January 22, 2021


Wedding, Chagall

Wedding, Chagall

Note from CM: In this post, I will not be writing about same-sex marriages. They will be mentioned, but what I have to say is not about them. If you think SSM or other forms of “marriage” should be discussed in the comments, I will only agree if you are including them to talk about the main point.

• • •

Marriage is a covenant of mutual promises, commitment, and hope authorized legally by the state and blessed by God. The historic Christian tradition and the Lutheran Confessions have recognized marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman, reflecting Mark 10: 6–9: “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one put asunder.” (Jesus here recalls Genesis 1:27; 2:23–24.)

…The church’s historical experience supports its confidence that solemn promises, made before a company of witnesses who ask for God’s blessing on a man and a woman, have the power to create a unique framework within which two people, a new family, and the community may thrive. Consistent with that experience, this church has confidence that such promises, supported by the contractual framework of civil law, can create a lifetime relationship of commitment and cooperation.

• ELCA Social Statement on Human Sexuality (2009)

This is a fine, traditional statement about Christian marriage, and I endorse it wholeheartedly.

I want to say one particular thing in this post: I affirm marriage between and man and a woman as a unique relationship designed by God for the blessing of humankind.

I do not want to talk today about other types of relationships: for example, same-sex marriage — the legal status of which has become such a point of argumentation in our culture. Whether or not I affirm that such unions should have legal protection in a free society is not the issue here. Whether or not we call such relationships “marriage” is not the issue here. Whether or not such relationships form “families” or whether they are suitable settings for the care and nurture of children is not what I want to talk about. I am not concerned to discuss the morality of these unions, or whether they are, in and of themselves, sinful because they involve same-sex intimacy. I’m not interested in arguing about whether the church should or should not recognize such unions as valid, include people participating in them in positions of ministry, or whether “discipling” people who are drawn to same-sex relationships should involve trying to persuade them that this is an unacceptable Christian path.

I could agree or disagree or have ambiguous convictions about any of those points, but whatever we might talk about with regard to such relationships, it doesn’t affect what I have to say about marriage between a man and a woman one iota.

I believe this is a unique relationship. That God designed it. That God gave it to humankind for our blessing.

I base my position on biblical interpretation, and two points from Genesis lead me to think this way:

  1. Genesis affirms that the “male and female” makeup of humanity was designed to reflect the unity/diversity of God — the “image of God” is somehow bound up with the maleness/femaleness of humanity.
  2. It also affirms that the union of male and female was designed to lead to fruitfulness — that is, the male/female union is the only relationship that can naturally produce children for the ongoing blessing of humankind.

So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

• Genesis 1:27-28

How we deal with other “family-type” relationships is important and there is a time and place to discuss this. However, whatever conclusions we come to as individuals, communities, churches, and societies about other forms of sexuality and unions, it is my conviction that this one relationship stands apart as unique and incapable of being replicated.

Therefore, I agree with the author of Hebrews, that marriage ought to be held in honor by all. (Hebrews 13:4)

I would say, a place of unique honor.


  1. Male/female marriage is the only union blessed and approved by scripture. Period! There is a reason for that and any discussion of alternative relationships should be held as subject to the main subject. The whole point of the bible is to explain God’s relationship to man, and male/female marriage is a window into how the creator sees His relationship to His creation. Anything else is just an add-on to God’s purposes.

    • *A* window, not *the* window. Let’s get to the heart of this. 95%+ of everyday marriage is work, chores, hobbies, household management, and all the odds and ends of how two human beings live together under the same roof. The practical difference between heterosexual and homosexual marriage, if that is so, is the gender of the two people and how they fit their plumbing together during sex. Is THAT what makes “homosexual marriage” problematic for you? If so, let’s debate that and save time. If not, what is it?

      • Why the red-herring about chores? Why reduce the claims of marriage to “plumbing”? These are fallacious representations of the original argument. Point is God is who the Bible claims he is then he has thoughts about how humans should relate to other humans, animals and objects. These thoughts represent his design or moral standard. He has revealed certain standards as contextual and others as universal. We see that one of his designs for humans is procreation. But another is oneness. Oneness was a function of the two natures (male and female) reuniting . There are no examples in scripture of “loving homosexuality!” Nor, adultery, or fornication.

        Everyone who breaks God’s design can say they were preprogrammed to do it.

        I am preprogrammed to commit adultery with every beautiful woman I see. But I can choose to bound my actions based on. God’s moral design.

        No one in the New Testament times thought Paul was sympathetic to “loving,” homosexual relationships.

        Now you are free to reject the Bible as authoritative, but why believe YOUR version of reality is reasonable?

        We all struggle to rid our lives of sin as Christians. Some sins are more limiting (homosexuals are called to be celibate, as are non married people); drunks are called to be teetotalers; materialist to be austere.

        On your methodology why don’t ALL CHRISTIANS GET A PASS?

        Why can’t All get to reinterpret scriptures so as to change God’s thinking about that particular aspect of his moral standard which we find most inconvenient for us personally?

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > Male/female marriage is the only union blessed and approved by scripture

      Not true.

      Or true only if by Union you mean “sex”.

      There is a strong endorsement of Friendship in Scripture, and it plays a role in many of narratives, and is abundant in the Psalms/Proverbs.

      Perhaps tangential to CM’s assertions here; but in at least the first and last stages of a human life Friendship plays a role that may, in the end, outshine all the sexual unions [or not] in between.

    • Marcus Johnson says

      Aside from the union of believer to the church, pastor to congregation, subject to the king, slave to the master…

      I’ll buy that the act of marriage is blessed and approved “in” Scripture (not “by” Scripture, slight difference), but there are plenty of interpersonal unions that are approved, some of which are infused with sacred value.

      • True, but we are talking about family relationships this week.

