Thursday, May 17, 2012

God, Marriage, and The State In Our World Today

The Current Situation
(NOTE: This post is continued from an article posted last week, entitled Homosexuality, God, and The Bible)

A few years ago the State Supreme Court of Massachusetts ruled that the state government cannot prevent two persons of the same gender from marrying one another. They further directed the State Legislature to in some way provide statutory regulations, or written guidelines and procedures, to counties and municipalities, so as to implement this ruling within the next 180 days. There are similar cases before the Supreme Courts of a number of States, and it is certain that the Federal Supreme Court will have to address this issue before too long.

Obviously, the Massachusetts’ ruling is a controversial one, as it runs counter to the customs and traditions of not just Western civilization, but the societal norms of the vast majority of the world over most of recorded history. Even the pagan governments of Greece and Rome did not formally sanction homosexual marriage.

Many well-meaning and sincere Christians would like to obviate the rulings of any Court on this subject by adding an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would restrict the definition of marriage to only a union of one man and one woman. To this end they seek the support of the President, the Congress, and many others.

While such efforts are understandable, and certainly permissible in our system of government, it begs the question of whether or not the State should be in the business of regulating marriage in the first place, and if it should, to what extent it is empowered by God to do so.

The Bible’s Definition of Marriage

Holy Scripture consistently gives only one definition for marriage: A man and a woman, are brought together by or under the authority of God, or His representatives, and agree to look upon one another as husband and wife, with all the rights and all the responsibilities of such an estate, for as long as they continue their earthly existence. That’s it; no more, no less.

While there are many wedding feasts and banquets described in the Bible, no actual marriage ceremonies are recorded anywhere in God’s Word. In both Old Testament and New Testament times, marriage was usually arranged by parents, and the betrothal or engagement announced to the people of the town or village. The actual marriage took place simply when the man was able to take care of the woman, and took her from her father’s house to his house. The Bible has only three requirements for a God-pleasing union of man and woman: 1.) Mutual consent, freely given,  2.) fulfill the responsibilities of husband and wife toward each other, and  3.) that this commitment be for life.

Thus, from the start, it should be clearly understood that there are not a host of different requirements or definitions for marriage as far as God is concerned. What the State may or may not add is irrelevant and immaterial to this simple basic definition.

Note the following passages from the Bible:

In the Old Testament –

Genesis 2:22 & 24 “Then the LORD God made a woman . . . and He brought her to the man. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”  God established marriage during the Creation Week, before the Fall into sin. Thus, in its original institution, it too was perfect.

Genesis 24:57, 58, & 67  “Then they said, ‘Let’s call the girl and ask her about it.’ So they called Rebekah and asked her, ‘Will you go with this man?’ ‘I will go,’ she said. Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he married Rebekah. So she became his wife.” Note here that consent is sought from Rebekah and given by her. Note also there is no other rite or ceremony. This consent confirms the marriage.

Genesis 29:21   “Then Jacob said to Laban, ‘Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to lie with her.’” Jacob had an agreement with Rachel and her father that she would be his wife after he worked for Laban for seven years. This already made her his wife. Note that he does not ask Laban, “Give me Rachel to be my wife.” When the agreed upon time was up he wanted only to consummate the marriage.

Ruth 4:13  “So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife.”  Ruth and Boaz had made an agreement that if no one else in Boaz’ family wanted to fulfill the duty of being a “kinsman-redeemer,” and raise up children with her, he would do so and marry her. When no one else came forward they regarded themselves, and were regarded, as husband and wife, no other procedure was necessary.

First Samuel 25:39 & 42  “Then David sent word to Abigail, asking her to become his wife. Abigail quickly got on a donkey and, . . . went with David’s messengers and became his wife.” Again note the consent requested and then given. By giving her consent, Abigail becomes David’s wife, even though he is already married. Thus, even a concurrent marriage to someone else does not abrogate this mutual agreement with a new wife.

Hosea 1:2 & 3  “The LORD said to him, ‘Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife . . . So he married Gomer. . .’” God commanded one of His prophets to actually marry himself to a prostitute, in order to graphically demonstrate to Israel what they were doing to their relationship with Him by their idol-worship. Gomer accepts this arrangement and becomes Hosea’s wife, as shown by the fact that she bears him a number of children.

In the New Testament –

Matthew 1:18 & 19  “His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” Notice that even though they are only “pledged,” that is, engaged or betrothed, Mary and Joseph are referred to here as already married. However, the Bible makes it clear that the marriage was simply not consummated as yet. And, if Joseph wanted to dissolve the marriage, he would have to formally divorce Mary.

