Foundations This essay is based on the following premises: (1) Those functions founded in the unfallen created order that God proclaimed good ( Gen 1:31 ) may be seen as normative for matters touching theological ethics. (2) Sin came as a result of the fall, introducing a distortion of the created order and fostering enmity and alienation where none had previously existed. (3) That distortion brought with it not only alienation from God, but also alienation from other human beings ( Gen 4:10-14 ) and from one's self ( Rom 7:15-24 ). Sin has also introduced a distortion into all social relationships, including those between men and women ( Gen 3:16 ). (5) Redemption attempts to remove or rectify the alienation introduced by the fall, restoring humankind to fellowship with God ( Rom 5:12-21 ; Eph 2:1-22 ) and with itself ( Isa 2:1-5 ; Micah 4:1-7 ). (6) The community of the redeemed is charged with modeling in itself the fruits of redemption and with laboring to bring about the redemption of the world.
Accordingly, since narratives of Eden before the fall picture the unsullied created order as God ordained it, they become normative and prescriptive; hence the way that unfallen man interfaced with woman should provide a working model for male/female relationships in the community of the redeemed. Narratives of fallen humanity (such as the stories of Samson's womanizing or Solomon's polygyny) are descriptive and provide information about what was, but not always about what ought to have been. Jesus, untainted by the fall ( Heb 4:15 ), lived the only unfallen life since humanity's banishment from Eden. His life, therefore, like the Edenic narratives, becomes normative and thus exemplary and prescriptive in matters of morality. The way that Jesus, the "second Adam, " related to women should, like that of unfallen Adam, provide a model for intersexual relationships. As can be demonstrated by the overt parallels between Eden and the New Jerusalem portrayed in Revelation 21-22, the world to come (the eschaton) will be established as a postfallen order with the effects of the fall fully negated. The eschaton and its values, therefore, reflect the end toward which the present redeemed community labors. The values of the eschaton, accordingly, are prescriptive. Commands, teachings, laws, and institutions that are designed to move one from a fallen to a postfallen (redeemed) state or community are redemptive and therefore prescriptive, although care must be taken to distinguish the spirit from the letter in their application ( Mark 9:47 ).
The Image of God: Male and Female. Although the words "sex" and "gender" are constantly being redefined by modern usage, this article will use the term "sex" to indicate the sum of the structural and functional differences by which the male and female are distinguished, as well as the phenomena or behavior dependent on those differences (adapted from The Random House Unabridged Dictionary, 2d ed.). "Gender" will be used to describe the interpretation given sexual distinctions and the roles assigned them in a given social setting. Accordingly, sex will deal with identity as it is determined biologically and genetically, whereas gender will address identity as it is determined socially and environmentally.
From a theological perspective, human sexuality in Scripture is predicated on the pronouncement that the human species is created in the image and likeness of God ( Gen 1:26-28 ). Many and bitter have been the arguments over the specific meaning of the term "image of God." Basically, the image of God is the essence and substance of theological humanness. By this term is intended that quality which theologically separates human beings from lower animals and which provides some sort of analogous relationship with God, making it possible for humans to communicate and fellowship with him. Further, since Adam transmits it to his progeny ( Gen 5:1-3 ), it is likewise clear that the image of God (imago Dei) was not lost in the fall. After the flood the image of God became a universal standard for punishing antisocial actions ( Gen 9:6 ; cf. James 3:9 ). Accordingly, human social ethics are not founded exclusively on a person's organic relationship to other human beings through participation in a common ancestor or a covenant community such as Israel or the church. Instead, they assume a theologically prior dimension whereby a crime against any human being, within or without the community, becomes a blasphemy against him in whose image humanity was fashioned. The combination of these two factors, the organismic and the imago Dei, brought about a lack of stratification in Hebraic law when compared with other laws of the ancient Near East. In the Bible a person's life was considered of great value even if his social standing was merely that of a slave ( Exodus 21:20-21 Exodus 21:26-27 ).
The application of the imago Dei to human sexuality becomes clearer when Genesis 1:27 is analyzed:
So God created man in his own image.
In the image of God
Male and female
The poetic parallelism found in lines 2 and 3 strongly suggests that the term "him" (line 2) bears a close relationship to the word "them" (line 3). It also suggests a strong though unspecified tie between the term "image of God" (line 2) and the words "male and female" (line 3).
