The Changing Face of Marriage

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The Changing Face of Marriage

27 September 2016 Hits:7320

There is no doubt in my mind that “in the beginning” God had a very definite view of marriage.  In Genesis 2 the woman is taken out of the man’s side (as his equal).  There is no mention of a marriage between Adam and Eve because, according to Adam, she was already “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” but, when Moses collated the patriarchal oral and written records into the book of Genesis around 1440 BC, he added the explanation, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

Almost 1,500 years later, when asked about divorce, Jesus reaffirmed God’s original plan for marriage, that from 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’?”

That being said, it’s important to realise that throughout the Bible marriage is not viewed as an unchanging institution but rather as different arrangements that changed over the centuries.  For example, primitive peoples like Abraham (2000 BC or older) were endogamous.  That is, they married within their own specific ethnic group.  Abraham married his half-sister and together became the parents of an entire nation that eventually gave the Messiah to the world.

Other families were polygamous like King David who had at least eight wives.  When he committed adultery with Bathsheba, God spoke to David through Nathan the prophet saying, I also gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your care, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added to you many more things like these! (2 Samuel 12:8) – by implication, more stuff and more wives!

Pastor Ken Wilson in his book, A Letter To My Congregation, writes For the entire biblical period, family elders, often for economic reasons, selected marriage partners for their children. Today, this might be viewed as inconsistent with the consent necessary for legitimate marriage.  The practice of “child marriage” was allowed in the biblical era.  It was common for older men to marry younger women, including minors by today’s standards  (Joseph and Mary may have been such a couple). Today, this would be regarded as criminal abuse.  During and after the biblical era women were regarded as property.  This perspective is reflected in some biblical texts.  Today, this would be considered slavery rather than marriage.”

The word “marriage” is found only 47 times in the entire Bible although it’s clear from Luke 17:27 that marriage was widespread even before the times of Noah’s flood.

The first reference to marriage is in Genesis 29:26 where Laban tells Jacob, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one.”  David’s prize for killing Goliath was for Saul to give him great wealth and “also give him his daughter in marriage and [to] exempt his family from taxes.”  2 Chronicles 18:1 records how “Jehoshaphat had great wealth and honor, and he allied himself with Ahab by marriage.”  Among the many nations there was no king like Solomon: “He was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel, but even he was led into sin by foreign women” of whom he married at least 300 (Nehemiah 13:26).

Weddings are only mentioned 19 times in the Bible – the first time in 1 Kings 9:15-19 (and it wasn’t a pleasant wedding ceremony either).  Jesus’ first miracle was performed at a wedding celebration where He turned water into wine.  Weddings featured frequently in His teachings as a symbol of the celebration of being united with our Lord in the eternal ages where “those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage.”  In other words, marriage will have served its purpose and no longer exist.

While “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Hebrews 13:4), it’s interesting to note that the two most prevalent characters in the New Testament – Jesus and Paul – did not view marriage as the most important thing.  Both men were single and highlighted the single and celibate life as the best way to live even though marriage was expected of rabbis.  When he was teaching about marriage and divorce Jesus’ disciples observed, “it is better not to marry” and Jesus didn’t disagree.

I encourage you to read 1 Corinthians chapter 7 and gain insight into some of Paul’s teaching on singleness and marriage.  He writes, “I wish that all of you were as I am” (i.e. single) but then gives concession to those who can’t handle that way of living: “if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”  How different this is to much of the teaching and attitudes amongst today’s Christians and churches, where marriage is viewed as the highest goal to attain while single people often feel second-class and incomplete.

When Christie and I announced our engagement in 1994 someone said to me, “that’s so good, now you will be compete.”  I quickly reminded them that I “have been made complete in Christ” (Colossians 2:10).  A lasting marriage is not two incomplete people coming together trying to fulfill their needs in another person but rather two complete people complimenting each other.  It’s not ½ + ½ = 1 but rather 1 x 1 = 1 (one flesh and one in Christ).  I used to get so tired of people (older ladies were the worst) saying to me at weddings, “you’ll be next!”  I used to get them back at funerals!

Marriage has had to be handled differently in diverse situations and cultures over the centuries.  Consider that in the first century slaves weren’t allowed to marry, but they would often enter relationships in which children were born.  We know from Scripture that some of these slaves became Christians and joined church communities.  The New Testament doesn’t address these de facto relationships at all so it appears not to have been a big deal.

Polygamy has also been a big issue over the years as Christian missionaries spread the gospel amongst polygamous peoples.  Attempts to break up these families have had many harmful consequences.  Consider the cases in PNG in the fifties and sixties where a directive was given to men with many wives that they could only have one.  Some of the men then killed the wives they liked the least so they could obey the missionaries and have just one wife.  I think a higher law comes into play in situations like this.

