Andrew R. Angel, Intimate Jesus: The Sexuality of God Incarnate (SPCK, 2017)
Intimate Jesus starts with a simple question: ‘How did God experience human sexuality?’ (p.xi), and Andy Angel’s answer is a treasure chest of wisdom and insight. He spends six chapters laying it out from John’s Gospel. He argues that from the offset the sexuality of Jesus is in view when John uses the phrase ‘the Word became flesh’ (John 1:14) to describe the incarnation. He then explores encounters Jesus has with different characters in the narrative and the sexual dynamic in these interactions. From the Samaritan woman at the well to the beloved disciple, Angel explores how Jesus lived out his perfect humanity and his perfect sexuality.
As Angel writes he answers claims that Jesus was sexually involved with both his male and female followers. Case after case he examines whether there really is a sexual dynamic to these relationships, and in each he argues clearly from Scripture that Jesus was not sexually involved with any of them. Yet, even while showing that Jesus was clearly not sleeping around with any of his female or male followers, Angel is still happy to explore sexual themes. He wonders if the Last Supper has a homoerotic element to it. He thinks it does and argues that this tells us something about our human relationship with the divine: the beloved disciple nestles into Jesus’ chest, and we too we are invited to have an intimate and close relationship with him.
I found chapter three particularly engaging. Here Angel delves into Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. As I read, I realized that this was the first time in my life I had ever heard a positive portrayal of Jesus’ sexuality. Angel helped me see through this encounter with the Samaritan woman that Jesus’ ‘sexuality was marked by love’ (p.59). Here in the story we see a beautiful demonstration of Jesus’ gospel shaped humanity. It is clear that he is a human because he is tired and thirsty (John 4:6-7), so we can assume that he would also have sexual desires like any other man. Yet when he meets a woman alone at a well, he does not try and flirt with her, or dominate her, or in any way use her to fulfil his sexual desires. Instead he denies his sexual desires and offers her living water and eternal life! This story is one of the many demonstrations of Jesus laying down his life for the sake of the lost.
These insights helped me marvel once again at God’s love. However, as I pondered them, I discussed them with a mentor who got me rethinking things. Does Angel go too far? He states in his introduction that he is delving into sub-themes and plot lines, rather than the main purpose of John. We are following breadcrumbs, he says (p.xiv). And this is the thing which makes me feel a little nervous. How much can be truthfully said from breadcrumbs?
Angel supports his reading of John 4 by arguing that ‘living water’ has sexual connotations found in the Song of Songs. But there is only one reference to support this (Song of Songs 4:15). He also claims that the writer of John is deliberately putting a spotlight on Jesus’ sexuality in John 1:14: ‘the Word became flesh’. But it is interesting to note that neither Carson, 1 Barrett, 2 Milne, 3 nor J. C. Ryle 4 make a similar connection when they are commenting on these verses. This makes me wonder, what sort of theological statements can we make from breadcrumbs.
Overall, I would recommend Intimate Jesus because I was spiritually refreshed by my reading of it. It helped me to marvel once again at the wonders of the incarnation. Angel helped me see that Jesus became a human, and that means he has a sexuality, a sexuality not ruined by sin but gloriously holy and marked by love. However, even though I would recommend Intimate Jesus, I would also advise readers to handle it with care. Angel is exploring a topic that is not normally covered in evangelical circles. Are all his conclusions correct? Does he overstate himself? To be honest, I am still working that out. So, to close, I invite you to read Intimate Jesus, wrestle with these questions yourself, and come delve into the wonderful mystery of the incarnate God.
- D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (IVP, 1998), pp.126–27.
- Charles K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John: An Introduction with Commentary and Notes on the Greek Text (SPCK, 1982), p.233.
- Bruce Milne, The Message of John (IVP, 1993), pp.46–49.
- J. C Ryle, John (Banner of Truth Trust, 1987), pp.24–28.