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Human Sexuality

Human Sexuality

Some Biblical Themes 

By Brant Berglin 

Editor’s Note: Brant Berglin is an assistant professor of Biblical Studies: Greek and New Testament at Walla Walla University. 

Few topics are of more concern, interest, and relevance to humans than sexuality. After all, none of us would be here without it, and most humans after adolescence will experience varying degrees of sexual drive and desire for much of their lives. Like any topic, this one can be approached from multiple perspectives: anecdotes, artistic expression, personal experience, comedy, sociological studies, and many others. Christians also search the Bible seeking answers about the origins of sexuality, the reality of its power in our lives, and God’s will regarding our personal sexual expression. We are not disappointed; sex is mentioned throughout the Bible in narrative accounts, Mosaic laws, prophetic utterances, love poetry, in the teachings of Jesus Christ Himself, and in apostolic correspondence guiding early Christian congregations. 

Sadly, conversations about sexuality can also be painful, even divisive. Because of sexual abuse, hurt and fear prevent some people from even dialoguing about it, let alone participating in any kind of physical intimacy. Others struggle to make sense of conflicting sexual norms between secular/popular culture and Christian/church culture. Still, others may experience guilt, shame, or a sense of brokenness when their sexual practice is inconsistent with their own personal values or stated beliefs, or those within their community. Because sexuality is such an emotional and personal topic, differing views have too often resulted in insults, pain, and polarization. This article is written in full awareness of these realities, yet in hope that readers can find health, wonder, and clarity in God’s plan for joy-filled, satisfying physical relationships.  

A complete theological study of the topic of sexuality throughout the Bible would take many years and much paper to explore fully. [1] Yet if one reads the Bible through from cover to cover, highlighting those passages that address it, themes will emerge. This brief article will present some of the ideas that are repeated or emphasized, especially those that are consistent across both the Old and New Testaments.  

A Gift to be Appreciated 

The first and most important theme is that sexuality is a gracious gift of God and part of our human makeup. In Genesis 1:26-28, God makes humans in His own image, a plurality of unique beings in community with one another. He gives humanity a command to be fruitful, to multiply. Perhaps it is hard to imagine God commanding people to procreate, since it seems to come fairly naturally to us! After her creation, Adam sings about his wife Eve and says she is “flesh of His flesh.” Their joining together is described as “one flesh.” The result of this complementary oneness fulfills God’s command in 1:28 to be fruitful; they multiply through the miracle of childbirth.  

It is unfortunate that some Christian sub-cultures have made sexuality a taboo topic or worse, something dirty or disgusting. Genesis 1-2 pictures sex as a fantastic wedding present for Adam and Eve, to be opened, enjoyed, and appreciated. God did not need to make procreation so pleasurable, but He did. That speaks volumes about His character and love for His creation. If you’ve never read the book “Song of Songs,” also called “Song of Solomon” in some Bibles, read it again and watch for poetic imagery regarding physical intimacy, with allusions to various sexual experiences between these two lovers. God’s plan was to create both moments and lifetimes of joy, love, safety, and happiness.  

Throughout the New Testament, the husband-wife bond symbolizes Jesus Christ and His faithful people. [2] Although male and female are different in significant ways, their union with the “other” demonstrates God’s loving commitment to us and our response to Him.  

Having said this, there is also a gift of singleness and celibacy. Jesus and Paul both modeled it, making it honorable. Paul even posits in 1 Corinthians 7 that if given the choice between kingdom mission and marriage, singleness is better in order to maintain a focus on ministry and spiritual growth. Both marriage and singleness are given God’s blessing in Scripture. 

The Fall Changed Things  

The most challenging parts of the Bible are those that describe our brokenness, that define sin and reveal its presence in our lives. Some secular psychologists might argue that we are born innocent and perfect, and only broken by the evil society around us. However, the brief narrative from Genesis 3-6 reveals the ultimate result of Adam’s sin: the thoughts of people’s hearts became only evil continually. The result of the fall is a fundamental corruption of perfect desires given to Adam and Eve in Eden, and they affect all people on the planet today. 

