Why the Bible does talk about homosexuality… and what it says.

In the first article in the ViaMedia.News series ‘Does the Bible Really Say….?’, Dr Jonathan Tallon considers the question ‘Does the Bible Really Say…Anything at All about Homosexuality as we Understand it Today?’[1]

Dr Tallon’s argument.

Dr Tallon notes that there are passages in the New Testament that might appear to show that the Bible clearly prohibits homosexual activity. He writes:

‘… you open your Bible and are reading 1 Corinthians 6:9, and see a reference to ‘homosexual offenders’ (NIV) or ‘homosexual perverts’ (GNB). You read Romans 1:27, and note the reference to ‘men committing indecent acts with other men’. And it seems that the plain meaning of Scripture is staring you in the face.

Maybe you’d like it to be otherwise. Maybe you don’t understand what’s so wrong. But it appears to be the plain meaning of Scripture. The Bible appears to say that being homosexual – gay or lesbian – is not OK.’

However, Dr Tallon then goes on to argue that this reading of Scripture is mistaken because it is in fact misleading to use the modern term ‘homosexuality’ when talking about what is said in the New Testament.

He gives three reasons why this is the case.

First. when we use the term ‘homosexual’ we mean someone who has a sexual orientation to a member of their own sex. By contract ‘the ancient world was generally uninterested in questions of orientation, but much more concerned with questions of action.’

Secondly, in the ancient world ‘there was no term for ‘homosexual’. Terms used defined who was the active, dominant person and who was classed as the passive, submissive participant.’

Thirdly, if anyone referred to an adult male having sex with another male (as in Romans 1:27) the assumption would not be that that male was another adult:

‘…. the natural assumption would be that the males were boys. Other assumptions would include that no equal relationship was involved, and that the boy would be humiliated. But what would not be assumed is that the adult only had intercourse with boys; the listener would expect the man also to have intercourse with women (slaves and prostitutes) and also would assume that the man was married (or would be married in the future).’

What this all means is that our idea of consenting sex between two adults with orientation towards a member of their own sex cannot be read back into the New Testament.

Dr Tallon’s overall conclusion is that:

‘In our modern world, ‘homosexuality’ might conjure up images of loving couples of the same gender in long term relationships. However, the world of the New Testament had no word for ‘homosexuality’ and precious little visibility of anything like our image today. For the ancient world, male-male sex meant pederasty, it meant abuse, it meant rape, it was something married men did, and it often involved slaves or prostitutes or slave prostitutes. Do condemnations of that mean that we have to condemn loving, faithful relationships now? What is clear, however, is that the Bible doesn’t really say anything at all about homosexuality as we understand it today.’

The problems with Dr Tallon’s argument.

Dr Tallon’s argument is a re-presentation of an argument previously put forward by Robin Scroggs [2] that same-sex activity in the first century and homosexuality today are two different phenomena and that therefore we cannot apply the New Testament’s rejection of the former to loving, committed homosexual relationships today.

The argument goes like this.

  • Homosexuality today means loving couples in long term relationships;
  • Same sex-relationships in New Testament times meant married men engaging in violently abusive pederasty
  • Therefore, when the New Testament condemns the latter it is not talking about homosexuality as we know it today.

There are three major problems with this argument.

Homosexuality in the ancient world and today.

The first problem with this argument is that it misrepresents both the nature of homosexuality today and the nature of same-sex activity in the ancient world.

The reason it misrepresent the nature of homosexuality today is that the definition of a homosexual is someone who is ‘sexually attracted to someone of their own sex.’[3]  Homosexuality is the same-sex sexual activity engaged in by such a person and (as in the case of heterosexual sexual activity) this can take many different forms. Loving monogamous same-sex relationships are one form, but they are not the only form that exists today. There are also open relationships, serial relationships and casual one night stands, sexual activity involving pederasty, abusive sexual activity and sexual activity involving prostitution and even sex slavery. There are also married men (and women) who engage in homosexual sexual activity.

The reason it misrepresents the nature same-sex activity in the ancient world is that it fails to acknowledge the evidence we have that a wide range of different forms of same-sex sexual activity were also known about in the ancient world. This is a point that is made by Mark Smith in his 1996 article ‘Ancient Bisexuality and the interpretation of Romans 1:26-27’ in which he rebuts the argument of Scroggs. [4]

Smith notes that in addition to relationships between men and boys there are also examples from the ancient world of relationships between young adult males, between adult males of unequal age, between adult males of roughly equal age, between adult males who alternated in the roles of ‘lover’ and ‘beloved,’ and between bisexuals and members of both the same and the opposite sex, with many of these relationships being characterized as stable and long lasting and even as lifelong ‘marriages.’

In addition, there were also female same-sex relationships, which were often relationships of mutual consent in which there was no distinction between those playing the active or passive role, no distinction of age between the women involved and no question of exploitation.[5]

What the evidence cited by Smith indicates is that the forms of same-sex relationships that were known in the ancient world were actually fundamentally similar to those known today. Male pederasty was not the only thing that was known about and in fact there was ‘a decline in the prominence of pederasty in the last three centuries preceding Paul.’

The prominent pro-gay Church historian John Boswell has written that an:

‘… equally distorting and even more seductive danger for the historian is posed by the tendency to exaggerate the differences between homosexuality in previous societies and modern ones. One example of this is the common idea that gay relationships in the ancient world differed from their modern counterparts in that they always involved persons of different ages; an older man (the lover) and a young boy (the beloved).’

Like Smith he argues that there is plenty of evidence that same-sex relationships between adult males (such as Parmenides and Zenon who were sixty five and forty) were both common and known about in the ancient world. [6]

What this means is that the idea that the New Testament must have been referring to pederasty because this was the only thing people knew about is unsustainable.

The New Testament references to same-sex sexual activity

Secondly, there is no evidence to support the argument that when the New Testament refers to same-sex sexual activity it is only, or primarily, pederasty that is in view.

There are two types of reference to same-sex sexual activity in the New Testament.

The first is the references to porneia in texts such as Mark 7:21, Acts 15:20, 1 Corinthians 6:18 and Galatians 5:19. Porneia was a comprehensive term which was used to refer to all sexual acts outside of heterosexual marriage[7] and therefore in telling Christians to ‘shun porneia’ (1 Corinthians 6:18) the New Testament declares all forms of same-sex sexual activity (and not just pederasty) off limits.

