Point of Contact | The Defense of Biblical Marriage

Cornelius Van Til, one of our founding faculty at Westminster Theological Seminary, once wrote, “God, and God only, has ultimate definitory power."[1] What he meant was that only God has the power and wisdom to define things, to tell his creatures what is true and good and right. The triune God defines who he is, who we are, and how we should live in his world. We look to his Word for definition, not to the world or to a particular legislative body. Nowhere is this more important than marriage.

     As many now know, congress recently repealed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which protected marriage as the sacred union of a man and woman. DOMA preserved what we know of as the biblical notion of marriage, pushing against the surge for approval of same-sex marriage. But no longer. Congress has now put in place the “Respect for Marriage Act” (RMA), demanding respect for same-sex marriages. A marriage celebrated in one state is required to be recognized in any other state. And all the federal rights and privileges for different-sex marriages are given to same-sex marriages.

"Only God has the power and wisdom to define things, to tell his creatures what is true and good and right."

     Amidst all of the arguments and passionate pleas on both sides, we might overlook a basic question: Who gets to define marriage? The RMA says, “no union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family.” Yes, but what is marriage, and where does the RMA definition for it (if it has one) come from? As Christians, we’re called to take our definitions from God’s inspired Word, since God alone has “ultimate definitory power.” This is his world, after all.

     God’s Word gives us a clear definition for marriage in Genesis 2:24, “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” That’s God’s definition of marriage. And yet our country has a very different definition, rooted in what? Political developments? Cultural trends? Public discussions about identity? All these things change. It’s interesting that RMA expressly states it doesn’t provide any protection for polygamous marriages. One might ask, why not? Isn’t it only a matter of time before everything else is accepted? Definitions of the world are always changing. Definitions of the Word never do.

"Definitions of the world are always changing. Definitions of the Word never do."

     True respect for marriage, brothers and sisters, is a biblical ideal, not a legislative debate. We don’t have ultimate definitory power. Only God does. Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus that he calls us to be defined in himself, who never changes, and not in relation to the world, which always does.  

     If you’re looking for an example of the beauty of a godly marriage, look no further than Chad and Emily Van Dixhoorn’s latest book, Gospel-Shaped Marriage: Grace for Sinners to Love Like Saints. It’s a wonderful testimony to what a God-honoring marriage looks like, and how God sanctifies us through it by the power of the Spirit.  

     Sadly, our world has many examples of broken relationships that fall short of God’s design for marriage. Are you looking for resources on Christians and homosexuality? Our own David Garner sat down to answer the question, “Can Christians identify as homosexuals?” He offers pastoral wisdom on how the gospel of Jesus Christ confronts this sensitive cultural issue.

"True respect for marriage is a biblical ideal, not a legislative debate."

     Lastly, we’re proud to host the special conference Van Til & the Future of Reformed Apologetics. You’ll hear about defending the faith from K. Scott Oliphint, Brian Mattson, Christopher Watkin, Daniel Strange, and James Anderson. Join us to learn more about how we can defend the gospel in a hostile world.


Your Servant in Christ,


Peter Lillback, President of Westminster Theological Seminary

[1] Cornelius Van Til, Common Grace and the Gospel, 2nd ed.,ed. K. Scott Oliphint (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2015), 8.

Rev. Dr. Peter Lillback (PhD, Westminster Theological Seminary) is president and professor of historical theology and church history at Westminster Theological Seminary. He also serves as the president emeritus and founder of The Providence Forum and senior editor of the new Unio cum Christo: An International Journal of Reformed Theology and Life.

Partner with Westminster Theological Seminary and our mission 


Get Westminster Magazine delivered to your inbox

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.