Living Together and the Bible
by Ernest L. Martin, Ph.D., 1987
There has never been any custom or legal concept more important in maintaining a proper civilized society than the marriage covenant between a man and a woman. This has been recognized throughout history especially by those who adhere to the normal traditions associated with Christianity. In point of fact, it can be said without equivocation that the institution of marriage and the preservation of the family unit which results from the marriage union represent the essential principles that govern the very foundations of a proper Christian society. One would have to be daft indeed to suggest anything contrary to these fundamental truths. They are central to a stable society. Those of us who are affiliated with the Associates for Scriptural Knowledge would never dispute the relevancy of the marriage covenant as an essential principle that must always be maintained for a happy and productive society. Yet, in spite of these truths, there is no subject more misunderstood by Christians today. In this research study we will look at the topic in a basic way which can help us comprehend just what the Scripture teaches about marriage.
The first point that must be realized in studying the subject of marriage is just how little the Scripture reveals about the ceremonial aspects associated with it. Most people today place an importance on the marriage ceremony and the marriage "vows" that the couple make before witnesses. Yet in the Bible there is not the slightest instruction about the need for any marriage ceremonies (other than a marriage supper). There is such a paucity of information in the Scripture on such matters that one wonders whether our modern society has placed too much emphasis on the ceremonial aspect of the marriage relationship.
In the Old and New Testaments there was only one ceremony that signified the consummation of a marriage. That was the marriage supper (or dinner). If a couple wished to marry in biblical days, the parents of the couple would simply send out invitations to friends and relatives to attend the marriage supper. After the supper was over, the couple were considered by society as being married. There were no vows taken. There were no ceremonies in which a minister or priest officiated. There were no legal documents required by the government to consummate a marriage and the validity of the marriage was not acknowledged legally beyond the witness of the local "elders of the gate" within the village or city in which the couple lived. The synagogue or church had nothing to do with it. Indeed, the contract of marriage was legally in force only between the parents of both the man and woman getting married and the married couple themselves. Simply put, the legal responsibility went no further than the local community of the couple. It was not expected that the state or national governments had any jurisdiction concerning the marriage whatever!
In regard to the ceremonial aspects of marriage, scholars recognize today, even orthodox Jewish authorities, that the Bible reveals only a minority of ceremonial requirements for marriage. Each generation, it seems, has had the responsibility of setting its own standards in maintaining a proper marriage relationship. Those values have differed over the generations as changing customs demanded the alterations. History shows many changes have taken place in traditional customs since the close of the biblical canon. Some of the newer observances formulated over the past 1500 years are quite alien to scriptural laws and principles. This is one of the reasons why the subject of marriage, as it relates to biblical teaching, has been so grossly misunderstood in modern times. What we hope to do in this research study is to bring to your attention the central scriptural teaching concerning the marriage relationship and its legal requirements. Once this is realized many of the problems besetting modern man regarding this matter can be dealt with satisfactorily.
The primary legal basis for marriage within the Holy Scriptures shows that it represented a covenant. It is not difficult to comprehend what a covenant is if one will pay close attention to the meaning of the word. In modern language a "covenant" is simply a "contract." In regard to the marriage covenant (or "contract"), it is usually an agreement made between a man and a woman to live with one another in close, intimate circumstances which includes the experience of sexual relations between the couple. The agreement itself is usually a public confirmation of a covenant/contract established between a particular man and woman to live in holy matrimony. In biblical times the parents of the bride and groom usually made the contract between themselves. The contract may have had nothing to do with the emotional desires of the couple being married. Hardly ever were emotional considerations of the young couple the prime factors for their marriage.
The main parties to most marriage covenants in ancient times were the parents of the bride and groom. This was the case throughout the whole of the biblical period, including that of the New Testament itself (see I Corinthians7:38 for confirmation of this). In any event, it should be recognized by biblical students (and those wishing to abide by the principles of the scriptural revelation) that marriage in biblical times was more a legal agreement between the parents of a young man and woman than an emotional and independent covenant made by the young couple themselves. It is important to recognize this point if one is to appreciate what marriage is as it pertains to the scriptural revelation.
What represented a marriage before the fourth century of our era? The fundamental principle that governed all marriages in biblical times was that they were all covenants -- they were all acknowledged as being contracts (Prov.2:17; Mal.2:14). If moderns understood this concept (and if they wish to abide by the principles of those who wrote the Bible), then almost all problems (both theological and secular) which have arisen in peoples' minds over what constitutes a marriage would disappear. Common sense and scriptural understanding would return to the issue and all people could have a proper appraisal of what embodies the essential features governing the marriage relationship. For emphasis' sake (and in this crucial matter emphasis is needed), let me say again that a biblical marriage represented a contract. It was a contract/covenant between a woman and a man or between two families that enabled the couple being married to become (in the eyes of the covenant-makers and society) "one flesh" (Gen.2:24; Matt.19:5,6).
As an example of this contract/covenant principle (and where it is illustrated in its best form) is the Old Covenant that God made with ancient Israel at Mount Sinai. The Old Covenant was nothing more than a marriage contract. God was reckoned as a male and the nation of Israel as a female -- with Israel becoming the married bride of Yahweh at Mount Sinai. "I am married unto you," said the most high God (Jer.3:14). "I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee [Israel], and thou becomest mine [i.e. my wife]" (Ezek.16:8). See also a technical analogy to this marriage of Yahweh to Israel in Hosea 2:16.
The "marriage" of Yahweh to Israel was like any other marriage conducted at the time. It was based on certain conditions recorded in the written text of the covenant (explained in Exodus 20 to 23 inclusively). Those four chapters represent the terms by which God would meet his obligations to His bride (Israel). The "marriage" was sealed and made officially legal by the sacrifice of an animal (that is, once Israel as the woman finally agreed to the contract put before "her" by Yahweh). The blood was sprinkled upon the documents of the contract (Exo. 24:3-8). Both parties of the commitment agreed to be faithful to one another for life and to honor all the written text of the covenant. As with any human contract, the terms could not change unless both parties agreed to an alteration. The apostle Paul identified the Old Covenant with any normal covenant (or contract) that humans might agree to. "Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; though it be but a man's covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannuleth, or addeth thereto" (Gal. 3:15).
As for God, he has kept all agreements precisely (for God never breaks covenants -- I Kings 8:23; II Chronicles 6:14; Nehemiah 1:5;9:32; Daniel 9:4). Israel, however, almost from the very beginning, began to prove unfaithful to the terms of the bargain she made with Yahweh (e.g. Psalm 78:10). The persistence of Israel's transgressions against her "husband" prompted Yahweh to divorce Israel and put her away for infidelity. "When for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce" (Jer. 3:8).
