Fractured Persons – The Rise of Postmodern Sexual Gnosticism

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“Hey boy!
I don’t need to know where you’ve been,
All I need to know is you and no need for talking
Hey boy!
So don’t even tell me your name,
All I need to know is whose place,
And let’s get walking…
All I wanna do is love your body[i]

So sings one of our cultural prophets. Whether or not you agree with Christina Aguilera’s vision of love and intimacy, you cannot deny that she expresses an increasingly common perspective on sexuality. This view says that sex is merely a physical exchange between two people, devoid of any deeper significance.  It is essentially an experience of physical pleasure. To some in our world, intercourse carries with it all the intimacy and relational commitment of a handshake. Nothing more is needed or expected. Hayley Williams expresses a similar perspective when she sings:

“I know that we were made to break, so what, I don’t mind,

Are you gonna stay the night?

…doesn’t mean were bound for life,

So are you gonna stay the night?”[ii]

Though slightly less impersonal, this song also separates sex from commitment. The physical experience of a night spent together is the one and only goal. No thought is given to any other consequences or implications of the decision to have sex. The pleasure of one night is all that matters.

This sexual ethic fits nicely with our modern, scientifically fueled physical reductionism, but it also bears a striking resemblance to an older perspective – Gnosticism. This somewhat loosely organized belief system emphasized the acquiring of secret knowledge and taught that the physical and spiritual realities were polar opposites. Drawing on Platonist philosophy, many Gnostics believed that all things physical were created by a lesser “deity” and were, therefore, inherently evil. This perspective led to extreme asceticism, including bodily abuse, and also to uninhibited physical indulgence. The Gnostics were known for both self-flagellation and orgies. Their reasoning was: If the body is not eternally significant, why not do whatever you want with it? Lady Gaga would certainly agree:

“You can’t have my heart

 And you won’t use my mind but

 Do what you want (with my body)

 Do what you want with my body

 You can’t stop my voice cause

 You don’t own my life but

 Do what you want (with my body)

 Do what you want (with my body)”[iii]

A Better Vision

As we have seen, the suggestion that what we do with our bodies doesn’t matter is neither new nor novel. Christianity, however, communicates a distinctly different message. Gnosticism was one the first theological challenges early Christians faced, and in the writings of Paul they had relevant response.

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV

The earliest Christians did not believe that the body was a meaningless shell. To them the body was useful not only for earthly existence, but also for serving God. Christianity has always taught that physical acts have spiritual implications. It is for this reason the Apostle Paul also writes that sexual immorality is “…a sin against your own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18 NLT). The human body is not a soul container to be used and discarded but rather a creation of God that will be eternally renewed through physical resurrection (1 Corinthians 15). The resurrection is proof that our bodies are important. God cares so much about our bodies that he will restore them to perfection so that we can live in them for all of eternity.

Humans are multifaceted beings, and Christians, above all people, should recognize the connection between body, mind, emotion, and spirit. We must not submit to this postmodern Gnosticism. While Lady Gaga argues that what she does with her body doesn’t affect her heart, life, voice, or mind, the Christian must disagree. It is naive and inaccurate to believe that sex only affects our physical body. In fact, this belief leads to a dangerous fracturing of the human person. As Dr. Archibald Hart writes:

“Who we are as sexual beings defines who we are as persons. Too often, however, sex and the self are kept apart – miles apart. Many men and women have compartmentalized their sexuality in order to maintain any sense of self-respect and dignity….So they keep sex separated, almost as if it is in another world. This explains why otherwise moral and upright men can have pretty sordid affairs. They have so effectively split off their sexuality that it never dawns on them that they have fractured their personalities. They lack self-integration.”[iv]

When we accept this disintegration of the human person, we diminish the gift of sex. Though cultural forces seek to detach sex from self, the Christian can offer a comprehensive theology of the body that recognizes the power of sex and eternal significance of the physical form. Where culture disconnects Christianity reintegrates. Where culture cheapens Christianity revalues. The contrast could not be clearer. While often caricatured as prudish, the vision of sexuality found in Scripture is actually far richer than the vision of sexuality offered in pop songs. May we choose the better vision.


