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The sexual revolution did not start in the 60s. Sexual practices have varied over human history. When Christianity was starting people practiced all kinds of sexual behavior besides marriage. Pederasty was very common. (Pederasty is men having sexual relations with boys.) Pederasty was not considered deviant behavior, rather, it was an institution, and even considered a loving relationship in some cultures. Becoming very prominent in Greece in the fifth century B.C., boys grew up as the sexual partners of older males, and then took their own boys as sexual partners as they got older.
Religious practices in ancient times included sex with priestesses, sex with Temple prostitutes, and even rituals where, for example, every woman was required to have sex with some stranger:
The foulest Babylonian custom is that which compels every woman of the land to sit in the temple of Aphrodite and have intercourse with some stranger once in her life. Many women who are rich and proud and disdain to mingle with the rest, drive to the temple in covered carriages drawn by teams, and stand there with a great retinue of attendants. But most sit down in the sacred plot of Aphrodite, with crowns of cord on their heads; there is a great multitude of women coming and going; passages marked by line run every way through the crowd, by which the men pass and make their choice. Once a woman has taken her place there, she does not go away to her home before some stranger has cast money into her lap, and had intercourse with her outside the temple; but while he casts the money, he must say, I invite you in the name of Mylitta (that is the Assyrian name for Aphrodite). It does not matter what sum the money is; the woman will never refuse, for that would be a sin, the money being by this act made sacred. So she follows the first man who casts it and rejects no one. After their intercourse, having discharged her sacred duty to the goddess, she goes away to her home; and thereafter there is no bribe however great that will get her. So then the women that are fair and tall are soon free to depart, but the uncomely have long to wait because they cannot fulfill the law; for some of them remain for three years, or four. There is a custom like this in some parts of Cyprus.[i]
Wife swapping, affairs, even orgies were routine practices in various cultures in ancient times.
Judaism abhorred all these practices, confined sex to marriage but did allow men to have sex with multiple partners in the form of multiple wives and concubines. That doesn’t mean that men didn’t stray from these constraints. Look at this rather infamous passage in Genesis where Judah visits a harlot who happens to be his daughter-in-law, who was there on purpose to get Judah to enforce her right to marriage and pregnancy by her dead husband’s brother:
When Judah saw her, he thought her to be a harlot; for she had covered her face.
And he turned unto her by the way, and said, Come, I pray thee, let me come in unto thee: for he knew not that she was his daughter-in-law. And she said, What wilt thou give me, that thou mayest come in unto me?Gen 38:15-16
While evidently there were prostitutes in Israel, sex outside of marriage was an offense punishable by death:
But if this thing be true, that the tokens of virginity were not found in the damsel;
then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the harlot in her father’s house: so shalt thou put away the evil from the midst of thee.Deu 22:20-21
Christianity began as an offshoot of Judaism. The law and the prophets were the only holy scriptures. But the Christian view of sexuality differed from its Judaistic background in several ways. They still accepted the instruction that sex was only good inside of marriage. But as the Law was fulfilled and no longer in power so stoning sexual sinners was abolished. More than that, the emphasis on the topic of sex returned to Genesis 2:24, “therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” Jesus emphasized this point in his teaching on marriage. Marriage is the joining of a man and a woman into a single unit. Two bodies become one. Two lives become one. Multiple wives and concubines became a thing of the past for this Jewish offshoot. This was revolutionary.
Furthermore, Jesus taught that while the law allowed divorce, divorce and remarriage was still a form of adultery. The exception, of course, is divorce on the grounds of adultery. When Jesus spoke, the only believers were Jews. Jews only married in the faith according to the law. Later, in the church, we see the mingling of people with both Judaistic backgrounds and Gentile backgrounds. A person might accept Christ but their spouse may not. Paul wrote to the church that there is one other justifiable grounds for divorce, the departure of an unbelieving spouse.
The emphasis in the gospels and epistles is on avoiding sexual sin, honoring the marriage of one man and one woman, with the previous allowance of multiple wives and concubines now out of the picture.
This was revolutionary to the world at large. With all of the Greeks, Romans, and barbarians practicing all of the aforementioned sexual deviations, it was the Christians alone who sought spiritual purity in the area of sexuality.
The Jerusalem council in Acts 15 concerned itself with the issue of admitting Gentiles into the church. This was about 16 years after Jesus’ ascension. The result was a proclamation that said the gentiles should “keep themselves from things sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what is strangled, and from fornication.” ii Obviously fornication, which is a term for sexual activity in multiple forms, was a common practice for it to be included in this general proclamation.
Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.
Or know ye not that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have from God? and ye are not your own;
for ye were bought with a price: glorify God therefore in your body. 1Co 6:18-20
The Christian walk is one of warring natures. On the one hand is the flesh. The flesh, which is the natural body and mind, fights with desires in various forms including wanting things (covetousness), enviyings, fightings, and yes, sex in various forms. The spirit of Christ, on the other hand, leads Christians away from these sins. But Christians must make a choice, whether to follow these desires of the flesh or the leading of the spirit. The result of choosing to follow the spirit are fruits of the Spirit like love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, and patience.iii
i. Herodotus, The Histories 1.199, tr A.D. Godley (1920) (found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hierodule)
ii. Acts 21:25
iii. See Romans chapter 7, and especially Galatians chapter 5 or more in-depth insight on this battle between the flesh and the spirit in the believer.
(c) 2009-20 Mark W Smith, All rights reserved.