Is the Bible Anti-sex?
Beastly with Two Backs
Sex as "Sacrament" - Making Babies and Making Love
You cannot talk about relations between men and women
without using the four letter word, "love", or its shorter cousin,
"sex". Love and sex preoccupy most adult humans. Women's magazines,
in waiting rooms everywhere, confirm it.
Interestingly neither sex nor love gets direct mention
in Genesis 1-3. In Chapter One, the "image of God" takes pride of
place. "Dominion" over the rest of creation stems from the representative
function of the "being in God's image" (Gen 1:26). Poetry reminds
us that only as male and female, do we together image the godhead (Gen 1:27).
Then, but only then, "being fruitful and multiplying" gets its mention,
as a necessary step to "dominion" as God's representatives.
The foundational chapters of Genesis focus on partnership, two become one. Hebrew has a word for this kind of faithful partnership, chesed, although absent in Gen 1-3, this is a powerful word elsewhere in the Old Testament. Older translations rendered chesed "loving-kindness" and frequently it represents the style of God's love for us. Nowadays, it is more often translated "faithfulness". Modern English seems to see "love" and "faithfulness" as two distinct things - for the Old Testament they are inseparably one, one word, one notion, one reality.
So, are Christianity's liberal critics right? Is the
Bible anti-sex? Hardly. One whole book is full of erotic love poems. The Song
of Songs may well represent - though only by analogy - the loving relationship
of the soul and God, or Christ and the Church. Generations of celibate priests
and religious were not wrong to read it this way, but this analogy is built
on the frankly expressed love and desire of king and Shulammite.
To illustrate this it is worth quoting a short portion, 5:2-5, from the KJV:
I sleep, but my heart waketh: the voice of my beloved that knocketh, Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is filled with dew, my locks with the drops of the night. I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them? My beloved put in his hand by the hole, and my bowels were moved for him. I rose up to open to my beloved; and my hands dropped myrrh, and my fingers sweet smelling myrrh, upon the handles of the lock.
A library containing such a book hardly rejects the creator's design of humans as sexual creatures.
God created us sexual beings, and the Bible accepts
our sexuality, but sex is not an end in itself. The Bible rejects sex for its
own sake - the separation of sexual pleasure-seeking from partnership and marriage.
Genesis Two describes the creator's purpose quite clearly (see the March
NZ Baptist). As partners who complement each other, the two "become
one" (Gen 2:24). Both Jesus and Paul base their understanding of sex and
marriage on this passage and especially this verse. (Mark 10:2 compare Mt 19:3ff.
& 1 Cor 6:16)
Jesus feels so strongly about infidelity that tears apart what God has joined that he calls "just looking", adultery of the will (Matt 5:28).1 One sin, surely, that few healthy humans escape! In the story of Ruth, however, the Bible holds up an example of chesed "loving-loyalty" that, though sexy, goes beyond sex. Ruth, the wife of Bethlehem boy, Mahlon, is a foreigner - a gentile. When Mahlon tragically dies, the young widow meets and marries Boaz. The narrator hints at the mutual respect and desire of Ruth and Boaz. Yet even more strongly we see how, in finding love, Ruth displays her faithfulness to the family she had joined when she married Mahlon.
Paul bases his teaching on Genesis. As usual, he is
less of a dreamer and more down to earth than Jesus. If sex makes two "one
flesh" then sex outside marriage would make you one flesh with the "prostitute"
(1 Cor 6:15-20).
This talk of infidelity (un-chesed) is the basis of Paul's teaching about sex and marriage. Sex unites, making love - makes two into one. Already this idea is foreign to the Western world with its "serial polygamy" and frequent divorce. Another of Paul's conclusions is even less comfortable for modern thought:
"The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does" - a shocking thought (which confirms some people's bad opinion of Paul?), except that, for Paul, the reciprocal is equally true "the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does." (1 Cor 7:4)
You see sex is like a sacrament. One consequence of making love is making babies. With God's blessing, sex makes a new being, in His image, see Gen 4:1; 5:1-3. But (as many infertile couples know) this is not what makes sex sacramental. Making love cements two beings together in partnership. It both celebrates and produces chesed - a covenant relationship. While the marriage ceremony marks the beginning of this process - of itself it does not create partnership. Sex and the ongoing co-operation of daily living are the effective agent that builds union. Rather like the relationship between Baptism and the Lord's Supper. Baptism affirms our desire to be covenant partners of Jesus. Communion continually seals this as we drink the "covenant cup" declaring our continued desire to be faithful, as he is.
One word in the Old Testament ties together all the
others that describe the Lord. This shows up in Ruth. The word chesed
occurs only three times in the book, though loving-faithfulness is the book's
First, at 1:8. The death of her husband and two sons leave Naomi and her daughters-in-law bereaved and alone in a "man's world". So she orders the girls: "Each of you return to your mother's house." Then against all hope, she blesses them: "May the Lord show faithful love to you, as you have to the dead and to me."
When the romance has hardly begun, Naomi sees the "chance" meeting of Ruth and Boaz as a sign of the lord's faithful love (2:20) to the dead as well as the living. Finally at 3:10 when Boaz wakes in the middle of the night to find young Ruth at his feet he declares her blessed, since her faithful love matches God's.
Creation's plan is for creatures who mirror the creator. We are to display the very image of God, and sex and marriage provide one route to this goal.
This article is part of the "Electric Angels" collection
It is the third of a series about Men & Women, Sex & God
Next time: Singles
© Tim Bulkeley, 1996-2002
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