Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.
— Hebrews 13:4

One thing comments on my recent post 10 Things Young Singles in Romantic Relationships Ought to Know revealed is that even people who identify as Christian or who respect “Christian values” generally think marriage is that thing when you find the person who’s going to complete you after making extra, extra sure they’re not too messed up or, you know, interested in their own stuff, or bad at sex, because that would be disastrous. In short, Christians like non-Christians don’t mind taking their cues for what marriage is from the world instead of the Bible.

So what is marriage, then? This is not an academic question in the day of so-called “gay marriage,” and it’s especially not for people interested in getting married someday and for ministers of the gospel who, like me, are repeatedly asked to officiate weddings for people who don’t worship God in the context of a covenant community and who see us ministers as mere providers of religious goods and services.

Mike Leake took a stab at a definition, and I think he’s done rather well:

Marriage is a binding covenant created by God between one man and one woman for our holiness, for our joy, as a picture of the gospel to spread the glory of God.

If I pick this definition apart I can come up with seven individual statements (and these are used as teaching points for the first session).

1. A Binding Covenant. Covenant’s are a big deal to God. Breaking covenants is a big deal to God. To see how big of a deal covenants are consider Genesis 15. The Lord walks through a host of animals that are ripped asunder and essentially says, “If I break my covenant let what is done to these animals be done to me”. Covenants are a big deal.

2. Created by God. If humans created marriage then we could make the rules. But marriage is a binding covenant that is created by God, as such He makes the rules. God created your marriage, so away with this silly talk of having “married the wrong person”.

3. Between one man and one woman. The two shall become one. This means breaking away from parents, past relationships, future relationships, and any other lovers. This also goes against any arguments for homosexuality rightly being called marriage.

4. For our holiness. Marriage is one of the means that God has ordained to sanctify us. God is not satisfied with us merely having a “good” marriage. God wants to use our marriage to conform us more and more into the image of Christ. God has a rescue plan for your marriage. His goal is not simply to rescue your marriage. His goal is to use your marriage to rescue you.

5. For our joy. Our joy increases when we, in holiness, fight for the joy of another. Marriage can be extremely joyful. Just read Song of Solomon. Furthermore, if marriage increases holiness it will also increase our joy in God.

6. As a picture of the gospel. Your marriage reflects Christ and His church. It was created by God to be a visible picture for everyone to see the love between Christ and His Bride.

7. To spread the glory of God. The purpose of God for humanity is to enjoy His grace and extend His glory. Marriage is no different. He uses marriages to rip out of our heart sin and unbelief. He uses marriage to further our joy. But he also uses marriage to create children, and to raise and nurture children in godly homes.

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5 thoughts on “What is Marriage, Then?”

  1. Brian White says:

    You say, “This is not an academic question in the day of so-called “gay marriage.” Do you find it necessary to place the reality of gay marriage into a purely academic realm? While at the same reinforcing a barrier between the church and seminary?

    This sentence is highly fundamentalist anti-intellectualism. It is also condescending with your placement of “so-called”? Do you really mean this? Is it that easy to dismiss a reality experienced? Have you thought how this might hurt someone in your church who might have a family member who is gay?

  2. Jared C. Wilson says:

    Brian, you’ve misunderstood my statement. I don’t find it necessary to place the reality of gay marriage in the academic realm. That was my point. I was saying, because of the reality of the current debate on gay marriage, which is affecting a great many of us, the definition of marriage is not academic. If you’ll reread that sentence you’re objecting to, you’ll notice that that’s exactly what I said: “this is NOT an academic question.” So to accuse me of making gay marriage academic is nonsensical.

    It is also condescending with your placement of “so-called”?

    I said “so-called” because of the premise of the post: The Bible defines marriage. And the way the Bible defines marriage precludes marriage between the same sex. So “gay marriage,” by this standard, is not marriage.
    My stating this view is no more condescending than your calling me fundamentalist and anti-intellectual.

    Yes, I really mean this. And, yes, I do know how saying what the Bible says makes people uncomfortable, myself included, depending on the texts. I have gay family members myself. I am committed to loving all but above all Christ, which means sometimes loving people is telling them hard truths that save their souls eternally even if it makes their bodies uncomfortable temporarily.

  3. Brian White says:

    Fair enough.

    Do you find it necessary for Christians to impose on society their definition of marriage?
    Given the 7 point list a same sex marriage couple can fulfill 6 out of 7, which is pretty darn good considering the current climate of Christian marriage in America.

    Also is being in a gay marriage the unforgivable sin? Is one who lives and dies in a gay marriage be therefore damned?

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Jared C. Wilson

Jared C. Wilson is the pastor of Middletown Springs Community Church in Middletown Springs, Vermont. You can follow him on Twitter.

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