HSR Summaries: Section III: A Biblical Theology of Human Sexuality
by Stephen Terpstra
The Human Sexuality Report that came to Synod 2022 has been widely debated but seldom read. Its intimidating length and broad areas of discussion mean many have heard about it but few have dug into it for themselves. The debate at Synod centered almost exclusively on the issue of same-sex marriage, but the report is far broader than any single issue. In this series we want to give you an overview of the Human Sexuality Report in bite-sized pieces and offer pastoral implications for us to live into going into the future.
The Human Sexuality Report received by Synod 2022 goes to scripture as it formulates a biblical theology of human sexuality. Only when we understand God’s creational design, redemptive intention, and eschatological purpose for human sexuality can we begin to seek ethical guidance on specific issues. It begins with Jesus in Matthew 19 and the question from the Pharisees about divorce. Jesus appeals to creation as the foundational reality of human gender and sexuality. Before sin existed, gender and marriage and sexuality were very good. Though the law tolerated divorce as a concession in a sinful world, it was not intended to be this way. This restricts sexual intercourse to the context of a marriage between husband and wife. They note that Jesus’ way is difficult for everyone, and his call to sexual purity is as radical as his words about wealth and poverty or loving our enemies. Yet his way of redemption provides for and calls for such a radical life of holiness.
Human sexuality began in the garden, where male and female, as complementary partners, are called to become one flesh in marriage, in imitation of the three-in-one God who created us. It is in the context of this two-and-yet one relationship that God has placed conception, as human covenant love between husband and wife creates new life in its image in imitation of the trinitarian God who created us in their image.
That reality is marred by the fall, as sexuality is corrupted and becomes a vehicle of self-serving desires and even violence, rather than the self-giving and loving act it was meant to be. Yet, God begins to hint that he has something more in mind as through the prophets he begins to use marriage as an image of his relationship with his people Israel. Though spiritual infidelity is all too real and serious, God’s faithfulness to his promises becomes the beacon of hope. This culminates in the New Testament where we discover that what was hinted at, particularly in Ezekiel and Hosea, becomes now a dominant image of redemption. Marriage and human sexuality are a picture of the union between Christ and his bride, the church. Jesus is the true bridegroom, ever faithful to his promises, who so loved his bride, despite her infidelity and abandonment, that he pursued her and lived for her and died for her, that he might make her holy.
Therefore, human sexuality is dramatically elevated in the New Testament. Procreation is no longer the vehicle for God’s promise and people, yet the reality of this spiritual marriage and union being reflected in our earthly marriage and union becomes essential. A new emphasis on celibacy and the single life appears, for spiritual realities are now primary. The marriage bond and its binding character is elevated by Jesus compared to the Mosaic law as not only a creational expectation, but a picture of the eschatological expectation. This is true not only of our sexual behavior, where God explicitly commands us to avoid all sexual immorality, but extends our sanctification to our desires when Jesus warns that lust and the inward disposition to sexual immorality is adultery in our hearts and equally serious.
Human sexual acts are to be confined to a life-long, covenant marriage between husband and wife. It’s purpose is to reflect and image the union between Christ and his church in the miracle and mystery of our redemption, eagerly anticipating the fulfillment of that union at Jesus return. The end for which believers are eagerly awaiting is pictured as nothing less than the wedding feast of the lamb and our consummation into a perfect and eternal union with Jesus Christ. “This truth is of the profoundest significance for a biblical theology of sexuality and marriage. God’s creation of human beings in his image as male and female was designed to point toward the ultimate purpose for human beings in communion with God in Christ. Thus, sexuality was designed all along to reflect this communion. Marriage itself will pass away, but its ultimate meaning will endure in the kingdom and family of God. One need not be married in this life to enjoy this ultimate reality.”