Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
For many, marriage has lost its meaning. Largely, this is due to the secularization of it. I mean, even atheists get married (who knows why). However, even in the church it is very easy for couples to misunderstand exactly what marriage is and what is behind a couple’s “I do”s. As I grow in my own marriage and my relationship with Christ, the Holy Spirit has been guiding me and teaching me about what marriage is and how the Lord sees it. Today, let’s take a look at holy matrimony and get a better idea of what marriage actually is. I want to make it clear before we venture off, though, that I am not writing this as somebody who has spent many years married; rather I am writing this based on what the Holy Spirit has shown me in Scripture- unadulterated by any of my own feelings and experience.
Before talking about anything else, we have to go back to the very first marriage: Adam and Eve. Upon seeing his mate the first time, we read,
The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
And flesh of my flesh:
She shall be called ‘woman,’
For she was taken out of man” (Genesis 2:23).
Genesis 2:24 goes on to say, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” From the beginning, marriage was defined as the joining of two people into one. That flesh stuff isn’t just a reference to sex; it means that the pair goes from being two single people to one new person. Think of when two trees grow into each other. Although their roots may be separate at first, after many years it is hard to tell where one starts and the other ends. At its very core, this is marriage. There’s nothing wrong with being a strong independent person; however, when you enter into marriage, if you’re still acting like you’re a singular being then you’re going to run into trouble, since you’re living outside of the entire basic concept of matrimony. It’s not called wedlock for nothing, y’know. Let’s look now at the origin of marriage. In the beginning God created man- just one dude named ground/man (According to my NIV Bible Adam in Hebrew literally translates to “man” but sounds like “ground”, the Lord was making a pun on how he named him [God is a punny guy, even in destruction prophecies; read your Bible it’s more fun than you think]). Anyway, the Lord quickly realized that there was a problem. History records,
The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.
But for Adam no suitable helper was found (Genesis 2:18-20).
Apparently, although dogs are man’s best friend, they were not a suitable companion for Adam. However, the Lord had an idea. We read,
So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man (Genesis 2:21-22).
I’m pretty sure everyone knows this story already, but bear with me. God made Eve from Adam; she was quite literally a part of him. In this way, the Lord was actually showing us that marriage is the joining of two into one (as Eve was a part of Adam, both physically and in their relationship). Now, take note here, Eve was made as a companion for Adam- and she was made only for this role in companionship (and she was the only one made for the role at that time). When we look at our mates, we must realize then that that person (husband or wife) is our companion, made for us and is a part of us. The Lord very strongly defends this concept of two people becoming one through marriage. Check out what he says on the topic of that one becoming two again,
Another thing you do: You flood the Lord’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. You ask, “Why?” It is because the Lord is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.
Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.
“I hate divorce,” says the Lord God of Israel, “and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,” says the Lord Almighty.
So guard yourself in your spirit and do not break faith (Malachi 2:13-16).
The Lord hates divorce, and why shouldn’t he? In his eyes, a married couple is essentially one person. Therefore, when you divorce your spouse, it’s like ripping off a part of your body and throwing it away. Not only is this self-mutilation in the eyes of the Lord, but it is also suggesting that God made a mistake by giving you your spouse in the first place- and the Lord doesn’t make mistakes. Now I should note that I am taking into assumption that both husband and wife are going into the marriage willingly, joyfully, and with an already established faith in Christ. This is marriage from God (though marriages born out of other situations are also salvageable through the Lord).
Paul, when laying down some of the roles in the church writes to Timothy,
Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money (1 Timothy 3:2-3).
He then follows up by writing, “A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well” (1 Timothy 3:12). When writing to Titus he noted, “An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient” (Titus 1:6). As you can see, the trend is that a person of God has only one spouse. I’m not sure how Mormons justify polygamy, but it’s pretty clear in the Bible that the person of God is expected to be monogamous. Now you may argue that in the Old Testament some of the rather popular figures had multiple wives- this is true. However, the always end but being a problem. Abraham’s wives fight and create two people groups that are still at odds, Jacob’s wives fight constantly (and one of his concubines sleeps with his firstborn); David’s children from multiple wives kill each other, and Solomon? Oh Solomon. The Bible notes about him,
He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heat was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been (1 Kings 11:3-4).
