Human Sexuality and the Gospel According to Freud

Human Sexuality and the Gospel According to Freud

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Sigmund Freud was an Austrian Neurologist born in the mid-19th century who pioneered a form of counseling called psychoanalysis to treat patients suffering from neuroses. Freud was fascinated by the unconscious mind and how it affected the behavior of his patients. Through a controlled dialogue, he sought to help patients overcome their neuroses by working through unresolved stages of development in his patients’ lives. For example, a person’s current feelings of inadequacy could be linked to a cold, distant parent. The therapist then helps the person process through repressed feelings from childhood in order to have a better sense of self worth.

Freud CoverMuch of Freud’s work not only serves as the foundation for many counseling theories today but has worked its way deeply into our understandings of self, our cultural ethos, and even our everyday language (e.g. “Freudian slip” or someone who is “anal retentive”). In the 2003 U.S. News & World Report, Sigmund Freud was even named one of three minds that shaped the 20th century.

Yet the Church has not always been so welcoming to Freud and his ideas, and not without good reason. Freud believed that, at their core, humans were primarily motivated by an intense drive for sexual pleasure which could only be partially reigned in by the will. The will’s job was to hold off on this intense sexual drive just enough until it could finally be satisfied in some way. There was no stopping this desire but only holding it back for a short time. Stephen Mitchell, a well-known psychoanalyst, writes, “Freud established sexuality as a realm of unfettered pleasure, free from the tyranny of the object and social necessities, a ‘nature preserve,’ like a zoo in the middle of an urban setting.” [1]

Christians have publicly critiqued Freud’s views on this deterministic nature of sexuality. We often hear Freud’s name used critically in conversations about the over-sexualization of our culture.  Yet, within the Church, I wonder if some of our views on sexuality bear far more of a resemblance to Freud’s than we would like to believe.

Many evangelical churches teach these rules about sex: don’t have sex outside of marriage, don’t divorce, and don’t lust. Their sexual theology starts and ends with these three “don’ts,” leaving listeners to fill in the blanks. Thus, while never explicitly stating it in this way, churches often leave congregants with the following picture of sexuality.

The typical heterosexual man [2] in the Church is supposed to feel no sexual feelings for any woman. Somehow, he is drawn to a woman he begins to date. He is to date her with no (or very little) physical contact. He is to marry her, and on their wedding day, only then, is he to turn on his sexual desires like some switch. He is suddenly permitted to engage in a sexual free-for-all just as long as he has no sexual thoughts about another woman until he dies (or his wife does).

Any sexual thought or desire outside of that model is seen as sin. Many believe then that the goal is repression of any sexual thought until they enter into the marriage covenant, at which point, pleasures abound! Sexual desire and attraction are not seen then as healthy and good things that God created us with that must be ordered, but rather, some part of the flesh that we must fear, draw a fence around, and legalistically restrict until we can overindulge in marriage.

While we are hesitant to admit it, we believe sexuality is evil, part of the flesh. It is the only place where God’s grace cannot touch, and it can only be managed through legalistic boundaries. Thus, our ethics center on commands, “Don’t have pre-marital sex,” and “Don’t commit adultery,” and not inward transformation of the heart. Ultimately, we behave as if sexuality is the only part of the human condition that cannot be sanctified.

Perhaps a simpler way to put it — ultimately, we believe that sexual desire is determined, something that is only reigned in by the will until it can be finally satisfied in some socially appropriate way. (Sound familiar?)

And this is not good Wesleyan theology.

Part of the beauty of the Wesleyan tradition, is that once justified and born again, we are freed from sin. This is “not simply freedom from the power of sin, but also freedom to love God and neighbor.” [3] Sanctification is not the removal of desire but rather the reorientation of it. Sexual desire at its core is not a seeking of pleasure but a desire for a person — a desire to love and to be loved. [4] Thus, sexual desire reminds of us of our deep yearning for human connection. It is that “precious clue that ever tugs at the heart, reminding the human soul — however dimly — of its created source. ” [5]

Sexuality, then, is a good gift from the Lord and one that (now that we are justified and born again) can be ordered to holy love of God and neighbor. That means for those people to which we find ourselves attracted, we practice chastity and charity. If we are married to them, then we honor their personhood by refusing to treat them as a means solely for our self-satisfaction. [6] If we are not married to them, we do not run from them nor live in fear of our desires. We deepen our friendship with them chastely ordering our passions toward their ultimate good and constantly searching our own hearts to reorder our thoughts and desires.

