The only time Jesus ever failed: Mature conversations about marriage, re-marriage, same-sex marriage

January 7, 2014

How does one communicate to the world the truth and nature of biblical marriage in a way that would cause them to re-think their views without sounding archaic in tone or uninformed in scope? Biblical marriage is the bonding of one man and one woman in a committed, covenant, loving union for the mutual fulfillment and completeness of both persons, for the procreation and raising of children, and for the stabilization and sustenance of a civil society (Gen. 1:26-31). If marriage implodes then so, too, does a civil, productive society. Any culture that demotes, demeans, demoralizes, diminishes, denigrates or re-defines marriage does so at its own peril. Cultures that eviscerate marriage will survive, but those same cultures will be, as Plato would argue, mere shadows of the 'real thing,' of the 'real idea.' How can we help our neighbors see and hear the truth in this matter of marriage?

I am always searching for creative and thought-provoking ways to talk about old truths in new ways. Why? Because we are not only deaf to the truth because of our sin, but we are deaf to the truth because of the 'doctrine of familiarity.' This doctrine states that a person can hear the truth so many times until he becomes immune to its nature and profundity. So, the ear of the sinner is not only sinfully deaf, but deaf to the truth because it is familiar. Sometimes familiar things cause us to yearn for novel things. Sometimes this yearning is appropriate. While other times it is destructive. In the case of marriage, we must argue that the familiar is not man-made tradition, but actually the way things ought to be. This is where Spirit-inspired, biblically warranted creativity comes into play. God can use the means of the biblically creative to place into the ear a new tone that allows them to hear an old truth.

Jesus, once again, comes to our aid. Jesus was the master of the parabolic, audible shock, causing people to hear eternal truths in new ways. This is the nature of parabolic speech. So, here's my feeble attempt to speak an old truth in a new way.

I have been often asked why Jesus never addressed the subject of homosexuality or same-sex marriage. The question goes, “Since Jesus is the pole star of the Christian faith and since he never mentioned either of these two purported sins, isn't it ok to embrace both, so long as one keeps the 'Jesus ethic' of loving others?”

This very simple, yet misguided argument is why a good number of people (even in the church) believe a person can affirm homosexuality and same-sex marriage and remain a fully committed Christian and church member. We must respond by acknowledging that struggling with a sin (as many do with all kinds of sexual sins) is totally different than normalizing and embracing sin. 

To answer this question I respond, “Jesus failed in this matter about which you ask. Jesus' failure, however, was not sin.” Their eyebrows raise. I proceed by saying, “Yes, Jesus was without sin. He was tempted in all points (I take that to mean, in every dimension of life), yet without sin (Heb. 4:15). Yes, Jesus was a failure in this matter. (I repeat emphasis) However, in spite of his sinlessness, Jesus failed in this matter, yet his failure was not sin.” By this time in the conversation they're totally confused. At some point, if I keep pressing my point they will ask, “Please, explain.”

I tell them, “Jesus was directly asked about or addressed the subjects of marriage, remarriage, divorce and sexuality just a few times (i.e. Matt. 5:27-30 to 19:1-12). Every time he was asked about this subject he failed (I pause for affect)…to redefine the subject.” My listener turns his or her head, like a trusted dog listening to a new sound. “Yes,” I say, “every time Jesus had the opportunity to redefine, redirect, expand, or eliminate the old meaning of marriage he failed to do so, but his failure was not sinful. Jesus did not sin in this matter because he was simply reaffirming old truths, truths that are eternal, biblical, material and beneficial. In fact,” I say, “Jesus went further by answering the question as to whether marriage is a man-made invention or a God-wrought union by taking the genesis of marriage all the way back to Genesis–pre-law, pre-institution. Heterosexual sexual identity and marriage were God's ideas. So,” I go on to say, “if Jesus were standing in front of you and you asked him about homosexuality or same-sex marriage he would fail again because he would say that he loves sinners, but so far as human sexuality and marriage goes nothing much has changed since creation.” I then ask them this question, “Why did Jesus fail in this matter in the way you're suggesting he did?”

Now I have them on the horns of a dilemma. They either have to confess that Jesus really did fail (sinned), which most people are uncomfortable asserting. Or, they have to demure to their next argument, abandoning their misguided appropriation of Jesus' marriage talks.

By this time, I have their attention. My interlocutor may not agree with me in the end, but I have taken away one of his or her main arguments for 'biblically redefining' marriage based upon an erroneous view of Jesus' supposed silence on such an important matter. He or she must come up with some new way to speak what is erroneous. Yes, Jesus failed at this point, yet his failure was not sinful. I'm glad he failed.

Do I have your attention?  

Kevin Shrum

Kevin Shrum is the Lead Pastor at Inglewood since 1995.  He recieved his B.A. in Theology from Missouri Baptist University and studied at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and has 35+ years of church ministry experience in Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24