Marriage is vital to our nature as human beings in society. God himself instituted marriage by creating and bringing the first man and woman together
at the dawn of human creation. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. . . . The Lord God said,
"It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him." . . . Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man,
and he brought her to the man. 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"
(Genesis 1:27; 2:18,22,23).
Unfortunately, in the United States, the institution of marriage is in crisis. Recent studies show that about one-third of all Americans who are or have been married have also been divorced at least once. Among self-professed evangelical Christian believers, twenty-six percent reportedly have been divorced. In the culture at large, vast segments of the population live in families headed by single parents, either never married or divorced. Many other persons live together in transient relationships of convenience, flouting God's design, as well as the prevailing social science research, for marriage, sexuality, and childrearing. It is imperative at such a time that the Christian church clarify, teach, and faithfully uphold what the Bible says about marriage.
1. Two sexes, male and female, are required to complete the divine image in humankind. "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27). Neither male nor female alone may procreate the race and fulfill the divine purposes.
2. The first woman is described as a "helper suitable" (i.e., his perfect complement) for the man (Genesis 2:18,20), taken from his side, bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh (2:23). It is obvious that God meant both the man and the woman to share in privilege and responsibility. Under God, though their roles may sometimes differ, the two sexes are equals. As the apostle Paul would later write, "There is neither . . . male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28).
3. The way God created human beings to live on the earth and brought them together indicates He intended man and woman for each other (Genesis 2:22-24). Their relationship was to be social as well as physical. "The LORD God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone' " (Genesis 2:18).
4. Marriage is to be sexually consummated. At the Creator's command, the first man and woman were to "become one flesh" for purposes of procreation, bonding, and mutual pleasure in a safe and loving relationship (Genesis 2:24). Jesus himself reiterated the divine intent (Matthew 19:4,5) and Paul instructed Christian spouses faithfully and regularly to fulfill their sexual responsibilities to each other (1 Corinthians 7:3-5).
5. Marriage is to be heterosexual. The institution of marriage firmly is set within the creation of humans as male and female. God's imperative is, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). Homosexual and lesbian unions throughout the biblical record are judged to be sinful (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:26,27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:9-11). There is no biblical precedent for any homosexual liaison that may be termed "marriage."
6. God intended marriage to be a permanent union. The man was to depart from his parents' home in order to "be united to his wife, and . . . become one flesh" with her (Genesis 2:24). Both Jesus (Matthew 19:5) and Paul (Ephesians 5:31) quoted this passage from Genesis as the foundational premise of marriage. Translating Jesus' quotation, Matthew used a Greek word for "united (kollaō)" that means "to be glued to, be closely bound to" (Matthew 19:5). Jesus added, "Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate" (19:6).
7. God intended marriage to be monogamous. The Creator's acts in establishing marriage are focused on one man and one woman. The order of marriage itself (Genesis 2:24) is directed at a monogamous pair, "man" and "wife" being singular. Polygamy did exist in the Old Testament era, of course. The first case was in Cain's line (Genesis 4:19) with many Old Testaments examples, including some of the patriarchs, to follow. But polygamy is never held up to be the ideal. The Old Testament writers indirectly criticize polygamy by showing the resultant strife (for example, Genesis 21:9,10; 37:2-36; 2 Samuel 13-18). Passages that idealize marriage normally do so by speaking of one husband and one wife (see Psalm 128:3; Proverbs 5:18; 31:10-29; Ecclesiastes 9:9). Jesus also affirms that God's ideal from the beginning was monogamy, speaking of "man" and "wife" in the singular, with the "two" becoming one flesh (Matthew 19:5,6). There is no reference to polygamy as a practice of the Early Church; and, in any event, it would be proscribed for leaders by Paul's references to a "one woman man" (1 Timothy 3:2,12; Titus 1:6).
8. Marriage is a covenant. It is a solemn binding agreement made first before God and then among people in society. The nature of marriage as a covenant is strongly implied in the marriage order of Genesis 2:24, but is made explicit in Malachi 2:14, "The Lord is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant" (emphasis added). Ezekiel applies the idea of marriage to the relationship between God and Israel. " 'I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you,' declares the Sovereign Lord, 'and you became mine' " (16:8, emphasis added). From what is said we see that the husband "gave [a] solemn oath" (pledged faith) to the wife and entered into a covenant not intended to be broken. Significantly, the biblical marriage ceremony was a joyous public event in which the two partners solemnized their covenant with God and community.
9. Marriage is a relationship of mutually sacrificial love. It perhaps is best described in the words of Paul's letter to the Ephesians that instructed wives to "submit to your husbands as to the Lord" (5:22) and to "respect" their husbands (5:33). Then, lest those instructions be misinterpreted, Paul wrote to husbands, "Love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her" (5:25), and "Husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies" (5:28). Overarching the entire discussion is Paul's description of Spirit- filled men and women: "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ" (5:21).
10. Marriage is the foundation of the family, both in terms of procreation and nurture. Children, ideally, are born into an intact family with both father and mother present. These two parents are intended to be the first providers of their nurture. This order of family life may be observed throughout the Bible with particular emphases on childrearing drawn from such passages as Deuteronomy 6:1-9, Malachi 2:15, and Ephesians 6:1-4. The divine intention, however, has never guaranteed that sin will not fragment and distort many families that, in such cases, are not to be despised, diminished, or neglected, but are to be supported with wise counsel and loving fellowship.
1. God hates divorce. God's attitude toward divorce is nowhere stated more clearly than "The Lord is acting as the witness between you and the wife
of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh
and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.
'I hate divorce,' says the Lord God of Israel, 'and I hate a man's covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,' says the Lord Almighty. So guard
yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith" (Malachi 2:14-16). This passage shows that divorce is treachery (deceitful unfaithfulness) against one's companion.
It is also described as violent, coming from a wrong spirit. Perhaps worst of all, it impairs the nurture of children born to the marriage whom the parents are
obligated to rear as believers in a godly home. Broken homes are most often detrimental to children.
As noted above, Jesus made explicit what was previously implicit, "Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate" (Matthew 19:6; cf. v.8). Divorce was not a part of God's original intention for humanity. His purposes in marriage are hindered when the marital covenant is deliberately broken. The divine purpose can only be realized as the husband and wife subject themselves to Christ and each other, as described in Ephesians 5:21-31. God's hatred for divorce, however, is not to be interpreted as condemnation of those who themselves are not at fault, but have been divorced and victimized by the ungodly actions of their spouses. The divorce laws and teachings of the Old Testament were designed to add a measure of protection for the innocent, not to heap guilt upon the victims of circumstances over which they had little or no control.
2. The Law regulated divorce. The Law recognized the fact that divorce was already taking place in Israel, as were many other sinful practices common to the ancient world. In those times, women were under the authority of their husbands and, without legal recourse of their own, might be abandoned to starvation or prostitution on a mere whim. In giving Israel the Law, God met His people where they were in a pagan region, put restrictions on their sinful practices, protected the weak and innocent, and attempted to direct them in ways loving and just. The Old Testament divorce law was thus a necessary hedge against human sinfulness. The Law provided that, while the husband was the only one who could initiate divorce, he could do so only under carefully prescribed circumstances (Deuteronomy 24:1-4; cf. 22:13-19, 28,29; Genesis 21:8-21). The regulative nature of the Law is seen in the confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees who erred in saying Moses commanded that a man give a certificate of divorce to his wife, thus freeing him to send her away (Matthew 19:1-9). Jesus pointed out that Moses only permitted (epitrepō) them to divorce their wives-but even then not for "every cause" as was commonly practiced at the time (Matthew 19:3,7,8). Jesus accurately read the divorce provisions of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 where the Hebrew is a simple sequence that does not command divorce, but simply recognizes that it happens under certain circumstances.
3. Jesus forbade divorce as contrary to God's will and word. He made this clear in Matthew 19:5,6 and Mark 10:6-9, "Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate." The partner, or partners, responsible for breaking the marriage covenant is guilty of adultery (see Mark 10:11).
