God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation

By Johnson, Alan F. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, March 2007 | Go to article overview

God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation


Johnson, Alan F., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation. By Andreas Köstenberger (with David W. Jones). Wheaton: Crossway, 2005, 448 pp., $20.00 paper.

Stephanie Coontz, a social and political liberal, concludes her recent study by indicating lamentably that the "love revolution" in marriage has been as disruptive in the social sphere as the industrial revolution was to the workplace. These changes have brought the traditional institution of marriage into an irreversible upheaval and instability. As a result we are now reaping "an enormous personal toll" (Marriage, A History. From Obedience to Intimacy or How Love Conquered Marriage [Viking, 2005]).

Citing the absence of an up-to-date truly integrative and biblical treatment of the many related topics (marriage, divorce-remarriage, family, parenting, fertility-infertility, birth control, singleness, spiritual warfare, homosexuality, marriage, and church leadership) that would address this problem, Andreas Köstenberger and colleagues David Jones and Mark liederbach from Southeastern Baptist Seminary (hereafter Köstenberger) have written this book for seminary students but also with pastors and lay study groups in mind (e.g. 50 pages are devoted to a set of study questions and answers).

The basic thesis of the volume is that the marriage crisis is at bottom a spiritual crisis that threatens our very civilization: "We firmly believe that the only solution is a return to, and a rebuilding of, the biblical foundations of these institutions. . . . The only way forward is to return to Scripture and to put God back at the center of marriage and the family-hence the title of our book, God, Marriage, and Family" (pp. 19-20).

In the creation-fall texts (Genesis 1-3), marriage is seen as monogamous, heterosexual, durable, childbearing, and intrinsically embodying gender role complementarities, namely the husband's loving but final authority over the wife and the wife's willing submission to her husband's leadership/headship. This marital creation gender order was reversed and subverted in the Fall and contributed to the essence of the original sin of Adam and of Eve.

The NT not only elaborates on how marriage functions redemptively but also opens up the validity of singleness as a calling for some with Paul, who as the prime example nevertheless affirms strongly both marriage and singleness.

Three historical models of marriage are then evaluated: sacrament, contract, and covenant. Köstenberger finds problems with the first two and defines marriage as "[a] sacred bond between a man and a woman instituted by and publicly entered into before God (whether or not this is acknowledged by the married couple), normally consummated by sexual intercourse" (p. 85). This view supports the permanence, sacredness, intimacy, mutuality (with role distinctions), and exclusiveness between the couple in biblical marriage.

Four chapters discuss issues related to "family" beginning with OT and NT teachings and examples and mainly stress the "roles" fathers, mothers, and children are divinely given in Scripture. The wife (and mother) is "functionally subordinated to her husband and male head of the household." However, many of the same responsibilities (except public leadership) are shared by husband and wife. Procreation of children is an obligation of husband and wife as is the children's training and scriptural instruction. Fathers additionally are seen in Scripture as responsible for their daughter's purity, security, dowry, marriage partner, and perhaps Scripture learning. Mothers could be quite industrious and innovative in the home setting as they provided for the children and brought income into the family (Proverbs 31).

Jesus, on the other hand, teaches the relative importance of the human family compared to the family of God and discipleship to him. Children are to be obedient to parents as a primer for their obedience to God. Fathers have the responsibility for disciplining their children, while mothers have the primary domestic role of bearing the children, rearing them, and managing the home. …

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