Marriage, Divorce and Sex

“For I hate divorce,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong,” says the Lord of hosts. “So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.” (Mal. 2:16, NASB) 

Pic (hecendorfer.com)
The Jews of Malachi’s day had a certain understanding of marriage and divorce, but not God’s; God spoke through Malachi to correct their thinking, Malachi likely wrote between 470 and 460 B.C.1 The Jews of Jesus day had a certain understanding of marriage and divorce, but not God’s; Jesus being the Word of God corrected their thinking. It is my intention to give a clear Biblical presentation on the Christian doctrine of marriage. The apostle Paul tells us to not be conformed to the world, but to be transformed of mind (Rom. 12:2) and James tells us that friendship with the world makes us an enemy of God. (Jas. 4:4) Therefore, it is imperative that we know and understand what God has to say about marriage, because divorce rates in our society are at alarming rates and the church has not been immune.

Marriage

In western culture marriage is being redefined.2 It is my belief that a Biblical definition of marriage speaks louder than arguing against our secular culture. From the beginning of human history, a marriage consists of one man and one woman. In the beginning God created them male and female. He also told them to be fruitful and multiply. (Gn. 1:26-28) The foundational passage for marriage is Genesis 2:18-25: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” (Gn. 2:24-25, NASB) Jesus and Paul turned to this passage of Scripture when discussing marriage.3

“Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” (Gn. 2:18, NASB) This description of the female member in a marriage as a helper has been called degrading by feminist. Many say that marriage is a social construct created by a patriarchal society to degrade women. Are these accusations true? “The Hebrew word translated helper is ‘ezer רֶזֵע. The word ‘ezer is used in reference to God in 16 of its 19 appearances in the OT.”4 Would God speak of Himself in a degrading manner? In John 14:26 Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as helper, Greek παράκλητος paraklētos.5 Woman is not less than man in the eyes of God, but equal to man; and therefore, a suitable helper for man as the Holy Spirit is equal to Christ and suitable for the work of God.

Prior to 1969 marriage was viewed as a legal contract between two people. In America the contract was not to be broken unless one party could prove that the other party did something illegal to break the marriage contract. In 1969 California enacted into law no-fault divorce. This meant that one of the parties in the marriage contract could seek a divorce simply because they no longer wanted to be married. After this, state after state adopted no-fault divorce contract law; as a result, the number of divorces in America skyrocketed in the 1970’s and 1980’s.6

The major difference between viewing marriage as a contract verses marriage as a covenant is that contracts are witnessed by people and governed by state law and covenants are witnessed by God and governed by His law.7 Both Jesus and Paul referred to Genesis 2:24-25 with regard to the marriage covenant; Jesus said, “So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” (Mt. 19:6a, NASB) After giving this explanation of marriage he added, “What God has joined together let no man separate.” (Mt. 19:6, NASB)

Divorce

The major text of the Bible regarding divorce is Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and it is this text that Jesus referrers to when discussing divorce. There are three major views in church history with regard to divorce. Throughout the early church the opinion of the majority was that divorce was possible in certain circumstance: unchastity (cf. Mt. 5:32 &19:9) and abandonment by the unbeliever. (cf. 1 Cor. 7:1-24) Divorce was possible in these circumstances but not required. However, remarriage was not possible except after death.8

Augustine had a different view; Augustine’s view would form church policy throughout the middle ages and extend to the doctrine of the Catholic church to this day. Augustine believed that marriage (though not as good as singleness) has three goods: The primary good of marriage is to have children to people the kingdom of God. The second good is fidelity, that is a demonstration of faithfulness. The third good is “sacramentum,” marriage is a symbol of the churches unity with Christ; and therefore, indissoluble.9

Lastly, there is the view that if divorce is possible on the grounds of the exception clause found in Matthew 19:3-12 and Matthew 5:31-32 or because of betrayal by the unbelieving spouse per 1 Corinthians 7:1-24; then remarriage is possible because in God’s eyes the marriage bond has been broken. This is also known as the Heth and Denham view.10

Sex in Marriage

There are six purposes for marriage: First, procreation; (cf. Gn. 1:28 & 9:1,7) second, companionship; (cf. Gn. 2:18) third, unity; (cf. Gn. 2:24-25) fourth, pleasure; (cf. Song of Solomon) fifth, education of children; (cf. Dt. 31:12 & Eph. 6:4) and sixth, chastity. (cf. 1 Cor. 7:1-24) Of these six, four speak directly to the subject of sex. When we put these four together the Christian doctrine on sex comes forth: Sex was created by God to populate the earth with his image bearers, to create a permanent bond between husband and wife, to give them pleasure in unity and to keep them from all forms of immorality. Sex outside of marriage is condemned throughout scripture. (cf. Ex. 20:14; 22:16-17; Lv. 18:20; 19:29; 20:5-6, 10, 14; 21:13; Dt. 22:15, 17, 20-21; 23:18; Prv. 23:27; 1 Cor. 5:1; 6:9, 13-18; Eph. 5:3; 1 Thes. 4:3-8)11

In summary marriage is a covenant created by God and is not a contract created by man. Marriage is sacred, and the marriage bed is sacred; it is through the marriage bed that God designed to fill the earth with His image bearers. Marriage is a Holy establishment and should never be broken, because of sin the marriage covenant is often broken but this was not the intention of God. God removes sin but does not always remove the consequences of sin in this life. Know this, God wants the marriage that you are now in to endure.



1William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: A Complete Commentary in One Volume, 4thed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1173.
2Alan Branch, lecture notes for M-HT3400 Christian Ethics, The Christian Doctrine of Marriage, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, April 2018.
3Ibid, 6.
4Ibid, 4.
5Robert L. Thomas, New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries (Nashville: Holman, 1981), 1672.
6John S. Feinberg and Paul D. Feinberg, Ethics for a Brave New World, 2nded. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 583.
7Ibid, 591.
8Ibid, 596.
9Augustine, The Fathers of the Church: St. Augustine Treatises on Marriage and Other Subjects, trans. Charles T. Wilcox (New York: The Catholic University of America Press, 1955), 4-5.
10John S. Feinberg and Paul D. Feinberg, Ethics for a Brave New World, 2nded. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 619.
11Ibid, 280-281.

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