiftieth year. Playboy played a role in mainstreaming hedonism to the public even to the point of pushing pedophilia and bestiality. Most western people recoil at pedophilia, yet this is a current cultural conditioning process.
The philosophies that allowed hedonism to run rampant in western society are existentialism, relativism, subjectivism, dialecticism, and the elevation of the person above society, truth, or external norms. In this system, there is no place for truth or overarching principles that guide the individual; the individual is king. Personal purpose or meaning is divorced from transcending reality. We cannot quantify love because there is no standard or norm to give it universal meaning. Love to our society has personal (therapeutic) meaning, but this does not translate into normative behavior. The purpose of sex is simply personal gratification and often without thought for the other person.
Many who advocate aberrant lifestyle do so by subjective interpretation of Scripture. Some homosexuals, for example, impart or interpolate their meaning into the text. Others argue that biblical authors were the product of cultural bias against homosexuality. All this is an attempt to reconstruct or deconstruct the Bible into a modern revisionist perspective.
Western society today and the society of biblical times both have the character of sexual license. It is interesting that biblical authors did not accommodate their message to the norms around them but stood in polar opposition to them. The norming norm for biblical writers argued for sexiness within monogamous marriage because marriage is a divine institution that benefits society the best. Casual or promiscuous sex in a society slogged in sex was no utopia to biblical writers.
If we believe that all norms are socially generated, then any norm is the standard. The postmodern perspective holds that the queer community has its norms of homosexuality, and the evangelical community its norms of heterosexuality, because of their respective sexual biases. This postmodern bias sets the stage for the denuding of biblical norms. If we believe the biblical view of sex is essentially power politics, then we negate the authority of the Bible and revert into the pagan mystical spirituality of moral degradation. This is what has happened within the radical feminist movement: Pagan thought warps our religious consciousness and effecting fundamental change in our view of sexuality.
Since North American society exalts cultural diversity, skepticism toward authority, and personal choice, it is difficult to affirm moral absolutes. The issue of the certainty of biblical norms is at stake. Many evangelicals interpret Christianity through a pluralistic, relativistic culture and have lost confidence in biblical absolutes. Some believe that what the Bible says about sex cannot be truly known. Everyone has his or her own interpretation of what is right. However, we know that God will judge us not by what we feel is right but by what is actually right—God’s unchanging norms.
2 Peter 1:16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (ESV, bold indication ours).
The battle for biblical norms is a major issue in the struggle for the souls of people. In many ways, our culture determines what we believe. If a sex-sated society sets the predominant condition for values, then evangelical Christians—of all people—must take this challenge head-on. In the face of a society that seeks to repress the norming norms of absolutes, Christians must take a stand against legal inhibition of biblical norms; but, above all, evangelicals must be true to truth. Our culture wants to believe that pagan subjective opinionism and perspective is the core of truth. Arbitrary personal desire does not prefer an absolute God with absolute norms. Preference, then, is the underlying presupposition of postmodern thought.
Biblical authors did not accommodate their view of sexuality to prevailing culture. People want to dismiss the biblical view of sex because it does not fit the core assumption of “personal love,” as if personal love is the ultimate panacea for truth. The rubric of personal love is strictly humanistic, a rubric that many evangelicals now adopt. These evangelicals allow culture, rather than the unadulterated Word of God, to inform their system of ethics. The Word of God flies in the face of social insensitivity. Ethical humanism stands in polar opposition to biblical truth. Accommodation is a graven image of our day.
The communities that surrounded Israel and the church worshiped many deities that were seen as sexually active beings, and human sexual practices were a reflection of what was believed took place in the divine realm. On the other hand, the Bible presents God as sexless in the physical sense, for God is neither male nor female. (The Bible presents God metaphorically as male out of linguistic necessity.) Sexuality is the result of creation and is not a quality of the Creator himself. The God of the Bible is not phallic and so cannot represent male virility or sexual potency. There can be no physicality in the God of the Bible, so God cannot model sex.
Neo-paganism believes that a “divine spark” lies innate in the individual. Salvation for paganism is the liberation of this divine essence or spark from anything that prevents self-expression; thus it is important to get in touch with oneself. This makes the self sovereign—a monistic stance in opposition to theism. Paganism seeks truth through intuition, feeling, and experience, and is inherently religious by self-deifying morality. Pagan deities tend to be sexual. Since no knowledge exists apart from subjective solipsism, sexual indulgence becomes an act of one’s religion—the worship of a self-centered god, the self.
This book will show how paganism’s view of sexuality is still pervasive in modern society. For example, the worship of Ishtar in nineteenth-century (BC) Mesopotamia used neutered male priests to function as feminine occult shamans. The goddess Anat in Canaan, preserving many of the characteristics of Ishtar, symbolizes the mystical union of homosexual androgyny. Cybele in the Roman Empire was served by androgynous priests who castrated themselves in devotion to her. Artemis was a version of Cybele, and her temple in Ephesus, where Paul launched a church (Acts 19), was run by castrated male priests. Emasculation of men before female divinity is no new idea.
Incipient Gnosticism of the New Testament era attempted to accommodate pagan spirituality to Christianity. This was a form of syncretism that attempted to cross over into other religions. The Bible presents a radically different theology of sex from that of the surrounding nations, restricting sex to the domain of marriage. Sex is a social-order issue, the norm of which cannot be accommodated to culture.
Biblical sex is uniquely significant to the whole person. Promiscuous sex trivializes the person. Sex has to do with mutuality of which sex is an expression and is the opposite of insistence on personal sexual rights. Distinction between sexes and their design manifests itself in the intimacy of one-flesh marital act. Erotic love is a manifestation of relational love.
Hanna Rosin reports in Slate Magazine (May 30, 2007) on a book by Mark Regnerus (professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin) entitled Forbidden Fruit: Sex & Religion in the lives of American Teenagers. Regnerus says that, while 80% of evangelical teenagers think that they should save sex for marriage, they are more likely to lose their virginity than either mainline or Catholic teens (16.3% for evangelicals and 16.7% for the other two). Evangelical teens are “much more likely to have three or more sexual partners by age 17,” and 13.7% of evangelicals have premarital sex compared to 8.9% of mainliners. Rosin makes a noteworthy point: “Among the mass of typically promiscuous teenagers in the book, one group stands out: the 16 percent of American teens who describe religion as ‘extremely important’ in their lives. When these guys pledge, they mean it.” Teens who refrain from premarital sex do so because their depth of belief and commitment to the God of the Word.
REGULAR (NORMAL) SEX
A postmodern world does not accept universals or absolutes, and this is especially true when it comes to the subject of sex. The stakes are high for the evangelical community, so we cannot pander to prudishness about sex in a postmodern world. It is amazing that today’s evangelicals accommodate the philosophy of syncretism views of sexuality, since all religions (including syncretism and Christianity) have a core of truth when it comes to sexuality.
The Bible itself is not prudish in its presentation of sex, setting forth the topic with straightforwardness and clarity. Neither is Scripture pornographic in its depiction, instead (in counter-distinction to the surrounding culture) reflecting caution in discussing sexual issues. Although Scripture is discrete, it is nevertheless frank in dealing with sex.
Most Christians do not think in terms of a biblical worldview; many probably do not even know that one exists! However, Christians cannot deal with their sexuality properly without understanding God’s comprehensive view of sexuality. Without understanding the presuppositions of the biblical construct for sex, the believer cannot organize his thinking about sexual temptation or put it into perspective.
A theology of sex deals with principles, not dos and don’ts. Sex is not the random reward for marriage but carries theological design. In the theology of biblical sex, the husband and wife relate to each other as if they were part of each other’s body, and the husband especially cares for his wife as he cares for his own body (Ephesians 5:23,30).
The Bible sets forth two kinds of sex: (1) regular and (2) irregular. Regular sex is the heterosexual, monogamous expression within the construct of the divine institution of marriage, and irregular sex is anything violating that norm. We cannot understand the irregular variety unless we comprehend the biblical norm. Any view of sex that breaks the rapport between personhood and behavior distorts the biblical theology of sex.
The biblical construct of sex begins with our view of God himself, especially his transcendent right to set norms and standards for creation. He transcends and is different from creation. By contrast, the pagan god is in creation itself and is nowhere in particular. This plurality of gods cannot set transcended standards for creation, but the God of the Bible is one and separate from creation, so he can set transcending absolute norms. The Bible juxtaposes the God of Creation with the autonomous man of secularism.
Sexuality is integral to the way God designed the person, for he designed sex as something good, powerful, and unifying. God always approves of sexiness between husband and wife (Proverbs 5:15-21; Ecclesiastes 9:9). Further, God warns husbands and wives against withholding sex from each other (1 Corinthians 7:3).
God did not intend that the believer bifurcate the body from sexuality. The body by implication is not lesser than the nonmaterial part of man. The believer is to accept and appreciate his sexuality, for it involves the whole person and the desire to be one with another person’s whole person. On the other hand, he is to beware of the sensuality of inappropriate self-indulgence.
Past Influence on Sexuality
Plato recommended both liberated sexual expression and the end of marriage for every one (Laws, Republic). Subsequent church history reveals many distortions of biblical sexuality. Augustine taught that a person was more spiritual if he or she did not derive a great amount of pleasure from sex. Thomas Aquinas taught that sex was only for the purpose of procreation. Justin Martyr wanted celibacy to gain the ascendency over marriage. Tertullian presented celibacy as an ideal standard. Jerome aggressively denounced marriage.
The Reformation generally brought back the biblical view of marriage and sex by rooting its view of sexuality in the Bible, restoring marriage and sexuality to its rightful place for the most part. Some Reformers spoke of marriage as the lesser of two evils and not something inherently good by constitution of human nature. Calvin viewed celibacy as holding a higher place than marriage, leaving those who could not practice celibacy to move down to marriage.
Clearly, the Bible does set forth celibacy as a virtue under certain special circumstances and for certain functions. This does not presume that celibacy in itself is a virtue. When the Pharisees asked if divorce was biblical, Jesus referred them to the divine institution of marriage as an indissoluble institution. The disciples responded that it would be better not to marry in that case, but Jesus replied that it was a matter for each person to decide. Celibacy is for those who are naturally constituted for it (Matthew 19:10) or for those for whom God has a special purpose, such as the apostle Paul.
The Bible presents marriage as a symbol of the relationship between God and his people. It depicts God as our “husband.” Scriptures view people who depart from God as a wife who divorces her husband. Isaiah pictures God as a bridegroom rejoicing over his bride (Isaiah 57:5). Ephesians 5 draws an analogy between marriage and the relationship between the union of Christ and his church. God calls the church “the bride, the Lamb’s wife” (Revelation 21:9). All Christians will sit at the marriage supper of the lamb (Revelation 19:7,9).
Paul asserted the doctrine of marriage as a divine institution. Marriage to him was a normal state of affairs. However, marriage carries with it certain challenges, so marriage in times of duress is not good unless a person cannot maintain his or her sexual purity (1 Corinthians 7).
Modern Influences on Sexuality
Postmodern Influence on Sexuality
Current prevailing postmodern thinking has huge effect on sexual belief in North America today. Diversity of viewpoints leads to a retreat of monotheism and its structure of monogamy. Belief in an absolute God with absolute standards is in decline within our culture’s cacophony of philosophies. Since Christianity is no longer the prevailing view of Americans, one-dimensional sex has now become multidimensional sex. As Peter Jones says,
Getting rid of God, this one-dimensional norm includes, as events proved, getting rid of one-dimensional sex. Welcoming the many gods of syncretistic polytheism and higher powers of the personal spiritual quest has also, and at the same time, signaled the arrival of a new era of multidimensional sex.
Therapeutic (psychological) Sexuality
Modern man celebrates self; however, Christianity points to a purpose that transcends self. In the 1960s, a novel ethic arose that saw everything as relative to the individual. No truth existed outside of personal perspective—no external regulation to the final authority of one’s own opinion—for this ethic found authority for sex in the self. This is still the mainstream ethic of today, the ethic of personal preference: “I do it because I feel it is right.” Loss of transcendent truth leaves selfist man victim to his passions and produces a vicious cycle because aberrant sex twists perception so that it conceals knowledge of God. Modern man put his own selfist doctrine in place of biblical doctrine.
Alfred C. Kinsey (1894-1956) was the father of the sexual revolution. His book Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) portrayed the male as promiscuous and appreciably homosexual. Most people viewed his book at the time of release as scientific and objective; however, underlying its ultimate presupposition was the belief in pansexuality. In his book, The God of Sex: How Spirituality Defines Your Sexuality, Peter Jones writes about Kinsey. He quotes Robert Peters, Morality in Media president: “Religion and morality were the hated enemies that stand in the way of sexual freedom … no sex was abnormal … man was merely an animal with a high degree of intelligence.” It was not until years later that scholars deemed Kinsey’s work unscientific, but he had done his damage. He succeeded in deconstructing the North American view of sexuality from monotheism to pansexualism and “endless permutations.” Normal sex between one male and one female was no longer the norm. Sexual belief reduced to the least common denominator of an individual’s preference or desire, the exercise of one’s right to establish his own authority in sexual theory.
Pagan Sexual Worldview (monism)—Polyamory (many loves)
In recent years, postmodernism tied sexuality to spirituality—a pagan view in which sex carries no purpose such as permanent relationship or exclusive commitment one to another. Pagan or neo-pagan sexual worldview is becoming a major sexual viewpoint in North American society. All this finds its roots in loss of biblical truth and standards. The new standard is the self, especially the “spiritual” self of neo-paganism. Paganism operates on the presupposition that natural desire is at the heart of reality.
Paganism gets its so-called morality from within, but Christianity obtains its morality from without. The pagan view is averse to associating sex with marriage and morality. Paganism partly influenced feminism, which came to hold a hostile worldview toward traditional families as well. It is obvious that men and women are different sexually, but pagans and femininists want to deny gender distinction.
Peter Jones says, “Sex abstracted from its Creator is still religious.” Paganism rejects the Creator and his construct for creation. It is monistic and holds to the divinity of all things. This monism (belief that all is one) joins opposites by mysticism. Androgyny is an expression of this mystical philosophy. Polytheism yields multiple expressions of gender, requiring rejection of the monotheistic God so this requires the rejection of the monotheistic God who made separation between male and female at creation. Polytheistic homosexual androgyny is radical sexual egalitarianism from pagan monism. There is then a correlation between polytheism and pagan pansexuality, which stands in stark contrast to biblical monogamy.
Jones attributes the new sexuality to neo-pagan culture. It is a “spiritual-sexual” agenda. He says we have crossed a bridge into a new world order, “At the front of the procession, leading the way across that bridge is the androgynous, sexually unfettered new human of pagan spirituality. Jones declares, “The call for “omnigender” policies, when stripped of its disguise as civil rights and human dignity, appears for what it is: a pagan religious agenda to change the spiritual character of Western, once “Christian,” society. Then, referring to an ex-Presbyterian professor of literature turned practicing lesbian and polytheist who ratifies pedophilia, Jones says:
… Virginia Mollenkott, calling herself “an evangelical lesbian feminist,” speaks for gays and lesbians when she says, “We are God’s Ambassadors.” Indeed, Mollenkott claims she “was told” by her “guardian angel, a Spirit Guide, the Holy Spirit or Jesus” that “a great shift is occurring in the world, and you are part of that shift.” This “shift” includes her “shift” from biblical heterosexuality to pagan homosexuality and from biblical to monist spirituality, which now includes such techniques as meditation on the New Age, as described in A Course in Miracles and the use of tarot cards and I Ch’ing. For Mollenkott, homosexuals hold the key for a coming spiritual revival—of paganism.
In the 1960s, I wrote a series of articles on marriage for The Standard, a vehicle of the Baptist General Conference. Mollenkott, parading as an evangelical, severely attacked those articles from an evangelical egalitarian viewpoint. It is amazing how far she has come from her stance as an evangelical egalitarian to a pagan. She was educated in Bob Jones University, of all places! She now rejects the idea that Jesus is the only way of salvation and relies on her “Spirit Guide,” and justifies lesbian sex. She hopes that the “God self” will manifest itself in “my self”—which is the essence of paganism. She even rejects the sinfulness of sexual sin and takes lessons on sexuality from witches. She wants to introduce goddess worship in churches. She feels called to subvert evangelical Christianity. Another author who attacked my articles was Letha Dawson Scanzoni, who today affirms the validity of homosexual sex. Once we leave the biblical viewpoint, we open ourselves to paganism.
Basis of Biblical Sex–Theology Proper
The opposite of monism (that all is one) is theism (that God is separate from and transcends creation). God and nature are different and distinct, so he is not part of creation because he is its Creator. Since God is set apart (holy) from creation, he has a separate transcendent domain from creation. God is unique, the great unlike, set apart from creation. There are two concepts of the idea of ”holiness”: (1) moral purity and (2) ontological purity or set-apartness. Our subject deals with the second of these two distinctions. We cannot confuse God with creation, for God is set apart from creation. Creation is finite, but God dwells in infiniteness and eternity. We worship the eternal, separate God, not creation. He is independent from creation, not dependent on creation. God is absolute; man is relative. God knows all things; man knows some things. God is everywhere present; man is local. God does not change; man does. There is a very clear Creator/creation distinction in the Bible, so we must distinguish sexuality from pagan oneness.