Matthew 19:6  “So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” Jesus makes it clear that God intends marriage to be ended only by the death (separation) of one or another of those He has joined.

First Corinthians 7:11 & 39  “A husband must not divorce his wife. A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives.” Simply put, marriage is supposed to last “for as long as you both shall live!”

To sum up:

- God created the estate of marriage.

- Sexual relations alone do not establish a marriage.

- Merely living together does not establish a marriage.  

- Individual marriages are established only by the authority of God, either directly, or indirectly through His representatives, and by the agreement of those involved to look upon one another and treat one another as husband and wife.

- This agreement is also done in public so everyone will know that this man and woman are no longer available for marriage to someone else, and as a witness to their permanent commitment. Marriage is rightfully ended only by earthly death.

NOTE: Naturally, when a betrothal or engagement is based on this Biblical understanding, the man and woman involved are correctly referred to as “married in the eyes of God.” In this way, and this way alone, betrothal is indeed what is referred to as “tantamount” to marriage. This point will be important for us to remember a bit later on in the discussion.

It also goes without saying that all examples of marriage in the Bible are unions between men and women. While homosexuality is mentioned, as noted, even pagan cultures did not consider such relationships to be equal with marriage.

What Does This Mean For Us Today?

One area of application comes up most often with regard to the various types of regulations of marriage. Simply put, the question is: If marriage is established by God according to the guidelines set forth in the Bible, why then is the government even involved with marriage at all?

The Involvement of the Government Is By God’s Design

To answer this question, it is important to remember that God also created government, and human society produces governments, mainly for the purpose of protection; that is, to provide defense against those outside the society who would invade it for some nefarious purpose, and to keep order inside that society. Indeed, God wants people to be protected from physical attack from without and also from within the society. (See Romans 13) He also wants the things they acquire or produce to be safe from such attack, so that people can use and enjoy them, or pass them on to their descendants. (i.e. The Seventh Commandment) Therefore it is both God’s will, and in the interest of society, to have rules to protect men and women from other women and men; including rules about who is “off limits” as a potential partner. (see also Sixth Commandment) 

Even societies that allow plural marriage more often than not still regulate the number of husbands/wives, and who may be taken as an additional husband/wife. Thus, the government produced by a particular society is then called upon to enforce these rules with formal public laws, and real and meaningful punishments for those who break these laws.

The same is true when it comes time to pass on what a person has produced or acquired during life to their progeny. It is understood that a union of a man and a woman can and often does produce children. In addition, every society has rules about who is and who is not a “legitimate” child or “heir,” and thus able to receive part or all of what a person leaves behind when he dies.

Not just anyone should be able to step forward and claim some part of a person’s estate. If that were the case, then no one’s possessions would be safe after they were dead, and there would be little incentive for people to work to produce things of lasting value within that society. So again, the government is called upon to make laws about inheritance, and again to back up such laws with force if need be.

Therefore, it is necessary that the government of a society formally declare not only who can be married to whom, but also who is or can be considered a legal descendant of another individual for inheritance purposes. This in turn involves whether or not a particular descendant was produced within the framework of a legitimate or legal union of a man and a woman.

Thus it is that the safety, orderliness, and stability of a society is dependant in large measure upon the government of that society promulgating and enforcing rules about marriage and the subsequent sexual activity which could produce children. Indeed, the government, as a servant of God and society, has very good and necessary reasons for regulating marriage and therefore also reproduction.

Sadly, however, as we will see, the government is slowly but surely abrogating its duty to regulate marriage and the sexual relations that can produce offspring. But more about that later.

Until 1996, Marriage In America Was Solely A State, Not A Federal Matter

In the United States, the regulation of marriage is one of those matters originally left to the jurisdictions of the various States by the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution. To my knowledge, until 1996 there had only been one attempt at making marriage regulations a matter of Federal Law. In the early part of the last century a Constitutional Amendment was proposed to formally and permanently outlaw polygamy. However, this attempt was derailed by President Theodore Roosevelt and the Republican leadership in exchange for political support from the heavily Mormon state of Utah. Recently, as noted earlier, due to the increase in demand for same-sex marriage in some areas of the country, there have been renewed calls for the Federal government to define marriage by way of a Constitutional Amendment as a union of one man and one woman.

However, in 1996, Congress passed and President Clinton, ironically the most promiscuous President in modern American history, signed into law the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (known as "DOMA" today). The Act reads in part:


“No State, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship.”



7. Definition of “marriage” and “spouse”

“In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”

While this Act does not dictate to the States how they must define marriage, it puts this one civil action outside the framework of the so-called “good faith and credit” clause of the Constitution. Therefore, regardless of any Court findings or laws passed in other States regarding same-sex marriage, the rest of the States would not be forced to recognize such unions. Of course, this Act has not yet had the opportunity to be tested. Many legal scholars doubt it could survive a U.S. Supreme Court challenge. For now, it is a mere “paper tiger.”

