Marriage: As Designed by God
The institution of marriage involves a covenant between a man, a woman, and God. Man and woman, by mutual consent, enter the arrangement. But the procedure, in order to be valid, must be consistent with divine law.
The Origin of Marriage
According to anthropologists, there is no society wherein marriage does not exist in some format (Montague, p. 240). The institution is, therefore, a universal phenomenon. Since every effect must have an adequate cause, there must be some reasonable explanation for this feature of global society. Actually, there are but two logical possibilities. Marriage either is of supernatural origin, or it had a naturalistic beginning.
Those who subscribe to the theory of evolution allege that marriage is “a human development from animal mating relationships” (Huxley, p. 34). A writer in a popular encyclopedia says:
“Some scholars are in inclined to trace the origin of marriage to pairing arrangements of animals below man. Studies reveal that a more or less permanent association between one or more males and one or more females is common among birds and higher mammals” (Locke, p. 311).
A more slippery statement will be hard to find. Is it “more or less … one or more”? The fact is, such a theory is seriously flawed. While it is true that some creatures apparently mate for life (e.g. some species of geese), the ape family, supposedly higher on the evolutionary scale than birds, is quite “promiscuous”! That does not square with the notion that marriage gradually developed as various kinds of organisms were becoming more sophisticated.
Biblical teaching is unequivocal. Jehovah created man, and from his side – in earth’s initial surgical procedure – fashioned his wife. The two were designed to “cleave” to one another (Gen. 2:21-25). In a discussion with the Pharisees, Jesus cited this Old Testament evidence, and declared: “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mt. 19:6).
Here is a crucial point. If it is the case that marriage was designed and inaugurated by the Creator, then he has the authority to set the rules. Men and women do not have the right to treat this sacred human relationship in a cavalier, self-directed manner.
The Traits of Marriage
In order for a human relationship to be correctly classified as a “marriage,” certain components must be in place.
First, the marriage, is a relationship between a man and a woman. Increasingly, a degenerate world is pushing for same-sex “marriages.” Who knows what may become “legal” before this mess is over; whatever happens, Sodomite unions will never be “marriage” with the approbation of Heaven. Professor John Davis has noted:
“The first marriage that God performed is quite clearly a pattern. Those who attempt to mount a biblical case for homosexuality must completely abandon reasonable hermeneutics” (p. 78).
Second, marriage was designed to be a strictly monogamous arrangement. Early on, however, rebellious man decided it could be otherwise. Lamech, a descendant of Cain was the first polygamist (Gen. 4:19). The manner in which this incident is introduced reveals it to have been a spiritual aberration. While polygamy was “suffered” (tolerated) during the dispensations of the Os Testament era, it was never the divine ideal, and history reveals that numerous heartaches accompanied this innovation (cf. Gen. 21 :9ff; 30:1-24; 2 Sam. 5:13; 1 Kgs. 11:1-3). Jesus indicated that such laxness would not be allowed under the Christian regime; he called men back to God’s original plan (Mt. 19:8).
Third, marriage was designed with a hierarchial arrangement. The New Testament is clear that the husband is to he the “head” of his wife, just as Christ is head of the church. The wife is to “submit” to her husband (Eph. 5:22ff; cf. 1 Cor. 11:3). This is no license for a dictatorship or any form of abuse, but it does acknowledge a graduation of authority within the home.
Some allow that the term “rule” (Gen. 3:16), is a divine mandate for man’s authority over woman (Jacobus, p. 125); others opine it merely prophetically indicates, as a natural consequence of human apostasy, women frequently would be degraded and abused, being viewed in some cultures as mere property (Aalders, pp. 108-109). Tragically, this has been the case far too often. Both ideas may, be involved (cf. 1 Tim. 2:12-15).
A husband who loves his wife will provide gentle leadership; he will not assume the role of a “tin god” who attempts to rule his wife with an iron fist.
Fourth, the marriage union was intended to be a lifelong arrangement. Husband and wife are to “cleave” to one another (Gen. 2:24). Jesus emphasized that what God “hath joined together” man is not to separate (Mt. 19:6), because, ideally, the husband and wife are bound together by law until the death of one of these parties (Rom. 7:2; 1 Cor. 7:39); the exception will be discussed later. Though it is the fad in our modern world, husbands and wives do not have the right to change marital partners as easily as they would change a garment!
The Purpose of Marriage
Having given some consideration to the sacred traits of the marriage union, it is now appropriate that we raise this question: Why did God ordain marriage?
First, marriage accommodates our social needs. “No man is an island,” wrote the poet, and the song lyrics assert, “people need people.” The sacred Godhead has enjoyed eternal fellowship, and we have been fashioned in the image of the Trinity (Gen. 1:26). There is a sense, then, in which we have “inherited” a need for companionship. The need is most ideally fulfilled in the marriage union. As a general rule, in is “not good to be alone” (Gen. 2:18).
