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Christ and Sexuality: Some Consequences

Follow me on this one for a second. Within the Christian tradition, I think its fairly uncontroversial that Jesus Christ is the archetype, the ultimate definition, the mesoform of what it means to be human. I suppose this could be disputed, but within Christian theology this is pretty axiomatic. Jesus’s own historical, contingent, particular human life defines what it means to be human in a way that is more significant than any other determinate factor of human existence.

If this is true, what implications might this have for a theology of marriage and sexuality? In CD III/4 Barth unfortunately defines humanness by sexual differentiation, thereby taking an Adamic definition for humanity rather than approaching the issue Christologically (see p. 158ff for example). In so doing, Barth makes sex and marriage the definition, or at least the full expression of the meaning of humanity. However, this is a decidedly non-Christological approach.

If we take Christology as our starting point, recognizing that (unless Dan Brown turns out to be right) Jesus was unmarried, not sexually active, and produced no children, we come to some very different conclusions. If the One who, in his life, crucifixion, and resurrection defined and actualized for us the very definition of humanness, what does that say about humanness? Clearly it says that marriage, sexual activity, and bearing children do not have any central place in the definition thereof.

Let us be absolutely clear on this point. If Christ is truly the fullness and definition of authentic humanity, we must say categorically that marriage, sex, and parenthood tell us nothing whatsoever of ultimate significance about humanness. If marriage, sex, and parenthood are somehow the fullness of humanity we are forced to say that Christ, far from being the true human as the Christian tradition proclaims, was in fact, sub-human. To grant sexuality any sort of ultimacy with respect to the definition of humanness is to deny that Jesus is the true human being.

So, if we take a Christological defintion for the meaning of humanness, sexuality by definition tells us absolutely nothing about the ultimate meaning of humanness. It may, through the gracious operation of the Holy Spirit be comandeered and become in many and sundry ways a parable of the kingdom, just as many of the trivial aspects of human life are open to God’s interruption and transfiguration. But, insofar as the meaning of authentic human existence, sexuality tells us nothing. Not if we really believe that Jesus defines for us what it means to be be human. And, further to this point, only when we allow sex to be truly and wonderfully insignificant, to be trivial, will it be able to be recived as a gift rather than gulpingly grasped in an idolatrous fit of fetishizing.

72 Comments

  1. mshedden wrote:

    Interesting point Halden. However I wonder if Pauline passages (Gal. 3:26) and those in John’s gospel (John 1:12) around adoption as children of God through Christ might allow for having some place for childrearing. Although I am not sure it proves anything it does raise interesting question of why becoming children of God is disconnected from sexuality.

    Friday, June 12, 2009 at 8:09 pm | Permalink
  2. Adam Kotsko wrote:

    The Gospel of John could be plausibly read as implying Jesus’s involvement in an erotic relationship with the “disciple he loved.” Think of the Last Supper scene — the disciple’s laying on Jesus’s chest, they’re whispering secrets to each other…. You can read more in the places I indicate here.

    Friday, June 12, 2009 at 8:38 pm | Permalink
  3. Halden wrote:

    I may get to those books at some point. Though, after spending the last two years studying Johannine scholarship, and the Gospel of John specifically, I think it’d be a pretty hard sell for me.

    Friday, June 12, 2009 at 8:48 pm | Permalink
  4. Halden wrote:

    I’m not saying there’s no place for childrearing, sex, or marriage. Just that none of these things tell us what it means to be human. Much in the same way that farming and having drinking buddies doesn’t.

    Also, I think the adoption metaphor is significant precisely in that it is entirely non-sexual in nature. It signifies the supremely non-natural and non-biological nature of the new humanity.

    Friday, June 12, 2009 at 8:50 pm | Permalink
  5. Theophilus wrote:

    But to carry this further, Jesus did use sexualized imagery – he makes many references to himself as the bridegroom, both explicitly and in his parables. This clearly reflects the OT language of God as husband and Israel as wife (cf. Hosea 1-3 and Ezekiel 16 & 23), which is echoed by the language of the church as the Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5, Revelation 19 & 21-22). Awareness of this parallel is no doubt important in the longstanding allegorical interpretation of Song of Songs to be a song of love between Christ and the Church (though I don’t think that’s the author’s intention at all).

    What this says is that while sexuality is not an “ultimate” in human existence, its function is revelatory – it provides a useful image to help us understand the relationship between God and his people. Therefore any Christian understanding of appropriate sexual practices must account for whether or not an activity reflects or violates the image of God’s loving his people, and them loving him in return.

    While most Westerners are in no danger of setting up childbearing as an “ultimate” in giving meaning to humanity, some have. The same rationale applies to childbearing – Jesus didn’t have children (he would have known he could not have fulfilled messianic prophecy if he had, cf. Isaiah 53:8) but uses parental language to describe God’s relationship with his people.

    Friday, June 12, 2009 at 9:28 pm | Permalink
  6. james wrote:

    A few responses strike me as possible:

    1)Jesus is the model for the divine for sure, but to what degree can we model our lives after that of Jesus? We have so little about the shape of that life except generalities like loving, self-giving, prays a lot and the like. Most of the particulars like sandals, tunics, wandering, and carpentry are trivial. You are left with a lot of biographical lacunae “Jesus didn’t marry”, “Jesus didn’t have sex”, “Jesus didn’t punch people”. How much normative weight should be given to such omissions? I’m not sure these ‘paltry biographies’ can carry this much ‘norms for humanity’ freight. These issues appear historically to have been handled by common sense and ‘the Scriptures’ before and after Christ for some time.

    2)Paul interestingly resorts to pointing to his own biography and Scripture when looking for human models to emulate (though Paul does mention the preincarnate Son as worthy of emulation but again its a generalized condescension or self-denial). In any case he doesn’t seem to find sex trivial, but one of the main issues of discipline and witness in his churches.

