Marriage is about covenant.
Many Christians regard Ephesians 5:21-33 as a foundational biblical text on marriage. Here is part of the passage:
"Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy....'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' This is a profound mystery — but I am talking about Christ and the church." -Ephesians 5:21-33
- According to Ephesians, marriage is fundamentally about commitment—keeping our covenant with our spouse as a reflection of God’s own covenant with us through Jesus. Same-sex couples are just as capable of doing that as are heterosexual couples.
But the Bible only ever talks about marriage in heterosexual terms. Doesn’t that necessarily exclude same-sex relationships, even apart from any negative texts about them?
- Same-sex marriage was not on the radar screen in ancient societies. There are no examples of two men or two women of equal social status entering into lifelong, monogamous relationships that are intended to form the basis of a family and home—much less doing so with community support.
- Scripture only discusses marriage in a heterosexual context because same-sex marriage was not an option in ancient societies, not because same-sex marriage was considered and rejected as outside of God’s will.
- The existence of gay Christians means the church has to modify one of two teachings: either celibacy as a vocation rather than a mandate or the scope of marriage. The question we face is whether the core principles of the Bible’s teachings on marriage can extend to same-sex unions.
Only a man and a woman can biologically procreate. Doesn’t same-sex couples’ inability to procreate mean their relationships cannot fulfill the Bible’s basis for marriage?
- Procreation was a major concern throughout the Old Testament, as God was building his kingdom people primarily through biological procreation. But the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus radically altered the significance of procreation among God’s people. Now, God builds his kingdom through professions of personal faith, not through biological procreation.
- Moreover, even in the Old Testament, the Bible never regards marriages that are incapable of procreation as being invalid on that basis. (See the marriage of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 18 and the marriage of Elkanah and Hannah in 1 Samuel 1.)
- In Matthew 19:1-12, Jesus may have made an exception to his prohibition of divorce in the case of adultery, but he made no such exception in the case of infertility. That indicates that covenantal commitment is more essential to marriage than the ability to procreate.
- From the Song of Songs to Paul’s teaching on sex in 1 Corinthians 7, the Bible never teaches that sex must be open to procreation in order to be moral.
Ephesians 5 says that the husband is the “head” of his wife, indicating that marriage relationships should be hierarchical. Doesn’t that mean marriage has to be between a man and a woman?
- The Bible does reflect certain patriarchal norms in its discussions of marriage. But the best way to approach that issue is the same way that Christians approach biblical passages on slavery. We ask what direction Scripture moves relative to its original culture.
- On both slavery and women’s roles, Scripture moves in a more egalitarian direction. Paul tells Onesimus to regard Philemon—a man who was enslaved but had run away—not as a slave, but as a brother, and he tells married couples that both husbands and wives yield authority over their bodies to one another (1 Corinthians 7).
- Galatians 3:28 shows us a kind of blueprint of the kingdom of God:
"There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." -Galatians 3:28
- In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs his followers to pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.
- The Bible points toward a kingdom where the primary divisions of humanity—Jew/Gentile, enslaved/free, and male/female—are swept away in Christ. In the same way that Christians have embraced abolitionism, we should embrace gender equality rather than regarding hierarchical gender roles as essential to marriage.
God designed male and female bodies to come together as “one flesh.” But doesn’t human anatomy show that two men or two women weren’t designed for a “one-flesh” bond?
As we learned in section four on gender complementarity, the phrase "one flesh" in Scripture refers to the formation of a new primary kinship bond, not the "anatomical fittedness" of male and female bodies. That's why Ephesians tells us that "the two will become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24) really refers to the union between Christ and the church, which is based on God's covenantal love for humanity—not anatomical design.
"'For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church."