The creator of the universe reveals His creative plan for husbands and wives.
What does the Bible tell us about sex?
Many who have a casual acquaintance with the Bible might answer that the Bible’s primary concern with sex is to keep us from enjoying it. After all, the Bible is filled with warnings and restrictions. From Mount Sinai, God tells his people “You shall not commit adultery” (Ex. 20:14). Old Testament stories show how even marital sex can lead a person astray (think of Solomon’s foreign wives who get him to worship other gods, 1 Kings 11). In the New Testament, Paul urges his readers to “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Cor. 6:18).
Such prohibitions and restrictions on our sexual lives are important to be sure and are necessary because our sexual desires might otherwise lead us to behave in such a way that hinder our relational and psychological and even our physical health Even so, we should not get the wrong impression. The Bible is very clear: God loves sex.
Of course, God himself is not a sexual person. The God of the Bible is vastly different than the gods of the ancient Near East and the Greco-Roman world. These gods are gendered and sexually active, but not the God of the Bible. Gender and sex are part of the creation, not part of the Creator.
But as part of creation, sex is God’s good gift to his creatures. He wired us for sexual pleasure.
We learn this as early as the second creation account (Gen. 2:4-25). After creating Eve from Adam’s rib (showing their equality), the man joyfully announces: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man” (Gen. 2:23).
And then the narrator explains: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (2:24).
Here we have the biblical definition of marriage, which has three parts: leaving, weaving, and cleaving. The leaving is not physical (in the ancient Near Eastern world a young couple typically lived with the extended family). They leave their parents by forming a new primary loyalty to each other. They weave their lives together as they spend time doing things and talking to each other. Finally, they cleave together to become one flesh in the act of sexual intercourse.
We should take note here that there is nothing in this biblical definition of marriage about having children (heaving in childbirth). Their sexual union is for mutual pleasure and drawing them closer to each other.
The chapter ends with the observation: “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame” (2:25).
Of course, this Edenic description of Adam and Eve’s relationship is not our experience today. The next chapter describes the first rebellion against God with its consequences of sin and death. Not only does sin result in separation from God, but also Adam and Eve experience estrangement, which is described as having repercussions for their sexual lives. They were no longer able to stand in front of each other naked and feel no shame.
The story of the Fall explains to us why we struggle with our God-given sexual desires. No wonder the Bible is filled with the prohibitions and restrictions we mentioned in the opening of this article.
But that is not the end of the story. The Song of Songs celebrates the redemption of our sexual desires as it describes a man and a woman in garden settings, again naked and enjoying each other as, for example, in Song of Songs 7:11-13: “Come, my beloved, let us go to the countryside, let us spend the night in the villages. Let us go early to the vineyards to see if the vines have budded, if their blossoms have opened, and if the pomegranates are in bloom—there I will give you my love.
“The mandrakes send out their fragrance, and at our door is every delicacy, both new and old, that I have stored up for you, my beloved.”
This is just one example of about 20 poems that affirm our sexual desire and our love of beauty. The Song encourages married couples to enjoy their sexual lives together by playfully exploring what brings them mutual pleasure.
The Song thus suggests that redeemed sex is a taste of Eden, but the inspired poet who composed this holy and erotic book also knew that such redemption is, as theologians sometimes put it, “already and not yet.” In this fallen world, obstacles remain to physical intimacy and there are poems that acknowledge the difficulties of blissful union (5:2-6:3).
Even so, the predominant tone of the Song is celebration. It is a reminder that, though there are dangers, sex is brings a husband and a wife into a union with each other that is not only physical, but also psychological, emotional, and spiritual. “The two become one flesh.” There is no more intimate human relationship than that of a husband and a wife and they experience that intimacy most as they lose themselves each other in orgasm.
No wonder, then, that God often describes himself as the husband of his people. In the New Testament, the analogy is spoken of Jesus and the Church. Unfortunately, this divine-human marriage between God and His people is spoiled by the adulterous, idolatrous behavior of His people. Even so, according to the book of Revelation, the future will bring the final and complete consummation and fulfillment of that relationship: “Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear” (Rev. 19:7-8).
Adapted from Dan Allender and Tremper Longman’s book exploring the rich resources of the Song of Songs for our sexual lives, God Loves Sex: An Honest Conversation about Sexual Desire and Holiness (Baker Books, 2014).