Sex & the Bible


Following on from my thesis about Homosexuality and the Bible (q.v.), let us examine some aspects of the broader issues involved with sex in general. We have often heard the supposèd argument that modern society is obsessed with sex. However, as we examine the full range of historical literature, the intensity of polemic debate and the depth of morally-based legislation, we find that in fact it is the Church which has been obsessed over the subject. They are the ones who more than any other force in our world have wanted to tell us what we can and can not do with ‘those things down there’ and with our relationships. They have had a unique and disturbing fascination with our genitals. Their fervent desire to say, ‘Do this, don’t do that,’ speaks loudly of a fixation. Our interest in the subject has often been merely a reaction to this: the more that the Church, or any other body for that matter, tells us how to behave, the more that we wish to indulge in it. Much of our obsession is the result of their obsession!

The origins of opposition to sex

The Church had been posed a very simple question: If Adam and Eve had introduced death to themselves by disobeying God’s instruction not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, how is it that all of us also die, when we have never been given the same choice? The religious conclusion drawn was that this sin, the ‘Original Sin’ as they called it, must have been inherited through the flesh. And if this is so, it must be the act of sex which feeds this death from one generation to the next. And in the naïve, early theological mind, this meant that the act of sex itself was as sinful as the act or omission which created the sin and death in the first place: this was totally illogical![1] [This note is at the end of this section, not at the end of the document.] In our modern theological axiology we no longer consider sin to be a state which is inherited, but rather the ‘separation from God’ as the result of a choice to move away. Paul himself says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23); he does not say, ‘All are sinners…” Jesus himself says, “Go forth and sin no more,” a statement about actions. (For this reason, we do not consider young children to be innately sinful, as they did in the Victorian period. Jesus said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, for of them is the kingdom of Heaven,” which would imply that sin is an adult situation of moral choice based on an awareness of that choice: thus, the real nature of the Fruit of the Tree.) And this is why we havein fact been given the same choice as Adam and Eve, because the fruit of the Tree was not a physical fruit but a metaphor about individual choice, blindly to accept God’s directions over moral issues or to base these matters on our own understanding, an understanding given to us by that Fruit. Freedom from sin is a thing that we choose to do to be close to God by righteousness or not to be: there seems to be nothing ‘inherited’ about it!

In the Jewish frame of mind, to die often did not mean in a physical sense anyway, but rather to be separated from God. If a person was ‘dead’, it meant ‘dead to God, and therefore to us’, in exactly the same way that we will say, ‘He is dead to me!’ Thus, the story of Lazarus is now considered by many to be metaphorical, returning him to the ‘living’ relationship with God and the community of believers, not an actual physical revitalisation.Scientific theology now holds that all things die anyway, that when God set up the natural processes of the universe, the physical perished, but the spirit was kept alive by the intervention of God. (This is why at the time of the Christchurch earthquake, the head of the Anglican Church stated, “This is not an Act of God. it is an act of the world.”) The Bible says that “the soul of the sinner shall die,” which implies that everything, even the soul, perishes unless a relationship with God maintains it: thus ‘the reward of the saved is eternal life”. No act of sinning introduced death to the animals, and yet they also die! Therefore, God’s admonition that “on that day thou shalt surely die” refers to a spiritual separation, and that there is no longer the guarantee of God’s unconditional relationship and support: we must find our way back to God to reclaim that support. It is not a generic or universal death, covering even the animals, because God says, “thou shalt surely die” and not ‘everything shalt surely die’. Therefore, while all things die, the specific death in the Garden can only apply to that which Adam and Eve personally brought upon themselves, i.e. the death of their special spiritual relationship with God. And this is the sin which is perpetuated individually throughout time! (We might consider that a righteous and just God would not punish the animals with death for the sin of Adam, however, God does punish beings for the wrongdoing of others. While all men are punished for the sin of Adam and all women are punished for the sin of Eve, because theoretically we do get to make the same choice as they did, the Bible also tells us that all snakes were to be punished because the Devil chose the form of a serpent to tempt them, and God authorised the extermination of all the Benjaminites because one of them did a wrong to a Jewish woman.)

