Christianity,  Culture

The Gospel vs. Open Marriage

If you don’t think that gay “marriage” is a threat to marriage, then you need to read this. The New York Times reports on a study to be released next month that shows that many “married” homosexuals do not consider monogamy to be a central component of their “marriages.” These couples are open to multiple partners while only being “married” to one. Why is this? According to the report,

“Some gay men and lesbians argue that, as a result, they have stronger, longer-lasting and more honest relationships. And while that may sound counterintuitive, some experts say boundary-challenging gay relationships represent an evolution in marriage — one that might point the way for the survival of the institution.”

What is stunning here is that the report suggests that monogamy is not just a problem for gay “marriages,” but for the institution of marriage itself. In other words, they are saying that heterosexuals should also consider abandoning monogamous marriage. As one “expert” put it, “The traditional American marriage is in crisis, and we need insight. If innovation in marriage is going to occur, it will be spearheaded by homosexual marriages.”

The report goes on to interview heterosexuals in open marriages, and they claim as well that having sexual liasons outside of the marital bond has strengthened their marriages. One woman put it this way: “Our relationship got better. I slept better at night. My blood pressure went down.”

As Christians, what are we to make of a report like this? First, it should be no surprise that people are trying to introduce innovations into traditional marriage. Such perversions are not due merely to the rise of gay “marriage.” No-fault divorce, rampant heterosexual immorality, and the deconstruction of gender roles have played their part as well. But we should be careful not to miss the spiritual component in all of this. God intends the union of one man and one woman to be a picture of the gospel—an enacted parable of Christ’s love for His bride (Gen 2:24; Eph 5:31-32). The world and the Devil hate this message and want to obliterate its depiction in marriage. To obliterate the message, one must obliterate marriage. The powers have marriage in their crosshairs, and they aim to do whatever they can to undermine the covenanted union of one man and one woman. One way to destroy something is to redefine it. In this case, the redefinition comes in the form of calling evil good, and good evil (Is 5:20).

Second, Christians must bear witness to the fact that we appeal to a higher authority on marriage. No doubt there are many “married” people who claim open marriages bring them great happiness. Sinners enjoy sin. So it should come as no surprise that this scientific study would indicate as much. But scientific studies reporting the relative happiness of persons in perverted relationships constitute no ground for understanding the nature and purpose of marriage. God created and thus defines marriage. For Christians, therefore, no scientific study can trump God’s word.

Third, our chief task as Christians is not so much to reform marriage, but to preach the gospel and call sinners to repentance. Where the gospel takes hold, we can be sure that the transformation of marriages is soon to follow. For this reason, our gospel-preaching must be accompanied by gospel-living. When unbelievers see Christian marriages in shambles, they encounter a stumbling block to the gospel. What that means is that individual Christians and churches must commit themselves to healthy marriages (as the Bible defines health). That means one man and one woman in covenanted union for life. Within that union, the world needs to see husbands who love their wives as Christ loved the church and women who follow the leadership of their husbands (Eph 5:22-33). And they need to see this kind of union as the happiest kind of union there is.

I don’t think Christians should worry about studies like the one quoted above. God’s kingdom will march on even if our culture goes in another direction. What should concern all of us, however, is when Christians and churches begin to look more like the culture than God’s kingdom. Let’s pray that God will make us a faithful counterculture in the midst of the culture for the sake of the culture.


  • Donald Johnson

    I think marriage as a picture of the gospel is taking what Scripture does teach too far. Rather, the gospel illuminates marriage among believers, so that serving each other is normalized. That is, the mapping is one way from gospel to marriage and limited in scope; as everyone agrees it must be limited, the question is how limited.

    And Eph 5 tells us exactly how limited, in that all the examples of Christ as head are serving examples, there are simply NO leading examples stated in the text. A basic principle is to not go beyond the text.

  • Ryan K.

    This article clearly evidences the point some of us have been trying to make on this blog in the last few months.

    The debate on gays and marriage is not about civil rights, but distinctly about redefining marriage. The quotes in the story are startling and revealing about the intention of many gay marriage advocates and participants trying to create a new understanding of what marriage even is.

  • Ted

    Often it’s touted that gays want marriage rights like heterosexuals, which leads people to think that they’re simply advocating for monogamous same-sex marriage. Maybe this NYT article will show that what many gay activists want is not the right to have an exclusive relationship, but the moral legitimacy to do whatever pleases their desires.

  • Darius


    Paul pretty clearly lays out in Eph. 5 that marriage was always intended from the very beginning to point to Christ and the Church. It isn’t going “beyond the text” to state the clear connection he makes.

  • Sue

    Including no fault divorce in the line up of perversions, shows disregard for the life and safety of some women.

    The only way anyone can make Christian marriages appear godly or happy is to define all miserable marriages as non-Christian. Atheists could do the same thing.