[i] Christina Aguilera – “Your Body”

[ii] Zedd “Stay The Night” ft. Hayley Williams

[iii] Lady Gaga “Do what You Want” ft. R. Kelly

[iv]  Dr. Archibald Hart The Sexual Man p. 204

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How To NOT Be Single

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Should We All Just Get Married?

Over the past few years I have read several articles that urge young adults to marry. The reasons given for this encouragement are many. Marriage is said to promote personal maturity, encourage spiritual growth, provide a healthy outlet for sexual desire, and challenge us to sacrifice for others. (Also see: Young and In Love Challenging the Unnecessary Delay of Marriage) While Christian authors seem more likely to engage in this discussion, some secular voices have also spoken out, encouraging marriage at a younger age.

To be quite honest, I find many of these arguments to be persuasive. I spend a lot of time meeting with young, unmarried men, and I often encourage them to get serious about pursuing marriage and family. I firmly believe that many young adults should seriously consider getting married earlier in life. I am also convinced that marriage, when undertaken with God’s design in mind, has the ability to powerfully and positively shape those who enter into such a union.

But why is singleness described so negatively? Well, this is largely because extended singleness has become associated with irresponsible living. Some of those choosing to remain unmarried are also choosing to act childishly. Avoiding commitment in marriage is often associated with avoiding commitment in other areas. For whatever reason, young men seem more likely to fall into extended immaturity. This new wave of self-obsessed, overgrown frat boys has frustrated their female peers and led Kay Hymowitz, among others, to ask Where Have the Good Men Gone? While single women do tend express a bit more motivation than do single men, the fairer sex is not immune to irresponsibility. HBO’s successful series Girls depicts a group of young women who also seem content to extend their adolescence indefinitely. There is a right way to be single, but this certianly isn’t the way…

Of course there are also other reasons for marriage to be delayed. Educational and professional goals often take priority over relational ones, and many of today’s young adults are transient, making developing relationships more difficult. While these factors are certainly understandable, many cases of singleness that happen under these circumstances are also influenced by unchecked selfishness and disordered priorities.

There are plenty of bad reasons to be single, and there are also plenty of singles living badly today. I make no excuses for the poor examples of singleness in my generation, and I certainly don’t claim to have mastered the life stage myself.

That said, I am beginning to wonder if all this criticism of the single state is a bit misdirected. Is it possible that our experience of singleness and not singleness itself is the primary problem? Perhaps rather than trying to reduce the number of years people remain single we should instead begin teaching people how to correctly use their years of singleness. Maybe instead of just telling young adults to get married we should seek to help them navigate singleness in a God honoring manner.

If the core problem is irresponsibility and poor character among single adults, marriage won’t necessarily remedy this.  It may actually serve to compound the problem. Getting married does not automatically fix a person’s character flaws. In fact, if there is not sufficient maturity between the two parties, a marriage is likely to implode.

What God Has to Say

Scripture does seem to acknowledge that responsible marriage can counteract the dangers of unfocused singleness (1 Tim 5:15), but it also assumes that singleness, both chosen and un-chosen, will frequently occur (1 Cor 7, Matt 19:12).

But those looking to Scripture to support their irresponsible single lives will certainly be disappointed. The picture of singleness painted for us in Scripture is active, focused, and God centric. The expectation, even in the case of widowhood (1 Tim 5:9-10), was that those who are single would use their singleness to serve God and serve others in a special way. Both Jesus in Matthew 19 and Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 depict singleness as a state that allows for wholehearted devotion to God.

Paul notably argues for singleness saying:

“But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; 33 but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. 35 This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.” – 1 Cor 7:32-35

Yes, marriage usually occured far earlier in Biblical times than it does today, and it is also true that many people today who remain single will ultimately get married. But the Christian paradigm for singleness remains the same. There is no option in Scripture for lazy or self-centered singleness. If you are single you are called live out your singleness in a way that honors God. And no, faithful service to God as a single adult should not be an attempt to manipulate God into giving us a spouse. He must remain in the center, not the periphery, of our desire.

What If?

