These days, everyone has a definition of marriage. For some, it could be the union of two people. Others define it as the union of one man and one woman. However, I think the greater question is this: How does God define marriage? Remember, His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are His ways our ways (Isaiah 55:8). While we can never be God, we were created in His image and for His pleasure (Revelation 4:11). We are also called to be holy, for He is holy (Leviticus 11:44, 20:7, 1 Peter 1:16).
I was talking about this very issue with Ed Vitagliano, vice president of the American Family Association. We were in a group discussion on the issue of marriage and I had just shared my ‘one man, one woman’ definition. That’s when Ed went above and beyond anything I had ever thought about when it comes to matrimony.
“Marriage is the sexual joining of a man and woman (the two genders of humankind) into one flesh for the purpose of a lifelong commitment to each other, with the understanding that the sexual union will not only bind their hearts together but also provide opportunity for the creation of life through the having of children,” he said.
I have to admit, I had nothing else to say. The reporter in me wanted to follow up with a question like, ‘And how did you reach this conclusion?’ Thankfully, I did not have to ask because Ed kept going. He talked about how Genesis 1:26-27 demonstrates that God created humankind as a binary race. Secondly, he said that male-female model expressed the image and likeness of God. As a result, it required both man and woman for humankind to fully represent the image of God.
“Genesis 2:24 makes clear that marriage is the joining together of the two distinct genders,” Vitagliano said. “The word for “join” (KJV: “cleave”) means to stick or glue together.” He went on to add that the verse states that the act of joining changes two people (again, two distinct genders) into one flesh.
Still, a critical question here is this: What is the act that joins a man and a woman and makes them one flesh? One possibility is that it is the wedding ceremony before witnesses in the community. After all, some might argue, we use the word wedding to indicate that the couple is being “wed” or joined together.
The other possibility is the sex act on the wedding night, which Ed thinks is the correct answer. He then explained how Adam and Eve were considered “married” before God, not because there was a ceremony or witnesses, but because of the sex act that joined the two. On the basis of that act, Ed says Genesis reveals what marriage would become in later generations: “For that reason,” it says, a man will leave his mother and father and join himself to his wife.
Don’t misunderstand; this is not to imply the ceremony is unimportant. The wedding ceremony is kind of a big deal to many out there, especially to females. Even Vitagliano acknowledged that the witness of the community to the covenant being entered into is of great cultural and spiritual importance. Still, Ed remained firm in his belief that the sex act consummates the ceremony. In other words, the ceremony has not been completed until the two have sex. This makes sense when you consider that, in the eyes of most societies past and present, a marriage is not considered legal until the marriage “has been consummated” in the eyes of most societies.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking. This is getting into the weeds on an issue that some people may not be comfortable reading or discussing. But remember, the basis for all this is how God defines marriage. As is always the case, Scripture is a good place for more information. After all, Scripture is the inspired Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16).
In writing to the church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul says that when a man has sex with a prostitute or harlot, he becomes one with her (1 Corinthians 6:16). Why? The two shall become one flesh. This brings up back to Vitagliano’s point that the sex act joins the man and woman into one flesh. Therefore, Paul would likely share Ed’s opinion that Genesis 2:24 makes clear that sex is the way in which man and woman are joined together.
Speaking of Paul, the apostle wrote that abusing sex in this way, i.e. detaching it from the marital context, is immoral (1 Corinthians 6:13, 18). In fact, it could be the only way of Paul’s instruction in verse 18 to flee immorality or fornication. “Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but theimmoral man sins against his own body.” How does an immoral man sin against his own body? This might be speculative, but perhaps it is because such a man continually joins himself to one woman after another and then tears himself away in his hunt for further self-gratification.
Back to that wedding ceremony, the event itself is a public declaration or divine sanction even of the right for the man and woman to begin having sex together. For Christians, a man and a woman get married “in the sight of God” because they are covenanting to spend the rest of their lives together.
Look, I know it’s 2016. This isn’t your daddy’s America, and we are all sinners (Romans 3:23). Still, Christians are called to stand (Ephesians 6:13) for what is true. God’s Word determines what is true, what is right, and what is wrong. If we do not live for and by His ways, we are no different than the rest of the world. If we are no different than the rest of the world, how can we ever engage people in the 21st century? As Vitagliano would say, there will always be marriages as long as human beings inhabit the earth. Therefore, it will always be important for the church to testify to the truth of God’s created order and His divine purposes for humankind.