      • Burro [Mule] says

        In St. Maximos’ [i]Ambigua 41[/i], the primordial division [diaphésis – very important word in Maximos] of humanity into male and female is given a weight by the Confessor that is not given to any of the other divisions of humanity; Jew/Gentile, slave/free, clergy/laity, so I think Oscar and CM are on the right path here.

  2. CM, the use of quotes around “marriage” and “family” re. same-sex couples seems indicative of what you think. I have nothing further to say, since you have made it clear that you will not allow commenters to engage with the issues you have just raised by the use of scare quotes.

    Perhaps it might be better for you to come right out and say it. I find this post problematic for many reasons, though certainly, i agree with some of what you quoted. Seems like a rather selective reading of the ELCA position paper, though. I realize that we can agree to disagree, and am grateful for that.

    • Differently put, why “unique”? Serious question, since you didn’t say.

    • It is not a selective reading of the ELCA paper. This is part of the foundation upon which they build. What they go on to say about certain kinds of same sex relationships depends upon this and other fundamental positions.

    • Numo, you are treading on thin ice here. “Scare quotes”?

      I used quotes because I was reflecting the debate going on in our society, not to reflect anything of my own position.

      • Fair enough, but this (quotation marks around words) usually is a what I referred to as “scare quites” – it is confusing to me, and i bet I’m not the only one.

        • I would hope you have been reading Internet Monk long enough to have developed some sense of how I write, numo.

          • I have, CM. But usually when i see the words you’re employing, it’s the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood that is out there saying them. Whichmis highly problematic, on many levels, and whivh is one of the sources of my unease. (Along with questions regarding the texts and interpretations of the text that you refer to.)

            One of the reasons i feel uneasy is your link (in sidebar) to the article on the steadfastlutheran site, in which the author makes some pretty incredible assertions about same-sex marriage being inherently selfish, etc. I had been meaning to ask you about that off-list, actually, and would be more than happy to discuss it off-list. It does worry me, re. what you are saying here, since i don’t know whether you agree or disagree with the author.

            OK, /side topic.

            • FYI, articles on the bulletin board are not necessarily endorsed by Chaplain Mike. They simply represent interesting articles that I think worthy of reading, for one reason or another.

            • numo, with all due respect, associating my words with the CBMW is rather absurd, given my track history. I would think that might give you pause before questioning my motives. Most of the time here, I’m accused of having sold out to the liberals and the libertines.

          • I understand. But imo, that link begs for a disclaimer.

            • No disclaimers will be given on the Bulletin Board. I expect my readers to be discerning. I also expect them to be able to handle reading materials with which they (and I) disagree, but which reflect part of the discussion that is taking place in the diverse world of Christianity and religion.

          • I’m not saying that you agree with the CBMW, only that so much of what i read takes that position that i am finding it hwrd to get their ideas out of my mind. Especially ttue since the SCOTUS decision back in June.

          • Fine, but the assertions made by that author seem – to me, atmleast – have a bearing on thisnpost, and this discussion. Sorry; i was and still am dumbfounded by some of what he says.

          • I have already said why it is difficult (for me personally) to not have those other peoples’ opinions ringing in my ears. I’m willing to bet that other readers hsve the same or similsr questions.

            It is exhausting for evetyone – -you, too what with all the ideas alluded to in the comments, by me and others.

          • CM endorsing CBMW?
            Now I’m off to Amazon to customize a Cubs jersey for CM with “CBMW” on the back…

          • Dr. F – i wouldn’t have said anything were it not for a very odd segent of a blog post by an LCMS minister named Bruce Timm. It’s on p. 2 of his post. CM linked to it a week or so ago. I mentioned it a bit upthread. It’s on the steadfastlutheran site.

            But I’m metioning it only by way of explanation/clarification, because i think it would be unfair to threadjack any more than I’ve already done, earliwr today.

          • So, are you going to pitch in on the jersey idea? ;-P

        • David Cornwell says

          ” link (in sidebar”

          Sidebars on this site are for enhancing one’s knowledge of different subjects. They are not and “endorsements.” I’ve read, or glanced at, many that strike a chord with me.

          All of us need to open up our minds to the possibility that someone else may have some knowledge or insight about a subject that may have escaped us. If we close off our minds to another’s position or research we are limiting our own growth. I’ve changed my position on several subjects, significantly, one way or the other, more than once while following the posts.

          I fail to understand the paranoia about the possibility of “scare quotes.” Most of the time Chaplain Mike has failed to frighten me. When he does I’ll lock my doors and set my firewall against this site. What is really scary to me is someone who digs a trench around a position and digging a hole so deep, from which it is difficult to extract oneself.

          • Not “paranoia.” Many questions, given the tenor of much of what passes for “discourse” – cf. the link i mentioned, where the writer uses his largely positive statements on marriage to excoriate those with whom he disagrees. It’s on page 2 of the post in question, and it comes up out of the blue.

            Some of us have friends and relatives on our minds when we read things like that. Still others find themselves being condemned.

            Apologies, all, for going off-topic, but i felt that David’s comment deserved a reply.

  3. Eckhart Trolle says

    But you DID talk about them! Three times, by my count.

  4. Eckhart Trolle says

    PS. God did not invent marriage. It evolved along with civilization and farming, as women came to be seen as property.

    • Hunter-gatherers marry.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      I also disagree with “God invented marriage”. We see pair bonding all over nature in a wild panoply of forms. Human relations are just not that distinct; we imagine a lot of distinction that dissolves upon inspection [we are far less impressive than we would like to believe].

      > It evolved along with civilization and farming, as women came to be seen as property.

      This however, is at best, a *gross* oversimplification.

