This is my second post in a series about being Christian and ‘childfree’. Here’s an outline of my points:
- Marriage is not about kids.
- The New Covenant people are different to the old. Jesus is the one who fills and subdues the earth through his Church and God’s people are those born of the Spirit. In the Church, ‘family’ has a radical new meaning.
- Christians are free to make wise and loving decisions in the Spirit. This may mean forgoing earthly blessings (even family) for the sake of the Kingdom.
Marriage is not about kids, it’s about being ‘one flesh.’
The argument that God made marriage for having children often comes from Genesis 1:
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.
This passage, however, tells us nothing about marriage. In Genesis 1 God addresses humanity as male and female. Humanity is to ‘be fruitful and increase in number’. For teaching on marriage, we need to go to Genesis 2.
God said it was ‘not good for the man to be alone’ and so he made ‘a helper suitable’ or a ‘fitting complement’ for him. They are equals in every way. God slices the man in half and makes a woman so that in marriage, the two are (re)united as ‘one flesh.’ They’re made for each other; Genesis 2 teaches that God made man and woman so this ‘one flesh’ union could be possible. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife.’ Why? So that they could have kids? No. It’s so that they might ‘become one flesh.’ Adam and Eve’s marriage is fulfilling its purpose in the garden. There’s no sign of any babies yet, and it was good.
(In fact the first mention of childbirth is after the fall – the woman’s ‘offspring’ will fight the serpent – but more on that in the next post)
Let’s jump to Jesus’ teaching on marriage and divorce in Matthew 19 in the New Testament.
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?’
‘Haven’t you read,’ he replied, ‘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 has joined together, let no one separate.’
‘Why then,’ they asked, ‘did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?’
Jesus replied, ‘Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.’
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.’
Jesus also teaches that God created humanity male and female so that the two could become ‘one flesh’ in marriage. Divorce is a terrible thing, not because of anything to do with children and the need to produce them but primarily because it violates the ‘one flesh’ relationship. Then Jesus goes on to something more radical: family is no longer of paramount importance in the Kingdom of Heaven.
In 1 Corinthians 7, however, Paul does bring children into the question of divorce.
To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
This passage is a tricky one. What do you mean ‘I, not the Lord’, Paul? But what is clear that Paul is not at all concerned that by getting divorced the opportunity for a marriage to produce children is lost. If children were the primary purpose of marriage you would think Paul would instruct them to stay together to keep having kids. No, Paul is concerned that the children of divorce will miss out on being part of the church and receiving the gospel. It is still the gospel which saves them.
Moving onto a more famous (and cheery) marriage passage, Ephesians 5.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church – for we are members of his body. ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church.
Here Paul teaches that the unity of ‘one flesh’ is actually about Jesus and his church. Marriage is a shadow of the ultimate reality of our unity with Christ. It’s like married people point to the real ‘one flesh’ relationship. But again, what about the children? Where are they? It seems to me that being ‘one flesh’ is actually an ends in itself.
Finally Revelation 21.
‘Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God.
In Revelation 21, the wedding is the culmination of history. God’s purposes aren’t completed when the ‘bride’ finally has a baby! It’s the wedding! It’s the reunification of heaven and earth, of God and humanity. If our earthly marriages are a witness to this great future, having children, as far as I can see has little or nothing to do with it.
There is another passage about the purpose of marriage which often gets brought up in this debate. Malachi 2.
The Lord is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring.So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth.
There we have it: apparently God wants marriages to produce ‘godly offspring’. I’m actually going to leave this passage for now and deal with it in the next post where I talk about children in the old and new covenants. I’ll just say, now that we need to interpret Old Testament passages as Christians, not ancient Jews, and in the light of Jesus’ gospel.
Children are a blessing of marriage, but not the purpose of marriage. The purpose is to be ‘one flesh’, a foretaste, a living breathing metaphor of the union God has planned for himself and humanity.