Sadly, even though our understanding of natural mortality has changed, we have not deleted its ancient connection to the idea that sex, as the means of physical continuation, is sinful. The primary notion, that death comes from sin and sin is inherited through sex, led to a secondary notion, that sex is therefore sinful, despite the above-mentioned illogic of it. However, when the original notion was amended, that now sin is the result of a choice to separate from God, we do not amend the secondary notion: we still hold that sex is wrong. ‘Sin is inherited through the flesh, therefore sex is wrong’ used to be the slogan of the day. Nowadays, ‘Sin is a separation from God, therefore sex is wrong’ no longer makes logical sense. If this were not so, how would we answer the question, ‘Why is sex a sin at all?’ After all, it is just something that we do, and something very necessary at that! What is so special about sex and our genitals that we think that God has a special set of rules about them.

But the Church also condemned sex as a part of political control. You get to control the masses if you control their access to pleasure. If sex is seen as the reward for righteousness, and is only allowable under a strict set of criteria, the masses become willing to submit to those criteria to achieve what in all other animal life and in many other human communities is a natural desire. ‘I really want to have it, so I had better follow the rules, because if I do not follow the rules, I will not get it and, the Church tells me, God will punish me!’ The Church has set up an unnatural attitude to sex for the purposes of power and of political and social control.

[1].    The argument that if A is sinful and B is sinful, whatever function led from A to B must also be sinful, is utterly illogical. Logic in fact tells us that if a premiss A is false and a conclusion B is false, the only way to guarantee a deductive cause and effect is if the function X is TRUE: if it were false, the conclusion could go either way, depending on the scope of the falseness. The English proverb that ‘Two wrongs do not make a right’ can actually be DISproved by logic. If the mathematical statement 4 x 2 = 8 is true, and each of the elements in it is true, but we wrongly insert –4 into the first premiss, a conclusion of –8 is only true if the function (x2) remains true. If we falsified both the first premiss and the function, e.g. –4 x –2, we would get a true conclusion: thus, two wrongs DO make a right. But the only way to guarantee that a wrong premiss MUST produce a wrong conclusion is if the function remains the right one! There is the sine qua non argument: if you continue the argument that sex is still wrong because WITHOUT IT the sin-death would NOT be perpetuated, you enter a zero function, in which you do not get to reproduce AT ALL! And that defeats the entire process, since you also get a zero conclusion!


The opposition to masturbation is based on the story of Onan in Genesis 38. Judah had a son called Er, who was killed by God before he had the chance to have any children: he had supposedly “offended God”, but the offence is not identified. Under the Leviratic law of the Jews, Onan, as the next brother down the line, was obliged ‘to marry’ his sister-in-law and to produce an offspring, which would be deemed to be the child of Er. (This sense of ‘marry’ was more in the sense of ‘to take as if a wife’ and did not exclude the potential for the man to have an actual wife of his own.) Instead of fulfilling the latter part of this obligation, to produce a child, Onan “spilt his seed on the ground” (38:9), and so God also killed him.

0For centuries, the Church had held that this was a condemnation of masturbation and had taught us that such an act, often referred to as Onanism, would lead to our death. The problem is that if this were a sin, if God punishes us for this sin by death, and if God is known for his consistency, this earth would be riddled with dead people and the species would not have survived after the very next generation! So, in the nineteenth century the Church, recognising the ubiquity of this act, even among its own clergy, modified its stance. Now, it seems, the sin was coitus interruptus, sexual withdrawal. But again we might ask, Where are all the bodies? For while withdrawal is less common that masturbation, it is not a complete unknown, and God would still have to be consistent in his punishment. Even if this occurred in only one in every thousand couples, that is still over 213 million bodies since the origins of the modern human.

