STUDY FOUR: BIBLICAL FOUNDATIONS FOR SEXUAL AND FAMILY ETHICS

© Rosemary Bardsley 2006, 2016

Contemporary sexual and family issues are possibly even more pressing than sanctity of life issues for the Christian to personally resolve. Not all of us are personally and persistently confronted with the need to make an immediate decision on whether or not we will have an abortion or request euthanasia, but we are all immediately and constantly confronted by choices in areas of sex, sexuality, and family. It is easier, and more tempting, here to unconsciously embrace the mindset or worldview of our society. It is easier here to rationalize and relativize our choices with excuses like ‘everyone’s doing it’, and it is far more obvious here if one chooses to be different from the norm. Specific personal sanctity of life choices challenge us only at specific points in our lives: sexual choices permeate the whole of our lives, and arise not only from outside of us, but also from within us, confronting us at every moment with the challenge of God’s clear and absolute standards.

What contemporary challenges confront the Christian here?

Issues of purity of thought, dress and attitudes
Fornication – all sexual relationships outside of heterosexual marriage
 ‘Sexual preferences’ – issues of homosexuality, bi-sexuality
Deviant sexual behaviours
Questions concerning divorce and remarriage
Perceptions about gender and gender roles.

We are also challenged by

Changing family structures and dynamics
Legislation restricting parents
Questions of ‘rights’ – of both parents and children.

It is not possible to adequately address all of these issues in these studies. What is possible is to confirm the Biblical worldview and the implications of that worldview for our choices irrespective of the specific area of choice, and to address some of the more urgent of these challenges from the perspective of the Biblical worldview.

Once we have acknowledged that God is indeed there and that he is the Lord of all, with the right to command us, then there is really only one choice to make: the choice to trust and obey him. Both of these components – ‘trust’ and ‘obedience’ – comprise biblical faith. To claim to believe in Jesus Christ is to also affirm belief in his word – not just his promises but also his commands. To believe and to trust just his promises is not biblical belief; it is a self-centred perversion of biblical faith.

And here is the sticky point: if we acknowledge Jesus Christ, we are acknowledging that he has the authority to call the shots, to tell us what to do. And he has, through the whole of the Word, clearly told us what to do in these areas of sex and family. Do we believe him? Do we really trust his word? Or do we think he doesn’t really mean it? That it doesn’t really matter? That his Word is not absolute and eternal? Do we really believe that Christ is actually there, and that he is demanding these high moral standards of us today? Or are we by default acknowledging that contemporary society is right when it thinks and lives as if there are no standards and no God?

Are we, the Christians, the ones who say we believe in God, in fact just as much practical atheists as those among whom we live?

A. THE EQUALITY OF THE SEXES

We saw in Study One that creation by God and in the image of God gives to every human being an awesome value and dignity, prohibiting use, misuse and abuse of this person who is God’s possession and whom God created to reflect his nature and to commune with him. We also saw the preciousness that the death of Christ confers on the human being. These studies on sexual and family issues relate to the male/female divide, and puts a boundary around how we treat people of the opposite sex. When we deviate from God’s standards in sex and family we are in fact treating ourselves and/or the other person [people created to bear God’s image, and people for whom Christ died] with contempt.

A.1 Perceptions of inequality
[1] In some cultures women are valued less than animals and/or treated as tradeable, disposable goods. Female children are valued less than male children; indeed, in some countries the abortion of female foetuses, or exposure of new-born baby girls, is commonly practised. In some cultures women are not considered as the same species as men, or are thought less human than men. For example:

Plato suggested that the worst fate would be reincarnation as a woman.

Aristotle ‘regarded a female as “a kind of mutilated male”. He wrote: “Females are imperfect males, accidentally produced by the father’s inadequacy or by the malign influence of a moist south wind.”’ In Generation of Animals quoted by John Stott in Issues Facing Christians Today p255.

William Barclay describes the view of women expressed by the Jewish Talmud: ‘In the Jewish form of morning prayer … a Jewish man every morning gave thanks that God had not made him “a Gentile, a slave or a woman” … In Jewish law a woman was not a person, but a thing. She had no legal rights whatsoever; she was absolutely in her husband’s possession to do with as he willed.’ Ephesians, Daily Study Bible, pp199ff, quoted by John Stott.

Ghandi:  ‘A Hindu husband regards himself as lord and master of his wife, who must ever dance attendance upon him.’ Ghandi: An Autobiography, quote by John Stott, p259.

