It will be relevant at this point to refer to the history of the Church’s attitude to sexuality throughout the centurics, and to elements in that attitude that seem inconsistent with some of the deepest insights in the Bible.
Throughout nearly all its history and in the larger sections of the Church today, the myth of Adam and Eve (called without justification the Fall of Man)* is treated as though it were historical fact on which logical arguments can be built. In this way, sexuality came to be regarded as necessarily polluted with sin in that event. Even when rejected as historical fact, this myth still has its effect upon the attitude of some Christians to sexuality; it will therefore be wise to think more about it. First, this, like other myths, had an earlier Babylonian origin and was used for religious purposes by the Jewish teachers. Further, like all myths, it is a poetic and symbolic representation of the condition and predicament of man. It is not exclusively or even primarily concerned with sexuality. It is a myth representing the transition of man, either in his racial history (phylogenesis) or his development from babyhood (ontogenesis) from an unreflective obedience to instinct to a condition in which he is responsible for his actions, in which he can reflect on them and make judgments and moral choices, weighing up possible courses of action in the light of a concept of good and evil.
It is a story, not of man’s fall, but of man’s growing up, and of the pain that growing up involves. It is significant that God is recorded as saying (Gen. 3, v. 22): “Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil.” To recognise and love what is good is to know also what is evil, to fear it and to be tempted to it. To know the good is to know joy, but it is also to experience pain, to be tempted to pride and presumption.+
It is unfortunate that sexual intercourse takes place between Adam and Eve only after the expulsion from the Garden; this perhaps provides an excuse for thinking that sexual intimacy is associated with a sinful and disobedient state. But this is not given in the text nor is it a necessary implication. Indeed Eve claims the help of God in the matter. The shame associated with nakedness immediately after the eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge need not imply that sex became tainted there and then with sin; it may imply a recognition that our sexuality more than anything else in us can lift us to the heights of self-realisation or plunge us into
* This was never suggested by Jesus, but seems to have come from Paul; see Romans 5, v. 12-14.
+ In passing it should be noted that the story gives complete equality to the sexes. Gen. 3, v. 16 says: Thy desire shall be to thy husband and he shall rule over thee. A corresponding verse that has strayed irrelevantly into Chap. 4 (v. 7) says: Unto thee shall be his desire and thou shalt rule over him.