      Humans form packs [we like to call them Tribes] and for many the same reasons as other creatures who do so. Raising human children is insanely resource intensive and takes a *long* time; it is very reasonable to believe that this had to be a collective effort as far back in time as there was anything vaguely resembling a human being. When did it become “marriage”? This is a question it likely is impossible to disentangle from the evolution of human culture. Once groups reach a certain size relationships – of all types – must become more formalized in order to persist social cohesion.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        I do believe it is correct to say that Scriptures “institute” marriage.

      • We invented marriage. Then we had God bless it.

        No book of the Bible was written as things happened. We wrote it later. It’s not the Declaration of Independence, it’s some other document I can’t think of that we found and later said “we’ve always believed this”.

    • –> “PS. God did not invent marriage.”

      I’ve been mulling on that idea since yesterday’s post. I think the idea of male/female as mates is God’s intent, but I wonder if the concept of marriage (as a covenant) is more of a human creation (which, as Stuart suggests, we then had God bless).

  5. Are you basing your position on two or three verses of scripture, CM? Would you adduce other texts for support of that position?

    • A lot more controversial positions are based on even less exegesis than this… 😉

      • Genesis 1:27-28 does not say that the image of himself that God put in humanity is dependent for its fullness on the relationship between male and female, nor does Genesis relate the fullness of this image to marriage (it doesn’t even say that Adam and Eve were husband and wife). In the absence of any suggestion within the text that the text should be read this way, I would need to see support from other texts of scripture, and/or Jewish interpretation of scripture during the Old Testament period, that support that this is the way the text should be understood. Otherwise, this interpretation is the result of eisegesis rather than exegesis of the text.

      • Actually, I think that the idea that the presence of the “image” of God in humanity is dependent for its realization and fullness on the relationship of male and female, rather than being imprinted fully in each human being, is controversial, and needs to be supported by more than just the questionable interpretation of a few verses.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          > the presence of the “image” of God in humanity

          I have read so very many interpretations of what this “image” is I am convinced it is indiscernible. It may be a pursuit which misses the point, IMO.

          The image of God in humanity? Treat people charitably, listen to them, be a neighbor. Whatever the “image” is is an essence whose distillation is beside the point.

        • I didn’t say it is dependent upon. I said it is somehow bound up with the image of God. I’m not sure I understand the full relationship between the two, but Scripture puts them together here.

          • My thought is that they are put together in the scriptures. After all, Scripture isn’t the author. (I’m kidding, but more seriously, we know that human beings wrote the scriptures, and that, imo, means that there is alwsys a social/cultural context to what is said.)

          • It seems to me reasonable to think that verse 27 mentions both male and female to avoid even the remotest possibility that verse 26 could be interpreted to mean that only men are made in his image, since the Hebrew word used in 26 refers to “man”, though the intention is to include women as well.

          • Is there evidence that in ancient Israel the text was ever interpreted in this way? Are there other biblical texts that refer to the image of God in human beings in this way, as somehow found uniquely in the relationship between men and women? Did Jesus ever refer to the image of God in this way, when he was speaking of the relationships of wives and husbands? Is there any evidence that ancient Jewish culture possessed this concept?

            I don’t mind eisegesis; I use it myself, for instance, to underwrite my universalism with some parts of scripture. Eisegesis, however, should not present itself as the one true interpretation of scripture; it is of necessity only one among many equally cogent approaches to interpreting scripture.

          • Robert, i think that is a reasonable assumption, drawn from the text itself (that men and women alike bear the image of God), though what’s been done with that text down the ages is another story entirely.

    • Jesus’ words, quoted in the ELCA paper look back also to Genesis 2 as foundational.

      • But does Jesus refer to the image of God in human beings the way you do, as reflecting the diversity in the nature of God?

        • I said it was suggestive. I’m not offering it as an ironclad interpretation.

          “Image of God” most likely has to do with being God’s visible representative, just as ancient temples had statues representing the god at the entrance of the temple.

          Humanity — male and female — represent God’s rule in the cosmic temple, i.e. the world.

      • Correction: But does Jesus refer to the “male and female” make-up of humanity as reflecting the diversity of God’s nature, or does he suggest that the “image” of God in humanity is somehow bound up with the “male/femaleness of humanity”?

  6. Honestly, this is sort of a “sky is blue” post. Of course the Bible teaches that “marriage” is a blessing from God. And that it is unique. Hardly seems controversial. But what is controversial is any conversation that makes my gay friends feel like crap.

    * Not scare quotes. Also not technically marriage. Rather, the union of a man and woman, which is proscribed by, but not limited to, the sex act. What can I say – the Bible is a remarkably “earthy” book.

  7. Does Genesis ever refer to Adam and Eve as husband and wife?

    Is the word “image” that is used in Genesis ever used anywhere else in the Bible, or in Jewish tradition and literature of Old Testament times, to refer to a special relationship of male/female-husband/wife as constituting the “image” of God in humanity?

    Does the juxtaposition of God saying in one verse that he created human beings in his image, and in the next that he created them male and female necessarily mean that the two verses refer to each other? I don’t see that juxtaposition would necessarily mean this. So the next question would be: Does scripture refer to this idea anywhere else, using the same word?

    • Genesis 2:25 And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.

      Robert I believe that in both Hebrew and Greek the words for husband and wife are also simply the words for man and woman. What makes the difference as to whether or not we translate them as husband and wife is both the context and if there is any sense of possession. So for instance, in Ephesians after Paul tells us to be subject to one another, the next verse could be literally translated “The women, to their own men, as to the Lord.” There is a possession there. It is not just any man, it is her man, so we translate it, wives to their husbands.

      • This raises a few interesting questions.

        Is English the only language that has specific words to denote the role of an individual within a marriage relationship? How common, or uncommon is it? And what does that mean about the view of men, women, and marriage within the culture from which that language comes?

  8. If there’s one area that makes me glad I’m not a fundamentalist it’s this one.

    What does any of this have to do with the gospel?