Isaiah 57:15For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place . . .”
Since the God of the Bible is transcendent above nature and not part of nature, he does not define sexuality based on the physical aspect of nature but by himself who is above nature. Paganism defines its view of sexuality based on nature. Since God is distinct from, above, and the author of nature, he has the right to define sexuality in the natural sphere. This distinction was a struggle in early church history. The Creator and the created order are two different things, two kinds of order or construct. God was before and above creation. There is only one Creator; everyone else is a creature. God created all and relied on no one and nothing to do it, as attested by Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
God is also personal, not an impersonal force as pagans would have it. If man is a creation of the personal God, then this explains why man is not one with the earth or sea—God created a man to think and make judgments as a theocratic king (man represents God on earth). Monism is impersonal, but the God of the Bible is someone who interacts with his creatures and even invites intimacy with them. Monism has no purpose or personality, but God interrelates with creation. If we have a problem with the biblical view of sex, we have a problem with the biblical view of God.
Theology Proper–the Construct of Sexual Morality
God has a construct for sexual morality that is a system of values based on theology proper (the doctrine of God). God wants us to build a structure of sexual principles based on who he is. God has the right to sovereignty over our sexuality; he has the right to set that structure for sexuality. All of God’s reasons for sexuality in both positive assertions and negative prohibitions have constructive reasons for the well-being of human persons.
The Word of God views this construct of human sexuality in highest terms. For example, the command not to commit adultery carries the idea of security for the couple in their relation one to the other. A couple that does not violate the marriage can trust each other and believe that each loves the other in exclusive commitment. There is no security of love in adultery.
Christians should be as concerned about what faithfulness in marriage does in the positive sense as the damage faithlessness causes in the negative sense. At its foundation, sex is a covenant relationship between two people; the biblical idea is for the couple to build a structure between them that will produce a beautiful relationship and wonderful sex because of it.
In biblical parlance, the individual is more than a sex object but a person created in God’s image. Correlation exists between God’s image and sexual practice because God, too, is a person; thus he created sex to be personally oriented. There is then a rapport between God’s image and human personal oriented sex. How we behave sexually needs to match who we are in God’s image, and all biblical sex takes place only between two people in personal relationship. How we behave sexually needs to match with who we are in God’s image. God is a person so he created sex to be person-oriented. Therefore, all biblical sex is personal relationship oriented. Sex with a prostitute is sex with “strangers” or a “foreigner” (Proverbs 5:10). There is no relationship with a “stranger”; sex in that case is sex with an object. Sex with an impersonal object violates sex as rapport with another person.
Part of God’s construct for sex is that it operates with mutual exclusion within the institution of marriage (Mark 10:9). Exchanging our partner for someone else is not valid in this construct. Our marriage partner is not simply an instrument for sex; our partner is a special, exclusive person with whom we have sex, because marriage is more than sexual pleasure.
Divine Institution of Sex
Contrast to Self-Fulfillment Sexuality
Sexuality is not merely the struggle of the senses and impulses for higher principles are involved here. God’s anthropology rests on transcendent principles that he places in the believer but pagan sex rests on thesis of selfism. The believer is the “temple of the Holy Spirit,” so he carries a dynamic that unites body, soul, and spirit. Paganism tears apart these elements. Biblically, the person is more than being oneself and more than libido. The flesh can subdue the self but that is not the same as being the self.
At the heart of modern-day, sexuality is the ultimate presupposition of personal rights so sex is an issue of personal choice. There are no standards beyond this except for human sensibilities. For example, most people reject pedophilia for no other reason that the societal norm rejects it. For these people, marriage is not an adequate condition to prohibit liaisons outside marriage. Sex warrants marriage but marriage does not warrant sex. Marriage has no transcendent norms so there is nothing unique in mutual exclusive sex within marriage. Everything is permissive sexually within one’s preferences.
Absolute, Objective Truth
The running norm today is, “If this is right for me, then this is the proper standard.” Subjective solipsism allows each man to create his own norms out of his own desires. But man is more than an animal, so he cannot allege he is a being of uncontrolled passions.
The issue of Christianity versus selfism rests on the issue of truth or the presupposition of where we find truth. Non-Christians of the New Testament era chose to twist truth about God into a lie, and the same problem still stands today.
Romans 1: 24Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. 26For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. 28And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.
The Gentiles of Romans one cannot control their passions because they do not “know God,” who gives them objective standards that transcend preference of the self. Theology proper (the doctrine of God) is at the heart of the issue.
1 Thessalonians 4: 3For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;
The only objective standard we have about sex is from the Word of God. Civilization would end in utter sexual confusion if there were no God-given absolute standard from a transcendent source. God’s Word gives us mandate on gender that arises out of the divine institution of marriage. God does not leave man to devise his own criteria for sexual codes.
Authority of Sexuality
Christianity rests its view on sex upon God’s eternal Word. The dissolution of the evangelical viewpoint on sexuality correlates with a diminishing opinion of Scripture. Evangelicals are now in the process of deconstructing their view of sex. This starts not by challenging the authority of scripture but by changing its normal meaning. These evangelicals are more interested in the “spiritual” aspects to sex than the extant statements of the Bible about sex. They want to move evangelicals to a self-oriented spirituality. In their view, the need of the same-sex individual is more important than what God has to say about that individual’s distortion. All of this is accommodation to culture.
Anyone dabbling with reinterpreting what the Bible says on sex faces a series of ever more radical arguments urging ever radical revisions. Each step is loaded with seemingly logical reasons to move on to the next step. Dissatisfied evangelicals can be affected by sexual paganism even if what draws them on to the next step looks nothing like paganism.
It is essential that Christians present their philosophy of sex in the context of creation and divine institution. God established marriage as a divine institution in Genesis (1:27, 5:2) and created sex as part of marriage (1:28). Although Genesis sets forth the procreative aspect of sex, other passages set forth the pleasure of sex; that is, we enjoy sex for its own sake.God did not create the marriage institution for believers only but for all his creatures, so all human beings are under this authority. Jesus ratified the divine institution of marriage at Cana of Galilee.
The biblical idea of marriage is a contract between one man and one woman to live together until death. Marriage is between one man and one woman and that union is permanent. It can be dissolved only by irregular sex, desertion, or death (Genesis 2:23,24; Mark 10:8; 1 Corinthians 7:15). This divine institution requires the union of one man and one woman and is a comprehensive union of their entire nature. Jesus affirmed the divine institution of marriage when he said in Matthew 19:4, “He answered, ‘Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female . . . ?’”
Greek mythology portrayed man as a sexless androgyne that later divided into male and female. For them, attraction of sexual intimacy is the desire to get back to one gender, to become a spirit free of the body. On the other hand, the divine institution of marriage divides between male and female and designs them to be together in “one flesh.” “One flesh” means mutual, exclusive commitment to each other as two distinct sexual entities.
From God’s viewpoint, marriage is the bond of society and the basis for the family and social life. Marriage precedes family and society, and is a coming together between two people, male and female. God created Adam and Eve for companionship, for Adam was incomplete in himself. The natural result of dynamic companionship between male and female is sexual union. They become “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24) or sexually united (1 Corinthians 6:16). The reason why the Bible uses the language of “know” for sexual love is that there is an inner affinity and intimacy between the performance of sexual intercourse and the act of knowing the other person. Adam “knew” (yada`) his wife Eve (Genesis 4:1).
God set forth the principle for husbands and wives to “forsake” (ya’azob) parents. The implication is that one must change loyalties from the parent to the mate. Honor of parents is still necessary but secondary to honoring the mate. A second principle is to “stick” to one’s mate by contract. Marriage is a partnership of contract, implying loyalty and faithfulness to the marriage.
Biblical parlance indicates that when a couple makes a contract, they mutually and exclusively commit to each other sexually. They do not sexually unite with anyone else or an animal. True companionship makes a commitment to the partner.
Old Testament laws indicate that Israelite society was family oriented. Stability was at the heart of these laws; that is why divorce laws protected the family. The marriage contract was a pledged compact. In Israel as a theocratic nation (a nation that represents God), criminal law dealt with disregard for parents. Proof of virginity before marriage was important to assure that children were children of the marriage. Rags from the last menstrual period were a proof of this. Rape of a virgin within a town routinely brought the death penalty, because she had the opportunity to cry out and so was guilty of implied consent. Rape of a woman in the countryside bore no penalty because no one could hear her screams. Incest was abhorrent to most societies (cf., Hittite laws), although Egyptians did practice it.
Mutual, Exclusive Permanence of Sex between Husband and Wife
Jesus said in Mark 10:9,“What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Solomon made a plea for permanence (Song of Solomon 8:6-7). Marriage is a covenant of permanence between husband and wife (Malachi 2:14).
Sexual pleasure is an aspect of marriage but is also crucial in joining two people together permanently. Note how the book of Proverbs views the permanence and exclusive monogamy of marriage:
Proverbs 5: 15Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well. 16Should your springs be scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets? 17Let them be for yourself alone, and not for strangers with you. 18Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, 19a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love. 20Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?
People in ancient Israel kept their family water cisterns (large clay pots) in the house. The believing couple was to drink from exclusive sex with one’s mate. Note the emphasis on the mutual exclusivity of the words “alone” and “your” in this passage. Sex needs to be exclusive because marriage is exclusive in God’s viewpoint.
The Bible describes idolatry as unfaithfulness or spiritual adultery because worship of God must be mutual and exclusive. We cannot serve both God and mammon, God and Satan, the God of the Bible and Mohammed; worship of God requires exclusive relationship, for it involves exclusive intimacy. Biblical sex fastens together both the soul and the body because sex without personal closeness is not genuine sex from God’s viewpoint.
Husband and wife are “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24) and nothing should separate “one” unified flesh. The husband-and-wife relationship, then, is a distinct, indivisible unit. Sex unites the couple in body, mind, and emotion, so it is more than a bodily function. Jesus made that perfectly clear when he said, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). The Pharisees claimed that sex was a matter of the physical, but Jesus said that it was a matter of the mind as well. If we separate any one of these dimensions by sexual liaison with someone else, mentally or physically, then we sever the single unit and break relationship.
1 Corinthians 6: 13“Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. 15Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” 17But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
We cannot separate the physical from the spiritual, for they are permanently interrelated in God’s viewpoint. Nor can we disengage our spiritual life from sex, because God cannot stop being who he is.
Monogamous Sex Essential to Divine Institution of Sexual Orientation
God commissioned sex at creation. The doctrine of creation limited intercourse to monogamous, nuclear, heterosexual relationship. The illegitimacy of prostitution, adultery, and homosexuality arise out of that principle (1 Corinthians 6:13-18; Ephesians 5:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; Exodus 20:14; Romans 1:26-27). God created woman as a “suitable” companion (Genesis 2:20). Animals could not respond to the personhood of Adam, so God took Eve from Adam’s rib and made Adam and Eve “one flesh.” Sexual intercourse is an expression of that oneness.
Sexuality in biblical parlance is more than behavior, because it has to do with what people are. We can see this clearly in the divine institution of marriage at creation. God created both male and female personage in his image (Genesis 1:27), so personal sexuality is central to God’s economy and to relationship issues. God made Eve to relate to Adam and vice versa (2:18-25).
God pronounced his creation “good” six times, but the seventh time he evaluated creation, he considered creation of male and female “exceedingly good.” Sexual difference was a crown of creation.
The Lord Jesus repeatedly quotes from Genesis 2:24 and reinforces the idea of divine institution (Matthew 19:5; Mark 10:7). This reestablishes the idea of leaving and cleaving, so that husband and wife are “one flesh” both in principle and in physicality.
Marriage is a divine institution because it is foundational to the continuation of the human race. God expects exclusive commitment between spouses through sexual and personal fidelity. Couples make this covenant before God, not a legal system. Any violation of that covenant is a violation of God personally and his standards. God prescribes certain roles in marriage. God instituted the family before he launched civil society.
Marriage is not essentially a matter of civil ceremony. A covenant is an agreement between two distinct parties—a distinction that is “holy,” giving it significance. This covenant unites differences of sexuality into oneness of relationship. God expects believers to use their bodies within God’s unique economy and purpose. This is in polar opposition to the worldview that one must insist on personal rights, which arises from the assumption that the individual is at the core of creation (solipsism), that self is at the center. It is anthropocentrism (man as center) rather than theocentrism (God as center).
1 Thessalonians 4: 3For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. 8Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
When we honor God’s specially designed sexual orientation, we honor God himself. This is why God calls the body the “temple of the Holy Spirit.” Marriage is not a sacrament, but it is a sacred institution. The Word of God does not stipulate a marriage ceremony, which is a civil institution in the view of the state. In God’s premise, the state has a right to enforce statutes of marriage. In God’s premise, the state has a responsibility to enforce statutes of marriage to protect societal stability.
Marriage involves the rights to property and claims on children born in wedlock. Civil law regulates this issue; therefore, state is the guardian of those rights. The state determines which marriages are lawful or unlawful. God delimits civil law within the boundaries of divine law. Civil law under God’s economy cannot declare an invalid divorce valid. The state can operate only within the sphere of human authority; it cannot make its will supreme over God’s will. Marriage in some aspects is a civil institution. Civil law cannot validate homosexual marriages under God’s economy.
Public Commitment to Divine Institution of Marriage
Public commitment in a marriage ceremony and personal commitment to one person lies at the foundation of marriage. Witnesses are important to the signing of business or political documents and even more important for marriage commitments. Ceremonies around the world celebrate official marriages, and public declaration of that union is a sign of permanent commitment to the marriage.
Egalitarianism Versus Complementarianism
Complementary Male and Female Distinction
Genesis 1-3 sets up foundational teaching about male and female. The New Testament also teaches male-female distinctions (1 Corinthians11:8-9; Titus 2:13). Adam and Eve both are co-rulers (theocratic kings, Genesis 1:26,28) and in this respect are equal. Genesis 2 gives specific and different responsibilities to men and women. Man is responsible for the garden and woman is responsible to be a partner with the man—a “helpmeet.” The woman is the corresponding opposite to man, a helper suitable to him. The passages emphasize that the woman is to be “with” the man. Supervision lies with the man but in partnership with the woman.
The Egyptian, Canaanite, and Mesopotamian peoples believed that active sexual gods and goddesses ran the cosmos. Sexuality among humans was a manifestation of the divine sphere. In contrast, the Bible represents a radically different theology that does not involve God as a sexual being, for God is neither male nor female. God creates both male and female as persons “in his image” (Genesis 1:27). Sexuality is not a quality of the Creator but a result of creation itself. God commissioned Adam and Eve to sexuality (Genesis 1:28) and declared that they were “one flesh” in the act of sexual intercourse.
Since husband and wife are “one flesh” (Genesis 2:23-25), there is completeness when man and woman come together, each fulfilling their role; yet “one flesh” is not equivalent in role. Genesis does not use “equal” in Genesis 1 and 2, so Adam and Eve were not two equal individuals with individual strengths and 50/50 authority, but were rather two individuals who were “one”—the man leading and the woman complementing his leadership.
This “one-flesh” relationship is both physical and personal. A non-negotiable covenant-commitment to mutual exclusiveness between one male and one female is God’s foundation of human relationships and, yes, even the foundation of human civilization. God’s gift of gender situates itself at the center of this foundation—at the center of heterosexual marriage. It is the essence of God’s social structure for civilization. All sex relates to marriage and not to any other sexual relation. Marriage is the reason why sexual sin is intrinsically sinful, for marriage relates to covenant fidelity. Premarital sex, homosexuality, adultery, and other sexual sins violate that covenant. The Bible condemns polygamy (1 Corinthians 7:1,2; 1 Timothy 3:2), homosexuality (Romans 1:26-28), prostitution, adultery, and fornication (Galatians 5:19; Jude 7).
God turned the solitude of Adam into a duality—Adam and Eve. God structured male and female differently; thus, the biblical view of sex always relates to sex as a divine institution. We cannot separate sexuality from our view of God. That is, we cannot make the biological aspect of sex separate from our view of God. Sex is more than biology, but this is precisely what our culture has made sex—a purely biological function. The sexuality of man is not identical to the sexuality of an animal. Man operates both in bodily function and with his person. God made man’s personhood in his own image attendant with norms and standards. Animal operates in one dimension and man operates in two. A man operating in the single dimension of biology is a man devoid of God. Man operating within two dimensions needs to coronate those two dimensions under God; otherwise, he develops pathological sexual orientation. Man is more than gland; the Don Juan or Casanova view of man is pure gland. Man is more than the function of his sexual organs under God’s construct.
If man were pure gland, then there would be no reason to hold to mutual, exclusive marriage. Promiscuity would not be evil and exchange of partners would be valid. However, monogamy means our partner is unique and that uniqueness requires distinction. We have lost this idea by de facto erosion of the biblical idea of marriage in society. We separate the person from the biology of the person. Erotic function is the current operating premise of our age, yet from God’s viewpoint marriage is more than the instrument of biological sex. Exchange of partners at will is a breakdown of personal dimension in marriage, and sexual confusion results. Technical textbooks often reveal a strictly biological view of sex, creating the idea that sex is simply a matter of function. If sex is a matter of strict function, then God’s view of the uniqueness is lost. Sex is more than the delegation of certain parts of the brain and body to function; it is a relationship to another person. Sex love is not self-love.
