Who has Authority to Regulate Marriage?


catholic-wedding-songs.jpgMarriage is all over the news today and we as Christians are cringing. And this shows how much things have changed.  All of the marriage chatter, in previous generations, would have been a reason for celebration, but is now an occasion for face-palming. Of course, we know this is not because Christians have fundamentaly changed in our understanding of marriage but because the cultural stream is rushing ahead at white-water speed in its redefinition of marriage.

Who has Authority to Regulate Marriage?

When marriage is discussed in the public square there is a question that routinely gets bypassed. “Who has the right and authority over it? —Who is in charge of it?”

The assumption with marriage, as with the rest of our lives, is that, well, we are! Whatever makes us happy and whatever the majority or the most influential people want to do…this is who has the right to authoritatively speak about marriage. It really is this question of authority that has paved the way for the present moral revolution. Even if it is rarely noticed or acknowledged, authority, like rebar on a highway road, undergirds all of this contemporary debate about marriage. The authoritative answer today is: We have the authority to regulate marriage.

But, this is fraught with a number of problems; I’ll highlight two.

Marriage Was Here When We Got Here

First, our generation did not create marriage (nor did the generation before us). It was here when we got here. We were born into this structure. The social infrastructure was already here supporting us and shaping us before we could even formulate any arguments. The ease with which we express our indifference and lack of respect to history is a striking (and sobering) display of hubris.

Marriage Cannot Bear the Freight of the Progressive Agenda

Secondly, the institution of marriage is not a vehicle fit to participate in the parade of progressiveness. It simply doesn’t work; it cannot bear the freight of the progressive agenda. Marriage, by its very nature, is traditional. It looks back with respect and deference and looks ahead with hopefulness. It is about commitment, dependence upon another, selflessness, and having children to be formed in the context of this family. It always struck me as ironic to see pictures of same-sex weddings take place in traditional looking churches and ceremonies. Why?

God Purposefully Creates and Designs Marriage

However, when we read the Bible we understand right away that God has designed marriage. As our Creator, he alone has the authority to regulate it. You might say that he has alone has creative privilege; he has the patent on marriage; he has sole authority over it.

We don’t have to go very far in the Scriptures to see this begin to play out. Turn with me in your Bible to the early chapters of Genesis. Let’s look in chapter 1:26 first.

“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”” (Genesis 1:26-28)

Köstenberger is helpful here:

“The fact that both men and women are created in the likeness and image of their Creator invests them with the inestimable worth, dignity, and significance. Popular notions of what it means to be crated in God’s image have been unduly influenced by Greek concepts of personality. Thus, God’s image in the man and the woman has frequently been identified in terms of their possession of intelligence, a will, or emotions. While this may be presupposed or implied to some extent in Gen. 1:27, the immediate context develops the notion of the divine image in the man and the woman in terms of representative rule (cf. Ps. 8:6-8). Andreas J. Köstenberger, God, Marriage, & the Family, p. 23.

Adam and Eve, and all of us after them, are not owners of creation but caretakers. Furthermore, this ruling or caring for the creation, this stewardship over creation is to be a joint stewardship. Man and woman do it together.

How does God go about organizing this representative ruling responsibility? He establishes marriage.

God appoints Adam as the functional head or leader of the marriage relationship. We see in the fact that it is Adam that receives the command by God about what to eat (2:16-17); he is presented with the woman (2:22); he is the one who names her Eve (2:23); her name comes from him (3:20); and she comes from him (2:23).

God identified what a suitable helper was for man in order to do what he created him to do, that is rule over creation (Gen. 2:18-20). We should note that this suitable helper for man is a woman. God shows his authority and careful plan for marriage here in the early chapters of Genesis. He made a suitable helper for Adam and she was a female. God’s plan for Adam’s marriage and all other marriages was a monogamous heterosexual relationship (Köstenberger).

This helpmate that God carefully and wisely created for Adam was suitable for him. She is not beneath the man but complimentary to him. Her role is distinct from his, yet it is unique and extremely important! There is dignity, purpose, and wisdom in the woman’s calling to serve alongside her husband in the garden as his partner in ruling the earth and representing God as an image-bearer.

And so we read in verse 24 of chapter 2:

“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)

God establishes marriage here at the outset of creation. There is an intimate relationship of people who are different but complementary. It is relationship of companionship, intimacy, suitability, as well as the function of ruling and filling the earth.

As Creator, God alone, Has Authority to Regulate Marriage

Marriage is therefore not a pliable institution that we can bend and mold to accommodate our preferences. Instead, it is an institution that was purposefully grounded in creation for the purpose of human flourishing. It is woven into the fabric of our human experience. And thankfully, it has been at the center of society for all of history.

Amid all of the chatter about marriage we have to cut through the fog with the important questions: “Who has the right to regulate it? Who has the authority over it?” The answer is: God does. God has authority to regulate marriage because he created it.

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