    • Who said it has anything to do with the gospel? We’re discussing family relationships this week.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > If there’s one area that makes me glad I’m not a fundamentalist it’s this one.

      Ditto. I was one, it was tiring [and fruitless]. I doubt there is any topic which is more exhausted and worn-out than Marriage and/or Human Sexuality. If 5% of the intellectual fervor poured onto these topic were spent elsewhere we might have Faster Than Light travel already.

      Nor are there any other topics whose impact on most people’s every day lives has been more immensely exaggerated. By all parties. For goodness or griefs sake I just finished reading a book on architecture and urban design and repeatedly there is a reference to the phallic power-assertion of high-rise buildings. Or, maybe, they are the only practical way to fit the required floor-space onto a lot of X size? [bounded by X and Y, your only axis of freedom is Z] Crazy thinking that. Perhaps they are a design equivalent to the value of the property it sits on? I must be a radical thinker. It is simply ponderous how so many feel the need to inject a sexual component into any and everything [perhaps that is phallic?].

      > What does any of this have to do with the gospel?

      Meh. There are many many many many important and relevant topics that have nothing to do with The Gospel. I have just lost all interest in this one. Everything has been said, a dozen times.

  9. CM, have you thought about how it sounds to single people (whether celibate, or wanting to be married some day) when you say that marriage has a unique place of honor? Single people are so often treated like second-class citizens in churches today (evangelical churches in particular).

    Also, how can marriage have a “unique” place of honor when the Bible says, “So then, the one who gets married does right, but the one who does not marry does even better” (1 Cor 7:38)?

    • Michael, of course I have, and I have written about how churches have missed the boat badly in failing to honor and include single folks.

      That doesn’t mean I can’t say a hearty positive word about marriage does it?

      My parents celebrated 60 years of marriage this weekend. I thought it was time to give a little honor to the institution.

      • Congrats to your mom and dad!

      • “My parents celebrated 60 years of marriage this weekend. I thought it was time to give a little honor to the institution.”

        That little tidbit would be useful at the top of your post. 😀

        I think the reaction that some are having mirrors my own experience – The ONLY time I have seen marriage celebrated in church was when Canada was going through its own same sex marriage debate starting about 13 years ago. The experience (of encouraging church members to renew their marriage vows in a big ceremony) seemed to me to very manipulative, and only done as a anti same-sex marriage statement.

        That being said, I agree with your sentiment, and know you well enough to not impugn your motives.

        • It was at the top of yesterday’s post and will continue to be on my mind as I write this week.

          • Mike is, imo, on the money here. Not meaning to be overly critical, but some context would be very, very helpful. I think people are understandably touchy at this time, and I’m one of many.

          • Michael Bell says

            I read yesterday’s post. Thought it quite refreshing (thus probably showing my bias), I had totally forgotten about the context of a 60th Anniversary when I read today’s post.

          • I forgot the anniversary mention, too. Might be a nice way to frame subsequent posts – mention of the anniversary, that is.

        • And Michael, I agree with you. It is a shame that matters like this have become so politicized that we can’t celebrate something so fundamental without raising a boatload of “but what about…?” questions.

          • CM, very much agreed. But we are living now, when this kind of discussion will inevitably (and, i think, rightly) bring up a raft of questions.

          • “politicized” as in our culture, or IMONK, or all that…… ? My folks made it past 50yrs. together, I massive collection of marital grace…… thanks for this post and your efforts to be positive towards the institution: political climate and all

  10. Very few of these comments pertain to what Chaplain Mike is saying.

    Here’s an example. Yesterday we celebrated Labor Day, in honor of those who are employed. Many other countries celebrate workers in May, with different observations. On other days, we celebrate mothers, fathers, veterans, saints, political and historical events, and many other things. But to stand up on the first Monday of September, screaming that this day discriminates against the unemployed, or that it propagates capitalist exploitation, or what have you – This is missing the point.

    Chaplain Mike has specifically stated the limits of what he is saying here. This is Husband and Wife Day. In the interests of civil discourse – and especially if you do believe that this is the only true, valid, sanctioned form of marriage! – let’s discuss what we value and honor about this type of relationship, and leave the other topics for their own days.

  11. Marcus Johnson says

    1. Genesis affirms that the “male and female” makeup of humanity was designed to reflect the unity/diversity of God — the “image of God” is somehow bound up with the maleness/femaleness of humanity.

    Does it? I remember very well-argued iMonk articles which argued that the Genesis narrative was the prequel to the story of Israel, not necessarily a historical narrative of the history of the world or an affirmation of marriage. Or did I read that wrong? I’m seriously asking here; I’ve got Peter Enns talking in one side of my brain and this post in the other, and it seems like they’re saying two separate, contradictory things.

    2. It also affirms that the union of male and female was designed to lead to fruitfulness — that is, the male/female union is the only relationship that can naturally produce children for the ongoing blessing of humankind.

    What does that mean for couples who can’t reproduce? Mutually choose not to reproduce? Certainly they are not broken, right; it’s not like their union is any less sacred or has less value because they’re not popping out kids.

    And, just to be clear, I’m sticking with the terms of today’s article and talking exclusively about heterosexual marital relationships.

    • Marcus, we must obviously speak in general terms when presenting an article like this. Today, I’m celebrating marriage for the institution scripture describes in ideal terms in Genesis. Of course, no one experiences the ideal perfectly, and I have no intent to tread on anyone today.

      As for the Israel connection, it doesn’t discount that Israel is expressing their view of what God provided as a fundamental blessing with regard to family relationships.

      • But CM, is that what is being described, and *when* was that parenthetical explanation added? I’m *not* questioning its legitimacy, but i have plenty of “???” in my head regwrding when it was written, why it was inserted just there, and what is meant by it in the writer’s world versus our world. (Doubtless much of the wotld outside of the US/Western Hemisphere regwrds marriage in ways far vloser to that of the writer than is true of contemporary US society, irrespective of religious beliefs, ceremonies employed, etc.)