The second is the specific references to same-sex sexual activity in Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Timothy 1:10 and Jude7.  These texts take a strongly negative view of both female and male same-sex sexual activity (Romans 1:26-27, 1 Timothy 1:10), of both passive and active male same-sex activity (1 Corinthians 6:9) and of homosexual lust (Jude 7). What none of these texts do, however, is refer specifically to pederasty.in the way that, for instance, the Jewish writer Philo does. The specific vocabulary used to describe pederasty is not used in these texts. [8]

In Romans 1:27 Paul’s use of the ‘males’ is not, as Dr Tallon suggests, a reference to pederasty. Rather, like the reference to ‘females’ in the previous verse, it is an intertextual reference back to Genesis 1:26-28. What Paul is saying is that same-sexual relations are an example of the males and females created by God to be his image bearers acting in a way that both nature and Scripture show is contrary to the way they were created to act. Human beings were created by God to have sexual intercourse within marriage with the members of the opposite sex and by this means to ‘be fruitful and multiply.’ Same-sex sex involves a turning away from this calling.[9]

The reasons why the New Testament takes a negative view of same-sex sexual relationships.

Thirdly, the theological reasons why the New Testament rejects same-sex sexual activity apply to all forms of such activity (in both the ancient world and today) and not just to pederasty. The criteria applied in the New Testament to sexual relationships are whether such relationships are in accordance with the order of things established by God at creation (as recorded in Genesis 1 and 2) and whether they are in accordance with the law God subsequently gave to Israel as a reflection of that order.

The reason the New Testament takes a negative view of all same-sex sexual relationships is that they fail on both counts. They go against the created order put in place by God (Romans 1:26–27) and they are contrary to the Ten Commandments and the teaching of Leviticus 18 and 20 (1 Corinthians 6:9–11, 1 Timothy 1:10). For the New Testament writers therefore the question of whether or not a same-sex sexual relationship is a committed and loving one is theologically irrelevant, in the same way it would be in the case of an incestuous or adulterous relationship. For them, all such relationships are inherently wrong in all circumstances by dint of the very fact that they involve sexual activity between those of the same sex.

Conclusion.

As we have seen, homosexuality means sexual activity between two persons of the same sex. Such activity existed in New Testament times just as it does today, and, just like today, it existed in a variety of forms. We can therefore rightly say that homosexuality existed in New Testament times.

What we can equally rightly say is that all forms of homosexuality are both referred to and rejected by the writers of the New Testament, both implicitly in their references to porneia and explicitly in their specific  references to particular forms of homosexual activity.

Therefore the answer to the question ‘‘Does the Bible Really Say…Anything at All about Homosexuality as we Understand it Today?’ is ‘Yes, it does. It says that homosexual practice is wrong. It is against creation and the law of God.’

[1] Jonathan Tallon, ‘Does the Bible Really Say…Anything at All about Homosexuality as we Understand it Today?, 17 May 2019 at https://viamedia.news/2019/05/17/does-the-bible-really-say-anything-at-all-about-homosexuality-as-we-understand-it-today/

[2] Robin Scroggs, The New Testament and Homosexuality: Contextual Background for Contemporary Debate (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983).

[3] ‘Homosexual,’  The New Oxford Dictionary of English  (Oxford: OUP, 1998) p.879.

[4] Mark Smith, ‘Ancient Bisexuality and the interpretation of Romans 1:26-27’ (Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 64, 1996), pp 223-256.

[5] For lesbianism in the ancient world see Bernadette Brooten, Love Between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1996).

[6] John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,1980), p.28.

[7] See James Moulton and George Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament Illustrated from the Papyri and Other Non-Literary Sources (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), s.v. ‘porneia’, H. Reisser, “Porneuō,” in Colin Brown (ed.), The New International Dictionary of the New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975) 1:499 and John Nolland, ‘Sexual Ethics and the Jesus of the Gospels,’ (Anvil, Vol26:1, 2009) , pp. 21-30.

[8] For an overview of the interpretation of these texts see Martin Davie, Studies on the Bible and same-sex relationships since 2003 (Malton: Gilead Books/CEEC, 2015).

[9] For the intertextual echoes of Genesis 1 in Romans 1 see Robert Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001), pp.289-293 and Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone: Romans Part 1:  Chapters 1-8, (London: SPCK: 2004), pp.20-24.

Why creation is ‘straight.’

In the latest essay in the ViaMedia.News series ‘Does the Bible Really Say…?’, Dr Simon Taylor looks at the question ‘Does the Bible Does the Bible Really Say…that Creation is Straight?’[1]

Dr Taylor’s argument.

In the introductory paragraphs to his essay Dr Taylor explains that the idea that ‘creation is straight’ is his shorthand for the ‘complementarian’ understanding of creation ‘in which human beings are made and meant to be male and female.’

Dr Taylor then further explains that he is ‘far from convinced that this is the right way to be reading Scripture’ and that in his essay he is going to ‘look at some key Biblical texts and then to see if a larger Biblical vision might be offered.’

The three biblical texts that he looks at are Genesis 1:27-28, Genesis 2:18-24 and Matthew 19:3-9.

Genesis 1:27-28.

On Genesis 1:27-28 Dr Taylor notes that:

‘A complementarian reading of this passage attends carefully to the way in which the image of God structures humanity as male and female.  Combined with the injunction to procreation, this is then taken to require heterosexual relationships.’

He then identifies three ‘serious difficulties with this approach’:

‘First, it is in danger of requiring couplings of male and female in order to display the image of God.  What then do we have to say for single people?’

Second, it takes the command to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ as a command for every couple, rather than for the species as a whole.  What then of the childless, the elderly and the infertile?

Third, it loses the way the passage insists that the image of God is seen in women as well as in men. This has not, through the history of humanity and the history of the Church, been something seen as obvious.  Sexual relationships have been constituted as expressions of male power, underwritten by a male God.  Genesis 1.27-28 begs to differ.’

Genesis 2:18-24.

On Genesis 2:18-24 Dr Taylor comments that this text: ‘… has also been taken to support a complementarian account of human relationships.  The ‘one flesh’ that derives from marriage is taken to require a man and a woman.’ As before, he identifies three problems with this complementarian reading:

‘First, the ‘one flesh’ that Genesis 2.24 speaks about is an expression of kinship, not of sexual relations.  ‘One flesh’ could be polygamous, and often is in the Old Testament.  Despite this being the ‘go-to text’ for monogamy, the marriage envisioned is not simply the pairing of a man and a woman.

Second, the order in which the man and woman are created has been taken to imply the subordination of women, 1 Timothy 2.11-15 being a prime example.  Yet we have already seen that Genesis 1.27-28 is seeking to deny such subordination.

Third, Genesis 2.24 needs to be read as part of the whole story, which begins at verse 18.  To read the final verse in isolation misses the whole point of the story.

