What does Jana Riess mean in saying the Bible could be X-rated?

November 14, 2013

The X-rated Bible
Many people who glibly declare, “The Bible says,” have never really read the Bible, and they might be astounded by some things they’d find there.  How about you?  Have you ever read the Bible all the way through? Were you surprised— even shocked — by some of the material you came across?  Jana Riess, in this “X-rated Bible” post from her Religion News Service blog, refers to the recent announcement by several online booksellers that they were purging their lists of self-published ebooks if these books presented certain kinds of explicit erotic content.  The purged titles would no longer be available for digital reading devices such as Kindle and Nook.  As Riess points out, however, the three examples of criteria used by these booksellers to determine which titles would be removed could also be applied to the Bible.  She provides specific passages from the Bible about X-rated behaviors recorded within its pages— things like rape, incest. and bestiality. One reader, upset by by Riess’s blog post, used all capital letters to shout out her objection and announce she was discontinuing her reading of the blog.  “Why in the world are you putting this stuff on your website?”she asked in the comment section. Riess, in her reply, asked which “stuff” she was referring to and added, “Are you offended that disturbing elements like rape and incest are in the Bible in the first place, or that I would call attention to them?”

And that’s just the point. We need to remember that the Bible is a “tell it like it is” kind of book.  Recording what happened does not mean the biblical writers were condoning behavior by describing it.  The Bible is both a divine book and a human book, written over a long period of time by many different authors and in the context of human culture and history.  God’s message came to people who were dealing with real life, as messy, raw, and ugly as it often is; and God’s message of compassion, love, and justice in the Bible can provide guidance for us in dealing with real life today, too.

For Related Reading.  See the FemFaith discussion that Kendra Weddle, Melanie Springer Mock, and I had last year titled, “Is the Bible a Divine Revelation or Human Book—or Both?”  See also “Embracing the Humanity of the Bible: Listening for the Divine through Human Words” by Kurt Willems.  You might also want to read Julie Clawson’s post, “Teaching My Children the Bible,” in which she talks about the difficulty of finding children’s books that treat the Bible honestly . (Melanie also talks about this problem in the FemFaith post mentioned above.)

Letha Dawson Scanzoni
Letha Dawson Scanzoni (1935-2024) was an independent scholar, writer, and editor, and the author or coauthor of nine books. In 1978, she and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott wrote Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?, one of the earliest books urging evangelical Christians to rethink their views on homosexuality (updated edition, 1994, HarperOne). More recently, Letha coauthored (with social psychologist David G. Myers) What God Has Joined Together: The Christian Case for Gay Marriage (HarperOne, 2005 and 2006). Another of Letha’s most well-known books is All We’re Meant to Be: Biblical Feminism for Today, coauthored with Nancy A. Hardesty (Word Books, 1974; revised edition, Abingdon, 1986; updated and expanded edition, Eerdmans, 1992). Letha served as editor of Christian Feminism Today in both its former print edition (EEWC Update) and its website for 19 years until her retirement in December 2013.


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