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Significance of Marriage in Christian Teachings

Introduction

Marriage is the first institution that God created, after creating Adam and declaring that it was not good for him to be alone. It is written in the book of Genesis 2:18: “And the Lord said it is not good for the man to be alone; I will make a helper suitable for him.” God created the marriage institution as a means of ensuring that the world he had created became a place of love, happiness, hope, friendship and peace. Therefore, marriage accounts for a very vital aspect of an individual’s happiness and contentment, that was designed by God so as to enable man and woman live in a lifelong covenant. Genesis 2:24 goes on to say, “A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” Based on Christian teachings, marriage is sacred (and considered a sacrament), as well as a lifelong commitment given that a couple makes promises before God to stay together for the rest of their lives. The book of Hebrews (13:4) states: “Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will Judge.” However, although a couple may strive to ensure the fulfilment of their vows and to honour the biblical provisions, a marriage that began in so much love and high expectations may encounter problems and challenges that lead to the marriage breaking down. This could result in the couple choosing to separate, therefore divorce. However, the issue of divorce has become a thorny one, which is frowned upon as it is seen as a violation of God’s will and a frustration of His purposes. It is against this background that this paper will explore the issue of divorce from a biblical point of view in order to bring to the fore the manner in which Christians today respond to it.

Divorce

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Divorce can be described as the process that facilitates the public dissolution of a legal marriage, and which therefore frees the involved parties from any further matrimonial obligations (Stephenson and Wolfers, 2007). As stated above, divorce is a thorny issue in today’s society given the multiple devastating challenges and consequences it brings about to the parties (man and woman) involved, their children and the community at large. According to Stott, McCloughry and Wyatt (2006), divorce affects the divorced couple, their immediate family as well as the society in a profound manner. While in today’s contemporary secular world people mostly view marriage to be a legalized domestic union which can easily be legally dissolved and this dissolution of the relationship (divorce) cannot be problematic, the description of how God intended marriage to be is very different. This is because, according to the bible (which is Christian’s major source of guidance and authority) and Benyah’s (2014) inference, God intended the permanence of marriage. It is on the Bible’s teachings on marriage and divorce that Christians anchor their perceptions and responses to divorce.

2019 Marriage and Divorce Statistics

Data by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) (2021) shows that there were 235,910 opposite-sex marriages in 2017. Additionally there were 107,599 divorces of opposite-sex couples in England and Wales, an increase of 18.4% from 90, 871 in 2018 (ONS, 2021).

Biblical Teachings on Divorce

Christians discourage and frown upon divorce as they view it (in reference to biblical teachings) as a violation of God’s intention and the purpose for marriage. Genesis 2:24 (as mentioned above) sets the scene for the institution of marriage and embodies its meaning (Pfeifer, Vos and Rea, 1999). According to Christians’ inference of the Genesis 2:24, it implies that marriage is exclusive and permanent, but affirm that it is not entirely indissoluble, as other sections of the Bible prescribe (the limited) conditions under which divorce is permissible. Despite being permissible under certain circumstances, Christians still view divorce as resulting in departure from God’s intention, purpose and ideal.

In his teachings on divorce and when asked the grounds on which divorce could be permitted, Jesus referred back to and quoted Genesis 2:24. He stated that divorce led to adultery, which is a sin according to the Ten Commandments. However, he provided a partner’s infidelity as a permissible ground for divorce. In Matthew 19:9, Jesus said, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” Jesus went on to state that a man who divorces his wife and remarries, besides committing adultery himself (Matthew 19:9), also causes his wife to commit adultery as well given the assumption that she too will remarry (Matthew 5:32). This has led Christians to regard divorce as going against the laws that God gave to man to live by (in this case not to commit adultery), and therefore discourage divorce.

