Who Defines Marriage?

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“Just who do we think we are?”[1] This was Chief Justice Roberts’ response to the June 26, 2015 Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, declaring, “The Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State.”[2] The reason for Chief Justice Robert’s incredulity is that this ruling has officially changed the definition of marriage which, as Justice Kennedy noted during oral arguments, “has been with us for millennia.”[3]

If there remains any doubt that this is what has happened, then consider the words of Chief Justice Roberts to the petitioners during the Supreme Court oral arguments, “You’re not seeking to join this institution but [to] change what this institution is.”[4] Make no mistake about it; marriage as it has always been understood and defined in every civilization and at all points in history until 15 years ago is now fundamentally altered in the eyes of the law.

Nevertheless, we as Christians understand that marriage is a sacred act that is divinely defined and accomplished. As such, we have neither the right, nor the ability to redefine this institution in reality. Just because a father has the ability to require and enforce that his children refer to him as the President of the United States does not make him the president in reality. Likewise, just because the Supreme Court has redefined marriage and can enforce this definition does not make it legitimate in the eyes of the Creator God.

Jesus, as the Creator God, defined marriage, its purpose, and its nature as being the supernatural uniting together of a male and a female. Matthew 19:4-7 says, “He answered, ‘Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.’”

It is in circumstances such as this Supreme Court ruling that we as Christians need to be reminded of from where it is that we draw our definitions. We do not derive our definition of marriage from Black’s Law Dictionary. Rather, the Bible is our infallible and eternal standard for truth, and it is from God’s revealed truth in the Bible that we derive our morality and our definition of marriage.

The Genesis account provides additional definitions for the terms “husband” and “wife.” Genesis 2:23–25 defines “wife” as being a woman united to a man through a marriage relationship, “‘She shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’ Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Likewise, Genesis 3:6 defines “husband” as being a man united to a woman through a marriage relationship, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”

Throughout all of Scripture, there is never an exception to these definitions. Instead, these definitions are affirmed by Jesus Christ (Matt. 19:4–6). Likewise, the Apostle Paul affirms these definitions in 1 Corinthians 7:2, “But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.” They are further affirmed by the gender-specific language associated with the terms “husband” and “wife” in 1 Corinthians 7:2–3 and 10–14:

But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. … To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband (emphasis added).


Every instance of the terms “husband” and “wife” in Scripture refers to a man or a woman in a heterosexual marriage relationship. There is never an exception.

Marriage and the terms “husband” and “wife” are morally charged terms in Scripture with clearly established definitions. Because of these clearly defined definitions, there can be no such thing as same-sex marriages. It is a self-contradicting title. There is no ambiguity. We do not have to like these definitions, but we have no right to change them because we are not the Creator.

Be sure to read Timothy Zebell’s book Laid Bare: Uncovering the Relationship Between Homosexuality & the Gospel.

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Timothy Zebell

As a former missionary to Asia for twelve years and the author of several books, Timothy is passionate about helping people understand the relevancy of God's Word in today's world. His goals are to help Christians discern truth from error, empower Christians to speak into cultural matters with relevancy, and to help Christians capitalize on the opportunities that these matters provide for sharing the truth about God and His gospel message.
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1. Wax, Trevin. “Top 10 Quotes from the Dissenting Justices on Same-Sex Marriage.” Gospel Coalition, June 26, 2015. Accessed June 26, 2015. http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2015/06/26/top-10-quotes-from-the-dissenting-justices-on-same-sex-marriage.

2. “Supreme Court of the United States October Term 2014 Syllabus: OBERGEFELL ET AL. v. HODGES, DIRECTOR, OHIO DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH, ET AL.” Supreme Court of the United States. Accessed June 27, 2015. http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/14-556_3204.pdf.

3. Barbash, Fred, Mark Berman, and Sandhya Somashekhar. “Supreme Court Hears Same-Sex Marriage Case: Who Said What (with Audio).” News. Washington Post, April 28, 2015. Accessed June 27, 2015. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2015/04/28/supreme-court-hears-arguments-in-same-sex-marriage-case-obergefell-v-hodges-today/.

4. Barbash.


Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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