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Sex and Scripture | In the Beginning

‘Haven’t you read,’ he replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator “made them male and female,” and said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’

Matthew 19:4–6

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’

Genesis 1:27–28

The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called “woman”, for she was taken out of man.’ That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Genesis 2:23–24

 

After a term-long focus on how to follow Jesus in our hyper-sexualised age, it seemed right to dive into what Scripture says about what it means to be sexual beings. So we’ve asked Dr Andrew Goddard – an assistant minister, ethics lecturer, researcher, and consultant for the Church of England’s Living in Love and Faith project – to help us do just that. Over these four weeks, he reflects on the living Word and what it looks like to live it out on our frontlines.

 

Disagreements over marriage, sexual ethics, and the Bible are nothing new among God’s people. And in working out our response, there’s no better place to start than with Jesus.

In Matthew 19, we have Jesus’ fullest teaching on marriage. It arises because of different views about how to read Scripture, and different practices around when Jewish men could divorce their wives. Questions of divorce and remarriage are still of vital importance, but today our differences over same-sex marriage – both among ourselves as Christians and between traditional church teaching and society’s beliefs and practices – are most contentious. So what can we learn from Jesus’ approach?

Rather than arguing about how to interpret the standard proof text in debates between other rabbis, he points back to the opening two chapters of Genesis and God’s purposes in creation. In so doing, he made these chapters central to the centuries of Christian thinking about marriage and sexual behaviour which many now question or reject.

Jesus places a statement from Genesis 1 about God’s intention in creating human beings in his image alongside words from Genesis 2 about the institution of marriage. Those words, here placed by Jesus in the mouth of God, stress the unity-in-sexual-difference of marriage. Jesus connects that marital unity-in-sexual-difference to the unity-in-sexual-difference of our created nature as sexed beings.

It should therefore perhaps not surprise us as much as it often does that radical reconfiguration of what it means to be male and female has quickly followed widespread social rejection of marriage as a male–female union.

A society’s practice of marriage and its vision of what it means to be human will move together. In conversation with someone about different understandings of marriage and sexuality, it’s often therefore helpful to dig deeper into views about who we are and what is good for us as human beings and communities.

A major challenge we face as Christians is how we continue to witness to the goodness of God’s purposes in creation while recognising the reality of living in a broken, fallen world. How should we respond to what Jesus speaks of as the hardness of human hearts? There is again no better place to look than Jesus. He shocked many with his clear, uncompromising teaching, but also with his grace and forgiveness captured in his words to the woman caught in adultery: ‘Neither do I condemn you, go and leave your life of sin.’

 

Dr Andrew Goddard
Andrew is Assistant Minister at St James the Less, Pimlico and teaches Christian ethics at Ridley Hall, Cambridge and Westminster Theological Centre.

On frontlines with many differing views of sexuality and marriage, what words and actions would help you live the Jesus way, full of grace and truth? Join the conversation in the comments below.

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Comments

  1. Gracefully & truthfully written – well done. Dr Goddard.
    I have found much of LICC’s commentary to be compromising with society and popular views far too much over the last couple of years, and this piece did not do that. That you managed to speak truth gently, on such a controversial topic that is so militantly defended by its proponents is admirable.

    By Juliette  -  25 Apr 2022
  2. Nothing could be clearer than what is published directly from Scripture in this piece by Andrew Goddard. For me, as a GP Returner under Covid-19 regulations, this stated Biblical foundation has no reason to be modified by transient cultural changes and passing fashions. I qualified MB BChir, Cambridge, founded what is now called HavensHealth surgery, Peacehaven (now with 17 GPs), was a Council Member of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health 2007-10, and the SE rep for the Christian Medical Fellowship for a period.

    By John Etherton  -  25 Apr 2022
  3. It occurs to me that Jesus mentioned specific bits of Genesis 1 and 2 to answer the question he was asked. If we are going to answer a different question we need to look at the the chapters as a whole, including the statement that it is not good for the man to be alone and the way the first man was allowed to choose his partner.

    By James Pate  -  25 Apr 2022
    • An interesting thought about the use of specific bits of scripture, and about how we should be careful in what use we make of specific verses. I would though take issue with your last phrase, about how the man “was allowed to choose his partner.” It was the Lord God’s comment that it wasn’t good for the man to be alone, followed immediately by “I will make a helper suitable for him.”
      We then have the parade and naming of all the animals and birds before the man, but no suitable helper was found. Adam didn’t ‘choose’ his partner; she was made from and for him. It is this ‘unity-in-sexual-difference of marriage’ that Jesus highlights and of which I believe we should take proper notice

      By David Wood  -  26 Apr 2022
      • How do you interpret ‘no suitable helper was found?’ Is this the man’s opinion or God’s opinion?

        By James Pate  -  28 Apr 2022
  4. The Methodist Church has done some hard, deep, prayerful thinking about how Christians with differing views about human sexuality can live in fellowship with each other. The Church calls it “Living with Contradictory Convictions”. More information here: https://www.methodist.org.uk/about-us/the-methodist-church/marriage-and-relationships/archive-marriage-and-relationships-2019/managing-group-conversations-around-marriage-and-relationships/a-model-statement-on-living-with-contradictory-convictions/

    By Moira Biggins  -  25 Apr 2022
  5. Thanks, Andrew, that was a good introduction. Looking forward to Parts 2-4.

    By Will Parker  -  25 Apr 2022
  6. Thank you for this striking and thoughtful piece, the simplicity of which is matched by its profundity. So good to open with the scriptural truths which have been handed down to us. John Stott would I sense be pleased.

    By Mark Womersley  -  26 Apr 2022

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