The Sixth Commandment – Part One on Holy Marriage


“Thou shalt not commit adultery.”

Part One — Holy Marriage

“Adultery” by its most common definition is the violation of the sanctity of Holy Marriage by either the husband or the wife — or perhaps even both — by fornication (consensual sexual intercourse) with a third party, a sin not only against one’s spouse but also against God’s own holy ordinance.  It therefore behooves us in our consideration of the Sixth Commandment first of all to address Holy Marriage itself.  Thus, in the first part of our article, we shall explore on the basis of Scripture:  1) what marriage is,  2) how and by whom it was instituted,  3) how it is entered into,  4) what its purposes are, and  5) how marriage is to be kept sacred in the fear of God, namely, as each party to the marriage individually carries out his or her respective and specific duties and responsibilities toward the other with diligence and faithfulness, and as both spouses cooperatively, as a cohesive unit, live together as one entity, mutually sharing the various facets of their God-ordained relationship according to His will as revealed in His Word.

Since Holy Marriage as such is barely touched on in traditional “Confirmation classes” and even in adult instruction in the chief parts of Christian doctrine preparatory to communicant membership, and the Synodical Catechism (CPH, 1943) mentions it in only three questions, many pastors endeavor to engage in instruction or so-called “pre-marital counseling” with Christian couples before they commit themselves to one another in engagement.  In many cases, however, the man and woman have already become engaged before such instruction and have merely notified their pastor after-the-fact that they are essentially already married in the sight of God.  In such situations, “pre-marital” instruction is not possible; and the “in love” part of their relationship is the primary focus of their attention.  Because Holy Marriage is a divine institution and consists of a life-long commitment, it should not be entered into casually, chiefly on the basis of romantic attraction or physical and emotional “magnetism;” but the entrance of God’s Word gives light and understanding to Christian men and women (Psalm 119:130) so that they commit their way unto the Lord and trust in Him to bring a truly Godly and happy life to pass for them (Psalm 37:5).

1) For the sake of simplicity and brevity, we shall use the definition of marriage as found in the Explanation of Luther’s Small Catechism (CPH, 1943), Question/Answer 61:  “Marriage is the life-long* union of one man and one woman** unto one flesh.”  And, with Luther, we should always ask, motivated by God’s grace to seek His authority: “Where is this written?”  God says the following in His Word:

And Adam said: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.  She shall be called woman because she was taken out of man.”  Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife [lit., his woman]; and they shall be one flesh (Genesis 2:23-24; cf. Mark 10:7-8).

They are no more twain, but one flesh (Matthew 19:6).

*The woman which hath an husband is bound by the Law to her husband as long as he liveth (Romans 7:2; cf. I Corinthians 7:39)  … NOT “as long as they are ‘in love’ with each other,” NOT “as long as there are no ‘irreconcilable differences’ between them,” NOT “as long as they ‘get along’ with one another,” NOT “as long as each one respects the other’s ‘individuality’ and ‘autonomy’.”  All such humanly-imposed conditions (and others) result in a 50% failure rate in marriages, often within the first five years!

** For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections; for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature; and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another, men with men working that which is unseemly and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet  (Romans 1:26-27).  NO homosexual marriage!

But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart.  A brother or sister in not under bondage in such cases (I Corinthians 7:15).  Malicious desertion dissolves the “bond” of marriage.

2) “Marriage was instituted by God” (Explanation of Luther’s Small Catechism, CPH, 1943, Question/Answer 61).  While marriage is a civil estate —intended for all people, not only for Christians— marriage is not merely a relationship of convenience, good order and “relative” permanence established by civilized mankind in society [people who, after millions of years finally distinguished themselves from brute and irrational animals (Evolution!)] for the stability of the “family unit,” for the documentation of parentage, and for the control of sexual promiscuity, as secular sociologists view it.  It was instituted by God Himself in the beginning, immediately after His creation of man and woman, for the welfare of His foremost visible creatures, made in His image with rational minds, immortal souls, and moral responsibility.  Marriage was instituted BEFORE man fell into sin and was therefore originally intended to be a holy, blessed, and completely compatible union between His sinless creatures.

However, due to the total depravity of the whole human race by virtue of man’s fall into sin (Genesis 3), God’s institution of marriage was violated and perverted from what He had originally intended because “the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the Law of God, neither indeed can be” (Romans 8:7).  Consequently, from the earliest times among the children of the world, man sought his marriage partner on the basis of physical and emotional suitability (cf. Genesis 6:1-7), not at all concerned about finding a mate spiritually “meet for him.”  And that problem continues to this day and establishes the difference between a legal and legitimate marriage, and a Godpleasing marriage wherein both parties are “in the faith” (II Corinthians 13:5) and in “the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3; I Corinthians 1:10), dwelling together in the love of Christ and motivated and enabled thereby to love one another (John 13:34; 15:12), first as Christian brethren and then also as Christian spouses.  “Where is this written?”