If this sounds difficult, it’s because it is. However, where Freud claims that desire for sexual pleasure is an unavoidable, determined drive, Jesus, through his death and resurrection, grants us freedom and power to live the virtuous life that he did ordering our sexual desires to holy love. We are not bound by a unstoppable sinful drive for sexual pleasure, but rather, as we press on to perfection, we can allow the Holy Spirit to sanctify every part of us, even our sexuality.

[1] Mitchell, S. A. (1988). Relational concepts in psychoanalysis: An integration. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Pg. 121
[2] If you’re a heterosexual woman, you’re not supposed to have any sexual thoughts and simply be at the beck and call of the man who desires you.
[3] Collins, K. J. (2007). The theology of John Wesley: Holy love and the shape of grace. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. Pg. 226
[4] For more information on this, check out Roger Scruton’s book, Sexual Desire.
[5] Coakley, S. (2013). God, sexuality, and the self: An essay ‘on the Trinity’. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
[6] For more information on lust within marriage, check out Colleen McCluskey’s essay, “Lust and Chastity” in Timpe, K. and Boyd, C. A. (2016). Virtues and their vices. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.


11 Responses

  1. Great work. It does raise the question how we expect Christians who are gay to “reorient” their desires in holy love for God and neighbor, given that we expect them to discipline their sexual drives and not act on that basic need for the human connection spoken of in this article.

    1. I’m so glad you brought that up Tom. I actually think this understanding of sexuality is so much better for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters regarding their sexuality. When Evangelicals espouse a more Freudian framework for understanding sexuality (which as I’ve argued happens frequently) and then tell LGB people to not engage in sexual expression, it’s incredibly cruel. On one hand, we create a culture of sexuality that tells people they MUST engage in sexual activity to be whole and then on the other hand, tell gay people they can never engage in such activity. Thus, the rhetoric of “full inclusion” and “You’re saying that gay people are incompatible with Christian teaching” begins to make sense. If I must consummate my sexual desires in the sex act, then to deny that to me IS to deny relationality and to deny me love.

      With my framework, if you notice, I give two paths for the ordering of sexual desire. If the person I desire is my opposite sex spouse with whom I have a covenanted relationship, I can engage in the sex act should my spouse consent to it and it be for his or her ultimate good (i.e. recognizing and honoring his or her personhood and freedom to act or to use Kant’s language, honoring him/her as an end in his/her own self). This sex act, properly ordered, will lead to its natural telos — love.

      Now, if I sexually desire another who is not my spouse (which is exponentially more likely), I cannot engage in the sexual act with them. This is largely because Christian marriage is not simply a union between “two people who love each other very much” as most Americans think of marriage today. Rather, Christian marriage is oriented foundationally to childrearing (hence, the purpose of the sex act exclusive to Christian marriage). So even if I honored the person I was attracted to as a whole person, it would still be immoral for me to engage in a sexual union with them because our relationship is not vocationally a marriage.

      So I would not engage in the sex act with them which as I’ve said would not lead to it’s natural telos of love, but I do have an obligation to engage in chaste acts with them which WOULD lead to love. While the sex act is an act that when properly ordered leads to love, it is not the only means for human connection. In fact, not only is it not the only means for human connection but it is not even a superior means for human connection. The love that’s experienced in the marriage covenant is not at all greater (or lesser) than the love experienced in a chaste friendship. One is not necessarily more loved by their sexual partner than their non-sexual friend, and this is confirmed all throughout Scripture.

