The Bible: The Basis For Marriage Law
By Steven Harper
A. If we were to consider the various marriage laws that exist in this world, we might be a little overwhelmed when we see the vast differences from country to country and even — in our own country — from state to state. For instance: In Egypt girls are given in marriage at a very young age, usually around 12 to 15, and when a woman is asked to be married she hires a negotiator and they will negotiate with the grooms family on a bride price and date for the ceremony. In Ethiopia, most marriages are negotiated by the two families, with a civil ceremony sealing the contract. There are also “temporary marriages.” In Somalia, women can become engaged to a man before she is even born. This arrangement is made between the man and the expecting parents and a small gift is given to the parents. Later on a larger gift called the yarad is given to the parents as payment for the bride. In modern-day Israel, the only option for residents is an Orthodox Jewish ceremony. In France, some regions require a certificate of celibacy be provided before the marriage. In the 1935 Nuremburg Conference, the state government outlawed the marriages of Jews with other German citizens. These are but a few examples, and if we considered just our 50 states, we would find at least 50 more variations on laws regarding marriage! So why do we make such a big deal about marriage, divorce, and remarriage if there are so many laws? Whose law is right?
B. The answer to that question is simple, if you are one who believes in God and Christ. If we believe God does indeed exist, if we believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and if we believe the Bible is the word of God, we know the answer: God’s law is right! But how can we reconcile it to the literally hundreds of laws that now exist, and the thousands that have existed since time began? Can these be reconciled? And does God have one law regarding marriage that is applicable to all mankind of all time and in all countries and civilizations?
C. Today, as the fifth in a series of lessons regarding the relevancy of the Bible, we will seek to show how the Bible is indeed The Basis For Marriage Law. If we are to answer the question, Is The Bible Relevant? We must be able to show how it is relevant — and not just relevant, but the standard for all we say and do. For everyone here who has ever thought about marriage — if you are anticipating it or even if you are already married — you might need to know what God says about the subject because there is much confusion in the world and even amongst brethren. But it need not be confusing! If we simply take the words God has given and apply them fairly and logically, not looking for loopholes and not ignoring certain passages, we may know God’s law on marriage and we can understand why it must be recognized as superior to man’s laws. Let’s look…
I. IN THE BEGINNING
A. God Made Male and Female. Let us first note that, when God created humans, it was done in a particular way and for a particular purpose. After creating the animals and seeing that each of them had a mate, He looked at man and said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him” (Gen. 2:18) and he then created the woman (vv. 21, 22). Jesus pointed the religious leaders back to this point and asked, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female’” (Matt. 19:4)?
1. Man, Then Woman. (Gen. 2:18, 21-24) The order of creation was that the man was created first, then the woman. As we just saw, God saw that all the animals had mates for one another, but none for Adam. God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam and he then took one of his ribs and formed the woman. She was created for him, from him.
2. Male & Female: God’s Way. (Lev. 18:22; 20:13) Let us also note that even Jesus pointed to the proper marriage relationship: male and female — not male-male or female-female! The world in which we live is constantly pushing the homosexual movement onto the rest of us, yet God never intended a marriage relationship to be anything other than a male and female. In fact, God gave specific prohibition against same-sex relations. God plainly commanded, “If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death.”
B. The Purpose of Marriage. Nowadays, we have multiple reasons why some get married, and many of those reasons are not for the reasons God instituted this relationship. Some get married for financial gain, some for purely physical attraction, some for fame, some for political gain, some because it has been arranged by their families, and some to just get away from their parents! Friends and brethren, these are not good reasons for marriage! This is not what God intended!
