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Ethics & Religion
Column #1,920
June 6, 2018
(Third in a 3-part series)
"Who Is This Man?"
By Mike McManus

When Jesus was on earth, "Roman laws and social norms were designed to protect the sexual adventures of married men," writes John Ortberg in his outstanding book, Who Is This Man? He quotes a first-century writer: "We have mistresses for our enjoyment, concubines to serve our needs and wives to bear legitimate children."

A married woman who had sex outside her marriage was guilty of adultery. The same rule did not apply to married men - unless he had sex with the wife of another man.

The Roman physician Rufus prescribed sex to adolescents as a cure for melancholia, epilepsy and headaches. In the Greek culture, sexual relationships between adult men and younger boys, aged 12-16, were taken for granted.

Jesus had a quite different idea: "Haven't you read that at the beginning the Creator `made them male and female,' and said, `For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God had joined together, let no one separate."

In effect, Jesus declared marriage Is a God-directed covenant that reflects the "human capacity for self-transcendence and community," Ortberg asserts. "It is a joining of spirit and flesh. It does not serve the state; it precedes the state."

Walter Wangerin wrote, "Marriage begins with a promise." A man and a woman stand in church before family and other witnesses and before Almighty God. They vow to remain together "for better, for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to have and to hold till death us do part."

"It is a lifetime promise, freely offered, fully embraced, joyfully witnessed, painstakingly kept - that's what makes a marriage," argues Ortberg.

The promise is not simply to avoid adultery and divorce. "It is to pursue oneness on every level - physical, intellectual, and spiritual - a oneness that does not diminish the individuality of the other but makes it flourish," he adds.

A passage that rarely gets taught to young church people is this from Genesis 3: "Adam and his wife were both naked and felt no shame."

In Chapter 4 we read, "Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain." She said, "With the help of the Lord, I have brought forth a man." Interestingly, she doesn't mention Adam!

In the time of Jesus Corinth was a harbor town, with a temple dedicated to the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite. There were perhaps 1,000 temple prostitutes. However, Paul wrote to the small Corinthian church: "Flee sexual immorality."

Ortberg quotes theologian Beyonce: "Better put a ring on it." Diognetus reports that Christians shared their table, but not their bed.

Paul was more eloquent writing Corinthians: "It is good for a man not to marry. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to the 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...

"Now to the unmarried and the widows I say, It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion."

What about divorce?

Paul's next words are clear: "To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife."

Sadly, in this, the most Christian of modern nations, there has been one divorce for every two marriages since the 1970s. And the marriage rate has plunged by 57%. There were more marriages in 1970 (2,159,000) than in 2015 (2,077,000). Millennials are not passing on America's traditional Christian heritage. Three times as many couples cohabit as marry, resulting in a 40% unwed birth rate.

The answer? Ortberg writes, "The same Jesus, who was a magnet for sexual sinners who had flunked marriage was the same Jesus who redefined what a marriage could be: `Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her."

Ironically, "the person who changed marriage in the Western world more than anyone else, was himself never married."


Copyright (c) 2018 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. To read past columns, go to Hit Search for any topic.


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