Monday, August 6, 2012

Marriage and the New Creation

This afternoon I picked up J. Louis Martyn's Galatians commentary to prepare for my sermon on Sunday. I flipped over to his section on Galatians 3:28 since I thought this might serve as a great foundation for the direction of my sermon topic. As I kept reading through Martyn's note on the verse, I was surprised to find him discussing marriage in light of this verse. I can't remember ever talking about marriage on this blog in the past, but Martyn's writing on the topic in light of the new creation really struck me as quite radical. I'm not sure what to do with it, but it simply can't be ignored. The excerpt is quite long, but I should quote it here before offering my thoughts and questions:
Pondering the matters of sexual differentiation and family, one recalls that the Jesus traditions in the synoptic gospels show a remarkable tension. One the one hand, when asked about divorce, Jesus uses the ancient and widespread argument based on the structure of creation. Drawing on the book of Genesis, he says:
From the beginning of creation [there was no divorce] God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mothers and be joined to his wife ... (Mark 10:6-7; NRSV; Gen 1:27; 2:24)
On the other hand, when told that his biological mother and brothers are outside the crowded house in which eh is teaching, Jesus is far from presupposing the creational basis of sexuality and marriage. On the contrary, he refers to what one might call the new-creational family:
And he replied "Who are my mother and my brothers?" And looking at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and my sister and my mother" (Mark 3:33-35; NRSV).
The traditions about Jesus find him arguing both on the basis of creation and on the basis of the gospel's power to bring about a new creation - the eschatological family - and between these two kinds of arguments there is a discernible tension.
One can sense a similar tension in Paul's letters, if one takes them as a whole. In Rom 1:18-32 Paul uses an argument explicitly based on creation, drawing certain conclusions from "the things [God] has made" in "the creation of the cosmos" (Rom 1:10). In effect, Paul says in this passage that God's identity and the true sexual identity of human beings as male and female can both be inferred from creation.
What a different argument lies before us in Gal 3:26-29; 6:14-15! Here the basis is explicitly not creation, but rather the new creation in which the building blocks of the old creation are declared to be nonexistent. If one were to recall the affirmation "It is not good that the man should be alone" (Gen. 2:18), one would also remember that the creational response to loneliness is married fidelity between man and woman (Gen 2:24; Mark 10:6-7). But in its announcement of the new creation, the apocalyptic baptismal formula declares the erasure of the distinction of male from female. Now the answer to loneliness is not marriage, but rather the new-creational community that God is calling into being in Christ, the church marked by mutual love, as it is led by the Spirit of Christ (Gal 3:28b; 5:6, 13, 22; 6:15).
A tension between new-creational argument and creational argument is not to be found, however, within Galatians itself. In writing to his church in Corinth, for example, Paul will negotiate the relation between new creation and creation by advising married people to be married as though not being married (1 Cor 7:29). For the Galatians he provides no such finesse. Indeed, in writing to the Galatians Paul avoids two things. He does not demonstrate the tension that can be seen between a creational argument and a new-creational one. And, correspondingly, he does not provide a way of relating the one to the other, as though in some manner new creation could be added to creation. Here he argues uncompromisingly on the basis of God's new creation.
The result of such a radical vision and of its radical argumentation is the new-creational view of the people of God harmonious with the one we have seen in Comment #37. Just as, in Galatians 5:13-14, the need to surmount loneliness is now met not by marriage, but rather by the loving mutuality enacted in the new creation, the church of God, so the corresponding need to belong to a coherent community is not met by the making of a people ethnically and religious differentiated from other peoples, but rather by the community of that new creation that God is calling into existence in Christ throughout the whole of the world. Thus, this corporate people is determined to no degree at all by the religious and ethnic factors that characterized the old creation (5:6; 6:15). This people is determined solely by incorporation into the Christ in whom those factors have no real existence (380-382).
I'm not even sure where to begin with my thoughts and questions, but I'll give it my best shot. First, I've given a lot of thought to my theology of marriage and what the covenant of marriage means in light of the Gospel. I'm convinced that in many ways, some of which I am probably not fully aware, my theology of marriage is more influenced by American ideals of romance rather than the reality of the new creation existing in Christ. I don't know if I will ever get married, but as a single person these questions are important for me to ask as I think it isn't appropriate for Christians to assume the norm is marriage and the exception is singleness in light of the Gospel.