    Since men are committed to so many things that hold no interest for women – like the superbowl – I doubt that the world is going to be impressed by women following the leadership of the husband. Most homes would be quite peculiar if women actually did that. Some homes are.

    Perhaps women were made to follow their own instincts in homemaking and the leadership of a husband is only a distraction to getting the job done.

  • Darius

    I thought Christianity was supposed to be peculiar, rather than follow the wisdom of the world (which is what you espouse).

    As a side note, I know plenty of women who love the Super Bowl… it would be wise for you to not paint with such a broad brush, though you can’t seem to do otherwise.

  • Nate

    No fault divorce is not a friend to women and doesn’t show disreguard for their lives or safety. Women who are being abused can seek divorce without claiming no fault.

    On the contrary, no fault divorce has caused safety issues and certainly life issues for women when the man simply leave the marriage and does not have to give a valid reason for doing so. For that matter, women can also leave a marriage for no reason and cause damage to a family.

  • Donald Johnson

    Mat 1:19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.

    When this verse is understood in cultural context (ala from Instone-Brewer), Joseph was going to use the “no fault” divorce of his day (the quiet/no-proof-needed and therefore less shameful Hillelite “Any Matter” divorce) and yet is called just or righteous, depending on translation.

  • Donald Johnson

    Clarification, my point is that there is a difference between using a cultural or state endorsed method of divorce that is called “no fault” and actually divorcing for no good reason. Joseph HAD a good reason, he believed Mary had committed adultery (and it took a visit by an angel to convince him otherwise).

    If a believer divorces, it should be for a Biblical reason of the other breaking a marriage vow, which includes adultery, abuse, and neglect.

  • David Vinzant

    The fact that some in a group might use their right in a way that displeases others is not a good reason to deny that right to everyone in that group.

    Example: Let’s suppose that a large number of Haitian-Americans practice voodoo. They are using their freedom of religion to practice religion in a way that is probably disliked by most Americans. Does that mean that Haitian-Americans should be denied freedom of religion? Of course not.

    In the same way, the fact that some gay Americans might “redefine” marriage in a way that displeases most Americans is not a valid reason to deny them justice and equality.


    I do want to say that I appreciate your tone in emphasizing that “Christians” should deal with what’s happening in their own churches rather than impose laws on others.

  • Denny Burk


    I agree with 1 Peter 4:17 that judgment must begin with the house of God. That certainly was the emphasis of this post. But by no means do I mean to imply that I am for a naked public square.


  • Darius

    Don, you make a mistake comparing Joseph’s situation to modern no fault divorce. Joseph wasn’t married to Mary yet, so the “divorce” in sight here was not really divorce and thus was a righteous act since it didn’t cause Mary to commit adultery if she were to marry later. This is likely what Jesus had in mind in Matthew 5:32 when he gave the “sexual immorality” exception. He was talking about the kind of “divorce” that his earthly father had contemplated. Basically, in today’s jargon, this would be the equivalent of being engaged to a woman and then finding out that she’s not a virgin. Of course, today that would rarely lead to the breakup of the engagement.

  • Nathan


    This article doesn’t make a great case against homosexual marriage. As you point out, the current state of civil marriage under hetero-only control is not so picture perfect…

    I completely agree with your other conclusions and I’ve actually said the same in comments that I’ve made on this blog.

    One underlying theme in your posts about this topic involves gender identity. I listened to your two-part message on gender confusion that was posted on the Boyce College website. Since I am what one might label “gender-confused” in some ways, I really would like for you to post a write up regarding God’s design for man and provide proof texts for your reasoning. I hear a lot about what a “real man” should be, but not a lot about how the ideas are Biblical. Also, I hear a lot about what a _husband_ should be, but I am not, nor will I ever be, most likely, a husband. Can you / will you post something that is unequivocally Biblical that explains to me what I need to do and be, according to God, as an unmarried man specifically? I pretty much understand what God expects of me regarding physical relationships. I’m wondering more about my role in life beyond that.



  • Donald Johnson


    Au contraire, you make a mistake in thinking that what Mary and Joseph had was equivalent to our engagement. It was MUCH more than that, it involved a covenant, which is why a divorce was needed to end the covenant. Basically, once a couple had an engagement covenant, they were considered husband and wife except for the need for a future wedding and consumation. (Things were done differently back then.) Once in a engagement covenant, one either went to the wedding, died which ended the covenant, or divorced, which ended the covenant.

    Yes, it is true that adultery is an example of sexual immorality that allows divorce, but there are other kinds of sexual immorality.
    It is also important to see that the “sexual immorality” exception is part of the discussion on Deu 24:1-4 between Pharisees and Jesus, and NOT on all possible reasons for divorce, as one might think from some (flawed) translations.

