Marriage, according to the Bible, is an institution created and ordained by God. Therefore, the instructions for how to have a godly marriage must come from God through His Word. We cannot make decisions about marriage based on our own thoughts, opinions or selfish impulses. Nor can we understand what a true, godly marriage is by using the “wisdom of this world” as seen in the customs and habits of the culture we live in.
The Bible gives us a brief look at the ideal (perfect) marriage as God originally designed it. But this ideal marriage was ruined when sin entered the world through Adam and Eve. All human relationships, including those recorded in the Bible, show the distorting and destructive effects of sin. We can see this especially in marriages.
We see around us many examples – and often tragic results – of man’s will in marriage. But what is God’s will and heart concerning marriage? To answer this question, we need to understand what God has revealed in His Word about marriage. This will help our own marriage – and the marriages and homes of those we lead – become all that God intends.
A. MAN AND WOMAN: CREATED IN GOD’S IMAGE
Marriage is the first institution established by God, before the Fall and the entrance of sin into the human race. God established marriage – between one man and one woman – as the normal pattern for humanity.
God created man and woman in His image. “Then God said, ‘Let us make man [Hebrew adam, meaning “human race”] in Our image, according to Our likeness: So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen 1:26,27). This text teaches us several important principles:
- God designed and created the human race to have both male and female form.
- Both the man and woman were created in God’s own “image” and “likeness”. “Image” and “likeness” do not refer to our physical form, but rather to our spiritual, mental and moral nature. “Image” means our capacity to think; learn; experience emotions; appreciate beauty; use our imagination; make choices; love and be loved; have relationships; know what is good and right.
- Since man and woman were both created in God’s “image” and “likeness,” they have equal value in God’s sight, and in God’s plan for humanity and the world. Man is not inferior to woman; woman is not inferior to man. This foundational truth is vital to understanding God’s view of marriage. This equality of man and woman in their value and worth to God is seen in the authority and responsibilities God has given them to share:
- Both man and woman are to have “dominion” over the rest of God’s creation. “Male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘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 1:27, 28). The Hebrew word for “dominion” includes the idea of steward ship; it is not cruelly “lording over”, but rather lovingly caring for and nurturing what is entrusted to you (see Genesis 2:15).
- Man and woman are to have children and raise them together;
- Man and woman are to be partners – enjoying a close, loving relationship with each other and with their Creator.
The Bible clearly teaches that God intended man and woman to have total partnership in every aspect of life.
B. ADAM’S NEED FOR A PARTNER
In Genesis 2:18, God declares: “It is not good that man should be alone.” God then brings the animals to Adam, so that Adam can name them (v.19). In the Scriptures, to name something is to establish authority (“have dominion”) over it. Naming the animals also showed Adam that “there was not found a helper comparable to him” in the rest of creation (v.20).
These verses reveal important insights into the heart of God and His view of marriage. God already knew that Adam was without anyone comparable to him; thus He had already determined to create someone for him. Eve was not an accidental after-thought in God’s mind!
One might wonder why there is a delay between the creation of Adam and the creation of Eve. The fact that Adam (man) was created before Eve (woman) does NOT make him superior to her. Animals were created before Adam (Gen 1:20-25), but that does NOT make animals superior to man.
God has a divine purpose in the timing of events. He is already intimately aware of our need, but He does at times delay meeting that need in order to fulfill His plan and purpose.
In Genesis Chapter 2, we share in Adam’s suspense as he names the animals. Perhaps they came before him in pairs like they did to Noah’s ark (Gen 6:19; 7:9). We can sense some of Adam’s longing and hope as he names each of the animals until all have passed. Yet when he is done, he realizes there is no one comparable to him. Perhaps the reason for the divine delay is so that Adam himself would come to realize how thoroughly he needed a partner who would be “comparable to him”. He would then receive his partner with gratitude, and appreciate the wonderful gift God had given him.
C. EVE: ADAM’S PERFECT PARTNER
God created Eve to be the perfect partner and companion to Adam. She, like Adam, was created in God’s image and likeness (Gen 1:27). Having the same image and likeness allowed them to share everything together – spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically. In. Genesis 2:23, Adam declares Eve to be equal to him in regard to their humanity. This supports the fact that Adam and Eve – man and woman – have a similar nature, both created in the image and likeness of God.
The term used in Genesis 2:18 to describe Eve as “a helper comparable” to Adam is the Hebrew word ezer. This word means “helper”, “assistant”, or “a support”. So Eve was “a helper matching him [Adam]”.
