Why marriage and procreation belong together (Part 2)

Dr Meg Warner has now responded to my critique of her article ‘Elephants, Penguins, Procreation and Japanese Knotweed’[1] published on this blog on 20 February with a further article of her own entitled ‘Elephants, Penguins, Procreation and Japanese Knotweed (Part 2).’[2] This blog post is a response to this further article.

In her second article Dr Warner puts forward three objections to my argument in response to her original piece.

Why we need to read the Bible as whole.

First she objects to my statement that the problem with her reading of Genesis 1 and 2:

‘… is that it ignores the basic rule of biblical interpretation that you need to read biblical books as whole entities. Genesis 1 and 2 are part of a much bigger continuous narrative that extends all the way to Genesis 50 and so they have to be read together, and read in the light of this bigger narrative.’

Her response is to say that reading biblical books as whole entities is a rule, but not the only rule to be observed in biblical interpretation, and that care needs to be taken to identify and to honour the multiple voices in the text, and to avoid doing violence to them by adopting a ‘flat’ interpretation that assumes concordance between all elements.’

I entirely agree with her that when reading a biblical text one has to do justice to all the elements it contains and not suppress any of them. However, I would argue that a successful reading of a biblical text is one that not only does justice to all the individual elements of the biblical text, but also does justice to the way in which those elements have been brought together in a particular biblical book and to the way in which they have been brought together to form the biblical canon as a whole.

This is because any successful reading of a text is one that honours the intent of its author and in the case of the Bible this means honouring the intent of the authors or editors of the biblical books and also honouring the intent of God who through the inspiration of the Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:21) is the ultimate author not only of the individual books that are in the Bible, but of the Bible as whole.

My problem with what Dr Warner said in her original article is that she isolates Genesis 1 and 2 from each other, from the rest of Genesis, and from the rest of the biblical canon, and thus fails to offer a successful reading of them.

Why procreation in biblical marriages is something we should emulate.

Secondly, she objects to my claim that the Bible shows that procreation is an intrinsic part of marriage on the grounds that I have not given sufficient attention to the difference between behaviour which the biblical writers want us to emulate and that which simply reflects the ‘ordinary practice of the time’ and which we are not called to emulate.

I agree with her that there is an important distinction between what is recorded in the Bible and what we are called to emulate as Christians today. For example St. Peter’s denial of Jesus is recorded in the Bible, but we are not called to emulate it, any more than we are called to emulate King David’s adultery with Bathsheba.

Where I would disagree with her is that I think there are good grounds for saying that having children within marriage is a form of behaviour that we are called to emulate. These grounds are (a) God’s command to his human creatures to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ (Genesis 1:28) and (b) the account of the marriage of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2-5,which show us that God created marriage to be the context in which this command is to be fulfilled.

Why Adam and Eve were married.

This brings us to her third and most important objection to my argument, which is that she holds that so far from Adam and Eve being a paradigm for marriage there is no evidence that they were married at all. In her words:

‘… far from presenting Adam and Eve as a paradigmatic married couple, Genesis does not even present them as married. There is no record of their marriage in Genesis, any more than Genesis tells us that living creatures and birds married before fulfilling God’s mandate to them to ‘Be fruitful and multiply’

For most Christians this would seem a very odd claim to make. This is because the Christian tradition from earliest times has always seen God’s bringing Eve to Adam and his joyful acceptance of her (Genesis 2:22-23) as the first marriage. John Calvin comments on Genesis 2:22, for example:

‘Moses now relates that marriage was divinely instituted, which is especially useful to be known; for since Adam did not take a wife to himself at his own will, but received her as offered and appropriated to him by God, the sanctity of marriage hence more clearly appears, because we recognise God as its author.’[3]

This reading of Genesis 2:22-23 is seen as supported by the fact that from that point onwards in Genesis Adam and Eve are referred to as husband and wife.

Thus we see the following references to Adam and Eve as husband and wife following on after Genesis 2:22-23:

‘And the man and his wife were naked, and were not ashamed’ (Genesis 2:25).

‘So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate’ (Genesis 3:6).

