r-ratedThe film industry is regulated by certain government guidelines. Movies are categorized by a series of ratings indicating what different governing bodies feel are appropriate for certain audiences, usually according to age. In Canada each province operates independently but the rating system is similar to other countries. In America the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has its own rating system—G, PG, PG-13, R, NC-17—based on criteria such as violence, language, substance abuse, nudity, and sexual content.

Many atheists, agnostics, and skeptics—and unfortunately some evangelicals—take a similar approach to Scripture, saying that parts of it are not appropriate for today. There are many passages in the Old Testament that are quite explicit with violence, killing, etc., and also immorality and sexual content (particularly in the Song of Solomon). The Jews had their own restrictions on the reading of the Song of Solomon.

Atheists and skeptics use this to discredit the Bible. Some Christians argue that if the Bible includes R-rated material then how can we condemn the movie industry? As one individual once said to me, “An R-rated movie is acceptable if the theme contains a moral lesson.”

On the other hand, most Christians would approach this material as the Psalmist who said, “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes” (Psalm 101:3). They might struggle to explain the presence of the kind of material in the Bible. If we reject R-rated movies, then why do we accept what we might call R-rated content in religion?

Many evangelicals ignore the blood, guts, and immorality and approach the Old Testament as they would an Enid Blyton adventure story attaching some moral lesson, like courage, honesty, or respect, to give it some Christian credibility. Another approach taken by some is to view the men and women of the Old Testament as simple-minded barbarians that just need a little religious refining—the Old Testament was wrong, but Jesus fixed everything in the New Testament.

Both of these approaches to the Old Testament “R-rated” stories of blood, guts, and immorality are shallow and misguided attempts to interpret the Word of God to a politically correct and increasingly humanistic audience.

This is the dilemma of many Christian parents today—how can I teach my children the Bible if it is so filled with violence and sin? I can’t tell my children the story of how a shepherd boy sank a stone into a giant’s head and then chopped his head off with the giant’s own sword. Or what about Ehud who punctured the obese belly of Eglon with an 18-inch dagger and spilled his guts? Why does the Bible tell us that Jael impaled Sisera’s head to the ground with a tent peg while he slept? These aren’t adventure stories to pique the interest of children.

Then there is the story of Hosea and his prostitute wife. Why would God tell Hosea to go and marry a woman who either was a prostitute, as some believe, or whom he knew would become a prostitute? Why would he tell us about such a sordid relationship? Consider also the Jewish ritual of circumcision, the cutting away of the foreskin of the Jewish boys. Why would God include that very intimate and explicit ritual in the Bible for us to read, study, and learn from?

Why, in short, is the Bible so graphic in its portrayal of sin and wickedness—so “R-rated” with death, violence, blood, guts, and immorality? These events or stories are not mere examples of moral strength or weakness, of courage or cowardice, nor are they to be ignored and avoided as damaging to the well-being of our children.

God intended these things to be included in the Scriptures because these stories are integral to our understanding of the gospel. The canon of Scripture as a complete unit presents not only the fall into sin and the wreckage of sin but also in every book points to the Deliverer from sin and these stories are part of that recovery.

Consider this subject under four very broad headings: historical—because humanity is R-rated; theological—because God deals with R-rated humanity; Christological—because Christ saves R-rated sinners; and ecclesiological—because grace transforms R-rated hearts.

Historicalbecause humanity is R-rated

The Bible shows us the complete story of humanity from paradise lost to paradise regained. Paradise lost is an ugly, hurtful, and hard existence; this is where we are. There is something in us that wants to pretend this is not so. We like to present a happy, friendly, often hypocritical image of ourselves like the friendly Facebook façade of pure, undisturbed happiness.

But the truth is we are all sinners, totally depraved, deceitful “above all things,” adulterous, murderous, and conceited. The Bible tells us that it is so bad we don’t even know how bad it really is. The prophet Jeremiah asks, “Who can know it?” (17:9). No attempt at redeeming ourselves, either theologically (before God) or aesthetically (before men), will ever be successful. No matter how well we present ourselves to the public there is always going to be that heart of sin, often more open to the public eye than we would care to admit. No matter how often the tomb is painted, death is still the rotting content of the natural heart (Matthew 23:27). John Calvin said, “There is nothing in us that is not corrupted by Satan and filled with his poison.” This is who we are and if we keep ignoring it we only add to the sin and burrow deeper into the misery of it.

