Biblical Sex and Beauty

Rachel and her husband Dan

This chapter from A Year of Biblical Womanhood could easily be a full book. In fact, I have some books on my shelf that are basically this topic, although I haven’t read through most of them in much detail. For this month of the project – February, appropriately – Rachel Held Evans decided to tackle the connected topics of beauty and sex. She went into it prepared to do such things as give her husband a “sex anytime” coupon (as well as other sex coupons she didn’t write down because her mother was going to read the book). Then she actually investigated 1 Corinthians 7 where that passage came from and realized that it isn’t really what it is saying. I’ll return to that idea in a minute. That was the theme for the month – most of what she had been told was biblical womanhood had no biblical basis so she ended up doing relatively little action after researching it.

My approach for this blog then will be a bit more scattered. I’m going to run through quickly what the Bible does say and what it doesn’t in terms of beauty and sex.

Staying Beautiful

The Bible does not say that women are to keep themselves beautiful for their husbands. I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered this, but apparently in many evangelical churches they teach women that it is their duty to keep themselves attractive and sexually pleasing to their husband. The reason why, of course, is to keep him from being tempted by somebody more attractive. At the same time, a woman couldn’t be more attractive to a different man than his wife is because then she would tempt him instead, so she is pretty much doomed either way.

In the Bible, a woman’s beauty is celebrated, but it is also clearly understood that beauty will not last forever. At some points we are told to celebrate the beauty of youth, but that doesn’t mean women are supposed to do everything in their power to retain that youth. Men are cautioned to stay away from prostitutes and other women who would tempt them. However, women are not told to make sure they are unattractive to everyone other than their husbands to whom they must stay as attractive as possible.

That other piece is something I have encountered a fair bit: women being told that it is essentially their fault if a man lusts after them. I’m guessing Rachel will go into this more in the Modesty chapter, but this is something that really bugs me as a man. I don’t really like being reduced to an animal that will rush to have sex with anyone who flashes a little bit of cleavage. If I go out and commit adultery, that is not my wife’s fault. It is mine. I do have moral agency for myself, thank you very much. Of course, from the woman’s perspective, it is at least as bad: they aren’t getting credited for all the men that don’t lust after all but they are getting blamed for every man who does. Let’s just agree that this mentality is harmful to everyone, please.

The Mutuality of Sex

Not too long ago the Christian blogosphere exploded, as it often does every couple of weeks over something or another. Jared Wilson over at the Gospel Coalition chose his words very badly, quoting Doug Wilson to say how things like Fifty Shades of Grey are a result of women sinfully not being submissive enough in sex. The language used was terrible, using words like “conquered” for what women are supposed to be during sex. After a while, Jared did apologize. I don’t think he meant to encourage marital rape, even if his poor word choice suggested that, although he was never really able to explain what he actually did mean to accomplish by the post as far as I saw.

It is this point where Rachel was originally going to give Dan sex coupons to be redeemed as often and at any time he wanted. This is basically what she had always been taught, at least, that it was her duty as a wife to give her body as often as requested by her husband. It didn’t matter if she was sick or in pain or just not feeling like it – it was his decision, not hers. When Rachel actually looked at 1 Corinthians 7, she realized that this isn’t biblical at all! It is a radically mutual passage. Check out this paraphrase from The Message:

It’s good for a man to have a wife, and for a woman to have a husband. Sexual drives are strong, but marriage is strong enough to contain them and provide for a balanced and fulfilling sexual life in a world of sexual disorder. The marriage bed must be a place of mutuality—the husband seeking to satisfy his wife, the wife seeking to satisfy her husband. Marriage is not a place to “stand up for your rights.” Marriage is a decision to serve the other, whether in bed or out.

Yes, The Message is a paraphrase, but the original text does convey the sense of mutuality as well. I like how this paraphrase explicitly says that the marriage bed is not the place to “stand up for your rights” such as the supposed right to have sex whenever and however we men want it.

Singleness

Jesus was single, assuming a couple of recent forged documents weren’t really on to something after all. Paul was single and taught that he wished everyone else could be the same. Jesus’ disciples were upset when he said that divorce should not be a casual thing, asking if it was better if they don’t marry to which Jesus replied, essentially, “ok, don’t.”

The Protestant fascination with marriage and parenting as the true “biblical” solution really has a lot more to do with history, I think. When the Reformation came about 500 years ago, the early Protestants were trying to separate themselves from the Catholics on as many points as possible. All Protestant groups agreed that it was fine for a priest/pastor to marry and have children. It quickly went to the far extreme where it was understood there was something wrong with you if you’re not married, even though Jesus and Paul taught and lived the opposite. But this also clearly has no basis in the Bible – you have to either see marriage and singleness as equal or exult singleness as higher like Paul did.

The Song of Songs Woman

The main subject of the chapter was the woman from Songs of Songs (alternatively, Song of Solomon). This woman is downright amazing. The themes discussed above were primarily drawn out of this amazing woman. She holds the most uninterrupted speech of any woman in the Bible. She initiates sex with her lover, not waiting to be told what he wants, by telling him he can enter her garden any time he wants among other great not-so-subtle metaphors. People make fun of her small breasts and she responds proudly about them being good enough for her and good enough for him. She loses her lover and goes out into the streets looking for him, not the other way around. Overall, some of the most beautiful words in the Bible are hers in the way she talks about her beloved. He does respond with compliments that in context were also beautiful, but she does the majority of the initiating. Let’s try to learn from women like this as well, not just the domestic suburban goddess that many conservatives hold up as biblical womanhood.

Buy on Amazon.ca:A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband Master

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.

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  • solarbuddy

    This is *such* a difficult area . . . yes, the Song of Songs woman is tremendously uninhibited–hooray!–but IMHO SoS is about 3 people, and the Shunnamite’s erotic reflections are all about her shepherd-lover back in Galilee, not the smarmy “Your neck is the tower of Lebanon; your hair like a flock of goats” routine that Solomon had found so effective on his usual conquests.

    Re: Christian women and staying beautiful–this is not so much a “biblical” issue as a practical one. Do Christian wives want to make their husbands happy? If not, then why not? (Naturally, it plays both ways–I work hard to keep trim.) While looks aren’t everything, in our media-rich world both sexes have been programmed to respond erotically to certain visual cues. Thank God my wife’s natural beauty has been so artfully extended through makeup and dress skills–it certainly makes it easier to remain faithful. Some of our friends (couples in mid-60’s) include handsome guys and totally-gone-to-seed-I’ve-given-up-on-weight/face/dress-the-works-and-besides-he’s-too-old-to-care wives. We *do* care! I’m just saying . . .

    • Interesting understanding of SoS. Honestly I haven’t studied it in enough detail to comment much on that aspect of it.

      I also agree that it is primarily a practical issue. The trouble is when some use it only as a weapon against women and then claim that the Bible commands it and therefore they have no choice. That’s the main critique here. I strive to be as attractive as possible for my wife just as you do for yours. That’s a great way to honour each other. As long as it is working both ways and as long as it is isn’t held up as a threat (e.g. if I cheat on my wife, it’s her fault for “letting herself go”) then I am all in favour of trying to be as attractive as possible for your spouse. There’s a huge difference between the two.

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  • Joe Dokes

    Men Believe
    They Are Allowed to Dominate Women?!?

    I have become alarmed and sickened
    at modern male “Christians”, and worse yet “preachers”, who teach that Yahweh
    allows and even instructs men to dominate women in every area and aspect of
    life, up to and including sexual intercourse in the marriage bedroom (or
    wherever their unrestrained proclivities may demand it).

    This selfish, childish, disobedient,
    and even satanic theory appears to have become epidemic throughout the “young
    turk” preacher set who all seem to fancy themselves the next great reformist,
    or enlightener, or televangelist con-man, or (fill-in-the-blank). I can only attribute this pandemic to one or
    more of the following:

    1.
    No attendance of a reputable Bible training institute
    that actually understands Hebrew

    2.
    Attendance of a reputable Bible institute and sleeping
    through Hebrew class

    3.
    Overactive testosterone levels that cause willful
    ignorance of Hebrew

    4.
    Quenching and Ignoring the Holy Spirit / Hagios Pneuma
    / Ruwach of Yahweh

    5.
    No conversion of mind or choice to obey Jesus, the
    Messiah of Yahweh

    6.
    Actually being an agent of the deceiver / destroyer who
    has taken the form of an “angel of light” and is really a demon in disguise,
    bent on destroying Christianity from the inside

    Yes, you read that correctly. I am accusing many of the
    new-preachers-on-the-block of really being servants of the devil and not being
    anything remotely close to a Christian servant/slave of Jesus, the living Words
    of Yahweh. If you believe I am hiding
    behind the safety of the internet and would not accuse you to your face you are
    very, very, VERY wrong. In May of 2008, I
    was in Iraq during Operation Charge of the Knights and walked through Basra,
    Iraq, with the 1st ANGLICO Marines as we liberated the city from
    Taliban, Al Qaeda, Hamas and Iran Army insurgents who were burning people alive. I think accusing a preacher-boy to his face
    would be a whole lot easier than that
    little “vacation.”