As for the regulations of the various States concerning marriage; in general, the laws of most States mandate that unrelated persons of the opposite sex who wish to live together, procure a license to marry from the County in which they reside, and have their marriage solemnized by a person authorized by that State to do so. However, with regard to specifics there is a great deal of difference among and between the States with regard to this basic activity of human life. Many States have fairly conservative laws concerning marriage and sex, while others are considerably more liberal.

Common-Law Marriage Is Also Biblical Marriage

One aspect of State regulation in particular actually involves what could rightfully be called a very simple Scriptural definition of marriage, and can very well prove enlightening to our topic. At this time fourteen States provide for what is called “Common-Law” marriage. However, here again, the regulations governing this type of union vary a great deal among those same States. For example, some have residency requirements, others do not. A few, though by no means most, also have a time requirement. In addition, there is no requirement for the couple to provide some kind of reason for procuring a common-law union as opposed to one established by a State-sanctioned individual.

Still, the requirements for Common-Law marriage in those States that provide for them in their statutes are basically the same:

A verbal public commitment, freely made, to look upon each other as husband and wife for as long as they live;

To actually cohabit in some way; and

To present themselves as married to the public. This can be done in any number of ways; telling people they are married, holding joint ownership of land or other property such are automobiles and the like, or maintaining joint financial arrangements, among others.

It will be noted that these requirements mirror quite closely those found in Holy Scripture. Thus, wherever they are provided for by law, there is no valid Scriptural reason why we should not look upon also Common Law marriages as legal, binding, and valid before both God and man.

The States that specifically allow for Common-Law marriage to be contracted within their borders are: Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Washington, D.C.

Still, a complicating factor is that, pursuant to Article IV of the U.S. Constitution and again that “good faith and credit” clause, all States must recognize not only a regular marriage contracted in any other State of the Union, but also a Common-Law marriage contracted in another State where such is legal.

In other words, a State that does not permit Common-Law marriage within its own body of laws is required to accept as legitimate any such unions from States where such arrangements are acceptable. For example, the actual law concerning Common Law marriage in Arizona reads:

“Under common law, Arizona will recognize a common-law marriage contracted in another state, provided parties establish a connection with the other state of kind and duration which will minimize the evils of common-law marriage; however, parties need not, unless that state requires it, have been domiciled in a state which recognizes common-law marriage.” [Arizona Statute 25-111.2]

The problem here is that there is currently no way for authorities in a State without a Common-Law provision itself to ascertain whether or not any particular Common-Law union now residing in that State was done according to the regulations of the State where the Common-Law marriage was supposed to have been made in the first place. Thus, a couple could claim to have a Common-Law marriage contracted in a State where such is legal, and there would be no way to concretely check the veracity of such a claim.

Also, as already mentioned, and contrary to popular belief, most Common-Law States have no specific time requirements, or even residency requirements to establish this union. For example, many people are under the mistaken impression that there is a fairly universal rule in the United States that living together for seven years constitutes a Common Law Marriage. Yet that particular provision does not exist at all among any of the fourteen States that recognize this form of civil wedlock.

So, as we have seen, the definition of Common Law marriage is almost the same and just as simple as the Scriptural definition of marriage itself, which, as we have also noted applies to a true betrothal. Therefore, since a true betrothal is tantamount to marriage in God’s eyes, Common Law Marriage is certainly even more so!

The Consequences of Having No Unchanging Standards for the Legal Regulation of Marriage

Much has been written about the use of such things as The Ten Commandments, Natural Law, and Christian principles in formulating the various legal regulations of a given society. Suffice it to say that while, as Christian citizens, we can hope, encourage, and even expect that such Biblical guidelines will be made use of by our lawmakers, we cannot demand, nor should we force them to do so. Even a cursory study of nations living under Islamic law should convince us of this!

Unfortunately, in our world today, without some kind of firm, objective guidelines to go by, the regulations of the various States can often cause more confusion and problems than they solve. For example, in the foolish rush to be seen as “politically correct,” many states have abrogated laws against certain sexual practices regarding homosexuality. However, in doing so they have also affected laws governing heterosexual relationships. Since Arizona is where we live and carry on our ministry, I will limit myself to this state’s laws. However, much of what applies to Arizona also applies to most if not all states.