Christians and churches need great wisdom in this day and age too.  Families come into our churches and sometime later we find out the couple are not married.  We should not be guilty of breaking up such families but rather allow the Holy Spirit time to do His work whatever that may be.  The Lord is incredibly gracious and patient in His dealings with us all and I am so grateful.  We need to show great grace to all people in any type of relationship as they journey towards Jesus.  People who are hard and fast on the letter of the law only serve to repel people from a God who loves them.  The letter kills but the Spirit gives life!

Rob Buckingham

Senior Minister

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9 replies on “The Changing Face of Marriage”

Mick Agiussays:

Excellent blog Rob, so true!

Steve Bryarsays:

Good article Rob which highlights the point that the Bible is God’s “inspired” word, not His dictated word. You are right that throughout the Bible, marriage was treated as the custom of the day.

Atheists have argued that passages such as Deuteronomy 22:28-29 give the okay for a woman to be forced to marry her rapist though I don’t personally interpret the Scripture as saying that.

I think Jesus nailed God’s perfect plan for marriage in Matthew 19:4-6 and he explained that issues like divorce were allowed by Moses because of the hard hearts of the people.

Does God allow SSM for example. On looking at the OT attitude to various forms of marriage you may come to the conclusion that says “yes”. I’m not sure that is the case just as I don’t believe that God condones polygamy.

I do believe that God does allow what the state stipulates as law without condoning marriage unions outside of Genesis 2:24. It is a little like the issue of God allowing a king for ancient Israel when that was not His intended will.

In the current discussion on SSM I personally have no issue in providing a service for a SSM celebration. Many polygamous marriages were likewise celebrated in the OT.

My view though is God created marriage as Genesis 2:24 state and Jesus Himself confirms. Sadly over the last 4,000 years of recorded history, humankind has done a good job in stuffing it up.

Catherinesays:

Thanks, Rob. I ended my 15 year marriage to a physically and emotionally abusive and adulterous man over 10 years ago and I consider myself more complete than ever because of it. Unfortunately, all I ever hear from friends is “We need to find you a man” and, to be honest, it’s quite insulting. Since my divorce I have raised my four children, completed a post-graduate degree and started a new career. All without a man. I’m not saying I’ve never been lonely, nor that I would mind meeting someone one day, but I’m terribly tired of hearing the implication that I am incomplete.

Sandra Cavallosays:

Hi Catherine, I agree there is a big way to go in educating people that singles are complete in Christ because of the relationship that they have in Him and not because they are married. Our culture promotes coupledom and rarely highlights the unique opportunities that singleness brings. Paul in my opinion was counter-cultural and still is counter-cultural in his statement about singleness.

I find as a single woman as long as I’m secure in who I am in Christ and knowing that He has a unique purpose in my life then I can be a voice in helping to shift perspectives.

Tim Perrysays:

Thanks Rob. Really well written.

Viviennesays:

I read your article Rob and it is well balanced. However im not so convinced about God not being concerned about de facto relationships. The new testament does mention several time the sin of fornication. So whats your definition/explanation of that? Also new testement refers to the “unnatural ” union of man with man and women with women. I am convinced the bible does say that is sin as well; as therfore not Gods will and intention for His creation.

Robertsays:

Hi Rob, to me the public getting together of a man & women (not fly-by-night or occasional get-togethers) fits the idea of marriage in Genesis 2. So to me, the de facto marriages are real marriages, except they have not taken the step of formalising it with the government authorities (in church or park or registry).
Every time the Bible portrays polygamy, there is trouble… usually jealousy & long-term issues with the children. So while not outright condemning it (especially for kings), it discourages it because of the relationship hassles.
What is sin? There are several definitions, but a general one I like it is taking something good that God has given us & twisting it to serve a purpose not intended by God, such as for selfish motives etc. What sins are involved in marriage? Some involve faithfulness or lack thereof. Many involve selfishness & not caring for & loving the other one. Some involve the choice of partner to go against what God has revealed (such as choosing a sibling or parent, choosing a same sex person, or choosing an animal). Each of those sins takes the good God has revealed to us & twists it to be not what He intended for us. It does not mean that there is a lack of love or lack of care, or somehow the people are inferior. It simply means that the pattern God has revealed for us is not being accepted & implemented. & that shows that the person’s relationship with God is not as good as it should be. They are disobeying his revealed will, just as you & I would be if we gossiped about them, or hated them & wanted them dead or gone.
I pray that we would love God more & love people more.

Leah Psays:

Amen everyone
l love the wisdom your all sharing. I’m proud to be part of our loving family. And when l engage with non loving agendas of our group l mention wwJd. Xxx

Janet von Berkysays:

Great article!
One small thing: complement – in the sense of something contributing something extra – is spelled with an “e” and not an “i”. Husbands and wives can both compliment (say encouraging things) AND complement each other, but these words have different meanings.
(Probably the best way to remember this is that the value-adding complement is a bit like completion, even though I agree with your observation that people do not marry in order to “complete” themselves.)

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