Creation: After the Fall
HOMOSEXUALITY AND THE BIBLE,
Key Passages: Genesis 4-50, Psalm 103:14, 139:13-14
By Bruce L. Gerig
Recently Christianity Today, a leading evangelical journal, devoted a whole issue to the theme "Why It Takes a Man and a Woman: The Marriage Debate," caught up with the latest hot issue in the cultural wars. The lead editorial noted how four conservative pastors serving in gay-friendly urban areas wanted to welcome gay people, even knew gays in their churches both who were single and who lived in long-term same-sex relationships, yet they felt they had to be "true to the Bible" and teach "a one-man, one-woman model of marriage."1 We see how important the divine command "[M]ale and female he created them … [F]ill the earth…" in Gen 1:27-28 (NIV) remains in the homosexual debate. However, these leaders only focus on one command, missing how God later interacted with his chosen people relating to sex, which casts these verses in quite a different light. As important as the original creation of humankind was (Gen 1-2), it was followed by an equally important re-creation of human nature (Gen 3); and it can be seen through the rest of Genesis how this changed human sexuality, in both sinful (condemned) ways and morally neutral (non-condemned) ways. The Divine response to the sin of Adam and Eve was much more than a simple judgment.2 Leaving the Garden, the humans will now truly become free and adult. Much has been lost, but much more remains to be gained.3 Humans will learn painful but necessary lessons about the ugliness of evil, the wages of sin, and the value of struggle. They will understand what life is like having moved away from God and his goodness; yet also they will witness in a remarkable way God's continuing love, redeeming mercy, and provisional care, in spite of their being his fallen creatures.
In later Genesis, condemned, sinful sexual variations can be seen in the following incidents: Abimelech orders that none of his subjects "molest" Isaac or his wife Rebekah (26:11, NIV). Prince Shechem was so attracted to Dinah, Jacob's daughter, that he "took her and violated her" – but, in doing so, he so enraged her brothers that they slaughtered all of the males in the city of Shechem, because he "treated our sister like a prostitute" (ch. 34, NIV). The men of Sodom gathered regularly to abuse and gang-rape male visitors who sought hospitality in their city, finally bringing down God's punishment (19:1-29). Onan, the brother-in-law of Tamar, refused to fulfill his levirate "duty" to impregnate Tamar so as to provide her with an heir; so Onan was killed by the Lord (38:6-10). Later, Tamar was accused of prostitution and condemned to death when Judah learned of her illicit pregnancy; however, she was quickly exonerated when she revealed that, in her quest for an heir, her sex partner had been none other than Judah himself (38:13-26)! (However, Judah suffered no shame or condemnation for visiting one whom he thought was a prostitute.) Potiphar's wife sexually harassed the handsome Joseph day after day, until finally in rage and disgust she falsely accused him of trying to rape her (39:6-20). Yet, God provided for Joseph in all of his woes. Clearly, sexual molestation, taking a virgin sexually outside of marriage, homosexual gang rape, failure to perform one's levirate duty, a woman in the family turning to prostitution, and sexual harassment are condemned as moral sins in Genesis. One cannot help but note how sex now often has become fused with abuse and violence, displaying a demeaning, dehumanizing, and destructive character – expressed in forms that should be condemned.