Second, I was raised in the church and have attended various well-known evangelical institutions. Marriage is glorified, for better or for worse, in both the church and evangelicalism as a whole. I'm confident that most would not disagree with me when I say that it is not uncommon for Christians to believe that the norm for a theology of marriage is based upon a creational model as Martyn outlines above. And I always hear Christians trying to explain aware the radical elements of Paul that Martyn mentions in the Corinthians passage as if Paul was not really with the general ethos of the biblical witness and Paul can only be trusted for a theology of marriage when he speaks positively about it (Galatians 5, for example). So there is never even real discussion about a possible tension that Martyn talks about between a creational argument and a new-creational argument in relation to marriage. The tension between the two that you find in Jesus' words within the Gospel narratives and Paul in his epistles is bad enough when trying to think about what marriage might look like. What does marriage even mean when you have a tension between the two? And how are married people, if they are following Paul's teachings, supposed to act as if they are not married? Seriously?

But if you just turn to Galatians alone, as Martyn does here, that already seemingly impossible tension for the existence of marriage doesn't even exist anymore. There is no longer this tug of war between creation and new creation. In Paul's vision, there is now only new creation. And Martyn is right to call this "radical." So what would marriage look like in the new creation? Moreover, would it even exist? And for the community of believers who are in Jesus Christ and called to witness to the Gospel, are we not to witness to this new creation, however feebly, in our very lives? 

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts about this.


Rod said...

"I think it isn't appropriate for Christians to assume the norm is marriage and the exception is singleness in light of the Gospel"


This---> "Marriage is glorified, for better or for worse, in both the church and evangelicalism as a whole."

I could not agree more with these statements. Marriage (more like the Idea of marriage and a great big Wedding) have become idols in the U.S. American republic. I just have to *SMH* everytime I am told I am not a complete person because I'm single. Sigh.

Your thoughts on the radical break between the old creation and the New Creation and marriage remind me a lot of Bonhoeffer in his Ethics. Good stuff.

Julie said...

Very interesting post! Thanks for sharing this quotation. I don't feel like I've reached clarity about these questions yet, but you've articulated them well. Definitely something to mull over further! Thanks again.

Matthew Frost said...

I agree: you have good taste in material and you've put the problem well. I've been wrestling with this in CD III.1 and III.4 lately, and I have to fall back on function and purpose. This is what I've got so far:

Functional, procreative sex-complementarity is part of the good creation; it would be hard to argue that creatures (all creatures; we share the sex-complementarity in common with the whole animal creation in Genesis 1) could be called good and commanded to reproduce ourselves and fill the land with life if we could not in fact do so. But the created nature of humanity as functionally and reproductively male-and-female in Gen 1 is quite different from the logic of reunification of sundered parts in Gen 2, which is used as an aetiology for marriage. Genesis 1 doesn't have a humanity of "one flesh"—it has a humanity of one nature that is two in its kind. And it has no marriage at all. This is why Barth starts talking about Mitmensch as being basically sex-complementary (well, this and the fact that sex and gender are an uncomplicated unity in his mind, when what he is really emphasizing is gender-complementarity across the gendered line separating self from other).

"Marriage," if we're going to use a term not actually present in the texts, is a means of blessing and ruling the procreative union. And it is blessed in Genesis 2 precisely as a means of re-presenting and re-producing the original Adamic human being. When we do this, the text says, when we feel as Man felt about the one he named Woman, we are recognizing and reproducing something of original creation, something in which there is no shame.

But this is not an all-purpose ultimate teleological good! In fact, it is not a good at all. Marriage here is not a value, but a format for the preservation of a value. Nor is it Christian, nor does it specify any form other than a man recognizing and claiming his woman, leaving his parents, and becoming a parent with her in their own right, perpetuating the cycle. It is a normative moral claim about the right regulation of human sexual desire toward stable procreative relationships.

If you are not pursuing this value, in this normative framework, you have no need of this normative form. Which implies nothing about your humanity, just your choice of moral ends. And that's where I see Paul. If you can live as one whose moral end is not procreation, you've got plenty of time for more pressing eschatological work. If you're not cut out for chastity, there's still no shame in marriage, which reproduces a created good. But in Christ the nature of humanity is not Adamic re-production and re-presentation. Our telos has changed. Our nature is Christic re-production and re-presentation.

So I think Paul is "with the general ethos of the biblical witness," but he's also doing dogmatics within the community defined by that witness—to God, not to any single moral code. Dogmatics and ethics look different in the wake of Grenzfälle, because the situation has changed. God has changed it. We forget this when we try to write a single uniform canon of moral law from scripture: it's chock full of God-given changes of situation, and human adjustments to them.

Aric said...

Hey, long time lurker here. Love this blog by the way.

My two cents: I think the answer to your primary question, "what would marriage look like in the new creation" is answered precisely the perhaps paradoxical statement made by Paul in 1 Cor 7:29, that "they that have wives be as though they had none".

