Joseph W. Smith III
Reviewed by: Paul Browne
Sex & Violence in the Bible: A Survey of Explicit Content in the Holy Book, by Joseph W. Smith III. P&R Publishing, 2014. Paperback, 256 pages, list price $16.99. Reviewed by OP pastor Paul Browne.
Would it surprise you that the author of this book is a faithful ruling elder in the OPC? I can attest to that because I serve on the same session with him!
But why should an elder of the church write about sex and violence? The answer is that all Christians need to understand the sins of their culture and present biblical antidotes—and it is the shepherds who must equip the sheep for this work.
Our culture is sinfully obsessed with sex and violence, and it is only getting worse. Smith is a public high school English teacher and a movie critic for the local newspaper. He grapples with these issues daily in the classroom and in the literary realm. What is to be our guide, if not God's own book? The Bible always sets the norm for God's people in a shifting and off-kilter world. Accordingly, our brother has searched all the Scriptures in an exhaustive study of how it deals with sex and violence, so we can be sane and offer sanity to our neighbors.
The book is divided into three sections: on sex, violence, and then "other blunt or unsavory material," mostly of a scatological nature. If much of this is new to the reader, it can be surprising, horrible, and fascinating! One of the eye-openers may simply be how much English translations launder what is felt to be the objectionable realism of Scripture.
In this bracing jaunt through biblical grittiness, Smith organizes 700 Bible verses in twenty-one well-written chapters. Most chapters begin by mentioning the biblical laws forbidding the sinful behavior described in the chapter. In every place, Smith writes from his commitment to the infallibility of Scripture. Notably, he describes the torture and crucifixion of Christ compellingly in two different chapters, but then presses us to remember that far worse for Christ than the rending of flesh was the bearing of God's wrath for our sin.
In his helpful concluding chapter, Smith says about the Bible:
Its approach to indecent matters is not that of a twenty-first century schoolboy, nor is it that of a nineteenth-century Victorian housewife. The Bible is, in fact, refreshingly matter-of-fact in its approach, freely acknowledging what we all know: these things are an important part of life, and by no means to be ignored or overlooked.… In any case, it certainly has not been my aim to 'pander' to our culture's seemingly insatiable appetite for outlandish gore and sex. On the contrary, one does not seek to repair a depraved and lascivious society by becoming even more stuffy and standoffish.… Rather, one restores sanity in these matters by dealing with them biblically.… In my book, I have tried to show that this careful interface of frankness and restraint is exactly how the Bible approaches sex and violence. That probably ought to be our approach as well.
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