Marriage: Contract or Covenant, part 3


(This is the third of a three-part series; here are the links to part 1 and part 2.)

I’ve been writing about how the Church has created a teaching by which it tries to differentiate between ‘contract’ and ‘covenant’, attempting to elevate Marriage to a higher, spiritual plain. I think that I have shown that there is no biblical support for this teaching, that the Old Testament word for ‘covenant’ (berith) is the same word for ‘contract’, and that during OT times, Jews treated marriage as a contract.

In Which I Side With the Angels

In my very first post, I wrote:

However, do not raise them to the point of holiness, and imbue them with special spiritual significance. The things that God calls “Holy” are holy, and the things that we may add as we go along, while good, are not holy.

It is my belief that we have done this with the concept of marriage, attempting to imbue a spiritual significance to the marriage covenant that separates it from other human agreements. However, in doing so, while we create a comforting mythos, we actually damage God’s Word and God’s people in the process. One of the best bloggers/writers about marriage today is Paul Byerly, who authors both The Generous Husband and The XY Code blogs (see sidebar for links). I consider him to be the Mac Daddy of Christian marriage and sexuality bloggers. In his GH blog of 1/4/2015, Paul B. addressed the problem of melding our tradition and teaching to the Word of God.

 Adding to the word of God, even to clarify, always risks doing harm to the integrity of the word. We run the risk of turning traditions into the word of God, which they are not. We risk violating God’s word for the sake of our traditions, and we risk making the word of God void by our traditions. Good intentions are not enough to protect us.

Modern Examples

Recently, I’ve seen some interesting “traditions of men” passed on as explication of the Word of God. I’ve read where one teacher, in order to differentiate covenant from contract, tries to say that ‘covenant’ is vertical, while ‘contract’ is horizontal. In other words, covenants are between man and God, while contracts are between men. I’ll give the teacher style points for the delicate delineation, but I’ve got to say that it doesn’t deal with the fact that berith means ‘contract’.

Another attempt at trying to create a covenant/contract distinction is to say that there is a difference between “two-party agreements” (contracts) and “three-party agreements” (covenants). It is purported that the presence of an extra party, God, elevates the contract into a covenant. This seems to be a variation of the first teaching (horizontal vs. vertical), and suffers from the same affliction: lack of explicit biblical support for the teaching.

A third, more common concept deals with the mechanism of the marriage, the “I do’s”. The bride and groom exchange ‘vows’, and many times are said to have made ‘vows to God.’ The concept behind this is that making vows elevates the marriage into the realm of spiritual covenant, in collaboration with God.

My question is this: why is the promise/vow that I make to my spouse more spiritual or special than the promise I might make to my parents or my children, to my church or my God? Yes, the entering into marriage is momentous. So is entering the service on your country, or assuming a constitutional office. We give vows and make pledges for these and many other events, but are we saying that our word and oath is not as honor-bound as our marriage oath? Is our integrity based on a sliding scale of spiritual import? (After all, wasn’t it Jesus who said, in the Sermon on the Mount, “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one”?

Basically, what it all comes down to is this: it doesn’t really matter if an agreement is a contract, a covenant, or a vow. Whether it be two or three parties, agreements and promises are made. But here’s the kicker: all can be broken.

A covenant with God can be broken; a contract with a partner can be abrogated; a vow to a spouse can be violated. In each and every situation, whether you call it a covenant or contract, a failure to live up to the promises made means that the covenant or contract is violated. If the covenant or contract is of any import, then said violation is serious and there are consequences. What matters is that our teachings about these consequences line up with the Word of God, and not our tradition.



Filed under Marriage & Sexuality

4 responses to “Marriage: Contract or Covenant, part 3

  1. “Mac Daddy of Christian marriage and sexuality bloggers” – I like that better than “pioneer!

    Interesting article. I’ve never thought you could change something, or fix it, by renaming it, and the covenant marriage movement has always felt a bit like that to me.

    What we do now is a long way from what the Jews at the time of Jesus did, and most of the problems are not with why we do or do no do, but why.



  2. “I’ve never thought you could change something, or fix it, by renaming it, and the covenant marriage movement has always felt a bit like that to me.”

    Otherwise known as “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”

    Thank you for your kind comments, Paul. About not doing things like the ancient Jews did, I don’t think there’s anything really wrong with tradition. The problem comes when we try to elevate tradition to the level of God’s Word. I love tradition; that’s why the congregational reading of the Apostles Creed in our church services is important to me, and why I’m blogging about it. But the problem might come if I try to equate the Creed to God’s word. Warren Wiersbe once said, “Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”


  3. Pingback: Marriage: Covenant or Contract?, part 1 | The Curmudgeonly Librarian

  4. Pingback: Marriage: Contract or Covenant, part 2 | The Curmudgeonly Librarian

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