If the term "man" ('adam [d'a]) referred to in Genesis 1:26-28 designates only a male human being, then traditional male-dominated exegesis would be correct in considering only the male as bearing the image of God and, thus, as being fully human. It is crucial, therefore, to recognize that the man ('adam [d'a]) referred to in Genesis 1:26-28 ("him") represents the human species ("them") made up of male and female, and that they corporately, not severally, reflect the image of God. Such an understanding expresses the bisexual (dipolar) nature of corporate human society, and cannot be applied to the male alone. The concomitants, then, of being created in God's image would be shared by both sexes in the charges and provisions given them by God: (1) having joint dominion over creation ( Gen 1:26 ); (2) working together to increase the human population ( Gen 1:28 ); and (3) having shared and unimpeded access to available food supplies ( Gen 1:29 ). These benefits, charges, and responsibilities are shared equally by the two humans and lead to a picture of corporate humankind as God's representatives on earth, somehow displaying God to the lower animals. It is together that they reflect the divine image in which they were created, with no indication that one component of the mix reflects more of that image than the other.
Those who see women as inherently inferior to men often appeal to the specific account of the creation of woman ( Genesis 2:18 Genesis 2:20-22 ) as shedding further light on the relationship that existed between the sexes in their unfallen state: woman, they maintain, is a secondary creation, a mere "helpmeet" to the man. But an unforced analysis of the narrative shows that no sort of inherent inferiority can be derived from it. Woman is made of the same essence and substance as man and can hardly, therefore, be considered inferior. Some have even argued that since the man was made of dirt and the woman from the man, she becomes twice refined and, if anything, superior.
The woman's relationship to the man is described by two words: she is ezer [r,ze and kenegdo ( Gen 2:20 ). The former term, ezer [r,ze, means help. The psalmists' use of the term to describe God ( Psalm 46:1 ; 54:4 ) demonstrates that the word has in itself no hint of inferiority. Indeed, the verses cited above point to God as one who is strong enough to share his strength with another. The latter term, kenegdo, is a strange three-part compound composed of ke, meaning like or as; neged, meaning over against, opposite; and o, meaning him. Woman was made because man's being alone was the only thing pronounced "not good" in the creation narrative ( 2:18 ). The help for Adam would therefore designate "that which is lacking, necessary for completion" that "helps" Adam become, not simply the male of the species, but a legitimate microcosm of the human race. There is an equality implicit in the latter part of the phrase, which may be roughly approximated as "his corresponding opposite." Woman, accordingly, becomes man's complement or reciprocal, not merely his supplement. Together they make up what may be called theological humanity.
On the other hand, rejecting the superiority of the male does not mean that the sexes were undifferentiated and that the term 'adam [d'a] denotes some sort of androgynous being or "earth creature" from which both man ('is) and woman ('issa) were formed. This interpretation does not do exegetical justice to the narrative, for the loneliness described in 2:18-20 would be incomprehensible for a sexually undifferentiated creature unaware that he/she was lacking a sexual counterpart. Moreover, as Childs has pointed out, just as 'is and 'issa are paralleled in verse 23, so 'adam [d'a] and 'issa are paralleled in verse 25. There is no hint in the narrative that 'adam [d'a] was split into 'is and 'issa but rather that 'issa was derived from 'adam [d'a].
Although the man was created first, relationships between the sexes are horizontal, not vertical. Yet equality is not identity. As Childs notes, to posit equality of essence and substance is not to posit a sameness of function. Sameness would be redundancy, not complementarity. The anatomical differences between the sexes and the ever growing body of literature pointing to substantial psychological distinctions between them demonstrate that their roles in society were designed to be different. A man, for example, is physically incapable of childbearing. Such distinctions are not a product of the fall to be redeemed, therefore, but a part of the created order to be nurtured.
Male/female relationships before the fall are described in Genesis 2:25: although they were naked, they felt no shame. But when sin entered with the fall, resulting in banishment from Eden ( Gen 3:24 ), shame came with it also; a barrier was erected to the sort of naive innocence that had characterized the relationship previously. Clothing was necessary to cover the nakedness of the man and woman ( Gen 3:7 ) even though they were man and wife. It was only after the fall that God said to the woman, "Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you" ( Gen 3:16 ). Likewise, it was after the fall that Adam named his wife Eve, using the same naming formula ( Gen 3:20 ) as he used in naming the animals ( 2:20 ), and by its use implying the same authority of a superior over an inferior.