So what was the sin of Onan? Since any child produced by this Leviratic union would be the offspring of his deceased older brother, complete with all of the privileges of primogeniture, it may have been no more than gross disrespect for his brother’s memory and rights. It was disrespect for his father; it was disrespect for the Law. This ‘disrespect’ was a key ingredient in many of the Jewish rules, especially those which supposedly derive from God. (E.g ‘If a stranger comes you’re your midst, you must treat them as one of your family.’) In other words, if the literal word of the Bible were true, the enduring question still remains, ‘Is it the spilling of the seed itself or is it what this spilling represents, i.e. gross disrespect?’ Is God going to kill someone just because their orgasm is not fulfilled in a certain place, within the vagina? Perhaps Onan did this because he was very ugly and unlikely to obtain a wife of his own, and therefore as long as his sister-in-law did not get pregnant, he could get free sex with her as often as he liked. (We always make the presumption that everybody Jewish in the Bible was innately attractive. We also forget that the wife only had to submit herself to these Leviratic obligations until an heir was born, after which she could withdraw her services, and he could take on a wife of his own.) We might also query whether Onan himself was killed for ‘spilling his seed’ at all, or whether this too was a presumption, since to the best of our knowledge, God never wrote a letter to anybody explaining his actions: Onan died mysteriously, and then they tried to find some rationale for this. Really, does God kill you just because a bit of sperm ends up on the ground?! Doesn’t God have better things to do than to worry about our spoof? How would they have known that this was the reason? The fact that both brothers died mysteriously may imply a genetic ailment. Whenever people died for no apparent reason, the Jewish people always described it as ‘God killed him’ or ‘he offended God’, and without the knowledge of modern genetics, they would have been none the wiser. Certainly with the level of close interbreeding taking place, this was a strong possibility (not within the closer proscriptions, but mating with too many cousins can be a problem, especially over a long period of time).

In the early days, the Church was not overly concerned with manustuprationum, as they called it, the ‘defilement by the hand’; it became fervent only in the 1700s. Indeed, Henry VIII was known to masturbate every day, and many members of royalty and the nobility instructed their menservants to masturbate each morning to stop their ‘harassment’ of the ladies-in-waiting. Literature of the time is full of passing reference to it without a single word of condemnation. In 1715, the first publication on the subject, Onania, came out, written by the spurious Dr Bekker. We consider him ‘spurious’ because the word ‘bekker’ is Old English for a person who obligingly gave a nod of consent to a proposition; there are also no corroborating documents for his existence, from birth records, residential records or medical registers. It is in this publication that we first learnt of the supposèd ‘evils’ of masturbation, including problems with digestion, physical deformity, excessive hairiness, impotence, infertility, blindness, madness, criminal propensity, physical and muscular degeneration, the draining of one’s very life-force, of which we were supposed to have only a limited amount to begin with, and even death. With the Church condemning masturbation as a death-incurring sin on one side and a ‘doctor’ with his doomsday scenario on the other, it was easy to slip this into the social condemnations of the time. But the Catholic Church had recommended physical punishment of children caught masturbating up to as recently as 1978.

The Church also tried to convince us that masturbation was stealing God’s potential children, but this was downplayed by the Church by the late nineteenth century when no less than six counterarguments were proposed: a) abstinence also stole potential children, b) so was the prohibition of marriage among the clergy, c) the proto-socialistic principle that the loss of a potential is not the same as an actual loss had gained widespread popularity and was difficult to counter, d) the world’s population was already considered, even back then, to be out of control, and the suggestion to “be fruitful and multiply” was clearly not being adversely affected, e) the argument was encouraging the disclosure of too many cases of adosculation, of non-penetrative pregnancy, which challenged the Church’s claim about virgin conception, and the only way to stop this line of disclosure was for the Church to shut up about masturbation, and f) it flew in the face of the waning belief in a ‘miraculous God’, that if God had the ability to make you not pregnant when you wanted to be, he had the ability to make you pregnant even if you did not want to, therefore sex and sperm themselves were useful but scarcely necessary to a God of miracles. (This last point is also used against the Catholic prohibition on contraception.) In the twentieth century, two further arguments arrived, g) social research had noted that masturbation had had no diminishing effect on producing children and that indeed men who had masturbated regularly tended to produce healthier children, and h) more recently it had been discovered that we produce 200 million of these sperm at a time and that sperm therefore had a built-in redundancy already. (I actually heard a priest damn masturbation as “genocide”, because 200 million lives were extinguished. I pointed out that God enacted the genocide by not allowing the woman to have 200 million pregnancies at once.)

