Jay E. Adams on Marriage

Multitudes of professing Christians assume that God does not join in marriage (whether lawfully or unlawfully) two people of the opposite sex by sexual intercourse alone. For many years I had assumed that sex does not constitute marriage. But now I see how Paul’s statement clearly implies that “sex equals marriage” is just basic, elementary knowledge (see 1 Corinthians 6:16). His rhetorical “do you not know?” implies that if you do not know, then you certainly ought to know.

Jay E. Adams, in his book Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the Bible says this regarding marriage and mating:

“Ghettos in which there are very weak marriages, if any, grow enormously from mating disconnected from marriage. No. Marriage is something more than mating. While marriage includes mating as one of its duties, the two must not be identified. To reduce marriage to legalized, responsible mating, therefore, is an error with serious implications” (p. 5).

Of course it depends on what he means by “legalized, responsible mating.” I might agree with Adams here. Certainly there is more to marriage than sex alone (there are other responsibilities such as the raising of children, etc.), but sex alone is what initiates the marriage (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:16).

It was by sex alone that the marriages of Jacob and Isaac to their women had commenced. So I wonder if Adams would be willing to say that Jacob and Isaac were merely engaging in “legalized responsible mating” with their respective women.

“Fourthly, it is important to understand that marriage must not be equated with sexual relations. A sexual union is not (as some who study the Bible carelessly think) to be equated with sexual relations.4 Marriage is a union that implies sexual union as a central obligation and pleasure (1 Cor. 7:3-5), it is true, but sexual union does not necessarily imply marriage” (p. 5).

4. Cf. Exod. 22:16, 17 (Berkeley). Clearly, if they had to be married later, they were not married already; and if the father refused, they never would be.

Adams is saying that all those who hold to sex equals marriage “study the Bible carelessly.” In the footnote he puts forth objections that I answered in my “What Constitutes Marriage?” article. He assumes a univocal definition of the word “married” in the first part, and then follows with the father’s refusal based on that false assumption. Adams says that sexual union does not necessarily imply marriage. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 6:16, says it implies just that (i.e., a marriage; albeit an unlawful one).

“If marriage and sexual union were one and the same, the Bible could not speak about illicit sexual intercourse; instead (in referring to fornication) it would talk about informal marriage. Adultery would no longer be adultery, but informal bigamy (or polygamy). But the Bible does speak of sexual sin outside of marriage and doesn’t give the slightest credence to the notion that adultery is bigamy. Throughout, the Scriptures refer to marriage, in itself, as something other than and distinct from sexual union (licit or illicit). The words marriage and fornication (porneia, which means any, and all, sexual sin) cannot be equated” (p. 6).

Adams begins with a common misunderstanding. OF COURSE I would agree that the Bible could not speak about illicit sexual intercourse, IF I assumed that all sexual unions between man and woman were ipso facto lawful and pleasing to God. Adams shows a lot of nerve (gall) to say that adultery would no longer be adultery, given his damnable allowance of remarriage after divorce while the original spouse is still living.

Apparently Adams thinks that “sex equals (constitutes) marriage” forces one to say that if one has sex with two women, then one is not an adulterer but a bigamist who is “informally married.” I would not argue over words to no profit to the hearer, but perhaps one would be a bigamist and an adulterer. I would not waste much time arguing over whether such a person is a bigamist since it is certain that they would be an adulterer, since they married a second spouse while the first was still living (cf. Romans 7:2-3).

Adams also says:

“Sexual relations per se do not make a marriage and do not break a marriage…This point — that sexual relations do not constitute a marriage — is absolutely essential to any proper understanding of marriage, divorce and remarriage” (pp. 6-7).

Sexual union specifically does not break a marriage in the sense of making each created union a lawful union. But it does break a marriage in the sense of making each union unlawful when the former spouses are still living.

Another misunderstanding is when some people hear the Biblical sex equals marriage view, they assume you are saying that a man could be with 1,000 women, and since sex equals marriage then each union with these women are lawful since each union supposedly breaks and makes a marriage at the same time. They ridiculously assume that sex makes the former living spouse “as if” dead.

On page 17 Adams weakly states:

“Even in 1 Corinthians 6, where, at first, one might think of the use of the verse as confirming the sexual aspect of marriage, a more careful reading shows otherwise. Paul distinguishes three sorts of unions:

1. one body (v. 16)– sexual relation with a harlot=a close union
2. one flesh (v. 16)– the marriage union=a closer union
3. one spirit (v. 17)– union with Christ=the closest union
It is not possible here to develop this important passage further” (p. 17).

“Or do you not know that he being joined to a harlot is one body? For He says, “The two shall be into one flesh” (1 Corinthians 6:16).

With regard to verse 16 and the false distinction of “body” versus “flesh,” Adams is clearly suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. The truth is clear:

The rhetorical question is don’t you know that when you engage in such activity with a harlot you become ONE BODY with the harlot? The apostle Paul further bolsters his rhetorical question with a reference to Genesis 2:24.

He proves the truth of his rhetorical question that one body is a marriage (albeit, unlawful) by quoting Genesis 2:24. If someone asks Paul, “How exactly is my joining to a harlot becoming one body with the harlot? Can you give me some Scripture for that?” And Paul’s reply is a big FOR “the two shall be into one flesh.” Paul references Genesis 2:24 in order to make his point. I’ll conclude this post with the following syllogism:

P1) Sex alone makes people “one flesh” (1 Corinthians 6:16).
P2) “One flesh” is the marriage union (Matthew 19:6; Genesis 2:24).
C1) Therefore, sex alone is the marriage union.