A biblical paradigm for marriage in the 21st century

Much has been said recently about marriage from a variety of different viewpoints.  Here are some thoughts about marriage from a biblical perspective that I hope will help us think correctly about this important topic.

Firstly, thinking and talking about marriage within the context of human rights is, I think, misleading.  Marriage is not a human right and no one can claim that they deserve to be married, regardless of sexual orientation.  Marriage, in the Bible, describes a unique relationship between a man and a woman that originated in God.  It was God who said about Adam in the Garden of Eden ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him’ (Genesis 2:18).  Because marriage originated within the heart and mind of God and was given to man by God it therefore finds its value and significance not primarily in its relationship to man but in its relationship to God.  To claim, as some do, that marriage is a human right shifts the emphasis away from God and toward man.

Secondly, insofar as marriage is a gift from God we should pay close attention to what constitutes marriage from God’s perspective.  Because marriage describes a unique relationship given by God to man it is not a term to which we can apply any culturally fashionable meaning we want.  God’s intent when he made Eve was to ‘make a suitable helper for him’ (Genesis 2:18).  The suitability of Eve for Adam is expressed, I believe, in her femininity and her difference from Adam.  We cannot ignore the fact that God very specifically created a woman in response to his desire to create someone suitable for Adam.

The story of Adam and Eve’s creation and union is important because it provides a paradigm for all subsequent interpretation.  Their creation, after all, reflects God’s original intention prior to the intrusion of sin, wickedness and human rebellion.  Importantly, Jesus, when questioned about marriage, refers back to this original story (Matthew 19:4-5) thus affirming its significance within the purposes of God.  Paul also refers back to the original story when talking about marriage in his letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians 5:31).  Jesus and Paul, by appealing to the original story in Genesis, affirm the crucial significance of the creation account with regards to marriage over and against all subsequent thinking and practice related to marriage.

The impression we are left with, therefore, is that marriage describes a unique relationship between one man and one woman that originated with God and was given to man to bless him.  To deviate from this biblical paradigm, in any direction, is to strip marriage of its meaning.

Finally, marriage also serves as an illustration of the relationship between Christ and the church.  To change the meaning of marriage is, therefore, to distort what marriage says about the church and Christ and their relationship.  In Ephesians Paul says:

‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’  This is a profound mystery - but I am talking about Christ and the church (5:31-32).

Of fundamental importance in this illustration is the difference between husband and wife.  Only in a relationship where the parties are in some sense fundamentally different - heterosexual relationships - can the union of Christ and the church be expressed.  In this relationship the man is a picture of Christ and the woman the church (or bride).  In a relationship where the parties are the same - homosexual relationships - the inherent illustration is that man is in need of nothing different from himself.  Gone is the need for a transcendent Creator and Saviour who is fundamentally different from his creation.  The spiritual significance inherent within all homosexual relationships is that man has become his own saviour.

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