How does God Define Marriage?
Marriage has never witnessed such bizarre behavior. Recent reports tell of a Korean man marrying his pillow, an Australian man marrying his dog, a British woman marrying a dolphin, a Chinese man and a Taiwanese woman both marrying themselves (each with numerous friends in attendance), and a California woman traveling to France to marry the Eiffel Tower. These oddities make a Utah man’s claim of having five wives and those seeking to marry someone of their own sex seem rather mundane – after all, at least the latter arrangements involve other human beings. Let’s face it, when it comes to marriage we are no longer surprised by the peculiar.
The Gold Standard
So just what is marriage? Is it whatever people want it to be? Or is there a standard to follow? In a day when the outlandish gets the spotlight it is good to remind ourselves of God’s pattern. Judeo-Christian teaching traces its understanding of marriage back to Genesis 2:24 where we read: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” Not only did Moses and the Prophets understand this to describe God’s timeless design for marriage, but it was confirmed as the gold standard centuries later by both Jesus (Matthew 19:5) and Paul (Ephesians 5:31).
Four components combine to form the foundation of marriage in scripture: commitment, monogamy, heterosexuality, and permanence. These are the central building blocks in God’s definition of marriage. Removing or minimizing any of them weakens the institution. Let’s consider each element.
Commitment. “A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife.” The older King James Version translates “be united” as cleave. A married couple is glued together with mutual obligations and devotion that guarantees giving one’s best for the other.
Monogamy. One man and one woman form this unique and exclusive relationship. Clear boundaries are to be established between the marital union and all other relationships, even those involving other caring family members such as a father and mother.
Heterosexuality. A male and a female are required to form a marriage. God’s first words ever spoken to His human creation were these: “Be fruitful and increase in number” (Gen. 1:28). Marriage was designed to be the institution through which humans – the best of God’s creative acts – reproduce themselves.
Permanence. “They will become one flesh.” The union formed in marriage is never to be broken; it is to be durable through all the ups and downs of life. Unfortunately, the widespread corrosion of this building block, by way of divorce becoming so common, has led to a growing indifference regarding the corrosion of the other marriage elements.
Real or Counterfeit?
Here is a suggestion: The next time you hear about a strange union alleging to be a marriage, compare it to God’s definition. The gold standard has not changed. Commitment, monogamy, heterosexuality, and permanence are still God’s ingredients for marriage. Anything less is a counterfeit.
by: Kent R. Olney, Ph.D., Sociology