You got a lot of love to go around? Great, use it on your spouse and have a lot of kids. Just as getting a divorce is like removing a piece from yourself, by having marital relations with others than your spouse it is like you are trying to graft on a third arm. This suggests that the Lord was mistaken in giving you two arms (presuming you naturally have two arms). From the beginning marriage has been between two people and it should always remain like this. No girls/guys on the side, no third wheels, no swinging, no extra spouses. God didn’t make Eve and then some other people for Adam and his wife to play with; it was just Eve, a literal part of Adam’s body.
Since we’re broaching the topic now, let’s talk adultery. We all know the commandment: “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). You have to understand, it’s not that the Lord is opposed to fun- he’s not; and though he’s trying to protect you, that’s not the only reason why he has stated that adultery is off the table. Paul writes on the topic of marriage,
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery- but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband (Ephesians 5:31-33).
Wait, what? Profound mystery? Christ and the church? You see, the marriage relationship isn’t bound to humanity. Rather, it is a model of our covenantal relationship with God. As a person is connected to their spouse through the covenant of marriage, so man connects to his Creator through the covenant of exclusive worship. The Lord loves his people, however, it is possible to create a disconnect with our heavenly father through the worship of other gods. The Lord explained this to Solomon,
But if you or your sons turn away from me and do not observe the commands and decrees I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land I have given them and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. Israel will then become a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples (1 Kings 9:6-7).
When someone turns away from the Lord (whom they know to be the one true God), they are committing spiritual adultery. Jesus, when speaking on marriage said, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9). The reason why Christ allows sexual immorality as acceptable grounds for divorce is because it takes the place of spiritual adultery, which is the one instance where we can become separated from God. Doubt that the two are connected like this? Check out the kind of imagery that the Lord uses when talking about Judah’s spiritual adultery,
When she carried on her prostitution openly and exposed her nakedness, I turned away from her sister. Yet she became more and more promiscuous as she recalled the days of her youth, when she was a prostitute in Egypt. There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses. So you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when in Egypt your bosom was caressed and your young breasts fondled (Ezekiel 23:18-21).
There’s a whole chapter of stuff like this. In God’s eyes, when we run after idols, it’s the same as committing adultery against your spouse. Therefore, in marriage, the Lord allows divorce in such cases. Having said that; the Lord didn’t divorce his people even after they purposefully ran after other gods and prostituted themselves to said idols. After having every reason in the world to leave his people in the mess they got themselves into, the Lord stated,
“Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the desert
And speak tenderly to her.
There I will give her back her vineyards,
And will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
There she will sing as in the days of her youth,
As in the day she came up out of Egypt.
In that day,” declares the Lord,
“You will call me ‘my husband’;
You will no longer call me ‘my master.’
I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips;
No longer will their names be invoked.
In that day I will make a covenant for them
With the beasts of the field and the birds of the air
And the creatures that move along the ground.
Bow and sword and battle
I will abolish from the land,
So that all may lie down in safety.
I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
In love and compassion.
I will betroth you in faithfulness,
And you will acknowledge the Lord” (Hosea 2:14-20).
Truly the Word of God is a love letter to his people. God had every right to leave his people, but instead he chose to be faithful and love them even more. Surely in your life you’ve experienced this grace too as you’ve wandered off the path and the Lord has been patient with you.
Make no doubt about it then, marriage is a representation of our relationship to God. With this in mind, we must remember that each person in the marriage models a specific part of that relationship. In marriage, the husband takes the place of Christ and the wife takes the role of the church. 1 Corinthians 11:3 says, “Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” This idea that man is the head of woman as Christ is the head of man(kind) is backed up again in a Scripture I’ll be quoting later (so keep your eyes peeled). Speaking as a guy to other husbands out there: This setup does not make you God in your house. Rather, it is your responsibility to be ever-sacrificing yourself for your family and to set a good example in how you live. For it is commanded of men,
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:25-27).
As Jesus served the church, he actually commanded that his disciples followed his lead in self-sacrifice. We read,
When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you (John 13:12-15).
Jesus gave himself for his disciples, he held no pride over them nor did he lord his position over them. Instead, he, God in the flesh, got down on his knees and washed his disciples’ dirty feet. Not only that, but he took his role as the husband to the ultimate end and even died for his people. For we know,
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation- if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant (Colossians 1:21-23).
Husbands are given Christ’s place in the marriage relationship. This is both an honor (and should be honored by wives) and a duty. Jesus didn’t assume his position by right of his name and parentage, he gave himself up for us in order that we may be saved- this is why we worship him. So husbands, give everything you have, and when you can’t give any more: pray for more to give. Now wives, you do not just receive the blessings though either. Paul writes,
Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything (Ephesians 5:22-24).
