This brief essay considers the main thesis of the book, Kingdom through Covenant and the relation of that thesis to human sexuality (1).
Down through the centuries, indeed from the start, God has sought to establish covenant relationships with humanity in general and also with particular individuals and nations. Why does he do this? The answer given in Kingdom through Covenant is that he does this because this is who he is in himself.
The Bible teaches that God is a triunity: there is only one supreme being, and yet within the being of this one God we can speak of three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The relationship of Father to Son and Son to Father, in the communion of the Holy Spirit is a relationship of devoted love, faithfulness, obedience, and trust. There is complete faithfulness and loyalty; there is truth and trust̶all the characteristics of a covenant relationship. God wants to have precisely this kind of relationship with us because that is who he is in himself.
Since we are made as the image of this God, i.e. to mirror this God, we ourselves are hard-wired in the deepest part of our beings to exist in covenant relationships, not only vertically in our relationship with the creator God, but horizontally with all his creatures̶ including other humans. God has established certain covenant communities in which we are designed to live and function. The first one we experience is the family. All human beings come from one man and one woman. Another that we can experience is marriage (one man and one woman in a relationship dissolved only by death—why this is so, we shall see later). If a person becomes a follower of Jesus Christ, he becomes part of a third covenant community, the people of the new creation. Note that the present humanity is committed to destroying itself and the only humanity to outlast the present age is that of this New Humanity, those that are in Jesus Christ, the first Man of the New Creation.
Sex is an appetite given to us by the creator God and, in fact, is specifically tied to one covenant community—that of marriage. It is an appetite like hunger and thirst, but is not to be awakened until the right time (Song of Songs 8).
We now need to look at alternative arrangements that are so loudly proclaimed today to see why they fall short. Our movies today portray people having sex in all sorts of ways. It may be a man and a woman who are married in conventional terms, and one of them then has sex with someone else. Clearly this violates the covenant that is at the heart of their marriage relationship to which sex is exclusive and integral. Although Hollywood has no appreciation of biblical teaching, they correctly mirror what it means to be human in that they almost always portray that when a person in one relationship has sex outside the relationship, the other person feels horribly betrayed. Why? Well, since the biblical teaching connects sex with covenant, any lack of faithfulness and loyalty results in a dehumanizing experience. And this dehumanizing experience is fully explored by the industry in Hollywood. Moreover, since the biblical teaching summarizes all the instructions in the covenant as social justice (see Chapter 15 in Kingdom through Covenant), failure to correlate sex and covenant loyalty constitutes social injustice.
It could also be that a couple who are married attempt to introduce a third person into the sexual experience such as is portrayed in the movie Garden of Eden based upon the book by Ernest Hemingway. This is not satisfying, however, because once again, there is no way to engage in sex fully with three people at the same time. And when two of the three are sexually engaged, one of the three is left out in some way. In other words, if sex is tied to complete devotion and loyalty in a covenant relationship, it logically demands only one of each of the opposite sex.
Why shouldn’t a human have sex with an animal? Especially if it brings pleasure? A woman could have sex with a dog or a horse. This is attested in ancient documents more than two to three thousand years old. Since animals are not made as the image of God, they cannot enter into covenant relationships. Dogs can be obedient and faithful, but they have to be disciplined and trained to be just that. So those who engage in these acts are following a path that is once again dehumanizing.
What about homosexuality? Surely this could be a covenant relationship, as many of them would argue, couldn’t it? No, because it does not mirror what we see in the being of God. Within the being of God we see a Father and a Son, two who are not the same. This is why obedience and trust is possible within the being of God. If there are two beings who are the same, there is no a priori place for obedience or trust. It is interesting to note that in every homosexual relationship I have observed, one of the two parties feel they must imitate the opposite sex. Within their own being they sense that a covenant relationship requires a greater and a lesser party so that obedience and trust are possible. This shows that this relationship is a lie, contravenes the reality of being human and is thus dehumanizing. It is a lie because a covenant relationship that mirrors the being of God cannot be between two the same. It also shows why these relationships are often between older men and younger men and not between equals. Even hearts and minds far away from the Bible reach out for the truth of what it is to be human̶a truth buried deep within their souls by the creator. We also see this truth in the fact that homosexuals are not content to practice their behavior in private but in fact wish to wring approval for their lifestyle from the rest of society. This is prime evidence of a guilty conscience̶their own soul cries out from within that they have pursued actions and attitudes contrary to the way we are hardwired.
In spite of an apparent concern for social justice, homosexuals are chief among those promoting social injustice, because at the heart of the community in which they live they fail to establish a covenant relationship that mirrors the being of the creator God. This, of course, assumes that they have the same partner for life̶a situation that is extremely rare. The reality is that men and women are different, and that relating to the opposite sex is redemptive. That is, it brings you out of yourself. You have to give up your own interests in a way that two males or two females can never experience. And so, on another level, they fail to develop a covenant relationship, a truly human relationship.
This essay, of course, assumes the biblical teaching and does not try to prove it. If one begins from merely a human point of view and then seeks to understand the Trinity, it is like trying to solve an impossible mathematical puzzle. If, however, one begins from the biblical teaching about the trinity, only then can one satisfactorily explain all the phenomena in the creation and in the world.
(1) Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012).
[Editor’s Note: Peter J. Gentry (Ph.D., University of Toronto) is professor of Old Testament interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he brings an expansive knowledge of the biblical languages to his teaching. Before coming to Southern, he served on the faculty of Toronto Baptist Seminary and Bible College. Dr. Gentry is coauthor of the much-anticipated Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants (Crossway). He has given presentations to groups such as the International Organization for the Study of Old Testament and the Society of Biblical Literature. He is currently editing the texts of Ecclesiastes and Proverbs for the Gottingen Septuagint Series as well as providing leadership for the Hexapla Institute.