Human relationships

In the previous chapter, we looked to the Genesis account to understand what it means to be human. We can see that we are dependent, embodied creatures who are designed to live within the limits set for us by our loving creator God. This is central to the Christian understanding of freedom. Even though when we have children we are ‘co-creators’ with God, we are unlike God in that we are not omniscient, and so even as co-creators we are to continue to observe the limits he has put in place. We are not to take on the role of God for ourselves.

Moreover, as relational creatures, we need to understand what is permissible for us in the context of our relationships. We do not make our decisions in an isolated or abstract way, but as embodied creatures who have a history and experience of life and who live in relationship with others. The aim of this chapter, then, is to understand from the Bible what our relationships are intended to be, and what our responsibilities are within them. Only then will we be able to make ethical decisions that are aligned with God’s will.

When talking about the birth of children, for example, what is the best word to use? Bioethicist Leon Kass underlines the importance of this point when he writes:

Consider the views of life and the world reflected in the following different expressions to describe the process of generating new life. Ancient Israel, impressed with the phenomenon of the transmission of life from father to son, used a word we translate as “begetting” or “siring” [meaning creating the same moral value as the begetter]. The Greeks, impressed with the springing forth of new life… called it genesis, from a root meaning “to come into being”… The premodern Christian English-speaking world, impressed with the world as given by a Creator, used the term “pro-creation”. We, impressed with the machine and the gross national product (our own work of creation), employ a metaphor of the factory, “re-production”.[1]

It can be terrifying to see how easily we can slip into the thought patterns of the world, and how the language we use can lead us unconsciously to embrace a non-Christian world view.

Let us see now what is distinctive about the biblical teaching on the subject of marriage and family.

What is marriage?

In most cultures, marriage is a legal institution. In the West it has traditionally been regarded as a voluntary lifelong union between one man and one woman. Understandably, the state has an interest in marriage as the domestic unit where children are born and raised, thereby renewing society. While the community understanding of marriage has been weakened in recent years, it is still usually seen as a mutually supportive and sexually exclusive relationship.

Although it has come down to us through English common law, this understanding of marriage is grounded in the Bible’s teaching that marriage is a binding covenant between a man and a woman, a covenant witnessed by God himself. So Malachi says:

…the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. (Mal 2:14)

This is why God is so against divorce, for divorce is the breaking of a commitment that should never be broken. For this reason, divorce was carefully regulated in ancient Israel and only permitted under exceptional circumstances (Deut 24:1-4). Jesus is even more restrictive in his teaching, permitting divorce and remarriage only for unfaithfulness (Matt 19:8-9).[2]

Marriage, however, is not merely a secular institution endorsed by God; it is essentially a sacred institution, ordained by God. The origins of marriage predate its legal formalization. Indeed, Genesis 2 reveals that marriage is at the centre of God’s purposes in creating humanity male and female:

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Gen 2:24)

Marriage thus involves leaving one’s family of origin and cleaving to one’s spouse, thereby creating a new family unit that is a new one-flesh entity. The one-flesh state is expressed in sexual intercourse between husband and wife, but it is fundamentally a new creative act of God. This is why Jesus says, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt 19:6). Consequently, Scripture repeatedly warns that marriage commitments should be guarded carefully (Matt 5:27-32, 19:3-9; Mark 10:2-12; 1 Thess 4:3-6; Heb 13:4).


Does it have to be just one man and one woman? Is monogamy the only divinely sanctioned pattern for marriage?

While it is true that polygamy was practised by godly men in the Old Testament era (such as Jacob and King David), it often led to discord between the wives and their various children: consider Abraham with Sarah and Hagar (Genesis 16), Jacob with Leah and Rachel (Gen 29:31-30:24), and Elkanah with Hannah and Peninnah (1 Sam 1:1-20). Nevertheless, while it was clearly a practice that was tolerated,[3] it was also regulated (Exodus 21:10-11 outlines a husband’s obligations to his first wife when he marries a second).

