Monday, March 31, 2008

Is marriage a commandment?

During our discussion of the Reformed worldview in class on Saturday, Dr. Griffith taught about affirming the goodness of creation, nature, and bodily life; and the preservation and importance of the “creation ordinances”: work, Sabbath, marriage, procreation, and possibly the state. These roles and commands given to man were not only meant to bless him and order his life before the Fall as ways for him to reflect the image and work of God himself. These structures and ordinances continue even now, for two reasons. They are reinstituted in Genesis 9 after the Flood and re-creation (though sin’s curse now corrupts everything); and both Jesus and Paul base their ethical appeals in the pre-Fall creation order itself (e.g., Matt. 19:4-6; 1 Cor. 6:16; 11:8-12, 14; Eph. 5:31). Dr. Griffith’s point was to teach about how God, in his “common grace,” upholds and preserves this order even after the Fall, allowing mankind to participate in his life and still fulfill his original role, though now imperfectly.

A wise Campus Crusade staff member named Roger Hershey once said something that has guided many of my decisions: “Instead of asking what God’s will is for your life, ask instead how your life can fit into God’s will.” In other words, base your choices around the purposes of God’s heart do everything to his glory. “Walk as children of light . . . and try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord” (Eph. 5:8, 10). As long as I’m committed to doing God-honoring things that he takes pleasure in, I’m living in God’s will for my life. So this makes me wonder: Is marriage more than just a good idea, even a commandment?

Marriage and Completing Creation

God decreed that “it is not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). This was the first time anything in creation was not “good” or “very good.” His work was yet unfinished and incomplete, so he decreed that a partner be made and given to Adam for him to rejoice in and to “know” (vv. 18-25; 4:1). In other words, God decreed that man should marry. Verse 18 makes this explicit, but it’s implied elsewhere. Verse 24 says that “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” The emphasis on shall render an implicit command; God’s statutes are always “you shall” or “you shall not.” (The NIV’s use of “will” is weak. This isn’t just a statement about what will occur in the future.) Therefore marriage is not only “good,” but it completes God’s work of creation itself.

Marriage and the Image of the Triune God

Jesus’ use of Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 in Matthew 19:4-6 reveals something most striking about marriage. He says that a man shall be joined to his wife and become one flesh—a joining done by God himself—because from the beginning God created them “male and female.” This is a reference to Genesis 1:26-27.

And God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. . . .”
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

Here we see one God with one image who speaks of himself in the plural: “Let us,” “our image.” God makes man (singular) in his own image (singular), yet man is created male and female (plural, separate persons). The two together bear the (one) image of God. This is probably why Jesus is so adamant about preserving the marital union: it most fully reflects the image of God himself, the whole purpose for which mankind was created in the first place. Man married is more fully human and more glorifying to God.

How, exactly, does this male-female marital communion reflect God’s image? These two distinct and different persons, one original and one derived yet equal, united by a bond of mutual love and delight reflect the Trinity itself. “Let us make man in our image.” Adopting a somewhat Augustinian view, Jonathan Edwards argues that God’s Spirit is the very love of God itself. Within the Godhead, “the Son is the Deity generated by God’s [self-]understanding, or having an idea of himself; the Holy Ghost is the divine essence flowing out, or breathed forth, in infinite love and delight." [1] Upon exhaustive exposition of biblical texts, Edwards says elsewhere of the Holy Spirit that he is “the deity subsisting in act, or the divine essence flowing out and breathed forth in God’s infinite love to and delight in Himself [as he knows himself in the eternally generated Son, who is the ‘Divine idea,’ God’s own consciousness of himself]." [2]

This spiritual union of mutually expressed love, joy, and affection may be alluded to in Malachi 2:15, where the prophet rails against divorce. It’s a notoriously difficult passage to translate, but the gist is similar in most versions.

Did he not make them [husband and wife] one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? (ESV; “in their union” is implied)

But did He not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? (NKJV)

Didn’t God make you one body and spirit with her? (GNT)

If this is so, marriage mirrors the Trinity, and only within marriage does “our image” show in man.

Furthermore, it’s interesting to note the relationship of verse 24 to the preceding verses in Genesis 2. The Lord takes a rib from Man and fashions Woman from it. Notice that the woman is not created ex nihilo, “from nothing.” She is formed from the man’s own body. Therefore Adam is able to joyfully exclaim,

“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.

Notice how this parallels the relationship of the Father to his eternally begotten Son. The Son was not created; instead, all things were created through him (Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2). He was begotten, that is, he is eternally generated from the Father and shares the very same being or essence as him (homo ousios). The woman was formed from the man’s essence and substance, his flesh, equal in essence and glory yet a distinct person with a different role. This Trinitarian perspective on the male-female relationship further enhances the view that marriage reflects the image of God more perfectly and, amazingly, brings us into the life of the Triune God himself.

Marriage and Procreation

Another command—actually, a blessing—God gives to mankind is to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28). This command is repeated to Noah’s family after the flood (Gen. 9:1, 7). The rest of Genesis tells the sad story of man’s determined efforts not to fill the earth (the tower at Babel, Gen. 11:1-9) and not to bear offspring (Onan and Tamar, 38:8-10). And the whole framework of the Genesis “accounts” is built not around main characters, but their children (e.g., the “account of Terah” is actually about Abraham; the “account of Jacob” is about Joseph.) And God’s covenant with Abraham is to be fulfilled through his seed, a promise to give him land and a multitude of offspring. God clearly cares about building and sustaining families.