Violation of any contract can be grounds for revoking such agreements. With a marriage covenant/contract one can issue a bill of divorcement if the terms of the alliance are unfulfilled by one party or the other. It is the same with any type of contract, whether that contract is made between God and man or between man and man. If one of the contractees fails to keep his or her part of the bargain, then the injured party has a right to rescind the contract because the terms have been thwarted. This is exactly what God did with the people of Israel when they consistently broke the marriage contract made with him. God, of course, kept His end of the bargain precisely and to the letter of the law, but it was Israel who persistently broke her agreement. Israel's breaking of the terms made God sever the contract. He divorced Israel.
It should go without question that if God exercised His right to divorce Israel when she failed to meet the terms of the marriage contract, humans today have the same legal privilege to sever any marriage contract if the terms of the contract are violated. Even if the contract were intended to last for the life of one of the parties, and if one of the persons disobeyed the rules put down in the contract, then the offended party has a right to end the relationship. It must be stressed that even though marriage covenants are always ordained to last for the life of one or both of the parties (Romans 7:2,3) -- and Yahweh's marriage to IsraeI was also intended to be sanctified for the life of one or both parties -- the persistence of those life-long marriage relationships is contingent upon a mutual obedience to the terms of the contract.
Of course, in human contracts (ones involving marriage) there usually will be minor infractions from time to time. Christ understood this and taught that people should not be "hardhearted" about the small infringements that normally occur (Matt. 19:3-9). On the other hand, if in the marriage relationship there evolved major points of infidelity committed by one or the other party, such unfaithfulness would be definite grounds for ending the continuance of the contract. Even God himself felt compelled to divorce Israel when she persisted in a series of outward infidelities to Him (Jer. 3:8). This example of Yahweh in divorcing Israel could be followed by any human who experiences the same thing within his or her marriage. Even if God had "bound" a marriage, it is only "bound" and recognized as fully in force as long as the terms of the contract are being faithfully met by both parties to the agreement.
Christ Jesus, however, did condemn the use of frivolous contract violations as an excuse for terminating a marriage. This was particularly an important point to those who lived 2000 years ago. At that time, males dominated everything. Women were hardly given a fair treatment in any social aspect or legal relationship. It was especially difficult on a woman if a man (who had enormous independent power) decided he simply wanted to get rid of his wife. In certain circles of Judaism it was common for a man to state that his wife displeased him (as an example, she may not have cooked the bread to his liking). The courts would normally give the man a divorce and let the woman (from that time forward) fend for herself. Christ would have none of this. Christ taught that the woman ought to be safeguarded in a social and economic sense from unmerciful husbands who could divorce a woman almost at will -- even for minor delinquencies. In ancient times the husband was literally the owner of the wife (in the same manner in which he possessed cattle, sheep or goats). In Hebrew the word "husband" means "owner." This rule of ancient society often left some women without any means of support if men divorced them.
To Christ, such a situation which put the woman into a jeopardizing situation was an intolerable social injustice. He demanded that only in the case of extreme infringements of the marriage contract (such as outright infidelities by the woman) was it permissible for a man to Put away his wife by sending her into economic ruin and social disgrace (Matt. 5:31,32). On the other hand, such a loving and merciful husband as Joseph (the legal father of Christ) decided to put away Mary in a private way in order not to bring retribution on her by the Jewish community at Nazareth (Matt. 1:19). This showed he was a kind and considerate man because his first thought was to the welfare of the woman he loved. God would have done the same thing with ancient Israel had she not been so blatant in her infidelities. God felt he had no alternative but to divorce Israel -- which he did.
The marriage of Yahweh to Israel at Mount Sinai (which was the establishment of the Old Covenant relationship) was considered a legal marriage. It did not involve the physical aspects of a marriage that most humans expect in holy matrimony (such as sexual relations, etc.) but it did demand loyalty and devotion as any husband would give to a wife or a wife to a husband. This Old Covenant marriage was officially confirmed and sealed by the sprinkling of blood on the documents of the agreement made between Yahweh (representing the man) and Israel (reckoned as the woman).
"And Moses came and told the people all the words of Yahweh, and all the judgements: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which Yahweh hath said will we do. And Moses wrote all the words of Yahweh, and rose up early in the morning and builded and altar. . . And he took the book of the covenant [the marriage covenant], and read it in the audience of the people: and they said, All that Yahweh hath said will we do, and be obedient. And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant [the marriage covenant], which Yahweh hath made with you concerning al all these words."
It is interesting that the prophet Ezekiel (using the analogy of Yahweh's courtship with Israel) said that Yahweh "fell in love" with Israel when she was born in the land of Canaan (some 430 years before He married her at Mount Sinai). His betrothal period with Israel was one of long duration because He picked her out for marriage at the time of her birth (Ezek. 16:1-7). Ezekiel showed that Yahweh planned to marry Israel when "thy breasts are fashioned, and thine hair is grown" (Ezek.16:7).The prophet Ezekiel was quite aware that it was not proper to marry a woman until the signs of puberty (the breasts and the pubic hair) were developed. Once the girl became a woman (and able to bear children) then it was considered proper in biblical times for the intended marriage to take place.
"Now when I passed by thee, behold, thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness: yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant [a marriage covenant] with thee, saith Yahweh Elohim, and thou becamest mine [Israel became His wife]."
It was not unusual in ancient times for female children to be betrothed to a man even from birth (or before the girl reached puberty). The prophet Ezekiel was using this principle of early betrothal to show how Yahweh took the girl called "Israel" from birth and waited until she showed signs of puberty to marry her. Even in the time of Solomon this custom of making betrothal agreements between parents of children was very much in vogue. Some betrothals were made long before children were mature enough to be married. Even the betrothal and marriage of Yahweh to Israel (as the prophets understood it) cannot be appraised in a proper way by us moderns unless we recognize those ancient social customs regarding betrothal and marriage. Note the custom in the time of Solomon.
"We have a little sister, and she hath no breasts: what shall we do for our sister in the day when she shall be spoken for? If she be a wall [that is, fully developed and mature], we will build upon her a palace of silver: and if she be a door [able to act like an adult woman], we will enclose her with boards of cedar. I am a wall [said the woman who was the subject of the Song of Solomon], and my breasts like towers: then was I in his eyes as one that found favour."
Song of Solomon 8:8-10
It was the custom of ancient times for young girls to be spoken for (regarding marriage to a young man or older man) even before their adult sexuality appeared (Ezek. 16:7). This may be plain speaking for those of our present society who feel that matters of the human anatomy should be discussed only in private or in a medical way, but in the Bible no such proprieties are in evidence. The prophets of old thought nothing of describing the human anatomy -- or functions of the body, whether sexual or biological -- in very open, terms. Some people might be shocked indeed to learn what the prophet Elijah said in his taunting of the prophets of Baal. One of these days I am going to get up the courage to explain just what the Holy Scriptures record Elijah as saying.
In no way is the Bible the prudish book that so many of us think it is who have been reared in the Catholic and Protestant traditions. The quite plain speaking in the Scriptures (as shown in the original languages) would probably cause a lot of "Sunday School" teachers to blush at many of the instances. So let us be plain. The prophet Ezekiel simply said that Yahweh did not want to show His physical love to Israel until her breasts and pubic hair had been formed (Ezek. 16:7). I hope that hat all of us are adult enough not to be offended at the manner of Ezekiel's description of God's relationship to His betrothed bride as shown in the Bible.
