Why are there dirty stories in the Bible?

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.

About Joel J. Miller

I'm the author of Lifted by Angels, a look at angels through the eyes of the early church. Click here for more about me or subscribe to my RSS here.

  • kevin kirkpatrick

    Good on ya Joel. I see you are already implementing your plan to keep your posts simple, and more frequent. As I suggested, your target audience is bibliophile and theology geeks like me and we (those in my club) may not care about graphics and branding as much as those who belong to other clubs.

    I love that you are striving to protray the wisdom of the Fathers. It is so lofty and profound, and is the antidote for our callow times. I for one, need to see it, and I know that I am not alone. Hearing a word from Hippolytus, or Justin Martyr, or Clement, or any of the great father is so needed in our times, as our perspectivse is so skewed by the culture in which we live.
    Also, you have alluded 2x to the story of Susanna. I am hoping this is a teaser and that there will be “more on this later…”

    • Joel J. Miller

      Yes, I’m hoping to do something on Susanna later this week, maybe tomorrow. Stay tuned.


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