Marriage is one way to embrace personal responsibility, but it is by no means the only way of doing so. In fact, the very realities of single adulthood that often lead to its abuse also provide incredible opportunities.  College debt notwithstanding, many single adults have large amounts of expendable income. Since most do not have a family to care for, singles also have more time and relational energy to invest in others. Furthermore, they are often quite mobile, able to travel to places where there are great needs.

One of the deepest sorrows I have about this generation of single adults is that in spite our incredible potential many of us have failed to take full advantage of our singleness for God (though there many hopeful exceptions). Financial resources are not invested in ministry and missions but are instead spent on expensive drinks and wardrobes. Time and relational energy are not used to minister to those around us, but are instead expended in weekend bar hopping extravaganzas. Mobility has also become an excuse for remaining uncommitted to community and church. These critiques are not absolute, but any factual look at the statistics involved here will prove that many single adults have priority problems.

I believe that many Christians are intentionally remaining single for poor reasons, but perhaps a bigger problem is that many Christian adults are using their singleness so poorly. Within the church we have an army of single Christian adults, and yet we fail to see the impact such an army should have. But what if this were to change? What if millions Christian singles were to start consistently using their singleness in daring ways for God? There is no doubt that our church and our world would radically change. Then maybe instead of reading articles encouraging marriage we would read articles encouraging this passionate demographic to continue serving in their singleness.

I get excited when I think about the ways some of my peers are living out this ideal, and I pray that more single adults will commit themselves to using their singleness as God intends. When this happens, watch out!

But It’s Hard

Living as a single adult is certainly not easy, and as the years go by it can get increasingly harder. As someone who remains single at 27, I understand some of the challenges singleness can bring. There are intense seasons of loneliness, and at times the desire for companionship and sexual fulfillment can be overwhelming. While there are no easy answers to these challenges, I am convinced that living the single life as God calls us to do will actually make single life more bearable and more fulfilling than it would be otherwise. On this point John Meyendorff says:

“…the human instinct of love and procreation is not isolated from the rest of human existence, but is its very center. It cannot be suppressed, but only transformed, transfigured and channeled, as love for God and for one’s neighbor, through prayer, fasting and obedience in the name of Christ.”*

Singleness, especially unwanted singleness, can be incredibly challenging. Again, there are no easy answers here, but celibacy and singleness (temporary or permanent) work best when accompanied by intentional devotion to God and to others. Lazy and self-centered singleness will only increase sexual tension and relational discontent.

Looking Ahead

The cultural forces causing extended singleness are powerful, and in the years ahead we can only expect the delay of marriage to increase. There are good reasons to resist this development, and Christians should not blindly go along with the culture in this regard. Part of our response should be encouraging marriage earlier for God honoring reasons. But we must not blindly push people to the altar either. Instead let’s push each other toward Christian obedience in whatever life stage we are in.

We should, in some cases, encourage others to embrace marriage and not intentionally remain single, but perhaps it is even more important to understand how God does NOT intend for us to live the single life. May all of us who are single live each day actively embracing God’s powerful plan for singleness.

*Taken from Marriage: An Orthodox Perspective Page 71

Justice and the Just One: Refections on Social Activism

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A new wave of social activism has swept over us. Across this nation we hear many voices echoing the call for freedom and justice. A new crop of activists has arisen to combat oppression and fight against abusive social structures. These advocates share an increasing discomfort with the way things are. Many in this generation are simply not content to allow suffering to continue unaddressed.

This concern exhibits itself in many different ways. Some speak up on behalf of the homeless population. Other individuals seek to bring hidden abuse to the light. Many fight against the evils of sex slavery and forced prostitution. Yet others seek to address issues of economic disparity and financial discrimination.

While some may see these efforts as inadequate or misguided, there are many positives to acknowledge. I rejoice that many of my peers realize that something is deeply wrong with society, and I love the fact that so many in my generation are willing to sacrifice their time and expend significant effort to see these wrongs made right. Surely, not all of these campaigns are well thought out or responsibly carried out, but there is much to praise here.

