Marriage Is Not Out of Date. In Scripture, marriage is the norm, celibacy the rare exception. Jesus never married, but early in his ministry blessed a marriage feast with his presence for a full week (John 2:1-11). In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul recommends celibacy but endorses marriage, even equality in marriage: “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” (1 Cor. 7:3-4, NRSV). How does all this affect our “modern” view of marriage?
- Marriage in Paradise. Both in Genesis 1 and in Genesis 2, marriage is clearly presented as God’s idea. In this perfect new world as created by God, how are the ideas of equality and submission represented? Is it possible to have equality and mutual submission? Or must one of the partners have authority over the other? How has the entrance of sin affected the “ideal” of Genesis 1 and 2? Should the idea of submission of the wife to the husband as described in Genesis 3:16 (“he shall rule over you”), be seen as commanded by God, as inevitable and irreversible fate, or as tragic fate which can be reversed within the framework of a marriage committed to God? The original Hebrew seems to allow all of those possibilities. How can we know which one is “correct”?
- Good Counsel: Submission, Subjection, Obedience. Not only in 1 Corinthians 7 does Paul counsel mutual submission of marriage partners, but also in Ephesians 5:21, at the head of Paul’s counsel to husbands and wives. Interestingly enough, the verse counseling mutual submission is frequently not linked with the following verses which speak more directly of submission or subjection of the wife to the husband. Indeed, in the official Sabbath School study guide, the passage is listed at Ephesians 5:22-32 instead of 5:21-32. But verse 21 belongs at the head: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Interestingly enough, the analogous passage in 1 Peter 3:1-7 presents the idea of submission, but not mutual submission. How are we to understand the ideas of subjection, submission, equality, and freedom in marriage today? How much weight should we give to particular passages of Scripture, especially when they appear to be contradictory?
- Permanence? According to Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus taught that marriage should be a life-long commitment. But he also made allowance for divorce in the event of adultery (Matt. 5:32; 19:8-9). Mark and Luke present the ideal with no mention of possible exceptions (Mark 10:10-12; Luke 16:18). How can one preserve with ideal if one makes room for exceptions? Is the ideal of a life-long commitment still one that we seek to preserve? How can it happen?
- Sexuality in marriage. With rare exceptions, the Bible celebrates the sexual aspect of the marriage relationship. The most explicit illustration is found in the Song of Solomon. But the creation account in Genesis 1 and 2 speak of the union between man and woman, even noting that there was then no shame in nakedness (Gen. 2:25). Jesus, too, though he never married, endorsed marriage by his presence at a wedding feast early in his ministry (John 2). Given the perversion of sex in our culture, how is it possible to preserve a positive view of sexuality within marriage and to preserve the expression of sexuality as something that takes place within a marriage relationship?