    3) If it is truly trivial, maybe sexuality was part of Jesus’ life. Perhaps he masturbated? He certainly lusted if Matthew 5 means what most think it does. Perhaps Dan Brown is right and he did marry, who cares really if it is so trivial? I think more likely he was an ascectic because you nearly had to be in order to be a more authentic prophet by the 1st century. He no doubt wanted people to rise above their more base animal instincts. He was therefore not sub-human but living out something somewhat super-human.

    4) Which makes one wonder if this isn’t just more sandals and carpentry, trivial views of Jesus to be seen as not revelatory in any significant way. Paul certainly has the same ascetic attitude to a degree but doesn’t base it explicitly on a philosophy of Jesus, but more likely the broader disdain for the animal urge. He doesn’t see it as normative for anyone else but rather again kind of superhuman. It is elitist spirituality really in just the way that Catholicism took it up. It led to shaming of sex of course. So this is essentially first century weirdness because…

    5) It is so out of sync with what we know of biology and it’s drive to reproduce/survive. This is basic to the preservation of all of life not just humanity of course. It is not some theological tangent. Unless one is comfortable with theology being entirely divorced from biology, it seems to make more theological sense to find some design or intention of God in the male/female duality and consequent reproduction as the Old and New testaments do with their dwelling on begetting, legitimacy, adoption, infertility, adultery. Sometimes this is metaphorical, of course, but still it is meaningful just because the biological process is so all-consumingly meaningful to homo sapiens. How could God be indifferent to the process which he apparently uses to create souls?

    6)Of course I also don’t believe you can pull pacifism as a model for humanity out of Jesus’ biography either which is why you need John the Baptist telling you how to be a good Roman soldier. I believe Jesus likely disobeyed his mother, hit his brothers, would have stoned a child rapist, and likely would have defended Jerusalem to the death in the 66-70AD war had he lived. The gospels tell us story much more relevant to knowing about God then the real and likely rather strange Jesus.

    7)More simply, Jesus is the exception not the rule. He tells us more of God than humanity.

    Friday, June 12, 2009 at 9:29 pm | Permalink
  7. Spencer wrote:

    Yes, Dan Brown aside, the humanity of Christ shows us that abstinence and celibacy are not inhuman life choices. However, to move from there to a blanket statement denying that sexuality tells us anything about the “authentic meaning of human existence” is unwarranted.

    Your more general claim would only follow from the more restricted one if it were also true that Christ’s celibacy was completely asexual and not a sublimation of otherwise present sexual faculties and urges. If Christ’s celibacy is more the latter, then our sexuality would tell us something about our humanity, though not necessarily only through actualization in intercourse.

    The New Testament data, as far as I can tell, remains silent the psychological question of Christ’s celibacy, at least directly. In the light of such direct silence, I submit that the affirmation of the Adamic anthropology of sex and marriage in Matt 19 (“from the beginning…”) urges us toward a “sexual celibacy” reading, without suggesting revisionist readings of Jesus’ sexual choices.

    Friday, June 12, 2009 at 9:39 pm | Permalink
  8. Halden wrote:

    James, I believe you are totally docetic. Esp re: #7.

    Friday, June 12, 2009 at 9:54 pm | Permalink
  9. Halden wrote:

    You’re right, Spencer. I should have been more clear. What I mean is that the marital relationship and genital sexual expression tell us nothing about what it means to be human. Marva Dawn’s excellent book, Sexual Character establishes very well the distinction between genital and social sexuality.

    So my argument is not against sexuality as such, but rather against the way in which sexuality has, in ubiquitous modern discourse come to mean genital sexual function and/or marriage.

    Friday, June 12, 2009 at 9:57 pm | Permalink
  10. Derek wrote:

    Halden,

    I appreciate your concern, but doesn’t Barth ground this differentiation within the Godhead? Charles Sherlock in his book “The Doctrine of Humanity” shows how for Barth this differentiation can be seen in both God & man in Gen 1:26-28, which is grounded in the dynamism within God himself. He summarizes Barth’s view with the following: “as God is no undifferentiated monad, but living and active, dynamic & personal, so is humankind: we are made for harmonius relationship.” If Sherlock is right, it seems we have to take Barth’s thoughts in III/1 & III/2 as paradigmatic for his comments in III/4.

    So, while maybe one could argue against an explicit Christological affirmation to self-differentiationin the life of Christ & consequently the significance of sexuality to understanding humanness, such a view has always had a home within a dynamic view of God, which would later become Trinitarian, which of course is also fundamentally a Christological one.

    I have more thoughts on this based on Sherlock’s reading, but am curious to see what you think about this first.

    Friday, June 12, 2009 at 9:58 pm | Permalink
  11. james wrote:

    It’s a bit odd to be called docetic when I am affirming the centrality of reproduction and ‘the genitals’ to the meaning of human of life, and when I am positing an unnarrated sexual life of Christ. I would argue for sexuality and reproduction being more central to theology.

    Wouldn’t the docetists have favored your view of sex being an irrelevant function as it pertains to human meaning? As though God didn’t intend it to be as biology has it? As if it were the work of the bad “creator God” I suppose and all the Adamic theology that goes with it?

    Friday, June 12, 2009 at 10:17 pm | Permalink
  12. Theophilus wrote:

    Maybe because your first complete sentence affirms the divinity but questions the (normative) humanity of Jesus?

    Friday, June 12, 2009 at 10:39 pm | Permalink
  13. Sarah wrote:

    While I definitely see where this can lead to a completely different discussion within parts of the Christian church around “marriage” between and man and a woman and sexual reproduction as a goal…

    On a side note…if there is any conversation about Christ as the fullness of humanity, he can never claim to be biologically a woman (i.e. never menstruated, could never give birth, etc). Not trying to get into any type of gender essentialism, but at least on the most basic biologically level, is distinctly not female.

    I have always wondered want this means for folks who identify as biologically female in considering Jesus as the ultimate example.

