Has God’s Intent For Marriage Evolved?
Reactions within the religious community to the Supreme Court’s decision to federally sanction same-sex marriage has been mixed. In the Dallas area the Sunday after the court’s decision, reactions in pulpits ranged from calling it, “An affront in the face of the almighty God” (Robert Jeffress, First Baptist Dallas), to commending it with, “There is no scripture in the Bible that condemns same-sex marriage” (Eric Folkerth, Northaven United Methodist). Those sides of the issue are set in stone, and there is no compromise.
What interests me, though, is the large number of religious folks caught in the middle – folks who have heard all their lives that the Bible does condemn homosexuality, and yet who feel a strong urge to be sympathetic toward homosexuals who want to marry. There are a bunch of those folks out there, and they have fabricated some pretty fanciful arguments to allow themselves to offer lip-service respect to the Bible while at the same time showing support for the LGBT community and its sympathizers.
In the Sunday Dallas Morning News following the Supreme Court’s decision, one such popular (and pretty conservative) columnist opined on the decision in an article titled “Marriage evolves – check the Bible.” In the article, the columnist, Steve Blow, referred to the practices of concubinage, polygamy, arranged marriage, and marriage within families throughout the pages of the Old Testament and asked, “For those who insist on preserving ‘biblical marriage,’ which of the Bible’s versions should we choose?”
That’s a clever argument, I reckon. And no doubt there were “Bible believers” breathing a sigh of relief after reading it, thinking that the mention of those practices in Old Testament Scripture somehow puts God’s stamp of approval on same-sex marriage. I wonder how long it will be before Steve Blow has to come to the defense of the LGBT community again in order to defend the Bs in that group against the narrow views of religious conservatives who emphasize the “one” in defining marriage as “one man and one woman.” The Ls, Gs and Ts won their day in the Supreme Court, but what of the Bs (bisexuals) who want to marry both a man and a woman so that they can continue to “honor” marriage while having relations with both sexes?
Moses wrote that in the beginning God created male and female, and that it was God’s plan that a man should leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and that they would become one flesh (Gen. 2:22-24). That “one flesh” refers to the sexual relationship, and I believe to much more. It speaks to two people (a man and a woman) being joined together by God into one life-long entity with no room for another (Mat. 19:4-6).
That was God’s plan for marriage from the beginning – one man, one woman, for life. That is what Moses championed in Genesis. 2. That is what King Lemuel championed in Proverbs 31. That is what Malachi championed in Malachi 2. That is what Paul championed in Romans 7, 1 Corinthians 7, and Ephesians 5. And that is what Jesus championed in Matthew 5 and Matthew 19.
Though it is not commanded by God, men did come up with the idea of arranging marriages, and it does not violate the one man, one woman, for life principle, and the Bible never condemns it. And, for reasons that are obvious, the original intent of God for marriage was not violated by marriage within families in the early stages of man’s existence. Later on, when it was no longer necessary or profitable, God’s law forbade it.
Did men stray from God’s original plan of one man and one woman for life? Certainly they did, beginning with the sixth generation from Adam, when Lamech took for himself two wives (Gen. 4:19). From there, various societies introduced concubines (a kind of slave relationship where the woman was a sexual partner but did not have the full rights of a wife), multiple wives (Solomon had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, 1 Kings 11:3), and divorce – all clear violations of God’s original intent for marriage.
What puzzles Steve Blow, and what often puzzles us as we consider that great men of God like Abraham, Jacob, and David participated in either polygamy, or concubinage, or both, is why God seemed to allow it. Why does the Bible not charge these men with sin for straying from God’s original plan for marriage? And why did God allow the Israelites to divorce their mates provided they give the women a bill of divorcement (Deut. 24:1-4)?
Jesus answers that second question in Matthew 19:8. God put Deuteronomy 24:1-4 in place, not because He had softened His desire of one man, one woman, for life, but because of the hardness of the Israelites’ hearts. That certainly is not a ringing endorsement of divorce, now is it? The point of Matthew 19:1-9 is that Jesus is calling men back to God’s original intent for marriage. And if men did not like that? Jesus does not say to just ignore it; He says to not get married (Mat. 19:11-12).
I must admit, I too have scratched my head about God’s seeming Old Testament permissiveness in regard to polygamy and concubinage. There are three things I know:
- While the Old Testament might not specifically condemn polygamy and concubinage, it certainly never gives it the ringing endorsement it gives to one man, one woman, for life. Name even one inspired writer who champions the godliness of either one, or issues the blessings of God for them.
- In every case of polygamy or concubinage among the Old Testament men of God, trouble ensues. Name one family relationship that was strengthened by them. Name one man of God who was the better for them. Name one man of God who did not suffer for the decision to engage in them.
- In Acts 17:30 the apostle Paul describes the times of the Old Testament as “these times of ignorance God overlooked.” We might argue about what that means exactly, but one thing we cannot argue about – Paul said those times of ignorance and overlooking by God were gone! Now God commands all men everywhere to repent, Paul says in verse 30. Now He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained, Paul says in verse 31. That is right, the Man who called all men back to God’s original definition of marriage – one man, one woman, for life – is the same Man who will judge all men’s lives in the Last Day!
Whatever one might believe regarding the Bible’s position of “one” in the law of one man, one woman, for life, one thing the Bible never, for even a single moment, gives even a hint of compromise about – marriage involves a man and a woman. Men might have had female concubines, they might have married a number of women, they might have married their female first cousins, and they might have forced their daughters into marrying men, but never, ever, ever in the Bible do you read of marriage between two males or two females. Homosexuality is condemned consistently, in no uncertain terms, from Genesis to Revelation.
The judges of the Supreme Court can rule on the civil rights of homosexuals all they want, but the Judge of the Greater Supreme Court has already delivered His decision, and will one day rule on whether men have obeyed that decision. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10).
Steve Blow is right, social norms do change, including the social norm about what constitutes marriage. Who knows, one day our society may decide that a man marrying a chicken is perfectly okay. But amidst the ever-changing norms of society, the Christian has an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast – a hope based on the immutable (never-changing) counsel of our ever- wise and ever-truthful God (Heb. 6:17-19). Marriage may be evolving, but God’s law for marriage is not.