In the story of Genesis 2, God creates the animals so that the ‘man’ (adam), the first human person, should not be alone. As the first human names the animals, none is found to be a helper and partner. But there is a real sense that they might have been.  Then God creates woman from the flesh of the first human.  Again, the human names the creature woman (‘ishah) and names himself man (‘ish).

The force of the story is on the consent of the person, and the delight of the man in the woman.  Consent and delight are what structures this story.  Gareth Moore writes of “the final bankruptcy of the compulsory heterosexuality interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve.  Not only does it misrepresent God as one who imposes his will regardless of human delight, but … it completely undermines the dynamic that leads to the creation of Eve.’’ [2]

Matthew 19:3-9.

On Matthew 19:3-9 Dr Taylor explains that those who take a complementarian position hold that these verses give:

‘…. the authority of Jesus to their interpretations of Genesis, and does so clearly in a discussion about marriage.  When Jesus speaks of marriage, they argue, he does so in a complementarian model of male and female.’

However, as he sees it:

‘….nothing in this passage that changes the force of the readings I have offered of the two Genesis passages.  Indeed, I would be happy to see Jesus reinforcing the assertion of Genesis 1 that women are fully human, and the assertions of Genesis 2 that consent and joy are at the heart of all human relationships.  Nothing that Jesus says in Matthew’s account need be understood as requiring a complementarian account of human beings.’

A larger biblical vision.

In the final section of his paper, in which he sets out a ‘larger biblical vision’ he criticises N T Wright’s view that the Bible is

‘an entire narrative which works with this complementarity so that a male-plus-female marriage is a signpost or a signal about the goodness of the original creation and God’s intention for the eventual new heavens and new earth.’ [3]

He comments that his readings of the three biblical passages he has looked at explain why he thinks Wright is wrong to read the Bible as saying that humans are created to be ‘male-plus-female’ and then notes that passages such as Isaiah 62:4-5 and Revelation 19:6-9 which link marriage and the new creation describe God’s people as ‘female, as a bride.’

This last point is significant, argues Dr Taylor, because:

‘If we read from the Scriptures to the people of God without any further thought or insight, we might find ourselves requiring all God’s people to be female.  Rather than arguing about whether women can take leadership roles in the Church, or whether we can have women bishops, we might find we need books and articles explaining why men can be Christians at all.  The image of the bride is gendered.

Yet I am not aware of any theologian or interpreter of the Bible that has taken that image as determining the gender of individuals within the people of God.  Even if the creation narratives do speak of a complementary relationship between male and female at the heart of creation, it is a quite different theological move to require such a relationship of every individual person or couple within God’s people.’

To put it simply, just as Isaiah and Revelation don’t require all God’s people to be female so also the creation narratives do not require everyone to be in a relationship with someone of the opposite sex.

A better approach to reading the Bible, Dr Taylor suggests, is to start from Ephesians 2:13-22. This passage tells us that:

‘At the heart of God’s purposes is the bringing together of all things and all people, however far off they may once have seemed.  The death of Christ brings everyone into one new humanity, putting hostility to death.  All are reconciled to God in one body, and no one is a stranger or an alien, but citizens and saints.’

The picture given in this passage, he writes:

‘… is one of the fullness of God and of creation, with all things reconciled and built together into a place where God can live.  There is difference, but it is reconciled, no longer requiring hostility between different groups.  And there is a wide range of difference that has been reconciled: male and female, Jew and gentile, married and single, different races and nations, people of different sexualities and different gender identities.’

Dr Taylor’s final conclusion is that:

‘The Bible calls us to a bigger and fuller vision of God and his creation.  But that vision is not structured by human relationships, but by Christ in whom ‘the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God’ (Ephesians 2.21-22).

Complementarian readings of Scripture are in danger of getting this the wrong way round, which results in structuring Christ around human relationships.  To limit the Biblical vision to a simple ‘male-plus-female’ is to limit the creative and reconciling power of God.

Creation is not straight, it is full of difference, all of which is reconciled into one new humanity through Jesus.’

What are we to make of Dr Taylor’s argument?

Genesis 1:27-28

Looking at Genesis 1:27-28 first of all, the text clearly does say that God structured humanity as male and female: ‘So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and  female he created them’ (Genesis 1:27, the same point is repeated in Genesis 5:1-2). It also clearly links the way that God has structured humanity as male and female to the command to ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ (Genesis 1:28). It is because human beings are male and female that they can be commanded to be fruitful and multiply. Sex (as in the difference between male and female) and sex (as in the act of sexual intercourse leading to the procreation of children) go together.

However, this does not mean that single people are not made in the image of God. Someone is made in the image of God as a male or female human being, not as part of married couple. Genesis 1 does not suggest that people becomes God’s image bearers only when they get married.

The command to be fruitful and multiply is a command to human beings in general, and obeying this command is an integral part of what marriage is about. As the Christian tradition has always insisted, the procreation of children is a central part of what marriage is for. To use the traditional language, it is one of the ‘goods’ of marriage. We can see this in Genesis 2-5 where Adam and Eve are brought together by God in the first marriage and it is in this God given context that they then obey the command to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 4:1, 2, 25, 5:3).

However, this does not mean that childless couples, or those incapable of having children, are not truly married. The key questions about childless marriages are (a) whether their form of relationship is one that would have led to children being born in the absence of accidental factors such as age or infirmity, and (b) whether the couple would welcome any children granted to them by God as a result of their union? If the answer to both questions was ‘yes’ then a childless marriage would fall within the scope God’s intentions for marriage. The couple would be seeking to live as God has ordained. That is why in the Bible the childless marriages of Abram and Sarai (Genesis 12:2, 18:11) and Zechariah and Elizabeth (Luke 1:7) are still described as marriages.

Dr Taylor’s last point, that a complementarian reading of Genesis 1 loses sight of the fact that the text says that women are made in the image of God just as much as men, is completely baffling. Why would the claim that Genesis 1 says that God created human beings as male and female and that fulfilling the command to be fruitful and multiply requires relationships between men and woman imply that women are not made in God’s image?  This simply does not follow.

It may indeed be the case that historically sexual relationships have been viewed in terms of the exercise of male power, as Dr Taylor says, but there is nothing in a complementarian reading of Genesis 1 that leads to this view.

