What does Sexuality, Human mean in the Bible?


Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology - Sexuality, Human
Foundations This essay is based on the following premises: (1) Those functions founded in the unfallen created order that God proclaimed good ( Genesis 1:31 ) may be seen as normative for matters touching theological ethics. (2) Sin came as a result of the fall, introducing a distortion of the created order and fostering enmity and alienation where none had previously existed. (3) That distortion brought with it not only alienation from God, but also alienation from other human beings (Genesis 4:10-14 ) and from one's self (Romans 7:15-24 ). Sin has also introduced a distortion into all social relationships, including those between men and women (Genesis 3:16 ). (5) Redemption attempts to remove or rectify the alienation introduced by the fall, restoring humankind to fellowship with God (Romans 5:12-21 ; Ephesians 2:1-22 ) and with itself (Isaiah 2:1-5 ; Micah 4:1-7 ). (6) The community of the redeemed is charged with modeling in itself the fruits of redemption and with laboring to bring about the redemption of the world.
Accordingly, since narratives of Eden before the fall picture the unsullied created order as God ordained it, they become normative and prescriptive; hence the way that unfallen man interfaced with woman should provide a working model for male/female relationships in the community of the redeemed. Narratives of fallen humanity (such as the stories of Samson's womanizing or Solomon's polygyny) are descriptive and provide information about what was, but not always about what ought to have been. Jesus, untainted by the fall ( Hebrews 4:15 ), lived the only unfallen life since humanity's banishment from Eden. His life, therefore, like the Edenic narratives, becomes normative and thus exemplary and prescriptive in matters of morality. The way that Jesus, the "second Adam, " related to women should, like that of unfallen Adam, provide a model for intersexual relationships. As can be demonstrated by the overt parallels between Eden and the New Jerusalem portrayed in Revelation 21-22 , the world to come (the eschaton) will be established as a postfallen order with the effects of the fall fully negated. The eschaton and its values, therefore, reflect the end toward which the present redeemed community labors. The values of the eschaton, accordingly, are prescriptive. Commands, teachings, laws, and institutions that are designed to move one from a fallen to a postfallen (redeemed) state or community are redemptive and therefore prescriptive, although care must be taken to distinguish the spirit from the letter in their application ( Mark 9:47 ).
The Image of God: Male and Female . Although the words "sex" and "gender" are constantly being redefined by modern usage, this article will use the term "sex" to indicate the sum of the structural and functional differences by which the male and female are distinguished, as well as the phenomena or behavior dependent on those differences (adapted from The Random House Unabridged Dictionary, 2d ed.). "Gender" will be used to describe the interpretation given sexual distinctions and the roles assigned them in a given social setting. Accordingly, sex will deal with identity as it is determined biologically and genetically, whereas gender will address identity as it is determined socially and environmentally.
From a theological perspective, human sexuality in Scripture is predicated on the pronouncement that the human species is created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-28 ). Many and bitter have been the arguments over the specific meaning of the term "image of God." Basically, the image of God is the essence and substance of theological humanness. By this term is intended that quality which theologically separates human beings from lower animals and which provides some sort of analogous relationship with God, making it possible for humans to communicate and fellowship with him. Further, since Adam transmits it to his progeny (Genesis 5:1-3 ), it is likewise clear that the image of God (imago Dei ) was not lost in the fall. After the flood the image of God became a universal standard for punishing antisocial actions (Genesis 9:6 ; cf. James 3:9 ). Accordingly, human social ethics are not founded exclusively on a person's organic relationship to other human beings through participation in a common ancestor or a covenant community such as Israel or the church. Instead, they assume a theologically prior dimension whereby a crime against any human being, within or without the community, becomes a blasphemy against him in whose image humanity was fashioned. The combination of these two factors, the organismic and the imago Dei, brought about a lack of stratification in Hebraic law when compared with other laws of the ancient Near East. In the Bible a person's life was considered of great value even if his social standing was merely that of a slave (Exodus 21:20-21,26-27 ).
The application of the imago Dei to human sexuality becomes clearer when Genesis 1:27 is analyzed:
So God created man in his own image.
In the image of God
he created
Male and female
he created
The poetic parallelism found in lines 2,3 strongly suggests that the term "him" (line 2) bears a close relationship to the word "them" (line 3). It also suggests a strong though unspecified tie between the term "image of God" (line 2) and the words "male and female" (line 3).