Yet, other non-condemned, morally neutral sexual variations also appear in Genesis: Polygyny (a man taking more than one wife) appears early, as Lamech "married two women" (4:19, NIV) and both Pharaoh of Egypt and Abimelech of Gerar added the beautiful Sarah to their harems (12:14-15, 20:1-2), although God protected her there. Still, Sarah was so distressed by her barrenness (and no doubt influenced by social custom4) that she gave Abraham her Egyptian slave-girl Hagar as a concubine (a woman who lived and slept with a man, but was not married to him5), resulting in Ishmael's birth (ch. 16). Although they turned from the original intent (one husband, one wife), God did not wag the finger at Abraham, but blesses his irregular family. An even more deviant relationship occurs with Jacob, who ended up with two wives (Leah and Rachel) and two concubines (Bilhah and Zilpah) as partners (chs. 29-30). Yet, God did not rebuke or forsake Jacob, but instead gave his family a tremendous blessing – for from their sons came the twelve tribes of Israel! Lot's daughters, thinking that the whole world had been destroyed with Sodom's destruction, committed incest with their father, to assure that they would have children (19:30-38). Physical sexual problems were common among God's chosen people: all of the wives of the first three patriarchs suffered from barrenness, including Sarah (11:30, 16:1), Rebekah (25:21), Rachel (29:31), and Leah (30:9) – although God in time "opened their wombs." Rachel not only gave birth with "great difficulty" relating to Benjamin, but died in childbirth (35:16-18). One can see here examples of a wide variety of sexual variations and difficulties that were not condemned, including taking more than one wife, adding a female slave as a sexual partner, harems for rulers, incest in unusual circumstances, barrenness in the womb, and death in childbirth.
Of course, incest
(sex with a closely-related family member) will be soundly condemned in the
Law of Moses (Lev 18:6-18) – although still the measures that Lot's
daughters took for survival of their family when faced with extinction were
no doubt applauded in ancient times.6 The Law of Moses
would render a mixed decision on prostitution: no man was to make his daughter
a prostitute (Lev 19:29), no priest was to marry a prostitute (Lev 21:7),
no Israelite woman or man was to become a sacred prostitute (Deut
23:17), and no Israelite woman or man was to give to the Lord from wages
earned as a common prostitute (Deut 23:18). As Wink notes, secular prostitution
was considered "quite natural and necessary [for men] as a safeguard
of the virginity of brides and property rights of husbands." Even in
later Jewish texts, a man was not held guilty for visiting a prostitute, although
the harlot herself was considered a "sinner." Prostitutes continued
to ply their trade in Jesus' day (Matt 21:31-32), and polygyny continued in
some cases within Judaism for centuries after the NT period.7
This is not to recommend prostitution (condemned all around by Paul in 1 Cor
6:9-20) or multiple partners – but to recall David's words, that "[The
Lord] knows our [human] frame; he remembers that we are dust" (Ps 103:14,
KJV). God's attitude toward sexual variations, as viewed in Scripture, is
not simple, predictable or clear-cut as one might expect; rather, we see the
Lord responding in sexual matters to those who love him with forbearance,
compassion, accommodation, and a certain flexibility. As Walter Wink notes,
we see in the Bible not a single sexual ethic but instead "a variety
of sexual mores," which have changed over time. In fact, many of the
sexual mores we find in the OT look very different from what most conservative
Christians today would say "the Bible teaches" on marriage and sex!
We are not given "unequivocal guidance," but instead are later called
by both Jesus and Paul, to respond above all with love and compassion to those
around us who are in difficult places.8
