The situational sexual ethics of the Bible

"The most interesting thing about sex in Bible," J. Harold Ellens insists, "is the fact that the Bible does not moralize sex." . . . The Bible resists our attempts to distill it into a universal rulebook because it's mainly a collection of stories and poems crafted over a span of centuries by many different authors, often with conflicting implications. When it comes to sexual mores, the Bible is actually full of "situational ethics." For example, Ellens notes, polygamy is the most common model of marriage in the Bible, and one can still make a strong biblical argument for polygamy in societies where women greatly outnumber men (such as in areas ravaged by war).

Driving home this point, Ellens cites the Old Testament stories where women, most notably Ruth and Esther, employ their feminine charms to seduce men for the furtherance of God's aims (and their own). Far from being condemned, these women earn nothing but praise from the biblical authors. It's ironic that Ruth is upheld as a role model for conservative Christian girls today. Instead of "waiting on God" for a husband, she spotted a good man, followed him home from a party, and jumped into bed with him—violating three "Biblical Rules for Dating" at once.

—Sam Torode (Books & Culture) on Sex in the Bible, by J. Harold Ellens.


Alex said…
Interesting analysis of Ruth! I think I'll bring this up to my more conservative friends to see if I can get them thinking outside of the box. But I have a guess at where you might be going with this line of thought: homosexuality, the topic of our times. The references against homosexual practice are across multiple authors both inside and outside across thousands of years. That's not to say it's not still situated in ancient Jewish culture, but it's an important consideration at least. Obviously, if it can be absolutely scientifically determined one day that homosexuality is by nature as opposed to nurture, then I think we will be hard-pressed to condemn homosexuals regardless of what is said in the Bible. Until then, it's going to be a toughy. For now, I think the church thinks too much about the practice and not enough about the person. Both are important but frankly, the church just needs to think more. The "Scandal of the Evangelical Mind" just might be that we only think about what theology means for the world from 11 to 12 on Sunday morning.