‘And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden’ (Genesis 3:8)

‘To the woman he said, ‘I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.’ And to Adam he said ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life’ (Genesis 3:16-17).

‘The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins, and clothed them’ (Genesis 3:20-21).

‘Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord’’ (Genesis 4:1).

‘And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, “God has appointed for me another child instead of Abel, for Cain slew him’ (Genesis 4:25)

I have quoted the RSV here, but other English translations similarly use the terms husband and wife in these verses and translations in other languages use equivalent terms. Thus the German Luther Bible translates Genesis 2:25 as ‘Und sie waren beide nackt, der Mensch und das Weib, und schamten sich nicht’[4] (‘Mensch’ and ‘Weib’ being ‘man’ and ‘wife’).

In the face of this ancient and continuing tradition of seeing Adam and Eve as a married couple Genesis 2-4 why does Dr Warner declare that these chapters do not depict Adam and Eve as married? The answer she gives is that the Hebrew words translated into English as husband or wife, ish and ishshah, ‘mean both woman/wife and man/husband, and therefore do not point necessarily to a marital relationship.’

What Dr Warner says in this quotation is completely correct. The words for husband and wife in biblical Hebrew are also the words for man and woman. This means that in all the verse in Genesis 2-4 which I have quoted above it would be linguistically possible to substitute ‘man’ for ‘husband’ and ‘woman’ for ‘wife.’

What this means is that the decision to use the terms husband and wife or their equivalent in translations of the Bible is a decision to interpret the biblical text in a particular way. However, this does not give any advantage to Dr Warner’s position since she too has made a decision about how to interpret the text (albeit a different decision from the one that is normally made).

What we are faced with, then, are two different decisions about how to interpret Genesis 2-4, both of which are linguistically possible. So how do we decide which decision is to be preferred?

I believe that the traditional decision is better for two reasons.

First, when two translations are linguistically possible one has to let the context decide. In terms of Genesis 2-4 this means one has to decide whether the type of relationship described in this chapter is a marital one (in which case the traditional interpretation would be better) or a more casual or temporary type of relationship (in which Dr Warner’s preferred option of referring to Adam as Eve’s ‘man’ or Eve as Adam’s ‘woman’ would be better).

In my view there can be no doubt what kind of relationship these chapters describe. They describe a monogamous, exclusive, permanent, sexual relationship between a man and woman that is oriented to the procreation of children. This is what the Jewish, and subsequently the Christian tradition, have meant when they have talked about a relationship as being a marriage and that is why they have used marital language to translate ish and ishshah. This marital language correctly expresses the kind of relationship between Adam and Eve which Genesis 2-4 describes.

To put the same thing another way, even if the words man and woman were used in the place of husband and wife in these chapters it would still remain the case that the relationship described is what the Jewish and Christian traditions would describe as marriage. This being the case, not using the term husband and wife to translate ish and ishshah would simply involve failing to make the nature of the relationship between Adam and Eve clear. It would thus be a poor act of interpretation.

Secondly, and for a Christian decisively, in Matthew 19:3-12, and Mark 10:2-12 Jesus clearly refers to the relationship between Adam and Eve described in Genesis as a marital one. The point made by Jesus in both these parallel passages is that the model for marriage is that established by God at creation as described in Genesis 1 and 2 and it is for this reason that existing Jewish discussion of divorce and re-marriage is too lenient. It follow that Jesus must have viewed Adam and Eve as being married since otherwise his argument makes no sense.

Since Jesus is God incarnate what he says in these passages has to be regarded as decisive. God, is as I have said, the ultimate author of Scripture and so what we have in these two gospel passages is the author of Scripture telling us what the meaning of Scripture is. The only way that Dr Warner’s argument can be sustained in the face of these gospel passages is to say that Jesus failed to understand Genesis properly. These means saying that God himself did not understand the Scriptures of which he was the author and this something that no Christian can ever rightly say.

It follows, once again, that what is described in Genesis 2-4 is a marriage and so translating ish and ishah as husband and wife is the right interpretative move to make.

Why Genesis 2:24 is about marriage.