On the other hand, it is noteworthy that it was first introduced by the evil Lamech (Gen 4:19) and was not God’s plan in the original creation, as he gave Adam only one wife (Gen 2:18-25). Certainly in the New Testament church, it is clear that a man in leadership is to have only one wife (1 Tim 3:2, 12).

Monogamy, then, is God’s ideal.

The place of sexual intercourse

That sexual intercourse is intended for heterosexual marriage is clearly taught in Scripture and is, therefore, a foundational assumption for the argument of this book. The Hebrew word for the act of intercourse (yada) literally means ‘to know’ (Gen 4:1, 17, 25). In the Bible, ‘knowing’ someone involves personal, intimate involvement. The term applies to coitus, where the penis is placed in the vagina, but the Bible does not count it just as a physical act in humans (as compared to animals). It is also the giving of oneself in an act that can lead to the begetting of new life.

Christians recognize two primary purposes of sex in marriage: it is unitive—expressing and strengthening their common love while providing mutual enjoyment (Gen 2:24); and it is procreative—for having children and perpetuating the human race (Gen 1:28). However, different understandings of the connection between these two purposes are at the basis of the difference between Protestant and Roman Catholic views on sexual relations.

Catholic v Protestant doctrine

In his 1968 encyclical, Humanae Vitae (‘Of Human Life’), Pope Paul VI argued that the meaning of sex and marriage lies only in the combination of the unitive and procreative. As we’ve seen, the unitive refers to the strengthening of the bond between the man and woman, and the procreative refers to the production of offspring. The Catholic Church teaches that each and every marital act (i.e. of sexual intercourse) must retain its relationship to the procreation of human life.[4] In other words, marital sex that only has unitive intention is improper.[5] This is one of the reasons the Catholic Church forbids most contraception.

Protestant churches, on the other hand, teach that the unitive and procreative aspects of marital sex should apply to the overall marriage relationship, but not necessarily to each individual act of intercourse. The Protestant understanding is that the prevention of fertilization through contraception is permissible, as long as the marriage is open to procreation at some time unless serious considerations exclude it.[6] The views put forward in this book will be Protestant unless otherwise indicated.

The nature of the ‘one flesh’ union

Given that sexual intimacy is intended for heterosexual marriage, what more might be said about the ‘one flesh’ union and the purposes of sex in marriage? As we’ve already seen, the language of two becoming “one flesh” (Gen 2:24) is a powerful and evocative way of combining notions of kinship with sexual intimacy, whilst at the same time highlighting a number of the other God-given purposes of marriage. These are listed below.

1. Purposeful companionship

As a gift of God, married love is a good, in and of itself. More than that, it is an expression of our creation in the image of the God who does not exist in solitude, but is a ‘being in relation’, a ‘trinity’ of three persons within one godhead. Marriage is thus intended to provide intimate companionship for image-bearers who are wired for relationship. Not surprisingly, this is the first purpose of marriage mentioned in the Bible. As God himself declares: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Gen 2:18). However, as Christopher Ash notes:

…we must not conclude that the final goal of this delightful and intimate companionship is to be found in the delight, the intimacy or the companionship. This is delight with a shared purpose, intimacy with a common goal, and companionship in a task beyond the boundaries of the couple themselves.[7]

Relationship and task go hand in hand.

2. Equality and partnership

In creating Eve as a “fit” helper, God is affirming her equal status as a bearer of his image despite her different sexuality. The Hebrew word for ‘helper’ (ezer) underscores this, as most of its uses in the Old Testament refer to God (Israel’s ‘helper’ in times of trouble). Therefore, as Carolyn C James notes, the traditional translation of this word as ‘helpmeet’, and its restriction (in English) to marriage, has led to a diminished understanding of its meaning and application to marriage.[8] The term is a strong one, which contains no suggestion of inferiority. Rather, it implies Eve’s necessity (for Adam needs her), and emphasizes the fact that husband and wife together are to exercise dominion and labour alongside each other to advance God’s kingdom.

