“’Til Definition Do Us Part”
Our culture is currently spending a good deal of energy wrestling over the word ‘marriage’ and who owns it. Why are Christians spinning their wheels on this issue?
It’s a big deal to us because we can trace a thread from our definition of the word ‘marriage’ to a host of our personal values—whether that be same-sex marriage, couples living together, family, cheating, sex, etc. The topic might simple, but it has significant implications, no matter what interpretation you use for this important word.
What is the Christian understanding of marriage?
Created by God
What’s really significant here is that God created marriage as part of his original creation before the fall. It was a valued part of a perfect world and a perfect existence. The marriage between Adam and Eve was a good gift from God. Yes, since the fall, humans have messed up marriages, but the root concept of marriage is seen as good by the creator—see Genesis 2:24.
A mutual, lifelong union between a man and a woman
Just to remind you, we’re defining what Christians believe marriage to mean; we’re not trying to debate the word or concept here. Mutual, lifelong, and between a man and a woman—these are essential and self-explanatory elements of a Christian view of marriage. Of course the implications of these views have a much wider impact: Genesis 1:27, Genesis 2:18, Matthew 19:4-6, Ephesians 5:22-23.
Obviously, history shows that the cultural definition marriage has not always been consistent. For example, mutual consent and the woman’s role in a marriage have not always been as valued as they are now. But it is worth noting that the concept of marriage being between a man and a woman is not exclusive to Christianity. Until the last few decades, it has more or less been a historically and universally accepted aspect of marriage, regardless of religion or culture.
“You complement me.”
Christians believe that while men and women in general are different, in marriage they complement and help each other. It’s not a one-sided deal; don’t confuse the different roles of male and female with dominance of one over the other. Marriage is meant to provide for both men and women an understanding of themselves that isn’t always possible otherwise. Men and women have been created as companions, and neither can come to know themselves fully without each other.
That said, we don’t agree with the cultural belief that marriage is just about personal happiness and fulfillment. Marriage is not meant to be a self-serving option that gives us a happy boost for a period of time, and if that wanes, then we move on to the next boost. It is meant to combine the strengths of both the male and female—not only to benefit the individuals in the marriage, but also the kids they raise and the community in which they live.
Having and raising kids
God’s first command to Adam and Eve, before the fall, was to, “be fruitful and multiply.” Marriage is the safe place for sex—which often results in new additions to the family. God creates new life out of one of the most powerful expressions of love between a husband and wife. Marriage is intended to be a safe place for husband and wife and a safe place for children to be raised in love, if any are born. See Genesis 1:28 and Matthew 19:6.
Saying “I do”
A statement of commitment by a man and a woman that they want to be lifelong partners (usually made publicly) is also part of the traditional Christian definition of marriage. While this was not something done by Adam and Eve, because of the fall, this is seen as necessary today because:
- It safeguards the rights of either spouse and the children of that marriage, and
- It promotes fidelity by providing boundaries that help limit lust and sexual promiscuity. See 1 Corinthians 7:2, Hebrews 13:4, and 1 Thessalonians 4:2-5.
Is a church wedding and a wedding certificate a requirement of marriage?
While both are important elements of marriage, we have to say no, they’re not completely necessary. To Christians, marriage is a divine institution and its primary purpose is neither legal nor church tradition. In fact, there isn’t any real evidence until the 4th century A.D. of priestly prayer and blessings being made in connection with marriage. And while we support both having a wedding that is consecrated by the church and legally bound by the state, to Christians, marriage is bigger than both of these institutions.
A Reflection of God and Humanity
The Bible frequently uses the analogy of marriage as a living picture of the relationship God intended between himself and humanity. While marriage was also created by God for very practical reasons, the ingredients and impacts of marriage serve as an illustration of the way God wants to relate to us. See Ephesians 5:22-23 and John 17:22-23.
Deep meaning, wide implications
For Christians, marriage is not just a word or a civil rights issue; how we define marriage is a part of our faith and belief system. For Christians, marriage is part of the very fabric of God’s original creation; it was meant to provide human relationships that mirror God’s relationship with humanity, to populate the earth he created, and to take care of his creation. From our perspective, undermining the Christian concept of marriage starts the unraveling of God’s design.
An important note on being single
Singleness is not a lesser state in the eyes of God. Each person is given roles to fill on earth (or vocations), and the role of spouse requires a high degree of time, attention, and prioritization. For some folks, being single is preferred so they can put a greater portion of their focus into a different role in life—from which marriage and children could create a distraction. We believe this is one reason Jesus remained single—his entire focus was on the restoration of humanity. See 1 Corinthians 7:38.