Genesis 2:18-24

The first point to make in regard to Dr Taylor’s reading of this text is that he is mistaken when he argues that ‘one flesh’ implies kinship rather than a sexual relationship. Flesh is used in Scripture to mean kinship, but in Genesis 2 the reference to ‘one flesh’ in 2:24 references back to the statement by Adam in the previous verse following the creation of Eve: ‘this at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.’ The one flesh union between a man a woman in marriage is seen In Genesis as the coming together of the two separate halves of the human race (the two elements of human flesh) in a sexual union that will enable procreation and thus the fulfilment of the command to ‘be fruitful and multiply.’

Furthermore, the relationship envisaged in Genesis 2:24 is monogamous rather than polygamous. The paradigmatic relationship ordained by God between Adam and Eve is a monogamous one and in similar fashion in Genesis 2:24 a man ‘cleaves to his wife’ not ‘wives.’ Polygamy does not come into the picture until we get the story of Lamech in Genesis 4:17-24 in which Lamech having multiple wives is a demonstration of the spreading effects of sin after the fall.

Secondly, there is not, as he seems to suggest, a link between a belief that ‘one flesh’ refers to a sexual union between a man and a woman and a belief that women are (or should be) subordinate to men. The two beliefs are entirely distinct, which is why numerous Christians who take an egalitarian view of the relationship between women and men continue to understand ‘one flesh’ in a traditional way.

It should also be noted that holding that there is a God given order in the relationship between men and women does not mean holding that women are not equal in their humanity to men. Thus Geoffrey Bromiley comments on Genesis 2:

‘The male has a certain priority in this relation, for the woman is taken from the man and not the other way round. Yet priority is not the point of the story. The equal humanity which is needed for full companionship takes precedence. As in the Trinity the Father, as the fount of deity, has a certain precedence over the Son and the Spirit, yet all are equally God in eternal interrelation, so it is with man and woman in the fellowship which God has purposed and created.’[4]

Thirdly, it is simply not the case, as Dr Taylor argues following Gareth Moore, that the text implies that the animals ‘might have been’ a suitable partner for Adam and that what makes the difference with Eve is simply that Adam delights in her rather than them.

Dr Taylor is correct to say that Genesis 2:24 needs to be read in the light of the whole section consisting of verses 18-24. However, what he fails to acknowledge is that Genesis 2 needs to be read in the light of Genesis 1:26-28. In terms of the literary structure of Genesis, Genesis 2 is narrative commentary on what is said in Genesis 1 about God creating humanity as male and female.  Genesis 2 is a story that explains why human beings need to both male and female.

The key statement in the story is God’s statement in v 18 ‘I will make a helper fit for him.’ As Ian Paul notes, the Hebrew word kenegdo translated ‘fit for him’ in the RSV: ‘…has the sense of equal but opposite; it is the kind of phrase you might use to describe the opposite bank of a river, combining both the sense of equality and difference and distinctiveness.’ [5]

In Genesis 2:20 we are told none of the non-human creatures surveyed by Adam were a suitable helper because they were ‘not fit for him.’ They did not meet the criteria of being equal yet distinct. The reason Eve does then fit the bill (and the reason Adam delights in her) is that she is equal as another human being (‘flesh of my flesh, bone of my bones’) but different in that she is a woman rather than another man.

The story is indeed about ‘consent and delight’ but it is consent and delight to God’s good ordering of humanity as male and female.

Matthew 19:3-9.

Dr Taylor once more misses the point of biblical text in his account of Matthew 19:3-9. The text is not about Jesus affirming that ‘women are fully human’ or that ‘consent and joy are at the heart of all human relationships.’ What the text is about is Jesus affirming that God created human beings as male and female, that he created marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman, and that because a married couple are joined together by God human beings should not break their marriage apart.

Contrary to what Dr Taylor asserts, what Jesus gives us in Matthew 19 is a ‘complementarian account of human beings’ since it affirms that ‘human beings are made and meant to be male and female.’

A larger biblical vision.

Dr Taylor’s response to NT Wright is unsatisfactory in two ways.

First, as we have seen, nothing that Dr Taylor has said has called into question the correctness of Wright’s claim that the biblical narrative works on the basis of a God-given complementarity of ‘male-plus-female.’

As the American writer Michael Brown notes ‘the Bible is a heterosexual book’:

  • Every single reference to marriage in the entire Bible speaks of heterosexual unions, without exception, to the point that a Hebrew idiom for marriage is for a man to ‘take a wife.’
  • Every warning to men about sexual purity presupposes heterosexuality, with a married man often warned not to lust after another woman.
  • Every discussion about family order and structure speaks explicitly in heterosexual terms, referring to husbands and wives, fathers and mothers.
  • Every law or instruction given to children presupposes heterosexuality, as children are urged to heed, or obey, or follow, the counsel or example of their father and mother.
  • Every parable, illustration, or metaphor having to do with marriage is presented in exclusively heterosexual terms.
  • In the Old Testament God depicts His relationship with Israel as that of a groom and a bride; in the New Testament the image shift to the marital union of husband and wife as a picture of Christ and the church.
  • Since there was no such thing as in vitro fertilization and the like in biblical times. the only parents were heterosexual (it still takes a man and woman to produce a child) , and there is not a hint of homosexual couples adopting children. [6]

Secondly, Dr Taylor is wrong in conflating the two issues of the metaphorical use of the term ‘bride’ or ‘wife’ to refer to the relationship between God and his people and the issue of whether the complementarity between male and female has to extend to every human relationship.

Because the use of the terms ‘bride’ and ‘wife’ are metaphorical it does not follow that every member of the Church has to be female (any more than the use of the metaphor ‘shepherd’ for God means that all members of the Church are sheep). However, the way that God has created the world, to which the Bible bears witness, does mean that every human being needs to be in some form of relationship with members of the opposite sex, and that marriage (and hence sexual relations) should be between a man and a woman.

The problem with Dr Taylor’s proposal to ground a vision of ‘God and his creation’ in the account of reconciliation in Ephesians 2:13-22 is that this passage does not exist in isolation. It forms part of the bigger biblical canon and has to be read in the light of this fact.

When we read the passage in this context what we discover is that the God to whom Ephesians refers, the Triune God who has reconciled us to himself in Christ, is the same God who created human beings as male and female and who ordained that marriage should be between a man and a woman. Furthermore, the humans whom God reconciles are the human beings whom God has created in this way and for whom marriage has been ordained in this way.

It is therefore a poor reading of Scripture to contrast reconciliation and complementarity as contrasting approaches to understanding what the Bible says. They are two facets of the biblical picture and both need to accepted. We are both those who have been created as male and female and are called to live rightly in the light of this fact and those who have been reconciled to God in Christ.

