Jesus' Theology of Marriage

The institution of marriage is under assault. A universally understood concept thousands of years old has been destroyed by the United States Supreme Court. Many, including some Christians, seem to be confused and shaken by these events. While some applaud this new legal fiction, others do not seem to know what to think.

The Bible is the foundation of the Christian Faith, and Jesus Christ is its founder, so let’s look at what Christ taught about marriage in Matthew 19.

The Question of Divorce

The occasion which prompted Christ’s instruction was a question posed by the Pharisees regarding divorce. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” (Matt. 19:3).

They were testing Jesus. They wanted Him to take sides on a popular controversy. Some Rabbis taught that divorce was permissible only in the case of marital infidelity. Others asserted that Moses allowed a man to divorce his wife for any reason that pleased him.

The choice was between limited and unlimited divorce. Should divorce be allowed only in the case of adultery, or were the reasons for justifiable divorce virtually unlimited? Could a man divorce his wife if she displeased him in any way whatsoever, or was he required to honor his marriage commitment unless, and only unless, his wife became sexually involved with someone else? This question established the context for Christ’s answer. Jesus did not reply with a lengthy sermon, but what He said in a few short statements is profoundly instructive.

1. Marriage is Heterosexual.

Christ first affirmed creation order as the foundation of marriage. “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning made them male and female?” (Matt. 19:4).

This is more than an observation about the origin of Adam and Eve. This is Christ’s groundwork to answer the Pharisee’s question about divorce. Before we can discuss divorce, we must understand the basics of marriage. To understand marriage we have to go back to the beginning when God first created the human race and made two individuals, one male and one female. Marriage as designed by God, is the union of a man and a woman.

In contemporary language, marriage is heterosexual, not homosexual. Why? Because God created it that way. He’s the Creator and it’s His prerogative to design and command His creatures according to His will. Because we know God is all wise, Christians believe that His will is good for humanity. We don’t have to understand why His way is best, or even agree with it. We only need to know what God ordained. Once we know that, the issue is settled. Any concept of marriage which violates the creation order is illegitimate. There really is no such thing as same-sex marriage. Marriage is always and only between a man and a woman.

2. Marriage is Pre-eminent.

The marriage relationship supersedes every other human relationship. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” (Matt. 19:5)

This is a universal principle, since Adam and Even had no parents to leave. God was not merely describing the first marriage between Adam and Eve, but establishing principles that govern all marriages in human society. Marriage is the supreme institution, and when a man enters a marriage relationship, he leaves his previous relationship with his parents behind. Not that he has nothing more to do with them—of course not, but his relationship to them is fundamentally altered from henceforth and forever more. He is no longer a son under the authority of his parents. He is now a husband with his own God-given authority in his own home.

Ideally, this will not cause friction between his newly established home and his former one, but if conflicts arise, he must distance himself from his parents and establish clear boundaries around his own home. The marriage relationship takes priority over every other human relationship. Why? Because God willed it so. This demonstrates the level of importance God attaches to the institution of marriage. Nothing and no one should come between a man and his wife.

Let this be a warning to parents not to allow their children to claim first affection in the home. As much as we love our children, and as important as they are to us and to God, they must never replace the priority relationship between husband and wife. If you love your child more than your husband, you fail to honor God in your marriage. The marriage relationship must be pre-eminent above all human relationships. Only your relationship with Jesus Christ takes priority over the relationship with your spouse.

3. Marriage is Permanent.

Jesus continued, “So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt. 19: 6).

The marriage bond is greater than any other earthly bond, and must not be treated lightly. The world may enter and exit marriages like trading automobiles, but not so with Christians. In contemporary America, it seems that few expect marriages to last. For many, it is only a temporary arrangement to be abandoned whenever either party decides their desires are no longer being satisfied. Sadly, divorce rates among professing Christians are not significantly better than the world at large.

Some claim that divorces among Christians are as frequent as for non-Christians, but more careful studies demonstrate that this is not true. It is a common misconception, but thankfully, Christians still have a lower divorce rate than others.

However, if Christians divorce only half as often as others, it’s still too high. Somebody must not be taking Christ’s words very seriously. The reason traditional wedding vows promise to “keep her only unto yourself as long as you both shall live” is because that is exactly what the Bible teaches. God designed marriage to be a permanent relationship severed only by death.

4. Divorce is Problematic.

The Pharisees objected to Christ’s declaration of the permanence of marriage. “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” (Matt. 19:7).

Listen carefully to the phrases Christ used to answer this question. “Because of the hardness of your hearts,” and, “From the beginning it was not so” (Matt. 19:8). He went on to say that one who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and anyone who marries a divorcee commits adultery.