To summarize: the creation texts make it clear that any pattern of absolute male dominance and female inferiority found in the Bible must result from the fall, not from a theology of the created order. The process of redemption taught by the Bible is clear: it seeks to restore humanity, and with it creation ( Rom 8:19-22 ), from the effects of the fall. If, therefore, man's dominion over woman is a consequence of the fall ( Gen 3:16 ), one of the ramifications of the gospel would be to abolish institutions such as concubinage that reduce her to a chattel. It would seek to elevate her from any secondary position she may occupy to one of full equality with the man as God's viceregent, with full and unimpeded access to available food supplies (economic resources). Unless, however, one insists that equality means identity, whatever woman's redeemed position may be will not be the same as that held by the man. Instead, the two roles function in a complementary manner, each contributing its unique gifts to the perfecting of a redeemed society.
Intersexual Relationships. If the reason for the creation of woman was to enable the man to become whole and a legitimate microcosm of the human species, then it follows that man/woman relations in a redeemed society would be theologically humanizing. Any exploitive efforts by a member of the redeemed community to reduce another to an object that can be manipulated is therefore wrong. Interpersonal relationships, including intersexual ones, should leave the other party feeling as though he or she has been appreciated even when disagreement is involved.
In Jesus' ministry, no member of either sex was treated as an object, but as a person. Throughout the Gospels it is clear that, whether the woman was a persistent Canaanite ( Matt 15:22-28 ), a repentant sinner ( Luke 7:36-50 ), or a cripple to be healed on the Sabbath ( Luke 13:10-17 ), Jesus considered them first of all as human beings. His first address was always to their personhood, never to their sex; he shared none of the condescending attitudes assumed by many of his contemporaries. Although some Jewish authorities of the time made specific prohibitions about teaching women, many were numbered among Jesus' disciples.
Models for such relationships are found throughout the life of Jesus although limited space permits only a few to be mentioned here. Perhaps the most striking is his interchange with the Samaritan woman ( John 4:5-29 ), who not only belonged to an ethnic group despised by the Jews but also had an unsavory past. Most people would have reacted to her by pulling away and trying to avoid her, but Jesus did not. Sensing here a life that could be redeemed, he engaged her in dialogue. During the course of their conversation, he led her to see that he was the one who could redeem her from the sins of her past. She left the encounter, not crushed and dehumanized from a harsh polemic or judgmental accusation, but rejoicing because she saw hope for her salvation.
Jesus chides Martha for caring more about her housekeeping than about hearing his teaching ( Luke 10:38-42 ). Yet the words convey not a thundering rebuke, but a gentle remonstrance designed to teach and not to humiliate, motivated not by egotistical considerations but by his love for Martha and his desire to help her. Always, even in rebuke, the concern for the other party as a person permeated his ministry.
Marriage. Christian marriage can be considered a loving, bonded, sexually exclusive relationships that is publicly declared to exist between a man and a woman in a manner recognized by society as licit and proper. Its foundations are laid in Genesis 2:23-24, where the man, seeing the woman, declares her to be "bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh"; she was to be called "woman" ('issa) because "she was taken out of man ('is). " Now that he has finally located a fitting counterpart, a man can "leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." The Genesis narrative, considering the union of the man with one of the lower animals unthinkable, sees such a union possible only when woman, created like man in God's own image, becomes the complement that made not only the human species, but also the male person, whole. Just as there is stability in a dipolar human race embracing two sexes, so there is stability in a marital union. Indeed, one may argue that such stability derives from the nuclear family so formed because it is a microcosm of the human species as a whole. If an inquiry be made as to what are the characteristics of that union, the following emerge from the Edenic narrative:
- It is an exclusive union. Sexual activity outside the marital bond violates the Edenic pattern, whether such activity be premarital promiscuity or postmarital adultery.
- The union is between man and woman; it is heterosexual, not homosexual.
- The union is between a single man and a single woman. Because more females are born than males and because the equal access to food supplies that had existed in Eden was corrupted into an economic system dominated by males, most ancient societies allowed polygyny as a means of assuring females economic viability. But the biblical pattern for marriage is described as being "one flesh, " a term patterned after expressions used to describe genetic relationships of the closest order ( Gen 29:14 ; 37:27 ; 2 Sam 5:1 ; 16:11 ; 19:12-13 ; 1 Kings 8:19 ; 2 Kings 20:18 ; 1 Chron 11:1 ; 2 Chron 6:9 ; Isa 39:7 ; 49:26 ; 58:7 ). Since the degree of intimacy and solidarity diminishes as the size of any group increases, it becomes clear that monogamy is premised not only on the example of Adam and Eve as the first married couple, but also on the metaphor "one flesh" and the nature of the relationships implied by it.
- The relationship is a loving one. The reality on which the metaphor "one flesh" depends requires one to consider the other as though that person were an extension of one's own body. Paul says in Ephesians 5:28, "he who loves his wife loves himself."
- The union is stable and virtually indissoluble. In the Gospels, Jesus makes an appeal to the Edenic narrative and order of creation theology in order to demonstrate the inappropriateness of casually dissolving a marriage ( Matt 19:4-5 ; Mark 10:6-8 ).
Sexual Intimacy. Discussions about sexual intercourse, aside from proscriptions about engaging in it either before or outside marriage, have been considered a taboo in Christian circles. The result has been that many have been left with the impression that the Bible's treatment of the subject is a wholly negative one and that such matters are not to be discussed. Such an attitude cannot be biblically justified. The Bible is very candid sometimes even shockingly soon matters of sex.
Apart from the term "one flesh, " Genesis 2:24 uses another term denoting marital intimacy: the verb dabaq [q;b'D], meaning "adhere to." For example, Shechem's heart was drawn (dabaq [q;b'D]) to Dinah and he loved her ( 34:3 ). Another use of the term is illustrated in Genesis 19:19, where Lot pleads that he be allowed to seek refuge in a city lest the disaster of Sodom cling to (NIV "overtake") him in the mountains. In Deuteronomy 13:17 Israel is not to permit to "stick to their hand" anything that was supposed to be devoted to destruction. In Numbers 36:7, 9, land transactions between tribes are proscribed; every Israelite is to "stick to" (NIV "keep") the land his family inherits. In Deuteronomy and Joshua the word appears as a common term for the intimate love Israel is to have for Yahweh: they are not just to fear and obey but to love and to "stick" (NIV "hold fast") to him ( Deut 4:4 ; 10:20 ; 11:22 ; 13:4 ; 30:20 ; Joshua 22:5 ; 23:8 ). The books of Samuel and Kings use the word in a similar fashion to denote the Israelites loyal to David ( 2 Sam 20:2 ) and Solomon's devotion to his foreign wives ( 1 Kings 11:2 ). In describing a marriage, the word does not expressly portray sexual relations, but speaks to the deep and intimate bonds that give sanction to any functional marriage and that are to undergird sexual activity conducted within it.
The canonization of the Song of Solomon caused some ancient rabbis no end of concern because of its frankly erotic dialogue between a man and a woman, presumably the man's wife. But it is only by the most strained and tortuous exegesis that one can avoid the book's metaphors of sexual intimacy. For example, she calls him "a sachet of myrrh resting between my breasts" ( 1:13 ), his left arm cradling her head while his right arm embraces her ( 2:6 ). A number of references express fondling that is overtly erotic ( 7:7-8 ; cf. 2:16 ; 4:5 ). She calls him handsome and proclaims her marriage bed to be fertile (verdant 1:16 ). When she looks for him there and cannot find him ( 3:1 ), she goes about the city until she locates him; she embraces him and leads him to her mother's bedroom where she had been conceived ( 3:4 ). He, on the other hand, proclaims her beautiful ( 4:1 ), with breasts that are like twin fawns ( 4:5 ; 7:3 ). She declares herself a wall, with breasts that are like towers ( 8:10 ); he likens them to clusters of palm fruit that he intends to gather in his hands ( 7:7-8 ). One cannot help being struck by the Edenic tone to this interchange where the partners are candid in their sexuality, yet not ashamed.
Three Hebrew verbs, with their derivative nouns, are commonly used to express sexual intercourse: (1) sakab [b;k'v], "to lie with, " where emphasis is placed on the position assumed in sexual activity; (2) bo', "to go to, into, enter, " where emphasis is placed on the act of physically drawing near and, perhaps, penetration of the female by the male; and (3) yada [[;d"y], "to know." The latter term denotes a knowledge that is experiential and not primarily cognitive. Unlike sakab [b;k'v] and the nouns derived from it that are used to denote sexual relations that are illicit ( Leviticus 20:11-13 Leviticus 20:18 Leviticus 20:20 ; Deut 27:20-23 ), the word yada [ [; "y] is never used of human beings having sexual relations with relatives or animals. Like any word, its distinctive meaning at times overlaps its synonyms and so yada [[;d"y] appears one time as a designation for heterosexual rape, although perhaps it may have been used sarcastically ( Judges 19:25 ). Generally, however, it depicts the act of sexual intercourse as more than physical copulation driven by lust. Instead, the emphasis of this term seems to be on the exchange of intimate, unspoken, nonrational information that takes place in properly contextualized sexual activity. Sexual intercourse thus becomes a vital element in the communication process so essential for any sound marriage. The intimacy, care, and love transmitted in that act, properly contextualized within a marriage, are not only permissible but highly desirable.
In the New Testament Paul, recognizing the value of a healthy sex life for a solid marriage, warns married couples that they should not use the other's sexual desire as a weapon. Instead, the wife should remember that her "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 7:3 ).
Sexual Aberrations. Homosexuality. The best evidence for the existence of homosexual shrine prostitutes among the Canaanites comes, not from Canaanite literature, but from the biblical text, which is avowedly polemic in its attitude. It would appear, however, that the male prostitute was found in Judah along with his female counterpart until the purge by Asa. Together, they obviously represented a pagan, and therefore local, influence on the religion of Judah ( Deut 23:17 ; 1 Kings 14:24 ; 15:12 ; 22:46 ; 2 Kings 23:7 ). The term "dog" appears to have been used in Scripture to refer to homosexual cult prostitutes ( Deut 23:18 ). Leviticus uses a strong word "detestable" to describe homosexual practice ( 18:22 ; 20:13 ). Parallel condemnations are found in Romans 1:27 and 1 Corinthians 6:9.
The biblical refutation of homosexuality, however, does not reside in the occasional text that condemns the practice or in stories in which homosexual practice is observed in a negative light, but in the created order itself. Adam's complement is not found in another man (which would be redundancy, not complementarity), but in a woman, his corresponding opposite. Likewise, though not stated, it may be inferred that the same holds true for Eve.
Bestiality. Bestiality, practiced to some extent in every ancient rural society and known from Egyptian, Canaanite, and Hittite sources, is condemned in Scripture ( Exod 22:19 ; Lev 20:15-16 ; Deut 27:21 ) for much the same reason as is homosexuality: in the Edenic narrative the possibility of a sexually bonded liaison with an animal is expressly ruled out ( Gen 2:20 ). Bestiality rejects the human sexual partner God has ordained in favor of an animal that the Edenic narrative has expressly rejected. The pattern ordained by God in Eden is man and woman, not human and animal.
Seduction and Rape. If the initial sexual act is that which consummates the marriage whereby two now become "one flesh, " it is reasonable to conclude that this represents a "channelizing" or confinement of all sexual activity to expressions that reinforce the solidarity of the marital union. The generally dim view taken of promiscuity by the Old Testament may then be explained as seeing premarital sexual intercourse to be a potential weakening of the marital union by rendering it less exclusive: that is, the more frequent the person's premarital sexual liaisons, the less exclusive is the initial act of sexual intercourse with one's spouse.
Cases of rape or seduction are uncommon in Scripture. The case of Dinah and Shechem ( Gen 34:1-31 ) is the first mentioned. Shechem first seduced Dinah and then found he loved her. At that point he attempted to pay Jacob the bride-price to marry the girl. But Simeon and Levi, outraged at the treatment accorded their sister, tricked the males of the town into being circumcised and, while they were still in pain from the operation, slaughtered them. The rape of the Levite's concubine in Gibeah ( Judges 19:1-30 ) resulted in a civil war wherein the tribe of Benjamin, except for six hundred, was exterminated. Amnon's rape of his half-sister Tamar ( 2 Sam 13:11-14 ) resulted in a blood feud between Amnon and Absalom, Tamar's brother. The consequences were Amnon's murder by order of Absalom ( 13:28-29 ).
