Marriage in the Beginning
Christians in the 21st century need to be asking a question: What is marriage? The Bible gives the answer: marriage is an institution created by God between one man and one woman to represent the gospel of Jesus Christ. This article is the first in a series of three articles about marriage. The picture used for this post was taken by the fine photographer at shotsfromthewoods.com.
The discussion around marriage within Christian circles is oftentimes clouded by emotions and pithy sayings. It is this focus on the present feelings and clever turns of phrase that destroy the Christian truth about marriage. To get at the fundamentals of marriage, the discussion needs to return to its Genesis, to its origin, to find its original parameters and eternal purposes.
Marriage’s Origin is Its Defining Factor
The most basic fact that Christians must understand before discussing marriage is its origin. Marriage is not a cultural invention or evolutionary necessity, but rather an institution created by God. Therefore, it is not open to opinion.
In fact, this basic understanding is critical to the Christian worldview. On a fundamental level, the Christian worldview says that the God who created this world is the God who legislates and governs this world. This understanding should be applied to all of the creation ordinances such as work, the Sabbath, and marriage.
Furthermore, it should be applied to most everything in our world: government, worship, our everyday lives, our thought life, and, most pertinent to our current discussion, human sexuality and marital life. The primary attitude of every human should be, “What does God say about this thing?” The failure to ask this question renders both spiritual and practical consequences.
In his Institutes of Christian Religion, John Calvin famously said, “The human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols.” If Christians, as the secular elite are currently doing, let their understanding of marriage be forged without respect to the God who ordained it, they will inevitably create for themselves an idol of marriage. As we have seen in recent days, this idol is one that particularly moves its worshippers to love, honor, and voraciously defend it. Therefore, understanding the origin of marriage is paramount in understanding anything else about marriage.
Genesis 2 and the Beginning of Marriage
18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. 22 The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” 24 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
— Genesis 2:18, 21-25 (NASB)
In Genesis 2:18-25, God institutes marriage as part of creation. As only one aspect of creation, marriage has a role to play in mankind’s existence; it is a small piece of God’s glorious purposes for man. Therefore, to understand marriage we must understand creation.
Earlier in Genesis, God commanded Adam to “be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28). This becomes the duty of all mankind both before and after the fall. To this end, God gives Adam a helper named Eve. Eve is created to help and participate as an equal partner (Genesis 2:18-21) in the multiplying and subduing commanded by God in Genesis 1. In his commentary on Genesis, Kenneth A. Mathews comments on Genesis 2:24: “Marriage and family are the divine ideal for carrying out the mandate.” The part marriage plays in creation is a help for subduing the earth and also a guide for filling the earth through childbearing.
Marriage in the New Testament
This evidence from Genesis is enough for us to understand marriage’s functions and purposes. The Genesis account of creation is so enormously definitional to marriage, that it is used multiple times in the New Testament.
Jesus Christ maintains that marriage was created by God in Matthew: “‘And He answered and said to them, ‘Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?” (Matthew 19:4-5). In answering the Pharisees’ question Jesus places the origin and beginning of marriage in God’s creative act. New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg says that “Jesus goes beyond Deuteronomy and the Pharisees’ debate to a creation ordinance.”
Later still in the New Testament, Paul assumes that marriage is a creation ordinance. In Ephesians 5:31, Paul teaches about marriage and quotes Genesis 2:24. He uses Genesis 2:24 to illustrate the radical union between Christ and his church. A husband and wife are so identified with one another that the husband is to love her as his own body. Likewise, the church is a part “of [Christ’s] body, of [Christ’s] flesh, and of [Christ’s] bones” (Ephesians 5:30).
A Couple Implications
1. If marriage is God’s ordained purpose for filling and subduing the Earth, then the perversion of marriage is a great hindrance to this end. Take, for instance, the difficult issue of fatherlessness. While fatherlessness is not the only contributing factor to society’s problems, it cannot be denied that it has created a generation of young men who do not take responsibility for their actions and young women who wrongly seek fulfillment in men.
2. The fact that Eve was given to Adam as an equal partner and helper gives us a foundation for biblical roles in marriage. Men have a divine duty to subdue and fill the Earth which cannot be done without their wives. Likewise, women have a divine duty to subdue and fill the Earth by helping their husbands fulfill this command. For husbands, this means finding a vocation and leading his family well. For wives, she can be a helper to her husband by supporting him in this vocation and managing the household.
Why the Definition of Marriage Matters by Jim Eckman
Marriage: A Portrait of the Gospel from the Beginning by Dale Johnson
Chapter 25 of the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith