Ask Ivor

Jim:

"Comment on the relationship between husbands and wives as presented in the Bible, in this life and in Heaven."

The first chapter of the first book of the Bible describes God's creation of male and female, and his instruction to the first man and woman to "be fruitful and increase in number" (Ge 1:28).

For too many centuries, too many Christians overemphasized this procreative aspect of marriage. Justin Martyr (100-165 A.D.), for example, claimed that Christians "do not enter marriage for any other reason than to have children."

Sex was considered degrading—Augustine (354-430 A.D.) preached that "there's nothing so powerful in drawing the spirit of man downward as the caresses of a woman."

A woman had only one advantage over a man, felt Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 A.D.)—Eve "was not fit to help [Adam] except in generation, because another man would have proved more effective help in anything else."

Eventually Christians began to reject such thinking about marriage and sex and the sexes, and to return to biblical teachings.

The second chapter of the first book of the Bible introduces this aspect of marriage: "A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh" (Ge 2:24). From about the beginning of the 16th century, this uniting aspect of marriage was elevated over the purely procreative.

Sex was reinterpreted as one of God's gifts. The very sensual and suggestive biblical book Song of Songs no longer had to be "spiritually" understood as an allegory of Christ and the church—it could be accepted for what it was: erotic literature.

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul gives practical sex advice: "The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time" (1Co 7:3-5).

Paul preached equality of the sexes: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28).

Some have misunderstood, and misused, the instruction from Paul which says, "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord" (Eph 5:22). This verse has inspired entirely too much oppression, all because readers fail to digest the instruction three verses later: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." Without sacrificial love from the husband, submission by the wife accomplishes little.

In response to a loaded question asked by some Sadducees, Jesus said, "At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven" (Mt 22:30). In the history of Christianity, numerous Christian thinkers have managed to get around the apparent implications of this statement, and to imagine marriage existing in heaven.