Sex from God’s perspective is a desire for a person to unite bodily with another person ecstatically; this is a form of union in fellowship. Our society is flooded with sexual, erotic images and suggestion without personal relationship. Thielicke makes a powerful point that sex functioning as a purely physical function builds a momentum of physical sex without personal sex, “The more erotic behavior is merely a matter of releasing an instinctive impulse the more it is subject to this law." Couples that participate in sex only for the sake of sex usually experience loathing about the experience. Sex within marriage develops greater union and continuity of relationship. There is a steadiness of sex in this, for there is an ongoing friendship and love for one another.
Instinctive sex does not carry the value of the commitment of love. Many people are interested in union without communion. The more they follow their urges, the more they experience promiscuity. The more people relate to a single person, the more they are committed to monogamy. Pure libido seeks self-pleasure; person-oriented sex seeks pleasure for both. Exclusive libido-orientation is fleeting, while person-oriented sex is relational.
Uniting Corresponding Differences
Genesis declares that the woman was “suitable” for the man. The woman corresponds to the male and not to animals (2:20). It was “not good” that Adam did not have a corresponding relationship to another human being, so God made a “helper fit for him.” Eve corresponded to Adam but she was not the same as Adam; they were male and female. Eve’s sexuality and person were suitable for Adam. This is the only kind of sexuality that is “good.” Sex with animals is “perversion” (Leviticus 18:22-23). Sex with people of the same sex is “perversion” (Romans 1:26-27) and “unnatural desire” (Jude 7). The latter relationships are not complementary to normal sex.
There are sexual gender differences within marriage. Sexual gender differences exist within marriage; masculinity and the femininity are sexually different. The Bible flies in the face of egalitarianism here. Genesis 2 states three principles: (1) the male/female distinction is one of equality—“bone of my bones”; (2) God distinguishes between male and female—“man” and “woman”; (3) man and woman have complementary oneness—“they shall become one flesh.” As Jones, again, explains,
The two do not become two androgynous, autonomous individuals as in the pagan notion of joining opposites. Rather each becomes one in project and communion.
The power of one means a commitment to lifelong faithfulness, monogamy, as well as commitment to generations to come. It means for a man the occasion to discover the joy of maleness: the joy of being a father and grandfather, of learning to be a provider, a knight in shining armor, a courageous leader, a spiritual model, a sensitive lover, and finally the joy of discovering through all these aspects of sex that one’s life is a life for others.
Modern man made egalitarian sameness a core philosophy of his belief system. The Bible declares that the woman is equal to man in ontological perspective. Even though she is equal to man, she is different from man physically and psychologically. God’s last act of creation was to make the male/female distinction (Genesis 1:27; 5:2), so God intentionally created the heterosexual male/female distinction. This is God’s mutual, exclusive, normative model of sexuality.
Heterosexuality is God’s only model for sexuality. Jesus substantiated this by referring to Matthew 19:4 that supports heterosexuality. Paul viewed the binary category of male/female as the only category that exists when it comes to sexuality (Galatians 3:28). In standing before God, there is no male and female; they stand before God equal in perfection. Paul identifies homosexuality as “unnatural” (Romans 1:26 ) and Jude calls it “unnatural” as well (Jude 7). That which is “unnatural” is outside the divine order of things. Homosexual sex is not normal sex.
Acts 17: 24The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us … (God’s transcendence does not preclude his nearness; we can “find” God).
Romans 1 presents the homosexual issue as a religious issue and religious devolution. Homosexuals changed their view of the transcendental God into something else (Romans 1:23). They distorted truth and worshiped the creature more than the Creator (1:25), changing God’s order into something God did not intend (1:26). Homosexuality turns the true view of God into something untrue by an “exchange” of the real for a lie. They suppressed truth in order to do this (1:18), so they became “futile” in their thinking. They rejected the starting point for sexuality—a transcendent, prior existing, all-powerful, all-knowing God who set order for creation. All sin is autonomy from God and his construct for creation. Man’s fundamental problem is a doctrinal or truth problem. Homosexuals of Romans 1 exchanged the reality of who God was for something that he wasn’t—they worshiped the creature (1:22f). These are two different systems of belief. Homosexuals “worship and serve” the “creature,” so they are very religious but also very apostate in their thinking. Denial of the Creator-creation distinction is at the heart of pagan belief. There is mutual exclusivity between “truth” and “lie” in this chapter.
Without the Creator, there are no absolute norms or standards (Romans 1:26-27). There would be no boundaries to sex. Autonomous people would be free to follow their base passions. Homosexuality violates God’s standards and boundaries and is “against nature.” Jude says homosexuality is “unnatural” and “strange flesh” (Jude 7). The creature who portrays himself as god defines for himself what is natural and normal. The issue is about the implication of religious worldview and its impact on the nature of God and the Bible. Homosexuality violates divine order. When the Supreme Court of the United States overturns laws that have their premise in divine order, the United States government violates divine order of creation. Heterosexual marriage reflects God’s construct while homosexualism represents an opposite religious worldview. Heterosexual chaos violates God’s cosmos as well (1 Corinthians 6:17,18).
Three times God gave mankind over to his sin and mentality (Romans 1:24, 26, 28). Apostasy of belief leads to God’s acceptance of entrenched negative volition, so he gives humans over to a reprobate mind (a mind at enmity with God).
The Scriptures portray different roles between the male and female. God expects the male to be the head of the family. The Word of God does not allow men to put on women’s garments (Deuteronomy 22:5). God distinguished the Jewish male by circumcision (Genesis 34:14-17). Men were to wear their hair shorter than women did (1 Corinthians 11:14). Jews of the Diaspora allowed their side locks to grow long but cut their hair in general closely.
God created the first female from the rib of the first male (Genesis 2:21,22). The Word of God labels her a “helper fit for him” (2:20). Adam called his wife “woman” (taken from man, 2:23). The fall affected both male and female negatively. The male would work by the sweat of his brow; the woman would bear pain in childbearing. Proverbs describes the virtuous woman as a woman of enterprise (chapter 31:10-31). Women served as “deaconesses” (Romans 16:1,6, 12; Philippians 4:3; 1 Titus 2:12-14; 3:11) and as prophetesses (Acts 21:8,9; 1 Corinthians 11:5).
The notion perpetrated today is unsustainable—that, apart from biological functions, male and female are interchangeable. The heart of this presupposition is egalitarianism. To this viewpoint, in essential egalitarian thought, there is no gender-specific roles—only mutual submission.
The idea that equality and mutuality are the same thing comes from feminist ideology. This system of belief denies any intrinsic differences between men and women except for biological differences. The biblical complementarian idea is that husband and wife are equal before God in their persons but that they are not equal in role. Egalitarianism tends toward theological reductionism. Any time we place current social beliefs onto Scripture, we reduce biblical distinctives to societal norms. All this has implications on sexuality. Is there such a thing as masculinity and femininity in sex? The Bible answer to that is clear.
The biblical thesis for marriage is that husband is the head of the wife in role (Ephesians 5:23; 1 Corinthians 11:3). No text in Greek literature gives support that “head” means source. The “head” is always the one in authority. The wife is to “submit” to her husband (Ephesians 5:22,23; Colossians 3:18; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:1,5). There is no Greek literature that indicates the Greek word “submit” (hypotassw, passive) is required for both husbands and wives. In every case, the person to whom one submits has authority over the one doing the submitting. Submission is always one-directional, but it is also complementary to the other. These are God-ordained roles. The husband is to lead and the wife is to respond to his leadership. Ontologically, the woman is equal in person but, in role, she is under the authority of her husband. She submits just as the Son submits to the Father and the Holy Spirit submits to the Son (1 Corinthians 11:1-3). Submission to each other’s authority does not lessen the person.
The Bible affirms that God created male and female, so only he can regulate marriage. The Creator can do this because he is ultimate authority. All biblical presuppositions about the family revolve around theology proper—the doctrine of God.
Relativism (there is no absolute standard) has affected modern concepts of masculinity. No doubt, men and women share common characteristics such as equality spiritually and personally, but God made special distinctions between men and women. God created masculinity different from femininity and made male and female in his image and not in the image of animals, so man is both relational and rational.
Abuse of male leadership is another topic. Abuse of male power over the female is a distortion of the male role. The woman is not inferior personally or spiritually, so man must treat her with respect and “honor” (1 Peter 3:7). She is a “fellow-heir” of the “grace of life.” Masculinity is not machismo. Both passiveness and authoritarianism are out of balance and not the description of a biblically masculine man.
Masculine and Feminine Roles in Sexuality
Man and woman are distinct because their created purpose is distinct with unique roles. Adam’s following the lead of Eve produced sin and blame. Satan’s approach to the helpmeet was strategic because he intruded into the leadership of Adam. Adam abdicated his rule in the garden and shifted blame toward the woman.
God issued his judgment toward this situation in Genesis 3:16-19. He judged man according to his masculinity and the woman according to her femininity independently. He sought them out individually and made judgment according to their roles. God judged Eve in making it difficult for her suitable helper role in bearing children. God judged Adam as the caretaker of the garden to work by the sweat of his brow. His role as provider became more difficult. All this arose out of Adam’s abdication of his role of leadership.
Roles in marriage give us an insight into masculinity and femininity. The biblical premise is leadership relates to masculinity. Response to leadership relates to femininity. Gender roles relate to marriage roles. Ephesians 5 sets forth the roles of the husband and wife. The issue for the husband’s need is “respect” and the issue for the woman’s need is security in her husband’s “love” (she feels cherished—the feeling of being number one to the husband). The woman wants security in her husband’s love and if she has this, she will respond sexually. By Eve’s going independent from Adam’s leadership, she created a problem with her husband in that she violated his need for respect. God approached man and woman based on gender, but Adam and Eve did not respect each other’s gender. Egalitarianism rests on the assumption of the individual rather than partnership in marriage.
Complementarianism and Intimacy–Intimacy and Unity
God created Eve as a completer to Adam, more suitable than any other creature God created. Adam lacked something: “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him’” (Genesis 2:18). Eve had something that Adam did not have and Adam had something that Eve did not have: “To the woman he said, ‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you’” (2:16). Adam’s response was that Eve was “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (v. 23). Eve was a human being as he was. Although she was a human being, she was not identical to Adam. She was complementary to Adam and met needs in Adam that another male could not do. Same-sex marriage is an “abomination” (Leviticus 18:22) and “contrary to nature” (Romans 1:26). God created Adam masculine and Eve feminine; they needed to relate to the other to meet the needs of masculinity and femininity (1 Corinthians 11:11-12). Eve needed to affirm Adam’s masculinity and Adam needed to affirm Eve’s femininity.
Christians should not pull away from the idea of sexiness. As we will see in this section, God not only approves but asserts the necessity of sexiness within marriage.
Adam and Eve were naked before the fall and not ashamed. They were easy with each other’s sexuality because sexuality was part of the created order (Genesis 2:15,18,21-25). Sex cements the marital bond. The intact family demands sexual fidelity (Proverbs 5:18-19). The strong marital unit is essential to sexual societal stability and sexiness in marriage.
Scriptures refer to sexiness with ease but to genitalia only indirectly. The Bible uses terms such as “thigh” or “loin” (Genesis 24:9; Exodus 28:42), and warns women against putting their hands on the “private parts” (genitalia) of males who are not their husbands (Deuteronomy 25:11). Scriptures do speak of “testicles” and the “penis” (Deuteronomy 23:1). The Word of God uses the term “seed” for semen (Genesis 3:15; Leviticus 15:16-18; 22:4) and speaks of “breasts” and the “womb” of women (Job 3:12; Song of Solomon 1:13; 4:5; 8:10).
The Bible pictures the woman’s vagina as a watered garden (Proverbs 5:15-19). The Song of Solomon depicts a woman already in bed for the night, playfully telling her lover that she does not want to open the door. He tries, and so she rises to open the door for him (Song of Solomon 5:4-5). This double entendre pictures the man thrusting his hand into the woman and she becomes sexually inflamed. The Hebrew explicitly presents the man’s penis as a tusk of “polished ivory” (5:14).
As with terms about genitalia, the Bible does not refer to sexual intercourse directly. Terms such as “become one flesh,” “knowing” a wife or another woman (Genesis 4:1, 17, 25; Judges 19:25), or “lying” with a person or animal refer to sexual intercourse (Genesis 34:7; Numbers 31:17,18; Deuteronomy 22:22). “Knowing” may also refer to sexual intimacy. Song of Solomon is clear in its understanding of sexual intimacy. The purposes of sexual intercourse are for both procreation and sexual pleasure.
The Bible condemns exposure of the sex organs (2 Samuel 6:20), adultery (Leviticus 8:20), sexual enticement (Exodus 22:16), intercourse with animals (Leviticus 18:23), homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13), and incest (Leviticus 18:6-18); Deuteronomy 27:20, 22). Jesus condemned adultery, fornication, and lust.
The Art of Biblical Sex
Sex seeks a partner. True sex does not seek another person as an object to stimulate self. Rather, God-oriented sex is mutual, where each desires pleasure for the partner. There is active participation for both; neither is a passive object. True sex occurs when both enter each other’s libido; each needs to recognize differences in the other’s libido. The male is quick to rise to sexuality and quick to drop from libido, whereas the female is slow to rise and slow to come down. If each were to think only of himself or herself, discord in sex would result and each would be out of rhythm with the other. Orgasm would be out of sync and the woman might not come to orgasm at all. The biblical view of sex does not allow for blind self-involvement.
Biblical sex is not animal sex because it involves personhood. Christian sex transcends natural instincts to relationship sex. It is communication with a person rather than automatic, instinctual, animal copulation. Orientation to the other person in sex is essential to biblical sex. This is love—self-giving love. Biblical sex is compensatory in nature and all this exits within divine institution.
Male sexuality is usually up, while female sexuality needs to get up in most cases. These two dimensions need to harmonize in God’s economy. Female sexuality is more of a process, where the woman connects to the male sexually in an active way.
The unique (transcendent, holy) God created sex unique to his economy. God established special sex from a particular perspective. At essence, this is a carefully ordered sex, a sex of distinction between male and female. Paganism’s viewpoint is that separation is bad, but God’s view is that it is good.
The Song of Solomon uses the refrain “my beloved is mine, and I am his” as exclusive commitment to each other (2:16; 6:3). The wife’s body belongs to the husband and the husband’s to the wife (1 Corinthians 7:3-5).
Sexual love is the result of delight in each other’s person (2:1,2), so Solomon says that, in comparison to other women, the Shulamite was like a lily among thorns.
The biblical theology of sex portrays sex as inherently good. The Bible sets forth the need for sexiness (Proverbs 5; Song of Solomon). The Song of Solomon is a collection of love poems celebrating sexual fidelity. A strong marriage with strong sexuality is the making of something very strong (8:6). Solomon’s song is preparation for lovemaking. He likens the woman’s breasts to “twin fawns, twins of a gazelle, that graze among the lilies” (4:5) in anticipation of touching them. He later describes her body as a slender palm tree whose clusters of fruit (breasts) hang in beauty (7:7-8).
Sexiness in Proverbs
Proverbs 5:15-19, as well as Song of Solomon 4:12-15, describes the woman’s vagina in beautiful terms. The woman responds to the man’s penetration of her vagina with his hand as inflaming her vagina (a double entendre, 5:4-5). All this is clearly erotic, proof that the Bible is not “prudish” in its view of sexiness.
The book of Proverbs is a depository of teaching on sex and marriage. Sexual faithfulness in marriage is foundational (5:15-19). Proverbs sets divine wisdom in contrast to infidelity (4:6,8; 6:23-35; 7).
Proverbs challenges married people to be sexy.
Proverbs 5: 15Drink water from your own cistern, And running water from your own well. 16Should your fountains be dispersed abroad, Streams of water in the streets? 17Let them be only your own, And not for strangers with you. 18Let your fountain be blessed, And rejoice with the wife of your youth. 19As a loving deer and a graceful doe, Let her breasts satisfy you at all times; And always be enraptured with her love. 20For why should you, my son, be enraptured by an immoral woman, And be embraced in the arms of a seductress?
Sexiness in Song of Solomon
As Proverbs admonishes its readers toward high sexual standards, so the Song presents sexuality as a great delight. Marital love is like a well of flowing water (4:12, 15). The Song of Solomon is a celebration of human love and sexuality. Its strongly sensual and sexual language suggests intimacy.
Song of Solomon presents a strong argument for sexiness, a fully erotic sex life with one’s partner in marriage. Solomon likens his partner to a female horse in Pharaoh’s cavalry (Song of Solomon 1:9). There were no mares in Pharaoh’s cavalry because a mare would excite the stallions and this would cause bedlam in war. Solomon’s partner is very erotic and sexually attractive to him.