These are strong words. Why are they so often ignored today? Perhaps because we have the same problem as the Pharisees. We want to dissolve marriages to suit our sinful desires, rather than to honor God with our commitments. Jesus indicated that easy divorce is the result of sin, not godliness. The one exception to the “no divorce” rule is sexual immorality (Matt. 19:9). If a spouse is unfaithful to his mate he has broken the marriage bond by adultery, and the innocent spouse is granted permission to divorce the unfaithful partner.

Please understand that no one is required to divorce. If the guilty party repents, and the innocent party is willing to forgive, the marriage may be restored. But so grievous is the sin of adultery that it shatters the very foundation of marriage. Thus divorce becomes the legal recognition of what has already occurred—the destruction of the marriage. In this case, divorce is the result of sin and it is the God-sanctioned remedy to deal with such horrendous sin.

God’s view of marriage is eminently higher than the world’s, and God’s view of adultery is much more serious than the world’s.

5. Grace is Greater.

I cannot conclude without speaking a word to those who have sinned in your past relationships and are now grieved because of your transgressions. For those who repent of their sins and cast themselves upon the mercies of Christ, “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son, cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). For the repentant, the past is forever gone, and your sins are put away from God “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12).

You need not anguish endlessly because of the past. God’s grace is greater than all our sin, no matter how grievous. If you are in Christ, you are cleansed and forgiven. Henceforth, walk in the light as a child of God, and do not allow your shameful history to drag you down like an anchor.

You can’t change the past, but Christ can and does for those who trust in Him. From this day forward, honor the institution of marriage as God designed it, and teach others to do the same. No Christian has a sinless past. All believers are sinners saved by grace.

Praise God and the Lamb forever, and give Him the glory due unto His name!

Greg Barkman bio


G. N. Barkman received his BA and MA from BJU and later founded Beacon Baptist Church in Burlington, NC where has pastored for over 40 years. In addition, Pastor Barkman broadcasts over several radio stations in NC, VA, TN, and the island of Granada and conducts annual pastors’ training seminars in Zimbabwe, Africa. He and his wife, Marti have been blessed with four daughters and six grandchildren.

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There are 19 Comments

Dan Miller's picture

What do you think Jesus intended by, "because of the hardness of your hearts"?

Bert Perry's picture

Dan Miller wrote:

What do you think Jesus intended by, "because of the hardness of your hearts"?

I'm torn on this.  Does Deuteronomy's provision of a means for documenting divorce in a matter of "uncleanness" or "indecency" mean a man could divorce for most any reason, or was this a later rabbinic addition that Christ facetiously refers to as being from Moses? Or was there perhaps something said later by Moses that made it into Oral Torah, but the Holy Spirit prevented from being in the written Torah?  The original article indicates that the rabbis at least debated this very question.

My view is that the prohibition of remarriage to a woman a man had divorced makes little sense in a world where divorce could be procured with little offense, but a lot if the man had divorced his wife for serious moral failure.  So I'm thinking that "it was not this way from the beginning" refers not only to the Creation account, but also to how the Holy Spirit put Deut. 24:1 into the Torah.

Another thought; the history of the courts and legislatures with regards to marriage is a mixed one.  If my view of Deuteronomy and Matthew is correct, the courts and legislatures have done immeasurable harm to marriage with no fault divorce, and for that matter the culture's narrative (seen in innumerable old movies) of the virtuous woman's love reforming the rogue man, among other things, isn't helpful, either.  Which is a long way of saying that we've been digging this whole for a while.

That said, enjoyed the article, and one thing I might add (a soapbox I like, I admit) is that our attitude towards marriage is important because it reflects the nature of God.  He shows Himself as male, pursuing Israel/the Church in such a way that even idolatry does not deter Him.  There is a lot of theology wrapped up in that reality, and it's repeated, if I counted right a few years back, in some form or another in at least 40 of the books of the Bible.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

jreeseSr's picture

When Mathew talks of the "adultery" sin and who wears it when one takes as his wife a divorced woman I believe the text teaches us several important facts :

1.)The original marriage is never terminated !.. First Adultery is used with sex outside the original marriage..not "fornication" which would indicate unmarried sex. The only issue at question is where the sin resides, that in cases where the woman was guilty of adultery prior to the "decree" of divorcement.(setting aside) then the sin follows her otherwise the sin falls on the original Husband.

2.)Second , a marriage between "believers" is a spiritual bond such as salvation and cannot be broke   If a man could lose his spiritually bonded wife he could lose his spiritually bonded soul.

3. Third The marriage involving a non-believer is merely a shadow and if the unbeliever departs the believer is not bound.

