Friday, April 5, 2013

On Marriage

There’s been a lot of talk recently about marriage - how it should be defined, and who should be allowed to marry. Religious people have stated that it’s a religious commitment between a man, a woman, and God and the state should not be allowed to redefine it. Others insist that if two people love each other, they should be allowed to marry and the religious people should mind their own business. 

Even though I’m a Christian, I tend toward the latter, and this is my attempt to explain why.

From what I’ve seen, the primary evidence in favor of marriage being a holy, God designed institution is Genesis 2:24, but I, personally, never took the same meaning from that verse that others did. For one thing, it clearly does not explicitly say that God created marriage. Any understanding to that effect is strictly implicit. 

Secondly, the language of verse 24 just doesn’t seem to flow naturally from the previous verses. It has a peculiar “added in” feeling to it. The text goes from verses 21 and 22, with God creating the woman and presenting her to the Adam, to verse 23, with Adam saying he’ll call her woman because she was taken out of man, to go suddenly to verse 24, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. ”  Huh? Where did that come from? It just seems like a jump to me.

Add to that the fact that the word translated “wife” here is actually a word that basically means woman, or female person, and interestingly (at this point in Genesis) a mortal female person. “Cleave” means to abide, or live with, but has the connotation of (the woman) having been pursued and caught.

Another reason it doesn’t seem to logically follow (at least to me) is that why does it even suggest what happened to Adam as the reason for “...a man shall leave his father and his mother...”? Adam had neither a father (other than God) nor a mother. 

At this point, I’ll admit that all my dissension with the prevailing thought on this passage was challenged, for a while, by chapter 19 of Matthew where Jesus himself quotes this passage. After a while, I realized that Jesus quoted this for a very specific reason. He was responding to the Pharisees’ question about divorce - why did he (Jesus) teach against it when Moses allowed it. Jesus used a passage of scripture that they were very familiar with in order to make his point.

That sort of got me off the hook, but I admit that it’s not entirely satisfactory. However, I still cannot reconcile Genesis 2 with the assertion that God created marriage. God created one man and one woman. What would anyone reasonably expect to happen?

I struggled with this view (disagreeing with most other Christians) for a long time. Then, as I was researching my family history I found some solace.

My immigrant ancestors were Puritans of Massachusetts. Well, as I was researching them, I learned that the Puritan view of marriage was that it was an entirely civil affair, and not at all a religious one. I think it’s an understatement to say the Puritans were not known as a particularly secular crowd. Everything was known and experienced through the filter of their religion - and yet, THEY thought marriage was a civil thing.

As with all other things related to the Puritans, it wasn’t as simple as that. Like I said, everything in their lives was affected by their religious views, and this was no different. For example, they were not allowed to marry outside the church (but that had civil and cultural meaning {homogeneity} more than religious), and once married, they were not allowed to divorce (because they considered the family as the foundation of society). So it was a little complicated, but the marriage itself was civil in nature.

One more slightly tangential thought before I conclude. I often hear marriage referred to as a covenant. I’m not sure where this started, but if we accept that idea, it’s has some very intriguing implications. 

A covenant is, in essence, a promise or oath on steroids. Adam and Eve made no oath of marriage - they didn’t need to. Eve was formed from a part of Adam. They were literally one flesh. That’s not the case with us, which is why we need to take an oath (or make a covenant) of marriage. 

When we do take the oath of marriage, we usually say something to the effect of “forsaking all others”. In the case of Adam and Eve, there were no others. Unless you use the extreme argument that Adam could have refused Eve and lived alone (but maybe not - she was part of him), then you must conclude that Adam really had no choice. We do. And that’s where the covenant is supposed to come in. But all things being equal (and civil/secular), I see no reason that couples seen as unconventional can’t take a similar oath.  

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