Marriage according to Genesis


wedding-ringsTwenty-six years ago, when Christine and I were preparing to get married, Pastor Dale told us that matrimony was a “creation ordinance”—that is, something that God desires for people generally, whatever their personal beliefs. Therefore, he said, ministers can officiate in good conscience at the weddings even of couples who do not obey the gospel.


The implication: It is good that the man should not be alone. And besides, how else are we going to fulfill his command to “be fruitful and multiply”?

So the basic Christian stance toward marriage ought to be, to borrow two current buzzwords, open and affirming, even for nonbelievers. Like Jesus at the wedding feast in Cana, we can celebrate marriage as a wonderful gift from God for the enjoyment of the couple and the blessing of the world. We are not to view marriage as some kind of exclusive club open only to a privileged few. No, marriage is for the many. Theoretically, anyone—except those specially called by God to singleness—can be celebrated at the wedding feast.

But does this anyone also include homosexual couples?

In the current debate over what marriage is, we are told that the Christian vision is too restrictive, discriminatory, narrow, and, yes, bigoted. All people, we hear, have a right to marry whomever they choose—or at least the right to marry the consenting adult, male or female, of their choice. As Republican Sen. Mark Kirk said in announcing his support of the right of homosexuals to marry each other, “Life comes down to who you love and who loves you back — government has no place in the middle.”

Besides, these advocates add, supporters of what is now called merely “opposite-sex marriage” have little moral ground on which to stand, seeing the mess they have made of the institution.

Well, the abuse of a thing—even marriage—doesn’t negate its proper use. Yes, it is true that spiraling rates of divorce and dysfunctionality—even among professing Christians—have dimmed the luster of matrimony. But the fact that the name of marriage has been dragged through the mud should not open the door to redefining it. Rather, we need to return to first principles and see what it will take to restore marriage to God’s original intent.

Questions about marriage have been with us for millennia, of course. When Jesus walked the earth, some Pharisees asked him, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” They pointed to a statement by Moses in Deuteronomy that they thought would give them an easy “out” if their marriages should turn sour. Jesus answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They replied, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.”

In response, Jesus leads them back to the primal Scriptures on marriage, before Deuteronomy. He leads them to Genesis.

And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Here we see a number of points: (1) Divorce was a concession to sinful hearts, not God’s ideal; (2) marriage, by definition, is for “male and female”; (3) a man and his wife shall become “one flesh,” a state not possible for homosexuals; (4) marriage is not a merely human institution; God joins man and woman together in marriage; and (5) we are not permitted to break this divinely initiated bond.

Therefore, the Genesis definition of marriage has something to say both to those who break their marriage vows and to those who would redefine marriage. (It also judges another less than ideal form of sexual expression that we see crop up in various places in the Old Testament: polygamy.)

Yes, God’s Word does allow for divorce in the cases of sexual infidelity or desertion, but the point is clear: Marriage is serious business between a husband, a wife, and God. More directly, marriage is God’s business. God is “in the middle of it,” whether we like it or not.

So that’s marriage according to Genesis. But believers in Christ have received an even richer understanding of matrimony. According to the apostle Paul, Christian marriage is meant to be a picture, a living demonstration, of Christ and the church.

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. (Eph. 5:22-30)

The mutually self-giving marriage relationship called for here has specific directions to husbands and wives. However much one homosexual partner may feel in love with another, this calling to live out the love of Christ and his church is simply impossible for “same-sex” couples. But this is not to condemn homosexuals, because plenty of heterosexuals have failed to live out this ideal in their own way.

Yes, marriage is about a lot more than love. Thank God.

Stan Guthrie is author of All That Jesus Asks: How His Questions Can Teach and Transform Us, Missions in the Third Millennium: 21 Key Trends for the 21st Century, and coauthor of The Sacrament of Evangelism. His latest book, A Concise Guide to Bible Prophecy: 60 Predictions Everyone Should Know, is scheduled for release in July. Stan blogs at http://stanguthrie.com.

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