If the term "man" ('adam [ Genesis 1:26 ); (2) working together to increase the human population (Luke 13:10-17 ); and (3) having shared and unimpeded access to available food supplies (Genesis 1:29 ). These benefits, charges, and responsibilities are shared equally by the two humans and lead to a picture of corporate humankind as God's representatives on earth, somehow displaying God to the lower animals. It is together that they reflect the divine image in which they were created, with no indication that one component of the mix reflects more of that image than the other.
Those who see women as inherently inferior to men often appeal to the specific account of the creation of woman (Genesis 2:18,20-22 ) as shedding further light on the relationship that existed between the sexes in their unfallen state: woman, they maintain, is a secondary creation, a mere "helpmeet" to the man. But an unforced analysis of the narrative shows that no sort of inherent inferiority can be derived from it. Woman is made of the same essence and substance as man and can hardly, therefore, be considered inferior. Some have even argued that since the man was made of dirt and the woman from the man, she becomes twice refined and, if anything, superior.
The woman's relationship to the man is described by two words: she is ezer [ Genesis 2:20 ). The former term, ezer [ Psalm 46:1 ; 54:4 ) demonstrates that the word has in itself no hint of inferiority. Indeed, the verses cited above point to God as one who is strong enough to share his strength with another. The latter term, kenegdo, is a strange three-part compound composed of ke, meaning like or as; neged, meaning over against, opposite; and o, meaning him. Woman was made because man's being alone was the only thing pronounced "not good" in the creation narrative (2:18). The help for Adam would therefore designate "that which is lacking, necessary for completion" that "helps" Adam become, not simply the male of the species, but a legitimate microcosm of the human race. There is an equality implicit in the latter part of the phrase, which may be roughly approximated as "his corresponding opposite." Woman, accordingly, becomes man's complement or reciprocal, not merely his supplement. Together they make up what may be called theological humanity.
On the other hand, rejecting the superiority of the male does not mean that the sexes were undifferentiated and that the term 'adam [1] denotes some sort of androgynous being or "earth creature" from which both man ('is ) and woman ('issa ) were formed. This interpretation does not do exegetical justice to the narrative, for the loneliness described in 2:18-20 would be incomprehensible for a sexually undifferentiated creature unaware that he/she was lacking a sexual counterpart. Moreover, as Childs has pointed out, just as 'is and 'issa are paralleled in verse 23, so 'adam [1] and 'issa are paralleled in verse 25. There is no hint in the narrative that 'adam [1] was split into 'is and 'issa but rather that 'issa was derived from 'adam [1].
Although the man was created first, relationships between the sexes are horizontal, not vertical. Yet equality is not identity . As Childs notes, to posit equality of essence and substance is not to posit a sameness of function. Sameness would be redundancy, not complementarity. The anatomical differences between the sexes and the ever growing body of literature pointing to substantial psychological distinctions between them demonstrate that their roles in society were designed to be different. A man, for example, is physically incapable of childbearing. Such distinctions are not a product of the fall to be redeemed, therefore, but a part of the created order to be nurtured.
Male/female relationships before the fall are described in Genesis 2:25 : although they were naked, they felt no shame. But when sin entered with the fall, resulting in banishment from Eden (Genesis 3:24 ), shame came with it also; a barrier was erected to the sort of naive innocence that had characterized the relationship previously. Clothing was necessary to cover the nakedness of the man and woman (Genesis 3:7 ) even though they were man and wife. It was only after the fall that God said to the woman, "Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you" ( Genesis 3:16 ). Likewise, it was after the fall that Adam named his wife Eve, using the same naming formula (Genesis 3:20 ) as he used in naming the animals (2:20), and by its use implying the same authority of a superior over an inferior.
To summarize: the creation texts make it clear that any pattern of absolute male dominance and female inferiority found in the Bible must result from the fall, not from a theology of the created order. The process of redemption taught by the Bible is clear: it seeks to restore humanity, and with it creation (Romans 8:19-22 ), from the effects of the fall. If, therefore, man's dominion over woman is a consequence of the fall (Genesis 3:16 ), one of the ramifications of the gospel would be to abolish institutions such as concubinage that reduce her to a chattel. It would seek to elevate her from any secondary position she may occupy to one of full equality with the man as God's viceregent, with full and unimpeded access to available food supplies (economic resources). Unless, however, one insists that equality means identity, whatever woman's redeemed position may be will not be the same as that held by the man. Instead, the two roles function in a complementary manner, each contributing its unique gifts to the perfecting of a redeemed society.