These ugly stories, therefore, of sin and depravity in the biblical record present an accurate picture of humanity. Death, deceit, and destruction are part of the human condition. The blood, guts, and immorality recorded in the Scriptures are simply the fulfillment of the enmity prophesied in Genesis 3:15 and the thorns and thistles of the cursed earth.

Theological—because God deals with R-rated humanity

The Bible is God’s word to an R-rated humanity. God does not gloss over sin. He does not attempt to make it palatable to the sensitive or to the squeamish, and He does not brush it under the carpet.

The record of blood, guts, and immorality given by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit shows that God has spoken to humanity in the context of sin and shame and because of it. God’s revelation presents humanity with the realization that we will either deal with God in His justice or in His mercy. For those who receive His word, obey His revelation, and seek Him, there is mercy. For those who reject His Word there is justice exacted against sin.

The blood-guts-and-immorality record of Scripture also shows the power of God despite the depravity of man or the gargantuan endeavors of Satan. Through all of the sin and depravity of the Old Testament God made good on His promise of the Messiah and He who kept the promise of His first advent will keep the promise of His second advent also and deliver us not only from the power and pollution of sin but also from the presence of sin.

Christologicalbecause Christ saves R-rated sinners

The Bible is what theologians call special revelation. It is given especially to reveal Christ the Saviour (creation, providence, and conscience are general revelation). Against the backdrop of the ugliness and hurt of sin we see the beauty of Christ. The Old Testament narrative, therefore, is not just history; it is, to use another important term, redemptive history—the story of redemption.

Through history and biography from the sin of Adam (Genesis 3) and the fall of humanity into state of sin and misery, we learn of the coming of the One promised who will defeat Satan and reverse the curse: the Messiah. Redemptive history is not just the story of enmity between Satan and humanity spoken of in Genesis 3:15 but between Satan and that perfect Man, the Second Adam who will stand in our place and accomplish what Adam the first failed to do. Christ, God’s anointed, will come and deliver us from the blood, guts, and immorality of sin. He will give Himself as a sacrifice for our sin, as was typified in the lamb slaughtered on the night of the Passover and in the thousands of animals slain throughout the Old Testament history.

He will defeat Satan with his own weapon—death (Hebrews 2:14)—just as David defeated Goliath with Goliath’s own sword. He will be with us in the fiery furnaces of this life just as He was with the three Hebrews in the furnace in Babylon. He will be in the lion’s den with us and He will shut the mouth of the great loin, the devil, and keep us in safety. He will bring back the wandering heart and restore the backslider just as Hosea brought back his prostitute wife. The Old Testament then and all of the history in it is the story of God’s grace through Christ working to bring sinful and obnoxious humanity to salvation, because Jesus saves R-rated sinners.

Ecclesiological—because the Holy Spirit transforms R-rated hearts

The biographies of the Scripture—and I’m thinking in particular of the Judges at this point—the narratives of decisive faith and radical courage point us not only to the One who has taken on the enemy for us, but they also teach us of the victory of faith that overcomes the world (cf. Hebrews 11).

These stories illustrate for us what grace accomplishes in the transformed heart. It enables the heart to rise up against sin. It shows us the decisive, courageous, and radical action we should take in dealing with sin in the heart and life. Because Christ has gone before us, taken the head of our Goliath, we like the Israelites can follow Him and put the enemy to flight. This is the victory that we have in Christ. Like the Israelites, we fight in the victory, not for the victory.

This is the sort of men and women the church needs today, men and women like Ehud, Jael, and Deborah who courageously stepped up when the need arose and defeated the enemy. These were acts of courage and faith. They were radical because sin demands radical and decisive action. They were courageous because sometimes we must go against the status quo and against the opposition from within the church. Furthermore, we must be prepared to face the danger and deal with sin in our own heart, in our own house, and in the church.

I would note in closing that this language of war is not foreign to the New Testament. Paul speaks about this discipline, the fight of faith, the war on spiritual terrorism, in his own body (1 Corinthians 9:27) and in the church in general (Ephesians 6:10-20).

An audio recording of this article: