The Great ConsummationThe Bible is all about sex.

One of the things that constantly gets bandied around in the debate about the engagement of the Church with the modern world is that Jesus said far more about other things than he said about sex. Well, that might be true but it doesn’t stop there being an extraordinary meta-narrative running through Scripture around the theme of sex and marriage. From the opening chapter to the closing words, the theme of sex and marriage permeates the Bible and drives one of the major concepts that underlines the Gospel message, that of the union of Christ and his Church.

My new project, The Great Consummation is to read through the Bible cover to cover and discuss every reference to sex and marriage, exploring how it the meta-narrative is shaped in the form of the Canon as the Western Church has received the Bible, and to engage with the issues that arise. We’ll look at the good and the bad, the Levitical and the lyrical, seeing how they weave together into one theme. On the way we might find some surprises and challenges but we’ll always discover God speaking to his people.

This isn’t meant to be an academic exercise – we might engage with commentaries and books at points along the way but at others we’ll simply look at the text and try to draw some insights. We’ll end up with a series of mini essays that help us understand pastorally and theologically what the trajectory of Scripture is on this subject. The comment section will be open for your thoughts as appropriate, but don’t expect a big debate from me if you disagree!

Posts will come as and when I have time to write and think. Some of what I’ll share has been maturing for years, some will be insights on the day of discovering the text. All of it I hope will stimulate discussion and deepen confidence in the simple truth that God has revealed himself and his purposes through his Word.

I’m looking forward to the next few months / years of writing on this. I hope you are too.

A three part lecture series exploring the theology of the Song of Songs and it’s link to the meta-narrative of the Bible around the meaning of sex and marriage, beginning in Genesis.

Part One

Part One and Two Notes

Part One and Two Chiasm

Part Two

Part Three

Part Three Notes

Part Three Slides

My workshop on sexuality issues which I held at the Church Society JAEC conference earlier this month is now online. It draws on some of my work on the Great Consummation project.

You can download the slides here.

Icon used in JAEC workshop

And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.

“Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image.

And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.”
Genesis 9:1-7

RainbowFollowing the flood there is a reiteration of the commands to humans in Genesis 1, as well as some reworking of the poetry. The differences draw out some of the themes we have already explored.

Genesis 1 Genesis 9
And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea.
And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.” “And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.

In the fallen world, the gift of Creation to the humans has changed. Now the men and women can kill animals for food and this will lead to those same animals fearing the humans. Of course, we have already seen the slaughter of animals before, first in the Garden of Eden when God covers Adam and Eve in skins and then a chapter later when Abel offers a meat sacrifice to YHWH. But now the death of animals will become widespread.

The author of Genesis 9 also reworks the poetry of Genesis 1 to add to the messianic theme that was established early on in the creation myth.

Genesis 1 Genesis 9

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image.

The key uniting point here is the representation of the key theological point that humans are made in the image of God. We should be reminded at this point of the binaries that we saw all the way through the first few chapters (in particular the man – God and male – female double binary) and we are presented with a new binary here. In verse 5 YHWH warns very clearly that he will demand the life of a human who takes the life of another (“From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.“). In the poetry of verse 6 however the one who will shed blood in response to a murder is not YHWH but another human. This is an interesting use of the human – God binary, man and the divine performing the same function in response to death.

Last week I sat down with Glen Scrivener at JAEC and we chatted about sex and sexuality and some of the themes I’m currently exploring.

This post is based on a sermon preached at St Mary Bredin on the 3rd Sunday of Advent, 2015. You can hear the audio of the sermon here.

And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years”. And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

We take a break from our journey through Genesis to look at how a key portion of what we have explored so far is taken up at the start of the story of Jesus. Luke 1 has the angel Gabriel coming twice to folk in the Holy Land, first to a priest serving in the temple in Jerusalem and then to a betrothed virgin in the hinterland of Nazareth. The author weaves these two stories together in a linguistic thread that loops not just through those two visits but also back to the start of time.

At first the way that Zechariah and Mary respond to Gabriel seems to have only one point of connection – namely a questioning of the angel’s message. Zechariah challenges Gabriel on the basic biological facts of the matter (his wife is simply incapable of bearing children anymore) and Mary does the same (the simply statement that she has not had sex with anyone – an interesting comparison to Zechariah who clearly has been having sex with Elizabeth but without any reproductive results).