  • Darius

    Sorry, I should have been more clear. I meant to say that a modern engagement is the closest thing to what Mary and Joseph had… yet still nowhere similar in many ways.

    It still stands that divorce is wrong no matter what, based on what Jesus said. Joseph would not have divorced Mary in the way we understand divorce, so that isn’t in view. Separation, on the other hand, is quite Biblical.

  • Donald Johnson

    Divorce is not wrong no matter what, you are taking what Jesus said out of context in huge ways, which is easy to do in this case. Read and study David Instone-Brewer is my recommendation.

  • Darius

    Sue, that doesn’t mean all divorced people are culpable for their divorces. Everyone knows that a divorce can happen even though one of the people does everything possible to keep it together. Divorce is evil and never good.

  • Donald Johnson

    How condeming, I rebuke you. please repent.

    Divorce is not a part of God’s perfect will but it is a part of God’s permissive will, due to sin. Divorce is not evil, per se; breaking marriage vows is what is sin. Divorce that is due to the breaking of vows can be redemptive.

  • Sue

    Whoever is without sin should cast the first stone. I mean that unless you are without sin you should not cast the first stone on either party.

  • Sue

    By lumping together no fault divorce, or divorce in general with homosexual marriage and open marriage, the lack of reasonable foundation for all three is demonstrated.

  • Darius

    Huh? Who did I condemn, Don or Sue? I just said there is no such thing as a divorce where at least one person isn’t sinning. It’s sad when that is controversial. Your liberalism has clouded your judgment.

  • Donald Johnson

    God divorced and told others to divorce, so it cannot be always categorically evil, I can give you Scripture refs if you wish.

    I tell you repeatedly that you, Darius, are taking verses out of context and need to study this area more.

  • Darius

    I’ve read a bunch on it… I’d recommend Piper’s new book, This Momentary Marriage.

    Could you give me the refs for where God divorced or told others to divorce?

    You know, I should say this. It is true that God allows divorce in some situations because of the sinfulness of people, but only as long as remarriage is not allowed. But that doesn’t make divorce less evil.

    One other caveat… divorce is not evil when it involves a new Christian divorcing an unbeliever because the unbeliever isn’t willing to live with the believing spouse. That’s pretty clear from 1 Corinthians.

  • Donald Johnson

    Remarriage is allowed after divorce, that is the PRIMARY purpose of a divorce cert.

    You even take 1 Cor out of context. You are an abuser of Scripture by taking these verses out of context.

    I have given you a strong suggestion to study Instone-Brewer that would allow you to address your ignorance of Scripture and the context in which to interpret it.

    Hos 2:2 is God written divorce cert for (Northern) Israel/Ephamites. Jer 3:8 confirms that.

    God told Abraham to obey Sarah knowing she would tell him to divorce Hagar.

    God does intend marriage to be for life, but sin can get in the way.

    I will investigate the Piper book. FWIIW, it is a sin to get married without intending it to be for life; and one should not divorce because one does not feel “in love” anymore, that is NOT a Biblical reason for divorce. But there are such reasons and they include adultery, neglect and abuse.

  • Darius

    “Hos 2:2 is God written divorce cert for (Northern) Israel/Ephamites.”

    Wow, your exegesis is seriously lacking and terrible, to be perfectly frank. By this logic, murder isn’t evil either because God arranged it so that Jesus would be crucified. Hosea is supposed to be a poetic representation of what God did (and was willing to do) to take back the whore of Israel. It was not meant to build a marriage doctrine.

    Start here: read the Bible according to its genre and authorial intent.

  • Darius

    “But there are such reasons and they include adultery, neglect and abuse.”

    Wrong. This is where you have to understand how to view marriage before you start looking for exceptions. God intended marriage to ultimately point to the relationship between Christ and the Church. And what do we know about that relationship? We know that Christ sacrificed himself for His Bride, and will never condemn or put away Her. Likewise, a Christian will always take back an abusive or unfaithful spouse… and never divorce them as far as it is in their control. That doesn’t mean that they can’t separate if living in close proximity to each other is not healthy. But it does mean that a Christian is supposed to NEVER give up on that marriage… which is what divorce does.

  • Donald Johnson

    What a load of condemnation you expouse due to your lack of knowledge of Scripture and the context to read it in. You REALLY need to study Instone-Brewer to even begin to see how wrong you are.

    God follows his own commands as examples for us.

    God does re-marry the divorced Israel, but that does not mean he did not divorce her.

  • Darius

    I will say this from a brief search for this Instone-Brewer fella… it appears that he, like you, put his own extra-Biblical understanding of marriage and divorce above what is actually written in Scripture. This guy rips Brewer’s claims apart:

    Piper himself took on Instone-Brewer here:

    Based on those two articles, it’s safe to say that Instone-Brewer has no idea what faithfully reading the Bible looks like.