1. Companionship. (Gen. 2:18, 20; Matt. 19:4, 5 - “For this reason…”) Let us go back to the beginning again and note the word that describe this first marriage relationship — even as to why woman was created! Note that God saw “It is not good that man should be alone” and so He said, “I will make him a helper comparable to him.” Plainly stated, God created woman for man because “there was not found a helper comparable to him.” Let us now consider this term “a helper comparable to him.” Someone once said Eve was taken from his side to demonstrate that God did not want her to be above the man, nor below him, but to walk beside him. That is a good way to explain this, for the term “helper comparable” means one who is a counterpart. The term implies one who fills the exact needs and provides the balance for him, as he does for her. They are perfect for one another and missing something when without. This is why those of us who have been married any length of time refer to our spouses as our “other half.” There should be no doubt as to why God says they “become one flesh.”
2. The Sexual Relationship and Procreation. (Gen. 1:27, 28; Heb. 13:4) Marriage is for more than just the social relationship, though. God created man a physical being with physical needs, and one of those physical needs is the sexual relationship. Though some religious doctrines make the sexual relationship something “dirty” or profane, God did not say so. But there are limitations. The writer of Hebrews tells us, “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” In this we may know that sexual relations inside the marriage relationship is — to God — an honorable thing. Through marriage, men and women and husband and wife may bring children into this world and they should be considered a great blessing. The psalmist said, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, The fruit of the womb is a reward” (Psa. 127:3).
II. FROM THE BEGINNING
A. Necessary Conclusions. When Jesus was asked by the Pharisees regarding God’s law on marriage, they might have expected that he would answer according to the Old Law, and they were testing Him by their questions. Like many other occasions, they were “seeking to catch Him in something He might say, that they might accuse Him” (Luke 11:54). But Jesus did not go back to the Old Law; He went back to the beginning (Gen. 1:27; 2:24) and spoke of the law God instituted then and which still applied. What was that law?
1. One Man, One Woman. (Gen. 2:21-24; Matt. 19:4, 5) When Jesus cited the original plan of God for marriage, He drew some necessary conclusions from the text that needed to be learned. First, He cited the mention of the fact God had made them male and female; this has become a much more important point than ever, for many today would have same-sex marriages [men/men, women/women] and are pushing to have it their way. Whatever you may think or believe, though, same-sex marriages were not a part of God’s plan for marriage. And let us not forget the lessons of Scriptural authority that certainly apply here: a specific excludes all other ways. God said a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife; this excludes a woman being joined to another woman and a man being joined to a man. By the fact that one man and one woman are mentioned also excludes multiple wives or multiple husbands.
2. For Life. (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:6) When Jesus cited Genesis 2:24, He then concluded, “So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” This is but another indication Jesus has drawn a necessary conclusion from the text, because Genesis 2:24 says nothing explicitly about this being a lifetime commitment. But Jesus did! How? When God spoke of “one flesh” He spoke of the manner of their union — one which would be so close and united that they would be as one: inseparable. It is from this that we get the marriage vows so often spoken: “’Til death do us part.” Here, Jesus answers their question, but more stringently than they might have expected; He said that not only should man not divorce his wife for “just any reason” — Jesus said a man should not divorce his wife at all! God intended — from the beginning — that the marriage relationship was for life!
3. Exceptions. (Deut. 24:1-4; Matt. 19:8) [NOTE: Exceptions are just that — not the rule!] When Jesus concluded that there should be no divorce, the Pharisees then questioned why Moses [as they said] “command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” (v. 7). Jesus then answered, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” Notice again that Jesus said “from the beginning,” indicating it was the rule from the onset and continued as the rule until that day. The “command” of Moses that they cited was the exception, not the rule! They were trying to live and legislate by the exception rather than the rule, and this is where they made their mistake. What kind of marriage relationship would you anticipate if your future spouse sat down with you just before your wedding day and said, “You know, I’ve been thinking about all the reasons why we can divorce, and I’ve got a list of at least 25 ways I could think of; do you have any more reasons that can add to the list?” In effect, this was how the Pharisees were looking at marriage and what God said about it! They were not looking to the original intent, but the exception that He had allowed because of their stubbornness! Some brethren today do the same thing!