    Actually, you should be grateful I
    am not accusing you to your face. I have
    stepped up to quite a number of “preachers” after I heard them teaching lies
    and pretending it was the words of Yahweh.
    The last liar I confronted was in August, 2012, when he taught; and I
    quote:

    “If Rahab the lying whore” [he repeated
    that so many times I swear it gave him an erotic pleasure] “was not in the lineage of Jesus then Jesus never would have been born
    because it takes the DNA from both parents to create the child.”

    If that statement caused no alarm
    in your head you need to read it again since the Holy Spirit, who interprets
    scripture for His servants, is not active in your life. To explain:
    If Jesus had the DNA from both parents it means Jesus did not have a virgin birth. This man who pastors a huge, uber-mega-sized
    church in Porter Ranch, California, does not believe in the virgin birth of
    Jesus. I was nose-to-nose with that
    lying satanist immediately following the message. He dismissed me and continues to teach the
    lie. I was obviously not “persuasive”
    enough in my argument. Perhaps I need to
    study the argumentation methods of Paul-of-Tarsus vs. Peter / Barnabas a bit
    more. The real crime is that the satanic
    preacher of Porter Ranch is allowed to continue teaching that lie, that the
    people believe the lie, and he undermines the faith, and subsequently the
    salvation, of the entire congregation.

    Domination
    of Women is a Satanic Lie

    Whatever the reason is that caused
    this modern misogyny of dominating women must stop! If I MUST get nose-to-nose with you then I
    will, believe me. “Christians” in this
    country are becoming more and more Muslim by the hour. I truly fear that the illustration found in
    Romans 11:21 might actually be happening to the Gentile church. If so, count me among the Jews.

    It appears from the various blogs
    and other website based forums I have stumbled upon, that this new oppression
    of women by those pretending to be “Christian” men is based on the Genesis
    account of Yahweh’s curse on women after Adam’s disobedience against Yahweh’s
    command. I do write “Adam’s disobedience” since it was Adam who was given the command and was
    totally responsible to relay that command to Eve, thereby fulfilling Yahweh’s
    designed hierarchy of His created order.

    Those who disagree must read Genesis
    1:28-30 closely. Yahweh tells both Adam
    and Eve, obviously at separate times, the following only:

    1.
    Be fruitful and multiply

    2.
    Replenish the earth

    3.
    Subdue it and have dominion over the fish, birds and
    land animals

    4.
    Eat any herb
    and fruit of fruit trees you wish (no denial – only permission)

    Absolutely no mention was given by
    Yahweh to Eve about NOT eating the tree of knowledge. Yahweh gave that order to Adam and only
    Adam. Read Genesis 2:16-17 where Yahweh
    told Adam, before Eve was created, that Adam was not to eat the tree of
    knowledge. Yahweh never told Eve about
    the tree of knowledge but she knew about it since she is the one who answered
    the serpent and not Adam. Modern “man”
    will still let the woman take charge and answer the accuser instead of stepping-up
    and taking the lead, which is their created duty.

    After Adam acts like a punk-chump-jerk,
    he allows Eve to take the lead, fails to protect her from disobeying Yahweh,
    and then joins Eve in the disobedience Adam allowed her to commit in the first
    place. Wow, what a man. Yahweh has no choice but to punish these
    disobedient children. The form of that
    punishment is grossly abused by men since it is so horribly misunderstood. Yahweh told Eve:

    ‘ishshah, ‘amar, “rabah
    rabah `itstsabown herown
    `etseb yalad ben,
    teshuwqah ‘iysh mashal” (phonetically transliterated Hebrew
    – Gen. 3:16)

    The mechanical translation of that
    Hebrew statement into English says:

    “Mortal
    woman, I say, ‘increase, increase your worry in pregnancy to painfully create
    and birth a son, and you will desirously stretch out after a man to rule.”