  • Darius

    “Until you try to understand Scripture in context, you will continue to condemn the innocent, which IS a sin.”

    Apparently, faithfully reading anything is a struggle for you. Point out where I condemned an “innocent” person, pray tell.

  • Donald Johnson

    P.S. I do understand that there are different types or genres of Scripture, and one should not read one type like another, each has it own way of being understood.

    Nevertheless, the prophets understood the Mosaic covenants to be analogous to a marriage covenant in that the procedures for divorce applied to both. Esp. since God’s divorce of Israel is the ONE divorce with details in Scripture, it behooves believers to study it and mine it to see where it confirms and disconfirms the Pharisees’ understandings and in this context, see how Jesus corrects the MANY misunderstandings of Torah of the Pharisees, while agreeing with them on some things.

  • Donald Johnson

    When you claim that divorce is evil, you thereby claim that a person seeking a divorce is wrong in all cases (condemning some who are innocent), which is simply not the case at all.

  • Donald Johnson

    Piper and Instone-Brewer were in conversation. Piper had/has his concerns with what Instone-Brewer taught, mainly that they would allow too many loosey-goosey divorces, from Piper’s standpoint.

    Part of the challenge is that Piper is comp and Instone-Brewer is supportive of egals, so there is that wide divide on how to interpret passages that do not even deal with divorce. A simplification is that egals would claim that some aspects of a comp marriage could easily be abusive and allow divorce and Piper would not agree, since he would not see it as abusive.

    I do not know the other, but from scanning it, it is not credible as scholarship. Instone-Brewer is a 2nd temple scholar, Wingerd is not and not even close.

  • Darius

    “When you claim that divorce is evil, you thereby claim that a person seeking a divorce is wrong in all cases (condemning some who are innocent), which is simply not the case at all.”

    Yep, in that case, you’re right. Anyone seeking divorce outside of the 1 Corinthians 7 exception is wrong. But, like all other forms of sin, Jesus’ sacrifice can cover it. Even in our sin, we have a Mediator.

    I will repeat, though, for the sake of clarity that I believe separation is okay and that no all divorced people are guilty of their divorce.

  • Donald Johnson

    Because you claim sin where God does not due to your misunderstanding of Scripture due to taking it out of context, I continue to petition you to study this area more, in particular, Instone-Brewer.

  • Nathan

    My take is — if you Have to read something external to the Bible (like Instone-Brewer) to understand a passage or Biblical concept, then what the external source says is probably not right.

    I doubt that there are many cognitive hoops to jump through to arrive at biblical conclusion on marriage and divorce.

    I personally believe that people take a soft stance on divorce and/or remarriage of divorcees because it’s difficult for someone to draw lines that will exclude himself or ones that are close. It’s that bias and hypocrisy that make t-shirts like this one sadly funny:

  • Donald Johnson

    ANY text only has meaning inside the culture in which it was generated. To not know that culture is to risk misunderstanding that text, sometimes in huge ways. The books of the Bible were written to an original audience that was NOT US. The books were written for us believers who come later but are not TO US.

    It can be unsettling to THINK one knows what some text says only to find out it says nothing of the sort, but if one reads the Bible, you had better get used to the possibility as one learns more.

    That is, we need and should appreciate all the help we can get to try our best to understand text written almost 2000 years ago in a different language with a different culture, etc. To think otherwise can too easily result in arrogant ignorance.

  • Nathan


    That is the EXACT argument people use to say that the Bible doesn’t prohibit most / some / all modern-day homosexual relationships.

  • Sue

    Huh? Who did I condemn, Don or Sue? I just said there is no such thing as a divorce where at least one person isn’t sinning. It’s sad when that is controversial. Your liberalism has clouded your judgment.

    There is no such thing as a marriage where both people are not sinning.


    I am not offended by what you have said personally but by the vacuous, and unrealistic attitudes and teaching of some older people who ought to know better.

    I went up to an older theologian who had just preached the strict line and asked him a few questions. It did not take long for him to lose eye contact. He could not defend his own sermon. (In Piper’s case it might be a nervous giggle.)

    The way single people are treated and single women especially is already distressing. The entire Christian foundation of a woman’s spiritual existence is described as being based on her headship relationship. What is a young divorced women going to do? (That is a rhetorical question. BTW)

    An older woman like myself can always take up smoking or perhaps televiion. 🙂

  • Donald Johnson

    The homosexual issue is a bogeyman. That is, it is raised as a fear tactic to AVOID learning.

    In any case, one can investigate the Greek and Hebrew words used, see what they meant, and draw conclusions as to what Paul, etc. meant and then try to apply that to today.

    Avoiding learning about the cultural context of the Bible is essentially a way to guarantee you will misunderstand it. You will teleport 1st century text into the 21st century. It is a way to disrespect Scripture.

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