    Friday, June 12, 2009 at 10:44 pm | Permalink
  14. Brad E. wrote:

    I’m doing my best to remain open to your claims here, though at the very least they seem provocatively exclusive intentionally. As Spencer noted, and you affirmed, it’s not “sexuality” in general but genital sexuality that is in question. I’m still left wondering, however, if we must read Jesus’ non-participation in genital sexuality as automatically entailing a total lack of import regarding what it means to be human from the experience of participation in genital sexuality.

    First, is it appropriate to think of non-participatory sexuality as a vocation for Jesus in a way that it is not for all human living such that genital sexuality may still have import for humanness? I realize this argument does not apply to the rejection of violence (in agreement with Yoder), but Jesus’ rejection of violence is made explicit both in his teaching and in his actions; is rejection of or non-participation in genital sexuality?

    Second, while recognizing the need always to view the Christian witness to true humanness from the side of the resurrection — that is, through the true human Jesus Christ — and not from “creation” as if we know beforehand what that is…the new creation is exactly that: new creation. The split between what “was” and what “will be” does not seem to be as unbreachable in the New Testament as it is for recent theology. I guess all I mean is: When Jesus affirms the Genesis passage he seems to be affirming as continued teaching for ongoing human life what God intended: lifelong fidelity in marriage, which (I recognize I am assuming) entails genital sexuality, which in turn seems to “say” something about human life even in the Christian community.

    I’ll stop for now. A great post, and certainly thought-provoking. I 100% agree with the intent behind it — properly subordinating sex in the church as a witness to and against a sex-crazed culture. Just not sure I can go all the way with every claim.

    Friday, June 12, 2009 at 10:49 pm | Permalink
  15. james wrote:

    Well that seems a rather thin connection (disputing how this biography is ethically normative), considering we are contemplating in this post a Christ and Christian life which views biological reproduction as an apparent irrelevance to God. This is the true “theology without biology” and is by definition dead – to this world anyway.

    Friday, June 12, 2009 at 11:18 pm | Permalink
  16. Halden wrote:

    Brad, anyone who would go all the way with me on every claim is not someone I would be willing to trust for a second.

    Friday, June 12, 2009 at 11:42 pm | Permalink
  17. Halden wrote:

    Sorry dude, if you think Jesus was the “exception” not the rule, you don’t have the slightest bit of cred with me. Read some books.

    Friday, June 12, 2009 at 11:43 pm | Permalink
  18. I think you are taking some huge leaps here. I don’t want to spend hours writing a response about it, but I could think of more than a few reasons Jesus had for not marrying a woman without concluding that its simply unimportant. I think the safest of them is that Jesus IS married, or at least betrothed, to the Church. Hundreds of others have spilt ink on that topic, so I’m not going to develop it here.

    My understanding of marriage, and what makes it sacred, is that it is an experience that allows us to live into and understand, in a practical sense, what the abstract idea of marriage to God means. Scripture doesn’t devote a lot of effort developing that idea, and I believe thats because the authors had no expectation anyone needed to have it explained. The idea that marriage and raising children is an optional enterprise is a modern luxury. A first century audience would have found the question as to whether marriage was important to human experience an absurd one. Besides the practical realities, I think you can trace the necessity of the enterprise back to the first scriptural moment: In the sequence of God’s creation, at each step, he declares what he has created to be good. The first thing that is NOT good is “for man to be alone.” The rest, as they say, is history.

    My understanding of what it means to be human, first and foremost, is living into the experience of relationship with a Loving God. Jesus definitely modeled that. Attempting to claim that the very first archetypal relationship that God presented us as a means for understanding and experiencing Him to be inessential to human experience strikes me as rather comical.

    Friday, June 12, 2009 at 11:45 pm | Permalink
  19. bruce wrote:

    Something is wrong in the starting point, and it seems to me that it has something to do with the assumption that Christ’s relevance to human life is that of an archetype to be imitated. Surely the thing about Christ that is definitive for our humanity is his cross and resurrection and thus his cruciformity, because that’s what liberates us from our sin. If you start there your point is clear – sexuality or lack of it are irrelevant to this issue. Just as wearing sandles or doing carpentry is. So perhaps the point is that we need to find cruciform ways of wearing sandles and having sex (or is that cruciform ways of wearing sandles while having sex ;-) or doing whatever it is we are doing to bear witness.

    Friday, June 12, 2009 at 11:48 pm | Permalink
  20. Halden wrote:

    ” The idea that marriage and raising children is an optional enterprise is a modern luxury. A first century audience would have found the question as to whether marriage was important to human experience an absurd one.”

    Then I think you may have a problem with 1 Cor 7.

    And you don’t have to be married to be not alone.

    Friday, June 12, 2009 at 11:49 pm | Permalink
  21. Halden wrote:

    I don’t think we should dismiss imitating Christ. There’s just too much in the NT telling us to do just that. And as I noted above, 1 Cor 7 is also relevant here.

    But I totally agree about all the cruciformity stuff.

    Friday, June 12, 2009 at 11:50 pm | Permalink
  22. I think to the 1st century audience, 1 Cor 7:7 *WAS* absurd, hence Paul’s need to offer justification for those choosing not to marry. But even then, he makes it clear he is expressing his opinion and not establishing doctrine.

    You’re dismissing Eve’s creation too hastily. Prior to sin entering the world, there was exactly one thing that God found unsatisfactory: man’s solitude. This is fairly amazing. Adam has a perfect and unfettered relationship with God, and yet God sees it this as insufficient. At this point, God has a lot of options, but His solution was to create Eve, and order them to procreate.

    If you expect me to take your argument seriously, you need to deal with that.

    Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 12:03 am | Permalink
  23. Halden wrote:

    Well, Christ wasn’t married. Was he then “alone”? Was his existence “not good”? Again, I consider Christ rather than Adam to be my starting point for thinking about these things.

