"New Creation" Quandaries, Part 3: Marriage

Princess Bride priestIn 1987 the world was introduced to the "Impressive Clergyman" (that's him in the picture) by way of that cinematic classic, The Princess Bride. What was most impressive was the clergyman's curious inability to pronounce his "L"s or "R"s, both of which came out as "W"s, leading to the memorable invocation, "Mawwage. Mawwage is whot bwings us togevah today." Twenty-six years later it seems marriage has become a divisive matter of debate rather than something that bwin...brings us together. For example, New Jersey senator-elect Corey Booker recently received some press when in the midst of performing a ceremony for two men he asked whether there were any objections, which suggests he was looking for a fight. On cue someone shouted, "This is unlawful in the eyes of God and Jesus Christ!" Booker was applauded when he responded saying, "Not hearing any substantive and worthy objections..." and continued the ceremony. This all made for some provocative headlines. But the hype boils down to two basic questions. First, what is marriage? Second, what is marriage for? The following is how I answer those two questions. Marriage is a covenant relationship between a man and a woman (and many would stop reading at this point but I hope you will continue), established and ordained by God. Yes, I get this idea from the Bible which I also happen to believe is God's word and a special means by which he has chosen to reveal himself. The idea of marriage starts simply enough in Genesis 2:24, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." The passage does not include the word marriage but clearly alludes to it. I say it's a clear allusion confidently because in Matthew 5:19 as Jesus discusses marriage and divorce he refers to Genesis 2:24 as the guiding principle. Thus the exhortation of Hebrews 13:4, "Let marriage (i.e. a man who has left his father and mother and become 'one flesh' with his wife) be held in honor among all."

The purpose of marriage is to glorify God for it stands as a metaphorical image of the covenant Christ established with his church. See Ephesians 5:22-33 among other places. In union with Christ believers assume a new identity (2 Cor. 5:17) by virtue of his sacrifice on their behalf. The man and the woman assume a new identity as "one flesh" rather than two individuals, joined for the purpose of meeting one another's needs in a "covenant of companionship."* The Bible contains numerous affirmations of Genesis 2:24-style marriage, particularly in Proverbs and the New Testament epistles. Paul preferred the single life himself yet affirmed marriage, sometimes in a unique manner all his own as in I Corinthians 7:36 when he wrote, "Let them marry--it is no sin."  Scripture also contains good examples of bad examples, including King David. He impregnated another man's wife, then sent that man on a suicide mission so he could marry her himself. Solomon for all his wisdom was guilty of blatant misconduct, being married to over 300 women (at once) not to mention 700 others he considered his personal property. But human misconduct and bad marriages do not negate the fact that the concept has scriptural origins and parameters.

Other Christians may take exception, claiming I have misinterpreted scripture. My hope is that such exceptions are not personal. The argument isn't really between me and the other individual. It is between the other individual and the Bible. Our conclusions may lead us in different directions but both of us are faced with the task of wrestling with scripture and conscience, not one another. I can only hope we are both honestly doing that.

But obviously those who do not value scripture as God's word will deny that I present anything close to a "substantive and worthy" case. Paul himself admitted that "the word of the cross is folly" to those who do not receive it (I Cor. 1:18). Likewise Romans 1:18 points out that many people actively seek to "suppress" what scripture teaches as "the truth." I would not expect a person who does not believe the Bible to agree with my opinion on marriage for one simple reason: Given its basis in scripture my worldview is in many cases radically different from that which generally prevails in 21st century culture and society. This is important to keep in mind lest my priorities get rearranged. My primary aim is not that non-Christians adopt my biblical view of marriage. No matter how impressive an argument I develop I might as well be rolling my "R"s or "L"s or just speaking a completely incomprehensible language. Instead my primary task is to share God's love and grace as expressed in the gospel of Jesus Christ (which incidentally is found in the Bible), hoping that God will change hearts first. Perhaps minds will follow later.

 

*Adams, Jay E. Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the Bible. Zondervan, 1980. p. 8.

If you're looking for the picture or the Impressive Clergyman's invocation, you can find them here: http://www.geocities.ws/Hollywood/5671/PrincessBride/script7.html