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A Baptist Vision of Marriage, Family, Gender, and Sexuality

Until recently, the realities of marriage, family, gender, and sexuality were standard fare in Western society. Routinely, men and women married and remained married for life as their most important human relationship. Normally, married couples, if reproductively able, had (many) children and raised them in an intact family unit. Unexceptionally, boys were boys and girls were girls and men were men and women were women. Customarily, sexuality—by which I mean sexual activity that is intended to arouse erotic desires and sensations for pleasure, procreation, and more—was an activity between a woman and a man. How these regularities have changed! 

The opening pages of Scripture narrate these four realities and introduce us to a biblical view of marriage, family, gender, and sexuality. 

Human Identity as Created Embodied Male Image Bearers and Created Embodied Female Image Bearers: Gender  

The first text is Genesis 1:26-28 and comes at the end of the six days of creation, with all preceding creative events preparing the way for one final climactic act:

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, the whole earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.’ 

“So God created man in his own image; he created him in the image of God; he created them male and female.

“God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.'”  

As we follow the narrative flow, we first encounter the divine deliberation concerning the creation of humankind as image bearers of God who would rule over the rest of the created order (v. 26). Out of the overflow of the eternal life and mutual love of the triune God, he purposed to and did indeed create a species of being more like himself than any other created being. These “like unto God” creatures would be higher than the plant world, the animal kingdom, even the angelic realm: they would be human beings who would mirror and represent God in his creation. 

Next, we read of the actualization of that divine purpose: God created humankind in the divine image such that there were male image bearers and female image bearers (v. 27). This final event was the climactic act of creation and introduced the highest of created beings into the created order. 

Finally, we come upon the so-called cultural mandate, the charter God established with humankind to build society/civilization for human flourishing (v. 28). The two aspects of this mandate as divinely designed for humankind are procreation (“be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth”) and vocation (“subdue [the earth] and exercise dominion” over the rest of the created order). This charter for humanity signifies that the majority of men and women will be married, and the majority of married couples will have children. It also underscores that able bodied men and women will engage in work to contribute in complementary ways to both their individual and corporate thriving.  

Importantly, for human beings as divine image bearers to carry out their divinely designed purpose, they are and must be embodied image bearers. Embodiment is the proper state of human existence. In this earthly life, if we aren’t embodied, we don’t—even more, we can’t—exist, nor can we fulfill the charter that God has established with us his image bearers. Moreover, human beings as divine image bearers are and must be sexed/gendered image bearers. We are gendered all the way down, and this is necessary and wonderful not only for the procreative aspect of the cultural mandate, but for its vocational aspect as well: women and men alike as divinely created image bearers expand the human race and contribute to its flourishing. 1For further discussion see Gregg R. Allison, Embodied: Living as Whole People in a Fractured World (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2021), chs. 1-2.

God has created us to be embodied and gendered people; appropriately, then, we should acknowledge that our most fundamental identity—our very nature—is as male embodied image bearers or female embodied image bearers. Importantly (but often overlooked), our identity precedes our function; our essence is that out of which flows our roles. The reverse is not true: our identity is not first and foremost our role, be that as husband or wife, father or mother, employer or employee, carpenter or businesswoman, pastor or congregational member. Rather, our identity is our gendered image bearing: female embodied image bearers or male embodied image bearers.2Gregg Allison, “What is a man? Looking at a historical, contemporary, and essential answer,” The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (June 6, 2022),,and%20fitting%20for%20a%20man.

At the same time, Robert Spaemann reminds us, “Persons are not roles, but they are role-players.”3Robert Spaemann, Persons: The Difference between ‘Someone’ and ‘Something,’” Oxford Studies in Theological Ethics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996, 2017), 84. Human beings have a created identity as image bearers and, as image bearers created for the purposes of procreation and vocation, they are also role-players who perform those roles of increasing humankind and furthering its thriving.  

