Betting With Real Money

I want to answer two very basic questions. Lets all wish me luck. First I want to define marriage what is marriage anyhow? and I want to explain why the answer to this first question is any business of the civil magistrate. The two matters are wound tightly together, as we shall see.

I have defined marriage before in at least a couple of places.

“A common error among Christians holds that if the sexual act is completed, then the couple are married ‘in God’s sight.’ Many destructive complications occur in contemporary culture because we have adopted the idea that people can be married in God’s sight without being married. It is hard to say where this idea originated, but it has caused a lot of damage . . . Marriage is scripturally defined as a sexual relationship within the boundaries of a covenant commitment that has been formally ratified. The sexual relationship by itself does not constitute marriage” (Her Hand in Marriage, pp. 28-29).

“The first is that you must have an explicit covenant surrounding a sexual relationship. Not everyone who is sexually united is married, and not everyone who has exchanged vows is married. The covenant exists when the two elements are there together: covenant vows surrounding a covenant union” (For a Glory and a Covering, p. 33).

Thus far the assertions. Why do I believe that the two essential elements in a marriage are sexual union (of the sort that could result in pregnancy) and a publicly recognized covenant? To use the language of the philosophers, these are necessary conditions but not sufficient conditions. A necessary condition means that without it you do not have the thing in question. A sufficient condition means that with it you will have the thing in question, of necessity. Thus the presence of oxygen is a necessary condition for a blazing fire but not a sufficient condition.

You cannot have a marriage without old school heterosexual copulation and you cannot have a marriage without a covenant. Nevertheless you can have a covenant without a marriage and you can have sexual intercourse without a marriage.

If a covenant alone can constitute a marriage, then homosexual marriages are marriages, not mirages. If sexual intercourse alone can constitute a marriage, then a man who has visited every woman in five brothels is married to all of them, and all of them are married to every john who has ever been with them which is absurd. Yet Paul acknowledges that the one flesh union occurs in an encounter with a prostitute, which is why doing so is such a significant sin. “Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh”” (1 Cor. 6:16, ESV). But those Corinthian men who were still visiting temple prostitutes are rebuked and told to stop it and walk away. They are not told that they are actually married to all the women they have been with. They are part of a one flesh union with these women, but are not married to them. They had no business partaking of a one flesh union without marriage, but it has happened now, and the solution is repent and flee. Run away. Two verses later Paul tells these men precisely what to do. Flee fornication (1 Cor. 6:18).

But if sexual union by itself creates a marriage in Gods sight, then a man could continue to visit the prostitute to whom he is now married. A man could continue to maintain and visit his mistress and so on. This is not what repentance looks like, and because repentance looks like breaking it off entirely, we see that sexual union by itself does not constitute a marriage.

So what is my basis for saying that a covenant is also necessary? The answer is simple the Bible teaches that a mans wife is his wife by covenant. “But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant” (Mal. 2:14, ESV). This is speaking of men who were being treacherous to the terms of that covenant, but it speaks of the marriage relationship as having been established by covenant. The same thing is true of a treacherous wife. “Which forsaketh the guide of her youth, And forgetteth the covenant of her God” (Prov. 2:17). Marriages are formed by covenant, and they are a covenant that surrounds an inaugural act of heterosexual intercourse, to be followed by many more such acts.

If a personal covenant between persons sans sex were sufficient to establish a marriage, then David and Jonathan were married (1 Sam. 18:3). If sexual activity of any description between two persons is sufficient to establish a marriage, then this world would be a literal pandemonium of marital relations. But Paul tells men to flee the prostitutes, which ought not to be understood as fleeing your wives.