    Also I think your reading of Paul as just giving personal opinion doesn’t really hold up. When he says that “I not the Lord” say this or that, he’s not saying its optional, he’s just saying that Jesus didn’t personally speak to this issue.

    Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 12:05 am | Permalink
  24. Again, my stance is that Christ IS married, and regardless, I don’t see how the centrality of Christ provides license to dismiss 2000 years worth of Jewish scriptural understanding.

    I disagree with your interpretation of Paul, but I’m not going to pursue it.

    Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 12:13 am | Permalink
  25. Halden wrote:

    But from the standpoint of actual history, of Christ’s actual life lived among us, he was not married. Not in the sense that we marry one another as human beings. If the out here is that Christ was married, then we’re all already married too, since Christ’s bride is the church of which we are all a part.

    I think the creation narrative of Eve that you’re so centered on is rather easily understood, not as enshrining the essence of what it means to be human for every single person but simply of God’s desire for humanity to propagate itself. Of course all of this assumes an extremely literalistic interpretation of these passages, but even if we take that tack, of course God wanted humanity to multiply. But I see no reason, textual or theological to assume that this passage means all men are “alone” and living a “not good” existence until they are married. Such argumentation is utterly anachronistic. If I were the only person on earth that would indeed suck, but no one is in that (Adamic) position.

    As for the relation of the Old Testament to Christ, I just go with the NT stuff that claims that these things testify to him. If I’m going to err, I’m going to err on the side of Christ having hermeneutic priority over Adam. In Adam all die. In Christ all will be made alive.

    Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 12:21 am | Permalink
  26. Halden wrote:

    And make sure to keep up with the booze blogging. I’m getting the home bar well-stocked at last.

    Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 12:27 am | Permalink
  27. I was wondering how many replies it would take before my comment would just be a single vertical column of characters.

    I’m about to go to bed, but I’m going to leave a few more thoughts.

    I am not taking a literalist approach to the opening of Genesis. I think its a metaphorical account of creation, written well into the course of human history, by an author who understands that our own obsession with self-understanding points us to our origin when trying to establish a world view. And I think its some of the theologically richest prose in canon. There is a lot more going on than an obsolete command to populate. The entire concept of Shalom is constructed there.

    Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 12:33 am | Permalink
  28. Halden wrote:

    And I think that concept of Shalom is fulfilled and revolutionized in Christ’s apocalyptic recreation of the world, which is inaugurated and anticipated in the church. The community in which there is “no male and female” (a direct quotation of the Genesis passage, not always reflected in English translations) is the breaking in of this very shalom.

    Just so I’m clear, I have no interest in the solitary individual. Rather I don’t want the “thick” vision of shalom in the New Testament to be reduced to marriage and copulation, or for those things to be made the centerpiece of what human togetherness means.

    Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 12:38 am | Permalink
  29. Michael wrote:

    I love this. And might I add that this makes more sense out of the Christian tradition as a whole? In other words, our sex and marriage-crazed youth groups and ‘college and careers’ dating services are not actually normal features of the tradition, but created by the unique social and sexual pressures of modernity. Meanwhile, the unbroken witness of Christian celibacy and monasticism continues, at least in those churches that didn’t throw it out along with the abuses during the Reformation.

    Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 7:27 am | Permalink
  30. ccollinswinn wrote:

    Hi Halden,

    Great post! On the whole, I think I can do no other than to agree that genital sex does not define us as human beings, or even tell us something essential about what it means to be human. If, however, sexuality itself is left to us, as it would have been left to Christ, it does seem to me important that sexual differentiation tells us something about what it means to be human: radical openness to the “other” (I realize that a general moratorium has been called on this word, I’m hoping to slip it in under the wire!). Barth’s own discussion of Jesus as “man for other men” seems to me to come back around to the idea that what marks us as human is openness to the other, and since sexual differentiation doesn’t necessarily have to include genital sex, this would still be a part of Jesus’ experience. However, Ben’s argument for the role of friendship may perhaps be the better route to take on this regard, especially in our hyper-sexualized context. Even more, the deeper meaning of Adam’s covenantal declaration over Eve right after he sees her seems to me to be open to being frames along the lines of friendship.

    In all of this it strikes me that I am overly concerned with retaining sexuality or sexual differentiation as having some import. I’m not sure if this is a mark of modernity as Ben noted on his post, or if there is something deeper that worries me. What I mean is that I have a general underlying worry about whether or not we may be on the way to effacing the specifically female experience. One of the things that marked women’s experience in the ancient world was their sequestering to the private realm because of their association with sexuality and childbearing. Perhaps saying that sexuality doesn’t tell you anything (whether good or bad) about what it means to be human would be a good thing as it would remove any kind of negative associations. But given that our two exemplars are male (Adam or Christ), something rather worries me about this that I can’t yet put my finger on.

    Oh, and I would have to agree with you: adoption is a sign of the kingdom!

    Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 7:35 am | Permalink
  31. Brad E. wrote:

    Ah, come on! That was just an inarticulate way of ending my post without sounding like my disagreement is all or nothing, that you must be an idiot for saying what you did. I’m still wondering about the difference between Christ explicitly engaging in or rejecting a practice, and thus the normative reality of that presence or absence of said practice, and Christ happening to do or not to do something that does not have normative import for what it means to be human.

    I would want to say that Christ participated in genital sexuality by not doing so. By being a human being with genitals, and presumably by growing up through puberty as a male, he experienced what it meant to live as a human being capable of (and desiring) genital sexuality. That he did not marry and participate in it does not seem to me to imply or entail that genital sexuality therefore does not have import for what it means to be human.

    Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 7:36 am | Permalink
  32. Brad A. wrote:

    Halden, you’re claiming that “marriage, sex, and parenthood” are not essential to humanness, rooted in Jesus’ definitive human existence. I think you’re quite right on that fundamental point.

