The word sex does not appear in the Bible. However, the Bible contains numerous references to topics related to the subject and deals with matters related to sex with a mixture of frankness and caution. This article covers the overall Biblical teachings concerning the subject.
The Scripture|Scriptures reflect the cautious attitude toward discussion of the sex organs and related topics which was prevalent in ancient times. The poetic and imaginative nature of the Hebrew language and the Hebrew view of man resulted in the use of euphemisms which tended to conceal linguistically such things as the male and female organs, sexual intercourse, and reproduction. However, the subject of sex and related topics are treated with frankness in the Bible even though circumlocutions frequently were used to avoid direct reference to the sex organs or to sexual activities.
The Biblical teachings concerning sex manifest a high ethic, especially when contrasted with the prevailing views of sex in the same period of history. The sex roles are distinguished and a division of labor commensurate with each role is apparent. However, women gained considerable status over time and the Christian view of sex allowed for mutual respect among the sexes coupled with a Monogamy|monogamous view of marriage, which was based upon the original relationship of the first created beings. Sexual activities during both the Christian and Old Testament eras were discussed with caution and candor coupled with relative frankness. Apart from positive instruction regarding the responsibility for procreation, sexual instruction in the Bible was largely related to prohibitions which would discourage participation by the people of God in those sex practices exhibited in the surrounding nations.
The teaching of the Old Testament concerning sex
The Old Testament contains the major portion of the Biblical teaching concerning sex. Reference is made to distinctions between the sexes in the creation account in Genesis; and the Pentateuch contains numerous commandments related to sex and sexual acts. The narrative portions of the Old Testament contain references to normal and abnormal sexual activities. Portions of the wisdom literature deal with sex in relation to such diverse themes as married love (Song of Solomon) and the dangers of promiscuity (Proverbs). The Bible states that Old Testament teachings were included in the Scriptures not only for the purpose of conveying redemptive truth but also for the “instruction” of believers through the centuries (1 Cor 10:11). The Old Testament references to sex seem to fall largely under the latter category.
Distinctions between the sexes
The male role
Males were not allowed to put on women’s garments (Deut 22:5); and Jewish males were distinguished from other males in the surrounding nations by the rite of circumcision (Gen 34:14-17). Apparently Jewish males were to be distinguished in the wearing of their hair from females (1 Cor 11:14) and from the surrounding nations (Lev 19:27). While particularly short hair was not the standard of distinction between Israelites and other nations or males and females in ancient times, the cutting of the side locks of the hair by males was forbidden (Lev 21:5). Possibly during the Diaspora, the Jews adopted the Rome|Roman custom of closely cutting the hair of males. This feature distinguished them from females; although many Jews of the Diaspora continued to allow their side locks to grow long, even though they began to cut their hair more closely. Hebrew women took pride in their long and attractive hair (2 Kings 9:30 and Song of Soloman. Males were to be distinguished from females by not wearing their hair in a fashion equated with that of women.
Ancient Israel was more patriarchal and tended to give decided favor to the male role. Apparently males were afforded a number of privileges under this system that were not afforded to females.
The female role
According to the creation account in Genesis, the first female, Eve, was created from the rib of Adam (Gen 2:21, 22). Prior to the creation of Eve, Adam was referred to as being without a “helper fit for him” (2:20). According to Genesis, the creation of woman apparently served a utilitarian purpose as far as man was concerned. Adam called his wife “woman,” a term which signified her being taken from man (2:23). Eve, the first female, was enticed to partake of the forbidden fruit and gave the same to her husband Adam (3:1-6). Following this act, the male and female apparently became aware in a sexual sense of the physical differences between them (3:7). The fall of man is said to result in a divine judgment on both the male and the female sexes. For the male, a different form of work would result and for the female, an increased sense of pain in childbirth and a heightened or dependent sexual desire for the male was to be expected (3:14-16).