Importantly, all betrothal and marriage requirements were centered around the terms of the covenant (a simple contract). In the article "Betrothal" in Hasting's "Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels", it is recognized that the negotiations over the terms of the contract between male leaders of one family and the male leaders of another were the most important part of the marriage itself. Quite often those negotiations for determining the terms would occupy a year, or even several years (Gen. 29:20). In regard to the Old Covenant marriage agreement between Yahweh and Israel, the contract was actually made between Yahweh and Abraham some 430 years before Israel became of age to "marry" Yahweh. When the time came for that marriage to be consummated, Yahweh set out the full terms which He expected of Israel and she agreed to abide by them faithfully. Those terms are recorded in detail in Exodus 20 to 23 and elaborated on in other sections of the Mosaic Law. Almighty God insisted on a contract agreement (a covenant) with Israel, and He expected her to meet the negotiated terms precisely.
So should it be in any marriage agreement today. If people of modern times are interested in maintaining the scriptural principles regarding the marriage relationship between a husband and wife, then it will pay all students of the Bible to understand the concepts of marriage as illustrated throughout the pages of the Scripture. It would seem most important that the ideal (and symbolic) marriage of Yahewh with Israel should be considered a standard model to follow -- at least in principle. Paramount above all other considerations is the fact that scriptural marriages were always reckoned as being contracts.
Though times have changed drastically over the centuries regarding the social and legal obligations involving marriage, there is still the one teaching that should continue to ring loud and clear if people wish to abide by scriptural teaching. Marriage is a legal covenant/contract which is based on a mutual agreement between the parties involved. This is the pure and simple teaching of the Scripture. If people today wish to follow the fundamentals of scriptural doctrine then all marriages should be reckoned as contracts between a man and a woman (or between the responsible parties involved). Thus, it appears proper that all marriages have either written agreements between the parties or at least a verbal contract that all citizens of the society in which the couple live would recognize as binding and in force.
Let us now ask a question. Can agreements made in any contract be altered or eliminated at a later date and especially marriage contracts? Many have wondered about the biblical legality of making changes --especially in marriage agreements. The fact is, however, if one realizes that the scriptural marriage is nothing more than a contract agreement, then little difficulties would emerge in interpreting such questions. Since the marriage institution is a contract that has been agreed to, it is obvious that any contract can be altered if both parties concur in the changes. In fact, it is even prophesied that Yahweh himself is destined to alter the terms of the Old Covenant (His first marriage agreement with Israel). This will occur when the New Covenant is brought into existence (Jer. 31:31). There are several agreements in the Old Covenant that will become redundant when the New Covenant is brought into force. As an example, note that the Old Covenant contains an absolute contractual agreement between Yahweh and Israel that the Canaanites in Palestine were to be exterminated from the land (Ex. 23:23-33; Duet. 2:30-37). The New Covenant, however, as illustrated by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount, have love and forgiveness (even of one's enemies) as the central contractual stipulations. There are many other such changes that Yahweh will make with Israel (the same woman He married at Mount Sinai) when He establishes the New Covenant -- the new marriage agreement -- in the future (Jer. 31:31).
We thus have the example of God himself in making alterations to the marriage terms with Israel (as times and circumstances changed). It ought to be plain that people who make marriage contracts today can also do the same thing -- if both parties agree to the contract changes and the alterations are within the parameters of decent living standards. One would find it difficult to find a better example to follow.
If the Old Covenant marriage contract with Israel contained all the terms that would ever be needed for a satisfying marriage, then there would have been no need for another. Besides Israel being at "fault" (Heb. 8:8), there were new terms and agreements that had to be made if the "marriage" was to be successful. God wanted a proper and productive marriage. Thus, a New Covenant marriage agreement was prophesied to be made. As an example of a further alteration, it was deemed essential that the agreement concerning priesthood and tithing had to be changed. The apostle Paul recognized this in Hebrews 7:12; "For the priesthood being changed, there is made the necessity a change also in the law. "To be more precise, it wasn't only the priesthood and tithing laws that needed alteration. The whole of the Old Covenant itself needed revamping. The Old Covenant was a marriage agreement that needed a total overhauling since it had become worn, tattered and decayed.
"In that he saith, a new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayed and waxeth old is ready to vanish away."
This shows that God himself was ready to abandon His old marriage agreement with Israel. This will be complete at the second advent of Christ to this earth (Rom. 11:26, 27; Rev. 19:7-9). The old marriage agreement is actually defunct and inoperable. The "divorce" has become complete and the old marriage covenant is now abolished. It was not only by God serving divorce papers on Israel that made the Old Covenant of none effect, but with Christ Jesus (representing Yahweh himself) dying on the tree of crucifixion, his death rendered the marriage contract annulled. The death of Christ itself was enough to sever the Old Covenant relationship that God made with Israel at Mount Sinai. Christ's death rendered it obsolete. This is because one of the parties to the "life-long" agreement died. The death of Christ ended the Old Covenant the marriage between God and Israel.
This is one of reasons the apostle Paul said that the legal factors that comprised the Old Covenant were being "done away" (II Corinthians3:7), being "abolished" (verse 13), and being "done away in Christ" (verse 14). The written contract will be eliminated and substituted altogether with an unwritten marriage agreement.
"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah: not according to the covenant I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although "I was an husband unto them , saith the Lord: but this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel; after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will give their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."
This is the marriage of Christ with Israel to occur after the second advent (Rev. 19:7-9). In this New Covenant the terms are changed. Though the old marriage agreement included a clause of death for all those who disobeyed (Exo. 21:12-25, 29; 22: 18-20, 24) -- and Paul appraised it "the administration of death" (II Corinthians 3:7,9) -- the new conditions have no agreement with death. Those new parameters were stated by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount and this time the people of Israel will be given the power to keep the marriage covenant precisely.
It should be noted, however, that though the conditions of the new marriage contract will be changed by God, the wife will be the same woman he married at Mount Sinai (Jer. 3:14; Hosea 2:7,9; Ezek. 16:32, 38 with Ezek. 16:59-63). And while it was legal for two divorced people to remarry if one had in the interim taken up with another spouse (Jer.3:1; Deut. 24:4; Isa. 50:1), when one of the spouses died (as Christ did on the tree of crucifixion) it was then possible for either party to marry again. This means that the first marriage covenant between God and Israel was null and void from the fact of Christ's death (Rom. 7:2,3).This is why any Israelite who wishes to have a further marriage relationship with Yahweh will have it on New Covenant terms, not those made at Mount Sinai. If Gentiles also want to share in the New Covenant association they will have to become "Israelites" (Rom. 11; Gal.3:29;4:24-31; 6:16; etc.) because the New Covenant will only be made with the people of Israel (Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:8-13).
