Marriage Bed on the Sabbath
Is it biblical to engage in sex during the confines of the seventh-day Sabbath? What does the Bible have to say on this topic?
This issue is often raised in the context of Isaiah 58:13: “If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day … .” Since sex is pleasurable, the text is taken to forbid sex during Sabbath hours. However, a deeper investigation reveals that the passage in Isaiah is speaking about the Day of Atonement, a day devoted to selfexamination, judgment, and cleansing. Every individual was supposed to participate, lest he or she be “cut off” (Leviticus 23:29). There is no textual evidence to indicate that sex was forbidden on the weekly Sabbath or the Day of Atonement. No biblical evidence exists to indicate that sexual intercourse defiles. In fact, all references to sexual pleasure in the Old Testament are positive!
What, then, is referred to by the word “pleasure” in Isaiah 58:13? The Hebrew word is the same one found in verse 3 that warns against exploitation. The word is also translated (NIPS Jewish Bible) as “business pleasure” (or one’s own “business interests”). Isaiah 58:14 commands to “call the Sabbath a delight” (NIV). The word “delight” in Hebrew is ‘oneg, meaning “exquisite delight.”
The implication of Isaiah 58:13 is that God wants us to lay aside our own agenda and to replace it with something far more exquisite. God calls us to live a life of selfless pleasure, focused on our relationship with God. The notion that the Sabbath forbids joyous pleasure during the Sabbath hours is basically a misreading of the original text. What this text does refer to is avoiding “business pleasure” or pursuing one’s own “business interests.” Otherwise, anything pleasurable, including eating food or studying the Bible or singing, should be forbidden, too.
What is at stake is a biblical understanding of sexuality. Ancient Jews, known for their rigorous law codes for Sabbath observance, did not forbid sexual activity on Sabbath, albeit within the confines of marriage. This “Sabbath blessing” was considered a time of connubial consummation. The Sabbath and marriage were two holy institutions that originated in the Garden of Eden. In God’s original design, sex was intended to be the ultimate way for a husband and wife to experience the deepest levels of intimacy within the sacred bonds of marriage – the two becoming one flesh.
Tragically, sexuality has been distorted and perverted through sin. The ancient Hebrew codes were necessary because God wanted to avoid the sexual perversions of the surrounding heathen nations. Sexuality was to be carefully guarded. Another perversion came from Greek thinking that held that the human is made up of body and soul – the body being matter and evil, and therefore temporary and perishable; the soul being spirit and good, and therefore eternal and imperishable.
Some early Christian thinkers embraced this dualism between the body and the soul, which had implications for human sexuality (as well as for the Sabbath and other doctrines).
The lasting impact of Platonism can be seen in the repression of sexuality in the writings of the early church fathers, such as Origen and Augustine. All sexual urges were to be repressed. This view of Christian sexuality had a direct correlation with ecclesiology, as monks retreated to outposts and caves. Those who denied themselves sexual pleasure and became celibate were perceived as more spiritual and thus more deserving of church office. All of this contributed to a theology that, similar to the seventh-day Sabbath, had moved away from the biblical view of sexuality. The beauty bestowed in Eden on Sabbath and sex was lost during the Dark Ages.
The topic of sex on Sabbath, in any case, is a deeply personal decision that should be prayerfully discussed between a husband and wife. For some married couples, this may be something that they choose “by mutual consent” (1 Corinthians 7:5, NIV) to forgo during the hours of the seventhday Sabbath in order to maintain their spiritual focus. This is admirable, but for others this may be more distracting.
For those married couples who do engage in sexual relations on Sabbath, such a view has deep roots in the original Creation. A view of sexuality that embraces the whole person connects sex with creation as God’s beautiful gift to humanity. Satan has distorted such a gift. Whether that distortion comes from the view that sex is selfcentered pleasure and therefore needs to be suppressed, or from the view of today’s mass media that sex has nothing to do with morality and is at the will and wish of the indulger, Satan is behind every such attempt to rob this precious gift of God’s original design.
To our question of sex on Sabbath, the principle the apostle Paul conveyed in another context may apply here as well: “Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him” (Romans 14:3, ESV). God created sex as a way for humans to connect at the deepest mutual level. Such a view embraces the whole person and views sex as a beautiful gift from God.
Michael W. Campbell (PhD, Andrews University) is assistant professor of historical-theological studies, Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies, Silang, Cavite, Philippines.
Pastor Doug: In Isaiah 58, it’s talking about not doing your own pleasure on Sabbath, and you’re wondering does that include intimacy between a husband and wife on the Sabbath Day. Correct?
Caller: Right. Yes.
Pastor Doug: Um, I don’t think so. And I could be wrong. I hope the Lord will forgive me if I am but let me tell you why.
God created some things before sin that He ordained man to enjoy that are not considered evil. God created food and He intended for man to enjoy food. That’s why it says everything pleasant to the taste.
God also created intimacy in marriage. Now there are times when a person may fast from their food and, Paul says in Corinthians, that a husband and wife might agree to separate and to fast for a period of time but not too long.
It equates intimacy in marriage, or sex, with fasting from foods – so then you have to ask the question, ‘Are we expected to not eat on the Sabbath day because you enjoy it?’
This about this now – one more question: What day of the week did God make Adam and Eve?
Caller: Sixth day.
Pastor Doug: Sixth day correct?
Pastor Doug: What day of the week would have been their honeymoon?
Caller: The next day.
Pastor Doug: The next day. The Sabbath was their first day together. At the end of the day He gets Eve – because I mean here he already named all the animals, it must have been the last half of the day – God presents this ravishing, beautiful woman. And He says, ‘Now tomorrow is the Sabbath. Don’t touch her.’ That would be hard to imagine!
I think that everything He made in the garden was innocent. We sometimes think that sex is dirty. It can be, but food can be gluttonous too.
So I think that there are times when a person should fast from food and from intimacy for a purpose. Paul talks about that – but there’s nothing in the Bible that says sex on the Sabbath is wrong.
Now there was one other time when God was going to speak to the children of Israel in Exodus. He told them do not come near your wives. Well He was about to give them the Ten Commandments I think. So it was a time of real setting aside. But that was not a general rule. Ok?
Pastor Doug: All right. I hope that helps.
Caller: Thank you so much.
Pastor Doug: God bless.
Co-Host: Thanks for the call Nicolas.
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