Monthly Article May 2013 – Redefining Marriage


By John Watterson


The UK government is currently seeking to redefine marriage to include homosexual unions. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, is for it; Nick Clegg, the Deputy PM, is personally committed to it; and the Labour Party is pushing for it. This is a good time for us to look again at marriage: what is the Biblical pattern for marriage and why does the government’s proposal to redefine marriage violate central Biblical teaching?


Marriage in Law

A useful place to start is with the legal definition of marriage. In English law the classic definition of marriage is “the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.” This stipulates four conditions:

  • the parties enter into the union voluntarily;
  • the parties enter into the union with the intention of life-long commitment;
  • the parties are a man and a woman (the marriage is heterosexual);
  • the parties are one man and one woman (the marriage is monogamous).

In addition, the parties must both be of marriageable age. Changing the third condition to allow homosexual marriage has massive implications for religious and civil freedoms, employment rights, the education of children, and the health of society. I am not going to discuss these implications, but the Coalition for Marriage (C4M) has provided a good summary of them in its submission to the Home Office’s consultation on the proposed changes to marriage which can be viewed here.


Marriage in Eden

English marriage law is very ancient: the oldest reference in English law to marriage is in an Act passed in 1285. But marriage is not an institution of the State. Marriage was ordained by God “from the beginning” (Mark 10:5-8). So let’s look at marriage in Eden. 

Genesis 1 and 2 present three primary reasons for marriage.

Imaging God

God has given marriage as a means by which humanity bears his image: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). John Goldingay comments that “the declaration that humanity intrinsically comprises male and female directly follows on that affirmation that humanity reflects the image of God…Only when men and women are together do we have God imaged.”


Bearing children

The basic way in which men and women are together is made clear in the next verse: “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth’” (Gen. 1:28). Marriage is for having children. And having children is also for “image bearing”, because it is as the human family grows that it fulfils its commission to act in a God-like fashion by filling, subduing and ruling over the earth. This includes the creation of society and the development of every cultural, sporting and scientific endeavour.



Marriage is also for companionship: “Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him’” (Gen. 2:18). When the first woman was presented to the first man, the man’s excitement and wonder were unmistakeable: “This time! Bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh! This one! She shall be called Woman, for from Man she was taken – this one!” (Gen. 2:23). Marriage is a reconnection of bone and flesh, a reunification of persons. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).

So from the beginning God’s purpose for marriage was:

  • the mutual support of men and women in monogamous, life-long unions,
  • which would provide stability for the homes in which children were raised,
  • for the creation of healthy and fruitful society,
  • which would display in everything it achieved the wisdom, care and authority of the Creator,
  • through his blessing.


Marriage in a Fallen World

Only, of course, the first man and woman forfeited the Creator’s blessing by turning away from him. So we do not live in Eden – we live in a fallen world. And in the fallen world marriage, like all God’s good gifts, has been distorted. And it’s important to acknowledge that homosexual marriage is one of several ways in which humanity falls short of God’s original intention for the union of men and women. There is also, for example, bigamy (one man taking two wives at the same time), cohabitation (a man and woman living together without the commitment of marriage) and divorce (the dissolution of the marriage bond by something other than the death of one of the partners).

But why, specifically, is homosexual marriage wrong? Let’s take the three original reasons for marriage in reverse order.

First, homosexual marriage is wrong because it transgresses God’s stated purpose for companionship between husband and wife. When God said, “I will make [the man] a helper fit for him,” he declared in word and by action what his will is for marriage. “A helper fit for him” is literally “like the opposite of him”. This highlights the complementary natures of the man and the woman: they fit together like a lock and key. God’s purpose was heterosexual marriage. This is underlined by the application made of the account of the first marriage in Gen. 2:24 (and endorsed by Jesus, Mark 10:6-8) in which the language is exclusively heterosexual: “a man…his wife”, “his father and his mother.” 

Secondly, homosexual marriage is wrong because it negates God’s purpose for the bearing of children – homosexual couples cannot have children without the services of surrogates. Homosexual marriage crosses out the blessing God bestowed in Gen. 1:28, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” Remember also that the command to be fruitful and multiply is linked to the command to develop arts and crafts, science and technology, literature and music, education and every other expression of culture. This suggests that the redefinition of marriage to include homosexual unions will undermine what it means to be a member of the human family and will be detrimental to society. (In 2010 Elton John had a son by a surrogate mother, whom he and his civil partner have adopted. It is significant that Elton John has admitted that it will be heartbreaking for his son to grow up without a mother.)

Thirdly, and most seriously, homosexual marriage is wrong because it attempts to obliterate the image of God. The union of husband and wife is not merely physical – it is a profound mystery which points beyond itself to something transcendently wonderful. In Eden marriage portrayed the love, creativity and dominion of the Creator. Outside Eden it “refers to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32). In other words, every healthy marriage is a microcosm of redemption, which is just a way of saying that marriage, like all of God’s works, bears the Creator-Redeemer’s hallmark. But this is an impossibility for homosexual marriage, just as it is for bigamy, cohabitation and divorce. 

The UK government’s intention to redefine marriage is wrong. It is another expression of the rebellion depicted in Ps. 2:1-3. God’s purpose for marriage, however, remains unaltered, and our hope looks forward to the marriage supper of the Lamb and his Bride.