        I honestly don’t think it was your intention to arouse controversy, but the way you stated things raises many questions, not least about the nature of marriage itself – which is sovial history, not just about belief.

        • Fundamentally, you are asking a question about biblical interpretation. And I think it is pretty much settled interpretation that Genesis is speaking of God blessing male/female union and fruitfulness as one of the greatest blessings of his creative work. And the author’s explanatory comment in Gen. 2:24 — “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother…” — is pretty clear that male/female marriage and the establishment of families through that is what he’s talking about.

          • Yes, i get that, but the context is important, as well as what was meant by “marriage” at the time that text was written. I think you are (and I’m sure you’ll agree) also holding to a certain interpretation, which might or might not be the same as the one held by both the writermof the Genesis text and of the people in 1st c. Palestine.

            • I think the history of interpretation, both Jewish and Christian, is pretty clear.

              No one is saying marriage today is exactly the same as marriage in previous times. But there are fundamental realities that I am reflecting today: a blessed male/female union with the potential of fruitfulness in bearing children.

          • Thanks, CM. I wish we weren’t assailed by questions and doubts, but c’est la vie, at thismpoint in time.

          • Yes, there are a lot of points in common here between Judaism and xtianity, but many things regarding marriage are understood and practiced differently in Judaism. It’s an interesting subject in its own right.

    • Marcus, +1.

      It is difficult for me to read this as a simple affirmation of marriage per se, especially since “the institution” referred to in Genesis too markedly different forms throughout the times when the Bible was being written and edited. One of them was polygamy; another is explicitly referred to in the stories of the patriarchs – sexual intercourse. Isaac and Rebekah had no ceremony or vows or any of the things most people regard as “marriage” -today. There was an agreed-upon arrangement; she had never met him, and vice versa.

      There’s also the whole social aspect of marriage as: intended to produce heirs and as a way to pass on property (complete with the wife’s dowry). It is difficult, imo, to make a case for conte,porary “biblical” marriage based on what is mentioned in the Tanakh.

  12. I dunno. I’m currently enduring the long, drawn out, agonizing death throes of my third marriage, and I am just as bewildered today as I was fifty-two years ago when I jumped into this pool. A unique blessing? Yes, I do know people who have made it fifty, sixty years or more and I think, how do they do that? I also know of “unique and blessed” unions that are hell on earth. I would heartily agree that CM’s parents should be honored and admired, as should CM and his wife, along with all who manage to hang in there, sometimes in exceptional form.

    But it is the people I admire, not the institution. The institution seems to be of benefit to society when compared to sub-societies where it is not honored, and I am glad I grew up in the old structure, dysfunctional as it was. I’m not so sure I want to attach the word “blessing” to it. More like the lesser of two evils in my case. What I have learned from all this so far is that being married and being single are just two different sets of problems. Kudos to those who have done it well. The older I get, the more living single seems like stopping hitting your head against a brick wall.

  13. Catholics believe marriage is a sacrament.
    A sacrament in my tradition is a means of grace, sanctification and forgiveness. This has helped me in my own marriage!

    Grace – in this deepest of relationships not only God extends grace through each partner, but we are given an opportunity to extend grace to each other. In my own life this has had a huge impact.
    Sanctification – I find God uses marriage as a means of spiritual formation. It is in marriage that the self rises its head and I get to see some of my own uglies that I have to deal with.
    Forgiveness – we often have to extend forgiveness to each other.

    I sometimes wonder if the reason for widespread marriage failure is a lot of practical things and an adamant refusal on behalf of one or both partners to die to self, to extend grace to the other, to allow sanctification in their lives and a failure to forgive.

    I know in my limited experience where friends of mine have failed marriages one or all of these factors seem to be at work.

    I think marriage is hard work. But as a Christian I know that God uses it to work his grace.

  14. I also wonder if the problem is that we have been raised on a culture that is thoroughly disneyfied (new word) where we come with story book notions of what it is all about.

  15. Marriage is a covenant of mutual promises, commitment, and hope authorized legally by the state and blessed by God.

    That’s a beautiful and informative way to describe marriage. I think I may start using that when people ask me what I think of marriage.

    Thanks for posting that whole statement, Chaplain Mike.

    • David Cornwell says


      • Would be fun to talk about the idea of or terminology behind “covenant” sometime. Seems very rooted in ANE world, much like a lot of medieval law language that you find in Luther/Calvin/Arminius teachings.

        It’s hard to pull God out of the very specific human time period the writers are talking about him in. Almost like we create Him in our own image, and continually recreate and define him based on terms and concepts we know and use at that period.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          I think it is mostly anachronistic language used in order to distinguish it from the parallel secular context. That isn’t to say that is a bad thing.

          Is the difference between a promise, covenant, and contract the spaces they exist in: interpersonal, sacred, commercial?

          • it prob is anachronistic language, but I know too many who spent way too much time going over all the covenants in the Bible, their timelines, which are ongoing and when they are going to be double (or triple!) fulfilled.

            bigger question is how a biblical author chooses to define a relationship between God and someone/a people group 20, 30, 40+ years after it was supposed to occur. “We had these blessings and these bad things occur to us…uhhh…it’s because God loves us and made a covenant with us! or it’s because God made a covenant with us and we disobeyed!”

            promise = interpersonal, covenant = sacred, contract = commercial

            Yeah, those work. Language is important, as we can easily see in how things change. (ex: Christus Victor becoming penal substitionary atonement because of political law at the time of the authors. Christianity as debtor’s prison religion.)

    • Adam Tauno Williams says


  16. David Cornwell says

    Some of the responses given to CM’s post today seem very defensive. We can become defensive when we confront our own failures.