And I think the whole "Seriously?" response here is totally appropriate. What does this even mean?

Well, maybe if we read on we can better understand:

"And they that weep, as thought they wept not, and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy as thought they possessed not; And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away."

Remaining married as though one were not married is akin to weeping as though not weeping, or better, buying as though not possessing. The act in and of itself remains a reality, but the way in which the act is understood is radically transformed. Why buy something, after all, if not to possess it?

And here we get at the crux of the teaching, (and it's so obvious as if to seem annoying!) namely, a hermeneutic of agape or selflessness that characterizes "new-creation" distinct from "creation".

In the creation model of marriage, marriage is an intrinsically possessive contract; not so in the new creation. Marriage continues, but the bodies of each spouse belong not to themselves (1 Cor 6:19, 1 Cor. 7:4) but rather to the other. Marriage still exists, but it is fundamentally transformed.

This selflessness is characteristic of the new-creation, it is at the heart of the Church and right communion amongst believers.

And the radical-ness still remains! New-creation is radical precisely because it takes creation and transforms it rather than doing away with it.

This narrative of transformation (or perfection) from a "creation" to a "new creation" may sound familiar…

Kait Dugan said...

Aric, I really like a lot of what you said here especially about the dispossessive posture that is enacted in marriage and the agape love that orients it. I'm not sure what word I would want to qualify the move from creation to new creation. I don't think it is a perfection of sorts, but rather a radical death and rebirth of sorts. As such, I'm wondering if "transformation" goes far enough. But these are just off-the-cuff remarks. Again, I appreciate a lot of what you said and think it really hits the mark.

Kristen said...

I liked this so much that I featured it on "Christian Egalitarian Marriage."

Don said...

I think you are taking some verses out of context.

FWIIW, I am a member of Christians for Biblical Equality, so I agree with some of the ideas presented, just not how you got there.

In Matt 19, Jesus is being asked a specific question, whether the Hillel "Any Matter" divorce is in Torah, as this was a current debate at the time of Jesus. See David Instone-Brewer's books on marriage and divorce for details. This question can be seen as a question of license: does Deu 24:1 imply that a husband can divorce his wife for reasons of sexual immorality, which is what Shammai taught; or is there also an additional reason of "Any Matter" (that is, for any reason or no reason at all) which is what Hillel taught? (Shammai and Hillel were 2 sages of the Pharisees who lived just before Jesus' time. However, there were other things that the Pharisees taught beyond this. Jesus goes out of his way to correct seven misinterpretations of Torah by the Pharisees, including answering the one he was asked. It is a question of license as they are asking if Scripture gives a husband a "get out of marriage" card that he might get to play at any time. Before Jesus answers this question, he needs to correct some other fundamental misunderstandings they have, so that his answer will not be misunderstood. In this case, Jesus goes back to the Creation stories to point out that God's best is monogamy, not polygamy, as he is removing all of the asymmetries in marriage that men had given themselves.

In 1 Cor 7, Paul is asked a very different question, it is a question of legalism, should believers just stop having sex (using the euphemism of "not touch a woman). This is an ascetic question and is related to the ideas of Greek philosophy claiming that the ideal is good and the material is bad (which is not true according to Scripture, btw). The point is this goes beyond Scripture in the opposite direction from the question asked in Matt 19.

For any question of legalism, it is always possible that an individual will decide to "make a fence around Torah" for themselves in order to avoid breaking a commandment. For example, a believer is not to get drunk and some believers go further, they decide they will not drink any alcohol at all; this is fine for them to choose for themselves. Paul is doing a similar thing in 1 Cor 7, but there are more wrinkles involved.
In the specific verses at the end, he is pointing out that IF someone decides to not get married, this can actually work out to allow them to have more time to advance the Kingdom of God, so it can be seen as a good thing and not some sort of a choice that makes one "less than". But it is also not for everyone, but for those given the gift of celibacy, but no one should be required to live the life of a celibate if they are not given the gift.

Because Jesus and Paul are answering different questions from different ways of disrespecting what Scripture teaches, their answers can APPEAR to conflict, when really they do not.

As for Galatians, it is not the case that now that Christ has come, males and females distinctions cease to exist, it is that IN CHRIST such distinctions do not matter, but they still exist in Creation, just as Jews and gentiles still exist in Creation. It is true in the new creation, there appears to be no need for sexual reproduction as there will not be marriage. But that does not necessarily mean that the loving relationship that a couple has in a marriage is taken away, rather it will be added to and expanded. That is, today we are practicing for the reality that will be tomorrow.

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