And God said to them, â€œBe fruitful and multiply and fill the earth”
Our exploration of sex and marriage in the Bible begins with this simple verse towards the end of Genesis 1. Here, one verse after the poetry of Genesis 1:27 is the command to multiply and fill the earth – the first thing God instructs the man and the woman to do is to consummate their relationship and procreate the human race.
The man and woman are distinguished from the rest of creation in that they are made in the image of God. Other commands to be fruitful and multiply are given to the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea, a pattern of binary that is seen throughout the chapter. Critically though, the unique instruction to humanity is for them to subdue the earth through their procreation. It is a curious usage of the Hebrew – this notion of domination by force is used at the start of the conquest of Canaan (Numbers 32:22) and again at the end when the tribes of Israel divide the Promised Land (Joshua 18:1). It is used to describe the height of power of King David, the arch-type of Messianic monarchical authority (1 Chr 22:18) and it is also a sign of the protection of the Lord of Hosts (Zechariah 9:15) of those he saves. It is the same root word used of the footstool of Solomon’s throne (2 Chr 9:18).
Far from being a sinful act, this subjugation is the sign of the rightful power claiming rightful dominion for his rightful people. The procreative expansion of humanity proclaims the sovereignty of the binary that the man and woman signify – their own Creator.
God separates the light from the darkness, the waters above from the waters beneath, the earth from the sea, the evening from the morning, the sun from the moon, the day from the night. It is in the context of these binaries that humanity is created.
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
All the binaries are in relationship with each other (earth and sea, day and night) and so the man and the woman are created as a binary themselves and then in their collective humanity as a binary to God (who uses plural self-reference through the chapter). In this way the eternal relationship that is the Holy Trinity is imaged in the relationship of the man and the woman (and their implied procreated family). This key distinction of humanity from the rest of creation is this very reflection of the nature of God. It sets them apart from everything else God has made and it provokes the question whether there is anything else about the commands God gives to humans that speak of who God is.
The first command given to the man and the woman is contingent on their binary nature as male and female. It would be physically impossible to obey God if they were two men or two women. The actions of love (the procreative activity of the human couple and the creative activity of God) a inter-weaved with this binary structure in humanity and creation that is present from the first words of Genesis 1:1 (“the heavens and the earth”). Interestingly, no other aspect of human love is explored here, but the clear understanding of the procreative necessity of conjugal union is recognised within the liturgical rites of marriage.
The gift of marriage brings husband and wife together
in the delight and tenderness of sexual union
and joyful commitment to the end of their lives.
It is given as the foundation of family life
in which children are [born and] nurtured
and in which each member of the family, in good times and in bad,
may find strength, companionship and comfort,
and grow to maturity in love.
This raises a question for us. Is the procreative instruction a particular command for a particular time, or is it a universal guiding principle for humanity? The answer to that might help us shape a wider theology around sex as we continue to read through the Scriptures.
One more thought. Are the as yet unnamed couple married? Why has there been no union declared beyond the clear understanding that they are a sexual unit? We’ll explore that in our next post.