Saturday, July 27, 2019

Why Christians Think Sex And Marriage Are A Big Deal

One of the encouragements of the Bible is that, as much as is possible, Christians are to live at peace with all people. [1] It doesn’t always work – “as much as is possible” - but as someone who is called to be a peacemaker, [2] I feel the need to try to do just that in reference to a subject that is causing a lot of friction within the church and between the church and the surrounding culture.

I am going to offer a succinct presentation of why the church has historically drawn fairly specific boundaries around issues of sex, marriage and sexuality. I don’t expect everyone to agree. I simply ask that you attempt to understand the foundation which has shaped traditional Christian thought for centuries.

I don’t know if a better understanding will or even can bring about more peace in a diverse and tense world.

I just know I want to try.

* * * * *

1. In The Historical/Traditional Biblical Worldview, Men and Women Are Complementary and Egalitarian Image Bearers of God

The claim of the Bible is that men and women are imago dei (image of God). [3] Three important points are connected with this.

A. Our essence precedes our existence. Christians are essentialists rather than existentialists. We believe our essence precedes our existence as opposed to believing our existence precedes our essence. There is an ideal essence, a universal form (to use Platonic language) of male and female– a template, if you will, of what it means to be "male" and "female". When we begin to exist, we know we are human males or females because the physical nature of our bodies both reflect and reveal that pre-existing essence. [4] We, the particular men and women, know what we are in light of our reflecting this predetermined essence.

B. Men and women are complementarian in roles (different and matching such that one complements the other in certain ways) and egalitarian in nature (equal in value, essence and dignity).

The story of Adam and Eve as recorded in Genesis makes an important point. [5] When Eve arrives on the scene, the imagery is that of Adam's flesh and bone being divided and separated. [6] As a result of this splitting of imago dei – of the one becoming two – we see a dualistic reverse representation of the trinitarian God in which three persons in complementarian roles exist in one shared essence.

When Genesis notes that a husband and wife "become one" in marriage, the Hebrew word for that oneness is echad, which is also used in the most famous Jewish prayer, the Shemah: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is echad." The linguistic connection is not accidental.

In the historical Christian tradition, one’s sexuality and sex life is meant to be ordered around one’s essence, a pre-determined essence that manifests in a biological sex that matches the complementary other. I understand why, to an existentialist, "exploring your sexuality" makes sense. It doesn’t to an essentialist. Thus the philosophical clash in the gender dysphoria debate. To the existentialist, how you live creates your essence; to the essentialist, who you essentially are should guide how you live.

2. In The Historical/Traditional Biblical Worldview, Sex and Marriage Are Spiritually Symbolic

The historical Christian claim is that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit of the Trinity are different persons – they are the complementarian ‘other’ – but they are one in essence. Thus, the Trinitarian three-in-one. In the incarnation of Jesus, we see this idea again. Two natures combine in one essence. Fully God and fully man, as the creeds like to say. Tim and Kathy Keller note in their excellent book, The Meaning of Marriage:
“There is a hint that the relationship between male and female is a reflection of the relationships within the Godhead itself – the Trinity. Although all people, men and women, are bearers of God’s image, resembling him as his children, reflecting his glory, and representing him as stewards over nature, it requires the unique union of male and female within the one flesh of marriage to reflect the relationship of life within the triune God. 
As Genesis says, male and female are “like-opposite” each other – both radically different and yet incomplete without each other. God’s plan for married couples involves two people of different sexes making the commitment and sacrifice that is involved in embracing the Other and performing different roles in the act of creation, which brings about deep unity because of the profound complementarity between the sexes. [This] tells us something of the relationships between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
When we read Adam say of Eve that she is "bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh," there seems to be an embedded statement about each having a strength ("bone") that will offset the other's weakness ("flesh"). In marriage, the husband and the wife are the complementarian ‘other’ with an equal partner as the two become ‘one’.  Their once shared essence was divided; now it is symbolically reunited. In the act of sex, they enter into a physical reenactment of their original union by entering into each other in a momentary but beautiful reminder of their shared essence. [7] As Nancy Pearcey notes, “Biblical morality is teleological: The purpose of sex is to express the one-flesh covenant bond of marriage.” [8]

The New Testament writers add another theological layer to marriage by claiming that the sacrificial love of a husband for his wife is supposed to image the love of God (the groom) for His church (the bride). [9] The “other” of deity is united with the “other” of humanity as people become part of the “bride” of Christ through salvation. A husband’s sacrificial love for his wife is supposed to remind the world of the deep, sacrificial love of Jesus for his spiritual bride. We are representing and modeling Gods' faithfulness and dutiful love in our relationship with our spouse.

