What is marriage, according to the Bible?

Jun 26, 2015 | Ray Ortlund


Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.  Genesis 2:24

It is not true that the Bible teaches multiple views of marriage, and therefore the Bible’s clarity is diminished on this question.  The Bible does record, for example, that “Lamech took two wives” (Genesis 4:19).  But the Bible is not thereby endorsing polygamy, but indeed is casting doubt on polygamy.  The role of Lamech in the text is to show “a progressive hardening in sin” (Waltke, Genesis, page 100).  We invented polygamy, along with other social evils.  But God gave us marriage.

The Bible defines marriage in Genesis 2:24, quoted above.  Here is what this significant verse is saying:

Therefore.  This word signals that Moses is adding an aside to his narrative.  It’s as if we are sitting in Moses’ living room, watching his DVD of the creation of the universe (Genesis 1) and of man and woman (Genesis 2).  At this point he hits the pause button on the remote, the screen freezes, he turns to us post-fall people watching these amazing events and he says, “Now let me explain how what God did so long ago is normative for us today.  Amazingly, we still retain something beautiful from the Garden of Eden.”

A man shall leave his father and his mother.  In a culture of strong bonds between the generations, this is striking.  A man’s primary human relationship is no longer with his parents or ancestors.  He breaks away from them for the sake of a more profound loyalty.

And hold fast to his wife.  A man, in marrying, enfolds his wife into his heart.  He rejoices to identify with her: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (verse 23).  At every level of his being, he becomes wholeheartedly devoted to her, as to no other.

And they shall become one flesh.  “One flesh” is essential to the biblical view of marriage.  It means, one mortal life fully shared.  Two selfish me’s start learning to think like one unified us, sharing one everything: one life, one reputation, one bed, one suffering, one budget, one family, one mission, and so forth.  No barriers.  No hiding.  No aloofness.  Now total openness with total sharing and total solidarity, until death parts them.  Moreover, Jesus explained that, behind the word “become,” God is there: “What therefore God has joined together . . .” (Matthew 19:6).  He also made it clear that the word “they” in Genesis 2:24 means “the two” (Matthew 19:5), thus establishing one man/one woman as the biblical norm.  What we see then, is that marriage is not a product of human social evolution; marriage came down from God.  And he defined it for us.  He has the right to.  It belongs to him.

One mortal life fully shared between a man and a woman — this is marriage, according to the Bible, because Genesis 2:24 is not a throw-away line.  Its very purpose is to define.

What’s more, the apostle Paul quotes Genesis 2:24 to take our understanding a step further — an amazing step: “We are members of [Christ’s] body.  ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'” (Ephesians 5:30-31).  Notice his logic.  “We are members of Christ’s body.  He loved us.  He chose us.  He gave himself up for us.  He will present us someday in splendor.  We are united with Christ now and forever.  Therefore, our union with Christ is the reason why, a man and woman get married and live united as ‘one flesh.’  Human marriages are miniature social platforms on which the gospel is to be displayed.”  The final reason why men and women fall in love and get married is because the whole human story is, most deeply, a romance coming down from above.

Marriage is a gospel issue.  That is why clarity about its definition matters to Christians.  If we depart from, or fail to stand up for, the biblical view of marriage, we are taking a step away from the gospel itself.  The whole Bible is the story of the marital love of God, as I demonstrate in this book.  Our whole lives are that story, if we have eyes to see.

Marriage is more than human romance, wonderful as that is.  It is more than close friendship, wonderful as that is.  Marriage is the display of Christ and his Bride in love together.  A beautiful, tender, thriving marriage makes the gospel visible on earth, bringing hope to people who have given up believing there could be any love anywhere for them.  That is why biblical marriage deserves our courageous loyalty and articulate defense today.  Its true meaning is understood and embodied and sustained only by the power of the gospel.

