Andreas Kostenberger explains what the Bible says about marriage and family

Marriage and family
Marriage and family

A long essay posted by the Family Research Council, and written by the expert on Bible and marriage.

About the author:

Andreas J. Kostenberger is the Director of Ph.D. Studies and Professor of New Testament at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also editor of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS) and founding president of Biblical Foundations, an organization with the aim of “restoring the biblical foundations of the home, the church, and society.” Dr. Kostenberger holds doctorates awarded by Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) and the Vienna University of Economics. His publications include the commentary on John in the Baker Exegetical Commentary Series, and God, Marriage, and Family. With Peter O’Brien, he wrote Salvation to the Ends of the Earth, and The Book Study Concordance with Raymond Bouchoc.


Incredible as it may seem, we can no longer assume that people in our culture understand what the proper definition of “marriage” and “the family” is. Not only is this a sad commentary on the impact of same-sex marriage activists on our society, it also shows how the culture’s memory of the biblical tradition on which it is largely based is fading fast. What is marriage, biblically defined? And what is the biblical definition of a family? In this brief treatise on marriage and the family, we will take up these questions and proceed to discuss a number of related matters, such as singleness, divorce and remarriage, and homosexuality, in an effort to develop a full-orbed understanding of the biblical teaching on the subject. As I have sought to demonstrate at some length in my book God, Marriage, and the Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation, marriage and the family are institutions under siege today, and only a return to the biblical foundation of these God-given institutions will reverse the decline of marriage and the family in our culture today.

[…]These aspects of marriage–the complementarity of male and female, and the irreplaceable role of male-female relations in reproducing the human race–are part of the original order of creation, and are evident to all human beings from the enduring order of nature. These common elements of marriage are at the heart of our civil laws defining and regulating marriage. Therefore, people of all cultures and religions–including those who lack faith in God, Christ, or the Bible–are capable of participating in the institution of marriage. However, we who are Christians believe that the fullest understanding of God’s will for marriage can be derived from a careful examination of scriptural teachings. It is incumbent upon the church to educate both itself and the larger culture regarding the full breadth and depth of God’s intentions for marriage.

The essay itself covers many useful areas:

  • difference between a contract and a covenant
  • 5 principles of marriage: permanence, sacredness, intimacy, mutuality, exclusivity
  • alternatives to marriage: polygamy, divorce, adultery, homosexuality, sterility
  • the Biblical pattern for marriage and what it means
  • how marriage mirrors Christ’s relationship with his church
  • singleness, chastity, celibacy
  • homosexuality
  • divorce

For my two excerpts, I want to focus on two things that I have personally encountered with a young Christian woman, who disagree with both of these points.

First, marriage as a covenant means that you stay in it regardless of feelings:

Today, marriage and the family are regularly viewed as social conventions that can be entered into and severed by the marital partners at will. As long as a given marriage relationship meets the needs of both individuals involved and is considered advantageous by both sides, the marriage is worth sustaining. If one or both partners decide that they will be better off by breaking up the marriage and entering into a new, better marital union, nothing can legitimately keep them from pursuing their self-interest, self-realization, and self-fulfillment.

[…]In essence, a covenant is a contract between two parties that is established before God as a witness, a contract whose permanence is ultimately safeguarded by none other than God himself. In this sense, marriage is a covenant: it is entered into by the husband and the wife before God as a witness. Because it is ultimately God who has joined the marriage partners together, the husband and the wife vow to each other abiding loyalty and fidelity “till death do us part.” Rightly understood, therefore, a marriage entered into before God involves three persons: a husband, a wife, and God. For this reason, it is not self-interest, human advantage, or an unfettered commitment to personal freedom that governs the marriage relationship, but the husband and wife’s joint commitment to conduct their marriage based on God’s design and sovereign plan.

And you should practice self-denial, self-sacrificial love, etc. before the marriage. Practicing how to do whatever makes you feel good even when it hurts others is not preparation for marriage.

Second, the notion of male headship, which means that in marriage, men set the overall strategy and enable their wives to help them by clearing obstacles and encouraging her to engage:

Wives, for their part, are called to submit to their own husbands, as to the Lord. As the church submits to Christ, so wives should to their husbands in everything (Ephesians 5:21-24). Husbands, in turn, are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. They are to provide for their wives both physically and spiritually and to cherish them as God’s special provision for them (Ephesians 5:25-30).