Second, marriage provides the means for the gratification of sexual desire — a virtuous, God-given inclination. The Creator never intended, however, for human beings to engage in promiscuous sexual liaisons. Sexual activity outside of a legitimate marriage commitment is fornication. But if one desires not to live celibate, he is free to marry to avoid fornication (1 Cor. 7:1-2).
Third, a home sanctified by marriage affords the ideal environment for the rearing of children. The conception of children is to follow marriage (Gen. 4:1; 1 Tim. 5:14), not the reverse. The Lord never intended that human beings “breed” like beasts. How heartbreaking it is that so many are bringing children into this world without the benefit of a two-parent home.
Fourth, the husband and wife arrangement was intended to facilitate the divine plan for human redemption. This point cannot be pressed too strongly. Let me amplify.
Jehovah, in his infinite knowledge, knew — even before the world was formed — that humanity would stray, and so need the atoning sacrifice of his Son (Eph. 1:3ff: 1 Pet. 1:20). That being the case, one must conclude that everything the Creator did, throughout the ages of Old Testament history, ultimately, was in view of the coming of Christ. The very first thing on the sacred agenda was the institution of marriage. We must acknowledge, therefore, that this relationship is intimately connected with Heaven’s plan for human salvation.
The marriage relationship is the “cement” that binds society together. Professor Mark McVann describes the family arrangement as “the foundation of society itself” (p. 77). When family life unravels, national devastation is certain to follow eventually.
It is within the marriage-blessed home that children first learn the principles of responsibility, justice, and the respect for authority. When these virtues have been neglected in a youngster, he or she makes a poor candidate for the gospel.
Too, the warm love between husband and wife is frequently used in scripture as an apt illustration for the affection and devotion that God has for his people (cf. Ezek. 16:6ff; Eph. 5:22ff). Marriage ought to he an abiding reminder of Heaven’s love for us.
Here is why these points are so crucial. They help explain why the laws regarding marriage are so strict. A breakdown in this institution undermines acceptation of the gospel.
Hear this then: Religious leaders — both in and out of the church — who compromise God’s regulations on marriage and divorce are enemies of the cross of Christ! What a burden to bear.
The Binding Nature of Marriage
As mentioned above, God desires that the marriage commitment remain intact as long as both mates are living. We must also note that the marital union does not obtain beyond death (Mt. 22:30; Rom. 7:2; 1 Cor. 7:39). The Mormon church, of course, teaches otherwise, alleging the “eternity of the marriage covenant” (Doctrine & Covenants, p. 132).
“Divorce” is alien to God’s holy purpose for man. Jehovah, through a prophet, announced: “I hate divorce” (Mal. 2:16 – NASB). A divorce cannot occur without selfishness — a disregard for Heaven’s will by at least one of the marital partners.
In a recently published book, Why Marriage Matters: Reasons to Believe in Marriage in Post-Modern Society, author Glenn Stanton has assembled a massive array of evidence, surveying a century of social studies, which forcefully demonstrates the lasting trauma that divorce wreaks upon both adults and children. For example, divorcees are more likely to become addicted to alcohol, commit suicide, be subject to depression, etc., than are members of stable marriages.
Too, children of divorced parents are much more prone to both mental and physical ailments than children of undivorced parents. For a summary of this material, see ""The Devastating Effects of Divorce"".
While the Mosaic regime was operative, God tolerated capricious divorce due to the “hardness” of Israel’s hearts, but Christ declared that “from the beginning it hath not been so” (Mt. 19:8).
This latter clause warrants closer investigation. In the Greek Testament, the expression “hath not been” is a perfect tense form. The perfect tense has to do with an antecedent action, the impact of which remains in force. The thrust of the statement is this:
“Notwithstanding Moses’ permission, the case has not been so from the beginning until now. The original ordinance has never been abrogated not superseded, but continues in force” (Vincent, p. 65; cf. Jackson, p. 4).
Accordingly, Jesus, in anticipation of the inauguration of the New Covenant, brings marital responsibility back to a higher plateau.
“And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, is committing adultery” (Mt. 19:9).
There are several important truths that may be emphasized in connection with this passage.
First, the marriage law of Christ is universal. The Lord employed the term “whosoever,” which means “anyone,” “whoever he may be” (Thayer pp. 34,156). Elsewhere the terms “whosoever” and “every one” are used interchangeably (Mt. 5:32). Christ’s marriage law is as broad as his plan to save (cf. Jn. 3:16; Acts 2:21).
This is a vital point, because some allege that Jesus’ marriage law applies only to the church; thus, supposedly, those who have divorced and remarried capriciously, prior to becoming Christians, are not accountable for those unions. Hence, they may retain whatever “marital” status they enjoy upon entering the church. Somehow, baptism is supposed to legitimize illicit relationships.
That the marriage law of Christ is applicable to all men is evidenced by the following arguments.
- Since the Lord’s marriage law was designed to be a restoration of God’s original plan (see above), and as marriage originally was given for the entire human family, it follows necessarily that Christ’s marriage law is universal.
- Marriage provides people with a lawful means of satisfying sexual desire (1 Cor 7:1). If non-Christians cannot be married according to the law of God, they are helpless to do anything but fornicate — if they would indulge their normal appetites.
