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.

Conclusion.

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.

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Why marriage and procreation belong together

In the history of Christian theology it has often proved necessary to hold two apparently contradictory assertions together in order to express the truth about God and the human situation.

Thus we have to hold that:

  • God is one and yet the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all God;
  • Jesus Christ was (and is) both fully divine and yet also fully human;
  • God is completely sovereign and yet human beings have genuine freedom and responsibility:
  • We are saved without works and yet good works will necessarily be performed by all who are saved.

In this post I want to add another item to this list. I shall argue that marriage is good in itself without children and yet the procreation of children is an integral part of the purpose of marriage.

In her paper ‘Elephants, Penguins, Procreation and Japanese Knotweed,’[1] Dr Meg Warner has responded to the argument I put forward in my new book for the Church of England Evangelical Council, Glorify God in your body. In this book I argue that same-sex relationships cannot be marriages because ‘a relationship between two people of the same sex intrinsically closed to procreation, cannot be a marriage.’[2] Her response to this argument is to say that it is unconvincing from a biblical standpoint because ‘Nowhere does the Bible say that procreation is an integral element of marriage.’[3]

There are two problems with this response.

First of all, throughout the Bible, it is either stated that marriage leads to the procreation of children, or it is assumed that it will. Time without number in the Bible people who are married have children and this is regarded as a normal and expected turn of events, and as the way in which God builds up his people.

We can see this for example, at the end of the Book of Ruth where Boaz states his intention to marry Ruth and the inhabitants of Bethlehem declare their hope that the marriage will result in children:

‘May the Lord make the woman, who is coming into your house, like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you prosper in Eph′rathah and be renowned in Bethlehem; and may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the children that the Lord will give you by this young woman.’ (Ruth 4:11-12).

The story then continues by telling us how this hope was fulfilled through the birth of Obed, the grandfather of King David, and how this brings blessing to Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi whose own sons have died.

‘So Bo′az took Ruth and she became his wife; and he went in to her, and the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Na′omi, ‘Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next of kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.’ Then Na′omi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse. And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, ‘A son has been born to Na′omi.’ They named him Obed; he was the father of Jesse, the father of David.’ (Ruth 4:13-17)

Conversely, when marriages do not lead to the birth of children, as in the case of Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 15:1-5), Hannah and Elkanah (1 Samuel 1:1-10), or Zechariah and Elizabeth (Luke 1:5-7) this is seen as something problematic for the people concerned and as a potential impediment to the fulfilment of the purposes and promises of God.

Secondly, the Bible traces the expectation that marriage will be procreative right back to the creation of the human race. It says that the reason we should expect marriages to result in children is that the paradigm form of marriage instituted by God is one that leads to the birth of children.

Warner evades what the Bible says on this point by separating Genesis 1 and Genesis 2.

On Genesis 1 she comments:

‘Procreation is foregrounded strongly in Genesis 1. In verse 28 God blesses the first humans and says, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth…’. This is God’s first instruction and first blessing. It is tempting to interpret it as a special, central, divine imperative for humans. It is, however, made also to animals and birds (verse 22) and there is no requirement for humans to marry first, any more that there is a requirement for animals or birds to marry.’[4]

On Genesis 2 she states:

‘The ‘not good’ thing in Genesis 2 was that the human being was alone (Gen 2:18). So, after some initial false starts, God made another human being, a woman (ishshah), to be a ‘helper’ with the adam. Note that she was not created primarily to bring the adam (who only now is identified as a male human [ish], signifying the beginnings of gender) companionship or to have his children, but to ‘help’ him in his vocation of serving the earth. (Note, too, that the Hebrew word ezer [‘helper’] doesn’t imply subordination – it is often used to describe God as our helper, eg. Psalms 10:14, 30:10, 54:4.).

Even if Genesis 2 tells us something about marriage, it does not tell us that marriage is for having children. The first responsibility of men and women, says Genesis 2, is to care for God’s creation. We (anthropocentric creatures that we are) think the story is all about us. It is not. It is about the earth first.’[5]

For Warner Genesis 1 is about procreation, but not marriage and Genesis 2 is about marriage, but not about procreation.

The problem with this 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.

