(What follows is based on the teaching of John Stott, Issues Facing Christians Today, 4th ed., 359ff)
Marriage is a divine institution, founded on the natural distinction between male and female, Gen 2:24.
Marriage serves a number of purposes: control of procreation, Gen 1:28 Ps 127:3,5, creation of a stable environment for child-rearing, Pr 5:16-17; mutual support, Gen 2:20-22.
In marriage, two people become one, Mt 19:5-6.
Marriage is honourable, Heb 13:4, but so is the unmarried state, Mt 19:11-12 1 Cor 7.
Marriage is to be modelled after the relationship between Christ and his church, Eph 5:21-30.
Marriage is a life-long covenant, to be broken only by death, Mt 19:3-12.
In the Old Testament
Ge 2:24 – the nearest thing the Bible comes to defining marriage. ‘A marriage exists in God’s sight when a man leaves his parents, with a view not merely to living apart from them but to “cleaving” to his wife, and becomes one flesh with her.’
‘It is increasingly recognised that development as a human being necessitates a measure of emotional separation from parents, and that, as Dr Jack Dominion has put it, “the failure to achieve a minimum of emotional independence is one of the main causes of marital breakdown.”’
A definition of marriage based on Gen 2:24 might be: ‘Marriage is an exclusive heterosexual covenant between one man and one woman, ordained and sealed by God, preceded by a public leaving of parents, consummated in sexual union, issuing in a permanent supportive partnership, and normally crowned by the gift of children.’
Deut 24:1-4 is the only OT passage which refers to grounds or procedures for divorce.
In the New Testament
Marriage was preceded by a betrothal which … meant the solemn pledging of the couple, each to the other, and was so binding that to break it divorce proceedings were necessary. At the conclusion of the betrothal period the marriage took place … The bridegroom and his friends made their way in procession to the bride’s house. This was often done at night, when there could be a spectacular torchlight procession. There were doubtless speeches and expressions of goodwill before the bride and groom went in procession to the groom’s house, where the wedding banquet was held … The feast was prolonged, and might last as long as a week.’ (Leon Morris, Commentary on John)
1. He endorsed the permanence of marriage. Instead of giving the Pharisees a direct answer to their question about divorce, he spoke to them about marriage. He referred them back to Gen 1:27 and Gen 2:24, asserting that human sexuality was a divine creation and that marriage was a divine ordinance. The marriage bond is therefore more than a human contract: it is a divine yoke. The permanency of marriage does rely on fluctuating human experience (“I love you … I don’t love you any more”) but in the word of God (’the two will become one flesh’).
2. He declared the Mosaic provision of divorce to be a concession to human sinfulness. See the Pharisees’ second question, v7. The Mosaic law cannot therefore be taken as God’s approval of divorce. The Rabbis failed to distinguish between God’s will and his provision for human sinfulness. ‘Human conduct which falls short of the absolute command of God is sin and stands under the divine judgement. The provisions which God’s mercy has designed for the limitation of the consequences of man’s sin must not be interpreted as divine approval for sinning.’ (Cranfield)
3. He called marriage after divorce “adultery.” See Mt 5:32; 19:9; Mk 10:11-12; Lk 16:18.
4. He permitted divorce and remarriage on the sole ground of immorality (porneia). Both Mt 5:32 and 19:9 contain an ‘exceptive clause’. This should be accepted as an authentic utterance of Jesus. The word porneia is a generic word for sexual infidelity. But divorce under such a circumstance is permissible, not mandatory.