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 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 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 (
Distinctions between the sexes
The male role
Males were not allowed to put on women’s garments (
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 (
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 (
The sex organs
With the exception of specific references to the female 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 (
Like the male organs, the female genitalia often were described in their relationship to the total body. In
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, 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 (
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 (
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(1966), Bk. IV, Ch. VIII.