One of the beautiful Reformed principles for determining truth is sola Scriptura, only the Scriptures. This must be our guiding light as we now explore the Biblical principles concerning the duration of marriage, how to handle difficulties if they arise within marriage, and what to do if a marriage breaks down. Is divorce a Scriptural option for the believer? And if so, is remarriage proper in any circumstances? We may not be guided by our emotions, even though they inevitably run very high in dealing with such a sensitive subject. We may not be guided by what others are doing, as if majority opinion will determine for us Christian conduct. With Luther, our “conscience is bound to the Word of God.”
We propose to study Scriptural teaching on this subject by following the historical order. We must examine somewhat, marriage as created, marriage and divorce in the Old Testament times, Christ’s teaching on marriage and divorce, and finally Paul’s instruction given in his epistles. We shall see that the Bible teaches from beginning to end that marriage is for the life of both partners, that this marriage bond is never dissolved by any action on the part of husband or wife, but only by death, and that true love seeks reconciliation inall things.
MARRIAGE IN THE BEGINNING
Divorce is the break-down of marriage. It is the result of sin as it affects marriage. We must be reminded of this, else we may be influenced by the frequency of it and develop a calloused or nonchalant attitude toward it. If we are exposed to evil frequently enough, we may even accept it as a way of life, and our sensitivity to sin becomes dull. As covenant young people we must guard against this, also as it relates to divorce. True, it is so common that it hardly shocks us anymore; yet that does not make it any less wicked. We must preserve our spiritual balance and remind ourselves that divorce is the result of sin, and therefore to be abhorred. It is to be included in the “wages of sin” which is death.
All of this is impressed upon our minds when we examine the “first marriage” which was “from the beginning.” If we do this, we will see God’s purpose for marriage, see that God has instituted marriage for His glory, and that therefore to live in the bond of marriage requires of us obedience to God. To be sure, sin has come between the original creation and the present world. This explains for us why divorce is so common and why marriages fail so often. Yet, we must also remind ourselves that in Christ, the original purpose of marriage is restored. We believe that we are covenant young people, ingrafted into Christ by a true and living faith. This reality enables us to approach marriage, not from the point of view of sin, but sanctification. We may study with such sanctified eyes what God created and learn what God requires of us, now that we are renewed in His image through salvation in Jesus Christ. Looking back will help us get the proper perspective for marriage.
Our Lord taught this very clearly. In the context of Matt. 19:1-9, which we will examine later, the Pharisees came to Christ asking about divorce and even divorce as “suffered by Moses.” In answering this, Christ exhorted, “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives, but from the beginning it was not so,” Matt. 19:8. Reckoning that sin came between the beginning and the present, Christ insists that the principles of marriage, as created by God, take precedence over other seeming variances from them. Hence, Christ also said, “Have ye not read that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother and shall cleave to his wife; and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder,” Matt. 19:4-6.
What principles of marriage can we learn from the original creation.
The first one is that marriage is a divine institution. Adam and Eve did not discover marriage for themselves. The origin of marriage is not in man; it is in God. God created them for marriage, it was all part of His perfect plan. If we believe in evolution, we lose this: for then marriage is simply a refinement of the sex-drive of the animal, a social bond that, the enlightened animal found necessary for a time, and that possibly with the passing of time may be discarded if “enlightened” man thinks life will be better without it. Emphatically, marriage is oft God, a divine calling that we as covenant young people must view as being within the will of God. Paul did not reject this in I Cor. 7:7; he was speaking about the advantages of serving God if one has the gift of continency. Yet he wholeheartedly acknowledges, “But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner and another after that,” I Cor. 7:7.
Secondly, God is the one who joins in marriage. This is a principle from: the beginning. Here too, it isn’t a question of who, happens to “fall in love.” To be sure, God uses means of physical attraction, personality, ability to love, etc. to bring two people together. Yet, God is the one who joins in marriage. God created Adam for Eve, and Eve for Adam. After their creation He brought Eve to Adam, Gen. 2:22. God brought the marriage partners together within the institution that He had ordained. The Marriage Form in our Psalter emphasizes this, “Therefore, ye are not to doubt, but that the ,marriage state is pleasing to the Lord, since he made unto Adam his wife, brought and gave her himself to him to be his wife, witnessing thereby that he doth yet as with his hand bring unto every man his wife.” God over-rules our romance and sovereignly realizes each marriage. Hence, Christ said, “WhatGod hath joined together, let not man put asunder,” Matt. 19:6.
