Gender and marriage
Same-sex marriage has been legalized in about 23 countries including: The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, Denmark, France, Brazil, Uruguay, New Zealand, United Kingdom (excluding Northern Ireland), Ireland, Luxemburg, United States, Colombia, Greenland, Finland, and Slovenia.
This month Australia faces a postal survey on marriage law. The survey form asks the question: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” In this context, a recent article in the local media claims that it’s wrong to claim that marriage is “a union between a man and a woman as stated in the Bible” and it’s wrong to claim that “a biblical view of marriage is between one man and one woman”. So what does the Bible say about gender and marriage? We will look at the portion of the New Testament written to the church (Acts to Revelation) in the first century AD because the principles given in this part of the Bible are directly relevant to us today.
According to the Oxford dictionary, sexual orientation is “A person’s sexual identity in relation to the gender to which they are attracted; the fact of being heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual”. The media article also says that “There is nothing like the contemporary concept of sexual orientation in the biblical text”, with the implication that this is a modern idea to which the Bible is irrelevant.
But same-gender attraction isn’t new. It (and homosexuality) was prevalent in the Roman Empire. And homosexual sexual activity is mentioned specifically in three passages of the Bible between Acts and Revelation (Romans. 1:18-32; 1 Cor. 6:8-10; 1 Tim. 1:8-11). These weren’t isolated incidences of homosexual practices, but were characteristic patterns of behavior by a sector of people in society at that time. So, the Bible certainly addresses homosexuality. And if sexual orientation includes homosexual sexual activities, then what the Bible says is relevant to “the contemporary concept of sexual orientation”. So the article’s claim about sexual orientation and the Bible is false.
Husband and wife
The Greek noun translated “man” (aner Strongs #435) means a male human being or a husband or a group of people, with the preference being indicated by the context. According to the ESV, it is translated “husband” or “husbands” in 36 verses in Acts to Revelation.
The Greek noun translated woman (gune #1135) means a female human being or a wife, with the preference being indicated by the context. According to the ESV, it is translated “wife” or “wife’s” in 32 verses and “wives” in 11 verses in Acts to Revelation.
What was the pattern of these marriages in the early church? The early Christians followed the teachings of the apostles who had been trained by Jesus. And the apostles followed the teachings of Jesus who said, “at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Mk. 10:6-9NIV). This was repeated by Paul, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Eph. 5:31). Clearly, these marriages involved the union of one man and one woman. It involved both genders (heterosexual marriage), and not only a single gender (homosexual marriage).
Is heterosexual marriage a command, a model or a report?
The contents of the Bible can be divided into commands, models to follow and reports of events. A command is mandatory (not optional) and prescriptive (not descriptive). A model to follow is a practice that is described that is worth following today. Whereas, a report is a description of events (like in the news media) that is not necessarily worth following today. For this post, all the verses in the ESV that included any of the words, “husband”, “wife”, or “marriage” were examined.
Heterosexual marriage commanded
Paul mentioned husbands and wives when he wrote, “Now for the matters you wrote about: ‘It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.’ But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband” (1 Cor. 7:1-2). Here Paul is correcting two false teachings, that the married should abstain from sexual relations and an acceptance of sexual relations outside marriage (adultery or homosexuality). His command restricts sexual relations to marriage. And the marriage is where “each man” has “his own wife” and “each woman” has “her own husband”. So sexual relations should be restricted to heterosexual marriage. “Husband” is mentioned in six more verses in this chapter with the same meaning. “Wife” is mentioned in ten more verses in this chapter with the same meaning. And “wives” is mentioned in one more verse in this chapter. So, in this passage, marriage is a union between a man and a woman.
Paul’s main instructions for marriage are given in Ephesians 5:22-33. And a short summary of these is given in Colossians 3:19-19, Titus 2:4-5 and 1 Peter 3:1-7. He commands husbands to lead and love their wives, and wives to respect and submit to their husbands. These are commands for heterosexual marriage between a man and a woman. Elsewhere, he condemns homosexual sexual activity (Romans. 1:18-32; 1 Cor. 6:8-10; 1 Tim. 1:8-11).
The Bible says that a church leader (one of the elders) must be “faithful to his wife” (1 Tim. 3:2, 12; Tit. 1:6). So, if they were married, it was to be to a woman (wife). Likewise, a widow that was supported by the church must have been “faithful to her husband” (1 Tim. 5:9). In these passages, marriage is a union between a man and a woman.
One of the purposes of heterosexual marriage was to have children (1 Tim. 5:14). In this verse, marriage is a union between a man and a woman. In those days, homosexuals could only have children by adoption.
Another purpose of heterosexual marriage was to prevent sexual immorality (1 Cor. 7:2, 8-9). In this passage, marriage is a union between a man and a woman. On the other hand, same-sex marriage promotes sexual immorality in the form of homosexual sexual activity.
According to the Bible, another characteristic of heterosexual marriage is that it is intended to be a lifelong relationship (Rom. 7:2-3). And divorce was meant to be rare. Unfortunately, this is not the case today where divorce and serial marriage is common.
We see that in all these instances when the Bible issues commands to people that are married, the marriage is a union between a man and a woman.
But what about models of marriage in this portion of the Bible that aren’t commands?
