The Bible and Marriage Part 5
The New Testament Perspective
At the very beginning of the New Testament we have a reference to marriage. In the Gospel records Joseph and Mary are betrothed to be married when she, being a virgin, is found with child by the Holy Ghost (Matthew 1:18). The second person of the the Trinity becomes flesh in order to become the Saviour of the world.
In those days it was a scandal to have a child out of wedlock and the offending parties could be stoned. During this betrothal period, which lasted a year, the couple could not have sexual relations with one another and they certainly couldn't have relations with anyone else. Which is why Joseph originally wanted to keep things quiet and not bring it out in the open. He was protecting Mary.
The actual wedding celebration of the Jewish family lasted a week and included much ritual, including the signing of the ketubah, the marriage contract. So we see that marriage in the New Testament time, as it did in the Old, played an important role in Jewish society.
Jesus himself performed his first miracle at a wedding feast at Cana. And marriage is demonstrated as the norm throughout the four Gospels and the rest of the New Testament as well. Divorce is condemned, because marriage is supposed to be a lifetime commitment.
I. Jesus' View of Marriage
In Matthew and Mark Jesus appeals to Genesis 1:27 and 5:2 to show God's original intent for marriage. Man was created in the image of God as male and female. Eve was created as Adam's helper, and the two together become one flesh. Jesus uses this to declare the permanence of marriage. Because God has joined the couple together, the relationship is to be lifelong and monogamous.
In our Lord's ministry he used the image of marriage and the family to teach the basics of the Kingdom of God. In his most famous teaching, the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5-7, he set forth a new command that even a lustful look constitutes adultery. And he superseded the Law of Moses, which allowed for divorce by saying that anyone who divorces his wife, with the exception of marital unfaithfulness, causes her to be an adulterous. And anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Matthew 5:31,32).
Jesus was not against singleness for certain people who were gifted for it. He himself was single. In some cases there is a place for voluntary singleness. For such people marriage would only be a distraction from God's urgent mission for that particular person (Matthew 19:12). However, that is not to be the norm for most men and women. Most should be married.
II. Paul's View of Marriage
The Apostle Paul, like Jesus, also references the Genesis account for his views on marriage. And just like the Old Testament used marriage to describe the relationship between God and His people Israel, Paul uses marriage to describe the relationship between Christ and His church.
The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church. Of course this is in a context of mutual submission. Christ is subject to the Father, the husband is subject to Christ and the wife is subject to the husband as to Christ. The underage children are subject to their parents and are to obey them. And underage, as well as grown children are to honor their parents. We are all subject to the governing authorities. And the slave-master relationship then is like the employer-employee relationship today. We are subject to our employers.
Being subject to someone doesn't make you inferior. For example, Christ is not inferior to God the Father in any way. But God has given certain responsibilities to the husband to be the spiritual leader of the home, and to meet the needs of the family. God holds the husband ultimately responsible to love and care for his wife and family and to lay down his life for them if necessary.
Paul, like Jesus, said there was a place for singleness. However, it is a special gift given to only a few. And he said it was better to marry than to burn with passion or lust (I Corinthians 7:7-9).
III. The New Testament and Sexual Conduct
In the New Testament there is no place for sex outside of marriage. If either participant is married to someone else, it is the sin of adultery. If neither participant in the sexual act is married, it is considered fornication. Paul tells us to flee sexual immorality, because it is a sin against your own body. And the body of the Christian is the temple of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:18-19). Sex in marriage is seen as holy and the marriage bed undefiled (Hebrews 13:4). This most intimate of acts is given both for procreation and recreation. And it is the seal of the covenant between man and wife. It serves to bring the couple closer together, thus reinforcing the one flesh union. All of these things can never be fulfilled by merely living together.
Now we've covered all of the ground necessary to start making some conculsions regarding the Bible and marriage. In the next and last article on this subject we will pull all of the information together and answer once and for all what constitutes marriage in the sight of God, and how Christians should respond if they are to live in harmony with the Scriptures. May we all hear the Word of God and obey it!