The Biblical Use Of Marriage To Illustrate Covenantal Relationships -- By: J. Lanier Burns

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 173:691 (Jul 2016)
Article: The Biblical Use Of Marriage To Illustrate Covenantal Relationships
Author: J. Lanier Burns

The Biblical Use Of Marriage To Illustrate Covenantal Relationships

J. Lanier Burns

J. Lanier Burns is Research Professor of Theological Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas.


This article explores the theme of marriage in the Bible with two foci in mind: theological method for biblical audiences, and Scripture’s use of itself to progressively develop its unified, Christ-centered message with marriage as a foundational paradigm for biblical audiences to understand truth. Investigation begins with prophetic texts that, though negative, clearly explicate Israel’s idolatry with covenantal marriage in the background. A second section looks back at creation for marital ideals “from the beginning.” Finally, the marriage/adultery metaphor is discussed from Revelation 17 through 21 to show that the paradigmatic theme extends from Genesis to the Revelation.


The biblical authors did not have large libraries, nor were they motivated by an endless quest for professional degrees and credentials. Intelligent and wise, they wrestled with God-given revelation and familial traditions rather than exhaustive research on problematic pericopes for prestigious presses. Joseph and Daniel come to mind as outstanding consultants in their respective empires. Their guidance has filled sermons and textbooks, but their own insight came in dreams and visions from God. How did they do theology compared with how I have done it? In reading the Scriptures, I am constantly reminded of their priorities in doctrine that undercut the complexities of modern hermeneutics. I am not saying that we can or should abandon modern methods, but how would biblical authors and audiences have understood the

plethora of options, issues, and principles that guide us? If theology is to be understood and developed analogically, then I wish to suggest that marriage (and family) was among the most basic illustrative guidelines for understanding God’s Word.

Second, the reflexive use of the Old Testament in the Old Testament (e.g., the prophetic calls to remember God’s goodness at the Exodus) and in the New Testament (e.g., the catena in Hebrews and the Revelation) suggests that the biblical authors were self-consciously constructing Christ-centered metanarratives. This means that the Bible is unified, progressively developing truth as the authors were carried along by the Holy Spirit. This becomes evident when tracing central themes through the Bible, for example, the marriage theme in Genesis through Revelation. The thematic link...

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