In modern theology, masturbation is not considered a sin but simply ‘wrong’, since the modern phrase that is en vogue is that it is ‘abusing the temple of the Holy Spirit’. But this only holds true if we have defaulted to the classical notions that sex must imply abuse and even that pleasure must imply abuse, stemming from the archaic idea that because Jesus died for us, how can we possibly allow ourselves any pleasure in life, or that anything sexual outside of a strict, ‘authorised’ regimen is abuse. But even the phrase ‘abusing the temple of the Holy Spirit’ is not Scriptural: it was formulated to sound scriptural, but that was simply manipulative!

Another modern argument is that sex should be held off and abstained as a ‘special gift’ on one’s wedding night, but since a) many, if not most people do not consider masturbation to be ‘an act of sex’ to begin with because either there is no other person involved or there is no level of emotional intimacy, and b) if a gift is worthwhile, there is nothing inappropriate with having one of them yourself, this ‘special gift’ invention does not seem to hold much water. A third argument is one of restraint, that supposedly we lose something of our human dignity if every time that we are randy, we race for the bedroom or the toilet and whack ourselves off. Certainly, a level of control of our animal responses is philosophically worthy of consideration, but the opposition to masturbation tends to be more absolute than that: if there is nothing wrong with a little indulgence here and there, now and then, in the areas of food, clothing, personal possessions, entertainment and so much more, the idea that one should never masturbate seems to revolve around the notion that a very special set of rules must be applied to the human genitals. This leads on to the next point:

The question has often been posed, ‘Why would God create humans who are sexually responsive from the age of around ten, if we are not supposed to have sex until we get married and the average age for doing that is 25, some fifteen years later?’ Is it an ‘intelligent design’ to make something ripe for usage and leave it redundant for sixty percent of the time before you are allowed to use it? Indeed, we are at our sexual prime at the age of eighteen. The Church took into consideration neither ‘biological acceleration’ nor the changes in social convention. While 150 years ago, the average boy was going through puberty between 14 and 17, now puberty occurs as young as ten. And while marriage could be solemnised as young as seven (until the Marriage Act 1923 in New Zealand), now, completely with the support of the Church, it is 15, and we are not encouraged, also with the support of the Church, to marry until we are in our twenties. The Church dictates that we should have this strong biological response and suffer through it for decades, simply because the Church has invented an impractical and anti-natural set of rules about this one unique arena of life!

Again, however, we also look at the politics of the Church. If control of sex was about the control of the masses, they had to clamp down even on the one thing that everybody can do, with or without another person, anywhere and any time that they liked.

Sex before marriage

How many times does the word ‘wedding’ occur in the Old Testament? The answer is not once: there is not a single occurrence of the word! It only occurred about the time of Christ as a Jewish adoption of the heathen customs of the Romans and other neighbouring cultures. (There was nothing wrong with something being heathen in itself, as long as it was not idolatrous.[1] Christ himself allegedly attended a wedding because even though it was a ritual from the Romans, there was nothing idolatrous in it to the extent that the Old Testament law would have forbidden it.) However, the word ‘marriage’ occurs twenty-four times in that testament, referring to twenty different relationships. It is the rendering of one of two Hebrew words, châthan and ownah. The word châthan, the more common, means ‘to make marriage’. It was an agreement not between a man and a woman, but between the fathers: one father would ‘make marriage’ to another father by the giving away of the daughter of one to the son of another. (There are also some archaic documents which indicate that if the fathers found it commercially or politically expedient to do so, they could give away the son of one of them to the sonof the other, if that was the inclination of the children. There seems to be no evidence that this ever happened with the eldest child, because the desire for the line of the ‘first-born’ was so strong in Jewish culture that it often overrode everything else. It is interesting to note, though, that technically we can say that in the Old Testament there were no marriages made between men and women, that all of these marriages were between men!)