Not only does Dr Warner hold that Adam and Eve themselves were not married, but she also holds that Genesis 2:24 does not refer to marriage either. In her words this verse ‘does not allude to marriage at all, but rather to the strong pull between men and women that is the consequence of God’s actions in creation.’

There are three problems with this argument.

First of all since, as we have seen, it is right to view Adam and Eve as in a marital relationship it follows that the Christian tradition has been right to see Genesis 2:22-23 in terms of God Bringing Adam and Eve together in the first marriage.

This being the case, Genesis 2:24, ‘Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh,’ is describing how marriage shall continue. What it is saying is that because Adam and Eve have been joined together in matrimony by God therefore subsequent generations of God’s human creatures shall also be joined together in matrimony. A good parallel is Exodus 20:8-11 where we read that because God rested from his work of creation on the seventh day therefore he ‘blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it’ as the day on which God’s people too should rest. A linguistically similar series of passages in which God’s action forms the basis for the subsequent action of his people can be found in Exodus 13:15, Leviticus 17:11, 12, Numbers 18:24 and Deuteronomy 5:15, 15:11, 15.

Secondly, what is described in Genesis 2:24 is not just men and women having a ‘strong pull’ towards one another. What is described instead is the establishment of a new relationship between a man and woman which is marital in form in that, like the marriage between Adam and Eve which it echoes, it is an exclusive, monogamous, permanent, sexually intimate union between a man and a woman.[5]

Thirdly, Jesus quotes Genesis 2:24 in Matthew 19:5 and Mark 10:7 to establish that marriage is a permanent union which humans should not break. It follows that he saw this verse as describing marriage and, as noted above, what he says about the matter has to be regarded as decisive since he is God himself describing the meaning of the words of which he is the ultimate author. As before, if Dr Warner is right then God is wrong and this something that we can never rightly say.


What all this means is that we should say that the relationship between Adam and Eve was a marital relationship. Furthermore according to Scripture it is the paradigmatic marriage which forms the basis for all subsequent married relationships.

As noted earlier, Genesis 2-5 show us that Adam and Eve fulfilled God’s command to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ through their marriage thus establishing that procreation is an integral part of the purpose for which marriage was created.

It follows that my original argument in Glorify God in your body that same-sex relationships cannot be regarded as marriages both because they are between two people of the same sex, and because as such they are inherently non procreative, still stands.

M B Davie 6.3.19

[1] Meg Warner ‘Elephants, Penguins, Procreation and Japanese Knotweed’ athttps://viamedia.news/2019/02/08/elephants-penguins-procreation-japanese-knotweed/.

[2] Meg Warner ‘Elephants, Penguins, Procreation and Japanese Knotweed (Part 2)’https://viamedia.news/2019/03/04/elephants-penguins-procreation-japanese-knotweed-part-2/.

[3] John Calvin, Genesis (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1984). P.134.

[4] German Luther Bible at http://www.ntslibrary.com/Bible%20-%20German%20Luther%20Translation.pdf

[5] For detailed justification of this point see Richard Davidson, Flame of Yahweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2007), pp.42-48 and the literature he cites.

On still not answering the question

In a new article in the Church of England Newspaper David Runcorn has now responded to the criticisms made by Andrew Symes and myself of his original article ‘And how would I know when I am wrong? Evangelical faith and the Bible’ which was published in the CEN on 19 June this year.

In this article I am offering an additional response because I think the points that he makes require refutation in order to help clarify what is really at stake in the current debate in the Church of England about same-sex relationships.

There are seven problems with the argument David puts forward in his new article

1. He has not engaged at all with the main criticism of his original article offered by Andrew Symes. Andrew argued that the analogy which David Runcorn drew between those putting forward a gay-affirming hermeneutic today and those who campaigned against apartheid is misleading. In fact a better analogy is between those espousing a gay-affirming hermeneutic and those who sought to mount a theological defence of apartheid. This is because those theologians who supported apartheid from Scripture had to distort and misapply what Scripture teaches in order to support an Afrikaner nationalist political ideology and in a similar way those who offer a gay-affirming hermeneutic today have to distort or misapply Scripture in order to support the gay rights agenda that has become dominant in our culture and political system. In both cases theologians have gone against the teaching of Scripture in order to cosy up to a ruling elite and a dominant cultural zeitgeist.

