The Blue Parakeet: Eden as Hermeneutic

parakeetGenesis 1 and 2 give the model for a Godly marriage and Godly sexual conduct. Hence, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and homosexuality are all wrong because they violate Genesis 1 and 2 — which define sinless sex — even if the heterosexual or homosexual sex is a very loving relationship.

Of course, Genesis 1 and 2 occurred in a sinless world and so set the pattern for husbands and wives. Hence, when the Scriptures discuss divorce, they refer to Genesis 1 and 2. And we’ve often missed the point because we’ve so often misread these important passages.

To have truly healthy marriages (and churches), we have to return to the sinless ideal of Genesis 1 and 2 and stop defending what we do and teach from Genesis 3. You see, our foolish assertion that Genesis 3:16 — giving husbands “rule” over their wives — has led to many dysfunctional marriages, to spousal abuse, and worse.

The ideal is found in Genesis 1 and 2 — both are in the image of God, both are to be united to each other, both are to be one flesh, the wife is the husband’s “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.”

How Jesus and Paul teach about marriage, sex, men, and women

Consider these passages where the scriptures either explicity or implicitly refer to Genesis 1 and 2 for doctrine —

(Mat 19:3-6)  Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” 4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 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’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

(Rom 1:20-27)  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. … 26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

(1 Cor 6:16-18)  Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit. 18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.

(1 Cor 7:4)  The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife.

(1 Cor 11:7-9)  A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.

(1 Cor 14:33-34)  For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the congregations of the saints, 34 women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says.

(Gal 3:28-29 ESV)  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

(Eph 5:29-31)  After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church — 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”

(1 Tim 2:11-15)  A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing–if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

You see, Paul doesn’t say, “It’s a rule” or “It’s not authorized.” Rather, when he issues instructions, he gives a reason, and when he considers marriage, sex, or the roles of men and women, he routinely goes back to Genesis 1 and 2 for the answer.

Reconciling gospel, love, and Genesis

How can it be that the entire law is fulfilled by love and yet fornication — hetero- or homosexual — is sinful? Aren’t these acts of love? How do we reconcile these two strands of thought that are both very clearly supported by scripture?

Well, there’s only one possibility that I can think of that respects the scriptures as they deserve. It goes like this.

Love comes in many types. Sexual love is one, but it’s hardly the highest possible love. Jesus was celebate, as were many of the apostles. They gave up sex for the sake of the Kingdom.

And for that matter, even love for one’s earthly family isn’t the highest love either.

(Luke 9:61-62)  Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.” 62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

Some forms of love are higher than others. And God calls us to the highest love, the love Jesus expressed in his death.

(Eph 5:1-2)  Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

You see, love for our neighbors might even mean dying for our neighbor. Love for self is sometimes trumped by love for our neighbors.

(Matt 19:12) “For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

The answer has to be that giving up sex outside of marriage is an act of love giving rise to more benefit than the cost. The good is worth the sacrifice. But why?

I think the answer is the impact on society of sexual relations outside of marriage, especially when non-marital sex is treated an normative, even commendable. You see, society will either approve or disapprove non-marital sex, and if it’s approved, the institution of marriage is hurt and society is hurt.

This is shown in many ways, but here a two obvious examples —

* Society’s approval of non-marital sexual relations has led to the highest illegitimacy rate in history — and tens of million of children being raised without fathers. And this hurts those children and society in general in incalculably severe ways.

* Society’s approval of non-marital sexual relations has led to untold millions of abortions — the killing of unborn children — and a hardening of society’s attitudes toward its own children.

There are plenty of other arguments made, some more meritorious than others, but these I’ve seen with my own eyes.

And so, here’s how I’ve got it figured. God in his perfect wisdom knows that large scale sexual immorality destroys a society by destroying its children. He therefore wants his people to renounce their sexual desires except within marriage. He’s not saying that the love expressed in non-marital sex is not real love for the other person. It often is. He’s saying it’s not real love for society. And the last 50 years in America have proven him right.

Homosexuality

One other thought. Nothing in Genesis justifies hatred of homosexuals. I mean, we should no more despise a sexually active homosexual couple than a sexually active unmarried heterosexual couple. Both violate Genesis 1 and 2 and God’s will, but neither is inherently more evil than the other.

Now I strongly object to the recent efforts of many to change Western culture to accept homosexuality as equivalent to heterosexuality, but I also object to the effort to accept sex between unmarried heterosexuals as equivalent to sex between husband and wife. It’s just that we’ve already lost the culture war against “shacking up,” while the cultural battle regarding homosexuality is still being fought. But despite the fact that the media and church periodicals are pounding the battle drums on homosexuality, homosexuals remain people who are fallen and who need to be loved and brought into God’s grace.

Unfortunately, the Christian community has lost much of its credibility when we claim to love the sinner and hate the sin, as we long stood silent while homosexuals were, quite literally, brutalized, beaten, and treated as less than human. We are, however, slowly coming to a more balanced, gracious attitude. I am still touched by the reaction of a local Church of Christ when their long-time preacher, a married man, was arrested for homosexual solicitation, resulting in a much-discussed newspaper story.

