Marriage Issues
Part 2

What Is Marriage and for Whom?

by Mark Roth

Welcome to Part 2 of my personal position statement on the issues of marriage, divorce, and remarriage.

I've been somewhat uncertain where to go from the introduction which was Part 1.

I have decided to address two questions in this part:
  • God's laws of marriage apply to whom?
  • What constitutes marriage?

  • "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh" (Genesis 2:24).
    That verse very briefly but conclusively states God's law of marriage.

    Key to our understanding of its applicability is the realization that God stated this law on the very first day of human history. Obviously what God had to say when He established marriage long predates Judaism and Christianity. Therefore, we have no option but to conclude that marriage is a universal law, applicable to all humans.

    This truth is key to my position on the difficult issues related to divorce as well as remarriage.

  • I believe that a legitimate marriage between two unbelievers is every bit as binding and lasting as is a legitimate marriage between two Christians.

  • Therefore, I also believe that divorce for unbelievers is as wrong as it is for Christians.

  • So of course I would believe divorce-and-remarriage is sin for any couple without regard to their spiritual standing before God.
  • When Jesus was asked about divorce, He went way back to Genesis 2:24 and then reemphasized the thorough union of the marriage relationship, saying, "Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh" (Matthew 19:6). He concludes (in that verse) by making clear God's wishes, intents and purposes: "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder."

    This would naturally lead us to ask at what point God joins together a man and a woman.

    I believe marriage is a duly-recognized covenant relationship entered into by a single man and a single woman.

    To help you understand what I mean by that, I'll elaborate briefly on three concepts:

    duly-recognized Generally speaking, I think this is a societal function. In Western societies, this usually takes the form of a religious ceremony and/or a civil ceremony. In a so-called Stone Age society in some remote jungle somewhere yet untouched by the Gospel, it could even be a rite performed by a witch doctor. My point is, cultures often (always?) establish the "event threshold" which couples must cross in order to achieve a duly-recognized marriage. I do not think it enough for a couple to merely enter into a covenant relationship on their own, expecting that to establish a legitimate marriage before God.
    covenant This is about promises and commitments. Even if the couple decides to leave out the "till death do us part" clause, the fact that they enter into this duly-recognized marriage relationship makes it for life.
    single In other words, neither partner has ever been previously married or, having been previously married, has become a widow or widower. I do not believe that divorce changes a person's marital status in God's eyes from married to single.

    Notice that my definition of marriage does not include any reference to a sexual union. I believe this physical union could be said to consummate the marriage. But I do not believe that sexual relations constitute or establish marriage. I know of people (including a personal friend) who believe sex constitutes marriage, but for me such a definition raises too many questions.

    If sex constitutes marriage...

    1. Were Joseph and Mary just living together until after Jesus was born?

    2. Would adultery abolish one marriage and establish a new one?

    3. Would a married couple's first sexual encounter be fornication (since it would take that first encounter to marry them in the first place)?

    4. Would it be possible to have multiple spouses?

    5. Was God violating His own law by telling Hosea to take Gomer back?

    6. What about passages on conjugal responsibilities?

    7. Does lust also marry me to someone?

    8. Would terms like fornication and adultery make any sense at all?

    9. Should a rape victim seek out a "more palatable" man to have sex with in order to break the marriage with her rapist? And would her rapist then still be her husband, or would he be single again?

    10. Why the distinction between wives and concubines?

    11. Were Shechem and Dinah ever married? (Genesis 34, especially verses 2 and 4)

    12. Why the Old Testament death penalty for sex between singles in some cases?

    13. Why no clear teaching to this effect in either Testament? Those who subscribe to the sex=marriage equation seem to find their primary foundation in 1 Corinthians 6:16, which clearly says, "What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh." I think verse 17 helps us see that verse 16 is not saying that sex constitutes marriage: "But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit."

      And how does that help me with verse 16?

      Well, if we take verse 16 to mean sex establishes marriage, verse 17 would have to say . . .

      • Every time I sin I become "married" to the devil again.

      • Once a Christian, always a Christian.

      • I can be a Christian and non-Christian simultaneously, or else any sin-and-repentance cycle yanks me back and forth between lost and saved!
      Personally, I find 1 Corinthians 6:16,17 fitting the rest of Scripture better when I understand it something like this:
      "While a man is actually and physically joined to an harlot, he is one body with her; however, when intercourse ceases, he is no longer joined to her in a one-body relationship. While a man is spiritually joined to the Lord, he is one spirit with Him; however, when a man leaves the Lord, he is no longer one with Him."

      God's laws of marriage apply to whom? Humans, not just Jews or Christians.

      What constitutes marriage? A duly-recognized covenant relationship entered into by a single man and a single woman.

      That is where I stand on those two questions.

      Mark Roth
      June 16, 1999

      Part 1

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