    I remember when my mom and dad celebrated their 50th anniversary. It was one of the most important celebrations our family had. All of us, children and grandchildren, gathered in their hometown for a weekend of reunion and celebration. On Sunday morning all of us met at the Methodist Church they attended, and worshiped together.

    My parents did not have a perfect marriage. Some of the reasons I’m very aware of, but think there were probably other things going on that I still do not know the full truth about. Some periods of their marriage were pretty stormy. Some of the problems involved a family business partnership and related family finances. Part of it was because of the necessity of my maternal grandmother living with us. She did not like, or get along, with my dad, and thought one of my brothers was demon processed (he wasn’t!). She also had some problems with religious fanaticism/hysteria (a shouting Methodist, about which a novel could be written).There wasn’t physical abuse, or use of alcohol. They did not believe in divorce and did everything possible to avoid it. It probably was never seriously discussed. So they did what they could to preserve the relationship. I had three brothers, all younger. We had our fights, but mostly we got along.

    My parents taught us the importance of Church and worship. They be lived that Jesus could bring healing and forgiveness to the lives of individuals. They also taught and modeled for us the sacredness of Sabbath rest.

    Even though their marriage was not perfect, in many ways it set an example for my brothers and I. I’m glad they persevered, even in difficult times. They didn’t always communicate perfectly. When my dad’s business relationship with his brother finally dissolved, things got much better. And their retirement years were productive and peaceful, some of the best. I think they always loved each other, in ways that changed and deepened in their older age.

    What their marriage taught us is this: Attempt to follow Jesus. Don’t give up. Stay true to each other. Let your love grow and change. Learn from your parents, from both the good and the bad.

    Thus Chaplain Mike’s thesis for today’s post, is born out in life:

    “I affirm marriage between and man and a woman as a unique relationship designed by God for the blessing of humankind.”

    I doubt that any other kind of relationship can as perfectly bear the weight of this statement. But this is not today’s discussion.

    And congratulations are due to CM’s family during this important anniversary.

  17. Related, a buddy of mine got engaged this past weekend. While driving at night and just generally thinking/praying, I specifically thanked God for “providing my friend with a wife”. Immediately my mind caught itself, and had to reassert that no, she wasn’t property, God did not give my friend a helpmeet, they are two unique adult individuals who have mutually decided to get married together, etc.

    It’s an interesting thing transitioning from non-critical, just accept what we tell you “this is the way it has always been” complementarianism to critical, what does the Bible really say and how do I myself interpret it egalitarianism. I imagine I will always have moments like that.

    Nevertheless, for my friend and his fiancee, this is a blessing that we believe comes from God. He is not gaining property, nor is she, God is not “giving” them to each other, but both are mutually blessed and gaining each other in many ways, and God blesses them (as he does everything we view as good in our lives, but that’s a different issue tagentially related to a thread above…we certainly created God in our own image).

    So…blessings and cheers to them, it’s going to be an awesome wedding and marriage!

  18. Joseph (the original) says

    some thoughts…

    if one accepts or acknowledges that “In the beginning God made them male and female,” without having to raise the observation of chromosomal anomalies, then the deliberate, divinely designed gender differences, when ‘joined’ together in marriage, would seem to imply that the sum is indeed greater than the individual parts.

    if God intended marriage then to be the foundation of raising families and expressing a sacred intimacy that reflects the sacred intimacy of the quintessential Trinitarian relationship, then I could understand why monogamous, man+women marriage is unique and honorable. as it was in the garden where God told the man to guard, or keep, or take care of it, it seems reasonable that the pairing, and sharing of responsibility and sexual pleasure, was expressed in the man+woman union that should also be guarded and kept.

    it seems then that when considered strictly from the ‘theological theoretical’ perspective, the concept of ‘marriage’ can take on an almost ethereal quality that is idealistic and far from being realistic.

    Q: what constitutes a godly sanctioned/ordained marriage that God has joined and no man may separate? what, and when, does the ‘one flesh’ combination occur? if sexual intercourse and having children does not a marriage make, then when does a marriage that is sanctioned by God happen? can there be marriage attempts God does not acknowledge and affirm? do bad marriages represent the Author’s original intent? since there is quite a large landscape of grey that has to be traversed to begin to recognize ‘valid’ marriages ‘in-the-sight-of-God’, the theoretical considerations really cannot be much earthly good. there is no rite or ritual or religious guideline found in Genesis 1-2 that helps us qualify the issue of marriage, or more importantly, non-marriage. if vows were not required early on (man leaves father and mother and is united to his wife), then what we try to define as marriage today is a bit more problematic.

    marriage as a social and cultural accommodation/construct has always been muddied by the ulterior motives of the peoples that developed the requirements and accompanying expectations, stigmas, standards of behavior, legal implications, consequences of violation, etc. how do we sort out God’s original intent/purpose from the entire spectrum of human sexual relationships that have differing proportions of the valued qualities championed by those that want to establish an ‘ideal’ marriage condition that is divinely universal?

    is acting honorably then the best measurement? love. commitment. support. raising children. stable and nurturing family environment. monogamy. are these the honorable human qualities that can be championed without marriage or found in same sex partner/parent relationships?

    in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addresses these 3 issues in succession; 1) Adultery; 2) Divorce; and 3) Oaths. without meandering down the rabbit trail of making ‘vows’, it is interesting how Jesus attempted to disentangle the accumulation of religious implications concerning oaths that were meant to garner God’s Golden Seal of Approval…

    • Ironically, those three issues you mention Jesus talking about in the Sermon on the Mount all revolve around one thing (at that time):


      Lot more complicated than that, but just an observation.

      • Joseph (the original) says

        agreed. and i do appreciate the complicated considerations that are often overlooked when discussing the topics of marriage and family, especially the consideration of what constitutes a Christian marriage, or a biblical marriage, or an honorable marriage of any type…

        there can be no real dialogue unless the unspoken assumptions are addressed and defined.