Zechariah Mary
Zechariah asked the angel, How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well on in years.
Luke 1:18
How will this be, Mary asked the angel, since I am a virgin? … I am the Lord’s servant, Mary answered. May your word to me be fulfilled.
Luke 1:34,38

However, if we look at the literal translation of the two responses we see the subtlety that both connects and divides the old man and the young woman.

Zechariah Mary
Zechariah asked the angel, How can I know this? I am an old man and my wife is well on in years.
Luke 1:18
How will this be, Mary asked the angel, since a man I have not known? … I am the Lord’s servant, Mary answered. May your word to me be fulfilled.
Luke 1:34, 38
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Now the subtlety in the text is much more apparent – Zechariah and Mary use the same root work – ginosko, “to know” but in remarkably different ways, and these are ways that we’ve seen before.

The Temptation The Outworking
You will not certainly die, the snake said to the woman. For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.
Genesis 3:4-5
Adam knew his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.” Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.
Genesis 4:1-2

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We’ve seen before how the temptation to know (to decide for ourselves rather than God what is good or evil) . This is the heart of the Fall, the core of sin, to usurp the sovereignty of God and to replace it with our own supremacy over our lives. Of course, this knowledge of humans means that the other knowing, the coming together of husband and wife, is corrupted and distorted and passes on the first sinful knowing. Look at the first child born in the world – Cain is not just the first human who results from two humans knowing each other, but he is also the first murderer, the archetype sinner. And after him every single human born through the knowledge of a man and a woman of each other will be tainted by that other knowledge that leads men and women away from God and into the hell of their own manufactured truth.

Now we return to the Nativity narratives with fresh eyes and see the differences between Zechariah and Mary’s responses to Gabriel. For Zechariah, the priest and holy man who is revered by his community for his service to God, Zechariah is still ultimately a sinner who is centred around himself. Zechariah’s response is still the first sinful knowledge, the demand for God to explain himself, the refusal to accept God’s statement via his messenger of his sovereignty over nature and the mysteries of conception. For this sin the holy man is disciplined for a while.

Eve and MaryMary on the other hand is the break in a chain of sin that has lasted for thousands of years – her response is not one of challenge to the message but rather surrender to it. She has not known anyone but still she responds “let it be to me according to your Word” and with those words the chain of knowing that passes on sin is broken. The Holy Spirit conceives within the blessed virgin a child who is not tainted by sin, who does not have passed onto him the curse of rebellion against God. The cycle of wrong knowing is broken and now light has come into the world, illuminating the rebels and destroying the darkness.

Thousands of years ago the child of the first Eve came into the world bringing with him the curse that his parents had passed on. Tonight we celebrate the birth of the child who breaks that cycle of false knowledge, the murderer finally replaced by the murdered one, the second Eve bringing forth the one who crushes the head of the serpent, an an Ark carrying the Word who destroys the power of our rebellious words and thoughts.

Eternal God,
in the stillness of this night
you sent your almighty Word
to pierce the world’s darkness with the light of salvation:
give to the earth the peace that we long for
and fill our hearts with the joy of heaven
through our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.

NephilimThere are a number of opinions as to what is going on in this passage. The sons of God and the daughters of man could be one of the following.

  1. The “sons of God” are angels, fallen or otherwise. Although the Scriptures are full of examples of angels being described in this manner (Job 1:6, Ps 29:1) or taking on bodily form there is also Jesus’ teaching on marriage in heaven (or the lack of it). This interpretation is unlikely.
  2. The “sons of God” are men who have achieved high status, rulers or judges. Their wives are polygamous harems and this is the sinful behaviour.
  3. The “sons of God” are the descendants of Seth whilst the “daughters of man” are the descendants of Cain. As we saw before, Cain’s line ends in murder (again) but Seth’s line ends in redemption through Noah.

Whichever of these options it is, the interesting thing is that when the sons of God find the daughters of man attractive, this is the same root word as in Genesis 3 when the Fall occurs.

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.
Genesis 3:6

The key here is that the sexual union which is good in the Garden of Eden (“they knew no shame”) is now corrupted as part of the Fall. Whether it is a move to polygamy or simply compromising holiness, sex is seen to be a powerful driving force in the lives of humans, leading to outcomes that are less than perfect. God’s judgement on these unions is to limit the life of man.

It is unlikely that the Nephilim are the offspring of this union (a view favoured by those who take position (i) above). Rather they are simply genetically tall humans as mentioned in Numbers 13:33.