In a day when fewer people have a biblical understanding of marriage than ever before these reminders are apropos. Marriage is not simply a social arrangement as we in the West have come to understand it. It is not merely a means by which the state garners more little potential taxpayers or soldiers. It is not a man and woman who decide to live together. It is not two people of the same sex who decide to unite and call it “marriage.”
It is a holy institution that has probably endured as much violence from Christ’s followers as from Christ’s enemies. Yet, it remains what it is.
The following quotes are from the book, Who is This Man: The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus by John Ortberg. I highly recommend it.
In the ancient world, sexuality was celebrated as a means of procreation and as an appetite to be gratified, much like appetites for food and drink. Greek physicians often diagnosed women with “hysteria,” which comes from the Greek word for “uterus,” a condition they said was caused by a wandering uterus. They said hysteria could be cured by intercourse. The Roman physician Rufus prescribed sex to adolescents as a cure for melancholia, epilepsy, and headaches. One imagines he had a thriving practice.[...]
The gods had little to say about marriage. The rules for a public cult in Pergamum demanded a day’s interval after sex with one’s wife but two days after sex with someone else’s wife. Zeus’s sexual history (one writer describes him as “the ultimate player”) did not suggest that restraint was an Olympian virtue. The silence of the gods about sex also led to a very different world of sexuality and children. Particularly in Greek culture, sexual relationships between adult men and younger boys, often between ages twelve and sixteen, were taken for granted. The Roman emperor Commodus is said to have had three hundred young boys available for sex. The Christian writer Tatian said that Romans “consider pederasty to be particularly privileged and try to round up herds of boys like herds of grazing mares.”[...]
Slave girls were made available for sexual purposes at the decision of the paterfamilias. Freeborn girls were often married by their families as early as possible: A study based on inscriptions indicated that 20 percent of pagan girls were married before the age of thirteen (in the Christian community it was about a third of that)
Marriage, Jesus was saying, is not at its heart just an economic or social institution. It is a God-directed covenant that reflects the human capacity for self-transcendence and community. It is a joining of spirit and flesh. It does not serve the state; it precedes the state.[...]
Jesus connects marriage to creation. In Genesis God is making creation good by separating: he separates the light from the darkness, the dry land from the sea, the heavens from the earth. But now, with the man and the woman, he takes what was separate and joins them. And so Jesus says what God has joined let man not separate.[...]
Walter Wangerin wrote, “Marriage begins with a promise.” A man and a woman stand in a church or a chapel or a backyard before each other, before witnesses, and before almighty God. They make a vow. They say a promise. They give their word. That’s what a marriage is built on. A promise freely offered, fully embraced, joyfully witnessed, painstakingly kept —that’s what makes a marriage. Sometimes people will say: “I don’t need a piece of paper.” It was never about the paper. In Jesus’ day they didn’t have paper. It’s about the promise: “as long as we both shall live.”[...]
In the ancient world, one’s primary loyalty was to parents. But the man and the woman are to leave their parents to create a new primary loyalty—a union, and their union with each other is to be expressed through sexual intimacy, one flesh. In other words, sex is kind of a sacrament. It is an outward sign that points to an inward reality, to a spiritual state.[...]
In a broader way, something like this went on in the ancient world. For Greco-Roman culture, the idea of reserving sexual intimacy wasn’t quaint and old-fashioned; it was new and revolutionary. As a whole, it never did get established terribly well. And to this day, no one I know doesn’t struggle with it. But the framework that Jesus taught—the idea that marriage is a covenant relationship between and man and a woman, that sex has a spiritual component, that fidelity is a quality to be prized in men as well as women, that children are to be protected rather than exploited sexually — would come to shape our world.[...]
In the book of Hebrews, the eleventh chapter is called the Hall of Faith, and great heroes in the Bible—Noah, Abraham, Moses, Gideon, and David — are all listed there. Then there is this comment, “By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed.” The writer does not mention anybody else’s occupation — not David the king, or Samuel the priest, or Abraham the rancher, or Gideon the judge. Why Rahab’s? Grace. The same Jesus who was a magnet for sexual sinners who had flunked marriage was the same Jesus who redefined what a marriage could be. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” More marriages have been performed, more wedding vows have been made, more nuptial blessings have been asked in his name than any other.
All quotes taken from Chapter 11: The Truly Old-Fashioned Marriage.
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