Genesis, Sex, and Sexuality by Calvin Peronto

My intention in this paper is to examine sexuality in its proper context by viewing it within the created ideal, then to examine the distortions that take place, resulting from the fall. Often the topic of sexuality is enigmatic for the Christian community, and results in confusion at its mention. Now, sexuality in the world’s economy is glorified, boasted in, and used as a selling strategy for most everything. Yet neither confusion nor exaltation are satisfactory and both disfigure God’s created and recreated intention for sex and sexuality. Therefore, this paper will exegetically survey Genesis 1-3 and Romans 1:21-25, with the hope of moving toward a theology of sex and sexuality for the benefit of Jesus’ bride. Masturbation shall also be examined; specifically in light of Romans 1, for this topic is hardly spoken of theologically. I do not desire to cast stones, nor do I want to be controversial, but rather I think that we must see what sin truly is and what it does to us and to our relationships with others. To that end, I write this first paper to view the deforming nature of sin regarding sex and sexuality. I hope to write a following paper that will examine sexuality within its re-created context, namely to inspect the sexual implications of having the image of God renewed in Jesus Christ, and how new life in Him changes the distortions of the fall, bringing about restoration, meaning and purpose for sex and sexuality.

Genesis 1

Chapter one displays with broad-brush strokes the movements of God in the making of the cosmos, culminating in the creation of man. Both the man and the woman, as the highest point of creation, were made in the image and likeness of God for the purpose of displaying God and being like him (vs. 26). Everything that men and women were to do was to be based on the substratum of the image ontology, as seen in their mandate to rule over all creation as vice regents under God the Cosmic King. Also they were to be fruitful and multiply, so that they may have offspring in their image, which still bears the divine, just as God made offspring bearing his own image. Man and woman were made to be in community, as their creator himself is a community. It is important to see the clear indication of the tri-unity of God in the deliberation to make mankind in his image in vs. 26. They were made sexually distinct as male and female (vs. 27), indicating likeness yet distinction and both are image bearers and equal with glory and honor (Ps. 8). This distinction magnifies the need of each to be in relationship with the other; individually they are incapable of fulfilling the mandate given them. God’s blessing upon the man and woman (vs. 28) provides the benevolent approval and also the necessary means of completing their mandate.

Genesis 2

This next chapter provides a closer look at the specific creation of the man and woman. The Lord God forms (yatsar) the man from the dust like a potter, while the woman is built (banah) as a complex structure; there is difference yet there is dignity in each person. The man was made in covenant with God with stipulations and also future blessings should he keep the covenant. Immediately following the commands given the man, God declares that it is not good for man to be alone (2:18); Adam needs a helper for covenantal faithfulness and obedience to the Lord in working the garden and keeping it. The “helper” who is given to Adam is one who would be in covenant with him. Thus, there are two covenantal relationships in which the man is found: one with God and one with the woman. Both are closely connected and interdependent. Again, the approval of the institution of marriage is seen through the Lord God being the only active person in the creation of the woman and in the presentation of her to the man.

The narrator clarifies the union of the man and the woman in marriage, namely the separation from the closest physical bond prior to the sexual relationship. The language used for “leave” in vs. 24, is harsh, for azab is commonly translated as ‘forsakes’ showing the force needed to sever familial ties. Following the act of severance is the holding fast to his wife, the commitment and steadfastness, which binds the two together. Thus the one flesh union is realized, being of the same body, not being complete without the other. This reality is seen in the sexual action of the relationship. The man and woman function together and are necessary parts to make the whole; their physical bodies cannot reproduce alone. While the result of sex is the bearing of children, only considering and valuing that end is to miss something very important. They literally become one flesh in sex, while they are one flesh figuratively in every other area of life. Here, in sexual union, they manifest being one; they experience being one flesh physically and enjoy giving love and life to one another. This chapter finishes with the declaration that they were naked. There is an unnecessary clarification, for the text says, “and the two of them were naked, the man and his wife” as if the text were unclear. This is simply meant to indicate the gravity of the statement, for in a post-fall context nakedness always implies shame. But then, both were exposed before the other, vulnerable with the other and yet there was no shame.