So, to the Christian, marriage and sex have always been about far more than a skin-on-skin act or a social contract.  They have symbolized God’s nature, our complementary bearing of the image of God, and God’s relationship to us.

3. In The Historical/Traditional Biblical Worldview, Sex Is Covenantal

The Bible is loaded with the language of what is called Covenant Theology. [10] God is a covenant-making God. This is not the same as a contract. Unpacking all this is beyond the scope of this article, but suffice it to say that the Bible cannot be understood without the concept of covenant. There are three main ways we see this unfold in the Bible: God’s covenant with His people; the covenant of marriage; and the covenant fellowship within the church.

In the biblical narrative, sex is an act that initiates and renews a covenant, marriage, that is meant to be indissoluble. [11]  “Sexual intercourse in marriage,” writes Richard Hays in The Moral Vision Of The New Testament, “is not merely the satisfaction of individual appetites, as eating is, but it links two persons together – literally and spiritually. It effects what it symbolizes and symbolizes what it effects. Thus, the sexual union of man and woman creates an indissoluble bond.”

This is why the apostle Paul cautioned that “two become one,” even when someone sleeps with a prostitute. Sex is inescapably covenantal. In fact,it’s the only physical act that inherently bears this weight in the biblical worldview. This is why sex is such a big deal to Christians [12].

Once again, we see a spiritually symbolic overlap. God also demands the particular, boundaried love of the church, his spiritual bride. To the  Christian, our experience in marriage and our view of God are inexorably intertwined; rightly ordered sex and rightly ordered worship are deeply, spiritually and formatively significant.

By this time, it should come as no surprise that sex in the biblical worldview is unique among all our human activity. It is never simply recreational; it is never casual, meaningless or insignificant. In sex, one body signals to another body, “We are in covenant now.” This is why Catholics call sex outside of marriage “lying with the body.” Our words may say, “This is no big deal,” but our bodies tell the true story. [13] Nancy Pearcey again:
Pick up any recent book on sexuality and you will read about the role played by hormones such as oxytocin and vasopressin. Scientists first learned about oxytocin because of its role in childbirth and breastfeeding. The chemical is released when a mother nurses her baby, and it stimulates an instinct for caring and nurturing. It is often called the attachment hormone. Imagine the surprise when scientists discovered that oxytocin is also released during sexual intercourse, especially (but not exclusively) in women. Consequently, the desire to attach to the other person when we have sex is not only an emotion but also part of our chemistry. Oxytocin has been shown to create a sense of trust. As one sex therapist puts it, when we have intercourse, we create “an involuntary chemical commitment.” 
The upshot is that even if you think you are having a no-strings-attached hookup, you are in reality creating a chemical bond—whether you mean to or not. An advice columnist for Glamour magazine warns that because of hormones, “we often get prematurely attached.” Even when you intend to just have casual sex, “biology might trump your intentions.” The same holds true for men. The main neurochemical responsible for the male response in intimate sexual contact is vasopressin. It is structurally similar to oxytocin and has a similar emotional effect. Scientists believe it stimulates bonding with a woman and with offspring. Vasopressin has been dubbed the monogamy molecule As Grossman observes, “You might say we are designed to bond.”
Tim and Kathy Keller get the final word on this section (once again from The Meaning of Marriage):
“The covenant brings every aspect of two persons’ lives together. They essentially merge into a single legal, social, economic unit… they donate themselves wholly to the other… Sex is understood as both a sign of the personal, legal union and a means to accomplish it. The Bible says don’t unite with someone physically unless you are also willing to unite with the person emotionally, personally, socially, economically, and legally. Don’t become physically naked and vulnerable to the other person without becoming vulnerable in every other way, because you have given up your freedom and bound yourself in marriage. Then, once you have given yourself in marriage, sex is a way of maintaining and deepening that union as the years go by. 
Sex is perhaps the most powerful God-created way to help you give your entire self to another human being. Sex is God’s appointed way for two people to reciprocally say to one another, ‘I belong completely, permanently, and exclusively to you.’ You must not use sex to say anything less. So, according to the Bible, a covenant is necessary for sex. It creates a place of security for vulnerability and intimacy. But though a marriage covenant is necessary for sex, sex is also necessary for the maintenance of the covenant. It is your covenant renewal service.” 

