Our society is being wracked by a seemingly never-ending dispute over the meaning, legality, and nature of so-called same-sex marriage. The experts tell us that it is highly likely the Supreme Court will soon issue a ruling making same-sex marriage legal in all fifty states. So what should be the Christian response?
Perhaps the best place to begin is with the meaning of marriage. I would define marriage as the enjoyment of spiritual and physical unity between one man and one woman based on a life-long, covenant commitment, the ultimate aim of which is to display the covenant relationship between Jesus Christ and his Bride, the Church.
Marriage is a unity of both flesh and spirit. It is a mutual commitment in which husband and wife share their bodies, their spirits, their possessions, their problems, their insights and ideas, their goals and gripes, their sadness and happiness. Ideally, nothing should stand in the way of this mutual experience.
This definition is clearly justified on the basis of several biblical passages.
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth’” (Gen. 1:27-28a).
Following the creation of woman from the side of the man, Adam declares:
“’This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’ Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:23-24).
These first two passages clearly indicate that God’s purpose in creating male and female was so that they might enter into and enjoy a one-flesh sexual union and a loving covenantal cleaving one with another. God’s design in this was that they would be “fruitful” and “multiply” the human race.
Jesus in turn picks up on the Genesis narrative and says in Matthew 19:4-6,
“Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt. 19:4-6).
To these texts we finally add what the apostle Paul said in Ephesians 5:
“Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. . . . ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:24-25, 31-32).
There is no other concept of marriage in the Bible. God’s clear and unmistakable revealed will is that marriage is a life-long covenant between one man and one woman that illustrates or displays the covenant love between Christ and his Church.
How important is this phenomenon we call “marriage”? The author of Hebrews gives us a hint when he exhorts us in chapter thirteen, verse four of his epistle: “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”
We need to take note of the word translated “honor” (v. 4). This word is used in a number of other texts such as 1 Corinthians 3:12 and 1 Peter 1:19 and 2 Peter 1:4 and is typically translated with the English word “precious”. Our author here in Hebrews is telling us that marriage is not simply an institution or arrangement or even merely a covenant. It is something of immeasurable value: it is precious in the sight of God and must be treated accordingly. Treasure it. Respect it. Esteem it. Prize it. And therefore protect it.
This biblical definition of marriage leads inevitably to a second point of profound importance:There is no such thing as same-sex marriage. I’m not saying that our government and the people of this country do not say there is such a thing as same-sex marriage. But their saying it does notmake it so. Same-sex marriage, by definition, simply does not exist. When people ask me where I stand on the subject of same-sex marriage, I respond by saying: “My position on the existence of same-sex marriage is identical to my position on the existence of square circles: neither one exists.”
Most of you remember enough from high school geometry to know the difference between the dimensions of a triangle, a rectangle, and a square. If I were to draw a triangle below, or any of the other objects just noted, and declare that what you are looking at is in fact a circle, I trust that you would laugh out loud. No matter what I call a circle, an object that is triangular or rectangular or square does not qualify as such. Merely saying that a triangle is a circle does not make it one. And merely calling a relationship between two men or between two women a “marriage” does not make it such.
When your state or our President or our Congress and perhaps eventually even our Supreme Court declares that same-sex marriage is legal, they are saying something that is at fundamental odds with God’s Word. On God’s terms, only a man and a woman can enter into a marriage. When a man and another man or a woman and another woman commit themselves to each other and repeat vows and obtain a license from the state, there are any number of terms we might apply to what has just occurred, but marriage is simply not one of them.
The fact that such a relationship may prove to be monogamous does not make it a marriage. There may be genuine love between the two individuals and a mutual commitment to live together unto life’s end. But such features do not transform the relationship into a marriage. By biblical definition, and that is the only definition that matters, a marriage does not exist unless it is a covenant between one man and one woman.
In other words, I’m not simply saying that same-sex marriage shouldn’t exist or even that itdoesn’t exist. I’m saying that it cannot exist. God created marriage. God defined marriage. And any relationship that does not conform to God’s definitive revelation on what constitutes marriage may be called many things, but it cannot be called marriage. Call it a relationship. Call it a civil union. Call it two people committed to each other. Call it what you will, but don’t call it marriage.
It remains to be seen what will happen in the pending Supreme Court Decision. But be assured of this: not even the highest court in the land can trump the inspired revelation of God in his written Word. Marriage only exists when one man and one woman enter into a covenant in which they commit themselves to be faithful to each other until life’s end.