God’s Sex Mandate: The Two Shall Become One Flesh

God issues a Sex Mandate in Genesis 2:24: “The two [man and woman] shall become one flesh.”

Perhaps you thought I was referring to the first words of the Creation Mandate: “Be fruitful and multiply.” (Genesis 1:28) The Pharisees took that command dead seriously: “No man may abstain from the command, Be fruitful and multiply, unless he already has children” (Mishnah, Yebamoth 6:6). They even specified how often a husband was obligated to have sex with his wife: every day if he was not employed, twice a week for laborers, once a week for donkey drivers, once a month for camel drivers, and once every six months for sailors (Mishnah, Ketuboth 5:6).

But no, the “sex mandate” to which I refer is the central Biblical teaching on sexuality, the foundation on which all other Biblical evidence on the subject must be measured. Revisionists, of course, deny that any such central teaching exists; they prefer to speak of multiple sexual ethics (plural) in the Bible. But as I argue in Chapter Four of my book What’s on God’s Sin List for Today? (http://wipfandstock.com/what-s-on-god-s-sin-list-for-today.html), this verse constitutes the heart of the Biblical sexual ethic. We find it in the Torah, in Jesus (twice), and in Paul (twice). This foundational sexual ethic rules out all sex outside of a lifelong sexual union of a man and a woman.

We hear all sorts of nonsense that Jesus never spoke one word on the subject of same-sex intimacy. Shane Morris, in his “Troubler of Israel” blog, responded eloquently to this claim in his recent post: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/troublerofisrael/2017/09/dear-liberals-jesus-didnt-write-the-red-letters/. The Babylon Bee likewise obliquely but hilariously lampoons the logic of this claim (http://babylonbee.com/news/jesus-never-said-anything-felony-home-invasion/).

Jesus goes straight to the Genesis Sex Mandate when the issue of sexual ethics arises (Matthew 19:4-6; Mark 10:7-8). But Jesus does not merely quote the Sex Mandate; he fortifies it (in case you thought Jesus was the Great Rule Trasher). He makes it tougher. He declares this one-flesh union of a man and a woman to be unerasable, a shock to Jews and Christ-followers alike. He also explicitly includes porneia (a broad term for all kinds of sex outside of marriage) in his sin list in Mark 7:22-23.

But Jesus goes even further on that sin list. He names another sin: aselgeia, a word used by Jews for shocking violations of the Torah beyond mere fornication and adultery. Connect the dots! Here, in all likelihood, is Jesus’ euphemism for the behavior of what Paul calls arsenokoitai in 1 Corinthians 6:9. Want the evidence? See my “Aselgeia in Mark 7:22”: https://www.bsw.org/filologia-neotestamentaria/vol-21-2008/in-mark-7-22/523/.

The Great Theologian Catherine Hobson
The great theologian Catherine Hobson, who made the Pope’s observation on marriage long before the Pope announced it. Photo: Karen Hobson.

What does Pope Francis think? Forget the famous “Who am I to judge?” comment to the press. Pope Francis stated his real opinion in a public speech based on the Sex Mandate passage on April 2, 2014 (http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/audiences/2014/documents/papa-francesco_20140402_udienza-generale.html), where he says, “The image of God is the married couple: the man and the woman; not only the man, not only the woman, but both of them together.” Pope Francis seems to have borrowed an idea from the great theologian Catherine Hobson, who said years (before the Pope said it) that whenever a relationship has only two men or two women, part of God’s image is missing.

So let’s unpack the Sex Mandate. Genesis 2:24 begins by specifying the involvement of both a man and a woman. There are no multiple partners here. The two become one, not the threesome or more. Polygamy is tolerated in the Hebrew Bible, but to the same extent that divorce is tolerated, which Jesus nevertheless insists was contrary to God’s foundational intention. Furthermore, there are no convincing grounds in the Sex Mandate for permitting two partners of the same gender; the whole thrust of verses 18-25 argues against that possibility.

The Sex Mandate also clearly teaches that God designed sex to unite two people in a lifelong union: “one flesh.” Sex is meant to have a permanent bonding effect. Paul writes that even one night in a love motel creates such a one-flesh union, whether intended or not (1 Corinthians 6:16); that is part of why sexual abuse and assault are so evil. God’s intention that this bond be permanent rules out fornication. The “one flesh” math also makes polygamy extremely difficult to reconcile with the Sex Mandate: are they all bonded to each other?

“The two [man and woman] shall become one flesh” serves as a coherent ethical principle that supports and explains the Bible’s prohibitions on fornication, adultery, homosexual behavior, and similar offenses, while serving as a corrective on behavior in the Bible that might otherwise appear to be condoned. Departures from that ethic which are narrated in Scripture, such as polygamy and prostitution, are not to be equated with what the Bible actually teaches as God’s intention for sex.

The Genesis 2:24 Sex Mandate is a superior alternative to the moral taboos of sexual freedom, where the only absolutes are against sex with a minor and sex between a superior and a subordinate. Both are said to be bad simply “because we say so,” and are wide open to challenge. The taboo against child sex will fall when enough lovable personalities arise to mainstream child sex, the same way that Bruce [sic] Jenner so quickly mainstreamed transgenderism. As for the power dynamic that makes sex between unequals so bad, why does that dynamic not also apply to athletes or entertainment stars and their starry-eyed fans? How much better to simply rule out fornication and adultery, and let permanent loving commitment be the standard, rather than age and power dynamics?

It is alleged that the Bible’s teaching on sex is hopelessly intertwined with patriarchy, and that women in that teaching are simply sex objects or pieces of property. Utter baloney! To cite the great theologian Catherine Hobson once again, how can you become “one flesh” with a piece of property?

The Sex Mandate is not a discardable teaching. It is not a culture-bound, stray detail. It is foundational.

I wasn’t planning on addressing this subject quite so soon. But in my first blog post back in July, I indicated that I would get around to it eventually.


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