4. In The Biblical Worldview, Family Is Designed to Follow Marital Sex

For Christians who see sex and marriage designed the way I just described, the most obvious confirmation of this covenantal complementarity is seen through the biology required to bring about new life.[14] People are individually incomplete with respect to one key biological function: making babies. They must do together what they cannot do apart. Only a man and a woman can form a union that is essentially oriented toward the uniquely complementarian purpose of conceiving children and raising them together. Males donate genetic material that only males have; it meets genetic material only females have. Male and female organisms have different parts that are functionally integrated for the sake of the family.
  • “Biologically, physiologically, chromosomally, and anatomically, males and females are counterparts to one another. That’s how the human sexual and reproductive system is designed. Anglican theologian Oliver O’Donovan writes, 'To have a male body is to have a body structurally ordered to loving union with a female body, and vice versa.'" [15]
  • G. K. Chesterton noted that “sex is an instinct that produces an institution. . . . the family; a small state or commonwealth.” Chesterton used an analogy in which sex is like the gate to a house, that house being the family. Sex does more than bond a husband and wife into oneness; it is the gate through which they enter life together. The natural course of the telos of their sexual union[16] will lead to a house with children, a joint labor of love that unites them in yet another shared purpose.
  • "Christian tradition," writes Lauren Winner in Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity, "has historically articulated a threefold purpose for sex: sex is meant to be unitive, procreative, and sacramental."
  • "Males and females are designed to complete each other," notes Matthew Rueger in Sexual Morality In A Christliness World. "In the language of the Old Testament, they are designed to become one flesh. In fact, every other organ of the human body completes its function in itself without the necessity of the opposite sex. Hearts beat, stomachs digest, eyes see at full efficiency within individuals. But the sexual organs require a member of the opposite sex to complete the function for which they were designed, namely procreation. Whether or not children are conceived from that union is beside the point. The organs of the human body as male and female were created to fit together for that function."
As this biological union brings about new life, the stakes get higher in the Christian tradition: sex is sacred, says Abdu Murray, because it creates sacred beings. Or, as Lewis Smedes writes in Mere Morality, the ancient Hebrews "recognized sex as a force for the future of God's family and their place in it. To play around with sex is to play games with the future of God's people." Sex is the only act a man and woman can do together that contains the power to bring new life into the world. Sex gave us Mother Theresa and Adolph Hitler. Sex matters.

Dawn Eden's Thrill Of The Chaste offers a thoughtful perspective that connects the importance of children with the broader telos of marriage:
"In marriage, God enables us to use our bodies to create a love that is more than the sum of their parts. On one level, he does this literally - by granting children. But even before that occurs, He does it figuratively, by making the bride's and bridegroom's love bear new and greater spiritual fruit.... According to Orthodox Rabbi Jay Spero of the Saran Synagogue in Buffalo, New York, God uses the natural polarity between a married man and woman to right an unbalanced world. 'When a man and woman live together in harmony, and there is peace between them, the Divine presence dwells in their midst,' Spero says. 'The reason for this is that when you take two thing which are by definition opposites and bring them together, this is a microcosm of the purpose of the creation of the world.'"
Because children are so important - and because they are ideally raised with their parents in a naturally formed "microcosm of the purpose of the creation of the world" - [17] sex is designed to be reserved for two people in a loving, committed covenant. [18] Pregnancy is designed to be something that elicits joy, not panic or fear. Abortion statistics show that the vast majority of people overwhelmed by the idea of raising a child are not married (83%). This is understandable. When a covenantal partner is not in place, what is already a daunting task becomes a seemingly overwhelming one.

One does not need a Bible to note that a stable, low conflict, faithful marriage between the biological mother and father provides children with the statistically healthiest home. This is not a claim that other situations result in unhealthy kids, or are necessarily unstable or full of conflict. It is merely a claim that there is a demonstrable situation which is optimal for children, and as such it ought to be uniquely acknowledged and promoted. [19] One can offer many challenges to the biblical restrictions on sex [20], but I think the biblical model clearly has the flourishing of the child in mind.