- Some within the Corinthian church, prior to their conversion, had been “adulterers” (1 Cor 6:9-11). Inasmuch as adultery is “any voluntary cohabitation of a married person with any other than his lawful spouse” (Mueller, p. 27; emp. added), it follows that these Corinthians had lawful spouses before becoming Christians, hence, were amenable to God’s marriage law. Where there is no law there is no transgression (Rom. 4:15).
- The writer of Hebrews admonishes: “Let marriage be had in honor among all, and let the bed be undefiled: for fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (13:4). Is there no such thing as an undefiled bed outside the church? Must all couples who enter the church now get married? Does baptism become a marriage ceremony?
Second, the Lord taught that there is but one cause for a valid divorce, and that is fornication on the part of one of the partners. “Fornication” is illicit sexual conduct in general (Arndt, p. 699); it may be heterosexual or homosexual (cf. Jude 7) in nature. One has a right to a divorce, therefore, only if his spouse is sexually unfaithful.
But divorce, even against a fornicator, is not obligatory. Ideally, the wounded mate will forgive the erring partner and attempt to save the marriage. When the nation of Israel strayed from Jehovah and “fornicated” with false religions, he pled for her return (Jer. 3:1; Hos. 4:12; 14:1ff),
Third, any sexual union, following an unauthorized divorce, constitutes an adulterous relationship. Jesus declared that the party who “marries another” (i.e., so far as the standards of society are concerned), following an invalid divorce, “is committing adultery.” The Greek tense is a present form – the person continues to commit adultery. He “enters the realm of adultery” (Reisser, p. 583). Or as one translation renders it, the offender is “living in adultery” (Beck, p. 337),
The Remedy for Adultery
What ought one to do who finds himself in an intimate relationship which is adulterous (even though it has been veneered with civil ceremony)? The only remedy for adultery, or any other sin, is repentance which involves a cessation of the evil conduct (cf. Mt. 12:41; Jon. 3:10), Repentance entails “a turning away from evil” and a “turning towards God … embracing the demonstration of a changed manner of life” (Behm, p. 1004). The notion that one can simply say “I’m sorry,” yet remain in the illicit union, is wholly foreign to scripture.
Church leaders who offer false hope to those ensnared in adulterous unions, by telling them they simply may pray, then retain in the status quo, are guilty of the grossest from of ministerial malfeasance. Some preachers have virtually made a career of peddling adultery.
How Do We Confront Society?
Several years ago this writer engaged in a public discussion with a friend, Truman Scott, on the issue of divorce and remarriage. For that encounter, brother Scott argued that “adultery” is not a sexual act; rather, it is merely the “breaking of a covenant.” Accordingly, he reasoned, if one will but repent of having broken his marriage covenant, i.e. promise not to do such again, he may obtain a new partner with impunity.
Needless to say, such a view has no support whatever in scripture. Our friend attempted to buttress his argument with this appeal. Since a vast segment of society is afflicted with the divorce problem, if we are to have a “redemptive message” for them, we must not adhere to a strict, one-reason-only doctrine on divorce and remarriage (Scott, p. 17).
Is this the depth to which our preaching has descended? Professor R.R. Nicole has spoken to this very point. Hear him.
“Can we assume that God’s laws must be adapted to shifting human opinions and sinful practices, rather than to stand in the midst of human relativity as the permanent standard? Did not Christ, the Apostles and the early Christian church face a world with a laxity equal to, or even worse than that of our times, and yet proceed on the strict basis established in the NT?” (p. 190).
No true gospel preacher will compromise the biblical teaching on divorce for the sake of placating a worldly culture. We must hold true to the Book!
- Aalders, G. Ch. 1981. Genesis. Vol. I. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan
- Arndt, William & Gingrich, F. W. 1967. Greek-English Lexicon. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago.
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- Davis, John. 1975. Paradise to Prison – Studies in Genesis. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.
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- McVann, Mark. 1998. “Family-Centeredness,” Handbook of Biblical Social Values., Pilch & Milina, eds. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.
- Montague, Ashley. 1959. The Cultured Man. New York, NY: Permabooks.
- Mueller, Theodore. 1999. “Adultery,” Wycliffe Dictionary of Theology. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.
- Nicole, R. R. 1973. “Divorce,” Baker’s Dictionary of Christian Ethics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.
- Reisser, H. 1976. The New International Dictionary of Theology. Vol. II. C. Brown, ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
- Scott, Truman. 1987 ed., Divorce & Remarriage – A Study Discussion., Wayne Jackson, Truman Scott Stockton, CA: Christian Courier Publications.
- Stanton, Genn T. 1997. Why Marriage Matters: Reasons to Believe in Marriage in Post-Modern Society. Colorado Springs, CO: Pinion Press.
- Thayer, J. H. 1958. Greek-English Lexicon. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.
- Vincent, Marvin. 1972. Word Studies in the New Testament. Wilimington, DE: Associated Publishers.
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.