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What the Bible Teaches About Marriage. Anthony Selvaggio. Evangelical Press. 2007. Pp. 240, paperback. $14.99. [Reviewed by Douglas J. Kuiper].

The cover of this book contains a picture of a young couple in a Volkswagen van, on the front of which hangs a sign: “Just Married.”

It appears at first glance that the woman is in the driver’s seat. Exactly the problem with many marriages today.

A closer look, however, indicates that the picture was taken in Great Britain. The van is driving on the left side of the road. And under the young man’s right arm, on the right side of the vehicle, is the faintest trace of what must be a steering wheel.

The man is in the driver’s seat, after all! Exactly what the Bible teaches about marriage!

Evangelical Press is publishing a number of works entitled “What the Bible Teaches About….” Anthony Selvaggio’s contribution to the series deals with marriage. His purpose is to note what the Song of Songs (Song of Solomon) teaches about “romantic love, marriage, and human sexuality” (p. 7), apply this instruction practically, and show the beauty of love as manifested in Christ.

Focusing on a different aspect of love, each chapter begins by noting how that aspect is taught in the Song of Solomon, continues by explaining how married couples are to manifest that aspect in light of current dangers, and concludes by noting how God manifested that same aspect of love in Christ, thereby enabling us to do the same.

Underlying the whole work is the conviction, expressed in chapter 1, that the sin of Adam and Eve has wrecked human sexuality and the marriage relationship, that only grace can restore it, and that the church has “failed to instruct its people about the nature of redeemed relationships and human sexuality” (p. 14).

Chapters 2 and 3 each deal with a prerequisite of true love— maturity and purity. These chapters are especially pertinent for single young people. In chapter 2, the author points out the perils of the modern dating system, and gives practical advice regarding how to prepare for true love. In chapter 3, not only the need for godly young people to live chastely, but also the role that the parents play in this connection, is emphasized.

Chapters 4-6 each set forth an aspect of the nature of true love: it is exclusive, enduring, and priceless. Being exclusive, the true love of married people does not permit a third to interfere. That third could refer to an affair one is having, but also to pornography, an emotionally intimate relationship with another, work, friends, family, recreation, and children. The author gives suggestions how to avoid such.

That true love endures (chapter 5) is clearly biblical; but that love between husband and wife does not always endure is reality. The author gives practical suggestions to help one’s love to grow and endure.

Although true love is priceless, sin causes us to cheapen love, or put a price on it, by objectification (treating our spouse as an object to be used for our satisfaction), commercialization (as when a married couple has a rigid guideline regarding who carries out which household chores), and self-seeking manipulation, often manifest in subtle ways.

The next four chapters address the matter of maintaining true love. Chapter 7 addresses the matter of spouses being each other’s friends—best friends. Couples ought to manifest this friendship, not only when taking time out from their work for each other, but by working together in God’s service.

Chapter 8 sets forth the need to complement each other. In this chapter, the issue of why God created Eve for Adam, and just who belongs in the driver’s seat, is set forth. That the husband is to lead in love and the wife to submit is stated. Practical advice is given, especially to the husband, in this connection.

The husband and wife ought to praise each other, as did Solomon and his wife; this is addressed in chapter 9. In addressing the matter of sexual unity in marriage in chapter 10, the author indicates a high and godly view of this union. Among other practical points made, the author reminds men that our sexual relationship with our wife is not intended to be a subject for jokes, or discussion at work.

Chapter 11 concludes by reemphasizing the power of Jesus Christ to enable a couple to live as they ought in holy wedlock, and pointing us to the perfection of marriage in heaven, when we serve Christ perfectly as we ought.

The teaching of the book is sound, practical, and necessary.

The author’s correct assessment of sin’s effect on marriage, the author’s fundamentally correct idea that the Song of Solomon speaks of love in human marriage as a picture of God’s and Christ’s love for His people, and the author’s fundamentally correct view that the creation of Adam and Eve was a historical event, all give me reason to say that any Christian could read this book with profit, even those who are not married, or whose marriages are not “bad.”

In fact, because the book is intended to be a study guide for married couples, every chapter ends with a list of questions for review and discussion. Whether used for premarital counseling, marital counseling, small-group Bible study, or self study, the book will be beneficial.

It would serve well as an after-recess study guide for any adult Bible study group in any of our churches.

I consider the title of the book to be misleading. The book treats not what the Bible teaches about marriage in every respect, but what the Bible teaches about true love in marriage.

When I pick up a book entitled What the Bible Teaches About Marriage, I expect to find everything found in this book, and more. I expect to find a more in-depth treatment ofEphesians 5. Selvaggio does refer to Ephesians 5 in treating the roles of husband and wife in marriage, against the backdrop of Christ’s love for His people. But the crucial point ofEphesians 5, that marriage is a picture of the mystery of Christ and His church, is not explained even briefly, let alone developed in detail.

I also expect to find in a book with this title a clear explanation of the biblical teaching regarding divorce and remarriage. Usually I expect the author to lead his reader astray here, teaching that divorce is permissible for reasons other than fornication, and that remarriage is permissible, especially for the “innocent” party, and perhaps for the “guilty” party as well. Selvaggio does not go wrong in this area. Nor does he go right. He doesn’t even address it. This, in spite of devoting an entire chapter to the matter of the enduring nature of true love. The general tone of the book suggests that divorce is another effect of sin, as indeed it is. But the reader with expectations like mine is left to wonder whether what the Bible teaches about love and sexuality applies just as well to remarriage after divorce as it does to one’s first marriage.

The title should be accurate, so the reader knows what to expect from it. And the title should be What the Bible Teaches About True Love in Marriage.

The author is to be commended for emphasizing the calling of the wife to submit to her husband, and for setting forth what such does not mean. But he is to be faulted, I believe, for this statement: “Submission also does not mean that a wife is to submit in all circumstances … she is not required to submit to her husband if he is being abusive to her or is calling her to submit to something which is contrary to Christ’s command” (p. 159).

I grant that when a husband is truly abusive, intervention is required. And I grant that when a man commands his wife to do what is contrary to Christ’s command, she must obey Christ and disobey her husband.

But in both instances her attitude must still be one of submission—that is, of acknowledging that she is under her husband’s God-given authority. This is the requirement of I Peter 3:1, in which wives are commanded to be in subjection to their own husbands, even to those who do not obey the word. This is the same kind of submission required of servants, not only toward good and gentle masters, but also toward froward, or wicked, masters (I Peter 2:18).

The question is not whether such wives must be submissive; they must. The question is, what does such submission mean. I fear that at this point Selvaggio confuses submission with outward compliance, and with a failure to deal with the sins of one’s husband in a godly, biblical way.

If he really means that certain sins on the part of a husband free the wife from the calling to be submissive, then does it follow that certain sins on the part of the wife free the husband from the calling to love her? The fact is that the Bible requires the husband to love and the wife to submit unconditionally in all things.

Surely this must be understood, when speaking of what the Bible teaches about marriage.