To the people of God in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, the only sex that made sense within the context of their worldview was sex between a man and a woman in a marital covenant. [21] There are plenty of records of how they failed to live up to their own standard, but it is always presented as the ideal design toward which they were to orient themselves.

* * * * *

One of the most contentious areas of human sexuality right now has to do with the questions of same-sex attraction and marriage. Now that a basic foundation is in place for the traditional biblical understanding of sex and marriage in general, let’s look more closely at this area.

The Bible doesn’t talk very much about sex between people of the same sex – and Jesus didn’t talk about it at all – probably because it wasn’t considered an option for the Jewish audience. [22] Robert Gagnon has noted that there is no recorded case of same-sex intercourse in the Jewish community from the 5th century B.C. to the 4th century A.D. [23] References in the New Testament to same-sex activity are past tense – “this is what you once were” [24]– or reference life in the prevailing Greek and Roman cultures.

"Did ancient Jews and Christians have a concept of homosexuality as we think of it today?" Probably not, in the sense that no one in the prevailing cultures of the biblical era thought in terms of “gay” and “straight” orientation. They had plenty to say about heterosexual vs. homosexual activity [25], but nothing to say about identity based on one’s sex life.  Martha Nussbaum, professor of philosophy at Brown University, has written that the ancients were no more concerned with people's gender preference than people today are with others' eating preferences:
“Ancient categories of sexual experience differed considerably from our own... The central distinction in sexual morality was the distinction between active and passive roles. The gender of the object... is not in itself morally problematic. Boys and women are very often treated interchangeably as objects of [male] desire. What is socially important is to penetrate rather than to be penetrated. Sex is understood fundamentally not as interaction, but as a doing of some thing to someone...”[26]
No one at the time – Jew, Roman, Greek - thought in terms of orientation like we do today. They thought in terms of activity, and even that did not lead to a label of a person’s orientation. If anything, it led to a social stratification based on who was the active vs. passive partner. Matthew Rueger notes:
It was socially acceptable for a strong Roman male to have intercourse with men or women alike, provided he was the aggressor. It was looked down upon to play the female “receptive” role in homosexual liaisons. However, even that was allowed provided the man had proven his strength in other areas. For instance, Julius Caesar was well-known to have “played the woman” with Nicomede, the king of Bithynia. Soldiers returning from Gaul even sang songs about it: “The Gauls to Caesar yield, Caesar to Nicomede, Lo! Caesar triumphs for his glorious deed, but Caesar’s conqueror gains no victor’s mead.” Julius Caesar’s sexual exploits were so well-known that a public orator said that Julius is “Every woman’s man and every man’s woman.
When I hear someone point out that the Jesus never talked about someone being gay, I think, “Of course he didn’t.” Neither did any of the Hebrew, Greek or Roman writers. That’s not how anyone thought about sexual activity, and it just wasn’t an activity that needed to be addressed for their predominantly Jewish audience.

"Is it possible they just didn’t see examples of romantic same-sex partnerships?" Plato wrote at one point in his life of “powerful friendships or passionate love-all of which homosexuality is particularly apt to produce." [27]  This was not a monolithic view among the Greeks: some records show a stigma on the passive adult partner; others seem to show an acceptance and even praise, especially in some of the mythology.  Matthew Rueger once again:
"In many circles [pederasty] was actually considered the purest form of love. In both the Greek and Roman mind, the relationship between man and woman in marriage was not a union of equals. A man’s wife was often seen as beneath him and less than him, but a sexual relationship with another male, boy or man, represented a higher form of intellectual love and engagement. It was a man joining with that which was his equal and who could therefore share experiences and ideas with him in a way he could not with a woman."
Nero himself, who lived while the New Testament was being written, was legally married to two men. There were clearly examples that ranged from what we would consider molestation and exploitation to consensual affairs and marriages.

The different scenarios don't appear to have made a difference concerning how the Jews and the early Christians thought of the activity, which was considered outside of God’s sexual design for the symbolic, covenantal and complementarian reasons I listed above.

