50 Shades of Wisdom

The internet is already abuzz with those denouncing the runaway bestseller and upcoming film 50 Shades of Gray, which glorifies sexual sadomasochism, bondage, and the like. You can read elsewhere about how normalizing this behavior promotes sexual violence against women, poisons men’s minds, and undermines marriages, all of which I find persuasive.


(c) kamilla oliveira / flickr

My purpose here, however, is simply to contrast the 50 Shades-inspired worldview of unlimited sexual license with the lifestyle of wisdom that the Bible urges us to live.

The following are 50 Bible verses on the topic of sexual morality.

The oldest book in the Bible makes clear that sexual wisdom begins with one’s thought life. Job 31:1 says:

I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman.

Jesus made the same observation thousands of years later, in Matthew 5:27-28:

You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 6:15-20 that there’s something different about sexuality. When we stray from God’s path with respect to how we govern our bodies, it does our spirits a unique kind of harm:

Don’t you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ? Should a man take his body, which is part of Christ, and join it to a prostitute? Never! And don’t you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her? For the Scriptures say, “The two are united into one.” But the person who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him. Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.

Wandering too far from God’s plan, warns Paul in Romans 1:22-24, results in exactly the sort of depravity we see depicted in 50 Shades:

Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies.

Indeed, the book of Proverbs dedicates an incredible amount of space to conveying the importance of avoiding sexual temptation. While the book treats other important subjects with aphorisms and one-liners, it contains lengthy parables on the subject of sexuality. After all, at least on a surface level, the book is addressed primarily to young men just coming to grips with adult temptations. This also explains why the sources of temptation in these stories are women. It’s not because women are any more or less prone to immorality–the book makes it abundantly clear that promiscuity results from bad choices by both parties–but because that is to whom the young men are attracted. One of the most poignant of these stories is in Proverbs 7:6-27:

While I was at the window of my house,
looking through the curtain,
I saw some naive young men,
and one in particular who lacked common sense.
He was crossing the street near the house of an immoral woman,
strolling down the path by her house.
It was at twilight, in the evening,
as deep darkness fell.
The woman approached him,
seductively dressed and sly of heart.
She was the brash, rebellious type,
never content to stay at home.
She is often in the streets and markets,
soliciting at every corner.
She threw her arms around him and kissed him,
and with a brazen look she said,
“I’ve just made my peace offerings
and fulfilled my vows.
You’re the one I was looking for!
I came out to find you, and here you are!
My bed is spread with beautiful blankets,
with colored sheets of Egyptian linen.
I’ve perfumed my bed
with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon.
Come, let’s drink our fill of love until morning.
Let’s enjoy each other’s caresses,
for my husband is not home.
He’s away on a long trip.
He has taken a wallet full of money with him
and won’t return until later this month.”

So she seduced him with her pretty speech
and enticed him with her flattery.
He followed her at once,
like an ox going to the slaughter.
He was like a stag caught in a trap,
awaiting the arrow that would pierce its heart.
He was like a bird flying into a snare,
little knowing it would cost him his life.

So listen to me, my sons,
and pay attention to my words.
Don’t let your hearts stray away toward her.
Don’t wander down her wayward path.
For she has been the ruin of many;
many men have been her victims.
Her house is the road to the grave.
Her bedroom is the den of death.

The Bible never condemns the enjoyment of sex itself, however. Rather, it recognizes sexuality as being such a powerful force in human life that it needs to stay within the boundaries God designed for it–that is, within the marriage relationship. Proverbs 5:15-20 illustrates:

Drink water from your own well—
share your love only with your wife.
Why spill the water of your springs in the streets,
having sex with just anyone?
You should reserve it for yourselves.
Never share it with strangers.

Let your wife be a fountain of blessing for you.
Rejoice in the wife of your youth.
She is a loving deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts satisfy you always.
May you always be captivated by her love.
Why be captivated, my son, by an immoral woman,
or fondle the breasts of a promiscuous woman?

