Would the Bible Make an R-Rated Movie?

Adult Entertainment

If a movie is R-rated in the US, it means the Motion Picture Association, or some other authority has restricted those who are permitted to watch it publicly. Here in the UK, we call it an 18. In both cases, it means the material is only suitable for adults. 

Is the Bible only suitable for adults? When some think of the Bible, they imagine cute stories with children and animals (especially lambs). Or they think of smiley Jesus, for some reason dressed in white, acting really, really nice to the poor. But the reality is much more interesting. 

Here, I’ve picked out some incidents and texts from the Bible that have an adult tone. Then, I’ve arranged them according to a standard rating system to warn of adult film content.  

Violence and Gore 

  • Rapes – There are rapes that result in tenderness (Genesis 34:4) and rapes that result in hatred (2 Samuel 13:14) but they are all committed by force and end with death. 
  • Assassinations – A couple get impaled by a spear (Numbers 25:7-8). A fat king gets stabbed by a left-handed killer (Judges 3:21-22). Another king gets a tent peg hammered through his temple by a woman (Judges 4:21-22). A different woman drops a millstone on someone’s head, crushing their skull (Judges 9:53-54). There are many other juicy examples (2 Samuel 3:27; 4: 6-7; 20:9-10; 2 Kings 8:14-15; 9:33-36). 
  • Body horror – In one story, a man takes his partner, who was raped to death, cuts her body into twelve pieces, and posts the parts throughout the country (Judges 19-20). 
  • Self-mutilation – In a confrontation with Elijah, the prophets of Baal slash and pierce themselves until their blood gushed out (I Kings 18:28). Elijah then slaughters 450 of them (v40). 
  • Cannibalism – There are many references in the Old Testament to humans eating other humans because of the severe hunger caused by prolonged sieges. Mothers would even eat their own children (2 Kings 6-7). 
  • Brutal language – There are poems in the Bible called the Imprecatory Psalms that ask God to curse enemies and bring calamities down on them.  This includes raining down fiery coals and sulphur on their heads (Psalm 11:6), making their way in life dark and slippery (35:6), dissolving them into slime like a stillborn child (58:5), terrifying them with storms (83:14), and praying that someone smashes the heads of their children against a rock (137:9). 
  • Child killings – In the Old Testament, there are descriptions of the practice of child sacrifice by the heathen nations, then copied by backsliding Israel (Jeremiah 7:31; 19:5; 32:5). Further, in the New Testament, we have the Massacre of the Innocents (Matthew 2:16-18), when Herod executed all male children from two and under in the vicinity of Bethlehem. 
  • Torture – Don’t forget that the central event of the Christian religion – the crucifixion of Jesus Christ – is essentially a torture scene involving capital punishment by public impalement, with whipping, exhaustion and asphyxiation also involved. (Thanks to Mike Duran in his book Christian Horror for this insight.)
  • Gruesome deaths – Judas hung himself, but the rope snapped, and he fell down headfirst, with his body splitting open and all his intestines spilling out (Matthew 27:5; Acts 1:18). Herod was infected by worms and maggots, that ate him to death from the inside out (Acts 12:23). 

Sex and Nudity 

  • Prostitution – Some of the heroes of the Bible used prostitutes, including Judah with his own daughter-in-law (Genesis 38:15-16) and of course, Samson (Judges 16:1). One of the Old Testament prophets was even told by God to marry a prostitute on purpose (Hosea 1). 
  • Seduction of younger men by older women – The best-known example of this is the handsome Joseph by Potiphar’s desperate housewife (Genesis 39). There’s another tragicomic description of this trend in Proverbs 7:6-27. 
  • Orgies – David’s good-looking son Absalom had a public, rooftop orgy with his father’s harem (2 Samuel 16:22).  And the Great Whore of Babylon in the book of Revelation, called the Mother of All Prostitutes, has passionate and immoral sex with the many kings of the earth (14:8; 17:2). 
  • Erotic language – There is a poetic book in the Old Testament called the Song of Solomon or the Song of Songs that describes the relationship between a newlywed couple in sensual and highly suggestive ways. For example, there are frequent references to the bride’s breasts (4:5; 7:3, 7-8). There is also a reference to the bridegroom’s erect penis (5:14), although English translators have tried to cover up the more explicit Hebrew. “It is not his body that is like a slab of ivory, but rather his sexual organ, which is like a tusk of ivory.” (Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, IVP (1998), p. 778)
  • Graphic language – The Book of Ezekiel contains sexually explicit language in its criticism of Israel, comparing it to a promiscuous, lascivious woman. Israel acted like a whore with Egyptians, described as their big-membered and well-endowed neighbours (Ezekiel 16:26). Next, Israel lusted after her Babylonian lovers, described as having genitals like those of horses, and semen emissions like those of stallions (Ezekiel 23:20). 

