In this posting I respond to the questioner section-by-section, since the question was much longer than the normal 100-word limit allows. His words are in italics (as usual); mine, in regular print.
Is marriage made by God? Or can it exist independently of God? After doing a word search of “marriage” in the Bible, what strikes me is that the definition is largely based on cultural context, even within the people of Israel. -- B.C.
Marriage outside of a biblical context is still marriage; there is a covenantal responsibility even if the bride and groom are atheists.
For example, in Genesis 38:8 we read, “Then Judah said to Onan, ‘Lie with your brother's wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to produce offspring for your brother.” In this case, sex is seen as a fulfillment of an obligation, but in my opinion it is outside of marriage, since he has no continued commitment to this woman, except maybe as a sister-in-law.
This is not outside of marriage! The law of levirate marriage requires the brother of the deceased to marry his sister-in-law.
And Joshua 15:16-17: “And Caleb said, ‘I will give my daughter Acsah in marriage to the man who attacks and captures Kiriath Sepher.’ Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb's brother, took it; so Caleb gave his daughter Acsah to him in marriage.” Women are often given to men as if they were property, or a way to gain leverage, or in this instance, as a reward.
You are right. Until recently in human history nearly all marriages were arranged. Having said that, I must point out that hardly any ended in divorce.
Also there is the problem of polygamy. If God intended marriage to be between one man and one woman, then why tolerate polygamy at all?
God's original plan, in Genesis 2:24, is clear. But I'm not sure you are thinking consistently here. Even in polygamy, marriage is still between one man and one woman. (Times ten, perhaps!) The women are not married to one another. Moreover, God tolerated many things in the O.T. because of people's hardness of heart. (See, for example, Jesus' words in Matthew 19:8 about Deuteronomy 24:1ff.)
The fact that these practices are not specifically condemned tells me that marriage is a fluid concept that changes when the cultural context changes. Our modern view of marriage is based largely on the beliefs of the people that founded the country, who got their beliefs from their nearest ancestors. At some time in history, people came to the conclusion that marriage should be between one man and one woman. However, until much more recently in history, women were still given over to men as if they were property.
Again, accurate definitions are needed. Whether a woman was viewed as property or not has nothing to do with whether marriage was between a man and a woman.
All of this ambiguity of marriage relationships and customs makes me think that marriage is not so strictly defined even by God.
I think the ambiguity is less in the Bible than in your own thinking, and in the way modern people sometimes think about this matter.
But here is another problem I have: Our state laws governing marriage were based on religious beliefs, but are not governed by a religious body -- except where the people who make the laws bring their beliefs into the process. But look at the requirements for getting a marriage license. There is no mention of God, or the church, or religion at all. It is simply a state-recognized union that has certain civil and tax benefits -- unless the people involved choose to give it more significance.
But marriage is not a religious contract. It never was.
So I think there is a civil right for any two people to make a commitment to each other that is separate from the laws of morality governed by the Bible. Otherwise atheists could not get married.
Sure. But to call it marriage if it is between two homosexuals? No. Marriage is defined not only in Genesis, but also in all cultures, not to mention the dictionary itself.
And if atheists, or adulterers, or murderers, or otherwise sinful people can get married, then why not homosexuals? The reason is the law (civil law) does not allow it. And that law is upheld by the religious beliefs of the people and government. This strikes me as hypocritical, since the same people say it’s ok to get divorced, and allow adulterers, murderers, rapists, etc to get married.
Hypocrisy, even on a greater scale than we are currently witnessing, is not germane to the discussion.
The same people forget that not too far back in our history women were being traded like cattle, men were having sex with their brother’s widows, and kings were having multiple wives, all under the rule of God.
Your view of the O.T. strikes me as unnecessarily harsh, one-sided. I realize that you are just sharing feelings, but do you have an overly negative view of the O.T.? It feels like it to me.
So whether or not God commends these practices, he did not speak out against them. And if I understand correctly, God allows people to make their own decisions, and allows them to sin, to reject him and his ways.
Yes, that is right.
Marriage really has nothing to do with whether the relationship is sinful or not sinful.
No one has the right to redefine marriage, or reject the morals of God, moral society, and the Scriptures.
If homosexuals want to get married, who are we to stop them? They obviously reject God's morality when it comes to sexual relationships, so what concern is it of ours if they want to get married?
I fear we cannot stop them. But calling it "marriage" seems ludicrous to me.
So my view is that the nature of marriage is strictly a civil, state-regulated licensure between two people who want to make a commitment to each other and enjoy the tax benefits of that union.
Marriage is not a union between one man and one woman governed by the morality of God.
You have not proven this.
The New Testament says, in Mathew 22:30, "At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven." In Romans 7:2, for example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. With the understanding that marriage is only binding on earth while we are alive, and not binding after death and the resurrection to come, I believe marriage between Christians is a union of commitment with special significance to those people involved.
Nowhere does Jesus say that we won't be married in heaven, only that marriages will not be contracted in heaven.
But I can’t bind that significance on non-believers. If God doesn’t bind marriage beyond the earthly life, then maybe the title of marriage is not as significant as the commitment between the two people in the marriage. So I propose to differentiate the ideas of a "state marriage" which has no spiritual significance, from the idea of a "Christian marriage", which has some spiritual significance.
I think this is a false distinction.
So now that you see my thought process, is there a biblical reason to believe that the state-licensed unions in our society be applied only to a relationship between one man and one woman?
Yes indeed, for the reasons I have shared. I am strongly in favor of the traditional definition of marriage. (I am also in favor of marital fidelity -- something else those who play fast and loose with their morals seem to have difficulty maintaining.) Marriage can only be male-female.