Thus, Genesis 1 focuses our attention on human identity, which is embodied image bearing in terms of reflecting God and representing him as either a man or a woman. This gendered identity—and gender is one of the four realities being addressed—is essential for procreation and vocation. And with these responsibilities we hear the opening strains of marriage, family, and sexuality, the other three realities under consideration. 

Marriage and Family

The second text, Genesis 2:7, 18-25, narrows the Genesis 1 global perspective on the creation of all things to the telephoto lens close-up view of the creation of the first man and the first woman. With this extended narrative comes a focus on marriage and sexuality, with the family aspect implied:

“Then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust from the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man became a living being. 

“Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper corresponding to him.’ [The man named all the animals,] but for the man no helper was found corresponding to him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to come over the man, and he slept. God took one of his ribs and closed the flesh at that place. Then the Lord God made the rib he had taken from the man into a woman and brought her to the man. And the man said:

‘This one, at last, is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh;

this one will be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken from man.’

“This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh. Both the man and his wife were naked, yet felt no shame.”

The manner of the first human being’s creation addresses the type of relationship that exists between Creator and creature: it is a relationship of dependence of the creature upon the Creator. The material out of which the first human creature was made—dust from the ground—does not signify that human beings were born to die, that is, created mortal. Certainly, the curse following the first humans’ sin was pronounced in similar terms (Gen. 3:19): “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Key here is that dissolution—the return to the dust from which they were taken—is the penalty for human disobedience, not the result of coming to the end of a normal mortal life. As Scripture emphasizes throughout, “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:3); human death comes as the penalty for sin. So human creation out of the dust of the ground sets the stage for eventual death, but death is not the normal outcome of human existence.

So what does creation out of the dust of the ground signify for humans in relationship to God? Human beings are not divine beings; they are image bearers of God, but he and he alone is divine. They are earthy beings, creatures of the earth, and thus completely dependent on their Creator for life and breath and everything. 

Contrary to what our contemporary society insists, human beings are not autonomous, independent, self-made, self-sufficient men and women who are sovereign lords over their own lives and destinies.

The first divinely created man not only needed God but, according to God’s own assessment, also needed a woman: “It is not good [contrast with “It is good” repeated throughout Genesis 1] for the man to be alone.” His aloneness was not sinful but due to the incompleteness in the divine design: “Male and female he created them.” At this point, the male existed, but the female “helper corresponding to him” did not yet exist. What is important for our purposes is not male and female roles—authority and submission (remember, these are secondary issues)—but human nature: the woman was of the same nature as the man, a helper corresponding precisely to him, reflected in her being called אִשָּׁ֔ה (’issah, that is, “woman”) because she was taken out of אִ֖ישׁ (’ish, that is, “man”). Being two types of the one humankind, men and women are equal in nature, “of equal worth before God, since both are created in God’s image.”4Baptist Faith & Message 2000, “Article XVIII. The Family,” Accordingly, all sense of superiority and inferiority, advantage and disadvantage, vanishes and is to be banished from our perspectives on women and men.

In what sense, then, was the first woman created to be a “helper” for the first man? Returning to our earlier discussion, the first man and the first woman together were designed to fulfill the command as articulated in the cultural mandate (Gen. 1:28): this is the labor to which men and women are called and for which the first woman was formed as “helper.” As for the aspect of procreation, the first man and the first woman were the first husband and the first wife, together responsible for procreation to physically extend humankind. Men and women following these two original human ancestors marry and have children in ongoing fulfillment of this mandate. As for the aspect of vocation, the first man and the first woman were the original workers in the Garden, together called to “Edenize” the world, with the first women formed as “helper” for this responsibility. Men and women following these two original human laborers work hard in ongoing fulfillment of this mandate.