These first two chapters provide the created ideal for man and woman; namely, to be working together for the service of the Lord in the Garden of Eden, which was where the Lord God himself was present. They were to reflect the very glory of God and were to eat from the Tree of Life and be confirmed, receiving sacramental blessing. These two chapters provide dignity and equality for the man and the woman, both with needs that the other could fulfill, as is seen in the creation of the woman as “the helper fit for him.” All creation is considered very good and in its proper place, functioning as it should with mankind as the image-bearers of God being stewards over all creation. These two chapters set the perfect stage of the created good, closing with the vulnerable intimate nakedness of the primal couple as the final image of its perfection. This perfection is what would crumble through the arrival of cosmic distortion through sin and disobedience.

Genesis 3

This chapter displays sin’s entrance into the world and the destructive repercussions that affect the creation, which has been declared “very good”. The woman is deceived and takes the fruit from the tree and the man eats with her. Because of the second person plural verbs in verses 1-5, it seems that Adam was present with Eve during the temptation without action. Immediately following, the fracture of the primal marital relationship is seen in the actions of the man and the woman, viz. the making of loincloths out of leaves to cover their nakedness. It is important to see that this is prior to the hearing of the Lord in the garden. This is the reaction of the couple to one another: the hiding of themselves from the vision of the other (vs. 7). Here, shame and guilt come to the man and the woman through their own disobedience. The most fundamental relationship in creation is shattered through their rebellion against God. The woman was taken from the naked body of the man and they were of the same flesh. They had obviously seen each other’s naked bodies before, but that was in the context of faithfulness and communion with God. Now, being estranged from him, they are consequently estranged from one another and so they seek to cover up their vulnerability. They cover the parts of their bodies which are the clear indicators of their differences, yet these differences are what make them necessary for the other in the fulfillment of God’s mandate given them. Thus, the hiding of their physical bodies shows the loss of union in the primal couple, and the loincloths signal the great divide between them as a result of their sin. Through their one act of disobedience the mandate given them by God has been undermined.

The Lord God then comes to confront the couple who hide because of fear. When Adam is questioned, his initial response is one of blame on the woman and possibly even blame on God: “The woman whom you gave to be with me…”(vs. 12). In this act of blame shifting the man seems to resemble the characteristics of the one later known as the “The Accuser” more than his creator.  The Lord God inflicts the punishment of pain on the woman in the bearing of children, and he inflicts pain upon the man in the working of the ground (vs. 17). Also, take note that the punishment of the couple reveals brokenness in the ideal relationships between their respective sources. That is to say, the man was taken from the ground and was to eat from the trees of the garden (Gen. 1:29), but now the ground is cursed and from it the man will eat (vs. 17), also with the assurance of death (vs. 19). The woman was made from man as the perfect counterpart, out of his very flesh and bone and was named by the man. Now, because of the judgment of God as a result of their disobedience, the man and woman have a ruptured and disjointed relationship. In contradistinction to the two of them ruling together over all creation the woman will now seek to subvert the authority of the man and the man will rule over her (vs. 16). It is not my intention at this point to discuss gender roles greatly, however I think that it is clear that before the fall, both sexes had complete dignity and honor because they were distinct from each other with need of the other. However, I would caution the extrapolation of gender roles solely from Genesis 1-3, but would encourage the examination of key New Testament passages, which reflect on Gen. 1-3; such as Eph. 5:21-33; 1 Cor. 11:6-16 and 1 Tim. 2:9-14.  Yet here in the declaration of God, concerning the results of the fall, the woman will seek independence from the man and also power over him while the man would abuse his authority in the subjugation of the woman under his power.  It is clear that image-likeness, which consists of union and communion with the man and the woman, is economically broken; for the tasks given them requires the two persons unified in order for completion, yet sin turns the two parts of the whole against one another bringing the fulfillment of the creation mandate to a startling halt.

Yet amidst the wreckage of the fall there is grace as seen in the Lord God making garments for Adam and Eve. The Lord God provides for the man and the woman coverings more adequate than the fragile leafy loincloths. Their new clothes enable them to function better than being without—foreshadowing the sacrificial system of the Mosaic Law (vs. 21). In addition to grace, there is also promise of the seed of the woman who will crush the head of the serpent (vs. 15).