    However, I think your claim that “the marital relationship and genital sexual expression tell us nothing about what it means to be human” (in response to Spencer) is overstated. Certainly it does tell us something about being human, though it would not be exclusively definitive. I’d also abstain (no pun intended) from wording it such that “sexuality” is not essential. I think a reasonable argument can be made that sexuality is essential and that celibacy is a form and practice of sexuality that is at least on par, if not superior, to that of marital chastity. Moreover, one wonders what role a proper practice of sexuality has in emulating Trinitarian fellowship within human finitude. Also, if, indeed, sexual union within the context of marital commitment makes the two “one flesh,” I’d say there is something there worthy of note for humanness.

    Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 7:43 am | Permalink
  33. Spencer wrote:

    I am sympathetic to your concern about modern sex obsession, however I agree with some of those below who think you have overstated the case.

    It strikes me that there is a false dilemma here: either genital sexual expression gives us the ultimate meaning of humanity (the “last corner of transcendence” for the modern world) or it tells us absolutely nothing about it.

    However, if genital sexuality is one way of actualizing a more basic human sexuality, and if that more basic human sexuality DOES tell us something about the meaning of humanity in Christ, then it would seem to follow that genital sexuality is one way of exploring the meaning of humanness. Thus, there is a third possibility ignored in your presentation.

    That book looks good – I will check it out.

    Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 8:31 am | Permalink
  34. Adam Kotsko wrote:

    I’m talking about the Gospel of John, not the scholarship on it.

    Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 8:47 am | Permalink
  35. Pensans wrote:

    Sorry, dude but if you think Jesus’ wasn’t excceptional then you don’t know how to use language.

    Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 9:42 am | Permalink
  36. Halden wrote:

    Well ok, but now you’re defining genital sexuality in a very idiosyncratic way that isn’t how we normally think of it. What I’m saying is that since Jesus didn’t get married and have sex or have kids, we don’t have to do that either in order to be and live a fully human life.

    Is that really that controversial?

    Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 9:46 am | Permalink
  37. Halden wrote:

    Yes, I meant to say “definitive” or, as I belabored in my post “ultimate.”

    I think its much the same as I said somewhere above. Marriage and sex are like farming or having drinking buddies. Are they part of the human experience? Sure. But people who never do either of those things do not, therefore lack an essential part of their humanity.

    Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 9:48 am | Permalink
  38. Halden wrote:

    Oh, I read that a lot too.

    Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 9:49 am | Permalink
  39. Spencer wrote:

    Oops. Your conversation with Brad A. at the bottom already hit on all these points.

    Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 10:11 am | Permalink
  40. Thomas wrote:

    Jesus is in a sense the archetype of human behavior, as through him humanity is reunited with divinity, but this does not mean that we ought to do or be everything that he did or was in any simple sense. He was a man, and he claimed divinity for himself; with regard to the former, a woman cannot be expected to change her gender, and we are forbidden from doing the latter. The way in which we imitate Jesus in our own life often cannot and should not be a direct 1:1 correspondence of what he did; rather, we imitate through the sort of analogy that allows one to express the life of Christ in creative multiple forms while still staying true to Christ’s life–analogy has certain things that are forbidden, and can be better or worse.

    When you say that “marriage, sex, and parenthood tell us nothing whatsoever of ultimate significance about humanness”, your argument (it seems to me) rests on a crude “mirroring” of Jesus’ life, and ignores the way in which people are to become images of God. Christ chooses to speak of himself as married to the Church, and — if we are to trust traditional exegesis — the Song of Solomen chooses to speak of the life of the trinity as erotic, and again Christ speaks of himself as the Son in relation to the Father. If we are to take Christ’s life into our own, “analogizing” divinity as a creature must, our marriages will be icons of Christ’s relation to the Church, our sexual relations will be icons of Trinitarian love, and our relation to our parents and to our children will be icons of the relation between Christ and his Father.

    One is not, of course, obligated to be married (something that early advocates of asceticism spent a good deal of energy defending), but certainly does not mean that marriage or sexual activity tell us nothing of what it means to be human, or even nothing of what it means to be God; there are other ways of analogizing Christ that are acceptable, and of course there are other marital and sexual possibilities that wouldn’t qualify as analogies but would instead violate sexuality or marriage as an icon. The chaste life of a monastic is the obvious alternative, and has been sanctified by centuries of holy practice. However, this takes nothing away from the fact that marriage and sexuality have long been venerated as an icon of trinitarian relations or of Christ; that is, marriage has, in Scripture, Tradition, and Practice, long been regarded precisely as something that does tell us something essential about humanity (and of God), has occupied a very priviledged place as such, and even is a means of participating in the energies of God himself.

    This seems so obvious to me that I feel as though I might be missing something.

    Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 11:04 am | Permalink
  41. Hill wrote:

    Not sure how you missed it, then. It’s right in there.

    Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 11:46 am | Permalink
  42. Hill wrote:

    Probably reading your damn Protestant Bible.

    Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 11:46 am | Permalink
  43. Halden wrote:

    Ah, Hill I thought you had forsaken me…

    Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 11:48 am | Permalink
  44. Hill wrote:

    Dammit. You realize this means 3 more weeks in the hair shirt.

    Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 11:55 am | Permalink
  45. Halden wrote:

    I am your demon of acedia.

    Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 12:07 pm | Permalink
  46. Hill wrote:

    vade retro

    Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 12:11 pm | Permalink
  47. Yeah, I’ve got a slew of posts I’m gonna try to get up before I head to New Orleans in July.

    Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 3:45 pm | Permalink
  48. Brad E. wrote:

    Not at all. But isn’t that claim different from what you said in the post? I think there is a definite difference between “not having to have sex or children in order to be and live a fully human life” and “having sex or children in the context of marriage does not tell us anything about what it means to be human.”

    I would hope that singleness and marriage would both tell us something about what it means to be human that neither could communicate fully in themselves.

    Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 3:53 pm | Permalink
  49. Halden wrote:

    What I meant to say, which is why I kept repeating the thing about “ultimacy” is that genital sexual activity, marriage, kids, doesn’t tell us what it means to be human in any sort of full or ultimate sense.

    So its not that it says nothing about the human experience, its simply that it says nothing ultimate. Does that make sense?

    What I’m getting at is the notion that sex and marriage somehow express this ultimate truth about our humanity that we must discover or remain less than fully formed human beings. That sentiment is ubiquitous in the church.

    Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 3:59 pm | Permalink
  50. Brad E. wrote:

    That does make sense; and I agree.

    For all my protestations, it’s a profoundly needed point for the church today. Thanks for your post, Halden.

    Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 5:39 pm | Permalink
  51. roger flyer wrote:

    There’s something very provocative going on here. Halden, what helps you to think these things through at a deeper level than these bloggy pop-offs?

    Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 7:41 pm | Permalink
  52. Cornelius wrote:

    You need to respond to Sarah’s comment. Was there anything ultimate about being male because God chose male and not female? She probably asked it better than I.

    Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 7:42 pm | Permalink
  53. Brad E. wrote:

    That’s a great question.

    Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 8:08 pm | Permalink
  54. Brad E. wrote:

    And that’s a great question, too.

    Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 8:09 pm | Permalink
  55. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Roger,

    I’m not denying that Halden thinks at deep levels here, but I’m sure you’re aware of some very “deep” responses over at “Faith and Theology.”

    Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 8:09 pm | Permalink
  56. Halden wrote:

    I honestly don’t know in any definitive way the answer to this. And I totally see how its a difficulty. I know there is some good stuff out there on this question, but honestly I just haven’t gotten around to reading it yet.

    Sorry, I know that’s unsatisfying.

    The only thing that I think I can say in this connection is that I don’t think seeing Jesus as the fullness of humanity should be understood in a physical, or biological way. He obviously wasn’t the fullness of humanity in the sense that he exemplified every human biological reality in some perfect sense. And these instances could be multiplied. Jesus also didn’t have Down’s syndrome, wasn’t a conjoined twin, never aged past 30something, and wasn’t Native American.

    So, I think when we say that Jesus was the fullness of humanity, we are saying something more along the lines of that Jesus lived in relation to God and other human beings in a way that can only be described as the ultimate definition of what “humanity” means. That is to say, Jesus’s life was one of perfect and unbroken Love, of radical agape towards the one he called Father, and those he called friends. If we were going to find the definition of the fullness of humanity, I think we should perhaps start there.

    If we did start there, perhaps that would make some of the issues of particularity like gender, race, disability, etc. be seen as non-issues. At least in regard to the definition of a full human life. One can participate in the fullness of humanity–defined as Love–irrespective of these sorts of biological and social particularities. Indeed, it is precisely within these particularities that that Love takes form and breaks in the world through the Spirit.

    That’s just me taking a stab at this important question.

    Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 11:42 pm | Permalink
  57. Halden wrote:

    See above. I did my best.

    Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 11:42 pm | Permalink
  58. Halden wrote:

    Roger, are you asking something along the line of “How do we live this?”

    Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 11:43 pm | Permalink
  59. Halden wrote:

    Good points here, Christian.

    Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 11:45 pm | Permalink
  60. roger flyer wrote:

    No. I notice the proverbial ‘I meant to say’ in some of your ‘replies’ to readers’ responses.

    What I am asking is: What sort of things (beer? quiet reflective study, music? weekend at the Oregon Coast?) help you drill deeper before you post?

    And would you consider taking more time to drill down to the deep aquifer of your creative curiosity?

    Sunday, June 14, 2009 at 5:50 am | Permalink
  61. Anonymous wrote:

    Of course a man would say sex makes no difference. In one sense, I think it is appropriate to say that Jesus is the fullness of humanity; but, in another sense, it seems inappropriate if the sinful aspects of humanity are included in that archetype through the back door — e.g., patriarchy. Whether you intend to or not, you’re making patriarchy axiomatic for Christianity. You’ve baptized certain empirical particularities or historical data of the life of Jesus that are of importance for you (Jesus was single, unmarried, etc) and made these axiomatic of humanity itself by then appealing to theological lines of reasoning (humanity is in relation to God, etc), in order to cover over other particularities (e.g., Jesus was an Arab male who did certain things only men in his culture could do) and claim that particularities don’t matter. Effectively, your argument doublespeaks or performs a sexual sleight of hand in claiming to define humanity theologically but then divinizing certain empirical data (and not others) as capturing the theological essence of humanity. This kind of doublespeak, first of all, is logically inconsistent (one cannot appeal to particulars in order to dispense with all particularity), but secondly, it is ideological (the attempt to neutralize sexuality is just another veiled patriarchal move), and finally, gnostic. This latter point is actually the most crucial in my mind because human life as created life is all about particulars, especially the particulars that may seem most insignificant. Here is where I would want to appeal to something like Psalm 139 in order to describe the intimate particular relationship God has to all that God has made. If these kinds of particulars are deemed insignificant (sex, gender, social situation, age, etc), particularly in the life of Jesus, then what hope is there for redemption of human life (because, bear in mind, we also sin and participate in evil in very particular ways)?
    So yes, it does matter that Jesus was a particular man in a particular time and place with particular relationships to others–male and female–because this means that God has so identified with us in our particularity. At the same time, Jesus inhabited the particular structures of his particular time in such a way that his crucifixion, death, and resurrection “made a public spectacle of them” and disarmed those powers, including patriarchal power. This subversion does not evacuate particularity but transforms or sanctifies it so that those particulars which previously divided us (e.g. male and female) need no longer do so. Our differences remain in such a way that we may now love one another in those differences.

