Jesus and Paul on the Hermeneutics of Sexuality: Richard Beck, Part 4 (Rowan Williams, again)

the-bible-and-sexuality-blog-heading (1)We’re taking up Richard Beck’s blog post Sexuality and the Christian Body, Part 2: Grace and Election.

A second major theme in Eugene Rogers’ book Sexuality and the Christian Body is his interaction with and elaboration upon Rowan Williams’ essay The Body’s Grace. If you’ve not read The Body’s Grace many consider it to be the most significant theological treatment of human sexuality in the 20th Century. You can decide that for yourself. Regardless, agree or not, The Body’s Grace is considered required reading for theology students taking up the subject of human sexuality.

We, of course, considered Williams’ essay earlier, and I’ll not repeat my criticisms of it here. Rather, I mourn the fact that this is considered “theology” at all, much less required reading for students of the Bible.

We’ll skip Beck’s summary of Williams’ essay, to get to the ultimate point:

Marriage, then, reflects the nature of God in that it participates in (incarnates) God’s election and marriage to Israel. This is the grace of marriage: I choose you.

If this [marriage by election] is so we can see why procreation isn’t what makes marriage a marriage, theologically speaking. No doubt reproduction is a part of human sex. But marriage? Marriage is about God’s election of Israel. As Rogers notes, it would be sort of odd to model Christian marriage after Adam and Eve. Do we really want marriage modeled after those two? Ummmm. No.

“Marriage is about God’s election of Israel.” Really? Then what about the countless marriages that predated the exodus and Mt. Sinai? Was the marriage of Adam and Eve about God and Israel? You see, this makes no sense if you take the Bible to be talking about real events. If the exodus was real, if God’s covenant making with Israel really happened in the wilderness at the foot of Mt. Sinai, then this all happened very roughly around 1500 BC — millennia after Adam and Eve under any dating scheme.

In reality, God uses human marriage to help Israel understand his election of Israel. Marriage is first, and the fact that Israel can understand this fundamental human institution — common to all human cultures — helps them understand election by God.

“[I]t would be sort of odd to model Christian marriage after Adam and Eve.” Really? Let’s turn to the text —

(Gen 2:18-25 ESV) Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”  19 Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.  20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.  21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.  22 And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.  23 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”  24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.  25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”

Would we be embarrassed to read this at a modern wedding as instructive? Well, it happens every day.

Now, if what Rogers is embarrassed by is the sin of Adam and Eve and the resulting Fall of Man, well, who would want sin to be a model for marriage? But then who would want Israel’s countless idolatries and sins to be a basis for marriage? Both historical types involve humans who sin, but the example we should emulate is Adam and Eve pre-Fall.

Hosea even describes God’s marriage to Israel in Gen 2 terms —

(Hos 2:16 ESV)  “And in that day, declares the LORD, you will call me ‘My Husband [ishi],’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal [Lord].’

(Gen 2:23 ESV) Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman [ishah], because she was taken out of Man [ishi].”

We don’t know how long Adam and Eve’s marriage existed before the Fall, but we know how long it took for Israel to commit adultery against God — they made the golden calf while Moses was still on Mt. Sinai! And Rogers wants that to be the model for our marriages?

So, no, Rogers’ arguments make no sense at all. Yes, we really do want to model our marriages after the marriage of Adam and Eve as it existed pre-Fall — and by no means should we want to follow Israel’s example of how to be a wife. Rather, Israel should be faithful to God as Eve was faithful to Adam.

God married Israel, not us. Yahweh is not our God. Yahweh is Israel’s God. So, as Paul helps us see, we have to be adopted into this family. And “in Christ” we are adopted. We are “grafted in.”

This identity as “adopted children” puts further strain on attempts to place reproduction at the center of Christian marriage. We are not God’s “children of the flesh.” We are not circumcised. We’ve been adopted through baptism. And what this again highlights is God’s election. His choosing us. What makes us family isn’t DNA but the free choice of God. Also known as grace. And this is how family is understood in the church: We are not biological relatives, but we are all “family” through God’s choosing us in Christ.

And according to Rogers this understanding goes a long way in explaining why “non-standard” families can be full reflections of the Imago Dei: Sterile couples, step-families, adopted children, gay marriages, etc. These are all marriages and families that reflect the life of God. They are not incomplete or failures. They fully reflect the Imago Dei. Why? Because they model God’s marriage to Israel, God’s election:

I choose you.

And that is an occasion of joy.

Very pretty. But is it true? Let’s see …

“Yahweh is not our God.” Disagree. He chose to expand his election to include Gentiles who believe in Jesus. I have friends who were adopted, and they take offense when someone says their adopting father is not their “real” father. I feel the same sort of offense. God chose me. He adopted me. He saved me. He’s my Abba and my God. Any theology that says otherwise is false.

(Rom 8:33-34 ESV)  33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.  34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died– more than that, who was raised– who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

Don’t tell me that God’s “elect” doesn’t include Gentiles.

So this analogy that Rogers borrows from Romans 11 certainly speaks to adoptions, and I agree that God smiles on parents who adopt children. I don’t agree that therefore election is not about children. If God doesn’t see an analogy between election and adoption, why does he inspire Paul to make exactly that comparison?

