Upholding Clarity in an Age of Confusion: The Nashville Statement, Part 3

Flawless Design

Marriage is based on the truth that men and women are complementary, the biological fact that reproduction depends on a man and a woman, and the reality that children need a mother and a father. Redefining marriage does not simply expand the existing understanding of marriage; it rejects these truths.
Ryan Anderson

 

Key point: Marriage cannot function as God intended it to function and bring its manifold benefits to individuals and society if its design is rejected or changed.

 

An abbreviated version of this article is available here.

You can access summaries of all the articles in this series here.

We have been considering The Nashville Statement on Biblical Sexuality. This declaration is critical not only as a statement for Christians within the church, but also as a statement to the world about what human sexuality is, what it should be, and about how people ought to relate to one another, for the good of all.

Biblical Clarity

The Bible speaks without ambiguity about maleness, femaleness, human sexuality, and marriage. Quoting Genesis, Jesus asked the Pharisees, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”?'” (Matt. 19:4-5; Gen. 2:24). As we observed in a previous post,

For what reason, then, shall a man “leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:4-5; Mark 10:6-8)? The answer is clear. It first is stated in Genesis and then restated by Jesus in Matthew and Mark: Because God created human beings as male and female!

God-ordained marriage unites two separate individuals from two separate families into one, new family; and the children the couple produces from their union also are a part of that same family. The family, with man-woman marriage as in integral part of it, was not an afterthought in God’s mind as one of several alternatives for social order in human societies. Rather,

marriage and family have been inscribed by the Divine Architect into the order of Creation. Marriage is ontologically between one man and one woman, ordered toward the union of the spouses, open to children and formative of family. Family is the first vital cell of society, the first government, and the first mediating institution of our social order. The future of a free and healthy society passes through marriage and the family.

Since marriage was established when God first created human beings as male and female, it is appropriate that Article 1 in The Nashville Statement would focus on what marriage is and what it is not.

WE AFFIRM that God has designed marriage to be a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife, and is meant to signify the covenant love between Christ and his bride the church.

WE DENY that God has designed marriage to be a homosexual, polygamous, or polyamorous relationship. We also deny that marriage is a mere human contract rather than a covenant made before God.

The Workings of a Watch Showcase the Brilliance of Design

Many insights can be gleaned from this excellent article, but here I’d like to focus on the word “designed” and its implications. To design is “to create, fashion, execute, or construct according to [a] plan.”

To better understand and appreciate what it means to design something, we should take a close look at an item that has been designed. A pocket watch is a great example. A three-and-a-half-minute video is available that uses 3-D animation to demonstrate the five elements that make the watch function. Those elements are

  1. energy,
  2. wheels,
  3. escapement,
  4. controller, and
  5. time indicator.

You can view this video here.

As an alternative, the following presentation is just one minute long. While it doesn’t name the parts of a watch, it also uses 3-D animation to visually demonstrate how all the separate pieces work together. Keep in mind the parts work—and so does the watch—because the right components have been created and placed in strategic relationships with one another. In other words, the watch was designed, and built according to the design.

Notice that a builder cannot duplicate some parts and leave others out and expect everything to work smoothly—or at all. Nor can he or she put the parts together “any old way.” The design must be followed for the item to function as it should.


A watchmaker cannot duplicate some parts and leave others out and expect everything to work smoothly—or at all. Nor can he or she put the parts together “any old way.” The design must be followed for the timepiece to function as it should.


Divine Design

How can we realize these things about mechanical items but miss parallel principles with regard to marriage? God’s design is perfect! Marriages don’t always function as they should, but this is because of human imperfection and sin, not because of the design!


God’s design is perfect! Marriages don’t always function as they should, but this is because of human imperfection and sin, not because of the design!


The One who created human beings as male and female established marriage as a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman. He did this, not to frustrate, but to benefit—to benefit the couples directly involved, their children, and society at large.

Inherent in God’s design for marriage is the complementarity of men and women, who are alike in that both are human beings, yet different from one another in a variety of ways, including physically, emotionally, relationally, and mentally (go herehere, herehere, and here). For example, male and female brains are different. And it isn’t just Christians who recognize these differences. Moreover, it’s noteworthy that male-female differences are the source of a great deal of humor.

The writers of two blockbuster television sitcoms—I Love Lucy and Everybody Loves Raymond, used these differences as a basis for countless episodes.