Song of Solomon has much to say about the bedroom with husband and wife in intimate sexual union. The context for sexual union is romance in Song of Solomon 4:1-7. Romance produces greater sexual satisfaction. The thought life and communication of thinking is central to sexuality. Solomon tells the Shulamite that she is beautiful three times in the first seven verses. Twice he calls her his “darling.” She is a special woman to him; that is, he cherishes her above all others. Women love verbal communication. What they hear by affection sexually moves them. What women hear in affection touches them sexually. The significance of words for sexuality is vital to wonderful sex. Women normally have higher expectation for intimacy in sex than men do.
Women must meet the sexual needs of their husbands in a different way (4:1-6). A woman is a responder and is ear oriented in sex, but man is eye oriented. Solomon describes what he sees in the woman’s body in the first six verses of chapter four. The woman was clothed only with a veil over her eyes, and the remainder of her body was in complete view of Solomon.
The Shulamite got herself sexually ready for her husband by letting her hair down and it flowed like the black hair of a goat. Her hair flowing down over her shoulders was a sexually beautiful sight to her husband.
Solomon views her mouth as beautifully shaped (4:2,3) and sees her temples as pomegranate halves red with sexual desire, so he kisses them. He views her neck as the tower of David, something long and elegant.
Solomon sees the Shulamite’s breasts as something erotic. He compares them to twin fawns of a gazelle feeding among the lilies (4:5,6). Fawns are soft and curvy, so he wants to touch and caress her breasts. Then he depicts her breasts as two mountains of spices, one of myrrh and the other of frankincense. Both of these spices were used for perfume for the marriage bed (Proverbs 7:17). Sight and smell arouses Solomon’s sexuality and makes him want to have sex all night long:
“Until the day breathes
and the shadows flee,
I will go away to the mountain of myrrh
and the hill of frankincense” (4:6).
All this describes patient romantic foreplay. Solomon is as concerned with the sexual pleasure of the Shulamite as he is with his own.
There is no doubt that men think about and anticipate sex regularly, and many women do as well. Sexual anticipation is also important to sexuality in Song of Solomon 4:8f,
Come with me from Lebanon, my bride;
come with me from Lebanon.
Depart from the peak of Amana,
from the peak of Senir and Hermon,
from the dens of lions,
from the mountains of leopards.
9You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride;
you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes,
with one jewel of your necklace.
10How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride!
How much better is your love than wine,
and the fragrance of your oils than any spice!
11Your lips drip nectar, my bride;
honey and milk are under your tongue;
the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon.
A biblical view of sex always focuses on the mate’s pleasure before one’s own. After Solomon thinks of the Shulamite, he then invites her to have sex (4:8). He does not make demands but offers an invitation so that she feels safe with the experience. The Shulamite responds positively to Solomon’s invitation (4:9-11):
9You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride;
you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes,
with one jewel of your necklace.
10How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride!
How much better is your love than wine,
and the fragrance of your oils than any spice!
11Your lips drip nectar, my bride;
honey and milk are under your tongue;
the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon.
Solomon indicates that the Shulamite captured him sexually. She ravished him by her enchanting power so that he could not resist her. He calls her his “sister,” which in the ancient world meant “friend.” True sexuality has a friendship dimension.
Solomon says that the Shulamite is more intoxicating than wine. Her smell is beyond the smell of any spice (4:10). He tells her that her lips are sweet like honeycomb. He French kisses her, saying honey and milk are under her tongue (4:11). The Shulamite placed fragrances on her clothes so that they smelled like cedar trees in Lebanon. Therefore, sight, smell, taste, and touch play a role in lovemaking.
The Shulamite describes herself as a locked garden, an enclosed spring, and a sealed fountain (4:12). With each phrase, she describes herself as property belonging only to Solomon. She sexually belongs only to him; the Shulamite kept herself exclusively for Solomon (4:12-15).
Solomon picks up the imagery of the garden in 4:13-14. He describes the Shulamite using a list of items found in a garden. Although the Shulamite locked the garden to other men, it was completely open to Solomon without reservation. There is a relationship between mutual, exclusive sex and sexual enjoyment.
Now the Shulamite speaks for the first time. She invites Solomon to make love with her in 4:16:
16Awake, O north wind,
and come, O south wind!
Blow upon my garden,
let its spices flow.
“North wind” was strong and “south wind” was gentle. She wanted both from Solomon. She wanted balance between strength and gentleness.
Let my beloved come to his garden,
and eat its choicest fruits.
Now that sexual lovemaking is complete, Solomon tells the Shulamite that it was a good experience (5:1). This communication reassures her that she was sexually satisfying:
I came to my garden, my sister, my bride,
I gathered my myrrh with my spice,
I ate my honeycomb with my honey,
I drank my wine with my milk.
Nine times Solomon uses the word “my” in this verse. It is only after sex that Solomon tells the Shulamite that she satisfied him sexually.
God addresses the couple, encouraging them to continue to enjoy sex with his endorsement. God is pleased with what he sees in sexuality between husband and wife. He commands them to continue with sexiness in sex:
Eat, friends, drink,
and be drunk with love!
The woman invites the man to enjoy her sexual parts in Song of Solomon 2:16,17:
My beloved is mine, and I am his; he grazes among the lilies. Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, turn, my beloved, be like a gazelle or a young stag on cleft mountains.
Song of Solomon says that married couples are to be “drunk with love” (Song of Solomon 5:1). Solomon describes his perspective on sex in the Song (7:1-9):
7: 1How beautiful are your feet in sandals, O noble daughter! Your rounded thighs are like jewels, the work of a master hand. 2Your navel is a rounded bowl that never lacks mixed wine. Your belly is a heap of wheat, encircled with lilies. 3Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle. 4Your neck is like an ivory tower. Your eyes are pools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bath-rabbim. Your nose is like a tower of Lebanon, which looks toward Damascus. 5Your head crowns you like Carmel, and your flowing locks are like purple; a king is held captive in the tresses. 6How beautiful and pleasant you are, O loved one, with all your delights! 7Your stature is like a palm tree, and your breasts are like its clusters. 8I say I will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its fruit. Oh may your breasts be like clusters of the vine, and the scent of your breath like apples, 9and your mouth like the best wine. It goes down smoothly for my beloved, gliding over lips and teeth.
Solomon describes his partner’s breasts in erotic terms as clusters of grapes and her thighs as jewels.
Sexiness is Honorable
Sexual intercourse within marriage is honorable, as seen in Hebrews 13:4 “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”
Although we cannot confuse pleasing sex with God-honoring sex, God-honoring sex is indeed pleasurable. Pleasure itself is a gift from God. God declared it “good.” God sets the parameters for good sex; our bodies do not determine the goodness of sex. Pleasing sex depends on how God structured sex (cf., 1 Corinthians 10:1f ; Hebrews 13:4; 1 Thessalonians 4:3)—God’s goal is sanctification in sex.
Making Oneself Available for Sexiness
The onus is on both partners to mutually make themselves sexually available to each other. The only exception to this is for spiritual reasons and only for a mutually agreed upon period (1 Corinthians 7:1-5). We find no place for abuse or withdrawal of sex in Scripture (?1 Timothy 4:1–5?; ?1 Corinthians 6:12–15?; ?7:3??f).
The Bible holds no viewpoint as being oversexed or undersexed. The idea of a frigid wife is a mirage. However, there are people with medical problems who are undersexed. Self-centeredness is at the root of sexual abnormality.
Clearly, the Bible sets forth sexiness in the sex act under monogamous, heterosexual marriage.
The bottom-line difference between biblical sex and non-Christian sex rests on authority: either the authority of transcendent ethics from God or the authority of justification based on the self. Authentication of self as a basis for belief always distorts regular sex away from God’s criteria of truth. A view of sex based on physical pleasure, psychological wholeness, or pagan spirituality will always produce irregular sex that arises from feelings.
Biblical sex starts in character and relationships derived from God’s criteria about sex. One view is anthropocentric, self-oriented in authority, but the other is transcendent and theocentric in authority. God’s revelation is absolute because God is absolute. He designed what is best for man; any view of sex outside of that design is irregular and sinful. God always measures sexual experience by a standard beyond self. God’s Word puts parameters around the sexual experience to protect sexuality and to give it the highest quality.
The biblical worldview asserts an intrinsic sexual value that goes beyond the natural drive. Natural sexual desire puts limits upon the value described in the Bible, so that sex then acts out of the lowest common denominator, operating differently in various times and cultures.
Postmodern philosophy believes that all personal opinions are equally valid. No view is better than any other view, so we cannot judge another view. Thus, everyone should address issues of sexuality from their own or their community’s perspective. Personal sexual perspective is a right and an ultimate presupposition. This viewpoint is becoming more acceptable in western society and even in the evangelical community. So-called scientific studies may be the reason evangelicals accept sexual differences. Some evangelicals fear the label of “homophobic.” Although it is simply a label, labels do intimidate.
Twenty-three significant texts denounce sexual immorality (Matthew 15:19; Acts 15:29; 1 Corinthians 5:9; 6:9, 13, 15-16, 18; 7:2; 10:8; 2 Corinthians 12:21; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 4:19; 5:3, 5; Colossians 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; 7; 1 Timothy 1:9-10; Hebrews 12:16; 13:4; Revelation 2:20; 21:8). These passages cover a wide range of sexual combinations. The Word of God uses the phrase “sexual immorality” (Matthew 5:32; Acts 15:20) and “sexually immoral” (1 Corinthians 5:9-10; Revelation 22:15) as general terms for irregular sex.
Above all, Christians are to glorify God with their bodies through regular sex, “for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20). God’s view of sex is the one-flesh view. That is why we honor heterosexual behavior (Hebrews 13:4).
The Old Testament restricts premarital and extramarital sex in order to allow for liberty within marriage. The purpose of the Ten Commandments was to give liberty with its laws. If a husband trusts his wife as exclusively his, and a wife her husband as exclusively hers, they can be secure that the other is loyal. This is true liberty.
It is important to distinguish the seventh commandment from the tenth commandment. The seventh commandment (“You shall not commit adultery”) relates to the structure of monogamy, but the tenth commandment (“You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife”) has to do with the attitude of mental lust; thus, biblical sex has to do with both the body and the mind.
Believers of both the New and Old Testaments lived in a sexually pervasive society. Baal was a god of fertility, and both male and female prostitutes served Baal in temples. People who attended those temples thought that Baal would make their herds fertile and give them prosperity. This attracted many Israelites (1 Kings 14:24), but God damned this practice (15:12).
The heathen temples of Colosse were filled with illicit sexual activity of all kinds. People committed illicit sex in the name of religion. They would worship Ishtar (fertility deity; goddess of love) or Aphrodite. The name of Ishtar is etymologically connected to the English word, “Easter”—the time of year ancient cults worshiped sex and fertility (remembered today with symbols of fertility including the bunny and eggs).
On another holiday, they would worship Demeter (goddess of the harvest and fertility). The Phallic cult revolved around worship of sex. One can see why the whole city was just about 100% in favor of this! Before they received Christ, all the Christians of Colosse worshiped sexually at each holiday, so it is not surprising that the Colossian church was pulled in this direction.
Sins of the Flesh
Paul gives a catalog of sins in Galatians 5:19-21, some of them dealing with immorality and the first three specifically sins of sex. The first sin is porneia, from which we get the English word “pornography,” which had its origin in the idea of prostitution but came to mean any illicit sexual activity. The second word, “impurity” (akatharsia), means “uncleanness” and relates to the idea that aberrant sex defiles the purity of marriage. Confession, however, “cleanses” us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). The third word is “debauchery” (aselgeia) and means reckless and audacious sexual sin—a complete loss of sexual limits and lack of restraint.
Paul lists “orgies” later in the list of carnal sins. The word means “carousing” or “wild parties.” This word occurs three times in the New Testament (Romans 13:13; 1 Peter 4:3, and here). In all three cases “orgies” occurs in a list with drunkenness.
Paganism connects sexuality with spirituality by deifying the self. This ancient view is beginning to raise its head again in North American society. It is a monistic worldview—all is one. Distinctions are mere illusions. Separation is evil; unity is good. Morality and sexuality are one, so all expressions—such as homosexuality—are good.
Many people in North America have a pagan view of the world and of sex. This is earthly sensuality with spirituality—spirituality without the God of the Bible. Pagan sexuality liberates from all moral standards. Camille Paglia is an example of someone who holds pagan spirituality and sexuality. She believes that pornography is good and that Christianity has contaminated paganism. Pagan spirituality is about the self; it finds spirituality within. There is no content to this spirituality except for therapeutic selfist orientation. This belief system seeks to devise its own values autonomously from objective truth, and is a religion of psychology.
Virginia Mollenkott in her book Sensuous Spirituality defines sex by her own sexuality, by her lesbian affairs. This is pure paganism because it gets its worldview from the self rather than from revelation. It reduces sex to the absurd. Paganism promises spirituality but biblically it ends in spiritual death. That is why the Christian is to “flee” from sexual immorality.
The hedonism of Playboy ilk is the philosophy that self-centered, natural impulse is the ultimate notion. Limitations on natural impulse are immoral. There is no commitment to others in this presupposition, so sex according to this philosophy does not require self-sacrificing love nor does it necessitate marriage. Nothing transcends pleasure, and pleasure for its own sake is the end. The warrant for pleasure is self-impulse. This philosophy must preclude God as the self-justifying good. The god of hedonism is the self and the self is free to indulge in whatever it desires; the self gives itself up to sensuality.
Ephesians 4:19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.
Sex then becomes impersonal and non-relational. People or souls become appendages to the body, making the soul vacuous. Sex without personal orientation is depersonalization of the individual into the least common denominator—the body. The person then becomes an ornament to the body. The price of a prostitute is “only a loaf of bread.” The hedonist view of sex is romantic and reduces love and sex to affection.
Proverbs 6:25Do not desire her beauty in your heart, and do not let her capture you with her eyelashes; 26for the price of a prostitute is only a loaf of bread, but a married woman hunts down a precious life.
Therapeutic Wholeness Sexuality
Therapeutic sex is sex for psychological wholeness. This is the idea that people can actualize themselves through sex. There is no necessary standard for sex except that sex satisfies self. They cannot judge the sexuality of anyone else. Heimbach critiques therapeutic says this way,
The nature of therapeutic sexual morality is more radically opposed to biblical morality than either the playboy or romantic approaches. These also reject biblical standards, but only because they try to justify alternative behavior and not because they think biblical standards are actually bad for anyone. By contrast, therapeutic sexual morality not only justifies alternative behavior but attacks biblical standards as harmful, dangerous, and evil.
The Christian view of sex is more than bodily pleasure; it does indeed entail the whole person but goes beyond the person. It is a view of sexuality deduced from God and his Word. Biblical sexuality is far more than personal satisfaction; true satisfaction from God’s viewpoint requires transcendent morality sent from God.
Satisfaction cannot make sex moral, for that would be unadulterated subjectivism. The Bible sets forth an objective morality that frames true sexual satisfaction. The difference between the therapeutic model and the biblical model is cause and effect. The therapeutic model tries to create satisfaction by sexual personal preference. God establishes the biblical model by deduction from his person and work, and records it in Scripture. The biblical model is concerned about God, relations with others, and the self.
God protects the security of exclusive commitment of marriage by monogamy. There is security of love and commitment to that love in monogamy. Sex for the purpose of an investment in self, and not to satisfy a single partner, is highly anthropocentric and results in selfishness. Men in Corinth of Paul’s day, for example, would visit the thousand sexual priestesses and priests at the temple of Aphrodite near Corinth, and have regular sex with these prostitutes. Sex with a wife was one of many liaisons for men in Corinth.
The biblical view of sex rests on God’s construct for sexuality. This construct gives integration to the meaning of sex; all other views of sex, including the therapeutic view, collapse this construct. Sex is an aspect of the total; in itself, it is not the total. True sexual integration comes from God and does not come by self-definition of sex. God builds this model on correspondence between male and female, not on their sameness—God’s model is sex between male and female. This is more than sex for psychological reasons; it is sex in the context of relationships.
Daniel R. Heimbach again gives a very good summary of non-Christian views of love and sex:
Playboy morality attacks love in any form, either ignoring it completely, denying its worth, or destroying what exists. Therapeutic morality aims deeper by attacking fundamental human identity. And then pagan morality aims at the deepest level by attacking the soul.
Again, Heimbach further develops these anti-Christian views of love and sex:
Playboy morality is more self-centered but still worries about what others think. For the playboy, selfishness is softened by wanting others to think you are sophisticated. Therapeutic morality goes farther by institutionalizing self-centeredness and trying to restrict the influence of those who do not agree. And pagan morality is the most self-centered, because sexual paganism revolutionizes cosmology (what people believe about the nature of the universe) to justify self-deification (turning people into gods and goddesses through sex).
A core principle in the divine institution of marriage is faithfulness to the institution. Part of this principle is the idea of identity—to whom do we belong? Restraints on sexual promiscuity in our culture are waning, so threat to our identity is growing. Our culture encourages couples to “find themselves” in sexual encounter. Fidelity is passé. The Bible sets forth a clear imperative to fidelity so that solidarity, allegiance, and authority can prevail in commitments.
