Much can be learned about how God intends for men and women to relate by looking at passages about marriage. Confession: I have found it difficult to read these passages without reading my culture into them. A close and careful reading of some basic passages about marriage has left me surprised and somewhat disturbed that the passages do not say what I have always been told they say. We must be careful not to read our cultural biases into the passages. This is difficult to the point of being almost impossible and is best done in community.
Has scripture or culture been the primary shaper of our view of marriage? Has our idea of what Christian marriage looks like been more heavily influenced by scripture or Leave It To Beaver?
Jesus’s response to the Pharisees’ questions about divorce is formative to my understanding (Matthew 19:1ff). The Pharisees want to talk about divorce. Jesus seems to be more comfortable talking about marriage. And when Jesus talks about marriage, he calls them back to Genesis 1 and 2 as teaching how God intended for marriage to be lived out. We need to remember that Genesis 1 and 2 present the humans, male and female, living: under God, over the earth, and side-by-side in unity with one another. From the beginning God intended for humans to be one-flesh in marriage.
But sin enters the picture in chapter three and everything changes. The humans are no longer living in unity with God and one another as God had intended for them to live. They are bucking God’s authority and battling with God and one another for rule and control. But Jesus reminds us that was not how it was intended to be. We need to remember, as Dallas Willard says, “The Bible doesn’t begin in Genesis 3. The fall of man is not the beginning of history.” In discussing marriage, Jesus calls us back to the beginning, Genesis 1-2 rather than Genesis 3.
In response, the Pharisees raise a good question: If God never intended for there to be divorce, why did the law of Moses include divorce law? Jesus explains that divorce is not God’s plan for humans, divorce is a concession to the hardness of human hearts. God understands humans are hard-hearted and will not always live in the unity that comes through submission to God and one another. So God provides for humans knowing their hard hearts. And so Jesus introduces us to the idea that some things you read about in scripture are not representative of what God wills, but are representative of how hard-hearted and self-willed humans can be.
Jesus holds up Genesis 1-2 as foundational to our understanding of how men and women are to relate in marriage. Firmly bonded. One flesh. Unity. May we not grow hard-hearted. May we remember God joins a husband and wife in marriage. “Because God created this organic union of the two sexes, no one should desecrate his art by cutting them apart” (Matthew 19:6 MSG).