3. Differentiated unity

Because he has created Eve directly, God ‘gives away the bride’ at the first marriage. When he presents Eve to Adam, Adam responds ecstatically, describing her as “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen 2:23). This highlights the unity of the man and the woman, a unity that is expressed most fully in marriage. Indeed, the image of shared flesh and the subsequent statement about the ‘one flesh’ nature of the marriage union (Gen 2:23-24) point to the intimacy of this unity when it takes sexual expression. However, it is important to appreciate that it is a differentiated unity. This is captured in the Hebrew word translated as “fit for him” (kenegdo) in verse 18 (literally, ‘like opposite him’), which suggests “both likeness and difference or complementarity”.[9]

4. Ordered complementarity

The unity of the man and the woman is also an ordered unity. This is seen in the fact that Adam was formed first (cf. 1 Tim 2:13), that Eve was taken from him and made for him (cf. 1 Cor 11:8-9), and finally in the fact that Eve was named by him (Gen 3:20). This order, far from undermining the equality of husband and wife, serves and enhances their unity. This is seen most powerfully in Ephesians 5, where the image of human marriage given in Genesis 2 (in both its unity and order) is shown to be a prototype of the union between Christ and his church, his body and bride (Eph 5:22-33). Despite the strain that has come upon all human marriages as a consequence of the Fall (Gen 3:16b), the Ephesians passage shows us that a profound solidarity between spouses, which embraces their different roles and responsibilities, is still God’s intention.[10]

5. Relational priority

Another facet of Genesis 2:24 is that the union of man and woman in marriage takes priority over responsibilities to parents. This is seen in the fact that the man leaves his family of origin to create not an extension of his family, but a new and distinct “public social unit”.[11] This idea is conveyed by the Hebrew word for ‘flesh’ (basar), which is often used of a clan or family group (e.g. Gen 29:14, 37:27). This does not mean that family connections are severed or that the command to honour one’s parents has no further application to those who are married. But it does mean that the responsibilities of husband and wife to each other take precedence over all other relational obligations.

6. Permanence and exclusivity

A clear implication of this relational priority is the fact that the relationship of husband and wife is to be lifelong and exclusive. In other words, in two becoming one flesh we see God’s intention for marriage to be both monogamous and inviolable. In commenting on Genesis 2:24, John Murray says that as for divorce so for polygamy: “from the beginning it was not so… The indissolubility of the bond of marriage and the principle of monogamy are inherent in the verse”.[12] This is why God condemns adultery (Exod 20:14; Lev 20:10) and is so against divorce (Mal 2:13-16). The ultimate theological reason for this understanding is to be found in the model of Christ and the church (Eph 5:22-33). Christ has only one bride, whom he regards as his “body” (v. 30), and he literally loves her to death (v. 25)!

7. Mutual enjoyment and enrichment

The shared intimacy of sex allows for the expression of love that strengthens the bond of the couple. Before the Fall (Gen 2:25), Adam and Eve share physical intimacy without shame. This changes after the Fall (Gen 3:7), although the enjoyment of sexual union and its ability to enrich marriage relationships persists. Passages such as Proverbs 5:18-19 and the Song of Solomon describe the delight the husband and wife should find in each other:

Let your fountain be blessed,

and rejoice in the wife of your youth,

a lovely deer, a graceful doe.

Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;

be intoxicated always in her love. (Prov 5:18-19)

This combination of mutual pleasure and marriage enrichment is another purpose of human sexual expression within the one flesh union of marriage.

8. Mutual satisfaction and protection

A further purpose of sex within marriage, which we learn from the New Testament, is to suppress the temptation to be sexually immoral:

Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (1 Cor 7:5)[13]

Therefore, as Christopher Ash notes:

In marriage there is a mutual moral obligation on both husband and wife each to surrender their body to the other in willing sexual relations sustained so far as health permits over the lifetime of their marriage.[14]

Of course, the duty to provide each other with mutual sexual satisfaction is not only a defense against unfaithfulness but also protects and nourishes the “one flesh” union. This in turn benefits not only the couple and their children, but also their neighbours and wider human society.[15]

9. The birth of children

Finally, the procreation of children is expected within marriage as a result of sexual intercourse. Indeed, “the intrinsic structure of the act between the man and the woman is intended and designed towards this end”.[16] For as husband and wife come together, so may their gametes (the sperm and egg) result in a child for whom both are responsible. Children, then, are an intended part of the blessing of marriage, and are themselves a rich blessing from God. As the psalmist writes:

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,

the fruit of the womb a reward.

