What is Christian marriage?

Some disorganized thoughts about Christian marriage.

As it is Christian, Christian marriage must find its meaning in the Trinitarian faith. If the word “Christian” is central to the meaning of the word “marriage” then we cannot describe marriage without making reference to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In addition, being Christian means marriage is drawn up in the saving story revealed in the Bible. Marriage is tied to salvation. It cannot be necessary to salvation, as singleness is offered to Christians as well. But if Christianity is about salvation — however we are meant to understand that — then Christian marriage is as well.

This implies — and I’ve not worked this out yet — that marriage is inherently Christ-centered. Christian Marriage is grounded on Christ and an expression of Christ’s Spirit. As I say, I can’t yet explain the full implications of that.

Finally — at least for now — when I consider the nature of Christian marriage, I turn to Jesus’ own words. This does not include only his direct teaching about marriage and divorce, but also his use of marriage metaphors elsewhere in the gospels. But having said that, we do not want to dismiss what he said directly on the topic.

When I try to figure out what it means to say marriage is Christian, I follow the teaching of Jesus back to the story of Genesis where we are told that humans were created male and female and that they join in union to create one flesh.

These strike me as some of the first and basic affirmations and moves that constitute a theology of Christian marriage. I do not argue that this is systematic. It is offered only as the beginning of a conversation.

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10 thoughts on “What is Christian marriage?

  1. John, I shain’t generally disagree with you; however, I don’t think we can extrapolate a particular teaching from an answer to a question in the Gospels.

    Further, there is something to be said about the creation of humankind in Genesis 1 and the Creation of male and then, after a while, female.

    but a fantastic piece. If it is to be Christian, then it must be Christ centered. #word

  2. I’m thinking that we CAN distinguish between a Christian marriage and a more generic marriage. Christian marriages involve Christians. Certainly Buddhists and Moslems and athiests may marry and create families, but “Christian” marriage has its own distinctive characteristics (one of which is found in the Christian teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman).

  3. The fact that the Bible is a book of books and not systematic, per se, does not mean it has no discernible message on marriage, or template. Clearly, Jesus knew his interrogators would understand the normative application of his citation when he spoke of the Genesis paradigm. We can’t deny this without contorting our faces to mangle his own words. Yes, the words of Jesus should not be dismissed. They are efficacious.

  4. Interesting post. There is a symposium in the latest issue of FIRST THINGS discussing the issue of “christian” marriage over against “civil marriage,” and whether or not the two can continue to be synonymous.

  5. Further thoughts from reading the First Things article.

    Marriage is Trinitarian in the sense that the two become one. One flesh.
    It’s Christ-centered because marriage is an icon of the union of Christ with his Church. These realities are meaningless to a church that has totally lost the ability to apprehend sacramental theology.

    In the modern era, with the advent of divorce on demand, and exchanging the permanent covenant model for a model based upon a mutually terminable contract, the question arises as to whether or not the church ought to get out of the business of being the agent of the State in ratifying something that at law is not marriage at all. The traditional marriage vows are rendered null and void ab initio by the abolition of marriage by the laws of the fifty states.

    1. I think it is a serious question about whether a Christian pastor should be part of a secular legal contract.

      Stanley Hauerwas seems to be on the mark when he speaks of our economic system trying to turn every relationship into a voluntary contract.

  6. I have asked this question for years of my homosexual and heterosexual friends and colleagues.
    We have used Jesus’ words in almost every wedding service. None of my progressive colleagues were willing to limit their definition to that limitation.
    I agree with C.S. Lewis’ comments, that we Christians need to separate “marriage” from secular definitions.

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