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Defining Marriage

Defining Marriage

If you’re like me, your head is virtually spinning from all the talk, Facebook icons and pithy slogans surrounding the gay marriage debate.  As the Supreme Court faces a difficult decision that could send shockwaves throughout the cultural and religious landscape, it is not the argument on both sides that I find disturbing, but the conversation it seems we are not having.

The difficulty I see in taking arms for or against redefining marriage is that while people are talking about the re-definition, no one is talking about the definition.

So why add one more voice to the confusion?  My aim is to help Christian readers define what it is we are actually defending.  For those who will immediately dismiss my argument, I want us to recognize the fact that what we are differing over is not an emotive or equality issue, but is a division over biblical authority.  What is being missed in large part on both sides of the debate is the understanding of marriage’s original definition and why some are so stalwart in opposing a re-definition.

This is not about “hate,” cultural neanderthalism or tradition.  For those who believe the Bible is the true word of God, we trace marriage back to the very beginning.

“The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field.  But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.  So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.  And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.  Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’ Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”  – Genesis 2:20-25

From this passage, and the preceding creation account, we see that God is a God of separation, boundaries, and order.  He separates light from dark.  He separates land from sea and provides boundaries for both.  He creates creatures for sea and creatures for land.  He creates man and woman.  He gives order, roles, and purposes.

Then the God who creates separation, boundaries and order performs a startling act.  The one thing he reunites after separation is the man and woman in the act of marriage.  God brings the woman to the man (v. 22).  There is covenant language (v. 23).  There is a pronouncement made (v. 24).  The woman is then called his “wife.”

For Bible believers, this is the gift of marriage initiated, ordained, and purposed by God.  This is the definition of marriage.

Biblically, marriage is to be a life-long covenant (Mal. 2:16, Matt. 19:6) between male and female (Matt. 19:4) and should not be separated (Matt. 19:6-8).  It contains boundaries for the sexual relationship (1 Cor. 6:16).  This purpose cannot be fulfilled by a male/male or female/female relationship (Lev. 18:22, Rom. 1:25-32) nor in a human/animal relationship (Lev. 18:23), nor incestual (Lev. 18:6-17), or polygamist (1 Tim. 3:2, 12).

This list is not exhaustive, but as you can see, there are biblical boundaries for marriage.  Ultimately, Paul sums up the purpose of marriage in Ephesians chapter five.  He says the marriage relationship is given by God as a representation of Christ’s relationship with the church.  It is for mutual building up, humble service, love and respect.  He again quotes the Genesis 2:24 passage as Christ does in Matthew 19:5 referring to the male and female counterparts of the marriage relationship.

This is what marriage is.  It is the genesis and definition.  I did not make it up.  I did not define it.  If you find it objectionable, you are not bound to participate in it.  You have all the right in the world to say, “If that’s marriage, then I don’t want it.”

The difficulty stems from the fact that the government has borrowed the term “marriage” to offer governmentally sanctioned privileges such as tax breaks, hospital visitation and the like.  The issue is, while these are governmental rights attached to marriage, they have nothing to do with marriage itself.

The government is free to give rights to whomever the government wishes, assuming the government is free to bequeath those rights.  But the government has no right to alter the definition of marriage any more than it has the right to redefine baptism.  This is because neither marriage nor baptism are given by the government.  Their parameters are given by God.  Therefore He stands as the judge and standard-bearer.

Whether or not the government should afford the civil privileges to a gay couple that they provide for heterosexual couples is an entirely different debate.  However, the government cannot call those rights “marriage” or redefine the term to have civil implications that are not, or were not, originally attached to it nor coincide with its Author’s intent or design.  They should not be officiated by a minister, but a senator or government official.  They are not ordained by God nor do they honor Him as they are not in line with His purpose and design for what the Bible defines as marriage.  It is something else entirely.

If you are for so-called gay marriage, hopefully this article provides some clarity on the discussion and its terminology.  If the idea of marriage repulses you, you are not obligated to submit to it – just don’t use the term to describe something it is not.  Biblical marriage is not simply “traditional” marriage since it is not tradition that gave us marriage.  Biblical marriage is just that: biblical.

I believe we can aim the discussion more precisely when our terms are properly defined.  When we are borrowing words and remaking boundaries that are not ours to make, the shouting match ensues and no one comes across clearly in a shouting match.  May we be able to approach one another with love even as we disagree.  I do not hate gay people.  I am not afraid of gay people or homosexuality.  What I do object to is anyone, gay or straight, misusing the institutions or words of God for their own agenda.  Let the comments ensue and may they be graced with as much tolerance and love as we seek for ourselves.