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A Vision Of Marriage: Society Vs. The Bible

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Sex in Today's Culture

The changes in society's attitudes to love, sex and marriage in the last few decades requires one to look at the Christian idea of marriage, and to see if the Bible's teaching can still hold power. One fundamental question that must be revisited concerns what it actually is that constitutes a marriage. Should it be defined as a sexual union, or as a covenant? If it is a sexual union, does sex carry responsibilities, even if no covenant has been made? If it is a covenant, what period does it cover? Is it for life? Does it cover life leading up to it, as well as life after it is made?

The predominant view of our culture is that marriage is a covenant of sexual faithfulness, excluding other sexual relationships only while it is in force. There is therefore nothing inherently wrong with pre-marital sex, from a legal viewpoint, as it does not break the marriage covenant. As a Christian, one may rightly argue that pre-marital sex is unwise, in that it may reduce one's capacity for intimacy with one's future marriage partner. However if he or she accept this definition, he or she will have difficulty explaining why it is wrong in an absolute sense. Others will see he or she as out of step with the majority view in contemporary western culture that pre-marital sex is useful in testing a relationship prior to making a long-term commitment. Contemporary culture still tends to see marital infidelity as wrong, but sees pre-marital sex as something quite different.

Marriage in the Old Testament

As a Christian, one cannot accept this view of sex before marriage. It is clear from the scriptures that God's ideal for his people is that they marry as virgins. From the scriptures one must say that marriage is more than a covenant of sexual faithfulness for a period of time. He or she should say that marriage ideally means sexual faithfulness for all time, both before and after any public ceremony? This is what it meant before the fall, when marriage and sexual union were equivalent.

The seventh commandment explicitly forbids adultery, but it is clear it covers a broad range of sexual sin. Many believe the Old Testament law as a whole was designed to enforce the purity of marriage. Adulterers were put to death (Leviticus 20:20), so in theory there were no second marriages. Similarly wives were put to death if found not to be virgins (Deuteronomy 22:21-22). Finally, couples who engage in sex, but are not covenanted to marry (each other or others), are required to marry each other (Exodus 22:16-17). The effect of the law, if fully implemented, was to ensure that no woman had a sexual relationship with more than one living man. For the woman at least, this made marriage and sexual union equivalent. This understanding dates from the dawn of time. That its application precedes the Law of Moses is illustrated by Jacob, later called Israel, who accepted Leah as his wife after unintended sexual union (Genesis 29:16-30).

The Nature of Marriage

From the beginning, marriage has involved not just sexual union, but a commitment that has the blessing of God. In the first account of creation, in Genesis 1, this blessing came directly from God. In subsequent generations it comes through parents, the church, and the community. Genesis 1 speaks of man, woman and marriage as follows:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, "be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it." (Genesis 1:27-28).

Among the writings of the church fathers, whose ability to help one understand scripture should not be under-estimated, is a treatise of marriage by Clement. His understanding of marriage would seem to echo the above scripture, and his definition is as follows:

Marriage is the first conjunction of man and woman for the procreation of legitimate children. (Stromata / On Marriage)

The phrase "legitimate children" recognizes that marriage is more than a sexual union. It recognizes that marriage is a sexual relationship with a purpose, with a sense of permanence, a sense of the approval of God and hopefully the approval of the community, and an expectation of raising children.

The second account of



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