David completely fails to address this argument

2.The arguments that David puts forward to support his claim that my analogy between biblical interpretation and assembling the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle so that all the pieces fit together properly is ‘inappropriate’ are unconvincing.

He puts forward three arguments to support his claim. (a) ‘the Bible expresses truth through a rich variety of literary forms,’ (b) ‘there is no one single picture – rather there are many different images’ and (c) ‘we do not have a final picture.’ The first two points are true as far as they go. The Bible does contain many different literary forms and uses many different images to communicate its message. However, neither of these points undermines the jigsaw analogy. They simply tell us that in determining how the overall biblical picture fits together into a coherent whole we have to pay due attention to the various different literary forms and images that the Bible contains.

Imagine a jigsaw puzzle made out of a collage. The pieces of the collage might all contain different sorts of material (just like the different sorts of literary material and different images used in the Bible), but this would not mean it would be impossible to assemble those pieces into a coherent picture or that the puzzle would be done correctly if some pieces were left out.

The third point depends on a misinterpretation on 1 Corinthians 13:12. In that verse St. Paul does indeed affirm that ‘we know in part.’ However when he says this he is not referring to the Bible, but to the totality of our knowledge. The fact that there are things we will not know until we participate in the life of the world to come does not mean that the Bible remains incomplete in terms of giving us a consistent message from God which tells us what he is like and how He wants us to behave in this world. In the words of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in his 1547 homily A Fruitful Exhortation to the Reading and Knowledge of Holy Scripture:

‘…in Holy Scripture is fully contained what we ought to do, and what to eschew; what to believe, what to love, and what to look for at God’s hands at length. In these Books we shall find the Father from whom, the Son by whom, and the Holy Ghost, in whom all things have their being and keeping up, and these three persons to be but one God, and one substance. In these books we may learn to know ourselves, how vile and miserable we be, and also to know God, how good he is of himself, and how he maketh us and all creatures partakers of his goodness. We may learn also in these books to know God’s will and pleasure, as much as (for this present time) is convenient for us to know.’

If this is indeed the nature of the Bible (and down the centuries this has been the orthodox Christian view of the matter) then the jigsaw analogy is appropriate because it reminds is of the need to take the full range of the biblical evidence into account when thinking about God and His will for our lives.

3. What David means when he says that we should take a ‘dialogical’ approach to Scripture is unclear. If what he means by this is simply that we have to listen to the full range of biblical voices on any given topic then I absolutely agree (and this is the point of my jigsaw analogy). However, if I have understood him rightly, then he is saying something different. He is suggesting that we have to use some bits of Scripture to critique others by, for example, using the teaching of Job to critique the teaching of Deuteronomy 28 that obedience will bring the Israelites blessing and disobedience will lead to them being cursed.

The problem with this approach is that it suggests that it is legitimate to interpret some parts of Scripture in a way that means that they clash with other parts of Scripture. This approach to biblical interpretation is ruled out for Anglicans by Article XX of the Thirty Nine Articles which declares that the Church may not ‘so expound one place of Scripture that it be repugnant to another.’ As Oliver O’Donovan explains in his commentary on the Articles, the reason for this prohibition is a concern for the authority of Scripture:

‘Unless we can think that Scripture is readable as a whole, that it communicates a unified outlook and perspective, we cannot attribute doctrinal authority to it, but only to some part of it at the cost of some other part. The authority of Scripture, then, presupposes the possibility of a harmonious reading: correspondingly, a church which presumes to offer an unharmonious or diversifying reading may be supposed to have in mind an indirect challenge to the authority of Scripture itself.’