Within that context, the Bible celebrates the eroticism as much as any tawdry novel could (except in far more poetic language). For example, the male protagonist of Song of Songs has this to say about his wife’s beauty, and his desire for her, in verses 4:1-15:

You are beautiful, my darling,
beautiful beyond words.
Your eyes are like doves
behind your veil.
Your hair falls in waves,
like a flock of goats winding down the slopes of Gilead.
Your teeth are as white as sheep,
recently shorn and freshly washed.
Your smile is flawless,
each tooth matched with its twin.
Your lips are like scarlet ribbon;
your mouth is inviting.
Your cheeks are like rosy pomegranates
behind your veil.
Your neck is as beautiful as the tower of David,
jeweled with the shields of a thousand heroes.
Your breasts are like two fawns,
twin fawns of a gazelle grazing among the lilies.
Before the dawn breezes blow
and the night shadows flee,
I will hurry to the mountain of myrrh
and to the hill of frankincense.
You are altogether beautiful, my darling,
beautiful in every way.
Come with me from Lebanon, my bride,
come with me from Lebanon.
Come down from Mount Amana,
from the peaks of Senir and Hermon,
where the lions have their dens
and leopards live among the hills.
You have captured my heart,
my treasure, my bride.
You hold it hostage with one glance of your eyes,
with a single jewel of your necklace.
Your love delights me,
my treasure, my bride.
Your love is better than wine,
your perfume more fragrant than spices.
Your lips are as sweet as nectar, my bride.
Honey and milk are under your tongue.
Your clothes are scented
like the cedars of Lebanon.
You are my private garden, my treasure, my bride,
a secluded spring, a hidden fountain.
Your thighs shelter a paradise of pomegranates
with rare spices—
henna with nard,
nard and saffron,
fragrant calamus and cinnamon,
with all the trees of frankincense, myrrh, and aloes,
and every other lovely spice.
You are a garden fountain,
a well of fresh water
streaming down from Lebanon’s mountains.

She reciprocates in verses 5:10-16, saying this about her husband:

My lover is dark and dazzling,
better than ten thousand others!
His head is finest gold,
his wavy hair is black as a raven.
His eyes sparkle like doves
beside springs of water;
they are set like jewels
washed in milk.
His cheeks are like gardens of spices
giving off fragrance.
His lips are like lilies,
perfumed with myrrh.
His arms are like rounded bars of gold,
set with beryl.
His body is like bright ivory,
glowing with lapis lazuli.
His legs are like marble pillars
set in sockets of finest gold.
His posture is stately,
like the noble cedars of Lebanon.
His mouth is sweetness itself;
he is desirable in every way.
Such, O women of Jerusalem,
is my lover, my friend.

And after chapters full of similarly erotic teasing, the two consummate their passion in verses 4:16-5:1:

(Woman:) Awake, north wind!
Rise up, south wind!
Blow on my garden
and spread its fragrance all around.
Come into your garden, my love;
taste its finest fruits.

(Man:) I have entered my garden, my treasure, my bride!
I gather myrrh with my spices
and eat honeycomb with my honey.
I drink wine with my milk.

(Chorus:) Oh, lover and beloved, eat and drink!
Yes, drink deeply of your love!

Even within marriage, however, the Bible’s vision of erotic love does not extend to sexual violence. In Ephesians 5:25-33, Paul implores husbands to honor and care for their wives as they would their own bodies:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

This passage also makes clear that having a correct view of marriage and sexuality is important for reasons beyond ourselves. As with all other life experiences, God uses our marriages as a means of revealing an aspect of is character to us, and for training us to be the type of people he designed us to be. The better we learn to treat our spouse, the closer we come to understanding God’s love for us.

Are the 50 Shades and Biblical paths compatible?  Which path will you choose?  You decide. Only you can decide for you. Whether the paths we choose take us closer to or farther from God, however, is decidedly not up to us.