    Sunday, June 14, 2009 at 7:17 am | Permalink
  62. I think you’re sneaking historical particularities of the life of Jesus that the rest of the NT has nothing to say about in regards to the imitation of Christ. Being a servant and the cruciformity surely apply, but unless you want to appeal to some theological tradition (which I doubt), NT is not going to give you celibacy as an explicit form of imitation of Christ. In short, we need to not think that a Christological starting point consists of simply reading off the page of Scripture whatever historical particularities of Jesus in the gospels we find. Just as we would not advocate that all of Jesus’ historical particularity tells us something about God (i.e., God is NOT Jewish), neither can we do this by thinking that the historical particularity of Christ contains some implicit command of God.

    Monday, June 15, 2009 at 8:30 am | Permalink
  63. Halden wrote:

    But I’m not trying to derive any implicit commands from Jesus’s particularities. Rather all I’m making is the—quite simple and to my mind obvious—point that if Jesus lived a fully human life as a celibate single, it clearly follows that one need not be married in order to live a fully human life, a life that participates fully in what authentic “humanness” means.

    Monday, June 15, 2009 at 9:19 am | Permalink
  64. maufman wrote:

    Great post and discussion. I have four thoughts to add, for whatever they’re worth:

    1. In Jesus’s time, marriage was primarily about reproduction. Given the particular nature of his call, for Jesus to marry would necessarily mean he would knowingly leave a woman a widow, and their children fatherless. That reality alone explains Jesus’s decision to remain unmarried. When such a common-sense explanation exists, I’m hesitant to adopt a more profound interpretation, lest I use it to import my own prejudices into the Scriptures.

    2. To the extent Jesus’s decision to remain unmarried can be construed as part of his teaching, it would be a statement about what it meant to be married in his day– not today. From a liberationist perspective, for instance, Jesus’s decision could be seen as a rejection of 1st Century marriage as a domination-system that oppressed women; his rejection of divorce (as it existed then) fits nicely with this view. I don’t read Scripture that way, but it’s at least as valid as saying that Jesus chose to remain unmarried to set an example that’s relevant to us moderns.

    3. Jesus lived and taught in the context of a well-developed Jewish tradition. The Song of Songs is part of that tradition. If one concludes that “marriage, sex, and parenthood tell us nothing whatsoever of ultimate significance about humanness,” then one must explain the inclusion of Song of Songs in the canon– to say nothing of the numerous O.T. references to marriage, sex and parenthood. If Jesus wished to overturn Jewish tradition on such matters, he surely would have spoken more clearly on the topic.

    4. I join Halden in rejecting the view that “marriage, sex, and parenthood are somehow the fullness of humanity.” Such a view is contrary to Scripture and idolatrous, even if you think Jesus’s decision to remain unmarried is of the same import as sandals and carpentry.

    Monday, June 15, 2009 at 2:53 pm | Permalink
  65. Michael wrote:

    Although that Jesus died at 33 is, perhaps, a major problem with the analogy – what does Jesus’ fully human life tell us about living past 33 years? And what do we do with that?

    Monday, June 15, 2009 at 11:55 pm | Permalink
  66. Interesting discussion. You might want to check out the chapter “A Spirituality of Sexuality” in Ronald Rolheiser’s book, The Holy Longing. He defines sexuality a little more broadly than what most people take to mean (i.e., “genitality”). He says that “Sex is the energy inside of us that works incessantly against our being alone… Sex is a wide energy and we are healthily sexual when we have love, community, communion, family, friendship, affection, creativity, joy, delight, humor, and self-transcendence in our lives. … Sexuality is as much about having friends as it is about having lovers… It is about overcoming separateness by giving life and blessing it … giving oneself over to community, friendship, family, service, creativity, humor, delight and martyrdom so that, with God, we can help bring life into the world” (pp. 195-8).

    Tuesday, June 16, 2009 at 5:48 pm | Permalink
  67. Dave Belcher wrote:

    Given that your reply to Sarah’s query here was rather weak (I think you have admitted as much), and given that this next comment here by Anonymous follows it up with an even stronger challenge to your reading of sex (and on Christological grounds, as well), I think this one also deserves a response — your silence in my mind not only confirms that you are wrong about this issue, but seems to bespeak the ideological implications of your position that Anonymous here indicates.

    Wednesday, June 17, 2009 at 6:37 am | Permalink
  68. Hi,

    I’ve just written a semi-alternative take on this issue – http://thinkingblueguitars.wordpress.com/2009/06/18/penis-rings-you-may-why-sex-doesnt-matter/ – by considering it in terms of what Slavoj Žižek has defined as the postmodern superego: rather than the castrating ‘No!’ of the father, we now have the polar opposite ‘You may!’. This leads to a compulsion to consume, in which, in my opinion, sex plays an integral role. In this context,Rowan Williams’ quotation seems not only morally radical, but also politically so.

    Best wishes all,

    Daniel

    Thursday, June 18, 2009 at 7:21 am | Permalink
  69. Tom wrote:

    I lurk in the background. This is my first post.

    I think what Halden might be getting at can be expressed by the Eastern Orthodox emphasis on the difference between ‘person’ and ‘nature’. In the most basic of terms, ‘person’ is WHO you are, ‘nature’ is WHAT you are. The point is that only God can tell you WHO you are (in Christ, via the Spirit). Nothing whatsoever in the created order, not any contingent feature of nature per se (no ‘tropos’ or ‘way’ nature can be exercised; its form), can tell us WHO we are. And we can truly experience the fullness of personal identity and being in Christ without getting married, having sex, raising children, etc., just as Jesus did. And that’s an important point to make because the world is full of people who are trying to derive their true identity and meaning in the world (‘who’ they are) from how and when they exercise some natural capacity (from their marriage, their kids, occupation, etc.). But that’s not ‘personhood’.

    Sunday, June 21, 2009 at 1:19 am | Permalink
  70. Tony wrote:

    “Let us be absolutely clear on this point. If Christ is truly the fullness and definition of authentic humanity, we must say categorically that marriage, sex, and parenthood tell us nothing whatsoever of ultimate significance about humanness.”

