Book Review: What the Bible Really Does (and Doesn’t) Say about Sex by Matthew O’Neil

With the religious right constantly harping about the declining sexual morals of our country and our failure to live up to the Biblical standards set by God, one might wonder just what the Bible does say about sex and morality. So humanist chaplain and celebrant Matthew O’Neil to take a look, and the result is his book What the Bible Really Does (and Doesn’t) Say about Sex.

O’Neil does a nice job of breaking down the topics into six chapters titled: “Sex”; “Women”; “Abortion”; “Homosexuality”; “Circumcision”; and “Birth Control”—all straightforward, except perhaps the chapter on sex, which covers adultery, premarital sex, polygamy, incest, and prostitution.

Each chapter starts with a general discussion of the issue in today’s society, and the arguments that those on the religious side often make against what seems to be (generally) the more liberal, modern view. He then examines just what the Bible actually says on each of these issues. Many times it says very little—and more often than you might think, it says nothing at all. He looks at the historical backdrop of what is said in the Bible, putting it in the context of the time, then traces the history of today’s religious arguments to explain their origins.

For instance, in examining adultery, something that is addressed quite a bit in the Bible, he shows how its meaning in the Bible is actually quite narrow, based more on the protection of the wife as a property interest of the husband than as a moral code.

In contrast to adultery, abortion is not even mentioned in the entire Bible, despite its prevalence even at the time. He does examine one or two verses that are stretched and rationalized by modern-day Biblical moralists to try and cover it, but instead traces the politicization of the argument over the last 100 years.

O’Neil’s short book (under 175 pages, which shows you how little actual Biblical text needs to be dealt with) is clearly and simply written, well-organized, well-reasoned, and appears to be well-researched. Its title is entirely descriptive. So if you find the title interesting, you’ll find the book interesting. And what more could you want?