4. It is not legitimate to set the ‘trajectory’ of Scripture against its ‘plain meaning’ in the way that David does. The trajectory of Scripture must surely mean the overall direction of biblical teaching, either as a whole, or in relation to any given topic. If this is so, how do we determine the overall direction of biblical teaching? The only hermeneutically responsible way of doing this is to determine the plain sense of all the relevant biblical passages and then work out the overall direction of their teaching. To claim to be able to determine a biblical trajectory that floats free of the ‘plain meaning’ of the biblical text is meaningless

5. There is no evidence to support David’s claim that throughout his previous paper he explores ‘possible answers’ to the question of how we might know that we have got our reading of the Bible wrong is unconvincing. As I said in my previous response:

‘His nine challenges highlight a series of factors that he thinks we need to bear in mind when engaging in biblical interpretation, but they do not give us any specific instructions about what it means to read the Bible rightly and in the light of this how we can recognise when our reading of a biblical text or texts is wrong.

It is not enough to say that we should be aware of our prior emotional commitments, be open to criticism, listen to a wide range of voices and to people’s experiences, be open to changing our understanding of Scripture in the light of its overall trajectory, and note the effect of our teaching on people’s lives and on the Church’s mission. None of this tells us how we can know when we are wrong in our reading of biblical texts.’

In his response to my response David writes ‘there is no one answer. There are no guarantees we are getting it right. That is why the question always needs asking.’ My question to him would be ‘If we cannot know whether we are interpreting Scripture correctly what is the point of asking whether we are doing so?’ If we can never know what the right interpretation of Scripture is then what is the purpose of seeking to interpret Scripture rightly? It is only if the answer is discoverable that the question is worth asking.

Furthermore, it is only if we can have confidence that we can interpret Scripture rightly that we can rightly use it as the basis for our theology and our practice. If we cannot be sure what Scripture means then we cannot base our teaching or our lives upon it.

6. I do not think that I have missed the ‘irony’ of Evangelicals following the pattern of biblical interpretation that I propose and still ‘believing and acting in ways we now recognise to be unbiblical and even evil.’ In so far as Evangelicals have acted in ways that are unbiblical or evil it is because they have either failed to interpret Scripture properly or failed to respond properly to the teaching of Scripture in the way they have lived their lives.

Thus those South African theologians who supported apartheid misinterpreted Scripture in terms of what it has to say about the relationship between different races, however good they may have been in other areas of biblical scholarship. As I noted in my previous response:

‘…the reading of the Bible that underlay apartheid was wrong because its insistence on strict separation between the races failed to do justice to the New Testament teaching that the one big division within humanity is that between Jews and Gentiles (i.e. all non-Jews) and that the fruit of Christ’s redemptive work from Pentecost onwards was the creation of a single new community in which people from different races, both Jews and Gentiles, were brought together into one body in anticipation of the unity of all things in Christ which God will establish at the end of time (see Romans 3:21-4:25, 15:1-13, Galatians 2:11-3:28, Ephesians 1:1-4:16). The reading of the Bible by apartheid theology focussed on the teaching of Acts 17:25-26 on God’s original creation of separate nations without also taking into account the bigger biblical picture of how God’s promise to bless all nations through Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 12:3) was fulfilled in Christ so that people from all nations are now and will be forever (Revelation 21:24-25) equal fellow citizens of God’s holy city and therefore need to be treated as such.’

7. I do not accept David’s criticism that I am wrong to ‘deny the existence and validity’ of interpretations of Scripture ‘that are plainly gathering support and finding hermeneutical traction among careful biblical-centred Christians.’ In the first place, I do not (and never have) denied the existence of gay-affirming interpretations of Scripture. However, I do deny their validity because I do not find them convincing either in terms of their accounts of specific biblical passages or in terms of their accounts of the teaching of the Bible as a whole (for a detailed explanation of this point see my book Studies on the Bible and same-sex relationships since 2003, Gilead Books 2015). The fact that growing numbers of people support such interpretations is irrelevant to the question of whether such interpretations are true. You cannot do hermeneutics by head count!

David closes his response by saying that Andrew and I do not answer the question ‘how would I know if I were wrong?’ I have answered that question in my previous paper. However, I still don’t think he has answered it either in his original paper or in his subsequent response.

M B Davie 26.8.15