Most of the debate when it comes to marriage today revolves around political issues (should this or that type of marriage be restricted by the state) or around Biblical justification (is this or that type of marriage allowed by Scripture). That, to my mind, is an immediate failure even if an understandable one.
In the last hundred years or so there’s been a dissection and distribution of a broken idea of marriage. That would take some time to unpack, but I’ll mention some strands to my thinking.
Take sex for example.
Biblical marriage has always contained an erotic or sexual component evidenced in such passages like the Song of Solomon. But in the last hundred years, with the rise the sexual revolution, eroticism and sexual expression was brought into sharp focus.
On the one hand, that was a good thing. After all, this sort of thing was always part of the model but it wasn’t properly expressed. On the other hand, the focus on this expression was in exclusion from marriage. In other words, it was an aspect of loving self-expression—in contradistinction from marriage.
Suddenly we have a splintered aspect of marriage (sex) as unessential to marriage but fundamental to love. Marriage winds up needing Love (which includes sex) and Something Else. After the sixties and seventies free love, it was immediately obvious that that Something Else couldn’t be Sex—it had to be commitment.
The splintering of marriage, thus, continues.
Even that began to erode as marriage went from something that necessarily included commitment but necessitated happiness. If one wasn’t happy then one could, quite easily, move away from the commitment. After all, love makes one happy and without happiness there is therefore no love.
Multiply that fragmentation when you take other aspects of marriage and make them stand on their own like support, help, or bearing children.
Arguing in defense of this fragmented marriage, most of the debate winds up being way off base. Trying to find Biblical justification (or denial) for any of these expressions of marriage—including heterosexual marriage which is grounded on that broken picture I mentioned above—winds up being a fruitless enterprise that may feature a proof-text or two but in the end will collapse in on the new definition.
After all, why can’t someone who loves their full sister marry her? Or a chipmunk? Or both? With the new fragmented paradigm, the question is rather “why not?”
Historically, Christians have argued differently but unfortunately it takes more work (more than I’m going to do in this post) grounded in deep theology and robust thinking. We must: one, look to Christ; and two, must continually return to the model which God has established.
Of course, proponents of modern marriage will say that this is question begging but that is the case only if there were no model to appeal to. But, by looking first to Christ we’d note:
- Christ’s view on the future of marriage was predicated on God’s purpose for marriage(Luke 20:34-36)
- Christ’s view on the history of marriage was predicated on God’s model of marriage (Mark 10:5-9)
After examining Christ’s own position we’d be forced to look at his source material which is God’s Model of Marriage where we’d discover:
- Marriage was made in the Image of God (Genesis 1:26-27)
- Marriage was finally revealed as a mystery which depicted the Image of Christ (Ephesians 5:31-32)
This encourages us to think about old verses in fresh, even though historical, ways. Genesis 2:24, for instance, would properly be offered as something to be examined (something that both Christ and Paul wind up doing) to see how our own current models of marriage measure up—thus offering a fresh (and needed) corrective on every marriage today.
Now this isn’t to say that some marriages would not be rendered automatically, and transparently, wrong. Even though a marriage established solely on sexual convenience of a man and woman is wrong, that doesn’t justify a polygamous relationship of man, husband and squirrel. Nor would it justify a marriage that ignores a woman and instead searches for a child.
The Tu Quoque charge (we might be doing wrong, but so are you) really has no bearing here. After all, it is much easier for a marriage of a man and woman that is solely grounded on erotic expression to convert into a Biblical marriage of mutual respect, joy, image bearing and fruit production than it is to convert say a polygamous relationship of the same sex and a squirrel into that model.
It’s at that point where I think any deontological issues should be addressed, even if questions of a political and economic nature wind up being explicitly unaddressed. This entire argument would take some serious work but I think it is a productive (and properly historical) way to address modern and future debates.