Sexual purity is a national and social issue because illicit sex endangers the survival of society. This is why God set forth laws controlling sexual attraction. Sex within marriage reinforces the social order. Without this control, infidelity would threaten the national entity itself.
The flip side of infidelity is faithfulness in purity. This involves abstinence from sex before marriage and complete fidelity to the partner after marriage. There is then a connection between fidelity to God and sexual fidelity. We carry fidelity to our sexual partner because we possess fidelity toward God and his Word. Unbiblical sex defiles the integrity of marital sex. All prohibitions against sexual sin protect the positive side of sex.
Marriage is the all-encompassing paradigm on sex. Monotheism parlays into monogamy. It is either marriage or abstinence and there is nothing in-between. Any sex outside marriage violates God’s standard and design for marriage.
Perversion twists God’s standard for sex. God’s standard is monogamy in the sexual experience because that is the best design for mankind. Today’s views of sexuality deform monogamy into something other than God’s design. The result is evil in sexuality. It is a matter of people calling evil good. They can call evil good because they do not have the transcendent norm from God’s Word. What they claim as wisdom is foolishness (Romans 1:22). All they have left is preference and subjective choice. They have nothing by which they can measure what is right. Without a starting point, they move into callousness toward God’s norms of normal sex.
Ephesians 4:17This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, 18having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; 19who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. 20But you have not so learned Christ, 21if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: 22that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, 23and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. 25Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another.
Without an absolute view of sex, there is no security in relationships. Partners who violate their marriages by having sex with someone else will never know whether their partner loves someone else or would prefer someone else. That is a perversion of mutual exclusive commitment and love within monogamy. God designed all the Ten Commandments for freedom. A wife cannot have freedom to relate to her husband if he is a philanderer. She cannot trust him or give herself to him fully. The divine institution of monogamy gives structure to wholesome sex. That is why God insists that we acknowledge his authority over sexuality in Second Peter two:
2 Peter 2:10and especially those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority. They are presumptuous, self-willed. They are not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries.
Those who accept self as ultimate authority the Bible calls “lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:4).
Categories of Irregular Sex
DISTORTION OF NATURAL ORDER
Irregular sex lies outside normal sex; it is perversion of God’s design and order for sex. Marriage is not one of several options to have sex, for God designed normality in sex. No amount of pragmatism, personal rights, or utility can displace God’s model for sex.
1. Sex before Marriage
Culture now sets the agenda for the church’s mores. This is especially true in the view of many evangelical youth who believe that there is nothing wrong with premarital sex. Most still believe that adultery is wrong, but fewer believe that premarital sex is wrong biblically. The boundaries have clearly changed.
Exodus 22:16“If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged to be married and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife” (cf., Deuteronomy 22:13-21).
The idea of marriage in the Bible presumes sexual exclusivity and fidelity by the married couple. That is why it is necessary to have a covenant for marriage. Marriage is a reflection of the stability of God in establishing relationships. Cohabitation is not stable because it is tentative, non-legal, and non-covenantal. The future is uncertain in cohabitation relationships.
Premarital sex is a demand for an aspect of marriage without acceptance of the complete marital covenant. God does not allow this parceling out of divine construct, for it is a desire for something less than God’s design. Premarital sex is “putting asunder” what God has “put together.”
North America has seen a dramatic rise of sexual cohabitation in the last forty years. Before 1970, we called this “shacking up.” Cohabitation was illegal in the United States and Canada. The new rationalization is, “We need to try living together to see if it works for us.” We used to call premarital sex “living in sin.” Cohabitation among unmarried people has increased dramatically since the last third of the twentieth century. Upwards of one-half of couples now live together without marriage. Legal problems flowing from this are massive.
The hedonistic utilitarian assumption about premarital sex is simply that sex is a matter of bodily function: “Why not satisfy what the body wants?” The idea is that sex is purely a sensual experience, so sexual repression is bad.
Others hold that compatibility is the core rational for premarital sex. However, since people may grow apart, they justify changing their sexual partners due to incompatibility. Others hold that sex is strictly a private matter, that premarital sex is solely a matter of personal preference.
Hedonism is the most liberal view of premarital sex in that it views sex as simply a matter of natural instinct. The premise is that pleasure is central to our purpose as humans. Sex is for pure pleasure now that contraceptives are easily accessible; sexual repression is bad. There is no necessary connection between love and sex in this view. The Bible, however, presents higher principles than pleasure as the highest good. Biblical sex provides greater intimacy and love for the partner. Love transcends sex in biblical viewpoint.
Another view is that the principle of intimacy guides our sexuality. There may be multiple partners in this view, but there are no standards to guide the principle of intimacy. Sex is good as long as it is with a partner one can connect with at a close level. Couples may move in and out of relationships and if intimacy forms properly, then marriage may result. Each partner must maintain his or her independence in all this; otherwise, the relationship could stifle individual freedom. Individual needs are paramount to the needs of the couple. The self is all-important and is at the center of this philosophy. Personal compatibility, not commitment to the other person, controls the right to intimacy. There might come a time when the couple is no longer compatible. Sex is not a matter for society but for the individual, so society does not have the right to set sexual standards. An overarching standard is “no strings attached” to sex with the attending right to start over with another partner. According to this view, sex requires personal maturity.
Some hold the idea that sex is a good thing as long as people love each other. Anyone can convince themselves that they are “in love” if the possibility of sex is at hand. Sex without standards cannot withstand the power of sexual attraction. Christianity makes love a matter of the will, not simply the emotion. Biblical sex is a matter of the whole person.
Casual sex may cause couples to obligate to each other without proper commitment. Casual sex brings the possibility of unwanted pregnancy, and unwanted pregnancies bring poverty to unwed mothers, abortions, and increase of single-parent families.
Sexually transmitted diseases are epidemic due to multiple partners. Wonderful sex does not make wonderful marriages.
Biblical View of Sex before Marriage
The Bible exposes sex before marriage as sin (Deuteronomy 22:23-24). In biblical days, a single couple who had sex before marriage were obligated to get married (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). God deemed premarital sex as equivalent to prostitution. Sex before marriage was condemned by death because God viewed marriage as exclusive commitment to one person—as inviolably “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Sexual intercourse with a prostitute is a one-flesh union (1 Corinthians 6:15-17); this is true with any sexual union outside marriage, for sex is a uniting act.
The Bible regards premarital intercourse as sin. Although some Israelites lived together before marriage, God warned that a godly man could not sleep with his fiancée before the wedding. If a man had intercourse with a virgin in the Old Testament, God required him to marry her (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). Sex with an unbetrothed woman was a cause for stoning under the theocracy of Israel (22:21). A man having sex with an unmarried virgin violated her and must make restitution (22:28-29). God warns against sex with whores (Proverbs 5; 7:5, 25-27). The New Testament warns against all sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 5:9; 6:12-20; Ephesians 5:3-5; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8). God commanded that a newly married woman who had previously committed premarital sex be put to death.
Premarital sex precludes a person from sharing his sexuality exclusively with one person, which is the biblical view of sex. The premise of this view rests on the fact that there is a God and that he has spoken about exclusive sex with one person. God’s revelation speaks to the fact that premarital sex is sin (Exodus 20:14; 22:16, 17; Leviticus18:20; 20:10, 14; 21:13; Deuteronomy 22:15, 17, 20-21; Proverbs 23:27; 1 Corinthians 5:1; 6:9, 13, 18; Ephesians 5:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8).
The Jews characterized their neighbors as “sexually immoral,” for they expected Gentile proselyte women to have had sex before marriage. Israel viewed Gentile men as immoral because they committed premarital sex.
In Deuteronomy, if a man raped an unmarried or unbetrothed girl, he was required to pay the father fifty shekels and marry her without the possibility of divorce (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). The nation of Israel had interest in assuring the sexual innocence of young women. If a young man could prove clearly that his bride was not a virgin, she was to be executed by stoning (Deuteronomy 22:20f). All this shows the importance of sexual purity before marriage.
Many young adults today claim there is no harm in having sex as long as neither person is married—that is, neither is “cheating” on a mate. This is a serious misunderstanding of a complete view of biblical marriage. Biblically, we cannot separate the physical aspect of sex from the psychological and spiritual. The Pharisees taught that sexual sin was physical, but Jesus said that it was mental and attitudinal as well (Matthew 5:28). It is possible to sin sexually without physical contact.
The Hebrew word for adultery can carry the idea of a single person having sexual intercourse with a married person—this is especially true if the wife had sex with a single person, as it was then a sin against the husband as well as God. This view assured that children born to a married husband would be his.
The New Testament uses “fornication” and “adultery” six times in the same verse, making the terms distinct; twenty times “fornication” stands by itself. There are eighty-two warnings in the New Testament against immorality of one kind or another. “Fornication” occurs thirty-four times in the Bible and twenty-six times in the New Testament.
The Greek word for “fornication” is porneia, from which we get the English “pornography.” “Fornication” means to engage in sexual immorality of any kind, often with the implication of prostitution — to engage in illicit sex, to commit fornication, sexual immorality. It means any sexually evil activity and includes both premarital sex and adultery.
Paul uses the term “fornication” in 1 Corinthians 5:1 of a son living in sexual sin with his stepmother. Corinth was the Paris of antiquity and was notorious for its wickedness. Yet here was a case in the church that even offended the loose standards of Corinth—“that one should have his father’s wife.” While this man lived in sin with his stepmother, the church treated it in an indifferent manner! The situation was touchy for them because he had relatives in the church. When word got to Paul, he exposed the whole thing and dealt with it decisively (1 Corinthians 5).
Premarital Sex Violates Divine Institution
By means of the conjugal bond, God protects the nuclear family and society from premarital sex, adultery, and incest. Strong conjugal bonds give stability to the nuclear family and the state. This also provides protective rights for women (Deuteronomy 21:10-14; 22:28-29). Confining sex to marriage creates stability in marriage, giving greater perseverance to the marriage and stability for children. Marriage corrects attending issues such as venereal disease.
The Word of God argues that sex engages the whole being, both the person and the body. Genesis 1:27 implies unity that should not be broken. Jesus quotes this verse and establishes the point (Matthew 19:5). Marriage is a covenant (Proverbs 2:17) and breakage of that covenant is a violation of fidelity.Song of Solomon argues that couples should not marry until they count the cost of what it means to be married (3:1-4). Solomon warns against premarital sex because people should not allow their passions to carry them into sex (2:8-17). Paul argues for marriage if a man cannot maintain sexual purity:
1 Co 7:1Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.
Rational for Premarital Sex Prohibition
The normal biblical pattern for discussion on premarital sex is not to present arguments or prohibitions, or refer to consequence (AIDS, venereal disease, unwanted babies). Rather, the Bible appeals to intrinsic motivation. Cohabitation is wrong in itself. The body is not meant for sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:13, 18) but for exclusive, life-long commitment to one partner.
“Fornication” is idolatry.
Colossians 3:5 “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”
The Bible plainly declares that premarital immorality is sinful and is not a debatable issue. There are not two sides to the question, for there are no extenuating circumstances that make it right (Galatians 5:19; Eph 5:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:3).
Dealing with Fornication
“Fornication” is aplague in high schools and universities; in fact, immorality now begins in grade school. Christians are not exempt either, for premarital sex is so common in society that it finds its way into the church. Immorality appeals to people no matter their language, educational background, or economic status, and is rampant on every continent, as seen in the AIDS epidemic. It is not necessary to take lessons to be immoral—all we need is to do what comes naturally. Barnyard morality is the standard for our day, and society debates whether there is such a thing as morality at all. But premarital sex is not debatable from the standpoint of the Bible, for God has spoken, making it a closed issue.
The sin of fornication is so powerful that we cannot conquer it by will power. The only way to defeat it is to avoid situations of temptation. Victory over fornication comes by fleeing from it: “Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body” (I Corinthians 6:18). “Flee” means to become a fugitive, to run away from fornication, to not
Rejection of Authority
Premarital sex is often the motivation behind the rejection of the authority of God’s Word in our lives. Immorality is at the base of much false teaching. Immorality and apostasy marry and live together intimately. Bible perversion and sex perversion go hand in hand.
When people reject biblical authority, they have no absolute to guide their conduct. They have no absolute to determine whether premarital sex is wrong. If one believes the Bible, that issue is not open for discussion. It is a closed issue because God declares himself clearly on the subject. The Bible has the last word on the subject. We might as well start rethinking murder as rethinking premarital sex. No, God has spoken once and these issues are not debatable. Non-Christians have no compass for living, but Christians have a map to guide them through life. That map is the Bible.
Prostitution is sex for profit with strangers. Prostitution is the practice of indiscriminate sex, sometimes for pay. This involves the person who pays for sex as well as the person who takes profit from sex outside marriage. Prostitution does not require a relationship or intimacy. Partners in prostitution treat one another as objects. God’s design for sex is personal, selfless, and exclusive. Paul warns against prostitution (1 Corinthians 6:13-18), which was strongly condemned in the Old Testament as well (Leviticus 19:29; 20:5, 6; Deuteronomy 23:18; Proverbs 23:27).
Many people in the Roman Empire considered prostitution shameful; nevertheless, it was a widespread practice and was legal. The Roman government received significant tax benefit from prostitution. Roman law prohibited practicing prostitutes from marriage. Most prostitutes were female slaves forced into the market for money by the slave owners.
The Old Testament used the idea of prostitution as a metaphor for defection from God’s covenant. The Hebrew word for prostitution (znh) is the predominant sexual term for apostasy, and implies a number of partners and habitual activity. The Hebrew word was used for the professional prostitute who accepted payment for her services and for a woman who had sex before marriage is zônâ (Leviticus 21:7, 14). A prostitute was an offense to family honor.
Adultery was a shameful act in the Roman Empire and considered wrong; nevertheless, it was widespread throughout the empire. Those who did not commit adultery were conspicuous for not doing so.
Adultery is sexual intercourse with another person’s mate (Hebrew ni?up??m (????????); also z?nût (??????), z?nûn??m (?????????), “whoredom,” “harlotry”) Treachery is at the heart of adultery because it violates exclusive fidelity in marriage and betrays the divine institution of marriage. It also violates unity in marriage and plays mayhem with domestic life. It violates the foundation of domestic construct and order, so it was a capital crime against the theocratic nation (Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22).
The seventh of the Ten Commandments warns against adultery (Exodus 20:14). The commandment to not commit adultery regulates relations between sexes because the family is the foundation of society. Adultery runs counter to God’s principles of fidelity and stability for a national entity. Anyone who does not understand the implications of adultery is a person of poor discretion about divine institution (Proverbs 6:28-29, 32).
Adultery is an infringement on unity in marriage; God regarded it as a serious sin because it sullied the essential construct for society—the divine institution. Jesus quoted Genesis 2:24 in Matthew 19:5-6 to support marriage as a divine institution. Adultery is a violation of social, economic, emotional, and physical relationship in the institution of marriage. It is an intrusion by an outsider into this special, exclusive relationship. A third party introduced into the relationship infringes upon God’s purpose for marriage.
Adultery in the Old Testament was an issue of civil law as well as moral law (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22). Adultery threatened national stability because the family is the basis of society. The theocratic nation put to death both parties because of this threat. Issues such as confusion of who would inherit the family’s fortunes was at stake. Adultery was treachery (Ps 50:18) and undermined the nuclear family (Genesis 2:18,24; Proverbs 18:22). Ezekiel uses the term “abomination” for the act of adultery (22:11, tô??bâ), which is a sin against God’s nature (Psalm 51:6).
Proverbs pictures the adulteress as “strange” or “foreign” because she operates outside the standards of society (2:16; 5:3,20; 6:24; 7:5). The adulteress dresses like a whore (7:10), and lures men by cunning words (2:16; 5:3; 6:24; 6:14-20). She rationalizes her adultery and says, “I have done no wrong” (30:20).
There is something permanent about committing adultery. The Bible warns against adultery as something that leads to destruction (Proverbs 2:16-19). Association with the adulteress led to “death” or execution (2:18–19; 5:5; 7:26–27), for adultery was a capital offense. Both parties had to die because death swept away undermining corruption in the national entity.
Adultery was punishable by death in the Old Testament. It violated both the household and the state (Leviticus 18:24-25). Near Eastern codes also viewed adultery as punishable by death. Under Hittite Law and Middle Assyrian Law, the husband was allowed to execute his wife and her partner without recrimination, but the Word of God forbids this practice (Deuteronomy 17:6-7; 19:15; Numbers 35:30).
The Mosaic Law stipulated that both parties be killed for adultery (Deuteronomy 22:22). God judges adultery in the New Testament as well (Hebrews 13:4) and will not allow those who commit adultery to inherit the kingdom without becoming Christians (1 Corinthians 6:9).
The Word of God views the body as something we should treat with purity and respect. (1 Corinthians 6:13-19). Sexual sex offends inside the body, but all other sin is outside the body, because it illicitly joins two people together. Sexual sin joins two people not married to each other together and violates the system of the body. Dividedness of the marriage relationship by illicit sex destroys oneness in marriage.