When the situation did not include any form of ‘giving away’ in order ‘to make marriage’, the alternative word ownah was used. It means ‘to live together in sexual cohabitation’. According to Jewish custom, as soon as two people were betrothed, they were in the eyes of the community ‘married’. To be betrothed, all that one needed to do was to let it be known that one had an interest in that person and to start having sex. A formalised ceremony, or a formalised agreement between the fathers, was not a necessity, only an occasional option. Thus, Mary was married to Joseph because they were betrothed and Mary did not seem to have any close family other than her cousin, Elizabeth. But under the principle of ownah, when two people were living together and having sex, by that very fact they were ‘married’. In other words, the sex did not follow marriage: the sex is what made it the marriage! A wedding was only there if you wished to celebrate!In Europe, the Church was the body which authorised legal marriage. In its earlier days, it tended to give permission to marry only if there was a contractual need to deal with property or the legitimacy of a line of descent, and this is because only the Church kept records. Common people had no such need, and so they never sought permission to marry, and the Church never encouraged them to do so. In England in the Jacobean period (1600-1625), over 70% of unrelated adults living in the same house were not married to each other: and these were the ‘Puritanical’ times! In order for two people to be deemed to be ‘married’ in common law, all that they would need to do is gather a few known witnesses from the public and declare that they are ‘an item’. (This application of the ‘witness’ remains to this very day.) Sometimes a local clergy might be present, true, but they were not needed; and if they wished to bless the couple, all well and good – a blessing is always nice! Sometimes also, the friends (and in small towns, the community) might have a party: again, it was nice, unnecessary and not a formality. In the cities, where people often did not know the broader community, all that they would need to do is go to a local tavern where there would be lots of witnesses and declare before the landlord that they were ‘an item’. Thus, publicans by law had to be “good Christian persons of sound reputation”, as they might be called upon to aver that these two people were in fact joined. Publicans were among the first Justices of the Peace. Similarly, to divorce someone, the two people would again present themselves to the public before a publican landlord and make such a declaration. In common law, the public, not the Church, were the greater authority, and this in fact gives us the term, even still in use today, of a ‘common law marriage’. The first time that legally a marriage had to be solemnised by a member of the clergy in a church to be deemed legitimate was with the Marriage Act of 1780. So, this idea that we have, that ‘traditional marriage’ is an ancient ritual, is pretty much of a myth: it is little more than 230 years old. What we have done is taken a very modern, essentially twentieth-century attitude to marriage, and to the perspective of love, sex and marriage being connected, and we have backdated it, dictating that this has always been so, when it has not! The idea that we would marry a woman that we loved is little more than 150 years old, other than in romantic legends, and even in those legends, one tended to love women that they had not even met but had merely seen from afar! ‘She is so beautiful and fair that I love her’ was a common romantic legend, but one which was not lived out in the practicalities of the real world, and one for which the word ‘love’ had a vastly different meaning from that of today. Basically, modern heterosexuality is a modern invention!