In fact, God has provided another means other than a New covenant relationship with him for people to attain the Kingdom of God as well as salvation. In the final revelation of God which Paul called "the Mystery" (Eph. 1 to 3 and Col. 1 to 2), we find the New Testament describing the mature Christian as "the new man" and not a Jew or a Gentile. This new revelation was given to Paul and others about A.D.63. After that time it became obvious to the apostles that it was no longer necessary for Gentiles to become an adopted "Israelite" in order to achieve salvation and the rewards of the Kingdom of God. See my new research study titled: "The Use and Abuse of the Holy Scriptures" where this is fully explained. It is important to understand this point if the full message of Christ Jesus is to be thoroughly comprehended.
We have the plain teaching of the apostle Paul that marriage contracts are expected to be in force until the death of one of the parties (Rom.7:2,3; I Cor. 7:39). Even the secular marriages performed under the auspices of human governments are intended for life. The only legal way in which biblical or secular marriages can be normally terminated (other than by death) is by divorce -- which dissolves the lifelong agreement.
Some people have conjectured, however, that divorce should never be permitted because of the lifetime clause in all biblical marriage agreements. In no way is this a true evaluation. After all, if the lifelong provision were intended as an irrevocable factor in the contract, then there could never be any thought whatever of divorce. In these circumstances God would not have been able to divorce Israel while both remained alive. But God divorced Israel.
The answer to the lifetime stipulation is simple. Since all contracts are dependent upon the terms and conditions being met for the period the contract is in force then if a contract were broken during the lifetime of the parties, the agreement could obviously be rescinded. The duration of any contract is only in effect as long as the terms are being met by both parties. If the conditions of the contract are not kept then the contract can become completely null and void.
Look at an example of this principle. Suppose a French citizen came to United States and wished to become an American citizen. After he met all the American requirements for citizenship, lets say that he was given the privilege of United States citizenship. Such an allowance is of course expected to last for the remainder of his life. But if the man some years later returns to France, votes in their elections, serves in their armed forces, and once again takes up full political allegiance to France, the citizenship given him by the American government (which was designed to last for his lifetime) could be rescinded. Why? Because he, as an American citizen, was not supposed to return to his native land and take up full political allegiance to that state. The contract he made with the United States for the granting of citizenship was broken and the American citizenship could be taken away (though it was intended to last for the remainder of his life).
This is the way it is with any contract. The duration of an agreement is one thing (whether it is for a day, a week, a year or a lifetime), but the continuance of the contract itself is always dependent upon the terms of the terms of the agreement being met. It is precisely the same with a lifetime marriage contract. It is designed to last for life as long as the agreed conditions are adhered to. And so it was with God and Israel. Their marriage contract was unto the death of one of the parties. There contract was even "bound" in heaven (and no man had the right to rescind it). But when Israel showed her infidelities, she broke the contract and God divorced her. As anyone should be able to see, contracts are only valid while the terms and conditions are kept.
It is quite normal today to hear of people taking their "marriage vows. "In fact, almost everyone in our modern age considers the marriage promises to be "vows." This is fine if that's what people want, but it should be noted that there is not one example in the Scripture that a marriage contract is the same as a vow. The two concepts are vastly different from one another. Vows are very serious promises made to God or man in which there is no possibility of retreat (unless, of course, in the "vow" there is an "if" clause). With a contract, however, there is always the contingency of cancellation if the terms of the contract are not met.
One of the most dangerous (and disastrous) consequences of modern marriage rules is the abandonment of the scriptural contract and substituting it with the modern "vow". If a man or a woman "vows" to maintain a matrimonial association with another for life, that is a far different thing from making a contract with the other person for life which has conditions attached to it.
In the Scripture, vows are never associated with marriage contracts. There are only three types of legal vows mentioned in the Bible that God will accept and none of them is affiliated with marriage. (For a full explanation of this subject, read my article "Biblical Vows and Their Significance.")
The second fallacy is that ministers of religion or authorities in some church denominations can have spiritual and supervisory control over the marriage of two people. In no way is this scripturally true. No minister or church has any such authority. Paul said: "There is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus" (I Tim. 2:5). Human authorities have nothing to do with the terms of contract in a biblical marriage. Only the couple or the families of the couple have any say in the matter. Indeed, even God himself does not intervene in the contractual agreement itself. He simply witnesses that the contract has been made, and He will bind its legitimacy in heaven with His approbation. (Of course, it is to be expected that all the terms of the contract should be made within the principles and teachings of God's laws.)
There is not the slightest hint in the Scripture that any prophet, priest, rabbi, apostle or deacon ever presided over a marriage ceremony or had the authority to do so. The only ones involved in the contract were the couple themselves or their immediate family members. Even the "elders of the gate" (representing the external government of the city) did not enter into the negotiations over the marriage contract. Only in later matters of dispute over the terms of the covenant was the external government of the city brought into the matter. And this is the normal way it is done today. Romans 13 gives the government the authority to settle disputes over marriage contracts and they have the power to grant a public divorce if contract violations warrant it. In a legal sense, the marriage covenant is the same kind of thing as a business contract. There is not the slightest difference between them and in actual fact both should be treated as being of equal significance.
The most essential ingredient to the success of any marriage (in my opinion) is that the couple should (with all their hearts) love each other, respect each other and be each other's best friend. We will talk about this significant aspect of marriage later in this booklet, but for now it would be profitable to reinforce the major external principle which should govern all marriages today (or at any period of time). Couples getting married should either have a written or a verbal understanding what is expected of both parties in the marriage relationship. Such things should be in evidence before the marriage takes place, and once the union is consummated the agreement should stay in force unless both couples agree that changes are proper to be made.
And note this. No two marriage contracts will ever be exactly the same in content (but they should all be written or understood to conform to the moral and ethical standards recorded in the Holy Scriptures). Yet, what suits one couple may not be what another couple wants at all. Even today, there are only a few common denominators of all legal marriage contracts which are sanctioned by the state (such as the lifetime clause). Usually it is the couple being married who have the right to determine what will maintain their lifelong commitment to each other. Depending on the age or other considerations of the couple, the differences in marriage contracts may be as diverse as daylight and dark. All the differences peculiar to each couple must be given their full weight in maintaining the continuance of the marriage. If should be understood, however, that frivolous agreements should not be entered into. Yet what is frivolous to one person may be very serious business to another. It is up to the couple to determine just what is important and what is not. All of these matters should be in the contract.
The apostle Paul was well trained in biblical law. If there was anyone who knew that marriages were contracts it was he. He was also aware that disputes might sometimes arise over them. In his discussion on the matter of marriage in First Corinthians Seven, Paul had as his basis of instruction the contractual aspect of the marriage relationship. Indeed, when one realizes that all marriages are nothing more than contracts (in a legal sense) then Paul's teaching can begin to make sense. Notice how the "contract" is assumed as a fact of society in Paul's discussions.