David committed adultery with Bathsheba subsequent to being called a man after God’s own heart (2 Samuel 11:1-5). David’s adultery led to a cover-up of his sin followed by murder of Bathsheba’s husband. It took a severe rebuke from the prophet Nathan to get David’s attention about this matter. David then wrote two Psalms expressing his repentance from the sin of adultery (Psalm 32, 35). Adultery is a forgivable sin.
Jesus also indicated that adultery was forgivable. He said to the woman caught in the act of adultery standing before him, “Neither do I condemn you” (John 8:11, not in some manuscripts). Jesus did not rationalize her sin away but showed her how to deal with it.
Proverbs shows how the person struggling with adultery needs to address the issue. He needs to “bind” the Word of God around his soul so that he does not allow his lust pattern to take control (Proverbs 6:20-35; chapter 7).
There is no justification for adultery anywhere in the Bible.
The Greek word translated “licentiousness” means outrageous conduct, indicating that licentiousness goes further to embrace deliberate disregard for what is right. Sexual licentiousness is part of this sin. This behavior deviates seriously from what is morally correct because it flies in the face of God’s norms. Licentiousness, then, is unrestrained and flagrant disregard of sexual self-control (Mark 7:22; 2 Corinthians12:21). It takes sexual and sensual pleasure to the extreme, for it is sexual debauchery and complete disregard toward the integrity of others.
Sodom and Gomorrah was an example of licentiousness. Peter calls it “lawless deeds” (2 Peter 2:7) and “slaves of corruption” (2:2, 18-19). Ephesians calls it “every kind of uncleanness” (4:19). Paul refers to sexual excesses as perversion (Romans 13:13; 2 Corinthians 12:21; Galatians 5:19. Romans 1:27). Peter associates perversion with the animal characteristics of a dog (2 Peter 2:22); metaphorically a dog (κυν?ς) was a sexually perverted or promiscuous person (Revelation 22:15). Licentiousness was a state of moral corruption and depravity (φθορ?) and slavery to immoral desires.
Masturbation is sexual self-stimulation. Statistically, most males and many females practice masturbation. Most females have masturbated at least once. Studies show that many people practice masturbation within marriage.
Some attempt to use the sin of Onan as an argument against masturbation, but Onan never masturbated in Genesis 38:9. Rather, he ejaculated outside the womb and did not fulfill the obligation to provide a child for his dead brother. This passage is not relevant to the issue of masturbation.
There is lack of consensus among evangelicals about the practice of masturbation. Those who believe it is wrong argue that people masturbate accompanied by lust for another person. That argument presumes that it is not possible to masturbate without engaging in mental sex with another person. However, the Word of God never addresses the issue, so the only way to approach the problem is through understanding the principles of Scripture.
Masturbation is sexual desire for something other than one’s spouse, but the Word of God places emphasis on gaining sexual gratification from only our spouse. Passages dealing with lust condemn sexual lust toward anyone other than our spouse. Masturbation that prevents fulfilling the sexual desires of our spouse violates God’s principles of meeting the sexual needs of our mate. Self-stimulation is self-oriented and non-relational. For that reason, it may be sinful, but Scripture makes no extant statements that warn against masturbation; therefore, it is a matter of personal conscience.
The Hebrew Bible has no story by which a woman exploits her erotic attraction as a means of manipulating men. Amnon raped Tamar because of her beauty (2 Samuel 13). Ruth maneuvered Boaz into sexual situations, not for the sexual situation itself but for what the liaison offered—progeny and family. Delilah nagged Samson to reveal his secrets but did not seduce him with her sexual passions.
If a man “comes upon” and has sex with a betrothed girl and she does not “cry out,” this means sex was consensual (Deuteronomy 22:23-24). The word for this was ?innâ, usually translated “rape,” but ?innâ is generally “statutory” rather than forcible rape. This is sex without proper arrangement even if she consents. Shechem had illicit sex (?nh) with Dinah, making her a “whore” (Genesis 34:31). Forcible rape was punished by death (Deuteronomy 22:25-27).
Sexual lust (pornography) is mental fornication or adultery (Matthew 5:28). Adultery can be a mental act as well as a physical act for Jesus warned about adultery of the heart. Many passages warn against loose sexual thoughts (Ephesians 2:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8; 2 Timothy 2:22; Titus 3:3; 1 Peter 2:11; 4:2,3; 1 John 2:16).
The Ten Commandments distinguish between actual adultery (seventh command, Exodus 20:14) and the coveting of another man’s wife (tenth command, 20:17). Illicit sexual thoughts violate compatibility with our actual partner and fellowship with God.
We win sexual battles in our mind or heart (Proverbs 6:25; Matthew 5:28; 2 Timothy 2:22). It is “desire” that lures us into sin (James 1:14-15).
9. Birth Control
There is nothing in the Word of God against birth control.
COMMINGLING NATURAL ORDER
Commingling by distortion of the natural order is also an issue about the family structure that needs clarification. Incest, homosexuality, bestiality, polygamy, transvestitism, and pedophilia are sins against God’s standards for the natural order. This is an issue of organization and structure of the human being. For example, keeping male and female order is crucial, but homosexuality violates that order. God calls sex with a daughter-in-law and an animal “improper” mixing (tebel).
Most incest discussion today focuses on adult coercion of children into sex. Roman citizens forsook all marriages with siblings and could not marry near relatives such as sisters or aunts; a man could marry his brother’s daughter. Brother-sister unions were more common than parent-child unions. Most incest in the Roman world focused on consenting adult partners, not children. People in power in the Roman world ignored norms against incest and did as they pleased. Greeks did not consider it incestuous if a son slept with the same woman his father slept with. Egyptian men could marry full sisters.
The Bible explicitly prohibits incest; we find extant passages against incest in Leviticus 18 and 20 and Deuteronomy 27. God prohibited sex with parent, stepmother, paternal uncle and wife, and both maternal and paternal aunts. All this clarifies family lines under the principle of divine institution. God prohibits sex with parents, stepmother, paternal uncle and wife, and maternal and paternal aunts. There is no mention of the mother’s brother and wife because they were from a different family. The Bible does not consider first cousins and nieces; however, since God prohibits the parental uncle, we might infer that this would include his daughter as well. God prohibited sex between brother and sister in one’s own generation. God prohibited sex between successive-generation in-laws as well as grandchildren. The wife’s lineage is also off limits (mother-in-law, wife’s sister while wife is alive, wife’s daughters and granddaughters). It is interesting that the “daughter” was not listed as prohibited, perhaps because it was assumed the unmarried girl would be a virgin for her husband.
The Bible, before the Levitical code by Moses, apparently does not condemn incest. Adam and Eve’s children married each other. Abraham married his half-sister. After protracted intermarriage developed biological problems, God prohibited incest. Leviticus 18:6-19 lists a number of incestuous relationships. God depicts these relationships as “abominations” (tw?bwt). The offender “pollutes” himself (18:24), and continuing in incest leads to exile (v. 28). Incest was punishable by death. Sex with a sister, sister-in-law, aunt, or uncle’s wife was beyond the control of the national entity and not punishable by death.
The New Testament clearly views incest as violating God’s standards: “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife” (1 Corinthians 5:1). A Corinthian Christian was living sexually with his stepmother. Paul delivered this man over to Satan for physical death so that his soul could be saved (5:5). This man later repented, so Paul charged the Corinthians to receive him back into fellowship (2 Corinthians 7).
Although God does not specify pedophilia (sex between an adult and a child) as a sin in the Bible, the standard of mutual and exclusive sex only within marriage denounces it. Sex cannot be complementary with a child.
The Greeks and Romans considered homoerotic pleasure to be a common practice. The church dealt with the issue of homosexuality from the patristic period to the present. Up until the modern period, both the church and society have believed homosexuality to be a sin. North American society lately came to view homosexuality as a personal orientation issue rather than choice. Gay activists push for societal acceptance of open homosexuality and challenge gays to “come out of the closet” so that society deems homosexuality equal in orientation to heterosexuality. Some liberal church groups support this change in construct toward homosexuality.
Nature of Homosexualism
First Corinthians 6:9-11 defines the nature of homosexualism. To describe homosexual practices, Paul uses the Greek words “effeminate” (malakoi, with the root meaning soft signifying the passive partner) and “homosexual” (arsenokoitai, consisting of two words: male, and to engage in intercourse signifying the active partner). Thus, Paul identifies both the active and passive partners in homosexuality—all this in the face of the fact that homosexuality was commonly practiced in the first century. Paul did not have concern for political correctness.
Viewpoints on Homosexuality
Many modern writers justify this irregular commingling of sexual orientation as valid on the one premise of love. Although love is the proper context for sex, it is not the only context for sex.
Homosexuals argue that Israelites included passages about homosexuality because Israel knew very little about homosexuality. There is a problem with this view because other cultures around them knew about homosexuality. The Code of Hammurabi explicitly refers to homosexuality. Two Middle Assyrian Laws (fifteenth century B.C.) made homosexuality indictable with castration as a penalty. The Hittites called homosexuality an abomination.
Infidelity in Roman Culture
Homosexual revisionism sets forth the thesis that Paul simply argues against Gentile thinking in the light of Jewish custom. According to them, Paul does not condemn homosexuality but infidelity in Roman culture.
One form of homosexual hermeneutics argues that biblical authors held cultural bias against homosexuality, that Paul was a product of the Judaism of his day, and that authors of the Bible wrote from such a distance that they could not possibly anticipate the homosexual culture of our day.
Homosexual Acts Committed by Heterosexuals
Other homosexual authors argue that Paul does not condemn homosexuality but rather homosexual acts committed by heterosexuals—that heterosexual participation in homosexuality is “against nature” (παρ? φ?σιν, Romans 1:26). They claim that God does not condemn “inverts” (natural or biological homosexuals); rather, “perverts” are the heterosexuals who commit homosexual acts. There is no basis whatever for this viewpoint in scripture, for the Bible places no qualifications on its condemnation of same-sex behavior.
Many pro-gay revisionists attempt to rewrite the Bible’s judgment on homosexuality by suggesting that the homosexuality of the Bible is not the same as the homosexuality of our day, but mere homosexual rape. However, God clearly defines the nature of homosexuality, stating that sexual relations between people of the same gender is a deviant lifestyle (Romans 1). The Bible never presents homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle.
Pro-gay interpreters argue that God did not punish Sodom for its homosexuality but for lack of hospitality. The sin of Sodom was not inhospitability, for both 2 Peter and Jude refer to the cause of the judgment of Sodom as homosexuality:
2 Peter 2:7and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked
Jude 7just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
Only as Practiced in Idolatry
Another interpretation is that homosexuality is not inherently wrong, but only wrong if practiced in association with idolatry or paganism. Homosexuals find rational for this position by the word “abomination” (t?’?b?h) as referring to something ritually unclean. “Abomination” refers to an idol in Isaiah 44:19, Jeremiah 16:18, and Ezekiel 7:20. It is clear that pagan rites included homosexuality, but nothing in these texts implies that rejection of homosexuality relates to pagan rites. This is an argument from silence, so the onus lies on the person who makes the assertion to substantiate the evidence. The context condemns adultery, incest, bestiality, and other sins. The passage associates none of these sins with cultism. The only sin explicitly identified with the cult is child sacrifice.
Not Applying Today
Others claim that the Leviticus code does not apply to Christians today. Christ is the end of the law so the law is no longer binding. However, both the New Testament and the Old Testament denounce homosexuality. Romans one condemns homosexuality—first for lesbians (verse 26) and then for male homosexuals (verse 27)
Biblical Prohibitions Against Homosexuality
Heterosexuality (sex with the opposite gender) is God’s model for marriage, and homosexuality (sex with the same gender) is a commingling violation of that model—the complementary inter-dynamic of marriage. The Bible’s teaching about sex presumes marriage between an adult male and adult female, so it views homosexuality as “immoral” and “contrary to sound doctrine.” Homosexuality is not a “sound” construct for society and governmental entity.
…the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine… (1 Timothy 1:10).
Scripture denounces homosexuality as a violation of divine institution or order (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:18-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:10; Genesis 19; 2 Peter 2:7, and Jude 7); it is not a legitimate lifestyle for that reason. Six major passages condemns homosexuality (Genesis 19:1-11; Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 1 Timothy 1:8-10).
An Abomination and Unnatural
Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 are the major texts in the Old Testament concerning homosexuality. Leviticus 18:22 stands in the middle of legislation against irregular sexual relationships. God adds the death penalty for homosexuality (20:13). Both passages name homosexuality as an “abomination” (t?’?b?h). Leviticus gives two prohibitions against homosexual practice, giving clarity to the nature of the sin:
Leviticus 18:22You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.
Leviticus 20:13If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.
Two important passages in the New Testament regarding homosexuality are Romans 1:26-27 and 1 Corinthians 6:9. The first chapter of Romans deals with homosexuality within the context of cultural devolution and shows that it flies against nature.
Romans 1:26For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
Another argument from pro-gay interpreters is that this passage does not argue against homosexuals but against certain kinds of homosexual activity that abuse the body. However, Romans 1 does not argue against the degree of homosexuality but against the sin itself. These arguments fail on both historic and linguistic grounds.
Pro-gay interpreters manipulate the text of 1 Corinthians 6:9 as well. They do this by changing the meaning of the Greek word “male prostitute” (arsenokoitai, ?ρσενοκο?ται) and claim that the term “male prostitute” never refers to homosexuality but only to male prostitution (pederasty) because of its close association with malakos, an effeminate callboy. Thus, they claim that Paul argues against abuse of the younger sexual partner. They claim that conservative interpreters read modern meaning back into the text of the first century. However, their misinterpretation is a classic case of reading a desired outcome into the text.
The Bible describes the sin of Sodom as shameless and impudent (Genesis 13:13; 18:20). We call the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah “sodomy.” The passage deals with more than homosexual rape. The idea of consent nowhere occurs in this passage. God’s judgment fell on both cities. Genesis 19 argues the reason for the downfall of Sodom was homosexuality (Genesis 19:4-9). The Sodomites did detestable things in God’s eyes (Ezekiel 16:50).
This passage nowhere refers to this sin as violation of the hospitality code. Proponents of homosexuality argue for violation of the hospitality code by the use of y?da’ (know). Of the 943 times it occurs in the Old Testament, these people claim that the word is used only10 times to refer to sexual relations, and always of heterosexual relations. They therefore argue that we must take “to know” in its normal usage of “to get acquainted with.” The men only wanted to get acquainted with Lot. However, “to know” means more than “to get acquainted with.” Plus, of the 50 uses of “to know” in Genesis, 5 clearly refer to knowing sexually (4:1,17,25; 24:16; 38:26), thus Moses used the term “to know” sexually in a normative sense. Beyond this, and more important, the context determines the meaning of the word. It is clear that Genesis 19:8 (the immediate context of 19:5) refers to sexual knowing because Lot’s daughters obviously knew men in the relationship sense.
Both Second Peter and Jude make commentary on homosexuality as the sin of Sodom. Jude says the sin of Sodom was “going after strange flesh” (unnatural sex). He uses a term (?κπορνε?ω; ?κ means out or over and πορνε?ω to commit immorality) for giving themselves up or going over to immorality. This is why God totally destroyed the cities. Note how both 2 Peter and Jude argue the same point.
2 Peter 2:6if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; 7and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked
Jude 7just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
The Apocrypha indicates the same thing:
3 Maccabees 2:5You consumed with fire and sulphur the men of Sodom who acted arrogantly, who were notorious for their vices; and you made them an example to those who should come afterward. (RSV)
The Bible argues that homosexuality is unnatural. God’s natural law and moral law do not conflict. Deviation from this construct violates a holy God. The book of Leviticus calls homosexuality an “abomination”—“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22). The penalty was death (20:13). The same goes for the lesbian:
“For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature” (Romans1:26).
The Bible consistently judges homosexuality as abnormal and in violation of divine institution (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:24-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:9-10). Homosexuality is “against nature” of heterosexuality. There is no biblical justification for a constitutional homosexual. To the contrary, Romans 1 argues that they gave up the natural use of heterosexuality in favor of homosexuality and that is “against nature” (para fusin), so God “gave them over” to practice unnatural lusts.
Authority and Homosexualism
Some Christians dismiss homosexuality as something disgusting and distasteful, but “taste” is not an adequate standard of measurement biblically. To God it is more than an issue of taste, because it is sinful and transgresses an objective norm. We cannot understand homosexuality without appreciating the nature of sin. Sin is a violation of God’s character and the standards that flow from that character. We learn about God’s character from God’s Word, but homosexuals of New Testament times “suppressed the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18). The issue comes down to the question of “truth.”
Postmodernism’s premise on sexual ethics is that all personal options are equally good. Their view is that people should take pride in their sexual orientation, and that no sexual orientation is better than another. Any belief to the contrary is “homophobic.” This labeling begs the presupposition as to whether there are objective, absolute ethics.
The issue of homosexual marriage has to do with who defines marriage and sexuality—God or some other authority. If there is an absolute God, he has the authority to define marriage and sexuality. If man is autonomous from a transcendent authority, then man defines sexuality. The whole issue revolves around whether the absolute God revealed a transcendent view on the nature of sex. Homosexual desire to normalize homosexual marriage is a deep concern to those who hold to biblical integrity.
