The Small Circle of Permissibility



I’ve undoubtedly got your attention. Our society is enamored with sex. We sing about sex, and have mastered incorporating sexual innuendo into almost everything. The Office made “that’s what she said” common vernacular around the world. Sex portrayed on shows or movies is the norm. Pornography is more accessible to every person in the world than it has ever been in history, an industry that grosses more than the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL combined!


Living to fulfill your sexual desires and fantasies are daily encouraged. We are told sex is a personal preference we are free to explore and exercise at will, so long as it is consensual. There are very few restrictions anyone places on the boundaries for sexual expression or practice.


We are like fish in water. Sex is the air we breath. We swim in its ever-present current. 


Then here comes the Bible, and the Christians who believe it. Christians are the odd-balls—if we stick to the Bible’s teaching—when it comes to our views of sex. The world not only hates our view, and thinks it’s wrong, but it thinks our beliefs are dangerous. We are considered heretics of the first-order for our outdated and out-of-step views on sex. 

What do we believe about sex? What does the Bible teach? 


First, we believe sex is created by God, and deemed as good. That’s right! As much as Christians are portrayed as fuddy-duddies, we actually believe that sex is good and godly. God designed our sexuality. It wasn’t our idea. God created sex, and He designed it to give both pleasure and produce children. It exists for functional purposes, and enjoyment purposes. 


We see this in many places in Scripture. It begins with the creation of woman, and her being brought to the man (Genesis 2:18-25). The origin story of the first marriage is that God designed that a man would leave his father and mother and join in marital union with his wife. And the two shall become one flesh. This one-flesh union is not simply in covenant commitment together, but in physical union. Sex. And the results of this one-flesh union would be children. In this way, sex would be the way humans fulfilled their Divine Mandate to be fruitful and multiply upon the earth (Genesis 1:28). 


We also see in the Song of Solomon an entire book of the Bible dedicated to describing the intimacy and love between a man and woman. They describe enjoyment and longing for each other’s lips, legs, breasts, and other body parts. We may blush at these descriptions, but the Bible doesn’t. Sex is God’s idea, and it is celebrated as good in Scripture.


A second thing to notice is the context of the previous examples is marriage. Sex is designed to be expressed and experienced in the covenant of one man and one woman in a lifetime of marriage. There are boundaries around what is considered a healthy and permissible sexuality in the Bible. These boundaries aren’t arbitrary or harmful – God created them for our good. The only prescribed sexuality in the Bible is one man and one woman in a covenant of marriage forever. Everything outside of that circle is prohibited. 


There are many expressions of sexuality described in Scripture that are not prescribed. Many like to point to Jacob, David, or Solomon as examples of polygamy in the Bible. And they are correct. But the Bible never prescribes polygamy. It describes it, but never validates it or recommends it. The Bible only prescribes one man and one woman in a covenant of marriage forever. This was also Jesus’ description of permissible sexuality (Matthew 19:1-9).


So what is inside the circle of permissibility? 

  • One man, one woman, in a covenant of marriage, for life. (biblical sexuality)


What is outside the circle of permissibility? Everything that’s not what was inside it.

  • A man and multiple women, married or unmarried. (polygamy, adultery, or fornication)
  • A woman and multiple men, married or unmarried. (polygamy, adultery, or fornication)
  • A man with someone not his wife. (fornication or adultery)
  • A woman with someone not her husband. (fornication or adultery)
  • A man and a woman before they’re married. (fornication)
  • A man and a man, married or unmarried. (homosexuality)
  • A woman and a woman, married or unmarried. (homosexuality)
  • A man or a woman sexually looking and longing for someone not their spouse (lust, pornography)
  • A man or woman who has sex with a child (rape or pedophilia) 
  • A man or woman who has sex with someone against their will (rape)
  • Multiple men and women in a sexual encounter or relationship (orgy or polyamory)


There are more types of sexual encounters and desires that fall outside the circle that I haven’t mentioned. Undoubtedly, many more will emerge as our sexual perversions find new ways to satisfy our lusts. The important thing as Christians is to understand what the Bible teaches about sexuality. 

The circle is small, and many of the culture’s celebrations of sex are the kind that are outside the circle. The Christian in our culture today must think rightly about these things. It requires courage to do it. Many will lob insults at us for our counter-culture thinking. They will call us “Prudes” and mock our beliefs. They’ll accuse us of being real-life versions of The Handmaid’s Tale. As Christians, we have to make a choice: will we follow the world in thinking in terms of “That’s what she said” or rather be led by “That’s what He said”?