Speaking about marriage, Jesus said “What therefore what God has joined together, let no man put asunder” (Mark 10:9) This Christians interpret to mean that through the institution of marriage to which He is a witness, God joins together a man and a woman, and therefore anyone who divorces their partner or a person who legalizes their separation by way of divorce will be going against the God’s laws by separating what God has put together. This is because according to their inference and understanding of Jesus’s teaching in mark 10:9, the marriage bond is a divine yoke rather than just a mere human contract, and the breakdown of a relationship (marriage) should not in itself be a permissible ground for divorce, particularly since the marriage is not man’s own but God’s will. Jesus went on to declare the Mosaic provision of divorce a temporary concession to human sin. This was in response to the Pharisees who questioned why Moses had allowed divorce yet Jesus discouraged it. He said, “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (Matthew 19:7 – 8). Therefore, Jesus termed the divorce allowed by Moses, which the Pharisees referred to as a command, a permission. However, Christians infer that His reference of the Mosaic provision as a concession to human sin should not be understood to imply a divine approval of divorce (Jones, 2008). Additionally, Christians believe and agree that although it was indeed divine (given Jesus’s belief that what Moses said God said), the divine concession of divorce still went against the marriage institution as intended by God.

Christians, following the Bible’s depiction of marriage as a covenant (by virtue of being an exclusively man-woman relationship that is publicly recognized/acknowledged and consummated by sexual intercourse, which Bacchiocchi (2000) termed the ‘components of the marriage covenant’), hold marriage- although between two people- as having been instituted and witnessed by God. Therefore, they perceive divorce as a person’s (or couple’s) abandonment of their covenant to or with God. As it is written in Proverbs 2:17, “…who has left the partner of her youth and ignored the covenant she made before God.” As a result of marriage being a covenant, a partner (or couple) that violates the terms of the covenant (by divorcing) is subject to being judged by God.

The above biblical teachings demonstrate that nowhere in the Bible is divorce commanded or even encouraged. However, the Bible permits divorce, and therefore remarrying, on the grounds of infidelity. Despite these teachings, the rate of divorce in today’s world has significantly increased and is a cause of concern to Christians and ministry leaders. This has resulted in the need for them to respond in various ways aimed at addressing the ever-increasing divorce numbers.

How Christians Respond to Divorce

Christians from the various denominations, for example the Catholic church, as believers in the concept of marriage as a covenant, do not recognize divorce, but hold that only the death of a partner or relevant grounds for an annulment can end a marriage. Thus, they only allow an annulment (civil divorce) if the marriage had not been consummated and/or can be proved that it should never have occurred, whereby the couple stands divorced according to the state but ‘before God’ the marriage continues (Heidecker, 2010). As such, the church would not allow any of the partners to remarry.

Christians and Christian churches have instituted programs through which they provide pre-marital and post-marital counselling to couples. Pre-marital counselling is usually done a few weeks or months to would be couples in order to help them understand God’s ideal and intention of marriage as sacred and permanent. They also provide post-marriage counselling as a way of ensuring that the lessons they taught couples during the pre-marital counselling session are cemented in them even after the couple marries (Abanyam, Sande and Avanger, 2014). This helps ensure that the couple remains true to the Biblical teachings on marriage and divorce.

As a result of the pre- and post-counselling response by Christians, or the church, they equip couples with the crucial skills and virtues such as problem solving, tolerance and forgiveness. Counselling also provides an avenue through which couples are taught various other things such as the Bible’s view or teachings on marriage, the role of a man and that of a woman in a marriage, how to make the marriage and home happy, sex education, and potential causes of challenges in Christian marriages (Laney et al., 1990). Through these teachings and an appreciation of them, couples are able to have a peaceful and successful marriage, thereby averting the likelihood of divorce. The church teaches couples problem solving skills so as to enable them find better solutions to the problems they will face in their marriages instead of divorcing. This way, Christians who experience problems or a breakdown of the marriage are usually encouraged to try and solve it, for example by seeking the advice and support of their church. According to Azrin, Naster and Jones (1973), counselling as a way of preparing couples for marriage is important as it will contribute to the success of a marriage since it helps develop the right orientation, thereby providing the best insight into the couple’s endeavour to ensure the ultimate success. Therefore, just like a teacher or a nurse is trained in order to prepare them to effectively and efficiently carry out their professional roles, pre- and post-marital counselling and marriage education, through the skills and lessons they teach, will enable couples develop even more marital stability (Astle, 2004). Christians also advocate for forgiveness of a partner’s transgressions such as infidelity, as well as reconciliation. Although infidelity provides permissible grounds for divorce, Christians and the church encourage a person whose partner is guilty of infidelity to forgive them rather than resort to divorce. However, they emphasize that forgiveness should not be taken to mean that a person condones or excuses the infidelity of his or her partner, nor does it relieve them from accounting or taking the responsibility for their infidelity. Forgiveness places the burden of earning back a partner’s trust through reparative behaviour that is trustworthy on a person who has been proven guilty of infidelity, and this contributes to repairing the relationship (marriage), and thereby averting divorce (Hall and Fichman, 2006). Given that the Bible allows (but does not encourage) divorce on the grounds of infidelity, a person’s choice to forgive their partner and continue with the marriage is not obligatory but should be guided by God’s word and the Bible’s teachings on forgiveness (Stosny, 2013). In cases where it has been satisfactorily determined that the any of grounds on which divorce is biblically permissible exists, Christians and the church conscientiously make every possible attempt to bring about reconciliation (Olmstead, Blick and Mills, 2009), and only allows divorce if the aggrieved partner still believes that divorce is the best option that will quieten his or her conscience.