Wives are called to submit to their husband and to revere them in their role of the lord of the household. There are no provisos for this command. A husband should be respected; it matters not if you want to or if he even deserves it. However, if your husband is trying to get you to do ungodly things, you should not follow his lead- for Christ is the ultimate Lord of your life. However, even if you are going against your husband’s wishes for the sake of God, you should still be respectful of your husband. And yes, there are circumstances where even separation for a time is acceptable, but this should be done through prayer, understanding, and honor. Remember this, wives: all of the apostles gave up their lives for Christ (John may not have been killed outright, but he was exiled). Therefore, as a couple, both members must be ready to sacrifice themselves to the other- just in different ways.
How is it possible to give your life to a person in such a way as we’ve talked about so far? Well, it’s not easy. Scripture records in Matthew 19:10, “The disciples said to him, ‘If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.’” To this Jesus shrugged his shoulders (probably) and then said that for some people it probably is better they don’t marry, but for others marriage is something they’re called to do. Paul spends a whole chapter, 1 Corinthians 7, weighing the pros and cons of marriage. In the end he suggests that if a person has a lot of urges, it’s probably best to get married so as to keep it in the marriage bed whereas a person who has great self-control might find singleness less distracting. Paul’s stance can be summed up in this, “I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that” (1 Corinthians 7:7). Take from that with what you will, Paul was unmarried and (one presumes) a virgin. Anyway, I’m getting off track and this is already a long article. The question is: “How can one have a marriage as it is outlined in the Bible?” The answer is love. Paul writes, “Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away” (1 Corinthians 13:8). It should be noted though that the love that never fails may not be what we think of as love. In fact, what most people call “love” might not cut it in a marriage (which may explain the high divorce rates across the globe). I think everyone knows by now that sexual love won’t last, if you’re building a relationship on sex it’s a house of cards. What happens when one mate can no longer perform their duties properly? What about when it gets boring? What about when everyone’s too darn tired because of work and kids and everything else? The kind of love you find in families isn’t enough either. That familiarity with your siblings that can rough most storms isn’t infallible and when money, convictions, or any number of other dividers come into play families can easily be broken up. Jesus even notes that as people follow the way of the world vs. the way of Christ, “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death” (Matthew 10:21). Such things happen amongst families, and as such, even familial love is unstable. “Well what if I’m marrying my best friend?” That’s awesome. However, friendly love isn’t gonna hold a marriage together either. Most everyone has lost friends during the course of their lives, so we all know that friendship isn’t a guaranteed lock. Marriage may have these kinds of love present (and thank the Lord if they do, because that’s an outstanding bonus), but these kinds of love are not the undefeatable love that Paul writes about. Take a look at how the Lord refers to his relationship to Israel across the Bible. In Deuteronomy 7:7 he says, “The Lord did not set his affection on you and chose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were fewest of all peoples.” In 1 Kings 8:53 Solomon notes to God,
For you singled them out from all the nations of the world to be your own inheritance, just as you declared through your servant Moses when you, O Sovereign Lord, brought our fathers out of Egypt.
And in Romans 9:13 we read, “Just as it is written: ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’” This isn’t the flowery language of romantic love. Rather the Lord makes it clear that he chose Israel out of all of the other nations and has stayed true to them. Israel wasn’t better than Edom (and Jacob certainly not better than Esau), but God chose Israel as his own. Esau may have been a nice guy- but he wasn’t God’s guy. As such, marriage is the choice of staying with one person and forsaking all others; not based on any stipulations in particular. When questioning the choice of Israel over Edom (Jacob over Esau) Paul writes,
What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses,
“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
And I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Romans 9:14-15).
Marriage is not based upon any person’s qualities, skills, or appearance. Rather you get married because that person is your mate; there should be no looking back after tying the knot. God never gave up on his people and Christ died for his bride, the church. This is marriage and this is love. You make the choice, and you stick to that choice with every fiber of your being, loving one person in good times and in bad; in sickness and in health; for rich or for poor; come hell or high water; because that is your mate, your spouse, and your object of affection! For it is written, “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:6-7). That’s why the Holy Spirit can speak through Paul, “And now these three things remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). Godlike love trumps all things, and remains faithful through all trials. And that’s what marriage is all about.