The Koran: ‘Men have authority over women because Allah has made the one superior to the other … As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them.’ The Koran, Penguin, 1956, pp 360f, quoted by John Stott.

When Genesis 2 was translated for the Folopa people of Papua New Guinea life changed dramatically for women. They were accorded more esteem and dignity, and the roles and conditions of their lives began to change as the men realized that the women were indeed human after all. [Chapter Five in ‘In Search of the Source’ by Neil Anderson with Hyatt Moore].

[2] In some Christian circles women are subjected to a legalistic dominance and condescension by men, both in the church and in the home.

The first of the above extremes is the logical expression of cultures without knowledge of the God who created both male and female in his own image. The second stems from a failure to apply knowledge of creation and redemption to one’s view of the sexes.

A.2 Genesis 1:26,27 teaches that God created both male and female, and that he created both ‘in his image’
Here is an immediate equality:

Both are the result of God’s ‘let us make man …’ and are therefore of equal value.
Both are made in the image of God, so that

Both were created to reflect God’s nature
Both were created spiritual beings
Both were created responsible to God
Both were created for communion with God
Both were created for a dependent relationship with God

This fundamental and irreducible equality outlaws attitudes of superiority in the male and inferiority in the female, domination in the male and subservience in the female. Such attitudes ignore the essential role and nature which God embedded in both male and female in his act of creation in his image.

A.3 Genesis 1:28-31 affirms this equality of male and female
These verses affirm the equality of male and female. They teach

a shared and equal blessedness,
a shared and equal responsibility, and
a shared and equal dominion over creation.

Not the man more than the woman, nor the woman less than the man. They are equally blessed, equally commanded, equally responsible to rule over the creation. Thus before God and before each other, and in the presence of the rest of creation, male and female are equal.

These biblical affirmations of equality outlaw all gender-driven use, misuse and abuse.

 

B. THE UNITY OF THE SEXES [Genesis 1:26-31]

This essential equality also assumes an essential unity. Genesis 1:26-31 helps us to understand that man and woman together represent ‘human beings’:

Together they are created as ‘man’ (= human beings)
Together they are blessed by God.
Together they are to multiply and fill the earth
Together they are to subdue the earth.
Together they are to rule over the creatures of the earth.

This unity is seen most clearly in the command to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ – it simply cannot be done alone, by one without the other. This leads us on to a further point: that equality and unity do not mean sameness.

 

C. THE DIFFERENTIATION OF THE SEXES [Genesis 1:27b; 2:18-23]

Equality does not mean sameness. Unity does not mean sameness. Thus Genesis also teaches us that there is differentiation: that God created human beings male and female [1:27b]. The unity shared by the male and the female is not the unity of being identical, but the unity in which one complements and completes the other, each enabling the other to live their God-ordained life, each enabling the other to enjoy the divine blessing, and each enabling the other to fulfil the divine command, in a way that one alone can never do. We ought not be surprised to discover that men and women think differently, perceive differently, feel differently, and act differently. Nor ought we to try to make our marriage partners conform to ourselves, or try to make ourselves duplicates of our marriage partner: the existence of male/female differences is not wrong, rather, it is an intrinsic part of our creation by God.

This concept of differentiation is brought out in the second account of creation.

C.1 ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him’ [Genesis 2:18]
In this verse we learn that:

1] In the original creation, uncorrupted by sin and degradation, God said that it was ‘not good’ for the man to be alone. Because he is a person, with the ability and responsibility for morality and communion with another (that is, because he has the awesome ability to give himself in love to another), he cannot fulfil or achieve his human potential by himself. He cannot live a truly human life in isolation. We need to keep in mind that this ‘it is not good for the man to be alone’ is God’s word on the matter in the original, uncorrupted, pre-sin world.

2] The woman was made by God to be ‘a helper suitable for him’. God did not make another man to be the ‘helper suitable for’ the man. As a ‘helper suitable for him’ the woman corresponds to the man as his counterpart and/or complement. She stands opposite him (face to face with him), not as an identical duplicate, but as a person who complements his person, a person who interfaces with his person. Although this is true in a purely physical way in the physical difference in sexual organs and actions, it is, more importantly, more significantly, true at the deeper levels of human life – those aspects of personhood which distinguish us from animals and identify us as created in the image of God. It is at these levels of morality, responsibility, communion, communication and love that the male/female differentiation in the human is far different from the male/female differentiation in animals.

