Asking All the Wrong Questions about Marriage–Part 1

A recent Wall Street Journal article entitled “The Divorcé’s Guide to Marriage” opened with, “Want great marriage advice?  Ask a divorced person.”   I’d say “Ask History.”  After 30 years of marriage to my husband, I’m convinced it has much more to do with understanding what marriage is all about.

These days, the topic of marriage is getting confusing.

In American culture, a war has been escalating over the question, “Who is legally allowed to have something called a marriage?”  But we’re asking the wrong question.

The right question is “What was the original purpose of marriage as an institution?”

I’ve been wondering something for a while now.  Somewhere down the aisle it seems marriage has changed from a sacred institution of God (Genesis chapter 2) to something that courts decide as they subordinate the original religious ideal beneath an increasingly complicated legal code requiring decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court.

It bubbles up from the oddest of places as even the recent Chick-fil-A vs. gay marriage controversy demonstrates.  Why is the definition of marriage so blurred?

In short, sin.  To counteract sin, the Bible outlined a few laws.  But for the past 250 years, we’ve added new laws upon existing laws to deal with problems with applying prior laws.

But what was the original purpose of marriage?

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:28).

In the beginning, marriage was intended as one man and one woman to be joined as one flesh by God, then blessed by God to be fruitful (literally fertile, hence increase in number); to fill and subdue the earth; and to rule over it all.  God’s design was for the image of God present in both man and woman to be multiplied by length of days and production of offspring.

Somewhere, though, we’ve gone off-track.  In the pages that follow, I will trace the history of marriage.  In Part 2, I will explain how 6 pivotal events have shaped marriage law–for better or for worse.  These 6 watershed moments–some of which represented progress at the time–had unintended consequences as they paved the way to a redefinition of marriage:

      1. Mutual Consent
      2. Marriage as a Sacrament
      3. The Protestant Reformation
      4. The Council of Trent
      5. The Clandestine Marriage Act of 1753
      6. Vatican II

Would you like to learn more about the history of this important institution called marriage?  Join me on the next page.

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Categories Articles, Articles and Devotionals | Tags: | Posted on July 30, 2012

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  1. by Emily ZR

    On July 31, 2012

    Barbara, can you speak a little more about people who desire to adopt or those who choose, as Christians, to not have children but “parent” in other ways, such as teaching, mentoring, service to young people in the church or in medicine, etc.? Do Christian marriages require children? What happens when they don’t have children (whether intentionally or unintentionally)?

  2. by seminarygal

    On July 31, 2012

    Great questions, Emily! While my main point was to show how the law has steadily encroached upon the sacred bond, I know that childless couples (whether by choice or with great sadness) the topic must be handled with sensitivity. First, let me say that the blessing was fertility, the brokenness of the Fall of Man gives us everything else. Infertility–or in my personal background, stillbirth–this brokenness is not a punishment from God. Blame is not helpful among people so it’s better to assign it to the Fall of Man and realize, as I did with my daughter Julia who died in 1998, that we live in a broken world and suffering happens. We worship a God who redeems suffering.

  3. by seminarygal

    On July 31, 2012

    That said, Christian marriages do not require children in order to be fulfilling. I think that’s what the Roman Catholic Church was trying to address. Christian couples can extend the image of God throughout the earth by longevity of days–a long perseverance in the same direction of faith. But you rightly point out that teaching, mentoring–as Paul did with Timothy, for example–these activities offer reproduction of the image of God through witness. It’s how we’re all called to be, whether married or not, and whether any marriages involve children through physical union or through adoption.

  4. by seminarygal

    On July 31, 2012

    Finally, biological reproduction (as a purpose of marriage) is part of the original blessing of God upon Adam and Eve. Childbearing has served through the centuries –and across cultures–as a reason why homosexual encounters were considered unfruitful, without community benefit, producing no social progress, and therefore not enhancing civilization. Sexual relationships between same-sex partners accomplished no social good in a wider community sense. Aside from the biblical view that homosexual relationships are not God’s idea or His ideal, biological reproduction served to future society’s progress in a way that could not be accomplished at all among homosexuals (even today) without veering from biological/sexual faithfulness to one’s partner or the aid/interference of medicine and technology.

  5. by seminarygal

    On August 9, 2012

    As an addendum, it is worth noting that 10 states (plus the District of Columbia) still allow a “common law” form of marriage. The requirements vary from state to state, but generally speaking, the state considered a couple eligible for marriage if the parties were of consenting age, not presently married, and if they fulfilled these general requirements: “a woman and man [were considered] to be married if they lived together for a certain length of time, had sexual intercourse, and held themselves out [to the public] as husband and wife.”

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