    Nowhere does Yahweh say that a man
    will “rule over the woman”, which is
    to say “dominate” her. The very concept
    that male will rule over female in some dominant fashion cannot be supported
    anywhere in the Bible. Those who believe
    they are ordered to dominate women cannot point to Yahweh for those
    orders. Only the adversary of Yahweh
    desires to dominate.

    Those who claim Genesis 1:28 orders
    men to dominate women forget one very simple and glaring fact. Eve was told the exact same thing. Therefore, according to the screwed-up male
    translation of Genesis 1:28, women are ordered to dominate men. And this order happened while creation was
    perfect and before the failure of Adam to obey Yahweh. Does that mean Yahweh created Adam and Eve to
    each fight for domination over the other in the perfect earth He just
    finished? That is neither “good”, “very
    good”, nor perfection.

    The simple answer is “No.” Yahweh did not create strife, contention,
    argument, anger, bitterness or chaos.
    Those attributes come from the satanic Adversary, not Yahweh. To claim Genesis 1:28 orders men to dominate
    women is to call Yahweh a liar and agree with satan.

    Men Are
    Designed To Be Proactive and Lead Courageously

    Yahweh says that women will desire
    a man who will actually rule by taking the lead he was created for instead of
    letting Eve take the fault and even blaming her. Man will not dominate the woman since man is
    supposed to love the woman in the exact same way he loves himself and cares for
    himself. And even more importantly, man
    is supposed to love the woman in the same way Jesus loves her and is willing to
    die for her. If you will not take a
    bullet for her, you do not love her. In
    Iraq I was willing to take a bullet for people I never knew here in the
    U.S. How much more willing for someone I
    love?

    The way I read it, Yahweh’s curse
    to all women is what every woman cries over today and has cried over for
    centuries. That cry is, “Where are all the
    good men?!” This is the number one cry
    of women because men are so stupid. And
    they prove they are stupid by screwing up the words of Yahweh so they can abuse
    women on purpose. Even so-called
    “Christian” men want to abuse women and so they blame Yahweh for giving them
    the order to do it.

    Just like Adam, men still blame
    Yahweh for giving them the reason that causes disobedience instead of obeying
    out of love. In Adam, everyone
    dies. In Jesus, everyone can be made
    alive.

    Woman Was
    Designed To Help Man

    Does any man reading this even know
    what “help” means? I will tell you what
    it does NOT mean. “Help” does not mean that you tell the woman to “Get
    yo’ butt in that kitchen and make me a sammich!” That is called slavery you idiot. A woman is not your slave. She is not an automatic dish washer or
    sammich-maker. A woman is a child of
    Jesus, the Words of Yahweh. She will
    inherit heaven and is 100% equal with all men.
    All men who believe they are allowed to dominate women will be accused
    and convicted of abuse.

    In order for someone to help
    someone else, the person needing help has to be doing something. NO ONE can help someone who is doing
    nothing. If a man is doing nothing and
    demands the woman “help” him by doing dishes, clean house, or any other task,
    that man is an idiot. He is stupid. He is an abusive jerk who needs to be punched
    into reality.

    Yo!
    Man. If you want the woman to
    help you, then you must be doing something.
    If you want the woman to help cook then YOU must be cooking first. If you want the woman to help wash dishes,
    YOU must be washing dishes first. If you
    want the woman to help do laundry, YOU must be doing laundry first. Do you get the idea yet??

    If you still disagree then you need
    to study what Yahweh told 130 year-old Cain (Gen. 5:3) after he killed his
    little brother for being obedient. Get
    that? A 130 year-old man got mad at
    someone being obedient because he, himself, disobeyed Yahweh. What a putz.
    Here is what Yahweh told Cain:

    ‘im! Yatab! se’eth
    yatab! chatta’ah rabats
    pethach teshuwqah mashal
    (phonetically transliterated Hebrew – Gen. 4:7)

    The mechanical translation of that
    Hebrew phrase into English is:

    Yo! Do well!
    Elevate and do well! The
    consequence of failure is to crouch at an opening and desirously stretch out
    after ruling.