And God said: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness….”  So God created man in His own image; in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them.  And God blessed them, and God said unto them: “Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over…every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Genesis 1:26-28).

And the Lord God said: “It is not good that the man should be alone.  I will make him an help meet for him….”   And the rib which the Lord God had taken from him made He a woman, and brought her unto the man. …Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife [that is, woman with the suffix “his”]; and they shall be one flesh (Genesis 2:18, 22, 24).

[God] said: “For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife [lit., woman, understood as wife when used with the possessive “his” — as also in the Hebrew], and they twain shall be one flesh (Matthew 19:5; cf. also Ephesians 5:31).

What therefore God hath joined together let not man put asunder (Matthew 19:6).

Ye husbands, dwell with them [your wives]…as being heirs together of the grace of life (I Peter 3:7).  This passage assumes that the spouses in a Godpleasing marriage are believers in Christ Jesus and are in Christian fellowship with one another (Cf. Romans 8:16-17; Titus 3:5-7; I Corinthians 1:10).

3) “Marriage is entered into by rightful betrothal or engagement” (Explanation of Luther’s Small Catechism, CPH, 1943, Question/Answer 61).  The estate of marriage is not created by the act of sexual intercourse, whereby two people become “one flesh” ONLY in a purely physical sense, for then a man would be “married” to a harlot by virtue of their fornication (I Corinthians 6:16), and their “casual sex” would have established a life-long “honorable” union between them (Hebrews 13:4).  On the contrary, we rightly confess that the essence of marriage is the mutual consent of the parties, their complete understanding of the life-long relationship of exclusivity in their intimacy, and their completely voluntary commitment to permanent wedded love and faithfulness.  Thus marriage is not merely a physical and temporary relationship (as is fornication between so-called “friends with benefits”), but it is a contractual and permanent relationship entered into by the solemn agreement of both parties, already before the consummation of their marriage.

Thus we teach and confess that the mutual consent, the understanding, agreement, commitment and promise of both parties, expressed in a rightful betrothal or engagement, IS marriage in the sight of God, is binding upon both parties, and is the beginning of the married estate between them, even though their marriage has not yet been publicly solemnized according to the regulations of the state and thus is not yet publicly recognized, with witnesses, as being in effect.  It is for the latter reason, however, that, in order to avoid offense — in order not to give the impression that they are merely “living together” apart from marriage — the betrothed couple should not consummate their marriage and, as a result, perhaps even beget children, until the vows whereby they entered into marriage have been publicly witnessed and the marriage is thus acknowledged and civilly recognized“Where is this written?”

And they said, “We will call the damsel and inquire at her mouth.”  And they called Rebekah and said unto her, “Wilt thou go with this man?”  And she said, “I will go.”  And they sent away Rebekah their sister.  (Genesis 24:57-59).  Rebekah consented to be Isaac’s wife — in their case “sight unseen.”

The angel Gabriel was sent from God…to a virgin  espoused to a man whose name was Joseph…and the virgin’s name was Mary. …Then said Mary unto the angel: “How shall this be [the conception of Jesus in her womb], seeing I know not a man [since she had never had sexual intercourse]?”  (Luke 1:26-28, 34).

When as His mother, Mary, was espoused to Joseph, …Then Joseph, her husband, …was minded to put her away [divorce her] privily. …The angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream saying, “Joseph, …fear not to take unto thee Mary, thy wife ….”  Then Joseph, being raised from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto his wife, and knew her not [did not immediately consummate their marriage]…. (Matthew 1:18-20, 24-25).

In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established  (II Corinthians 13:1).

Be subject to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake …for so is the will of God, that with well-doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men  (I Peter 2:13-15).

Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience’ sake (Romans 13:5).

4) Marriage has three purposes, the first two existing from the beginning, the third having been added after the Fall because of sin in the world:  God instituted marriage  a) for mutual companionship; b) for the  procreation of children; and c) as an aid against unchastity“Where is this written?”

a) And the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him an help meet [suitable, suited] for him  (Genesis 2:18) …a female fellow human being.

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh  (Genesis 2:24).

Whoso findeth a [Godly] wife findeth a good thing and obtaineth favor of the Lord  (Proverbs 18:22).

Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of Thine house  (Psalm 128:3).

b) Male and female created He them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it” (Genesis 1:27-28).

Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord, and the fruit of the womb is His reward.  As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man, so are children of the youth.  Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them.  (Psalm 127:3-5).

c) To avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband (I Corinthians 7:2).

Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence [the intimacy that is due her, owed to her according to his consent in marriage], and likewise also the wife unto the husband  [the intimacy that is due him, owed to him according to her consent in marriage]  (I Corinthians 7:3).

Defraud ye not one the other [by withholding sexual intimacy], …that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency [lack of ability to control one’s need for sexual gratification]  (I Corinthians 7:5).

