Concerning “marriage” there are several viewpoints swirling about these days speaking to the question of how humans should be linked in a union that is both intimate and permanent: one male/one female; same-sex union; living common law; a binding union involving more than two; and so forth. To which arrangement should we attach the word, marriage?
The subject is contentious and the debate goes on. I want to pare the question down to a fine point: from a Christian point of view, what constitutes marriage?
The reason I raise the question is that although most Christians know the answer in a sort of intuitive way, all too few can give a Scripturally structured answer. As a result, in this ongoing critical debate about what constitutes marriage, the Christian voice is more muted than it needs to be.
I realize that what I write here will not be convincing to those who reject the Christian Scriptures. But there is a vast reservoir of people in western culture — inside and outside the church — who still believe at some level that the Bible is authoritative and contains the word of truth on the subject: what constitutes marriage?
For them, here is a three-part answer:
First we look at the Genesis account of creation, where marriage was established. Next we look at the words of Jesus, who validated the creation account. Finally, we consult the apostles who together with our Lord also put the creation account before the developing church.
The first chapter of the Bible tells us that God created everything that exists. The account climaxes with this forceful word — creation — repeated three times: “So God created man in his own image,/ in the image of God he created him;/ male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).
The very next verse commands “Be fruitful and multiply” suggesting that males and females in God-ordained union have a special assignment in life, the procreation (creating in God’s behalf) of all human life.
The second chapter of Genesis follows with the well-known story of Adam and Eve. The Lord God sees that Adam is lonely and so Eve is his special provision to meet that need, while providing companionship for both.
This incomparable story concludes with what seems like an editorial conclusion: “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).
Clearly, marriage is the “one flesh” union of the two genders — one man and one woman. Only by that union can new life be brought into being in full accordance with the Creator’s will.
Thus, marriage belongs to the orders of creation — a point which Christians dare not brush lightly aside!
Second, we have the response Jesus gave to questions thrown at him by some pharisees. They wanted him to respond to the teachings of earlier rabbis on a marriage issue. Instead, Jesus pointed them back to the story of creation as given in the Bible’s opening book.
“Haven’t you read,” he asked, “that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female?” (Genesis 1:4). He added, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:5).
Third, to the words of the creation account and the words of Jesus we add the words of the apostles written to the developing New Testament church. In speaking of domestic order as one of the fruits of the gospel, Paul adds the same verse from Genesis 2:24: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Ephesians 5:31).
In defining the essential nature of marriage, the term “one flesh” does not vary in these three passages of Scripture. Thus, in human experience, “one flesh” in all its dimensions can only be fully experienced by the union of one man and one woman.
So, in Christian circles, believers young and old, single and married must ask as though for the first time: Does marriage have God-ordained boundaries? Must it be a union between one man and one woman? If so, by extension, it cannot be open to any other humanly devised connection.
If all Bible believers on this continent would embrace afresh this revealed truth and then speak up for it with confidence but without rancor, it seems to me that that would be the most powerful influence imaginable in winning the debate and sustaining the definition for marriage as the union of one man and one woman for life.