Now a covenant is a solemn bond and it is publicly enforceable. Covenants have sanctions. When Billy is whispering to Suzy in the back seat of a car that he will love her forever and a day, that is not a covenant. That is what Suzys mother described, later that same evening, as a sweet-talking lie. A covenant is made in the public eye, and the surrounding society stands to witness to the terms of the covenant and to ensure that it will be kept. Different cultures have different customs that establish a covenant bond God once made a covenant with Abraham by cutting animals in two and passing between the pieces. We dont have to do that at our weddings. The particular form the marital covenant takes does not matter what matters is that the society within which the covenant is being established recognizes the speech/act in question (I now announce that  you are husband and wife) and recognizes any attendant symbols (with this ring I thee wed). Other societies can accomplish the same reality with a different set of words and symbols. That is fine. What has to be constant, however, is the fact of sexual intercourse and the mutual and public obligation of both parties to each other.

What about Adam and Eve? Were they married by this definition? Yes, they became one flesh (Gen. 2:21), and their union was recognized by the whole world. In fact, at their wedding, the entire human race was present. Moreover, their union was the paradigmatic union for all subsequent marriages, meaning their union had to be a marriage as well (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:5).

So then, what business does the magistrate have in all of this? There are three aspects to this answer. The first concerns what ought to be when a society is well-ordered in the sight of God. The second concerns what the church ought to do when they are ministering in a culture that is not at all well ordered. And the third has to do with the current propensity of many Christians to give up the good fight far too early.

First, one of the most obvious things about sexual intercourse is that, while it is much more than just an economic transaction, it is also at least that an economic transaction. Feminists have made cheap points off of this reality by describing marriage as glorified prostitution. Actually, the comparison runs the other way prostitution is a gross parody of marriage.

Marriage is a sublime and wonderful thing, but there are monetary realities necessarily involved in it. Urgent young men with screaming hormones and medium-sized paper route need to be told that a woman is expensive, son. We even get our word economy from the Greek word for household.

Sex necessarily involves issues of property and custody of children, and inheritance, and houses, and cars, and so on. These things cannot be separated from the way God designed sex to function. Marriage therefore needs to be recognized by the magistrate so that everybody beforehand has a good grasp of how these things are going to be adjudicated. We need to agree on the rules beforehand. We need to understand what the weights and measures actually are. I would rather abandon the language of marriage licenses as though the state has the authority to tell John and Mary, an ordinary couple, whether or not they can get married. But we need something like marriage registrations, and the magistrate has the authority to refuse to receive or file them under certain circumstances (non licet), as when a brother and sister try to file one, or two homosexuals, or a man and his llama.

What does and does not constitute a well-thought-out sexual union is very much in the interest of the civil magistrate because the magistrate will have to sort out the ones that were not well-thought-out also. Should a one-night-stand biological father have to pay child support? How about if she lied to him and said that her tubes had been tied? How about if they agreed beforehand that she would have an abortion if she needed to, and then she changed her mind? Should a husband have the right to veto an abortion, contra Roe v. Wade? Whenever men and women have sex, they are betting with real money. Disputes will inevitably arise. Since the magistrate is authorized by God to deal with all property issues (Rom. 13:4,9), the magistrate therefore has a solemn obligation before God to know what a real marriage is. The magistrate is the one, the only one, who can effectively police the property-related boundaries of a sexual union.

The second thing is that of course the church should supply whatever accountability they can when the culture has abandoned its appointed role. But this will always be a makeshift affair. Suppose you have a society where slaves are not legally permitted to marry, but a Christian man and woman who are slaves want to marry. It is appropriate for them to exchange vows in the eyes of the church, and for the church to bless their sexual union. But if that man later abandons his wife and children, and runs away, and the most the church can do is excommunicate him, there are still injustices that need to be rectified and which only the magistrate is authorized to fully rectify. When men and women wrong each other with marriage as the instrument of their sin, there are certain things that cannot be put right unless physical coercion is involved. The church does not have, and ought not to have, that kind of power. The magistrate does, and under such circumstances ought to wield it. And when the magistrate acts in coercion, we should all want their standard to be biblical. Otherwise, everybody is hosed.

This means that when the church sets up covenant marriages, over against our current same sex parodies, as we ought to be doing, we may only do this as a testimony against the magistrate abandoning his God-given function, and we should do this as a way of calling the magistrate back to his duties. If the church acquiesces in the idea that marriage is merely a matter of private, religious conviction, then this only means that the church has joined the magistrate in the general dereliction.

