When the Supreme Court of the United States (and earlier the Supreme Court of Canada) legalized a new form of marriage joining man-to-man or woman-to-woman and calling it matrimony, this tectonic shift thrilled some, distressed others, and left yet others confused on what they should believe about marriage.
Many Christians are in the latter category. They have never questioned that marriage is the joining of one man and one woman for life but have also never thought deeply about why this “heterosexual oneness” is God’s exclusive standard.
Because some Christians may be drawn away from God’s standard by feelings of empathy for same-sex unions, or what they believe is a need for greater justice, all Christians must be ready to respond to uncertainty on the subject with clarity and grace.
The Bible is our guidebook. In facing questions like this we may reflect on other sources (tradition, experience) but the clear teachings of the Bible must prevail. For evangelical believers down through the centuries, this book has been the primary source for what we must believe and how we must live.
I therefore offer biblical passages that support the long established contention that marriage from creation forward is in essence the union of one man and one woman in covenant for life.
When we enter the front door of the Bible (at the book of Genesis) the very first declaration is the sweeping claim that there is one God and everything that exists was created by him (Genesis 1:1).
This lyrical account then unfolds but does not trail off into the creation of planets or distant stars; rather it reaches its apex with the creation of mankind. It says: God created humankind as male and female and gave them together the primary assignment of procreating and subduing the earth (Genesis 1:26–28).
For Christians, that brief command is the ground for marriage as a conjugal union – the joining of a man and woman as one flesh, thus uniting them as one unit in society for the propagating of the race.
This unique joining is more fully developed in the story of Adam and Eve (Genesis 2). I read this story as the model for what marriage was divinely intended to be, noting especially that God’s ordering of marriage precedes even the fall of man.
No same-sex union or three-party alternative can be worked into the story of Adam and Eve. Marriage is clearly presented from the start as the union of one man and one woman without options.
But the Bible reports a number of departures from this unique and exclusive male-female joining; in its pages there are loathsome tales of bigamy, adultery, incest, fornication, polygamy, sodomy, etc. Consider even the concubinage of the patriarchs, Solomon’s extensive harem of foreign women, King David’s multiple wives, etc. Does all this disordered conduct cancel out the idealism of Eden?
When we read the Old Testament, it is important to distinguish between what the Scriptures “report” and what they “approve.” They may report sinful and destructive sexual deviations from conjugal marriage; they only approve the union of one man and one woman.
Real marriage is also repeatedly approved in the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament. For example, “May your fountain be blessed, / and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth, / A loving doe, a graceful deer — / may her breasts satisfy you always, / may you ever be captivated by her love” (Proverbs 5:18,19). There is only one man and one woman in that picture.
The prophets of Israel even used marriage as a metaphor for God’s relationship with his chosen people. For example, Jeremiah 50:1 presents Zion collectively as the mother, individual Jews as the children and Jehovah as the husband and father. The metaphor represents the standard of one man in sacred union with one woman.
But, how can the deviations be wrong when they are reported so plentifully in the Old Testament? Many generations later the Apostle Paul answers the question. He addressed the Athenians on Mars Hill in Greece and took note of all their idolatrous practices by saying, “In the past God overlooked such ignorance but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). The New Testament light shines brighter.
The New Testament shows regard for conjugal marriage in many ways: it reports Messiah’s coming as involving two couples, Zachariah and Elizabeth, and Mary and Joseph (Luke 1,2); it attempts to re-order marriages seriously dis-ordered by sin (1 Corinthians 7); it warns against the sin of unfaithfulness in marriage (Hebrews 13:4); it exhorts the cultivation of Christian graces in the marriages of a husband and wife (Colossians 3:18–21); and it calls for sexual purity in marriage as a male/female union (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8).
In none of these does it hint that marriage is to be anything other than the union of one man and one woman covenanted for life. In fact, in the Scriptures there is not even a hint of a same-sex union as an alternative form of marriage.
Jesus spoke the clearest words recorded in the New Testament on the essential nature of marriage when the Pharisees tried to engage him regarding divorce. In answering, he took them back to the original orders of creation.
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together let man not separate” (Matthew 19:4-6).
The temptation to compromise our views may be great in a secularizing culture. Our feelings of empathy for same-sex couples may be strong and there may be legal problems that same-sex laws promise to fix. But we are called in sacred Scriptures to “contend for the faith (the revealed content of what we believe) that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3).
God’s decree is rightly limiting: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they (two) will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).
Photo credit: Tekke (via flickr.com)