Basically, as of 2002, almost any sexual contact, up to and including intercourse, between persons eighteen years of age and older, whether of the opposite or same gender, and whether or not they are married to one another, is legal in the State of Arizona. The exceptions are: prostitution, also called “concubinage” (AZ Statutes, Title 13, Chapter 32), polygamy, incest (Title 13, Chapter 36), and adultery (Title 25, Chapter 14). Yet, even of these, adultery is seldom persecuted, there have been many calls for legalizing prostitution, and court cases are now pending to force the government to allow for polygamy.

Also, any sexual contact between someone over 18 and another under that age is still illegal unless they are married. However, strangely enough, sexual contact between two person who are both under 18 is not illegal. Thus, if the couple are both over 18, or both under that age for that matter, and they engage in sexual relations, whether they are of different genders or not, with or without a wedding ceremony, the laws of the State do not come into consideration. In other words, what they are doing is not actually illegal anymore!

The Conclusion – The Gospel, Not the Law, Will Change Hearts, Minds, and Actions!

So, where does that leave us? As we noted, God makes it clear in Holy Scripture what His requirements are for marriage. And, for the reasons stated earlier, it remains in the interest of citizens for the States to continue to regulate marriage. Whether it is wise for the federal branch of our government to involve itself with this aspect of civil life is a political question, best left to that arena. But, it seems we can safely say that some kind of governmental regulation of marriage is good, and necessary, and God-pleasing.

But, what form should those regulations take, and upon what cultural norms should they be based? As we said, it would be wonderful for the government to base these laws on Holy Scripture, but that is problematical at best. For, whose interpretation of the Bible will be codified into law? Certainly not an orthodox, conservative, historical Lutheran view; of that you can be sure! And would we want, say, Catholic, or Mormon theology as the basis for marriage laws imposed upon us? I think not. One would suppose that the government should be able to come to an agreement on a simple, basic definition of marriage from a few clear passages of Scripture. But even that is beyond the realm of possibility in the politically charged and polarizing atmosphere in the halls of power today.

We are left with the very distinct probability that the government will eventually authorize same-sex marriage. In addition, polygamy cases in both Utah and Arizona are being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, partially on the basis of recent State court ruling on various laws outlawing homosexual practices or marriage. We must admit that it would be inconsistent and illogical for the Supreme Court to give legal standing to same-sex marriage, but not to plural marriage, especially if the later were presented as an intrinsic part of a religious practice, as it is with fundamentalistic Latter-Day Saints.

Once again we see that the law is powerless to change behavior, or to force correct, God-pleasing actions. Certainly we can and must hold forth God’s perfect Word as a rule and guide for our government. But even if our State and Federal governments were to codify the entire old Mosaic Law Code, it would not stop all sins against God’s will for marriage. Indeed, we know better, don’t we! Only the Gospel, with its soul-saving, and life-changing power can cause people to live as God intended in any area of life, marriage or otherwise. Therefore, let us re-double out efforts at proclaiming the pure Gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ as the real, true, and only antidote to any and all social, moral, or institutional evils. In this way, and this way alone, we will be fulfilling the command of our Lord and Savior, and the will of His Father for all people.

Pastor Spencer


Anonymous said...

Your article highlights the difference between being married in the eyes of God and being married in the eyes of the state. The two are not the same. Regarding the marital state, Christians should render unto Caesar the things that be Caesar's and unto God the things that be God's.

For its own purposes, state government may chose to regard betrothals as not being tantamount to marriage, to permit multiple marriage, to permit the marriage of persons who have broken previous marital oaths, and, yes, to even permit the "marriage" of homosexuals.

As people become ever more wicked, civil laws governing marriage, of necessity, constantly change, but the laws of God governing marriage never change. For example, a person who has broken his betrothal or marriage vow remains married in the eyes of God and may not remarry. The church cannot and will not recognize any subsequent civil marriage as being valid in the eyes of God.

IMHO, the church should be putting its own house in order with respect to marriage(i.e., condemning and excommunicating those within her midst who abandon their faithful spouse and obtain civil marriage) rather than breaking into another's office (See AC XXVIII).

Pastor Spencer said...


Thanks for the observations.

You'll get no argument from me that the church should pay more and closer attention to the huge issue of divorce and re-marriage within its own ranks, especially that of its Pastors, teachers, administrators, and professors. That's the first line of defense. Because of the mobility of our society, and the that fact much of this problem can happen long before people become even prospective members, dealing with this among the laity is very difficult and problematic. But holding the line among those who serve in the public ministry can and must be done.

Pastor Spencer

Anonymous said...

Scripture does set higher standards for ministers. However, the church cannot turn a blind eye to any sin. If a sin is tolerated among the laity, it will eventually be tolerated among the ministry (e.g., homosexuality in the ELCA).

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