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Marriage (II.)

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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MARRIAGE (II.).—Jesus does not treat of the family from the point of view of the sociologist, but from that of the teacher of religion and morals. The high estimate which He places upon it is to be seen, not alone in His regard for His mother, but more particularly from His use of the institution as His most characteristic analogy for the Kingdom of God. As far as the condition of its future members in the present evil age is concerned, He describes the Kingdom as a social order in which the relationship of men to God is analogous to that of sons to a father; and their relation to each other, therefore, is like that existing between brothers. Jesus also frequently uses figures drawn from marriage customs to illustrate His teaching concerning the coming of the Kingdom. It would be a mistake to see in this use of the paternal and filial relations a survival of that primitive religious concept which made members of a clan the sons of its gods. The usage of Jesus contains no reflexion of such a primitive thought, but rather springs from His high appreciation of marriage as it existed in the conventionalized civilization of the Jews of His day.

1. As an institution Jesus regards marriage as essentially physical, and intended only for the present age. Those who were to share in the blessings of the eschatological Kingdom would neither marry nor be given in marriage, but would be possessed of the non-physical body in the resurrection (Matthew 22:23-30, Mark 12:18-25, Luke 20:27-36). His teaching at this point is not an endorsement of the view that immortality is to be without personal relations, but is rather a relegation of physical relations to physical conditions.

The Sadducees, in their query which gave rise to this teaching of Jesus, raised the question of the levirate marriage. Jesus’ answer does not touch upon that peculiar institution, but deals rather with the nature of marriage itself. He was no social reformer. In all the records of His teaching there is nothing to indicate that He gave to marriage any new social content or custom. Like His Apostles after Him, Jesus accepted marriage as an existing institution which gave rise to practical moral questions. His use of the customs of the time (cf. Matthew 22:2 ff., John 2:1 ff.) was for the purpose of illustration rather than in the way of either approval or disapproval. It follows that Jesus did not look upon marriage as psychical or spiritual. Such transcendental teaching is foreign to the practical temper of Christianity. In its place is the assumption that the family, like all other members of social life, comes within the region of the great commandment of love. Jesus assumes that the father loves the child, and that brothers love each other. Farther than this His discussions do not go, but the inference is imperative that the relations between husband and wife fall within the great teaching of Matthew 5:44-48 quite as truly as other social relations of individuals. If quarrelsome brothers are to be reconciled, most assuredly should there be reconciliation between husband and wife.

2. Marriage as a social institution Jesus regards as of Divine origin. It is one of the primal facts of humanity, established by God before the giving of the Law (Matthew 19:5-6, Mark 10:6-8). Jesus grants that because of the exigencies of social development Moses modified the institution to the extent of permitting and regulating divorce; but such modification Jesus evidently regarded as out of harmony with the institution. According to the original Divine purpose, man and wife were no longer two persons but one flesh. That is, marriage was to be monogamous. Any form of polygamy is thus excluded from His ideal.

It is noteworthy that Jesus in His quotation of Genesis 2:24 does not follow the Heb. reading, in which οἱ δύο of the LXX Septuagint has no equivalent. Polygamy is not excluded by the Hebrew, but is obviously inconsistent with the LXX Septuagint statement, and even more so with the inference drawn from the passage by Jesus. It is from this point of view that one must approach the subject of divorce. (See Divorce).

3. Jesus, however, does not make marriage a supreme good. Rather is it one of those great goods of an imperfect age which are to be subordinated to the supreme good of sharing in the Kingdom of God, i.e. eternal life. Yet at no point is the sanity of His teaching more in evidence than here. He Himself was unmarried, but He never counsels celibacy. He does not even take the mediating position of St. Paul (1 Corinthians 7:7; 1 Corinthians 7:29; 1 Corinthians 7:32-40). In this particular, as in so many others, He is in such opposition to the Essenes of His day as quite to overbalance any of those superficial resemblances which have been discovered between His teaching and the ascetic doctrines of that sect. At the same time, just because marriage, though a good, is one which must pass with the present age, He teaches that in some cases it must be avoided. Matthew 19:12 speaks of those who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven, i.e. who, because of exceptional circumstances, have become celibates. In certain other expressions He distinctly recognizes the necessity for some among His followers to leave their families in the interests of a devotion to His cause (Matthew 18:25, Luke 14:26). These sayings, however, are not to be interpreted as in any way a prohibition of marriage, or as an elevation of the unmarried state to a plane superior to that of marriage. To draw such an inference is to misinterpret the entire tendency of His teaching, and to elevate into a controlling position His recognition of exceptional and particularly difficult situations in which one is compelled to practise a supreme self-sacrifice in order to remain loyal to a supreme ideal. The sayings are to be interpreted in accordance with those others in which Jesus concedes the fact that the family circle is not proof against evil influences—sayings which aroused hostility against His followers (Matthew 10:34 ff., Luke 12:49-53).

The Early Church under the influence of extra-Christian ideals moved along the line suggested by St. Paul towards the approval of the highest state of celibacy. Revelation 14:4 gives the highest honours to those men who have not been married. Clement of Alexandria (Strom. iii. 9. 63) refers to the unauthentic saying of Jesus preserved in the Gospel of the Egyptians, ‘I came to destroy the works of the female.’ Similarly Clement (ib. 16) reports Jesus as having said, ‘Eat every herb, but that which hath bitterness (i.e. maternity) eat not.’

A consideration of this teaching of Jesus leads naturally, therefore, to the genuinely Christian conception of marriage as a relationship which, though in the very nature of the case limited to the physical mode of existence, is yet sacred. The ascetic ideal is thus utterly lacking here as in all the teaching of Jesus, and in its place is to be found all that is normal in the so-called Greek ideal of life, together with the ennobling Christian ideal of love. See, further, Adultery, Celibacy, Divorce.

Literature.—Westcott, Social Aspects of Christianity; Mathews, Social Teaching of Jesus, ch. iv.; Peabody, Jesus Christ and the Social Question, ch. iii.; M. J. Savage, Jesus and Mod. Life, p. 162; W. Cunningham, The Path towards Knowledge, p. 1; cf. also the standard treatises on the teaching of Jesus.

Shailer Mathews.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Marriage (II.)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​m/marriage-ii.html. 1906-1918.
 
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