L. Dale Sutton’s Review of MARRIAGE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE GOSPEL, by Ray Ortlund

Published on June 20, 2022 by Eugene Ho

Crossway, 2016 | 128 pages

A Book Review from Books at a Glance

by L. Dale Sutton


The ultimate goal of Short Studies in Biblical Theology is to magnify the Savior and to build up his church: magnifying the Savior through showing how the whole Bible points to him and his gracious rescue of helpless sinners, and building up the church by strengthening believers in their grasp of these life-giving truths. Crossway has a rich heritage of helping “individual Christians and the church grow in knowledge and understanding of the Christian life.” Their Short Studies in Biblical Theology series, whose purpose is to “connect the resurgence of biblical theology at the academic level with everyday believers,” does not disappoint. This series covers a wide range of topics including the kingdom of God, new creation, and the Lord’s Supper.

In the Short Studies in Biblical Theology series, Ray Ortlund delivers a compelling treatise on the sacredness of marriage. It couldn’t have come during a better time in the history of the world. At a time when basic Christian principles about marriage are under attack (the sinfulness of divorce, God’s design in gender), Ortlund reminds us that concepts such as gender, sexuality, and marriage originate in the scriptures. However, Ortlund doesn’t just reaffirm these ideas, he convincingly frames them from the perspective of their place in the gospel.

Marriage, as part of the gospel, may sound essentially Catholic to the untrained ear, but scripture would have us believe otherwise. Marriage is intrinsically linked with the gospel and God’s purpose and design for humanity. Ortlund believes that the Bible is centered on the final marriage between the Son of God and his Bride: the Church. This marriage is both an example and a source of hope for human marriages. Ortlund’s four chapters, surveying Genesis through the New Testament, is an unfolding of the centrality of the significance of marriage as a central component for communicating the gospel. These four chapters seek to establish a trust in God’s design of marriage and to serve as a means to inspire enduring romance in marriage. Thus, marriage is not a trivial matter and Ortlund explains the centrality of marriage in the Bible in a succinct fashion that is worth reading.

Ortlund grounds his work in the creation account of Genesis 1-3, providing brief commentary on each chapter as it pertains to the issue of marriage. Genesis 1 teaches us that “male” and “female” are God’s design and not social constructs. Genesis 2:24 defines marriage as “one mortal life fully shared between one man and one woman.” Genesis 2 emphasizes the goodness of marriage because it is God’s institution. In Ortlund’s mind, Genesis 2 speaks prophetically to a sexually confused world.

Genesis 3 warns that every marriage is always five minutes from destruction because of the destructive power of sin. Genesis 3 reports that sin originally came in marriage and that the breakdown of gender roles in marriage was the source of committed sin. Thus, it was the breakdown of marriage that broke down man’s Edenic existence (man acting as helper, woman acting as head). However, in the midst of Genesis 3, there is the promise of restoration in verse 15 that states peace with God means peace within marriage. The gospel, i.e., the work of Jesus, renews and restores broken marriages. In this light, every marriage becomes a remnant of Eden. Ortlund convincingly grounds the foundation for the Bible’s teaching on marriage in Genesis 2:24.

Ortlund also surveys the importance of marriage from the law through the prophets. Ultimately this exposition in scripture serves as a means to ready the world for the bridegroom of Christ. Beginning with the law, Ortlund states that the law was meant to give Israel its own culture so as to separate it from heathen nations. Ultimately, Israel’s high view of marriage also separated them from these cultures. Ortlund points out that in the law, the holiest people were married. The wisdom literature emphasizes sexual joy in marriage. Wisdom teaches that man’s thirst for sex is satisfied by more sex, albeit within the confines of marriage. Ortlund writes that “A man’s wife is his own personal, divinely approved wellspring of endless sexual satisfaction.” His view of the holiness of sexuality leads him to conclude that the Song of Songs naturally melds with the entirety of the Old Testament. Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Hosea are the primary voices that use marriage as a metaphor. The purpose of this metaphor is to communicate that God is able to rekindle a dead romance making the bible an “unfolding symphony of the divine romance.”

Ortlund also surveys marriage in the New Testament. Genesis 2:24 is both quoted and re-affirmed in the New Testament. The primary example is Jesus’s quote from Genesis 2:24 in Matthew 19. The context of this quote makes marriage the norm and divorce an anomaly resulting from sin. Ortlund states that the believer’s love for Christ compels us to marry because Christian marriages are metaphors for the divine love story. The divine romance moves to its conclusion in both Ephesians 5 and Revelation 19 as reminders that the church’s hope is union with Christ. In his survey of the New Testament, Ortlund states that God is present in every lawful marriage. However, his biblical footprint on the matter is lacking. Also, his presentation of 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 ignores grammatical issues such as the plurality of its nouns and verbs. Following the passage grammatically leads one to question whether or not 1 Corinthians is really about individual sexual sins as opposed to the collectiveness of Christ’s church.

Ortlund also offers practical implications for marriage based on Hebrews 13:4. He says that since the marriage bed is to be honored, every believer has something at stake in the sacredness of marriage. For example, since married sex is a glorious metaphor for the reality of heaven, believers should maintain sexual purity at all costs. Ortlund’s conclusion is weak, at best, for two reasons. First, he states that marriage is not the private property of the church. However, connecting marriage with the communication of the gospel seems impossible if marriage isn’t an overtly Christian institution. Second, his “For Further Reading” is somewhat of an embarrassment. For example, one entry is the Quran. Seeing that there are so many scholarly works on the subject of marriage, Ortlund should have compiled a more significant list.

Overall, Ortlund’s Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel should be standard for Christian couples, pastors, and those who are at the threshold of marriage. There are hundreds of books on marriage coming from several disciplines like psychology, pastoral ministry, and biblical studies. Rarely does a book come along on marriage, especially one so concise, that is able to authoritatively communicate the biblical principles of marriage from several viewpoints as does Ortlund. Ortlund sets out to recover a joyful confidence in marriage as God designed and for those who are married to have a lasting romance. With great success, he not only completes these goals but also offers a profound theology of marriage. Believers, churches, counselors, pastors, and theologians should have this book at hand whenever they are presented with questions about the sanctity of marriage. Ortlund’s work offers a solid foundation for the bible’s presentation of marriage that is sure to become a classic offering on the topic.


L. Dale Sutton

Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

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Crossway, 2016 | 128 pages

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