"Do you think the words translated as “homosexual” have been misinterpreted or badly translated?" Perhaps. I’ve read pretty convincing arguments that present remarkably different views. However, I think that’s missing the narrative forest by focusing on word trees.

What did the practice of the Jewish people and the early church reveal about their view of same-sex activity? The Talmud was clear on its prohibition of the activity, though (no surprise) it does not address what we would consider orientation. [28]  Tertullian, in his famous Apology, wrote, “The Christian [man] confines himself to the female sex. ... The Christian husband has nothing to do with any but his own wife.”

That quote is representative of a consistent and clear position in the literature of ancient Judaism and early Christianity: only sex within marriage between a man and a woman was perceived as aligning with God’s design. All else was against God’s design, which is reflected in the boundaries of God’s law. [29]

It’s worth noting that, while there was a clear stance on the prohibition of sexual activity outside of marriage (with a sliding scale of infractions, to be sure), the Talmud was clear that any abstinent single person was to be accepted in the Jewish community. They understood that some people were drawn toward sexual activity with the same sex, but what we would call orientation didn’t matter to them. It was all about a commitment to respect the boundaries around sexual activity.

The New Testament writers lay out a clear demand that God’s people show God’s love to all while offering a community of grace and truth that honors God’s law and the people struggling to live within the confines of it. If you read the letters in the New Testament, the church was loaded with people who wrestled with the implications of how this new “life in Christ” was going to change how they lived their lives. The church was open to all who were willing to link arms in this journey.

"So many Christians are bigoted and homophobic. Why is there so much hate in a religion of love?" I hear a lot of comments about how Christians today are hateful homophobes. Westboro Baptist Church has long been the Poster Church on this issue. For what it’s worth, I have lived in the church all my life, and in my experience the Westboro Baptist crowd represents a tiny sliver of the church. In fact, they are doing such a terrible job representing the actual heart of Jesus to and for the world that I think it’s fair to question the legitimacy of their spiritual credentials.[30] Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention, has noted,
"Westboro Baptist is to Baptist Christianity what the 'Book of Mormon' Broadway play was to the Latter-day Saints. They were kind of a performance art of vitriolic hatred rather than any kind of religious organization."[31]
The idea that Christians outside of the Westboro Baptist aberrations hate gays is, in my experience, an almost entirely unfair accusation. Rather than delve into countless individual stories, let’s look at the bakers, florists and photographers who make the news because they don’t want to offer their goods or services to same-sex ceremonies.

In every story I’ve read, they did business with gay clientele, sometimes for years. Some had gay employees. They clearly were not hung up on the sexual orientation of their clients or staff. They had a very particular concern: they felt that providing their goods or services in a wedding ceremony made them complicit in an act they could not support in good conscience. (I remember the baker clearly offering alternatives from his own shop short of custom making a cake.)

I personally don’t think providing goods or services implies an encouragement or support of said ceremony. (I talked with a cake maker at my church who shares this opinion as well.) I’ve done a lot of weddings, and I never assumed the caterers were making any kind of statement. However, that is not my call to make on their behalf. They have decided that their participation in some sense compromises their commitment to upholding God’s design for marriage as delineated in the opening section. They are not trying to stop a same-sex couple from entering into a legally recognized social contract. They are drawing a line at the kind of covenants in which they participate.

This is not hate directed at individuals because they are gay or because they are entering into a marriage contract. This is loyalty to a Christian vision of marital covenant that, in the historical Christian view, necessarily requires the mingling of male and female bodies and souls in a reenactment of a marital narrative that began in Genesis.

"I thought Christians weren’t supposed to judge." There is a clear teaching in the New Testament that the church is not put on earth to judge those outside of the church even if we think their actions are outside of God’s design. It would be unfair to expect others to abide by our chosen moral guidelines as revealed in the Bible; in addition, it would be foolish to isolate ourselves from people outside the church who live by a very different standard than the one given for those who are in the church (see Paul’s very blunt reprimand to the church in 1 Corinthians 5:12-13). The Bible offers a blunt message to Christians: We are pilgrims, travelers passing through; ambassadors of a heavenly kingdom in an earthly empire that at times feels strange to us. It would be odd to demand that others toe our moral line so that we feel at home in a place that is not, in fact, our home.