Intersexual Relationships. If the reason for the creation of woman was to enable the man to become whole and a legitimate microcosm of the human species, then it follows that man/woman relations in a redeemed society would be theologically humanizing. Any exploitive efforts by a member of the redeemed community to reduce another to an object that can be manipulated is therefore wrong. Interpersonal relationships, including intersexual ones, should leave the other party feeling as though he or she has been appreciated even when disagreement is involved.
In Jesus' ministry, no member of either sex was treated as an object, but as a person. Throughout the Gospels it is clear that, whether the woman was a persistent Canaanite (Matthew 15:22-28 ), a repentant sinner (Luke 7:36-50 ), or a cripple to be healed on the Sabbath (Genesis 1:28 ), Jesus considered them first of all as human beings. His first address was always to their personhood, never to their sex; he shared none of the condescending attitudes assumed by many of his contemporaries. Although some Jewish authorities of the time made specific prohibitions about teaching women, many were numbered among Jesus' disciples.
Models for such relationships are found throughout the life of Jesus although limited space permits only a few to be mentioned here. Perhaps the most striking is his interchange with the Samaritan woman (John 4:5-29 ), who not only belonged to an ethnic group despised by the Jews but also had an unsavory past. Most people would have reacted to her by pulling away and trying to avoid her, but Jesus did not. Sensing here a life that could be redeemed, he engaged her in dialogue. During the course of their conversation, he led her to see that he was the one who could redeem her from the sins of her past. She left the encounter, not crushed and dehumanized from a harsh polemic or judgmental accusation, but rejoicing because she saw hope for her salvation.
Jesus chides Martha for caring more about her housekeeping than about hearing his teaching (Luke 10:38-42 ). Yet the words convey not a thundering rebuke, but a gentle remonstrance designed to teach and not to humiliate, motivated not by egotistical considerations but by his love for Martha and his desire to help her. Always, even in rebuke, the concern for the other party as a person permeated his ministry.
Marriage . Christian marriage can be considered a loving, bonded, sexually exclusive relationships that is publicly declared to exist between a man and a woman in a manner recognized by society as licit and proper. Its foundations are laid in Genesis 2:23-24 , where the man, seeing the woman, declares her to be "bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh"; she was to be called "woman" ('issa) because "she was taken out of man ('is) . " Now that he has finally located a fitting counterpart, a man can "leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." The Genesis narrative, considering the union of the man with one of the lower animals unthinkable, sees such a union possible only when woman, created like man in God's own image, becomes the complement that made not only the human species, but also the male person, whole. Just as there is stability in a dipolar human race embracing two sexes, so there is stability in a marital union. Indeed, one may argue that such stability derives from the nuclear family so formed because it is a microcosm of the human species as a whole. If an inquiry be made as to what are the characteristics of that union, the following emerge from the Edenic narrative:
It is an exclusive union. Sexual activity outside the marital bond violates the Edenic pattern, whether such activity be premarital promiscuity or postmarital adultery. The union is between man and woman; it is heterosexual, not homosexual . The union is between a single man and a single woman. Because more females are born than males and because the equal access to food supplies that had existed in Eden was corrupted into an economic system dominated by males, most ancient societies allowed polygyny as a means of assuring females economic viability. But the biblical pattern for marriage is described as being "one flesh, " a term patterned after expressions used to describe genetic relationships of the closest order (Genesis 29:14 ; 37:27 ; 2 Samuel 5:1 ; 16:11 ; 19:12-13 ; 1 Kings 8:19 ; 2 Kings 20:18 ; 1 Chronicles 11:1 ; 2 Chronicles 6:9 ; Isaiah 39:7 ; 49:26 ; 58:7 ). Since the degree of intimacy and solidarity diminishes as the size of any group increases, it becomes clear that monogamy is premised not only on the example of Adam and Eve as the first married couple, but also on the metaphor "one flesh" and the nature of the relationships implied by it. The relationship is a loving one. The reality on which the metaphor "one flesh" depends requires one to consider the other as though that person were an extension of one's own body. Paul says in Ephesians 5:28 , "he who loves his wife loves himself." The union is stable and virtually indissoluble. In the Gospels, Jesus makes an appeal to the Edenic narrative and order of creation theology in order to demonstrate the inappropriateness of casually dissolving a marriage (Matthew 19:4-5 ; Mark 10:6-8 ). Sexual Intimacy . Discussions about sexual intercourse, aside from proscriptions about engaging in it either before or outside marriage, have been considered a taboo in Christian circles. The result has been that many have been left with the impression that the Bible's treatment of the subject is a wholly negative one and that such matters are not to be discussed. Such an attitude cannot be biblically justified. The Bible is very candid—sometimes even shockingly soon matters of sex.
