by John Ellis
What is marriage? Ask that question of people passing by on the street, and the number of different answers will most likely match the number of people asked. Frankly, the lack of a clear definition of marriage within our culture is a major reason why LGBTQ activists are so successful at redefining it. Since there is no single authoritative definition, all definitions become equally valid. That’s not to say that many conservatives aren’t pushing back and attempting to use definitions to set boundaries. No doubt, the conservatives in the hypothetical street-poll above would all include “between a man and a woman” in their definition. While that’s not wrong, it’s incomplete.
In a recent article for the Federalist, Katy Faust wrote a compelling argument claiming that “marriage isn’t about making adults feel nice, it’s about raising children.” In her article, Faust writes, “Historically, marriage has always been about babies, so when you redefine marriage, you redefine parenthood as well.”
From there, she presses on to make the case that the rights of children are undermined when marriage’s definition is extended beyond one man and one woman. Spending much of her time leaning on legal definitions of marriage and the role of the state in marriage, Faust explains, “the state’s interest [in marriage] stems from a biological reality that judicial fiat is powerless to change—the reality that heterosexual sex produces babies.”
Yes, heterosexual sex does produce babies. And, yes, the rights of children are undermined when marriage’s definition is extended beyond one man and one woman. I loudly exclaim “Amen!” to much of what Faust says in her thoughtful piece on marriage. However, I believe that she makes the same mistake as many other well-intentioned conservatives by folding pragmatism into her definition of marriage.
Marriage was designed and instituted by God. On that point, most, if not all, conservative Christians agree. Move past that point, though, and the responses begin to become murkier while holding less agreement. Asking why God designed and instituted marriage quickly uncovers the sliding rhetorical scale upon which conservatives skate. And our skates are often the dangerous blades of pragmatism. Except, the Bible reveals that marriage isn’t about us. The Bible teaches that marriage is about God.
Ephesians 5 is a favorite passage on both the right and the left. On the right, pastors frequently quote verses 22-31 during marriage ceremonies and sermons on marriage. It’s the “wives, submit to your own husbands” and “husbands, love your wives” section. The left loves that same section of Scripture, too. Except, for them, it’s proof that Christianity is patriarchal and oppresses women. They both, however, often overlook verse 32 which says, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”
With Ephesians 5:32 (and in the context of the whole passage) the Apostle Paul provides God’s reason for instituting marriage; Paul defines marriage. It’s not about us; it’s not about our children. Marriage is most definitely not about the state. According to verse 32, marriage exists as a metaphor for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
That definition is the foundation for the ethics of marriage that conservatives agree on – between one man and one woman and for life. The Bible clearly teaches that God made only two genders synonymous with biological sex. Just as clearly, the Bible teaches that marriage is for life. Referencing both things in Matthew 19, Jesus responds to a question about marriage and divorce by asking the Pharisees in verses 4-5, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?”
Before allowing the Pharisees to respond to his question, Jesus adds in verse 6, “So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
It’s not an accident that in Ephesians 5 Paul quotes Jesus and that in Matthew 19 Jesus quotes Genesis 2:24. Using a literary term, the Bible contains a through-line-of-action. Regarding marriage, God sets the parameters all the way at the beginning, Jesus expounds on those parameters, and Paul uncovers the mystery of it all. The joining together of one man and one woman for a life of self-sacrificial service to each other points to how God saves His people through Jesus’ self-sacrificial service for his bride, the Church. Furthermore, it points to the Believer’s union with Christ that is permanent; Christ didn’t die for his bride in order to leave her nor to let her slip away.
As an important side-note, this is why sex outside of the boundaries of marriage is a sin. It lies about Jesus. Sex outside of marriage profanes the metaphor by claiming that Jesus isn’t faithful to his bride.
Defining marriage by pragmatic ethics instead of the institution’s reason for existence (it’s ontology, if you will) is highly problematic. Living by the sword of pragmatism means being willing to die by the sword of pragmatism. Living by God’s definition, though, grounds marriage in His unchanging reason for its existence. Neither the state nor any individual has the right to redefine what God has already defined, regardless of what society believes.
Referencing Faust’s article, even if it were ever proven that gay marriages don’t negatively affect the development and flourishing of children, that still wouldn’t justify violating God’s parameters for the institution of marriage. Even if same-sex marriage was demonstrated to be beneficial to the state, that still wouldn’t justify violating God’s parameters for marriage. Even if marrying your same-sex partner increases your existential happiness, that still doesn’t justify violating God’s parameters for marriage. God created marriage and defined it. It’s our job to submit to our Creator through obedience to His Word.
I appreciate and applaud the efforts of Katy Faust and others to defend traditional marriage against the onslaught of the sexual revolution. I wish, though, that they would ground their arguments in the Bible and not on culturally defined pragmatism.
Soli Deo Gloria