Inside the church we have also seen a rise in interest in social activism.  Numerous mission trips are carried out with the goal of alleviating suffering around the world. Christian college groups launch creative fundraisers such as “Seesaws Against Slavery” to help bring an end to the global sex trade. Since 2009 The Justice Conference has sought to inspire and connect a generation of men and women around a shared concern for the vulnerable and oppressed.” Indeed, many Christians have stepped up to defend the hurting and broken around us.

Yet, as I reflect on the passion so many of my peers have for social justice I have some concerns. It is in this light that I offer the following two exhortations.

Allow Good Theology Inform Our Activism

For the Christian everything we do should be a reflection of what we believe about God. While our society encourages us to separate our religious convictions from our public behavior, a Christian does not have this option. We are called to evaluate all of our actions and even our thoughts by what we know to be true about God (Romans 12:2). This means that for a Christian, every action we take must be theologically informed. Thinking secularly about social activism will simply not do. We must not starve passion of truth.

But Christians should not think theologically about social activism merely because we are commanded to do so in the Bible. Thinking theologically adds an incredible richness to our actions. If we ignore our theology we are setting aside the most compelling motivation for God honoring social activism in existence.

Those who plumb the depths of Scriptures will find that God’s heart beats for the hurting. The Bible is replete with exhortations to care for the hurting and defend the defenseless. When we dishonor our fellow human beings we dishonor the God who created them (Proverbs 14:31). The truths of Scripture concerning social justice are more powerful than any humanist motivation for activism. Simply put, being for Jesus gives us the best reasons to be for social justice.

If the Bible is true and if Jesus is God, Christians have more compelling reasons to care for the hurting than anyone else does. This is not to question the heart of those who do not share faith in Christ. Many non-Christians care deeply about the hurting. But if Christianity is true, Christians should care more than anyone else. Caring for the broken is deeply imbedded in our spiritual identity. It goes beyond a passion – it flows from godly conviction.

Furthermore, our desire for social justice should flow out of our belief in a just God (2 Thessalonians 1:6). He is our measuring stick for right and wrong. He not only acts justly, he is just.  While human moral opinion shifts over time, God’s character remains the same. Without Jesus, justice is merely a matter of personal opinion.

When popular sentiment and the passing passions of humanity fail to preserve what is good, we can put our confidence in a God who is truly just. No wrong escapes his sight, and no evil deed will be left unaddressed (Ecclesiastes 12:14). One day every person will stand before God and give an account of everything they have done (2 Corinthians 5:10). Every rapist, every abuser, every exploiter will stand before their Maker. Every wrong deed and every wrong thought will be judged by the only one who is able to judge perfectly. Because of him we pursue what is right, and in him alone will true justice be achieved.

Understanding this fact gives us hope that when we fail to achieve our ultimate goals for social justice here on this earth, no social evil will be allowed to stand eternally. Without Jesus there will never be justice – either in this life or the next, but with him all will be made right.

Theology must inform our activism. Social activism without a theological foundation is like a car without an engine, it might look good and feel right but it is ultimately incapable of taking us where we need to be. We must not divorce what is morally right from what is ultimately true. When we remove our theology we deprive our service of its greatest power.

Care for the Whole Person

Something else that proper theology allows us to do is care for the whole person. Christians recognize that people are both physical and spiritual in nature, and we have the unique ability to care for mankind in both of these ways.

God clearly cares about the physical wellbeing of people. In fact, much of Jesus’ earthly ministry focused on healing to physical bodies that were broken. Some of his other great miracles involved providing food for the hungry crowds. God has little patience with those who fail to meet the basic physical needs of those around them (James 2:14-17). Their faith is called “dead”. Pure and faultless religion, according to Scripture, is evidenced by caring for the needs of the widow and orphan communities (James 1:27). Many of these needs are clearly physical in nature.

But God’s concern for the individual does not stop with his care about the body. God’s ultimate concern is for the human soul. Physical suffering and death are horrible for sure, but they both pale in comparison to spiritual death (Matthew 10:28).

