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Theological perspectives on marriage

From the beginning, Christian tradition was notably fractured on the question of the theological value of marriage and family. Jewish tradition, by and large, affirmed the goodness of procreation, viewing Genesis 1.28 ('Be fruitful and multiply') as the first commandment (Mishnah, Yebamoth 6.6). The eschatological sayings of Jesus recorded in the Synoptic Gospels, however, raised a question mark over marital and familial relationships (Luke 14.26, Mark 12.25, Matthew 19.12), even though Jesus himself affirmed the permanence of marriage (Mark 10.5-9). Similarly, the apostle Paul bequeathed an ambiguous legacy to posterity when he advised unmarried Christians, 'in view of the impending crisis, it is well for you to remain as you are' (1 Corinthians 7.26) and 'even those who have wives should be as though they had none' (1 Corinthians 7.29), although Paul acknowledged that sexual relations between married Christians were permissible (1 Corinthians 7.5). Later New Testament writings, however, stressed the compatibility between the Christian life and the traditional Greco-Roman household. The author of the Pastoral Epistles, for example, insisted that church leaders should be distinguished by their conventional achievements in the time-honoured art of household management: 'For if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God's church?' (1 Timothy 3.5).

In the second century these diverse traditions developed into open divisions within the Christian community. Marcion, who believed that an inferior and immoral Creator-Godproduced the world, forbade Christians to marry or procreate children, lest they perpetuate a corrupt creation (Tertullian, Adversus Marcionem 1.29.1-9; Clement, Stromateis 3.3.12; 3.4.25). A less radical perspective was presented by Tatian, alleged founder of the 'Encratite' heresy. According to Tatian, human beings were originally created as a harmonious union of body, soul and spirit. Only after rejecting union with the divine Spirit did they become susceptible to sex, birth and death (Oratio ad Graecos 13.1-2). Tatian acknowledged that sexual relations were necessary in the old dispensation, but he insisted they were no longer to be tolerated in the new era inaugurated by Christ.10 Labelled as 'heresy' by Irenaeus, Hippolytus and Clement of Alexandria, Tatian's views remained congenial to many second-century Christians, especially in Syria. In the second and third centuries, a variety of 'apocryphal'

10 The most extensive source of Tatian's 'Encratite' teachingis the fragments ofhis treatise On perfection according to the Saviour, preserved in the third book of Clement of Alexandria's Stromateis. See also Irenaeus, Haer. 1.28.1. For a recent account ofTatian's theology, see Emily Hunt, Christianity in the second century.

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