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Additionally, the Church encourages Christians to resist the currently witnessed permissiveness and to stand steadfast against divorce on any other ground apart from the biblically permissible ones.

Conclusion

The biblical teachings on marriage and divorce demonstrate that divorce is not God’s ideal as God intended marriage to be lifelong. This has led a majority of Christians to accept divorce as going against God’s ideal. As a result, they have taken various actions (responses) aimed at bringing about the permanence of marriage and preventing against divorce. However, while most Christians may not like or encourage divorce, they do not entirely discourage or forbid it since there exist certain circumstances that might cause them to believe divorce is the only solution.

References

Abanyam, N.L., Sambe, N. and Avanger, M.Y., 2014. A sociological analysis of the impact of premarital and marital counselling in preventing the global trend of divorce. American International Journal of Research in Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, 5(1), pp.130-136.

Astle, M.J., 2004. An ounce of prevention: Marital counselling laws as an anti-divorce measure. Family Law Quarterly, 38(3), pp.733-751.

Azrin, N.H., Naster, B.J. and Jones, R., 1973. Reciprocity counselling: A rapid learning-based procedure for marital counselling. Behaviour research and therapy, 11(4), pp.365-382.

Bacchiocchi, S., 2000. The marriage covenants.

Benyah, F., 2014. Because Your Hearts Were Hard: An Examination of Jesus’ discourse on divorce in Mark 10: 2-12. Trinity Journal of Church and Theology, 18.

Hall, J.H. and Fincham, F.D., 2006. Relationship dissolution following infidelity: The roles of attributions and forgiveness. Journal of social and clinical psychology, 25(5), pp.508-522.

Heidecker, K., 2010. The Divorce of Lothar II: Christian Marriage and Political Power in the Carolingian World. Cornell University Press.

Jones, D.W., 2008. The betrothal view of divorce and remarriage. Bibliotheca sacra, 165(657), pp.68-85.

Kingjamesbibleonline.org. 2021. Genesis Chapter 2 KJV-. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 February 2021].

Kingjamesbibleonline.org. 2021. Genesis Chapter 2 KJV-. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 February 2021].

Kingjamesbibleonline.org. 2021. Hebrews Chapter 13 KJV-. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 February 2021].

Kingjamesbibleonline.org. 2021. Mark Chapter 10 KJV-. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 February 2021].

Kingjamesbibleonline.org. 2021. Matthew Chapter 19 KJV-. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 February 2021].

Kingjamesbibleonline.org. 2021. Matthew Chapter 5 KJV-. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 February 2021].

Kingjamesbibleonline.org. 2021. Proverbs Chapter 2 KJV-. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 February 2021].

Laney, J.C., Heth, W.A., Edgar, T.R. and Richards, L., 1990. Divorce and remarriage: Four Christian views. InterVarsity Press.

Ons.gov.uk. 2021. Marriages in England and Wales - Office for National Statistics. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 March 2021].


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