The word ezer comes from the Hebrew word azar, which is often used to describe God’s assistance to Israel or to individuals (see Psalm 10:14 as an example). The word ezer is also used to describe God as the Helper of those who trust in Him (as in Psalm 33:20).
Therefore, the word “helper” in describing Eve does not necessarily imply inferiority or weakness. The “helper” is not less than the one being helped. The very need for a helper means that the strength of the one being helped is not sufficient by itself.
In 1 Peter 3:7, the Bible does use the term “weaker vessel” for the wife. However, this refers to her lesser physical strength and her vulnerability as a woman; it does not mean that a wife is inferior to her husband. (Remember, this verse also refers to “giving honor to the wife”.)
Eve was created to complement Adam. The word “complement” means that which completes; or that which must be added to make a symmetrical whole.
Adam needed a helper comparable to him in order to have children, enjoy a sexual relationship, and have help with work. BUT, God intended even more than that: the full partnership of a man and a woman. He created marriage so that man and woman would experience the joy and strength that come from true companionship and mutual sharing and support in all of life’s responsibilities. What a loving Creator we have! He created us to be a joy and a fulfillment to one another in a loving relationship as husband and wife.
Genesis 2:21, 22 reaffirms this. God used a rib from Adam to form Eve. God did not use a bone from Adam’s head, to represent him being over her. Nor did God use a bone from Adam’s foot, to show that Eve was to be lower than him. God formed Eve using a rib, to clearly represent her created place by Adam’s side – protected under his arm and close by to stand with him and support him (see Proverbs 31:10-31; Ecclesiastes 4:9,10). God intended marriage to be a relationship of intimacy and harmony, strength and joy, support and fulfillment.
D. SOME FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES OF MARRIAGE
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen 2:24).
In Genesis 2:24 Moses, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, continues to reveal to us the basic foundations of the marriage relationship. This verse shows us that marriage is more than a relationship based on convenience, or just emotional or physical attraction.
Scripture reveals three fundamental principles to us here. It is important for us to grasp these principles if we are to fully understand the marriage union in God’s created order.
- “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother.”
In a traditional translation, “leave” would suggest that the man is to physically move away from his parents and set up his household elsewhere. But the Hebrew word in this case would more accurately be translated “forsake”. However; this would not be taken to mean that a man should no longer have relationship with his parents (see Exodus 20:12 and Leviticus 19:3).
“Forsaking” should be understood to mean “changing one’s priorities”. When a single man or woman live with their parents, their first obligation is to their parents. But when they marry, their first obligation changes – it is now to each other as husband and wife. This means that for the married couple, their parents are no longer free to command them or have authority over them. The husband and wife now form a complete unit. Their first responsibility is now to each other.
A married couple should not abandon their relationships or responsibilities to parents and other family members. However, once they are married, their first priority is their spouse.
- “…and be joined to his wife…”.
The Hebrew word translated ‘joined” is dabaq. It means to “cling to” or “stick to” one’s spouse. This gives the idea of both passion and permanence that should characterize marriage.
Dabaq is also used in Genesis 34:3 to describe the passion in Shechem’s love for Dinah: “His soul clave unto [‘clung to’] Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the damsel and spake kindly unto the damsel” (kjv).
This same word is also used to exhort Israel to ”stick to” the Lord: “You shall fear the Lord your god; you shall serve Him, and to Him you shall hold fast [stick to), and take oath” in His Name” (Deut 10:20; see also 11:22).
Unlike the rest of creation, man and woman were made in God’s image. Human beings were created for the security, fulfillment and joy that can come only from stable, life long committed relationships. Animals, by contrast, breed by instinct alone. It does not matter who the partner is. Animals may have many mates throughout their life.
Man and woman, however, were designed by God to have a life long marriage to one mate. When God instituted marriage, He intended for the marriage of a man and woman to last for a lifetime. Our human nature, as created and intended by God, needs and requires a stable long-term relationship with one spouse.
Jesus reinforces this principle of permanency in marriage in Matthew 19:6: “What God has joined together, let not man separate”.
God has designed marriage to be permanent. In Malachi 2:16, God declares that He “hates divorce” and is opposed to it. He is fully aware of the destruction that comes to the couple, the children, and the many others who are affected when a marriage is destroyed. [Note: Read the more in-depth study on divorce later in this article.]
- “…and they shall become one flesh …” The term “one flesh” has a number of important implications.
