Science in Christian Perspective



Notes on "Science and the Whole Person" A Personal Integration of Scientific and Biblical Perspectives

Part 11

Human Sexuality (B) Love and Law
Department of Materials Science and Engineering
Stanford University
Stanford, California 94305

From: JASA 31 (September 1979): 153-156.

Love vs Law

The third argument advanced by advocates of a sexual revolution on Christian grounds is that restrictions against extra-marital sexual expression are legal in nature, and that ultimately love must supercede law. This brings us naturally to a consideration of love vs. law, a subject with far greater significance than the sexual revolution alone.
Not only are love and law not mutually exclusive, but in a Christian context neither can be understood without the other. Law is the guide to what it means to love (Psalm 119-97-104), and love is the fulfilling of what the law requires (Romans 13:10). Examples of extreme pitfalls are legalism on the one hand, which forgets the intent of the law in favor of its letter, and situational ethics on the other hand, which in seeking no law but love so subjectivizes love that it retains little content. In order to love, we must act in accordance with the real world; we do not love a child by giving him everything he wants, nor do we love our neighbor by seeking his presumed "welfare" at any cost. When Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment in the law, he answered that it was to love God and to love your neighbor (Matthew 22:3740). On the night before his death, he linked love and law indissolubly together when he said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." (John 14:15) To claim that one can love without reference to the law is to deny implicitly the created reality in which we live. The principles of the law inform us as to what it means to truly love in this world. The situation does not determine the law; the situation determines how the law manifests itself in love.

In speaking of biblical law, I mean the principles of living laid down in the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, and other similar and related prophetic and apostolic exhortations for godly living. This biblical law is given to us by God's revelation of the nature of the created universe and of interpersonal relationships in that created universe because he loves us. Biblical law tells us what it means to live as a child of God, as he has intended us to live by creation, in the real sinful world in which we find ourselves. If we kept the first of the Ten Commandments, we would be fully human and would need no others; our human situation in its present state, however, is such that this is not possible for us, and Cod has provided a variety of guidances in practical living in the real created world. When this law tells us "You shall not steal," or "You shall not commit adultery," it is indeed reflecting the real content of actual human experience, but it is not ultimately derived from this experience as a relative end in itself. The content of human experience confirms that it is a better world without stealing and adultery because this is the very intrinsic nature of the created world. It is divinely revealed and it is experientially and even empirically testable; one description requires the other, and does not eliminate the other. The commandment, "You shall not commit adultery" tells us quite simply that committing adultery can never be an ultimate exercise of love in the real world, the appealing theme of Tea and Sympathy to

This continuing series of articles is based on courses given at Stanford University, Fuller Theological Seminary, Regent College, Menlo Pork Presbyterian Church and Foothill Covenant Church. Previous articles were published as follows. 1. "Science Isn't Everything," March (1976), pp. 33-37. 2. "Science Isn't Nothing," June (1976), pp. 82-87. 3. "The Philosophy and Practice of Science," September (1976), pp. 127-132. 4, "Pseudo-Science and PseudoTheology. (A) Cult and Occult" March (1977), pp. 22-28. 5. "Pseudo-Science and PseudoTheology. (B) Scientific Theology," September (1977), pp. 124-129. 6. "Pseudo-Science and Pseudo-Theology. (C) Cosmic Consciousness," December (1977), pp. 165-174. 7. "Man Come of Age?" June (1978), pp. 81-87. 8. "Ethical Guidelines," September (1978), pp. 134-141. 9. "The Significance of Being Human," March (1979), pp. 37-43. 10. Human Sexuality. (A) Are Times A'ChangingP June (1979) pp. 106-112.

the contrary. Its effects are not "up for grabs" any more than the law of gravity or the laws of electromagnetics are at our subjective disposal.30 We can never love a person by pushing him off the top of a tall building because he feels like flying. I can conceive of situations where the choice to perform an undesirable deed (a "known evil," if you will) might be the consequence of realizing that in this imperfect world not to act would result in a known greater evil, but such exceptions retain validity only as evil is recognized as evil, and is not called good, and as exceptions-never if they are treated as a guide to the norm.

