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Christian Apologetics (3): Marriage (1)

D Vallance, Detroit

"If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?" (Ps 11.3). 1

Fifty years ago in the western world, typical family life was quite predictable and Biblical. From an early age, parents trained their boys to assume masculine responsibilities, and their girls to pursue feminine concerns. If there was free time, boys played with boys, and girls with girls. When a young man matured and was ready to marry, he courted a young woman, and eventually proposed to her — if he had her father’s permission. During their engagement, the couple kept company only in public, because everyone expected them to act with honour and to remain chaste until their wedding night. Their marriage created a stable nuclear family — a husband and a wife and their children formed the central "nucleus" of church and town and nation. The nurture and discipline of their household incubated a new generation of responsible and productive men and women.

In the 19th Century, infidels like Darwin and Nietzsche unleashed seismic waves of unbelief throughout the western world. The subterranean plates of truth that had long supported the Judeo-Christian worldview began to shake and shift. Growing scepticism of Scripture finally broke up this foundation, and opened up a stream of public unrighteousness. When it first began to trickle, this stream was hardly noticed. It has swollen to a torrent, however, and now threatens to sweep the western world away.

What began as the bohemian behaviour of a few is now the mainstream behaviour of the masses. Today’s norms encourage young boys and girls to pair off even before puberty, and to become sexually active and promiscuous in early teen years. In the US, traditional nuclear families now account for fewer than one in four households, and about 50% of first marriages end in divorce. In 1989, Denmark began the trend of granting "domestic partners" the same rights as married couples. Activists aggressively began to correct the term "husband" or "wife" to "significant other" — a rebuke to those who would dare to presume anyone’s marital status, or even to imagine that marriage had any relevance to intimate relationships. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder. Since 2001, ten countries have begun to allow same-sex couples to "marry" nationwide, and have elevated "homophobia" to the exclusive status of "hate crime" — a category now reserved for special breaches of political correctness.

The Sanctity of Marriage

"He answered, ‘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 the two shall become one flesh"? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate’" (Mt 19.4-6).

Human society has no right to define or redefine marriage, because God Himself ordained the reasons and rules for marriage long before society even existed (Gen 1.27; 2.24). According to God, one man — after leaving his parents — would become "one flesh" with one woman, and cling to her for one lifetime. Society thus has no entitlement to change the definition or purpose of marriage to suit itself. Redefining marriage is negating marriage. Thus all human perversions of God’s design — including sexual relations apart from marriage, divorce, common-law marriage, polygamous marriage, and same-sex marriage — are illegitimate and deplorable.

The Apostle Paul calls the marriage of Christ and His church "a great mystery" (Eph 5.32). This means that the deepest reason for marriage remained hidden throughout the Old Testament era. However, after the Lord rose and ascended, the Holy Spirit unveiled the true meaning for marriage to Paul for the first time: God purposed to call out from the nations a people — the church — to become the body and bride of His glorious Son, and so designed marriage to depict this eternal plan. Therefore human marriage is only a reflection of something far greater — the union of Christ and His church. Before time began, God resolved to honour the Lamb with a bride, and so He made humans in two genders and ordained marriage between them in order to display what He had in mind before the beginning: the husband, representing Christ, would cling to his wife, representing the church. The heavenly Lamb and His wife are the substance, while earthly husbands and wives are the shadow.

Since marriage is a principal reason for the creation itself, it is sacred to God. To protect the sanctity of marriage, God decreed, "You shall not commit adultery" (Ex 20.14). This seventh commandment is preceded in the Decalogue only by laws protecting the sanctity of God’s own personal interests (commandments one to five) and the sanctity of life itself (commandment six). Thus to violate marriage is sacrilege, and God has committed Himself to judge and avenge sexually immoral people — especially adulterers (1 Thess 4.6; Heb 13.4).

The Holy Spirit denounces adultery above every other sin but idolatry in the Old Testament, and consistently ranks sexual sins first in New Testament lists (e.g. 1 Cor 6.9-10; Eph 5.2-6; Gal 5.19-21). Despite this, people consider sexual sins to be quite trivial — if they regard them as sins at all. People view sin subjectively, and so they rank sins as more or less serious according to how these sins make them feel. The worse sins, according to this calculus, are sins of hatred that hurt people — sins like theft and slander and assault and murder. Sexual sins, however, are regarded as sins of weakness, not malice, and are thus inconsequential. The common view is that sexual infractions cannot be all that bad, because they are spurred on by love, done by mutual consent, and seem to be free of significant harm. This is completely wrong, of course: the driver of sexual sin is not love, but lust; consent between evil people proves nothing; and such sins wreak widespread harm — harm to the people themselves, to current and future spouses, to current and future children, and to society at large.

It simply does not occur to people that God’s interests are more weighty than their own. God does not use human assessments. He views sin objectively, not subjectively. Violations of marriage are exceedingly serious to Him, because He designed marriage to display His own merciful, loving, gracious, and longsuffering character (Ex 34.6). He created marriage to depict His own covenant love, and to display the ultimate reign of Christ with His bride. Therefore, when people violate marriage they imply by their actions that God Himself is a self-centred covenant breaker, and that Christ has no regard for His church. Thus from God’s objective viewpoint, sexual sins are blasphemous abominations. Once we view such sins from God’s perspective, we start to cringe at the very thought of participating in any of the popular media that glamorise these horrible sins.

The Covenant of Marriage

"The Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth" (Mal 2.14-15).

