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Theology: Christ’s Sexuality

3 minute read

The idea of Jesus as a sexual being, sheer blasphemy to most Christians, has a certain fascination for some modern writers. In The Man Who Died, D. H. Lawrence interpreted the Resurrection as Christ’s awakening to sensual love; Nikos Kazantzakis described The Last Temptation of Christ as his struggle to overcome sexual desire. Heretical as such writings may sound, says Tom F. Driver, an associate professor at Manhattan’s Union Theological Seminary, Jesus’ sexuality should not be dismissed by Christians as unthinkable.

To do so, he argues in the current issue of Union’s Quarterly Review, is to fall into the ancient heresy of Docetism, which held that Christ’s body was merely a phantom, and to accept the puritanical and wholly unBiblical notion that sex is sinful. “To put it bluntly,” Driver argues, “a sexless Jesus can hardly be conceived as fully human.”

Down to Man’s Level. In Driver’s view, the complaints of outraged churchgoers that Lawrence is “dragging Christ down” to man’s level miss the meaning of the Incarnation: that God in Christ did come down to man’s level in everything except sin. The Gospels make it clear that Jesus was subject to all sorts of earthly temptations. “Hunger Jesus knew, and thirst. Death He endured. Pride, sloth, envy, desire for power, idolatry—all came close to Him and were overcome in favor of the virtues of which they are the perversions.” Unless sex itself is interpreted as a sign of man’s fallen nature, a view rejected by most modern theologians, there is no good reason why Jesus should not have sexual feelings, and might even have been sexually tempted.

Why do the Gospels say nothing about Jesus’ sexuality? One reason, Driver suggests, may be that Christ himself is the “great neutralizer” of the religious meaning of sex. In other literature of saviour figures and spiritual heroes, the protagonist is either “a champion of sexual renewal or a warrior against the ‘demonic’ sexual force.” Jesus, even though he condemned sexual transgression, saw sex in itself neither as a barrier in the way of salvation nor as a condition of spiritual blessedness. He accepted it as a fact of life—not as something subject to either divine or demonic power.

Toward a New Ethic. Today, argues Driver, the world is full of neopagan sex worshipers—Norman Mailer questing for the “good orgasm,” for example. The church today should therefore follow Jesus and seek to “demythologize” sex, proclaiming that man can sin sexually but in much the same way that he sins with money or political power. “The construction of a Christian ethic of sex,” Driver concludes, “cannot be properly attempted as long as one retains the mythology of sex that grew up in the ancient religions, is perpetuated in new ones, and from which Jesus as the Christ would liberate us.”

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