I once met a minister who did not believe in officiating at the weddings of unbelievers. He thought his position was biblical. (Marrying a believer to an unbeliever is a different matter (2 Cor. 6:14-18).
His position was sincere but thoughtful Christians must disagree. Why? Because marriage is not exclusively for Christians. It is the gift of a loving God to the human race. This is clear from the fact that the Bible introduces us to marriage within the biblical account of creation (Gen. 2).
Chapter one of Genesis gives the general, all-inclusive creation account, which comes to its climax in the formation of mankind as male and female (Gen 1:26,27).
Then chapter two focuses on the story of Adam and Eve. They were created uniquely for each other, introduced to one another by the Lord God, and granted a natural, intimate and enduring union in what the passage refers to as a “one flesh” relationship.
In fact the account ends with an editorial note the narrator applies to all: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”
All of this was before man’s fall into sin as reported in Genesis 3. Therefore we regard marriage as belonging to the order of creation. Call the story of Adam and Eve the prototype of all marriages as God originally intended.
However, “the fall of man” changed the narrative profoundly, as described in Genesis 3. The evidence that this is so is seen across the whole of the Scriptures. In Genesis 4, Lamech, the son of murderous Cain, took two wives, and in doing so violated God’s holy design (Gen. 4:19). Jacob had two wives plus two of his wives’ maids so the 12 patriarchs of Israel were sons of four mothers but one father. Solomon outdid them all by taking to himself 700 wives and 300 concubines.
These violations of the Lord God’s original provision — and many more like them — are not reported in the Scriptures to suggest God’s approval of or even his indifference to the strange twists fallen man had taken but to report accurately on the consequences of sin and to set forth clearly mankind’s great need for redemption.
In Israel’s history, prophet after prophet prophesied against the Northern and Southern kingdoms’ immorality in violating the institution of marriage. God’s people went astray in getting rid of wives for frivolous reasons (Mal. 2:14), marrying pagan wives (Ezra 10:18ff.), and becoming involved in adulteries, thus repeatedly violating their pledges of faithfulness (Exodus 20:14; 2 Samuel 11).
But the call to marital love grounded in faithfulness to one spouse never disappears from the Scriptures. The prophets do a daring thing. They use marriage as a metaphor for God’s relationship to his people (Isaiah 54:5-8, 10; 62:5). He chides his people as a violated husband might chide an unfaithful wife but he reaches toward them with steadfast or covenant love (Hosea 14:4).
This becomes — forever for God’s people of all ages — a call to faithfulness and compassion in marriage. Israel is to be a model to the surrounding peoples in this regard.
The picture is similar in the New Testament. The pagan world was filled with infidelity, fornication and many sexual irregularities (Rom. 1:21-32; 1 Cor. 6:9-11). There was great disorder in the domestic life of the city of Corinth which the Apostle Paul had to address in his letter to the Corinthian church (1 Cor.7). And even some of the Pharisees had veered sharply from the standards of their Divine Law in following the school of Hillel. His teaching during the previous century was that divorce was allowable for almost any reason. For example, a wife who burned the food was in peril of being cast off.
It was this conflict between God’s creational plan regarding marriage, and sin’s corruptions of his design that brought a group of Pharisees into conflict with Jesus (Matt. 19:1-12). They pressed him to take a side. Instead, he referred them back to the account of Adam and Eve. “Haven’t you read,” he asked, “that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female (Gen. 1:26, 27)? He followed to pronounce marriage as a “one flesh” relationship just as it had been designed to be at the beginning (Gen. 2:24).
I always feel the solemnity of the moment during a wedding when after I have administered the vows I add, “Therefore, what God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” These are the very words of Jesus given in Matthew 19. They are his affirmation and command regarding monogamous marriage between a man and a woman, added to his reference to the timeless account of Adam and Eve.
May the words of our Lord be held sacred by his church everywhere in the 21st Century!