5) Each party to the marriage has specific individual duties and responsibilities according to God’s Word, as well as mutual responsibilities which they share together as a couple (“one flesh”).  “Where is this written?”

The husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the Head of the Church, and He is the Savior of the body (Ephesians 5:23).

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for it…  So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies.  He that loveth his wife loveth himself, for no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the Church. …Let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself   (Ephesians 5:25, 28-29, 33; cf. Colossians 3:19).

Ye husbands, dwell with them [your wives] according to knowledge, giving honor unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers be not hindered  (I Peter 3:7).  This passage assumes that the couple are believers in Christ Jesus and in Christian fellowship with one another (Cf. I Corinthians 1:10).

If any provide not for his own, and specially for them of his own house, he hath denied the faith and is worse than an infidel [a heathen]  (I Timothy 5:8).  The Christian husband is to support his wife and children.

Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord   (Ephesians 6:4)

Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord; for the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the Head of the Church, and He is the Savior of the Body.  Therefore as the Church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything  (Ephesians 5:22-24).

Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord  (Colossians 3:18).

Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands  (I Peter 3:1).

Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him ‘Lord,’ whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement  (I Peter 3:6).

Let not the wife depart from her husband  (I Corinthians 7:10).

And the wife, see that she reverence her husband  (Ephesians 5:33).

I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, giving none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully   (I Timothy 5:14).

Teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the Word of God be not blasphemed  (Titus 2:4-5).

There are thus MANY passages of God’s Word which specify to both husbands and wives their individual and mutual responsibilities toward one another in Christian marriage and in the Christian home.  OTHER requisites that are recognized by the world as being “socially-” and/or “politically correct” and therefore “essential” to a successful marriage are NOT required by God’s Word.  They are for the most part carnal expectations that arise out of the “me-first” mentality of selfishness in violation of Scripture (cf. Romans 12:3, 10; I Corinthians 13:4-5; Ephesians 4:32; etc.) which require self-esteem, self-realization, self-fulfillment, self-image, self-confidence, self-reliance, and the like, all of which militate against the cooperative and self-sacrificing spirit that should exist between husbands and wives according to God’s Word.  Common among there are:  The spouse isn’t “attentive enough” —doesn’t do what I want;  he or she “doesn’t listen” —doesn’t agree with me; “doesn’t communicate” — doesn’t tell me what I want to hear;” he or she is “opinionated” —expresses an opinion that is different from mine; “makes me feel worthless” —comes up with an idea that is better than mine; “I’m not ‘in love’ with him or her anymore” —he or she no longer satisfies my desires or appetites the way he (she) used to when our love was “new.”  The self-concepts result in the repudiation of responsibility toward anyone else; and so our society today, driven as it is by selfishness, now accepts “no-fault” divorce — the breaking of the marriage covenant and its permanent relationship for capricious reasons and selfish expectations which no one wants to recognize as “faults.”

Typical of these is “irreconcilable differences,” of which the Bible says in no uncertain terms: If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:15).  “And when ye stand praying, forgive if ye have aught against any, that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses; but if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses” (Mark 11:25-26).  “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).  “First be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” (Matthew 5:24); etc.

Is it any wonder that Holy Marriage, the estate that God intended from the beginning to be “a life-long union,” is becoming “unpopular” nowadays?  This is particularly the case among those who are not Christians.  For they have no respect for God’s commandments, ordinances and institutions (Romans 8:7).  Because they are unbelievers and are not “the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26), they are not motivated by the Gospel of God’s love and mercy to them in Christ Jesus (II Corinthians 5:14-15, 19; I John 4:11; etc.) to fear, love and trust in Him above all things.  “For it is God which worketh in [believers] both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).  More and more worldly-minded couples are deciding  just to “live together” as “friends with benefits” with no “long-term” commitment.  It’s easier to “break up” than to get divorced, they say.  And when the commitment wears thin for one or the other in a marriage, when they become bored with the relationship and find that they are no longer emotionally “attracted” and “connected” to their mates nor personally “satisfied” in their self-interests, instead of renewing and strengthening the relationship with the grace that only God supplies in and through His Word (II Corinthians 12:9), the marriage is simply canceled like a magazine subscription.  It’s “the easy way out.”  Sadly, one out of two marriages today is dissolved in fewer than five years on average!  And even more sadly, what started out as a Christian marriage with God’s blessing upon it often falls victim to Satan’s interference, as one or the other partner forsakes the Lord, makes shipwreck of his faith, falls into the idolatry of “self,” and virtually destroys the family!  With Luther, we pray “that God would guard and keep us, so that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us nor seduce us into misbelief, despair, and other great shame and vice; and though we be assailed by them, that still we may finally overcome and obtain the victory” by His grace in Christ our Savior!

The violation of sexual purity, including the topic of divorce, will be taken up in the next installment of our article, as well as sexual sins which defile people’s chaste and decent lives here in this world and to which even Christians are inclined because of their flesh (Romans 7:18).

—D. T. M.