Others have allowed lust and covetousness to rule them, and have turned sexuality into something that is cheap crude and selfish. They neglect to cherish this important expression of love and intimacy, and fail to reserve it only for their spouse.
Some people, in the name of religious holiness and piety, have treated human sexual expression as something that is dirty and shameful and only to be barely tolerated. But this cannot be supported from Scripture. From God’s original created order we can see that sexual expression between a husband and wife is designed by God. However, the beauty of human sexuality has become, twisted and misunderstood because of the distorting power of sin.
The God Who created us gave us a physical body, a soul (mind, will and emotions), and a spiritual nature. Our whole being – body, soul and spirit – is to become one with our spouse as we grow in marriage.
Our human sexual expression touches every part of our being. Becoming “one flesh” involves not only physical, but emotional and spiritual bonding and intimacy as well. This is why God intended for human sexuality to be experienced only within the safety, sanctity and permanence of the marriage union, with one other person.
God forbids sexual experiences outside of the marriage relationship. The Scriptures call such experiences “adultery” and “fornication” – sin! God never intended for people to have sexual experiences outside of marriage. The consequences of such experiences are very destructive to us personally and very damaging to our relationship with God. (Please read 1 Corinthians 6:15-20 for more insight.)
(Note: The importance of the sexual union in marriage is studied in more detail later in this article.)
Nowhere else do we see more clearly “two becoming one” than in the conceiving and bearing of children. Children are a direct product of the marriage relationship. They are a blend of both parents – two different people coming together to make one person. Children are a combination of both the appearance and personality of each parent.
Children are the precious fruit or “heritage” (Ps 127:3-5) given by God to bless the marriage union. The marriage relationship as God intended it – a man and woman being joined as “one flesh” for life – also provides a secure setting in which to bring forth children (Gen 1:28). They can be raised to know and love the Lord, His laws, and to relate properly to others (Deut 6:1-9).
ONE IN SPIRIT
A husband and wife are more than marriage partners. As Christians, they are also brothers and sisters in Christ. A Christian husband and wife, as believers, are related spiritually through the blood of Jesus (Eph 2:10-18). They are both members of Christ’s Body, and part of the family of God.
Scripture gives hundreds of exhortations as to how we are to treat one another in the Body of Christ. The bond of mutual love, care and consideration goes even deeper for a husband and wife. We must give great care to our relationship with our beloved spouse, who is also our brother or sister in the Lord.
E. THE COVENANT OF MARRIAGE
The same terms used to describe the relationship between husband and wife are frequently used in Scripture to describe Israel’s covenant with the Lord. This is not accidental, but a purposeful use of language. This is because the marriage relationship was to reflect the relationship between God and His people Israel.
The Old Testament prophets often used marriage as an allegory (type or picture) of the relationship between God and His people Israel. They likened God’s relationship with Israel to a faithful husband married to one wife (Isa 54:5,6; Jer 3:14; Hos 2:19,20). To turn away from a relationship with the one true God and turn instead to another (as in idol-worship) was like the sin of adultery (Jer 3:8,9; Ezek 23:37).
But God was like a faithful husband to faithless Israel (Isa 54:5; study also the Book of Hosea). God did not reject Israel even when He brought judgment upon them for their unfaithfulness. He was always calling them back to renew their “marriage covenant” with Him. What an inspiring picture of God’s love and grace, and of the importance He places on covenant relationship!
The use of covenant terms for marriage – “forsake”, “stick to” or “cling to”, and “one” – reveals two powerful truths:
First, marriage in its most ideal form is an image or “type” of the kind of relationship the Church is to have with Her Bridegroom the Lord Jesus Christ (see Ephesians 5:22-32). This most important of all relationships is the ultimate fulfillment of God’s covenant with His people through our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Second, marriage in the Old Testament was much more than just a convenient way to further the human race through having offspring. Rather, the union of a man and woman in marriage is the first institution established by God and should therefore be regarded as a holy relationship.
Marriage is a sacred covenant relationship between a man and woman. Marriage is sacred and holy in the eyes of God (Matt 19:6). It is a long-term commitment that requires personal sacrifice and the full involvement of each spouse. Therefore, marriage should not be entered into lightly or with only selfish desires in mind.
The covenant of marriage is a sacred, life-long agreement between one man and one woman. Once this agreement is entered into, it remains in effect at all times. It is to be adhered to even when it is inconvenient, difficult or seemingly unfulfilling. The marriage covenant is a sacred binding agreement for life. There are great blessings for upholding the marriage vows and cherishing your spouse – and sad and serious consequences for breaking those covenant vows.