“Concord” is a weekly study of the Lutheran Confessions, where we will take up a topic from the Book of Concord and reflect on what we believe, teach, and confess in the Lutheran Church. The purpose of this series is to deepen readers’ knowledge and appreciation for the confessions of the Lutheran Church, and to unite them “with one heart” to confess the teachings of Holy Scripture.
Marriage of Priests, Part 2 – A Help against Weakness
Marriage has a number of purposes. In the beginning, God created man and woman and gave them to each other in marriage for mutual companionship and help, and for the procreation of children (Genesis 2:18-25; Genesis 1:28). It should be noted that marriage was instituted before the fall into sin, and so these were its original purposes. But after the fall into sin, the estate of marriage takes on an additional dimension. But before we discuss marriage as a help for human weakness, we must take a look at sin.
The original sin was the desire to be like God in knowing good and evil (Genesis 3:4-5). When Eve and then Adam took the fruit, they rejected the likeness that God had given them. They wanted to be like God in knowing good and evil, and they got their wish. They knew evil and they were the evil. Their sin was not just their disobedient act; it was simultaneously a corruption of their entire self. This is what theologians have traditionally called Original Sin. Original sin is not just a small defect on an otherwise good nature, but it is a total corruption of human nature. It is inherited and birth. It is the sin before we sin.
This doesn’t mean that humans are helpless to do nothing good. We can do some manner of good works in a civil sense (these are not good works before God). But at the same time, original sin means that we are always inclined to sin. And this includes sexuality. What God created as good—the estate of marriage and the gift of sex—sin has corrupted. Because of the weakness of human nature, marriage has also become after the fall into sin a help against human weakness by giving us a good outlet for sexuality.
“Seeing also that, as the world is aging, man’s nature is gradually growing weaker, it is well to guard that no more vices steal into Germany. Furthermore, God ordained marriage to be a help against human infirmity” (Augsburg Confession XXIII.14-15). What was true in 16th century German is also true in 21st century America. Human nature is getting weaker, and marriage is a help against human weakness. So marriage guards against lust because in marriage, sexuality is not about fulfilling your own desires (corrupted by original sin), but about giving of yourself for the sake of another.
It is good for a man not to marry, writes St. Paul, but if he cannot keep himself from sinning, he should get married (1 Corinthians 7). Forbidding marriage does not eliminate the natural sexual desire in humans. And because of the weakness of sin, forbidding marriage also leads to more sin. Marriage is good, and it is good for sinners. Therefore, we should seek to honor marriage as God’s good gift.
Marriage is a help for sinful people, but it doesn’t provide the solution for sin. That is only found in Jesus’ suffering and sacrificial death. It is found in the forgiveness of sins—and that even counts for sins committed within marriage.
You can read the Book of Concord at https://www.bookofconcord.org
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in New Haven, MO.