      This gives incredible hope to gay and lesbian people that the deep human connection they so desperately crave and desire can be achieved sans sex. Peering a bit ecumenically at our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, we see the following in their Catechism (RCC 2359): “Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested [non-sexual not apathetic] friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.” This is why the biblical scholar Wesley Hill and ethicist Ron Belgau speak so much about Spiritual Friendship ( They understand that deep human connection should extend beyond just the marriage covenant.

      Moving forward, it is the responsibility of the Church to provide those deep forms of intimacy to all her members — especially her gay and lesbian members. This is our distinctly Christian witness against a Freudian world.

  2. I agree, Taylor, that this is a much more positive, holistically Christian approach than the Freudian framework imagines. For that reason, I’m incredibly grateful for your perspective. You’re not just saying, “Don’t define sex negatively,” but as a good Wesleyan, you’re bringing the positive side of holiness into the conversation.

    That said, did I understand you correctly to say that Christian marriage is fundamentally oriented to childrearing? If so, it helps your argument certainly be more logically consistent with regards to our LGBT brothers and sisters and whether they’re can have a “Christian marriage.” But I don’t know that that’s an argument rooted in the biblical text. As in, I don’t doubt that raising children is an important part of Christian marriage, but I’d question whether that’s what it’s fundamentally oriented toward. Of course, to lay my cards on the table – I have friends who are married who have chosen not to have kids. I think their marriage is just as Christian as mine, even though I have 3 kids (almost 4). In short, having a quiver full of kids doesn’t seem to be a morally binding imperative implicit or explicit within the Christian narrative – scripture, reason, tradition (unless we’re Catholic), or experience.

    Then again, I may have misunderstood your comment the implication you were drawing from it. You’ve clearly read more on this subject than I have, so I hope this is received as a spirit of inquiry.

    I’d also say that I’m not sure our LGBT Christian brothers and sisters elevate sex to the level of love or make love about sex. Well, at least not any more than the rest of us. If my Christian brother or sister, who is gay, is not convinced by the scriptural arguments of the traditional position, but choose monogamous, same-sex, consensual sex within a marriage, they’re not elevating mis-ordering love and sex, it seems. Rather, they’re acting just like the rest of us do (they simply disagree about hermeneutics).

    So, yes, I agree that the elevation of sex to the level or ultimate manifestation of love is morally wrong and a symptom of our disordered sexuality. But the question is whether our LGBT brothers and sisters, who disagree with us hermeneutically, are guilty of that mis-ordering.

    The Catholic ethical statement you cited is also, to me, problematic from this perspective. It seems to honor our gay brothers and sisters by talking about a distinctive calling they have. Yet at the same time, to speak of a “calling” that many of them do not discern or desire is like telling them “singleness is a gift” but laying it on them like a yoke. I understand that my language “discern or desire” in regards to their call to celibacy is rooted in my Western individualism, but I don’t think it’s insignificant. Callings aren’t always easy to carry (as any pastor would affirm), but they are always discerned and (one some level) desired. What then do we say to our LGBT brothers and sisters who do not discern or desire the “calling” being thrust upon them?….especially those who do not agree with our interpretive conclusions?

    I don’t know you, Taylor, but I’m grateful for your thoughtful, lucid writing. I think you’re a gift to the church and those of us thinking through this subject with love and intentionality. Thanks for furthering this conversation in a healthy way.

    1. Good pushback! I really do love that you’re engaging with this well as these are things that must be thoroughly thought through and not simply glossed over. Please do push back on anything that I am unclear on. I’d like to clarify a few points on my end.

