Is Biblical advice for marriage outdated?

Jay Dee

Is Biblical advice for marriage outdated?

Oct 25, 2014

This post is a response to an anonymous question I received two days ago through our Have a Question page.  This person asks: If marriage is not the same today as it was in the bible, are the guidelines for sex still in marriage still

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Anonymous QuestionThis post is a response to an anonymous question I received two days ago through our Have a Question page.  This person asks:

If marriage is not the same today as it was in the bible, are the guidelines for sex still in marriage still the same? [sic]

As is usually the case, I wish I could respond and ask more questions in return to clarify the question, but as it is anonymous, I cannot.  So, I’ll proceed with what we have.

Is marriage the same today as it was in the Bible?

This question has to be answered first before proceeding I think.  It’s not really stated as a question by the asker, but it is an assumption that’s stated, and I wish to challenge it.  The first question I would have asked in response would be “In what way is marriage not the same today as it was in the Bible?”

To that, I think we need to look at the Biblical definition of marriage.  And for that, we generally start at the beginning.  We see the first glimpse of what marriage is in the garden of Eden when the man and the woman are created.  Right after the woman wakes up, we have a verse that says

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall become united and cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

-Genesis 2:24

Which is a little curious in context.  After all, there was no such thing as a father or mother yet, these humans were created, not born.  Nevertheless, this one verse tells us a lot about marriage:

  1. The husband and wife need to leave their childhood family and start a family together, that a husband and wife constitute a family unit.
  2. That their lives should be intertwined, they should be “united” and the husband should “cleave” to his wife.  Actually, the Hebrew says can be translated “clings-to” or even “catch by pursuit”.  It gives the feeling of casing her and never letting go.
  3. That part of being married is the act of sex, this state of being “one flesh” is something reserved for marriage and is a promise of marriage.

This one verse gets quoted both by Jesus in Matthew 19 and by Paul in Ephesians 5 and is generally considered the primary verse for the definition of marriage.

So, is marriage today different?  Well, that’s two questions I think.  It’s God’s intent for marriage the same?  I think so.  Do we carry out that intent?  Often not.  We see a continuing rise in unmarried rates, people living together as if they were married, but without acknowledging what it is, for various reasons (financial reasons, commitment issues, whatever).  We see a divorce rate between 30% and 50% within the church even.  And our culture views sex, not as a holy and blessed act intended for marriage, but as a meaningless, harmless, recreational activity to be enjoyed by all in any context.

But, I still argue, marriage has not changed.  Often what occurs and is called marriage is a cheap facsimile of marriage, a mockery.  I wish they would use a different word for it.  But, I believe that is part of the point…to degrade this sacred bonding.

Is biblical advice still relevant?

When dealing with the Bible, one has to be aware of two containers that commandments, advice, examples, etc. fall within:

  1. Method
  2. Principle

Methods are cultural, they are responsive, they are temporary.  They fit a certain circumstance, or a time, or a people (or person).

Principles are eternal.  They are for all people, at all times.  They do not change, and they do not become irrelevant.

Some examples:

In 2 Kings 5, we see a story of a Syrian commander, Naaman, who has leprosy.  Elisha tells him to go watch in the river Jordan (a dirty river) to cure his leprosy.  This is a method.  Washing in dirty water is not a cure for leprosy.  But, it was for Naaman.  The principle is to listen to God, that He do things that defy our logic, and I think He often does, just to prove that we’re not in control.

In Acts we see the apostles going out and telling everyone in the street that Jesus is alive, that He is our redeemer, and they convert 3,000 thousand (perhaps thirty thousand depending on the manuscript) in a day.  If you tried to evangelize the way they did today, you might be locked up.  The method was for them.  The principle, to tell the world about Jesus, remains.

In the New Testament, we are told to stay away from temple prostitutes.  Here in North America, we don’t have temple prostitutes, I don’t think we ever did.  So, this method doesn’t apply.  However, the principles, of only worshiping God, of only having sexual relations with your spouse, are still relevant today, and will always be relevant.

These are simple ones.  The discussion about what is a principle and what is a method can sometimes be more complex, but I don’t think they are for the definition of marriage.  There is nothing cultural or temporal about them.  They are very simple, clear, guidelines, and, in my experience, they still hold true.  I would argue these are principles, and they will always be relevant.  By extension, I believe the advice we have about sex is still relevant today.  I think it can be boiled down to a simple principles and it’s corollary:

  1. Only have sex with your spouse.
  2. Do have sex with your spouse.

These principles may be archaic in the sense that they were given to use thousands of years ago, but they are not outdated.  They have stood the test of time.  Because humans haven’t really changed that much in the intervening time, and neither have our relationships.  We still have the same issues, the same problems, though they may take new forms.  We don’t have temple prostitutes anymore, but we do have porn, and we even have people claiming there is Christian porn.

Now, each of these principles are enough to write entire posts, or a series of posts on, but in short:

To only have sex with your spouse means no casual sex, no sex while dating, engaged or any other “committed” relationship.  If you aren’t married, don’t have sex.  By extension, if you are married, don’t have sex with anyone who isn’t your spouse, even if your spouse “lets” you (see how that worked out for Abraham in Genesis 16 and 21).  No threesomes or moresomes either.  These aren’t outdated arbitrary puritanical rules.  These are designed for our protection from things we cannot even foresee.  Even having sex with your future spouse has consequences that extend into your marriage.

But sex is an awesome and blessed thing between two people.  And so, when you are married do have sex with your spouse.  Don’t withhold sex, or affection, from them.  Don’t do it out of duty, but do your best to be an involved and attentive lover.  These too are not some archaic construct designed to satisfy the male sexual drive.  The call to have sex with your spouse is what makes you one flesh.  It binds you together, it increases intimacy, which will extend to the rest of your marriage.  Don’t believe me?  Prove me wrong.  If you are the low drive spouse, give yourself to your spouse frequently and enthusiastically, and see how it changes your marriage.

Your Turn

Those are my thoughts.  What are yours?  Do you think the Bible’s advice on marriage and sex is outdated?

 

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16 thoughts on “Is Biblical advice for marriage outdated?”

  1. Andy says:

    Good advice!

  2. greville constantine says:

    Very good advice. Sex belongs in marriage & with the spouse to whom you are married. That is DIVINE TRUTH & Divine LAW. And all who follow that law truly HONOUR GOD & his HOLY temple our bodies! However as for 3somes & moresomes some would say as David, Abraham,& Samson’s father had more than one wife this justifies the new trend Christian Swinging that is taking place today. But that was in Old Testament times ,not in the period of grace where we are today presently .

    1. Jay Dee says:

      Just because they had multiple wives does not mean that was God’s intent, or that it was okay.

      But I don’t think I agree with the theology that we have more grace now than they did in the old Testament, or that the principles have changed. God’s principles are eternal.

      1. greville constantine says:

        I agree. God’s original intent remains a mystery as to y he would allow these pillars of faith to have multiple wives seemingly contrary to his own commandment of thou shalt not commit adultery. I believe however that was his grace extended towards these men of faith. His grace towards us is his son Jesus Christ & his shed blood. Thus no need to bring old testament traditions into today’s worship.

        1. Jay Dee says:

          Which Old Testament traditions do you mean?

          If you mean the sacrifices that pointed forward to Christ’s death and our redemption, then I agree, that was fulfilled. But there are many Old Testament laws/traditions that I think still hold true. Sabbath keeping, Tithing, Offering, Prayer, Reading Scripture, and a great many more.

          After all, Jesus said “Do not think that I have come to do away with or undo the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to do away with or undo but to complete and fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until the sky and earth pass away and perish, not one smallest letter nor one little hook [identifying certain Hebrew letters] will pass from the Law until all things [it foreshadows] are accomplished.” Well, not all has been accomplished. The world is still here. Jesus has fulfilled a great part of the law, but not the totality yet.

          I think the bulk of Christianity has done themselves a great disservice by saying that the Old Testament is no longer valid because it was “done away with at the cross” despite clear indications that the apostles continued in these “traditions” well after Jesus was crucified.

      2. LatterDay Marriage says:

        Polygamy was allowed in the law of Moses if you look at 2Sam 12 you see that God was OK with polygamy in at least that case. God even said that HE gave David many wives and he would have given David more wives if that is what he wanted. That makes him an active participant, not somebody who passively allowed it. David’s sin was adultery (sleeping with another man’s wife) and the murder of her husband to hide his adultery, not polygamy.

        David had several wives some time before he became king too. If David taking a 2nd, 3rd, 4th etc. wife was adultery, he would have come under condemnation from God long before Bathsheba. God never condemned David’s or Abraham’s polygamy or that of several other righteous men in the OT. As long as they first made a marriage commitment together, it was OK, and since they had married each other it was not adultery to God.

        There is a huge difference however between swinging and what OT polygamy was. In OT polygamy the intention was that each wife stayed exclusive with her husband and usually had children by him if she could. He was obligated to restrict himself to only those women he had married, and he took on the obligation of providing for and protecting each of his wives and the children they gave him. Too much commitment and obligation and responsibility to be a hedonist’s paradise. It wasn’t short term hook ups or swapping spouses for a night or weekend or whatever. ‘Christian’ swingers are way off base trying to use example of OT polygamy to justify what they do.

  3. Dan says:

    It is sad that as necessary as sex is to a sustaining and maturing a marriage that it’s binding purpose is sacrificed to denial and gate keeping when the marriage is in stress. When conflict arises within a marriage, sex is often the first casualty. On the surface, it may seem to be reasonable that this is so, especially for women. If stress and conflict causes them to feel disconnected, they are hard-pressed to feel sexual toward the perceived source of their angst. When communication shuts down, the sex shuts down. The two things that are most critical to resolving the strife and disconnect are taken off the table. This serves to create a cycle of No Communication/No Resolution/No Sex/Growing Disconnect thus expanding the distance between husband and wife. At this point, if the more mature person in the relationship does not boldly make an intervening bid toward resolving the issue the marriage is headed toward threatening sailing through rocky shoals.

    I wonder how many churches have ongoing relationship building classes at all, let alone any aimed specifically at married couples? Though they undeniably need such teaching for sex within marriage (neat how that worked out), the teaching needs to begin with joint problem-solving and conflict resolution. Once the couple know how to effectively communicate and work together to quickly resolve issues, the stage can then be set for frequent productive married sex that will bear fruit broadly across the marriage and not just in the bedroom. Good teaching Jay Dee. Are we going to be hearing from Christine again in some of your posts?

  4. El Fury says:

    One of the difficulties of sticking with Biblical principles is that writers/teachers/speakers like to feel creative and novel. It’s not as fun to just say “go read the Bible and then do what it says”.

    That’s what makes writing about methods more fun 🙂

  5. greville constantine says:

    I agree! Again u have no disagreement from me. Yet christian swingers will insist where u mentioned about commitment & responsibility. They will insist (as most people will do) their lifestyle only makes them more responsible to their spouses & to God in that they are married couples who are committed to each other. Thus they will insist they are within the plan of God by being spiritual people involved with each other not secular people who sleep around just for casual sex. But we as God’s people know fully well that God’s intentions for the patriarchs of faith is not the same for us doing this period of grace. What worked for them is not guaranteed to work for us. God’s will is eternal but not always the same for each of us. As for OT traditions I in no way meant abrogation of the law. As you stated the removal of sacrifices & feast days yes. Same as no polygamy for our time either. With Jesus Christ’s entrance into our era means Holy Spirit’s guidance & direction for our daily lives. Thus making upholding of the law more simpler for us today. Thus no need for polygamy as God allowed it in those days. With his grace today intimacy, compassion ,& physical expression can be simple today. Who is a better sex counselor & instructor than the one who created sex!

    1. El Fury says:

      I don’t think that polygamy was God’s desire for the OT patriarchs. It caused them no end of trouble. I can’t think of a single example of polygamy from the OT that didn’t result in trauma and disaster.

  6. greville constantine says:

    Maybe but who are we to figure out why
    God does what he does. There is no scriptural evidence that God condemned them for this lifestyle either. He only condemned them for personal transgressions against his laws & for rejecting his holy presence & outright disobedience.

  7. Jennifer Marion says:

    I really appreciate your distinction between method and principle. It helps to answer the age old questions of relevance in the Bible!

    1. Jay Dee says:

      We have this discussion, between method and principle, a lot in our church leadership board. We always run into people who think that evangelism can only be done this way or that way, because of this verse or that one. But, if we look behind the method to the principle, we can see that evangelism can be done in many ways, though you always have to measure against the principles… because some evangelism ideas are not so good.

      Likewise in marriage, there are principles to live by. Not every marriage has to be identical, there are many methods, for example, to help regulate the amount of sex: scheduling, splitting up the week for each spouse to initiate on one of those days, or just have sex every night. None are right or wrong, it is the underlying principle of having a healthy sexual relationship that is important.

      Glad you appreciated it, I’m glad it helps!

  8. Dan says:

    Just came by to see what’s new here. I see it’s been awhile. I hope all is well.

    1. Jay Dee says:

      Yep, just out of the country doing mission work. We’ll be back next week.

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