For this reason, while I have a commitment to the historic Judeo-Christian view on marriage and sex, I have no expectation that the culture outside the church will agree with me. (There is no biblical expectation of this either.) [32] What I do have is an interest in is being allowed to live in peace with my stand on my convictions. I don’t wish to shame or coerce anyone who disagrees with me in principle or in life choices. It would be lovely if the same respect could be afforded to me.

As for Christian moral demands leveled at a surrounding culture, I do see one exception in the Bible. There is a type of activity for which God appears to hold the world responsible regardless of religion or irreligion. When God judged the non-Jewish nations in the Old Testament, it was almost entirely because of violence and exploitation. Noah’s day was “filled with violence” (Genesis 6:11); Ninevah was a “city of bloodshed” (Nahum 3:1, 19).  For more detail on what life was like in places like Sodom and Canaan, see my footnote. [33]

I believe the church not only can but must offer a prophetic voice raising public judgment on issues of violence and the exploitation of the weak. The Bible suggests in various places that there is a kind of moral code or conscience that God has embedded in us all on issues like this. In other words, you don’t need to accept or believe in special revelation from God to know this is wrong; we all know the violent exploitation of the weak and vulnerable is bad. [34]

This could cover a lot of other topics….but that’s a different post.

Do Christians understand how important one's sexual identity is? When you challenge my sexuality, you challenge who I am. There is no doubt that one's sense of identity matters tremendously. Our primary identification will no doubt mold both how we think about life and how we live our lives. As a description of a part of someone's life, thoughtful and precise 'labels' can be helpful in fostering understanding. For what it's worth, Christians - not all, unfortunately, but many - approach this topic with fear and trembling because they know how deeply this matters to people, and how easy it is to come across as callous, argumentative, and uncaring.

This is where worldview foundations once again place us at different starting points. The biblical model of identity formation is very different than our modern cultural approach. In the Bible, identity is far less about who you are and far more about whose you are. God's people in the Old Testament were children of Abraham (who was in covenant with God), then children of Israel (the name God gave Jacob, a descendant of Abraham). Their national and personal identity was grounded in whose they were.

In the New Testament, Paul dissolves all of the allegiant markers of the 1st century and reminds his readers that they have become part of one unified "body of Christ," the church. The Christian's identity is grounded first in being an image bearer - all people are -  and then specifically as a child of God (following our entrance into his "family," the church, through salvation). We are God's now. That's whose we are. The fact that we are called "Christians" reminds us that we belong to Jesus "the Christ" now.

In Christianity, who I am in synonymous and inescapably connected to whose I am. The Christian does not find his or her primary identify in sex, race, country of origin, class, gender, or family of origin. The Christian identifies as Christian first and foremost. All other labels may be culturally helpful to describe details of our lives, but they are never celebrated as our identity, and they are always subservient to our identity in Christ.

Our identity comes to us in one of at least three ways: how we view ourselves, how others view us, or how God views us. They can mix together in a very confusing fashion, but the Christian - if he or she is faithful to the biblical narrative - believes that how God views us is always the key.

What about love? That's a clear biblical command.  “Love is love,” right?

Well, yes and no.

The classical biblical understanding is that all people are born with value, egalitarian essence and dignity simply because they are created to be, in some sense, image bearers of God. This and this alone is sufficient to demand that we give honor to all (1 Peter 2:17). In addition, we are called to love everyone with the love God showed toward humanity through Jesus (John 13:34) and to love our neighbors in the same way we wish to be loved. In that sense,  a universal kind of love that looks a lot like honor is meant to be extended to all people.

But, to the Christian, “love is love” is too simple of a phrase. The language in which the Bible was written provides far more nuance than our catch-all English word. The New Testament discussion of love is broken down into smaller and more specific types of love in the Greek: agape, phileo, eros, storage. [35] The biblical writers consistently used the Greek word agape to describe the kind of love God gave us and that we pass on to others. It’s sacrificial. It’s other-centered. It calls us to ‘lay down our life’ for everyone from our neighbors to those we see as our enemies.

It’s not a word loaded with emotion that demands us to feel some particular emotion toward the one we love (there are other Greek words for more emotional kinds of love [36] ). Agape is a word pointing toward how we position ourselves in the lives of others. We should be for the flourishing of others as image bearers of God – and hopefully as children of God, if one enters into the ‘family’ of God through salvation, repentance, discipleship… all those ‘church words’ used to describe a giving of one’s life in surrender to and service of Jesus.

