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Case Studies Pointing Us Toward More Biblical Marriages

As near as I can determine it, out of hundreds of individuals described, in the entire New Testament there are only nine married couples named*. They are an interesting cross section of Jews and Gentiles, Christians and non-Christians, persons of high position and regular people. As such, I thought it would be helpful to look at each of the NT couples and see what questions are raised by how they interacted with each other, as well as with Jesus and his followers, to see how their stories can guide us – for married people, and for people who are thinking about getting married.

Can my wife and I learn something from these husbands and wives? Can you and your spouse?

Can these couples point us to truth and the gospel?

This list is generally arranged from least godly to most godly and only includes those couples whom we know were married when they interacted with Jesus and his apostles**.

  1. Ananias and Sapphira – The Complicit Couple

Text: Acts 5:9 – But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.”

Background: Ananias and Sapphira conspired to hold back their gift from the young church. Their sin is not that they didn’t give all, it’s that they lied about it, saying they’d given it all.

Comment: This is perhaps the most sobering story of a marriage in the New Testament. This couple is unique, not only in that they are both on the wrong side of God, but that they did their sin as a team and they are a part of the newly formed church. Peter says to Sapphira that she agreed with her husband to do this deed. Theirs was a sin against the Holy Spirit, and they did it together.

Question for married couples to ask: Am I and my spouse doing something that we both know is wrong? Are we covering it up somehow? Are we encouraging each other in this? Should we repent and ask forgiveness for decisions we are willfully making together?

Questions to ask before you’re married: If you get married, are you going to be tempted as couple towards a specific sin? Are you being tempted (or giving into temptation) to sin right now?

  1. Herod and Herodias – The Demanding Wife

Text: Matthew 14:3 – For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife,

Background: John the Baptist is calling out Herod on his sinful marriage with Herodias, so they murder him.

Comment: In this case, it seems like Herodias takes the lead in requesting this sin and Herod just goes along with it, at least partially against his will, because of his foolish vow.

Question for married couples to ask: Is there a sin that one of you is trying to get the other to do? Are you willing to stand on the side of God even if it puts you at odds with your spouse?

Questions to ask before you’re married: Looking forward to when you are married, is it likely your spouse will try to get you to sin in a certain way? Or do you see yourself encouraging your partner to sin?

  1. Pilate and His Wife – The Warning Wife

Text: Matthew 27:19 – Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.”

Background: Pilate is encouraged by his wife to avoid condemning Jesus, whom she somehow knows is ‘righteous’. He rejects her counsel.

 Comment:  I think it’s reasonable to consider this dream as likely from God. Pilate would have done well, and acted more justly, if he had listened to his wife.

 Question for married couples to ask:  Is there something you should be encouraging your husband or wife to avoid or stop doing? Should you be listening to your spouse as he or she encourages you to avoid specific behavior?

 Questions to ask before you’re married: Will you do this for each other? Will you warn each other away from foolish or sinful behavior? And will you listen?

4 and 5. Joanna and Chuza and Mary and Clopas – The Determined Wives

Texts: Luke 8:3 – and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.
Luke 24:10 – Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles…
John 19:25 – but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
Background:  Two women, but not their husbands, follow Christ – all the way to the cross.

Comment: I put these two together, since (1) they seem like similar stories and (2) We know very little about these people. I’m guessing that in at least one of these marriages (perhaps both), the wife was following Christ and the husband wasn’t.

Question for married couples to ask: Will you follow Jesus even if your spouse doesn’t?

Questions to ask before you’re married: In your marriage, will you be alone when you seek to know, obey and worship Jesus? God doesn’t want this for you.

  1. Felix and Drusilla – the Conflicted Couple

Text: Acts 24:24 – After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus.

Background: Felix is one of the governors who has to decide what to do with the Apostle Paul – and his wife is interested in listening in on their conversations.

Comment: This couple is a mixed bag of good and less good responses to the message of the Apostle Paul. On the plus side, they were interested. You could make a case that Drusilla was very interested – since she came with her husband (we don’t hear about other governors’ wives listening to Paul). And they listened to his words as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus.

On the other hand, Felix sent Paul away when he spoke about “righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment” and the passage makes it clear that Felix hoped that Paul would give him money.

Question for married couples to ask: In which ways are your attentions divided when it comes to what God would have you hear? Do you listen with interest? As a couple, do you follow up on opportunities to be more engaged with spiritual matters? Do you stop listening when you hear something that convicts you? Do you have less than spiritual reasons for doing religious things?

Questions to ask before you’re married: Same questions – looking to the future.

  1. Zechariah and Elizabeth – The Proof-Requiring Husband

Text: Luke 1:5 – In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.

Background: Zechariah asked for proof that his wife would be having a baby in her old age, while Elizabeth discerned much about her cousin and her cousin’s child just by how her own baby moved in her womb.

Comment: The narrative portrays Elizabeth as having more faith than Zechariah. From all appearances, she immediately believed but Zechariah doubted, even when an angel was telling him what was going to happen.

Question for married couples to ask: What is God asking you to believe through the faith of your spouse?

Questions to ask before you’re married: Is the person you’re marrying likely to encourage you towards greater faith or greater skepticism and doubt? Will you encourage your future spouse towards greater faith?

  1. Mary and Joseph – The Called Couple

Text: Matthew 1:20 – But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

Background: These are the parents (biological and earthly) of Jesus. They accepted the words of the messengers of God on faith, despite having reasonable reasons not to.

Comment: Mary and Joseph are generally spoken of quite highly in scripture. It’s true that at one point they didn’t fully understand the mission and mindset of their son, but it should be recognized that they did hard things that (1) must have taken a significant amount of faith and (2) caused their life to be difficult at times.

Question for married couples to ask: What are you, as a couple, missing about Jesus’s mission and mindset? What difficult thing is he asking you to do? Are you doing it?

Questions to ask before you’re married: Can you see yourself doing challenging work for God?

  1. Priscilla and Aquila – The Consistent Couple

Text: Acts 18:2 – And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them,

Background: This is the only married couple mentioned working among the apostles. They are mentioned in Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, and 2 Timothy. They were instrumental in the mission of more than one body of the young Christian church. Paul says at the end of Romans, “Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well.” Those are very positive words. They were both instructive in pointing Apollos towards more accurate teachings.

Comment:  Out of all the couples in the New Testament, this one is mentioned in the most passages, and they are always spoken of highly by the apostles. I find myself wanting to know more about them, and I’ll be interested to hear some of their stories in heaven. But one thing is clear; they did much for God and the work of the church.

Question for married couples to ask: Are you working together to let God work through your marriage to build good things and help people for His glory? What new endeavor or ministry or move should you consider with each other, to tell people about Jesus?

Questions to ask before you’re married: As a married couple, will you work to proclaim the Gospel? Will you do good work in your church? What can God do through your family?

Conclusion:
Let’s remember that all of these people were fallible. They all sinned and failed. This can be an encouragement as you consider your own failings. Another encouragement we can consider is a marriage that I left off this list: a transcendent and eternal NT couple – Jesus with his bride, the church. Our marriages can be a picture of that – a reminder and image of that holy reality.

In any case, several of these human couples did bold and effectual work for God as a part of this bride of Christ and are noted in the Word of God as such. Will you be like them?

In case it’s helpful, I’ve posted a category chart of the nine couples.
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* By comparison, nine couples in the NT is fewer than the number in Genesis alone.

** I don’t feel like Peter, or the woman at the well, or Crispus, or Anna the prophetess, or the man with seven brothers fall into this category.

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