Covenant Marriage Blog Posts

Marriage: Covenant or Contract?

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Dr. John J. Tarwater (1984), author of Marriage as Covenant: Considering God’s Design at Creation and the Contemporary Moral Consequences, defines covenant: “An elected, as opposed to natural, relationship of obligation established under divine sanction.”

Dr. Tarwater concludes, “God designed covenant marriage to be exclusive, heterosexual, fruitful, LIFE-LONG, and ordered for all mankind. Marriage outside the beautiful parameters of covenantal love holds no value for either partner” (pp. 128, 129). In contrast, a contract, which is based on performance, has no enduring value.

Why the distinction in definitions matters?

• “With a covenant, both parties agree to hold up their ends regardless of whether the other party keeps their part of the agreement” (Cree, 2019).

• “With a contract, if one agreeing party does something in violation of the contract then it is considered broken. The whole contract becomes null and void” (Cree, 2019). In the United States, a marriage is registered as a contract: “The State is the principal party in that Secular Contract. The husband and wife are secondary or inferior parties” (Cooper, 2004).

In the marriage covenant, God is the principal participant and superior party:

GOD PARTICIPATED by seven (7) actions in Genesis 2:21-24:

“[T]he LORD God

(1) caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and

(2) he took one of his ribs, and

(3) closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man,

(4) made he a woman, and

(5) brought her unto the man. And Adam said,

(6) [God was witness.] 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: and

(7) they shall be one flesh.”

Marriage is described as “one flesh” in Genesis, Malachi, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Ephesians.

ESTABLISHMENT OF A COVENANT includes most or all seven (7) confirmations:

1. VOW: “This [one, exclusivity] is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.” According to Malachi 2:14, God witnesses covenant vows. “For thou, O God, hast heard my vows” (Psalm 61:5).

2. BLOOD: A animal is sacrificed, and the parties walk between the two bloody halves (Genesis 15:8-17). Wine may represent the blood covenant. Or when the bride is a virgin, blood from the hymen is shed.

3. FEAST: A meal is shared by the parties to the covenant (Exodus 24:8-11).

4. SUPERIOR AND INFERIOR PARTY: In most ancient Near East covenants, there is a superior and inferior party. A Holy God, the Superior Party, is faithful to His covenants with a sinner, inferior man.

5. NEW NAME: The inferior party is given a new name (Abram to Abraham).

6. BLESSING OR CURSING: Blessings are bestowed for obedience but cursings for violators of the covenant (Deuteronomy 11:27-28). Regardless of Israel’s violations, God remains faithful to the marriage covenant He made, “Turn, O backsliding children, saith the LORD; for I am married unto you” (Jeremiah 3:14). “And ye shall be my people, and I will be your God” (Jeremiah 31:22).

7. EVERLASTING OR UNTIL DEATH: Duration of a covenant continues while the parties live.

Marriage is a covenant between God, a man, and a woman. God creates of the two a supernatural one-flesh entity. God as Superior Party makes this unconditional covenant binding upon His own holiness and integrity regardless of the performance of the inferior parties, the husband and wife.

The covenant rests on God’s faithfulness, and not on the trustworthiness of two human sinners. Violations of the covenant adulterate the covenantal relationship but do not dissolve the one-flesh marriage covenant.