        • Which tends to rarely happen before someone throws out a trump card.

          “Who do you choose to believe, man-made traditions and teachings or THE WORD OF GOD?”


  19. David Cornwell says

    From“ Marriage: A Teaching Document” set out by the Church of England in 1999. :

    Marriage is a pattern that God has given in creation, deeply rooted in our social instincts, through which a man and a woman may learn love together over the course of their lives. We marry not only because we love, but to be helped to love. Without the practice and disciplines of marriage, our love will be exhausted and fail us, perhaps very harmfully to ourselves and others.
    “…marriage is the central focus of their relationships, around which other relationships grow; their home life together is their primary contribution to society. Sexual intercourse, as an expression of faithful intimacy, properly belongs within marriage exclusively. The three blessings that belong to marriage are traditionally described as the procreation and nurture of children, the hallowing and right direction of natural instincts and affections, and the mutual society, help and comfort which each affords the other in prosperity and adversity. ”

    From the “The Marriage Service” of the Church of England:

    The gift of marriage brings husband and wife together
    in the delight and tenderness of sexual union
    and joyful commitment to the end of their lives.
    It is given as the foundation of family life
    in which children are [born and] nurtured
    and in which each member of the family,in good times and in bad,
    may find strength, companionship and comfort,
    and grow to maturity in love.

    These quotes help to show the line of tradition and teaching given to us by the Church. They survive to guide and teach us today.

  20. May God grant your parents more years of deepening love, Chaplain Mike.

    When I read the Genesis lines, I put the punctuation differently:

    So God created humankind in his image:
    -in the image of God he created them;
    -male and female he created them.

    That is, the most important thing is that humans are created in God’s image, which is stressed in “sub-point A.” “Sub-point B” is further elaboration on that creation, but not necessarily meaning that “we need both male and female to show us what it means to image/be God.” If that were the case, then God would have had to become incarnate in 1 person of each sex. In the Orthodox Church, the God in whose image we are made is Christ – that is, Christ created a world into which he could become incarnate, and created a being as whom he could become incarnate. We are called to be conformed to *his* image, and the Gospels give us a pretty clear picture of the self-giving love which that entails.

    I know I’ve written this before, but I think it bears repeating at this time. The Orthodox wedding ceremony is the same for everyone; a couple does not design their own. There is no language of covenant involved – none. There are no vows or promises read or given. The bride and groom have nothing to say, unless they wish to say the responses with everyone else: “Amen,” “Lord, have mercy,” and the Our Father. The whole ceremony is God through the Church blessing a relationship that already exists. There are echoes of martyrdom in the text and in the crowns worn by the bride and groom; the goodness of the relationship is affirmed, but also that it is certainly not easy. It is a joyful ceremony, yes, but also quite sober. The prayers include one for the fruitfulness of children, but it is a supplication to God, not a command to the couple. The Epistle reading is the dread Ephesians 5 passage, but it is simply read; there is nothing in the rest of the text of the ceremony that enjoins any “roles” upon either the husband or wife. The ceremony is in 2 parts: the betrothal, done just inside the door, and the marriage proper, done in the center of the nave, which echo the 2 stages of the ancient Jewish wedding event, as does the drinking of wine from the same glass (without breaking it). I continue to find it remarkable, something that cuts straight across the fairy-tale expectations of the current culture, both secular and Christian.


    • It sounds remarkable, and something of which I would heartily assent.

      BTW, the so-called “command” in Gen 1 to be fruitful and multiply is not a command, but a word of blessing–may you be fruitful and multiply.

    • As for the image of God, I don’t think it specifically teaches what you wrote. I’m not sure of the exact connection, but I think the unity/diversity of human beings is suggestive, and its inclusion with the image of God statement (perhaps in parallelism?) is striking.

  21. >>My parents celebrated 60 years of marriage this weekend. I thought it was time to give a little honor to the institution.<<

    Congratulations to them, Chaplain Mike! And to you and your wife and all of your family.


  22. This is a tricky angle for those of us who are Gentile Christians. Yes, we want to affirm and honor the unique relationship ordained by God in the Bible, and we don’t want to fall into the trap of suggesting that it has been superseded. But when we elevate that unique relationship as more ideal, more special than all others, then it comes across, as I think this post does, as suggesting that it has a greater legitimacy — or even that it is uniquely legitimate, or solely legitimate.

    And that would be very, very bad news for us, as Gentiles.

    That’s how this post reads to me: A celebration of the “natural branches” that seems to disparage and to cast doubt on the legitimacy of those wild branches grafted in. It’s all a bit pre-Pentecost — as though you’re saying, “God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham,” but that we shouldn’t consider those children to be as real or as legitimate as the natural-born children from the original, “unique” institution.

    • Fred, not my intent at all. It’s the NT that says marriage should be held in honor by all. You and our other regular readers know that we are certainly not about “focusing on the family” around here. But I don’t think celebrating a good gift of God is out of line once in awhile.

    • What is a Gentile Christian? Or is it as simple as someone who is a Gentile and also a Christian?

      • “Gentile” is certainly in my top ten least favorite words/concepts. Can’t pin it down any closer than that without more thought than I care to give it. I don’t mind being considered one of the peoples, which is what it means, tho I’m not sure just what peoples I fit into. Yeah, I’m not Jewish, but that’s a pretty broad category and verging on offensive unless you want to speak of the Jewish people along with it.

  23. In my circle of fairly close friends, I probably know about a dozen married couples well. (I know a lot more widows, which is to be expected at my age.) Of those marriages, I can see two that I would describe as quite good (mutual love, liking, and trust), five that seem good enough (even if one of the partners has to do the heavy lifting), and maybe another five that seem to endure only because the partners pretty much ignore each other.

    I know a lot of divorced people.

