Updated: Sep 15, 2022
Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant, Malachi 2:14.
Sooner or later, every pastor needs to settle in his own mind; what is a marriage? I suppose that if you are in a large enough urban area, and you have been there for some time, you may draw enough "like minded people" so that you never need to dirty your hands with the riff raff. You can smugly quote words like "old fashioned" and not worry about it. But, what if you had to go out into a general population and create a congregation of born again believers out of typical 21st century people?
Since that is a skill almost unknown today, most pastors will never need to train the wounded of our day to be bible believing christians. They just keep reshuffling a smaller and smaller cadre of like minded people and shutting their eyes to the degenerating standards and convictions in that shrinking crowd. For those of us who labor among the broken, being able to define the relationships these people have and God's attitude to those relationships becomes crucial.
What is marriage? What is a concubine? What is a whore? What is a whoremonger? Occasionally, I council with a couple who are tentatively attending services. It is not unusual to find out that they have a committed relationship, cohabit, but have never consented to marriage. I explain to the woman that she is a concubine. Quickly, I let her know that I am not insulting her. Solomon and David had concubines and no one would have dared insult any of those women.
For the purposes of the Black Creek Baptist Church, and in harmony with a King James Bible, I label committed sexual relationships that cohabit, a husband and concubine relationship. I explain that they have come to a Baptist pastor for council and that if they want to continue in that council they must get used to bible terms. After all, there are plenty of other councilors out there they can go see. In order to understand the next step, it is important to understand how I see marriage.
Marriage is above all things a covenant between two willing people. Early in my study of the Bible, I was taught that marriage was flesh joining flesh. The verse used for that was 1st Corinthians 6:16; What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh. The problem with that verse is that it does not say that being one flesh is marriage. It certainly wasn't for the woman at the well. For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly, John 4:14.
In Genesis, a woman did not become a wife by becoming one flesh. A man took his wife and then became one flesh. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh, Genesis 2:24. She was his wife first, then became one flesh. I have had people use the example of Isaac taking Rebecca to bed without ceremony as an illustration of flesh joining flesh being all that is necessary. Isaac and Rebecca's marriage is a good place to prove that marriage is a covenant between a consenting man and woman.
Laban expressly asked Rebecca if she would go with Abraham's servant. And they called Rebekah, and said unto her, Wilt thou go with this man? And she said, I will go, Genesis 24:58. She knew exactly what she was getting into and she consented. What about Isaac? Did he just see her and whisk her off to bed? No, he did not. He did not take her into his tent. He took her into his mother's tent. And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her: and Isaac was comforted after his mother's death, Genesis 24:6. He made her the queen. He gave her his mother's place. There is a covenant there.
What the couple I am counseling lacks is a clear cut covenant that they intend to be husband and wife. I then ask them if they consider themselves to have a covenant. The most common arrangement I see among such couples is two people who swap DNA, share an abode, eat together, are monogamous, but keep separate checking accounts and finances. All the things they share just kind of developed. Each holds out his or her separate finances as their last vestige of independence from the other one.
They get embarrassed when asked if a covenant exists. They aren't ashamed of their sexual relationship. They are embarrassed because the relationship catapulted quickly after they began swapping DNA, but they never or rarely use the "M" word, marriage. I push the "M" word. Are they wasting time in their lives with a sexual and emotional addiction to someone with who they could never form a lasting covenant, or is this person the only person that they would ever want to make such a covenant with? Often they are afraid to discuss it between themselves. I make it my job to push for an answer one way or another.
For the purposes of the Black Creek Baptist Church and in harmony with the King James Bible, we define marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman, made legal in the jurisdiction wherein they dwell, and consummated where physically possible. Whether that marriage is made by two Indians following tribal customs in the Amazon River Basin, two star struck bar hoppers at a magistrate's office, or two christians who come together for the first time after wedding in their home church, it makes no difference. It is a marriage. It is sacred in the eyes of God and must be held sacred by men.
In a further post we will look at divorce, second marriages, adultery and fornication. I hope this helps. I live and work in a real world with a real bible and a real God. Pious platitudes and textbook definitions all too often fall flat when a pastor leaves the security of his church property and wades out into a sea of real people.