Saturday, July 08, 2017

Islam, Christianity, and pedophilia

Question from a commenter:

I wonder, though, if we Christians aren't revealing a weak spot when it comes to objections to pedophilia. When pressed by our opponents, I don't think that we'd be able to provide any prooftexts condemning the practice - or am I wrong? Worse, I could see opponents seizing on the notion of Boaz seeming to be an elder while Ruth appeared to be a young girl. Granted, that's a bit flimsy but I'm not sure what the proper response might be. So I guess I'm asking how you might mount a defence against the claim that the Bible has nothing to say about pedophilia.

Interesting question. Requires a many-layered response:

1. Let's assume for the sake of argument that the Bible is silent on the moral status of pedophilia. There's an essential difference between a religious text that condones pedophilia and silence. The Bible's not an encyclopedia. It doesn't purport to address every ethnical issue. Some activities may not be condemned because they are obviously wrong. It isn't necessary to explicitly condemn them. That's understood. Take the cliche example of torturing little kids for fun. 

I think there's a place for natural law considerations in Christian ethics. We don't require biblical warrant for all our ethical determinations. 

2. In Scripture, couples marry with a view to having kids. That assumes the bride and bridegroom are sexually mature. 

3. Ruth was a widow. Moreover, she'd been married for ten years before her husband died (Ruth 1:4-5; 4:11). Presumably, she was in her twenties when she married Boaz.

4. Are there passages in Scripture that have implications for age of eligibility in reference to marriage? 

i) Take the much maligned passage about war brides (Deut 20:10-14). The brides are widows. So these are not prepubescent girls. It's unlikely that they are even adolescent girls. Rather, the context suggests adult women. They are chosen for their overt womanly sex appeal. 

ii) In 1 Cor 7:36, the virgins are, at the very least, sexually mature, and the word (hyperakmos) may well mean the "bloom of youth". That suggests females in the upper teens or early twenties.  

5. It's common to speculate that Mary was an adolescent bride who was widowed by the time Jesus began his public ministry because she married a much older man. But even if we grant some of the assumptions, it was probably rare for people to die of old age in the ancient world. Mortality was high, and there are many common ways to die young, viz. illness, accident, infection. 

6. Regarding the morality of older men who marry younger women, that depends. 

i) On the one hand are coercive or exploitative relationships. Older men (and women!) in positions of power who abuse their authority by taking advantage of subordinates. 

ii) On the other hand, there are desperate or ambitious women who take the initiative. They court or seduce older men who can advance their career, provide financial security, or lavish lifestyle. That's calculated. Some women are attracted to alpha males or powerful men. I'm not making a value judgment, just a sociological observation. Between consenting adults, I don't think age disparity is coercive or exploitative. 


  1. I think there's a place for natural law considerations in Christian ethics. We don't require biblical warrant for all our ethical determinations.

    That's a powerful statement by Steve. Christian ethics based on the Bible takes into consideration natural law. Even if Islam could theoretically do the same thing, Islam nevertheless teaches that it's okay for men to have sex with prepubescent girls. As I said in the comments of another blog:

    To add to what Steve said, if one reads Ezek. 16:1-8 (and following) God likens his relationship with His people as Him having found her like a newly born abandoned child. He waited until she was sexually mature to "marry" her in covenant. I think that suggests the same thing Steve is saying. I think we can inductively infer from this what the Jews believed during that time and what God Himself approves of regarding when it's appropriate for a female to get married.

    Many (not all) Muslims have the wrong notion that once menstruation occurs it's God's sign that she is ready to be sexually active and bear children. But that's not medically true. Other parts of a woman's anatomy (like the hips) need to develop for her to be ready to bear children. That's a reason why a lot of women die or suffer terrible injuries in Islamic cultures. Because they didn't postpone marriage long enough.

    The Christian God of love, wisdom, and healing would naturally want and expect us culturally to promote a safe age for marriage (with the assumption that the consummation of the marriage occurs soon after marriage). In some cultures female sexual maturation occurs earlier than in other cultures. So, there can be no specific fixed age for a female to marry. It depends on both biological and psychological maturity.

    Unfortunately, in some Islamic cultures the marriage of men with prepubescent girls is accepted (cf. Quran 65:4). They justify it because Muhammad is considered the best moral example (Quran 33:21) and he contracted marriage to Aisha when she was 6, and consummated the marriage when he was 54 and she was 9, before she reached puberty.

    See Sam Shamoun's article: Muhammad and Aisha Revisited: An Examination of Muhammad’s Marriage to a Prepubescent Girl And Its Moral Implications

  2. Thanks Steve! Very informative.

  3. My first response when I saw the initial question that Steve is addressing was to point out the repeated directive in Song of Solomon to "not awaken love before it's time" and the idea at the end of the book that the "little sister without breasts" is one who is being guarded/protected. It's also clear from the language of that book that the lover and the beloved are sexualy mature.

    Also, there is a much more basic argument to be had from the 2nd greatest commandment.

    Children are never sexual objects in the bible. You can call that 'silence' if you like but in the presence of plenty of sexual stories and rules regarding sex, it is a ringing silence.

    Finally, Christian parents don't encourage their kids to marry and have sexual relations with adults and Christian kids are told to obey their patents. Not exactly second use of the law but the bible is primarily for God's people.