We all know that our world has decided to modify, over the past 60 years or so, the definition of marriage. This gradual redefinition has left it essentially undefined. Oh, yes, we might agree that it's some socially recognized legal contract between spouses that establishes rights and obligations, but it's all very vague. It is no longer, for instance, an actual union as it had been considered for so long because dissolving a union is no small issue but we're quite happy with "no fault divorce". And "monogamy" was all well and good for awhile, but we've headed more toward "monogamish". "Serial monogamy" they call it--one at a time. So we're out on a limb here without a rope and without a genuine, usable definition.

Society is free to define things however they want or, in this case, to undefine them. I, on the other hand, am required to use the Bible as my source document. So what does the Bible offer by way of defining marriage?

First, let's be clear. You will not be able to go to your King James Bible, flip over to "m", and find something like "marriage; noun: 1. the formal union ..." There aren't a lot of entries like that in the Bible. (Read "none".) But in the same way that what the Bible says about the Trinity defines it, what the Bible says about marriage defines it.

So, first entry.

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)

This is the first and standard definition. It is the same one used by Jesus (Matthew 19:6). It is used by Paul (Ephesians 5:31). It is the standard. We have man and wife (male and female) who leave and cleave. Leave family and cleave to one another. Two become one. Clear and obvious.

The second entry in our biblical definition is nearby.

Then the LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him." (Genesis 2:18)

The idea, then, is "a suitable helper". Marriage is designed by God to be for the mutual help of husband and wife.

The third entry in our Bible dictionary is found in a couple of places.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth." (Genesis 1:28)

And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth." (Genesis 9:1)

Did He not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. (Malachi 2:15)

I'm actually quite surprised these days that genuine, Bible-believing Christians, when told that a fundamental purpose in marriage is reproduction, disagree. Now, the disagreement may take different forms, to be sure. "It's no longer the case." "Well, what about marriages that don't have children?" That sort of thing. But I cannot fathom how the clear statements of Scripture here could be construed to mean "No, it is not a basic idea for marriage in the mind of God." It is. Now, to answer the second one because that comes up a lot, both among Christians and the world, we have to keep in mind that having offspring does not define a marriage, but that its intent does, or rather its intent as a norm. If God made them one seeking godly offspring (Malachi 2:15), then there had better be a good reason why they don't have godly offspring. Perhaps it is because God closed the womb (1 Samuel 1:5). Maybe it is a sacrifice for greater service. Maybe. But as the norm, given that God says He makes the union to obtain godly offspring, I would think it obvious that this would be a normal part of marriage and when it is not it would be the exception done for biblical, God-centered reasons.

There is another biblical purpose for marriage.

But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. (1 Corinthians 7:2)

Let's call it "mutual protection". The idea discussed in 1 Corinthians 7 is just that. "So that Satan may not tempt you." (1 Corinthians 7:5). As a righteous outlet for sexual intimacy and a form of mutual support in life's temptations, marriage is designed by God as a bulwark against sexual sin.

One more little tidbit that I recently learned and you might enjoy. In Ephesians 5 we find one of the passages on marriage that produces the most contention among believers. There Paul tells wives to submit to their husbands "as to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:22-24) and husbands to love their wives "as Christ loved the church" (Ephesians 5:25-28). Now, most don't have a problem with the "Husbands, love your wives" part; it's that whole "wives submit" part that grates. But look at the reason. You know Paul gives a reason, right? Maybe you, like me, missed it. Paul gives his definition of marriage (Ephesians 5:31) and then explains, "This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church." (Ephesians 5:32). There it is. God instituted marriage at the very beginning of "man and woman" for this purpose. Oh, sure, it has several components, but the underlying purpose of marriage from God's perspective is to demonstrate to each other and to the world the relationship between Christ and the Church. The Bridegroom and the Bride. The Bible begins with marriage (Genesis 2:24) and ends with marriage (Revelation 19:6-9). This institution ordained by God is designed by God to illustrate Christ's relationship to the Church. As such, husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the Church and, wives, submit to your husbands as the Church submits to Christ. Don't mess that picture up.

Thus, we have a basic structure for a biblical definition of marriage. It is the union of a man and a woman for the purpose of mutual assistance and fellowship, for godly offspring, and for defense against sin. Ultimately, marriage is designed by God as an image of the union of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:31-32). As such, messing with the imagery laid out by God is very unwise. But it would stand to reason that if God designed marriage with these things in mind, it would work best with these things in mind. So, obligated as I am to follow the Word of God, I am obligated to conclude this is God's view of marriage and anything else is not ... even if the judge says otherwise.