      You did understand me correctly in my statement that Christian marriage is fundamentally oriented to child-rearing. This is actually a historic understanding of marriage (and one not necessarily inherently Christian either). The idea that a married couple can be sexually active and choose to not have children is only a recent idea within the last half century. Prior to the mid 20th century, no one would have understood marriage in such a way. The reason why marriage must be an exclusive, permanent, and sexually complementary relationship is for the sake of the children involved. The Christian witness is one that affirms loving one’s spouse (as we see in Song of Solomon and Paul’s epistles), but the primary vocation of marriage as procreative is still left in tact. This is, however, not to say that children make the marriage nor is it to say that a married couple must belong to a quiverfull movement and have as many children as possible (a misunderstanding of Catholic doctrine mind you that we would all be right to correct), but it is to say that marriage should be fundamentally ordered to the family. Unlike the barren couple who through no fault of their own cannot have children (whose experience is addressed in the book resource I offer below), I do believe the decision to use birth control to forever forgo children in a marriage is morally problematic. While it is very clearly laid out in the writings of Thomas Aquinas (whom some evangelicals might reject for being “Catholic”), this understanding of marriage is supported not only biblically, but also in the early Church fathers (which is defined as a source of authority in the Wesleyan Quadrilateral). For more information on this, I’d check out the following resources:

      This is an article I wrote a few months ago:

      Here is an article by Abigail Rine:

      And this is a short book that is tremendously helpful:

      I happen to be more in the Roman Catholic camp when it comes to birth control believing there are strong arguments in favor of RC doctrine (and I’m a big proponent of NFP), but other protestant theologians, like Dennis Hollinger at GCTS, would still espouse the procreative purpose of sex and marriage albeit permitting birth control within the marital covenant. You can read his book, The Meaning of Sex, for his perspective.

      I’m not sure how to answer the second objection. I’d say that the conflation of sex and love is so powerful in our culture and so prevalent in Evangelical churches that it would be hard for me to believe that LGBT people would not also be influenced by that. Most gay people think celibacy is a death sentence. But so do most straight people, too. While we’re all responsible for our actions and beliefs, I’m not blaming gay people for conflating sex and love if its the only way it’s ever framed in our culture and our churches. (I’m more inclined to blame the church leaders.)

      God gives us callings all the time as Christians that we do not necessarily choose. Jesus in the Matthew’s gospel very explicitly identifies celibacy as something that can be chosen but it sometimes is not. In chapter 19, he states, “For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.” While celibacy can be freely chosen, it can be something put on us as well.

      For that matter though, I’m more concerned with why we’re so scared to call someone to celibacy. Joey Prever, a celibate gay man, quipped on his blog ( one time that people actually give him more flack as a celibate man than as a gay man saying “Various people have pitied me, or tried to convince me that my life is vewwy vewwy sad…” Celibacy should never, ever be a yoke that a man or woman has to bear him- or herself. That makes us a bad community. Jesus talks extremely highly of celibacy, and we, in our churches, have largely behaved like it’s that shriveled-up, dead thing in the corner. I long to see churches where the congregants live in intentional communities where celibate people and married people live together and simply because one is not sexually active does not mean that he or she is less than others in the Kingdom of God.

      And just as a pastoral note, demanding that someone be celibate without providing them with a community of deep and loving friendships is very wrong (I’d extend the same logic to marriages as well). While I’d encourage you to teach a traditional sexual ethic from the pulpit, it should be coupled with radical hospitality and intentional community. To leave you with one of Wesley Hill’s quotes:

      “I think that for many, many (not all) gay people in America today, the options have not been (1) belong to a healthy, vibrant Christian community in which celibacy is held in high esteem and deep spiritual friendships with members of the same sex and opportunities for loving service and hospitality abound or (2) be in a romantic relationship with a partner of the same sex. That has not been the choice facing many gay and lesbian people. Instead, for many (not all) today, the options have been (1) be ostracized (or worse) in church and effectively live without meaningful same-sex closeness of any kind or (2) be in a romantic relationship with a partner of the same sex.”

  3. Thanks again for engaging and clarifying things, brother. I’ll continue the conversation, trying to take your points each in turn.

    1. I completely agree that child-raising has been the traditional (not even exclusively Christian) telos of marriage. But I’m not convinced that an “is” or a “was” implies an “ought.” I’d argue that the reason marriage ought to be “exclusive, permanent…and complementary” is NOT because of the children (though that’s a great benefit for children), but because marriage is necessarily and primarily a reflection of God’s relationship with the church in Christ. Because God is exclusively committed to us and us to Him, because God is permanently committed to us and use to him, and because God complements the new life of His people and we add responsive love in return, THEREFORE Christian marriage ought to reflect THAT theological reality. Monogamous, consensual, permanent marriage is implicitly good for children as a social framework, but it’s explicitly tied to theological truths centering in the faithful character of God.

