Walking Away from the Faith, Part 5 of 5: Biblical Sexuality

Rick Mattson Church 4 Comments

This will be an impossible post. To say something about the increasingly complex subject of sexuality in a short blog is, perhaps, foolish. Here is my attempt:

Young Christians such as Mary in my prior post who have friends that identify as queer, or who are queer themselves, often leave the church with a sense of having been betrayed.

Most likely they’ve learned new ideas about identity, gender, and sexuality from the justice/inclusivist vocabulary of secular culture. Anything they’ve learned to the contrary from the Bible may have seemed harsh and arbitrary by comparison.

My plea to the church is to establish a biblical foundation for sexuality in the Trinity and, from there, the notion of man and woman created in the image of the Triune God.

This foundation leads naturally to the Jewish/Christian ideas of covenant marriage and the “one flesh” union of man and woman as prescribed in Genesis 2:24 (and quoted in the NT by both Jesus and Paul). Here is that text:

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.  (NIV)

Rooting sexuality in the Trinity may seem an odd notion to some. But theologically it’s a rich place to begin, much more so than setting up and enforcing a list of biblical “do’s and don’ts” that seem to suggest the church is squeamish, even fearful, about sex.

But will this help?

I’m not suggesting this teaching alone will stop young people from leaving the church, but it does represent the kind of integrative approach to theology that will anchor Christian youth more deeply in the Bible. The Bible, that is, as a source of wise counsel for all parts of life rather than, as sometimes thought, an antiquated rule book.

* * *

To return to part 1 of this series, click here.


For a technical treatment of Trinity and sexuality, see ch.7 of Stan Grenz, The Social God and the Relational Self: A Trinitarian Theology of the Imago Dei

For a helpful back-and-forth discussion between progressives and conservatives, see Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church  by William Loader, Megan K. DeFranza, Wesley Hill, and Stephen R. Holmes.

Photo by Seth Reese on Unsplash

Comments 4

  1. You’re right, to try and say anything definitive about sexuality in a short post is difficult. Likewise for a comment appended to such a post. But I suggest that debates about sexuality and marriage need to be grounded in useful biblical interpretation. It seems to me that most current teaching about marriage is a post hoc justification rather than exegesis. That is, the current understanding of the role, importance or definition of marriage is carried back to the text and passages are then made to “prove” the prior understanding.

    I think that’s what’s happened with Gen 2:24. If anything, that verse is an explanation, within a discussion of the ontological reality of the male/female distinction, for why people get married, not a limiting argument for marriage. I would argue that the Bible nowhere makes a case for marriage, per se. Rather, it addresses the reality of it at various points (treat the relationship with integrity, love/respect the other, don’t break it without extreme justification, etc.). So the effort to justify a particular understanding of marriage based on the Scriptures is a fraught one. Other arrangements than current Western custom could conceivably be folded into the teaching about how one should conduct oneself inside of such an arrangement.

    As a further thought, I recommend an insightful book called The Lost World of Adam and Eve, by John Walton, for a solid, contextual understanding of the first three chapters of Genesis.

    1. Post

      A thoughtful comment, Paul. Your role as a professional Bible translator gives added weight to your thoughts.

      I cannot keep up with you in strict exegetical work, so I won’t disagree there. Yet, you are making a theological claim that I feel more comfortable addressing: that persons such as myself are carrying prior-held convictions into the text — perhaps a prior “western” definition of marriage (whatever that might be), and using Gen 2:24 to justify it.

      But such proof-texting isn’t necessarily at work here. To move theologically from 1) Trinity to 2) image of God to 3) covenant marriage and sexual union which reflects the image of God seems the proper order to me. That’s an inductive, not a deductive, process. If we started with marriage and worked backwards, I would feel more the weight of your critique.

      And yes, the John Walton book is a worthy read!

      Thank you for engaging this most difficult of blogs of the many I’ve ever written.

  2. Well, okay, I take your point. You were not engaged in proof-texting even though that was the thrust of my comment. My apologies for riding my hobby horse around in your paddock.

    I guess I’m not sure what you mean by a Trinitarian foundation to sexuality except as a post hoc theological enterprise (something I admit an aversion to). Certainly, Gen 2:24 was not written from an anachronistic Trinitarian viewpoint, nor, I would suggest, did Jesus or Paul use it within a Trinitarian perspective. Jesus quoted it as evidence of the Creator’s purposes and Paul used it as justification for a prohibition on having sex with prostitutes, even though he seemed fine with divorce if the marriage was between a believer and non-believer.

    Perhaps your linked references would provide the underpinnings of the argument which space prevents you from presenting. But I’d love to hear more than the brief thumbnail in your original post, even if offline.


    1. Post

      To summarize our off-line discussion: Paul is skeptical of the general idea of systematic theology — meaning, the process of organizing the data of the Bible into an orderly whole, including the issue of sexuality. My thought is that while systematic theology can become too neat and tidy at times, it’s still a valuable tool for helping us think about issues in doctrine, ethics, anthropology, and others (in this case, sexuality).

      Paul is an old friend and extremely sharp, so I pay attention when he speaks. Paul, thanks again for writing in.

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