C.2 ‘For Adam no suitable helper was found’ among the animals and birds [2:20]
It is possible to love animals, to enjoy animals, and to have a level of interaction and communion with animals. It is also physically possible to have sexual intercourse with animals, and to derive from that a form of inverted erotic pleasure. But the God-ordained relation of man to animals is that of ruling over them [Genesis 1:28]. Adam found no equality or unity with them, and no counterpart/complement among them. When God brought the woman to him, however, he immediately recognized her as corresponding to himself: ‘this is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.’ [2:23]. In the Hebrew the emphasis is on the ‘this’: this now – in contrast to all the creatures he has just named. Here was someone with whom he recognized an equality and a unity; here was someone who was a counterpart of himself, corresponding to him, communicating with him, with the same capacity for morality and love as he himself possessed. Here was someone with whom he could relate in a personal and intelligent way in which he could never relate to the animals.

This ‘helper’ identity/role of the woman is part of the Creation Factor. It has the connotations of ‘complement’, co-worker, counterpart, and means that the woman corresponds to the man and that they communicate with each other. The impact of the Sin Factor on this ‘helper’ aspect is that the ‘helper’ nature is frequently corrupted by the woman into ‘interfering’ and ‘trying to control’. Nor does the male, as a sinner, always appreciate ‘help’. In the sinful world this ‘co-worker’ and ‘complementarity’ becomes a threat and potentially destructive to the marriage relationship. In addition, man, the sinner, frequently sees his wife as a subordinate slave rather than an equal helper.

C.3 The sexual act is blessed, commanded and intended by God [Genesis 1:28; 2:22, 24]
This God-created differentiation between man and woman includes their physical, sexual differences, and identifies sexual intercourse as part of God’s creative purpose for humans:

Read the phrases below. Describe their implication for our attitude to and understanding of sexual intimacy.

‘God blessed them and said to them ….’


‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth ’


‘The Lord God made a woman … and he brought her to the man’


‘For this reason a man will … be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh’


See also Proverbs 18:22, Hebrews 13:4a and the Song of Songs for God’s affirmation of marriage.


We learn from the above phrases that the sexual act between man and woman is blessed by God, commanded by God, designed by God and intended by God. These phrases endorse the sexual act between man and woman with God’s sanction, endowing it with dignity and responsibility.

In what way do Genesis 1:28 and 2:22 & 25 outlaw the following?
[1] Adultery

 

[2] Polygamy, multiple partners or changing marriage partners

 

[3] Homosexual acts

 

[4] Bestiality


C.4 Union within differentiation [2:24] [Quoted in NT: Matthew 19:5; Mark 10:7; 1Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 5:31.]
The significance of the union of a man and a woman is identified in three different ways in this verse, which Moses, impelled by the Spirit of God, included when he wrote Genesis:

[1] ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother’.

God holds the relation of a person to his/her parents highly significant and filled with awesome responsibilities [Exodus 20:12; 21:15,17; Leviticus 20:9; Deuteronomy 21:18-21;27:16; Proverbs 19:26; 20:20; 23:22; 30:11,17]; heavy penalties were imposed on those who despised or mistreated their parents. This verse, however, indicates that a man’s union with his wife involves him in a commitment that is so significant that it takes priority over his responsibilities to his parents. This is heavy stuff.

[2] ‘and be united to his wife’ [the word means cling or adhere to, be joined together, abide, cleave ]

This leaving father and mother and being united to his wife refers to the totality and comprehensiveness of the marriage relationship. It is far more than the sexual act. It is a commitment of the whole person of the husband to this relationship, this personal union with the wife, and, though not mentioned, of the wife with the husband. It does not envisage a future severance of the relationship.


[3] ‘and they will become one flesh’

This becoming ‘one flesh’, while including the sexual act and the resultant children [one flesh made from two], also includes the fact that the man and woman become a unit. Adam Clarke comments: ‘These two shall be one flesh, shall be considered as one body, having no separate or independent rights, privileges, cares, concerns, etc., each being equally interested in all things that concern the marriage state’ [Commentary on the Bible].


C.5 Mutual inter-dependence [Genesis 2:18-23]
Within the equality and unity there is also a mutual dependence: By God’s affirmation, the man needs the woman [Genesis 2:18], and by God’s mode of creation, the woman was created from part of the man and for the man [2:18,21]. In Genesis 1 and 2 neither of these facts was threatening. They are part of the original order of creation which God called ‘very good’. God’s purpose for the man and the woman together and individually was to be fulfilled in the context of this mutual inter-dependence, not in isolation and independence. [See also 1Corinthians 11:11,12.]