We must not ignore the spiritual needs around us as we try to eliminate physical suffering. We are faced with more than just malnourished bodies; we are dealing with eternal souls. Certainly, giving aid to someone should be more than a manipulative ploy to strong-arm them into the Christian faith. But if we withhold the life giving Gospel from those we serve, we willingly consent to their spiritual starvation. Anyone can give a bed or a meal, but not just anyone can give the Gospel. May we not hesitate to offer what we alone can provide. Let’s not be content with delaying the death of a body for a few years when we could see God save a soul for eternity.

Sadly, physical wealth and security can often mask spiritual poverty. Nowhere has this ever been clearer to me than during my time here in DC. When I walk down M Street or drive through Tyson’s Corner I see droves of people who are safer, healthier, and more comfortable than 99 percent of the world’s population, and yet they are spiritually impoverished. As we seek to alleviate suffering let’s not create a new group of individuals who sign on to a spiritually anorexic form of the American dream. It is quite possible for a homeless person or a Haitian orphan to be spiritually healthier than a prosperous American.  As Jesus warns us in Luke 12:16-20, the security found in abundant food and material wealth can promote a dangerous feeling of disregard and an inappropriate sense of invincibility. While the man in this parable had prepared for his future physical needs he had failed to prepare adequately for his spiritual reckoning.

For a Christian, loving the whole person means intentionally caring for both body and soul. The believer in Christ is uniquely capable of addressing needs both physical and spiritual. As we passionately serve our fellow man lets commit ourselves to doing both of these things well.

The Trouble with Biblical Marriage

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Many Christians set out to defend what they call “biblical marriage”, and this term has become a lightning rod for discussion. Authors such as this one have pushed back, saying that various types of marriage are actually condoned in the Bible –many of them being abusive to the women involved. Advocates of gay marriage are quick to ask why Christians insist on preserving a particular marriage ideal when the Bible describes many different kinds of marriage.

So, does the Bible really support a wide range of marriage types? Are Christians arbitrarily choosing a concept of marriage from the many displayed in the Bible? How should Christians really go about understanding the Bible and determining what God desires for marriage to look like? Certainly, many different types of marriage are described in the Bible, but is it also true that Christians have no basis for advocating a particular type of marriage? These questions are all important.

There is a difference between a description of something and a prescription for behavior. Christians do not believe that every Bible passage carries the same weight in terms of practical application today. Every passage must be understood in its context – both cultural and literary. Taking Scripture out of context is dangerous, and will ultimately lead us to the wrong conclusion. Not all biblical examples deserve our imitation, nor were all intended to evoke it. Here I will discuss three principles I believe will help us understand God’s heart and purpose in marriage. Then I will wrap up by reflecting on the words we use about marriage.

1.      Narrative descriptions of marriage practices should not be taken as prescriptive.

The storyline of Scripture of contains many examples of dysfunctional marriage practices, and often these “marriage” stories give evidence of their own destructive results. We may think of Judges 19:22-29. In this scenario when a man is personally threatened with sexual assault by a mob he offers his concubine to the men attacking him in an attempt to save his own skin. After the concubine is raped and abused she evidently dies. Her owner then cuts her up in pieces and sends these pieces to the corners of Israel. Is this a God honoring example of marriage? No, in fact this story gives evidence of a lawless period in time of Israel’s history where “…Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25).  This story illustrates the depth of depravity God’s people had sunk to, and in no way validates the behavior it describes.

We may also think of King Solomon’s many marriages. He possessed 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). In this situation Solomon’s practice of marriage went directly against the commands of God. In Deuteronomy kings of Israel are specifically told to not take many wives because doing so would result in their hearts being led away from God  (Deuteronomy 17:17). This is exactly what happened to Solomon in his old age (1 Kings 11:4). This too is an example of marriage we are not called to emulate.

We could look at the lives of the patriarchs for other examples of marriage practices that didn’t work out so well. Abraham’s decision to take his wife’s servant in an attempt to have a son was a symptom of his shallow faith and produced very negative consequences in his family. Jacob was tricked into marrying the sister of the woman he loved, and his resulting plural marriage was thereafter fraught with favoritism and conflict. These men loved God to be sure, but we must not assume their marriage practices were condoned by God.

