A Christian Vision of Marriage and Family
- Thursday, May 01, 2008
Early in the book, Kostenberger makes an audacious claim: "Our sex does not merely determine the form of our sex organs but is an integral part of our entire being." This flies in the face of the postmodern claim that gender--indeed the very notions of male and female--are nothing more than the product of social construction and ideology. This complementarian arrangement is correctly grounded before the Fall and its consequences.
Yet, Kostenberger gives careful attention to the effect of the Fall and the consequences that follow. Thus, sin and its effects becomes the explanatory principle for all confusion over gender, sexuality, marriage, and the integrity of the family.
In successive chapters, the book moves through a series of special topics, surveying the biblical material and presenting a systematic exposition of the Bible's teachings. The authors balance considerations from both testaments and deal honestly with the biblical narratives concerning biblical characters. Thus, the Patriarchs become examples of faithfulness, even as their own sin and misadventures in marriage and parenting are candidly observed. The authors use a very helpful outline format in setting out the various scriptural passages and their importance to each question. In this sense, they succeed in presenting an integrative model, pulling from a comprehensive reading of the biblical text.
For example, marriage and the roles of both husbands and wives is grounded in Genesis and then traced through the entire Old Testament. Husbands are to love and cherish their wives, to bear primary responsibility for the marriage union and to exercise authority over the family, and to provide the family with necessities for life. The wife, on the other hand, is to present her husband with children, manage her household with integrity, and provide her husband with companionship. Contemporary readers may be shocked by the candor of Kostenberger's presentation, but he grounds his arguments directly in the biblical text. Thus, readers are offered the opportunity to read the critical passages for themselves, and then to understand how Kostenberger framed his argument.
In an interesting section, Kostenberger acknowledges that, within six generations of Adam, the biblical vision of monogamy was at least occasionally compromised by the practice of polygamy. As Kostenberger observes, "While it is evident, then, that some very important individuals (both reportedly godly and ungodly) in the history of Israel engaged in polygamy, the Old Testament clearly communicates that the practice of having multiple wives was a departure from God's plan for marriage." Further, the Bible is clear that individuals in the history of Israel who abandoned God's design of monogamy and participated in polygamy did so contrary to the Creator's plan and ultimately to their own detriment. The sin and disorder produced by polygamy, then, is further testimony to the goodness of God's monogamous design of marriage as first revealed in the marriage of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden."
In light of contemporary confusions, this is a most helpful and accurate clarification. Similarly, Kostenberger deals honestly with the Bible's teachings concerning deviant sexual practices, ranging from homosexuality and adultery to incest.
In another helpful section, Kostenberger differentiates between "traditional" and "biblical" visions of marriage. The traditional vision is deeply rooted in middle-class experience in America. The biblical vision is not dependent upon this traditional model.
Considering the nature of marriage, Kostenberger dismisses the notion of marriage as a sacrament or as a mere contract. Instead, he argues that marriage is rightly understood as a covenant, defined as "a sacred bond between a man and a woman instituted by and publicly entered into before God (whether or not this is acknowledged by the married couple), normally consummated by sexual intercourse." Thus, marriage is not merely a bilateral contract, but is a sacred bond. Moving from marriage to the larger family context, Kostenberger suggests that a biblical definition of family points to the structure constituted by "primarily, one man and one woman united in matrimony (barring death of a spouse) plus (normally) natural or adopted children and, secondarily, any other persons related by blood." Citing Old Testament scholar Daniel Block, Kostenberger identifies the family in ancient Israel as patrilineal, patrilocal, and patriarchal. As Block helpfully suggests, the Old Testament family might best be described as "patricentric." In other words, the family is centered around the father.
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