Marriage, it seems, has been with us for a very long time. In fact, for us who believe the Bible, we read that marriage has been around since the first couple. This is one of the reason we believe that marriage and family are major parts of the foundation of civilization.
Granted, even in the Bible we get all these different ideas of what marriage looks like. You have close relatives marrying and polygamy, just to mention two things that would cause us to raise an eyebrow today.
This is why it is important to note that just because something is on the pages of Scripture, doesn’t equal an endorsement. Rather, what it shows us is that God continually works with people, even when their understanding and behavior is not what it should be.
God does this throughout the Old Testament. For example, in 1 Samuel 9:12, you have Saul looking for the prophet Samuel. Where was Samuel? He was at a high place offering a sacrifice to God. Samuel, a prophet, participated in mixing worship of Yahweh with pagan practices. God used him.
God used people like Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon even through their marriages were far from ideal. It was their faith, rather than their understanding and theology, that mattered.
I actually think this is an important point: God uses people who have a misunderstanding of what marriage is. That is Good News! Each one of us have blind spots in our thinking and our theology, but that doesn’t mean that we are outside of the Kingdom. What matters is not perfect understanding, but trusting God enough to lead us where He wants us to go.
In the United States, and in other parts of Western Civilization, the Church has lost ground in the same sex marriage debate. This has caused some to dig in their heels and make a big deal over the redefinition of marriage that they claim has happened in society.
This same reality has caused others to try to convince the rest of the Church that Jesus is okay with this new definition of marriage, and what it is important is love, acceptance, and unity. This is what Zack Hunt tries to do in this post The Day Jesus Redefined Marriage | The American Jesus.
I like a lot of what Zack writes. He is one of the few bloggers that I read faithfully, and he does a good job pointing out how American Christianity has shaped Jesus to fit their image. It seems to me that is precisely the trap that he falls into in this post: Making Jesus say something that he didn’t actually say.
Zack’s post focuses on Jesus’ teachings on divorce in Matthew 5:31-32 and Matthew 19:3-9 (though he only uses verses 3-6, which I think is part of the problem). In these teachings, Jesus, according to Zack, redefined what marriage is to his listeners.
Commenting on Matthew 5:31-32, he writes:
But when Jesus starts talking about divorce during the Sermon on the Mount he takes a radically different approach to marriage
He doesn’t just give new guidelines for divorce.
He redefines the very institution of marriage.
Yes, the grammatical emphasis is still on the husband, but the foundation for marriage has changed. No longer is marriage an issue of property. For Jesus, marriage is about the sacred commitment we make to one another.
But did Jesus really redefine the institution of marriage in the Sermon on the Mount?
31 “You have heard the law that says, ‘A man can divorce his wife by merely giving her a written notice of divorce.’32 But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery. And anyone who marries a divorced woman also commits adultery. (Matthew 5:31-32; NLT)
Jesus was not redefining the institution of marriage, rather, he emphasized its original intent. It is a restoration, and not a redefinition, that Jesus did. That is the part that Zack gets wrong. Jesus challenged their understanding of the foundation of marriage, not by giving them a brand new foundation, but by taking them back to the original foundation.
I think this return to the original foundation is clearly seen in Matthew 19:3-9.
3 Some Pharisees came and tried to trap him with this question: “Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife for just any reason?”
4 “Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” Jesus replied. “They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.’5 And he said, ‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’6 Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.”
7 “Then why did Moses say in the law that a man could give his wife a written notice of divorce and send her away?” they asked.
8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended.9 And I tell you this, whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery—unless his wife has been unfaithful.” (NLT; emphasis mine)
The reason that the Pharisees came to Jesus with this question was because they wanted to trap him. I think that fact is fascinating because the discussion about marriage and divorce is still a potential hazard for Christians. That is why we need to approach this subject with humility and wisdom.
In answer to the Pharisees’ question, Jesus referred them to the Scriptures, to what was recorded in the book of Genesis. What is discovered in Genesis is that the foundation of marriage is found in a man leaving his parents, and becoming united with his wife. It is a joining together that God does through their mutual commitment.
Jesus went on to tell them that their view of marriage has been wrong all along. God permitted things, such as divorce, as He worked with Israel, but these things were not part of the original design. Again, what we see, is not the redefinition of marriage, but the restoration of marriage.
In this, I see no justification for Zack to write:
Of course, this passage is often cited as “proof” that Jesus defined marriage as something that happens exclusively between a male and female. But not only does Jesus not actually do that in this passage, that argument completely misses the point of what Jesus is saying.
For Jesus (at least in this passage), what is fundamental to biblical marriage isn’t the male/female dynamic.
It’s the sacred commitment of two people to one another that ultimately binds them together as one flesh, not the physical act of having sex.
That’s why he references Genesis; not to proof-text gender difference, but to make the point that such an intimate union has been ordained by God since the beginning.
– See more at: http://theamericanjesus.net/2014/10/29/day-jesus-redefined-marriage/#sthash.y3Oa4hpi.dpuf
I absolutely agree with this statement: It’s the sacred commitment of two people to one another that ultimately binds them together as one flesh, not the physical act of having sex.
Because it doesn’t fit with his over all point, Zack wants to downplay the male/female dynamic that is present in text. I don’t see any good reason why that dynamic should be ignored. Jesus did not have to explicitly state that marriage was exclusively between a man and a woman, because it is implied in the text. Not only that, but Zack is wrong that acknowledging its presence causes a person to miss the point of Jesus’ teaching. The male/female dynamic is woven into his teaching by the reference to Genesis, and thus an important part of what Jesus had to say about marriage.
Remember what was going on in Genesis 2. God had created Adam, and then he sent the animals to Adam to be named. Of all the animals that passed by Adam, not one of them was deemed a suitable partner for him.
God’s solution to man’s loneliness was to create a woman. Then this little post script was added to the story: This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. (Genesis 2:24; NLT). You can’t escape the reality that God’s original plan for marriage is a man and a woman who have made a sacred commitment to each that binds them together as one flesh.
Zack offers no evidence why this teaching of Jesus should not include the idea that marriage is between a male and female. He simply brushes it aside, even though it is clearly stated in the text. Yes, Jesus wanted the Pharisees to know that there was a sacred commitment that is to bind husband and wife together, but there is zero evidence that male/female dynamic was unimportant to Jesus.
The Church has not done a very good job at defending marriage. Somewhere along the line we lost the importance of marriage being a sacred commitment, and that has resulted in divorces, broken families, and in much pain.
It is not going to do us any good to stress that marriage is one man and one woman, if we do not also stress that marriage is a sacred commitment. The Church needs to be teaching people that God’s original plan for marriage is for a man and a woman to make a sacred commitment to each other, so they can become a dynamic duo for God’s Kingdom. Anything less than that is not doing justice to the institution of marriage.