So, although there are immediate and devastating consequences to the fall, future victory is assured through the promise to the Serpent of the Coming One. This chapter closes with an image of dissatisfaction and disappointment, for though the man and woman have the promise and the better garments made from skins, they are still driven from the presence of God in the Garden of Eden. Furthermore, they are prevented from reentry by a cherub with an ever-turning flaming sword to guard the way to the tree of life (vs. 24). Therefore, there is incredible anticipation for the fulfillment of the promise when the Serpent would be crushed and when the way back to the created ideal of the Garden of Eden would be provided. Certainly this anticipation also extends to the recreation of the man and the woman and the restoration of the image ontology.

Masturbation

Now that this history has been viewed I would like to examine one aspect of the sexual implications of the fall: masturbation. God’s good intention for the primal couple was that they should bear children in their own and his image-likeness, as a result of the love that they have for one another, of which sex is a sign and seal. It is clear that this was the context in which sexual relations were to be had, that is, in the marital union between a man and a woman. Now, with this foundation laid, I will discuss masturbation in the context of Romans 1:21-25.

Just prior to this passage, Paul describes the noetic effects of sin and unrighteousness, into which every person is born. Verses 21 and 22 form a transition from the intellectual posture of the rebellious man to his further degradation as a result of the fall, specifically understood in image-likeness language. Mankind, though knowing the immortal God, exchanged his glory (vs. 22). The glory of God was originally what the man and the woman were to be and to participate in, but now mankind has as their economic purpose self-reflection. Mankind now considers their own image-likeness to be their goal, though the folly of this exchange is evident in the adjectives: immortal God and mortal man (vs. 23). Here, as a result of self-worship, man’s purpose is turned inward with the lusts of their hearts and the dishonoring of their bodies; they serve themselves instead of God their Creator who is alone worthy to be worshiped (vs. 25). Therefore it is not difficult to see how masturbation is a result of the atrophy of the human person through their exchange of image-likeness for self-idolatry and worship.

Masturbation is the taking of physical pleasure, for self-worship, outside of the God ordained, covenantal context. It is motivated by the lusts of the heart, the craving and desire to be pleased, manifesting the foolishness and darkness of the human heart, which truly considers itself worthy to be worshiped. Sex was to be between two people and sexual pleasure was only to be received by the individual as they gave it to their spouse. Sex was the physical manifestation of the love one had for another with the goal of imaging God in their union and reproduction, which is life giving, though now masturbation is the physical manifestation of the love of self. It was the seal that forged deeper intimacy and further developed trust and commitment, something to be shared, but now masturbation is the outworking of pride and the stroking of ones egotistical idolatry. When one masturbates, the proper role of sex is destroyed; they continually subvert God’s institution and God himself as the only one worthy of worship, for the worship of the self is most incredibly displayed in this act. The enjoyment of the marital union is soiled and the image-likeness of God, which was mankind’s, is forsaken—as though it were beneath us.

It is important to see that the action itself, regardless of motivation, is disfiguring sexuality as God intended, for sexual pleasure was never to be singularly received. Furthermore, even if one is not thinking impure thoughts while masturbating, their motivation will always be selfish, for sex was intended to be reciprocal action between two people. Yet masturbation is devoid of another person and therefore is contrary to the image-likeness, which was given man and woman in creation. Do recall that the man and the woman were made to physically “fit together” and were to be unified in order to fulfill God’s mandate and thus image God. Furthermore, although masturbation is a solitary action oft done in secret, it must not be thought that there are solitary consequences and repercussions. To put it plainly, masturbation does not just affect the sole participant because when one member of the body distorts itself, the other members will reap the consequences. We must consider the corporate consequences of this supposedly secret sin.

Conclusion

It has been my intention in this reflection to be beneficial by properly framing our understanding of God’s intention in the creation of sexuality. The church must not remain silent regarding sexual issues. We must understand the proper context for sex, and thus consecrate it and our bodies, as they are the members of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:15-20).

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