Many people's sexuality has indeed been damaged, sometimes grievously, by having been shaped within the confines of a narrow and non-biblical view of sex: a view in which sex and the human body are viewed as intrinsically "dirty." In this context sexual aberrations take on the aspects of forbidden fruit, becoming all the more desirable because of the intense efforts of local cultures to suppress the expression of bona fide biological needs through creation-designed channels. Rebellion against such a distorted view of the subject often takes the form of a shift to a position in which sexual activities are viewed with maximum liberality. It is claimed that sexual sins and crimes are caused by the omnipresent prohibitions against them, and that Christians bear a heavy weight of guilt for their role in this historical process. The solution for anti-social sexual excesses, it is also argued, is to ignore the sexual issue completely, be completely free in allowing everything rather than prohibiting, and instead concentrate on communicating what love is really all about; once it is understood what love really is, then sexual excesses will wither away in a natural way. There is enough truth to this argument that it should not be simply ignored; if negative prohibitions are not liberally seasoned with positive example and training, a distorted view of sexuality is extremely likely to develop. But to argue that a person can be simply permitted to continue in sexual sin until his realization of the true meaning of love delivers him, fails to recognize the totality of the whole person. First, it neglects the fact that sin is more appealing than righteousness to the sinful nature. Second, it is like urging a person to develop better health by diet and exercise while ignoring the fact that the person is swallowing a dose of poison each day. Understanding and appreciation for sexuality within the context of a sustained and committed love relationship, and the continued practice of acts and lifestyle that contradict this, are mutually exclusive activities.

Christian advocates of a sexual revolution argue that the Christian no longer has any relationship to the law. All decisions are to be based on love alone in the midst of the particular situation.

We have not met a single creative Christian who has not found the old rules wanting in some respect. Not one of them thinks that the Christian response should he to turn the volume up on the Church's transmitter
proclaiming premarital chastity, pure monogamy, and abstinence from adultery . . . . All ethics ore contextual or situational nowadays.31

It is argued that Jesus himself affords a prime example of one who repeatedly broke the law in order to meet the requirements of love by healing on the Sabbath, eating corn in the fields on the Sabbath, and not condemning the woman taken in adultery to death (Matthew 12:1-12; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 13:1017; Luke 14:16; John 8:1-11). Here there is a double confusion. First of all the "laws" that Jesus "broke" were part of the ceremonial or civil laws, many of which had been greatly elaborated far beyond anything set forth in the Mosaic ceremonial or civil laws, and not part of the universal moral law. Secondly, Jesus rather showed what Cod's intent in these laws was, as contrasted to the human requirements that had been added to them; the actions of Jesus must he considered as clarifying and fulfilling the essential intent of the law, not as breaking of it in any meaningful way.

Another argument for the relevance of only love and not law for the Christian is an interpretation of Paul, particularly the letter to the Galatians, which supposedly shows that "grace overrides law totally."22 Here again there is a major confusion. Paul's entire argument against the supremacy of the law is directed toward people who believed that it was obedience to the law that earned them righteousness before Cod. Paul, on the other hand, is arguing eloquently that our relationship with Cod rests upon the grace of Cod in Jesus Christ, and that for Christians to still consider obedience to the law as the way to salvation is not to understand the life and work of Jesus Christ. The usual discussion of the relationship between grace or love and law among Christians, however, is concerned not with whether salvation comes through obedience to the law or not, but whether, having been saved by Cod's grace, the Christian can simply ignore the law or whether it can still serve as a guide (indeed, must serve) to what it means to live a fully human life here on earth. The answer to this latter question can hardly be derived from Paul's former argument. Instead it must be recognized that to consider the moral law of no value whatsoever in guiding Christian living, is essentially to turn one's back on interpersonal reality in favor of an idealism that the real world seldom substantiates.

Love vs Sex

Sex itself is not the answer to the need for love, nor need it he supposed that the need for love cannot be satisfied without sex. There is a genuine biological urge in sex, and the physical release from this urge can be achieved through any number of practices not involving love. The very failure of these methods of relief of the biological urge only, when problems of the whole person in loneliness and need for love are concerned, is self evident. Many in recent years, caught up in the despair of life without God, have sought to deify sex as the ultimate mystical experience, the answer to life's problems and the slogan "Make love, not war" can be understood fully only in this context. When one person uses another to obtain relief from his or her sexual drives, the persons involved are being treated as "things"-and this is certainly one of the basic attitudes incompatible with the Christian position.

