Published on March 23, 2016 by Joshua Centanni

Zondervan, 2015 | 206 pages

Reviewed by Mark Ro

You don’t have to be a biblical scholar to know that the Old Testament is replete with perverted examples of sexuality, and the provocative title of David Lamb’s book gets right to a couple of them. From the “pimping patriarch” Abraham to the “raping monarch” David, sexual grievances permeate the story of Israel’s history. While churches and parents often want to sanitize the Bible and ignore the difficult passages, how are we to understand the abundance of shocking sexual behavior in the Old Testament?

The author of Prostitutes and Polygamists, David Lamb, is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Biblical Theological Seminary and a former staff member at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship with over a dozen years of campus ministry experience. This is Lamb’s third book; his first is his doctoral dissertation, Righteous Jehu and his Evil Heirs, and his second is God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?

In Prostitutes and Polygamists, Lamb is concerned that segments of the Bible are being ignored because of the church’s reluctance to talk about sex. He asks, “When the church whispers about sex and the culture yells about it, whose voice is going to be heard?” (19). Lamb addresses the full range of wayward sexual behavior included in the Old Testament because we can learn from “not just the ideal but also the reality” of sex and from the God who redeems the sexually broken.



Chapter 1, “Humans Behaving Badly,” serves as the book’s introduction and reminds the reader that all Scripture is inspired by God and needs to be read, studied, and taught, including the accounts of polygamy, prostitution, rape, adultery, and incest. It is when we learn about humans behaving badly that “we will learn profound things about the behavior of our God” (22). When sexual sin abounds, God’s grace abounds even more in three ways: 1) by helping people learn about sin, grace, and healing; 2) inviting people with sexual issues to be part of his redemptive plan; and 3) loving, forgiving, and healing those who are sexually broken (22). These themes culminate in Jesus Christ, whose own genealogy includes men and women with serious sexual problems.

In Chapter 2, “Husbands and Wives,” Lamb starts at the beginning (Genesis 1-2) and provides an overview of God’s original, good design for sex and sexuality. Humans were created as sexual beings with a divine mandate to “be fruitful and multiply,” and it was “not good” for man to be alone (39). Yet Genesis 3 introduces sin and the Fall with catastrophic consequences, including sexual ones. Fortunately, God launches his restorative plan in Genesis 12 to return blessing to his creation, beginning with Abraham, who first has to learn to trust God with his sex life and (in)ability to “be fruitful and multiply”. The ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham comes through Christ, who affirms the institution of marriage through his attendance at the wedding in John 2 and his provision of wine. Lamb argues that God’s gifts in Genesis 1 and John 2 – sex and wine – are correlated in Scripture, and when Christ is invited into a wedding/marriage, he provides abundantly (55).

Chapters 3 to 7 deal with specific sexual aberrations and the following categories of people “behaving badly”: polygamists, prostitutes, rapists and adulterers, incesters, and homosexuals and Sodomites (people from Sodom). A general principle that Lamb employs is the distinction between descriptive and prescriptive texts. Just because a passage includes one of the aforementioned sexual sins without an explicit condemnation doesn’t imply an endorsement; it may simply be included to describe what actually happened (61). In the case of polygamy, Lamb argues that God sometimes makes concessions in non-ideal situations to provide security, honor, and spiritual welfare for widows and other family members who would otherwise be marginalized outside of the institution of marriage, monogamous or not (66). But contrary to popular caricatures of the Old Testament, polygamy is not the ideal.

Lamb surveys a number of figures who sinned or were sinned against sexually, and he draws out lessons and highlights the grace of God in their lives. Lamb consistently points to Christ as the forgiver of sexual sin and the restorer of sexual brokenness who uses deeply flawed people to advance his redemptive purposes. The prostitutes Tamar and Rahab demonstrate piety and faith and are later included in Jesus’ genealogy (99). Abraham was a pimp, Lamb argues, who offered his wife to Pharaoh for sex to protect himself (93); David was an adulterer and most likely a rapist (127). Yet God doesn’t smite them, and lest we cast the first stone, we also need to remember that we desperately need God’s forgiveness as well.

Demonstrating his pastoral concern, Lamb also uses biblical examples of rape and incest to address victims of sexual abuse. He sheds light on the tragic situations of people in power covering up for sexual abuse, and he pleads with victims to seek professional help and healing (133). Lamb’s wife also contributes a section in the chapter on incest, and she compassionately offers hope to victims of incest through the love of Christ (158).

One may have expected Lamb to spend considerable time dealing with homosexuality, but Lamb appeals to the lack of Old Testament emphasis on the topic and instead focuses on Sodomites (a geographic, not sexual, reference). Lamb argues that the city of Sodom was primarily guilty of inhospitality and injustice, and the almost exclusive association with homosexual behavior is not grounded in the text and in other canonical passages that refer to Sodom (175-6). According to Lamb, we are all Sodomites – guilty of pride and a lack of concern for others.

Lamb closes with the Epilogue, “Sex and the Single Savior”, and he warns against idolizing marriage, affirms the value of singleness, and exhorts the reader to fall in love with Jesus, our bridegroom.



Overall, Lamb combines scholarly care with a pastoral posture, amounting to a helpful book on a much neglected subject. It’s a very readable, informative, and often entertaining book, geared toward the thoughtful layperson as well as pastors and seminarians. While some may object to Lamb’s use of humor in discussing a serious topic, I found that it kept me attentive and engaged without being distracting or irreverent. Most importantly, Lamb demonstrates appropriate warmth and sensitivity in the right places, and his biblical and theological conclusions are also well argued, even if one may not agree with all of them.

I sometimes wondered, however, if Lamb could have demonstrated more nuance in some of his more provocative statements. For example, he calls Jesus the “Great Liquor Provider” and describes him as someone who brings “massive quantities of alcohol to a party” (56). I understand Lamb’s desire to incorporate humor, but I can’t help but to think that this characterization has too many negative cultural associations to be helpful. He also says that “many Christians are shocked to discover that the first commandment is basically a command to have a lot of sex” (56). It’s a provocative statement, but I don’t know if I would equate the first part of the Creation Mandate with “having a lot of sex.” Again, more nuance would be helpful.

I appreciate Lamb’s desire to bring the gospel to bear on these sexual issues; however, I would have expected more discussion on the critical marriage text of Ephesians 5 in Lamb’s exploration of the marriage ideal in Chapter 2. I also think the book could have benefitted from more references to Christ’s death and resurrection (the resurrection is not mentioned once). We are dead to sexual sin but raised to new life in Christ, and while the book looks at love, “Old Testament style,” it seems like only a partial gospel is applied to these issues to the exclusion of love, “Pauline style.”

These are minor critiques since the book is not designed to be a comprehensive treatment, and I highly recommend the book for people interested in a fresh (or first) look at the confusing sexual behavior scattered throughout the Old Testament. It discards caricatures of the Old Testament picture of sex and marriage while highlighting the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, friend of tax collectors, sinners, and prostitutes.


Mark Ro works with the Henry Center for Theological Understanding (TEDS).


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Prostitutes and Polygamists

Zondervan, 2015 | 206 pages

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