Thirdly, God joins one husband and one wife in marriage. This was different for the animals: the sea brought forth many birds; and the earth brought forth many animals. There were many males and females of each species, yet for man there was only one. This is a creation principle. God by virtue of His creative work, intended and still intends, that marriage be the exclusive relationship of one husband and one wife. We see this clearly “from the beginning.” This is true both according to God’s purpose: He willed this relationship to be carried out in this manner and He so created man that the intimate relationship of love requires this: “love is strong as death, jealousy is cruel as the grave,” Song of Sol. 8:6.
Fourth, the exclusive relationship of marriage is rooted in the nature of man’s creation. After God created Eve, He did not bring her to Adam and have to explain to Adam what marriage was all about. He didn’t have to give Adam a course in marital counseling. Adam’s response is recorded in Gen. 2:23, “And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of man.” You sense the excitement? This is still true today.
Why was this? Two things have to be pointed out in this connection. Adam and Eve were very much alike. They were both created human beings. They both walked erect in the Garden of Eden. They both possessed the gift of intelligence, reasoning, memory, intuition, etc. Both had desires that they longed to have fulfilled. Both were created able to love and to respond to love. This could never have been true for any other animal in all the creation. Adam and Eve were made for each other. Yet, they were different. Physically, psychologically, spiritually, they were male and female, man and woman. Their differences complemented each other perfectly. What the man needed the woman could provide, and what the woman needed the man could provide. God created them with a nature that would find fulfillment in marriage.
One other thing we should mention in this connection. By virtue of God’s creation, the distinctive roles within marriage were also determined. God did not create Eve fast, something which cannot in any way be harmonized with the error of evolution; God created man first. This fact requires that man assume, the position of responsible “head” of the wife and home, and the woman be helpmeet to him. These are creation principles for all time, I Tim. 2:13.
Fifth, God also determined through creation what the purpose of marriage would be. In catechism we learn that Adam’s relationship was three-fold: before God he was covenant friend; before the creation he was servant-king; and as far as the human race was concerned he was both first father and representative head. How then does marriage fit into this? With just a casual consideration, we will notice that it touches all three.
How did marriage serve Adam’s relationship of friend-servant before God? This way: Adam and Eve possessed in their marriage a daily expression of the covenant friendship which they had with their God. This covenant friendship which they both enjoyed was motivated by divine love. God loved Adam and Eve; and by creating them in His own image, He gave them not only the capacity to receive divine love, but also to express it both to God and to one another. This is the abiding principle for marriage rooted in creation; “marry in the Lord,” I Cor. 7:39. Just as Adam and Eve could not reach fulfillment with one another without God, no more can this be done today. Both Adam and Eve loved the Lord their Creator, and this love enabled them to reach out for one another in the bond of a perfect marriage. Through this love-life, they enjoyed a visible and sensuous expression of God’s love and friendship for them. This is what God intended through His creation and institution of marriage. This purpose can only be realized today when young people love one another in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The marriage of Adam and Eve also served Adam’s rule as king. How long this lasted we don’t know; one gets the impression that it didn’t last very long. Yet, the purpose that God had in this connection was that Eve would be the helpmeet of Adam. This did not simply apply to Adam’s personal needs; it had implication for His work. The principle is this: a wife assists her husband in everything, and she can make or break a man in his work. By the loving bond of husband and wife, a contented husband can work better. We sometimes refer to it this way, “Behind every successful man is a great woman”; and there is a lot of truth to that. Through the mutual bond of love in marriage, a man is better able to serve God in His daily calling. This was true for Adam, and all who would be “kings under God.”
Obviously marriage had much to do with the third relationship, first father and representative head of the human race. It was also God’s purpose that through marriage the human race would be born. Marriage is the divine institution by which this is accomplished. Today we add, more particularly, that it is through marriage that the covenant seed are brought forth, Gen. 3:15.
Finally, the original creation sets forth the principle of the duration of marriage, as long as both husband and wife live. This can be seen in the creation ordinance, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh,” Gen. 2:24. Marriage is more durable than the sibling relationship, it is for life. Christ stressed this in Matt. 19:1-9when He emphasized that the original marriage ordinance takes precedence over any human changes, “What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” This is a principle from the beginning which may not be altered by man, no matter how the times may change. Man must bow before God’s command and not think that God will accommodate him in his sinful ways.
These principles have bearing upon marriage for all ages. They also help us understand marriage and divorce as it was expressed in the Old Testament times which we will consider next time, D.V.