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God’s Design for Marriage

Should same-sex couples be allowed to marry? Or, more particularly, in states (or countries) that have followed the democratic process to define marriage as exclusively between a man and woman, should judges intervene and nullify those laws? Where new elections are held, should Christians vote to allow LGBT couples to legally marry? I say: in as much as it depends on voters, Christians should be opposed to the redefinition of marriage to allow for same-sex unions. Now, there are three steps to this argument:  

  1. You have to be persuaded that the government should in fact regulate marriage. It is common for Christians to say, “The government should just stay out of it all together, and then it doesn’t matter what judges do.” While I see why that argument may be alluring—and it may ultimately be the path our government is on anyway—that approach runs contrary to the way God designed government to work (I argue that point on this post here).
  2. Once you understand that the role of government is to suppress sin, then you have to be persuaded that homosexual marriage is indeed sinful. God designed marriage, and the gender distinctions inside of marriage are inextricable from the institution itself. This is that post.
  3. And finally, because this side of the millennial kingdom there is no such thing as a Christian country, the third step is to demonstrate that it is in fact in our society’s best interest for government to promote the heterosexual concept of marriage. In other words, there are two sets of arguments against same-sex marriage: the religious reasoning and the secular rationale. If any view is biblical, it will also be beneficial to society. That will be a post for next week.

For Christians, the foundation of our understanding of marriage is the biblical concept of the institution. While I hinted at this above, I want to be clear here: these arguments are not going to be compelling for someone who rejects the truth of scripture. My point here is to succinctly make the obvious point:

God designed marriage to be heterosexual

The creation narrative in Genesis 1-4 is bracketed by the fact that God made two genders (1:27, 5:2). While both are in the image of God, both have different functions and roles. They were designed to be different from each other, so that in marriage they would complement each other (2:22-25).

In fact, the entire premise of marriage is that it is not good for man to be alone, and that he needs a helper made suitable for him, but different from him (2:18). God made genders for the purpose of procreation in marriage, and he made them different from each other for the purpose of suitability through marriage.

This is why the two tasks given humans (subdue the earth and multiply) are best achieved in a marriage relationship (1:28). Outside of that relationship a male is without a helper, and children are without parents. And this is all before sin entered the world.

After sin did enter creation, God cursed both men and women. The way he worded his rebuke makes the point obvious: humanity’s two tasks (subdue/multiply) will cause pain inside of marriage to the two genders differently. Husbands will have pain in work, while wives will have pain in childbirth (3:16-19). Together in marriage they will share both the pain and blessings of marriage in a fallen world.

Understand that any attempt to redefine marriage away from the complementary nature of the genders is an attack on the creation narrative itself. But it is not only Genesis 1-11 that displays the exclusively heterosexual nature of marriage. In Genesis 12 God calls Abraham away from his family to start a new family, and it will be through that marriage and covenant which God will fulfill his promise to start a new nation.

When that nation receives its laws, marriage is the means by which children are provided and land is inherited. It is the means by which the census is made, families are accountable to the government’s structure, and ultimately how they worship. While the laws themselves were specific to OT Israel, their foundation on marriage began before Sinai. It is clear that Leviticus-Deuteronomy builds upon the Adamic design for marriage.

There is no more foundational component of society than husband/wife relationship. This is why the NT has much to say about it. Jesus taught on it, as did Paul and Peter. In some cases the teaching on marriage is gender-neutral. For example, Jesus’ teaching on adultery in Luke 16:18 applies to both husbands and wives, without gender distinction. Paul’s point that a marriage vow only endures until death of one partner is likewise irrespective of gender (Rom 7:2-3).

Notwithstanding those examples, much of the NT’s teaching on marriage is gender specific. Not only does the instruction presuppose heterosexual marriage, but the teaching itself only makes sense through the lens of gender differences in marriage. For example, the differences between a husband and a wife are the basis for seeing the relationship of Jesus and the church somehow represented in marriage (Eph 5:23-32). In fact, Paul ends that section by giving a command to counter gender specific temptations inside of marriage (Eph 5:23).

The childbearing ability of the wife (in contrast to adoption) serves as the background for Paul’s analogy for salvation in Christ serving as freedom from the law (Gal 4:27). In 2 Cor 11:2, Paul contrasts the jealousy of a future husband with the chastity of future wife. In 1 Tim 2-3, Paul expressly connects the ability to bear children (2:15) to the role of a wife, and uses that as a set up for the qualification that an elder must be the “husband of one wife” (3:2). The description of a godly wife is expressly tied to the child rearing role (Titus 2:4-5). Paul also teaches that the gender distinctions in marriage have to be regarded in the congregational worship, and that these distinctions must be “recognized” in every church (1 Cor 14:35-38). This is not confined to only Paul. In 1 Peter 3:5-7, Peter uses the gender differences in marriage as the foundation for his instruction on matrimony.

Now, many of these passages have various interpretations, but note that all of them can only be interpreted in light of gender differences in marriage. Taken together, this shows that marriage was designed by God to be between a male and a female (in fact, he created the genders for precisely that reason), these gender differences are the foundation for the implementation of the two tasks God gives people, and they serve as the bedrock of society. Inside of Christ, the gender differences in marriage serve as the launching point for how Jesus loves the church, how marriage works, and how churches should be led.

Serious people can make the case that same-sex couples should be able to share in the commitments of marriage, the love of marriage, and other marriage-like attributes. But in so doing, they would have to grant that their version of marriage is divorced from the institution designed by God and mirrored in the world. The Bible’s teaching on marriage is only comprehensible when the husband and wife are male and female.

What arguments am I missing? Do you have any questions on this? Where is it weak? Leave a comment below: