Jesus and marriage
Thousands rallied at Sydney Town Hall to campaign for same-sex marriage. And there are new laws against hate speech during Australia’s same-sex marriage postal survey. The survey, which is being mailed out now, asks the question: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” The current marriage law says that marriage is between a man and a woman. But what did Jesus say about marriage? To investigate this topic, we will look at the books of Matthew to John in the New Testament.
I have previously written a blogpost on what the Bible says about gender and marriage, which shows that the early church taught that marriage is between one man and one woman. We will see that Jesus taught this truth as well.
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 8 verses in Matthew to John.
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 37 verses and “wives” in one verse in Matthew to John.
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
When Jesus was asked about divorce He replied, “at the beginning of creation God ‘made them (people) 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 (in marriage), let no one separate (in divorce)” (Mt. 19:4-6; Mk. 10:6-9NIV). Jesus goes back to the time before sin came into the world to show God’s original intention for marriage. Then He says that humanity was created in two genders: male and female (Gen. 1:27). That should be obvious to us. When a baby is born, it’s announced as being either a boy or a girl. There’s no gender ambiguity at birth! Our gender is determined by our genome and we can’t change that. Then the two genders are given as the reason (“For this reason”) why marriage is between a man and a woman. It’s easy to understand. In this way, marriage is linked to God’s creation. “United” means that there is a strong bond between husband and wife. “One flesh” means sharing all of life together, like a body that doesn’t separate until death. God designed husband and wife to complement each other. Jesus recognizes that the first marriage was between Adam (a man) and Eve (a woman). It wasn’t between Adam and Steve or between Madam and Eve! The pattern of marriage was established in the Garden of Eden, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). So according to the Bible, marriage is the union of a man and a woman. Jesus quotes this verse and adds that because God has joined the couple together in marriage, it’s meant to be a lifelong union (“let no one separate”). Jesus showed that God’s original intention for marriage still applied in a sinful world. In fact, it applies until we go to heaven (Mt. 22:29-30; Mk. 12:24-25; Lk. 20:34-36). So, Jesus answers the question on divorce in the context of marriage being heterosexual.
This is Jesus’ definition of marriage. And same-sex marriage isn’t included. Jesus never discussed same-sex marriage because the way he defined marriage already excluded it! So the term “same-sex marriage” is a contradiction, an oxymoron.
Adam and Eve were commanded to “be fruitful and increase in number” (Gen. 1:28). This means that one of the important functions of the first marriage was to produce and nurture children. This is the example of marriage that Jesus tells those in the first century AD to follow. Of course, it only makes sense in the case of heterosexual marriage. There was no way to produce children from homosexual relationships.
Whenever Jesus taught about adultery (Lk. 16:18) and divorce (Mt. 5:31-32; 19:3-9; Mk. 10:2-12; Lk. 16:18), He assumed that marriage is between a man and a woman.
But what about models of marriage in the gospels that aren’t commands?
Heterosexual marriage modelled
There are other verses that indicate that the pattern of marriage in the time of Jesus was monogamous and heterosexual and that Jesus approved of this pattern for marriage.
Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were the parents of John the Baptist (Lk. 1:5-24). And Jesus’ family had a father and mother, Joseph and Mary (Mt. 1:20, 24). One of the woman near the cross was Mary the wife of Clopas (Jn. 19:25). And when Jesus listed a man’s family He included a wife and children (Mt. 19:29; Lk. 14:26; 18:29).
In the parable of the unmerciful servant, Jesus said that the servant had a wife and children (Mt. 18:25). In the parable of the ten virgins, the women were waiting to celebrate a wedding banquet. As a bridegroom is mentioned, the marriage was between a man and a woman (Mt. 25:1-10).
Jesus performed a miracle (turned water into wine) at a wedding feast in Cana (Jn. 2:1-11). As He attended the feast with His mother and disciples, Jesus clearly approved of marriage. Also, because the marriage involved a bridegroom (v.9), it was between a man and a woman. Jesus also used weddings in His parables and metaphors (Mt. 9:15; 22:1-12; 25:1-10; Mk. 2:19-20; Lk. 5:34; 12:36; 14:8). And John the Baptist used a bride, bridegroom and best-man in an illustration (Jn.3:29).
But what about when marriage is reported in the gospels and it isn’t necessarily an example to follow?
Heterosexual marriage reported
The prophetess Anna became a widow after seven years of marriage to her husband (Lk. 2:36). And when Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman, they both assumed that a woman like her usually had a husband (Jn. 4:16-18).
When they asked Jesus about divorce, the Jewish religious leaders assumed that marriage was between a man and a woman (Mt. 19:3; Mk. 10:2). And the Sadducees asked Jesus a hypothetical question which involved a woman marrying seven brothers in turn under the levirate marriage law (Mt. 22:23-28; Mk. 12:18-23; Lk. 20:27-33). Although this looked like serial monogamy, in each case the woman was widowed before she remarried.
John the Baptist denounced the marriage of Herodias to Herod Antipas, after she had been married to Herod Philip (Mt.14:3; Mk. 6:17-18; Lk. 3:19). Pilate was married (Mt. 27:19). And Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household, was married to Joanna (Lk. 8:3).
These verses indicate that the most common pattern of marriage when Jesus was alive was monogamous and heterosexual, where a man was married to a woman.
Other types of marriage?
I am not aware of any other verses between Matthew and John 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.
Clearly, all the marriages referred to above involved the union of one man and one woman. It involved both genders (heterosexual marriage), and not only a single gender (homosexual marriage).
How do we know what Jesus thought of same-sex marriage (or homosexuality) when it’s not mentioned specifically in the gospels? We can find out from the Old Testament because it describes the principles and practices of Judaism. Jesus was a faithful Jew who lived under the Old Testament law. He obeyed the law of Moses (Jn. 8:29,55) and He didn’t sin in any way (Heb. 4:15; 1 Pt. 2:22). So, He would have followed the laws of Moses about unlawful sexual relations, such as:
“Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable” (Lev. 18:22).
“If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable” (Lev. 20:13).
So Jesus would have prohibited any homosexual sexual activity as it was against the laws of Moses for sexual relationships.
We have seen that according to Jesus, marriage is a lifelong union between one man and one woman. Consequently, the term “same-sex marriage” is an oxymoron.
Written, September 2017