Laws treating rape or seduction seem to be concerned for the economic well-being of the disadvantaged woman. The classic reference to the seduction of a virgin is Exodus 22:16-17. The seducer must marry the girl and pay the bride-price for virgins. If her father refused to give her to him, then he still had to pay. A woman who was not a virgin was considered "damaged goods" and was therefore less eligible for marriage, presumably commanding a lower bride-price ( Exod 22:17 ). If she concealed her lack of virginity in order to get a husband or a higher bride-price, she could be tried and, if found guilty, executed ( Deut 22:13-21 ). Because the girl's marriageability had been severely compromised, the money was probably designed to provide for the girl's livelihood in her father's house.
There is no agreement among commentators as to whether Deuteronomy 22:28-29 treats seduction (and is therefore an expansion of the case in Exod 22:16-17 ) or rape. If the New International Version is correct in interpreting the passage as addressing rape, the monetary increase (fixed at fifty shekels) may be seen as a penalty exacted against the offender because he shamed her (v. 29). Whereas the former case ( Exod 22:16-17 ) would have been subject to conventional divorce procedure ( Deut 24:1-4 ), an additional provision is made for the woman's economic security in the latter case: the man can never divorce her, whatever she does ( Deut 22:28-29 ). The concern for the woman is also reflected in the distinctions between the two rape cases described in Deuteronomy 22:23-27: the betrothed woman raped in the city would have been heard if she had cried for help, but the woman raped in the country is presumed to have cried out, whether she did or not. In the latter case, only the man is put to death.
Prostitution. The word "prostitute" in the New International Version most often translates the Hebrew word zona [h"nz] or the Greek term porne [povrnh]. The Hebrew term, however is much broader than its English counterpart and simply designates a woman who commits fornication. Likewise, the use of the Greek porneia [porneiva] in the so-called exceptive clauses in Jesus' divorce pronouncements has been interpreted as a broad term that includes all sorts of illicit sexual conduct ( Matt 5:31-32 ; 19:8-9 ). Although sacred prostitution in ancient Israel carried with it penalties that were often severe ( Deut 23:17-18 ; cf. Gen 38:21-24 ), secular prostitution was not expressly forbidden by commandment, law, or penalty except in the case of the high priest's daughter ( Lev 21:9 ). Yet the general way prostitution is looked down on throughout the Old Testament shows that it was not a socially acceptable practice (cf. the metaphors in Hosea, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel). In the much stricter ethos of the New Testament, those who commit fornication are to suffer punishment for it ( Jude 7 ).
Adultery. Although adultery in the New Testament involved a married partner of either sex, in the Old Testament it was predicated on the woman's marital status: if she was married or "betrothed" the act was adultery, regardless of the man involved. In both Mesopotamian and Hittite laws the husband had the right to prosecute or to drop charges against his wife. The husband has no such explicit option in Hebraic law, nor has the state any expressed right to pardon the subject. The absence of such explicit legal testimony leads one to conclude that, since prosecution in Mesopotamia was a matter of private preference, the offense was considered primarily as a violation of property rights. But in Israel, where the matter fell into the hands of the state to prosecute, the matter was construed primarily as a crime against society, and only secondly against the husband. These two factors the role of the state in prosecution and the death penalty awarded the guilty parties point to criminal rather than civil law. The matter is all the clearer when Assyrian and Hittite law affords the husband the right to dispatch both guilty parties on the spot if caught in the act, whereas the executioner in Israel was always the community or state, or its representatives. Accordingly, adultery must be seen as a crime that threatened society, not simply as a tort against the husband.
Ethics for Israel constituted an extension of that ethic designed for the preservation of familial integrity. The family is the microcosm, Israel its analogous macrocosm. Given such an organismic interrelatedness of family and people, and taking into consideration the value placed on wholeness for the larger body, the guarding of the family against forces that threaten its existence no longer seems difficult to explain. To fail to curb adultery in a solidary society would lead to fragmentation, alienation, and ultimately dissolution of the community. With the integrity of the home considered a foundational societal value, the emphasis on the woman's status becomes clear: she is the family member most intimately connected to preserving the harmony and integrity of the nuclear family.