    Thus, while I certainly do not want to belittle (far from it!) childrearing as a Christian vocation, I don’t know that would use the language of “primary” or even “necessary.” I honestly can think of no scriptural warrant for holding that position. Certainly the traditions of the church need to have a voice, but I don’t know that this position has ever truly appealed to Protestants, primarily, I think, because of its lack of clear scriptural imperative. And due to that, I think such an argument just isn’t going to be pragmatically affective for most of us Protestants who disagree with our Catholic friends on the morality of birth control or sex-for-children.

    *Of course, I say all of that acknowledging again that you are correct – even questioning the child-centered understanding of marriage is a contemporary matter. But that in itself is not reason enough for me to be convinced of the Catholic position (for which I hold a great deal of respect, and tend to think it FAR MORE logically consistent on the issue of gay sexuality than many Protestant arguments).

    2. I actually read your article on Teddy’s blog last night for the first time. A mutual friend introduced me to your writings, THEN (providentially?) I saw that Seedbed had posted this article. As for the other articles, I’ll try to get to them as soon as I can.

    3. I agree that the conflation of sex and love in our culture is powerful. And I’d agree that it’d be hard to believe that persons who are gay – much like the rest of us – aren’t influenced by it. I suspect they are. And I agree with you – for gay persons and straight persons, we need much healthier, holistic discussions of singleness, celibacy, and sex.

    I’ve always found the citation of the eunuch passage problematic. If nothing else because a eunuch is someone who CANNOT have sex. Literally, they have been physically damaged and no longer have the ability. I’m not sure what Jesus is referring to when he talks about those who have chosen that route for the sake of the kingdom, but don’t think he’s probably merely referring to celibacy. He seems to be talking about people who have castrated themselves in Origen-like fashion. Few today would hold that up as an ideal way of dealing with sexual desire. It’s an odd enough reference, to me, that I’m not sure how relevant it is in our conversations of sexuality. This is probably something you’ve thought about more than me, so I’m happy to have you clarify with any historical/exegetical background.

    All that said, I agree that a when we assume not having sex is a sub-human, we’re assuming Jesus was sub-human. Thus, the conflation of sex and love are a major problem. The question for me is, do all gay relationships within the confines of a monogamous, consensual, marriage commit this fallacy? We will all struggle with it, post-Freud, but are gay persons more guilty of this than the rest of us? And is it possible for me to not be guilty of it? And if so, is it possible for them to not be guilty of it (that is, if they disagree with our interpretation of the biblical texts)?

    In this end, maybe this is a question of conscience: If a Christian who is gay disagrees with the traditional, conservative interpretation of the text, and decides to get married, are they committing the love = sex fallacy? Are they elevating sex to the level of an idol (which is the real issue in texts like Romans 1, no?)

    4. Yes, the WEsley Hill quote is right on. And I find our lack of community for married and unmarried persons incredibly problematic. It is yet another place where the church looks just like the world. Despite all our attempts to fix the problem (small groups, for example) we fundamentally do not understand the nature of community. This has huge implications for everyone.

    Thank you again, my friend!

    1. Awesome. That’s kinda funny how the writings thing worked out, haha! I like the numbers. I’ll respond accordingly.

      1. The naturalistic fallacy is one commonly lobbed against natural law arguments. It does have its merits and should give us pause when saying that simply because something is does not necessarily mean that something ought to be. You’re correct to be leery and bring it up.

      I hear that argument often that marriage is primarily a reflection of Christ’s relationship with the Church, and I find it to have some merit in how we love our spouses but often it’s lacking for me in nuance elsewhere. Despite popular belief, the marriage relationship is not the primary metaphor for God’s relationship to his people. That would be the suzerain-vassal relationship. Every time God is referred to as Lord it’s hinting at that metaphor. Other metaphors include Father/Child (e.g. Galatians 4:1-7), Mother/Child (Matt 23:37), Master/Servant (e.g. parables in the Gospels) and Friend/Friend (John 15:12-15).