The preacher resigned and, the next Sunday, came forward in the assembly to confess his sin. Virtually the entire congregation came up afterwards, showered him with hugs and love. Several members said, “You were there when my husband and I were near divorce, and we’re not about to desert you now.” Forgiveness. Love. Grace. Hope. Christianity lived as Jesus lived. The preacher remains a member of that church to this day.

It is a very sad commentary on the Churches that we have often allowed our worldliness to hold us back on cultural issues when we should have been at the forefront. This hardly means that we should now go running after every fashionable social issue — just that we can’t trust our culture or our naturally conservative inclinations to guide our doctrine. We have to live as strangers in a strange land and be true to our principles, even when society rejects us for doing so.

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7 Responses

  1. Jay,

    There is a lot of good truth in this post. Thank you.

  2. Jay,

    May I ask some follow-up questions on your thought processes as I understand in this post?

    It sounds like you fully support the concept of an example-based hermeneutic provided it is applied to relationships with God and fellow humans (principle of love) and it not applied to procedural issues (church organization, worship, etc.).

    Your opening paragraph certainly appeals to the positive model (example) that eliminates the acceptability of other ways. This is certainly the appeal of the NT writers as you well documented.

    In other words, are you trying to move our hermeneutic from one concerning procedures to one concerning love?

    An honest inquiry here. I’m trying to understand thought processes.

    Thanks,
    Rich.

  3. Rich,

    I agree that the relationship of Adam and Eve is an example. But I don’t consider it binding because it’s an example. I consider it binding because —

    * The text itself says that future marriages will follow this model.

    * Jesus and Paul both reason from Eden in considering marriage and sexuality.

    * Jesus and the Kingdom he initiated point us in the direction of a return to Paradise.

    I believe love, understood properly from God’s word, is the essence of Christian ethics — not because I’m a particularly loving or emotional person — but because that’s what the Bible explicitly and repeatedly says.

    I oppose the notion that any incidental reference to a practice that happens to conform to Patristic practice is binding. There’s a world of difference between the authority of Jesus and Paul vs. Justin Martyr and Ignatius.

    And there’s a world of difference between God’s purposes that span the ages and a presumed set of rules that are barely mentioned, much less commanded, in the Bible.

    Hence, I reject CENI as the Churches of Christ have taught it. However, there are certainly commands and examples that we should follow. It’s just that the way we apply CENI is seriously mistaken.

  4. Rich, I saw your comment on this under a different article. I think you should think a little more deeply about what Jay is saying. The question is whether a given example is binding. Jay’s not answering that question based on whether a matter is procedural or relational. Rather, it’s whether or not the text says the example is a model to be followed by others in the future. Genesis says this is the pattern to be followed (“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother….”). That is further supported by how both Jesus and Paul used the passage as the very definition of God’s will for marriage. All of those passages use the Genesis passage as an example to be followed. On many other subjects, the scriptures don’t tell us the example is prescriptive of God’s will in the general case. Whether or not those examples are relational, they are not binding. At least I think that’s what Jay is saying.

  5. Alan,

    Thanks for your comeback. I appreciate your inquiries.

    Even Jay agrees “there are certainly commands and examples that we should follow.” This is reinforced by the following verses that are instructions (commands) to imitate examples:

    Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. Philippians 3:17 (English Standard Version)

    Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:1 (English Standard Version)

    For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, 2 Thessalonians 3:7 (English Standard Version)

    And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, 1 Thessalonians 2:13-14 (English Standard Version)

    The only real issue is what is within scope of these examples. Which of the following are included: benevolence, lifestyle, work ethic, worship, church organization, and leadership?

    I maintain examples to follow include worship and church organization. Jay does not (based on my understanding of his posts).

  6. RIch, you are right. The controversy is not over whether there are examples we should follow, but instead over whether it is *every* example or only those examples meeting some criteria. Actually, I think the controversy is over what those criteria are. And there is quite a bit of room for human judgment in answering that question, because the scriptures don’t explicitly give us the criteria. Are we only expected to follow the examples where the context specifically tells us to do that, or is there some other criteria? And who gets to decide?

  7. I am still touched by the reaction of a local Church of Christ when their long-time preacher, a married man, was arrested for homosexual solicitation, resulting in a much-discussed newspaper story.

    The preacher resigned and, the next Sunday, came forward in the assembly to confess his sin. Virtually the entire congregation came up afterwards, showered him with hugs and love. Several members said, “You were there when my husband and I were near divorce, and we’re not about to desert you now.” Forgiveness. Love. Grace. Hope. Christianity lived as Jesus lived. The preacher remains a member of that church to this day.

    this literally made me cry

    why?

    it seems that kind of grace is so rare and unexpected…from Christians

    I am so tired of homosexual people being demonised as if they are not human…
    a contact I have online is a 28 year old homosexual, black male and I want to say that he, more than many of the ‘Christian fundamentalists’ on this online network I’m part of, shows integrity of ‘speech’ in his blogs when mentioning others…he carefully checks facts and does not write anything that is not backed up and accredited and verified…which is so different to the fundamentalists on there who misquote and despise and guess wrongly about things.

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