Paul recognized that there were terms to any marriage contract. If a woman married a man while they were both non-Christians, it was accepted by Paul that the conditions governing the marriage agreement were those normally prevailing in the ordinary Greek society among which the Corinthians lived. After all, agreements can only be made based on the knowledge that the couple have at the time of engagement. If, on the other hand, the woman becomes converted to Christianity after her marriage to an ordinary Greek man who knows nothing of Christian standards or ways, then the terms of the marriage contract may change drastically as far as the converted woman is concerned. But if her unconverted husband (through no fault of his own because God did not call him to understand the Gospel of Christ) does not like her new terms (and he feels that the conditions of the contract made formerly with him are being violated), then he has the legal right to rescind the contract and even divorce her. This would apply, of course, only if he finds her terms to be intolerable and foreign to the original agreement. That's what Paul said: "But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God has called us to peace" (I Cor. 7:15). This shows that the "bonds" which united the couple together in their unconverted state were now governed by different terms. The "offended" party could legally (even in the eyes of God) get out of the contract because the original conditions were no longer in vogue.
Paul had further teachings for the people of Corinth (because a great persecution had just then erupted in their midst -- verses 29 to 31). If a Christian man were "bound to a wife," during the time of distress, he should not "seek to be loosed" (verse 27). Paul also taught that if a man were now "loosed from a wife; seek not a wife. But if thou marry, thou as not sinned" (verse 27, 28).
It should be plain to anyone that for a person to be "loosed from a wife" it means that he (or she) was once "bound to a spouse." In order to be "untied" (as the Greek means), it signifies that the person was once "tied." Paul is showing that for one to be "loosed from a wife" means that he has become "untied" or "unbound" to her. This is a plain indication by the apostle Paul that such a person was "divorced." Since this is the case, does it mean that a "loosed" (or "unbound") person can legally (in God's eyes) be married again? The apostle Paul (in agreement with teachings of the Old Testament) said "yes." "But if thou marry, thou hast not sinned" (verse 28).
This instruction of the apostle Paul is very different from what is often advocated (and even demanded) by many church leaders today. There are ministers of churches who teach (erroneously) that marriage s themselves are bound for the life of the parties and there can be no hope of any divorce whatever. The apostle Paul taught no such nonsense. He even said that if people who were once "bound" became "loosed" (and that such a "loosed" person wished to remarry), then the person's remarriage was perfectly proper and legal. "Thou hast not sinned" (Icor.7:28).
It should be recognized by all intelligent people that the "lifelong" aspect of the contract only has application as long as the terms of the contract are being observed by both parties. If, on the other hand, the "unto death" feature in all marriage covenants were a part of the contract itself (rather than a simple time-element associated with the agreement) then no one could ever be "loosed" from such a contract. One would have to remain married to the person for life no matter if the contract were kept or not. But the apostle Paul put no such stringent (and unbiblical) stipulation on marriage covenants. He readily acknowledged (as the Old Testament made abundantly clear) that a "loosing" (or a divorce) from a marriage contract was possible, and legal, if the terms of the original agreement were not kept by one or both of the parties involved.
Paul was well aware (through the legal training he had in ancient Judaism) that a marriage between two people was nothing more than a contract (albeit a "holy" one). All covenants -- even those destined for life by the contractors -- are expected to have the terms and conditions of the contract maintained faithfully by both parties. But any agreement can be set aside (as Yahweh did with Israel) if serious violations occur by either of the parties. Couples should always enter a marriage with the serious intention that it will last for life. (I Cor. 7:39) and never should it be viewed in a frivolous way.
The scriptural principles which have been mentioned in my booklet on the subject should be able to help any person who wishes to abide by biblical examples to know what constitutes a marriage. What those contemplating marriage should take into consideration are the terms and conditions of the contract. In the Old Testament times the parties involved would often take months or even years to negotiate over the terms of the marriage contract before the final consummation took place. Even in this matter there were normally three stages to such marriages.
The first stage were the negotiations up to the time of betrothal. Then there was the betrothal period itself (a type of quasi-marriage period of a year's length or more, which was so important that it required even a "divorce" to rescind it -- see Matthew 1:18-21).Finally, there occurred the actual marriage itself. Even after the final phase of the marriage contract took place, it was still possible for the marriage to be dissolved if the terms of the contract were seriously violated or if both parties wanted out of the contract. In Christ's view these infringements had to be serious ones such as infidelity regarding sexual matters (Matt. 5:31,32). The conditions of the marriage contract were expected to be taken seriously and with a view of maintaining (through forgiveness and understanding) any marriage relationship.
Look at what would happen today if a couple fully recognized that their marriage was a contract between them. Though the couple should normally (and hopefully) truly love one another with all their hearts, they would still sit down and write out (or make verbal) agreements regarding what they expected of each other throughout their "lifetime" contract. If, they allowing the time to weigh such matters carefully, they would take a few weeks, months or even years to negotiate (and understand fully) the terms and conditions of their marriage contract, there would be far fewer divorces than the ones that western society is plagued with at the present time. This applies also to widows, widowers, or divorced people. If they would do the same thing, and not let emotions or peer pressures rush them into hasty marriages that might not turn out right, they would also be a lot better off.
While it might appear that the matter of the "contract" involves a very cold and unemotional (even business-like) approach to marriage (which, by the way, it does), it is still the scriptural basis for any marriage. It was certainly the ground for the marriage covenant that Yahweh made with Israel -- and it represents the bedrock factor of the New covenant which Christ will make with Israel after his second advent.
Truthfully, there needs to be "the unemotional and practical side" to any marriage if it is to work in the manner that the Scripture demands. This is what can stabilize it and make it functional. Of course, no man and woman (in my view) should marry each other unless they truly love one another with all their hearts (although one has to admit there may be special circumstances that make this not essential). Even with people who love each other it is necessary to set out the terms by which the marriage will remain in force. Let's face it, if a couple truly love one another, the minor violations of a marriage contract (which inevitably will emerge on occasion) can be forgiven and reconciliation can be the result. The principles of love and mercy (especially in regards to two people who fully love one another) would always prevail above the infringements that normally occur. Still, however, for any marriage to function properly the terms and conditions of their contract must always be acknowledged and kept in mind as the essential features of the matrimonial union.
Once it is understood by all that a marriage is simply a "contract" of terms and conditions for a "lifetime" association, most questions that many people have today about marriage can be answered. What is important to understand is the fact that each marriage contract will differ from others. After all, each commitment is special, personal, private and unique to the two getting married. Let us notice how this might work in practice.
If two people getting married put into their prenuptial agreement that certain religious beliefs are expected to be obeyed, then both should be obliged to abide by the terms of the contract for the marriage to continue. There are people who are so strong in their religious observances that they will demand complete and utter adherence by their spouses to such stipulations. That, of course, is perfectly proper. But what if one of the partners changes his or her mind on the need for such adherence at a later time? This would make it difficult to have a harmonious marriage in the way God intends. People should be careful in making such agreements as these, but if they are made in full faith and knowledge, then the contract should be obeyed if the couple hope to remain married to each other.