Heterosexual marriage modelled
There are other verses that indicate that the pattern of marriage in the early church was monogamous and heterosexual. Paul wrote, “I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3). When describing the relationship between husbands and wives, Paul implies that each wife had a single husband. Similarly, if wives had any questions at church, they were to “ask their own husbands” as the head of the household (1 Cor. 14:35). In these passages, marriage is a union between a man and a woman.
Paul stayed in Corinth with Aquila and his wife Priscilla (Acts 18:1-3). And the apostles and their wives were entitled to be supported by the churches (1 Cor. 9:5). In these passages, marriage is a union between a man and a woman.
But what about when marriage is reported in this portion of the Bible and it isn’t necessarily an example to follow?
Heterosexual marriage reported
There are other verses that indicate that the pattern of marriage in the early church was monogamous and that the most common pattern of marriage in the first century was heterosexual. Ananias and Sapphira were a husband and wife who set a bad example (Acts. 5:1-10). And the governor of Judea, Antonius Felix had a wife called Drusilla (Acts 24:24). Apparently he married three queens in quick succession. In these cases, marriage is a union between a man and a woman. This makes sense because the continuation of the human race depended on the birth of children, which required a husband and a wife.
In an illustration, Paul said that adultery was wrong (being different to the pattern endorsed by Jesus), but a woman could marry another man if her first husband dies (Rom. 7:2-3). This marriage involved one man and one woman. Like adultery, homosexual marriage is also wrong (being different to the pattern endorsed by Jesus).
Besides these references to marriage between a man and a woman, marriage is also used as a metaphor in the Bible.
Marriage as a metaphor
In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is said to be like a bridegroom (or husband) and the church is said to be like His bride (or wife). Paul said, “I promised you to one husband, to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:2). After mentioning marriage, Paul says “This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32). So the union of a man and a woman in marriage is an illustration of the union between Jesus and the people of God (the church). The metaphorical union culminates in the wedding of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7-9). So heaven begins with a wedding! It’s a wedding where two different types of people are united (Jesus and the church). In the Bible they are likened to husband and wife, man and woman; and not man and man or woman and woman. The metaphor only works for heterosexual marriage, and not for homosexual marriage (as there is no “husband” or “wife”, just “partners”).
Other types of marriage?
I am not aware of any other verses between Acts and Revelation in the Bible that are related to marriage. So the Bible doesn’t teach any other pattern for marriage besides a man and a woman. This means that homosexual marriage is a human invention, whereas heterosexual marriage is God-ordained.
Other media claims
We will now look at four additional claims in the media article. First, “There is nothing inherently Christian about the so-called traditional arrangement of the nuclear family”. This is deceptive. The topic is “same-sex marriage”, not “the nuclear family”. I have shown that the Bible teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman. As one of the purposes of marriage is to raise children, then a normal family includes: a husband, a wife, and their children (a nuclear family). But it isn’t restricted to only a nuclear family! Of course a household may also include other generations and/or relatives.
Second, “You can find that model (heterosexual marriage) in the Bible if you look for it, but it is not the dominant view. Nor does the Bible condemn what we understand to be loving, mutual LGBTQI relationships today”. This statement is based on the Old Testament, which was written under the Old Covenant of Moses. As the Bible is a progressive revelation of the will of God, we should give more weight to the portion written to the church (Acts to Revelation). When we do this it is evident that heterosexual marriage is the dominant view. So the article is wrong. The Bible condemns homosexual sexual activity. If “loving, mutual LGBTQI relationships today” include homosexual sexual activity, then the Bible condemns them as sinful.
Third, “Paul, thinks celibacy is preferable (above marriage) for a Christian”. But this isn’t representative of Paul’s view on marriage. It’s cherry-picking. The passage being referred to addresses those who were unmarried (1 Cor. 7:7-9). Paul was unmarried when he wrote it. But we don’t know whether he had always been a bachelor or whether he was a widower at the time. Paul expands on this passage in verses 25-38. His principle was if you are married, don’t get divorced, and if you are unmarried stay that way if you can because you will have more time to serve the Lord and marriage brings extra troubles. “But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry”. Furthermore, about ten years later Paul condemned those who “forbid people to marry” (1 Tim. 4:3). So, Paul’s view wasn’t as simple as that proposed in the media article.
And finally, it also claims Paul’s statement that “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you (Christians) are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28), “profoundly disrupts patriarchal family structures, gender roles and hierarchy”. This verse states that the unity between Christians transcends their racial, social and gender differences. They are equally accepted by God. The differences between them are demolished with regard to our salvation, our position (status) before God and our inheritance. But the distinctions still existed in everyday life. So the statement has no impact on “family structures, gender roles and hierarchy”, apart from Christians recognizing that no category has more acceptance with God than another. See my post on the common misuse of this verse.
We have seen that the biblical view of marriage in the first century AD was between one man and one woman. As we are still under the new covenant today, the biblical view of marriage for us in the 21st century AD is also between one man and one woman. So the media article is wrong.
Written, September 2017
Also see: Jesus and marriage
This entry was posted on September 10, 2017 by George Hawke. It was filed under Christian, Error, Spiritual and was tagged with bible, equality, gender, God, husband, marriage, metaphor, same-sex, wife.
Thanks George xx this is very helpful
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September 11, 2017 at 12:31 am
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