With this knowledge, we now see that the idea of ‘no sex before marriage’ is also fairly much of a myth, since ‘marriage’ itself has a virtually unusable meaning. The Bible does not seem to support it at all. It is at this point that we get a potential biblical dichotomy, a conflict or contradiction between Pauline theory and Christine statement. Paul said, “I should prefer that you remain as I am [i.e. single]. But if you can not contain your lust, then by all means get married” (1 Cor. 7:8-9). Paul’s meaning of “married” is still the non-formalised coupling of the Jewish community. His comment is about lust, not about formalities. Paul strongly disapproved of marriage, and like the Catholic Church, felt that this vague thing called ‘marriage’ should not be entered into based on something as shallow and flippant as love, but to steer lust and by that act, to procreate children. Indeed, all biblical references to sex are for the purpose of producing children: no one ever ‘made love’ in the Bible. Christ on the other hand came out with one of the most misquoted lines in the Bible. We are told that he said, “Whoever looks on another woman to lust after her, has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28). What it actually says is “Whoever looks on a woman…,” not ‘on another woman’. The operative phrase is the dependent infinitive, ‘to look to lust’. Furthermore, biblically the term “adultery” meant ‘impurity’ or ‘uncleanness’, and in order to have the modern meaning, it had to be specifically identified as ‘sexual adultery’, which the Bible does not say. Christ is saying that we should not lust after any woman, but supposedly that loving her is more important. This is highlighted by the fact that Christ aims the comment solely at men. Perhaps what Paul is really saying is, Yes, Christ is right, we should love above lust, but if that is not working, if you can not control it, then get married. In this way, we see that love, lust and marriage are all separate issues: lust for its own sake should be through a form of marriage, in the vaguest sense of the times, rather than promiscuously thrown about with strangers, but love and sex do not seem to have any prerequisite of marriage: to Paul, ‘marriage’ should in fact be avoided. Marriage only became universally accepted in European culture as a way to formalise a power and property structure.

The concept of opposition to lust for its own sake is a big thing in the New Testament, particularly with Paul, but there seems to be nothing opposed to the notion of sexual intimacy when love, caring, compassion or familiarity are involved, processes which are not prerequisites for sex but which do help us to ensure that when we do have sex, it is not simply thrown around willy-nilly. Our belief that sex must take place after marriage exists solely because that is what the Church has continuously told us for a very long time, but there is nothing biblical to support it. There is nothing to say that humans have two separate worlds, one is the ordinary world in which we do ordinary things, and the other is the world of sex and of our genitals, in which a whole new and unique set of rules apply. The Church has been fixated on sex as a controlling mechanism and has invented whatever theories best suit that purpose. Indeed, even the idea that one should only have sex with someone that they love is a by-product not even of theology, but of nineteenth-century psychoanalysis, which proposed the theory that sex is not a physical act but a psychological act, and therefore with emotional consequences. The public have adopted that stance only since the end of that century, because scientists proposed that idea and the Church found it useful to adopt it. Prior to that, sex was something that you did, not something that you felt: there is no literature anywhere which indicates that sex had anything to do with anything emotional or psychological.

In the modern theology, Christians try to sweep all of this argument aside with a trite neologism that, again, sex is a ‘special gift’ for one’s wedding night. However, this falls apart for several reasons. One is that, as mentioned above, marriage is such a vague and heathen thing, and the form which we have come to recognise is such a recent adaptation. Another is that if a gift is worthwhile, it should be given at the time when it feels best to give it, not simply at a formalised and ritualised point of expectation. A third point is that, as mentioned earlier, we are sexually ripe many years before we are encouraged to get married. Indeed, due to the complex social rules about heterosexuality, many people never get married and are therefore expected never to have sex at all, which seems counterproductive to being the product of an ‘intelligent God’ who told us to “be fruitful and multiply” without any instructions about any necessity for marriage. A fourth point is that the ‘special gift’ notion is a modern concept to sidestep the dissolution of the earlier arguments of the Church. In earlier times, sex was not abstained because it was a ‘special gift’ but simply because it was not allowed, it was banned, complete with severe penalties and consequences. They did it on their wedding-night because in the years since puberty, they were as randy as hell and physically as prepared as they would ever be! They would be idiots not to do it at the first opportunity made available to them! A fifth point is why must the ‘special gift’ that one gives on the wedding-night be sex, when it could be anything, other than for the fact that it had been banned, and when for 99.9% of the world throughout history marriage was contractual, often with people that you did not even know until that very day, and therefore for whom there was no inspiration ‘to give’ them anything?! Indeed, the very notion of love having anything to do with sex, or even with marriage, is a very recent cultural development. The Bible has no instances of anyone marrying out of love, certainly not of love in the romantic context of today.