    Yahweh demands obedience, not
    sacrifice. He demands we “Elevate and do
    well.” If a man does NOT do well that
    man will desire to rule over and dominate women instead of loving them in the
    same way Jesus loves her and will die for her.
    The fact that men who pretend to be “Christian” choose to dominate women
    instead of loving them proves they are not “Elevating and doing well.” They are suffering the consequence of failing
    to obey Yahweh and desire to rule over and dominate women, not love them. Unfortunately, women are suffering from the domination
    of disobedient, sinful men and not experiencing unconditional love as Jesus
    wants to give them.

    But Yahweh
    Orders Women to Submit

    If you as a male-gendered idiot truly
    believes that Yahweh orders a women to succumb to your every whim then you have
    absolutely no idea what submit means. I
    was military. I know exactly what submit
    means. I spent many years submitting to
    authority, some good, some not-so-good, and some downright useless. When that authority became abusive I did NOT
    submit to it any longer. I visited the
    JAG office and removed the abusive authority.

    If you as a male-gendered idiot want
    to dominate the woman in your life you have become an abusive authority. Yahweh will crush you because He loves her
    more than you do. The problem is that
    the woman may suffer undue stress while you are being crushed. So, mister man, stop being a dominating,
    disobedient, sinful jerk and learn what Yahweh says about how to treat the
    woman in your life.

    By the way – she actually OWNS you,
    fella. You are HER property and she gets
    to tell YOU what to do and if SHE does not want YOU going to hang out with the
    guys tonight, then you do NOT go hang out with the guys – get it?? What do you mean you don’t believe that she
    owns you? Go read 1 Corinthians 7:3-4.

    Now you tell me… who is supposed to
    submit to whom?

    A Message
    to Women

    Women, your only recourse for these
    little boys pretending to be men is to pray.
    Pray, pray, pray – then pray some more.
    Yahweh gave you Ruwach, the Holy Spirit who is here to help you. The Holy Spirit can change these little boys’
    minds as easily as channeling water through a pipe. They are failing to protect you and love you
    just as Adam failed to protect Eve from being deceived by the serpent. Pray hard!

    Adam threw Eve under the bus by
    allowing her to take the first bite.
    After she did not fall down dead, Adam must have concluded it would be
    alright for him to eat it. After all,
    Yahweh must have been lying just as the serpent said He was. Eve was deceived by the serpent but she was
    forsaken and abandoned by the love of her life, Adam.

    Adam, however, chose to disobey the command he was given straight from the mouth
    of Yahweh who Adam knew was King. Adam
    also stood silent as he watched and allowed his wife, Eve, to be spiritually murdered
    by the serpent. Adam never stepped up to
    protect her even a little. Adam was the
    worst man ever and now we all pay the price.

    Please, please, please pray for
    us. I am not immune to being so stupid
    but at least I know how stupid I can be.
    These itinerate preacher-boys have NO idea how stupid they really
    are. What is worse is that they are
    teaching all other men-boys how to be equally stupid – and worse.

    A Final
    Note to Men

    For those of you who believe my
    translation of Genesis is “all screwed up” and that I “don’t know what I’m
    talking about” I challenge you to get a Hebrew Dictionary/Lexicon and do the
    research for yourself. Talk to a Rabbi
    or two for good measure. The English
    Bible is not terribly accurate when it comes to information about how Adam
    treated Eve and the repercussions that followed. This obviously began with King Jimmy (or
    before – probably before, as in… Nicaea) and no “man” has had the stones to
    call a bluff that has been around for hundreds or thousands of years.

    Why, that would mean hundreds of
    pastors have been teaching the wrong message for decades and would have to
    admit their mistake. It would mean
    Ph.D.’s may appear to not deserve their position or paycheck. Books and magazines would be subject to
    recall or revision and religious printing companies would lose money and
    prestige. Televangelists would face ridicule
    for their massive lies and network stock might fall.

    Since they all worship Mammon and
    not Messiah, since they all teach Tradition and not Truth, it must never change
    (sic). The temple money-changers are
    alive and well and living in the pulpits of the U.S.A. I pray that Jesus do the same to them as He
    did in Jerusalem.

    Since we all know men do NOT admit
    mistakes – or ask directions – change will most likely never happen. The well-established American religious
    system would rather teach a lie and destroy people than apologize and correct
    itself.

    Hey… preacher-boy… you really want to make a name for
    yourself? I think I know how you can do
    just that. But first, you need to become
    a man.

    Where are all the good men???

    Adonay Yahweh Elohiym, King Eternal
    with Supreme Strength, help us all learn the truth.