The biblical treatment of sex within the "one flesh" concept emphasizes that this relationship is at least intended to correspond to the closest union of man and woman possible. It must be admitted, of course, that sex can be approached on a much lower level than this, and that sexual relationships can he in practice treated as nothing more than the fulfillment of a biological need. But this is possible only because it is possible for man to forsake the image of God with which he is endowed by creation, and to behave as if indeed he were nothing more than an animal for which the category "human" is inappropriate. Whenever sex is treated casually and is experienced outside of a lifelong commitment of love, both parties involved forsake the potentialities and the destiny of their humanity, lose the concept of united personhoods, and to a greater or lesser degree pattern their behavior after subhuman creatures.
The biblical perspective is that sexual relations between man and woman fulfill their proper role when experienced in the context of a lifelong commitment of love. It is this lifelong commitment of love-as opposed to the brief giving and taking of casual liaisons-which makes it possible to have meaningful, celebrating, person-affirming communion. To claim that the pursuit of such communion is possible without a lifelong commitment of love has neither biblical nor empirical support. If this is indeed the ease, then why should such a man and woman hesitate to affirm their mutual commitment publicly-i.e., "get married"? Is it not eminently likely that a refusal to give assent to such public commitment is really an indication that such commitment is not given? And if such commitment is indeed not given, it makes little sense to continue to justify sexual relations on the hypothetical grounds that a meaningful relationship is involved.

Advocates of a sexual revolution respond, not so much b denying these statements, as by proposing that they miss the mark by assuming that meaningful, celebrative sexual relations must be limited to one man and one woman in some kind of permanent relationship. They argue instead that it is possible for some individuals to have sufficiently meaningful relationships with members of the opposite sex to justify sexual relationships with several partners at a time, and that groups of men and women can mutually agree to share sex among several partners between them. There is little point in debating that such arrangements can indeed be made; the questions are "Empirically, how meaningful are they?" and "Theologically, are they consistent with a holy God's pattern for his creatures?"

The first of these questions appears to be a prime candidate for answering on experimental grounds. Such multiple relationships are or are not possible based on love-except, of course, that our empirical investigation is severely hampered by difficulty in objectively defining and identifying a satisfactory relationship. Because a satisfactory relationship is claimed does not make it actual. If the requirements for a satisfactory sexual relationship are to be identified with our term, "a lifelong commitment in love," then the biblical revelation is fairly clear in providing a strongly negative answer. A positive answer to the question would follow only if God had made men and women so that total lifelong commitments in love could be made at one time by one man to many women, or at one time by one woman to many men. But the biblical revelation and whatever empirical data are known to me-scent to indicate that the assumption that relationships of sufficient depth to justify sexual relationships can exist

Law is the guide to what it means to love, and love is the fulfilling of the law.

outside the one man/one woman marital relationship is based on an illusion, contrary to the created structure of interpersonal sexual relationships.

The claim that sexual exclusiveness between one man and one woman who have become "one flesh" in a lifelong commitment of love, and who are seeking to live out in their lives a representation of Christ and the church, is the result of human selfishness and is incompatible with the requirements of loving one's neighbor -as is sometimes dune-seems to me to be a gross misreading of the biblical revelation. The Bible constantly treats marital infidelity as an analogy to spiritual apostasy for precisely the same reason; as man is to love only God with heart and soul and mind above all else in life-because this is the only way to fulfill the creation purpose for man, so a man and a woman in a lifelong commitment of love are to keep each only for the other-again because this is the only way to fulfill the creation purpose for mail and woman. If men and woman and sex and human nature were all differently constructed, different possibilities might he available. But we are designed to live in the world that God has made, and he has loved us enough to reveal to us what this entails. As discussed earlier,"" freedom is never achieved by neglecting reality. Jesus tells us, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." (John 8:31,32) How often the first phrase of this conditional promise is omitted! Out of the exclusiveness of the marriage relationship comes the additional strength by which man-and-woman now go out together to be God's servants in the world.

"Is-Ought" Fallacy Again

The basic arguments of advocates of a sexual revolution can be semi to he examples of the isought fallacy, in which scientific evidence for what is, is unjustifiably assumed to have the authority to dictate what oug/tt to he. Consider the following quotations as examples.