It should also be noted that the Bible does not talk about the reconciliation of ‘people of different sexualities and different gender identities.’ The Bible does not see ‘sexualities’ in ontological terms as much modern thinking does. From a biblical perspective people are not lesbian, gay, bi, trans, questioning etc. They are simply men or women and called to live as such. Furthermore, the Bible does not think in terms of ‘gender identities’ either. To repeat, in the Bible there are simply men and women.

Conclusion.

It is indeed true, as Dr Taylor says, that ‘creation is full of difference.’ Humans are different from the non-human creation (which is itself hugely diverse) and all humans are different from each other. Nevertheless, ‘creation is straight’ in the sense that the world in which this difference exists is one in which ’human beings are made and meant to be male and female.’

Appended note – those who are intersex.

An obvious objection to what I have said in this paper is the existence of intersex people who, it is claimed, fall outside of the binary divide between male and female.

The first point to note in this regard is that the number of people who are genuinely intersex in the sense that their bodies are a mixture of male and female biology either at the level of their genotype (their genetic constitution) or their phenotype (their observable physical characteristics) is incredibly small – some 0.018% of live births.[7]

It should also be noted that those with the medical conditions involved are not neither male not female, they are a combination of male and female. Furthermore this combination is, medically speaking a disorder of development what Oliver O’ Donovan has called ‘an ambiguity which has arisen by a malfunction in a dimorphic human sexual pattern.’ [8]

However, acknowledgement that such malfunctions exist then leaves us with the task of thinking  about the specific possibilities of vocation for people who live with this defect. How can they live rightly before God as the people they are?

Firstly, it must be emphasised once again that people with intersex conditions are first and foremost human beings made in God’s image and likeness. The Christians United statement is right to declare, ‘We affirm that those who are born as intersex are full and equal bearers of the image and likeness of God and are worthy of full dignity and respect.’[9] Even though the development of their male or female identity has become disordered, people with intersex conditions bear witness to their creation as human beings in God’s image and likeness through the male and female elements that exist in their genotype and phenotype.

Secondly, they, like all other human beings, are summoned to live as people created by God and redeemed by God through Jesus Christ, having faith in the Gospel, loving God and neighbour, and living lives marked by the offering and receiving of friendship.

Thirdly, they, like all other human beings, are summoned to live in a way that reflects God’s creation of humanity as male and female. In cases where there is distinct male or female genotype but where problems have occurred in the development of the corresponding phenotype, the proper way forward would seem to be for them to live according to the sex of their genotype, receiving spiritual and psychological support and (where necessary) medical intervention in the form of reconstructive surgery to help them live more comfortably in their given sex and, when possible, to allow them to have children.208 Like other people they may either be called to marry a member of the opposite sex, or called to serve God through a life of singleness.

In the very rare cases where the genotype has both XY and XX chromosomes and the phenotype has both male and female sexual characteristics (for example both a penis and a vagina) the question of whether it would be proper to live as male or female becomes much less clear cut.

A possible way forward that would bear witness to the truth of who they are would be to live as either male or female (thus responding to God’s general call to humans to live as a man or a woman) while acknowledging the presence of elements of the other sex in their bodily make up. If this way forward were adopted then any marriage would need to be with a member of the opposite sex to that in which they have chosen to live. What would arguably not be appropriate would be for them to live as a non-binary (i.e., neither male nor female) person. This is because the truth about who they are is not that they are neither male nor female, but that the way their biology has developed means that they are both male and female.

M B Davie  25.7.19

[1] Simon Taylor, ‘Does the Bible Does the Bible Really Say…that Creation is Straight?’  18 July 2019 at https://viamedia.news/2019/07/18/does-the-bible-really-say-that-creation-is-straight/.

[2] The reference is to Gareth Moore OP, A Question of Truth: Christianity and Homosexuality (London and New York: Continuum, 2003), p. 143

[3] The reference is to Matthew Schmitz, ‘N. T. Wright on Gay Marriage: Nature and narrative point to  complementarity’, https://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2014/06/n-t-wrights-argument-against-same-sex-marriage.

[4] Geoffrey Bromiley, God and Marriage (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), p.3.

[5] Ian Paul, Same-sex unions (Cambridge: Grove Books 2014), p.8.

[6] Michael Brown, Can you be Gay and Christian?  (Lake Forest: Front Line, 2014), pp.88-89.

[7] Leonard Sax, How common is intersex?’, Journal of Sex Research, 1 August, 2002, text at http://www.leonardsax.com/how-common-is-intersex-a-response-to-anne-fausto-sterling/.

[8] Oliver O’Donovan, Transsexualism: Issues and argument (Cambridge: Grove Books, 2007), p.8.

[9] Christians United in Support of LGBT+ Inclusion in the Church, Article 4, text at http://www. christiansunitedstatement.org/.

Why Grace does not destroy nature – a response to Martyn Percy on the Bible and the nuclear family

Professor Percy’s five fold argument.

In the latest instalment of the ViaMedia.News series ‘Does the Bible Really Say…’ series, Professor Martyn Percy addresses the topic ‘Does the Bible Really…Advocate the ‘Nuclear Family?’ [1]

In his article Professor Percy gives five reasons for rejecting the idea that Christianity is ‘right behind the nuclear family.’

First, he appeals to the teaching of Jesus, declaring:

‘Jesus advocated leaving one’s parents for the sake of the Kingdom. The siblings too, got some short shrift from Jesus. He told his disciples to go do likewise, more or less.  Moreover, don’t even think about loitering at your parents’ funerals; there is kingdom work to be done. The dead can bury the dead.’

Secondly, he argues that the Bible ‘contains many patterns of family life’ and that the Old Testament in particular ‘offers us dozens – literally – of ‘family patterns’, which ‘should not necessarily be honoured today.’  As an example, he refers to the story of Rachel and Leah in Genesis 29-30, both of whom are married to Jacob, and both of whom offer him their maids so that he can beget children by them.

Thirdly, he argues that the founders  of four of the world’s great religions, Moses, the Buddha, Mohammed and Jesus were all adopted:

‘Moses was abandoned by his birth mother and left to float in a small coracle in the River Nile, and had the good fortune to be picked up by the daughter of one of the Pharaohs, and nurtured as one of her own.  Mohammed was orphaned at the age of six, or perhaps earlier, and was brought up by his uncle in the ancient city of Makka.  The Buddha’s mother died when he was less than a week old, and he was raised by her sister.  Jesus, of course, according to Christian orthodoxy is not exactly the child of Joseph, since Christian tradition claims no human intervention in his genesis.  Although Mary is clearly his mother, Joseph is not his biological father.’