We can’t turn the clock back to the days of the Christian social consensus our nation is throwing away.  But we who say we believe the gospel must stand up for the biblical definition of marriage.  We must cultivate beautiful marriages ourselves.  We must suffer social and legal penalties bravely.  We must pray for revival.  We must wait for the inevitable collapse of every false view of marriage.  We must lovingly serve all who suffer for their attempts at false “marriages.”  And we must go to church this Sunday and worship the living God with all our hearts, so that we ourselves are sustained for faithfulness over the long haul, because this isn’t going to be easy.

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Everything just so

Jun 24, 2015 | Ray Ortlund


The Countess of Huntingdon recalled the funeral service of Rev. Howell Harris in 1773:

“On the day Mr. Harris was interred we had some special seasons of Divine influence both upon converted and unconverted.  It was a day never to be forgotten, but I think ought to be remembered with holy wonder and gratitude by all who were present. . . . Though we had enjoyed much of the gracious presence of God in our assemblies before, yet I think I never saw so much at any time as on that day; especially when the Lord’s Supper was administered, God poured out his Spirit in a wonderful manner.  Many old Christians told me they had never seen so much of the glory of the Lord and the riches of his grace, nor felt so much of the gospel before.”

Who wrote that?  Hardly a nut.  She was upper-class British, 18th-century, Jane Austen’s world.  A highly structured culture.  Everything just so.  And in that culture, in a Bible-believing, standard-brand, non-eccentric theological setting, both the converted and the unconverted were receiving an unforgettable outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones asks, “Does our doctrine of the Holy Spirit and his work leave any room for revival either in the individual or in the church, or is it a doctrine which says that we have all received everything we can have of the Spirit at regeneration, and all we need is to surrender to what we have already?  Does our doctrine allow for an outpouring of the Spirit, the ‘gale’ of the Spirit coming down upon us individually and collectively? . . . Is not the greatest sin among Evangelical people today that of quenching the Spirit?”

The longer I live, the more intensely I long for the end of quenching and the return of outpouring.

Quotes from D. M. Lloyd-Jones, The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors (Edinburgh, 1987), pages 301-302.

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Behind the violence is the lie

Jun 18, 2015 | Ray Ortlund


“Let us not forget that violence does not exist alone and cannot survive in isolation; it is inevitably bound up with the lie.

Between them there is the most intimate, most natural, fundamental link: violence can only be concealed by the lie, and the lie can be maintained only by violence. . . . Violence does not always necessarily take you physically by the throat and strangle you; more often it merely demands of its subjects that they declare allegiance to the lie, become accomplices in the lie.

And the simple step of an ordinary, courageous man is not to take part in the lie, not to support deceit.  Let the lie come into the world, even dominate the world, but not through me.”

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, One Word of Truth, pages 26-27.

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. . . if only God forgave

Jun 17, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

“Then began a meeting the like of which I had never seen before, nor wish to see again, unless in God’s sight it is absolutely necessary.  Every sin a human being can commit was publicly confessed that night.  Pale and trembling with emotion, in agony of mind and body, guilty souls, standing in the white light of their judgment, saw themselves as God saw them.  Their sins rose up in all their vileness, till shame and grief and self-loathing took complete possession; pride was driven out, the face of man forgotten.  Looking up to heaven, to Jesus whom they had betrayed, they smote themselves and cried out with bitter wailing: ‘Lord, Lord, cast us not away forever!’  Everything else was forgotten, nothing else mattered.  The scorn of men, the penalty of the law, even death itself seemed of small consequence if only God forgave.  We may have other theories of the desirability or undesirability of public confession of sin.  I have had mine; but I know now that when the Spirit of God falls upon guilty souls, there will be confession, and no power on earth can stop it.”

Eyewitness account, quoted in Young-Hoon Lee, “Korean Pentecost: The Great Revival of 1907,” AJPS 4 (2001): 77-78.

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Living well

Jun 16, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

“Isaac Hann was a little-known Baptist pastor who served a small church in Loughwood, England, in the mid-18th century.  At the close of his ministry the membership of his church numbered twenty-six women and seven men.  Underneath the list of members for that year this poignant note appears: ‘These are the men that remain at present, though not above four of these do in any shape keep their places [attend].’

