A Short Theology of Marriage

I recently wrote a paper summarizing issues of marriage, divorce and remarriage. This is an excerpt of the paper that captures the theological meaning of marriage.

Genesis 1-3 is the fountainhead of marital theology. These chapters reveal the Creator’s original marital design, the nature of marriage and the consequences of sin on marriage. Both testaments draw deeply from these theological waters.[1] In particular, Genesis 2:24 has been termed the “paradigmatic statement about marriage for Judaism, Jesus and Paul.”[2] Significantly, two of the most important theological statements on marriage are found in this text: the one flesh principle and the mystery of Christ and the church.

Genesis 2:24 lays down three marital distinctives that contain great theological import: leaving, cleaving and becoming one flesh.[3] First, leaving equates to forming a new family and “giving up loyalty to one’s father and mother as the closest of human relationships.”[4] Second, cleaving to one’s spouse communicates transference of the “most fundamental of loyalties to one’s spouse.”[5] Marriage creates a new situation where all previous ties must submit to this new devotion.[6] Third, leaving and cleaving culminates in becoming “one flesh” through sexual union.[7] Language used for gluing and welding is employed to describe the permanence of the one flesh relationship.[8]

One Flesh. Jesus draws heavily from Genesis 2:24 to assert the theological significance of marriage. In Matthew 19:4-6, he teaches the math of marriage (cf, Mk 10:6-10). Marriage erases two and creates one. One husband plus one wife equals one flesh. Marriage is an indissoluble oneness created by God that reflects the union, co-inherence and intimacy of the Triune community.[9]

Christ and the Church. Paul also builds his theology of marriage on Genesis 2:24. He asserts that leaving, cleaving and becoming one flesh is a profound mystery that ultimately refers to Christ and the church (Eph 5:31-32). Marriage is fundamentally a gospel parable with a theological design.[10] It points to the fierce love of Jesus and the glad loyalty of his bride while anchoring a married couple in the rhythm of forgiveness, reconciliation and gospel grace.

[1]Matt 19:5, Mk 10:6-7, 1 Cor 6:16, 11:3-9, 2 Cor 11:3, 1 Tim 2:13-14.

[2]Klyne Snodgrass, “Divorce and Remarriage,” Covenant Publications (1989), 5.

[3]Craig L. Blomberg, “Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage, and Celibacy: An Exegesis of Matthew 19:3-12,” Trinity Journal, 11:2 (1990), 166.

[4]Ibid.

[5]Blomberg, “Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage, and Celibacy,” 167.

[6]John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis, (Albany: Books for the Ages, 1998), Kindle, Chap. 2, 75.

[7]Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1992), 481.

[8]R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2007), 717.

[9]Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology and Worship (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2004), 461-471.

[10]Richard D. Patterson, “Metaphors of Marriage as Expressions of Divine-Human Relations,” Journal of Evangelical Theological Society, 51:4 (2008), 699-702.

Made for Others

God did not fashion us with the ability to see ourselves. Eyes were made to see the world and the “others” around us. Created to look outside of ourselves, it is no surprise that freedom, joy and purpose align when “others” are the focus. Genesis 1-2 reveals humanity looking up to the Creator and outward to his creation. Adam’s marching orders were to look out for his spouse, the living creatures and the earth. His vocation was other-focused and outward-postured.

Genesis 3 is a tragic interruption to the freedom of self-forgetfulness. Humanity’s rebellion was an inward turn—concern for one’s own desires, pleasures and understanding of reality trumped any thought of the “other.” That moment defined humanity. Adam and Eve looked down and realized they were naked…self-concern and self-preservation were enthroned. The “other” became a stepping stone, a means to satisfying the desires of the self. Made for others and enslaved to ourselves, this is the judgment under which we rest (Rom 1:18-32).

In the early 1900’s, a well-known paper in London sent out an inquiry to famous authors, asking “What is wrong with the world?” G.K. Chesterton, famed theologian and author, responded with a two-word letter to the inquiry: “I am.” This admission is the starting point for every human to move back toward wellness. We must own the reality that we exploit and damage the “others” we were made to serve and love.

Sin is deeply personal. The “others” have names. Sin damages people. Sin offends and grieves the Triune God. My self-devotion is a stench to my Creator and a weapon against my fellow human-being. Repentance takes complete responsibility for the rancor in our souls. It is movement back toward the Creator, agreement on his assessment of our loyalties. It puts the needed cry on our lips: “Lord, have mercy on me, heal me, for I have sinned against you” (Ps 41:4). The need for cleansing, forgiveness and healing drives us to the how.

How is beautiful. God comes down. In Christ we see humanity’s design. In Christ we see humanity’s Healer. Looking up to his Father and out to his fractured creation, the outward postured God rescues us. The judgment earned by my self-worship is endured by the Son of God, the one true worshipper of the Father. The chains of self-slavery are shattered by Jesus Christ, the free God who bound himself to the cross.

The saving work of the Triune God is not exhausted with forgiveness, cleansing and right standing. He gives us new hearts. He places the Holy Spirit within us. He bends the inward curve outward. He makes us human. The Trinity is devoted to restoring what was lost, remaking what was broken and ushering us into the freedom of otherness.

 

The Word in Genesis 1-3

ImageGenesis 1-3 is one of the most important passages in the entire Bible. It is one to which we must return again and again. Recently I walked through the text observing everything I could about the Word of God in these three chapters. I came away amazed and encouraged by the wonderful and omnipotent word of our God.Here are some of the things I found.

  • God creates ex nihlo with his word (Gen 1:3)
  • God transforms what he created by his word (Gen 1:9-13)
  • God commands his creation to work with him in the continuing process of creation (Gen 1:24)
  • God divides by his word (Gen 1:6, 14)
  • God declares good, not good, and evil with his word (Gen 1:3, 13, 18, 21, 25, 31, 2:16-17, 18)
  • God’s word is omnipotent, guaranteeing no lag between the command and action (Gen 1:3)
  • God does art with his word (Gen 1:1-25–note the diversity, creativity, and wonder of all that God created; his word is never boring but lively and exciting)
  • God blesses with his word (Gen 1:22, 28–note that blessing gives purpose and ability to fulfill that purpose; blessing has to do with vocation in its first occurrences in the Bible)
  • God dialogues with himself by his word (Gen 1:26, 3:22)
  • God shares by his word (Gen 1:28 –note how gives dominion and authority to the man made in his image who is given a voice with power, authority, and impact)
  • God works with his word (Gen 2:3)
  • God commands with his word (Gen 2:16-17)
  • God warns with his word (Gen 2:16-17)
  • God’s word can be twisted, distorted, and disobeyed but never rendered impotent (Gen 3:1-6–note that the fall, sin, and judgment are all tied to this fact; messing with God’s word has devastating consequences, his word will do as he says no matter what we think or do)
  • God questions and probes with his word (Gen 3:9-13)
  • God judges/curses with his word (Gen 3:14-19)
  • God promises with his word (Gen 3:15–note that as early as the third chapter of the Bible we see God’s gospel word of mercy and victory)

As you can see the word of God is robust and dynamic in the first three chapters of the Bible. It is an omnipotent, creative, relational reality. It is certain and strong. It creates and it crushes. It promises, threatens, judges, and saves. Watching the word of God in action should produce in us confidence, hope, fear, joy, and gratitude. When God speaks things happen—this is always true. This should affect our thinking and practice with Scripture, teaching, preaching, and evangelism. If I really believe all these things about the word of God my life will demonstrate it. If I don’t really believe this about the word my life will also make that clear. A high view Scripture is not demonstrated through word but deed.