Actually, any agreement made before marriage should be honored by both parties. Let us say that the couple agree that the mother-in-law will have control over the wife's domestic affairs (which, by the way is an absurd agreement which the Bible or common sense would in no way advise). Nevertheless, if that is to be a part of the marriage contract then the agreement should be acknowledged beforehand. In point of fact, the couple can put anything they want into the contract. If what is agreed to is within the laws of God then there can be no doubt that God would witness to the validity of the contract and "bind" the marriage.
Conversely, if a couple later on mutually agree to cancel parts of their earlier contract (say the couple no longer wish church doctrines or church leaders or even mothers-in-law to interfere in their marriage affairs), then they have a legal right to cancel any or all of their former agreements. But both parties should concur in the changes. This would mean that new terms and conditions would then prevail to maintain the "lifelong" relationship. Such changes go on all the time within mature marriages -- especially those who have Christ in their midst and are "growing in grace and in knowledge" (II Pet. 3:18). The principle thing is that love should never change (but even grow stronger) and this is the essential aspect that should keep the marriage relationship always in health, even when other important factors may change.
With marriage, let us remember an important point. Love and marriage are two different things. It is my personal belief that two people should not seriously enter the state of holy matrimony unless they love one another. This, however, has nothing to do with marriage itself unless that is a part of the prenuptial agreements. In the Scripture (both in the Old and New Testaments) it was proper for polygamous unions to take place -- and in the Scripture such unions were governed by legal regulations (Exo. 21:10; I Sam.1:2; II Chron. 24:3).Even in the New Testament Christ gave the illustration (a parable) of ten virgins marrying Him at His second advent (Matt. 25:1-13). Though these ancient allowances were biblically legal, anyone who looks at the historical results of such marriages can easily see that they never produced the type of harmonious relationships that a monogamous marriage can provide. Today, however, in our western world, such polygamous marriages are illegal (and there can be no doubt that such restrictions are for the good of society). Christians are told to obey the laws of the land in such matters (Rom. 13:1-8). Polygamous marriages, though legal in scriptural times, could not have been solely based on a "love relationship" in the "oneness" fashion that a monogamous marriage can provide.
We now arrive at the most important concept of marriage. While in a legal sense marriage is nothing more than a contract (and there is this unemotional aspect that must always be recognized), there is something more significant and essential than the simple legality of the marriage relationship. Indeed, if a couple only look on marriage in a legal and contractual way then the spiritual teaching involved in the matter (which Christ wants us to understand and apply) is greatly disturbed and even tarnished.
There is something far more important than the legal side of marriage. This involves the very essence of Christian teaching which we have in the person and purpose of Christ Jesus and the relationship He has with His church. There is no more important social institution than marriage. In truth, it is the union of a man and wife in marriage that exemplifies the very "oneness" that all believers today have in Christ and God the father. It is needful to recognize this.
There are many comparisons used by the writers of the New Testament to show the oneness that all Christians have with Christ, but when it comes to deep reverence, purity and love there is none more manifest than the relationship between a husband and wife. No association is more intimate and emotionally satisfying than the closeness experienced between two married people through all the fluctuations of life that humans undergo on earth. This is especially true if the man and woman truly love one another.
Even at the very beginning of man's existence it was observed by God that nothing could please or satisfy the desires of man more than having a sharing experience derived from the marriage relationship. While all the animals created by God were indeed "an help meet [fitting] for him" (Gen. 2;18), it was found that the beasts of the field were insufficient in providing Adam with a true helper who could furnish him with the emotional and spiritual satisfaction he needed. God had something far different in mind for Adam
"But for Adam there was not found an help fitting for him. And Yahweh Elohim caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; and the rib, which Yahweh Elohim had taken from man, 23 made he a woman, and brought her unto man. And 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. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh."
It should be noticed that the marriage affiliation established the husband and wife as one flesh while at the same time both of them retained their individual and separate personalities. This permitted them both to have a personal uniqueness of his or her own, yet they both were legally and divinely united within a matrimonial bond. This was a perfect oneness manifested through a plural existence. This is exactly how God himself has his own unique being. "Hear, O Israel, Yahweh [singular] our Elohim [plural] is ONE Yahweh [singular]" (Duet. 6:4).
This is why Elohim (God) [plural] can show a more than one nature by saying "Let us make man in our image" (Gen. 1:26) and yet his actions and the biblical accounts describing his being can be governed in the Hebrew by singular verbs or adjectives. This is even shown in the New Testament. Christ confirmed that both he and the Father were one (a divine unit) yet they were quite distinct personalities from one another (John 10:30; 17:11,21,22). This is precisely the type of relationship that a husband and wife have with one another. They represent a single family unit possessing the same name (that is, they have an identical last name), yet they are also distinct personalities quite separate from one another. This idea of "oneness" is the principal attribute that should prevail in any matrimonial relationship. This is precisely the way it is with the Father and Christ. Just as a husband can on some occasions speak for the wife and the wife can at times speak for the husband (because they are considered "one flesh"), so can Christ Jesus speak for the Father because they are also one.
It is the spousal union between a husband and a wife that can best illustrate in a human way the divine oneness that prevails between Christ and the Father. This is why marriage itself, and the symbols associated with it, are so important in demonstrating the divine relationships found within the spiritual family headed by God the Father.
This is the analogy that the apostle Paul makes concerning marriage. The matrimonial bond reveals the oneness that subsists between Christ and his church. The whole membership of the church comprise the one body of the church (which Christ considers to be his wife). That is, the plural members of the human family constitute the divine, single organism called by the New Testament writers "the Church of God" which are united together into being the one wife of Christ. The apostle Paul quite consciously made this symbolic association in his Ephesian epistle.
"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever hath yet hated his own flesh: but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord [nourisheth and cherisheth] the church; for we are members [plural] of his body, of his flesh, and of his bone [by being one with him]. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be ONE FLESH. This is a great mystery [a great and mysterious relationship]: but I speak concerning Christ and the church."
It is not that the church represents the actual body of Christ (his flesh and bones), but we have a symbolic marriage relationship with him. We have been joined together to him in a legal sense by being spiritually united in a type of holy wedlock. Though the relationship is clearly allegorical, it still has a genuine and pragmatic significance. This symbolic meaning, however, can best be understood by those who have experienced (or closely observed) a marriage relationship by a couple who truly love one another. This even includes the physical side of the relationship.
We will see in a moment that the emotional and spiritual attachment that we maintain with Christ is best summed up, as the apostle Paul saw it, through the conjugal relations which normally occur between married couples. Those relations, by the way, were to Paul truly sanctified and they were an expected part of the marriage responsibilities. While such matters were considered by Paul as both holy and desirable within the bounds of wedlock, he believed conjugal relations outside marriage had no spiritual value.
"Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? Shall I than take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh."
I Cor. 6:15,16
To Paul, conjugal relations between a husband and wife were not only proper, they were honorable and undefiled (I Cor.7:4,5). "Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge" (Heb. 13:4).