If you want to know what the Bible says about marriage, read this article. I’m sure you’ll learn something new about marriage as God intended it. It’s always good to look in the Bible and see what God wants from us. We should not be reading it n order to try to make it serve our feelings. Let’s open the Bible and see who God is first. Once we know God, then we can make decisions and plans that respect him, and pursue those plans regardless of our feelings and desires.

3 thoughts on “Andreas Kostenberger explains what the Bible says about marriage and family”

  1. The biggest mistake a young Christian man can make in the Western World is not discuss these marital matters with his would-be wife under the assumption she shares the same beliefs about marriage because she goes to church.

    Chances are, on the two specific topics you mentioned, she won’t.

    It truly is no joy of mine to write this – I wish it weren’t true – but it’s the reality too many men have ignored. If she’s been to college, lives in an urban area, and/or was educated in a state-run school, it’s a wise assumption (not presumption) that she subconsciously believes the following:

    1. She has the sacred right to divorce her husband at any time and if she feels like it, as it is the mark of a strong, independent woman; this sacred right is necessary so she has the ability to use the threat of divorce to control her husband.
    2. A backseat-driver view about marriage in which the husband is responsible for the family (driving the vehicle), but she’s ultimately in charge (giving directions from the backseat). If something goes wrong, however, he’s to blame.
    3. No matter how loving, affection, and kind her husband might be, he could suddenly and without warning transform into a male misogynistic pig who will abuse her – unless of course she keeps his balls in her purse.
    4.”Respect” is code for “I want my wife barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.” Any husband who says he wants respect is secretly plotting to take away her independence, so respect must be withheld from him at all costs.

    What makes all of this so dangerous is that she won’t ever specifically or explicitly declare these opinions. They are expressed indirectly and subtly in other ways.

    The good thing is they are easy to find out by doing two simple things:

    – Quote Bible verses from the NT on the roles of husbands and wives, then ask her what she thinks of them.
    – Tell her how you think no-fault divorce (or just divorce itself) is evil.

    If her response is either to dismiss the verses as outdated and anachronistic, and/or rationalize no-fault divorce in any way, you will know whether the above applies to her.

    Unfortunately, too many young men would prefer to ignore these warning signs because it’s not “romantic.” What they don’t understand is that if they marry the wrong woman, she will be all romantic before the wedding, but once marriage arrives and finally divorce comes, it will be all business, and he will find himself shell-shocked beyond belief that someone who once professed to love him forever could be so cold and indifferent.

    Again, I wish none of this were true, but men can’t afford to make decisions about marriage based on anything other than reality.


    1. Another VERY common view of marriage that is also prevalent in the church is this:

      – Sex must be earned by men by acting romantic, making the woman feel happy, excited or impressed, or doing household chores that would usually be a woman’s responsibility.

      It is this view that leads to premarital sex because if sex is earned by making the woman feel happy, romantic thoughts, then a mere boyfriend “deserves” sex when she’s happy and feeling in love with him. If the woman feels attracted and “in love” then sex must be okay.

      But the other side of this false idea is that a husband must earn sex with his own wife by catering to her every whim and being the source of her happiness. Since the husband has to earn sex by making his wife happy, if she isn’t happy and feeling romantic, she feels justified in denying him sex. After all, if he had done his job right, she would want to have sex, right? Thus, he failed and she doesn’t owe him sex.

      Not only does this view lead to premarital sex and withholding sex after marriage, but many women who have sex anyway or whose husbands press them for their conjugal rights feel like they are being raped or molested by a sex-crazed pig. Then they grow bitter and resentful of their own husband’s God-given desire and right to connect with them through sex. And thus they turn what should have been a beautiful act of mutual intimacy that strengthens their marriage into a one-way, grudging chore, a tool of manipulation, or a destructive source of contention, blame, and hate.

      And it all started with the erroneous notion that sex is for sale – if a woman gets enough attention and happy thoughts for it.


      1. Sex-withholding is an epidemic, and the funny thing is that it’s the women who are most used to using sex to get what they want before marriage who are the most likely to see it as something to dispense with once they are married. Because they learned that it is something recreational, not something that is done as part of the marriage covenant, regardless of feelings.


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