The Expository Files



What God's Law on Marriage Means

Ephesians 5:31



The 2013 decision by five black-robed tyrants, who had the audacity to pretend that they are “justices,” saying in effect that neither the Congress of the United States nor any sovereign state of the United States, at least in the particular instance of California, can define marriage as being only between a man and a woman, raises many important issues.  I suspect that the ramifications of this decision will be discussed and debated for some time to come.  But as devastating to our culture as it may be, there is something even more important to consider than a Supreme Court decision, and that is God’s law on marriage.


God revealed it in the very beginning (Genesis 2:24).  Jesus restated it as the basis for His teaching on the subject of divorce (Matthew 19:4-5).  And Paul cited it in Ephesians 5:31 as the very foundation of the home.  “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”  What Paul has already said in this context about wives submitting to their husbands and husbands loving their wives, and what he will go on to say about children obeying their parents and parents bringing their children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord all are drawn out of this principle.  This subject is important both religiously and socially because the home is the foundation of society and, again, marriage is the foundation of the home.  We know what God’s law on marriage says.  Now, we need to determine what God’s law on marriage means.


It prohibits fornication

 The text says that “a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”  The term “one flesh” suggests, at least in part, the sexual union.  At least, Paul used it this way in I Corinthians 6:15-16.  “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not!  Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For ‘the two,’ He says, ‘shall become one flesh.’”


 It is important to notice the order.  A man leaves father and mother and is joined to wife, then they become one flesh, not before.  Any sexual activity prior to marriage is fornication.  In newer translations, the word for “fornication” is sometimes translated by the general term of “sexual immorality.”   In 1 Corinthians 7:2, Paul goes on to write, “Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.”   This simply means that to avoid committing the sin of fornication a man should have his own wife, not a woman who is not his wife, and a woman should have her own husband, not a man who is not her husband.


Or, in other words, there is, very simply, to be no sex before marriage—period.  “Flee sexual immorality [fornication]. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality [fornication] sins against his own body.  Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?  For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:18-20). 


It prohibits adultery

God’s law talks about a man leaving father and mother and cleaving to his wife.  Hence, there are but one man and one woman in the picture.  Any other sexual activity outside of this relationship of marriage is adultery, and the Bible is very clear as to what God thinks about adultery.  One of the Ten Commandments that God gave to Israel at Mount Sinai plainly stated, “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14).  While we are no longer under the Old Testament law, there is nothing in the New Testament to indicate that God has changed His mind on the matter.


We should notice that the man is to “be joined” to his wife, and only to her.  The familiar King James Version reads “cleave.”  The word means to stick together like glue.  Hence, this prohibits any sex outside of a God ordained marriage.  “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4).  Any sexual activity other than that between a God-joined man and wife, whether classed as fornication or adultery, is subject to God’s judgment and punishment.


Based upon this principle, Jesus logically concluded, “So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”  He then goes on to say, “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery” (Matthew 19: 6, 9).  Because what God joins together no one has the right to put asunder, unscriptural divorce and remarriage equal adultery.  There is an exception granted by the Lord, but otherwise the law is one man for one woman for life.


It prohibits polyamory

“Polyamory” is a general term for having multiple marriage partners at the same time.  Most are probably familiar with the term “polygamy” which technically refers to having multiple wives, such as practiced by many Muslims and formerly by the Mormons.  However, there is also “polyandry” which refers to having multiple husbands and has been practiced by some pagan societies in earth’s history.  Today there is a growing call by some in the anti-traditional-marriage movement to legalize plural marriage relationships.  After all, if marriage is nothing more than a “love relationship” between people, why limit it to just two?


However, as we again look closely at God’s marriage law, we notice that it does not say that a man may be joined to WIVES or MEN may be be joined to a wife, but that one man is to be joined to one wife.  That is how it reads.  Immediately someone is sure to point to all the examples of polygamy recorded in the Old Testament.  Yes, we must admit that God allowed plural marriages in Old Testament times.  Abraham, while married to Sarah, took her handmaid Hagar and had a son Ishmael (Genesis 16:1-4).  Jacob wanted to marry Rachel, was tricked into marrying her sister Leah, married Rachel too, and got their handmaids as well (Genesis 29:23-30ff).  David had several wives who bore him a number of children (2 Samuel 3:2-5, 5:13).  And Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:1-4).