4. Fourth, since marriage is a spiritual exercise between believers what happens outside the authority of the Church is inconsequential to the believer except the obvious cultural impact on their society therefore citizen concerns.

5. Fifth, There is an obligation for divorce when one partner is practicing unrepentant Adultery as it defiles the "Type" of the bond of Christ and his Church and we all know how seriously God takes his "types"

I do believe how Churches handle divorcees is another question that we fail miserably.

  

 

Jim

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

On item 5, the reasoning is sound, but it's at least equally sound for another view: just as adultery corrupts the picture of Christ's love for His church, so divorce corrupts that picture. So I don't think we can make a very strong case for "obligation" to divorce even in the case of adultery.

Though the divorce is permissible in a sense in this situation (that is, it does not create adultery when the assumed remarriage occurs), it is quite often best not to divorce.

jreeseSr's picture

I see a similar principle in Paul's instruction to the Corinthians concerning one who was involved in an activity that brought shame on the other institution God is concerned about the image. He instructed to put out (away) the man who was involved in sin with his mother in law.  To protect the testimony of the Church the individual was placed outside...while his salvation was preserved (what God hath put together no man activity can put asunder) he was placed out side...later it is inferred he was restored to the assembly after repentance ..

By the writing of divorcement the head of household must preserve the image (type) but cannot dissolve the marriage that is a Spiritual Bond. Therefore the obligation I see..

Many Churches today seek "Peace at any cost" and are "proud" in their tolerance as the carnal church at Corinth, never would they perform Church discipline much less teach this obligation to the family leader to honor and protect the institution of marriage.

I must ask : "Is there any less dishonor to the institution of the marriage and the holy type it represents to the world when one is in open adultery than the case with the Corinthian member ?" God indeed wants Christians to be a member of a local Church......but not at the cost of dishonoring Christ.

Jim

Bert Perry's picture

....wouldn't we assume that if the Matthew 18 process was followed, that person would be put out of the church and would at least be treated as an unbeliever?  I've got to say that in the case of unrepentant adultery (physical adultery), I would at least counsel the victim to separate simply for health reasons.  If the CDC is to be trusted, almost all promiscuous adults have, or have had, at least one STD. 

(odd that the country has effectively decriminalized adultery just as the consequences have gotten far, far nastier to the victim than they used to be)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

jreeseSr's picture

When Church discipline is performed on an unrepentant adulterer , but there is no "writing of divorcement" given , then the church is at odds with dividing a family unit ..at worship. The four authorities of God should be able to function without intrusion of one into the other, I have been involve with numerous Church disciplines (one of which received much media attention and litigation up to SC high court level) but the consideration of how it impacts other Family members and their membership has always been troubling..    

Jim

Dan Miller's picture

In the case of unrepentant adultery, a woman might listen to two different lines of advice: 1) She ought to divorce him (or she could divorce him, and "that's what I did/would do if I were you") 2) She ought to be patient, continue to call him to repent, but not divorce him.

Both of these had a Biblical basis. The first is obvious. The second is having a willingness to forgive - see Hosea, God and Israel.

My advice is: Tell it to the church, with the leadership of the leaders. Let the church call him to repent. If he will not listen to the church, then at some point the church will expel him. At that point, the church no longer believes that he is a Christian. I would advise NOT to divorce until that point. If the church, through membership, still says that he is a believer, then the wife should also. And she should maintain a willingness to forgive. But by means of expulsion, the church is saying he isn't a believer. At that point, divorce is an acceptable path. I'm not saying it isn't acceptable before that. But the decision to divorce instead of hoping for a 1Cor7:10-14 conversion is one that involves the question: Is he a believer or not? If he is, then we may be confident that he WILL repent in time. If he is not, then he won't. I maintain that that question (Is he a believer or not?) is one that an individual is not permitted to answer. Only the church may answer that (Mat18). Thus, she should wait for divorce until expulsion.

Dan Miller's picture

When Church discipline is performed on an unrepentant adulterer , but there is no "writing of divorcement" given , then the church is at odds with dividing a family unit ..at worship.

Through church discipline, the church is observing and deciding as a body that they agree on what they observe. They don't MAKE him an unbeliever; they OBSERVE him to be an unbeliever.

So, no, the church is not, by performing church discipline, dividing a family unit. Rather, they are observing that the family unit is already divided (one a believer and one not).

Ron Bean's picture

The last time I preached on Matthew 19 and I was reading various translations and paraphrases of the passage and was amused and sobered at the reaction of the disciples to Jesus' summation in The Message.

Jesus’ disciples objected, “If those are the terms of marriage, we’re stuck. Why get married?”