Apart from the term "one flesh, " Genesis 2:24 uses another term denoting marital intimacy: the verb dabaq [34:3). Another use of the term is illustrated in Genesis 19:19 , where Lot pleads that he be allowed to seek refuge in a city lest the disaster of Sodom cling to (NIV "overtake") him in the mountains. In Deuteronomy 13:17 Israel is not to permit to "stick to their hand" anything that was supposed to be devoted to destruction. In Numbers 36:7,9 , land transactions between tribes are proscribed; every Israelite is to "stick to" (NIV "keep") the land his family inherits. In Deuteronomy and Joshua the word appears as a common term for the intimate love Israel is to have for Yahweh: they are not just to fear and obey but to love and to "stick" (NIV "hold fast") to him (Deuteronomy 4:4 ; 10:20 ; 11:22 ; 13:4 ; 30:20 ; Joshua 22:5 ; 23:8 ). The books of Samuel and Kings use the word in a similar fashion to denote the Israelites loyal to David (2 Samuel 20:2 ) and Solomon's devotion to his foreign wives (1 Kings 11:2 ). In describing a marriage, the word does not expressly portray sexual relations, but speaks to the deep and intimate bonds that give sanction to any functional marriage and that are to undergird sexual activity conducted within it.
The canonization of the Song of Solomon caused some ancient rabbis no end of concern because of its frankly erotic dialogue between a man and a woman, presumably the man's wife. But it is only by the most strained and tortuous exegesis that one can avoid the book's metaphors of sexual intimacy. For example, she calls him "a sachet of myrrh resting between my breasts" (1:13), his left arm cradling her head while his right arm embraces her (2:6). A number of references express fondling that is overtly erotic (7:7-8; cf. 2:16; 4:5). She calls him handsome and proclaims her marriage bed to be fertile (verdant 1:16). When she looks for him there and cannot find him (3:1), she goes about the city until she locates him; she embraces him and leads him to her mother's bedroom where she had been conceived (3:4). He, on the other hand, proclaims her beautiful (4:1), with breasts that are like twin fawns (4:5; 7:3). She declares herself a wall, with breasts that are like towers (8:10); he likens them to clusters of palm fruit that he intends to gather in his hands (7:7-8). One cannot help being struck by the Edenic tone to this interchange where the partners are candid in their sexuality, yet not ashamed.
Three Hebrew verbs, with their derivative nouns, are commonly used to express sexual intercourse: (1) sakab [ Leviticus 20:11-13,18 , 20 ; Deuteronomy 27:20-23 ), the word yada [ Judges 19:25 ). Generally, however, it depicts the act of sexual intercourse as more than physical copulation driven by lust. Instead, the emphasis of this term seems to be on the exchange of intimate, unspoken, nonrational information that takes place in properly contextualized sexual activity. Sexual intercourse thus becomes a vital element in the communication process so essential for any sound marriage. The intimacy, care, and love transmitted in that act, properly contextualized within a marriage, are not only permissible but highly desirable.
In the New Testament Paul, recognizing the value of a healthy sex life for a solid marriage, warns married couples that they should not use the other's sexual desire as a weapon. Instead, the wife should remember that her "body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife" (1 Corinthians 7:3 ).