The role of woman in the earliest days of recorded history generally was considered to be that of bearing and mothering children and of serving as a helper to the male (4:1, 2, 16-25). Gradually, the role of the female in the Old Testament became more sophisticated and over time women seemed to assume a greater share of the activities originally ascribed to males. The describes a virtuous wife as one who engaged in: spinning wool and making linen from flax; purchasing real estate; planting Vineyard|vineyards; and in the sale of linen garments (Prov 31:10-31). At this point in Israel’s history, such activities were considered desirable as far as women were concerned and were placed on a plane next to that of bearing and rearing children.
The sex organs
With the exception of specific references to the female Breast|breasts and womb, a similar approach was taken to the female genitalia. The female breast is referred to in several instances in the Old Testament (Job 3:12 and Song of Solomon 1:13; 4:5; 8:10). Infants are spoken of being “given suck” from the female breast and the womb is specifically mentioned in connection with birth and parentage (Gen 25:23; 38:27; Prov 31:2 and Isa 49:5). However, the more precise terms which are used today to identify the female genitalia were not used by the Hebrews in the Scriptures. Rather, generalities and euphemisms seem to be preferred.
Like the male organs, the female genitalia often were described in their relationship to the total body. In Deuteronomy 28:57, Israelite women were predicted to eat their children during a future siege and the afterbirth is referred to as coming out “from between her feet.” As mentioned, some interpret such usage of the word “feet” to refer to the entire lower part of the body including the genitalia. Also, it was considered shameful by the Hebrews to expose to public view either the male or the female genitalia (Gen 9:21-23; Lev 18:6-19; 20:17; 2 Sam 6:20). With the exception of direct mention of the female breasts and womb, the Scriptures tend to avoid direct reference to the female sex organs and often use circumlocutions when referring to them.
In contrast to the surrounding nations, the Israelites possessed a lofty moral code even though they did not always live up to this ethic.
The teaching of the New Testament concerning sex
The major emphasis of the New Testament was on teachings related to evangelization and the establishment of the Church. For the most part, the Early Church seemed to rely upon the teachings of the Old Testament with respect to sex and the sex role. However, the New Testament is not silent about sex. When the subject is mentioned it usually is dealt with in relation to the spiritual life of the Church, and the total message of redemption as it related to the family and the individual.
The four gospels emphasize the teachings and deeds of Christ which had a messianic and redemptive significance. As a result, only passing mention is made of subjects related to sex. However, Jesus Christ|Christ was not silent in this regard.
During His earthly ministry, Christ referred to sex primarily in its relation to redemptive truth. The term sex, as such, was not used by Christ. Yet, He dealt with several problems which were related to sex.
Christ condemned adultery, fornication and lust, both outwardly (Matt 15:19, 20) and inwardly (Matt 5:27-32). He made reference to being a eunuch either by natural or human causes for the kingdom of heaven’s sake (Matt 19:12). Christ forgave the woman taken in the act of adultery (John 8:1-11) and frequently referred to virgins and marriage in His Parable|parabolic teachings. In general, however, His teachings concerning sex and related topics were subservient to His teachings concerning redemptive truth.
The teachings of the Early Church concerning sex
The attitude toward sex prevalent among the early Christians reflected agreement with the highest moral ideals of the Old Testament and the spiritual ideals of Christ.
The Hebraic tendency to avoid direct reference to the sex organs and sexual intercourse persisted in the Early Church. For example, Paul referred to “our unpresentable parts” which were to be treated with greater modesty (1 Cor 12:23, 24); and the writer of Hebrews refers to the “bed” as undefiled when occupied by marriage partners (Heb 13:4). While the subject of sex is not discussed specifically in the New Testament, topics related to the subject frequently are dealt with by the Early Church. It seems that the early Christians adopted generally the views and teachings of the Old Testament concerning sex; and the Old Testament teachings related to the subject seemed to provide adequately for their needs with respect to sex instruction.
W. G. Cole, Sex and Love in the Bible (1959); R. Pattai, Sex and Family in the Bible and the Middle East (1959); The Standard Jewish Encyclopedia (1959), 1693, 1924, 1925; O. Piper, The Biblical View of Sex and Marriage (1960); R. Marcus, tr., The Antiquities of