      That last passage should give us special pause. While Jesus is compared as the Bridegroom to his bride, the Church, he also identifies himself as friend in this passage as he says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Perhaps today we would prefer he would say “bride” but he does not. Jesus gives just as much emphasis to this metaphor as he does to others. Yet, to base all of those relationships on their metaphors would be very problematic (e.g. Is God gendered? Am I equals with God?). We should see similarities within our relationships, but like most metaphors, we should never see a one-to-one.

      There’s other inconsistencies with that too in that why does marriage have to be an exclusive relationship? Sure, God made one covenant with the Church but the Church is made up of multiple people, no? Why can’t we be sexually poly-amorous? How are we to understand sex then if Christ never had sex with his bride? (Unless you want to dive deep down the rabbit hole of some Roman Catholic theology involving the Easter candle and the baptismal font via Christopher West.)

      Plus it sorta breaks down a bit more when we consider that not only is marriage not eternal in Christian tradition (“till death do us part” in marriage vows) but also Jesus even explicitly tells us in Matthew 22:30 that “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” And why is that so? Because there is no need of procreation at the resurrection. Therefore, there is no need of marriage.

      I’d say that absolutely our marriages should reflect Christ and the Church! As should our friendships and other non-sexual relationships. But I don’t think that’s ever understood to be the sole reason for marriage. You seem to be looking for some proof text (not in a “Oh you’re a fundamentalist!” way but in a “I want to be absolutely sure we’re thinking about this well” more Evangelical way.) You just wont find that in Scripture because all the writers would have understood procreation to be a natural part of the sex act. While contraception did exist in some capacity, most understood marriage to be fundamentally about procreation. I would argue that the evidence of some passages such as the two creation accounts in Genesis with the command to be fruitful and multiply, Christ’s high view of celibacy and statement about the future resurrection, and the emphasis on family in the OT (that later gets expanded in the NT to affirm spiritual brother and sisterhood) is strongly in favor of a procreative view. Yes you can argue that what is may not necessarily be what should be, but there is little evidence to support a non-procreative view of sex/marriage when it comes to this issue.

      2. Providence that God uses in the service of his Holy Love while respecting human agency…. I kid…;)

      3. I’d take the interpretation that Jesus is using the eunuch as an example of celibacy over his affirmation that what Origen did was okay. In context, it’s in Christ’s discussion on marriage and sexuality, so it’s safe to say he’s using eunuch here as someone who is not sexually active. Plus, in his other statements on sexuality, Christ gives this two model view of sexuality: celibacy or marriage between one man and one woman.

      I think a question for you to ask is what is the purpose of sex?

      One of my main problems with progressive Christian sexual theology from those like Matthew Vines is that once sexual complementarity is removed from our theology of marriage, nothing else makes sense. Why should it be permanent? Why should it be exclusive to two people? Why should it be considered a marriage?

      I am absolutely committed to my gay brother and sister in the Church, and I want all of them to experience their place at the table and to be loved for who they are. And because I believe that all truth is God’s truth and that God’s will is good, pleasing and perfect, I hold fast to the ethic affirmed in Scripture, Philosophy, and Church tradition for centuries and challenge the Church to do the creative hard work of challenging social structures.

      By the way, this is one of the most cordial conversations I’ve had on the internet. Especially on this issue, haha.

      1. I have thoroughly enjoyed our discussion, my friend. My only regret is that we can’t do it face-to-face, as I’m sure I’d find you quite the delightful conversation partner. Maybe one day in God’s grace, this will happen. Until then, I wonder how productive this conversation can continue to be, given that we’re now writing essay-length responses. And given that some of these responses are moving us two or three steps away (by necessity) from the original discussion.