2.      Old Testament marriage guidelines are not necessarily prescriptive for Christians.

The fact that something is commanded in the Old Testament doesn’t imply that it is binding for Christians today. This is very clear in the New Testament in reference to dietary laws (Mark 7:19, Acts 10). Christians are not called to disregard the Old Testament, but we should allow the New Testament to help explain the Old Testament to us.[i] The Old Testament Law was good, and was given for a specific purpose during a specific time.

This New Testament priority is not arbitrary, and we don’t listen to the New Testament simply because we are more comfortable with what it says. This New Testament priority is reflected in Scripture and has been historically practiced by the Christian church. All Scripture is important and useful, but not all Scripture is applied in the same way. New Testament teaching on marriage is the final word and helps clarify what God intends for marriage to look like for believers today.

Still, many of the biblical marriage practices are troubling to us. The Old Testament includes instructions about marrying a captive woman (Deuteronomy 21:10-14), marrying the wife of a dead brother – called levirate marriage (Deuteronomy 25:5-10), and even the marriage of a man to a woman he raped (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). Each of these situations deserves a great deal of discussion, but a few comments should be made now. Firstly we must understand these situations in their cultural context.  The Old Testament was written during a period of time where women were afforded few rights. Did the Old Testament Law seek to completely overturn society and instantly create equality? No, but even in the midst of a culture with poor attitudes toward famales we see a biblical pattern of concern for women who found themselves in these horrible situations.  It is right to respond with disgust to the cultural norms of this time, but it is not fair to say that Scripture was seeking to establish abusive practices when the actual intent of these commands was to provide some protection to women suffering under an abusive cultural norm. Hebrew women were given greater protection than in other societies of the time, and Scripture, when taken as a whole, unequivocally speaks to the worth and value of women.

Many Old Testament marriage practices are not worth repeating. We must see these practices in their cultural context and look elsewhere in Scripture for further clarity on God’s plan for marriage. If we merely studied Deuteronomy to establish our marriage paradigm we might be left scratching our heads, but God never intended to leave us there. The regulations of the Old Testament were merely a shadow preceding a better and fuller reality. The Old Testament Law was an imperfect guide for a deeply flawed people. The imperfect covenant (Hebrews 7:18), put forth in the Law, would soon be replaced with a better, though more demanding covenant. This brings us to our third principal.

3.      The New Testament reaffirms and builds on God’s original intent for marriage.

While many Christians are aware of the wide ranging discussion of marriage and singleness found in First Corinthians seven, fewer are aware of another important marriage passage. Perhaps the most significant New Testament discussion of marriage occurs after Jesus is asked a troubling question about divorce. “Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” (Matthew 19:3)

The question was a landmine; the Pharisees wanted to see if Jesus would concur with marriage tradition or reject it. Jesus’ reply caught everyone off guard:

4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6)

Many would have expected Jesus to reference the Law of Moses to substantiate his perspective on marriage, but Jesus chose to go even farther back, citing Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 to describe his marriage paradigm. He argues that Genesis, not Deuteronomy was intended by God to serve as the primary prescriptive passage for marriage relationships. In the Garden of Eden, before sin had entered the world, God established a pattern of marriage that involved a man and a woman uniting together. This unity was sexual and spiritual. These individuals were now considered to be one. Unlike under the Mosaic Law, this union was intended to last until death. A man could not abandon his wife.[ii] This declaration of Jesus elicited immediate protests from those listening. They asked: Why  did Moses allow divorce if it was wrong?

Jesus then spoke about a truth that helps us understand why God allowed non-ideal marriage practices in the Old Testament. Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.”” – Matthew 19:8. This shows us that at least in this instance, God allowed a marriage pattern that did not reflect his original intent. He did this because of the hard hearts of his people, not because it was best.

Old Testament marriage practice undoubtedly fell short of God’s best, but God’s original plan was still in place. This plan involved a man and a woman in lifelong commitment to each other. Jesus said that any past exceptions to this policy were now invalid. No longer would diversions from the original plan be ok for followers of God. While some like to claim that Jesus was relatively liberal on sexual issues, this passage points to the opposite conclusion. Jesus was raising the sexual and relational standard. He was calling people back to God’s original plan for marriage.

