This past Sunday (June 17, 2018), in our series in Paul’s epistle to the Romans, we reached Romans 1:24-28. To try and lay a foundation for our understanding of this challenging passage, I preached a sermon called The Nature of Marriage, from Matthew 19:3-12. In that passage, Jesus answers a question from the Pharisees about divorce by first explaining the nature of marriage. It’s essentially a brief exposition of key points in Genesis chapters 1 and 2.
Jesus’ explanation of the nature of marriage can be summarized:
- In the beginning, God created male and female. That is, the nature of marriage is seen in and grounded by creation.
- Male and female are physical complements, as designed by God.
- When male and female come together in the physical act of marriage, God Himself joins them together into a one-flesh union. It is only this union in which God so acts.
Consequently, we see Jesus’ teaching that marriage is one male and one female. This understanding of marriage, which I termed “natural marriage,” is the basis for understanding that marriage means: monogamy (married to only one); exclusivity (married to one-and-only one); and permanence (married to one-and-only one for life).
A proper understanding of the nature of marriage allows us to answer practical questions that we face in our culture. In the sermon, I touched on several questions and cultural objections or arguments against this position, which I briefly want to summarize.
Is Divorce Biblical?
This is the practical question that Jesus was answering, and His response was: What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. (Matthew 19:6) In other words, because it is God Himself who joins the man and the woman into a one-flesh union, from the beginning it was never intended to end in divorce. Jesus allows for the exception of sexual immorality (which has been variously interpreted – I view it as the offending party having already broken the marriage covenant). It’s important to be clear that abandonment and abuse are also categories of covenant-breaking which may (but don’t necessarily) justify divorce. To avoid focusing on the exceptions, though, please see that Jesus’ answer is unequivocal: From the beginning, it was not so. (Matthew 19:8) Sexual immorality was not an exception that was of concern “from the beginning.”
What About Intersex People?
People who are born with ambiguous physical gender characteristics fall into the category which Jesus termed “eunuchs.” (Matthew 19:12) Opponents of natural marriage will point to this reality as an argument that marriage cannot be simply one male to one female. We need to start by emphasizing that such individuals are made in the image of God, and Christians are called to love them as we love ourselves (the second great commandment). We minister to them by continually reminding them that God loves them, that Jesus is a great Savior, and that God is greater than anything they might think they’re missing out on – far greater than anything that we can ask or think.
It’s important to see that Jesus rejects the premise that anyone who desires marriage and physical intimacy has a right to it. Sex is reserved for one man and one woman within the covenant of marriage.
What About the Old Testament “Sexual Ethic?”
An argument that is sometimes made is that the Bible doesn’t actually present a single “sexual ethic,” and therefore it is improper to advocate for this view of marriage and sexuality. This is basically a variation of the Pharisees’ follow-up question, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” (Matthew 19:7) Jesus’s response answers this objection: From the beginning, it was not so. The first man in Scripture recorded as taking multiple wives (Lamech, Genesis 4) was violating God’s standard for marriage and sexuality. The fact that God patiently endures the sin of numerous people throughout the Old Testament, and frequently blesses them, is a statement about the grace, mercy, love, and patience of God. It is not an argument for a sexual ethic other than the one God designed “from the beginning.”
Jesus Never Said Anything About Homosexuality
This is one of the most frequent arguments made by critics of natural marriage. It’s only true if your standard for “anything” demands that Jesus must use a specific word. When Jesus restates the nature of marriage as God created it “from the beginning,” He is also making a statement about the lawfulness of anything outside of natural marriage. If explicit prohibitions were required, Jesus would have to address every possible violation of God’s design of marriage and sexuality. Jesus presents to us the genuine. By definition, everything else is counterfeit.
My goal in reviewing these issues it two-fold: First, I want us to be equipped with specific answers to commonly-heard objections. Second, I want us to see how a clear understanding of the nature of marriage allows us to answer other questions that we may encounter. When facing such questions, it’s important to be able to go back to first principles in thinking through our response.
I pray that you find this helpful.