So far we have examined the biological basis of marriage. We’ll address the Biblical basis next, and then the cultural basis as the Biblical will provide an information base for the cultural aspects.
Is this important for non-Christians to understand? Yes. Because if one does not understand these basic points, one will tend to respond to straw men arguments instead of the true Biblical model. Also, a lack of understanding here will fail to see how well the Biblical basis blends with the biological one discussed last time.
Unfortunately many of the straw men have been promoted by Christians themselves, so one can hardly fault non-Christians for arguing against them. Some of them I would argue against as well. So it is most critical that Christians reexamine what marriage is based upon Biblical principles rather than from pop theology.
To that end, we will look first at God’s design, then the theological design, and end with some conclusions.
God’s Design for Marriage
The most complete snapshot of God’s intentions in creating marriage, and what it is, is from the words of Jesus Christ Himself.
And there came unto him Pharisees, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? trying him. And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you? And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. But Jesus said unto them, For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of the creation, Male and female made he them. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh: so that they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. (Mar 10:2-9 ASV)
Jesus takes this opportunity to quote Genesis 2:24. The two shall become one flesh. Note this refers to “flesh.” This is a physical union. So much so that Jesus says they are no longer “two, but one flesh.” This reflects two main truths about this marital union, that is, the basis for marriage from the Biblical perspective.
Sexual intercourse unites a man and woman into one flesh. This is at the heart of marriage. Jesus makes this clear in the next verses following the above:
And in the house the disciples asked him again of this matter. And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her: and if she herself shall put away her husband, and marry another, she committeth adultery. (Mar 10:10-12 ASV)
We’ll get to the issues of divorce and adultery later. For now, Jesus is clarifying for His disciples about his comments to the people quoted earlier. For He said, “What God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” How is that done? Certainly not by a piece of paper.
Instead, Jesus shows that the way such a union is broken asunder is by committing adultery: to have sexual intercourse with someone other than one’s spouse. His whole argument with the Pharisees is based on the fact that when a physical union is sealed through sex, it is “torn asunder” when adultery, having sex with another, is committed.
St. Paul also has this in mind when he said, “Or know ye not that he that is joined to a harlot is one body? for, The twain, saith he, shall become one flesh.” (1Co 6:16 ASV)
Clearly, from a Biblical standpoint, and from God’s perspective, sexual intercourse joins two people into one flesh—no matter how serious the two people take it. Not needed is a legal certificate saying you’re married. It is not needed that you live together. It is not needed that anyone thinks or believes you are united in marriage, even the couple themselves. Even a marriage ceremony is not needed. By the act of sexual intercourse, from God’s perspective, the two are joined into one. Even if it is merely a harlot you pay to have a one-night stand with.
This is why premarital sex is an oxymoron. There is no such animal. When you have sex, you are marrying that person. Sex is a marital forming act. As we noted in the biological basis, one can live together, share expenses, be the most intimate of friends, but without that sexual union, it is simply good friends living together. Sexual union forms the basis of joining the two into one, and therefore the core beginning of a family.
And therefore, according to Jesus, when you have sex with another person after joining to a spouse, you are tearing asunder that bond created with the first, save if the other spouse has committed adultery before you. Standing before a minister, many think they are getting married for the first time. Yet if they have “sown their wild oats” before that ceremony, they are deceived. They’ve already been married and committed adultery with as many people as they have had sex with.
It is clear from Jesus’ words that God’s design was for us to join with one person, and not tear that asunder by uniting to another. But due to our fallen condition, our hardness of heart, deviation from the ideal is treated in an attempt to provide healing.
Creating one flesh is fulfilled literally in the offspring of sexual acts. As we noted in the biological basis, it is the potential creation of children inherent in the act of sexual union that provides for the uniting factor. What more literal fulfillment of the two becoming one is there than in the children produced from that sexual union? Both husband and wife’s DNA, united into a new person. The child is literally the one flesh of the two.
Without this potential reality, sex would not be uniting. It is the mingling of the two’s seed that at the same time provides for the possibility of children, and the two becoming one flesh through the act designed to give birth to new life. Without that fact, sex would only be one more way among many options to have a good time.
Jesus, with these words, links the biological design of God with God’s design and purpose. The two are fully synced into one reality. Participating in sexual intercourse with someone is tantamount to saying to them, “I want to have your children and create a family with you.” Because that is the purpose of doing that act. The potential is always there each time sexual union happens, no matter the reason the couple is doing it.
I know, there is the pill, and abortion. Since the 1960s, people have had the option to get rid of the purpose of sex: children. If the pill or other modes of contraception don’t prevent a pregnancy, there is always the option to kill the child before it can escape the womb. Be that as it may, it doesn’t change the nature of the act to make it non-uniting. The fact is, whether a person ever has a child or not, the act unites the two into one flesh simply because that is what the act is designed to do biologically as God created it.
One union, not torn asunder. That is God’s design for marriage. Have we violated that ideal? If statistics are anywhere close, a clear majority of the readers of this blog have not followed that prescription, for whatever reason. This does not mean it is the end of the world. There is healing and forgiveness. But it is oh, so easy to take the fallen state and want to make that “normal” because we’d rather not face our guilt than acknowledge it and deal with it openly.
God’s Theological Intent for Marriage
St. Paul makes it clear that our marriage is an image of our union with God.
For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great: but I speak in regard of Christ and of the church. (Eph 5:31-32 ASV)
Prior to these verses, St. Paul speaks of how husbands and wives should show love for one another, and each one is related to Christ and His bride, the Church, the Body of Christ. St. Paul says, “for no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as Christ also the church; because we are members of his body.” (Eph 5:29-30 ASV)
As one body, we are united to Christ in baptism. (Romans 6:5) And that bride is to be presented to Christ in the next life. (Revelations 19:7) What we have now in human marriage is a shadow of that union. As Jesus prayed, we’d become one with Him. (John 17:21-23) Therefore our union with each other in marriage is an image of our union with God.
As such, it is meant to reflect that ideal. What image does sexual union with more than one person create? Multiple gods? Switching from one god to another? Likewise, what picture does uniting with multiple people for the sole purpose of having a good time paint? Union to God isn’t to be taken seriously? Is for our own selfish fulfillment? Everything centers around us and not Him?
This is why St. Paul instructs Timothy and Titus that a bishop and deacon should only be from those who only had one wife. (1 Timothy 3:2, 12, Titus 1:6) Even for the office of widow, among other criteria, they had to be the wife of one husband. (1 Timothy 5:9) Because those ministering as the hands and feet of Christ among the people should reflect a proper theological marriage to God through their earthly marriage. They had to conform to God’s design specs in order to represent Him in an official capacity.
Is divorce allowed? Is remarriage allowed after divorce? After the death of a spouse? Yes. According to Christ, due to our hardness of heart, our fallen condition, the ideal design specs that Christ presents is often not achieved and allowance is made.
But it is still the design specs Christ gives as the Christian understanding of marriage. Sexual union unites us into one flesh with another. Sexual union with another causes us to commit adultery with the first, and so on down the line, save when adultery has already been committed by the other spouse. Or by the death of a spouse, in St. Paul’s opinion, though he encourages them to not remarry. (1 Corinthians 7:39)
We will examine divorce and adultery in more detail later. Here we note this indicates God’s original design spec is “a man and a woman” joined in marriage for life through the action of creating children, whether or not any children are ever brought forth. In this, the biological basis for marriage that syncs with the Biblical basis for marriage. God considers such a union, a marriage, and not to be torn asunder by sexual union with another.
Next time we’ll examine the cultural basis for marriage.