Monday, April 20, 2015

Sex and Violence in the Bible: A Recommendation

Joseph W. Smith III, Sex & Violence in the Bible: A Survey 
of Explicit Content in the Holy Book. P&R Publishing, 2014. 240 pages.

Things We Don’t Talk About
It was my junior year of college and we had just finished prayer group. A few of the guys were still in my room and for some reason the topic of relationships and marriage came up. Because my own relationship adventures had yet to be successful,  I was busy preparing a cup of Earl Grey and did not contribute to the conversation. One guy was going on about how he couldn’t wait to be married so he could stare into his wife’s eyes, stroke her hair, and cook her breakfast, etc. My friend Andrew quickly jumped in.
“I can’t wait to be married because I want to have sex!”

The room immediately went silent. Awkward tension filled the air. I laughed and sipped my tea. 


Christians rightly strive to abstain from sex before marriage. Looking forward to the day for sexual fulfillment isn’t a bad thing.  How the people in the room shuffled uncomfortably, though, was telling.

Here was a group college kids, shifting uncomfortably because one of them was refreshingly honest about something personal.  Sex is a catalyst. Some graphically indulge in it—it fills their conversation in a perverse way. Others, treat it like it is less than godly—necessary for procreation and maybe even enjoyment, but not something to be talked about.

Violence, like sex, is another reality of life looked down upon. I remember hearing a youth pastor telling a group of people that no Christian should ever watch Breaking Bad because of its glorification of vice. Anyone who’s ever watched Breaking Bad knows just how ridiculous and naive that statement is. Sure, Breaking Bad is filled with objectionable content—the violence and darkness of the drug trade—but without such content the story loses its punch. The whole point of Breaking Bad is that money isn’t worth the cost of that life. So in order to communicate that message, that life needs to be seen in all of its ugliness.


How should Christians view sex and violence? What about objectionable elements in entertainment? Are these things beneath Christians? Joseph Smith III has written a work to aid Christians in answering this question by examining their role in the Bible. Sex and Violence in the Bible surveys explicit content in Scripture. Instead of summarizing all of the content covered in the book—being as it itself is a summary—it may be best to list the chapters. That will give you a good idea of the data covered within. The book consists of three parts and a conclusion that spells out implications for how Christians should view these topics.

Part 1: “Uncovering Nakedness”: Sex
1—“Please Give me Some”: A Few Aphrodisiacs
2—“Covering His Feet”: The Man’s Body
3—“I Will Lay Hold of Its Fruit”: The Woman’s Body
4—“Your Shame Will Be Seen”: Disrobing and Nudity
5—“If They Cannot Exercise Self-Control”: Premarital Sex
6—“Be Drunk with Love!”: Intercourse and Marriage
7—“Your Lewd Whoring”: Adultery
8—“The Wages of a Dog”: Prostitution
9—“You Shall Not”: Bestiality, Voyeurism, Incest, and Homosexuality

Part 2: “The Blood Gushed Out”: Violence
10:—“I Will Drench the Land”: Blood and Gore
11—“Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth”: Beatings, Attacks, and Tortures
12—“He Violated Her”: Rape
13—“Wallowing in His Blood”: Dismemberment and Other Disgusting Deaths
14—“The Smoke of a Furnace”: Death by Fire
15—“And the Son Shall Eat Their Fathers:” Cannibalism
16—“This Abomination”: Murdering Children
17—“120,000 in One Day”: Mass Killings, Assassinations

Part 3: “Any Unclean Thing”—Other Blunt or Unsavory Material
18—“Unclean until the Evening”: Menstruation, Semen, and Other “Discharges”
19—“Wasting Disease and Fever”: Bowels, Boils, Tumors, and Lepresy
20—“Their Flesh Will Rot”: Vomit, Corpses, and Other Gross-Outs
21—“And the Dung Came Out”: Feces and Urine

Conclusion: “Think About These Things”

As you can see, Smith covers every objectionable element in Scripture. His coverage of issues is as frank as Scripture’s. In some areas, he devotes time explaining some euphemisms that time and culture have made unrecognizable. He also interacts with various scholars proposals concerning some things that are unclear. One example of this interactacton is Ham’s looking on his naked father, Noah. Some have suggested the Noah’s curse demands more than mere looking on Ham's part, but possible homosexual practice. Smith interacts with each scholar, weighing the strengths of their arguments and then settling on what makes most sense. His coverage of the incident between Ham and Noah is on pages 78-81, and to see what he believes occurred, you’ll have to read the book!

A Needed Work
Over the past year in my Bible reading, I’ve been swimming in the Wisdom Books—mostly Ecclesiastes, but with occasional stops at Proverbs, Job and Song of Solomon. I’ve been nourished by their humanness. Proverbs presents us with the “a,b,c’s” of wisdom. Job and Ecclesiastes gives us advanced courses in wisdom—a Christian realism of knowing God  as good but experiencing suffering in life. Song of Solomon is a love song bathed in the joy of sex.

As I’ve spent this past year studying wisdom, I've read books that may relate to my study. Sex and Violence in the Bible was one of those. Smith’s work has broadened my perspective. While I knew Scripture was filled with objectionable content (especially the Old Testament) I had forgotten how pervasive it was.

Joseph Smith has written a much needed work for Christians. Sex and violence are universal experiences. Its part of life. The Bible is not above it. God includes these elements in His holy book.

Concerning objectionable content in Scripture and its place in Christianity, Smith writes:

The Bible is, in fact, refreshingly matter-of-fact in its approach, freely acknowledging what we all know: these things are an important part of life, and by no means to be ignored or overlooked. We want a religion that is true not for some of life—for spirituality, worship and service—but for all of our experience. The wide range of Scripture passages on sex, violence, and other uncomfortable material helps us to see that the Judeo-Christian tradition is true for all of life, that is does not prudishly overlook or sidestep certain issues; rather it concerns itself—often quite closely—even with mundane bodily matters like menses, skin disease, and nocturnal emission. (216-17)

Our avoidance of sex and violence has made Christianity neat and clean, at least on the outside. It doesn’t allow for the real struggle that we all endure daily. This is, in part, due to our avoidance of objectionable content in Scripture. Smith writes:

If we insist on sanitizing our church services and Sunday school classes, and we never talk about the graphic content that so clearly depicts the corruption and hopelessness in the heart of man, then we should not be surprised at how few of us are able to discuss the sin and depravity in our lives.

Smith makes some very helpful conclusions about sex and violence. First, sex:

In the case of sex, I am convinced that the best antidote for our cultures obsession is a truly biblical embracing of marital sexuality: a commitment to enjoy sex within God's parameters, yes, but to enjoy it fully and physically, with all the delirious abandonment modeled for us in the Song of Solomon and in Proverbs 5. If joyful married sex is God's intention from the beginning—to be naked in unashamed—then let us show the world how satisfying this is, and draw it back from the brink of romantic self-annihilation. (220)
Next, violence:
In the case of gore and violence, let’s admit that these issues are real—they are constants in life, alternately repulsive and fascinating, neither to be prudishly imagined out of existence nor used as some sort of lewd entertainment by a culture that sometimes seems unable to find stimulation in any other way. (220)

Joseph Smith has done a great service to the church with this resource surveying explicit content in the Bible. It demonstrates to Christians the Bible’s realism. Christians need not adopt a Victorian attitude about sex or violence. They need to have realistic perspective. 


Rating:  Five Hatch Green Chiles out of Five: