This is a question that is receiving an enormous amount of attention in recent days. This is especially true since yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court seemed to take the first steps in the eventual legalization of same-sex marriage. While this discussion is not over, it is probably naïve to believe it will end in favor of those defending the traditional view of marriage.
However, with all this publicity and hype over what constitutes a marriage, it is worth articulating where the position of traditional marriage comes from. To be honest, the greatest damage to the proponents of traditional marriage is their inability to properly articulate the position. It is unfortunate when bible thumpers really don’t know much about what the bible says concerning marriage. Instead they just memorize what the bible says about homosexuality. However, let me be clear, this simply will not do and it makes all of us look like bigoted homophobes.
With that said, I don’t want to address the homosexual issue. I don’t want to fight gay marriage. Instead, what I would like to present, as concisely as I can, is the Christian’s biblical and theological understanding of marriage. If someone is going to make a decision about me, and my position, I’d like to at least have my full position understood.
Let me also say that I understand that not everyone holds to Scriptural authority. As a Christian, I believe in the authority of Scripture, thus I must appeal to it. However, I also acknowledge that my biblically based faith is not usually used as a mandate in the realm of public policy, nor am I advocating for this. I am simply attempting to articulate the biblical view of marriage.
A Cultural Definition
If I were to ask, “what is marriage?” most people would give me one of two answers. First, some might say, “It is a relationship between you and someone you love”. Second, “It’s about wanting to spend the rest of your life with someone”. So, based on this definition, people tend to go out and pursue relationships. They try to meet people and see whom they are compatible with. They essentially try out other people. They try them out by getting to know them as friends, getting to know them sexually, and even getting to know what it’s like to live with them.
Since marriage is about love and life long commitments, this process is important. You want to make sure you are compatible with a person and that everything is good under the hood, if you know what I mean. So, people search, find, and eventually get married. Sometimes they come from different backgrounds, upbringings, and maybe even different faiths. While this could create difficulties, these differences are compromised because, in the end, the marriage is about the relationship and affection between them.
However, as we’ve seen time and time again, at some point many relationships shift. The relationship isn’t what it use do be. It isn’t as exciting, I don’t feel the same way that I used to. Maybe the sex isn’t as good as it used to be, or the person’s interests have change, or they just aren’t whom you married. So, at this point some people decide to part ways and divorce. This could be caused by infidelity, money mismanagement, or two people who have just have grown tired of each other. This usually occurs because, for the most part, the marriage was based on the relationship and the relationship changed.
So, what if I told you that for Christians, marriage’s primary purpose is not an affectionate relationship between spouses. While we believe that it is a major part of it, we don’t believe it is the primary purpose. There are other elements, which are far more important than my affections toward my wife.
One cannot understand the biblical theology of marriage without first understanding covenants. All throughout Scripture God establishes covenants with His people. He does it with Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and believers today. All these covenants are leading and pointing to Christ and the work He would accomplish in His life, death, and resurrection. This means that all biblical covenants are pointing to something much greater than just the covenant itself. Therefore, within the marriage covenant that God establishes, there must be more to identify. This bigger picture is essential to understanding the biblical perspective. There are three things needing to be identified.
The Biblical perspective on marriage…
1. Points to the nature of God
In the book of Genesis, God establishes the marriage covenant between Adam and Eve. Here, God utters words that will resound through human history, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh”(Gen. 2:4). Throughout Scripture, the idea of two becoming one flesh is solely reserved for the marriage covenant. The idea is there are distinct persons coming together as one. Does this sound similar? It should because in the marriage covenant God has given a temporary picture of His divine nature. God, the eternal and Triune One, is distinct in persons and yet is one God. Jesus makes this clear in John 10:30 when he says, “I and the Father are one”. Therefore, the primary purpose of the marriage covenant is to provide a limited and temporary picture of the eternal Triune God.
2. Requires a physical manifestation
This union, however, is spiritual union that takes place. Becoming “one flesh” obviously does not mean that people literally become one flesh. However, God does provide a physical manifestation of the spiritual union, which has taken place.
In fact, God always gives a physical expression of worship and dedication to Him. For example, we primarily see this throughout the Old Testament’s sacrificial system. So, within the marriage covenant, God gives the physical manifestation of sex as a way to seal the deal and confirm what has taken place spiritually. The literal act of coming together gives an appearance and feeling of oneness. As the “puzzle pieces” fit together, so to speak, there is a oneness and completely represented.
Furthermore, all biblical covenants required the shedding of blood. Abraham with circumcision, Moses with the sacrifices, and Christ with His blood were necessary requirements to seal the deal. In the same way, God may have created a way for the shedding of blood in the marriage covenant to take place. If sex is reserved for marriage, and viewed as a physical representation of a spiritual union, then most of the time at first penetration, the woman’s hymen will break and there will be a shedding of blood. While this is not expressly taught in Scripture, it certainly does fit with the greater covenant examples.
Now, we do understand that this in not always the case, for many different reasons. However, this does not change the fact that God provides a literal physical union to represent the greater spiritual union.
3. Reveals our relationship with God through Christ.
All throughout the Gospels, Jesus refers to Himself as the Bridegroom. He also refers to the church as His bride (Matt. 9 & 25, Mark 2, Luke 5). Furthermore, the Apostle Paul explains how marriage relates to God’s redemptive work through Christ. He says,
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself” (Eph. 5:25-28
This passage is an absolute gold mine that deserves its own separate post, however, the idea is simply that marriage should reveal God’s love for us This love is revealed in the person and redemptive work of Christ.
4. Provides relationship
With that said, God certainly desires us to experience loving, selfless, and joyous marriages. I believe He creates someone specifically for us. If you want to call it a soul mate or companion, that’s cool. Yet, to fully appreciate the relationship, the proper foundation must be laid. We can only see marriage clearly when we look at it through the proper lens. Only after understand the epic nature of marriage, do we realize its true significance.
With that said, when marriage is first based on the relationship, then when people change, of course it makes sense to leave. In my opinion there is only one reason for divorce. It is simply that one or both spouses are selfish. They put there needs and desires before the other person, which undermines much of the previous purposes of marriage. This selfishness, unfortunately, comes back to the definition of marriage being about relationship, which unfortunately is selfishly motivated.
Yet, through God’s common grace (knowledge given to all mankind), we know this cannot be the basis of solid marriage. Marriage must be built upon something greater than an individual’s happiness. This has been the experience of most cultures throughout human history. Marriage required a greater commitment and was rarely based on loving feelings. For the individualistic west, this sounds horrible and yet this is how many people view marriage. The western ideology of marriage is the unique one.
While this is by no means exhaustive, I hope it at least lays out the position. While Christians have struggled to model this biblical idea of marriage, it doesn’t change the fact that this is what God intended. So, as the marriage conversation continues to take place, I hope there is at least a better understanding of what the biblical perspective on marriage is.
Many others and I feel compelled to stay true to the larger story of Scripture in which God weaves marriage all through. So before we are called bigots, regressive, or oppressive it is worth considering why it is not possible to affirm any change in the traditional view of marriage