The internets have been burning the past couple of days with claims that the APA (the American Psychiatric Association) had classified pedophilia as a sexual “orientation” in the recently released DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). A press release from the AFA (American Family Association), picked up by many conservative blogs and news outlets claimed:
"Just as the American Psychiatric Association declared homosexuality an ‘orientation’ under tremendous pressure from homosexual activists in the early seventies, now, under pressure from pedophile activists, they have declared the desire for sex with children an ‘orientation,’ too. It's not hard to see where this will lead. More children will become sexual prey.
"Sanity will never return to this culture until truth is reclaimed. It is not now, nor has it ever been acceptable for men or women to desire sex with children. Any who struggle with this must at least know that it is wrong before they can combat it and seek change." - AFA Press Release
But it’s just not true. The only change in the DSM-V’s classification of Pedophilia is that “the disorder name was changed from 'pedophilia' to 'pedophilic disorder'" in order to "maintain consistency with the chapter’s other disorder listings.” The APA has not said that it is acceptable for men or women to desire sex with children.
The APA has not endorsed pedophilia as an alternative lifestyle neither has it reclassified it as an acceptable orientation. The freakout is unwarranted. It’s an emotional reaction to facts not in evidence.
But the discussion did prompt my curiosity to ask the question: What does the Bible have to say about Pedophilia? And the simple (maybe shocking) answer is not much – and what little it does say might leave us feeling a little uncomfortable.
There is no direct reference to pedophilia in the bible (not as the DSM and contemporary psychiatry defines it – as a psychiatric disorder in persons 16 years of age or older typically characterized by a primary or exclusive sexual interest toward prepubescent children.)
Zip. Zero. Nada.
However, there are some ambiguous passages in the Old Testament that might have some relevance. In Judges 21 (a horrible and horrifying story altogether) concludes with the men of the Tribe of Benjamin abducting (technically “raping”) 400 young virgin girls. (Judges 21: 12) and then abducting (raping) even more women from Shiloh (Judges 21: 20 – 23). Similar incidents are recorded in Numbers 31: 1 – 18 and Deuteronomy 20: 1 – 14. The ages are not specified – but they are “young” in the case of Judges 21 and “children” in Numbers and Deuteronomy.
We should also recall that, while a specific age for marriage (and sex) isn’t recorded in the bible – the appropriate age for marriage (and sex) was much younger in the ancient world than it is today. “In Egypt girls were married between the ages of twelve and fourteen, and young men between fourteen and twenty. In Greece girls were usually between fourteen and twenty, and men usually between twenty and thirty. In Rome, at the time of Augustus, the legal minimum age for girls was twelve, and for boys fourteen. The Talmud recommends marriage for girls at the age of puberty, which would be between twelve or thirteen (Yebam. 62b). Males are encouraged to marry between fourteen and eighteen. A girl younger than twelve-and-a-half, according to Talmudic law, could not refuse a marriage arranged by her father. " [i]
(The similar, but still different, issue of Pederasty (a homosexual relationship between an adult male and a pubescent or adolescent boy) might be discussed in some of Paul’s writings in the New Testament –but that point is debated.)
Is this a biblical endorsement of pedophilia, or sex with children for today’s world? Hardly. But we would probably lump these things into discussions of pedophilia. The ancient world was different from ours today. Their values and cultural norms are not ours. Even if (IF! )it could be shown that the Bible endorses pedophilic sex, that does not mean that we are beholden to accept it in our society today. Slavery and genocide were once thought acceptable biblical practices…
The APA is not saying that pedophilia is okay. The DSM-V does not classify it as an orientation.
Let’s take a breath and relax a little. We can discuss these issues (as troubling and discomfiting as they may be) without an emotional freakout.