Do Christians lie about sex?
Back in church, I thought if the pastor or a ‘commentary’ told me some facts, they were—facts? I learned that ain’t necessarily true.
When it comes to sex and sexual themes in the Bible, the Jesus people are particularly prone to—talking dirty.
1. Christians say: only men can be clergy
For a Christian reader, this might seem beyond obvious. Just look at 1 Timothy 3:12:
“A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well.” (NIV)
What Christians don’t like to disclose is that all the male pronouns in this verse were added by translators.
In a 2015 study, the Christian scholar Philip B. Payne explains:
“Unfortunately, practically all English versions of 1 Tim 3:1–13 and Titus 1:5–9 give the false impression that Paul uses masculine pronouns, implying that these church leaders must be male. In Greek, however, there is not even one masculine pronoun or ‘men only’ requirement…”
The classics scholar Ann Nyland notes the Greek phrase Paul uses, “faithful to their partner,” was idiomatic, and is found on tombstones of women.
You didn’t hear it in church!
2. Christians say: pagans were sex freaks!
As Christians like to talk about the religion, it’s often presented as people leading ordered and sensible lives without thinking about sex too much. The godless, on the other hand, lead lives of non-stop fornicating.
Like at the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus. “The festival of Artemis involved wild orgies and carousing,” says the Life Application Study Bible, called the “#1 selling study Bible’.
Back in 1999, the Evangelical scholar S.M. Baugh noted that “although we keep reading about ‘orgiastic rites’ attached to the worship of Artemis of Ephesus in modern authors, I have yet to find out what they are talking about or any trace of such in the ancient sources.”
It was an odd position for Christians to take, since Artemis is a goddess of chastity. As Rick Strelan writes in a 1996 study: “Artemis is the protector of the family, the provider of political and social stability, and not the goddess of orgiastic behavior or fertility.”
But the story—“Christians vs. sex freaks”—was just too much fun?
3. Christians see: Prostitutes everywhere!
Most any commentary for the New Testament will talk about the “cult” or “sacred prostitutes” in the pagan temples. The Christian mind sees pagan temples with prostitutes having sex everywhere!
“This idea seems so clearly established in the minds of many people as to need little proof,” as S.M. Baugh noted.
For example, here’s The Woman’s Study Bible (2018) informing the gullible reader about the city of Corinth: “The city had a reputation not only for luxury but also for sexual vice and sacred prostitution.”
A few recent Christian commentaries try to downplay the ‘sacred prostitute’ thing — without explaining why the tradition generated the lie. Why did Christianity want to invent lots of evil sex?
The scholar Jerome Murphy-O’Connor has a theory in a 2002 study:
“Many New Testament introductions and commentaries have stressed this aspect because it appears to provide an explanation for the attention that Paul was obliged to give to sexual problems in 1 Corinthians 5–7.”
4. Christians say: ‘Porneia’ means ‘sexual immorality,’ or prostitution! Or…something?
Back in church, nobody told me that all the “sex rules” of Christianity are sort of held in place by a single word, porneia, as used primarily in a few passages in 1 Corinthians 5–7.
That really is quite extraordinary—because actually, nobody really knows what porneia means.
“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people.”
As in 1 Corinthians 5:9, it had seemed so clear. But was it? To take out the translation of ‘sexually immoral people’ we’d just have the original text.
“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with pornois.”
If not layering on assumptions and associations—it’s not so clear who the ‘pornois’ to be avoided might be.
A secular scholar, Kyle Harper, made some waves with a 2011 paper, “Porneia: The Making of a Christian Sexual Norm,” which noted “its meaning has remained elusive for modern interpreters.”
The word’s meaning lurches around oddly in early Christianity. And what does ‘sexual immorality’ even mean? “The N.T. evidence is not at all clear,” sighs Bruce Malina, the Christian scholar, back in 1972.
Porneia is rare in ancient ordinary Greek. It seems to mean ‘selling yourself’. Christians say that’s “prostitution,” but in ancient Rome that wasn’t so. A prostitute was a slave. They weren’t selling—but sold.
In the Bible, porneia is found in non-sexual narratives (cf. Heb 12:16; Rev 2:20–22, etc.), and seems to point to the Hebrew word zonah. But that means— idolatry? Many scholars won’t translate porneia. “I prefer to leave the term untranslated in most cases,” notes John Kampen in 1994.
And in church, they just tell you it means—‘sexual immorality’.
5. Christians claim: the Samaritan woman had a hella lotta husbands
In John 4, Jesus meets a woman in Samaria who is out drawing water. He seems to prompt her to admit how many men she’s been with. He says: “The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.”
Many Christians like to imagine a man judging an oversexed woman—which fits into their “religion” just fine. But scholars noted it wasn’t really possible in Jewish law to marry five times. There’s no record of anything like it.
And it’s the oddest thing, because the scene doesn’t feel like a run-down of the woman’s erotic history. As Sandra M. Schneiders notes: “the discussion, from the very first moment, is religious and even theological.”
I first noticed the scholarly reading in Brant Pitre’s book Jesus the Bridegroom. What seems to be happening is that Jesus refers to the people of Samaria having worshipped five other deities — their story back in 2 Kings 17:13–34.
As often in the Bible, a deity is referred to as a ‘husband’. It’s a little-known fact—that changes how you read sexual references throughout the Bible.
Would Jesus be talking about a woman’s sex life, or the spiritual history of a whole people? Which is the messianic concern?
6. Christians claim: Romans 1 is about gays…or something
Christian readers are often encouraged to think that God spends most of His time thinking about how gross homosexuality is. Back in Genesis 19, He sees gays in Sodom and throws fire down from Heaven to kill them.
It’s a wonder San Francisco survived this long?
Of course, God reflects back on the incident in Ezekiel 16:49, a reference largely unknown to Christians, as the deity identifies the Sodom problem as the city being “arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”
And for Jewish readers, as Judith H. Newman notes, the story was about “lack of hospitality and antagonism toward strangers.”
But Christian tradition knew: it was about anal sex.
A similar drama replays with Romans 1:26-27, a passage that is full of loaded, allusive language—clearly a familiar story to its original readers, told in the past tense, about evil beings who are not named.
Christians just say: ‘All you need to know is that it’s about anal sex. And lesbians.’
“Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.”
It’s fun to ask Christians to identify who is being discussed in Romans 1—since they can’t. Scholars have come up dry as well. In a 1999 study, Kathy L. Gaca gives up, noting: “the identity of Paul’s ‘truth-suppressing people’ remains open-ended…”
But the Dead Sea Scrolls produced a series of ‘new’ reference points. An underlying textual model for Romans 1 appeared, for Paul’s language tracks with similar passages found in several ‘non-canonical books’.
The Bible scholar Brett Provance lays it all out in a 2019 paper “Romans 1:26–27 in Its Rhetorical Tradition.” The union which is ‘against nature’ refers to the famous scene of angels with human women.
That union is against nature because they have different natures. One is human, the other is angelic. For two humans to touch each other is not “against nature”— because they have the same nature.
Try this? The Bible is a lot of stories, like one about a messiah who wanders around talking to people—telling them to love each other.
What the ‘religion’ wanted was a text that installed male rulers, regulated reproduction, and whipped up some villains.
Christians love the Bible!—the one they re-wrote themselves. 🔶