This is my second article for Salt Shakers on the general topic on “Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage” as seen in the Bible.
In our first introduction article, we saw the importance and seriousness for Christians to have the right biblical view on such matters if they want to be good and faithful witnesses for their Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. In this article, we want to plunge right into the fundamental topic on marriage. It is fundamental because without it there would be nothing to write about divorce or remarriage. We must have a clear understanding of what marriage is all about before we can rightly discuss about divorce and remarriage. What then is marriage?
The Essence of Biblical Marriage
Marriage is not a sexual union between a man and a woman. If so, a man having a one-time sexual encounter with a prostitute would be considered as married to her. That such illegitimate sexual encounter does not constitute a marriage is clear in Scripture where we do read of David’s affair with Bathsheba. They had sex and the latter became pregnant, but they were not married until after her legitimate husband, Uriah, died and David asked for her hand in marriage (2 Sam 11:26-27).
Marriage is also not a permanent, avowed, sexual relationship between one man and one woman. Some old couples live for many years together and are happily married without having sex as they are too old for that. Sex, as important as it is in the marriage relationship, is not of the essential elements in marriage. So, what are the essential elements in a marriage? There is no better place to turn to for that than to the first marriage of mankind.
The First Marriage
The first man, Adam, and the first woman, Eve, were created for each other, obviously, in every way. But, they were not created married. That came soon later by the act of God in Providence. In fact, at Creation they were not even created together at one go. Adam was first created and then Eve, out of one of his ribs, to be a suitable help for him. A man may have a help prepared for him, but he is not married until that help is brought into union with him in life. And God was involved in that first marriage – the reunion of an enhanced rib to its owner in a unique way. Once, it only functioned within him; but now, it even helps him externally. What a wonder!
God not only officiated the first marriage Himself, but He was the One who instituted it for the good of the human race. Ungodly social scientists who advocate evolution may imagine that primitive men lived like all other animals and had free sex and reproduced themselves for the survival of the fittest. It was later, according to them, that men instituted marriage for the better, healthier management of families, and thus, for the better preservation of the human species. But that is another lie of the devil to entrench men deeper into will-worship.
Believing that marriage is an institution of God is of paramount importance for determining our behaviour in the marriage bond. If man invented marriage, then men is free to determine and change the rules and regulations of the marriage bond as he likes from time to time according to his prevailing philosophical beliefs. But as an institution of God, marriage and all the rules and regulations therein are determined by God, before Whom all involved parties are held accountable. Just recently, New York became the sixth state in the USA to redefine marriage as inclusive of same sex marriages. In the first marriage, God set by example what He expects in the marriage bond into which a man and a woman enter.
The Bride Prepared for the Groom
In the first marriage, Eve was created by God for Adam. God explicitly said that it was not good for man to be alone, and He proceeded to make a “help meet” for him. (Genesis 2:18-22) Here we must note that the first marriage took place before the Fall of man into sin. This means that, at its fundamental level, marriage is not sin oriented, though sin did affect that relationship when it came later. So although all subsequent marriages after the first one must deal with the problem of sin, in a marriage relationship, the couple has many positive and good works to perform individually and collectively. Before marriage, Adam was given the work of naming the animals. This work was not a matter of dealing with sin, but it was tough for lonely Adam. A life partner was created to help him all through his earthly life and even through his generations to come. “Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 11:11). I cannot imagine a world with only one sex, either male or female. Can you? It is a sign of God’s imminent judgment when such things take place. “For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.” (Romans 1:26-27). Certainly, God had in mind the woman when He designed the make-up of the man. They fit well into each other, body and soul.
In naming the animals, Adam saw many wonderful animals in their various unique and fascinating designs – both in the male and female forms. With his perfect understanding, Adam knew that without a female form, he was incomplete. Marriage, therefore, is God’s finishing touch of the human nature in the history of creation. Married people should walk by faith in God that He will bless all faithful couples who unconditionally devote to seek each other’s completeness in the design and plan of God. Marriage is about two becoming one. It is a covenantal relationship. Therefore, it is treacherous when a married couple each has their own idea of things without trying to live in oneness and unity. “Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.” (Malachi 2:14-15). It is God’s normal way to seek for godly seed from families of faithful, godly couples.