B. Exceptions, Variations and the Rule. An important consideration that we must make now is the fact of exceptions and variations that are found throughout the Old Testament, and which may have a bearing on how we understand God’s law on marriage and which one applies to us. Some brethren have gone to the exceptions and variations and teach that this is the rule — completely backwards of the way they teach anything else! Our part, as disciples, is to know, believe and teach the laws of our Master — not the exceptions! But by considering these exceptions and variations, we may better understand the rule and know what we should follow and what is our law today.
1. Multiple Wives/Concubines. Again, let us realize the original intent was one man, one woman, for life, as drawn from the words of Genesis 2:24. But it was just six generations from Adam that we find the first recorded instance of multiple wives (Lamech, Gen. 4:19). And throughout the Old Testament, we see prominent figures such as Jacob (Gen. 28), David (1 Chron. 3:1-9), and Solomon (1 Kings 11:1-3) who had multiple wives and some having concubines. There were even regulations regarding those who had multiple wives (Deut. 21:15-17) and concubines (Lev. 19:20).
2. Various Laws. In addition to the initial institution of marriage and the implied laws contained within that first marriage relationship, God gave various regulations regarding specific situations and marriage laws for particular groups. He restricted who the Levitical priests could marry (Lev. 21:14), forbid the Israelites from marrying the people of the land of Canaan (Deut. 7:3), and the future kings from having multiple wives (Deut. 17:17). We should not be surprised to know that each of these laws was broken! [See also 1 Cor. 7:39 regarding remarriage.]
3. Even Divorce is Regulated. Though Jesus made clear, in His answer to the Pharisees, that divorce was never intended from the beginning, God did give regulations regarding divorce. To some, in particular situations, divorce was strictly forbidden (Deut. 22:13-19, 28-29); to others, divorce was permitted, but with certain restrictions (Deut. 24:1-4). Let us not forget the words of Jesus, that tell us this was done “because of the hardness of your hearts” (Matt. 19:8)! This is not what God wanted!
4. Why Variations? Why Is Divorce Regulated? (Matt. 19:8) When we consider the variations and the specific limitations on particular groups [such as the Levitical priests and the Israelites, as a nation], we might begin to wonder if there is any one law that applies to all, or to us today. Someone might ask, “If God had a law in the beginning, why the variations? And why did He regulate what he did not desire?” First, let us consider that some of these regulations were for specific groups for specific reasons. The Israelites were restricted from marrying pagan women because God knew they would “turn your sons away from following Me, to serve other gods” (Deut. 7:4); the Levitical priests were given even more restrictive limitations “for the priest is holy to his God” (Lev. 21:7); and the regulations regarding divorce — something God says he hates — were given, again, because the stubbornness of the people. Apparently, men were putting away their wives for even the most frivolous reasons, and such had already wreaked havoc on the family relationships. God gave regulations to moderate their behavior and to prevent the lax attitudes they had in simply putting away one and possibly taking her back later. Again, it was never in God’s original plan for marriage that divorce would even be an option. Jesus would cite their hardened hearts as reason why God permitted it, but then gave the one exception that God did permit: fornication (Matt. 19:9).
5. The Rule. (Matt. 5:31, 32; 19:1-9; 1 Cor. 7) When Jesus was asked by the Pharisees about the ability to put away for any cause, Jesus said, “No.” In the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus addressed the many misconceptions of God’s will, He clarified the misconception that taught as long as a man gave his wife a certificate of divorce, it was okay. He said, “But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.” Jesus corrected the idea that any divorce was okay, as long as they gave the certificate of divorce, and said there was only one reason for divorce that was acceptable to God. Marriage, again, is upheld and divorce is condemned — with one exception. Paul’s instructions only echo that of our Lord when he forbid divorce and even went so far as to say the woman who had wrongfully divorced her husband should be reconciled to him or remain unmarried (1 Cor. 7:10, 11).
