Part 1 of 3. Link to Part 2.
May 2008 – These days the subjects of marriage and family constantly seem to be in the news. Discussions abound regarding such issues as homosexual marriage, divorce rates, the number of people cohabiting, and the percentage of children born outside wedlock.
Most Americans seem to understand the importance of these two institutions, and the social sciences appear to validate that perception. Hundreds of empirical studies express the benefits that a good marriage brings to a husband and wife.
But whether or not the social sciences agree, Christians believe that marriage is an institution ordained by God for the benefit of the married couple themselves, any children produced by that marriage, and the surrounding culture.
So what are some of the basic principles concerning marriage that are found in the Bible?
▶ Marriage reflects the creation of mankind in two genders.
On questions of sexuality and marriage, Jesus always focused His emphasis on God’s creative purposes. In addressing the matter of divorce, for example, Jesus pointed to the first two chapters of the Book of Genesis to unpack God’s design for marriage and sexuality (Matt. 19:3ff).
First, Jesus made it clear that marriage is rooted in the creation of mankind as two distinct genders. “Have you not read, that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female? …” (vs. 4).
Jesus was referring to Genesis 1:27, which states: “And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
God created man in His own image but chose to express that image by making mankind – as a single race – both male and female. In other words, together male and female reflect God’s image. This means that the human race could not manifest the image of God if it were only male or only female – even if such a single-sex race could somehow reproduce itself.
According to The Bond That Breaks: Will Homosexuality Split the Church, author Don Williams addresses the controversial issue of same-sex marriage by noting that there is a clear progression of design found in Genesis, beginning with the dual-gender nature of mankind.
“Humanity was created first as male and female in relationship (Gen. 1:27; 2:18-23), only then were the blessings of procreation (Gen. 1:28) and marriage (Gen. 2:24) added,” he said.
Understanding God’s purpose in creating mankind as male and female – as an expression of His very image – makes it easier to understand why marriage is based on a male-female model.
Since the human race expresses God by virtue of its male-female composition, the joining of a man and a woman in marriage unites the two separate genders into a co-expression of God’s image.
▶ Marriage emotionally bonds a man and a woman.
Unite is therefore a critical part of the concept of marriage. After citing the male-female design of mankind in Matthew 19:4, Jesus immediately proceeded to quote Genesis 2:24: “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh. …”
According to the Geneva Study Bible, the word “cleave” means “to be glued unto, by which it signifies the union by marriage, which is between man and wife, as though they were glued together.”
Thus marriage joins husband and wife in an emotional and spiritual bond. Marriage, says Edward T. Welch in The Journal of Biblical Counseling, is in essence “a covenant of companionship that is ordained by God. It is the bringing together as one flesh two people who are truly ‘fit’ for each other.”
Reinforcing the view that marriage is intended – at least in part – to provide “a covenant of companionship” for a man and a woman is reinforced by Genesis 2:18. In that verse, God said after creating Adam, “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.”
Alone. Is there any other word that is more contrary to our nature as humans? People are social creatures, and we seem to crave a sense of community. For most people marriage provides the most powerful antidote to aloneness that there is.
“Two are better than one, …” it says in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, “for if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. … A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.”
Two are better than one because it is like multiplying and intertwining the strands of a rope to make it stronger. And a good marriage makes the strongest rope.
▶ Sex is reserved for marriage.
While the love between a man and a woman certainly contributes to the unity of a marriage, there is another factor – the power of sex to produce the “cleaving” together of husband and wife. The potent combination of emotional closeness and sexual intimacy bonds them in body and soul. If expressed out of love, the sexual act serves as part of the “glue” that helps keep the couple committed.
In responding to the demands that same-sex marriage be legalized, the Catholic Church released a document titled, “Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognitions to Unions Between Homosexual Persons.”
In it the Vatican said: “Men and women are equal as persons and complementary as male and female. Sexuality is something that pertains to the physical-biological realm and has also been raised to a new level – the personal level – where nature and spirit are united. … Marriage is instituted by the Creator as a form of life in which a communion of persons is realized involving the use of the sexual faculty.”
Since the commitment of marriage obviously protects it from dissolution, and since sex helps cement that commitment, God reserved sex for the marriage relationship. It is a gift from God to married couples and is, in effect, a sacred act because it serves a holy purpose.
Therefore, sex outside of marriage – such as fornication, adultery, and homosexuality – is considered a grave sin because sex is being used simply for personal gratification by those who refuse to enter into the commitment of marriage. Immorality profanes the gift of sexuality by discarding one of the reasons for it.
Moreover, sexual immorality is a sin because it also “glues” together a man and woman who are not married. For example, in Romans 7:3 Paul says adultery joins a spouse to the extramarital sex partner. And in 1 Corinthians 6:16 he addresses the practice of prostitution: “Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a harlot is one body with her? For He says, ‘The two will become one flesh.’”
Of course, sex partners do not literally become one body. So what does Paul, in citing Genesis 2:24, have in view? Obviously, the joining of bodies in sexual union outside marriage produces the same spiritual and emotional cleaving as it does within marriage. This is further underscored, in 1 Corinthians 6, by Paul’s exhortation that, instead of a man joining himself bodily to a harlot, he should join himself “to the Lord [as] one spirit with Him” (1 Corinthians 6:17).
Such serial coupling and cleaving with multiple partners can have a corrosive effect on marriage when a person finally does commit to a single spouse. Sexual immorality can confuse the soul with remembrances and longings for the other partners.
It can also undermine confidence in the spouse’s fidelity because questions may linger about what he or she is thinking about previous sex partners. And immorality can erode the marital commitment itself. If sex is not reserved for just one other person, in principle, it may become questionable whether or not it should be reserved in practice. (Note: The other important purpose for human sexuality within marriage – procreation – will be dealt with in an upcoming article in this series.)
▶ Marriage is a permanent bond.
When sex is reserved for marriage, this cleaving together of a husband and wife is so powerful that it can only be broken by death (Romans 7:1-3), or, in the opinion of some theologians, by divorce on the grounds of sexual immorality. (See the so-called “exception clause” for divorce in Matthew 5:32; compare Mark 10:11, where no such exception appears.)
The permanence of this bond is seen in Jesus’ clear words in Mark 10:9, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”
Citing this passage in Mark 10, German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg said, “Jesus concludes from this that the unbreakable permanence of fellowship between husband and wife is the Creator’s will for human beings. The indissoluble fellowship of marriage, therefore, is the goal of our creation as sexual beings.”
However, there is also another reason why Scripture views marriage as permanent. Especially in the New Testament, marriage is used as a metaphor for Christ’s relationship to the church, His bride.
This metaphor relies on the principle that marriage is restricted to one man and one woman because Christ has chosen for Himself one bride – not a succession of brides and certainly not another man, as would be implied by churches that celebrate same-sex ceremonies.
Hebrews 7:25 says Jesus will “save forever those who draw near to God through Him.” This is a comforting thought for the Redeemed only if the reality behind the metaphor is that marriage is a permanent union. That is, as marriage is a permanent bond on earth, so Christ’s commitment to His bride is for all eternity. Jesus will never break covenant with His people.
Certainly, as the church continues to fight in the numerous culture war skirmishes over marriage and family, these Biblical principles are worth remembering and defending.