        With that in mind, I have responded to your last piece at length. Feel free to respond as lengthy as you wish. I’m not sure if I can continue our current pace, though. So forgive me if I only respond briefly or sporadically after this.

        1. Yes, thank you for recognizing the weakness of natural law arguments. This is the kind of thing that makes this conversation enjoyable and productive – the recognition of strengths and weaknesses of our own and each other’s arguments. As a Protestant, I’m probably less inclined than my Catholic brothers and sisters to accept the Natural Law arguments. While I don’t usually engage them in the realm of sexuality (and thus am woefully ignorant of how they work in this conversation), I have engaged them a number of times in regards to Catholic Social Doctrine and how it works with church/state relations (obviously, an entirely different conversation).

        I think I am less bothered than you about the lack of nuance of the Christ/church marriage metaphor. As a metaphor employed within a particular pastoral situation, speaking to a specific pastoral need, I don’t think Paul intended its use to be restricted, but explored. He applied it to one situation, but even in that situation, the social implications were vast and, indeed, revolutionary. Thus, I don’t know that reference to that metaphor is restricted simply because it is not Paul’s primary metaphor. It’s just, as a metaphor, it is restrictive and unlimited at the same time (as you say, not always one-to-one). For me, I don’t mind that it lacks nuance elsewhere. That’s the nature of metaphors and pastoral response. Each pastoral response called for a metaphor to fit the situation.

        I do, however, recognize, as you have noted, that a number of other metaphors are used – most of them being family metaphors (I think even the suzerain/vassal one to a degree). And I agree that the metaphor/reality of friendship with Jesus is often lost on our hierarchy-loving Evangelical/Baptist Christian culture. Again, however, I’d say that the metaphor/reality of friendship was the metaphor/reality that the author needed to employ for that particular pastoral moment. In another context, “he laid his life down for his bride” might have been and certainly was entirely appropriate.

        As to your questions regarding inconsistencies, I think they’re somewhat easily handled. Yes, the church is made up of multiple people, but the church is “one.” Jesus doesn’t have an individual relationship with us that is apart from the church. And more to the point of the metaphor, the point is that Jesus never cheats on the church, is unfaithful to the church, disregards the church, abuses the church, or does anything unloving and self-sacrificing toward the church. I think that carries a lot of nuance and specific application. I think it’s intuitive, when described that way, why we’re not poly-amorous. (At this point, too, your later question is relevant regarding the purpose of sex, but I’ll save that for later in response to your question.)

        2. I do see your point about Matt. 22:30. It’s been a while since I’ve looked at that text, so, yet again, I’m going to have to say, “I’ll come back to that later.” If I remember correctly, Ben Witherington posited that there will be marriage in heaven, but I don’t remember what he did with this passage. And of course, Ben can be wrong, so I don’t think he’ll settle the matter.

        HOWEVER, just based on some inductive observations, I’d say that you’re going beyond what the text says when you answer the question “Why won’t there be marriage?” and offer the answer “because there won’t be procreation.” Jesus doesn’t offer that as THE reason.

        3. I agree with you that the metaphor of Christ and His church isn’t the “sole reason” for marriage. There are many reasons. But I think it is one of the main reasons. It’s certainly the one most explicitly given to us in the New Testament.

        You’re right that your view may have been the assumed position (and therefore left unstated) of the New Testament writers. The question, though, is whether that cultural understanding was just that – cultural or universal? That’s always, always a tricky question.

        It does strike me, though, that there were plenty of opportunities (particularly when Paul’s giving sex advice in I Corinthians) for the New Testament writers to clarify the matter or reinforce a distinctively Christian perspective on it. Yet they don’t. Even if implicitly, I just don’t see it. Paul speaks of sex as for the benefit of the other marriage partner, but doesn’t talk about childrearing in that same discussion, where it might have naturally come up. (But again, we’re both talking about an argument from silence.)

        The references to the creation account reinforce for me a different answer – yes, fruitfulness and multiplying matter, but more specifically, the two come together in one flesh, and together (as a community responding to God) they rule God’s world. Procreation is a part of it, but the main thrust is that together they are the image of God, the representatives of Him. (I don’t think procreation is part of what it means to be in the image of God, as even the animals in Day 6 were given that charge.) Again, though, I’ll come back to that when I answer your question about the purpose of sex.

