Asking All the Wrong Questions about Marriage–Part 1


OK, the Bible isn’t “The Divorcé’s Guide to Marriage,” but amazingly, the Scriptures say only a little bit about marriage; and divorce is often the context of the marriage instruction we get.

Much of marital law in America hopped off the boat with the early colonists who brought their view of marriage from England.  But this English history found its genesis way back in Genesis 2 since that is where Christianity (and Judaism before it) found its religious ideal, understanding marriage to be a sacred institution of the Lord of heaven and earth for the purpose of extending the image of God, His rule and reign over all the earth.

For all its years on American soil, marriage has been a sacred institution.  “According to the U.S. Supreme Court majorities, as well as Presidents, overwhelming majorities in Congress, and the general public,” writes Howard Ball (in his book from 2002 The Supreme Court in the Intimate Lives of Americans), “marriage remains a legal as well as a religious association of two individuals of the opposite sex.  It is a ‘sacred’ bond between a man and a woman—and only a man and a woman—legitimized by government and sanctified by God.”

The “sanctified by God” part has been easy for me to spot.  Genesis 2:18 “The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.'”  Man alone.  Not good.  Got it.

So God brings the bride, a biological female.  But first He had to build her.  Genesis 2:22 “Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.”  Don’t get thrown by all that rib stuff.  All of us have to come from Adam for any of us to be redeemed in Christ, the second Adam.  It’s how it had to be.

After the first Adam’s watching (and naming) the animal parade a few verses earlier and realizing that he’s the only creature God didn’t make as a matching set of two, Adam finally meets his counterpart and celebrates.  Genesis 2:23 “The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called “woman, for she was taken out of man'” 24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. 25 The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.”

There it is.  Verse 24.  A man will be “united to his wife and they will become one flesh.”  That’s marriage. 

Wait, there wasn’t a priest, a pastor, a rabbi, or a judge to officiate this thing.  God brought the woman to the man, united them, and voilà, marriage began.   Jesus says it this way:  “So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matthew 19:6).

Marriage officially happened when God joined them together, but where did the “legitimized by government” idea get a foothold?  The idea became necessary when the Fall of Man spoiled God’s ideal.  Marriage, it seems, has been heading to hell in a handbasket–its definition under assault–ever since sin entered the world.  The Christian view of God’s ideal of marriage arose in the Old Testament, was affirmed by Jesus in the New Testament, and each time marriage intersected with a sinful world, marital law grew increasingly necessary to try to deal with sin.  This is what has been carried forward through the centuries and across the sea to America–the law adapting all the time to challenges present in a broken world.

Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees.  Sometimes marriage as a sacred institution gets obscured by all the laws.

Would you like to learn more about how laws originated in the Ancient Near East?  Meet me on the next page.  If you’d like to skip to how those laws changed during days of Jesus, go to page 4, and for the Reformation and in England, you need to read Part 2.  (But trust me, you’ll want to go back to read how incrementally marriage law drifted from a religious point of reference to an increasingly secular view and how the very institution is under assault in many areas of the world.  There’s a lot of history here, but given how America has lost its way regarding marriage as God’s ideal, it’s worth the history lesson.)

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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