Marriage is Sacred

Marriage is Sacred April 21, 2015

Marriage sacred

I talked about this topic in my Sunday school class this past Sunday, as we reached the treatment of divorce in 1 Corinthians 7. Different phrases are used in our time – “Biblical marriage,” “traditional marriage,” “the sanctity of marriage.” All of them are used largely synonymously, and hypocritically. Tackling divorce would defend the New Testament’s teaching on marriage. But attacking the right of others to marry, using Scripture as an excuse while refusing to live by its teachings about marriage in a consistent manner, is shameful hypocrisy.

I wonder how those who use this language can think their hypocrisy is not visible to most people. Have they managed to deceive themselves? It doesn’t take much investigation to recognize that the institution of marriage discussed in the Bible is one that is assumed rather than introduced there. We find in the Bible no instructions on how people become married, no liturgy for a wedding ceremony. The patriarchal form of marriage is assumed as a social institution, and all that we find are stories and laws which reflect it, and ethical teachings which call upon people with certain values to approach this social institution in particular ways.

Hardly anyone today in North America practices the ancient institution of marriage as it was understood thousands of years ago, or even traditional marriage as it existed a few hundred years ago as reflected in period dramas. And that is not as “unbiblical” as might first appear.

If there is a core principle about marriage in the Bible, it is arguably that found in Genesis 2. It is a story which Jesus recognized for what it is, a non-literal depiction of marriage. The story is literally about one person becoming two, but it explicitly states that it is symbolic and is really about two people becoming one.

Companionship, that experience of finding one’s other half, is the universal that spans the ages. And, for those interested in applying such biblical principles to the present day, it is an experience which is not limited to people of opposite gender.

And so let’s defend the sanctity of marriage. Let’s emphasize fidelity, love, and companionship, as Genesis does. And let us do so in a way that is not about male and female, slave and free, rich and poor, as marriage has traditionally been.

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  • spinkham

    On the other hand, my parents have lost friends by refusing to attend their remarriage becuase they “proof text” that as strongly as they do other issues. I respect their conviction and consistency if not their hermeneutics and judgment.

    • Michael Wilson

      The cartoon is a bit of a non sequitur. I’m not sure the crowd responsible for our divorce laws or that if divorce is legal marriage can’t be sacred to anyone.

      • Michael Wilson

        But to be fair, there are probably a lot of people that do think divorce should be easy and gays shouldn’t marry

        • DeWarrior

          There are probably a lot of people with any given combination of views, but those I’ve read who speak about the sanctity of marriage rarely condone easy (no fault) divorce … my experience agrees with your original point, that that argument is a non sequitur.

          There is clear Biblical teaching on divorce, unfortunately it’s not always followed, but, in my experience, is followed more often – and especially by the staunchest proponents of the sanctity of marriage – than those who cry “hypocrite, hypocrite” assume.

          • Michael Wilson

            Dewarrior, I think these kinds of arguments stem from the desire to paint one’s opponents as not just ignorant or too respectful of tradition, which might evoke sympathy, but simply as spiteful and double minded.

      • Bethany

        However, as far as I know religions who oppose divorce are not by and large pushing to make divorce illegal (in the US, at any rate), but rather to forbid their own members from divorcing. They’re not applying similar logic to same-sex marriage.

        • Michael Wilson

          Liberal divorce laws were enacted decades ago, I’m not surprised that the energy spent fighting it has dissipated. I think it was controversial when divorce laws started changing. I think it is still hard to divorce in Catholic dominated Ireland. You do though have a point that the government need not apply apply biblical ideas of marriage to its secular function. Religious types are still free to apply stronger standards for them selves.

  • Yuri Wijting

    James, how would you respond to Jesus’ regard for the Genesis creation texts as a restriction of the number of partners, and its twoness of sexes, “male and female” to be the prerequisite?

    • Since Jesus appealed to the text in Genesis in response to divorce, and did not apply it to polygamy, even though that existed in his time, I would advise refraining from assuming one knows that Jesus was opposed to that practice, never mind modern situations that it is unreasonable to expect him to have commented on.

    • Andrew Dowling

      The question was about divorce, not restrictions on of definitions of marriage.

  • Kris Rhodes

    How does the story “explicitly” state itself to by symbolic? It says the events depicted explain why men and women do a certain thing, but that’s not to state that the events depicted are symbolic.

    • It describes one person becoming two, and then says its point is that two people become one. Does it need to be more explicit than that?

      • Kris Rhodes

        But that doesn’t imply symbolism at all, not even implicitly.

        “A long time ago, these two things used to be one thing. That is why they continue to seek to be one thing even today.”

        That’s what it basically says, right? And there’s no hint, explicit or implicit, of symbolism in it. It reads, if taken literally, as a straightforward causal explanation.

        • One original human was split into two, therefore all subsequent humans are halves trying to become whole again?

          I think it is harder to read it that was when we recognize that the main character Human doesn’t seem to be depicted as yet another human, but as a depiction of what is typical of human existence. And of related interest, John Walton has argued that the story would have been understood in its ancient context to be depicting a dream in which Adam saw himself being cut in two to make a suitable partner for him. I reviewed his book a while back here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2015/03/review-of-the-lost-world-of-adam-and-eve.html

  • Don’t an even higher proportion of homosexual marriages end in divorce than heterosexual ones?

  • R Vogel

    I few months back I heard a debate on NPR (Matry Moss Coane, I believe) between a divorce attorney and a leader of a movement against no-fault divorce. Among many things, they want mandatory counseling and wait periods before a divorce could be granted. The attorney asked if it is such an important state issue, should counseling and waiting periods also apply before someone gets married, which might also be effective to prevent divorce. The other party stammered out something about the state shouldn’t get involved. I found it quite humorous.

    • Andrew Dowling

      Actually I’d be perfectly fine with counseling and waiting periods before getting a civil marriage.

      • R Vogel

        Sounds fine in abstract, but I’m not sure I want to empower the government with the ability to deny people marriage in the way some want to empower them with ability to deny divorce. Who gets to set the criteria?