Marriage Has Witnesses Before The Judge
A man and a woman in their private moments together may make all kinds of vows to each other, but all such occasions do not constitute marriage events. A proper marriage is a social event involving the community in which the couple will live their united life as a family unit.
At the first marriage, God gathered the assembly together, comprising of Adam and Eve, some surrounding animals and plants in the Garden of Eden and God Himself, the officiating officer. In that ceremony, God, who raised the Bride, brought her to the Bridegroom before the Judge for the solemn exchange of vows and other public expressions of mutual commitment to raise a new family unit in the community.
At the sight of his Bride, Adam “said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” (Genesis 2:23) Adam’s public acknowledgment of God’s work in giving him a wife was also a vow (publicly declared) to treat her as the unique “bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh”. That implies Adam’s headship over Eve, his wife. He is to love her, seek her well-being and lead her in their united service of Jehovah, their God. Eve’s silence at the ceremony implied her submission and agreement with the work and plan of God. In that way, also, she vowed publicly to take up faithfully her role as the help most suitable for her husband, Adam.
All these took place before the Governor Judge of the whole universe and in the presence of many witnesses. The establishment of homes for the raising of human beings to replenish the earth from generation to generation is serious business. God wants to impress that upon us with the solemnity in the first marriage which He Himself conducted. Subsequent ones would be conducted by His deputies in the civil courts of the nations. When a home is legally established, the Judge says, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24). They shall be one to do God’s biddings: “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:28). All these they must do for the glory and praise of God.
The confirmation of such a union of marriage comes as soon as the couple begins to live together in close intimacy, physically and otherwise. In this unique way, God joins a man and a woman together and says, “Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. “ (Matthew 19:6).
Like life and death, the dismantling of the marriage bond is in God’s own hand to bring about. And He does just that whenever the death of any of the spouses takes place. “Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.” (Romans 7:1-3). So all commitments related to the marriage bond is “so long as we both shall live”, or “till death do us part”.
Legitimacy of Marriages Outside the Church
In a multi-cultural society like Singapore we do come across many marriages which are not conducted in the same way as those conducted in the church. Some of them may even involve the invocation of ancestral spirits to participate in the wedding. Are we Christians to consider such marriages as legitimate and consider the groom and bride as man and wife after their marriage? When such people become Christians, do we require of them to be married again – this time in the Church? Is marriage one of the sacraments of the Church, like Baptism and the Lord’s Supper?
Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, we Protestant Churches do not believe that marriage is a sacrament of the Church. According to God’s Word, marriage was instituted before the Fall of man into sin and therefore was an institution established before the institution of the Church when the “mother promise” of Genesis 3:15 was first revealed. Marriage is indeed an institution of God and therefore holy. However, it was an institution entrusted to the State for its continuance. As the State manifests itself in the different nations of the world, its corruptions are also clearly seen in these nations. The different administrations of marriage in these nations do show their weaknesses and errors in understanding what marriage is according to God’s will and plan. However mistaken, such marriages on behalf of God’s authority do have legal standing before God. A non-Christian marriage is proper when it is officiated by a representative of the State before some mature witnesses, and where the parties involved undertake solemnly to live together as a family for the propagation of the human race. God’s Laws relating to the roles of husband and wife are the same for both Christian and non-Christian marriages. God blesses and curses according to the standard of His own Laws and not to that of the corrupted laws of men. The preaching of the Gospel includes the setting forth of this Law of God to bring men to Christ.
In this first article of the sub-series on “Marriage”, we have considered what constitutes a proper marriage before God.
No matter what, marriage involves a man (the Groom) and a woman (the Bride). They show their willingness to the solemn union by the vows they make to each other before God and a holy assembly. Such consent is necessary to a marriage. (Gen. 24:57, 58. 1 Sam. 18:20. 1 Sam. 25:41)
The consent of parents or guardians is also important to indicate smooth continuity from single to married life. (Gen. 28:8. Jdg. 14:2, 3) Their presence and involvement at the marriage becomes important as well.
As marriage is a legal transaction, the State must officiate it publicly and orderly for all in the society to acknowledge and help the married couple in the change of their marital status.
When the married couple begin their life together in this orderly fashion, God considers them as one from that time onwards and deals with them accordingly in His Laws.
In future articles on “Marriage”, we will deal with some important dynamics in a married life.
Written by: Pastor Lau Chin Kwee | Issue 9