The agape love of God, in Christian tradition, meets and loves people where they are. Agape does not wait until someone deserves or earns love, because then none of us would receive it. We have been given love, not because we were worthy but because the God from whom this love flows gives us worth, and it is in his nature to love. God demands we pay this kind of love forward to neighbors, friends, enemies... the list is exhaustive. It’s everybody. [37]

Everyone should have their value in the eyes of God, their intrinsic worth, their creation “a little lower than the angels” affirmed with grace-filled abandon.[38] Every Christian should go out of their way to offer truth and grace to everyone, and should show the kind of love that serves, shares, and works for the flourishing of all people as image bearers of God.

Tha's agape love.

* * * * *

Like I stated at the beginning, I don’t expect everyone to agree with the historical stance of the church on this issue. There is even contention among 21st century Christians as new readings and interpretations are brought to the church's public square. I tried to clearly state this is a representation of what the church has taught historically, not how it is taught everywhere today. (Matthew Vines, for example, is probably one of the most well-known people who has challenged this reading vigorously).

My goal is to offer an explanation of the theology and philosophy on which the traditional Christian view of sex, sexuality and marriage rests. Hopefully, this can make a modest contribution towards more thoughtful and peace-oriented conversations in the midst of our disagreements.

[1] Romans 12:18

[2] Matthew 5:19

[3] “Made…In God’s Image.”

[4] Notice the changing language in Genesis 1:27: “ So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

[5] I believe the Genesis account of Adam and Eve is best understood as archetypal history:two real people are given the weight of being archetypes (a typical example that represents a theme or motif that is universally significant). Simply the definitions of their names suggest as much: Adam means “man” or “earth” in Hebrew; Eve is “life” or “life-giver”. The author of Genesis is loading their lives with rich symbolism understood far more easily by the original audience in the ANE.

[6] People get hung up on Eve being called a “helper” to Adam, but it’s a word God applies to himself in relation to humanity. It’s hardly a moniker of inferiority. If anything, it highlights Adam’s weakness and Eve’s strength.

[7] It’s not a perfect analogy of the trinity, but nothing is. I think it’s intended to be a physical representation that at least helps us start to think about the metaphysical concept. When Jesus talks about how men and women won’t enter into marriage in the world to come, I don’t think it’s a knock on marriage as some concession given in a fallen world; I suspect Jesus is simply pointing toward a day when our spiritual intimacy with God and each other will be complete and perfect. There will be no more need for symbols.

[8] This quote is from her excellent book, Love Thy Body

[9] Ephesians 5

[10] See “Covenant Theology” at Theopedia and follow the links.

[11] Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5; 1 Corinthians 6:16

[12] 1 Corinthians 6:18

[13] Isn’t this biologically demonstrable? Read up on what happens chemically in our bodies when we have sex. We are designed to bond through sex. Here’s just one example: “A 48-hour sexual 'afterglow' helps to bond partners over time,” from Science Daily.

[14] The complementary aspect is surely more than this, but not less than this.

[15] Nancy Pearcey, Love Thy Body

[16] Obviously, there are reasons why this is not an automatic cause/effect scenario. The argument is that this is the way Nature or nature’s God designed kids to show up, and thus this is the intended environment for them – in a home with their mom and dad.

[17] It’s basic sociology. There are many reasons kids don’t grow up in this environment, and their lack of this ideal environment does not doom them to some type of inferior life. That doesn’t mean there is not an ideal environment for the nurturing of children.

[18] Proverbs 5:15-21 is pretty clear.

[19] The following may be helpful to clarify this point:
  • “Marriage and the Public Good: Ten Principles” signed by 70 scholars corroborating the philosophical case for marriage with extensive evidence from the social sciences
  • “Marriage From a Child’s Perspective,” by Kristin Anderson Moore, Suzanne Jekielek, and Carol Emig
  • "Adolescent Well-Being in Cohabiting, Married, and Single-Parent Families," by Wendy Manning and Kathleen Lamb
  • “Are Married Parents Really Better For Children?” by Mary Parke
[20] For example, “Hasn’t evolution wired us to be promiscuous?”  I wonder, if that were the case, why evolution did not also wire us to be more resistant to STDs (See Meg Meeker's Epidemic: How Teen Sex Is Killing Our Kids), or equip us better emotionally (see “How Casual Sex Can Affect Our Mental Health” at Psychology Today.) I think the PT article misses the point about how to resolve the dilemma it highlights, but the article explains what happens well enough. Laura Sessions Stepp's book Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love, and Lose at Both also offers a sobering view of both the physical and emotional toll promiscuity takes on women in particular.