Profanity and Vulgarity 

  • They’ll shag your wife – Shagel is a word in Hebrew that is considered an obscene or vulgar word for the act of sex. It’s only used four times in the Old Testament. Sometimes it seems to mean raped or ravished (Isaiah 13:16; Zechariah 14:2). But other times it refers to cheap, degrading sex (Deuteronomy 28:30 and especially Jeremiah 3:2). It’s hard not to compare it to our modern word ‘fuck’ in order to avoid euphemisms and capture the strong sense of the original word.
  • You son of a bitch! – This is essentially what Saul called his son Jonathan after he sided with David against is father (1 Samuel 20:30). The New Living Translations renders it as, “You stupid son of a whore!” 
  • Little fingers and big cocks – A new king wanted to express that he was stronger than the old king. He did this by saying that his little finger was ticker than his father’s entire penis! (1 Kings 12:10) 
  • Every swinging dick – There’s a period in Old Testament history where Israelites describe males about to me killed (‘cut off’) as those ‘pissing against a wall’ (1 Samuel 25:34; 1 Kings 14:10; 16:11; 21:21; 2 Kings 9:8). It’s a phrase that both refers to the male sex of whatever age (those that stand up to urinate, men or boys) but also does so in a derogatory tone. 
  • Your god is taking a dump! – In Kings 18:27, Elijah mocks the prophets of Baal by suggesting their god didn’t answer them because he was occupied or withdrawn. This word is a Hebrew euphemism for using the toilet (Judges 3:24; 1 Samuel 24:3) or, as some versions translate it, maybe Baal was too busy “relieving himself”! 
  • Eating shit and drinking piss – This is said disparagingly of those in a siege situation (2 Kings 18:27). Most translations use ‘dung’ or ‘excrement’. Both these are inadequate because it isn’t animals faeces that’s in mind here, and the tone is far from polite!
  • Bloody tampons – The prophet Isaiah, the Shakespeare of the biblical canon, described our good works as ‘filthy rags’ (64:6), which in the original Hebrew refers to stained menstrual clothes. 
  • You total bastard! – When Jesus accused some Jews of lying and plotting to kill him, he said they acted like their father the devil. They countered that Abraham and in fact God himself was their father. They weren’t the bastards in this situation (John 8:41). Later on, the author of Hebrews uses the more common Greek word nóthos to mean the same thing (12:8), but it has a range of other senses too, none of which are pleasant.
  • God-damn! – The Greek word ‘anathema’ is used several times in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 16:22; Galatians 1:8-9) which means under a divine curse, doomed, damned by God. 
  • I wish your balls were cut off! – In Galatians 5:12, Paul says he wishes those who disturbed the church there would be ‘cut off’ which means mutilated, emasculated or castrated. One Greek lexicon defines this word at the time as a wish to “cut off their privy parts” (Thayer). 
  • You bunch of cock slashers! – In Philippians 3:2, Paul calls those who argued that early Christians should be circumcised as ‘the concision’ or the genital mutilators. 
  • They’re not worth a shit! – In Philippians 3:8, Paul contrasted what he gained in Christ with what he lost by describing the latter (according to different translations) as dung, garbage, rubbish, filth, refuge, and nothing. However, studies of the Greek word show that a more accurate translation would be a vulgar, casual word for human excrement e.g., crap or shit. (See, for example, A Brief Word Study on Σκύβαλον by Daniel B Wallace.)

Alcohol and Drugs 

  • Drunken sex – Noah got drunk and had a strange incident with his son (Genesis 9:20-22). Lot’s daughters got him drunk on purpose so they could have sex with him and get pregnant (Genesis 19:30-36). 
  • Sex drugs – Mandrakes are mentioned in the Bible as a form of aphrodisiac or love potion to enhance the sex act or increase the chances of pregnancy (Genesis 30:14; Song of Solomon 7:13). 
  • Red eyes and hallucinations – Proverbs 23:29-35 provides an graphic, timeless description of the sad life of an alcoholic. 
  • A drunken deity – Psalm 78:65 compares a wrathful God to a drunken warrior who wakes up in a rage from sleep. 
  • Drunken orgies – The New Testament links orgies and drunkenness in more than one occasion (Romans 13:13; Galatians 5:21). 

Frightening and Intense Scenes 

  • Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac (Genesis 20-21) and Jephthah sacrificing his daughter (Judges 11) with one child saved and the other lost. 
  • An insane King Saul attempting to murder David (1 Samuel 15-16, 18-19). 
  • Saul forcing a witch to conduct a séance (1 Samuel 28, 31; 2 Samuel 1) with unexpected outcomes for everyone. 
  • The judgement of Solomon with the life of a baby hanging in the balance (1 Kings 3-4). 
  • Daniel (Daniel 6) and his three friends (chapter 3) escaping death, unlike John the Baptist (Mark 6), who lost his head. 
  • A hand without a body, writing on a wall (Daniel 5), so terrifying a scene that one observer tuned pale and wet himself, while his knees knocked together (v5). 
  • Nightmares, visions and weird dreams – One man has a dream so terrifying that his bones shook and his hair stood up (Job 4:14:15) while a woman had a nightmare during the day that caused her pain and suffering (Matthew 27:19). 
  • The legion of demons and other possessions/exorcisms in the New Testament (Matthew 8; Mark 5; Luke 8). 
  • Those mistaking Jesus for a ghost – twice! (Matthew 14/Mark 6/John 6 and Luke 24).

An R-Rated Conclusion

Should we tone down the Bible so that it doesn’t read like the script for some R-rated movie? John Milton would disagree. He derided those “fools, who would teach men to read more decently than God thought good to write. And thus I take it to be manifest, that indignation against men and their actions notoriously bad hath leave and authority ofttimes to utter such words and phrases, as in common talk were not so mannerly to use.” 

In other words, we shouldn’t try to be holier than God. If God used such language when writing his book, then human authors aren’t doing wrong when they imitate him. And if that means making a R-rated movie, so be it.

Photo by Simon Gibson on Unsplash

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