C.6 Differentiation without division [Genesis 2:25]
This verse encapsulates the perfect peace and unity of the original marriage: there was no shame. Nothing intruded into this relationship that created a self-focused awareness of any lack, any failure, any incongruity, any inferiority, any conflict, any criticism, any fear, any perception or possibility of lust or of unworthiness. These two did not know that there were such things as shame or guilt. Criticism [negative thoughts about themselves, each other, their roles and relationship] simply did not exist.


C. 7 Comments on male/female roles
[1] Schaeffer:

‘The Bible does not teach the inequality of men and women. Each person, man or woman, stands equally before God as a person created in his image, and at the same time as a sinner in need of salvation. And because of this, each person, whether male or female, has at the same time both an infinite equality of worth before God and one another, and a total equality of need for Christ as Saviour. But at the same time, this equality is not an equality of monolithic uniformity or “sameness” between men and women. It is an equality which preserves the fundamental differences between the sexes and which allows for the realization and fulfilment of these differences; but at the same time, it affirms everything that men and women have in common – as both being created in the image of God, and as complementary expressions of his image. Thus we must affirm two things simultaneously: because men and women are both created in the image of God there is a common equality which has enormous implications for all of life; and because men and women are both created with distinctions as complementary expressions of the image of God, this has enormous implications for all of life – in the family, in the church, and in the society as a whole. And in this wonderful complementarity there is an enormous range of diversity.  But at the same time, this is not freedom without form. The Bible gives enormous freedom to men and women, but it is freedom within the bounds of biblical truth and within the bounds of what it means to be complementary expressions of the image of God. ‘ ‘A Christian View of the Church: The Great Evangelical Disaster’ p396.

[2] John Stott:


‘Is there, then, no way to resolve the paradox between sexual equality and masculine headship, except by denying one of them? Can they both be affirmed? … We certainly have to reject the whole emotive language of hierarchy, as if headship means patriarchy or patronizing paternalism, autocracy or domination, and as if submission to it means subordination, subjection or subjugation. We must develop a biblical understanding of masculine headship which is fully consistent with the created equality of Genesis 1, the outpouring of the spirit on both sexes at Pentecost [Acts 2:17ff] and their unity in Christ and in his new community [Galatians 3:28]. …

‘On the one hand, headship must be compatible with equality. For if “the head of the woman is man” as “the head of Christ is God”, then man and woman must be equal as the Father and the Son are equal. On the other hand, headship implies some degree of leadership, which, however, is expressed not in terms of “authority” but of “responsibility”.  … The husband’s headship of his wife … is a headship more of care than of control, more of responsibility than of authority. As her “head” he gives himself up for her in love, just as Christ did for his body, the church. And he looks after her, as we do our own bodies. His concern is not to crush her, but to liberate her. As Christ gave himself for his bride, in order to present her to himself radiant and blameless, so the husband gives himself for his bride, in order to create the conditions within which she may grow into the fullness of her womanhood.’ [Issues Facing Christians Today, pp270ff.]


D. BIBLICAL BOUNDARIES FOR SEX

The Biblical boundary for sexual activity is extremely simple: sexual activity is permitted between a man and a woman who are married to each other. All other sexual activities are prohibited for God’s people. The Bible maintains that to engage in prohibited sexual relationships dishonours one’s own body and dishonours the other person. In the case of a Christian, prohibited sexual relationships and activities also dishonour the Lord, who by his Spirit, indwells us.

D.1 Sexual relationships specifically forbidden by the Bible
The Bible is very specific about what sexual relationships are permitted and which are forbidden. The prohibitions in the table below are specified in Exodus 22:16-19; Leviticus 18:6-23; 20:10-20; Deuteronomy 27:20-23.

The following sexual relationships are forbidden by the Bible

Man with any close relative. Woman with any close relative.
Man with his mother. Woman with her son.
Man with his step mother. Woman with her step son.
Man with his sister. Woman with her brother.
Man with his half sister. Woman with her half brother.
Man with his granddaughter. Woman with her grandfather.
Man with his auntie [blood relative]. Woman with her nephew [blood relative].
[Man with his niece – inferred by above. Woman with her uncle – inferred by above].
Man with his aunt-by-marriage. Woman with her nephew-by-marriage.
Man with his daughter-in-law. Woman with her father-in-law.
Man with his sister-in-law [brother’s wife]. Woman with her brother-in-law.
Man with man. Woman with a woman.
Man with an animal. Woman with an animal.
Man with a woman to whom he is not married. Woman with a man to whom she is not married.
Married man with a woman not his wife. Woman with a married man.
Man with another man’s wife. Married woman with a man she is not married to.