Romans 1:18-32 gives the most extensive treatment of homosexuality in the Bible and gives the ground for this sin as rebellion against truth. We can see God’s view of the devolution of society in the phrase repeated three times, “God gave them over” (1:24, 26, 28). They reached such a stage of negative volition against truth that God “gave them over to a reprobate mind” (a mind set at enmity against God). An enemy of God mind stands in dire need of redemption by Christ. This attitude suppresses “truth” (1:18). It is not a matter of ignorance, for they had clear revelation from nature.
Romans 1:18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
Even though homosexuals suppress God’s revelation, they remain without excuse (1:19) because God demonstrates his standards in the universe itself (1:19-21). Rather than accept God’s revelation, they exchanged his glory for pagan belief (1:22-23). Paganism produced homosexuality. God pronounced his verdict on this twisting of truth (1:24-27). Homosexuality is a result of abandoning God’s truth. They exchanged truth for a lie (1:24). They both suppressed truth and abandoned truth.
Romans 1:24Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,
“Against” in “against nature” means in excess or beyond. These words do not carry the idea of immorality but the thought of opposition to nature; homosexuality is against divine design in Hellenistic Jewish usage. Clearly, “against nature” refers in Romans 1 to their standing against the truth of God’s created order, the order designed by God. Those who go “against nature” go against God and his construct for creation.
Homosexuals gave up their bodies to impurity and dishonor: “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves…” (1:24). Homosexuals degrade their passions (1:26), exchange their natural functions (1:26), participate in unnatural activities (1:26), burn in lusts (1:27), commit indecent acts (1:27), incur the penalty of their error (1:27), and are worthy of death (1:32). All this comes because of the corrupted conscience of homosexual desire, so God pronounced this three-fold formula of judgment.
Romans one rests its argument on the premise of theology proper (the doctrine of God). God’s character and work is the basis for belief and practice. The first chapter shows the devolution of society from who and what God is. Man rejects God’s revelation of himself and even suppresses God’s truth (1:18) in order to follow aberrant sex. All this violates God’s plan for the family. God identifies both homosexuals and lesbians in the category of violation of divine institution.
The book of Romans depicts homosexuality as rebellion against a God as distinct and set apart from creation. It was a rebellion against God’s design for heterosexual relationships (Genesis 1:27-28; 2:18, 23-24).
Judgment and Forgiveness
God will judge homosexuals because of their assault on divine institution (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Timothy 1:8-10). The onus for this sin lies on the participants (Leviticus 20:13). First Corinthians 6:9-10 argues that homosexuals, along with those practicing other sins, do not belong to God’s kingdom.
1 Corinthians 6:9Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
This passage says that some of the Corinthians were former homosexuals (6:9-11)—“such were some of you.” The clear implication is that homosexuality is forgivable by God.
Onus on Evangelicals
If the Bible teaches the sinfulness of homosexuality, evangelicals must proclaim God’s viewpoint of homosexualism as sin even in an age of tolerance. The issue that homosexuality vitiates against biblical norms is a matter of “truth.” “Truth” was the subject that led the homosexual astray in the first place (Romans 1). Christians cannot portray themselves as aloof from perversion by implying that homosexuality is merely an item on the menu of choice. True, Christians must not make more of homosexuality than the Bible does, but neither should we make it less of an issue. If homosexuality is a perversion of divine institution, then the church should say so even in the face of the charge of homophobia. How can we win them if we do not warn them?
Christians must keep in perspective that Christ died for the sins of both heterosexuals and homosexuals. It is one thing to diagnose homosexuality as a sin, but it is another to present the transforming power of the gospel to forgive that sin. The gospel has the power to overcome homosexuality. God loves homosexual sinners and he loves heterosexual sinners enough to pay for their sins by the cross of Christ.
Bestiality is sex with animals (Exodus 22:28; Leviticus 18:23; 20:15-16). Egyptians participated in sex with goats in reference to their religion. The God of Scripture has intense desire to keep the categories of male and female in place, so he pronounced a special “curse” on this sin (Deuteronomy 27:21). This is the same reason for prohibition against homosexuality, as well. The book of Leviticus lists bestiality as an “abomination” and prescribes the death penalty for both the human and the animal.
After God created Adam, he said, “The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:20). No animal was fit for Adam sexually, so God created female Eve. An animal could not answer to Adam’s person and was outside the model of the identity of a human being.
Polygamy was never normative in the Old Testament yet a number of leaders practiced it. All of this runs counter to God’s original design for marriage. The Bible never speaks of polygamy with approval but, to the contrary, consistently upholds monogamy as normative. The Bible prohibits polygamy in church leaders (1 Timothy 3:2; 12; Titus 1:5-6). The husband of “one wife” means that God prohibits polygamous marriage because he designed marriage as a one-man/one-woman relationship. Polygamy violates the nature of marriage and degrades women.
The Bible condemns homosexuality explicitly and polygamy implicitly. Speaking of appointing a king over Israel, Moses said, “And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold” (Deuteronomy 17:17). Israel’s leaders violated both of these commands. Several Old Testament personages practiced polygamy (Jacob, David, Solomon).
This stands in conflict with the principle of divine institution—“two shall become one flesh,” not two, three, or four. God never sanctions polygamy in Scripture. Polygamy violates the nature of marriage. Marriage is more than an external union or mutual civil compact. It is a vital union of two persons that has manifestations in sexual union—one flesh. Prohibited marriages relate to the ground of affinity and acceptable marriage on the grounds of consanguinity. Those related to affinity are “flesh of my flesh” blood relatives. Violation of this degrades the nature of the relationship of “one flesh.”
God insists on distinction in dress between sexes. Therefore, cross-dressing (transvestiture) is wrong in God’s eyes, for it distorts gender distinction (Deuteronomy 22:5). Gender distinction is foundational to how sex functions within the model of marriage as male and female. The Bible calls this an “abomination,” implying that it crosses the important biblical boundary of gender confusion. By implication, this would also negate physically changing one’s gender.
The Body as a Temple
One argument for sexual purity in Paul is his argument from the body as a temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:19). Some Corinthian Christians may have visited the prostitutes in the Temple of Aphrodite at Corinth. In doing so, they became one body with prostitutes (6:16). Redeemed people are one body with the Lord (6:17). God takes his dwelling place in the body of the believer.
The believer’s body is not only for the Lord but it is also of the Lord (members of Christ). A Christian who commits sexual immorality makes the members of Christ members of a whore. Paul says, “May this never come into being,” because this has implications on the Lord. All sex outside of marriage profanes him with whom the believer is one. This does not directly personally taint the Lord.
What does the phrase “the immoral man sins against his own body” mean? Sexual sin has a way of destroying us from within.
The body is also the “temple of the Holy Spirit” (6:19-20). Our bodies are not our own but the Lord’s. We avoid sexual immorality not only because it destroys the character of the believer like no other sin, but also because we do something with our body, which is not our own body. We do not belong to ourselves; Jesus bought us with a price and owns us.
By following God’s design for heterosexual monogamy, we develop stability in society and security in our persons. Peter says that “lawlessness” toward the Word of God produces instability (2 Peter 3:15-17). Monogamy makes both the individual and society strong. Christians face ever increasing sexual temptation in a relativistic society, so we need to build strong conviction in the biblical view of sexuality. The issue boils down to our view of who is in charge and whether we find objective standards anywhere. Rejection of this produces people who are “lovers of self” and breaks down their sexuality so they are “led astray by various passions” (2 Timothy 3:1-6).
DEALING WITH ILLICIT SEX
Understanding God’s Building Blocks for Overcoming Sexual Temptation
First Thessalonians chapter 4 sets forth twelve biblical principles on how to address sexual issues in a stark sexual environment.
1Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to live and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. 2For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. 3For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. 8Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
“Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to live and to please God” (4:1)
God sets forth a dozen building blocks for dealing with sexual issues in First Thessalonians 4. These building blocks will enable the believer today to address sexual issues in his or her life.
Chapter 4 begins the practical section of First Thessalonians. The first eight verses set forth the sanctified life, especially in the area of sexuality. The word “finally” does not introduce the conclusion to the book, for half of the epistle is yet to follow. Rather, Paul moves to the last remaining section of the book—the practical section. There is atransition here from the historical to the exhortatory, from the personal to the practical, from the past to the prophetic, and from the apologetic to the application. With the word “then” Paul draws inferences from the doctrinal chapters (1–3).
First Building Block—Divine Viewpoint, 4:1a-c
“Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus” (4:1)
Paul in this passage appeals to the Thessalonians’ affection for the Lord Jesus and even their affection for Paul himself. In relation to Paul, the Thessalonians and Paul came from the same source—they were born into the family of God. Paul holds in this section a tension between affectionate appeal and authoritative admonition.
Paul and his colleagues challenge the Thessalonians about sexual purity by appeal—“we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus.” This challenge is so significant that Paul uses two words to describe theimportance of this message: ask and urge. “Urge” is a little stronger than “ask.” Paul asks and urges them “in the Lord Jesus”—in the sphere of everything that Jesus represents. The heart of Christian motivation lies in the person and work of the Lord Jesus. He is the reason we do what we do.
“that as you received from us” (4:1b)
Paul does not take personal liberties in instruction about sexuality but prescribes individual holiness passed down to the apostles by the Lord Jesus. The apostles operate on the authority of Christ.
The Thessalonians lived in a culture that mingled sex with its religion. These new converts previously went to their pagan temples for sex with temple prostitutes on a regular basis. Religion was very popular in those days! Men took wives for having children but they picked up mistresses for pleasure (and worship!).
“how you ought to live” (4:1c)
Paul now turns to discourse on how to deal with our sex drives. The Thessalonians previously received from the apostles information on how to deal with sex—“that as you received from us how you ought to live and to please God, just as you are doing.” Paul reiterates what he taught the Thessalonians on his first visit to the city. The team clearly informed them that Christian living is lifeless without application of the principles of God’s Word to experience.
Take note of the word “how” in the phrase “how you ought to live and to please God.” Christians should have some “know how” when it comes to gaining victory over sexual temptation and behavior. The word “ought” is the word “must,” so there is logical and moral imperative to please God. The Thessalonians lived in a seaport where they experienced unbridled sexual sin. Since there were many temptations in the city, no believer could casually deal with his sexuality. Their daily, consistent walk with the Lord was imperative if sexual victory was going to come their way.
New Testament parlance repeatedly compares the Christian life to a “walk.” The Greek word to “live” is literally to walk and comes from two words: walk and around. The idea is to walk around as a course of life (Romans 6:4; 2 Corinthians 5:7; Galatians 5:16; Colossians 4:5; Ephesians 4:1, 17; 5:8, 15; 1 John 1:7; 2:6). Christian living is not episodic but an ongoing process. If we casually deal with sexual sin, we will fall into sin.
Doctrine precedes duty and precept precedes practice. The Christian life is not a set of rules but a set of principles. The design of the Christian life is to teach us God’s viewpoint on life by forming that viewpoint into principles. When we apply divine viewpoint principles by faith, God transforms our lives. People are no more fit for Heaven twenty-five years after they become Christians than they were the day they accepted Christ. God sanctifies Christians completely the moment we receive Christ as Savior by positional sanctification. Progressive sanctification in divine viewpoint is an ongoing process.
Second Building Block—“Know How” to Please the Lord, 4:1d
“and to please God”(4:1d)
The phrase “to please God” explains that the direction we “walk” is to please God according to who and what he is. A central characteristic of the Christian life is to “please God”; therefore, a prime purpose of the Christian life is to order our sex lives to please God. An acceptable sexual life pleases God.
Christians accommodate themselves to their God, but God never accommodates himself to them. The idea is not that we placate, appease, or conciliate God, for Christ did that on the cross. We please him because we honor him as a matter of gratefulness. We want to walk in a way sexually that puts a smile on the face of God. Many of us make him frown.
“So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him” (2 Corinthians 5:9).
“and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him” (1 John 3:22).
Third Building Block—Build Momentum, 4:1e
“just as you are doing, that you do so more and more” (4:1e).
The words “more and more” in the phrase “that you do so more and more” point to momentum in spiritual growth. It is not enough to exist as a Christian, we must move toward excellence. It is one thing to park ourselves in the Christian life, but it is another thing to prevail in it. God wants us to move beyond the status quo. We should ask ourselves whether we are making any progress in the Christian life.
We do not tell our spouses that we love them only on the day we get married, supposing that will last them for the rest of their lives! Neither do we live the Christian life with one fell swoop. Each day with the Lord should be sweeter than the day before, but it will take work. Status quo in the Christian life always means stagnation, deterioration, and decay in holiness. Doctrine precedes duty and precept precedes practice. Principles of God’s Word precede duty and precept precedes practice. Without doctrinal structure to address temptation, we have nothing with which to win the battle from God’s viewpoint. The Christian life forms by divine viewpoint principles rather than by a set of rules. The design of the Christian life is to teach us God’s viewpoint on life by forming that viewpoint into principles. When we apply those principles by faith, God transforms our lives sexually.
Fourth Building Block—Code of Conduct, 4:2
“For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus” (4:2).
The word “instructions” means order, command, precept, and advice. The idea is that “instructions” are the prescriptions of the Lord Jesus and carry a military connotation. Paul issued orders to the Thessalonians from his superior, General Jesus, the one ultimately in authority. Paul taught them divine revelation orally before the close of the New Testament. First Thessalonians was one of Paul’s first epistles and he wrote this letter about a year after leaving Thessalonica.
The instructions that Paul’s team taught the Thessalonians came directly from the Lord—“through the Lord Jesus.” Paul did not preach on his own authority but from the authority of Christ. He did not conjure up his own ideas about life or draw on current philosophies of the day; he spoke from the authority of Christ, so his prescriptions were not some arbitrary orders of his own. To the contrary, General Jesus issued these orders directly from headquarters, so Paul passed these orders to Christian soldiers on the firing line fighting the battle of purity in a corrupt world.
Jesus gave us the principles of grace to face any challenge we might encounter, whether sexual sin or otherwise. Some Christians want to learn some new thing, yet they do not live up to the knowledge they already have. We have precepts or prescriptions directly from our Lord in the Bible to address sexual temptation. Why do we need anything else?
The words “know what instructions” point to the fact that the Thessalonians were to grow in pleasing God. It is not enough to plateau at a certain level of spiritual growth; Christians must advance beyond low-level stasis in maturity. It is one thing to park ourselves at a certain place in the Christian life, but it is another thing to prevail in it. God wants us to move beyond the status quo otherwise we will be vulnerable to sexual temptation. We should ask ourselves whether we are making any progress in overcoming sexual problems.
Fifth Building Block—Set Apart unto the Will of God, 4:3a
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality” (4:3)
Paul declares the will of God in unadulterated terms, that we are to “abstain from sexual immorality.” There are many areas where we may not know the explicit will of God, but this is not one of them. We know the will of God when it comes to the boundaries of sex. Since we know clearly what God wishes about our sexual lives, Christians can yield themselves to God’s clear, sovereign will or assert their own independent will.
We determine God’s will from God’s Word. We cannot live the Christian life without the Bible, for the Word of God is the only place Christians can find absolutes. God gives absolutes so that believers can make clear, decisive decisions in the area of sex. Christians cannot set their sail according to how the wind may blow in culture, for that is observing relative ethics. Christians must set their sail according to the will of God, which may mean that they sail against the prevailing winds of sexual opinion. Christians should want to sail in the same direction God is going.
Christians can carry out the will of God only if they are committed to fulfill his wishes no matter the cost. The Christian who opens himself to God unconditionally is the Christian God will use. The motto of William Tyndale College in Detroit, Michigan, is, “The will of God, nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.” Getting into the will of God and staying there gives the believer a great sense of stability and satisfaction. Certain things in the Christian life are not open to debate, so we do not “rethink” our view of sexuality. We do not rationalize sexual sin so that it meets some convenient need that we perceive we might have.
The idea of “sanctification” in “your sanctification” means separation to God (1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Thessalonians 2:13). This is the conduct of separating ourselves from sinful things, especially sexual things in this context. This separation befits those positionally separated to God. The Holy Spirit is the agent in sanctification (Romans 15:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2). Since the Christian’s body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, Christians should separate their bodies to the Holy Spirit’s rights on their lives. The emphasis on sanctification is upon one’s dedication or consecration to serve God for the word “sanctification” means literally “set apart.” A sanctified person puts himself or herself at the complete disposal of God.
There are three kinds of sanctification in the Bible: positional, progressive, and ultimate. Positional sanctification is our eternal status quo with God, declared at salvation as completely set apart to be God’s possession forever (Acts 20:32; 26:18; 1 Corinthians 1:2, 30; Hebrews 2:11; 1 Peter 1:2; Jude 1). At the cross, Christ provided for salvation from Hell (Hebrews 10:10, 14). God sets us apart in an eternal, infallible, unalterable position in Christ.
