How God Sees My Body [The Women’s Issues Series]

Podcast Episodes, Sexuality

In this episode of the women’s issues series on Verity, we talk about the biblical view of the body, why it plays into the theology of resurrection, and how it affects our view of female sexuality.

We discuss:

  • Dualism, Gnosticism, and how they infiltrate Christian theology
  • What ‘the flesh’ means in Scripture
  • The importance of Leviticus to the body conversation
  • Five lies about female sexuality

Further resources:

Listen below!

Transcription

Phylicia: Welcome to Verity. I’m your host, Phylicia Masonheimer, an author, speaker and Bible teacher. This podcast will help you embrace the history and depth of the Christian faith. Ask questions, seek answers, and devote yourself to becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ. You don’t have to settle for watered down Christian teaching. If you’re ready to go deeper, God is just as ready to take you there. This is Verity, where every woman is a theologian. 

We’re already in the second week of the Women’s Issues series. I am so stoked to talk about what we’re discussing this time, the body and sexuality. Now, this is an enormous topic. I can’t do it justice in 20 to 30 minutes, but I’m definitely going to try to touch on some of the major points in relation to women’s bodies and sexuality, because I know there are so many questions surrounding these issues.

Last week in the series, we discussed fertility, pregnancy, and birth, and how the curse in Genesis 3 was not a curse on women’s bodies, was not a curse on women’s process of birth, but that rather it was curse on the ground, and on the serpent, specifically. Everything else that we experience is simply the consequence of being in a cursed world. While it might sound like semantics, it’s super important that we go into birth, and look at our bodies and their fertility, not as something that God has specifically cursed and separated from himself, but something that he is consistently and constantly redeeming with his goodness. If you have not listened to that episode, I would encourage you to go back, be sure to start there, because that’s going to lay a foundation for what we talk about today in regard to female bodies and sexuality. 

When we look at the theology of the body, we could get really deep into this. There’s some really great books out there. Nancy Pearcey has a book on the theology of the body, the Catholic Church has a book on the theology of the body, and so I’m not endeavoring to redo the work they’ve done. I would encourage reading those resources. I want to give a high-level view to get you thinking about this, biblically, and I hope it inspires you to continue your study, because we need a reframe, when it comes to these topics. I think when you look at the world, and you see how they treat and look at bodies, it can sometimes seem like it’s more positive than what we are doing in the church. That shouldn’t be the case. We want to look at this scripturally and ask, “How does God see my body? How does God look at my body and not just my soul?” 

One of the first issues that we run into as Christians is the problem of dualism. What’s dualism? Dualism comes from the Greek philosopher, Plato. This isn’t a Christian idea. In its actual definition, dualism separates the body and the spirit, considering the body to be a lower-material substance and the spirit a higher substance. This encouraged an outlook, which held that asceticism, so that monastic idea that the body is bad and the spirit is good, was a way that the soul could liberate itself from the hold of the body. Basically, what Plato was saying is, “We’re going to purify ourselves of our bodily passions. We’re going to render ourselves worthy of our spiritual home.”

Plato’s philosophy actually had a lot of influence on Judaism in the Hellenistic period, the Greek period, which would have just preceded when Jesus came. Sometimes, you’ll hear people say that Paul actually taught dualism where he taught that the body was bad, but that’s not what Paul is talking about when he talks about the flesh. That’s super, super important to understand, because I have seen articles from well-known blogs and well-known authors go out that talk about how we’re basically at war with our bodies, at war with our physical flesh, and what Paul is saying is, this flesh that he’s referring to, I think of Romans 6, for example. The flesh that he’s referring to is the old regime. The old family of Adam that we were born into, that is crucified with Christ, and that we can go back to if we choose, but we don’t have to choose that. We can instead choose to walk by the spirit and walk in the new family of God, the new regime that we are in, the new kingdom. 

When the Bible talks about the flesh in the New Testament, it’s really important that we not adopt this dualistic mindset because it is not biblical. It was something that was completely secular and read into Judaism, read into Christianity, and it’s not what Orthodox Jews now or then would have been teaching. In contrast, Judaism has always seen the body not as a prison for the soul, but as a tool. It does a good and sacred work. The understanding was that the soul and the body were one unit, both made in God’s image and both equally important. One was not better than the other. The body was not imprisoning the spirit, imprisoning the soul, we are not bound to our bodies during PMS or needing to be freed from these terrible bodies. No, Judaism saw them as a unit. Christianity builds on that, with the concept of resurrection, which we are going to get to in a little bit. 

Let’s first talk about why bodies matter to God at all. Why would God care about bodies? Bodies, they’re going to die and we’re going to get a new one, so does he really care about this or are we just making this up? Well, one of the things that’s helpful to me when I’m studying these things, is to look at the Jewish roots and the Messianic Jewish perspective on these things, because Paul was a Jew. First, he was a Jew, and he wrote a lot about this topic. So, his background would give us a lot of information on the interpretation of his text, as well as the Torah, and the law and what it was teaching about bodies. 

A well-known Jewish rabbi called Rashi was talking about the importance of the human body in the context of Levitical law. One of the laws we see in Leviticus is that a dead body, so including one that’s from a capital offense, somebody who committed a capital offense and was killed for it, whether this person was a criminal, who died from– was executed, or if this person died of natural causes, it was very important that that body not remain overnight just out in the open but be buried. Rashi was commenting on this concept. He said the reason that a body was not to remain out, just laying out overnight was because it is a slight to the king, God, because humanity is made in the likeness of God’s image, and Israel are God’s children. He goes on to say that our resemblance to God is more than just spiritual, that even our bodies reflect the divine image, and therefore they deserve reverence and respect. Isn’t that interesting? That it’s not just our spirit that reflects God’s image, it’s also our bodies that reflect his image. This goes all the way back to Genesis 1:27-28, which you’re probably familiar with, where God says, “Let us make man in our image.” Then in the image of God, he created that male and female he created them. Both man and woman were made in God’s image, and somehow, even though God is Spirit, their bodies were also made in the image of God. This changes everything. If we’re made in the image of God, that means that we need to be honoring these bodies that are also in his image.

What’s interesting to me is, we very often will quote Psalm 139, the abortion conversation, we’ll talk about being knit together in our mother’s wombs, and how important it is to save these babies. But when we grow up, and when we talk about our mental health or PMS or hormonal issues, or how we reconcile these, then suddenly we no longer see the body as valuable. That shouldn’t be the case, because the Bible teaches that the body has incredible value. 

In fact, a lot of that value is seen in the Book of Leviticus. You all know that Leviticus is my favorite book, and I know everyone gives me weird looks like, “Why is it your favorite book? It’s so weird,” but I think part of why I love Leviticus is for how it lays a theological foundation for our understanding of things like this. Leviticus has a lot of laws about the body. If Leviticus has all these laws about the body, there has to be a reason, why? That would make sense. Why would Levitical law have all of these laws in the first place? 

Well, one of the important things to notice when we’re looking at Leviticus, is that Jewish law was teaching that care for the body was also care for the soul. Another important thing to note is that the word ‘unclean’ does not mean sinful, it does not mean bad, gross, or dirty. It means in need of purification, in need of ritual purification. It’s so important that our Western minds understand that unclean does not equal bad, because that will transform our understanding of Leviticus and transform our understanding of the Old Testament God. So, Jewish law is teaching that care for the body is also care for the soul. The body and the soul are one unit that honor God. Therefore, in order for that soul to be in communion with God, that body has to also be purified. These laws were there for that reason. Remember, you have this unholy people, living in tents, with a God who is perfectly holy, living in his tent among them. In order for God to dwell with them, they had to be purified, and that included their bodies.

There is a rabbi who pointed out in the medieval period, that the bodily fluids like menstrual blood, semen, fluid from skin that are considered unclean, are only unclean after they have left the human body. Isn’t that interesting? What we see in Leviticus, what we see Paul teaching is not dualism, because it’s not an action of the body asserting power over the soul, but the body and the soul working in partnership for good or for evil. It’s also important to note that at the end of days, we see God judging the actions of the body and soul in partnership and returning the soul to the body at resurrection. Clearly, God makes this connection. God is putting body and soul together. God is judging body and soul. Jesus is in a resurrected body, which we’ll get to in a second. The body matters to God. God does not see bodies as a bad thing. 

A fantastic example of how Paul actually counters dualism is in Romans 12, where he says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Okay, there’s a couple things here. At first glance, you might think, “Oh, dualism.” We’re putting our bodies down to elevate the soul. But remember that the people listening to him were most likely Jewish, and they would have had a Jewish background. The language he’s using, present your bodies as a living sacrifice, is immediately going to take them back to Torah, to the law, and what does the law teach about sacrifice and how that works. Our bodies are to be this sacrifice to God. This sacrifice of our bodies, this giving of our bodies as a tool of good work to God, is an act of spiritual worship. This isn’t downplay the body to elevate the spirit, it’s the body is an integral part of your spiritual worship. The body is how you’re actually worshiping God, because you are surrendering your body to the Spirit’s leading, and He is using that body for good. That’s why we can be not conformed to this world as he continues, but be transformed by the renewal of our mind, and then we can accept and live out the will of God and do things with our bodies that are good and acceptable and perfect. We’re going to get into in just a minute a little bit about what that looks like sexually.

First, I want to talk about Jesus and why the significance of Him having a physical body is so important. In 1 Peter 2:4, it says, “Jesus Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds, you have been healed.” Why did Peter take the pains to say that Jesus bore our sins in His body? Well, I think there’s a couple important reasons that we should pay attention to. Far from negating or devaluing the world, so the creation, the created body. The Bible shows us that God loves His creation, and He sustains the world as a beautiful place to live. Our bodies in the created world exist to manifest God’s glory. He rejoices in what He has made, even while what He has made is corrupted by sin. That tension is so hard for many people to understand that they will go to these extremes theologically, where we know that creation groans with the fall and the curse that’s on the ground but we also know that it proclaims the glory of God at the same time, and that is attention that some people just have a hard time accepting. Our bodies do the same thing. Just as we discussed in the Birth episode, our fallen bodies aren’t going to be guaranteed a perfect birth, they aren’t guaranteed perfect fertility but they still proclaim the glory of God in other ways, even if they can’t deliver a biological child. It’s the same for the rest of creation. 

The first thing to know is that Jesus came in a body. He came in a body, and that’s important and significant in itself. Another thing about Jesus bearing our sins in His body coming in a body, and being incarnated as a human, is that His resurrection in that body was the first fruits of resurrection promised to us. We have a hope of resurrection and restoration in our bodies because Jesus first accomplished this. 1 Corinthians 15 talks all about it. It says, “Now, if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God because we testified about God that He raised Christ, who He did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.” 

Paul is saying that we have zero hope if Jesus was not physically raised from the dead in His body. We cannot say we believe what we believe if that is not true. His resurrected body still bears the scars of what happened to Him on Earth. Based on what we see in the gospels of Thomas seeing the scars in his hands, and then Jesus ascending in that body, Jesus is still in that body. That is our hope. If you want to read more about Jesus ascending in the literal body, John 20:27, and Luke 24:39 are two spots to look at.

Now, I want to talk a little bit about Jesus bearing our sins, being hung on the cross because this connects back to what we were discussing regarding a body being left out overnight. Do you remember in Levitical law, you were not supposed to leave a body out overnight, because if you did, it was a shame on the image of God? Remember, Jesus was crucified and hung on a tree and there was an urgency from His disciples to remove Him, if you remember they appeal to take Him down before nightfall and to bury Him appropriately. 

An interesting note from the Latin poet Horace says that Christ was crucified by Roman authorities at the behest of rebellious Jews, so Acts 2. According to Horace, it was Roman practice to leave a body upon the cross until it actually decayed. They spoke about crucified slaves feeding crows on the cross. But the Jews were very passionate about making sure to take his body down from that cross. Why? Well, because of this law, about burying their dead. What’s the significance of that? That the body bears the image of God. Here is not just the image of God, but God Himself, who is being taken down from the cross, and buried to resurrect three days later in that same body, and redeem the world, and give us the hope of our own resurrection one day. 

You might be wondering, “Why is this so important? I don’t understand, we are going to be given new bodies eventually in heaven. Even if we’re judged in our current bodies, that God is resurrecting. I don’t understand the significance.” The significance is to change how you look at your body and how your body and your spirit interact. Instead of seeing your body as secondary, instead seeing it as unified with your soul as something that is given to a Holy work. As something that God will hold accountable with your spirit. Your spirit is going to tell your body what to do. One day, God will renew and restore and give you a new body when we are with Him. 

But we still have to consider in this world, how we view our body and if we view it the way God does. Do we view it as the image of God? Do we see it as a tool to do his work or not? There was a specific church in the New Testament who really struggled with this idea. The Corinthians were in Greece, so they’re Greek culture, Greek Church, trying to understand Christianity. In 1 Corinthians, Paul has a lot to say about how they use their bodies sexually. Because of the presence of dualism in Greek culture, the Corinthians were struggling with the idea that their bodies were an expression of their spiritual state. They actually believed that because their spirit was more important, it didn’t matter what they did with their bodies, sexually or otherwise. This can apply to so many things, but in this context, Paul was dealing with them and their sexual sin, and how they were using their bodies thinking that they could have their spirit right with God and have their body doing whatever they wanted. 

In 1 Corinthians, we see him saying these things. “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” This is a tough point here because he’s basically saying, “You’re the one destroying yourself. You’re destroying your own temple. God’s temple is holy. You are that temple. So, take care of it. Honor it. Have your body follow your spirit.” 1 Corinthians 6, he says, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit within you whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you are bought with a price. So, glorify God in your body.” This dualistic idea that, “Oh, who cares, whatever, it doesn’t matter what I do in my body or my urges, my desires define me,” that is not a biblical idea. The Spirit and the body go together, they walk together. This transitions us really well into a discussion of sexuality. 

Now, I could go on so many different tangents and I have so much content about sexuality on the blog, in my eBook, Christian Cosmo, and I don’t have enough time to dive into that. I would recommend going to the blog, go into the Search tab, looking at the sexuality blog posts, getting Christian Cosmo from the shop, and those will give you a lot of information on biblical sexuality. In this episode, we’re just going to talk about some common lies about sex, female sex and sexuality, and the Bible. I have five of these that I wanted to really quickly skim over. 

Number one, female sexuality is a temptation to men. I think we’ve all heard this. It comes from the purity culture movement quite often. It’s often connected to the modesty discussion that female sexuality is a source of temptation to men, that by being born in a female body, my body is the cause of a man’s stumbling. This is not in Scripture. What we see regarding sexuality are commands that are always issued to both men and women. In fact, there is nothing singled out about female modesty, except in the context of social humility. 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Peter 3 are not talking about sexuality. They’re talking about social modesty. Not parading your economic status to other people. Not parading your wealth in front of people. Go read them. That’s what it’s about. 

Obviously, we can take that principle of humility of dress, and we can apply it in a sexual way, but we have to look at the original context here. We also have to look at every command regarding sexual sin. 1 Corinthians 6, 1 Thessalonians 4, Galatians 5, Colossians 3, all of them refer to abstaining from sexual sin universally with no gender specification. In fact, there was a prevalence of female promiscuity at these times and in these cultures. So, there’s a very good chance that Paul had that in mind more so than men lusting after women. Men and women both lust. Male sexuality can be just as much of a temptation to women as female is to men. All of these commands are given to both. We further see this in 1 Corinthians 7, which gives husbands and wives equal authority over each other’s bodies. So, sexual deprivation applied just as much to women as to men.

Which leads us to lie number two. Female sexuality is meant to primarily serve husbands. If we look at 1 Corinthians 7, we basically have our answer for this right here. Women and men, or rather husbands and wives, have equal authority over each other’s bodies. Do not deprive one another, except for a set amount of time and then come back together. He’s saying, “Don’t intentionally deprive each other without an agreement and drive each other crazy so that you’re desperate except for an agreed-upon amount of time,” such as the purification period. If you look at Leviticus 12, the purification period for women after they had babies. You could actually see an example of this in Mary and Joseph. She completed her time of purification and then brought Jesus to be circumcised at the temple or brought Him to the temple to make the sacrifice after her purification was done rather. When we read this, this lie, female sexuality is meant to primarily serve husbands. If you have grown up in certain church environments, it might be shocking to you that this is a lie, because, honestly, isn’t there an element of serving our husbands with our sexuality? Isn’t it in the Bible that men have a higher sex drive, and men are visual? None of those things are in the Bible. None of those things are taught by Scripture. Rather, we see this concept of men being taught to love their wives, to consider them as a weaker vessel, probably because they have physical weakness and times of weakness, such as after having a baby or during their period, when a husband has to be more considerate to them. 

If female sexuality was just meant to serve husbands, why would these commands be issued to husbands? It doesn’t make sense. The reality of this is that it also ignores higher drive wives. 30% to 40% of marriages include a wife with a higher sex drive than her husband. I will link in the show notes a fantastic episode on higher drive wives by one of my favorite podcasts, Sex Chat for Christian Wives, that really delves into these topics from a biblical perspective. It is a little graphic, so if you have small children, do have your headphones in when you listen to it. [laughs] Reality is 30% to 40% of marriages have a higher drive wife. In that situation, how can we say that the Bible teaches that female sexuality is meant primarily to serve husbands? It’s both. It’s supposed to be a partnership. We also have to confront the idea, the men are visual, stereotype and the cultural expectations that we’ve put on men versus what Scripture teaches about sex, which is this mutual deferring to one another, this consideration for one another, and your desires and cultivating intimacy. 

