Can We Really Know What God Intends?
by Craig Hoekema
Many Christians have been given the impression that one needs a higher-level degree in Biblical studies in order to investigate what the Bible teaches about the morality of same-sex sexual relationships. After all, doesn’t the answer depend on very complex analysis of ancient Greek words and a nearly comprehensive understanding of what kinds of relationships the Biblical writers knew about in their day? If so, then any claim that the Bible speaks clearly about such things would seem dubious and even presumptuous.
It’s my contention that this simply isn’t the case—that God hasn’t left His will for marriage and sexuality shrouded behind debates that only the uniquely trained can enter. The report on human sexuality that’s waiting to go before Synod does a fine job of explaining why we can discern God’s will from the very passages that some say are too obscure for firm conclusions (e.g. Lev. 18:22, Rom. 1:24-27; 1 Cor. 6:9; see pg. 96-113 of the committee’s report). However, I’m going to take a different approach. My contention is that even if the texts above were too obscure to apply to all same-sex sexual relationships—even if those texts weren’t in the Bible at all—we would still have a clear Biblical revelation of God’s will for marriage and sexual intimacy. And we don’t need any higher degrees to discern it.
Genesis 2:23-24 says,
“Then the man said,
‘This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called Woman,
for out of Man this one was taken.’
Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife,
and they become one flesh.”
The question we’re going to consider is this: when this passage refers to marriage as a male-female relationship, is it simply DEscribing Adam and Eve’s marriage, or is it PREscribing a model to which all future marriages ought to conform? Let me offer four significant indicators that Genesis 2 is giving us a normative definition of marriage (i.e. it expresses a ‘norm’ or standard for all marriages).
First, this passage is found in the creation narratives prior to Adam and Eve’s disobedience in Genesis 3. Because these narratives convey God’s designed intent for his “very good” creation, whenever a Biblical teaching can be traced to Genesis 1-2, it’s a weighty indicator that such a teaching is normative. To illustrate, consider that there are very few passages outside of Genesis 1 and 2 where human beings are explicitly commanded to care for creation (none in the New Testament). Yet, because of the significance of Genesis 1 and 2, there is virtually no debate among us as Christians that the responsibility given to Adam and Eve remains very much our responsibility as well. Similarly, the fact that we can trace the institution of marriage right back to the creation narratives is in itself a significant indicator that this is a revelation of God’s abiding intent for all marriage.
Second, the text explicitly says that Adam and Eve’s marriage is meant to be the model for all subsequent marriages. When Genesis 2:24 says “Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh,” it’s not merely a description of Adam and Eve’s relationship (Adam had no father and mother to leave). This is a generalized statement about how all future marriages are to follow the pattern of the first man and woman, making explicit what we could already reasonably conclude based on the evidence mentioned above.
Third, in Matthew 19:5, Jesus quotes Genesis 2:24 as a normative definition of marriage. It must be said that in context, Jesus is being asked about the permanence of marriage, not about the male-female nature of marriage.
But what is evident is that Jesus tells the Pharisees that if they want to know God’s abiding will for all marriages, they’ll find it in Genesis 2:24.
If the permanence of marriage (which isn’t explicitly stated in Genesis 2:24 though it’s properly inferred) is normative, then the male-female nature of marriage (which is explicitly stated) must be as well.
Fourth, all subsequent references to marriage in scripture are to male-female relationships. Admittedly, sometimes it’s one male and multiple females (which we know violates God’s will precisely because Genesis 2:24 is a normative definition of marriage), but it’s always male-female. Even when marriage is used metaphorically of God/Christ and his people (e.g. Jer. 2:2; John 3:29), the metaphor is gendered—God/Christ is the bridegroom, and we are his bride.
Taken together, these four indicators leave little ambiguity that God has given us a normative definition of marriage in Genesis 2:24. I lament that Christians have felt overwhelmed or have even despaired of their ability to understand scripture on this matter. However, the principles of interpretation used above are not sophisticated, and they point with accessible clarity to the fact that God has not left His will hiding in grammatical or historical obscurity.