Sexual Aberrations . Homosexuality . The best evidence for the existence of homosexual shrine prostitutes among the Canaanites comes, not from Canaanite literature, but from the biblical text, which is avowedly polemic in its attitude. It would appear, however, that the male prostitute was found in Judah along with his female counterpart until the purge by Asa. Together, they obviously represented a pagan, and therefore local, influence on the religion of Judah (Deuteronomy 23:17 ; 1 Kings 14:24 ; 15:12 ; 22:46 ; 2 Kings 23:7 ). The term "dog" appears to have been used in Scripture to refer to homosexual cult prostitutes (Deuteronomy 23:18 ). Leviticus uses a strong word "detestable" to describe homosexual practice (18:22; 20:13). Parallel condemnations are found in Romans 1:27,1 Corinthians 6:9 .
The biblical refutation of homosexuality, however, does not reside in the occasional text that condemns the practice or in stories in which homosexual practice is observed in a negative light, but in the created order itself. Adam's complement is not found in another man (which would be redundancy, not complementarity), but in a woman, his corresponding opposite. Likewise, though not stated, it may be inferred that the same holds true for Eve.
Bestiality . Bestiality, practiced to some extent in every ancient rural society and known from Egyptian, Canaanite, and Hittite sources, is condemned in Scripture (Exodus 22:19 ; Leviticus 20:15-16 ; Deuteronomy 27:21 ) for much the same reason as is homosexuality: in the Edenic narrative the possibility of a sexually bonded liaison with an animal is expressly ruled out (Genesis 2:20 ). Bestiality rejects the human sexual partner God has ordained in favor of an animal that the Edenic narrative has expressly rejected. The pattern ordained by God in Eden is man and woman, not human and animal.
Seduction and Rape . If the initial sexual act is that which consummates the marriage whereby two now become "one flesh, " it is reasonable to conclude that this represents a "channelizing" or confinement of all sexual activity to expressions that reinforce the solidarity of the marital union. The generally dim view taken of promiscuity by the Old Testament may then be explained as seeing premarital sexual intercourse to be a potential weakening of the marital union by rendering it less exclusive: that is, the more frequent the person's premarital sexual liaisons, the less exclusive is the initial act of sexual intercourse with one's spouse.
Cases of rape or seduction are uncommon in Scripture. The case of Dinah and Shechem (Genesis 34:1-31 ) is the first mentioned. Shechem first seduced Dinah and then found he loved her. At that point he attempted to pay Jacob the bride-price to marry the girl. But Simeon and Levi, outraged at the treatment accorded their sister, tricked the males of the town into being circumcised and, while they were still in pain from the operation, slaughtered them. The rape of the Levite's concubine in Gibeah (Judges 19:1-30 ) resulted in a civil war wherein the tribe of Benjamin, except for six hundred, was exterminated. Amnon's rape of his half-sister Tamar (2 Samuel 13:11-14 ) resulted in a blood feud between Amnon and Absalom, Tamar's brother. The consequences were Amnon's murder by order of Absalom (13:28-29).
Laws treating rape or seduction seem to be concerned for the economic well-being of the disadvantaged woman. The classic reference to the seduction of a virgin is Exodus 22:16-17 . The seducer must marry the girl and pay the bride-price for virgins. If her father refused to give her to him, then he still had to pay. A woman who was not a virgin was considered "damaged goods" and was therefore less eligible for marriage, presumably commanding a lower bride-price (Exodus 22:17 ). If she concealed her lack of virginity in order to get a husband or a higher bride-price, she could be tried and, if found guilty, executed (Deuteronomy 22:13-21 ). Because the girl's marriageability had been severely compromised, the money was probably designed to provide for the girl's livelihood in her father's house.
There is no agreement among commentators as to whether Deuteronomy 22:28-29 treats seduction (and is therefore an expansion of the case in Exodus 22:16-17 ) or rape. If the New International Version is correct in interpreting the passage as addressing rape, the monetary increase (fixed at fifty shekels) may be seen as a penalty exacted against the offender because he shamed her (v. 29). Whereas the former case (Exodus 22:16-17 ) would have been subject to conventional divorce procedure (Deuteronomy 24:1-4 ), an additional provision is made for the woman's economic security in the latter case: the man can never divorce her, whatever she does (Deuteronomy 22:28-29 ). The concern for the woman is also reflected in the distinctions between the two rape cases described in Deuteronomy 22:23-27 : the betrothed woman raped in the city would have been heard if she had cried for help, but the woman raped in the country is presumed to have cried out, whether she did or not. In the latter case, only the man is put to death.
Prostitution .

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