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior

are the children of one’s youth.

Blessed is the man

who fills his quiver with them! (Ps 127:3-5a)

Procreation, then, is a good gift of God and a vital part of the divine intention for the “one flesh” union of marriage.

The blessing of children

While the words of Genesis 1:28—“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it”—are often described as a command, not only are they preceded by a statement of blessing (“And God blessed them”), but the Hebrew is also suggestive of a blessing.[17] Nor does this blessing disappear after the Fall, for it is repeated to Noah and his family following the flood (Gen 9:1, 7). Obviously (and for many, painfully), not all couples are able to have children—a reality that is repeatedly acknowledged in Scripture.[18] Nevertheless, children within marriage are presented as the norm, for it is through the birth of children that the image of God is perpetuated (Gen 5:1), and the creative and redemptive purposes of God achieved.

However, it also needs to be said that the life-partnership of marriage should not be seen as subservient to the procreation and training of children. Karl Barth notes the Roman Catholic teaching (derived from Thomas Aquinas)[19] that it is subservient, and insists the opposite is true. Barth’s view is that the family is subordinate to the marriage, the life-partnership, which does not depend on the coexistence of children to be valid. This would seem to be supported by Genesis 2:18-22, which contains no explicit mention of children and where the emphasis falls on the relationship between the man and the woman. But this point should not be overstated, for the ‘command’ to multiply has already been supplied in Genesis 1 and Scripture nowhere encourages ‘chosen childlessness’.[20] Marriage as a loving life-partnership is indeed a highly significant work in itself, and one that mirrors the union of Christ and the church. And so it is a valid end in itself.[21] Nevertheless, marriage, as the basic unit of society, is the God-ordained context within which the raising of children occurs.[22]

Ironically, the blessing of children was not experienced by Adam and Eve prior to the Fall. Furthermore, following the Fall, the experience of childbirth becomes a difficult one for Eve; the Lord God says to her, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children” (Gen 3:16). In addition to this, the task of filling the earth has also become more difficult, for mortality has entered the scene. So Adam is told that he will return to dust (v. 19).

Nevertheless, God’s creative and redemptive purposes will prevail. For, although Adam and Eve have been barred from access to the tree of life (Gen 3:22-24), “Immortality is replaced by progeny, opening the door to redemptive history”.[23] Adam subsequently calls the woman ‘Eve’—mother of all the living (v. 20), trusting the Lord’s promise that she will bear offspring who will finally defeat Satan. For this reason, parenthood is closely related to the salvation story. So the Scriptures trace the children of the promise from Eve’s seed or offspring (Gen 3:15), through the line of Abraham, all the way to Jesus (Matt 1:1-16), God’s Son, who was “born of woman” (Gal 4:4), and then through Jesus to all who have received his Spirit (Gal 4:5-6, 28)—a multiethnic multitude that no-one can number (Rev 7:9).

For those who take the time to go looking for them, there are a lot of creative lists on the internet explaining why people should have children. In my experience the usual reasons include things like:

  • to continue the family line
  • to look after you when you’re old
  • for self-fulfilment
  • as a physical representation of your “one flesh”
  • to help in the family business.

There is no doubt that the desire to have children can be strong, and we should sympathize with those who are unable to fulfil it. We can even understand why people in our community talk about a ‘right to reproduce’ and seek ever-expanding technologies to achieve it (Prov 13:12). However, the Bible teaches us to view children rather differently.

