Anyone who’s read the Bible to children or come at it with some naivety knows it contains many tricky passages. Cough. Judah and Tamar. Cough. A reader who’s spent any time in the text has his or her own list of stories that are risqué, possibly even revolting. Why would the holy authors include these stories in the Bible?
Writing one of the very first Christian commentaries on Scripture, Hippolytus of Rome answered the question this way:
As the divine writings are not respecters of persons and with openness display all things, not only the righteous works of men, which after they did them they were justified, but also the terrible things which occurred under them, upon which they [lacuna] were disfigured, they died, so that those who have the fear of God imitate the righteous and in this way partake in righteousness, but those who do the opposite have before their eyes what is destined for them, vengeance before the presence of God. (Commentary on Daniel 1.15.3)
Hippolytus was discussing the story of Susanna (which, as I said Sunday, I’ll have to save for another time), but it applies to a whole range of immoral stories in the Scripture.
The Bible doesn’t shy away from sin. Since Scripture witnesses to its ultimate remedy, why should it? Rather, it puts it out in the open, under the light. By doing so, as Hippolytus says, it points out what ancient Jews and Christians knew as the two ways, one which leads to life, the other which leads to death. The paths are clearly marked. Choose wisely.