The apostle Paul taught that all Christians should grow up into the stature and measure of Christ (Eph.4:13). It is Christ Jesus and his standard that the New Testament writers felt was essential for Christians to strive for. It was Christ's marriage to his church that all members of that church were expected to follow as the proper example. It is how Christ treats and respects His wife (the responsibilities and love He shows to His church) that exemplifies the best marriage relationship. This was the guideline set by the apostle Paul and it represents inspired instruction to all those who wish to follow the real New Testament way of life. Let us now look at the details of this divine example as recorded in Ephesians 5:25-32.
The first criterion for a proper physical and spiritual relationship between a man and a woman is that love must exist between them. That love must be of the quality that Christ had when he laid down his life for the members of his body (the church, which is his wife) (Eph.5:25). That element of love also heads the list of the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit which all followers of Christ must in some measure display in their daily living (Gal. 5:22,23).
The second point from Christ's example that Paul made regarding male and female conjugality is that such relations should be for a sanctified and pure purpose as designated by the Word of God. Paul also said that all marital actions should be performed within the legal boundaries (the external laws regarding wedlock) established by the governments of man (Rom. 13:1-10). Once a marriage has been consummated, however, no man has any right whatever to personally interfere in any conjugal actions of the couple. It should be understood that Paul said the marriage bed is always undefiled (Heb. 13:4). Paul allowed no man (no matter who he is) to have any prerogative in defining for the husband and wife what represents defilement or undefilement in their relationship (I Tim.2:5). The Bible gives the husband and wife the privilege of determining these matters for themselves (I Cor. 7:3,4).
The third point that Paul mentions is that a man should cherish his wife in the same way that he looks after and cares for his own body. The wife is to "respect" her husband, but the husband is to "cherish" his wife (Eph. 5:28,29). Paul said that Christ cherishes his church. If a man does not do the same to his wife, or conversely if a wife does not respect her husband, then any conjugal relationship is not in agreement with the example set by Christ.
The fourth point is Paul's recording of the command from Genesis2:24 that a man shall leave his father and mother and be married (Eph.5:31). The original wording was a command and, in ordinary circumstances, it was expected to be fulfilled -- with instruction that children should be brought into the world (Gen. 1:28). True, Paul at one time during his ministry did recommend (because of a temporary persecution then affecting the Corinthian church -- I Corinthians 7:25-40) that it was good not to be married. This suggestion, however, was only in effect while that particular distress was upon the Corinthians. In Ephesians Paul quoted the command from God that under normal circumstances it was expected that people would get married. Paul even demanded that younger women should marry and bear children in order to avoid reproachfulness (I Tim. 5:14). And certainly, as Paul looked at it, if any person were inflamed with passion for the opposite sex, then they should marry to prevent this from getting out of hand (I Cor. 7:9).
The fifth and final point made by Paul is one that often startles some people when they first read it (and especially when Paul is fully understood). He stated that sexual relations between husband and wife are the physical actions which reflect the spiritual and symbolic significance of the great mystery of "oneness" which exists between Christ and His wife (the church) (Eph.5:32). Paul saw nothing unclean or unholy about such conjugal relations. On the contrary, it was this very act that signified the physical, emotional and spiritual intimacy that connects all members of Christ's church to Christ himself.
Instead of being something crass and vulgar, such actions (if done within the sanction of the biblical revelation) show the consummating oneness that God can have with mankind. It provides the highest emotional context that God has given mankind to experience.
One should not, of course, carry the analogy beyond its simple and natural meaning and it should not be used as an excuse to glorify the act outside its intended boundaries as defined by the Word of God .Still, the apostle Paul was showing that there was something quite special (even holy) about the sexual act between a man and wife that symbolized an ultimate "oneness" in human emotion.
All married people should be grateful for this privilege that God gives them to experience. It can show the couple in a real way the type of oneness that Christ has for his church (because it is something personal and holy to them). This sexual analogy of a very private marriage relationship shows Christ's personal responsibility, his special sanctification, his intimate emotions and his sincere love that he has for all people who make up the body of his church (his divine wife). It is, of course, not necessary to carry the conjugal symbol beyond its spiritual intent and bring it within the arena of an actual physical application. Christ does not enter the physical side of the marriage association. He reserves that privilege as something belonging exclusively to the private and personal business of the married couple themselves. It is merely the symbol of the conjugal action that provides the spiritual teaching that Paul was talking about.
It should be understood however that there could be no spiritual teaching about the oneness that Christ has with his church without the physical act which reflects it. The point is, there is far more significance to sexual relations than the purely physical aspect. It provides a teaching of a sanctified "oneness" between the married couple.
The apostle Paul said that in times of stress and persecution it was easier to serve God if one did not have the responsibility of a wife (or a husband). He also thought it was better not to be married if one's whole being was devoted entirely to carrying out the work of God (I Cor.7:26-35; I Tim. 5:11-15; I Cor. 9:5) In this, Paul did not mean that marriage was bad. It could have the opposite effect if people will let it. Marriage allows people to share in the type of responsibilities that Christ experiences in his dealing with his church (his wife). There are seven major points in relation to marriage that are very advantageous in the development of the spiritual person. This is why marriage was created by God as a divine and holy relationship and why it is always better than simply living together.
First, a legal marriage is a public declaration within society that the couple take one another as being one flesh and fully responsible to each other to fulfill a sharing and caring experience between then. Two people of the opposite sex who merely live with one another outside marriage often do not have the same attitude of responsibility and sanctified sharing that married couples normally maintain. Living together without wedlock often perpetuates a type of selfishness that is counter to the attitude of true sharing that is found among those who practice the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22,23). Christ demonstrates a full public marriage responsibility to his wife (the church).
Secondly, those who marry recognize a legal obligation to one another. This is an important factor in experiencing an obedience to law. Christians are told to obey the laws of the land in which one lives (Rom. 13:1-7). Those who simply live together and are not married are often not living within the parameters of human or divine regulations which govern normal societies. This gives the couple an attitude of countenancing unlawfulness which is a form of what the Bible calls sin (I John 3:3). But with Christ, his marriage to his wife is in full obedience to the Father's customs and laws.
Thirdly, marriage establishes a legal bond in which the woman takes the family name of the man and becomes one flesh with him. People simply living together do not, under normal circumstances, create a family unit based on legal standards accepted by God or man. The whole teaching of the Bible, on the other hand, is to show our family relationship with the Father and our legal union with Christ. This is why marriage is such a beautiful illustration of the divine family unit and why the New Testament writers place such an importance on its preservation. Christ most assuredly has created a husband/wife relationship with his church which makes him (with us) and the Father as representing a real family unit. We are even given the opportunity, through Christ, of assuming the very name of Yahweh Elohim himself because of our family attachment to him. But those who live together unmarried normally do not experience the spiritual togetherness which a legal family unit unashamedly presents to all the world. This is a determent to family happiness.
