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Sexual Morals: The Apostle Paul vs. Alfred Kinsey

Last Updated: April 20, 2015

Alfred Kinsey is hailed by some as the father of the sexual revolution.

I know many Christians who can identify with Alfred Kinsey’s adolescent frustrations. He grew up in a strict Methodist home where drinking, dancing, and dating were prohibited. I know many Christians who grow up believing that their sexuality is a moral curse: every urge in us wants to experience and experiment, but our moral upbringing tells us to repress it lest we incur God’s anger. The result is failure and frustration.

Kinsey was a man on a mission to break himself and others free from the sexual morals of his Christian upbringing. His pursuit to squash the sexual repression message won him international fame.

Kinsey observed what the apostle Paul observed a couple thousand years before: being told that something is evil doesn’t make us want to do it less; we want to do it more. This much Kinsey got right. But there was something sadly lacking in Kinsey’s understanding of Christianity, and this led him down a path of destructive indulgence. (For an excellent article on this, read “Kinsey: Deviancy is the New Normal.” Reader discretion is highly advised.)

Paul’s View of Religious Morals

Paul explains how he did not know what “coveting”—such as sexual lust and material greed—was until he read, “Thou shalt not covet.” Then the sin in him seemed to come to life. Suddenly, knowing that coveting was evil, created a desire to do it more. Like a child told not to touch the hot stove, he had a greater desire to touch (Romans 7:7-10).

So here the Law of Moses stands, a bedrock of personal morality and social ethics, but all it seems to do is frustrate its readers. Paul devoted his early life to the study and living of this divine Law. In his own words, he was extremely zealous for the traditions of his fathers (Galatians 1:14). He was trained at the feet of one of the most celebrated rabbis of his day (Acts 22:3). No one could blame him of any obvious unrighteous behavior (Philippians 3:6). He saw himself as a guide to the blind—a light to those in darkness (Romans 2:19). Yet brooding beneath the crust of Paul’s heart was secret sin. It seems the better he knew the Law, the more sin seemed to come alive in him.

But something dramatic happened to Paul which completely shifted the way he saw God and the Law of Moses. Unexpectedly, while on a mission to imprison Christians in Damascus, Paul met the Lord Jesus in a blinding light. This experience ushered him into a new life. He would soon readjust his whole theology. No longer was the Law the way in which he approached God. The crucified and risen Messiah became the epicenter of his relationship to God.

Not that the Law was somehow no longer important to Paul. It was. Years later he would still teach how the commandments of the law are “holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12). But he no longer believed that the purpose of the Law was to make us behave well; rather, he believed that the law is so right and so good that it is designed to act as a mirror through which we see our true selves—designed to show us just how sinful we really are and how badly we need to be transformed from the inside out. Try as we might to obey the Law, we will come up very short. Legalistic, ascetic regulations have an appearance of religious wisdom, but Paul said that “they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:23).

Like Kinsey, Paul knew that sort of asceticism and legalism, and it hadn’t worked.

How Christ Changed Paul

Rather, Paul believed that the purpose of the Law was to point to our deepest need—not to better performance, but to God’s forgiveness and a radical, internal change. The Law accuses us as so wicked that we must either give up and reject God (like Kinsey), or sit under the weight of our guilt (like Paul before he met Christ), or find divine mercy and power (Paul after he met Christ). Meeting Jesus in a blinding light cast a new light on a Scriptures he read since he was a boy. Paul said Moses and all the prophets point to a great hope—the coming of a new age when sins will be totally forgiven, when the world will be totally remade. In Paul’s conversion he came to understand Jesus would be the one to bring all that about.

This is what the three pivotal events of the early church are all about. This is why Paul was so fixated on Christ.

  1. Jesus’ voluntary death on the cross for the sins of others guaranteed that Paul was no longer under God’s wrath. Jesus took upon Himself the “curse” of the Law (Galatians 3:10-14) when he went to the cross. Then suddenly, the Mosaic sacrificial system took on a whole new significance. All those animal sacrifices had pointed to the ultimate sacrifice, one which God would make. The cross of Christ became Paul’s central message (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).
  2. Jesus’ physical resurrection from the grave was not only a sign to Paul that Christ’s death is acceptable to God, but it is also a foretaste of God’s renewal of the whole world. When Paul saw Jesus on the Damascus road it convinced him that Jesus was not only alive, but that God had vindicated Him. He knew (without doubt) that the promise of the prophets was true: that one day God would resurrect the dead and renew the world. He knew Jesus was the first fruits of that final harvest (1 Corinthians 15:3-20).
  3. When Jesus sent the Holy Spirit from heaven He started the process of inner transformation for which Paul had been yearning. The prophets before Paul promise a day when God’s Spirit will flood the world and give us new hearts that will delight in God, will be eager to obey God, and will no longer be enticed by sin (Jeremiah 31:33-34; Ezekiel 36:24-27; Joel 2:28-29). The powerful outpouring of the Spirit in Paul showed him that this new age had begun. By the power of the Spirit, Paul sees people healed and hearts changed.

The thing Kinsey never understood was that his moralistic upbringing was not meant merely to make him behave, but something meant to point the way to his need for a Savior who could change Him.

  1. Liz

    Praise the Lord, I love the conversion story of Paul :D

  2. Rick

    I personally believe you should back up your argument by having more facts on Kinsey. Generalized statements such as moral upbringing do nothing to support your argument.

    • @Rick – Gladly. If you are interested in more about Kinsey’s upbringing, this PBS American Experience story is a good place to start. Here are some excerpts:

      “Alfred Charles Kinsey was the first of three children born to Alfred Seguine Kinsey, an instructor of shop practice at Hoboken’s Stevens Institute of Technology, and his wife Sarah Charles Kinsey. Alfred Seguine was a domestic autocrat, an ardent prohibitionist, and a devout Methodist who took his family to church at every possible opportunity: three times on Sundays, plus assorted midweek services and social gatherings. . . .

      “By all accounts, the Kinsey household was asexual, with parents displaying little affection for each other. Kinsey had little interaction with girls outside the schoolroom. His adolescent explorations of sexuality left him deeply troubled, obsessed with masochism and unsure of his own sexual orientation. When Kinsey met his future wife in 1920, still grappling with his repressed childhood, he had never once been on a date with a woman or had sexual intercourse. . . .

      “Like Alfred, Clara had little experience dating and no experience with sex, and they went about their courtship with the utmost propriety. The young couple were married on June 3, 1921, and immediately headed east by train for their honeymoon. . . . Their wedding night did not go as planned, and they struggled for almost a year before consummating their marriage.”

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