Such fecundity, however, can only be accomplished within marriage. Sure, children can be born illegitimately, but God wants “godly offspring” conceived within marriage. “Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring” (Mal. 2:15). Children born in accordance with God’s character have to come from God-imaging marriage.

One can argue that God’s procreation mandate finds its true fulfillment the Great Commission, where Spirit-born children spring up throughout the earth (Matt. 28:19; Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8). But even though the kingdom had come in Jesus Christ, he doesn’t dissolve marriage nor neglect children. Rather, he affirms and upholds them. (See Matthew 19:13-15. Immediately after rebuking the Pharisees for their selfish dissolution of the family, Jesus invites and blesses little children.)

Marriage and Knowing God

God’s great desire revealed throughout his Word, even “eternal life,” is that we would intimately know him within a self-binding, self-giving covenantal relationship. He pledges his steadfast love (chesed) and says, “You shall be my people, and I shall be your God.” One person belongs to the other. Is this not a perfect definition of marriage? When we enter wedlock, we can more fully understand the way God relates to his people (Isa. 54:4-10; 62:4-5; Hos. 1 – 3) and how Christ the Bridegroom cherishes his Bride, the church, who is one body with him (Eph. 5:22-33). In fact, the same word used in the Old Testament for “knowing” God is used of the sexual intimacy between a husband and his wife (Gen. 4:1; Hos. 2:20; cf. Matt. 1:25). Conversely, the Bible also speaks often of sin and transgression as “adultery” against God. The gravity of infidelity takes on a lot more weight to those who are married.

Marriage and Wisdom

Wisdom (a possible allusion to the second Person of the Godhead) declares in Proverbs that "whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the LORD" (8:35). That sounds like everything else in Proverbs. But read carefully Proverbs 18:22: "He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD." Seeking and obtaining a wife is paralleled with seeking and obtaining wisdom, the path to life in the fear of the Lord, and both please God so as to obtain his favor.

Psalm 128 says almost the same thing, albeit in different words. Sandwiched between the promise of blessing to those who fear the Lord are the creation ordinances of productive work, a fruitful wife, and a bounty of children. [3] Sin's curses are repealed, and God showers his favor. So, does walking in wisdom demand marriage? Probably not. But they are certainly not divorced from one another, either. Marriage pleases God and is even a wonderful gift from him.


Taking all of these together, I think a case can be made that, extenuating circumstances notwithstanding (such as certain ministerial commitments; 1 Cor. 7:32-35), God desires that his people should not stay single, but should marry. I have not taken time here to evaluate Paul’s arguments for celibacy and singleness in the ever-perplexing 1 Corinthians 7. Nor have I dealt with Jesus’ declaration in Matthew 19:12 that some people “have renounced marriage [literally ‘have made themselves eunuchs’] because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it” (NIV). Within the kingdom of God, and because of the problems of sinful abuse of marriage, some people are called to remain single. But I think that God certainly esteems marriage above singleness. It is, as Paul says, “what is pleasing to the Lord” (Eph. 5:10). This doesn’t mean that now is necessarily the best time for someone to marry, and being single today isn’t a sin. And marriage can also be entered into for purely selfish reasons, such as choosing a husband because he’s rich and you’re lazy, or choosing a wife because all you want to do is have sex. But lived in a way that considers and honors God’s revealed will, marriage is certainly a wonderful blessing from him. It pleases him, makes us more fully human in his image, and brings us into a deeper participation in and understanding of God and the created order. If you’re able to marry, walk in God’s will—get serious about marriage!

[1] Jonathan Edwards, The “Miscellanies,” a-500, 468 [405]. Quoted in John Hannah, “Love as the Foundation of Theology: The Practical Implications of Jonathan Edwards’ Doctrine of the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit.” The Practical Calvinist, ed. Peter A. Lillback (Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 2002), 269.

[2] Jonathan Edwards, “An Essay on the Trinity,” Treatise on Grace and Other Posthumously Published Writings, ed. Paul Helm (Cambridge: James Clarke and Co. Ltd., 1971), 118. Quoted in John Piper, The Pleasures of God (Sisters, Oreg.: Multnomah, 2000), 45.

[3] The keen eye will notice that many psalms have a chiastic structure with thematic “bookends” and a key verse or idea in the center. Here the blessing of a wife “like a fruitful vine within your house” is in the center of vv. 1-6, sandwiched between “Blessed is the man who fears the LORD.” Her fruitfulness implies an abundance of sexual intimacy in the marriage (cf. SS 7:6-12). Staying within the home is contrasted with the adulterous woman whose “water” is scattered abroad in the streets (Prov. 5:15-16) and the mistress whose "feet do not stay at home" (7:6-12).


Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

beautifully written Drew - clear and compelling

Ted M. Gossard said...

Yes. I agree with the essence of all you say here. I think marriage is ordinarily a gift from God to be receieved by all, and for most of us, it is better for us to marry (true even in Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 7- of course he's looking at it probably from the desires God places in both males and females, I take it. Better to marry than to burn with passion, or burn in eternal punishment).

Good words for us and others. Thanks!

Ted M. Gossard said...

The more I was reflecting on your post this morning, the more I like it: MORE THAN BETTER, actually. Very good!