And last I will be brief with this one to have as many Christians as we have in this country throwing up their hands in despair, saying that maybe the definition of marriage is not a concern of the magistrate anyway, is a testimony to our loser eschatology. Loser eschatology is a particular kind of future orientation that pampered Christians have developed for themselves but the only thing that ever gets fulfilled is its own prophecies, tailor-made for all Christians who have no stomach for a fight. But nothing biblical gets fulfilled by them.

Share on Facebook211Tweet about this on Twitter22Share on Google+1Share on Reddit0Email this to someone

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive, off-topic, or semi-Pelagian.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

52 thoughts on “Betting With Real Money

  1. We dont have to, but Id love to go to a wedding with half a cow in the brides section and the other half in the grooms. It would certainly highlight the sanction aspect of the covenant.

  2. Could you clarify that you are making the assumption, based on Pauls instruction to flee fornication, that one-flesh union does not always = marriage?
    Youre saying take it that if Paul thought it marriage, Paul would say to stay in it?

  3. the Lord was witness Malachi 2:14

    You have proved that God is the required witness, but not that societal witness or formal ratification is anywhere biblically required.

    Also Malachi 2 says Judah hath married the daughter of a strange god and needed to flee that marriage back to the wife of his youth.

  4. Not mirage

    God recognized Judahs marriage to other gods.
    Was that marriage by covenant? yes.
    Was it by sexual union? no, but another.

    What covenant? = mutually agreed behavior.
    What union? = cleaving

    We are called by God to recognize homosexual covenant cleaving as marriages.

    And we are to prophecy that these marriages must be fled.

  5. Eric S.,

    God didnt recognize Judahs marriage to other gods in the sense that Doug (as I understand him) is defining the term. Marriage in the context of your passage is a metaphor for idolatry.

    When you say, We are called by God to recognize homosexual covenant cleaving as marriages, for what is marriage a metaphor?

  6. We call the magistrate & churches to recognize only godly marriages, whether between believers or heathens.

    A godly marriage = a mutually agreed (covenantal) cleaving (union) betwixt man & woman.

    Does this necessitate sexual union? no, though it presumes it should occur if it can occur.

  7. You cannot have a marriage without old school heterosexual copulation
    needs clarification & citation

    Is once enough?
    At what point in the relationship must it commence?
    Must the woman be thought to be able to conceive?

    This presumption doth paint you into a corner.

  8. at their wedding, the entire human race was present

    If future offspring constitutes your valid, recognized societal witness then any couple who later having kids passes your test.

  9. If a personal covenant between persons –sans sex — were sufficient to establish a marriage, then David and Jonathan were married

    Illogical if the state & church are called to formally recognize only godly marriages.

    No sex need occur for godly marriages.

    If it can occur, it should.

  10. Eric, You are asking Pr. Wilson to clarify on a few points so I would ask the same of you. Are you arguing that the men were indeed married to the prostitutes? Given that polygamy was practiced at the time were David and Bathsheba married, did Bathsheba then have two husbands? Why or Why not? Ruth and Boaz certainly cleaved together but they were not married until Boaz took care of the proper procedures (which included settling the issue of the property as a Redeemer which sort of goes along with Pr. Wilsons point about why the Magistrate must be involved in marriages.) Boaz didnt just marry Ruth immediatly he went before the Elders in the gate (i.e. Magistrate) and went through a legal and formal proceeding. If I understand you definition correctly if the cousin had desired to be buy the property and take Ruth along would Boaz have had to divorce her? (They had not consumated their relationship but Id again argue that cleaving had taken place.) Was Lot married to his daughters? Why or Why not?

  11. Hi Jonathan,

    Was Judah married to other gods & Jehovah, or not? what does the Bible say?
    To answer you Of course Israel married itself to prostitutes over and over, to its shame.

    You are asking the Bible and me to spell out legal documentation rulings, when marriage has not such biblical boundaries.

    That is not to say that marriage is just a state of mind.
    Marriage is as marriage does.

    We should recognize (small r) it happening around us, but only Recognize (big R) formally & with much rejoicing when that happening is godly.

  12. I smell a Switcheroo

    You said this:

    First, one of the most obvious things about sexual intercourse is that, while it is much more than just an economic transaction, it is also at least that — an economic transaction.

    Then shortly after said this:

    Marriage is a sublime and wonderful thing, but there are monetary realities necessarily involved in it.

    Later you said this:

    Sex necessarily involves issues of property and custody of children, and inheritance, and houses, and cars, and so on. These things cannot be separated from the way God designed sex to function.

    And then immediately said this:

    Marriage therefore needs to be recognized by the magistrate so that everybody beforehand has a good grasp of how these things are going to be adjudicated.

    So here is where I am getting hung up. Much of the post was arguing that sex is not marriage. Then, when you want to bring in the magistrate, sex/marriage suddenly start getting used interchangeably.

  13. Was Abraham married to his God before he was circumcised?

    Or was this a covenant-affirming recognition ceremony occurring after the fact of his faith his cleaving union his marriage?

  14. I have for a while now wondered when we will be required to have a license to make children. We must get a license or permit for most everything else fishing, building a shed, driving a motorcycle, parking in National Forests, parking in State Forests, handling food and so on I am wondering if the state will indeed require such a license. Since marriage means nothing in the eyes of the state the license will instead be for the creation of children. The case you make is a good one predicated on the biblical standard that the magistrate must have. We do not have that.

  15. Ok Eric, stick with Ruth and Boaz only then. Were they married before Boaz spoke with the cousin that was a closer relative or not? Yes I am trying to hold your feet to the fire because I have no idea what you are arguing for would look like on a practical level. We have Scriptural examples of marriages that dont seem to align with your view but that may be because I am misunderstanding your view which is why I am asking for clarification and bringing in these examples.

    Should the church recognize (small r) polygamous marriages?

  16. Jonathan

    Didnt see your argument showing how Boaz & Ruth were cleaving.

    Leaving father & mother is a sign of dedication for cleaving.
    Was Ruth engaged but not yet married? thats how I take it.
    Cleaving was starting.

  17. The Church is required to recognize (small r) when polygamous, adulterous, incestuous, illegal, home and all marriages are occurring around her and call the folks out of the same.

  18. Doug, Excellent article on this subject. Question: I work in Law Enforcement. When I arrest an individual, I take them to the magistrate. Then the judge adjudicates the matter. When scripture mentions the magistrate, I think of the magistrate I see every day. Should it be stated that within the courts, it is the judge on the bench who is making the economic decision on the matter?

  19. Doug

    You write: You cannot have a marriage without old school heterosexual copulation and you cannot have a marriage without a covenant. If a covenant alone can constitute a marriage, then homosexual marriages are marriages, not mirages.

    What about a case where a guy is paralyzed from the chest down and is consequently unable to engage in old school heterosexual copulation. But theres a woman who wants to marry him and he wants to marry her. But on your definition, that would seem to be an impossibility: They cannot be truly married because they cannot have sexual intercourse.

    Is that the conclusion we ought to draw? Or is this case a legitimate exception, in which the covenant alone does result in the marriage even apart from sexual intercourse? Or ?

  20. John Barach, I would accept that conclusion. I dont think such a couple are married. I think they are clearly friends, and can live together without scandal. And perhaps we should come up with a special category for them (I know, civil unions!), but I would be inclined to just let them be close friends and roommates.

  21. Ok Eric. So then the man that beats his wife (and thus clearly has no love for her) is not married? How do you differentiate real marriages from scams since we cannot read the heart? If things worked perfectly as you think they should what would it look like when a man decided he wanted to marry a woman? Can you give a rough step by step practical guide as to how that should go? I am still trying to understand the practical aspects of what you are arguing for here.

  22. You have to have sex as husband and wife once for it to be legal. Its your analogy, at any time either party could have an annulment.

    On another issue, polygamy means many women. Polygyny is many men. Polygyny is very rare

  23. Jonathan watch the movie Sweet Land.
    Doug recommends it, and so do I.

    No church endorsement or acknowledgment of marriage occurs.
    No magistrate ratification.

    Just sweet marriage.

    Another great story is Isaac & Rebecca.
    Isaac didnt leave his folks physically, but did in his commitment centrality.

  24. How do you differentiate real marriages from scams

    How about get involved in their lives!

    Society, church & state, have an obligation to know their members.

  25. But not all covenants are marriage covenants. David and Jonathans covenant wasnt a marriage covenant (nor was it public). Cannot we say that marriage is a marriage covenant that needs to be between a male and female. Thus (marriage type) covenant is both necessary and sufficient?

    Granted coitus is part of the agreement of marriage covenants (as are other requirements). Refusal to consummate would be grounds for annulment, but refusal of coitus post consummation would be grounds for divorce. Yet other things are also grounds for divorce because the covenant require them, yet the are not necessary for marriage.

    And while the rare case of paraplegia should not be a defining case, your solution here does not allow them to be intimate in other ways? Paraplegia will affect function but not libido. Even if covenant and coitus are both necessary, surely this case is an exception due to the fallen nature of the world.

  26. Doug, I think your argument is incomplete. For it to go through, youd have to do at least three more things: 1) show that the sort of public recognition necessary for securing and maintaining the social benefits associated with marriage covenants requires that it be the state doing the recognizing; 2) show that the sort of public recognition necessary for securing and maintaining the social benefits associated with these covenants requires an official, one-size-fits-all legal definition of marriage; 3) show that the sort of public recognition necessary for securing and maintaining the social benefits associated with these covenants requires that this definition be distinctively Christian. I doubt all three. So, even if the magistrate is the one, the only one, who can effectively police the property-related boundaries of a sexual union (which I doubt), its not obvious he needs to be right about marriage to do that job. And if he doesnt, then I can agree with your definition of marriage (and do!) without thinking its any business of the magistrate.

    Heres a shorter version of my point: a winning eschatology isnt the same thing as a statist one.

  27. Just to add a little legal history to this (because, hey, thats how I roll), Doug is not making up anything new here. States have long acknowledged the necessity of both a covenant and a sexual union in order to have a marriage. The grounds for annulment under state laws include an invalid covenant (made through fraud or force, for example), or that one of the parties is physically incapable of entering into the married state, and such incapacity continues, and appears to be incurable. The states did not make these requirements up out of thin air. The laws reflected what everyone already knew to be the case.

  28. Doug Very much enjoyed the post. At my peril I need to disagree with you in regard to your comment about a paralyzed man not being able to be truly married to a woman. I certainly understand the academic importance of your marriage definition for it succinctly disallows the current marriage counterfeits while also fitting within what we know about marriage through the Bible and history. However if your rule is strictly applied, as with the paralyzed man, it can lead to great cruelty. To say a man cannot marry a woman because of deformity or accident can be extremely cruel to a couple who truly wants marriage and holds to marriage in all other respects. Reasonable exceptions in our thinking must be made to avoid obviously cruel results. And yes, I realize you could make my identical argument about homosexuality. That said, we should also avoid making exceptions that completely swallow the rule and are obviously counter to the principal. God gives us wisdom for a reason and tells us to seek it for purposes such as this. To dismiss the obviously foolish argument and embrace the wise argument. This kind of theological cruelty, where the rule must be observed, regardless of the inequitable result, makes it hard for me to go to church sometimes, because of its rank folly. Your two sentence marriage definition is quite good and useful and if asked the definition of marriage, is what I would quote. But the complete definition of the institution of marriage, the symbol of God and the church, cannot be as simple as two sentences, given the complexity with which God creates.

  29. On another issue, polygamy means many women. Polygyny is many men. Polygyny is very rare

    Nope. Polygamy is many spouses without further definition. Polygyny is many wives. Polyandry is many husbands.

  30. John Barachs question about the marriage of a man unable to have intercourse is a good one, and I think Doug is going to have to be careful about saying such a man cannot enter into marriage because of that.

