The Bible says what you want it to say. The plethora of “Bible believing” churches that differ in matters of doctrine and opinion are a testament to this fact. When it comes to the complicated subject of human sex and sexuality, none of these churches base their moral teachings on what the Bible actually says about sexuality because, I reiterate, the Bible says whatever you want it to say.
Matthew O’Neil, in What the Bible Really Does (and Doesn’t) Say About Sex, makes this point perfectly. Chapter Two, simply titled Women (a chapter that, on its own, is worth the purchase), examines the Biblical justifications for how women are treated in our society. Many “Bible believing” churches teach that a woman is to be subservient to her husband because of God’s curse in Genesis, “…yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” As O’Neil brilliantly points out, this is an explanation for why the world is at is it – i.e. patriarchal – not a prescription for how it should be. With a simple sentence, O’Neil destroys the conservative Christian idea of female subservience: “Nowhere in Genesis does it require or command that a woman should submit to her husband.”
The idea of female subservience being prescribed by Biblical command is juxtaposed to ideas also supported by Biblical readings, such as Feminist Theology. O’Neil, for example, examines the story of Zipporah, who takes on a “stereotypically male role by carrying out the circumcision [of her son]” and “protects Moses during a battle with God.” As O’Neil says, “Women in the Bible are not only protectors but also merciless soldiers.” Women like Zipporah are hardly an example of subservience and submission. And, to be honest, I didn’t know these Biblical, kick-ass female characters even existed until I read O’Neil’s book. However, I’ll forgive myself of my ignorance, since I didn’t choose to be born in a society whose narrative is dominated by patriarchal voices. I’ll also thank O’Neil for enlightening me.
The point of O’Neil’s book is to show that what people believe about the Bible is based simply on cherry-picked verses chosen to conform to modern prejudices and “moral” standards. Often, conservative “Bible believing” – I never tire of putting that in quotes – churches become so enamored with the literal view of their cherry-picked verses that they actually miss the larger, far more fascinating story. O’Neil tells this story about the Bible and sex, never skipping over a contradiction, in plain English. The prose doesn’t dazzle, nor is it intended to; the book reads like a well-educated friend simply telling you a story. “The Bible has some rather interesting points on sex and sexuality,” writes O’Neil, “They are not the points that modern-day moralists, or the church, make, but they are interesting nonetheless.” This is the only statement of O’Neil’s I disagree with: the points are interesting because they are not the ones made by moralists and churches. Pick up your copy of What the Bible Really Does (and Doesn’t) Say About Sex on Amazon today ($9.99 on Kindle, $12.48 in paperback) and find out what those points are.