D.2 Sexual practices either specifically forbidden or incurring prescribed penalties or outcomes

Check these references to other sexual practices that are also specifically forbidden or incur penalties/outcomes

Adultery: Exodus 20:14; Proverbs 5 to 7; 1Corinthians 6:9; 1Timothy 1:10; Hebrews 13:4; 2Peter 2:14


 
Coveting another man’s wife: Exodus 20:17


Divorcing a wife on the basis of a false accusation of promiscuity: Deuteronomy 22:13ff


High Priest and priests not allowed to marry a widow, a divorcee, or a prostitute: Leviticus 19:7; 21:13,14


Homosexuality: Genesis 18-19; 1Corinthians 6:9; 1Timothy 1:10 [Greek text]; 2Peter 2:6;


Making your daughter become a prostitute: Leviticus 19:29


Marrying a woman you [a man] previously divorced, if the woman had, subsequent to your divorcing her, married and been divorced by another man: Deuteronomy 24:1-4


Marrying both a woman and her sister while both are alive: Leviticus 18:18


Patronizing a prostitute: 1Corinthians 6:15-17


Promiscuity [sexual activity before marriage]: Deuteronomy 22:20-21


Prostitution [male and female]: Leviticus 19:29; 21:9; 1Corinthians 6:9


Rape: Deuteronomy 22:25-29


Religious prostitution [male or female]: Deuteronomy 23:17-18


Seduction of a virgin, or some other woman: Exodus 22:16; 2Peter 2:14;


Looking at the nakedness of another: Genesis 9:21ff; Habakkuk 2:15


Sex between a man and a woman betrothed to another: Deuteronomy 22:23-24


Sex with both a woman and her daughter, or a woman and her grand-daughter: Leviticus 18:17

 

D.3 Sexual acts clearly presented as wrong, but without direct commands or set penalties

Check these additional actions that God also considers wrong, but without direct commands or penalties:

Being enticed in one’s heart by a woman not one’s wife: Job 31:9-12; Proverbs 6 and 7

Debauchery: Romans 13:13; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 5:18; 1Peter 4:3;

Depriving one’s spouse sexually: 1Corinthians 7:3-6

Divorce, except in the case of marital unfaithfulness: Matthew 5:31-32; 1Corinthians 7:11

Immodest dress: 1Timothy 2:9;

Impurity: Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5; James 1:21;

Lust: Job 31:1; Matthew 5:28; Colossians 3:5; 1Thessalonians 4:4; 1Peter 4:3; 2Peter 2:18;

Lusting after an immoral married woman: Proverbs 6:23-29

Marrying a divorced woman: Matthew 5:32

Marrying a non-believer: 1Corinthians 7:39b; 2Corinthians 6:15;

Obscenity or perversity of speech: Proverbs 4:24; Ephesians 5:4

Perversion [including homosexuality]: Romans 1:26-27; 1Timothy 1:10; Jude 8;

Polygamy: 1Timothy 3:2,12; Titus 1:6;

Remarrying after divorce: 1Corinthians 7:11;

Seduction/enticement [of a man by an immoral married woman or a prostitute]: Proverbs 7:5-27; 23:26-28

Separation from one’s spouse: 1Corinthians 7:10

Sexual immorality: Romans 13:13; 1Corinthians 6:9,18-20; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 5:3,5; Colossians 3:5; 1Thessalonians 4:3; Hebrews 13:4; Jude 8; Revelation 2:14,20; 9:21; 21:8; 22:15

Unfaithfulness to one’s spouse: Proverbs 23:26-28


D.4 Adultery, prostitution and sexual immorality used as a symbol of idolatry and unfaithfulness to God
In addition, so repulsive and abhorrent are sexual sins to God that he regularly uses them as symbols depicting idolatry and unfaithfulness to himself. This is frequent in the writings of the prophets and can also be found in Revelation [for example Hosea 1 – 3; Revelation 17:1-5; 18:1-3; 19:2]. This use points clearly to the utter wrongness of sexual sins.

 

E. PERSONAL INVENTORY

A Christian is a person who has acknowledged the Lordship and divine authority of Jesus Christ. These commands, these boundaries, are his commands, boundaries he has put in place for our personal well-being, for the well-being of the human race, and for his glory. They are not optional.

As part of this study: go through the lists above and identify the prohibitions that you personally find hard to accept [note – not that you find hard to obey, but that you have difficulty accepting as a valid or reasonable prohibition.] Ask yourself: why do I think prohibition of this sexual activity is not valid or reasonable?