How can we quote the Bible in support of our moral values when the Old Testament contains laws calling for the stoning of a woman who lost her virginity before marriage? Actually, based on biblical principles, both Judaism and Christianity teach that such laws are not for today. But could you imagine what America would look like if sex outside of wedlock was as scandalous in our day as it was in ancient biblical times?
In his talk to high school journalism students, Dan Savage mocked the fact that the Bible “says that if your daughter’s not a virgin on her wedding night – if a woman isn’t a virgin on her wedding night – she shall be dragged to her father’s doorstep and stoned to death.”
Was this law ever justifiable? In ancient Israel, which the Bible states was a theocracy instituted by God himself (according to the Torah, God delivered the children of Israel from Egypt and then spoke his laws to them from Mount Sinai) and which was part of a culture where it was almost unthinkable for a girl to lose her virginity to another man before marriage, a law like this was hardly exceptional.
That being said, by New Testament times, Jewish leaders had virtually abolished the death penalty for such offenses, Jesus stopped a Jewish crowd from stoning a woman caught in adultery, and Paul taught that there were spiritual consequences rather than corporal consequences for such offenses. As for today, in absolutely no shape, size, or form could I (along with every conservative Christian whom I know personally) ever dream of advocating the death penalty for premarital sex, nor could I could dream of advocating the death penalty for adultery or homosexual practice. Obviously not!
But let’s ask ourselves an honest question. While people on both sides of the debate categorically reject such legal punishments for sexual violations, is our contemporary society really in a position to make judgments on ancient Israel when it comes to sexual morality?
In America today, one in four teenage girls has been infected with an STD, and out of the hundreds of thousands of cases of gonorrhea every year, “teenage girls between 15 and 19 account for more cases than any other age group.” Some of the gonorrhea strains are developing into incurable “super bugs.” And we are the enlightened ones?
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, includingLine of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.