        4. I appreciate your taking up my eunuch-interpretation skepticism. And I think you make as valiant an effort as can be made. But I just don’t know that the argument works. Jesus/Matthew had a good, useable Greek word for celibacy, but he chose not to use it. Why? How would the metaphor of castration serve his purposes better than the Gk. Word for celibacy? I don’t think it does. I think it confuses more than clarifies. Further, I’d say that the immediate context (some are made eunuchs) refers definitively to castration. Absolutely no one would have understood that metaphorically.

        I know it’s a uncomfortable interpretation by modern standards, but I still think Jesus is probably referencing something that has literally, physically altered these people. Of course, I reserve the right to be wrong about this. 🙂

        5. So now we get to the purpose of sex. I can’t speak to how Matthew Vines or others understand sex. I honestly haven’t read them or their arguments. For me, the reason marriage is permanent is, again, because it reflects God’s continued, permanent commitment to the redemption of creation, in particular the church. God is committed. Therefore I am a committed husband. God is committed to his church, therefore I am committed to my wife. But AGAIN, I have no idea what Matthew Vines says.

        So what, then, do I think the purpose of sex is? When rightly ordered, it is a beautiful, mutual, loving, joyous, monogamous reflection of the Triune nature of God. It depicts his selflessness and the our responsiveness, our initiation and His response. It is a beautiful image of the give-and-take, take-and-give, sacrificial dance of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is a depiction of the invitation and response of God’s people to Him, finding all our joy, pleasure, elation in Him alone. The purpose of sex is worship, participation in the Triune dance (I hope to say that in a non-pagan, non-sex-with-God kind of way. I’ll trust you to take me the way I intend). In short, it is the love of the Triune God enacted and enjoyed by two people who have been brought together in HIS love.

        I, too, find such engaging discussions very rare on the interwebs. Thank you for being a great conversation partner.

        1. Once more, thank you for the response, Tom! I fear we’re getting to that point in the conversation where there is nothing more that I can really argue without simply giving you more sources to read. Of course you could critique anything that I say on the matter, but I honestly do feel that I have argued my points fairly well and provided a lot of strong evidence. My only course of action at this point is simply to direct you to more resources. While I don’t have any of Witherington’s commentaries with me (although from my understanding, I’m not sure you’ve represented his views well. I’d have to check his Matthew commentary to verify), I will give you this excerpt from Craig Keener’s Matthew commentary:

          “Many Jewish thinkers also contrasted the nature of humanity with that of the angels (cf. 18:10); most agreed that angels did not eat, drink, or propagate. Propagation is unnecessary since angels do not die (1 Enoch 15:6-7); hence also among the resurrected. ‘Taking in marriage’ was the action of a husband; ‘giving in marriage’ was the action of a father. Jesus’ statement about lack of marriage and procreation in heaven (22:30) follows from the logic of the resurrection, to which he now turns (22:31-32).” – Keener, C. S. (2009) The gospel of matthew: A socio-rhetorical commentary (p. 528). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing

          Thanks for the conversation!

          1. And also on pages 471-472, Keener affirms the view that Jesus is talking about celibacy in these passages when referring to the eunuch using graphic imagery to convey his radical views on celibacy for the kingdom.

  4. I find it interesting that mone of the arguments about the reason for marriage considers the economic/propety/ legitimazation aspects that are so fundamentally part of marriage in so many cultures – inclusing those of anciwnt Greece, Rome and Israel. That is females seen as the property of their father/husband in a way that also makes the children property and resources. These realities are often avoidws in our diacussions of marriage but they play huge roles in understanding family dynamics, relationships and responsibilities that are important considerations underlying Jewish law. Consider the social place of women and children with no providers (widows and orphans) the importance of lineages, etc. Anthropologists have long known that these factors are primary conaiderations in marriage laws and customs of every culture.

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