    I believe 97% of everybody gets married at some time or other. I’m one of the three percent who never did. While I do think it would be lovely to have a friend and companion for my later years, I haven’t seen many actual marriages which made me seriously envy the married state — including the marriages of my parents and siblings.

    My point, if I have one, is that even among the best-intentioned people, marriage seems to be a lot of hard work as well as hoped-for pleasure and satisfaction. So I think the marriage ceremonies *and* the legal requirements are society’s way of supporting a relationship that is difficult for the individuals, but is beneficial to the social group in many ways — economic and social stability among them.

    Whether marriage is in itself holy, I’m not sure. The ones we see in the Bible are not all that inspiring, and are mostly polygamous. But if a couple *feels* that the marriage is holy, that surely strengthens their desire to work at it and stay with it “for better or for worse.”

    However, as I said, I’m an outsider looking in. The fact that the vast majority of people marry, and of those who divorce, most marry again, certainly says that there must be great satisfactions within a marriage that are not immediately apparent to others.

    • H. Lee, I’m pretty much in agreement with most of your observations, tho thinking there have been more unmarrieds than 3%, certainly so today. What is different today, more than any time in history all the way back to when the Minoan civilization blew up, is that women today have viable options. That makes a huge difference and carries its own set of problems with it. I’ll bet you would have had a much harder time a hundred years ago, tho it was starting to change noticeably about then. I think my mother died of cancer fifty years ago because she had no other viable option, especially being Southern.

      “The fact that the vast majority of people marry, and of those who divorce, most marry again, certainly says that there must be great satisfactions within a marriage that are not immediately apparent to others.”

      Or that the pain seems to be lessened somewhat for awhile. Or that the grass always looks greener. Or that the definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing while expecting different results. You are certainly right that marriage is good for society in general. I believe it to be better for kids in particular, abusive situations excepted, and for that reason alone worth toughing it out if at all possible. It’s much more difficult to sort out with kids not in the picture, or maybe easier.

      I hate divorce, it’s worse than death. I’m a three time loser and a failure, put in the balance, weighed and found wanting, and according to Jesus totally out of bounds and in serious trouble. Yes, I raise my glass in tribute to those who have done it well, CM’s parents especially this day. I can’t do it. I find myself angrier and more in despair here at the end of the day than when I woke up this morning. I’m not looking forward to the rest of this week here at the Monastery.

      • Charles,

        If some people are called into marriage, there are also those called into singleness. As a single man, your life and your relationships reflect the image of God in humanity as much as does the life of a married couple. Paul and Jesus were both single, so far as we know; are we to believe that there was something lacking in Jesus’ humanity because he never married, or in Paul’s for that matter? I reject the idea.

        Marriage is blessing to some, and curse to others. My parents had a hellish marriage, over 50 years of violent actions and then violent words, bitterness and retaliation and regret. They should not have been together, they should not have been married.

        God bless you, Charles. I wish I knew some way to cheer you, I wish I could comfort you. God loves you, Charles; Jesus love you, and nothing, no failure or success, will ever change that.

        • What Robert said, Charles. I wrote you a longer reply but it vanished — maybe I posted it wrong. But the short edition is what Robert said, plus the Captain Obvious observation that feelings aren’t facts. I too, as an elderly spinster, have felt like a pathetic reject, and it really hurts. But it isn’t true, not for either of us. The pain will ease. God bless you.

        • Robert, thanks. Jesus and Paul may have been single, but as far as we know they weren’t divorced. There’s a difference and an implicit judgement involved. I expect I would have self-destructed along the way if I had not gotten married these three times hoping for the best, so I’m not looking to change anything, just grousing because I’m not up to other people’s example or expectations. Boo hoo.

          I know you are not a deliriously happy man, but I hope you at least are glad your parents were together enough to get you here today. I have a daughter who is a treasure to the world and has in effect divorced me for abandoning ship as it appeared to her. I hope she at least is glad her mother and I were together enough to produce her. There’s a lot of misery in the world. There’s a lot of people would trade places with me in a heartbeat. Mostly the pain is in check and under control. Today stirred it up. Like having your nose shoved into your own crap.

      • Charles, I would also agree that a major factor in both the divorce rate and the singleton scene is that women today, in Western civilization at least, have options. In no other century but the one I have lived in would I evewr have been anything but somebody’s property.

  24. Eckhart Trolle says

    According to the Bible, God loves divorce, at least in the case of mixed Israelite / Canaanite marriages.

  25. My parents celebrated 58 years of marriage a week ago. Their marriage is exemplary and is admired by all who know them because they have continued to enjoy one another’s company. They genuinely love being with each other. Yes Chaplain Mike, there most certainly is something special about the marriage bond and something reflective of the Godhead. Paul said, ” For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” Minor mystery? Passing fancy type mystery? Take it or leave it mystery? It’s a dead giveaway. He spells it right out. It is a GREAT MYSTERY. We know he is not talking about daily chores and the division of responsibilities. There’s no mystery there at all. I do not believe he was talking about sexual union or any other specific area of marriage. He was referring to the thing that transforms opposites into a super ordinate third thing that they were not before and could not have been apart. There is something about the requirement of losing oneself to the opposite sex, on the part of BOTH sides, to come to a lasting union that tells us something extremely critical, and not Sunday school obvious, about the nature of God. It is something about The Godhead that Paul did not even elaborate on. He said it and then just left it to continue teaching about human compassion one to another and so forth. What was he getting at? He knew something of great import and deep mystery about God that he hinted at but chose not to elaborate on. I’m not a conspiracy theorist but I find it quite interesting that that phrase, “great mystery” has not led to more conjecture and even heresy over the last couple of millennium? What is it about God that we don’t know that is partially revealed by the union of opposite genders?

  26. For all those who couldn’t make their marriages work out, or who each year are lonelier and lonelier in the marriages they continue to work at:


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