The debate over “What Constitutes Biblical Marriage?” is very old. Does marriage require a ceremony and/or consumation? Is polygamy allowed? Can you divorce and remarry and does it matter why and who is at fault? Is marriage only between a man and a woman? In attempting to answer questions like these, the words of Jesus in Matthew 19 are frequently cited. Verse 9 is the most commonly quoted:
“I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
This forms the core teaching of most Christian denominations: that marriage is permanent except where one of the spouses cheats sexually on the other. The verses leading up to and including this one are also used to obliquely imply (via Genesis 2) that polygamy and same-sex marriage are wrong.
The passage does not end there. During an internet discussion on the merits of biblical celibacy, I cited verses 10-12:
“The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.””
I noticed some very interesting implications from Jesus’ teaching. Here he gives three categories of “not marrying”:
- Eunuchs who were born that way
- Eunuchs who were made that way
- Those who are fully equipped, but still chose to live like eunuchs.
There are three separate conclusions that are drawn from this.
First, eunuchs cannot marry because they are fundamentally infertile. No marriage ceremony can resolve this. As implied earlier by Jesus’ reference to Genesis 2, marriage is a sexual union. Those who choose the life of celibacy (option #3) are choosing the life of a eunuch, even though they are still able to marry. Celibacy here is, notably, refraining from sex (and by logical consequence, marriage).
Second, these categories imply that infertile intersex, transgender, and homosexual persons cannot marry, whether they are “born that way” (nature) or “made that way” (nurture). Those men not capable of sexual reproduction with a woman cannot marry.
Third, by way of more speculative implication, it would seem that a normally fertile man using birth control would not be enough to qualify as consummating the marriage. A husband and wife would, at minimum, have to have had unprotected sex at least once (and subject to 1 Corinthians 7:5) to be validly married.
Those who say that Jesus did not directly teach these things appear to be wrong.