Is sex not already far on the way to becoming "autonomous," and hence not even a sensible topic for Christian ethics any longer?22

To be true to our Lord we should try to "feed" the sexually hungry, not give them the Bible only. But this might violate the seventh commandment. Given the new circumstances, maybe such acts could be legitimized.22
The empirical data are that today a high percentage of concerned, loving, active Christians have had wholly positive experience with pre-marital sex; some equally with pre-marital abstinence. Both are options for Christians today.22
This Man is also acquisitive, power-driven, creative, inventive, and he was made in the Creator's image; he is co-creator now. He will and most flex his muscles, and try his wings. He will, for absolutely certain sure, use his new sexual affluence. Our problem is to solve the simultaneous equation: Given sinfulness and sexual affluence, what patterns are best? (Do not respond by giving solutions for pre-1950 sexual poverty. )22

The evolutionary thrust of history leaves us no doubt as to the outcome. The Church will sooner or later accede to Society's patterns and then find the rationale to justify co-marital, loving (including sexuality) with persons
other than the spouse . he question is: shouldn't the Church lead the way?22
In 1973 more than half the U.S. population felt that premarital sex was no longer immoral-a 500% change in two decades. Some of these data are like Jesus' reference to the 'Clouds no larger than a man's hand." They are early warnings before the event itself.32

In each case cited, changing patterns in society are taken as norms for Christian living. It should he remembered that among the same commandments as "You shall not commit adultery," is also "You shall not kill," and "You shall not steal." We have abundant empirical data that more people are killing and stealing than ever before; yet we feel that it is not appropriate to recommend that the Church lead the way to liberalized views on killing and stealing. It will be found in the end that "You shall not commit adultery" is no more flexible than these other commandments. To violate any one is to violate the structure of human living, and to violate the structure of human living is to set the stage for less-human living.

Strikingly absent from the views of advocates of a sexual revolution is the realization that the lifestyle of men and women committed to God in Jesus Christ must be considered as necessarily intrinsically different from the lifestyle of men and women not committed to Jesus Christ. What men and women do, who do not have a personal relationship with God in Christ, means absolutely nothing as far as what men and women in Christ should do.33


Human sexuality may not be everything, but it is an extremely important facet of human life and society. A society's attitude toward sex is a significant index of its overall health, along with its attitude toward social justice, racial equality, and concern for the poor and suffering. It is an error to suppose that a society's attitude toward itself and toward its problems can be totally separated from its attitude toward the appropriate interpretation of sexual relationships. Certainly the biblical revelation recognizes the centrality of sexuality, places sexual relationships between man and woman within the context of the good creation, and lays the foundation for viewing a lifelong commitment of love between a man and a woman as the basis for sexual intimacy. The view of Christian marriage between two persons united in Christ and in love for one another is that this relationship is to be analogous to the relationship between Christ and his Church; the high potentialities of marriage are thus set forth together with the realization of the impossibility of their full attainment in a non-Christian context.

Those who advocate a sexual revolution on supposedly Christian grounds have three principal arguments. (1) "Modern advances in scientific understanding make traditional approaches to sexual ethics untenable." But such "advances in understanding" derive as much, if not more, from the presuppositions of the interpreter as from the data themselves. (2) "The Bible has ceased to he a reliable guide to sexual ethics." But what is at stake is the invocation of "biblical scholarship" which again can be presupposition dominated, and a general rejection of the historical view of the authority and reliability of the Bible without any real justification. (3) "An authentic Christian concern for love rather than law requires setting aside old legalistic restrictions against extra-marital sexual relationships." Such arguments involve a failure to discriminate between the. moral and ceremonial or civil laws of the Old Testament, a misunderstanding of Jesus when he sets the spirit of the law above human legalistic additions and misinterpretations of the law, and a misunderstanding of Paul when he argues for salvation by grace rather than by works that seek to earn righteousness by obeying the law. A resolution is achieved by seeing the law as setting forth general principles which show what it means truly to love.

Understanding and appreciation for sexuality within the context of a sustained and committed love relationship, and the continued practice of acts and lifestyle that contradict this, are mutually exclusive activities.

Every attempt to advocate a movement toward "open sex" on the basis of empirical scientific studies, data or experience, invariably involves a direct invocation of the "is-ought" fallacy. In such eases a skillful blend of the is with the would is advanced as the should. Based on a type of "ethics by democracy", this approach totally ignores the intrinsic difference between Christian and non-Christian living. If all the world should come to consider "you shall not commit adultery" as a meaningless and outdated concept, hopefully there will remain small pockets of Christians, who by their devotion to Christ and his word, their appreciation of the potentialities of Christian marriage, their development of a home with Christ as the center, and their training of their children, will continue the lifestyle appropriate for human beings created in the image of God.


