I’ve noticed that, whenever someone insists that Christianity considers sex sinful, there will be a reply along the lines of, “No, only when it’s outside marriage.” But doesn’t that mean it usually IS sinful, but there are exceptions? I’m still not sure I realize how marriage can turn something bad into something acceptable. Isn’t marriage mostly a financial act? What does that have to do with a person’s relationship to God? But then, when you look at the Bible, a lot of its rules, especially in the Old Testament, are mostly about maintaining social order. It’s a legal code that’s supposed to be backed by God, in order to make it sound more severe. And a lot of it really is concerned primarily with money and property. After all, in the patriarchal society of ancient Israel, marriage was all about property. I don’t think the Bible ever specifically SAYS married women are considered the property of their husbands, but that’s certainly what the commandment about not coveting your neighbor’s possessions, including his wife, indicates. I would guess that this was just assumed back at the time this stuff was written. So was people wanting to have kids, which is possibly why, contrary to what you hear from modern churches, scripture doesn’t really address abortion or birth control. While the bit in Exodus about the Pharaoh fearing that the Hebrews would outnumber the native Egyptians is almost certainly exaggerated, it might be based on truth. Egypt is known to have practiced birth control as early as the nineteenth century BC (some time before even the earliest estimates as to when the exodus occurred), so perhaps their numbers grew more slowly. Anyway, a strictly financial interpretation is probably the only way the law about a rapist being required to marry his victim (Deuteronomy 22:28-29) makes even the slightest bit of sense.
So what about the New Testament? While there is that odd bit about Jesus saying that even looking at a woman lustfully counts as adultery, it’s Paul who says the most about sex in this part of the Bible. And for the most part, he’s again’ it. I don’t know whether there’s any evidence as to whether he was celibate before converting to Christianity or that was a later development, but the general impression seems to be that he thinks the end is near, so there’s no point in having sex. Funny, I think a lot of people would have the exact opposite opinion if they thought the world was coming to an end. I’ve written before about the Acts of Paul and Thecla, an early example of abstinence porn. (I wonder if Stephenie Meyer is familiar with it.) Anyway, the reason I mention it here is that it presents Paul as preaching that all Christians should remain celibate even if they’re married.
This doesn’t line up so well with the actual known writings of Paul, in which he basically says it’s best to remain celibate, but if you just can’t control your urges, you should get married. Paul is also opposed to homosexuality, in a way that has led some to speculate that he might have been an early example of a closeted homophobe. Homosexuality (well, male homosexuality, anyway) is condemned in the Old Testament, but wasn’t Paul’s big thing that Jesus freed his believers from the Law? Not that part of it, I suppose. To be fair, Paul was a product of his society. I wouldn’t say the problem is Paul himself so much as it is the fact that mainstream Christianity tends to ignore context. We don’t live in Moses’ or Paul’s world, so why should we play by their rules?