Christians see child-bearing not as a way to find self-fulfilment so much as to raise up “Godly offspring” (Mal 2:15). A new generation must learn how to exert responsible dominion over the creation, and while we are waiting for Christ to return we are called to proclaim the gospel. Therefore, we will do better to consider our responsibilities rather than our rights. The Bible does not suggest we possess our children, but that we receive them as a gift:

“Behold, children are a gift of the Lord;

the fruit of the womb is a reward.” (Ps 127:3, NASB)

The responsibilities of parenthood

The Bible speaks of parenthood not just in terms of procreation but also in terms of the subsequent time, effort and love involved in childrearing, regardless of the child’s biological origins. The honour of parenthood is lifelong and to be lived out according to God’s commands. When a child is biologically related to its parents, this relationship usually begins before the birth. The responsibilities of parenthood remain for both parents even if they are not married, although this situation will inevitably be more difficult.

Parents are to stand as a witness and a godly example to their children. This seems to be part of the reason the apostle Paul regards the children of even just one believing parent as “holy” (1 Cor 7:14). Such children are not only acceptable to God (rather than being “unclean”), but also stand in a place of privilege. Consequently, they will be “marked by an element of shaping and ‘difference’ from a wholly pagan environment”.[24] This does not mean they are born Christians, or that they will inevitably become Christians, but that there is a saving and sanctifying influence adults can have over their children merely by the fact of their existence and presence as Christians.

Parents are called to nurture their children. God expected Abraham to “command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice” (Gen 18:19). With regard to the Law, God’s words, Moses instructed Israel to “teach them diligently to your children… talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut 6:7). In Proverbs, children are repeatedly exhorted to heed the wisdom of their parents (e.g. 1:8).

In teaching their children about the ways of God, parents are also expected to exercise authority over their children—not in a domineering way, but by modelling their own obedience to God and discipling the children on his behalf. Ephesians 3:14-15 tells us that God is the Father from whom all fatherhood is named. Our children are his children. Any way we can serve our children, he can surpass, whether it be in giving good gifts (Matt 7:9-11) or administering discipline (Heb 12:7-11).[25] Therefore, we must model our parenting on his. This is why the New Testament says to fathers: “do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). Similarly, “do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged” (Col 3:21).

This latter teaching, that fathers should be careful to avoid overburdening their children and arousing rebellion, reminds us how important it is to operate in a framework of grace. Christian parents, no less than their children, stand in constant need of the mercies of God. The extended contact they have with their children provides a unique opportunity to communicate this, for the time God gives them. The end must come, either with the child returning to God or with the child leaving his or her parents. Then the cycle will begin again (1 Tim 5:4).

If the gracious love of God is the reason he “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt 5:45), so we must seek to lovingly provide the things that our children need regardless of their response (1 John 3:11-16).

These needs will include the material. Responsibilities to our families in this regard will be ongoing. In 1 Timothy 5:8, Paul tells us that “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever”. Parents should be aware of whether the needs of each child are being met, and this will include being responsible stewards when they reach the point at which their resources cannot provide for additional children.

We also know that a sense of belonging is important for children. In the Old Testament we see examples of God encouraging the children of Israel to remember the stories of his deliverance (such as with the memorial stones in Joshua 4:4-7, 20-24), which belong to the generations. Furthermore, as embodied, finite creatures, we are all linked by lines of kinship and have a place in time and space. Our very existence is, in one way or another, embedded in a family line. This is easy to forget at times in our individualistic society.

But does this have to be within a nuclear family?

Other definitions of ‘family’

A nuclear family consists of a married couple and their children. There has been public pressure in recent years to broaden the definition of ‘family’ to reflect what is happening in our society. While there have always been step-families, children raised by grandparents, and other combinations resulting from the vicissitudes of life, the advent of ‘children without sex’ has opened up new ways of becoming parents. Every now and then a single, female Hollywood star decides she can’t wait any longer for a man, and decides to have a child without one. Actress Sharon Stone, single mother of three adopted sons, has said:

I’d urge anyone who is even considering it to go ahead and make their own family, instead of sitting around dreaming and hoping that their Prince Charming is going to come and give them children. What’s the point?… Make it happen for yourself. If your Prince Charming does come, then he’s going to walk in and say, ‘Oh, just what I’ve been looking for, a family waiting for me’. We can do that these days.[26]

Same-sex couples can now ‘reproduce’ with the assistance of donor gametes and ART procedures. Many of the biological barriers to child-bearing in the past no longer apply.