    What if the man were already married and then suffered such an accident? Cause for divorce?

    What if after decades of fruitful marriage, a woman suffers from dementia and is no longer able to be companionable to her husband? Can they remain married? Or do they drop into Dougs netherworld of civil union?

    Because if they are no longer capable of being married, Pat Robertsons point about divorce in these kinds of cases makes a twisted sort of sense.

  31. What if the man were already married and then suffered such an accident? Cause for divorce?

    I didnt read Dougs response that way, and maybe he can clarify, but I read his response to the paraplegic question as If he was paralyzed prior to the marriage. Since the couple then could not consummate the union, could not become one flesh, there would be no marriage.

    This does not apply in the case of a married couple where one becomes paralyzed or suffers dementia, because they had already consummated the union, presumably, so no cause for divorce.

  32. What is it about sex that makes it so consequential to marriage?

    Is it the context of fruitfulness having children? Not in the first degree.

    Gods wedding promise to us, however, does make us rejoice that we will be numerous through offspring.

    But that is the consequence of the sex He has with us, the bride.
    The first reason He for this relationship is intimacy.

    He loves us & desires to have a marriage relationship of trust & enjoyment cleaving.

  33. I imagine Im far too late with this comment for Doug to notice and respond, but optimistic guy that I am (even with my loser eschatology), I thought Id give it a shot. Two questions:

    1) Does this mean that people who cant have sex (genital mutilation of some sort, paralyzation, etc) cannot be married, since a necessary condition has not been met?

    2) How does this argue particularly for the magistrate to recognize only true marriage? Seems most of the civil and legal issues could be dealt with by the magistrate if they recognized same-sex mirage as well.

  34. could not consummate the union

    Not true unless sexual intercourse were the only means of consummation.

    Fortunately there are many means to sexual intimacy.

  35. Greg,

    Regarding the statement: “physically incapable of entering into the married state, and such incapacity continues, and appears to be incurable.”

    Legally, at least in Idaho, this would be grounds for annulment. Which is not the same thing as necessitating annulment.

    There is another problem with attempting to use a legal argument to support this position. If we consider all the various GROUNDS OF ANNULMENT statutes, across the nation, we would find many that are clearly inconsistent with biblical standards.

  36. Sexual intimacy = the type the full, naked, unreserved love from and to God = antitype.

    Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee I am my beloveds, and his desire is toward me

    If our human man-woman relationship demonstrates this cleaving it doesnt matter if the sex cant be intercourse.

  37. The marriage promise was to Abraham & his seed.
    The first thing to do? remove his penis.

    Its not about having intercourse its about having cleaving = intimacy (love), exclusivity, transparency (nakedness).

  38. Wow, things have come to a pretty pass when an attempt to define marriage results in so much commentary. Its a worry. Generations behind us seem to have had no trouble with defining marriage.

    We may have to leave the task to a future, clear headed generation.

    Good post, Doug. Keep ploughing.

  39. I just read several chapters about impediments to marriage in Robert Kingdons and John Wittes book Sex, Marriage and Family in John Calvins Geneva. One impediment was the inability to have sex. If a man could not have sex. He could not marry. If a man was found to have lied about his ability to perform the marriage could be annulled. If a man refused to have sex with his wife the marriage could be annulled. No sex. No marriage. Pastor Wilson is in good company with his quote about the paralyzed man. The reason for this was the necessity of sexual union for marriage and for procreation. If the reason for his inability occurred after marriage, such as castration in battle, the marriage remained due to the vows (in sickness and in health). This is also why other forms of sexual release, such as oral sex, would not count as marriage for the Reformers. They cannot produce children.

  40. A quick clarification on the above comment. If the man refused to initially have sex with his wife it was grounds for annulment. As someone else said, a later refusal to continue having sex would be a different issue.

  41. And Doug, your requirement of an oath for full incorporation of Jesus folk there is also consistent with requiring intercourse in marriage and confirmation before communion.

    But I praise God that last one you have abandoned!