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A Theology of Sexuality and its Abuse: Creation, Evil, and the Relational Ecosystem, Part 1

Following the above diagram, Gen 1:26–28 shows that ’ādām refers to the category of “human being” to which the individual belongs; that is, collective humankind as “male” and “female” (v. 27c). The Old Testament does not use ’ādām to distinguish one individual from another.69 The terms and literary structure of this passage shows that neither gender nor *hierarchy is at issue here; at focus is the image-bearer as God’s agent in earthly stewardship.70

As image-bearers, their difference lies in sexual structure. Significantly, the terms “male” (zākār) and “female” (nĕqēbâ, v. 27c) refer to their capacity as sexual beings, thus making sexual potency—alongside the royal status of image-bearing—the gravitational center of this passage. As the above diagram shows, sexuality is an assumption celebrated in the blessing that immediately follows (v. 28). Not until we come to Gen 2:23 do we find the terms “man” (’iš) and “woman” (’iššâ) used by God’s agents. Only in Gen 2:23 are social relationships evident—gender, as we tend to think of it.71 But our diagram illustrates more.

The *chiasm in the center report communicates some unique emphases.72 Together, (A, A’) “so created” and “then blessed”73 underscores the fact that human creation is beyond a neutral event—“Let us” was salvific and doxological.74 Used three times in v. 27, “create” (bārā’ ) communicates product rather than process (cf. “make,” v. 26), further highlighting the special nature of “the human being” (hā’ādām, v. 27a). Further, the core subunits (B, B’): “in the image of God” and “male and female” are topically stressed. The structure of subunits “B” are explicative verbless phrases, not the “normal” Hebrew word order. In other words, moving from the articular form (“the human being,” v. 27a) to the collective singular (B: “him/it,” v. 27b)75 presents “male” (zākār) and “female” (B’: nĕqēbâ, v. 27c) as two types of the same generic human being, agents of the same mission. We now consider how sexuality and mission merge.

Royal Custodians in Ethical Mission

Sexuality operates in the context of a divinely delegated and other-oriented mission. God’s vice-regents are custodians in an ethical trust. The mission in Gen 1:28 is a theological *hendiadys, or pairing of two interrelated parts: (1) endowment for reproduction, (2) and commission for governance (see above diagram). Aberrant notions of sexuality tend to divide: a severance of reproduction from governance, a dismissal of society from self, or an elevation of personal choice over social obligation. But moored to the image of God, the context of human sexuality is ethical mission—from God and for others. Sexuality has a “nested existence”76 in a web of relationships that originates with the Creator who considerately observed, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen 2:18). God “allows himself to be affected, to be touched by each of his creatures. He adopts the community of creation as his own milieu.”77

While endowment addresses sexual reproduction, it is never separated from the commission of ruling (cf. 1:26, 28)—the stewardship of governance. Sexuality has an orienting vision in which God has interjected moral order and ethical coherence.78 To produce and care is to mimic the Creator (cf. 2:5, 15). Humankind is intended to co-create with God (Gen 4:1; 5:3). The same ethical mission means that “subduing” (v. 28a) in creation theology is the task of earthly development, whereas “ruling” (v. 28b) grants humankind the necessary position to achieve this harnessing of earthly life.79 But abuse defies both dignity and vision. Theologically, sexual abuse is: ethical mission in reverse, custodians in sabotage of their royal family, a distortion of delegated authority, a plundering of fellow-image bearers, a degrading of the redemptive horizon, and a marring of connecting metaphors for God. The grand web of relationships is broken.80

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Category: Ministry, Pneuma Review, Summer 2013

About the Author: Andrew J. Schmutzer, Ph.D., is a Professor of Biblical Studies at Moody Bible Institute (Chicago, IL). He regularly writes and speaks about sexual abuse from a theological perspective, to help equip churches to care for the abused in their midst. Andrew is the editor of the collaborative book, The Long Journey Home: Understanding and Ministering to the Sexually Abused (Wipf & Stock, 2011), a contributor to numerous books including Finding Our Way Through the Traffick: Exploring the Complexities of a Christian Response to Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking (Regnum Books, 2017), The Moody Handbook of Preaching (Moody, 2008), Naming Our Abuse: God's Pathways to Healing for Male Sexual Abuse Survivors (Kregel, 2016), Between Pain and Grace: A Biblical Theology of Suffering (Moody, 2016), and Genesis: See Our Story Begin (NLT Study Series). He is one of the editors of The Psalms: Language for All Seasons of the Soul (Moody, 2013), and author of Be Fruitful and Multiply: A Crux of Thematic Repetition in Genesis 1-11 (Wipf & Stock, 2009). He can be reached at

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