Foundational Truths Regarding Marriage
Marriage is a time-honored institution that has blessed humanity more than most realize. In spite of its beneficence, it has been disrespected, even assaulted, for many centuries. In this brief essay, we wish to discuss five foundational truths that pertain to the marriage arrangement.
In logic there is a principle known as the Law of the Excluded Middle. A thing either is or it is not. A line either is straight or it is not straight; there is no middle position. If it is partially straight and partially crooked then it is not straight.
Applied to our present consideration, we must argue: Marriage originated from God, or else it did not. If it did not originate from God, then it must have originated from a non-God source. If that was the case, human beings must have originated the institution, and thus they may do with it as they please. There are no “marriage rules” save those that people may choose, or that which society imposes by law. If either is the case, actions are arbitrary — to fluctuate from place to place or from era to era. Nothing about marriage is static.
On the other hand, if God is the author of the marriage relationship, he, being sovereign (Psalm 47:2; cf. Daniel 4:34-35), had the absolute right to set the rules for ordering this time-honored institution. It will be the thrust of this discussion to argue the case for the divine origin of marriage, and the Lord’s autonomous right to regulate the relationship.
Humanists contend that “marriage” is merely the evolutionary product of a long line of biological creatures (e.g., some birds and mammals) that appear to have formed lasting paired relationships (Huxley, 34; cf. Locke & Peterson, 18.311). There is absolutely no scientific or historical data that substantiate this assertion. This baseless theory originated in the minds of those who seek an origin for mankind in a naturalistic fashion.
The case for the divine origin of marriage can be argued from various lines of evidence.
First, the study of both ancient and modern man reveals that marriage is a universal practice of the human family. The late Dr. Ashley Montague, a prominent anthropologist, wrote: “There are no societies in which marriage does not exist” (240). If marriage developed in a random, haphazard, evolutionary fashion, one might expect that “marriage” would be found in some cultures but not in others. The evidence, however, simply does not support that view.
Second, the ancient Hebrew record reveals that marriage is the result of the creation of man and woman having been made especially for one another as husband and wife.
And Jehovah God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh: and from the rib, which Jehovah God had taken from the man, he made a woman, and brought her unto the man. And the man said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh (Genesis 2:21-24).
In this connection it should be noted that Jesus Christ, appealing to this very text, endorsed the proposition that marriage was instituted by God (see: Matthew 19:4-5; Mark 10:6). To repudiate this reality is to cast reflection upon the Son of God.
Third, as far back as one may go, exploring the historical records of the past, marriage has been a part of the fabric of human existence. The code of Hammurabi (c. 2104-2061 B.C.) contains 282 laws of the ancient Babylonian empire. Laws 128 through 161 deal with marriage (Barton, 391-393). Other records, later discovered and going back centuries earlier, bear similar testimony (Kramer, 51-59). There is no evidence that marriage developed in a piece-meal fashion.
Without question, marriage was designed to be a monogamous arrangement, i.e., one man for one woman. The Lord God did not fashion a man and his wives, nor a woman and her husbands; rather, it was Adam and Eve.
But the earth’s first murderer, Cain, “went out from the presence of Jehovah” (Genesis 4:16) and many of his offspring followed his rebellious ways. Moses records that “Lamech took unto him two wives” (4:19).
Up till this age the original purpose of God in creating one man and one wife and uniting them in marriage had apparently been understood as sanctioning only monogamous marriage. In the seventh generation from Adam comes a man in the line of the Cainites who dares to fly in the face of this divine institution (Leupold, 219).
Christ also endorsed monogamy in his comments on Moses’ law (Matthew 19:5), as did Paul in his analogy between a husband and wife and that of Christ and his one body (one bride – Romans 7:4), the church (Ephesians 5:22-33; cf. 1:22-23; 4:4).
While there are some religions (e.g., Islam, and fundamentalist cults of Mormon persuasion), as well as many primitive cultures that practice polygamy, such is not sanctioned under Christian law.
A Heterosexual Relationship
The Genesis record is perfectly clear that the institution of marriage was intended for a man and a woman, and no aberration is permitted as a substitute, e.g., male with male, female with female (cf. Romans 1:26-27) or, for that matter, humans with animals (Leviticus 18:23; 20:15; Deuteronomy 27:21). Who knows when sexual deviants may petition for the legalization of human-animal “marriages”? An atheist recently criticized the biblical laws prohibiting sex with animals. She felt that such might be bizarre, but she issued no moral objection (Hayes, 184).
Professor John J. Davis wrote that:
marriage is to be heterosexual; the mate that God created for Adam, a male, was Eve, a female. In spite of the persistence with which the “gay liberation movement” argues the case for legitimizing homosexuality, its case cannot stand in the light of biblical revelation . . . . The first marriage that God performed is quite clearly a pattern (78).