However, what is interesting is that every case of polygamy mentioned in the Scriptures brought problems.  There was intense jealousy between the wives of Abraham and between the wives of Jacob.  David’s family experienced much heartache as a result of having various children by different wives.  And we know what happened to Solomon—his multiple wives turned his heart away from the Lord.  Thus, we may safely conclude that polygamy was simply a cultural practice of that time and place which God allowed and regulated, but as Jesus said about divorce, also allowed under the Old Testament law, “From the beginning it was not so” (Matthew 19:8).


It prohibits same-sex relations

The term homosexuality, which is sometimes used generally for same-sex relationships technically refers to men with men, and lesbianism refers to women with women.  How does God’s law apply to this?  First, we must notice God’s obvious intent from creation.  “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.  Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth’” (Genesis 1:27-28).  He did not create male and male or female and female, but male and female with the purpose of multiplying and replenishing the earth.  God’s law on marriage echoes this.  A man is to leave father and mother and joined to his wife, NOT a man with another man or a woman with another woman.  By Biblical definition, marriage necessarily involves complementariness. 


So, what does the Bible say about same-sex relationships?  Consider the sin of Sodom.  In Genesis 18:20, God Himself said, “The outcry against Sodom is very great…because their sin is very grave.”  What was their sin?  It is described in Genesis 19:1-7, where God sent a couple of angels, who appeared as men, to warn Lot, and the following scene occurs.  “Now before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both old and young, all the people from every quarter, surrounded the house.  And they called to Lot and said to him, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may know them carnally’” (vs. 4-5).  Lot pleaded with them, “Please, my brethren, do not do so wickedly” (v. 7).  They did not just want to say hello, they wanted to “know” them in the same way that Mary had not known a man (Luke 1:30-34). Furthermore, the New Testament identifies exactly what this sin or wickedness involved.  “As Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire” (Jude v. 7).  Their sin is called sexual immorality that involved “strange flesh.”  It is not strange for men to want to have relations with women and vice verse because that is what God intended by creation.  But the passage implies that it is strange for men to want to have relations with men, according to God’s plan.  In fact, as a result of this the words “sodomy” and “sodomite” are used to refer to “unnatural sexual relations, especially between male persons” (Deuteronomy 23:17, KJV; the NKJV has “perverted person”).  This is confirmed by instructions in the Old Testament law.  “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22).  And, “If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them” (Leviticus 20:13).  So twice, the Bible refers to same-sex relationships as an abomination to the Lord.


However, someone says, that is in the Old Testament, and God is much more loving and lenient today.  Actually, we can learn much about God’s attitude towards certain things, like marriage, adultery and same-sex relationships from the Old Testament Scriptures (Romans 15:4, 1 Corinthians 10:11).  And the New Testament also teaches God’s wrath and severity against all ungodliness and disobedience (Romans 1:18, 11:22).  But the New Testament teaches the same thing as the Old regarding same-sex relationships.  Read Paul’s description of Gentile depravity in the first century.  “For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature.  Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due” (Romans 1:26-27).  He mentions same-sex relationships, both women with women and men with men, and calls them vile passions, against nature, shameful, and an error which is due a penalty.  What is the decreed punishment?  “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).  The practice of homosexuality and lesbianism were rather common in the Graeco-Roman world of the first century.  In the original language, the words for “homosexual” and “sodomite” refer to the active and passive partners of a homosexual relationship.  Also, it is important to note that Paul uses the past tense: “And such were some of you.”  Sometimes it is claimed that homosexuals are born that way and cannot change their sexual orientation.  However, some in Corinth were homosexuals but they did change so that they were washed, sanctified, and justified.  Yet Paul is frank in saying that if people persist in any kind of unrighteousness, including homosexuality, they will not inherit the kingdom of God.



So that is what God’s inspired word says about God’s law on marriage.  And God means what He says in His word.  “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.  For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life” (Galatians 6:7-8). 


It makes no difference what human wisdom, worldly philosophy, the consensus of society, cowardly politicians, activist judges, or even compromising preachers may say, the fact is that all fornicators, adulterers, polyamorists, and homosexuals, unless they repent of their sin and change their lives to conform to God’s teaching, will ultimately reap what they have sown—if not in this life, then certainly in the next.  And no amount of presidential executive orders, laws passed by Congress and state legislatures, judicial court decisions, or even elections by popular vote will alter that.


The fact is that all of us have sinned.  Thanks be to God that He sent His Son Jesus Christ to die as an atonement for our sins so that we might have salvation from sin and the hope of eternal life with Him in heaven.  What did those Corinthians, including the fornicators, adulterers, homosexuals, and sodomites, do to be washed, sanctified, and justified?  “Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized” (Acts 18:8).

By Wayne S. Walker
From Expository Files 20.12; December 2013