Project Wittenberg

Human Sexuality:
A Theological Perspective

Man As Male and Female

A Report of the
Commission on Theology and Church Relations
of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod
as prepared by its Social Concerns Committee
September 1981

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Robert Farrar Capon has written:

Capon's point, made in fairly amusing fashion, is an important one. A study of human sexuality from the standpoint of Christian theology cannot begin with a discussion of marriage. Rather, it must begin with the creation of man as male and female, with what Karl Barth called "being-in-fellow-humanity." [3]

This is, after all, where the Scriptures begin. "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Gen. 1:27; italics added). The suggestion here is that it is impossible to come to know the significance of our humanity without reference to the sexual differentiation between male and female. To be human simply is to exist in this male-female duality. [4] Consequently, it will be insufficient to say that God has created two kinds of human beings, male and female. Rather, we should say that God has created human beings for fellowship and that the male- female polarity is a basic form of this fellowship. To stress that human beings are created for community as male and female necessarily involves an equally firm insistence that they are male or female. [5] We are created not for life in isolation but for community, a community which binds those who are different. We are not simply "persons," however important that claim may on occasion be as a protest against inequities.

When the Scriptures deal with human beings as man and woman, created to realize not themselves but their fellowship as a harmonious union of those who are different, they view man and woman as embodied creatures. Men and women are not mere persons who meet in a purely spiritual union. On the contrary, the body has its own integrity. What we do in our bodies is done by us; there is no inner, purely spiritual self which remains untouched by our physical commitments (1 Cor.6:18). We are, quite simply, created as embodied creatures: as male and female. Thus we do not find in the other simply an image of ourselves, an alter ego; rather, the fellowship for which we are created is a fellowship of those who are different and who yet are joined in a personal community of love.

There is a further reason why we must begin not with marriage but with the creation of man as male and female. Not every human being need enter the order of marriage (1 Cor. 7:1-7). Celibacy is also in accordance with the will of God. Despite the justifiable polemic of the Reformers against the view of medieval Christendom which institutionalized celibacy as a way of life more acceptable to God than the marital union of husband and wife, we cannot allow that polemic to determine everything we say about the fellowship of man and woman. The church today must certainly make clear to its people that marriage is ordained by God and Sanctified by Him and that, indeed, the fellowship of man and woman is ordered toward the physical union which stands at its center and is the most intimate form of this fellowship. Nevertheless, the church must also assure those who do not enter the order of marriage that they also please God.

No human being can escape existing within, or in opposition to, the male-female distinction as the fundamental form of fellow-humanity. However, not every human being need marry. [6] If we remain free to enter with God's blessing into the order of marriage and there to live out our obedience to Him. We are also free, however, while granting the inestimable importance of marriage as a sign and realization of our creation for fellow-humanity, to live out our commitment to our fellows in the unmarried state. We may expect that marriage will remain the norm, but we must make room for Jesus' own recognition that there may be some who "have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 19:12), that is, some who have chosen to forego marriage in order to live out their vocations in service to the Lord. And we recognize that some who do not choose the single state may, nevertheless, live such a life. They too exist within the duality of male and female. They too live as male and female.

A further reason why marriage cannot be made a necessity lies in the fact that, despite its immeasurable importance for our lives, it remains an earthly order. This is made unmistakably clear not only by Jesus' words in Mark 12:25, where He says that in the resurrection there is no more marrying, but also by St. Paul's discussion in 1 Corinthians 7. In this chapter the apostle does not demonstrate a negative attitude toward sexuality as such, though this is often alleged. [7] His advice to the Corinthian Christians must be seen together with his statement in v. 31: "The form of this world is passing away." Because the end-time has entered our history in the person of Jesus Christ, no earthly reality such as marriage can be institutionalized as a necessary form of obedience to God; that is to say, marriage is not an institution which everyone must enter. Paul suggests that those who are unmarried may be better able to devote themselves to the work of the Lord, free of earthly cares and responsibilities which marriage brings. As Paul himself recognizes, however, this is true only of those to whom such a gift is given (v. 7). For others it might be true that only within marriage could they give themselves with a glad heart to the doing of God's will. While marriage is limited to earthly life, as a divine institution it can be pronounced good and entered with a good conscience (Gen. 2:24-25).

Man As Male and Female

[2] Robert Farrar Capon, Bed and Board: Plain Talk About Marriage (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1965), p. 49.

[3] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, trans. A. T. Mackay et al. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1961), vol. 3, part 4, pp. 116-240.

[4] This Scriptural assertion implies that the subject of human sexuality includes much more than the male/female relationship in marriage. While it has been necessary to limit this study to a basic discussion of the male/female duality as it pertains to marriage and certain other problems, such as homosexuality, the Commission recognizes that more could and needs to be said about how our creation as sexual beings affects a whole variety of relationships such as between parents and children. Friends of the same sex as well as friends of the opposite sex, male and female colleagues, employers and employees, and many other personal encounters between the sexes.

[5] In general cf. Barth, pp. 149-168.

[6] It is true that in the days of the Old Testament the unmarried state was regarded with disfavor. This was because of the Israelite stress on procreation as the continuation of the people, the seed of Abraham, from whom the Promised One was to come. We, however, who are of the new Israel and who confess that the Promised One has indeed come to His people, stand under no such necessity. (Our discussion here follows Barth, pp. 149-168.) The barren and the fruitful, the married and the unmarried are alike members of a new fellowship and family (Gal. 3:28).

[7] For a brief but helpful discussion of this chapter cf. Stephen Sapp, Sexuality, the Bible, and Science (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977), pp. 68-73.


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Rev. Robert E. Smith
Walther Library
Concordia Theological Seminary.

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