Otto Piper on Marriage

Today’s Christian supermarkets (a.k.a. bookstores) are filled with books on marriage, relationships, and sexuality.  The plethora of writings is indicative of a culture and a church trying desperately to find solid ground on which to build its marriages.  Unfortunately, a cursory overview of these books reveal the shallowness, the pragmatism, and the wordly accomodation that inculcates the Christian market for marital help.  Yet, on rare occasions, biblically-grounded and theologically-faithful works arise.  Books like God, Marriage, and Family (Kostenberger), Marriage:Sex in the Service of God (Ash) and God and Marriage (Bromiley) eschew pragmatism and embrace instead a rich biblical theology.  Another book of this kind is Otto Piper’s The Biblical View of Sex and Marriage (New York: Scribners, 1960).  Published nearly a half-century ago, its nomenclature is antiquated and its situational applications are out of date, but aside from its mid-twentieth century context, its biblical material is helpful.  In a sea of marriage manuals, it provides a sturdy raft on which to rest.

In addressing the topic of sexuality and marriage, Dr. Piper, a former professor of New Testament at Princeton, surprised me with his generally positive assessment of Scripture.  Though, I would disagree with him on the finer points of doctrine, he upholds the functional authority and veracity of the Scripture.  He calls his view of Scripture, “Biblical Realism,” and he says in his intro, “With the older Biblicism it [i.e. Biblical Realism] agrees that the Bible is God’s Revelation and that we may therefore confidently turn toward the Scriptures in search for the ultimate truth concering man’s predicament (vi).”  Such a foundation puts him at odds with modern philosophy and psychology, but this is not a problem for Piper as is evident in his clear assetion, “I confess that… more light has come to me from the wisdom of ancient times than from modern speculations” (vii).  Finally, concerning his approach to the Bible and his topic, he observes that the Biblical Realist “learns from the attitude God takes toward sex that it has its metaphysical dignity and is no mere shortcut to pleasure, and also that far from being unessential for the constitution of true life it is used by God as the means for execution of his redemptive plans” (vii).  In short order, Piper affirms the centrality of Scripture and the biblical role of human sexuality and marriage to bring about the redemptive purposes of God.  The rest of his book fleshes out this reality, and it does so with cogent exposition of the Scriptures and with helpful ethical synthesis. 

Consider some of his thoughts that unite marriage with the purposes of God in redemption:

Concerning the Divine Marriage: The consummation of the Divine Marriage has been the God-intended goal for makind from the very beginning.  Therefore, the History of Salvation proves to be the gradual realization of this purpose.  The relationship between God and His people grows more intimate as time goes on, and a steadily deepeend understanding of the nature and goal of the mutual realtisonship of the sexes is thereby attained.  On the other hand, the history of sexual relationship in mankind is evidence the Divine Marriage operates everywhere as the basic pattern of sexual life (78).

Relationships That Foster Maturity Serve God: Those who believe that sex is meant to serve the purposes of God and not those of individual men and women will also be ready to notice the darker side of the relationship…Therefore, the misanthropist’s absolute withdrawal into isolation, as well as the exclusive association with members of one’s own sex, finally poisons the spirits of personality.  In many instances the spinster, the bachelor, and the habitues of bachelor clubs are types of atrophied humanity.  They are unlikable and humanly unproductive not because they have not married but because they have cut off their manhood and womanhood from the other sex.  This is confirmed by the fact that there are unmarried persons of both sexes who are highly enjoyable because they have retained their ability infromally to mix with people of both sexes far into old age (79-80).

The Role of Sex in Redemptive History: Sex has therefore not only made possible the subsequent history of mankind but also provided the opportunity both for the Incarnation and also for that body which the Saviour forms for Himself in the Church (81).

God’s Affirmation of Sex in Submission to God’s Sovereign Plan: The many serious warnings sounded against sex in the Bible, and particularly in the New Testament, are only limiting qualifications of a fundamentally affirmative attitude towards sex.  They are intended to remind the believer that there are situations and times where the boundaries of sexual life must be drawn in bold lines, because with all the marrying and giving in marriage people are prone to forget that this earthly life is not an end in itself.  Man is called upon to be God’s servant in the execution of His plans of history.  There are instances in which in the service of God celibacy is the right thing to choose for a person.  However, any unequivocal negation of sex is in opposition to God’s redemptive work and celibacy as a general demand for all people is therefore branded as a doctrine of the devil [1Tim. 4:1-3] (84).

In creating mankind male and female (Gen. 1:26) and in designing a repeating pattern of marriage in this world  (Gen. 2:24), God was from the start establishing millions of raindrops that would one day reflect the multivarigated glory of Jesus Christ cosmic marriage to his redeemed people.  In this, God’s plan of redemption was not secondary, nor were his purposes for marriage auxiliary.  Marriage was created with Jesus Christ in mind, and you, if you are a part of his church body.  Meditating on the Scriptural relationship between marriage and redemption is edifying for the individual marriage and exhilirating as the cosmos moves forward towards the final marriage feast.  May we who know Christ continue to ponder our eschatological union with him, and may those who do not yet call Jesus “Lord” be turned to the savior over and again as you see broken and beautiful marriages all around you–the former pointing you to something more and the latter enticing you to come to Christ and adore.  Until he comes may our marriages make us pant for his presence.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

One thought on “Otto Piper on Marriage

  1. Pingback: Noonday Light: Resources on Marriage | Via Emmaus

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