Age makes a big difference to views on same-sex marriage. While 79% of U.S. adults age 18-29 support it, support drops by more than 30% among those over 64, per a June 2017 survey by Pew Research Center, a non-partisan research organization.
This difference is most pronounced among white evangelical Christians (many Baptists, members of Churches of Christ, etc.). Half of them (47%) under the age of 54 support same-sex marriage, while support is quite low among those older.
Are supporters ignoring the Bible? Are older people reading the Bible selectively and relying on tradition? Do people think same-sex marriage is a sin, but are less willing to impose their beliefs on others?
This post, part of a series, is the second in a group of three on the “Biblical definition of marriage.” This post introduces an answer Jesus gave to a question about divorce that some say defines marriage as “one man / one woman only.” Others say the answer does not address the definition of marriage.
The post alternates the view expressed back and forth between both sides—between what some Christians who do not affirm same-sex marriage say and what some affirming Christians say—to present a hypothetical conversation between the two.
Context of the Main Scripture Passage Discussed Here:
The Pharisees were a group of Jewish followers of God who had a particular (some say narrow) view of scripture. They challenged Jesus’s teachings. To test him, some Pharisees asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?”
The Main Scripture Passage (Matthew 19:4-9):
Jesus responded by quoting Genesis 2:24 (discussed in the last post):
Jesus said, “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’”
The Pharisees then said, “’Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?’”
Jesus replied, “’It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.’”
Some Non-Affirming Christians Say: Jesus Limited Being “One Flesh” (Marriage) to Only “One Man / One Woman.”
Jesus confirms here it was God’s plan that one man is to be joined to one wife to become one flesh, saying those “two” shall become one flesh, not that three or more shall become one flesh or that people of the same sex shall.
Woman was taken “out of Man” (Genesis 2:23). When they unite in marriage, they return to “one flesh” (2:24). Neither two women nor two men nor one man and two women can return to the primordial state of “one flesh.”
Thus, “one flesh” is marriage for one man and one woman only.
Jesus also says no one should separate the two. A man marrying a second wife would separate a man from his first one.
With this, Jesus declared any marriage arrangement besides one man and one woman, including polygamy, sinful.
Some Affirming Christians Say: “One Flesh” Is Sex, Not Marriage; and Jesus Did Not Say Whether or Not Marriage is Limited to Only “One Man / Only Woman.”
“One flesh” is a metaphor for several things, including sex, and not just in a marriage.
1 Corinthians 6:16 explains, “Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, ‘The two shall be one flesh.’”
This is “two” having sex, not marrying.
Genesis 2:23-24, to which Jesus refers, provides an explanation for a man’s sex drive, not a marriage definition. Why does a man leave his home and seek to “be joined” to a woman? Per 2:23-24, it is because they were once “one flesh”—woman was once part of man.
Jesus explaining that one thing happens (a man seeks a woman) is not a statement that other things cannot happen (a man seeks a man or polygamy). In other words, Jesus saying in these verses what can occur (man + woman marry) is not Jesus saying that he prohibits everything else.
A person can be in a “one flesh” relationship with more than one person. Abraham, David, and Solomon all had more than one wife, which was approved by God.
No one should separate the two, e.g., cause a divorce. Of course, when a polygamist marries a second wife, he is not “separating” himself from being “one flesh” with his first wife. They do not divorce.
Non-Affirming: Jesus Saying “From the Beginning” Shows He Defines Marriage As It Was in Genesis 2:24, With One Man and One Woman; Polygamy Came Later
“One flesh” is used by Paul in First Corinthians to condemn prostitution, to explain how it takes away from “one flesh,” which is marriage.
Just like divorce was not allowed from the beginning, and then Moses allowed it later because some were hard-hearted, marriage was “one man / one woman” from the beginning—in Eden—but God allowed polygamy later because some were hard-hearted.
Jesus references marriage as it was “from the beginning.” Since anything that does not fit God’s (and Jesus’s) desire is a sin, supporting any marriage besides one man and one woman is a sin.
Affirming: God Approved Polygamy “From the Beginning”; If Jesus Sought to Alter This Approval, He Would Have Been Clear About It.
Marriage “from the beginning” (throughout Genesis) included polygamy. There were only two humans in Eden, so of course the focus was on those two people when discussing Eden.
God approved of polygamy, provided rules for it, and even commanded it, as described in the previous post. The Bible says nothing about hard-heartedness having anything to do with polygamy.
If Jesus meant to prohibit polygamy, he would have said “whoever is married and marries another” commits a sin. Instead, he said “whoever divorces, except for unchastity, and marries another” commits a sin.
If Jesus meant to declare polygamy—a practice approved of by God for thousands of years—wrong, Jesus would have been clear.
Non-Affirming: When Jesus Said “A Man Shall … Be Joined to His Wife,” He Defined Marriage as Man + Wife.
Jesus said “‘a man shall … be joined to his wife.”
Jesus would have referred to “wives” when answering the question if polygamy would have been acceptable to him. Yet, he did not, which indicates his opposition to it.
Thus, even if the Old Testament provided for polygamy, Jesus clearly prohibited it and defined marriage as one man and one woman.
Affirming: Jesus Was Answering a Question About a Man + Wife, So He Referred to Man + Wife; He Was Not Defining Marriage.
Jesus was answering a question about “a man” and “his wife,” so of course he referred to a man and his “wife” when answering. He was not asked for a definition or about polygamy.
He does not say anything to reject polygamy or to define marriage as only for “one man, one woman.”
Did Jesus declare any marriage besides “one man and one woman,” including polygamy, to be a sin in Matthew 19:4-9? Or was he just answering a specific question and not offering a definition of marriage?
Each side says a lot more about these issues and this scripture, of course.
My aim with this post was to continue introducing differing views among Christians regarding Biblical passages relevant to same-sex marriage.
Read the next post in this series by clicking here.
(The picture is one of the main scripture discussed in this post.)
Sources and Notes
See Eugene Hillman, Polygamy Reconsidered, Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books (1975), pages 139-178 (“The biblical texts that are usually cited to show the incompatability of polygamy with Christianity are concerned specifically with other matters.”).
“… sexual relations …”: Hans Conzelmann, First Corinthians, Philadelphia: Fortress Press (1975), page 111 (“Paul presupposes that … ‘flesh’ is the equivalent of … ‘body'”; “for Paul not an essential mark of Christian marriage, but simply describes sexual union in general”).
More of “several things”: See The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, Nashville: Abingdon Press (2003), page 11 note 2:24 (new kinship group through marriage of people from different families).
“… an explanation for a man’s sex drive …”: Gerhard Von Rad, Genesis, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press (Revised Ed. 1972), pages 84-85.