    This is so wrong on various counts, chief of which is that “fullness” is once again straight-jacketed to mean “exclusivity”, a clear case of Christomonism… A Christology divorced from a theology of creation, or a Christology that does not engage a theology of creation is bound to produce such conclusions as “marriage, sex and parenthood tell us nothing whatsoever of ultimate significance about humannes.” Perhaps Halden could define what he means by “ultimate significance” here? Does this mean that what is of “ultimate significance” leaves all those that are of “relative significance” so far behind that they become unreal? What happens to theological language, given this presupposition? If we follow Halden, should we not then eject and reject all talk of God as “Father,” of Jesus Christ as “the Son” or the “bridgroom” and all the metaphors and symbols used of God and the Church… Should we not rather say that Christ does not so much reject these categories (they are after all biblical and theological as well) as reframe them? Perhaps, what we have here then is too much dialectic frightened by any theological use of analogy…

    Sunday, June 21, 2009 at 2:16 am | Permalink
  71. Kate B. wrote:

    You all have my thanks for posting.

    I too have been lurking in the background.

    A thought:
    Sarah’s point remains important and interesting at least to me for two reasons.

    1) The assumption of an eternally and essentially dualistic (male/female) universe (the associations with this dualism are left unsaid) – in other words, does the new creation continue in dualized fashion (male/female, somehow substantially different), or is there some sort of radical unity EVEN in difference that transcends/transforms old differences in a new way? Also, what about now? If, as I would imagine most would agree, the church serves as a present foretaste of the reality to come (when it comes in all its fullness), then questions about how that reality can be presented are extremely important. I appreciated the divinization thinking here. Obviously, Galatians 3:28 comes to mind. I’ve been playing with that idea for awhile now, particularly after reading Zizioulas’ Being as Communion. This idea seems to suggest/state that ultimately the dualism between human and divine themselves may be transformed in radical love/unity… interesting, no?

    2) I sense that, at least for myself, what is most problematic about the dualistic scheme is the hierarchical valuation that seems to (and has historically, pervasively) place the female as second and therefore secondary. The reality of the situation is that sexuality and gender both matter significantly for life as we know it (aka, experience it and our attempts to talk about it). I would agree that each individual’s perspective is unique, based on biological/sociological factors. That’s not the point. The point is one of value, and that, I imagine, is where the power/hierarchy questions come into play. Not to boil it down prematurely or simplistically… that’s just what I’m interested in here… :)

    I’d very much like to take seriously the tension of our continued existence in human bodies, which are gendered and sexed (socially constructed and physiologically differentiated, which should not, as a side point, probably be too carefully distinguished. They flow into each other mutually), and our expectations in the new creation. In other words, we have several historical options that people struggling with this and related issues have chosen (indeed, nearly all in related somehow, but that’s not the point), asceticism and sexual renunciation among them (which as someone above mentioned, is not asexuality but a particularly type of sexuality). One particular example (perhaps the Etiorites? – see Peter Brown’s SEXUAL RENUNCIATION) included a sect that taught that a way to overthrow the principalities/powers of Rome was by refusing to procreate and thus participate in the political and social order of the Roman polity. Very apocalyptic in a way, though it was deemed heretical.

    I’m getting off point. I’ll conclude with this: Thanks for the EXTREMELY interesting thoughts and for letting me speak, even if it’s on areas that you may not be particularly interested in. I appreciate your desire to re-balance things, and I certainly believe this could preach well. It certainly needs some continued wrestling, as do most thoughts. Grace and peace to all! :)

    Tuesday, June 23, 2009 at 7:21 am | Permalink
  72. Charlie wrote:

    I’m just considering this for the first time so pardon me if someone responded comparably above or there is a tome on the subject.

    I agree–Jesus is fully human and displays humanity in an archetypal way. But two thoughts for consideration:

    Must arche-typal be the same as pan-typal? That is, must the archetype contain all the diversity that corresponding types can have? Must Jesus’ humanity correspond with all the variations? (This isn’t a new idea. In a sense, Irenaeus had this idea when he argued that Jesus must have died later in life so that he could identify with all of life stages.) Perhaps, this also ties into a tendency to view the prelapsarian state of Adam as homogenous. Perhaps Jesus is the Second Adam–pre-Eve. (I’m sounding like one of those “pre-mill, post-trib” e-scatologians now.)

    Second, Barth also talks in this same part (III.4) of finiteness or “limitation” as being central to what it means to be human. In this regard, then, Jesus, as being fully human, could only be the person that he was at that point in time following the will of the Father. For him, then, being fully human meant doing what he did in obedience to the Father’s will and this meant not being married, having children… This then, would support your point that these aspects are not central (dare we say essential?) to being human. And that being fully human consists in living with the freedom of their limitations in accordance to the will of the Creator.

    For some this would be unmarried and childless… [BTW: if this were true, it would also help with another obsession within some Christian communions. That is married women who are distraught and driven to radical measures when they are not able to have children for biological reasons.]

    On the other hand, there are most certainly those who live within their person-al limitations who are called to marriage and children–perhaps through natural sexual drive or need for companionship. For these, then, to be truly human must involve marriage and bearing children.

    As one who is married and a father of three, I confess there are times when I raise my fist against God and say “Why couldn’t you have called me to the free-swinging bachelor’s life?” Sometimes this is spurred by my own evil inclinations to not live in the freedom of my own limitations. But other times it is because I’m hearing more and more comments in my local church about the superiority of being a single Christian over the ball-and-chain reality of having a family.

    The pendulum is swinging, as rightly it ought. I have a dream…of a day when my children are judged (at church) not by the reality of the particular person they were created to be (color of skin, marital status…) but by the degree of joy they have within the limitation of their humanity by following the call of their Creator.

    Thursday, June 25, 2009 at 8:36 am | Permalink

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