The Bible, and specifically the Old Testament, has a lot to say about sex. If you know where to look, you can find the origin of human sexual relations, an entire chapter of rules for sex and even an erotic poem. Yes, you read that right — the Bible has an erotic poem in it.
But with so much ancient text on the matter, it can be difficult to understand exactly what message the Bible offers when it comes to sex. Dig a little deeper into some of these texts below, and then learn even more with Dr. Bat Sheva Marcus in The Joshua Project path on Love and Sex in the Bible.
Sex Has Always Been About More than Procreation
In the very first book of the Bible, God creates man and woman after creating everything else — including the earth on which these humans would live. And then God says to the two people, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” (Genesis 1:28)
The Bible says this was more than a command or suggestion. It was a blessing. “God blessed them and said to them…” says the Scripture.
From the very beginning, then, you can see that sex was something special — a gift or blessing from God meant to bring these people together and support a fruitful, meaningful relationship.
Yes, one of the outcomes of sex can be the bearing of fruit, and God did want that for the first man and woman. He wanted them to multiply, as he later wants others to procreate and help create a people to worship and love the Lord their God. But many people take this passage out of the entire context of the story and point to sex as a function of reproduction only. The truth, though, is that Biblical sex is as much about pleasure as it is about making babies.
The second chapter in Genesis provides a deeper dive into the story of making man and woman. Genesis 2:18 says, “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’”
God created Eve to be with Adam as a companion and a helpmeet. That relationship probably included sex. Genesis 2:24-25 says, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.”
Before the fall, the man and woman were together, becoming one flesh, and felt no shame about this natural blessing. But even after the fall, the Bible uses the same language about this type of sex. Genesis 9:1 says, “Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.'”
Sex Is Not Wicked or Evil
The fall and humankind’s subsequent actions and interpretations of ancient texts and religion have changed that outlook over the thousands of years since humans were in the garden. Yet throughout Biblical history and even today, there’s no indication that sex itself is wicked or evil and no reason given by God that people enjoying sex within the confines of appropriate relationships should be ashamed of that fact.
In fact, the opposite is true. The Bible encourages people to partake in the blessing of intimacy within the right relationships. Proverbs 5:18-19 says:
“May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer — may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be intoxicated with her love.” (Proverbs 5:18-19)
The Bible’s Ode to Romantic Love and Sex
If you’re still on the fence about whether the Bible really intends to convey that sex is healthy, good and as much about pleasure as about procreation, consider this: A chapter of the Bible is dedicated entirely to the subject of romantic and pleasurable love between a man and a woman.
That chapter is Song of Songs. It’s also sometimes called Song of Solomon or even Canticle of Canticles and is part of the Megillah. The Megillah is composed of Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Esther.
Traditions both Jewish and Christian read the passages in Song of Songs as a metaphor either of the relationship between God and Israel (Jewish) or the relationship between Christ and the Church (Christian). This is one reason Song of Songs is read on the Sabbath of Passover—because it can be heard as an allegory of the love God has for his people and the steps he took to redeem Israel in the Exodus story.
However, the metaphors read into this book don’t diminish the literal truths of the poem itself, which includes passages such as:
“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth — for your love is more delightful than wine. (Song of Songs 1:1)
“Your breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle that browse among the lilies.” (Song of Songs 4:5)
“Your lips drop sweetness as the honeycomb, my bride; milk and honey are under your tongue.” (Song of Songs 4:11)
Even if the story is entirely allegorical, there’s an important message in the fact that God chose to have his love for his people captured in a poem about love and sex between two people. Why would God use a metaphor that was “wicked”?
But There Are Biblical Limitations on Sex
It’s not a hedonistic free-for-all when it comes to Biblical sex, though. God lays out a lot of rules for human sexual relationships, many of them recorded in the 18th chapter of Leviticus.
Many people get confused because pre-Exodus, the people who were following God did things like take multiple wives or even take wives from their own relations. But stories like Jacob marrying two sisters and fathering children on both of their servants as well come before the laws are laid down in Leviticus. Some of the laws in Leviticus 18 include not having sexual relationships with close relations, and there are a dozen verses that define exactly who God means by this.
God points out that these are some of the actions that were taken by previous tribes in the lands he was handing over to Israel, describing those actions as having defiled those people and even the land itself. As is true for many of the laws God handed to Israel, the rules around sex had a purpose, and it wasn’t to create limitations on pleasure just for the sake of doing so.
One of the reasons for the rules was to set the Israelites apart from the surrounding tribes so that they would have a better chance of honoring and worshipping God and living continuously under his blessings. Another reason for the rules was to set sex up as a protected activity within the confines of long, meaningful and holy relationships between couples.
So, what does the Bible say about sex? It says sex is good. But only when you follow God and live your life — sexually and otherwise — according to his rules and will. Ready to learn more about sex and Judaism? Check out the guided learning path from Dr. Bat Sheva Marcus.