The most challenging parts of the Bible are those that describe our brokenness, that define sin and reveal its presence in our lives. Photo by Juliana Conrad.

Sexuality is not exempt from the degenerating power of sin. Rather than natural faithfulness to one partner for life, humans often desire something else. It is in this condition that God steps in to provide guidance concerning sexual activity, to note what is not in harmony with His will: incest and same-sex intercourse (those relationships with someone too much like ourselves), bestiality (sex with the non-human), and most often, heterosexual adultery, that is, sexual intercourse with someone other than one’s spouse. [3] The brokenness of sexual expression is seen throughout the Old Testament narratives that include prostitution, cultic sexual rituals, rape, and adultery, followed by the pain-filled history and family relationships in national Israel.  

High Ideals in an Un-Ideal World 

See Also

In the gospel accounts, Jesus took sexual immorality to the level of thought, that is, of one’s fantasy-life, noting that lust begins, not with outward action, but with the mind and intentional “looking.” He rebuked the Pharisee’s pattern of marriage-divorce-remarriage-repeat by pointing them back to Eden, to the Adam/Eve ideal, and said “what God has joined together, let no man separate.” (Matthew 19:1-12, Mark 10:1-12; see also Genesis 2:19-25). The apostles regularly shun “porneia,” (part of the word “pornography”) the Greek term for any sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage, and thus raises the bar for all people. [4] 

While the Biblical ideal for sexuality is bounded by a lifetime marriage commitment between male and a female, modern western culture looks very different. Cultural shifts toward sexuality in media, easy access to birth control leading to the sexual revolution, and secular philosophies continually confront Christians about other sexual expressions. As such, Christians must be both people of conviction and graciousness, living out Christ’s “narrow path” while accepting that others may not share those convictions. God’s Spirit draws people at different speeds and times, yet is working to convict all of us. 

At the same time, we shouldn’t be afraid to promote the benefits of the Biblical model: 1) it practically eliminates fear and reality of sexually transmitted diseases; 2) it avoids many unwanted or inconvenient pregnancies leading to fewer invasive medical procedures to abort the unwanted; 3) it saves relationships the pain of reliving and/or importing past sexual history into a new partnership; 4), when sexual expression is found only within marriage, the family and society has more stability because marriage is more highly valued and divorce less frequent; and 5) it develops an underappreciated but essential fruit of the Spirit: self-control. The long-term gains of the Biblical model have much to commend them in a world that will accept momentary pleasure at the expense of harmful long-term consequences. 

If you find sexual sin real in your life, remember these things: God is forgiving. He is patient. He is kind. Even the habitual sin is not unpardonable; God reminds us that if we confess sin, He is ready to pardon it. He promises the power of His Spirit to write His laws on our hearts and minds. There is power in this battle if we will only ask! 

Walla Walla University 

As a Seventh-day Adventist institution, Walla Walla University supports the “North American Division Statement on Human Sexuality.” [5] The statement has guidelines for students, employees, and administration. But the document’s support does not mean our university should avoid conversation about sexuality from other perspectives. In fact, it is my hope that this short article facilitates such dialogue, especially further examination of the Biblical material. After all, each person should know the foundation on which he or she stands. My fervent hope and prayer is that we do so kindly, respectfully, and in community, wishing only the best for each person around us. 

References 

  1. Davidson, R. M. (2015). Flame of yahweh: Sexuality in the old testament. Baker Academic. 
  1. Ephesians 5:21-33.  
  1. Cf. the Holiness Code in Leviticus 18-20, also the 7th Commandment in Exodus 20:14 and Deuteronomy 5:18 
  1. In Kittel, G., Bromiley, G. W., In Friedrich, G., & Pitkin, R. E. (1964). Theological dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans. 
  1. Guidelines. Guidelines | North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists. (n.d.). http://www.nadadventist.org/about-our-church/guidelines 
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