I've been reading through and teaching the Epic of Gilgamesh with the 7th graders at CCA, and it's had me spending a lot of time in the Old Testament. In many ways, it's the typification of the worldview of those not belonging to the covenant: the glorification of man and his greatness, and the desire to "make a name" for ourselves.
As I've been studying, things I've been reading started connecting with other, previously unrelated trains of thought. I have the following question: does Scripture actually teach that all sexual activity outside of marriage constitutes adultery? Or, more broadly, is any kind of sexual activity aside from normal marital relations automatically immoral?
The standard Sunday school answer is a resounding "Yes", but somehow I wonder.
Before anyone asks, this isn't an attempt to justify any behavior on my part. I've got none to apologize for no matter how you slice it. But as I look on our culture, especially our Christian culture, which is entirely obsessed with sexuality and deeply hypocritical about it, part of me wonders if the restraints placed upon sexual activity are entirely sane.
The commentary in Scripture on the laws indicates that if a married person has an extra-marital affair, they are generally to be killed except in the case of rape, wherein the victim is held guiltless. But for people who are not married, it doesn't seem to be as big a deal. The key passage seems to be Exodus 22:16, which isn't even part of the long list of sexual no-nos. Those lists seem to be pretty non-negotiable, and seem to refer back to uses of sexuality that are entirely beyond the pale: extra-marital affairs, bestiality, incest, and homosexuality (come on, it's in there, at least in Levitucus). But for general purpose "normal" sexuality, there doesn't seem to be much commentary.
Let's look at the punishments for sexual immorality. For married people, it's pretty much the death penalty, full stop. For the above list, it's also death. But for non-married people engaging in "normal" sexual activity? Well, if a man seduces a virgin, he has to compensate her father for the loss of income he'd experience as his daughter is now "damaged goods", but there isn't any comment on that. The verse, Ex. 22:16 is in a passage of Scripture detailing protections for the poor and other social justice concerns, not in a discussion of sexuality.
Am I missing something here? Oh, that's right, the Sermon on the Mount. But wait. The word is, again, "adultery", and the intention seems to be that the heart's intentions are at least as significant than the outward action. If non-prohibited sexual activity among non-married people isn't wrong, the injunction doesn't apply. Paul's reference to "not even a hint of sexual immorality"? Again, if it isn't immoral, he's not talking about that.
If the intent of the commandment is the preservation of marriage vows and the integrity of the family as the basic unit of human society, that's one thing, but it doesn't necessarily have to be the blanket sexual prohibition that it's generally understood to be.
In a related train of thought, Josiah recently had a post on polygamy, where it's pointed out that the patriarchs and Judean kings had multiple wives yet were not reprimanded for it. I don't think it follows from there that we're to embrace polygamy, but it is worth noting that God thought Bathsheeba was a huge deal (taking another man's wife and killing him to cover up for it), but having lots of wives wasn't. And the argument that God was just making allowance for ancient cultural practices is bogus: God entirely reshaped Jewish culture from the ground up and has never had much respect for purely human institutions. When he wants something to be different, he says so. Obviously, polygamy isn't a violation of the commandment against adultery, yet the commandment is still used as an argument against it. If that's an improper application, might other common applications also be wrong?
Thoughts?Posted by ryan at September 22, 2005 8:21 PM