Friday, February 10, 2012

When is a Union a Marriage?

If God doesn’t care what hellish unions the ungodly forge, why do we?

καὶ εἶπεν ἕνεκεν τούτου καταλείψει ἄνθρωπος τὸν πατέρα καὶ τὴν μητέρα καὶ προσκολληθήσεται τῇ γυναικὶ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἔσονται οἱ δύο εἰς σάρκα μίαν.
—Matthew 19:5

Although I’ve finished the Bible study God Hates Divorce? I’m still researching what the Bible actually teaches about marriage. And the more I look into it, the more astounded I am at just how unscriptural all our marriage doctrines are. It seems that the false belief that God hates divorce was simply a tiny tip of a very large iceberg of error.

Let’s chip-off and examine another miniscule piece of that giant iceberg…

One thing that Christians invariably do whenever they think about marriage is to equate whatever they call a marriage with what the Bible calls a marriage. For some strange reason, in their promotion of lifelong matrimony, or in their denunciation of no-fault divorce, it never occurs to them to ask whether the marriages they’re getting all exercised over are even real marriages in the first place; that is, marriages in the sight of God.

This failure to question their definition of marriage is partly due to enculturation and partly due to tradition. Most of us have grown up in countries where the culturally approved definition of marriage was identical to the predominant religious definition of marriage. This is not surprising, since our societal form of marriage was informed by our religious traditions. Just like the term “family”, there was never any reason to think that what we call a marriage in everyday speech might not be the same thing the Bible calls a marriage.

Well, let me be the first to say it: They are not the same.

Before I go any further, though, I should acknowledge that officially the Church of Rome has always treated marriage as a Holy Sacrament and viewed Catholic marriages as the only true marriages. In theory, this meant that the Catholics viewed all non-Catholic unions as pagan couplings and the children of these unions as bastards. In practice, however, the Catholic Church has been its typical hypocritical self and, whenever it was politically or ecumenically convenient, granted all sorts of exceptions and special dispensations of Bishops and Cardinals (or whoever) to allow the parish priests to avoid applying the Church’s rules.

In any case, the Catholic doctrine on marriage is no more biblically legitimate than those of other Christian Churches, although their basic concept of unions being marriages only when they are sacred is spot on.

All of which then begs the question, “When is a union a marriage?”

The answer to this question can be found in Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians. The main thrust of this epistle is to call the believers in Corinth (and, by extension, all believers) to doctrinal unity. In Chapters 6 & 7, Paul is expounding on the proper way to view and deal with marriage.

I’m not going to flesh out the entire doctrine of marriage right now, I just want to draw your attention to a very important distinction Paul makes with regards to the marital status of three categories of believers in his letter (Remember Bible Study General Principle #1: The Bible is written for and to believers only!).

Now, let's take a look at 1 Corinthians 7:8. As you do, please keep in mind that the Greek word translated “wife”, γυνή [gune], means “woman”, and the Greek word translated “husband”, ἀνήρ [aner], means man (as in male, not human). Therefore, in ascribing titles to these people that might or might not have been implied by the author, whenever the translators wrote “wife” or “husband”, they were interpreting the text, not simply translating it.
I say therefore to the unmarried and widows...
So the first category of believer Paul is addressing is made up of those who are currently not married or widowed.

Next, in v.10, he addresses a second category of person he calls “the married”:
And unto the married I command, [yet] not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from [her] husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to [her] husband: and let not the husband put away [his] wife.
The “advice” to eschew separation Paul gives to both the men and women of this second category is an exact echo of the Mosaic Law on divorce as written in Deuteronomy 24:1-2 and clarified by Jesus in Matthew 19:3-9. Which is why Paul is careful to note that this commandment comes from the Lord, not him. This is clear evidence that Paul considers the unions of those he calls “the married” to be subject to the Law of God, meaning that their unions are sanctified. In short, he calls them “the married” because they have actual marriages.

This is made abundantly clear by the next category he addresses in v.12.
But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.

And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.
What? “The rest”? Who are “the rest”?

Well, it has to be all those believers who he has yet to address, those he doesn’t categorize as unmarried, widowed or married; believers, male and female, who have partners that are unbelievers.

By the way, this is why it is important to know what the translators have done here in using the titles “wife” and “husband”. The Apostle clearly doesn't consider the believers married, so why would he call their unbelieving partners “wives” and “husbands”? He didn't. He called them “women” and “men”. The translators eisegeted their misunderstanding of this text into their translation and ended up contradicting the author and misleading the reader.

So, by implication, those who the Apostle calls “the married”, who have sacred, biblical marriages, are pairs of believers. Therefore, a union becomes a biblical marriage when both partners are believers.

This is why Paul doesn’t offer the Word of God to these believers with unbelieving partners, but instead offers his own advice. This is because their unions aren’t biblical marriages—they haven’t been, as Jesus put it, joined together by God (Matt 19:6)—and can be dissolved without any spiritual consequences, as we see in v.15.
But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such [cases]: but God hath called us to peace.
This all makes perfect sense, when we remember what marriage really is: The union between Christ and the Church (Eph 5:32). Spiritually, a mixed-marriage, one between believers and unbelievers, is a mixture of the holy and the profane.

Just another hellish union of the ungodly.

Coming to the full understanding of the biblical distinction between a sacred marriage and a pagan union, one immediately realizes that our civic and ecumenical definitions of marriage are entirely irrelevant to God. This, in turn, should help us see that, what unbelievers choose to call a “marriage”, whether same-sex or common-law, has no bearing on the true, universal Church.

So, all the stress and agitation by Christians over things like epidemic divorce or gay marriage is completely unnecessary. As far as God is concerned, if both couples in a union are not believers, then there is no marriage there.

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