There are numerous examples of family structure in the Bible. The Old Testament features the ancient extended tribal families, while the more urbanized New Testament exhibits a pattern of households (which often included servants). The modern Middle Eastern experience of family is still quite different from the experience of family known to most Westerners. None are identified as being superior. However, married couples remain central within all these models, along with the expectation that their relationship is permanent and exclusive.

Interestingly, Jesus taught us that it is our brothers and sisters in Christ who are our true family: “whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:31-35; cf. Matt 12:46-50; Luke 8:19-21). He also taught that our allegiance to God is more important than family ties (Matt 10:34-38; cf. Luke 12:49-53, 14:26; Mark 10:28-31). However, we know from Genesis that God’s original plan was for a child to be brought up in a home with a male and female parent.

In other words, the biblical norm is for family to proceed from a married couple. Whilst this is not everyone’s experience, there is a significant difference between missing out on this through tragedy or misadventure, and creating an alternative situation on purpose.

How does this influence decisions about procreation?

In a world where we have the options of surrogacy, donor sperm, frozen embryos and genetic testing, how do Christians respond to the God-given desire for a child?

According to the Bible, children are the result of the “one flesh” union between husband and wife, a physical sign of their mutual love. The family is the intended place for the raising of children. Does this mean that married couples have a right to have children? In view of the technology now available to assist with reproduction, do we have a right to pursue a child at all costs?

In answering such questions, several points need to be considered. First, because human beings are creatures under the authority of the creator, we are free to act within the limitations of God’s design. Our God-given drive to procreate is meant to function within that design. We are free to try to carry out the God-given instruction to be fruitful. We are free to pursue healing if our bodies are damaged in some way that makes child-bearing difficult.[27] But not at any cost. We are not to disobey God’s word in our efforts to become parents.

Second, the responsibilities parents have in caring for their offspring will be another limiting factor on what we decide as we go about making reproductive choices. We will aim to witness to a gracious, generous God. We will aim to provide a sense of belonging, whether biological ties exist or not, as our children grow. We will aim to protect our embryonic children from destruction, our fetal children from harm. This does not give us clear ethical guidance in every instance, as all child-bearing involves risk of some kind, both to mother and child. We must pray for wisdom in our decision-making. Yet some things are clear. We will respect human life, its dignity and its value, for each person is made in the image of God throughout the entire procreative process; that is, from fertilization on.

The Bible also talks about our responsibilities to our spouse. In our desire for a child we should not risk our marriage. The stresses of coping with issues of childlessness are well known. Nowhere in the Bible are we promised that every married couple will be able to have children. Nowhere are we promised that if we do have children, they will be healthy. Children are a gift of God, and we are to nurture them in the time they are with us. We will extend to them the same love and hospitality that has been shown to us and is therefore expected of us. Above all, we will stand united with our spouse as we seek to serve our heavenly Father, whether that be as parents or not.


In Western culture (including Western Christian culture), it is now customary for married couples to delay child-bearing while the marital bonds are being strengthened. During this period, husband and wife will be more interested in considering and ensuring contraception than in actively building a family. We therefore need to consider whether it is ethically acceptable for Christians to use contraceptives, and if so, which ones. However, before embarking on this task, we first need to examine a model for ethical Christian decision-making.