Genesis 4 narrates the initial fulfillment of the cultural mandate with its repeated emphasis on procreation and vocation. According to the opening lines of the story (vv. 1-2), Adam and Eve procreated Cain and Abel. Abel was a shepherd of flocks and Cain was a worker of the ground (an agriculturalist?). This is the initial narrative pattern of procreation and vocation, and it is followed by other similar stories: Cain and his wife procreated Enoch. Cain constructed a city and named it after his son (v. 17). Methushael fathered Lamech, who had two wives: Adah procreated Jabal and Jubal and Zillah procreated Tubal-cain. Jabal was a nomadic herdsman, Jubal was a musician, and Tubal-cain forged bronze and iron tools (vv. 19-22). These stories are the enactment of the cultural mandate. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth:” So and so begat so and so, and so and so begat so and so. “Subdue the earth and exercise dominion over it:” So and so did such and such work, and so and so did such and such work. This is the cultural mandate being fulfilled, with men and women living out relational and vocational complementarity for both individual and corporate flourishing.  


Human sexuality is clearly advanced in these opening chapters of Genesis. Sexual activity that is intended to arouse erotic desires and sensations for (at minimum) procreation is clearly implied in the command to procreate.5For further discussion see Allison, Embodied, ch. 5. It is highlighted in the sexual relationship between the first couple. Their nakedness without shame signifies the beauty and integrity of sexual activity, with the implication that such erotic expression should be between a man and a woman (not a man and another man, or a woman and another woman), more specifically, between a husband and a wife who are covenanted as complementary persons in marriage. Jesus’ reference to this narrative reinforces this traditional view of marriage and sexuality (Matt. 19:4–6):

“Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Though other important purposes for sexual activity exist—pleasure (e.g., Song of Songs), a prophylactic against sexual immorality (1 Cor. 7:1-9), and comfort after tragedy (e.g., 2 Sam. 12:24)—procreation finds its telos in fulfillment of the cultural mandate. 

Contemporary Challenges to This Vision of Marriage, Family, Gender, and Sexuality

Following this wonderful portrayal of the divine intent for and the initial actualization of created image bearers regarding marriage, family, gender, and sexuality, Scripture rehearses the fall of our original parents and the devastating consequences of sin on all areas of the creation order and human existence. Biblical examples are heartbreaking and repulsive and include (1) loveless marriages and divorce; (2) dysfunctional families that feature murder, jealousy, trickery, and revenge; (3) gender confusion as expressed in gender dysphoria and transgenderism;  and 4) demeaning attitudes toward and disrespectful treatment of women; and (5) sexual immorality expressed in rape, homosexual activity, polygamy, and worship of sexualized gods.

To update this tragic picture, we consider the proliferation of similar kinds of maladies today in the United States. According to recent statistics, about half of the adult population is not married and about a third of those will never marry. Marriage as an institution for human flourishing is both under attack and dismissed as some kind of vestige of an antiquated past. Among married couples, the reproductive rate has fallen from 2.1 children per married woman in 2001 to 1.6, well below the number needed to maintain the current population without some mitigating factor. Part of this decline is gruesomely tied to the approbation and practice of abortion, which in the last five decades has terminated the once promising lives of about 65 million image bearers. While divorce statistics have seen a decline (about 40% since 1980), they still hover around the 40–45% mark for married couples. The loss of intact families, a corollary to such breakdown of marriages, means that children from those broken homes will statistically earn less money, commit more crime, do more poorly in school, suffer more mental illness, and will be less happy that those from intact families.6Brad Wilcox, Get Married: Why Americans Must Defy the Elites, Forge Strong Families, and Save Civilization (New York: Broadside Books, 2024).

As for gender, the rapid rise of gender dysphoria disturbs children and adolescents who are already wrestling with problems of body image, puberty, and an increase in mental illness. Add to this the societal and family encouragement of adolescents and young adults to undergo hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgery, thus maiming themselves forever. Finally, the ongoing explosion of sexual perversion is breaking down moral barriers never before imagined: sex with robots, sodomy with pets, and pedophilia as an adult sexual preference for children.

Not to belabor the point and to state the obvious, this present portrait of the American society falls far short of the biblical vision for marriage, family, gender, and sexuality. The ERLC is committed to articulating this vision, teaching Christians and churches how to live out this vision, advocating for laws and policies that will bring our cultural trends in line with this vision, and urging all citizens to respect human dignity and to work for human flourishing.

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