Scripture teaches that marriage is a covenant made between a man and a woman before God and before human witnesses (Gen 31.50; Prov 2.16; 2 Cor 13.1). It is a legal affair enacted by a public ceremony that includes solemn oaths (Mal 2.14). God has delegated the authority to enforce such covenants to the state (Rom 13.1,3-5). Thus while society cannot dictate the terms of marriage, society must recognize and legalize marriage in order to make it an enforceable covenant. The state promotes, protects, and enforces marriage (however imperfectly), and every Christian should submit to state regulations that govern marriage (1 Pet 2.13).

Even before any civil government had jurisdiction, the two parties who "cut" a covenant in Scripture recognized that mere words spoken in private would not suffice. Thus Jacob and Laban not only made solemn promises to each other before God, but also publicly witnessed their covenant with a heap of stones (Gen 31.43-55). This public stone structure, like others in the Bible, was intended to provoke questions (e.g. Josh 4.6) that would make the facts of the covenant widely known. Thus the "heap of witness" (Galeed) became also a "watch-keeper" (Mizpah).

Since marriage is a covenant, a man and woman cannot become married by simply making private promises to each other, or even by making private pledges "before God". Instead, they must make a public promise to each other before witnesses in order to solemnize the vows they take. Each party has responsibilities and rights, and the contractual nature of the covenant protects each side from breaches of trust. As a binding contract, marriage cannot be broken at will.

The marriage covenant is thus a solemn promise made by a man and a woman to remain faithful to each other for the remainder of their lives. It is based on commitment, not feelings. Thus the phrase in the traditional English vows, "Will you love…", is Scriptural: the wording, "Do you love…", merely expresses a fact, but, "Will you love…", makes a pledge. Love is the fruit of the Spirit (1 Cor 13.4-7; Gal 5.22-23); it is an act of the will and does not rely on feelings (Lk 6.35). Feelings change, hormones change, people change, but covenants do not. Further, the traditional "for better, for worse" clause is Scriptural — the promise remains, whether the spouse is rich, poor, healthy, sick, overweight, underweight, or boring. A Christian marriage should endure through every circumstance, including anger, devastation, depression, bitterness, addiction, and loneliness. It should provide unbreakable security to both partners. Ideally, the wife will always be able to regard her husband as "the friend of her youth" (and vice versa), but above all, she (and he) must not forget "the covenant of her God" (Prov 2.17).

Marriage Should Be "In the Lord"

"Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?" (2 Cor 6.14-15).

A yoke is a wooden beam that joins two oxen to each other and to the load they pull. If one ox is taller, stronger, or faster, the team is said to be "unequally yoked", and will go around in a semicircle. The situation is even worse if an ox is yoked to a donkey. God forbade the yoking together of ox and ass not merely because the idea itself is daft, but mainly to underscore in picture that He does not want his people to join up with the world (Deut 22.10). Since marriage is the closest possible union, the wedding of believer and unbeliever is the greatest violation of this rule. In both Testaments, the Bible explicitly forbids marriage between the children of God and the children of the devil (Deut 7.3-4; Neh 13.23-27; 1 Cor 7.39; 2 Cor 6.14-18).

Samson disobeyed this rule, and was shorn of his strength. Solomon disobeyed, and the "outlandish" Ammonite and Moabite women turned his heart from God and led him into outrageous sin (1 Kings 11.1-13; Neh 13.23-31). The same thing will happen to God’s people today. Besides finding Satan to be an oppressive father-in-law, Christians who enter into unequal yokes will be drawn aside to worship other gods. Instead of making straight paths for their feet, they will find their yokefellows forcing them to go in spiritual circles.

Believers and unbelievers may be physically attracted to each other, but sexual union does not make (or break) a marriage (1 Cor 6.16). The goal of marriage is not to form one body, but one flesh — and flesh in Genesis refers to whole persons (e.g. Gen 6.3). So marriage is not merely the union of bodies, but of whole persons. Once a believer and unbeliever move past their animal attraction to each other, how can they be united in soul and spirit? Even if their souls can share a few worldly aspirations and concerns, their spirits are completely at an impasse. The deepest possible intimacy is intimacy of spirit — and this highest plane of marriage is utterly unattainable in an unequal yoke (1 Cor 6.17). The believer in such a marriage can only function at the lowest common denominator — carnal things — and will not be able to pray and worship and share the things that mean the most to him or her. True oneness cannot be achieved if the spouses disagree about the most crucial matter in the universe — the Lord Jesus Christ.

Since marrying an unbeliever should be unthinkable for a Christian, dating an unbeliever should also be unthinkable. If a believer allows herself to develop a crush on an unbeliever, she will stop being rational, and will start to rationalise. She will explain herself with unconvincing platitudes like, "God brought us together". No He didn’t! The partnership cannot be His will because it flies in the face of His clear word. She is asking God to rubberstamp her disobedience. And despite her prenuptial impressions, the stark truths of Romans 3.10-18 teach that her pursuer’s professed religious interest and outward genteel behaviour are only the facades of a wicked heart. Once he lets his guard down, who he is on the inside will appear on the outside. She must be especially wary if he hastily receives Christ as a condition for continuing the courtship — it will take some time for the new sheep to prove that he is not in fact a wolf wearing wool.

Note that two different oxen also constitute an unequal yoke. When Paul tells us that we must marry only "in the Lord", he means more than only marrying another believer (1 Cor 7.39). The expression "in the Lord" means that a believer should seek another believer who is willing to bow to the Lordship of Christ. "Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals’" (1 Cor 15.33 NASB).

To be continued.

1 In this series of articles, unless otherwise indicated, all direct quotations from Scripture are taken from the English Standard Version.


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