According to Professor Percy this matters because it places the dynamic of adoption at the heart of these religious traditions.

Fourthly, the early Church based itself not on the pattern of the nuclear family, but on the pattern of an oikos, an ‘extended household incorporating kith and kin, servants, slaves, tutors, workers, dependents and contributors.’

Fifthly, as an oikos the Church was an outward facing body that ‘took to adoption quite naturally’ and adoption is something that is central to the Church’s life:

‘… just as churches, congregations and individuals Christians understand or experience themselves as, in some sense, ‘adopted’ by God (as Paul suggests), so they in turn, find themselves adopting others.’

It is for this reason, Professor Percy contends, that:

‘… the churches, at their best, function like adoption and foster homes.  They welcome the unwelcome; they love the unloved; they embrace the excluded.  The Church was not meant to be a cult or a club for members, any more than the Christian vision for ‘family’ was ever meant to be ‘nuclear’. It wasn’t.

The early church took in widows and orphans. The early church was extensive and open in character.  It embraced slave and free, Jew and Gentile.  It will have embraced married and unmarried, and young and old, citizen and alien.  If the Church wants to recover a vision for mission and evangelism, and plead for the restoration of moral foundations in contemporary society, then appealing to the sanctity of the ‘nuclear family’ is not the way forward.’

How should we respond to this argument?

The first thing to note is that Professor Percy seems to be operating with a very misleading understanding of what is meant by a ‘nuclear family.’

Implicit in his overall approach to the significance of the nuclear family is a contrast between a nuclear family and a body that is open to adopting the outsider. His central argument seems to be that the Church should be the latter rather than the former.

However, the generally accepted definition of a nuclear family is ‘the basic family unit consisting of the mother and father with their children.’ [2] What is important to note is that these children are not necessarily the biological children of the parents concerned. From time immemorial children have become permanent members of nuclear families through adoption with the mother and father becoming their mother and father and the other children in the family becoming their brothers and sisters. Furthermore, nuclear families have often had other people living with them as ‘part of the family’ for greater or lesser periods of time, whether other family members, foster children, or just people in need of a home.

Professor Percy’s suggestion that nuclear families are inherently closed entities which exclude outsiders is thus simply untrue.

Secondly, he is also misleading in his account of the teaching of Jesus. Although he does not give specific references, he seems to be referring to two passages from St. Luke’s gospel.

The first of these references is Luke 14:26:

‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.’

At first sight this appears to be a clear repudiation by Jesus of all family ties. However, this would contradict Jesus’ own criticism in Mark 7:9-13 of those who reject their family responsibilities, and, as George Caird notes in his commentary on Luke, this is not actually what Jesus’ words mean:

‘To hate father and mother did not mean on the lips of Jesus what it conveys to the Western reader…The semitic mind is comfortable only with extremes – light and darkness, truth and falsehood, love and hate -primary colours with no half-shades of compromise in between. The semitic way of saying ‘I prefer this to that’ is ‘I like this and hate that’ (cf. Genesis 29:10-31, Deuteronomy 21:15-17). Thus for the followers of Jesus, to hate their families meant giving the family second place in their affections. Ties of kinship must not be allowed to interfere with their absolute commitment to the kingdom.’ [3]

The second is Luke 9:59-62 where we read

‘To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ But he said to him, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God’

This again looks like Jesus rejecting the importance of family duties, but as Caird points out, the point of the saying is rather to warn would be disciples:

‘….to reckon with the conflict of loyalties which discipleship inevitably brings. In normal circumstances it is good that a man should have a home of his own in which he can perform his acts of filial piety to his parents, whether in life or in death, and show affection to kindred and friends. All this is part of that family life which God has graciously appointed for his children. But a man must be prepared to sacrifice security, duty, and affection, if he is to respond to the call of the kingdom, a call so urgent and imperative that all other loyalties must give way before it.’ [4]

What this means is that Jesus does not teach that Christians have to leave their parents or reject their siblings. What he does say is that even family ties, vitally important though they are, have to take second place in our loyalties to the demands of God and his kingdom. God has to come even before family if there is ever a conflict between them.

Professor Percy’s second point, that there are many patterns of family life in the Bible and these should not necessarily be honoured today, is true so far as it goes. We are indeed not called to follow dysfunctional forms of family life such as we find in Genesis 29-30. However, we know this because the Bible itself tells us that such forms of family life are a departure from what God ordained at creation

As I noted in my previous article responding to Dr Hayley Matthews:

‘In Genesis God creates human beings in his image and likeness as male and female and commands than to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ (Genesis 1:26-28). He then establishes marriage between one man and one woman as the family structure through which this command is to be fulfilled (Genesis 2:18-25) and this ordinance remains in place throughout the rest of the Bible.

This means that while it is true that we see lots of different types of households and families in the Bible, when children are not the offspring of a marital relationship between a husband and wife or when a mother or father is not on the scene this always means that something has gone wrong. There is no case in the Bible in which an alternative family structure to a father and a mother and their children is seen as equally desirable. When children are born out of wedlock, or there is a polygamous family structure, or one or both parents are dead and there are thus  widows and orphans, this is a sign of the brokenness of the world stemming from the Fall and not what would have been the case had God’s original intentions for his human creatures been fulfilled.’[5]

However, the existence of such broken forms of family life does not negate the importance of the pattern of family life instituted by God at creation. This pattern remains a key part of God’s provision for human well-being and so Christians need to live within it themselves and to teach and support others to do the same.

Moving on to Professor Percy’s third point, what he says about Moses and Jesus requires important qualification.

First of all, Moses was not ‘abandoned by his birth mother.’  The story in Exodus 2:1-11 is instead about how Moses’ mother and sister ensured that he survived Pharaoh’s threat to kill all the sons of the Hebrews people. The story tells us about how a Jewish family took care of one of its own in the face of the threat of genocide and how this action then became the basis for subsequent deliverance of the Jewish people as a whole. It is thus a story precisely about the importance of family ties.

With regard to Jesus, it is not true that Christian orthodoxy says that there was no ‘human intervention in the birth of Jesus.’ What it says is that there was an indispensable human role in his birth which consisted in Mary providing the egg that was made fertile by God, carrying the resultant baby to term, and giving birth to him when the time came (Luke 1:26-2:7). The traditional title theotokos (‘mother of God’) used with reference to Mary expresses this point by insisting that in his human nature God the Son did have a mother and that that mother was Mary.

The biblical accounts of the birth of Jesus are about how Jesus, who already had a familial relationship with God the Father from all eternity as God the Son, also acquired a human family consisting of his human biological mother, Mary and also a human father, Joseph with siblings then coming along later. Rather than having no family Jesus thus has two.

