Same-sex marriage supporters sometimes say that Jesus didn’t even mention homosexuality, so how come Christians make such a big deal about it? After all, isn’t the New Testament more important for Christians than the Old Testament, where we find the Leviticus prohibitions on homosexual behavior? And aren’t Jesus’ words the most authoritative of all?
These are fair questions. A complete answer lies beyond the scope of a blog post or two. (This is especially true of the questions about interpreting the various genres in the Bible.) In this post let’s just consider what Jesus said. And the first thing to note is that Jesus rooted his theology of marriage in Genesis. He went all the way back to the creation to show God’s purpose for marriage. (God being the person who invented marriage in the first place, surely we can agree that his purpose for it transcends any human view of it.)
Which brings me to Robert Gagnon, assistant professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.
Last year the Center for Politics and Religion at Union University and the Witherspoon Institute sponsored a Salt and Light Conference. Among the speakers was Dr. Gagnon, author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice. His remarkable address is the source for most of what follows. (Go here and scroll down to view it.) In particular I was intrigued by an observation he made about the Hebrew terms for man and woman. The point is important to the whole discussion about so-called “same-sex marriage.”
According to Gagnon, Jesus’ key text on sexuality is Mark 10:2-12.
And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (ESV)
Jesus affirmed the Genesis account of creation as truth. That matters. Plenty of other creation accounts put no barrier in the way of same-sex marriage. But as Jesus pointed out, Genesis is very clear about the matter.
It’s true: Jesus did not expressly forbid homosexual practice. Or incest. Or bestiality. That doesn’t mean he was approving of any of them. Gagnon argues that, at least as far as the record indicates, no one was promoting or envisioning any of them in Jesus’s day, so we should not be surprised that he doesn’t expressly proscribe them. What Jesus did say was that Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 are normative. At the creation God defined all acceptable forms of sexual behavior. And Jesus elaborated on that. “The only sex Jesus allows for is that between man and woman in marriage.”
Gagnon’s 98-minute address is packed with extremely helpful insights. About 56 minutes in he makes a remarkable observation from Genesis 2:18-24. When God said “It is not good for the man to be alone” the word “man” is the term for sexually undifferentiated human: Adam. “It is not good for the adam to be alone.” Adam is not a gender specific word for a man, but rather a human drawn from the adama, ground.
From there, the narrative describes how God, in compelling fashion, demonstrated the unsuitability of any animal to serve as Adam’s counterpart. In the first object lesson in history, God (who knows where all this is going, of course) brings every animal before Adam. No suitable “helper” is found. The word speaks of one who is like but also different. A complementary counterpart. (My colleague, Darrow Miller, notes that the fundamental relationship in the life of the imago Dei human will reflect the Trinity, the divine, archetypical Counterparts of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.)
God puts Adam to sleep and, the Hebrew literally says, “takes one from Adam’s sides.” Almost all English versions say God took a rib. The New English Translation comes closer: “So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep, and while he was asleep, he took part of the man’s side and closed up the place with flesh” Gen 2:21.
That’s when things get really interesting with reference to terminology. God closed up the flesh and brought the woman to the man who said, “This is at last bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh. She shall be called ‘Ish•sha,’ taken from ‘Ish!’”
Gagnon points out that when Adam says this he is looking back “retrospectively from his current reality as the now differentiated male. What was the undifferentiated human is now male and female.” This gives new meaning to what the narrator says next: “Therefore an Ish shall leave his father and mother and become joined to his Isha and they shall become one flesh.”
One flesh was divided into Ish and Isha. Then, in a creative act as poetic as it is profound, God brings Ish and Isha together to make one flesh. Thus we have in the Two-in-One human a derivative reflection of the Three-in-One God.
Man and woman are two parts of one wholistic picture of human sexuality. Another man is not the counterpart to a man, or another woman to a woman. Only a man to a woman and a woman to a man. That’s the point of the Genesis text. That’s what Jesus preached.
Genesis-defined marriage is not simply a union but a reunion. Same-sex unions do not bring together two halves of one whole.
– Gary Brumbelow