  1. LR Kass, Toward a More Natural Science, The Free Press, New York, 1988, p. 48. 
  2. Many commentators conclude that Paul also allows divorce and remarriage for believers who have been deserted by an unbelieving spouse (1 Cor 7:15-16). Historically, this view is given expression in chapter XXIV of The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), which says, “nothing but adultery, or such willful desertion as can no way be remedied by the Church or civil magistrate, is cause sufficient of dissolving the bond of marriage” (paragraph 6). 
  3. Although the Bible is silent on the reasons for this, there is no question that polygamy enabled the people of Israel to multiply more rapidly (although not all households would have been able to support more than one wife). It also compensated for the high fatality rate amongst men due to the brutality of ancient warfare, which would have often meant that there were more women than men in Israelite society. Added to that, as it was difficult for an unmarried woman to provide for herself, there were clearly compassionate reasons for tolerating the practice of polygamy. There is debate as to whether the law of the Levi (Deut 25:5-10) commands a married man whose brother has died to marry his wife and give her children. Since the law is incomplete (with no mention of what is required if there is no brother, for instance), it is possible there were unwritten assumptions of what was required—for example, that the law referred to the oldest unmarried brother. See C Ash, Marriage: Sex in the Service of God, IVP, Leicester, 2003, p. 251. 
  4. Encyclical of Paul VI, Humanae Vitae: On the Regulation of Birth, Rome, 25 July 1968. 
  5. Pope Paul VI bases his arguments in Humanae Vitae on arguments of natural law, which basically maintains that all created things have a ‘natural’ and presumably divinely intended use (e.g. sex = procreation) that humans can rationally work out. Traditionally Protestants have rejected this line of argument on grounds that, since the Fall, man’s reason has been damaged by sin, and it is only through biblical revelation that we can be sure of God’s intended purposes. Paul VI did not refer to Genesis in his encyclical. 
  6. Karl Barth notes the need to take into account “various considerations regarding… physical and psychological health” that may make it impossible for a couple to assume responsibility for children. See K Barth, ‘Parents and Children’, in Church Dogmatics, vol. III.4, GW Bromiley and TF Torrance (eds), T and T Clark, London and New York, 2010, pp. 272-3. This will be discussed further in chapter 6. 
  7. Ash, op. cit., p. 121. 
  8. CC James, Lost Women of the Bible. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2005, pp. 335-6. 
  9. A Perriman, Speaking of Women, Apollos, Leicester, 1998, p. 180. 
  10. Ephesians 5 also confirms that order in marriage (i.e. headship and submission) is not a consequence of the curse. The Fall distorted the God-given order, but it did not create it. True headship means love and self-sacrifice (Eph 5:25), and true submission is not a matter of enforced subservience but of voluntary service and respect (Eph 5:33). 
  11. Ash, op. cit., p. 348. 
  12. J Murray, Principles of Conduct, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1957, p. 30. 
  13. See also 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4. 
  14. Ash, op. cit., p. 190. 
  15. ibid., p. 110. 
  16. ibid., p. 248. 
  17. BK Waltke and CJ Fredricks, Genesis: A commentary, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2001, p. 67. 
  18. I will address the issue of childlessness in chapter 10. 
  19. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 2nd edn, trans. the Fathers of the English Dominican Province, Part III, Burns Oates and Washbourne, London, 1926, p. 39. 
  20. As we have already noted, there are sometimes good and valid reasons (of a medical or psychological or even financial kind) that require some couples to choose (albeit reluctantly) not to have (more) children. See further in Ash, op. cit., pp. 175-9. 
  21. Barth, op. cit., p. 258. 
  22. See chapter 6 for discussion of the altered nature of this command under the New Covenant. 
  23. Waltke and Fredricks, op. cit., p. 94. 
  24. A Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 2000, p. 530. 
  25. Barth reconciles the teaching regarding discipline in Proverbs (3:11-12, 13:24, 19:18, 22:15, 23:13-14, 29:15) with Hebrews 12 by explaining that the task of parents since the coming of Jesus is to teach their children not the law but the gospel. See Barth, op. cit., p. 271. 
  26. M Freedman, ‘Women are looking for standing ovation as curtains threaten to close on fertility’, Sun-Herald, 16 March 2008, p. 28. 
  27. See chapter 16. 

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