The third lie that we see about female sexuality is that female sexuality was denigrated by the Bible. The Bible basically says that female sex and sexuality is gross or bad or dirty. As I said earlier in this episode, unclean does not mean dirty, bad, sinful. It means in need of purification in order to commune with God. Many people will use Leviticus as an example of this, when in fact, Leviticus does the opposite. It shows the protection and honor for women. It shows the purification needed to have God living among you. Then, another element here is of course, the Gnostic influence, and the dualism of Gnosticism, which basically said body bad, soul good. Also remember that the discharge, if we’re looking at what the rabbis were teaching, it’s possible that this only became “unclean” when it left the body. We’ve also discussed in other episodes how the symbolism of blood as life, the blood leaving a woman’s body every month is a sign of death in the womb, death and decay, and since God is life, there was a purification needed for that period. It also protected these women during vulnerable times. It also protected men. 

Couple things to think about. If a man had to be purified after he had sex, same with a woman. If a woman had to be purified after her period or having a baby, if you had to be purified after you were sick or you touched a dead body or you buried somebody, if you had to be purified after all these things, it actually protected people at very vulnerable times. You could not demand sex from somebody every single day. You could not demand it from your wife while she was recovering from childbirth or on her period. These are things that we need to consider instead of bringing this Western mindset to this ancient Middle Eastern book and not allowing our minds to be reframed according to what scripture actually teaches. If you need more context on how the Torah, the Pentateuch was compiled and why it’s authoritative, be sure to go back to the Canon series and listen to the Canon of Torah episode. 

The fourth lie about female sexuality is that female sexual desire, or any desire really, is sinful and wrong. Once again, 1 Corinthians 7 assumes that desire is happening, that the wife desires the husband and in fact, she might be a little bit put it out if he decides to fast their intimacy for a period of time, “Let me know, honey, I’d sure like some warning next time.” But also, Song of Solomon 2 expresses this clearly. If we turn there and take a little look, we can see an example here. Song of Solomon 2 is the bride talking, saying that, “His left hand is under my head, and his right hand embraces me. I adore you, oh, daughters of Jerusalem by the gazelles or does of the field that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases or until he pleases.” She goes on in the next passage to talk about, “Oh, the attributes of his body that she admires, and she loves.” There’s really no way around it. This is a poem expressing the love of a bride for her husband. There are some rabbis and church theologians over the years, especially in the early church, in the early rabbinic commentaries, who said that this was simply symbolic of God’s love for Israel. Maybe that’s the case, but it’s still a very graphic depiction of human love used to describe a spiritual love, which tells us that God is not separating these two things. 

The fifth and final lie is that female sexuality is seen as dirty or impure. We’ve discussed several times now in this episode, that uncleanness is simply evidence of the decay in the world and the need for ritual purification. It’s not the same as a need for sinful purification. This uncleanness, it was something very specific to Israel living as an unholy people, a people in a fallen world with a holy God dwelling in their midst. For more on that, I would highly recommend the After Class Podcast. The After Class Podcast is fantastic for many reasons, but they did an entire series on sexuality, and then an entire series on women. Both of them are great, and I would recommend listening to them. 

I hope this episode really made you guys think about your bodies, about your sexuality. I hope this is a breath of fresh air for you, to know that God is not looking at your body as this negative, ugly, gross, fallen thing, but that he sees it as something that is good and beautiful and redeemed by Christ. Yes, it will die because that’s the nature of this world. It will be reflecting the fallenness of this world. Most of you know, I have an autoimmune disease. I bear the marks of a fallen world on my body. But I also believe that my God considers this body good, because the spirit that is at work in me is doing good things through my body and with my body. 

Looking at it that way and allowing God to be glorified through that has been transforming to me as I walk through life with an autoimmune disease. I hope this encourages you, challenges you, and if this episode was helpful, I would love if you would share it. Screenshot it, tag me on Instagram, tell me that you’re listening to it, or do a podcast listening club. We have quite a few people doing those, and I think that’s just the coolest thing. I look forward to joining you next week. We will be going into a topic of motherhood and what motherhood looks like when you are a gospel-centric woman after God’s own heart.