Arguments against so-called “same sex” marriages are irrefutable.
- The biblical pattern excludes such relationships.
- The unique physiological design of males and females argues against such unions. A consideration of the ingeniously designed factors of compatibility in the male/female sexual relationships are compelling evidence that homosexual unions were never intended for human beings (see Jackson, 85ff).
- The inability of same-sex unions to reproduce the species is not in harmony with the divine ideal for humankind (Genesis 1:27-28).
- Thousands of years of human history have rejected “same-sex marriage.” This bizarre notion made its modern debut in 2001, when homosexual “marriage” was legalized in the Netherlands. Even now only five nations world-wide have adopted the anti-biblical, illogical, and immoral ideology — the Netherlands, Canada, Belgium, Spain, and South Africa. However, if many other nations — including our own — adopt the perverse practice, such will not transform an evil action into a righteous one (Isaiah 5:20).
- Both Testaments condemn the horrid practice of same-sex unions (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
- Even in the pre-Christian era of “toleration” (that overlooked polygamy and loose divorce; see below), homosexual liaisons were not permitted.
Exclusive Outlet for Sexual Fulfillment
According to U.S. Census figures for 2005, 4.85 million couples were “living together” without the benefit of marriage in the United States. The figure represented an increase of about 1,000% since 1960. Such relationships are a pronounced violation of Heaven’s marriage law.
In Genesis 4, Moses records that “the man knew Eve his wife” (v. 1 – emphasis added). Two terms are of special significance. First, “knew” renders the Hebrew term yada, used some 956 times in the Old Testament. Though it has a wide variety of meanings, depending upon context, it is sometimes employed euphemistically for sexual intimacy, as in the case cited presently (cf. the Greek eginosken in Matthew 1:24). Second, the Hebrew term ’ishshah (about 781 times in the Old Testament) denotes a female human generally, but in certain contexts clearly signifies a “wife” as in 4:1, 25 (cf. 7:7).
There is absolutely no evidence that God ever authorized a sexual relationship apart from marriage (though that relationship was more loosely tolerated during the pre-Christian ages; cf. Matthew 19:8). A sexual union with a woman other than a “wife” (or concubine – a wife with secondary legal status) was considered adultery (Exodus 20:14).
Under the New Testament a stricter code is in place (Matthew 19:8-9). In a letter to the church in Corinth, and in a time of severe persecution, in response to certain questions submitted to him, Paul wrote:
It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman. But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband (1 Corinthians 7:1-2 ESV).
Without question, this inspired text teaches that sexual intimacy outside of the marriage covenant is “fornication” (KJV, ASV).
Similarly, the inspired writer of the book of Hebrews declares: “Let marriage be had in honor among all, and let the bed be undefiled: for fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (13:4). There are strong deductions that flow from the writer’s exhortation. “The defilements that dishonor marriage are fornication, which dishonors marriage in advance, and adultery, which dishonors marriage after it has been entered into” (Lenski, 1966, 472).
There are three matters about the abiding nature of marriage that require exploration. First, there is the duration of the marital institution as intended originally by the Creator for the welfare of the human family. Second, there must be a consideration of that period of toleration that prevailed on account of man’s immaturity and “hardness of heart” during the epochs of pre-Christian history. Third, the permanent and exalted standard of the law of Christ must be recognized. Let us briefly comment on each of these points.
The Divine Ideal
God’s design and implementation of the “marriage” relationship on behalf of the human family was intended to facilitate an environment of security, contentment, and spiritual well-being for those made in his image. As noted already, that ideal was embodied in a man-woman union that was intended to be a commitment for as “long as you both shall live” (cf. Romans 7:2; 1 Corinthians 7:39). This pristine goal was buttressed by the warning of Christ: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matthew 19:6).
In marriage a husband and wife become “one.” They are not only “one” in the union of intimacy, they are one “in purpose, in ideals, in sharing of interests, and one in their children” (Lewis, II.66). Carson observes that: “the ‘one flesh’ in every marriage between a man and a woman is a reenactment of and testimony to the very structure of humanity as God created it” (412). The female was “out of man” (1 Corinthians 11:8), and both ultimately were from Jehovah.
The verb “has joined” derives from a Greek expression that implies being “yoked together.” Robertson identifies the tense as a “timeless aorist,” which, he says, indicates what is “always true” (I.154).