30R. H. Bube, "Science Isn't Nothing," Journal ASA 28, 82
31R. and D. Roy, op. cit., p. 72.
32R. Roy, op. cit., P. 81. Reference is probably intended to be to Luke 12:54, although the language is that of I Kings 18:44.
33Other sexual issues, such as homosexuality, which are not treated explicitly in this installment, can be explicated
using the principles that are set forth here. That a person should find himself or herself with a sexual preference for the same sex is the consequence of our existence in an imperfect and sin-afflicted world. That a person so oriented should choose to express this tragic distortion of sexuality in a homosexual lifestyle suffers the same shortcomings, grief and judgment that would fall to a person with a heterosexual orientation who chooses to express this sexuality in ways inconsistent with God's creation purpose for maleness/ femaleness. The homosexual needs our love, concern and personal acceptance; the practice of homosexuality, however, needs to be seen for what it is: falling short of the potentialities of human sexuality with attendant consequences.


1. Is the present laxity in sexual morals a totally new historical phenomenon, or is it only a contemporary cycle in a process dating hack to the beginning of mankind?
2."Diversity in unity" appears to be a common theme in the biblical revelation from the doctrine of the Trinity to the Church as the Body of Christ. How does this concept hear on human sexuality and marriage?
3.What do you think is the principal content of the biblical idea of "one flesh" as set forth in Genesis 2:23-25, Matthew 19:3-6 and I Corinthians?
4. Describe an experimental situation in which you would expect to determine in a scientifically accurate way whether or not pre-marital sex has any effects on a person's future life.
5. Is changing environment necessarily the only consideration in dealing with the regulations of human society? Is mankind in possession of atomic energy, TV, the means of genetic control, and released from some of the constraints of nature in the past, more or less likely to act harmfully for itself, society and posterity?
6. Is it right and proper to experiment with pre- and extramarital relationships in order to find out empirically whether or not they lead to a more fulfilling life? Should we do the same for killing and stealing? Do you see any correlation with recent experience with drug taking?
7. To what extent should Christian ideals be legally enforced on those without these ideals? To what extent should nonChristian practices be invoked as the grounds upon which to alter Christian principles?
8. It is sometimes argued that extra-marital sex between two people with a loving relationship is obviously far more Christian than sex legalized by a marriage license between two people whose only concern is lust and self-gratification, and that therefore the advocate against extra-marital sex is simply legalistically blinded. Is this a valid argument, or is it an argument that one type of error justifies another?
9. Following up the previous question, does marriage put an end to all questions of sexual ethics? Can ripe occur in marriage? Can infidelity occur without physical adultery?
10. How do you know what it means "to love" both in general and in specific situations? Is the answer to this question self-evident? Is any answer adequate that does not reach back to I John 4:7-12 as a foundation?
11. Person A is faithful its marriage, attends church regularly, follows the roles of business fairly, and in general restricts his concerns and his attentions to himself and his own family only. Person B lives in a commune where constraints on sex are considered improper, participates in no institutional church activities, usually swims in the nude, and works hard to help the poor and unfortunate in the total community in which he lives. Which of these persons is more/less moral than the other? Why?


J. Banyolak and I. Trobisch, Better Is Your Love Than Wine, InterVarsity Press
C.M. Berry and S. Macautay, "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex," Christian Medical Society Journal, p. 1, Summer 1971
C. S. Board et. al., Guide to Sex, Singleness and Marriage, Inter Varsity Press (1974)
R. H. Buhe and R. Roy, "Is There a Christian Basis for a Sexual Revolution," Journal ASA, 26, 70 (1974)
D. Field, Free to do Right, InterVarsity Press
0. Piper, The Biblical View of Sex and Marriage, Scribners (1960)
J. Rinretna, The Sexual Revolution, Eerdmans (1974)
K. and F. Smith, Learning to be a Man/Learning to be a Woman, InterVarsity Press
V. Mary Stewart, Sexual Freedom, InterVarsity Press (1974)
H. Thielicke, The Ethics of Sex, Harper and Row (1964)
A. N. Triton, Living and Loving InterVarsity Press (1972)
W. R. Trnbisch, I Loved a Girl, Harper and Row (1965)
    I Married You, Harper and Row (1971)
    Love is a Feeling to be Learned, InterVarsity Press