III. GOD’S LAWS vs. MAN’S LAWS
A. God’s Law Is Supreme. Today, many may ask, “Whose law rules when man’s laws do not agree with God?” Good question! Let’s answer it! God’s laws will always be supreme:
1. Because He is Our Creator. (Gen. 1:27, 28; 2:18-22) The primary reason God’s law rules [especially on this topic] is because He is the creator of man and we, as His creation, must answer to Him. When we stand before Jesus Christ and God on that final day, we will not have to give answer to the laws of the United States, any particular state, or any law of man!
2. Because He Instituted Marriage. (Gen. 2:21-24; Matt. 19:6) We also are primarily accountable to the laws of God because He also was the one who instituted the marriage relationship. He created woman for man and, as Jesus said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” They were literally made for one another and this marriage relationship was the means for legitimizing that relationship.
3. Man’s Laws Are Inconsistent. When we consider the wide variations of man’s laws regarding marriage, divorce, and remarriage, we would have to simply throw up our hands and give up any hope of deciphering many of the laws or figuring out which one has more weight than any other. And the fact is, any man could argue that the laws of his land are just as good as the laws of any other, for any law that is not God’s is inferior and unable to serve as the standard for all men of all time. But God’s law can serve in that capacity for it was made for all men of all time.
B. When Man’s Laws Conflict And When Man Transgresses God’s Law. Since there are so many laws and since most of them do not agree with God’s law on marriage, what results when man’s laws do not agree, and what happens when man transgresses the law of God, appealing to the laws of the land in which he lives?
1. First, We Must Admit God’s Law Can Be Transgressed. Some brethren today — in an effort to defend and unscriptural teaching on marriage, divorce, and remarriage, say that when a man goes against the laws of God on this matter, then it is not “real.” In other words, if a man goes against the will of God in marrying another, he “isn’t really married,” or if he puts away his wife for some other reason than the one exception Jesus gave, it “really isn’t a divorce” Let us hear the words of Jesus once again: “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery” (Matt. 19:9). In this scenario, the man put away his wife for a cause God did not approve, yet Jesus said they were divorced! Though he put away one unlawfully [against God’s law], and though he did not have the right of remarriage, Jesus said he married another! Let us admit that god’s laws can indeed be transgressed, but it does not mean the act doesn’t take place! If a man divorces against God’s will, he is still divorced! [That does not mean that he is free to marry another, though.]
2. God’s Law Is Still Supreme. Second, we must recognize that the law of God is not superseded by man’s when man acts against the law of God in carrying out either a marriage or a divorce. If a man marries against God’s will, he is indeed married, but he did not negate the will of God because he will still be called an adulterer (cf. Matt. 19:9a); if he divorces his wife against God’s will, she is still divorced and still not free to remarry. If she remarries against God’s will she, too, will be guilty of adultery. God’s law still stands!
3. We Will Be Judged In The End By Christ’s Words. Finally, we should never forget that it is the words of Jesus Christ to which we will give account in the end. Whether we have obeyed the laws of man may be a question of judgment, but the laws of man are not what will judge us; the words of Jesus are the standard for judgment (John 12:47, 48). Let us resolved to know, believe, and obey the words of our Lord on this matter and any other that we might stand justified before Him in the end, having been washed in His precious blood.
Statistics say that just about one out of two marriages end in divorce, and that about 75% of those divorced marry again. Because of all of this there is a great transgression of God’s will taking place, but what are we going to do about it? Some say we just don’t preach on it anymore because it is too prevalent; some say we should preach God’s law as “the ideal” but not law; some would have us believe God’s law is so confusing we cannot understand it so we should just not talk about it. I believe none of the above is true; God’s will is comprehensible and it can be obeyed — if it is our heart’s desire to do so. Will many people be affected by transgression of God’s law on marriage? Yes, and likely many more before this world ends. But we cannot afford to cave to the pressures of modern society and concede defeat. Let us preach the word “in season and out of season” and let us be willing to teach the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.