The expression “let not man put asunder” is a command. Any person who destroys a marriage that God has made is a rebel who arrogates himself to a place that rivals the Lord. It must not happen. Once a marriage has been made, only the Creator can terminate it — though human beings, through various “legal” maneuvers, attempt such regularly; and do disrupt that sacred unity from a practical viewpoint.
When the Pharisees asked Jesus why Moses allowed divorce, the Lord replied: “Moses for your hardness of heart suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it has not been so” (Matthew 19:8). Divorce (and other marital digressions) had “grown up amongst a degenerate people, and the Mosaic law tolerated it as an accommodation to a low level of moral custom” (Allen, 204).
The law of Moses, in relaxing the original marriage standard (by tolerating polygamy, capricious divorce, etc.) did not reflect the divine ideal. It merely acknowledged human weakness (hardness of heart) during an era of sacred patience (cf. Acts 14:16; 17:30) as Heaven’s progressive revelation was working towards a loftier plateau of human responsibility.
J.W. McGarvey wisely commented:
When the gospel was introduced God’s chosen time had arrived for bringing this concession to an end, and since then it has been the most daring interference with the divine prerogative, for men to venture on a continuance of the same concession, as though they were possessed of divine authority (164-165).
When Jesus spoke of the epoch of toleration, due to the hardness of men’s hearts, he drew a sharp contrast between that earlier period of laxness, and that of the primitive “divine ideal,” reflected in Genesis, and also with the restoration of such in the Christian dispensation. The Lord declared: “In view of your hardness of heart, Moses permitted you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so” (Matthew 19:8).
Of special interest is the last clause: “from the beginning it was not so.” The term “beginning” takes the matter back to the commencement of the human family at the conclusion of the creation week (cf. Mark 10:6). The verbal “was not” is a Greek perfect tense form. A perfect tense suggests action in the past with abiding results. Robertson stated that the tense reflects the “permanence of the divine ideal” (I.154). Vincent commented: “Notwithstanding Moses’ permission, the case has not been so from the beginning until now. The original ordinance has never been abrogated nor superseded, but continues in force” (65).
In his terse style, Lenski said that: “no man in his senses could conclude that by this Mosaic regulation God had altered his original intention concerning the permanency of marriage” (1964, 731).
Out of this background Jesus declared: “Whoever divorces his wife, unless for the cause of fornication, and marries another, is committing adultery” (Matthew 19:9; cf. 5:32). Under the law of Christ, there is but one reason for a divorce and a subsequent remarriage — and that is “fornication” (a sexual act with another person) against an innocent spouse. Unless such has been the case, the formation of a subsequent union is an adulterous arrangement.
The innocent victim is thus granted the right of a second marriage; the guilty party is not authorized to form a new relationship. This marriage law of Christ is not a mere “church sacrament,” restricted to Christians; rather, it is as wide as the institution of marriage itself — universal.
God’s marriage law is a most serious matter, regardless of how carelessly the modern world flouts it. Let those who honor their Creator respect his laws of marital integrity.
For a more detailed study of divorce and remarriage, see the author’s book: The Teaching of Jesus Christ on Divorce and Remarriage – A Study of Matthew 19:9. For information call Christian Courier Publications, 1-888-818-2463.
Scripture references: Psalm 47:2; Daniel 4:34-35; Genesis 2:21-24; Matthew 19:4-5; Mark 10:6; Genesis 4:16; Matthew 19:5; Romans 7:4; Ephesians 5:22-33; Romans 1:26-27; Leviticus 18:23, 20:15; Deuteronomy 27:21; Genesis 1:27-28; Isaiah 5:20; Leviticus 18:22, 20:13; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Genesis 4; Matthew 1:24; Matthew 19:8; Exodus 20:14; Matthew 19:8-9; 1 Corinthians 7:1-2; Romans 7:2; 1 Corinthians 7:39; Matthew 19:6; 1 Corinthians 11:8; Acts 14:16, 17:30; Matthew 19:9
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- Barton, George A. (1916), Archaeology and the Bible (Philadelphia: American Sunday-School Union).
- Carson, D.A. (1984), “Matthew,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, F.E. Gaebelein, ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan).
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- Kramer, Samuel Noah (1959), History Begins at Sumer (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Anchor).
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- Leupold, H.C. (1942), Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker).
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- Locke, Harvey and Peterson, James (1961), “History of Marriage,” Encyclopedia Americana (New York: Americana Corp.).
- McGarvey, J.W. (1875), Commentary on Matthew and Mark (Reprint: Des Moines, IA: Eugene Smith).
- Montague, Ashley S. (1959), The Cultured Man (New York: Permabooks).
- Robertson, A.T. (1930), Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman).
- Vincent, Marvin R. (1972), Word Studies in the New Testament (Wilmington, DE: Associated Publishers).