(We might also point out the strange irony that the Church goes to a great extreme to point out to young people not to confuse love and sex, when they want to convince them not to have sex. ‘That is not really love, that is just lust!’ Yet on the other hand, they then tell us that love and sex are indispensably connected, when they want to organise how we do in fact get to have sex. It is a double-standard!)

[1].    Even the very Laws of Moses were not delivered by God but were simply adopted in bulk from heathen cultures: the Laws of Eshnunna, the pre-Babylonian Code of Lipit-Ishtar, the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi and the Middle Assyrian Laws. These were adopted by Moses because they were so very conservative and prohibitive, while he seemed to ignore totally the more liberal and progressive Laws of Nuzi (Iraq), which gave protections to wives, daughters, barren women and orphans, all of which are degraded in the Mosaic laws of the Old Testament.


We noted above that the comment about looking at ‘another woman’, used as an argument against adultery, is in fact false. The word ‘adultery’ itself derives from an old French word meaning ‘to break a vow or an expectation of propriety’. Thus Jeremiah 3:6-9 talks about the nation of Israel itself committing “adultery”, verse 9 even drawing a metaphorical analogy to masturbation with the phrase “with stones and sticks”: it is not the expected behaviour of the faithful, and there is not a man in sight! While often retaining an allusion to marriage (God gives Israel “her certificate of divorce” in verse 8), it is not an essential meaning. It retains this sense of an impurity of propriety as the word evolved into ‘adulterate’ and its negative, ‘unadulterated’ – to make impure, and free from impurities. When the Ten Commandments state “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” it therefore means ‘Thou shalt not do impure or unclean things,’ since the idea of extramarital affairs is already covered in the commandment, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife,” and there is little point doubling up on a single sin.

But we wonder about this narrow meaning of adultery when we examine the lives of the great and supposedly righteous patriarchs of the Old Testament. How many of them had not just one wife, but two, three or more? In the case of King David, hundreds! How many of them also had concubines and mistresses? It seems that the greater and the more righteous that one was, the more that they had beyond the single wife and no extras! Clearly, the righteous patriarchs themselves had a very different understanding of the commandment to what we do today. Non-monogamous relationships were not ‘adultery’ as long as they were pure, righteous and faithful.

Even the concept of monogamy is a very new thing. It is by far the minority perspective of societies throughout the world, and even biblically it can not be supported. It was developed by the later Jews and the Christian Church of the tenth century in order to deal with the problems of social control and of numerical imbalance. In order to keep society under control, the hierarchal structure placed men above women. But if one man had ten wives, this meant that there were nine men who had none. This further meant that without the burden of a family structure, they were more affluent and less controllable. But on top of that, since their sexual needs would have to be met, this of necessity would increase their reliance on prostitution or on homosexuality. The political structure would not allow either of these, and so strict monogamy had to be created to even out the imbalance, and a strict redefinition of adultery had to be reinforced. This was easy with the cementing of Ecclesiastic law which held (up to the 20th century in English law) that a wife was the possession of the husband, literally his chattels, and another man could be sued for damages if adultery took place. Ironically, while the lower class had no need for marriage, and more often did not marry, they were more successful at monogamy, sometimes having two or three partners in a lifetime, but only ever one at a time, and this was often based on the uncertainty about being able to get another partner and on the difficulty poor people had surviving on their own, and not on any moral submission. The middle and upper classes, by contrast, would often have only one spouse during their life, but numerous lovers on the side: as long as they had an heir to the property, to any title and to the lineage, no one gave a damn about their interlinear peccadilloes. Our concept of adultery has nothing to do with biblical principles, but with property and with ecclesiastical power.


The Bible, of course, has a lot more to say about sex that what is written here. From time to time I shall expand on my ideas and update this site, so I hope that you will return here from time to time. The basic principle seems to be that God would be the type of deity who does not really bother too much about such ridiculous things as what we do with our genitals, with whom, how often and whether they have been ‘dedicated’ to someone else. Only the Church seemed to have this obsession.

  1. Aidan Howard
    12/10/2011 at 10:35 am

    Good Site!

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