Connecting Faith and Life

What is Marriage?

It is important to know what the Bible talks about marriage. Contrary to the contemporary belief, marriage is not a human institution devised by human beings. Rather, it was established by God himself at the beginning of human history.

Three Steps
Marriage involves three crucial steps as explained in Gen.2:24, Matt.19:1-12 and Mk.10:1-12. The first step involves “leaving,” by which, upon marriage each spouse transfers loyalty from the parents to the other, henceforth to be no longer two, but a single unity. The second step is “cleaving,” by which, the man and woman adhere or stick to each other. The Greek word used in the Septuagint of Gen.2:24, and in Eph.5:31 for cleaving is proskollethesetai, meaning “to glue or cement together, to inlay or weld.” This indicates the utmost possible level of closeness. The third step involves becoming “one-flesh.” This refers to something God does to a man and woman when they marry. “One-flesh” simply means one person (Matt.19:6). The expression “one-flesh” clearly indicates the physical, emotional and social unity of husband and wife though profound and mysterious. Whether it is arranged marriage or marriage by choice, the Bible affirms that it is God who joins the partners together (Gen.2:18-22, Matt.19:6). Therefore, marriage in its very essence is God’s plan and creation.

Sexual Union
Moreover, marriage is a life-long commitment between a male and a female that involves mutual sexual rights. However, one should not consider that the very purpose of marriage is procreation and sexual relation. Apart from the ongoing sexual relationship, companionship and mutual help are two other essentials of a valid marriage. Stott brings forth a definition of marriage compiling all the concepts dealt above. He states, “Marriage is an exclusive heterosexual covenant between one man and one woman, ordained and sealed by God, preceded by a public leaving of parents, consummated in sexual union, issuing in a permanent mutually supportive partnership and normally crowned by the gift of children.”

Covenantal Relationship 
Peter. S. C. Pothen comments, “The commonest biblical description of marriage is in covenant terms.”  This is absolutely true – marriage is a covenant relationship. It is born out of a covenant of mutual promises and, is established and confirmed in the presence of God and his people. Like all other covenants of the Bible this involves mutual consent, public witness and responsibilities, and it is binding on both the partners. The covenantal aspect of Christian marriage is reflected in the form of wedding service and vows that we see in most of the denominations. A Christian marriage service clearly expresses the permanence of marriage. Some scholars are of the opinion that a marriage is not valid in the sight of God until the couple consummate in sexual union. What if a couple do not unite sexually? In normal situations, it is natural that a couple would consummate through sexual union, and therefore, this argument only has an academic interest.

Marriage Dissoluble or Indissoluble?
Similarly, some scholars believe that since marriage is a permanent covenantal relationship, it is indissoluble. According to them, a man and a woman is still married in the sight of God even if they get a legal divorce before the civil law. There are others who claim that marriage is not indissoluble because God does permit divorce in exceptional circumstances. Just as a marriage covenant is broken at the death of one spouse, it is broken during divorce too. The researcher holds that both these views are reconcilable. The truth is well expressed by John Murray. He comments, “Marriage is originally and ideally indissoluble.” However, divorce is dissolution of marriage. For more on Divorce, read related posts…

By Sam K John.

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