4. Paul forbade Christian couples to divorce. "To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord [Paul had an actual saying of Jesus to back this up]): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife" (1 Corinthians 7:10,11). Paul recognized that some Christians were getting divorces, but apparently for invalid reasons. Therefore, he commanded, in these cases, that they keep the way open for reconciliation.
5. Paul forbade Christians to take the initiative in divorce simply because their partner was an unbeliever. It appears that some new converts were eager to do exactly that. To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord) [Paul was indeed speaking under the inspiration of the Spirit; he merely refers to the fact that he has no actual saying of Jesus on this subject]: If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him [as a faithful wife], he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. . . . But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound [not enslaved] in such circumstances" (1 Corinthians 7:12-15, emphasis added). While making every effort to preserve the marriage, when the unbelieving spouse was definitely unwilling to continue, the believer should not, at all costs, attempt to restrain him/her. In these cases, abandonment, by implication, may be interpreted as grounds for divorce and remarriage.
6. Jesus permitted a Christian to initiate a divorce when "marital unfaithfulness" was involved. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except
for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery (Matthew 5:32; see also Matthew 19:9).
The Greek word translated "marital unfaithfulness" in these passages is porneia, which would certainly include adultery in the context of these sayings (a pornē
was a prostitute). However, porneia is a broad term for sexual immorality of various kinds, often habitual, both before and after marriage (Mark 7:21; Acts 15:20;
1 Corinthians 5:1; 6:18; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 5:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:3). In stating the exception, Matthew did not use moicheia, the Greek noun for adultery.
(Jesus did differentiate between porneia and moicheia elsewhere [Matthew 15:19; Mark 7:21] and the verb moicheuō is used in Matthew 5:32;19:9 to describe the
actions of the sinful party who forces the divorce without a valid cause.)
Matthew used porneia in 5:32 and 19:9 to translate the Hebrew 'erwa ("something indecent") found in Deuteronomy 24:1. It was this Old Testament passage that lay behind Jesus' teaching and his dispute with the Pharisees. The root meaning of 'erwa has to do with "uncovering" and "exposure" of, among other things, the genitalia (Genesis 9:22,23). So the "indecency" of Deuteronomy 24:1 appears to have been some kind of sexual immorality, or indecency, short of adultery (for which the adulterer would have been stoned; cf. Deuteronomy 22:22). The broad semantic range of 'erwa is also characteristic of porneia; both words are general and appear purposefully to include a variety of immoral practices. For example, the Holiness Codes of Leviticus 18 condemned such sex acts as incest, adultery, homosexuality, and bestiality.
In Matthew 5:31,32 and 19:8,9, Jesus spoke of the man's initiative in divorcing an immoral partner. In Jewish society, normally, only the man had that legal right-though certain upper-class women, as Herodias, seem to have done so (Matthew 14:3; note that in Mark 10:11,12, Jesus warns both sexes against groundless divorces). Clearly, the spiritual principle applies for either men or women. Moreover, it should be noted that Jesus granted permission to divorce only under specific circumstances where sexual immorality was involved. He did not, however, issue a command to divorce, since such action would rule out any possibility of reconciliation.
To be sure, a few scholars, drawing from ancient church tradition, believe that divorce is always forbidden, even when the spouses of innocent believers are guilty of repeated sexual immorality. These scholars narrowly restrict Jesus' exception as stated in Matthew to rare, unlawful unions. In this view, there are no cases when, after dissolving these unlawful unions, remarriage is permitted. These innocent parties are not free to remarry until and unless the offending former spouse dies.
From another tack, many higher critical scholars insist that Matthew, in this case, put an exception in Jesus' mouth that He never really spoke. However, the exception clauses in Matthew are well supported in the earliest texts of the Gospel and these two occurrences (Matthew 5:32; 19:9) are to be regarded as dependable words of the Lord. It is seldom, if ever, that any single passage gives all aspects of truth on any single theme. To come to an understanding of any truth, we must take the whole of what the Bible teaches, and that is the intent of this paper.