Friday, 17 February 2012

The Genesis Prototype of Sexual Union

It all depends on whether you view the Genesis account of heterosexual differentiation and union as THE definitive prototype of marriage, or just the origin of its heterosexual variant. The event is presented in Genesis to explain why a man relinquishes his parental bonds to develop a new line of kinship. Christ’s application of this scripture makes clear that He accepted that Eve’s body was partially derived from Adam. The divinely induced sleep and mitosis began the furtherance of the human creation specifically for co-operation between companionable adult lives and for pro-creation.

As Christians, we must assume that, as with Adam, Eve was brought to life by the breath of God. As with references to Satan as the serpent, the specifics of her creation are cloaked in allegorical terms. Although the underlying moral truth remains, the text involves some language fashioned for the consumption of primitive minds. As Paul said : ‘When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.’ (1 Cor. 13:11)

Adam’s response on introduction to Eve implies that God had already revealed to him that she was derived from his own physical material. Out of that knowledge, he declares an immediate, instinctive kinship followed by naming his new partner in the great work of propagating mankind to become the dominant species on earth: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman, for she was taken out of man’.

However, we know from the fact of gender that Eve’s creation involved sexual differentiation. It is the sexual differentiation within our species that facilitates sexual union. Sexual union arises from a created instinct to return to what was parted at the dawn of creation from Adam’s body. This natural desire to join sexually is not universal. However, in the case of marriage, it must take precedence over parental and filial demands. Marriage involves more than sex, it is a commitment to build affinity, a new line of kinship distinct from that brought about by procreation itself.

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. (Genesis 2:20 – 24)

1. This does not mean that the woman had did not have independence of life, choice, substance and an equal relationship with God. The breath of life from God would have animated her body to become a living soul. However, Adam’s ordained authority over creation was committed to him first. He was given the discretion to name all of God’s creation including Eve herself. His authority was neither to remain unshared with Eve, nor to be usurped by her.

2. Although pro-creation may be an outcome of sexual union, there is no reference to the propagation of the species in this particular passage. Sexual union occurs through an instinctive desire to re-join what was parted by design in creation. The wife’s body is joined to her husband’s in organic union. Sexual union makes their bodies and lives into extensions of each other. The intricately co-ordinated act of sexual union should inspire a commitment to grow, develop and harmonise effort towards their common purpose of family, emulating the satisfaction of that union in a shared life of mutual giving. This is why Paul expresses deep concern over fornication. Harmonising sexual behaviour with a person of promiscuous greed contradicts the re-born life of self-sacrifice to Christ:

‘But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people.’ (Eph. 5:3)

The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! 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.” But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit. (1 Cor. 6:13 – 17)

The difference between fornication and the sexual union described in the account of creation is that the latter involves intent to forge a new family unit by leaving the 'descent group', the man leaves his father and mother first. The same cannot be said of the promiscuous sexual union that Paul denounces here. Promiscuity thwarts the effort to secure a permanent offshoot of kinship (what the law calls affinity) that is the aim of marriage. However, Paul's central argument is that we are Christ's physical presence on earth, His body. The church (being the body of Christ) will be re-joined to her head, Christ, in the resurrection. Sexual immorality degrades Christ by joining His body to those who indulge in illicit sex, whether heterosexual or homosexual.

3. Christ’s own declaration is that joining to one’s wife is an act of permanent kinship arising from God’s unrevoked design intent for marriage at creation. Children are marriage’s blessing, but NOT its condition. Additionally, its dissolution was never instigated by God. Divorce was a provision requested by Moses to accommodate human intransigence. Christ has enunciated that sexual unfaithfulness (whether by a complete neglect of conjugal rights, or adultery) is the chief ground for ending attempts at marital reconciliation. Paul adds desertion by the unbelieving partner to this. Still, divorce is NOT a licence to re-marry. The Genesis prototype remains: ‘what God has joined together, let not man put asunder.’ We should not pretend that a conditional divine concession under Moses was unconditionally instigated and approved by God. Certainly no more than we consider how God accommodated Israel’s desire to replace the priest-prophet theocracy ordained through the Law of Moses with a monarchy in line with her Canaanite neighbours:

‘But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.” (1 Sam. 8:6 – 9)

4. Adam declared what Eve meant to Him. Man is told the wider context of human sexuality as it relates to God’s plan:

‘So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground." (Gen. 1:27, 28)

Man and woman are both created in the image of God. However, under God, their respective roles in the shared task of establishing global beneficent order over the animal kingdom are not the same. God’s intent for humanity, as revealed here, would have been subverted, were humans to have largely turned to homosexuality after a few generations.

5. Although the Pharisees wanted to debate the acceptability of divorce, Christ harks back to the Genesis prototype as the perpetually authoritative prototype for marriage (Mark 10:7). Paul also refers to Genesis as the prototype for male disciplinary authority in Church, highlighting both the past consequences of subverting male authority and the pre-eminent role of women in nurturing the young:

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

The conclusion is that Genesis is the authoritative, universally applicable prototype for our sexual roles. Whether I am an overbearing, unloving, uncommitted heterosexual, divorced and contemplating re-marriage, or in a homosexual relationship, I am challenged by the prospect of divine judgement to re-apply these precepts of the Genesis account to my life and relationships.

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