(Rom 8:23 ESV) 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 

So does this mean that marriage can be about adoption rather than biological procreation? Well, certainly it does. What could be more God-like than adopting children?

Does it mean that marriage can be about same-sex partners? No. Paul and the rest of the scriptures do not draw that conclusion. You cannot say that adoption by a heterosexual couple (God and Israel) necessarily approves adoption by a same sex couple. The adoption that is approved is adoption by God, who is in a monogamous, heterosexual relationship with the church — not all imaginable adoptions.

And according to Rogers this understanding goes a long way in explaining why “non-standard” families can be full reflections of the Imago Dei: Sterile couples, step-families, adopted children, gay marriages, etc. These are all marriages and families that reflect the life of God. They are not incomplete or failures. They fully reflect the Imago Dei. Why? Because they model God’s marriage to Israel, God’s election:

So the fact that God’s election of Gentiles is like adopting children rather than having children through sexual reproduction, this somehow validates all relationships that we call “marriage” that can’t produce biological children? Uh, no. That’s just not what the analogy to God’s marriage of Israel teaches.

Remember, in that relationship, the husband, the man, is YHWH. The wife, the woman, is Israel. So what would be the homosexual analog? Either Israel having sexual union with another nation (woman), preferring Egypt or Assyria to God, or God marrying a false god, a demon. So, no, the nature of God’s choosing of Israel is that Israel must be faithful but to one husband, as a wife should be faithful to her husband.

(Eze 16:25-34 ESV)  25 At the head of every street you built your lofty place and made your beauty an abomination, offering yourself to any passerby and multiplying your whoring.  26 You also played the whore with the Egyptians, your lustful neighbors, multiplying your whoring, to provoke me to anger.  27 Behold, therefore, I stretched out my hand against you and diminished your allotted portion and delivered you to the greed of your enemies, the daughters of the Philistines, who were ashamed of your lewd behavior.  28 You played the whore also with the Assyrians, because you were not satisfied; yes, you played the whore with them, and still you were not satisfied.  29 You multiplied your whoring also with the trading land of Chaldea, and even with this you were not satisfied.  

30 “How sick is your heart, declares the Lord GOD, because you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen prostitute,  31 building your vaulted chamber at the head of every street, and making your lofty place in every square. Yet you were not like a prostitute, because you scorned payment.  32 Adulterous wife, who receives strangers instead of her husband!  33 Men give gifts to all prostitutes, but you gave your gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from every side with your whorings.  34 So you were different from other women in your whorings. No one solicited you to play the whore, and you gave payment, while no payment was given to you; therefore you were different.”

God condemns Israel prostituting herself, not only with other gods, but with other nations (women, within the metaphor). Evidently, God does not approve polyamorous relationships or relationships between his wife and other “women.” Israel is elect, and so God insists that Israel be faithful to her husband. God’s relationship with Israel approves nothing else. Obviously —

(Eph 5:28-6:1 ESV)  28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church,  30 because we are members of his body.  31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”  32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.  33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.  

So the marriage of Christ to the church (a continuation of the God/Israel metaphor) does teach us about marriage — but the lesson is that we husbands must love our wives as Jesus loves the church, that is, enough to die for her.

And there’s not the least hint of approval of homosexual marriages in any of these texts. Indeed, if God intended for us find approval of two-husband or two-wife marriages in his “marriage” to Israel, he used exactly the wrong language to make such a point.

On the other hand, if God’s point is that, contrary to ancient culture, a marriage is a good marriage, blessed by God, even if the husband and wife choose to adopt, that point is very clearly made — as is the point that human marriage should be founded on the principles taught in Gen 2 — so much so, that when God uses human marriage as a metaphor, he urges Israel to be the kind of wife to him that Gen 2 teaches.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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3 Responses to Jesus and Paul on the Hermeneutics of Sexuality: Richard Beck, Part 4 (Rowan Williams, again)

  1. laymond says:

    “Does it mean that marriage can be about same-sex partners? No. Paul and the rest of the scriptures do not draw that conclusion. You cannot say that adoption by a heterosexual couple (God and Israel) necessarily approves adoption by a same sex couple. The adoption that is approved is adoption by God, who is in a monogamous, heterosexual relationship with the church — not all imaginable adoptions.”

    Jay, a marriage should be an agreement between souls, not bodies. How else could Jesus accept the church as a bride?
    When one of your sons presents to you his choice of a bride, do you tell him well, you can choose whom you wish as wife, but they will never be a part of my family. I know God will not turn the bride of his son away. You should really learn the meaning of grace. Especially God’s Grace.

  2. Monty says:

    Jay,

    Twice now I have been typing a comment and had it almost finished when the red squiggly line appeared under two words I didn’t space apart and when I go to right click on it and it gives me the proper correction to click on, and I do it, everything disappears. Very frustrating. I would like to know if this is a problem anyone else experiences with the software or is this my computer problem? Thanks.

  3. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Monty,

    This is the first I’ve heard of this issue but we’re having other problems with WordPress. Maybe fixing those cleans this up too.

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