When I'm counseling couples who are planning to get married I really emphasize that they are entering into a permanent relationship that has no escape clauses. I personally accept the typical adultery/abandonment reasons, but see them as absolute last resorts.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

jreeseSr's picture

Agree, Church cannot make one an unbeliever that is clearly stated in Cor after dicipline that the destiny of the soul was not changed , the same as the divorce decree does not dissolve the marriage between two believers made by the blending work of the Holy Spirit. I merely meant dividing the family unit in the Church body. 

Jim

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

"Dividing the family unit" is sometimes unavoidable... even expected.

Mt 10:35–36 NKJV 35 For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; 36 and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’

Mk 10:29–30 NKJV 29 So Jesus answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, 30 who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life.

Church discipline and divorce are not parallel.

jreeseSr's picture

Thanks Aaron , but wouldn't you agree that Mt 10:35,36 is referring to the division caused by salvation and again Mk 10 "for my sake and the Gospels" I would look at a Church action a little differently..I am not saying that the Church does not have the authority and obligation to act, but I have found when a Church puts a husband/father out of fellowship and the wife and children's membership remain it creates much damage to the innocent ...The Church must be aware of the conflict on the family and how they minister to the family members that are still members without interfering with the authority the father still holds in the family

I dont have the answer but was merely stating the conflicts that have to be dealt with and the complications that they entail ..

 

Where I see the parallel between Church and Marriage and subsequently divorce and dicipline :

1. Both are institutions established separately by God. 

2. Adulteress and Harlot are described to define one unfaithfulness in both.

3. When one is unfaithful in practice in either they are to be "set out" or separated.

4. Although separated the setting out does not dissolve the spiritual work of salvation or oneness of marriage.

5. The Church is the Bride of Christ and the woman is the bride of Christ.

6. How we look at believers in a marriage and believers in a church is different than unbelievers in a marriage or visitors in a church.

7. Christ is the head of the Church as the Husband is the head of the marriage.

In my logic it would follow that I would when one was separated out (put away) of either  that there would exists similarities.

 

Many many more parallels can be sited but I guess where we differ is I do draw a principle parallel in Divorce and Church discipline. 

Jim

Dan Miller's picture

but I have found when a Church puts a husband/father out of fellowship and the wife and children's membership remain it creates much damage to the innocent

But what is the cause of that damage? Was it the unrepentant sin of the father? or the action of the church?

Bert Perry's picture

It is worth noting that the Scripture records that after a certain duration of infidelity on the part of Israel, He destroyed the Temple and sent them to Babylon.  So at a certain point, separation for grievous sin of this type is 100% Biblical.  We might even argue that for those millions of Jews who have lived and died without Christ since the Incarnation, that they were effectively divorced or "pruned" from the vine per Romans 11.  No?

To carry the analogy back to human marriage, yes, separation and divorce are big issues and not to be undertaken lightly, but if we take the Prophets and history seriously, I think we have to admit that there comes a time when adultery or abandonment so destroys a relationship that these are steps that an aggrieved spouse can take.  Definitely put it through the Matthew 18 process prior to filing, but at the same time we need to understand that sometimes the physical and spiritual risks of staying exceed those of leaving.  

 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

... separation and divorce are big issues and not to be undertaken lightly, but if we take the Prophets and history seriously, I think we have to admit that there comes a time when adultery or abandonment so destroys a relationship that these are steps that an aggrieved spouse can take.  Definitely put it through the Matthew 18 process prior to filing, but at the same time we need to understand that sometimes the physical and spiritual risks of staying exceed those of leaving.

I think we agree on this part. I would not say that adultery or abandonment necessarily justify a divorce or that either of them would require a divorce, but the Matt.19 conversation doesn't make sense unless there are situations where divorce for adultery is at least as good as any other option available.

jreeseSr's picture

   God's view and direction is fairly clear on issues of Spiritual adultery as well as physical adultery in the type of Christ and his Church the marriage covenant . I do not see any such tolerance in either case as it is the only exception given the husband for not bearing the cause of the adultery in the wife's subsequent relationship. Therefore I must agree with the authors conclusion :

 

But so grievous is the sin of adultery that it shatters the very foundation of marriage. Thus divorce becomes the legal recognition of what has already occurred—the destruction of the marriage. In this case, divorce is the result of sin and it is the God-sanctioned remedy to deal with such horrendous sin.

 

I go on further to state that the spiritual bond between the husband and wife is not destroyed by the writing of a "divorcement"  by man. but the demonstration of the marriage as an example of Christ and his Church cannot go on publicly while unrepentant adultery continues.  Just as the sinful member cannot go on as a Church member for the sake of the testimony of the Church.

Jim

Ron Bean's picture

Has anyone ever seen a marriage survive adultery, or am I the only one?

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

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