From the Very Start

The differences between men and women provide wonderful advantages for a couple and their children. We see these benefits underscored even at the beginning of time. Genesis 2:18 indicates the first man and the first woman were suitable partners.

And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”

The New International Version renders the verse this way.

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

“Suitable helper” is the typical English translation of the Hebrew phrase

‘ēzer kenegdô, 

says Old Testament scholar and seminary professor Dr. Daniel Kim. In a thorough discussion about the best way to translate the phrase, and consequently the entire verse, Dr. Kim reaches this conclusion.

I suggest a meaningful translation of Gen. 2:18 in today’s context might be: “I will make for him a helper, as one who is his counterpart.”  There are other methods by which one can convey the right meaning, such as shifting word order, using other synonyms, or even employing more words. Some examples are: “I will make a helper for him, one who is his perfect match,” or, “I will make a counterpart for him, one who is able to help in his time of need.”

You can explore a few of the linguistic and interpretative considerations that led Dr. Kim to reach this conclusion here. Yet, as helpful as they are, even these renderings don’t convey all the ideas the Hebrew words do, and that’s why we need scholars and teachers who can explain the depth of meanings represented in various passages of Scripture. In addition, in this instance in particular, they can help us come to appreciate in new and fresh ways how God designed marriage and how, when we follow His plan, countless people benefit.

Unfortunately, society has rejected God’s model for marriage, and it even is denying obvious realities in nature and in the human experience about what it means to be male or female. The church needs to rediscover God’s design for marriage, appreciate it anew, and encourage society at large also to understand and appreciate its benefits.

Parallels

Returning once more to the watch illustration, we repeat what we said earlier about  its design: A watch maker cannot duplicate some parts of the watch and leave others out and expect everything to work smoothly—or at all. Nor can he or she put the parts together “any old way.” The design must be followed for the watch to function as it should.

Against the backdrop of a functioning mechanical watch, we now will note four parallel traits that are true of both the watch and of marriage.

First, the parts fit together. Gear teeth interlock. Hubs hold wheels and gears in their proper places. Springs have the necessary space to be tightened and to loosen as the watch carries out its planned function. A husband and wife also fit together. We see this most obviously in the physical realm, but it also is true on a multitude of other levels as well. In neither the watch nor in marriage are the players or parts identical, but they are compatible.

Second, the parts work together to accomplish a positive purpose. Gears turn with other gears; springs tighten and then unwind slowly, and hands move because they perform their functions in harmony with all the other parts. Likewise, in a marriage as it was designed to function, a husband and his wife also work together. These beautiful words from Ecclesiastes 4 come to mind. While friendship is one context for these verses, marriage is the most fitting scenario. Note that verse 12 hints at God’s role in strengthening the couple’s partnership.

Two are better than one,
Because they have a good reward for their labor.
10 For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.
But woe to him who is alone when he falls,
For he has no one to help him up.
11 Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm;
But how can one be warm alone?
12 Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him.
And a threefold cord is not quickly broken (Eccl. 4:9-12).

Third, as the parts work together, they also work against each other—not in an adversarial way, but in a way that enhances the function and role of each, as well as the overall performance of the larger item of which they are parts. How have we missed this? Because of the differences between components, each one is able to fulfill its role of pushing, prodding, nudging, and halting various other parts when actions like these are necessary. In marriage, we see this in that the husband and wife counterbalance each other when needed. Consider this pivotal scene from the move Rocky II. Rocky is lethargic and unmotivated to train for his upcoming fight with Apollo Creed, but then his wife Adrian comes out of her coma, they see their baby together, and…

A Lesson Arising from Article 1

To these three observations we now add a fourth. This is the insight we dare not miss! It’s a principle inherent in Article 1 of the Nashville Statement. We must resolve to find positive ways to share it with society at large.

Just as the most effective way to ruin a watch would be to reject or to try to reshape or redefine its design, the most effective way to ruin marriage is to reject, alter, and/or redefine its design.


Just as the most effective way to ruin a watch would be to reject or to try to reshape or redefine its design, the most effective way to ruin marriage is to reject, alter, and/or redefine its design.


It isn’t hateful or unloving to declare this. Rather, withholding the information would be unloving.

How fitting, then, that the first article in The Nashville Statement reaffirms and upholds God’s flawless design for marriage!

Part 4 is available here.

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise marked, Scriptures have been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The passage marked NIV has been taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.