Also, today we are knowledgeable of many other morally-neutral variations that occur in human sexuality, including male infertility, lack of sexual desire, and problems performing sexually.9 Sexual variations can result from chromosomal, hormonal and other prenatal and very early factors. Chromosomal sex variations include hermaphroditism (where an individual displays genital organs of both sexes), although true cases are rare. However, other chromosomal variations are quite common (where individuals display fewer or more X or Y chromosomes than usual 46), one study of 35,000 Danish newborns (1991) finding such errors in 1 in every 426 children. Females with Turner syndrome, who lack a female chromosome (with X instead of XX), display nonfunctioning or absent ovaries and at adolescence often question their femaleness. Males with Klinefelter syndrome, who generally have an extra chromosome (with XXY instead of XY), display small male genitals, are often infertile, and at puberty develop female secondary sex characteristics (such as large breasts, reduced beard growth, and weak muscle strength), often resulting in gender confusion.10 A recent Lancet article (7/17/04) noted that while most KS males are 47XXY, 20% display other chromosomal patterns, including 47XYY, 48XXXY, 48XXYY, and even a varying chromosomal mosaic. Most KS men never know why they are different, since physicians rarely think of this or test for it.11
Hormonal effects also vary greatly. Females with congenital adrenal hyperplasia have genitals that tend toward male appearance; and while female secondary sex characteristics appear at puberty, their natural gender identification is usually male. Males with complete androgen-insensitivity syndrome develop testes but their body is unable to utilize testosterone, so at puberty they develop female secondary sex characteristics and assume a female gender identity.12 Gender shifts in self identity and desired object occur frequently. The causes of transsexuality (including transgenders and transsexuals, persons who feel that their genitals and gender-identity are divergent) are not well understood, yet indicators often seem to point to a prenatal or very early development. Also, homosexuality (referring to persons who have a primary, abiding sexual attraction to members of the same sex) certainly derives in many cases from prenatal factors, as well.13 All of these sexual variations appear naturally and inevitably as part of human nature overall and of God's grand, richly-diverse creation. One thing is sure: "There is no going back to the way life was, as originally created."14
Yet, David declared, "For it was you [O God] who formed my inward parts, you knit me together in my mother's womb. … Wonderful are your works…" (Ps 139:13-14, NRSV) Job and Isaiah also saw themselves as "made" or "formed" by God in the womb (Job 31:15, Isa 49:5), and we read that Jeremiah was "appointed [by God to be] a prophet" even before he was born (Jer 1:5). God takes pleasure in creating even in the fallen and imperfect flesh that all humans share. Whether we are straight, gay, bi or trans, the Lord God has formed us in the womb, and He knows the work planned for each of his children to do, for his glory and for the kingdom. Returning to the marriage issue, one cannot imagine the caring, practical, independent-minded Apostle Paul advising a gay man, for example, to marry a woman when neither of them would find sexual fulfillment therein, particularly since he advised that “it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion” (1 Cor 7:8-9, NRSV, italics added). Since he recognized that most could never be celibate, if he knew what we know today about homosexual orientation, he surely would have approved of gay marriage for gay people and would have fought for the same.
FOOTNOTES: 1. Neff, p. 8. 2. Westermann, p. 256-57. 3. Van Wolde, p. 62. 4. Hamilton, p. 444-45. 5. Wink, p. 38. 6. Vawter, p. 242-43. 7. Wink, p. 40,38. 8. Ibid., 44,49. 9. Strong & DeVault, p. 598, 601-06. 10. Ibid., p. 181-84. 11. Lanfranco, p. 273ff; Brody, p. F7; Aylstock website. 12. Strong & DeVault, p. 182. 13. Ibid., p. 185-87, 198. 14. Hall, p. 144.
Aylstock, Melissa, ed., KS & Associates website, www.genetics.org
Brody, Jane E., "The Havoc of an Undetected Extra Chromosome," New York Times, 8/31/04, F7.
Hall, B. Barbara, "Homosexuality and a New Creation," in Our Selves, Our Souls & Bodies: Sexuality and the Household of God, ed. by Charles Hefling, 1996, p. 142-156.
Hamilton, Victor, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, 1990.
Lanfranco, Fabio, et al., "Klinefelter's Syndrome," Lancet, 7/17/04, vol. 364, issue 9430, p. 273-283.
Neff, David, "The Cure of Gay Souls," Christianity Today, 9/04, p. 8.
Strong, Brian, and Christine DeVault, Human Sexuality, 1994.
Van Wolde, Ellen, Stories of the Beginning: Genesis 1-11 and Other Creation Stories, Dutch 1995, English 1996.
Vawter, Bruce, On Genesis: A New Reading, 1977.
Westermann, Claus, Genesis 1-11: A Commentary, German 1974, English 1984.
Wink, Walter, "Homosexuality and the Bible," in Homosexuality and the Christian Faith, ed. by W. Wink, 1999, p. 33-49.
TRANSLATIONS: King James Version, 1611. New Revised Standard Version, 1989. New International Version, 1978.
© 2004 Bruce L. Gerig
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