Should the Government Legislate Marriage?

MarriageThe Supreme Court is hearing arguments for the redefinition of marriage, and many Christians wonder whether or not the government has any business setting the limits of marriage at all.

I don’t believe the institutional church should generally try to formulate specific public policy or identify herself with particular political issues or candidates. But the church is charged with preaching the whole counsel of God and seeking to form Christian conscience around God’s Word. The purpose of this post is briefly to survey what Scripture has to say about the government’s role in legislating the definition of marriage.

1. The government is to make morally good laws.

1 Peter 2:13 says, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.”  Notice that Peter speaks of “doing” evil and good.  The government is not to punish or reward people for good or bad thoughts, or good or bad urges or feelings, but for “doing” good or bad.

Similarly, the apostle Paul says that “rulers are not a terror to good conduct but to bad . . . he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom 13:3-4). Just a few verses later, Paul lists some of the Ten Commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal” (Rom 13:9), showing that he has God’s definition of “good” in mind, while writing this passage.

Governments are, therefore, charged by God with upholding the public “good,” where the word “good” is defined by the Bible itself. Therefore, the government is charged with maintaining social order by punishing evil social conduct and rewarding good social conduct on God’s definition of social good and evil.

2. The biblical definition of marriage applies to the whole human race.

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

God revealed and instituted marriage between one man and one woman immediately after creation. This definition of marriage can’t be said to be for the nation of Israel alone, since Adam and Eve were not Israelites.

In the New Testament, Jesus teaches that the marriage between Adam and Eve was a prototype for all humanity. He said that marriage has been defined this way “from the beginning” (Matt 19:4). Lifelong marriage between one man and one woman is God’s design for all people and all cultures in all times on earth. Therefore, the Bible’s definition of marriage between one man and one woman is biblically “good.”

3. God punished unbelieving Gentiles for their violations of the marriage covenant.

God brought judgment upon the unbelieving cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for their homosexual violations of God’s marriage covenant (Gen 19:1-28; Jude 7). John the Baptist rebuked king Herod (who was not an Israelite) because he had his brother’s wife (Mk 6:17-18). Paul teaches that the Gentiles are guilty for violating God’s marriage laws and for sexual misconduct (Rom 1:26-27; 1 Cor 5:9-10, 13; 6:9). The pagan city of Babylon, mentioned in the book of Revelation, is judged partly because of “sexual immorality” (Rev 18:3-9).

Clearly, God holds unbelieving Gentiles responsible for violating His definition of marriage.  As seen in the first point above, according to Scripture, civil government is charged with punishing wrongdoers and with promoting good, according to God’s definition of good (Rom 13:3-4; 1 Pet 2:13).  Therefore, civil governments should legislate the biblical definition of marriage.