Fourthly, a legal marriage allows children to be born into a family environment which all in society recognize as proper and right. This gives to the children the security of knowing that their parents not only love one another (which is so important for family stability) but that they are wanted as a part of that family unit. Children reared in homes in which the parents are not legally married often suffer a great deal of inferiority symptoms because of the situation. In a real way, such children are deprived of the chance to grow up with a better opportunity for becoming secure and confident in their own lives. Christ, though, grants to those in his church (his wife) not only his own name to be placed on them but he also provides a full security that they are personally and intimately cared for and desired by him.
The example set by Christ is one which gives us an environment for real spiritual and emotional growth. But couples who do not legally marry may even refuse to bring children into the world to avoid the social stigma that often accompanies most non-married families. The Bible teaches, moreover, that it is best (if possible) to replenish the world by granting the privilege of one's offspring to share in the life experience which God has given to humans (Gen. 1:28). True, we all have the sufferings of life, but we can also have our joys and happiness through our elder brother Jesus Christ.
Insisting on non-parenthood simply to avoid responsibility or to enjoy only one's self is not the best attitude for the spiritual person to take. This does not mean that a couple must in all cases have children, but the chief attribute of God himself is that of being a creator. His main function is to create and to sustain a real happiness for his creation (Gen. 1:1). Humans who marry and accept the responsibility of having children can share a similar experience of the creative powers of God (in a physical and even a spiritual way). This is very much the case if the couple bring children into the world whom they love and planned for. This is exactly what the Father is doing through Christ. The New Testament shows that Christ takes pleasure in bringing many children to a state of glory in him (Heb. 2:10). You and I are a part of the divine family (the royal family of God), and this is all made possible by Christ Jesus fulfilling proper responsibilities in the marriage relationship to his church (his wife). It seems reasonable to believe that if one adopts the attitude of Christ in these matters we would all be in a better position to live a life that is truly rewarding.
Fifthly, marriage allows a person (in normal circumstances) to legally enter the environment of another family. This is simply another factor of responsibility, but it can be a very educational experience and if approached correctly a lot of fun. We have all heard the "in-laws" jokes (and sometimes in-laws are no jokes). But when a couple marry, a whole new battery of friends and loved ones comes into a person's life. This is usually a very good thing. It allows one to develop a spiritual sense of fellowship and sociability. Couples not married, however, are often not accepted in a complete way into the unrestricted family unit which can have members scattered over various parts of the country or throughout the world. This lack of acceptance (which often occurs) is in all cases disadvantageous to spiritual growth of the unmarried couple and the rest of the family members that they encounter. Christ, on the other hand, through his marriage to the church allows all members of his church to share in a legal and spiritual relationship with him that is acceptable by God the Father and by man (Gal. 3:28,29).
Sixthly, people who are married can also move unrestrictedly in all society in the world without social stigma. In teaching the Gospel (or even in showing a proper Christian example to the world) Paul thought it best to conform to the norms of society in this regard. Paul said to all members of the body of Christ that they give no offense to the moral or ethical standards generally accepted by society as long as those things do not violate biblical teachings. (I Cor. 10:32; II Cor. 6:3). In this regard, the marriage that Christ has with his wife is clearly an honorable and sanctified one that would meet the standards of any decent society. Paul always used Christ and his example as the only one to follow (I Cor. 11:1).
Seventhly, though marriage is only for this human life (in the sense that the legal relationship ceases at death), there is a togetherness of a husband and wife that can reach even beyond the grave (and this would especially apply for those who truly love one another and desire to be in each other's presence). The apostle Peter made the plain statement that a man and wife who abide in Christ's fellowship are "heirs together of the grace of life" (I Pet. 3:7). He did not say "heirs separate from one another," but "heirs together of the grace of life."
But how can this be? We are emphatically told that there will be no marriages in the resurrection (Matt.22:30). This is true, but this does not mean that there will not be relationships between the sexes. After all, men will be masculine and women will be feminine in the resurrection as demonstrated by the examples of Lazarus (being a man --John 11:44) and Dorcas (being a woman -- Acts 9:36-41). there should not be the slightest difficulty in the continuance of intimate relationships in the Kingdom of God that will be fully acceptable and sanctified by God.
Such associations, however, will no longer be called by the term "marriage" simply because that word in all its biblical and secular contexts has the word "death" attached to it. In every "marriage" among humans it is either stated or assumed that the phrase "unto death do ye part" is a part of the contract. But there will be no more "death" when a man and woman are resurrected from the dead to become "heirs together of the grace of life." A new terminology will have to be invented (or revealed) by God to illustrate the new sanctified relationships that will exist between the sexes in the Kingdom of God. It ought to be realized by Christians that there is something more than mere allegory in the teaching of the apostle Peter that a man and woman can be "heirs together of the grace of life." I am planning a further research study on this fascinating subject that will make the matter much plainer. There is a glorious future awaiting all Christians when Christ returns from heaven to give us our inheritances (I Cor.2:9).
In this research study I have attempted to show how the New Testament writers evaluated the marriage relationship. the supreme example to follow in all such matters is that of Christ and the manner in which he treats, protects and loves his wife (the church). I know of no one who reaches the ideal standard for marriage that the New Testament presents. Yet the marriage bond does give humans a real glimpse and experience of the type of love that Christ has for his church. I hope most of you are in great measure aware of that type of love. Each of us is in a stage of development in our spiritual lives. We all have a long way to go to reach the full stature of Christ that Paul talked so beautifully about (Eph.4:12-16). But the marriage relationship can give us a token of the love that the Father and Christ our elder brother has for us.
What Christ presents to us in Scripture is the ideal marriage situation that can serve as an example for us to follow. This is all that I have wanted to present in this research study. In no way have I given the above illustrations regarding marriage and living together either to commend or condemn anyone in the way that people wish to live in their relationships to others. I am not the judge over anyone's conduct or beliefs. Whether couples live together within or outside marriage is none of my business. Some people have told me that there are proper reasons (at least in the opinion of those involved) why the relationships they have adopted are best for them Be that as it may, but I do feel that in normal circumstances those who do not accept the responsibilities of marriage in their lives are missing some of the greatest opportunities for spiritual growth that God has given mankind to experience. There are, of course, always the pros and cons of any given situation, but the biblical examples place the fellowship of marriage at the highest pinnacle of any human experience and relationship.
As a final thought, let us recognize that all humans have gone through (and we are still going through) various stages of spiritual growth concerning marriage relationships. Let us hope that we are striving to live within the boundaries of conduct and responsibilities as sanctioned by the Word of God. This is important in the maintenance of a stable and secure society among men. The proper standard for all people to follow is that given to us through the teachings and example of Christ Jesus our Lord. He shows us the way to the highest form of spiritual and emotional attainment that mankind can achieve. The divine relationship that he has with us is thoroughly pure and undefiled, totally unblemished and holy, and he gives through his plan of salvation a perfect joy and love to all of us. Christ has presented to mankind the ideal for all human and divine associations. The conclusion to the whole matter is actually Christ Jesus himself. He is the perfect and final standard in whom you can put your full trust.
Ernest L. Martin
© 1976-2013 Associates for Scriptural Knowledge - ASK is supported by freewill contributions