Summary: Focus on the best and most biblical view of marriage and then give 5 implications for marriage (Material adapted from Andreas Kostenberger's book, God Marriage and Family; chapter 4 The Nature of Marriage: Sacrament, Contract or Covenant? pgs. 81- 91)
A young minister was preparing for his first wedding ceremony that he had ever performed. The young minister was a nervous wreck and asked an older minister what to do if he messed up. The older minister said that if you forget what to say you can always quote scripture to fill in. So, as the young minister performed the wedding ceremony he said “I now pronounce you husband and wife” and then his mind went blank. So he remembered what the older minister said and he started to quote scripture saying “Lord forgive them for they know not what they do”.
In our series on the family, we have talked about:
Beginning of family Genesis 1-3. Marriage and the family is God’s idea, built into creation.
Jesus’ view on marriage. Jesus goes back to Genesis 2, pointing people back to the original design of marriage and the family when things were good and sin was non existent.
Last week we talked about Ephesians 5 and again the NT points us back to the original intent of marriage and the family from Genesis 2. We talked about the role of the husband and the role of the wife in marriage and in the family.
Today, instead of focusing on one passage of Scripture, we are going to discuss the 3 most commonly held views on the nature of marriage in our day.
Thesis: Focus on the best and most biblical view and then give 5 implications for marriage
3 views, ending with the most biblical view
1. Marriage as a sacrament- This view has come about through tradition and awkward interpretations of the Bible. In this view marriage is one of the means for obtaining grace through Jesus Christ. While Jesus Christ and his relationship with the church is the main focus of Ephesians 5 where human marriage is mentioned, this does not mean that grace is given through the human marriage relationship. Grace is given only through Jesus Christ and never through human marriages. Jesus Christ is the one who cleanses through the washing with water through the word (Ephesians 5:26), something that a spouse cannot do. God designed marriage as the means of creating new physical life and as a source of contentment for two persons, not as a system for attaining spiritual life. Eternal life is given only through the gospel of Jesus Christ and never through human marriages. Serious error of this view is that if the marriage ends in divorce, then that means of grace is no longer available. Those who advocate this view also discourage divorced persons from partaking communion which they believe is another sacrament. Without taking communion in the Mass, eternal life is denied and fires of hell are awaiting. This makes divorce unpardonable sin. While I appreciate many of the moral stands this group takes, this is detestable and against the gospel of Jesus Christ.
2. Marriage as a contract
While the last view is mostly issue in the past, this view is popular today in our increasingly secular society. Scripture has little to do with this view.
Those who advocate this approach view marriage as a bilateral contract that is voluntarily formed, maintained, and dissolved by two individuals. Gary Chapman lists several characteristics of contracts that apply here:
They are typically made for a limited amount of time
They most often deal with specific actions
They are conditional upon the performance of contractual obligations by the other partner
They are entered into for one’s own benefit
Parts of contract are unspoken or assumed
This is a lessened view of what marriage is. Yes, an aspect of marriage is an agreement made between a man and a woman, but this is inadequate to explain what marriage is. This model gives no security or stability to marriage and provides an easy out if things get tough. Make a contract in the business world and if other party is breaking or negligent on what the contract outlines, then contract is invalid. If growing tired of the marriage, find something in the contract they are breaking, then get out of the contract. Look at marriage vows (contract) and find an area they are breaking or negligent and get out.
Also this contract model is based on the ability of people not to sin. If one spouse commits a grievous enough sin to break the contract, the other partner is free to dissolve the union. Considering humanity’s sinfulness, this renders marriage an unstable foundation. Who has lived up to their marriage vows! If we bring Scripture into this we find that marriage is to be a permanent and sacred institution with more security and stability than a contract.
3. Marriage as a covenant
This view defines marriage as a sacred bond between a man and a woman instituted by and publicly entered into before God, normally consummated by sexual intercourse.