The major theme of the narrative contained in Genesis 1-50 is descent (which is why Genesis is structured round a series of genealogies[6]). Genesis is about how the people of Israel was formed by the descendants of Abraham in accordance with the promise made to Abraham by God in Genesis 12:1-3, a promise which is turn related to the promise of salvation through the seed of Eve in Genesis 3:15, which is turn related to God’s command to his human creatures to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ in Genesis 1:28. Genesis 2 has to be read in the light of this overall concern with the issue of descent.

In Genesis 1:28 God tells his male and female human creatures:

‘And God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’’

In this verse having children and exercising dominion are not two separate commands, but two aspects of one command. It is by having children that the human race is able to fill the earth and subdue it and thus exercise dominion on behalf of God.

The story starting in Genesis 2 is about how this dual aspect command begins to be fulfilled in practice even in the face of human rebellion. The man Adam is put in the garden to begin to exercise dominion over God’s creation and verses 18-25 tell ‘the story of God’s creation of Eve as a suitable helper and companion for Adam.’ [7]

In these verses, as Warner suggests, the emphasis is on the companionate aspect of the relationship between Adam and Eve. Marriage is depicted as good in itself even though children are not (yet) on the scene.

However, the reader of Genesis who has read Genesis 1:28 is still left asking how the ‘be fruitful and multiply’ aspect of God’s command to his human creatures will be fulfilled, particularly since in Genesis 3:15 the idea that God’s purposes will be fulfilled through the begetting of children is once again emphasized.

Genesis 3:16 then supplies the answer by saying that it will come about through childbearing in the context of a relationship between husband and wife:

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.’[8]

The situation outlined in this verse then comes to pass in Genesis 4:1-2, 25-6, 5:1-3 in which Adam and Eve (with the help of God) beget Cain, Abel and Seth (and then other sons and daughters 5:4) as the fruit of their marital relationship, with the line of Seth (which eventually leads to Abraham and his descendants) being the means by which the promise of redemption in 3:15 begins to come about after the murder of Abel by Cain.

What all this means is that in the bigger narrative concerning Adam and Eve running from Genesis 2:4 to 5-5 the first human couple begin to fulfil through their marriage both aspects of the dual command in Genesis 1:28. even in the conditions prevailing after the Fall. They are God’s image bearers exercising dominion and they are fruitful and multiply thus allowing God’s work to continue and expand even in the face of death.

As Jesus’ response to the question of divorce indicates (Matthew 19:3-12, Mark 10:2-12), the reason why we are told about Adam and Eve is not just out of antiquarian interest, but because they are the paradigm married couple who indicate how God created marriage to be.[9] It follows that the way in which Adam and Eve fulfil the creation mandate to be fruitful is to be viewed as a paradigm for all subsequent marriages (which is why, as we have said, Scripture views the begetting of children within marriage as the normal state of affairs – this is how God created things to be[10]).

To sum up: we need to read Genesis as whole and when we do we find that Adam and Eve, the paradigm married couple, fulfil Genesis 1:28 through their marital relationship and this establishes a God given pattern for human behaviour which the rest of the Bible (and the subsequent tradition of the Church) simply follows.

This being the case, even though a marital relationship between a husband and wife is a good in itself even without children because of the ‘mutual society, help, and comfort’[11] it provides, it is nonetheless the case that the procreation of children is an integral part of what marriage is for.

The case that same-sex relationships cannot be regarded as marriages both because they are between two people of the same sex and because they are inherently not procreative therefore still stands.

M B Davie 20.2.19

 

 

 

[1] Meg Warner ‘Elephants, Penguins, Procreation and Japanese Knotweed’ at

Elephants, Penguins, Procreation & Japanese Knotweed

[2] Martin Davie, Glorify God in your body (London: CEEC, 2018) p.154.

[3] Warner, art c it, emphasis in the original.

[4] Warner, art cit.

[5] Warner, art cit.

[6] See Stephen Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty (Nottingham: Apollos, 2003), pp. 55-56.

[7] Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen, The Drama of Scripture (London: SPCK, 2006), p.16.

[8] For the interpretation of this verse see Richard Davidson, Flame of Yahweh – Sexuality in the Old Testament (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2007), pp. 58-80.

[9] If we ask why Jesus doesn’t say anything about children this is because this was not the issue at hand.

[10] In Genesis and throughout the Bible children are born out of wedlock, but in every case where this happens there are explicit or implicit indications that this is not how things are meant to be. See Davidson for a detailed discussion of therelevant verses.

[11] Book of Common Prayer marriage service.