This was the pattern for Jesus. At numerous junctures when addressing questions of the Law Jesus goes deeper and asks more of people. Merely following the letter of the law would no longer suffice.  Jesus seeks to illuminate heart conditions, not just control behavior. He declares that the sin of adultery is one that starts in the heart as lust, and that the sin of murder is first experienced through hatred (Matthew 5). The new law given by Christ offered greater freedom, and greater responsibility.

In fact the entire tone of the New Testament is one of increased commitment to God. No longer must followers of God restrict their diet arbitrarily, but they must now consider the impact their eating choices have on those around them (1 Corinthians 8). No longer must God’s people offer an endless stream of animal sacrifices.  They are instead called to offer their entire selves as living sacrifices out of love for their Savior (Romans 12:1). No longer were husbands merely commanded to physically provide for their wives, they were now required to love them sacrificially – even to the point of being willing to die for them (Ephesians 5:25-28). The standard was raised and the commitment was deepened as God called his people back to his original plan.

We could continue by looking at other passages in the New Testament that further outline God’s incredible plan for marriage, but we will leave that for another time. The important point here is that while culture and hard human hearts distorted God’s plan for marriage through the years, God’s intent for marriage has always been the same. I am not sure I could sum up this point any better than Trillia Newbell does:

“For Jesus and Paul and for the Church, sexual and marriage ethics (and biblical womanhood) are not based on the historical sins against women that are recorded in the Old Testament, but from the pre-fall monogamous union of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2.”

At this point we have seen that God’s plan for marriage has been consistent through time. From the beginning marriage was intended to be an enduring physical and spiritual union between a man and woman. While some would have us believe that the Bible’s perspective on marriage is confusing or contradictory, we have clearly seen that God’s Word points toward one prescription for marriage.  I do not expect non-Christians to share my convictions about the authority of the Bible, and I certainly don’t expect them to willingly submit to its moral teachings. But I do hope the intellectually honest will acknowledge that Christians have internally consistent, biblically grounded reasons for advocating and practicing a particular form of marriage.

The Words we Use about Marriage Matter

So what then are we to say then about “Biblical Marriage”? I believe when most Christians say biblical marriage they are referring to God’s intended practice of marriage. The term is unfortunately somewhat inexact. It can be misunderstood by those hear it and misrepresented by those who desire to do so. Certainly, many different types of marriage are described in the Bible – even if they are not intended to serve as examples for us. Perhaps our language needs to be more precise.  Not all biblical marriages were honoring to God. Christian marriage, however, is the unique practice of God’s people.[iii]

Christian marriage should not be confused with Old Testament aberrations or modern day distortions. It is the unique, divinely ordained practice of God’s people – laid out compellingly in Scripture. It is radical when compared to Ancient Near East practices, and it is radical when compared to the modern American understanding of marriage. It is more demanding, more serious, and more profitable than any other expression of marriage. Christian marriage is a gift from God to his people, and those who seek to practice it will be blessed.

The words we use are so important.  This fact has been incredibly clear in the recently public debate over gay marriage. It sounds much more compelling to say that you are for marriage equality than it does to say that you support legally changing the definition of marriage. Let’s publically talk about marriage, but let’s also commit ourselves to using words that accurately communicate our meaning. This is why when I talk about God’s intent for marriage I seek to use the term Christian marriage – because I believe it better reflects the truth I advocate.


[i] For more helpful information on the question of the Old Testament authority in the life of a Christian please read Tim Keller’s helpful thoughts. http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/07/09/making-sense-of-scriptures-inconsistency/

[ii] A couple situations are given where divorce is allowed for a Christian. These two cases are marital infidelity (Matt 19:9), and abandonment by a non-believing spouse (1 Cor 7:14). In all cases, divorce should be evaluated soberly. There are doubtlessly other situations, such as abuse, where one spouse would need to separate for their safety or the safety of their children.

[iii] I am indebted to Bryan Kammerzelt for suggesting this shift in terminology. http://www.critiquebycreating.com/2011/04/the-most-eligible-christian-bachelor/