A primer on biblical marriage


A pastor friend told me recently something like this: "Ferrell, in my ministry I deal with a whole lot more heterosexual sin than homosexual sin."

The truth can hurt. Sexual sin is widespread. In confronting sexual sin, it is important to consider marriage. Here's a little primer on biblical marriage.

What we call marriage today began as an act of creation. The Bible tells of God creating male and female persons. But God did not simply create them and put them in the garden; God told them to do something.

God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth" (Genesis 1:28, NRSV).

This first marriage had as its God-given purpose the desired end of fruitfulness -- children. This marriage and those to follow are to reproduce and to take on a responsibility for the whole of God's creation. Many couples give birth biologically, others take on the responsibility of fruitfulness by means that value the lives of children who need parents, such as through adoption and foster care.

A man and woman's togetherness does not and does not come without cost. Each must leave something behind in order to pursue their purposes together.

Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh (Genesis 2:24, NRSV).

Jesus referenced these words about one flesh and added,

"Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate" (Matthew 19:6, NRSV).

Sex, of course, is part of marriage because it is required to fulfill God's purposes, to help a couple bond, and for basic pleasure in one another. The Bible is not shy about sex, and it also deals with the importance of fidelity within marriage. The following verses speak from a man's perspective, but similar words could be written from a woman's view.

Let your fountain be blessed,
and rejoice in the wife of your youth,
a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
May her breasts satisfy you at all times;
may you be intoxicated always by her love.
Why should you be intoxicated, my son, by another woman
and embrace the bosom of an adulteress? (Proverbs 5:18-20, NRSV)

Marriage in the Old Testament, however, did not always measure up to the standards God established. Wealthy and powerful men in the Old Testament often reflected the reality of the broader world culture in that they had multiple wives and even concubines.

Despite what was, there always has been what ought to be. The Apostle Paul talked about the value of being single in order to do God's work, but he was also practical. If a person could not resist temptations to sexual immorality, then "each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband" (1 Corinthians 7:2, NRSV). Note the singular husband and wife.

Paul also spoke of how a man and a woman should relate to one another. In Ephesians, Paul compared the relationship of a husband and a wife to the relationship of Christ and the church. He spoke of love and submission. Specifically, he said men are to love their wives and women are to submit to their husbands, and he then adds the following:

This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband (Ephesians 5:32-33, NRSV).

The writer of Hebrews expressed the value of marriage and the dangers it faces in regard to sexual matters.

Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers (Hebrews 13:4, NRSV).

As our nation faces the issue of same-sex marriage, it is good for all of us to think again about God's ideal for marriage. Gender difference is a definite part of godly marriage, but faithfulness and fidelity between a husband and a wife also are critical.



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