Incest. Incest, like adultery, was punishable by death ( Leviticus 20:11-12 Leviticus 20:14 Leviticus 20:17 Leviticus 20:19-21 ). One's father's wife, mother-in-law, and sister (including one's half-sister) are declared forbidden degrees of sexual relationship in Deuteronomy ( 22:30 ; Deuteronomy 27:20 Deuteronomy 27:22-23 ), to which Leviticus adds one's mother, granddaughter, aunt (including the wife of one's uncle), daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, his wife's child or grandchild, and the sister of one's wife ( 18:6-18 ). That the issue is not the genetic stability of the offspring can be demonstrated by the inclusion of a number of "inlaws" who have no genetic relationship to the perpetrator.
Again, lying behind the laws against incest is the intention to safeguard the solidarity of the family from internal sexually generated tensions. Sexual activity within the home, beside that carried on within the bonds of marriage, introduced the element of rivalry with its concomitant alienation. Those elements are hostile to the solidarity of the home that is valued so highly in the Bible and that is so vital to a healthy society. Evidence for this interpretation may be found in the laws against one's marrying two sisters ( Lev 18:18 ) or a mother and her daughter ( 18:17 ). Incest, therefore, becomes criminal for the same reason as adultery: it fragments the home, and, with it, the community.
Gender Roles. Unfortunately, the acceptability of biblical models in determining a theology of sexuality often turns, not on the validity of the models or the supporting biblical evidence, but on the way in which that theology is actually fleshed out in society. On one pole there are the male supremacists who will insist that, just as woman's creation was somewhat of a divine afterthought, so she is inherently inferior and her gender role must reflect that subservience to the male in all its aspects. At the other extreme are some who would insist that there is no equality without identity and that the woman's role in any redeemed society must be the same as the man's in all respects.
The Edenic model speaks of woman as man's complement, his corresponding opposite, his equal in essence and substance. It was observed earlier in this article that sameness of function would be redundancy, not complementarity, an interpretation supported by the anatomical and psychological differences between the sexes. Accordingly, while the sexes were to be considered as equals, the roles assigned them in the redeemed community would certainly be different. It is because of this that Paul can say, "For as a woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God" ( 1 Cor 11:12 ). Husbands and wives must live in mutual love and respect ( Eph 5:28-33 ).
Unfortunately Paul's doctrine of male headship for the family and its concomitant doctrine of wifely submission ( 1 Cor 11:3 ; Eph 5:22-24 ; Col 3:18 ) has been used as a weapon by some men to command respect from their wives. But if the Ephesians passage is read in the context of the verse that precedes it ( 5:21 : "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ"), the manner in which any wifely submission is to take place becomes clear. A wife is not to vaunt herself over her husband but is to remember a cardinal rule of Christian conduct and apply it to her marriage: put the other person first! The following context ( 5:25-27 ) interprets the way the husband is to respond: he is not to bully or browbeat, nor demand her adulation, but to love her in the way Christ loved the church and to be prepared to surrender his selfish ambitions for her betterment.
Male supremacists have often attempted to interpret Paul's use of the word "head" (Gk. kephale [kefalhv]) as representing the Hebrew ro's [vaor] and therefore take "head" to mean authority. But a tribal head in Israel was no king; he was the leader of an extended family of which he was a member ( Num 1:4 ; 17:3 ; Joshua 22:14 ). The Hebrew word ro's [vaor] carries within it the idea of being first, not of being most powerful. Headship in the Old Testament placed an emphasis on leadership, not authority. True leadership invites others to follow rather than forcing them into submission. It knows when to lay down power as well as when to take it up. It cannot operate unless the other party is willing to be led. It is probably this sort of "subjection" that is spoken of in Titus 2:5.
Radical feminists, on the other hand, have sometimes sought refuge from traditional interpretations of gender roles by urging that Paul's use of kephale [kefalhv] means not "authority" but "source" (as in 1 Cor 11:3 ). Paul, then, would be saying that, because woman was taken out of man, he is her "source, " just as Christ is the "source" of the church and God is the "source" of Christ. But biblical evidence fits this explanation of Paul no better than it does the other extreme. Paul's reference point is Christ as the head of the church; this does not portray the "head" as founder but as representative and leader ( Col 1:18 ).