The second kind of sanctification is progressive sanctification. This is our relative growth in becoming “more and more” like the Lord Jesus. There is a progressive dimension to Christianity—the process whereby the Spirit of God takes the Word of God and makes the child of God like the Son of God. We do this by walking in the Spirit and applying God’s Word to our experience. This continues as long as we live. If we progressively apply the principles of Scripture dealing with sexual issues to experience, there will be development and growth toward stability and maturity in sexual issues.
The third phase of spirituality is ultimate sanctification, our final glorification. When we get to Heaven, we will be free from all sin and the capacity to sin sexually.
For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified (Romans 8:29–30).
Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body bepreserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
“Sanctification” is set apartness to God’s will. God wants us for his exclusive use. A sanctified person is a person who is at the complete disposal of God regarding sexual issues. God can do with us as he pleases in this regard. Because we are his, he does not need to check with us first.
Sixth Building Block—Decisiveness, 4:3b
“that you abstain from sexual immorality” (4:3b)
Three times in verses three to six Paul uses the word “that.” The first “that” expresses God’s purpose concerning sexualpurity—we should put a huge space between sexual immorality and where we are. The word “abstain” literally means to hold oneself off from, be distant. The idea is that Christians must avoid sexual temptations by putting great distance between themselves and sexual temptation. If there is an area where Christians need to know their limits, it is this one. We should not try to come as close to the fire as we can without being burned. It is interesting that the Bible’s solution to sexual sin is to “flee,” to put distance between oneself and sexual temptation by running away from it.
Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body (1 Corinthians 6:18).
So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart (2 Timothy 2:22).
The words “you abstain” indicate that it is our responsibility to do the abstaining. Joseph fulfilled this principle when he fled from Potiphar’s wife.
“Sexual immorality” means prostitution, fornication. This term can refer to any form of sexual sin such as adultery, premarital and extramarital intercourse, homosexuality, sex with animals, pornography, or any other kind of sexual sin. We cannot practice sexual indiscretion and become “more and more” holy.
Sex in itself is not sin. To the contrary, God gave sex for his creatures to enjoy (Proverbs 5; 1 Corinthians 7:1–9). Sex outside the boundsof marriage is sin. The onus is upon believers not to allow themselves to be put in situations where they might be tempted sexually. The Bible is very clear on how God wants us to behave sexually and sets forth unmistakable ground rules (principles) for living. There is such a thing as “fouling out” sexually. If Christians enter sexual sin, they disqualify themselves from fellowship with God and bar themselves from God’s service (1 Corinthians 9:24–27). God put the principles of the race in his Word. There is no debate about the will of God when it comes to sexual sin.
It is never too late to walk with God. Many have already sinned sexually, but it is God’s will that they move into sanctification. He will welcome them into his fellowship. God makes it clear that he will restore them to fellowship. As they trust the finished work of Christ for salvation, so they trust his finished work on the cross for sexual sin (1 John 1:9–2:2).
We must make a clean–cutbreak with sex sins and “repent” of fornication.
I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced (2 Corinthians 12:21).
Seventh Building Block—holiness and honor, 4:4
“that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor” (4:4)
Avoiding sexual temptation requires some “know how” from the Word of God. Christians should know how to “control” their “body.” The word “control” means to acquire, procure for oneself, gain. Christians must know how to apply principles of God’s Word to experience, for the plan is to win mastery over our souls in sexual temptation. In doing this, we will save ourselves from grave danger. We control our sex life by knowing how to submit ourselves to God’s control by understanding and applying the Word of God.
The word “body” in the phrase “know how to control his own body” is a euphemistic way of referring to our sexual life. Christians should control their sex life “in holiness and honor.” The antithesis of allowing the sex drive to run uncontrolled is that Christians operate “in holiness and honor.” There are privileges and responsibilities in becoming a child of the King. The word “in” refers to the sphere or leading milieu that governs sexual behavior. “Holiness” and “honor” control sex drives.
Again, “holiness” or “sanctification” is what Christians do in setting asidetheir lives unto God. Christians belong to another and are not their own. When they set apart their lives unto God, they give him their lives for his exclusive use. They are his — lock, stock, and barrel; hook, line, and sinker; body, soul, and spirit.
“Honor” is what others see; they see that Christians live their sexual lives with dignity. “Honor” deems the sexual drive as precious, so Christians deal with it respectfully. Christians have drastically different attitudes toward sex than do non–Christians. For this reason, they carry themselves with “honor.” The word “honor” denotes value, esteem. Some believers do not value the honor of their bodies, but devalue it by sexually defacing it. Jesus paid a great price for salvation; therefore, the Christian life has great value to the Christian. “Honor” is a matter of dignity, so sexual control has to do with what the Christian identifies with: Does he identify with his status and relationship to God? Paul never argues that strong sexual desire is wrong but always argues that the object of our sexual passion is the issue. God’s honor is at stake.
Christians need to learn how to control latent sex drives “in holiness and honor.” Learning how to handle the sex drive is not easy, for it is one of the most powerful drives of our body. The first lesson we must learn is that our body is “not our own” (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20). The Bible says that we must control our sexual drive in the same way we satisfy our desires regarding sleep, hunger, and thirst (which, if uncontrolled, result in health problems).
The word “body” in verse 4 means vessel. The believer’s “body” is God’s “vessel.” As God’s vessel, Christians treat their bodies with holiness and honor. The sex drive of their bodies is God’s vessel, so he has the right to determine how they use it. God sets two standards for dealing with his “vessel”: (1) pursue things of God honorably and (2) flee sexual sins (as we saw earlier).
Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. 21Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. 22So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart (2 Timothy 2:20–22).
It is not enough to flee sexual sins; we must “pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with a pure (set apart) heart.” We cannot trifle with sexual sin, for the Christian life takes all that we have and are and will cost us something in personal gratification. That cost is worth it because of what Jesus did for us on the cross.
Both “flee” and “pursue” are important. If we do only one, we will have done only half a job. If we flee, but do not pursue, then we fulfill only half of God’s command. A half attempt will not deliver us from sexual sin. Do we fully “possess” our body for the glory of God? Only a clear–cut, definite decision will do this. We cannot compartmentalize areas of our lives reserved for self. Such compartments will eventually ensue in blatant sin. If we reserve certain sins for ourselves, we need to deal with them with one fell swoop today and not look back.
Eighth Building Block—Knowledge of God, 4:5
“not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God” (4:5)
“Passion” is whatever we suffer or experience in any way; it is an affection of the mind. A passionate desire carries either a good or a bad sense, but Paul uses this term here in thebad sense of illicit sexual passion.
In the phrase “passion of lust,” “passion” is the passive side of our sin capacity and refers to affections that have the potential for arousal. “Lust” is the active side and refers to strong drives and intense cravings. “Lust” denotes coveting, desire, craving, and longing, mostly of evil desires. Here the idea is to desire illicit sex greatly or strongly.
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature (lesbian sin)… (Romans 1:26).
The “Gentiles” are those without Christ. Unrestrained indulgence in sexual passion is characteristic of those who do not carry transcendent values. Those without Christ “do not know God” so they do not have a structure to their sexuality, but those who know God overcome sexual temptation because they have absolute structure to sexuality. However, this is more than structure, for it is a matter of relationship as well. It is one thing to know about God; it is another to know God personally. Once we embrace Jesus as our Savior, our attitude toward sex changes. To live without structural restraints sexually is to live like a heathen (“Gentiles”).
Personal relationship with God is the parent of purity. Christians should never mistake lust for love, but those without Christ often do not know the difference. “Passion of lust” is mental adultery or fornication as well as the overt act. The battle with sexual sin always begins in the mind. It is as much sin to think it as to act it. When lusts stir up our passions, we give ourselves over to appetites of the sin capacity and deny the dignity of that comes from knowing God. We lose all sense of sexual fairness to fellow believers in the family of God.
Overcoming illicit sexual passions begins with a relationship with the Lord. If we allow him to convict us of these sins, we confess them; we take the first step toward overcoming sexual temptation. There is far more to conquering these sins, but we cannot overcome them without first beginning with a relationship with God.
Ninth Building Block—Honor Relationships, 4:6a
“and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you” (4:6).
Paul makes another appeal for sexual purity—“that no one transgress.” The word “transgress” denotes to go over. “Transgress” was a commercial term for violating business standards. The context here refers to “passion of lust,” so the topic concerns crossing a barrier in sexual sins. Someone who transgresses someone else steps over God’s boundaries and violates his standards, the standard of exclusive monogamous marriage. Adultery, for example, violates the mate’s right to monogamy.
The word “wrong” carries the idea of seeking to get more; this verse is the only place in the New Testament where this Greek word appears. This person takes advantage of another person’s mate. Paul uses the word “wrong” in describing Satan’s effort to gain an advantage over the church when they did not restore someone who fell into sexual sin after he confessed the sin:
Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, 11so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs (2 Corinthians 2:10–11).
“Wrong” is another commercialterm similar to the word “transgress.” Taking someone else’s partner is like stealing someone else’s goods. Violating another person’s wife is like stealing from her husband, for it is an act of treachery. Sexual immorality defrauds sisters and brothers of the fidelity they rightfully expect from their spouses. It also violates the trust others have in us. Sex thieves think little of the wrong done but seek only to gratify their own greed. They have an insatiable lust for more (Greek). This word can carry the idea of compulsion.
Adultery is like stealing, for many sexual activities fly in the face of God’s boundaries or prescribed limits. Sexual sins transgress God’s standards in dealing with fellow Christians. This is no different than stealing someone’s property (commercial use of the term). We have no more right to have sex with someone’s spouse because of their attraction to us than we have a right to steal their car because it appeals to us.
The word “brother” indicates that the person defrauded is a fellow Christian. We make another Christian a victim of our selfishness. Sexual sin wrongs the mate and the partner, as well as the self. Someone who wrongs another sexually takes advantage of his trust in him. It is a matter of outwitting and cheating him of his rightful partner. It is a claim on more than is their due and steals from another. Greed is always the motivation behind robbing someone of his or her partner. This person operates on the principle of exploitation. Sexual sin has negative social impact and violates Christian brotherhood.
Not only do these sins damage families but the people who commit these sins. Children suffer, parents suffer, and the self suffers. This is why God “avenges” these sins. No one escapes the pain of these choices, so there are predictable costs to these sins. People give the excuse, “Well, I just fell in love. I couldn’t help myself.” A minister who runs off with another person’s mate hurts his congregation. That congregation suffers for years to come.
Tenth Building Block—Ominous Warning, 4:6b
“because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you” (4:6b).
An “avenger” is one who exacts a penalty for a wrong; the Lord will personally punish sexual sin because of its treachery. God always maintains this right.
Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge (Hebrews 13:4).
The words “in all these things” indicate any kind of sexual sin: adultery, fornication, homosexuality, or sex with animals. Those who commit such sins still have God to reckon with. God keeps books on this issue and he is a very good accountant!
The sexually violated person does not need to get even for immorality perpetrated against him; God will do that for him. For this reason, there is no need for recrimination; the person violated can commit it to the Lord. The Lord will also mend the broken spirit and will deal with the shame, sorrow, and disgrace.
“as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you” (4:6c)
The word in the Greek for “told you beforehand” is literally to say before. This is the idea of warning someone of some future, serious consequence from sexual sin. The word in the Greek for “solemnly warned” is a strong word for giving testimony. Literally, this word comes from two Greek words: through and testify—to testify through. Paul thoroughly warned the Thessalonians of God’s judgment of sexual sin. Paul bore solemn witness about what God would do with those who “transgress” and “wrong” others sexually. The solemn warning here may be due to the close tie between religion and sex in Thessalonica.
God will forgive sexual sins, but he will also deal with these sins just as he dealt with David’s sin with Bathsheba. David’s scars from sexual sin lasted until he died (2 Samuel 11-12).
Eleventh Building Block—God’s Call, 4:7
“For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (4:7)
The first reason we should avoid sexual sins is that God will avenge them (4:6). The second reason is that it violates our calling (4:7). Motivation for sexual purity comes from identification with God’s call on our lives. When sexual temptation comes our way, we identify with God’s calling on our lives.
Sexual immorality goes against God’s calling of the believer. The subject of sexual immorality is of the deepest doctrinal importance and touches the very foundation of the Christian life. When God calls the believer, he divinely summons us to a new life. This new life is not that we may indulge ourselves in personal pleasure but to move us toward sanctification. Every decision we make should move us toward progressive sanctification. This is the main business of a Christian. To descend to a lower level of life than God’s purpose for us is very serious, for it belittles God’s standards and despises him in the role of Giver of holiness.
Negatively, God did not call us to “impurity.” “Impurity” denotes something contaminated, such as dirt. Here the word carries the idea of immorality. Sometimes it intimates unnatural sin, such as homosexuality (Romans 1:24), but “impurity” refers generally to the state of immorality in reference to any sexual sin. The word “for” in “for God has not called” presents the purpose why God did not call us to uncleanness. A Christian tempted to indulge in sexual sin must think about God’s purpose for him or her.
Once again, Paul appeals to “holiness” in the phrase “God did not call us to impurity, but in holiness.” “Holiness” refers to sanctification orseparation unto God and points to the course befitting those separated unto God (1 Thessalonians 4:3, 4, 7; Romans 6:19, 22; 1 Timothy 2:15; Hebrews 12:14). God’s purpose in choosing us was to set us apart to himself as his children. The believer separates himself from evil things and evil ways because he is a child of God, so God “calls” the Christian to be set apart to the family of God.
Note that God called us “in holiness.” The word “in” signifies in the sphere of holiness. Holiness is the sphere of our calling. Sexual sins go against God’s calling, and we reject God’s call when we enter into sexual sins. A dirty soul does not honor a person called by God, for believers are the complete property of God. We are not our own but belong to God, so God summons us to a new kind of life, a life set apart to him. Every choice we make as a Christian should contribute to our becoming more and more like the Lord Jesus. This is the call of the believer.
Twelfth Building Block—Honor God, 4:8
“Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you” (4:8).
This verse gives Paul’s second motivation why Christians should flee sexual sins. The word “therefore” is an emphatic marker of result — “for this very reason.” A sex life governed by God’s call to holiness is the rationale for his next statements. The nature of the child of God stands in antithesis to the natural urges of the man without Christ.
The word “this” in the phrase “whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God” is the call to holiness of verse 7. The word “disregards” means to annul. If we annul God’s call upon our lives (4:7), then we thwart the effectiveness of that call and nullify God’s purpose for us on earth. God lays down his purpose but we set it aside, and in so doing, we refuse to recognize the validity of his call and claim on our lives.
The words “but God” in the phrase “disregards not man but God” means that when we annul God’s plan, we annul God in our lives. God set the transformed nature of the child of God into place, so to disregard God’s standards about sex is to disregard God’s standards for the nature of the child of God.
The Thessalonians lived under the Roman Empire. The Romans did not base their view of sexuality upon their polytheistic religion but were essentially utilitarian in their view of sex—“If it works, it’s right.” We can summarize their approach as “Does this serve my self–interest?” Christianity, on the other hand, bases its construct for sexuality on theology proper—the nature of God. There is something more than pragmatic issues at stake.
Rationalizing sexual sin diminishes God in our lives. When Christians rationalize sexual dalliance, they negate God himself from their lives. Rationalization is just a way of kidding ourselves. God (“who gives his Holy Spirit to you”) gave us the Holy Spirit to empower us to deal with any sin that might come our way. God wants us to rely on him in these matters.
If we regard sexual sins as a minor matter, we minimize the whole nature of God and the gift of the Holy Spirit. To descend to a lower level of Christian living is to belittle God. We despise God in his role as the Giver of his Holy Spirit. He is the one who makes the privilege of holiness possible. Instead of indulging in sexual gratification, we can live in the temple of the Holy Spirit.
God gave Hisindwelling Holy Spirit to each believer at the moment of salvation. This passage indicates that God continually gives the Holy Spirit to meet us in temptation—“who gives his Holy Spirit unto you.” The word “gives” in “gives his Holy Spirit” carries the idea that God continually gives the Holy Spirit to work dynamically in our sex lives. The New Testament characterizes the “Spirit” as “Holy.” The Greek emphasizes the word “Holy.” The indwelling Spirit inside of each believer is “holy.” The Christian cannot disconnect his life from the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit can work supernaturally in us to empower us to have victory in our sex lives. He enables us in this area.
In summary, Paul appeals to a twelve-fold theological rationale for avoiding sexual temptation. All this pivots around theology proper—the doctrine of God. Our identity with God’s effectual call places us in association with God’s purpose and plan for our lives. That is the motivation behind believers setting apart themselves to sexual purity.
 Peter Jones, The God of Sex: How Spirituality Defines Your Sexuality (Colorado Springs: Victor, 2006). 45.
 Ibid. 21
 Ibid. 31
 Ibid. 82.
 Ibid. 59.
 Ibid. 75.
 Daniel R Heimbach, True Sexual Morality: Recovering Biblical Standards for a Culture in Crisis (Crossway, 2004) 76-77.
 Ibid. 115.
 Helmet Thielicke, The Ethics of Sex (New York: Harper and Row, 1975), 37.
 Jones. 134.
 Ibid. 134-5.
 Daniel R. Heimbach, True Sexual Morality, 284.
 Ibid. 322.