Turning to Professor Percy’s fourth point, as I also observed last week, it is mistake to argue as he does that the early Church was a household rather than being a family:

‘… it is simply not the case that in the New Testament God creates a new household rather than a new family.  In the New Testament the Church is indeed ‘the household of God’ (Ephesians 2:19), but the form this household takes is a new family in which Christians really are brothers and sisters to each other by reason of their relationship to the same heavenly Father. The difference between this family and normal biological families is that this new family is a result of the supernatural action of God rather than human sexual activity. This point is made explicitly in John 1:12-13:

‘But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.’[6]

We have already noted that the Bible tells us that Jesus was, and is, a member of two families. He is the eternal Son of God, but also a member of human nuclear family with a mother and a father and brothers and sisters. What the Bible also tells us that all Christians also belong to two families. They are members of their earthly families, but they are also by grace, through adoption (Galatians 4:1-7), members of an eternal heavenly family with God as their Father and Jesus and all other Christians as their brothers and sisters.

Living rightly as a Christians means living rightly as a member of both families. As members of human families Christians are called to love and honour their parents and to love and care for their spouse and their children (Ephesians 5:21-6:4, Colossians 1:18-21, Titus 2:4-5) and as members of the heavenly family they are called also to love God and all their Christian brothers and sisters (1 John 4:7-21).

With regard to Professor Percy’s final point, there is no contradiction between the Church affirming the sanctity of the nuclear family and being an outward facing body ready to welcome everybody regardless of who they are, or the circumstances of their lives.

God has created human beings to live in families consisting of married parents and their children and so it is the calling of Christians to affirm this truth and the consequent importance of everyone living rightly as members of such families. However, God has also created the new supernatural family of the Church and it is the calling of Christians to welcome everyone into this new family and to teach what it means to live rightly as a member of it. That is the point of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20.

Conclusion

For Professor Percy, it seems, grace abolishes nature. For him all that matters is the existence of the Church created by the grace of adoption with natural human families totally disappearing from view. However, as St. Thomas Aquinas famously affirms ‘Gratia non tollit naturam, sed perficit’ (grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it).[7] In the case we are considering grace perfects nature because it allows those who are members of natural families to become members of the eternal heavenly family without ceasing to be what they already are.

There are, of course, as Jesus warned us, occasions when we may need to put the requirements of our membership of our heavenly family before membership of our human families, but the latter still remains in place and we are called to honour it as much as possible.

In addition, it is also important to note that when human families are Christian families  membership of the earthly and heavenly families should go together, with the human family acting as what the Christian tradition has called the ‘domestic church,’ in which people are brought up from childhood by their human parents to know the truth about God and what it means to live as his children.[8]

M B Davie 9.

[1] Martyn Percy, ‘Does the Bible Really…Advocate the ‘Nuclear Family?’, ViaMedia.News, 5 July 2019 at https://viamedia.news/.

[2] ‘Nuclear family’, The Chambers Dictionary, 9ed (Edinburgh: Chambers Harrap, 2003), p.1023.

[3] George Caird, Saint Luke (Harmondsworth: Pelican, 1963), pp.178-179.

[4] Caird, p.141.

[5] Martin Davie, ‘Why families need fathers and mothers,’  3 July 2019, at https://mbarrattdavie.wordpress.com/.

[6] Davie, ‘Why families need fathers and mothers.’

[7] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I, I, 8 ad 2.

[8] This is the vision of family life which lies, for example, behind Luther’s Small Catechism of 1529 which is designed for the father as the head of the family to teach to the household and behind the statement in the Book of Common Prayer marriage service that marriage was ordained ‘for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord and to the praise of his holy name.’

Why families need fathers and mothers

In the latest contribution to the ViaMedia.News series ‘Does the Bible Really Say…’  Dr Hayley Matthews addresses the question ‘ Does the Bible Really Say… that a family needs ‘a Mummy and a Daddy’?’[1]

Dr Matthew’s argument.

Her answer to this question is ‘no’ and she gives six reasons for this answer.

First, she argues that in the Bible there is no mention of the ‘nuclear family’ consisting of a father and mother and their children. Instead people live in multi-generational households consisting of people related by blood and marriage in a variety of different ways plus servant and slaves.

Secondly, in the Old Testament we see ‘God flouting conventional family ties in unexpected ways through his grace’ by choosing to give blessing to people who are not the first born sons (as in the case of Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Joseph and David) and by passing on his blessing through ‘non blood-line outcasts’ (such as Ruth, Rahab and Mary).

Thirdly, in the New Testament,  Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:50 about his true brothers and sisters being those who do the will of his heavenly Father refer not to the creation of a new biological family, but to the formation of a new household in which those who have previously been outcasts are all welcomed as equals and can call God ‘Abba, Father’ (Romans 8:15).

Fourthly, there are three key turning points in the history of Israel which rely entirely ‘upon non-biological family structures,’ namely the adoption of Moses by Pharaoh’s daughter, the adoption of Esther by Mordecai and the gestation of Jesus ‘to an unmarried Mum from Nowheres-ville.’

Fifthly,  ‘There is biblical precedent for… households to take many forms; single parents, adoption, surrogacy, foster-care, blended and wide-ranging extended families, male, female or a mixture of the two.’

Sixthly, the gender of parents does not matter because there are numerous reasons why two parents of different genders may not be on the scene and because child psychology tells us ‘that what children need are orientation, order, exploration, communication, movement, manipulation of objects, repetition, precision, imagination, facing and constructively responding to error ‘ and  ‘None of these things are gender specific.’

Dr Matthews’s overall conclusion is that:

‘Our call, into our own and God’s households are far beyond all-too-brief biological couplings but based instead upon grace, forgiveness, fidelity, steadfastness, gentleness, kindness, self-control, selflessness, a sense of the ridiculous if not of humour and love beyond measure in an ever-growing ripple of relationships that ever broadens into the eternal household from which and to which we are called. That’s what makes a family…’

The problems with this argument.

There are a number of problems with this argument.

First, while it is true that in the Bible people tend to live in extended households this does not negate the existence or importance of nuclear families made up of parents and their children.

The first and foundational family unit in the Bible is a nuclear family consisting of Adam and Eve and their children (Genesis 2:18-5:5) and thereafter the Bible consistently recognises the existence and importance of the familial relationship between fathers and mothers and their sons and daughters. We can see this, for example, in the command to ‘honour your father and your mother’ in Exodus 20:12, in the exhortation in Proverbs 6:20  ‘My son, keep your father’s commandment, and forsake not your mother’s teaching’ and in the instructions given to husbands and wives and their children in the letters of Paul (Ephesians 5:21-6:4, Colossians 3:18-21, Titus 2:4).