Rev. Hann would be unnoticed today, one of those pastors who never quite ‘made’ it.  But when he died at the age of 88, his parishioners placed a commemorative plaque in his honor of the wall of their little meeting house.  It reads in part:

Wit sparkled in his pleasing face,
With zeal his heart was fired;
Few ministers so humble were,
Yet few so much admired.

Ripened for heaven by grace divine,
Like autumn fruit he fell;
Reader, think not to live so long,
But seek to live as well.”

Thanks for this to my dear friend David Roper of Idaho Mountain Ministries.

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Elisabeth Elliot, 1926-2015

Jun 15, 2015 | Ray Ortlund


She embraced the secret to practical Christianity, the very thing we today are most disinclined to: “Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).  Oh, may we not lose our way but follow this woman into the death that cannot die!

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. . . if not a martyr’s death

Jun 13, 2015 | Ray Ortlund


“I spent the day chiefly alone, seeking personal holiness, the fundamental requirement in order to a successful ministry.  I was in Burleigh Castle for an hour . . . . Before me I had to the right Queen Mary’s Island in Lochleven, and to the left the Lomonds, where the Covenanters hid themselves from their persecutors, and I stood amid the ruins of the castle of one of their leaders.  The scene was solemn and affecting, and I trust the everlasting Emmanuel was with me.  O that I had a martyr’s heart, if not a martyr’s death and a martyr’s crown!”

Quoted in Islay Burns, Memoir of the Rev. Wm. C. Burns (London, 1870), page 193.

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Where the battle rages

Jun 10, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity.  Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace to him, if he flinches at that one point.”

A follower of Martin Luther, 2 April 1526, quoted in Chronicles of the Schönberg-Cotta Family (New York, 1865), page 321.

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Courage is unanswerable

Jun 09, 2015 | Ray Ortlund


“. . . and not frightened in anything by your opponents.  This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.”  Philippians 1:28

When opponents do their worst, and we’re still standing for Christ, that is “a clear sign,” a prophetic warning, that God is with us.  For example, when the Empress Eudoxia, in the fourth century, threatened John Chrysostom with banishment, he told her, “You cannot banish me, for this world is my Father’s house.”  “But I will kill you,” she said.  “No, you cannot, for my life is hidden with Christ in God.”  “Then I will take away your treasures.”  “No, you cannot, for my treasure is in heaven, and my heart is there.”  “But I will drive you away from your friends, and you will have no one left.”  “No, you cannot, for I have a friend in heaven from whom you cannot separate me.  I defy you, for there is nothing you can do to harm me.”

John Chrysostom’s courage made him “a clear sign” of the weakness of her power and of the power of his weakness.  The tactics of this world are weak, though they appear powerful.  The truth of the gospel is strong, though it appears weak.  Jesus is Lord.  He just is.  And the world is stuck with him, because they can’t impeach him, and he isn’t going to resign.

But how is our generation going to see his glory?  Through our courage.

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A Person

Jun 05, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

“Our faith is a person; the gospel that we have to preach is a person; and go wherever we may, we have something solid and tangible to preach, for our gospel is a person.  If you had asked the twelve Apostles in their day, ‘What do you believe in?’ they would not have stopped to go round about with a long sermon, but they would have pointed to their Master and they would have said, ‘We believe him.’  ‘But what are your doctrines?’  ‘There they stand incarnate.’  ‘But what is your practice?’  ‘There stands our practice.  He is our example.’  ‘What then do you believe?’  Hear the glorious answer of the Apostle Paul, ‘We preach Christ crucified.’  Our creed, our body of divinity, our whole theology is summed up in the person of Christ Jesus.”

C. H. Spurgeon, in Lectures Delivered before the Young Men’s Christian Association in Exeter Hall 1858-1859 (London, 1859), pages 159-160.

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