[21] Let’s chat about polygamy. I have often heard the argument that because something happens in the Old Testament, it must be God-approved. That’s a dishonest way to read the Bible. The Old Testament is loadedwith cautionary tales that are recorded not as a template to follow but as a warning sign to heed. We are supposed to be smart enough to connect the dots about whether or not the fallout was good or bad, which will tell us something about the moral nature of the action. As recorded in the Old Testament, polygamy, adultery, prostitution – anything outside of God’s design - never ended well. #context

[22] The rabbinical writings consistently show that sexual actions with another of the same sex were never affirmed and always spoken against when mentioned.

[23] The rabbinic Tosefta noted of same-sex activity that “Israel is not suspected” (Qiddushin 5:10). That’s just one thing of many unsuspected things in a very long list.

[24] 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

[25] In 1 Corinthians 6, malakoi is a term for male prostitute; arsenokoitai is an amalgamation of two words for “male” and “bed,” which suggest the meaning is men who go to bed with other men. Some argue that the latter describe a man who is effeminate or who is the passive partner, while the former refers to men who are the active partner and exploit other men.

[26] Read Sarah Ruden’s Paul Among The People for a sobering and insightful look at first century Greek and Roman sex lives – and how the Apostle Paul offered hope and life.

[27] Plato did not feel this way at the end of his life, but his sentiments as noted above were not unusual among philosophers, though not universal.

[28] Wikipedia actually has a good entry on this that covers historical and modern Jewish perspectives.


[30] The Bible cautions that false prophets and teachers will be ongoing problems in the church. We are to be wary. “By their fruit you will know them” (Matthew 7:16)

[31] “Russell Moore: Westboro Baptist Are Not Baptists; Think 'Book of Mormon' Broadway Play to LDS Church.”

[32] Case in point: John The Baptizer called out Herod for his divorce – as if Herod cared. And what did John accomplish? He got beheaded. I don’t think that story is in the Bible in order for us to admire John’s boldness. I think he was a zealot who died on the wrong hill, and the story is a cautionary tale rather than an admirable one.

[33] “Ancient stories give hints about the evil in Sodom. Strangers and travelers who came into the city would be robbed, stripped, and held captive within the city. They would wander the streets slowly starving to death, to the great amusement of the citizenry. One account relates that visitors to Sodom were offered a bed according to the Middle Eastern laws of hospitality, but it was a bed of torture. Short people were stretched. Tall people had their legs cut off. If a traveler had no money, he would be given bricks of gold and silver with his name on them! But nobody would sell him bread and water, even for all that gold and silver, so the traveler slowly died of starvation. The Sodomites gathered around the corpse and took back the gold and silver. The people in Sodom were not just evil, they were proud of being evil. Imagine being a child in a place like that…Archeology gives some hints about what the Canaanites did. On one High Place, archeologists found several stone pillars and great numbers of jars containing remains of newborn babies. When a new house was built, a child would be sacrificed and its body built into the wall to bring good luck to the rest of the family. Firstborn children were often sacrificed to Moloch, a giant hollow bronze image in which a fire was built. Parents placed their children in its red hot hands and the babies would roll down into the fire. The sacrifice was invalid if a parent displayed grief. Mothers were supposed to dance and sing. The Israelites later copied this practice in a valley near Jerusalem called Gehenna. Hundreds of jars containing infant bones have been found there.”

[34] “The Difference Between General And Special Revelation.”

[35] There are more Greek words for love than that, but these are the Big Four.


[37] When Jesus rewards the faithful for giving food, drink, clothing, shelter and medicine to “the least of these” there was no qualification. The call to love was never about the social standing, perceived moral deservedness, or personal likability of the person being loved. It was always about the God whose love we pass on to all.

[38] Hebrews 2:7

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