The Biblical Vision of Sexuality
The biblical story begins with God’s act of creation. At the start, God creates humanity in His image: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27 NIV). An essential part of being made in God’s image is that men and women complement one another to image God together. God’s first command to them is, “Be fruitful and increase in number” (1:28). An essential part of humanity’s created job is to procreate together as men and women. At the start, they are naked and do not experience shame (2:25).
Yet human sexuality quickly goes awry in the Fall. After disobeying God’s command and eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (3:6), they experience shame at their own nakedness and make clothes from fig leaves to cover themselves (3:7). As part of the curse brought on by their disobedience, their relationship is disordered. The wife will “desire” her husband, but “he will rule over” her (3:16). Yet even in the brokenness of this narrative, God promises grace will come through procreation. God tells the serpent who tempted them that, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (3:15). The narrative of the Old Testament traces out the line of this offspring through Abraham and his descendants, to King David, and to a future Messiah who fulfills the promises given to these key patriarchs. While sexuality is disordered, God promises to use procreation to bring salvation into the world.
The Old Testament prophets, particularly Hosea, use the relationship between a husband and a wife to reflect God’s faithfulness to His people, Israel, and their unfaithfulness to Him. God specifically says to the prophet Hosea, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord” (Hos. 1:2). Scripture commands against adultery (Ex. 20:14) because it is an image of idolatry and unfaithfulness to Israel’s covenant with God. St. Paul later picks up on the positive side of this image and shows how faithful marriage pictures the love Jesus has shown to the Church: "Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church, His body, of which He is the Savior. Now as the Church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the Word, and we present her to Himself as a radiant Church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the Church-for we are members of His body (Eph. 5:22-30)."
Husbands and wives live lives of mutual love and submission because if reflects the relationship of Christ and His Church. Jesus submitted Himself to death out of a radical love and commitment to His people and the Church submits herself to the risen Jesus who has lavished His love on her.
What Christians do with their bodies is a picture of Christ’s relationship with the Church. Furthermore, his or her body is not theirs alone: "The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By His power God raised the Lord from the dead, and He will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ Himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, ‘The two will become one flesh.’ But whoever is united with the Lord is one with Him in Spirit (1 Cor. 6:13-17)."
A Christian’s body belongs to Jesus. Therefore, Christians must utilize their bodies in accord to their relationship with the same Jesus who poured out His life on their behalf. Joining one’s body with anyone outside of the marriage covenant, whether that is through adultery, premarital sex, or other means, bears witness to unfaithfulness in the covenant between Christ and His Church and is out of step with the Christian’s identity as united to Christ.
On the last day, the relationship of Christ and His Church will be fully consummated. The Revelation of St. John pictures the Church as “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (21:9). Because the reality of Christ’s relationship with His Church will be fully inaugurated, the image of marriage will be fulfilled and will no longer be needed. Jesus Himself said, “When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven” (Mark 12:25).
While marriage continues to serve as a picture of Christ and His Church in the present age (1 Cor. 7:27-28), those who live celibate lives reflect the future reality of the Kingdom. St. Paul writes: "I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs-how he can please the Lord….So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better. A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is-and I think that I too have the Spirit of God (7:32, 38-40)."
St. Paul presents the single life as the ideal life because a single person can devote his or her life completely to God and live in light of the Kingdom reality of Christ’s union to His Church.
The clearest and most profound picture of celibacy and singleness lived in light of Jesus lies in His own birth. Throughout the Old Testament, the promised seed of Gen. 3:15 is traced through the family line of Israel, through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, David, and so on. It follows a line of procreation between men and women whose lives are brought into the story of God’s redemption. However, Jesus’ actual birth does not take place through the ordinary sexual relationship of a man and woman. Instead, He is born of a virgin woman (Luke 1:34) through the power of the Holy Spirit (1:35). Jesus is not conceived by the ordinary union of a man and a woman, but by a miraculous union between God and a woman. The God who gives Mary spiritual life is given human life by her. Sexual relations find their fulfillment in Jesus’ own union of Himself with His Church, already initiated in His conception and birth and to be consummated in the age to come.
Sexual relationships image the relationship of Christ and His Church. Because of this, Christians are to preserve sexual relationships for the committed marriage relationship. Sex outside of the marriage covenant falls far short of the committed covenant relationship of love between Christ and His Church. During the present age, marriage continues to picture this relationship, but in the age to come, marriage will be fulfilled and no longer be necessary. Celibate Christians live in light of this future reality in the midst of the age to come, living in light of union with Christ.