Rather than the household being an alternative to the nuclear family, in the Bible the household is the larger domestic and economic unit within which nuclear families still have a distinct and important existence of their own.

Secondly, while it is perfectly true that God can and does bypass first born sons in favour of some other child of the family, none of the examples given by Dr Matthews negate the importance normally given to primogeniture in the Bible, nor do they undercut the importance that the Bible attaches to the biological relationship between parents and children.

If we take the case of Jacob, for instance, we find that Esau, as the first born son of Isaac and Rebekah, would have been the one to receive a blessing from Isaac had he not ‘despised his birthright’ and traded it to his brother Jacob for a ‘pottage of lentils’ (Genesis 25:27-34). For another example, David is chosen to be King of Israel rather than his older brothers because this was a new appointment that was not dependent on family ties and because God, who ‘looks on the heart,’ saw that David rather than his brothers had the qualities needed in a king (1 Samuel 6:1-13). David’s place in his family was irrelevant to the issue.

Thirdly, Dr Matthew’s depiction of Ruth, Rahab and Mary as ‘non-blood line outcasts’ is misleading. Ruth and Rahab are not Israelites, but become part of the people of Israel through their commitment to the God of Israel (Ruth 1:16, Josh 2:8-14  6:25) and both become carriers of God’s blessing because they have children as a result of marriage (Ruth 4:13-22, Matthew 1:5). At the point when the angel comes to her and she conceives Jesus, Mary is a respectable young Jewish girl and even though she is asked to put her reputation and life in jeopardy by giving birth as a result of a supernatural conception, God ensures that she has a husband and Jesus has an earthly father (Matthew 1:18-25). As numerous nativity scenes testify, Jesus’ earthly family (‘the holy family’) was thus a nuclear family consisting of a mother, a father and a child (with other children being added later).

Fourthly, it is simply not the case that in the New Testament God creates a new household rather than a new family.  In the New Testament the Church is indeed ‘the household of God’ (Ephesians 2:19), but the form this household takes is a new family in which Christians really are brothers and sisters to each other by reason of their relationship to the same heavenly Father. The difference between this family and normal biological families is that this new family is a result of the supernatural action of God rather than human sexual activity. This point is made explicitly in John 1:12-13:

‘But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.’

Fifthly it is true that both Moses and Esther were adopted and that Mary was not married to Joseph when Jesus was conceived. In these three cases God does indeed work through ‘non-biological family structures.’ However, the fact that he does so for specific reasons on the occasions does not negate the importance of biological family structures as the normal means which God has established to take forward his purposes in creation.

In Genesis God creates human beings in his image and likeness as male and female and commands than to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ (Genesis 1:26-28). He then establishes marriage between one man and one woman as the family structure through which this command is to be fulfilled (Genesis 2:18-25) and this ordinance remains in place throughout the rest of the Bible.

Sixthly, this means that while it is true that we see lots of different types of households and families in the Bible, when children are not the offspring of a marital relationship between a husband and wife or when a mother or father is not on the scene this always means that something has gone wrong. There is no case in the Bible in which an alternative family structure to a father and a mother and their children is seen as equally desirable. When children are born out of wedlock, or there is a polygamous family structure, or one or both parents are dead and there are thus  widows and orphans, this is a sign of the brokenness of the world stemming from the Fall and not what would have been the case had God’s original intentions for his human creatures been fulfilled.

It is true, as the charity Home for Good argues[2], that adoption and fostering are extremely important forms of Christian service that can achieve an enormous amount of good. However, the good that they achieve lies in helping to mend that which has been broken. Were this not a broken world neither adoption nor fostering would be required since all children would be living with their married parents.

Seventhly, Dr Matthews’ reference to the finding of child psychology fails to acknowledge that decades of research evidence clearly shows that both the marital status and the sex of a child’s parents does matter.  As David Ribar puts it:

‘Reams of social science and medical research convincingly show that children who are raised by their married, biological parents enjoy better physical, cognitive, and emotional outcomes, on average, than children who are raised in other circumstances.’[3]

In similar fashion, Michael Nazir-Ali notes:

‘…the mounting evidence that children who grow up with both their parents are, on the whole, better off than children with lone parents or step -parents, whether that is in terms of mental health, educational performance, crime or sexual behaviour. This is not, in any way, to devalue the sometimes heroic effects of loving single parents or step-parents. It is simply to note the importance of biologically-related families against the frantic and increasingly successful efforts to deconstruct them.’[4]

What all this evidence indicates is that pattern of family life ordained by God, in which children are brought up by their married biological parents is the gold standard for child well being and needs to be supported accordingly by both the Church and the state.[5]

Finally, it is not the case, as Dr Matthews suggests, that ‘what makes a family’ are the characteristics of ‘grace, forgiveness, fidelity, steadfastness, gentleness, kindness, self-control, selflessness, a sense of the ridiculous if not of humour, and love.’ For a family to function properly these elements will certainly need to be present, but they are not what makes a family.  A human family is created through biology, marriage or adoption, while God’s eternal family is created through supernatural grace received through faith and baptism.

Conclusion.

Dr Matthews has not succeeded in showing that the Bible does not say that ‘a family needs a Mummy and a Daddy.’  On the contrary, the Bible tells us that the form of family life ordained by God at creation. is one which requires a father and mother. God ordained that human beings should be fruitful and multiply and that this should happen through two people of the opposite sex entering into marriage and having children as a result. Furthermore, while the effects of the Fall mean that this pattern of family life will never be perfect, the evidence we have shows that it is the pattern that is most conducive to human flourishing.

What we can say, therefore, is that the testimony of both Scripture and natural reason show us that human beings need families and these families need fathers and mothers.

M B Davie 3.7.19

[1] Hayley Matthews, ‘Does the Bible Really Say….that a Family Needs a ‘Mummy and a Daddy;?’ at https://viamedia.news/  29 June, 2019.

[2] Home for Good, at  https://www.homeforgood.org.uk/

[3] David Ribar, ‘Why marriage matters for child wellbeing,’ in The Future of Children: Marriage and Child Wellbeing Revisited, Vol 25, No.2, 2015, p. 12.

[4] Michael Nazir-Ali, Faith, Freedom and the Future (London : Wilberforce Publications, 2016), p.126.

[5] For a detailed study setting out the evidence for this claim see Brenda Almond, The Fragmenting Family (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006).