It is clear that the truth must lie somewhere between the two extremes cited above. The biblical pattern seems to assume that in any partnership of only two persons, there are bound to be disagreements; some plan of action must be in place to break the tie. In those cases, the options available for the partnership are limited: it can have one head, two heads, or no head. When disagreements occur, a partnership with two heads pulls in two different directions; a partnership with no head would not move in any direction. Paul says that there is to be a head to the partnership and assigns the man to be "head of the woman" as God is the head of Christ. His grounds for this are that man was created first and thereby assumes the responsibilities of the firstborn. The man, accordingly, is charged with resolving such deadlocks as may occur in a marriage, not by brute force of strength or will, but by loving, caring means, emulating Christ's example in his leadership of the church. It has been argued that marriage, by incorporating the two sexes that make up the human species, provides a microcosm of the species, the two elements that together reflect the image of God and make humankind theologically human. Marriage, therefore, should be a humanizing experience, both sociologically and theologically. If the situation becomes dehumanizing, one partner or the other has overstepped his or her boundaries.
By following the prescriptive norms of the Edenic pattern, the redeemed community strives to alleviate the fallen state of society wherein woman assumes a lesser standing. Equality does not mean that there are now two heads in the marriage, though some have tried to make it this. It does mean that now the headship is based on the "one flesh" principle. If the man is the "head, " then the woman is the "body" that gives reality to the head; her "submission" cannot be forced but must be given of her own free will to this role arrangement. To put it in other words, the nuclear family is led, not forcibly driven, by its head. A "head" without a "body" would be monstrous.
Peter's idea of submission is illustrated by Sarah, "who obeyed Abraham and called him her master" ( 1 Peter 3:6 ). Sarah was hardly a groveling wife, merely a respectful one. In the next verse Peter adds that husbands, who are usually physically stronger than their wives, are not to bully them but are to "treat them with respect" as fellow Christians.
A sore problem comes with 1 Timothy 2:11-14, where Paul declares to Timothy, bishop of Ephesus, that a woman is not "to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent." No consensus on this passage exists among scholars and any attempt to resolve it is fraught with danger. It may be said, however, that it seems quite unlikely that the apostle is issuing a blanket proscription for women under any circumstances, since in Titus 2:3-5 the apostle expressly charges the older women to teach the younger women what is good. Moreover, 1 Timothy 5:1-2 requires that older women be treated as mothers; sons as well as daughters learn from their mothers. It seems no accident that Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians is where the submission of the wife to the husband and the husband's love for the wife is most forcefully articulated. This may point to a situation in Ephesus where women were teaching things that challenged the headship of their husbands and the husbands were responding in a less than loving manner. This, the apostle says, should not happen. The apostolic argument does not turn on whether women make judgments that are better or poorer, more rational or more intuitive than men, but on the rights and responsibilities of the firstborn son of a family ("for Adam was formed first"), the matter of headship. Just as the firstborn son assumes the leadership of the family in his father's absence, so Paul commits leadership to the husband as the one who was "formed first."
Summary and Conclusions. While their roles in the imperfect society of a fallen world may differ, men and women are essentially and qualitatively equal. They are corporately fashioned in the image of God and together make up theological humanity. Relationships between the sexes are designed to humanize, not to dehumanize, and this especially applies to marriage. Roles, though they may differ, must always keep the humanness of both parties in view. Role distinctions are in no way to reflect vertical, or superior-inferior, patterns, but horizontal ones that cultivate parity.
William C. Williams
See also Homosexuality; Immorality, Sexual; Lust; Marriage; Prostitution
Bibliography. G. Ch. Aalders, Genesis; G. C. Berkouwer, Man: The Image of God; G. Belezikian, Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible Says about a Woman's Place in Church and Family; A. Bloom, Int8 (1954): 422-32; G. J. Botterweck, TDOT, 5:448-81; John R. Chamberlayne, Numen10 (1963): 153-64; B. S. Childs, Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context; W. G. Cole, Sex and Love in the Bible; L. M. Epstein, Sex Laws and Customs in Judaism; W. Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament; A. Gelin, The Concept of Man in the Bible; J. B. Hurley, Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective: A Study in Role Relationships and Authority; D. Jacobson, Word and World10/2 (1990): 156-60; D. Kidner, Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary; G. Larue, Sex and the Bible; A. Mickelsen, ed., Women, Authority and the Bible; E. Neufeld, Ancient Hebrew Marriage Laws; J. B. Payne, The Theology of the Older Testament; P. Trible, JAAR41 (1973): 30-48; G. Wallis, TDOT, 3:81; C. J. H. Wright, An Eye for an Eye: The Place of Old Testament Ethics Today; R. Yaron, JJS17 (1966): 1-11.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.
Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Sexuality, Human'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".